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How to Prove that God Doesn’t Exist

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There are a couple things I can appreciate about the “Who designed the Designer?” argument.

Although it is rooted in a caricature of the kalam cosmological argument’s first premise ("Whatever begins to exist has a cause"), it is a positive argument for atheism, and it does attempt to deal with the God hypothesis in the only arena where God’s existence may be decisively confirmed or refuted: the arena of philosophy.

The God defended by Christian theists is a transcendent, eternal, and spiritual being. He is the one creator of all physical reality and existed before all of time, space, matter, and energy. Being “outside” the natural world, God cannot be discovered nor refuted by science alone. For this reason the arguments for and against God’s existence must be, in the end, philosophical.

For instance, if the skeptic could expose an error in the formulation of the popular kalam argument—say, that its major premise “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is false—then this would force one of theism’s most compelling arguments to the chopping block. Indeed, such a refutation has been attempted by astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss, for example, who tried to claim in his book A Universe from Nothing that the universe indeed can and did arise from nothing.

Krauss was critically rebuked in the New York Times by fellow atheist David Albert for equivocating on the word nothing. Of course, even if Krauss had been successful, and the validity of the kalam argument had been seriously maligned, this would still not prove definitively that atheism is true; it would only disprove one theistic argument.

How then can the atheist go the full distance and prove theism false? He can show that a divine attribute (e.g., omniscience) is internally contradictory in itself; he can show that two or more of the divine attributes contradict one another; or he can show that God’s attributes contradict a known fact about the world we live in.

Let’s consider three of God’s best-known divine attributes: his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.

First, let’s work out our definition of God a bit more. As noted, God is pure spirit—an immaterial “mind”—who exists outside of time and space. We may also say that he is the perfect act of being itself, and thus all perfections are in him. In other words, God cannot be perfected further because he is infinite perfection.

Because God has no parts, is infinite in being, and is therefore absolutely “simple,” we can say that God’s infinite power is his infinite goodness, which is his infinite knowledge, and so on. Thus in the end, it is much more profitable for us to speak about God in analogies (all-powerful, etc.) and to speak about what God is not (spaceless, etc).

Omniscience

Now let’s consider God’s omniscience. God knows all truths and accepts nothing false as true. But could an all-good God know what it is like to sin? Yes, for God knows all truths; but he doesn't know all truths directly from personal experience. God knows what it is like to sin by knowing what it is like for us to sin.

Now, if God is all-knowing—if he knows everything every person will ever do—what does that mean for our free will? Is such causal liberty an illusion? Not at all. I can know my influenza-stricken, gagging child is about to vomit without causing her to vomit. Foreknowledge does not equal causality.

Omnipotence

This brings us to the claim of God's omnipotence. Is there any philosophical contradiction that can be drawn out of God's infinite power? As we have noted, God cannot sin because he is morally perfect, the perfect standard of what it means to be good. Thus God has the power to do all logically possible things; that is, he has the power to do all meaningful things. That is why he cannot create a four-sided triangle (which is really nothing at all).

Nor can God create a rock that is too heavy for his all-powerful self to lift. Such a notion is meaningless, because it fails to acknowledge how God really is. A bachelor cannot forget his wife’s birthday because he is a bachelor; God cannot be overpowered by any creature because he is omnipotent.

Omnipresence

Finally, what about God’s omnipresence? How can this be so? Well, as long as God is unbound by time and space there is no contradiction. Not only has God created all things, but also his presence is necessary to sustain them in being, just as the presence of hydrogen atoms is necessary to sustain water in being. God is present to all beings, but he is not all beings (that’s pantheism). He is present to all things, and the existence of all things is dependent on his presence, just as the caller of a square dance is present to the dancers on the floor and the existence of the square dance depends on the mind (and voice) of the caller.

Thus God, who contains all perfections within himself, can rightly be referred to as all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, etc. We cannot say (by the way) that God is a “pre-eminently peerless stinker”contrary to the charge of Dr. Dawkins—because stinkiness is a privation of a good; but God is perfectly good. Such an assertion of God’s infinite stinkiness is an amusing bit of rhetoric but it does not in the least follow logically from the given philosophical definition of God. It betrays Dawkins’s misunderstanding of who God is.

It suffices to say that philosophical proofs for or against God’s existence will not be sufficiently worked out without rigorous intellectual groundwork. Indeed, the finite limits of human reason that force us into analogies and negative statements about God can sometimes lead to frustration and headaches. But I side with G.K. Chesterton, who acknowledged “the riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

Matt Nelson

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Matt holds a B.Ed from the University of Regina and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto, Canada. After several years of skepticism, he returned to the Catholic Church in 2010. Now alongside his chiropractic practice, Matt is a speaker and writer for FaceToFace Ministries and Religious Education Coordinator at Christ the King Parish. He currently resides in Shaunavon, SK, with his wife, Amanda, and their daughter, Anna. Follow Matt through his blog at ReasonableCatholic.com.

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  • What we do not have here is a definition of omnipotence. Let me advance one: an omnipotent agent would be able to do anything that is logically possible.

    There is nothing logically impossible in the creation of an absolutely immovable object. So an oMnipotent agent would be able to create an immovable object. However there is also no logical contradiction in an agent that could move absolutely any object. So an omnipotent agent would be able to move absolutely any object.

    Obviously there is a contradiction therefore in such an agent who could both create an immovable object and be able to move any object. This means that omnipotence, as described above is impossible. Either this god can make an immovable object or have the power to move any object, but he cannot have the power to do both. Therefore this god cannot have infinite power, this would lead to a contradiction. Infinite power is impossible. Thus theists should be using words like maximally powerful or the most powerful, rather than infinite and omni.

    • The stone paradox is but a linguistic trick. When reformulated, this becomes clear: "Can a being which can move any rock create a rock which it cannot move?" The answer is "no", on pain of contradiction.

      Why is there something alluring to the stone paradox? I suggest that one motivating intuition is self-limitation, such as when God makes promises. Can he then break those promises? This is of utmost importance when we wonder whether we can trust (pisteuō) God.

      • Phil

        Even further, this "rock paradox" is incoherent at an even deeper level because it is asking: "Can something be done that can't be done?"

        The question itself is incoherent and so you can't answer a question that has no answer!

        • Neihan

          You demonstrated the hidden premise in the question by rephrasing the question. The premise is: "Supposing a universe in which 'A and Not-A', can God create a rock...&c" The question supposes a universe in which there's no law of non-contradiction.

          Once the hidden premise is revealed the question is simple to answer: "No, God couldn't create such a rock, and He can create such a rock, and He can lift it."

          Other answers that would work: "Blue is red," and "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." Once you assume, as the question implicitly does, A and Not-A then every response perfectly answers every question (and it doesn't).

          What the question does demonstrate, and admirably so, is the sorry state of modern education.

          • Will

            What the question does demonstrate, and admirably so, is the sorry state of modern education.

            You do realize only a small minority of the population were educated before the modern era, correct? You thus compare the elite thinkers of past eras to the average person from today. Is the education/intelligence of the average person lacking? Sure, but things were much worse in times past, you just never read anything written by, or about the peasants in the middle ages.
            In general, the question could be simply to get one to think about omnipotence and contradiction. To say the question demonstrates a sorry state of any education seems arrogant and silly to me. Isn't Pride one of the seven deadly sins?

          • Neihan

            An associates degree is around fourteen years of schooling. That's over 14,000 hours of modern education. Someone who goes from kindergarten to doctorate has spent twenty or more years being educated, up to a third of their life in university. So, after all that time, how firm a grasp does the average graduate have on basic Western history, literature, philosophy, grammar, and mathematics? That's a lot of time and money to teach people a trade and nothing else.

            You're right that the question has other uses as well. My intended meaning was "Anyone who has gone through the modern education system and thinks this question is profound or somehow constitutes an argument against theism demonstrates the shallowness and inadequacy of modern education."

            There's nothing prideful about my criticism; I count myself uneducated and so there's no superiority (real or imagined) to excessively love. My education, by modern standards, is average and my intelligence also is average. In neither category am I exceptional. I was pointing out that the modern university graduate is poorly educated and often intellectually malformed. To the point where most cannot detect what the question actually is.

      • Indeed you raise an excellent point, it is the concept of omnipotence which is incoherent as phrased this way. Again this is why good apologists have redefined it as maximally powerful rather than omnipotent.

        This is a fair move, but it begins to constrain this idea of deity into something more like a most powerful beings rather than a being of infinite abilities, or something to that effect.

        Yes a good question on promises. Perhaps it also engages this problem of whether such a being could change his mind. Whether people can have free will if god already knows exactly what they will do and so on.

        I know the response is god could change his mind but never would because he is perfect and never gets anything wrong. But this also seems to erode him having a "mind" or even a will. It seems to move the concept more towards pantheism or god just being the way things are.

        This would raise very strange questions for Christians and their texts which show god struggling with whether to drink his cup in Gethsemane and so on. This clearly seems to suggest a decision was being made.

        But I ramble.

        • Jim the Scott

          Omnipotent means all powerful. Which means doing anything and all things that power can make possible. Well how much power do you need to make 2+2=5? Do I have to convert several Solar Masses to pure energy?

          >There is nothing logically impossible in the creation of an absolutely immovable object. So an oMnipotent agent would be able to create an immovable object.

          You are channeling your inner Theistic Personalism & as a Classic Theist I will have none of that.

          What would make the rock unmovable is God would be causing it to exist from moment to moment and holding it in place preventing anything external to Him from moving it. Or better causing it to exist with the property of nothing else outside of God moving it.

          God Wills from all eternity so if he Willed the Rock should never move well God is immutable and cannot will both X and Not X at the same time and in the same relation. So He cannot will not to ever move it & will to one day move it at the same time and in the same relation.

          You are defending the false idea Omnipotence means God can make contradictions true.
          Of course if you want to channel your inner Descartes here is the problem. You would be saying God can make contradictions true which means God can make himself exist with contradictory powers even if your logical argument says such a deity can't exist.

          God can do anything. A rock an omnipotent Classic Theistic God wills to move after willing for all eternity never to move doesn't really describe anything. It describes nothing and as such gives new meaning to the phrase "there is nothing God cannot do.

          I have accused you before (or one of your cohorts) of having an overly anthopomorphic view of God. This is another case of that.

          • Charles Pedley

            To me it is the question which is the problem. Is it not like asking "Could God kill himself?" "Could I kill myself?" "Could you kill yourself?"

            Of course you and I could kill ourselves since we are not omnipotent. But asking if God could is like asking if an ant could build a rocketship. Would that be a smart or stupid question? I maintain that it is an ignorant question due to our lack of omnipotent understanding.

            The other answer to whether God could make a rock he could not move is this: Yes he could. And at the moment it was finished, he could move it, but not before. If this makes no sense, then you have simply proven your omnipotence again :)

            If that sounds silly then I suggest it is the question that is in question, not the answer :)

            If God is omnipotent he can understand how to do things that we think could not be done simply because we are NOT omnipotent. Our question is simply immature like a child asking if we could dig a hole through the centre of the earth and end up in China.

            It is the question that an immature being like a human might ask who will never be omnipotent.

            Only an omnipotent being can understand certain things which require omnipotent understanding which we will never have.

        • Jim the Scott

          >Again this is why good apologists have redefined it as maximally powerful rather than omnipotent.

          Aquinas said never say there is something that can be done and God cannot do it rather the thing just cannot be done.

          This is ancient thinking. You are being given no original arguments.

        • Indeed you raise an excellent point, it is the concept of omnipotence which is incoherent as phrased this way. Again this is why good apologists have redefined it as maximally powerful rather than omnipotent.

          You write as if your conception of 'omnipotence' is the really valid one, and if someone produces something sufficiently different, [s]he must concede the term 'omnipotence' to you and pick something distinctly lesser. But there is zero reason to grant you this hegemony over terms. Instead, I would look at the non-logical-paradox ways that people use the term 'omnipotence', to see if one can back out a perfectly reasonable conception (one which isn't incoherent).

          I know the response is god could change his mind but never would because he is perfect and never gets anything wrong. But this also seems to erode him having a "mind" or even a will. It seems to move the concept more towards pantheism or god just being the way things are.

          This seems to predicate having a mind or will on the possibility of being fickle. I suspect a befuddling presupposition here is that God's abiding by his promises to us forces him into a single course of action, like the trajectory of a classical particle. This would be based on the belief that reality is deterministic, as if at rock bottom it's a computer program inevitable unfolding a certain way. (Adding randomness does not help.) Instead, I suggest that God's promises leave open innumerable ways that he could act, and our free choices constrain these further (because he chose to allow this), but still not down to a single trajectory. It is the perfect controlling of something from the outside (like science does in experiments) which eliminates 'mind' and 'will'.

          • Jim the Scott

            Classic Theism says God is immutable and outside of Time.
            God wills from eternity. Thus how could God will the existence of a Rock that is never moved & moved at the same time and in the same relation?

            He can't. God can do anything this doesn't describe anything.

          • I'm just not convinced we need to bring in God being immutable or outside of time to demonstrate the incoherence of the stone paradox.

          • Jim the Scott

            This is a fair point.

          • Jim the Scott

            OTOH I am reminded of something Brian Davies said & I paraphrase from memory. Give the attributes and properties of the divine nature we can say God really cannot right a bike and God is still omnipotent & both are true.

          • Ehhh, I bet Jesus could learn to ride a bike, even though he might scrape himself up a bit in the process. But hey, perfection through suffering!

          • David Nickol

            Ehhh, I bet Jesus could learn to ride a bike, even though he might scrape himself up a bit in the process.

            This seems problematic to me. If you totally equate Jesus and God, then you would have to say that there was something that God didn't know how to do—ride a bike. He had to learn it. How can it be possible that God would have to learn something? We can only presume that Jesus truly learned to talk and walk, but it would be bizarre to say that Jesus is God, and therefore God had to learn to walk and talk.

            And of course, since there are three persons in one God, it would be possible to say that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit can't ride bicycles, but Jesus can, so there is something that two persons in the Trinity can't do that Jesus can. But they are all equal, and equally God.

            I remember a discussion in another forum in which the moderator insisted that Jesus was omniscient, and therefore if you had asked him to do a calculus problem, he could have. Jesus knew all of math, chemistry, physics, and so on. Presumably he spoke all human languages, including those lost in prehistory and those (including English) that had not yet come into existence.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I remember a discussion in another forum in which the moderator insisted that Jesus was omniscient

            An Apollinarian?

          • David Nickol

            An Apollinarian?

            No, an Evangelical.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, an Apollinarian Evangelical then :-)

            My point being, I don't think it falls to Catholics to defend a Christology that the orthodox Catholic tradition has considered heretical for more than 1600 years.

          • My one-word answer is: kenosis.

            It's curious that my response to the Brian bringing up the stone paradox was to pick out apparently paradoxical aspects of self-limitation as the intuition driving it. Perhaps we moderns have some sort of serious problem with self-limitation. That would jive with a heritage dominated by voluntarism.

          • David Nickol

            My one-word answer is: kenosis.

            An ad hoc solution if there ever was one. Of course, I am sure it would have to be the case that it was only the human nature of Jesus that was "emptied out" of the knowledge which it would be awkward for a human person to have. His divine nature could not have had limited knowledge, could it? And exactly what is it like to be a person with two natures, one with limited knowledge and the other omniscience? When a person has two natures, can communication between them be limited? I guess it is impossible to know, since there has been and will presumably only ever be one person with two natures. So it is a mystery.

            I would add that I don't find it difficult to believe Jesus was in some way or another divine. What I find difficult to believe are explanations. I am not particularly uncomfortable with mysteries. It is alleged explanations of mysteries that I find extremely difficult to accept.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What I find difficult to believe are explanations.

            But this is an unfair complaint in this forum. If you ask a technical philosophical question, you have to expect a technical philosophical answer. You have to expect fine parsings of meaning and so forth, and you have to expect that the answer may come back in desiccated form, possibly bereft of any personally transformative power (just as the question was asked in a personally disinterested way). That is the nature of abstract philosophical discourse.

            None of this is to say that any of this abstract philosophical discourse is essential in the lives of most believers. Many people seem to be very competent at navigating life (and religion) without engaging in any substantial philosophical reflection. But again, those believers and non-believers who are going to come to the table with abstract and/or complex questions are going to have to expect abstract and/or complex answers.

          • David Nickol

            But this is an unfair complaint in this forum. If you ask a technical
            philosophical question, you have to expect a technical philosophical
            answer.

            I am not sure what fairness has to do with it. And I am not making a statement about this forum. I am making a statement about Catholicism itself. If you ask a technical philosophical question, one perfectly plausible answer to expect, or so it seems to me, is, "You have asked a question that is either meaningless, or if not meaningless, then beyond the ability of human beings to answer."

            Here's a good example that caused a major split in Christianity. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father, or from the Father and the Son?

          • Phil

            I think you are onto something about mysteries! Mysteries must be contemplated and are not simply "a problem to be solved". Now, that doesn't mean we can't say things about the mystery, and these may be the explanations you mention that you are not happy with. I think we should look for the possible truth to be found in each explanation (every good explanation will have some nugget of truth about the mystery), but we must also realize that no explanation or amount of explanations will fully explain what is at heart a mystery.

            And when it concerns the mystery of the very person of Jesus, the person who knows the most about the mystery is the one who actually enters into prayer and relationship with Him and who may be granted the gift of contemplative prayer by our Lord.

          • It seems obvious that the divine nature would have to self-limit in order to 'impedance match' the human nature, such that the human nature is not completely overhwelmed. Good parents do this with their children and I'll bet something like this is important for creativity (so that the nascent idea doesn't get squashed or pressed into some preexisting mold). If God couldn't appropriately limit himself, then the only kind of interaction he could have with us finite beings is the response Job got from the whirlwind.

            We are also aware of multiple parts of ourselves struggling with each other. The term 'mind over matter' gets at this. I suspect there are analogies to be drawn between such struggles and how Jesus' divine and human natures interacted. Furthermore, our unity with Jesus seems to depend crucially on his having a human nature.

            So I don't think the above falls into the category of "impenetrable mystery", although full understanding may elude us. How much should we expect to understand, now? Enough to take the next steps toward more deeply loving God and loving neighbor.

          • David Nickol

            It seems obvious that the divine nature would have to self-limit in order to 'impedance match' the human nature, such that the human nature is not completely overhwelmed.

            Obvious?

            While on the one hand, I don't want to dismiss almost two millennia of Christian thought with the wave of a hand, it still strikes me that it ought to be noted that if you don't accept as a kind of axiom that Jesus was both true God and true man, all the pondering of what the mind of a man with a human and a divine nature would be like is groundless speculation. And even if you do accept that Jesus was God incarnate, there is really nothing to go on to determine how such a thing could be. I would have to say that nothing at all seems "obvious" about how a "hypostatic union" could be accomplished or what the product of such a union would be like.

            The early Church had the conviction that Jesus was God incarnate. The very first followers of Jesus may have had compelling personal reasons for believing this to be true, but it took hundreds of years for Christianity to come up with an "explanation" of how such a thing could be. Even of Jesus was God incarnate, and even if he declared himself to be in an act of revelation, what reasons do we have for believing an explanation from centuries after his time about how this union was possible?

          • How does a greater being interact with a lesser being, so that the lesser being is helped to become more than he/she/it was before? The ultimate way is to be able to identify with the lesser being, to know what it's like to be in that person's shoes, so one can say and do all the right things to help the lesser become more with minimal pain and effort. If God is the greater being, then it would seem that God would have to somehow experience our plight. Jesus having two natures is a way to articulate this, but it's not the only way people have tried to make sense of Jesus—see Monophysitism as well as Nestorianism.

            I had an excellent theory of computation prof who did something like the above in his lectures. Theory of computation can be quite counterintuitive, and correcting bad intuitions can be very tricky. This prof would ask students in class how they would approach a problem and when they got it wrong, he would try hard to see why they might have made those errors, instead of just declaring them wrong and presenting the right answer. He was really good at this, and it made him a really good teacher.

            In contrast, the world is full of examples where people tried to help but refused to condescend to the experiential level of those who need the help. This is very common with "quick fix" attempts for deeply embedded insititutional problems; Mark Zuckerberg's effort with the Newark school system is probably a good example. Someone who doesn't "know how things work" comes in, dumps a bunch of money and power on the situation (because [s]he thinks [s]he knows how things work), and expects the right thing to automagically happen.

            The incarnation of Jesus is a statement as to how God goes about fixing bad situations. We humans can try his way, or try more "appropriately deity-like" methods, such as swooping in to "save the day". I think by contrasting these approaches, we can actually gain insight into how one reconciles two natures: one which really does have greater wisdom/knowledge, and the one which will not be healed via a quick fix that frequently reduces to an attempt to create a clone of the greater being.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If you totally equate Jesus and God, then you would have to say that there was something that God didn't know how to do—ride a bike.

            I know you are sort of arguing in a playful vein here, but just to be clear: the dogmatic tautology that Jesus is God does not have the interpretation that you are suggesting. As expressed in slightly subtler form in the creeds (using "Son of God" language) and as expressed most fully in the New Testament, the contention is not that Jesus, at any given temporal slice of his life, was identical to the ground of being. The contention is rather, if I may put it in my own words, that the totality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was, in toto a complete revelation of the logic of the ground of being. Since the ground of being is understood philosophically to have the so-called tri-omni attributes, this means that the aspiring Christian philosopher has to somehow (re-) imagine power, knowledge, and benevolence in ways that find expression in the Gospel narratives. I think that can be done, e.g. by coming to understand the ultimate power of self-limitation and self-sacrifice.

            I think you probably know this, and you are perhaps just arguing against the overly simple misreadings of the basic Trinitarian formulation that undeniably are in currency. But in so doing, I think you are arguing on behalf of the orthodox tradition, not against it. Which, of course, is fine by me :-)

          • adam

            "How can it be possible that God would have to learn something?"

            How is it possible that God would know everything?

            Wouldnt it have to learn?
            Making it not Omnipotent at some point (in time)

          • Jim the Scott

            Does the divine nature of Jesus ride the bike or does the human nature operated by the divine person of the word ride the bike?

            Re think my statement and if it helps I might amend what I said from "God cannot ride a bike" to "the divine nature cannot ride a bike".

            It always helps to be more precise.

          • David Nickol

            I might amend what I said from "God cannot ride a bike" to "the divine nature cannot ride a bike".

            Can the divine nature enjoy the bike ride as long as the human nature pedals and steers?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Can the divine nature enjoy the bike ride as long as the human nature pedals and steers?

            What does that have to do with the brute fact that the divine nature cannot ride a bike and that does not make the divine nature any less omnipotent?

          • David Nickol

            What does that have to do with the brute fact that the divine nature
            cannot ride a bike and that does not make the divine nature any less
            omnipotent?

            The problem I see with what you are saying is that "the divine nature" and "the human nature," as you use the terms, seem to be separate entities capable of acting independently of each other. But "the human nature" is not a "thing" that can ride a bike. It is an aspect of Jesus, who, having both a human and divine nature, could have ridden a bike.

            As I understand the theology (or christology), Jesus is one person with two natures. He is not a person who sometimes has a human nature and sometimes has a divine nature. When (if) Jesus rode a horse (let's get rid of the bicycle), it was Jesus who rode the horse, not the human nature of Jesus riding, with the divine nature somehow not participating.

            I don't think you can separate Jesus into two natures. The two natures have to be aspects of a single person—Jesus.

          • Jim the Scott

            >the problem I see with what you are saying is that "the divine nature" and "the human nature," as you use the terms, seem to be separate entities capable of acting independently of each other.

            So your starting point is to read assumptions other than
            chalcedonian christology assumptions & thomistic scholastic ones
            into my statements? Right out of the box you are talking past me & I will use a lot of time correcting you which I hope you will not find unpleasant.

            You do remember I am Catholic right?

            >But "the human nature" is not a "thing" that can ride a bike. It is an aspect of Jesus, who, having both a human and divine nature, could have ridden a bike.

            No a nature is what rides the bike. Human nature is physical and has limbs and is material and thus sits on and pushes peddles on a bike(which is material) and rides it. A divine nature is not material so by definition it is excluded. Sure a Divine Nature could supernaturally move a bike and cause it to act as if a rider was on it having it go from point A to point B. But it's movements would not be because a physical being sat on the bike and moved it according to natural processes which is what riding it entails.

            >As I understand the theology (or christology), Jesus is one person with two natures. He is not a person who sometimes has a human nature and sometimes has a divine nature.

            The natures are never separate but they don't mix either. That would be the heresy of the Monphysites which you seem to be channeling. The human intellect (of his human nature) of Jesus is not omniscient and cannot be so. His human muscles cannot lift beyond their natural capacity. His human nature cannot perform supernatural feats like he can threw the agency of his divine nature and his divine nature cannot ride a bike.

            >When (if) Jesus rode a horse (let's get rid of the bicycle), it was Jesus who rode the horse, not the human nature of Jesus riding, with the divine nature somehow not participating.

            You are confusing the Divine Person which operates the nature with the nature by which he operates to perform an act. The human nature performs the act of riding the horse or bike (moved of course by his human will in harmony with his divine will obviously) but not the divine.

            >I don't think you can separate Jesus into two natures. The two natures have to be aspects of a single person—Jesus.

            I am saying nothing that is Nestorian. I am not presuming the human nature at anytime ceases to be united to the divine nature in the divine person of the word. Rather you are being monophysite confusing the operations of nature. Nobody is separating the natures. Rather one is making distinctions between them and their powers.

            Thus I repeat the divine nature cannot ride a bike and is still omnipotent.

            Omnipotent means having all powers. There is no power to make something non-material with non-material properties have material properties without changing or transmuting it's nature.

            Just as you can't give something the power to not move and have it move because that would mean it didn't really have the power not to move in the first place. God cannot cause X and not X at the same time and in the same relation because that doesn't describe anything.

            Cheers Nickol

            enjoy the food for thought with my compliments.

          • David Nickol

            No a nature is what rides the bike. Human nature is physical and has
            limbs and is material and thus sits on and pushes peddles on a
            bike(which is material) and rides it. A divine nature is not material
            so by definition it is excluded.

            I think it makes absolutely no sense to say "nature is what rides a bike." I say this, by the way, accepting for the sake of argument (at minimum) Christian teaching on the "hypostatic union." I think you are giving a faulty explanation of Catholic doctrine. When a human person (including Jesus) rides a bike, it is not human nature that rides the bike. It is the person. It makes no sense to say human nature rides a bike.

            Human nature is physical and has limbs and is material and thus sits on and pushes peddles on a bike(which is material) and rides it.

            I don't think it makes any sense to say that human nature is physical. Human nature is an abstraction. Human nature does not have arms and legs. Human nature cannot ride a bike!

            The natures are never separate but they don't mix either. That would be the heresy of the Monphysites which you seem to be channeling. The human intellect (of his human nature) of Jesus is not omniscient and cannot be so.

            No, as I stated above, I am accepting the Christian concept of a "hypostatic union." But note this, from EWTN:

            Pope Pius XII taught, in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis ("The Mystical Body - 1943): "By means of the Beatific Vision (the sight of God in Heaven), which He enjoyed from the time when he was received into the womb of the Mother of God, He has for ever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical Body, and embraced them with His saving love." (N.D. 661).

            In other words Jesus possessed, in His human soul, the same immediate vision of God which all the saints and angels in heaven have. This means that Jesus was, at the same time, both a pilgrim on earth like us and a possessor of the immediate vision of God. Even His human nature is endowed with an abundance of supernatural gifts. He knows all things - past, present and future.

            This isn't exactly saying Jesus as both man and God was omniscient, but it comes pretty close.

            If there is anything definitive in Catholic doctrine about what went on in the mind of Jesus, I am unaware of it. Are Catholics bound to believe that, say, the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple knew he was God incarnate? I don't think so.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I think it makes absolutely no sense to say "nature is what rides a bike.”

            That is absolutely absurd. I have a human nature not a fish nature. Are you saying I merely have to will to breath under water to do it? No I would require a fish nature to perform the act of underwater breathing.

            Thus what I said makes perfect sense. What you are saying sounds a bit off.

            > I say this, by the way, accepting for the sake of argument (at minimum) Christian teaching on the "hypostatic union." I think you are giving a faulty explanation of Catholic doctrine.

            This is as likely as Richard Dawkins giving a faulty explanation on natural selection or Hawkings on quantum gravity. Which is to say very very unlikely. But if you think you can find the fault go for it. I am skeptical.

            >When a human person (including Jesus) rides a bike, it is not human nature that rides the bike. It is the person. It makes no sense to say human nature rides a bike.

            First Jesus is a divine person only not a human person. That is Nestorianism. A human person (or incarnate divine person) performs the act of bike riding by his human nature. Otherwise one could imaging a Fish with a human mind and intellect and personhood but with the nature of a fish “riding a bike”. No that would be absurd as it would suffocate. A Fish nature is required to breath under water and a human nature (or some type of physical nature to operate peddles)is needed to ride a bike and a divine nature has none of this so cannot do so. A person acts but the nature is that by which something acts. See Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed.

            >I don't think it makes any sense to say that human nature is physical. Human nature is an abstraction. Human nature does not have arms and legs. Human nature cannot ride a bike!

            Ah I wonder if what you are giving me here is some sort of Humean Nominalism & anti-realism? I am presuposing an Aristotelian moderate realism and essentialist view. No wonder you are not getting this? Sorry but Catholicism has about as much use historically for anti-realism as a fish has for a bike….pun intended.

            Humans have real attributes and essence and substance. Thus they have real natures that really ride bikes. Believing in a different metaphysics then moi & the Catholic Church is fine but you can’t turn around and re-interpret a theology that doesn’t presuppose that metaphysics and in fact historically rejects it. That begs the question. It’s like trying to use Jewish Hallakkah to interpret the Koran. One has nothing to do with the other. At best it is a droll thought experiment. Like Hulk vs Superman.

            >No, as I stated above, I am accepting the Christian concept of a "hypostatic union." But note this, from EWTN:

            Except for me Christian =Catholic and Scholastic. You must discuss the God I believe in not the one you wish I believed in. Let us see what you can come up with?

            >Pope Pius XII taught, in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis ("The Mystical Body - 1943): "By means of the Beatific Vision (the sight of God in Heaven), which He enjoyed from the time when he was received into the womb of the Mother of God, He has for ever and continuously had present to Him all the members of His mystical Body, and embraced them with His saving love." (N.D. 661).

            Yes the soul of Jesus by virtue of the Incarnation (see Ott Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma on the Incarnation or the relevant passages in Legrange) beholds the beatific vision and is mystically united to those souls united to him in his Mystical body... So what? How does that make his human nature a divine nature and vice versa with this neo-monphysite Christology you are channeling? How does that “defend” your anti-realism metaphysics and defeat my moderate realism and essentialism? How does this mix the natures? Or make the divine nature ride a bike? It doesn’t I am afraid.

            >In other words Jesus possessed, in His human soul, the same immediate vision of God which all the saints and angels in heaven have. This means that Jesus was, at the same time, both a pilgrim on earth like us and a possessor of the immediate vision of God. Even His human nature is endowed with an abundance of supernatural gifts. He knows all things - past, present and future.

            So? God can give supernatural gifts to his creatures (which he gives via the agency of his divine nature). The human nature of Christ is a creature. He gives to the human soul of Christ what he gives the redeemed in Heaven. But that doesn’t make his human soul literally divine in essence. At best it is like the participatory theosis the redemned will have in Heaven (2 Peter 1:4) except of course Christ is not really redeemed but is the redeemer. One should also mention by virtue of the Hypostatic union it is even deeper than what saved souls receive as their final end. By an order of magnitude.

            Also God can infuse the human intellect of Christ with supernaturally given knowledge it would not posses by nature such as knowledge of the past, present and future. But so what? That is not omniscience for the human intellect of Christ.

            >This isn't exactly saying Jesus as both man and God was omniscient, but it comes pretty close.

            Do you honestly expect me to believe EWTN has no other literature or papal teaching on their website that teaches the omniscience of Jesus in his divine nature? Seriously? I've been there in the past and there is a lot. If I didn't have a ten minute attention span I might go back and look again.

            Anyway your quote from Pius XII is not discussing the divine omniscience or the limits of the human nature of Jesus. All you cited me was a text about the supernatural gifts God can and does give his creatures but it says nothing about changing their essence from one thing to another.

            Christ the God Man has Omniscience in his divine intellect and his human intellect has natural knowledge and supernaturally infused knowledge (given as a gift by the divine) but his human intellect by nature can’t be omniscient.

            >If there is anything definitive in Catholic doctrine about what went on in the mind of Jesus, I am unaware of it. Are Catholics bound to believe that, say, the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple knew he was God incarnate? I don't think so.

            The issue is how the divine nature cannot ride a bike and yet still be omnipotent. But Catholics are dogmatically bound to believe Jesus knew he was God because his person is divine and via the agency of his divine nature always knew & the beatific vision his human soul and intellect beheld from the incarnation in the womb always intuitively knew he was God. Thought granted Christ could & did acquire experiential knowledge in his human intellect. Most theologians according to Ott believe as a matter of fittingness Christ had all natural knowledge infused into his human intellect as a supernatural gift. This is not I believe a dogma. But even if true all natural knowledge is not the same as all knowledge (i.e. omniscience).

            Hope this helps. Cheers

    • TomD123

      God could create an absolutely immovable object...but then He couldn't move it. Just like he could create an absolutely unintelligent object (e.g. a rock) but He couldn't subsequently teach it.

      • Correct, this means any such god's power is limited, he cannot do some things that are logically possible.

          • Because such a rock would be both moveable by the being and immovable by the being, it is a contradiction

          • Jim the Scott

            Nope, either God has willed from all eternity the Rock will never move or He has willed one day to move it himself.

            You are channeling a theistic personalist "deity" which exists in time. I would grant a theistic personalist deity can't really be omnipotent but then again as a Thomist I am a strong Atheist against believing in such a "god".

          • Sorry, I meant to ask how that sentence is coherent.

        • TomD123

          It is not logically possible to move an immovable rock, just like it is not logically possible to teach a non-rational object. This doesn't mean God can't create such things

          • I agree, a god could create a rock he could not move. But there can be no god that can create an immovable rock and then move it.

          • TomD123

            Right, but so what? God can't do contradictory things. He can't move an immovable rock.

    • WallaceLeMay68

      I know it's tough that Megan Fox is divorcing you but that doesn't mean God can't exist.

  • A few other comments. "Who designed the designer?" Is not an argument and certainly not a positive atheist argument, it is a criticism of a certain kind of cosmological argument. We would need to see the design argument it might be responding to.

    There is also an issue of the burden of proof. It is not up to atheists to demonstrate no gods exist, it is up to the theist to demonstrate they one does exist.

    I am thankful for the definition provided, but from my perspective it defined this god as non existent. I see no reason to accept the existence of anything non-material. Something that is non temporal and non spacial and non material is something that lacks the necessary attributes for existence. It has no dimensions, exists for no amount of time and has no matter or energy. These are the basic attributes of existence. The theist here must justify how this is compatible with notions of existence before I will give any credibility to the notion of such a being "existing". The best the theist can do here is say it is not logically impossible for there to be such a form of existence. But this tells us nothing as it is equally logically possible for materialism to be true.

    • I see no reason to accept the existence of anything non-material.

      Can you give any sort of rigorous definition as to 'material'? For example, where does necessitarian causation come in—if at all? Is 'rationality' material? It's not clear that you can get a clear enough concept here to have any sort of substantial position. For more on this problem, see Randal Rauser's Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism.

      Something that is non temporal and non spacial and non material is something that lacks the necessary attributes for existence.

      The quantum field Lawrence Krauss describes in A Universe from Nothing and his famous, eponymous YouTube lecture is:

           • non-temporal
           • non-spatial
           • non-material

      And yet, Krauss claims that it led to the existence of the universe in which we live. So is he saying that something which "lacks the necessary attributes for existence" gave rise to something which has said necessary attributes?

      • Sure, material here is all forms of matter/energy. Rationality is a concept and it exists materially when though of.

        Certainly there are arguments for and against the materialist position and the substance dualist position' or the idealist position. The dualist position in to context seems to be that mental aspects (namely abstract concepts) have exist in some real way independent of any mind holding them, I see no reason to accept this.

        I disagree that this quantum field is non-material as I understand there is some material aspect to it, and this is the foundation of the many attacks on him for calling it "nothing", I believe because it has some energy. Wikipedia tells me it contains electromagnetic waves and particles that pop in and out of existence. I concur that this quantum vacuum is not nothing, if you were to say that absent the waves and particles exist there is something there, I think I would disagree, I think that would be reasonably be called nothing, so actually maybe Krauss is right in saying something can arise from nothing and uncaused.

        • Rationality is a concept and it exists materially when though of.

          Until you can give anything like a motivating account of how rationality has causal power, I will characterize this as sleight-of-hand. If you cannot distinguish between "thought process which you label 'rational'" (just like anyone can label himself/​herself 'Christian') and "thought process caused by rationality", then it is simply not possible to know that your use of 'rational' coincides with my own, or anyone else's. If you want to say that thought supervenes on brain-states, then rationality must describe an aspect of the time-evolution of brain-states, and yet I've never seen you come close to saying how this could work. To be a bit more precise, you've yet to show how whatever causal powers exist sometimes produce irrational time-evolution and sometimes rational time-evolution, with you being able to discern which is which with any reliability.

          I disagree that this quantum field is non-material as I understand there is some material aspect to it, and this is the foundation of the many attacks on him for calling it "nothing", I believe because it has some energy.

          Krauss has surmised that the quantum vacuum (not sure whether 'vacuum' or 'field' is better, but Krauss may use 'vacuum' more consistently) gave rise to a zero-energy virtual particle which led to our universe, which has total energy of zero (gravitational energy is negative—pulling things apart requires energy). Why does the quantum vacuum need energy to produce a particle of zero energy? Incidentally, this vacuum energy is for the vacuum inside our spacetime, not Krauss' primordial quantum vacuum.

          It's also a bit odd that you're hanging your hat on the idea that the primordial vacuum might have nonzero energy (and I'm not even sure what that means with no spatial or time dimensions), instead of opening up your idea of 'material' as defining 'existence' to be problematic.

          • I'm not asserting rationality has causal power. I am saying there are concepts of rationality that exist materially. I'm not discussing rationality or thought processes but ontological metaphysics.

            I've no idea how or what quantum vacuum is or how it works. I'm not hanging anything on it and I did not raise it. You raised it as evidence of non-material existence. What it appears to be is nothing zero energy state and yet material particles pop in and out of existence. thats fine. If what you mean by immaterial is a state of zero energy vacuum, okay. If you want to call "God" is the spontaneous arising of particles and perhaps material expansion, I think that label is misleading but I don't deny the fact if it. Nor do I see any reason to think of that state of affairs as non-natural creation. Or a mind or benevolent etc.

          • So you've never actually formed or changed a belief because reason, rationality, or logic caused that to happen? Contrast that to my saying that there is a black car outside of the coffee shop I'm at because I see it. You would not be able to say, analogously, that you believe something because it is rational.

            You seem to be conflating the quantum vacuum inside our universe with Krauss' primordial quantum vacuum. I could be wrong, but I suspect that his primordial quantum vacuum need not have nonzero energy. Were that the case, you original formulation—"Something that is non temporal and non spacial and non material is something that lacks the necessary attributes for existence."—would classify his primordial quantum vacuum as nonexistent. That would be highly problematic for you.

            In no way do I intend to identify God with Krauss' primordial quantum vacuum. Instead, I am attempting to show your conception of existence to be too small.

          • "So you've never actually formed or changed a belief because reason, rationality, or logic caused that to happen?"

            No. As far as I know all of my choices are caused by my brain states and external stimulus. Some element of these brain states will be thinking of rationality and critical thinking, which inform my choice. But, some "rationality" that is not a thought or brain state of mine, no I am unaware of any such thing existing so I could not agree it has any causal power.

            I am afraid I am utterly out of my league discussing this quantum vacuum. I could very well be mistaking things and getting it completely wrong.

          • LB: So you've never actually formed or changed a belief because reason, rationality, or logic caused that to happen?

            BGA: No. [...] But, some "rationality" that is not a thought or brain state of mine, no I am unaware of any such thing existing so I could not agree it has any causal power.

            Yikes! On the one hand, I congratulate you for being more consistent than I find most atheists to be. On the other hand, you can't believe anything "because it is rational" or "because it is logical". Or more precisely, you can't mean what Enlightenment folks meant by these terms. They are instead labels for error-prone processes which supervene on laws of nature which care not a whit for truth or falsehood. I would argue that this is a change in kind of what those words mean. Other than increased power over nature and fellow humans, there is nothing 'better' or 'purer' about your use of "rationality" and "logic" than whatever it was that church authorities in twelfth century Europe employed.

            I am afraid I am utterly out of my league discussing this quantum vacuum. I could very well be mistaking things and getting it completely wrong.

            My point in this is that to define existence in terms of nonzero energy, spatial extent, and temporal extent seems unduly restrictive. What happens when you abandon that notion of 'existence'?

          • Yes yes, in casual conversation I might say "i did that because I is the logical thing", but this would be misleading in the context of our conversation, because what I really mean in metaphysical terms is not "I did this because there exists an immaterial "thing": rationality and it caused me to decide X..." that is not what I believe happens. Rather, as I have explained when I think I hold all kinds of concepts in my mind, some of these concepts are logic itself, critical thinking, understanding of logical fallacies. My brain is pretty cool, it allows for abstraction, to hold concepts that are rules, processes, categories, which are aggregates of what appear to be facts about the cosmos and so on. These concepts inform my thinking about empirical decisions and so on.

            It may very well be a change in kind from what others use the term, but it is not wrong nor does it disclose a contradiction, nor does it mean the immaterial is real or exists.

            I'm not saying it is better or purer, I am saying it does not require immaterial reality to work.

            Why is my understanding of existence unduly restrictive? Why should I abandon or expand that notion of existence?

            You have attempted to demonstrate that materialism fails to account for the existence of abstract concepts, I think I have been pretty good in explaining that there is nothing unaccounted for by these abstract concepts. Rather they are just that: concepts. They are thoughts and require no independent existence beyond their being conceived by minds.

          • Rather, as I have explained when I think I hold all kinds of concepts in my mind, some of these concepts are logic itself, critical thinking, understanding of logical fallacies.

            The canonical form of all of these things have a sense of necessity to them, vs. the probabilistic banging of bits of reality into other bits of reality. But there is no true necessity on your metaphysic, making the sense of necessity a deceptive chimera. I think this does irreparable damage to the meaning of statements such as, "I believe X because it is rational".

            I'm not saying it is better or purer, I am saying it does not require immaterial reality to work.

            What you apparently construe as an appeal to an "immaterial reality", I meant as a challenge to your conception of "material reality"—as utterly inadequate for anything beyond truth-agnostic animal behavior.

            Why is my understanding of existence unduly restrictive? Why should I abandon or expand that notion of existence?

            Well, one reason that Christian dogma was seen as "unduly restrictive" was that it closed off avenues of scientific research which turned out to be quite beneficial to human thriving. Your own conception of 'material' threatens to close off avenues to understanding how our universe came to be. Colloquially: you're recapitulating what the RCC did to Galileo, but from the opposite extreme.

            You have attempted to demonstrate that materialism fails to account for the existence of abstract concepts, I think I have been pretty good in explaining that there is nothing unaccounted for by these abstract concepts.

            Well, one can always redefine the concepts so that they are no longer problematic—which is precisely what you're doing. My interest is what the full logical consequences are for such redefinition. When you go messing with the foundation, the edifice on top can fall, or at least what can possibly be built on the foundation can change radically.

          • I make no claim that my metaphysical outlook is necessary, just reasonable and the best explanation for what I observe.

            Materialism should not be construed as limiting any enquiry. There is nothing in materialism that closes off investigation to the origins of the cosmos. I am open to evidence that it is wrong and would be happy to change my mind if you are able to provide a convincing argument. I simply see no reason to believe anything non material exists, I haven't ruled anything out.

            I don't think I have messed with anything. You have asked me to define what I believe and I think I have done so. You have presented no contradiction in what I have said, nor have you provided me with reason to beleive anything non-material exists.

          • I make no claim that my metaphysical outlook is necessary, just reasonable and the best explanation for what I observe.

            Given the precise discussion we just had, how can you possibly say that your metaphysical outlook is "reasonable"? You can say you like it and that it gets you what you want, but "reasonable" as something over and above such psychological things?

            Materialism should not be construed as limiting any enquiry.

            Oh c'mon, you were using it to bracket God, and/or require that he show up in certain ways—ways that possibly Lawrence Krauss' [allegedly] scientific ideas do not show up.

            You have presented no contradiction in what I have said [...]

            How on earth can you say this after I brought up the distinct possibility that Lawrence Krauss' primordial quantum vacuum is (i) non-temoral; (ii) non-material; (iii) non-energy, and yet (iv) gave rise to our universe? The way you effectively prohibited God from causally impacting the universe threatens to result in Lawrence Krauss' primordial quantum vacuum from not being able to give rise to our universe, which de facto denies it 'scientific' status.

    • Phil

      Something that is non temporal and non spacial and non material is something that lacks the necessary attributes for existence. It has no dimensions, exists for no amount of time and has no matter or energy. These are the basic attributes of existence.

      This can be turned on its head! No amount of attributes or properties means that something actually exists. This is the whole point of Aquinas' distinction between essence and existence. Just because we can know what something is (essence) doesn't mean it actually exists. So existence is something that is added onto the particular properties of a being.

      So existence itself is something non-material!

      • No, mass/energy means existence. Existence is a concept the concept exists, it is not a something on its own. We've been through this. No point in doing it again. Substance dualism is not a stupid or irrational position, but one that I am not convinced of.

        • Phil

          To clarify, this is not substance dualism being proposed. This is part of the hylomorphism of Aristotle/Aquinas. It is quite different from substance dualism and doesn't have the problems that this latter has. In hylomorphism we aren't dealing with 2 distinct substances, we are dealing with 1 substance from two different angles. The immaterial and material form a single substance. The immaterial and material part of every single thing in the physical cosmos is simply two sides of the same coin.

          I'm thoroughly convinced that if the hylomorphism of Aristotle was taught well in universities we would leave much of this materialism vs. dualism fight in the dust behind us. Most of the "modern problems" of philosophy would simply disappear.

          -------
          In regards to mass/energy--Mass/energy itself is a basic property of a material being (even possibly a property of all material beings). So simply because we could concieve of a specific being with a certain mass/energy doesn't mean it actually exists.

          • Okay, I am fine with there being one substance. But that substance is what we call material. The matter and the form are not distinct ontologically, rather only conceptually. This is quite clear as one object, say a pen has one being, but many conceptual forms , it has a macro-physical structure, it has a number of parts, it has a chemical structure, a nuclear structure, a quantum structure. These are all distinct conceptual forms of the same thing. If it is two ways of considering one thing, fine, there is no need to speak of something immaterial. Nothing can have form with no substance. How could there be a purely immaterial being? On your definitions we are all equally as immaterial as god, thus the term immaterial loses any useful meaning. Substance and form are excellent terms for describing what you are on about, material and immaterial is confusing as immaterial suggests distinct and different from material.

            I wouldn't say mass/energy is a property of beings rather they are the beings. Mass/energy is what exists and I agree that it exists in different apparent configurations.

          • Phil

            I wouldn't say mass/energy is a property of beings rather they are the beings. Mass/energy is what exists and I agree that it exists in different apparent configurations.

            Be careful here because I don't think you would hold that mass/energy can think. You obviously can think (you are a smart guy no matter what anyone tells you!). But mass/energy cannot think. So you are not purely reducible to the mass/energy that makes you up. Both the mass/energy that makes you up exists and you exist, but they are not the same thing. Your substance (your "Brian'ness") is a combination of the matter that makes you up informed (form) in a specific way.

            And this is at every level, even the quarks that make you up are informed matter. They are matter with the form of quark. It can't just be just a word game because then we would have no reason why quark matter behaves differently from Brian-matter! The form and matter distinction must be a real thing, a real metaphysical reality!

            -----------
            Okay, a few things to speak on here. The basic discrimination we are speaking of here is form/matter. Form and matter are what make up the substance of a physical thing. (We were speaking of the distinction between essence and existence prior. So substance = essence, for our purposes right now. Sometimes writing out a little chart can help to keep these things straight.) This means that immaterial entities such as angels merely have "form", since they don't have matter. This is also why Aquinas notes that each angel must be its own "species" since it is informed matter that disctinguishes species in material entities.

            The question then becomes, how do we know that "form" is a real thing?

            Several things make it clear:

            1) Change is not possible if form does not exist. Think about the coming together of hydrogen and oxygen. When they come together they can form water. Water (H2O) and hydrogen are two different things. Their form is different and as such they even have radically different properties. So one could propose to explain this by saying that the 2 hydrogen atoms that were present before combination with a oxygen atom have been destroyed and a new type of thing--water--has sprung into being! This means each time something changes into a new type of being with different properties it magically "poofed" out of existence and something else sprung into being! This led some to conclude that change is really impossible! Well, this is obviously ridiculous and incoherent.

            That is why among the Greeks 2000 years ago there were some who proposed that there is actually something that underlies the change (something that stays the same). So while the form of oxygen and hydrogen change to form a new type of thing, namely water, the matter that underlies the change did not itself change. It did not cease to exist then spring into being in a new way. Only the form changed, not the matter. (This is called a "substantial change". There is such as thing as a "material change", like getting a haircut or coloring a ball. The form stays the same while a material property changes.)

            2) What something is (its form) can exist in our mind without the physical thing being in our mind. If knowledge is possible, there must be a real connection between the physical thing and what we contemplate in our mind. This means that when we contemplate a tree simply in our mind there must be something that is the same in the physical tree we just saw yesterday. Well, it obviously can't be the matter of the tree since the tree matter doesn't exist in our mind. It must rather be the form of tree that exists in every single physical thing that can rightly be called "tree" and also can be contemplated in our mind. This "form" is not material in nature. And you are correct, it is a concept. All concepts are immaterial in nature, which is one of the clues for the immateriality of the human mind.

            3) You are not reducible to your matter. In fact the matter that makes up your body will change many times over your lifetime. Something must underlie this change in matter if you want to say that you are the same person yesterday as you were 10 years ago. This is your form.

            4) The regularities in nature are incomprehensible apart from form. It is important to note that matter can never be separated from form. All matter exists informed in a certain way at that moment. It can of course change (like water example above). But the question of why does water act in the way it does and fire act in the way it does? The answer of course is the form. Form determines what a thing is, and directs it towards certain ends rather than others. Coherent Science is impossible if form doesn't exist. If form doesn't exist, we have no more reason to thing that water will put out a fire rather than turning into a rabbit. Even after a million experiments with the same result, we have no more reason to think anything about water (assuming form doesn't exist).

            So these are just a few off the top of my head. There are probably some even more simpler examples.

          • George

            "I don't think you would hold that mass/energy can think."

            Is it okay to say that souls and minds can think?

          • Phil

            Anything with intellect/will can think, whether that is human persons, angels, God, or any other being that we discover to exist that has intellect/will.

            In the human person it is the rational soul which grants persons the power of intellect/will, i.e., the ability to think.

            (But remember, every physical living being has soul, but not all can think. It isn't a soul generally that has the power to think, it is a specific kind of soul.)

          • George

            seeing as the idea of matter/energy doing the process of thinking is often dismissed in apologetic circles, I ask how a soul would be an acceptable explanation for consciousness, assuming soul as an answer was accepted.

          • Phil

            Check out this great essay by a good friend of mine (now Fr. Patrick Schultz as of 2 weeks ago!). If you need more background, check out the essay he references that sets the stage this one:

            http://www.strangenotions.com/why-materialism-and-dualism-both-fail-to-explain-your-mind/

            In short, "soul" is not something added onto a living being. It is what it means for a living being to be alive in the first place. Soul does not equal consciousness as plants and bacteria have soul.

          • "But mass/energy cannot think."

            why not?

            You have equated substance as essence, is not sommething I would equate, and you distinguish it from "form". You then go on to say that angels are form without substance.

            The concept of form that I infer is that form is the shape or arrangement of matter. Even if we lack matter, we can still say "form" is some kind of arrangement or shape. if you are usinng some other meaning, you will have to define it.

            So I do not see how you can have "angel" so defined. If there is no material to take the form of an angel, what is the angel?

            "1) Change is not possible if form does not exist".

            By exist here, I take it you mean, 'exist as a real entity absent any matter' and by that I disagree. Nothing in your analogy is inconsistent with "form" simply beinng a lable used to describe arrangements off matter in time in a shared context.

            "This means that when we contemplate a tree simply in our mind there must be something that is the same in the physical tree we just saw yesterday."

            Not at all, sure there is some reason why our brains are holding this tree concept, but that is all we need to account for our concept. Whether it is because of sensory input, memory or an invention of our own, we can hold concepts in our minds without these concepts having any ontological presence other than in that arrangement in our mind/brain. I would argue it is not at all the "form" of the tree, but the form of our brain that explains the concept. There is no need for an imaterial ontologically distinct entity.

            "You are not reducible to your matter. In fact the matter that makes up your body will change many times over your lifetime"

            Agreed, but there is no such thing as "me" absent any matter. Nothing you have said in point 3 requires anything immaterial to exist.

            "It is important to note that matter can never be separated from form"

            I fully agree, but what you need to establish is that form may be separated from matter.

            "But the question of why does water act in the way it does and fire act in the way it does?"

            Chemistry. What we mean by water is its chemical structure the properties of the molecule means those molecules interact in certain predictable ways with other molecules. I think callinng that "form" is a little vague, but sure, again, I do not disagree.

            Everything you have said is completely consistent with form being simply the lable we use to talk about the arrangement of matter. Substance is the word we use to talk about the stuff that is taking certain form.

            Nothing you have said means there must be a separate ontological existence of what really are mental abstractions.

          • Phil

            The answers above are not unusual but they don't ultimately solve the underlying issue of form--3 questions to help show why:

            1) Why does "quark arranged" matter behave differently from "electron arranged" matter? Put another way, what causes different arrangements of matter to behave in radically different ways? What is "telling the matter" to "act like this and not like that"?

            2) What persists (i.e., continues to exist) before, during, and after the chemical reaction when hydrogen and oxygen become water? If absolutely nothing continued to exist underneath the entire change, one would be admitting that during any change--including before and after a chemical reaction--what existed before the chemical reaction goes completely out of existence and something else pops into being. My guess is you wouldn't hold that every time something changes an entity goes completely out of existence and a new one pops into existence?

            3) How is interpersonal communication possible using concepts/forms if these concepts/forms are completely subjective and private, and don't exist in any way in an external reality that is shared between us?

            ----------

            It is my contention, along with many others over the past ~2300 years, that the most rational, coherent, consistent, and comprehensive explanation for all these questions is the existence of form as a real metaphysical quality of all material entities.

          • "1) Why does "quark arranged" matter behave differently from "electron arranged" matter"

            It doesn't. I am not aware of anything telling matter to behave in any way. What causes different arrangements of matter to behave differently appears to be the arrangement and state of the matter.

            2) "What persists (i.e., continues to exist) before, during, and after the chemical reaction when hydrogen and oxygen become water?"

            Everything that existed beforehand. It is just in a different arrangement. No when things change nothing comes in or out of existence.

            "3) How is interpersonal communication possible using concepts/forms if these concepts/forms are completely subjective and private"

            Through language.

          • Phil

            1) And why is quark-matter and rabbit-matter arranged and unified in the unique ways that they are?

            So it is the unified arrangement and intrinsic nature/state of that matter which is form! What makes quark-matter a unified substance that acts in one way rather than another is form.

            If form doesn't actually exist in reality, but only in our mind, then there is no reasonable explanation why quark-matter is unified and arranged in the way it is and why it behaves differently from electron-matter or rabbit-matter.

            2)

            Everything that existed beforehand. It is just in a different arrangement. No when things change nothing comes in or out of existence.

            If nothing came into existence, why does water behave radially different from oxygen and hydrogen?

            If the hydrogen still exists exactly as it did before the chemical reaction, why doesn't it act in the same way as it did before it became water?

            This points to the fact that water is a different type of thing from both oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen and hydrogen have become something different, so we can't say that the oxygen and hydrogen still exist in the same way as they did before. If they did, there would be no change in properties and they way they act.

            3)

            Through language.

            Yes, and you propose that the concepts that language carry are completely subjective and private and have no objective connection to the outside world. If that is the case, how can either of us know what each other means by any of the words we are using? Words simply carry concepts (i.e., "forms"); that is what language is.

            -----------

            I have found that coming to see the truth in something such as form can be most challenging because they are the things that are most obvious and are right in front of our face. We can miss these things because we are dissecting the tree and missing the forest.

          • "And why is quark-matter and rabbit-matter arranged and unified in the unique ways that they are?"

            This is one matter, you are calling it "unique" and "unified", but I do not see how those terms apply. Why? I'd say it is due to the previous arrangement of this matter.

            "If form doesn't actually exist in reality, but only in our mind..."

            No, the form exists in reality it IS the matter arranged in that arrangement, that is what I mean by form: the arrangement of matter. We have concepts about this matter and the form. The form does not exist ABSENT the matter or the concept.

            2) "If nothing came into existence, why does water behave radially different from oxygen and hydrogen?"

            Because the atoms are in a different arrangement. The electrons are doing different things than they did in hydrogen and oxygen gas. The molecule is polar where oxygen molecules are not, and so on. This is like asking why do two people in a three legged race behave differently than people not attached at the leg.

            "If the hydrogen still exists exactly as it did before the chemical reaction..."

            It doesn't exist exactly as it did before the chemical reaction, it is now bonded to an oxygen atom which is bonded to another hydrogen atom.

            "This points to the fact that water is a different type of thing from both oxygen and hydrogen."

            Yes, they are different chemicals with different properties. They don't exist in the same way as they did before, they have been modified and behave differently because of the modification.

            "and you propose that the concepts that language carry are completely
            subjective and private and have no objective connection to the outside
            world"

            No, I don't say that. I believe that our concepts are subjective but often are very similar to the concepts others share. It is clear to me that some concepts, e.g. the concept of a circle is very similar to those of other minds. By contrast my concept of blue is very different than many others as I have had arguments over whether something is blue or green on many occasions. My concept of music is radically different than many others, but in many senses very similar.

            "If that is the case, how can either of us know what each other means by any of the words we are using? "

            We cannot, ultimately. By by way of shared culture and context we hope to have a great deal of overlap and this seems to work pretty well.

            There really does not seem to be any empirical difference among us, the question is whether there is some ontological presence of form, absent substance?

            My position is that what exists is what has material. This is because what it is reasonable to believe exists is what can and has been observed. There may be all kinds of conceivable or fantastic "things" that exist in some other way that are not or cannot be observed. But it is not reasonable to accept they do exist. It is reasonable to hold off until there is some basis to believe they do. You, as have many others have pointed to concepts we hold whether particular like a "rock" or aggregates of particulars like "jazz", are somehow distinct from the things they refer to and distinct from anyone the actual thinking about these concepts or things. I see no reason to believe in this distinct ontological status.

          • Phil

            1) Okay, I think we are getting closer.

            The key point is still that we have no answer to the question of why does quark arranged matter behave completely differently from electron, tree, or rabbit arranged matter? To reference simply the "arrangement" doesn't answer the question, because we are trying to figure out why the arrangement acts as it does in the first place.

            You are exactly correct that the form can't normally exist apart from the matter, but form cannot be reduced purely to matter. Form and matter are two sides of the same coin. (What exists in our mind is the concept extracted from the form existing in the actual object. Both are intrinsically immaterial.)

            2) Okay, you admit that we are dealing with several different kinds of things before and after the reaction of oxygen and hydrogen becoming a new kind of thing, namely, water.

            So our original question stands: if the oxygen, as oxygen, and the hydrogen, as hydrogen, don't exist anymore (because water now exists), what stayed the same before, during, and after this change/reaction?

            3)

            No, I don't say that. I believe that our concepts are subjective but often are very similar to the concepts others share. It is clear to me that some concepts, e.g. the concept of a circle is very similar to those of other minds. By contrast my concept of blue is very different than many others as I have had arguments over whether something is blue or green on many occasions. My concept of music is radically different than many others, but in many senses very similar.

            How do you know that your concept of a circle, blue, or tree is anywhere even remotely similar to anyone else's? The only way to test this is to point to something external to yourself that the other person can access so as to see if the concepts actually are the same/similar.

            But the concepts don't exist outside your mind in the external world for the other person to access and compare. And when you try and point to something in the external world to explain your concept, you are using concepts in trying to explain, so the problem remains and becomes an infinite refress!

            We cannot, ultimately [know what another person means by any of our words]. By by way of shared culture and context we hope to have a great deal of overlap and this seems to work pretty well.

            But this contradicts what you said above, "I believe that our concepts are subjective but often are very similar to the concepts others share." To know that our concepts are similar assumes that you know at least something of what I actually mean by the concept I'm using.

            See the problem here? If concepts don't exist in some way outside our mind, we have no way to explain coherent interpersonal communication through language.

            ----------

            There really does not seem to be any empirical difference among us, the question is whether there is some ontological presence of form, absent substance?

            I think our main difference is that you hold that form merely exists in our mind and we "thrust" it upon external reality. Where I believe that form actually exists in the external realities and we abstract the form by our mind and through our senses.

            I hold the latter view because it has the most explanatory power, and is both coherent and consistent with experience.

            Now, when you say "form" absent "substance", it sounds like you might be misunderstanding what I'm defending. This is not some Platonic view where there is some immaterial "form heaven" out there. This is the Aristotelian view that matter and form necessarily go together. Matter cannot exist apart from form. If the matter changes, the form goes away as well.

            Now, there are special kinds of "forms" that we do have reason to can exist apart from matter, these being the rational human form (I.e., rational soul) and angelic beings. But these as sinply different kind of forms; it is the same thing, just different in kind.

          • 1) I really do not understand this question, there is no such thing as quark arranged matter vs electron or tree arranged matter. It is like asking why a building is arranged as bricks vs walls, it's the same stuff.

            Why does matter behave the way it does? This is what the entire discipline of science investigates. It is an enormously vague question, it is like asking why do humans behave the way they do.

            You keep saying form exists and it is immaterial, you'll have to do better if you want to be convincing.

            2) no I don't admit we are dealing with different kinds of things before and after the reaction. It depends on the conceptual level you are considering the question. In terms of chemicals or molecules, there is no more oxygen or hydrogen gas, we call this new arrangement hydrogen monoxide (water), in the atomic level we have the same number of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. On the subatomic level, the protons and neutrons are unchanged, some of the electrons are behaving differently, the other sub-atomic particles are literally popping in and out of existence holding the atomic nucleus together as they or others like them did before and during the reaction, the sub-sub-atomic particles, quarks, are unchanged. But of course when we say unchanged, all of these are in constant motion.

            If I have a pile of lumber, and then I build a table. We don't consider the lumber to no longer exist and a new thing exists. We have rearranged the lumber, in this new arrangement we have a useful label for it "table".

            (Please understand I am also doing my best to explain this based on a 25 year old high school education!)

            3) I don't know for sure that my concepts of anything are remotely like anyone else's I infer similarity from conduct, generally language.

            Concepts don't need to exist external to minds to be communicated and shared, they need to exists as what they are, concepts in minds, we use symbols ( eg language) to express them these symbols affect others through their senses which results in others having concepts. Undoubtedly most of these concepts will be different but through communication we can refine and define, with, admittedly uneven success.

            I don't agree, I think all we need to share concepts is a mind to hold them and a means to communicate them. But your metaphysic is of no assistance either. Even if concepts do exist immaterially independent of minds, there is no way to know whether you have the "real" concept, or if you do that any other mind has the real one.

            No, what I mean by form is the shape of material things. The shape is the form, absent a thing to have form, there is no form, only concepts of forms, but these neither are immaterial, they are brain activity.

            Again, from what you say, I agree with Aristotle. You will have no argument from me that matter can be formless. But this is not what you need to prove, you need to prove that form can exist without matter.

            It's no good in telling me that things I don't believe exist (souls, angels) have form but no matter. It is like me telling you that faster than light travel is possible because the enterprise and millennium falcon can do it.

          • Phil

            1)

            Why does matter behave the way it does? This is what the entire discipline of science investigates.

            Well, yes and no again. Science can tell what is and how something acts, but it can't tell you why something acts the way it does.

            For example--let's propose that quarks and electrons are actually basic material building blocks of reality (I.e., they aren't made up of anything else). We ask the question, why does a quark behave as it does and why does an electron behave as it does? Science couldn't tell you anything beyond, "it just does".

            Well, that obviously doesn't explain anything. What is needed to explain this quark and electron matter is its nature, i.e., its form. It is because of an electron's form/nature that it acts like an electron and not like a quark, a rabbit, or a tree.

            Why material things are oriented towards doing certain things and not others can only be explained by reference to form.

            -------
            Furthermore, "forms/natures" makes the whole talk about "laws of nature" intelligible. Speaking of laws of nature is a holdover from Christian scientists referencing a lawgiver. Most scientists don't actually think that laws of nature actually exist out there somewhere apart from material reality. Natures/form perfectly explain this phenomenon of "laws of nature" without reference to some magic Platonic heaven where the laws of nature and exist.

            2)

            no I don't admit we are dealing with different kinds of things before and after the reaction.

            Okay, if we aren't dealing with different things before and after the reaction, why doesn't water act the same exact way as oxygen and hydrogen did before the reaction?

            If nothing has actually changed during the reaction, then everything should behave exactly the same after it.

            3)

            Concepts don't need to exist external to minds to be communicated and shared, they need to exists as what they are, concepts in minds, we use symbols ( eg language) to express them these symbols affect others through their senses which results in others having concepts. Undoubtedly most of these concepts will be different but through communication we can refine and define, with, admittedly uneven success.

            How are you going to compare your concepts with others if it only exists in your mind? Language is either shared through written words or sound vibrations. But you propose that the concept doesn't exist outside out mind, so it can't exist in the written word or sound vibration. The written words and sound vibrations are physical things, but you said that concepts don't exist in physical things.

            The only way we could actually compare concepts on the view you are proposing it through some sort of ESP/mind-reading.

            But your metaphysic is of no assistance either. Even if concepts do exist immaterially independent of minds, there is no way to know whether you have the "real" concept, or if you do that any other mind has the real one.

            Why wouldn't it solve all these issues? If "treeness"--the concept/form of tree-- actually exists in physical trees, then each of us can get the concept of tree from a shared external physical reality. We can now compare concepts to see if we are on the same page because concept ts are abstracted from the physical world, a physical world that is not purely subjective and it shared.

            --------------

            Again, from what you say, I agree with Aristotle. You will have no argument from me that matter can be formless. But this is not what you need to prove, you need to prove that form can exist without matter.

            Okay, if we can agree that form and matter exist together in all physical physical realities, then we can move on.

            Remember, Aristotle differs from Plato in that he doesn't propose there is some "form heaven". If all trees go out of existence and the concept of tree doesn't exist in any persons mind, then the "form" of tree doesn't exist in actuality, merely in potentially.

            One clue that forms can exist apart from physical realities, but in a way that is slightly different from when they exist as/in material beings are the concepts in our mind.

            For example--we know what the concept of "tree" is by observing actual physical trees. Now let's suppose that every single tree in the entire material cosmos suddenly went out of existence. Would the concept of tree suddenly be erased from our mind? Of course not. The form/concept of tree would still exist in our mind.

            Now, concepts exist in our mind in a slightly different way from how they exist in an actual physical tree, but we must hold that they are intrinsically connected.

            So we can move to the "form" of human person and angels (spiritual beings) and how they could exist apart from materiality if you want to.

          • Phil

            Again, from what you say, I agree with Aristotle. You will have no argument from me that matter can be formless. But this is not what you need to prove, you need to prove that form can exist without matter.

            It's no good in telling me that things I don't believe exist (souls, angels) have form but no matter. It is like me telling you that faster than light travel is possible because the enterprise and millennium falcon can do it.

            I realized this morning that I might not have been clear enough in the relationship between concepts that exist in the mind and form. That may be why I confused you a little bit with the whole "form existing apart from matter" bit.

            The first thing to establish is that form is a real thing that necessarily exists with all material entities. Form isn't some "ghost in a machine" but rather the organizing and directing factor of each and every material entity.

            Now, once we establish this, then we can move on to discuss if it is possible for form to exist apart from matter. This was the big break off from Plato that Aristotle made, and that Christian thinkers like Aquinas continued. Where Plato believed in a "form heaven" where the perfect forms of "tree", "procrastination", "human", and "redness" existed, Aristotle said no, forms exist in the material being itself. (Now, there is a parallel between Plato's "form heaven" and the mind of God, but that's for a later discussion).

            So, again, we must establish the form is a real thing in material entities, then we can move on to discuss if form can exist apart from matter in any way.

          • Not sure what you mean by establishing that form is a real thing in material entities. If you mean than material has a shape, I agree. If you mean something more, you will need to explain and establish.

            But just as no substance can be formless, I do not see how any form can have no substance. Did Aristotle say there can be form with no material?

          • Phil

            Since we are sticking to simple basic material entities, then no; Aristotle, Aquinas, and myself do not claim that forms of material things can exist apart from matter of which they are informing. If all monkeys went out of existence, the form of "monkey" would no longer exist. (The concept which came directly form the form of monkey could continue to exist in our mind though which is a fun twist.)

            But the bad conclusion to make from this is that therefore only matter exists and form is an illusion. Form must be a real metaphysical reality if we are to explain all the things we have done so above.

          • Phil

            Just add on from the previous response below (I realize there was a lot there, but these questions get to the heart of the nature of reality)--

            Here was an article on hylomorphism by my good friend Pat Schultz (now Fr. Pat Schultz as of 2 weeks ago!). He comes at it from the nature of the human person, but hopefully it acts as a good compliment to my prior rambling.

            http://www.strangenotions.com/why-materialism-and-dualism-both-fail-to-explain-your-mind/

      • I utterly disagree. The only way to know what something is, is to have so e observation of it. An observation requires material existence.

        I

        • Phil

          The only way to know what something is, is to have so e observation of it. An observation requires material existence

          Well, yes and no. Our normal way of coming to knowledge is through our senses. (For example, we come to know what a tree is through observing trees. We come to know what procrastination is by experiencing and observing procrastination actually existing out in the real world.)

          But consider this, no true geometrical shape exists in physical reality. There is no such thing as an actual physical perfectly true triangle. An actual geometrical triangle is made up of lines whose inside angles add up perfectly to 180*. Well, an actual line has no width. A line can't exist in material reality because material objects, to exist in material reality, must have some dimension to it. Because of those, no physical triangle's inside angles can ever add up exactly perfectly to 180*.

          So all our physical triangles are mere approximations of a true geometrical triangle. So either we must conclude that true geometrical shapes don't actually exist, or that true geometrical shapes have immaterial natures.

          But get this...we only come to know the perfect geometrical triangle through abstracting the nature/form of triangle from imperfect approximations of a triangle! The concept of triangle can exist perfectly in our mind, but only imperfectly in material reality. This shows forth another clue to the ultimately immateriality of the human intellect!

          ----

          Another clue is that we can think about the concept of "small" apart from any physical object. The problem is that smallness can't exist in the material world apart from any physical object. How do we think about the concept smallness if our minds are purely material...we can't!

          • "So either we must conclude that true geometrical shapes don't actually
            exist, or that true geometrical shapes have immaterial natures."

            I conclude that true geometrical shapes do not actually exist.

            "The concept of triangle can exist perfectly in our mind, but only imperfectly in material reality."

            Not exactly, the concept of a perfect triangle can exist in our mind, but only imperfect triangles can exist as actual physical shapes.

            "The problem is that smallness can't exist in the material world apart
            from any physical object."

            I do not agree that smallness "exists" at all, it is an adjective we use for some objects to distinguish them from other objects. I do not see any problem here.

            Again you just state that we cannot learn or hold the concept of smallness in a purely material mind. This is not an argument, it is simply a statement. There is nothing contradictory or implausible about our brains being able to hold these concepts and that is all that a concept is. Indeed we can now observe thinking in FMRI studies, we can literally observe these thoughts happening. This is at least some evidence that a our neurology can hold these concepts. What evidence is there of them existing elsewhere?

          • Phil

            1These two things seem to contradict each other:

            I conclude that true geometrical shapes do not actually exist.

            The concept of a perfect triangle can exist in our mind, but only imperfect triangles can exist as actual physical shapes.

            In the first response you say it doesn't exist, but in the second you say that it does exist in our mind. Existing in our mind is a kind of existence. Which would you say is actually true?

            A second question would be, did geometry discover triangles or did it create them? If it discovered triangles, then they must exist externally to our mind in some way.

            2)

            I do not agree that smallness "exists" at all, it is an adjective we use for some objects to distinguish them from other objects. I do not see any problem here.

            When you think of the concept "smallness", it exists in your mind. So it definitely exists in some manner.

            Again you just state that we cannot learn or hold the concept of smallness in a purely material mind. This is not an argument, it is simply a statement.

            I haven't just made statements, I have proposed several arguments. I have argued that concepts, like "smallness", "procrastination", and "triangle", are ultimately immaterial. Smallness, procrastination, and geometrical triangles aren't physical things. They can be shown forth in and through material things, but they aren't themselves material things.

            So if we can actually think about smallness, procrastination, and geometrical triangles, then the thing doing the thinking can't be purely material in its nature.

            There is nothing contradictory or implausible about our brains being able to hold these concepts and that is all that a concept is. Indeed we can now observe thinking in FMRI studies, we can literally observe these thoughts happening. This is at least some evidence that a our neurology can hold these concepts. What evidence is there of them existing elsewhere?

            When we look at the brain that is thinking, you don't see concepts. You see neurons firing, which happens in concert with the human mind thinking. Remember, on an Aristotelian proposal, the mind is form (immaterial) thinking in and through the physical brain (matter)[note, this does not happen as a Cartesian dualistic "ghost in the machine", but rather as form-matter composition]. So when we are thinking we should see certain neural patterns; that just makes sense. But to say that the brain waves and neural firing patterns are thinking and concepts themselves are a big mistake. Well, why is this the case?

            It is a mistake in the similar way that we can't reduce the actual concept of triangle or procrastination to the material written word of "triangle" or "procrastination". The material written words are like our material brain, they show forth a pattern. But the material words themselves aren't the concepts themselves (if they were, "procrastination" and "dilation" couldn't mean the same thing).

          • "In the first response you say it doesn't exist, but in the second you say that it does exist in our mind"

            This is not a contradiction, the triangle does not exist, the abstract concept of triangle does, in a mind.

            "did geometry discover triangles or did it create them" this is going into another area and I fail to see the relevance.

            "When you think of the concept "smallness", it exists in your mind. So it definitely exists in some manner."

            Again, the concept of smallness exists materially, not "smallness" itself.

            " I have argued that concepts, like "smallness", "procrastination", and "triangle", are ultimately immaterial."

            And I disagree, I believe concepts are thoughts and these exist only materially in material minds.

            "So if we can actually think about smallness, procrastination, and geometrical triangles, then the thing doing the thinking can't be purely material in its nature."

            This does not follow, why can't it be purely material?

            "When we look at the brain that is thinking, you don't see concepts"

            I disagree, I think that is exactly what we are seeing. You are seeing a brain thinking, holding concepts. Looking at a brain, you do not experience these concepts, but that doesn't mean the brain is not thinking these concepts. Just like when you look at the computer code of a picture of the Mona Lisa, the code doesn't look like the painting.

            "But to say that the brain waves and neural firing patterns are thinking and concepts themselves are a big mistake. Well, why is this the case?'

            Because of the universal correlation between brain activity and experience of thought. We have people being scanned thinking, we can introduce chemicals that will affect the thinking, when parts of the brain are damaged, it can affect the thinking. In short, whenever we have evidence of thinking we also have evidence of brain activity.

            And again, this comes to the point. There really is no dispute that what active brains do, is think. The question is can there be thinking with no active brain? What evidence is there to support this? Similarly, there is no dispute that all substance must have form, that you cannot have substance with no form. The question is can there be form without substance? What evidence is there to support a form with no substance or material to make up the form?

          • Phil

            1)

            This is not a contradiction, the triangle does not exist, the abstract concept of triangle does, in a mind.

            Okay, I'll try and make the issue more clear. Here is the argument you've ultimately proposed:

            1) Only material things are real and exist.
            2) The human mind is real and therefore a material thing.
            3) Geometrical triangles aren't material things.
            4) Geometrical triangles exist in the mind as concepts.
            5) Concepts are not immaterial or they wouldn't exist.
            6) Therefore the concept of a geometrical triangle is material.
            7) Contradiction between premise (3) and (6). Also, contradiction between premise (1) and (4). Therefore we will reject premise (1) that only material things exist.

            There are actually a couple issues going on here. The two contradictions could be broken down by themself.

            2

            I disagree , I think that is exactly what we are seeing. You are seeing a brain thinking, holding concepts. Looking at a brain, you do not experience these concepts, but that doesn't mean the brain is not thinking these concepts. Just like when you look at the computer code of a picture of the Mona Lisa, the code doesn't look like the painting.

            Okay, so if the material brain pattern merely represents the concepts, like a computer program, and the physical words merely represent concepts, then where do the actual concepts exist (if at all)?

            If one says that concepts exist in the mind and that the mind is purely material, then one must that concepts are simply material brain states. If concepts are simply material brain states, then they can't be physical words or spoken language.

            3)

            And again, this comes to the point. There really is no dispute that what active brains do, is think. The question is can there be thinking with no active brain? What evidence is there to support this? Similarly, there is no dispute that all substance must have form, that you cannot have substance with no form. The question is can there be form without substance? What evidence is there to support a form with no substance or material to make up the form?

            In a normal human person there is no thinking apart from brain activity. The material brain is the material through which the human mind functions. This doesn't then mean that the human mind is reducible to the mere material, in fact this can't be done as I've been arguing. The argument is that a purely material mind can't account for the true state of reality.

            The fact that the human mind cannot be reduced purely to the physical brain is exactly the philosophical evidence that the human mind could continue to exist after complete bodily death.

          • There is no contradiction between premise 3 and 6, or 1 and 4. There would be a contradiction between 1 and 4 if "geometrical triangle" or "concept" need be immaterial, they do not. As we have discussed concepts are thoughts and they exist materially. Here is a syllogism that is more appropriate to the context:

            P1) Concepts are thoughts
            P2) thoughts are the activity of minds (neural, possibly electronic)
            P3) There are no minds that are not material
            C1) therefore concepts are material
            P4) geometrical triangles are "perfect triangles" their lines are infinitely thin and perfectly straight
            P5) A material geometrical triangle is impossible
            P6) Nothing non-mateiral exists
            C2) Therefore geometrical triangles do not exist
            P7) Humans have thoughts of geometrical triangles
            C3) concepts of geometrical triangles do exist and are material

            The important thing to recognize is the difference between a concept of a thing and the thing itself. this is why there is no contradiction between C2 and C3. We can have concepts of things that are impossible.

            "Okay, so if the material brain pattern merely represents the concepts,"

            No, the material brain activity is the concepts, but your observation of this is not the concept, so you would not experience the concept by observing the brain activity.

            " If concepts are simply material brain states, then they can't be physical words or spoken language."

            I agree, I am not saying that concepts are physical words or spoken language, like you note, I am saying concepts are brain activity.

            "This doesn't then mean that the human mind is reducible to the mere material, in fact this can't be done as I've been arguing."

            Correct, it is not impossible that there is more to human minds than material activity. But the point is that there is no reason to believe there is anything more.

            "The argument is that a purely material mind can't account for the true state of reality."

            Why not?

          • Phil

            I agree, I am not saying that concepts are physical words or spoken language, like you note, I am saying concepts are brain activity.

            No, the material brain activity is the concepts, but your observation of this is not the concept, so you would not experience the concept by observing the brain activity.

            To clarify, you would propose that: concepts = brain activity?

            If this view is actually true, A few questions:

            1) If brain activity equals concepts, then how does a something outside our mind that we reference the concepts with ("this is a triangle") have any real connection to the material brain activity? It seems you are admitting that there is absolutely no connection between our thoughts and reality. It seems you have sawed off the branch--the ability to come to any knowledge--you are sitting on.

            2) The concept of "triangle" applies to all triangles that have been and will ever be, how can that be true yet also claim that the concept of triangle is perfectly equal to the material brain thinking about the concept of triangle?

            -------------------

            "The argument is that a purely material mind can't account for the true state of reality."

            Why not?

            That's what we are working on right now. Showing why a purely materialist conception of the mind and reality as a whole ultimately fails to explain reality. :)

          • Concepts are brain activity, but not all brain activity is conceptual.

            Our concepts are influenced by sensory perception and other concepts that is the connection. Our thoughts are part of reality.

            "2) The concept of "triangle" applies to all triangles that have
            been and will ever be, how can that be true yet also claim that the
            concept of triangle is perfectly equal to the material brain thinking
            about the concept of triangle?"

            I don't see the problem here. The abstract concept of triangle is basically a category, it is the idea of a shape with three sides. This is related to other ideas of actual objects that have three sides and so on. When we form concepts of shapes with three sides we have a new concept, that this shape is a triangle. And so on.

            One point that may need clarification is that materialsim is not so much the position that anything non-material is impossible, but that only material is fundamental, and I think you get this as it does indeed mean all can be reduced to material.

            I do not like to defer to other sources in these discussions, but you might find this series helpful. I certainly did.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IR3So9h1Pe0

          • Phil

            One point that may need clarification is that materialsim is not so much the position that anything non-material is impossible, but that only material is fundamental, and I think you get this as it does indeed mean all can be reduced to material.

            Okay, are you saying that concepts are actually immaterial and that the material brain activity creates them?

            Or do you want to stick to the belief that concepts are perfectly equal to the material brain activity.

            I don't see the problem here. The abstract concept of triangle is basically a category, it is the idea of a shape with three sides. This is related to other ideas of actual objects that have three sides and so on. When we form concepts of shapes with three sides we have a new concept, that this shape is a triangle. And so on.

            A side note--"category" itself is a concept. So we need to explain how that concept comes about. (This is the issue with saying that concepts only exist in our mind.) It leads to an infinite regress that ultimately explains nothing.

            (Thank you for the video also. Someone posted it on here last year and I was able to watch it.)

          • I say this mainly because I get what you are saying and I agree intuitively some abstract concepts such as triangle, or anything mathematical seem to be facts about reality that are not easily described in material terms. This is a bit of a compromise to say okay, call these immaterial, but ultimately and fundamentally, they are material.

            But no, when the brain is thinking, it is holding concepts, there is nothing non-material happening or existing.

            I agree "category" is a concept, I do not agree we "need" to explain how it comes about. If you want to argue it is impossible to arise on materialism, feel free.

            It was probably me that posted it last year!

          • Phil

            Okay, so we will stick to proposing that concepts are perfectly equal to the material brain activity.

            1) If you want to the propose that the human brain is a type of "organic computer", remember, computers only represent the information they contain. There is no intrinsic connection between a certain group of 1's and 0's and what that certain group of 1's and 0's means. The meaning must come from our human mind (hence why human minds make and program computers and computer programs; we give it all the meaning).

            But if that's the case with our human mind, where does the meaning of our brain patterns and activity come from? If we give our own brain patterns and activity their meaning, we have proposed an incoherent circular argument.

            In short, where the does the meaning of the material brain patterns and activity come from?

            2) A side question from earlier is still, in what way does the material brain activity that is equal to the concept "triangle" or "tree" have any connection to the material entity we call a "triangle" or "tree"?

          • Meaning comes from other concepts and the interaction of concepts. Likely also from some brain characteristics we are born with. I don't really know.

            "2) A side question from earlier is still, in what way does the material
            brain activity that is equal to the concept "triangle" or "tree" have
            any connection to the material entity we call a "triangle" or "tree"?"

            They are connected by other concepts, we have an abstract concept of "tree" we have sensory images or input, we connect the two by thoughts such as "that thing I am seeing is a tree"

            It seems your new argument is that materialism cannot account for human experience of meaning. I do not see why this would be the case, any experience of meaning will be us thinking about our meaning. As thinking is a material exercise there is no reason to say it can't account for our experience of meaning.

          • Phil

            1)

            Meaning comes from other concepts and the interaction of concepts. Likely also from some brain characteristics we are born with. I don't really know.

            We have already reduced concepts purely to brain activity, so we are trying to answer where concepts/brain activity get their meaning. This answer above says that the meaning of the brain patterns and activity comes from brain patterns and activity. That would be using the thing you are trying to explain to explain itself (e.g., "leaves are green because leaves are green). Of course, that doesn't explain anything.

            The answer to a question like this either tells us that we have reason to believe that the human mind and concepts are purely material, or that they are not.

            The question we are contemplating is: where the does the meaning of the brain patterns and activity themselves come from?

            (A side note--Concepts have meaning, they don't create meaning. To rely on another concept to help clarify the first concept leads to an infinite regress that ultimately explains nothing.)

            2)

            It seems your new argument is that materialism cannot account for human experience of meaning. I do not see why this would be the case, any experience of meaning will be us thinking about our meaning. As thinking is a material exercise there is no reason to say it can't account for our experience of meaning.

            This isn't a new argument, this carries on from all the other things I've laid out. Physical things, whether they be brain states, trees, words, etc., don't have intrinsic meaning (you claim they are just organized material bits without immaterial form). Your view is that our brain organizes and gives meaning and comes up with concepts for all these things. But if the brain states that are supposed to be giving meaning are themselves material, how can they give meaning? They themselves don't have meaning.

            [Actually, on a side note, if you believe that form isn't a real thing existing outside our mind, then the above statement that the material bits outside our mind are actually organized is a false one. Nothing outside our mind is organized, since you have proposed that the mind organizes the outside world into certain concepts with a specific meaning.]

          • "This answer above says that the meaning of the brain patterns and activity comes from brain patterns and activity."

            You use phrases like "meaning of the brain" and I am not sure what you mean. Do you mean what explains our experience of meaning? All I can tell you is our experience of meaning is a thought process, it comes from other thoughts and sensory input.

            "if the brain states that are supposed to be giving meaning are themselves material, how can they give meaning?"

            By thinking. Why not? You seem to be saying some thoughts cannot lead to other new thoughts, I do not see why not.

          • Phil

            1

            You use phrases like "meaning of the brain" and I am not sure what you mean. Do you mean what explains our experience of meaning? All I can tell you is our experience of meaning is a thought process, it comes from other thoughts and sensory input.

            So what we are getting at is that you have proposed that thought, concepts, and their meaning are purely material processes (there is no immaterial part to thought). Therefore, if we observe the material process of the brain we are observing thought. But we can't observe the "thought". And when we say "thought", it is the "concept" and "meaning of the concept" we are talking about. (Again concepts have meaning, so there is a big connection there.)

            So the question was, where do these physical brain processes get their meaning for conceptual thought?

            Above, you propose other thoughts and sensory input as an answer. Obviously, other thoughts won't help us because it is thought as a whole that we are trying to account for right now. Sensory input won't work, because remember you said that concepts and meaning don't exist outside the mind. So it can't come from outside us through sensory input.

            This is the corner it seems we have painted ourselves into with this view. That is why it isn't some magical proposal to say that concepts are abstracted from the form/matter composition of actually existing material entities outside our mind. We actually get concepts from external objects! Our mind doesn't make them up! We abstract them. If form wasn't a real metaphysical reality existing outside our mind, this wouldn't be possible.

            This is again why I propose that if one wants to believe the overall metaphysical theory/view that explains the most data and is most coherent, A-T metaphysics is the way to go!

            2

            By thinking. Why not? You seem to be saying some thoughts cannot lead to other new thoughts, I do not see why not.

            We are trying to explain thought as a whole, not simply a part of thought or certain thoughts. If we are trying to explain thought as a whole, we can't then turn around and explain the whole of thought with a certain thought or the whole of thought itself.

          • "But we can't observe the "thought""

            I think we can. We observe our thoughts by our own experience of them, we observe thoughts indirectly in others.

            I understand the meaning of a concept to be other thoughts about that concept.

            "Obviously, other thoughts won't help us because it is thought as a whole that we are trying to account for right now."

            What do you mean thoughts "as a whole"? Thoughts are what the brain does, some are about sensory input, some are about other thoughts, some are about both. I do not see any inconsistency or contradiction, do you?

            I am painted into no corner.

            Consider this sentence of yours: "That is why it isn't some magical proposal to say that concepts are abstracted from the form/matter composition of actually existing material entities outside our mind."

            My point is that it works just fine if you edit it as follows:

            "That is why it isn't some magical proposal to say that concepts are abstracted from actually existing material entities outside our mind."

            We do not "get" our abstract concepts from the external world, we develop them in our minds from an aggregate of external input. We could not abstact "mammal" from observing one animal. We might abstract it from several. We take multiple lines of input, make connections in our minds. It is this process that results in an abstraction. There is a need for a real metaphysical reality outside our minds, there is just no need for anything non-material.

            Your metaphysics explains the data, but it adds something that is unecessary to explain human experience. Materialism explains our experience just fine, but it is not sufficient to explain your understanding of deity, which is why, I suggest, you are so intent on clinging to it.

          • Phil

            Okay--Unless I misunderstood you, I see two different proposals here.

            First you propose that my corrected sentence should be:

            That is why it isn't some magical proposal to say that concepts are abstracted from actually existing material entities outside our mind."

            But then in the very next sentence you state:

            We do not "get" our abstract concepts from the external world, we develop them in our minds from an aggregate of external input.

            But then you go on to explain how we develop our concepts in reference to external entities. Which do you believe to be the actual truth of reality? Does the meaning of our conceptual thoughts come in any way from the outside world or does all meaning of conceptual thought come from our subjective material brain processes?

          • Both.

          • Phil

            Okay--so you propose that the concepts do have a connection to the external reality. You recognize this. (Though how you seem to be saying that conceptual thought has a connection to external reality without the concepts in some way come from external reality is a tough argument to make.)

            1) The next question then is, if individual organized primal "bits" of matter is all the exists outside our mind (you have proposed that "form" isn't a metaphysical property that exists outside our mind), then it isn't a leaf that actually exists, it is only the material "bits" that underlie the leaf that actually exist. So why do we then distinguish a leaf from a rock, if leaf and rock doesn't actually exist, only the primal material bits that make them up actually exist?

            2) You mentioned above that "thoughts are what the brain does", and you mentioned that the material brain processes are the thoughts which we can observe. The trouble is that the meaning of "cat" or "triangle" is not the same as a material brain process. Neurons firing does not equal "cat" or "triangle".

            For example--if you ask me what the concept "triangle" means, and I say, well it means this brain process and these trillion neurons doing this, etc.-- you would say I'm wrong. That's not what a triangle is, or what it means. This is the trouble we are going to have with this conception of the mind.

            A purely material conception of the human mind/intellect is impossible to defend coherently.

          • "Okay--so you propose that the concepts do have a connection to the external reality.'

            Yes in this sense: I see an apple, I think about that apple. My thoughts about the apple are connected to the actual apple in that way. It is no more complicated than that.

            1) because the bits that make up the leaf are arranged differently than those that make up the rock, and these aggregates behave differently and consistently, so we have different labels for them. This leaf and that rock do exist, they are those arrangements of matter.

            "The trouble is that the meaning of "cat" or "triangle" is not the same as a material brain process."

            Why not? When you speak of the meaning of "cat" what are you talking about? I am talking about a conscious experience in my mind of thinking associated with "cat". I may be thinking "I like cats" or "I am allergic to cats" or "cats are mammals" these are all thoughts, all brain activity. If by "meaning" you are intending to refer to something other than thoughts about "cats" what is it?

            You are correct, my answer to that last question would be "a three sided shape". What does the sentence "a three sided shape" refer to? An abstract concept. What is that abstract concept? Thoughts in my brain and your brain. Everything is accounted for.

          • Phil

            1)

            Yes in this sense: I see an apple, I think about that apple. My thoughts about the apple are connected to the actual apple in that way. It is no more complicated than that.

            Okay, in what way does your physical brain processes have a connection to that physical apple or triangle when you think about it? If you want to hold that physical brain processes are thoughts, and these thoughts have some connection to the outside world, then one has to defend that there is some real connection between the physical brain processes and external reality. Where is this real connection, what is it, and in what way does it exist?

            2)

            because the bits that make up the leaf are arranged differently than those that make up the rock, and these aggregates behave differently and consistently, so we have different labels for them. This leaf and that rock do exist, they are those arrangements of matter.

            Okay--then we are back to one of our original questions, if all that atually exists are the primal matter bits that make up an object, why does changing the arrangement of the primal matter bits change how it acts?

            The most coherent and comprehensive answer to this question is there is something actively exerting downward causality on the matter to form this arrangement and causal powers. Traditional A-T call this "form" or "formal causality". It most definitely shown forth through the object itself, including its arrangement, but is not reducible to the "primal matter" that makes it up.

            3)

            Why not? When you speak of the meaning of "cat" what are you talking about? I am talking about a conscious experience in my mind of thinking associated with "cat". I may be thinking "I like cats" or "I am allergic to cats" or "cats are mammals" these are all thoughts, all brain activity. If by "meaning" you are intending to refer to something other than thoughts about "cats" what is it?

            What is this "conscious experience" you speak about? You already said that conceptual thought is nothing more than material brain processes. Therefore this "conscious experience" doesn't actually exist. It is an illusion and what is real are the material brain processes. (Or are you proposing that something beyond the material brain processes now exists?)

            If you'll begin to recognize, even the language you are using is betraying the proposed position. If you want to hold that material brain processes are all that exists, we need to stick to that language. We can't start talking about "thoughts" or "concepts" or "conscious experiences" as being something different from material brain processes. On the view being proposed, those things are all selfsame with material brain processes. Or are you proposing something else?

            You are correct, my answer to that last question would be "a three sided shape". What does the sentence "a three sided shape" refer to? An abstract concept. What is that abstract concept? Thoughts in my brain and your brain. Everything is accounted for.

            And where do abstract concepts that make up "three-sided shape" come from? You say, from the brain. Okay, then we need to account for the existence of those concepts as well, because "three", "sided", and "shape" exists in the brain just as much as "triangle" and "red" do.

            That is why it is important to note we are trying to explain conceptual thought as a whole.

          • The real connection is literally the electro-chemical physical connections. Light, sound, etc, from these objects physically affects our nerves and then our brain. How the brain processes this and how this manifests this as conscious thought, as well as non-conscious thought is I think unknown. Or at least unknown to me.

            "why does changing the arrangement of the primal matter bits change how it acts?"

            We have been through this and I will not go through it again. Short answer: physics.

            "What is this "conscious experience" you speak about?"

            I really cannot say, I have an experience, I cannot convey it very well with words. It is what I feel, experience when conscious. It is thinking, consciousness. My belief is that what I call "consciousness" is my experience of thinking. It is "experience" itself. But I really do not know. The point is we all have this experience. What can account for it? The activity of the brain is known to account for at least some of it. What you need to do is show that brain activity is incapable of accounting for all of it. You haven't done so.

            (By the way there is no distinction between thought and conceptual thought. All thought is conceptual. The distinction is specific vs abstract concepts.)

            "It (consciousness) is an illusion and what is real are the material brain processes."

            It isn't that it is an illusion, it is the same thing. When my brain is active in a certain way I experience thought. That experience I call consciousness. When my brain is not active at all, I have no consciousness. When my brain is active in a certain way, I do not experience consciousness. We observe clear differences in conscious and non-conscious brains and humans report experience consistent with these observations.

            No I am not proposing something else than brain activity is thought, is conceiving. I am not proposing brain activity is all that exists, most of what exists is not brains.

            "And where do abstract concepts that make up "three-sided shape" come from?"

            Well, let us be specific in our language then. The question is really, "what is the source of the brain activity encoding a conscious experience that may be stated in language as "a shape with three sides will have internal angles that added together amount to a straight line?"

            The answer: other brain activity. The brain activity which may be articulated in language as a "line", the brain activity which may be articulated in language as a "angle". The brain activity which reflects and projects modelling of these and other brain activity. Rather than say "brain activity which may be articulated in language of X" I say the concept of X, which saves time.

          • Phil

            1)

            The real connection is literally the electro-chemical physical connections. Light, sound, etc, from these objects physically affects our nerves and then our brain. How the brain processes this and how this manifests this as conscious thought, as well as non-conscious thought is I think unknown. Or at least unknown to me.

            Okay--yes! The light, sound, etc., transmits this information to us. But instead of solving the issue, we've made it worse! The concept is the information--the meaning--of the thought we are trying to explain. Now, we not only have to explain the thought as existing in the physical brain processes and somehow coming from the external object, we now have to explain how that concept exists in the light and sound that transmits the information!

            The A-T solution solves this, because even the light and sound is "informed". It too is form/matter composition and we abstract the concepts from it!

            This is how the best theories work, they explain all the data simply and easily!

            2)

            We have been through this and I will not go through it again. Short answer: physics.

            We never answered the question because physics merely describes how things act, they don't describe why things act like they do. Ask a physicist why hydrogen acts like it does, and they will say: It just does. Well, that doesn't explain anything.

            The deeper question is always, why is hydrogen-matter arranged as it is and why does it act as it does? This is ultimately a metaphysics question, not scientific question.

            3) I apologize if I am not making the main issue with the view you are proposing clear:

            Matter by itself doesn't have meaning. If the mind is merely brute matter, then meaning/concepts don't exist.

            Does that make the issue more clear?

          • "The concept is the information--the meaning--of the thought we are trying to explain."

            No, the concept is the thought generated by the sensory input through the brain processing it, let us call this "sensory image". It is not the input itself. The meaning will not be the sensory image or the sensory input, but a new concept generated by the sensory image, reflection upon it, and likely other concepts (memories, other sensory images, more reflection).

            The concept does not exist in the light or the sound, the light sound etc. They are things that cause us to have concepts. And it is not the form alone that causes us to generate these concepts it is the substance in a form. We do not just form a concept of the shape, but also of the substance.

            And none of these concepts are abstract concepts. These cannot be generated from a single object or concept. We need at least two circles before we can define an abstract perfect circle. What is happening is we are not gleaning this abstract concept from the input, but taking two concepts, two sensory images, and creating a new concept of "circle" in our minds. The source of this abstract concept is what we do in our minds with the "sensory images" we reflect on them and other concepts and abstract patterns from them.

            "Ask a physicist why hydrogen acts like it does, and they will say: It just does. Well, that doesn't explain anything."

            I completely disagree, he will provide the answers I did at the outset that explain why hydrogen acts the way it does. Again, I am not going to go through that again.

            "The deeper question is always, why is hydrogen-matter arranged as it is
            and why does it act as it does? This is ultimately a metaphysics
            question, not scientific question."

            Well, I do not think it is a metaphysical question, we know the origins of all Hydrogen, and other elements, we have a confirmed model of particle physics that traces its origin and indeed why it is the way it is and acts the way it does down to a point in the Big Bang where everything is so hot and dense that we cannot tell anything and the laws of physics break down. What accounts for this? Unknown, possibly unknowable.

            "Matter by itself doesn't have meaning"

            Agreed.

            "If the mind is merely brute matter, then meaning/concepts don't exist."

            Not agreed, meaning and concepts are what the brain does. It is as if you are saying ink itself has no story, therefore ink arranged in letters, words, sentences, novels, can have no story either. Nonsense.

          • Phil

            The concept does not exist in the light or the sound, the light sound etc. They are things that cause us to have concepts. And it is not the form alone that causes us to generate these concepts it is the substance in a form. We do not just form a concept of the shape, but also of the substance.

            I might not have been clear, The concepts in our mind don't exist in the same exact way as they do in the external world, including in the light/sound. But the immaterial form of all external material entities is what is the connection between our mind (concepts) and external reality.

            We form concepts in our mind based upon the "sense data" from the light and sound we take in (as you mentioned). If the form and structure of the light and sound that is being taken in from the outside world has absolutely no connection to the concepts being formed in your mind, you have locked yourself up in your mind with no intelligible connection to the external world.

            Either we abstract concepts from "sense data" and the external world, or we do not ("abstract" meaning "to take from"). If it's the latter, then you've locked yourself in your mind with no way to actually get in touch with external reality.

            The next move is to say, okay, if these concepts have some connection to what I am actually experiencing through my senses of the external world can they be purely material in how they exist? Well, obviously when I think about a tree a physical tree does not exist in my mind. So it can't be the physical tree that is the ultimate connection between my mind and reality. So there must be some immaterial connection between my thought and the tree existing out there.

          • "The concepts in our mind don't exist in the same exact way as they do in the external world, including in the light/sound."

            No, the concepts ONLY exist in our minds, they do not exist in any way in the external world.

            "But the immaterial form of all external material entities is what is the
            connection between our mind (concepts) and external reality."

            So you say, this is not my view. I say the connection is the sensory interaction of the things and our neurons, whether light, direct touch, smell, sound waves etc.

            "If the form and structure of the light and sound that is being taken in
            from the outside world has absolutely no connection to the concepts
            being formed in your mind,..."

            I am not saying that. The light, sound etc have a direct connection to the concepts. They stimulate the nerves which stimulate neurons, which stimulate other neurons, in a system of billions of neurons that are already firing. These neurons firing are the actual concepts themselves.

            'Either we abstract concepts from "sense data" and the external world, or we do not ("abstract" meaning "to take from")."

            Consider at least two kinds of concepts, specific and abstract. A specific concept would be an impression of "that object". This is informed mainly, but not only, sense data. Abstractions are concepts we develop by reflecting on specific concepts, now memories, as well as all kinds of other concepts, other abstract concepts, other memories and so on.

            Ultimately, yes, there is no way to confirm that our specific conceptual world is actually responding to things externally that are real, exist at all, or are as they appear in our specific concepts. This is the problem of hard sollopsism. I am proceeding as if we can rely that our sense observations are at least generally representative of an external reality.

            "if these concepts have some connection to what I am actually
            experiencing through my senses of the external world can they be purely
            material in how they exist?"

            Again, by being neural activity of the brain. We are going in circles.

            "Well, obviously when I think about a tree a physical tree does not exist in my mind."

            No the concept of the tree is being held in your mind. You are thinking about the tree, you do not become the tree.

            "So it can't be the physical tree that is the ultimate connection between my mind and reality."

            Well it certainly can be that the light from the tree affects the cells in your retina, which sends a signal to the vision centre which interacts with memory and other thoughts and constructs a specific concept of "this tree".

            "So there must be some immaterial connection between my thought and the tree existing out there."

            I do not see why.

          • Phil

            Ultimately, yes, there is no way to confirm that our specific conceptual world is actually responding to things externally that are real, exist at all, or are as they appear in our specific concepts.

            Okay--it sounds like at the end of this all you will say that we have no way to know whether our thoughts have any real connection to what exists in external reality.

            The first problem with this is one is led to conclude that complete skepticism is true. (And as we've discussed before, complete skepticism is an incoherent belief, so we must reject the premise that led us to this, namely, that our thoughts have no intrinsic connection to external reality.)

            Secondly, all of knowledge-seeking, whether it be merely scientific or expands out to philosophy, is attempting to explain how reality exists as we experience it. With this being said, it seems most reasonable to hold that view that actually explains our experience coherently rather than leaves us in complete incoherence. But I mean...it is the modern age where it seems like intellectual incoherence is all the rage! (I'm not speaking of you here.)

          • 'Okay--it sounds like at the end of this all you will say that we have no
            way to know whether our thoughts have any real connection to what
            exists in external reality."

            Yes. "complete skepticism" is not a term I am familiar with I will take it to mean not believing anything at all. I do not see how it is incoherent, but that does not matter, it is not my position or a reasonable inference from my comments.

            "we must reject the premise ...that our thoughts have no intrinsic connection to external reality"

            That is not what I said nor is it my position. I said " there is no way to confirm that our specific conceptual world is actually responding to things externally that are real". I do believe that our thoughts have a connection to external reality as I identified.

            I agree, incoherent views are not justifiable. But Materialism is not incoherent. It is perfectly coherent and logical.

            Materialism, Idealism, Substance Dualism, and I guess the kind of hylomorphism (?) you advance are all coherent valid metaphysical perspectives. But to disprove the others you either need strong evidence of your point of view, or you need to show a logical contradiction.

            You have not done so. You have advanced an argument from ignorance that the immaterial must be real since materialism cannot sufficiently explain some aspects of your experience. You haven't shown it cannot you have just expressed that you don't think it can.

            You have provided no evidence of anything immaterial. All of the aspects you have advanced, shape, meaning, consciousness are all intrinsically related to material. There is no evidence of any shape existing without substance. There is no experience of meaning without a physical brain. There is no evidence of consciousness absent a living human brain.

          • Phil

            Another way of thinking about all this is I think we would both agree that matter doesn't have intrinsic meaning. So you proposed that the human mind gives meaning to matter and arrangments of matter. But if the human mind is itself purely a material arrangement, how does it give meaning if it does not itself have meaning?

            So material brain processes themselves have to be explained how they have meaning or get their meaning (if one assumes that the mind is purely material brain activity).

            Does that make the issue more clear?

          • There is a different opinion of what "meaning" is here.

            I do not think anything has "intrinsic" meaning. I do not accept any assertions of "objective" meaning. To me, what meaning is, is what we think about things. It is our thoughts about things. So it is easy for a purely material mind to give meaning to things. When it reflects on concepts and forms new concepts, these new concepts often are thoughts of meaning.

          • Phil

            Sure--but then this is the quandary you are left in:

            You say that material things have no intrinsic meaning and that the mind is a material thing. Therefore the mind has no meaning. But then you want to claim that the mind gives meaning.

            How does a material mind that has no meaning give meaning to things? You can't give what you don't have.

            [I will say, You are dealing out a lot of meaning in these responses above if your mind doesn't have any meaning!! :-) ]

          • Yes, I agree the mind has no intrinsic meaning. Meaning is what the mind does.

            "How does a material mind that has no meaning give meaning to things?"

            It thinks about those things, those thoughts are what I mean by meaning.

          • Phil

            Do the thoughts have intrinsic meaning then?

          • No. I do not think anything has intrinsic meaning.

          • Phil

            Okay, then would you hold that meaning is purely illusory or if it isn't illusory, then how would you say it is created?

            If the mind/ brain/thoughts somehow create meaning yet they have no meaning themselves, how do they give something they don't have?

          • "would you hold that meaning is purely illusory" no.

            "mind/ brain/thoughts" have meaning, they do not have "intrinsic" or "objective" meaning. They do not "give" meaning, some thoughts are what I am talking about when I say "meaning".

          • Phil

            I'll rephrase the main question--if meaning is not illusory, this means the meaning has to come from somewhere. Whatever gives meaning must itself have meaning (you can't give what you don't have). If you say that thoughts give meaning, then we necessarily must conclude that thoughts have intrinsic meaning. If they have intrinsic meaning then they must not be material (because you said that material things have no intrinsic meaning).

            ---
            Furthermore, to say that something itself has meaning is to say that it has intrinsic meaning. If something doesn't have intrinsic meaning then that means that the meaning comes from outside themselves.

            So either thoughts have meaning in and of themselves (i.e., intrinsic), or they don't and the meaning must come from elsewhere. So either thoughts do or don't have meaning, Which would you say is the case?

          • Meaning is my reflection on events and other thoughts and reflections. So what "gives" meaning is my reflection. So "meaning" to me is basically an opinion. What that meaning is is those thoughts. Those thoughts are material.

            "Furthermore, to say that something itself has meaning is to say that it has intrinsic meaning."

            No it isn't. By "intrinsic" meaning I assume you imply a meaning that can be properly extracted and understood. there is a right and a wrong way to understand the "meaning" of an event. I fully disagree with this. The meaning I understand of say the Orlando attacks comes from my thinking, my reflection on it. That meaning is a new conceptual reality, informed by my previous brain states.

            "meaning" is such a vague and subjective term, it really cannot be used to draw out to test metaphysical approaches in my view. If you want to go further on this please define how you are using the term "meaning".

          • Phil

            It appears maybe we moved away from same page when it comes to meaning. If you go back in our conversation we were asking where the meaning of a concept like "triangle" comes from. (Remember, the name of the concept is merely arbitrary. The concept that underlies the word is what we are speaking of.)

            If you remember, you said that the meaning of the concept "triangle" can't come from triangles outside our mind because you said physical things don't have meaning.

            I then asked where the meaning of a concept comes from. You said, from the brain, and then from the thoughts.

            I then asked if thoughts had meaning. You said, no. I then asked, how thoughts can give meaning to a concept like "triangle" if they themselves don't have meaning.

            That's the predicament we find ourselves in right now.

          • I do not think we ever were on the same page with what we mean by "meaning".

            Please explain what you are referring to when you use the term. It is pointless to continue unless you define the term you are using.

          • Phil

            We are trying to explain conceptual thought which is composed of concepts. Concepts have meaning. Let's stay simple because if we can't explain a simple concept, good luck explaining a more complex one!

            For example--the concept of "triangle". The concept of triangle is the thing we contemplate when we hear "triangle" or see it written out. What we contemplate is the meaning of the concept "triangle".

            So when I ask, what is a triangle?--you might respond that is is a closed geometrical figure composed of 3 line segments where the internal angles add up to exactly 180*.

            That answer you give me--provided it is correct--is what the meaning of the concept "triangle" is.

            Does that help get us on the same page?

            (And yes, that is very different from asking, "what is the meaning of that event?")

            ----------------

            I hope it becomes clearer at this point some of the issues we are dealing with. The answer to what the meaning of "triangle" leads us to a whole bunch of other concepts who meaning we have to figure out. As you might see, this leads to a vicious circle and either we are stuck in our mind or we find a way outside of it. So we need to figure out whether concepts have any real connection to the outside world. If concepts aren't somehow gotten from he outside world, then you have completely locked yourself in your mind and are stuck in a state of complete skepticism.

          • "We are trying to explain conceptual thought which is composed of concepts.'

            Not strictly speaking, it is a new concept developed by reflecting on other concepts.

            "Concepts have meaning." I would not make this statement in this context. I would say some concepts are what I am talking about when I use the term "meaning". You seem to be using the term differently than I am.

            "The concept of triangle is the thing we contemplate when we hear "triangle" or see it written out. "

            The abstract concept of "triangle" may arise when we see a three-sided form, it may not. But certainly when I contemplate the concept of a three-sided form, I am contemplating the meaning of "triangle".

            "That answer you give me [a closed geometrical figure composed of 3 line segments where the internal angles add up to exactly 180*] --provided it is correct--is what the meaning of the concept "triangle" is."

            No. It is "a" meaning. For me this is part of the meaning of what the term "triangle" evokes. It might also provoke a memory, or boredom. Those could equally be "meanings" of "triangle".

            Since you have refused to lay out what you mean to imply by "meaning", I cannot tell you if we are on the same page. Quite clearly to me you are using the term differently which is why I think we are having this confusion.

            I do not think you know what you mean by "meaning", I think it is vague and ill-defined for you.

            You seem to hang on to a notion of meaning that implies some kind of objective truth. i.e. the geometry of a triangle is the meaning of the abstract concept of a triangle. That is one concept it can be correct or incorrect. That is not at all my view or how I am using these terms.

            For me meaning is a purely subjective conscious experience. There is no correct meaning or incorrect meaning. I hold the concept of a three sided polygon. Call that C1, I have thought C2 which is my experience of meaning of C1, call it "boredom". Someone else has an abstract thought about triangles, theirs is different than mine it just means any three-sided shape, irrespective of what the sides add up to or if they are straight. It includes love triangles and so on. Call it C3. They have thoughts about C3 which are their meaning of C3, call it "favorite" call it C4. Two individuals may hold the same abstract concept C1, and hold the same meaning C2. Or they may not. In the end, "meaning" is a subjective experience of reflection on other thoughts.

          • Phil

            While I was going to respond to a couple of these things, it became clear as I kept reading that it seems you are intent on locking yourself in our own mind where meanings of concepts have no real connection to the outside world.

            This means you have no reason not to believe that every word you have written means the exact opposite to me (or something arbitrarily different). This means our whole conversation is incoherent and impossible This goes for every single conversation with every single person everywhere! The theory you presented fails to explain the evidence of coherent interpersonal communication.

            Being that this theory fails to explain the evidence, I would reject it as a valid theory.

          • I have not said that meanings of concepts have no connection to the outside world. In fact I have made it clear that quite often they do. What I mean by meaning is thoughts about thoughts, many of not all are influenced by sensory input from the outside world.

            This is perfectly capable of explaining the evidence. You have pointed to no evidence that imaterialism cannot explain. You just do not feel that it does. You feel that there is something about "meaning" that just has to immaterial.

            what I refer to when I use the term "meaning" in this context, is thoughts about thoughts or sensory input. Is there something you mean by "meaning"'that is not always associated with humans thinking? If so what? I can be certain that words mean what I think they do because, what I think is what meaning is, for me. I also have good evidence that the thoughts I think when I use certain words are similar to the thoughts others think, the evidence is what they say and do and so on and how this does or does not lead to confusion etc.

            Clearly you and I are using the term "meaning" very differently. I am using it to refer to individual thoughts, presumably you refer to an immaterial objective concept that these words label. I don't know, you refuse to define your terms. Until you do there will be confusion. I understand the feeling that there is objective meaning, I just see no evidence for it.

            I am not here to provide you with an explanation for coherent conversation, but the fact that we have coherent conversation does not make the immaterial necessary, you have not made any such argument.

          • Phil

            I have not said that meanings of concepts have no connection to the outside world. In fact I have made it clear that quite often they do. What I mean by meaning is thoughts about thoughts, many of not all are influenced by sensory input from the outside world.

            Okay--then in what way do our concepts exist outside in the external world?

            You kept denying that our concepts exist outside our mind. Either our concepts exist in some form outside our mind or they do not.

          • I don't think you understand what a concept is. A concept is just another word for "thought" or "idea" or "mental image".

            So quite clearly their existence is only in minds. This doesn't mean there is no connection to the outside world. Our concepts are influenced entirely by neurology. Some of that is literally electrical signals generated by our anatomy of sense perception.

            There is no inconsistency with this. Basically I am saying our thoughts exist only in our minds but they are influenced by the outside world.

          • Phil

            Basically I am saying our thoughts exist only in our minds but they are influenced by the outside world.

            Okay -- So this again is the proposition for how to solve the "isolated mind" problem, by the influence the external world has on our thoughts.

            The next question is, what is it specifically about an external triangle or tree that causes "triangle-thoughts" or "tree-thoughts"? It can't be purely the physical structure, because the literal physical structure of a tree or triangle doesn't exist in our mind.

            In other words, in what way does our mind actually resemble a triangle or tree when we are thinking about either of those? Because if it doesn't resemble them in any real way, then the isolated mind problem is back.

          • "Okay--then in what way do our concepts exist outside in the external world?'

            I never said they did. We are truly going in circles.

            "Either our concepts exist in some form outside our mind or they do not."

            They do not, they are influenced indirectly by events that are not concepts.

          • Phil

            I don't know if my last response got lost, as your comment here was referring to a comment you already responded too, but I'll reprint it here:

            -----

            Basically I am saying our thoughts exist only in our minds but they are influenced by the outside world.

            Okay -- So this again is the proposition for how to solve the "isolated mind" problem, by the influence the external world has on our thoughts.

            The next question is, what is it specifically about an external triangle or tree that causes "triangle-thoughts" or "tree-thoughts"? It can't be purely the physical structure, because the literal physical structure of a tree or triangle doesn't exist in our mind.

            In other words, in what way does our mind actually resemble a triangle or tree when we are thinking about either of those? Because if it doesn't resemble them in any real way, then the isolated mind problem is back.

          • Seriously, you have asked these same questions several times, I am not going to repeat them again.

            Let us just assume for the sake of argument, I have no clue no idea how any of this works. Why is materialism wrong?

          • Phil

            Let us just assume for the sake of argument, I have no clue no idea how any of this works. Why is materialism wrong?

            The simple answer is that when it comes to any proposal about the truth of reality, whether it be a scientific or philosophical theory, the most coherent explanation is that which most completely, coherently, and consistently explains the data of our experience of reality.

            Materialism is not the best explanation of reality because it cannot account for the data like a non-materialistic account of reality can.

            That is the reason why I keep asking these questions, materialism can't ultimately explain this. It keeps running in a circle like a dog trying to catch its own tail and believing that it will explain itself by catching its tail! (When the true explanation of the dog is its parents mating!)

          • What data can it not account for? What can it not explain?

          • Phil

            That's exactly what we've been talking about. We've been talking about how does materialism completely and coherently account for (1) the phenomenon of coherent interpersonal communication and (2) a real connection between the subjective mind and external reality.

            I can go back to that question above:

            The next question is, what is it specifically about an external triangle or tree that causes "triangle-thoughts" or "tree-thoughts"? It can't be purely the physical structure, because the literal physical structure of a tree or triangle doesn't exist in our mind.

            In other words, in what way does our mind actually resemble a triangle or tree when we are thinking about either of those? Because if it doesn't resemble them in any real way, then the isolated mind problem is back.

          • How does the immaterial explain the phenomenon of coherent interpersonal communication, and a real connection between subjective mind and external reality?

            You have said the immaterial is the better explanation, but you have provided none.

            You have set the standard of recourse to the best explanation, but you have not provided an explanation on immaterialism to account for these concerns.

            You have rejected my explanation of how materialism explains these things, but you have not provided a better explanation. You have provided no explanation of how the immaterial explains these things.

            Consider my response to all your concerns, for the sake of argument to be, "I don't know how, something material does it".

            Can you explain any phenomena on immaterialism by anything other than "I don't know, something immaterial"?

          • Phil

            How does the immaterial explain the phenomenon of coherent interpersonal communication, and a real connection between subjective mind and external reality?

            You have said the immaterial is the better explanation, but you have provided none.

            Sure -- it's actually relatively simple, and that is one of the things that makes a theory so powerful: simple and explains the data.

            We abstract our concepts from externally existing entities. The concepts in some way exist in the externally existing objects. Our mind is in an actual dialogue and in contact with the external world.

            This solves the two problems as such:

            1) It solves interpersonal communication because you and I can both experience the same exact concept of "tree" existing in the tree right directly in front of us. Though I have no direct access to your thoughts, and you have no direct access to my thoughts, we both have the shared external reality of the tree. This allows us to objectively compare concepts and thoughts.

            2) It solves the "isolated mind" problem, because we don't impose order on the world around us through our mind and concepts. The external world can actually impose order on our mind by the process of abstraction.

            Can you explain any phenomena on immaterialism by anything other than "I don't know, something immaterial"?

            Spitting reality into two distinct categories is what is called in logic a "complete disjunction". If we split all explanations of reality into either a material or immaterial explanation, then there is no third option other than material or not-material (i.e., immaterial). So if materialism fails, then necessarily the explanation lies in an immaterial explanation.

          • Phil, nothing you have said here requires anything non-material or is incompatible with there being only material existence.

            "We abstract our concepts from externally existing entities"

            What entities are these? Please provide me an example. How does this work for the abstract concept of "estoppel", for example.

          • Phil

            Nothing you have said here requires anything non-material or is incompatible with there being only material existence.

            I would be totally up for believing that immaterial entities are not required to explain problems such as those of interpersonal communication and the isolated mind problem if it could be shown to be coherent.

            I'm totally up for you defending that proposition, but as we've witnessed these past few weeks trying to defend that proposition just goes around in circles.

            Our key point is that if our thoughts do not in any way have an actual explicit connection to the external world then one is left in a state of complete skepticism about interpersonal communication and isolated minds. The data of our experience is not explained and therefore it is not a good theory.

            The next step is realizing that since the connection between are thoughts cannot be physical (since there is nothing similar between our thoughts about triangles and a physically existing triangle), therefore there must some sort of non-material reality to both thought and externally existing material entities.

          • "Our key point is that if our thoughts do not in any way have an actual
            explicit connection to the external world then one is left in a state of
            complete skepticism about interpersonal communication and isolated
            minds"

            So basically I have laid out the physical material connection. This is an apparent direct connection to our thoughts an the neural signals created by events in the outside world. You do not accept this "apparent" connection as an actual connection, but have not said why not, other than it cannot be physical. I put it to you that you have not demonstrated that it cannot be physical and therefore this option is still open. I put it to you that it is reasonable to accept that this apparent connection is the real connection.

            It may very well be that it is insufficient and that there need be a fundamentally immaterial explanation to establish this connection. But by contrast to materialism, no such connection is apparent. Indeed nothing immaterial is apparent.

          • Phil

            It may very well be that it is insufficient and that there need be a fundamentally immaterial explanation to establish this connection. But by contrast to materialism, no such connection is apparent. Indeed nothing immaterial is apparent.

            Ahh yes, here is the key point. If a materialist explanation to these things is not possible, in principle, then the only possible explanation is one which is non-material. This isn't some magic "immateriality of the gaps" explanation I'm proposing. The physical sciences itself uses this principle.

            For example, if we already knew of something that could potentially explain why galaxies don't fly apart, we wouldn't propose that some type of dark matter actually exists. This is the same type of investigation we are doing. We ask, could material entities, even in principle, completely explain thought. If the answer is ultimately 'no', then it is perfectly rational to hold that the explanation is non-material. (Seeing that entities can only be material or non-material, there is no third option as everything that isn't material is non-material.)

            We ought not assume that material reality can explain everything, we ought investigate whether it actually can. And then make reasonable conclusions based upon that.

            So basically I have laid out the physical material connection. This is an apparent direct connection to our thoughts an the neural signals created by events in the outside world. You do not accept this "apparent" connection as an actual connection, but have not said why not, other than it cannot be physical. I put it to you that you have not demonstrated that it cannot be physical and therefore this option is still open. I put it to you that it is reasonable to accept that this apparent connection is the real connection.

            I absolutely want you to keep defending this proposal if you believe it can provide a complete account of thought and interpersonal communication. Which is why I keep asking the questions about it. What I'll try and do is summarize the position you are proposing by trying to provide a materialist account of an external triangle:

            Light and sound waves are reflected by external entities. External entities are organized and therefore when light/sound is reflected it is formed in a way that equates to the material entity. That light/sound travels to our eyes, ears, and nerves that control touch. This brings about certain neural and chemical events in our nervous system and brain. We then come to know about this external triangle through the formed neural events by what we got from the formed light/sound, which was formed by the external triangle.

            Now, I hope the underlying problem with this account is becoming more clear. (It may be easy to miss, which may be our problem.) The formed light/sound, and the formed neural-chemical events are not the triangle itself. It is merely a representation of the triangle. Now if all these things are merely representations of the triangle carrying information about the triangle and the material events, then they are not the triangle itself. We never come to know the triangle itself. Hence the problem with interpersonal communication and the isolated mind.

            Secondly, what about this information itself that is being carried? Can the information itself be material? The answer is no. The most reasonable conclusion then is that this information all these things are carrying are not material themselves. In short, all material entities are formed in a way to carry immaterial information and the human intellect is not purely material in its existence and is capable of coming to know these immaterial existences..

            Let's look at the word "information" itself. It comes from Aristotle's concept of "form". Matter is "informed" with a certain way of existence. This form is not purely material in how it exists. The immaterial form is shown forth through the material.

          • Phil

            Well, I don't want to be a burden to you anymore or keep pushing you on these issues. As you can see well enough, one is just going to keep going around and around in a circle trying to explain these things and making no real progress (it's similar to the interaction problem of a dualistic view to reality).

            So we will just keep asking questions and seeking truth together again soon!

          • Darren

            Your discussion about meaning brought this video to mind:

            This is Not Yellow

          • Phil

            Thanks for that--it's been a long time since I saw that video!

            I quite enjoy Michael's videos. The only unfortunate thing is that he is explicitly a materialist, so it severly limits the depth and type of analysis he can do; like watching a rainbow colored world on a black and white TV and then proclaiming that everything is black and white. Even so, he has some great insights!

          • Darren

            Ha!

            Perhaps you will like this one, then:

            Calvin and Hobbes – Black and White

          • Phil

            Just to be clear--it is not like I am magically throwing out "form" and a mind that functions immaterialy in some way as a "magic" answer. It is ultimately where reason leads us when asking these questions.

            We ask, can reality be explained completely and coherently without reference to "form" or an "inmaterial mind"? If it gets to the point where reason forces us to admit that, no, we can't even in principle explain these things without reference to "form" and an "immaterial mind", then we logically and reasonably conclude that they exist.

            It isn't some ad hoc explanation or premise. That it is why the questions will keep going until we finally admit, yeah, form and an immaterial intellect must actually exist.

          • Form is easily explained on materialism. It is: the shape or arrangement of matter in three dimensional space.

            Reality cannot be explained with no reference to form, nor would I propose to do.

            "Immaterial mind" that is completely unnecessary to account or explain reality, as I have been doing for some days now.

            We can keep going until you realize what I have said from the beginning. That the dispute over material/immaterial is that some mental aspects of human experience seem intuitively to imply their existence metaphysically. These mental aspects, we have been discussing as abstract concepts, meaning, now consciousness.

            These aspects of human experience can be accounted for as what exactly they are: human experience. All human experience is only ever experienced by humans with brains that are active. This brain activity can of course account for all these mental aspects, our experience of thinking and understanding abstract concepts, as well as immediate sensory experience, as well as memory, reflecting on memory and combinations of all.

          • Phil

            1) Okay--I think we are to the point where we pretty much agree that form is more than just the matter that makes up an entity (if this wasn't the case, there would be no reason why oxygen-matter acts differently than hydrogen-matter or water-matter.)

            2) Here's the issue--it would be one thing to say that thoughts/concepts and human experience come from the brain activity. But you have stated that brain activity equals those things. That's a whole different type of claim.

            Are you still holding to this latter position? Or is the position you are promoting actually say that thoughts and human experince *come from* brain activity; they are not the same thing as brain activity?

          • "1) Okay--I think we are to the point where we pretty much agree that
            form is more than just the matter that makes up an entity (if this
            wasn't the case, there would be no reason why oxygen-matter acts
            differently than hydrogen-matter or water-matter.)"

            Not really, form is the shape that matter is in. So I see nothing in the shape that is more than the matter. Oxygen matter acts differently than Hydrogen matter because they have different composition, or shape.

            "Are you still holding to this latter position?"
            Yes, well both, human thoughts are brain activity but all human thought is influenced by other human thought as well as other neural activity. An analogy is waves in the ocean as thoughts. Waves are the undulating activity of water, the actual precise shape of one wave is caused in part by things like the wind, the moon's gravity, boats, fish etc. But enormously influenced by other waves as well.

          • Phil

            Yeah--so it sounds like you would see the shape and actions of an object as influencing our thoughts about that object. Which we then form concepts based upon that shape and how it acts. Does that seem like a fair summary of the view you'd propose?

            So then we abstract the concepts based upon the shapes (I call them "forms" or "natures") of external objects. I think at this point we could agree that we take our concepts from the external objects and how they exist (which includes shape).

            The trouble we are still left in is we have to account for what organizes these external entities into the unified shapes that perform the actions they do? I know you don't like the question...but we still don't have an answer for why oxygen-shaped matter is shaped as it is and why it acts as it does, and then why this is different from hydrogen-shaped matter?

            There needs to be something that makes different objects coherent unified and distinct objects that can be known. This bespeaks the question of why we don't simply experience a random unorganized external reality.

            Some will claim that it is actually our brain that provides the organization and shape to external matter/reality. The problem then is if one claims that the brain and its thoughts are also material, this means that our brain and its thoughts must also be unorganized! Well, so much for finding truth with an unorganized brain and thoughts!

            ------
            Furthermore, there can be no distinction between causation and correlation if matter is all that exists (with no immaterial form component). We conclude that there is causation when we decide that something actually has to the power to bring about some effect. Without form, one could never say we have more reason to believe that something as the power to bring about a certain effect rather than simply it being perfect correlation.

            Science would be utterly destroyed because no matter how many experiments you do or observations you make, you could never have evidence that it wasn't mere correlation.

            (In fact, we have evidence that what we experience in reality isn't pure correlation, based upon the way we've used the powers of the natural world in technology. This fact becomes coherent once we say that form is a real metaphysical part of all material reality.)

          • "I think at this point we could agree that we take our concepts from the
            external objects and how they exist (which includes shape)."

            I don't "take" concepts. Concepts occur in my brain. I've been clear of what I think influences thought.

            "The trouble we are still left in is we have to account for what
            organizes these external entities into the unified shapes that perform
            the actions they do? "

            We do, we have physics. What we do not have an "ultimate" accounting for the laws of physics. But a lack of a known explanation for the laws of physics does not mean that there is an explanation or that if there is, it is an immaterial one. You need to establish that it is impossible or unlikely for materialism to be able to explain this. You haven't done so.

            "Some will claim that it is actually our brain that provides the organization and shape to external matter/reality.'

            Well this is more or less my view. Our brains identify patterns, create models of reality, and shape our sensory input to fit that model. This is well-established. E.g. our brains flip the image sent to it by our nerves, it fills in our blind spots, edits out our blinking and much much more.

            "Furthermore, there can be no distinction between causation and
            correlation if matter is all that exists (with no immaterial form
            component)."

            I do not see how this follows. A correlation would be that the clock struck one and a tree fell over. Causation would be that the tree fell over because the wind blew it over. There is no problem with this distinction if no form exists without substance.

            "Science would be utterly destroyed because no matter how many
            experiments you do or observations you make, you could never have
            evidence that it wasn't mere correlation."

            Actually you can't it is called the problem of induction. we just ignore it and assume the more correlation there is the more likely it is causation.

            "This fact becomes coherent once we say that form is a real metaphysical part of all material reality.)"

            I am not saying that form is not part of all material reality. I am saying there is no form without material. There is no immaterial reality.

          • Phil

            Here is actually an essay from just last month I ran across from a psychological POV arguing against the "computer model" of the brain you propose:

            https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer

            "Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences, there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience. If you and I attend the same concert, the changes that occur in my brain when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th will almost certainly be completely different from the changes that occur in your brain. Those changes, whatever they are, are built on the unique neural structure that already exists, each structure having developed over a lifetime of unique experiences."

            "Forgive me for this introduction to computing, but I need to be clear: computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms.

            Humans, on the other hand, do not – never did, never will. Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers?"

        • Phil

          But here is really the crux of the matter, we actually can conclude that form is a real thing in a similar way that we can conclude that black holes exist. Though we could never directly observe a black hole, we have good reason to say that they exist because of their effects and how they explain material phenomenon. So to is it with form.

          We want to explain why reality functions and exists the way to does. Based upon our experience and observation of how material entities exist, we must conclude that something akin to form exists as a part of every single material entity.

          [It is important to note that even thought there are similarities between coming to know about black holes and form, form is not a scientific proposal. It's deeper than that--a metaphysical proposal. So in the end we must use metaphysical arguments to show that form is wrong and form actually underlies the ability for a coherent physical science in the first place. ]

    • TomD123

      Here is an argument for something immaterial that exists:

      1. Propositions have properties (e.g. they can be true or false)
      2. If X has a property, X exists
      3. Therefore, propositions exist.
      4. If propositions exist, they are not material things
      5. Therefore, there is something that exists that is not material.

      • I disagree with premise 4. Statements that are propositions exists, they are concepts and these exist materially or in ink or digitally, these are all material existence.

        • TomD123

          You are confusing propositions and sentences.

          "It is cloudy outside" is a sentence. It is made of pixels that you see. It can be formed by audio, ink, etc. Propositions however are not sentences. They are what is reported by a sentence. This is why two different sentences can report the same proposition, for instance, if I wrote the above sentence in a different language. It would be a different sentence with different concrete properties (e.g. different letters used) but it would report the exact same proposition.

          • Yes, I agree propositions are not only sentences, they are also concepts. But concepts also exist materially, in neural states in brains, they also refer to material states of affairs. With your example, absent any brain holding the concept, or any sentence reflecting it, or any actual clouds, I.e. once we exclude all material related to the proposition, what is left? Nothing. What is the immaterial aspect of this proposition?

          • TomD123

            No, you still don't understand.

            Propositions are not sentences. They are not in part sentences. Sentences report propositions, the two are distinct.

            Neural states like sentences, can be physical and can represent propositions. However, they are not identical with propositions. Neural states don't have the property of being true or false. They have properties like having certain concentrations of chemicals. Propositions don't have such properties.

            Finally, propositions exist independently of physical states of affairs. For instance, the proposition that it is cloudy outside would simply be false if there were no clouds. Propositions however exist necessarily. Not all propositions have their truth value of necessity however

          • No I get it, but I just do not think this implies "existence". What you are describing I would say is an "abstraction". What you are doing is taking a number of concepts, which are always understood as statements, whether mathematical or grammatical and taken properties of these ("true or false") and arrived at a new concept, "proposition" which you hold in your mind as a concept. Now because this new concept of proposition is not the same as any individual proposition, but is not imaginary, you feel it has its own existence beyond your conceiving it. That is the way I see it.

            You may see it as our minds identifying something that actually exists in some way, absent our conception or representation.

            I think the facts support both inteerpretations, just yours is unecessary, there is no problem with the materialist interpretation and as it is simpler I will continue to keep to it, unless you have some thing we can agree is real that contradicts this.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        TomD123, that's a fun argument. I can almost be convinced of it. I worry about premise 2, though. Frodo, the fictional character, seems to have properties. He's a hobbit. But I don't want to say that Frodo exists. That doesn't seem correct.

        Can you help me out?

        • TomD123

          There are different ways of analyzing the existence of fictional characters. One such way is to say fictional objects are abstract objects. If this is the way to go, then Frodo is not a hobit is not short etc.. However, he has the property of being ascribed the property of being a hobit being short etc. in Tolkein's world.

          I think that Peter van Inwagen gives an argument of this sort for fictional characters. You raise an interesting point though

    • ClayJames

      "Who designed the designer?" Is not an argument and certainly not a positive atheist argument

      It is a positive argument for atheism according to Dawkins as stated in the God Delusion.

      There is also an issue of the burden of proof. It is not up to atheists to demonstrate no gods exist, it is up to the theist to demonstrate they one does exist.

      If you define atheism, as it is being defined here, as the belief that God does not exist, then the burder of proof is also on the atheist.

      Something that is non temporal and non spacial and non material is something that lacks the necessary attributes for existence. It has no dimensions, exists for no amount of time and has no matter or energy. These are the basic attributes of existence. The theist here must justify how this is compatible with notions of existence before I will give any credibility to the notion of such a being "existing".

      Why must the theist justify how God is compatible with a notion of existence that you make no attempt to justify?

      • Fine, I disagree with Dawkins.

        If you define atheism as I do, theists maintain a burden of proof.

        I can justify my notion of existence, I think in have, if something has no material presence, exists for no time and in no space, it is not fair to say it it exists. You are using exists in some way I do not understand and I cannot believe it exists until this other view of existence is demonstrated.

        This god is defined as existing in the same way the Emperor was said to be wearing clothes.

        • ClayJames

          I can justify my notion of existence, I think in have, if something has no material presence, exists for no time and in no space, it is not fair to say it it exists. You are using exists in some way I do not understand and I cannot believe it exists until this other view of existence is demonstrated.

          I see no justification in what you have written and this seems like nothing more than a semantic game. You are just defining the word to mean what you want it to mean, without justification, in order to conclude that whatever does not fit with this definition does not exist.

          True, with your definition, God does not exist. But there is no reason to accept your definition.

          • What is the alternative definition of "exist"? This is a criticism of apologists generally. The issue is whether a god exists, but we have a devil of a time trying to get theists to give us a definition of either "god" or "exists". I've given you a perfectly reasonable and useful definition of exist, but you don't like it because it excludes the "god" you have defined as invisible and undetectable.

            Definitions of God, are similarly vague an unhelpful, what does terms like "purely spiritual" and "existing outside time and space" are extremely vague ad hoc, and simply defined by the gaps of current science.

          • ClayJames

            It is not an alternative definition of exist, it is the most used definition of the word. Most sources define the word as having being or to be real and do not limit the word to the naturalistic realm like you are doing.

            You can define the word however you want, but your definition makes the word useless in this context. You could also limit the word to your own home instead of the natural word and therefore, I would not exist, but this is just a silly semantic game.

            Unless you can show that the natural world is all there is and therefore all that exists, this is nothing but a word game.

            Definitions of God, are similarly vague an unhelpful, what does terms like "purely spiritual" and "existing outside time and space" are extremely vague ad hoc, and simply defined by the gaps of current science.

            I see no reason to accept this is true and I would like to see you defend it, especially considering that a word like ¨spiritual¨ or ¨space and time¨ cannot be gaps in science because they are not scientific.

          • Darren

            ClayJames wrote,

            Unless you can show that the natural world is all there is and therefore all that exists, this is nothing but a word game.

            Do you also believe the Invisible Pink Unicorn and her realm of Invisible Pinkness exist? I haven't seen anyone prove they don't...

          • so your definition of exists is : that which exists?

            I don't think it is fair to require me to say the natural world is all that exists. We can agree it exists, the question is whether something more does exist and in what way. I see no reason to accept anything does, and I put it to you to demonstrate it does.

            If I say to you that my car exists but not in space or time and cannot be detected. You would be reasonable I would say in stating it is reasonable to decline to believe this car exists. if I were to complain that you were being narrow minded,that this car is an immaterial space and timeless car, this makes it no more unreasonable for me to decline belief.

          • ClayJames

            so your definition of exists is : that which exists?

            No, the definition that I gave you is not the word itself.

            If I say to you that my car exists but not in space or time and cannot be detected. You would be reasonable I would say in stating it is reasonable to decline to believe this car exists

            A car is physical by definition so therefore it must exist in space or time. If you want to define the word ¨car¨ to mean something that is not physical and therefore not in time and space then it would not be reasonable for me to say that this ¨car¨ does not exist unless I can show that nothing can exist outside time and space or that there is someting about this ¨car¨ that would not be consistent with it existing.

          • You seem to be defining that which exists, as that which is real. How do you define that which is real?

            Okay I put it to you that there is such a car that that exists non-temporally and outside of time and has no matter or energy. You must agree then, that this exists?

          • ClayJames

            You seem to be defining that which exists, as that which is real. How do you define that which is real?

            By making epistemically warranted conclusions based on my experience. I fear this has turned into a silly word game.

            Okay I put it to you that there is such a car that that exists non-temporally and outside of time and has no matter or energy. You must agree then, that this exists?

            If by ¨car¨ you mean a thing that exists non-temporally, outside of time and space and has no matter or energy then of course I think a ¨car¨ exists.

            If by ¨car¨ you mean a 4 wheeled vehicle with a combustion engine used for personal travel that is also non-temporal and non-spatial, then I think we do have reason to think that doesn´t exist.

          • Yes I mean the latter, why don't you believe it? What reasons do you have for doubting its existence?

          • ClayJames

            For one, a non-temporal and non-spatial combustion engine is a contradiction in terms. A combustion engine is a physical object made of matter that requires time in order to turn one form of energy into another and must be temporal and spatial. Therefore, we have reasons to believe that such a car does not exist.

          • I would say a non-temporal, non-spatial mind or agent is equally a contradiction in terms. An act of creation requires time, it requires a before and after. It requires time. So creation absent time is a contradiction as well. If theists can say god can do this because he "transcends", why can't we say this about this car?

            God is described as not just an immaterial non-temporal mind, but also a human being capable of physically dying, who really was human and did really die. Unless you believe Jesus wasn't really human, or that he did not walk the earth and die, or that when he did this he wasn't really "God".

            If Christians are allowed to say that there can be a truly real human being that can physically die, bleed, but is also entirely spiritual and immaterial and a-temporal, it is no stretch to say there is a combustion engine that can be both as well.

          • ClayJames

            I would say a non-temporal, non-spatial mind or agent is equally a contradiction in terms. An act of creation requires time, it requires a before and after. It requires time. So creation absent time is a contradiction as well. If theists can say god can do this because he "transcends", why can't we say this about this car?

            This is exactly how you would go about showing that God does not exist because of a logical contradiction with his attributes. These are questions that have been discussed for centuries specifically because that is what the burden of proof requires when claiming that this God does not exist. I disagree with all of these apparent contradictions and you can probably find reasons why these are not the case, explained more thoroughly than I could, in this website or somewhere else online.

            If Christians are allowed to say that there can be a truly real human being that can physically die, bleed, but is also entirely spiritual and immaterial and a-temporal, it is no stretch to say there is a combustion engine that can be both as well.

            Jesus has two full distinct natures of God and man. You probably think this is contradictory but I see no reason to accept that. A combustion engine cannot be divine and human because it is neither divine or human. If you want to say that the combustion engine you are talking about has two full distinct natures of God and man, then I would agree with you, that combustion engine does exist! Most people just call that combustion engine Jesus.

          • "This is exactly how you would go about showing that God does not exist because of a logical contradiction with his attributes"

            I wouldn't take it that direction, I do not think what I describe are not logical contradictions.

            "Jesus has two full distinct natures of God and man."

            No, I do not think that position is contradictory, but I do think it is inconsistent to hold that it is possible to transcend time and space and also be part of it, etc, but do deny this is possible otherwise.

            "A combustion engine cannot be divine and human because it is neither divine or human."

            I never said it was "divine". No, none of the nature of this entity are god or man, fully car, let us say it is also evil. What reason do you have to disbelieve it?

  • Can god learn anything?

    • David Nickol

      Can he be pleasantly surprised? Can he "get" a joke? Can he appreciate music. Can he enjoy a suspense novel (or any story, for that matter)?

    • Phil

      It doesn't make sense to speak about God learning anything because God is Knowledge itself. Everything that exists must be held in existence by God. To be held in existence means that God is intimately present to everything that is. This means he knows it perfectly.

      (In regards to God himself. Since he is pure actuality and perfectly simple, he is a perfect act of self-understanding. He understands himself completely and transparently.)

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    ...what does that mean for our free will? Is such causal liberty an illusion? Not at all. I can know my influenza-stricken, gagging child is about to vomit without causing her to vomit.

    Not a particularly good example. The sick child doesn't freely choose to vomit - its an involuntary reaction. I don't think I'd call an involuntary action an example of exercising free will.

    A better example would be of someone knowing which toy their child will decide to play with next. If I already know, in advance, what the child's free choice is, then does that mean that there is only one choice the child could possibly make? And if there is only one possible choice, is it really a choice at all?

    • Phil

      Hey OverlappingMagisteria,

      A better example would be of someone knowing which toy their child will decide to play with next. If I already know, in advance, what the child's free choice is, then does that mean that there is only one choice the child could possibly make? And if there is only one possible choice, is it really a choice at all?

      I think we could say that it is impossible to know with 100% certainty what someone will freely choose to do. We may simply have a good idea based upon reasonable knowledge. (This assumes we are talking about an agent with free will.) Even apart from this point, as Matt states, knowledge--for human beings--does not equal causality.

      When it comes to God though, this line of thought goes out the window because there is no future for God. He is equally present at all points in time. So to say that God knows what I will do tomorrow, right now at this moment today, is an incoherent statement. There is only a tomorrow for me, there is no tomorrow for God. So God knows what we will do tomorrow--but not today; he knows it tomorrow! Yeah, it's a bit of a mind-bender. But we can never fully know what it is to be an eternal entity.

      I also would say there is no such decision where there is only one option. At the least there is always doing that one thing or choosing not to do it. Choosing to remain "passive" is itself a decision; it is a decision to remain passive.

      • David Nickol

        There can be no good analogy between a human being knowing in advance what a fellow human being will do at some point in the future and God knowing what that human being will do at some point in the future. Of course it is problematic to speak of before and after with God, but to put it in terms we can understand, I think it is fair to say that God knew "before" he created this particular universe (instead of any one of an infinite number of other universes) what each particular person was going to do at every point in that person's life.

        Even if it can be argued that every choice we make in this universe is freely made, God created the universe in which our choices are freely made. He could have created another universe in which different choices would be freely made. So it seems to me that God (as understood in these kinds of arguments), has ratified every choice made in this universe, because he chose to create this universe knowing that those choices would be made, rather than another universe in which different choices would have been made.

        • Phil

          but to put it in terms we can understand, I think it is fair to say that God knew "before" he created this particular universe (instead of any one of an infinite number of other universes) what each particular person was going to do at every point in that person's life.

          As long as we are precise with our language: He knows everyone and everything for all eternity, not before it happens, but as it happens. There is no future for God; all is present for Him at one single moment.

          There is no "before creation". Time only exists once creation comes into existence. So to even speak about a "before creation" is incoherent.

          Even if it can be argued that every choice we make in this universe is freely made, God created the universe in which our choices are freely made. He could have created another universe in which different choices would be freely made. So it seems to me that God (as understood in these kinds of arguments), has ratified every choice made in this universe, because he chose to create this universe knowing that those choices would be made, rather than another universe in which different choices would have been made.

          Yes and no. He ratifies each decision insofar as he created us with free will and he is present in each and every one of our decisions. We can only make a free decision with his "support" and presence because he must continue to hold us in being. But he also has given us genuinely true casual power; we can make the free decisions and cause things, not He through us. But this doesn't mean he agrees with every decision we make. He hates with we sin because it hurts us. But the crazy thing is he can take our bad decisions and bring about something even more beautiful. This is the whole point of salvation history!

          This last point is not something that can be known via reason alone. All we can know is that it isn't contrary to reason.

          • George

            "There is no future for God; all is present for Him at one single moment."

            Can God change that?

          • Phil

            No because that's part of God's "essence".

            Further, there is no potentiality in God, which is why we hold that God is immutable, i.e., can't truly change in any way.

            This doesn't mean that God is static since God is pure act. He is acting perfectly everywhere at all times.

        • So it seems to me that God (as understood in these kinds of arguments), has ratified every choice made in this universe, because he chose to create this universe knowing that those choices would be made, rather than another universe in which different choices would have been made.

          This is only possible if a given possible world in God's imagination has all of these 'free choices', and God merely has to hit some sort of 'apply' or 'reify' button to turn that possible world into an actual world. But what does it mean for something to be possible vs. actual if this is all God is doing?

          • David Nickol

            It's a good question, but are you suggesting that God created the universe without knowing how things in it would play out? If so, he is not omniscient.

          • TomD123

            See my comment above. You are assuming God has middle knowledge which depends on God having knowledge of subjunctive conditionals regarding free choices

          • David Nickol

            Yes, I believe I am assuming that (based on a very quick googling of the concept). Why should I assume otherwise? As I understand it, the Catholic position (whether explicitly or implicitly) implies that God possesses middle knowledge. If he does not, what other kinds of knowledge besides middle knowledge does an omniscient God lack? As I understand middle knowledge (and perhaps I don't at all), even I seem to have it to a limited extent. I can imagine correctly, some of the time, what a person will do in a hypothetical situation. I don't understand why God would not be able to do so.

          • TomD123

            Everyone who says God is omniscient agrees that God knows everything. What is debatable is whether or not middle knowledge is in fact a kind of knowledge.

            The problem, with middle knowledge, is that it depends on there being true counterfactual statements of free choices. If there are no such true statements, then obviously, even an omniscient God can't know them, just like He can't know what time smells like.

            Why would anyone deny that there are true subjunctive conditionals of free choices? Here is one such argument:

            1. For every contingently true proposition, there is some object or state of affairs which serves as a truthmaker for that proposition

            2. There is no viable candidate for a truthmaker for counterfactuals of freedom

            3. Therefore, there are no contingently true counterfactuals of freedom

            In defense of 2, I would point out that if there were some truthmaker, it would seem to be a necessitating factor. For instance, suppose I say that the truth maker of the statement "If Joe were in need of $10, he would choose to steal the money" is Joe's set of desires. If that is the case, then it seems as though these desires necessitate the choice. This contradicts libertarian freedom.

            Molina himself (who first utilized the concept of middle knowledge) seems to try and ground counterfactuals of freedom in God's nature. But this would render them necessary rather than contingent. And necessary truths hardly report the free actions of people. This was a typical objection from the Dominicans to the Jesuits in the 16th century debates regarding God's causality and human freedom

          • It's not clear that the objection I raised entails non-omniscience. What I'm most strongly arguing is that there is a crucial difference between imagined reality and actualized reality. Any way of thinking which denies this is in error.

            If I were to try to get at the question you ask, I would start with establishing how we can be morally responsible for something for which God is not morally responsible, and work from there. It seems to me that moral responsibility is where the rubber most meets the road, when it comes to free will.

            Furthermore, I would open up the OP's notion of omniscience to question, asking whether the promises in scripture and trustworthiness of God require that precise notion. What is lost if God has ensured that some logically possible futures are not empirically possible, but still allowed for multiple different paths to be taken? An example of this could be that humans are able to decide how long an evil is gratuitous (how long before it is redeemed), but not whether it stays gratuitous to eternity. Important to note here is that any lack of knowledge on God's part might only exist due to his voluntary self-limitation. That is, whether or not he created free creatures could have been entirely optional.

          • David Nickol

            What I'm most strongly arguing is that there is a crucial difference between imagined reality and actualized reality. Any way of thinking which denies this is in error.

            Why should not an omniscient being be able to analyze (or even "run a simulation") of any possible scenario to see how it would come out in "real" reality? If God's knowledge is infinite, it seems to me it must include not merely everything that happens, but everything that could happen.

            Further, it seems to me that if moral choice is not predictable, it is not moral choice. It is random. Do the choices we make determine who we are, or does who we are determine the choices we make? It seems to me it makes no sense to hold someone morally responsible for a choice they make that does not flow directly from who they are.

          • Why should not an omniscient being be able to analyze (or even "run a simulation") of any possible scenario to see how it would come out in "real" reality? If God's knowledge is infinite, it seems to me it must include not merely everything that happens, but everything that could happen.

            I'm simply more sure that there needs to be a stronger distinction between possibility (imagination) and actuality (stronger than exists with God having a big red 'reify' button), than I am sure of the notion of omniscience which you are advancing—or perhaps, which you are channeling from the OP.

            Further, it seems to me that if moral choice is not predictable, it is not moral choice. It is random.

            The entire framework in which this conversation typically happens is that of impersonal natural laws vs. pure randomness. I reject that, on the basis that there is no known route for it to allow personal agency. Many of the models of human agency deployed in the human sciences, as far as I can tell, have utterly failed outside of narrow circumstances. These models have generally aspired to be like the models of the natural sciences.

            It seems to me it makes no sense to hold someone morally responsible for a choice they make that does not flow directly from who they are.

            I'm not sure how well this works, for personal identity does not seem to be constant over time. Some advance the notion of a 'discontinuous I' (example), such that the person ten years down the road can fail to be responsible for actions taken by the same body ten years earlier. Aside from that, if a cause outside me changes my identity, how am I 100% morally responsible for things the changed identity enacts?

            You see this matter play out in sociology, between those who see the individual as 100% socially constructed and those who think that society is nothing but the sum of the actions of autonomous individuals. I think we need a different, better way to construe human agency and identity.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The entire framework in which this conversation typically happens is that of impersonal natural laws vs. pure randomness. I reject that, on the basis that there is no known route for it to allow personal agency.

            I would love to see this idea explored more. It seems to me that there is a very prevalent implicit conceptual framework in which machines (e.g. clocks) and dice are the only two root metaphors available to us for describing all of reality. That seems to me to be way too coarse for a basic taxonomy of reality, and it seems to lead to nonsensical conclusions, such as the conclusion that free will doesn't exist. Where did this oversimplified taxonomy come from, and why do we cling to it when it so obviously fails to account for the basic phenomena of our lives? Why not allow at least one other root metaphor, that of the free person?

            As I think you have hinted at before, perhaps it comes from the desire for control. If one can root one's understanding of free agency in a mechanistic metaphor, that would hold much greater promise for exerting control. If, on the other hand, we concede that free personhood is itself a root metaphor for understanding reality, if it is perhaps even the root metaphor for understanding reality, we thereby cede a substantial degree of control, and we are perhaps left with interpersonal negotiation, rather than impersonal control, as our primary mode of relating to reality.

          • I would also like to see this stuff explored more. I've done some of that, but after an hour of trying, I wasn't able to quite synthesize it into a comment. A good search term is mechanical philosophy and two works by Catholics are Romano Guardini's The End of the Modern World and Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture. One could also chase Max Weber's stahlhartes Gehäuse, problematically translated "iron cage" and perhaps better translated as "shell as hard as steel" or "case as hard as steel". Simplistically, one might say that man's control of society has turned into society's control of man, from cradle to grave. People have also argued that man's domination by machine would turn into machines' domination of man, or if you like The Matrix, by man.

            Something which has caught my attention as of late is the worry of what AI will do to humans once it becomes powerful enough. My own guess is that to the extent that we control each other in relatively simplistic ways (e.g. via advertisement and propaganda), AI will learn from us and do it better (and it will have fantastic surveillance abilities). This seems to be a nice lens to understand the situation, as AI will do in an unvarnished fashion what we do in a way we've rationalized with all sorts of nice stories. Suppose that instead, we were focused on enhancing other beings (human and not), with results that could matter in the public sphere. If this were the ethos into which AI was born, might it simply take its place in such an ecology?

            Another route of exploration is that of investigating what John Milbank calls an 'ontology of violence' in the presuppositions about human nature made by many liberal political theorists. Hobbes is one of the progenitors: the interests of humans are inherently in conflict with one another, and so all one can do is balance power against power so that minimal overt violence happens. There is no pre-established harmony, corrupted by sin, to which we can arbitrarily closely return and thus not be perpetually in fear of the truly new (vs. new fashion, new entertainment). The government must suppress anything which could challenge it, like mediating structures. Atomized individuals are fine, but if they coordinate too much, that could return us to feudal times in Europe (with competing warlords) or the disorder which existed under the Articles of Confederation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Very informative response, thanks.

            A number of your comments in there reminded me of the great Josh Garrels' song "The Resistance":

            https://joshgarrels.bandcamp.com/track/the-resistance

            I was always intrigued (and perhaps a little too comforted, on my lazy days) by the line: "My rest is a weapon against the oppression of man's obsession to control things".

          • That's a neat song. Garrels does a much better job of identifying the problem than the solution, but even identifying it as a problem is worth celebrating in my book.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree. I wish I could excise the lines, "Hold fast like an anchor in the storm. We will not be moved", as that does not suggest the spirit of solution I would advocate.

            Artists ... they never quite seem to say what I want ... if only I could control them ;-)

          • The way I humble myself is to require that before I'm too harsh, I have to come up with better lyrics.

        • TomD123

          Your argument in this last paragraph assumes that God has middle knowledge. However, middle knowledge is impossible as there are no true subjunctive conditionals regarding free choices if libertarianism is true (which is an assumption most contemporary Christians would make)

  • TomD123

    I would hardly consider the Kalam argument one of theism's best. If that is the best theism has to offer, then theism is almost certainly false.

    On an aside, since this site is run by Catholics, I would point out that the Kalam argument depends on an A-theory of time. However, the A-theory of time is incompatible with divine foreknowledge of human choices (if we include other assumptions about the nature of God taught by the Church). Therefore, Catholics should reject the Kalam...not that it was strong to begin with.

    • ClayJames

      I would hardly consider the Kalam argument one of theism's best. If that is the best theism has to offer, then theism is almost certainly false.

      Why do you think the Kalam argument fails?

      • TomD123

        (1) The premise that the universe began to exist is difficult to demonstrate. A number of eminent physicists would disagree. That is not to say that the universe didn't begin to exist, only that the evidence that it did begin to exist is inconclusive.

        (2) The premise that anything which begins to exist must have a cause may be true. But the strongest argument in favor of the premise relies on induction, viz. we don't ever observe something coming from nothing. However, this inductive evidence is undercut here by two facts. First, we never observe anything coming into existence from nothing, only rearranging preexisting stuff. Second, we only observe stuff coming into existence when it previously did not exist. However, with the universe itself, it would not come into existence when it previously did not since time would begin with the universe.

        (3) The argument relies on an A-theory of time in which it is true to say that the universe CAME into being. However, on a b-theory, even if the past of the universe is finite, it never came into being. It is just a tenselss fact that the universe has such and such event as a first event. If the universe didn't come into being at all, then there is no reason to say that it requires a cause of its coming to be.

        The problem is that the A-theory of time is false. There are a number of arguments against this view. One is that contemporary physicists by and large reject it. Another is that it fails to account for the fact that we can make true statements about the past. For anyone who believes God can know the future, there is reason to reject an A-theory of time. For how can God know the free choice of a creature that doesn't even exist?

        (4) The argument implies a misleading notion of creation. According to traditional theist theologians, creation means God causing the universe to be, for as long as it exists, out of nothing. This entails the notion of conservation. However, the Kalam arguments treats creation as merely the first thing to get the universe going which is not very useful for traditional theologians and probably misleading.

  • David Nickol

    A quick question: I understand some people to be saying that God does not exist, he is existence itself. So far so good? Does this apply to all the other "attributes"? It would seem to me that it makes no sense to say God has attributes. God is not omnipotent, but rather he is power itself. God is not omniscient, but rather he is knowledge itself. God does not live, but rather he is love. This seems rather meaningless to me, but it has the virtue of making God so hard to talk about that theists can shoot down almost any argument. :-)

    • How problematic is this paradigm when it comes to science? F = ma is an accurate description of some reality for some purposes. It does not give us exhaustive knowledge of reality and it will let us down if we try to apply it in inappropriate domains. And yet, we know more post-Newton than we did before Newton.

      It seems to me that you're contrasting X-ness as being (i) like some abstract X vs. (ii) like some 'embodied' X. Why think that (i) is the only form which maintains intelligibility? That seems awfully Cartesian.

      • David Nickol

        Do you mean that saying "God is existence itself" is an accurate description of some reality for some purposes?

        • I'm afraid I'm not well-enough versed in A–T metaphysics to answer your question. I'm more convinced that metaphysical univocity is disastrous, and that the rejection of it entails that God cannot exist in the same way that we do. Ostensibly, one way to say this in a non-univocal fashion is to assert that "God is existence itself".

          The trick in talking about God is that we're trying to grapple with a being who is vastly greater than our ability to fully comprehend. We can wrap our heads around F = ma; we cannot wrap our heads around God. But F = ma isn't a comprehensive description of reality; indeed it may only describe an infinitesimal sliver of all reality. I suspect that we get to know God in a piecewise fashion, even though he isn't made of pieces any more than reality has a transcendental equation 'F = ma' operating somewhere in certain regions.

          • David Nickol

            The trick in talking about God is that we're trying to grapple with a
            being who is vastly greater than our ability to fully comprehend.

            Of course, from the point of view of many here, the problem with talking about God is that no such being exists. And that is in some ways seized on by those who argue that God is not a being who exists, but being itself or existence itself. This moves the discussion beyond the bounds in which comprehensibility has any meaning, because what is being asserted has no meaning.

            Theology may be a subject without a subject matter, and the reason we may have trouble figuring out what a "being" outside of time can be like is that no such thing is even possible.

          • This moves the discussion beyond the bounds in which comprehensibility has any meaning, because what is being asserted has no meaning.

            Is it so hard to comprehend that God is not 'a being', as if there could be two of him or as if there is a supporting construct which upholds him and us?

            Theology may be a subject without a subject matter, and the reason we may have trouble figuring out what a "being" outside of time can be like is that no such thing is even possible.

            Tell this to Lawrence Krauss who thinks that a sort of primordial quantum vacuum, existing in neither space nor time, could give rise to our universe. Perhaps his ability to even think of that is parasitic on theology which posits the creator of our reality to be outside of space and time. :-p

          • David Nickol

            As I understand it, there is a question as to how fundamental time is within physics/cosmology. Some think it is absolutely fundamental, whereas others see it as some kind of "emergent property" or some such thing. But I am not talking about cosmology here. I am talking about what it means to have a "being" with intellect and will that is "outside of time." How do intellect and will "operate" without some kind of before and after?

            I read A Universe from Nothing when it came out, and I think Laurence Krauss has gotten a bum rap. As I recall it, he did not claim the universe came from absolute nothingness. He claimed that people like Aquinas would have found concepts like a perfect vacuum to be pretty much equivalent to their concept of nothing. Of course, we know today that totally "empty" space is far from absolute nothingness.

          • There is logical 'before' and 'after' which does not depend on time. Furthermore, given the trouble my interlocutors have had in establishing a knowable causal power of 'rationality' (that is, we speak as if we can [sometimes] choose to expose our thinking to an actual causal power that is 'rationality', such that those thoughts are more rational than others) if the only causal powers are the laws of nature, I'm not overly concerned about this matter.

            As to Krauss, I'm just not at all confident that Aquinas would agree that Krauss-nothing = Aquinas-nothing. From the brief reading I've done, he would see Krauss' primordial quantum vacuum as having vast potency. But I would defer to an Aquinas scholar on this. I know Krauss isn't one.

            Now, I see nothing theologically problematic with the science Krauss has put forward on this matter. There might even be something behind his primordial quantum vacuum, something behind that, etc.

    • Phil

      Yes, an entity who we can never know its essence and is at its center a mystery is hard to talk about!

      That is what makes natural theology and theology itself so hard--much harder than the physical sciences I would contend. This is why Aquinas said that though we can say something about God that is true because we can say what he is not (via negativa), whatever we do say about him is always closer to what he is not than to what he is. At the heart, God is a mystery that must be entered into. He is not an object we can poke and prod at.

      So is God power itself, love itself, knowledge itself, etc. Absolutely! Do we know exactly what this means? Nope. But we can know something because we know what power, love, and knowledge is from our perceptive. So in some way these things reflect God, yet only analogously.

      (You are correct to say God has no attributes. That is the whole point about Aquinas saying that God is pure actuality. No potentiality. To have a pottery there must be a distinction between actuality and potentiality within a being.)

  • neil_pogi

    atheists love to use this argument: “Who designed the Designer?”

    then who designed the 'self-replicating molecule'??

    atheists once were ardent believers that the universe is eternal. period..... and now they don't believe in such entity as 'eternal'.... why?

    so i can't prove that God doesn't exists!

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    It's interesting to think about philosophical arguments against the existence of God. I'm surprised the argument from evil was not one of the ones listed, but some others are well addressed, as far as it goes.

    The article leaves me with a couple nagging questions.

    Why would atheists care about coming up with philosophical arguments against God? How many a-unicornists come up with philosophical arguments against unicorns?

    Matt's way of dealing with Dawkins's argument about God being bad is that God can't be bad, because God is defined as being good. But the God of the Bible does seem at times like a truly terrible character. Doesn't this mean that Dawkins's argument combined with Matt's definition would show that, if God does exist, he's not the God of the bible, because God is by definition good and the God of the bible is sometimes a moral monster? Would this show the God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam to be an impostor god, not worthy of the capital letter at the beginning of the name? I'm not sure that's the direction Matt would want to go there.

    • ClayJames

      Why would atheists care about coming up with philosophical arguments against God? How many a-unicornists come up with philosophical arguments against unicorns?

      Every single person that believes unicorns don´t exist should come up with reasons for why this is most likely the case.

      Russell´s teapot fails so miserably because it is invalidated by the same unlikelihood of the event that makes the question so preposterous. This is why you have never heard of Russell´s aliens.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Every single person that believes unicorns don´t exist should come up with reasons for why this is most likely the case.

        Is this a moral duty, or is this just pragmatic advice? You know, for when the pro-unicorn cult members try to brainwash you. ;)

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        More seriously, isn't "no good reason for X" good enough reason not to accept X? If there's no good reason for thinking there's an even number of atoms in our galaxy, isn't that good enough reason not to believe that the number is even?

        • ClayJames

          Absolutely, but that is not analogous to atheism because that is not how it is defined by the OP. Atheism is being used as the belief that there is no God, not simply the lack of belief in a God. This is why I took your a-unicornist example as a statement that there are no unicorns, not that one does not accept that there are unicorns.

          Similarly, If there is no good reason for thinking there´s an even number of atoms in our galaxy, that is not a good reason to believe that the number is odd.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I see. I've never met any of the OP's atheists yet. I have heard that they exist, but have never met one. I don't think any such atheist exists among the commenters. It's too bad the OP would set the scope of the article so narrowly to include almost no one who would comment on it.

            I agree with you that, for OP's atheists, they should have a good reason for their belief that God does not exist.

          • ClayJames

            Don´t take what I said to mean that an atheist is someone who asserts with 100% certainty that there is no God. The OP´s definition and the standard of proof would still apply if you simply want to say that it is more likely than not that there is no God. To even move the needle from agnosticism requires a burden of proof.

            I think there are many atheists that fit that definition.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            There may indeed, but I suppose then the question becomes what evidence there is for something vs. the evidence one would expect for something. A lack of evidence can itself be evidence for absence, depending on the sort of claim.

            But what I've heard from most atheists that I know is that they simply don't believe that God exists. They don't believe that no God exists. And most of my friends think that the odds are inscrutable. A meaningful percentage cannot be given.

            It's an interesting question about definitions. I think it would be more respectful to use whatever reasonable definitions a group wants for themselves, if there's some agreement among the group. I don't know if there is, and am not an atheist myself anyway.

          • ClayJames

            A lack of evidence can itself be evidence for absence, depending on the sort of claim.

            That is correct. The lack of evidence for an elephant in my room is evidence against an elephant in my room because I can show that if an elephant were in my room, it would require such evidence. A strong atheist that believes God does not (or probably does not) exist can definetly take this approach but they must first show what sort of evidence is required.

            But what I've heard from most atheists that I know is that they simply don't believe that God exists. They don't believe that no God exists.

            This has not been my experience. Do you know anyone who is a naturalist? A naturalist would have to affirm that God does not exist. This strong atheist stance can also be seen in the popular New Atheist movement where people like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens didn´t simply lack the believe in God but they believe God probably does not exist.

            It's an interesting question about definitions. I think it would be more respectful to use whatever reasonable definitions a group wants for themselves, if there's some agreement among the group.

            There are two groups here, those that lack the belief in God and those that believe he doesnt exist. This definition is talking about the latter.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I am a metaphysical naturalist and I think God exists. Most atheists I have met don't ascribe to metaphysical naturalism, because they find the arguments unconvincing. They tend to say the same thing about the supernatural as about God. They dont see the evidence, so they dont believe the supernatural exists, but they dont believe it doesnt exist either. Maybe the difference is that we interact with different groups of people.

            You mention two groups. I think both should be called atheists if they want to be. I dont think you disagree?

          • Phil

            Hey Paul--

            I am a metaphysical naturalist and I think God exists.

            Do you mind explaining this a little more, as I find it fascinating!

            Normally, a naturalist denies that anything supernatural/spiritual exists which makes it seem like you might hold that "god" is actually some sort of natural phenomenon?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Naturalism is notoriously difficult to define, and people assign different meanings. The way I use the word, Naturalism means that there is nothing outside nature. This means either that God is Nature or that God is in Nature.

          • Phil

            I gotcha; that makes sense in regards to god and naturalism.

            Since you've hung around here for a while, I'm guessing you're familiar with the whole issue of material reality explaining itself. What do you think is the best answer/ultimate solution to the question of material reality explaining itself from within (from your naturalist POV)?

            (Since when a person concludes that God exists outside of all physical reality based simply upon reason, it is normally in response to this question...ultimately holding that a physical reality can't explain itself from within itself.)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I dont think reality is fundamentally material. See my reply to Jim.

            Does this solve the problem of reality explaining itself, or if not, can you put the problem into a form that clearly shows it to be a problem for my metaphysics?

          • Phil

            Very interesting! Honestly at this point I'd have to hear more of an explanation of the metaphysics you are proposing. is there any philosopher that your view is closest to?

            If you have time, I would love a more in-depth explanation because I don't quite fully understand yet the response to Jim. In (2) in sounds like you say that there is one substance (i.e., a type of monism) and you say first that this substance is neither mental nor physical. Then you end by talking about ideas and physical things. My best guess is you are proposing that the ideas exist and not the physical things, as that would be in contradiction to what you said a few sentences earlier?

            I really appreciate your time and explanation!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            This format is unfortunately not the best for very in-depth discussions, so I would recommend you e-mail me at p.brandon.rimmer@gmail.com so we could talk about this in more detail.

            To briefly answer your specific questions, the philosophers that would hold views most similar to mine would be foremost Spinoza, and then Della Rocca, Dasgupta, Nadler, Kripke. Ideas exist and physical things exist, but they arent fundamental. They are two ways of describing the underlying substance, that is neither made of ideas or physical things. That is why I expect this 1:1 correspondence between mind and body. Its two ways of looking at the same single entity or something that is in that entity.

          • Phil

            Message sent, Thanks!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            And what is nature?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            That's the key question. Different people again would give different definitions. I can give two, which I think describe the same thing.

            1. That which is part of the same explanatory fabric. If for example there were some set of basic rules that govern rocks and trees and animals and galaxies, and another for minds and spirits and angels, the first group would be nature and the second group wouldn't. Naturalism either can say that the second group doesnt exist, or can say, as I do, that the second group really is in the first group. There's a single explanatory fabric that includes both rocks and angels.

            2. Nature is whatever is physical or corresponds 1:1 with what is physical. Which I think includes everything. Everything's in one substance, which is neither mental or physical, but has both these descriptions. So I believe every idea corresponds to some physical structure, and every physical thing corresponds to an idea.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Pardon me for butting in (I'm too busy doing other things to comment much, but I do follow your comments).

            Aquinas wrote in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics: “Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.”

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Kevin, you are kind to follow my comments. That's a great definition. Imagine Aquinas identified God with Nature and I think you would have my definition, more or less. For Aquinas, the power of the wood is explained by the wood itself and the builder. For the naturalist, either there is no builder, or both wood and builder are part of the same art. The divine art put into the things themselves, for this sort of naturalist, is also put into the things by themselves.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think you referred to Acts 17:28 as being possibly suggestive of the theology that you have arrived at philosophically. I am curious: more generally, do you find that Biblical texts give expression (or could plausibly be interpreted as giving expression) to the sort of God that you believe in?

            I realize you can't answer exhaustively without engaging in a literary analysis of the entire Bible. I am just curious whether there are perhaps particular parts of the Bible that resonate with your sense of God.

            I ask because I feel like I could probably sign up for different philosophies of God as long as I could reflect on it in dialogue with some mature theological tradition. (To be honest, I can't really imagine re-envisioning God in a way that was disconnected from the Christian tradition specifically, but I wouldn't want to limit the conversation in that way, and I would try thinking within different traditions for the sake of dialogue.) What I think I would want at the end of the days is some way to both (supportively) correlate and (correctively) cross-check my own sense of God with the ways that my predecessors have been talking about God for millennia. Maintaining that conversation with the ancients seems important to me. Do you feel like your philosophy provides avenues for that?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Jim,

            Thanks for the question. I am not an expert on the Bible, and cannot presently answer in any comprehensive way (as you point out, this would be quite difficult anyway). I can give a smattering of verses. John 17, esp. verse 21. Colossians 1:20. Ephesians 1:10.

            To clarify, I certainly don't think that the authors of the Bible would have believed in God as I do, but I do think some of the things Jesus and his followers say is consistent with what I believe about God, some isn't, but what is could be seen as Jesus's achievement of an eternal truth, a sign that he has the mind of God, that his words are God's words, of course, only insofar as they are true.

            My beliefs about God certainly resonate with certain teachings about divine simplicity, Orthodox teaching about essences and energies, and theosis. There is a grand and ancient Christian tradition involving unity of God and creation. None of this will get someone to the place I'm at; I have no doubt both Orthodox and Catholic Christians would generally think that I'm a heretic. Regardless, I think there would be a large region of convergence between myself and especially Orthodox and certain Anglican mystics, such as Matthew Fox. Although I see some significance with the similarities, the similarities may be largely trivial. Mystics, especially those of the flavor of Matthew Fox, are quite vague, and it is possible with very little effort to make something vague match almost anything, even something as specific as my beliefs about God or Nature.

          • ClayJames

            They dont see the evidence, so they dont believe the supernatural exists, but they dont believe it doesnt exist either. Maybe the difference is that we interact with different groups of people.

            Look through Amazon´s best selling atheist books and you will find writers that make the positive claim that God probably does not exist. The New Atheist movement is not an agnostic movement it is a movement lead by people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris who argue that God most likely does not exist. Dawkins has said that from 1 to 10, 10 being 100% certainty that God does not exist, he would be a 9. I think the difference has a lot more to do with interacting with different groups of people. The most prominent atheist movement in the last 15 years is one of hard atheism, not simply agnosticism.

            You mention two groups. I think both should be called atheists if they want to be. I dont think you disagree?

            I disagree for the sake of practicality. If everyone agreed that atheism is a belief that God does not exist, we could have save a lot of time trying to define it.

            From what I have seen, I think the word is defined this way more times that not. The other way that people like to differentiate between the two is to call it weak and strong atheism. But this makes little sense since both claims are drastically different and it is not a matter of strength. It makes little sense to say that weak atheism requires no burden of proof while strong atheism does.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            To add even more semantic confusion to the mix, along with what I think is one way out, what about people who may choose to live as though God exists, who choose to believe as much as belief is ever a choice, even if they think God is unlikely?

            You could imagine someone like this who takes Pascal's wager very seriously, but who also takes, say Dawkins's arguments very seriously. He thinks there's a 1% chance that the Christian God exists, that the cost for believing in the Christian God is pretty high, but that the payout, contentment in this world and eternal joy in the next, justify the choice to act as though God exists, to cultivate belief in God as much as possible. Would this person be an atheist, since he thinks God is unlikely? Or a theist, since he is acting and believing as though God exists, as much as he is able?

            One way out, one that I tend to favor, mostly because it's the way many atheists, e.g. Matt Dillahunty, choose to label themselves, is the agnostic/gnostic atheist/theist distinction.

            Theism is simply the belief that at least one God exists. Atheism is simply the lack of that belief. Gnosticism/agnosticism or strong/weak describes how confident the person, atheist or theist, is in that belief.

            In this case, atheism by itself wouldn't have a burden of proof at all. I don't think any reason beyond "lack of evidence" is necessary for a lack of belief in something. Levels of confidence greater than would need some sort of reason, either way they go.

            By this definition, someone could think the probability of God is very low, or inscrutable, yet still be a theist. They believe, or claim to believe, that God exists. Atheists don't claim that belief.

            I think it's a useful system that doesn't force either side to claim more than they should. I'm a theist. I think I have a burden of proof for my theism. I don't think anyone who lacks belief in the God I believe needs any reason whatsoever for their lack of belief, beyond a lack of good reasons to believe.

          • Darren

            Paul Brandon Rimmer wrote,

            I don't think any such atheist exists among the commenters.

            With the (IMO) rather large caveat of assuming logic works
            the way we think it does, then I agree with J. L. Mackie’s formulation of the Problem of Evil (linked to avoid an
            unwieldy block of quoted text). An omnipotent and wholly Good God is incompatible with the existence of Evil. Evil (or something fitting the description of Evil for we non-Platonic Idealists - say Malaria and Guinea Worms) exists, therefore that particular God does not.

            A less-than-wholly-Good or limited-potence entity may very well exist somewhere doing whatever such an entity does, Russell’s Teapot and all. Here we are in the territory of the Evidential Problem of Evil and we are welcome to discuss just how weak or non-Good a god would have to be to fit the observations.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            So you're one example! My argument may be falsified soon. And now I can't say I haven't met a 'gnostic atheist' (would that be fair to say?).

          • Darren

            PBR wrote,

            So you're one example! My argument may be falsified soon. And now I can't say I haven't met a 'gnostic atheist' (would that be fair to say?).

            When I am feeling particularly categorical, I call myself an
            Atheist Agnostic as I have more than sufficient cause to believe no such thing as the Theist God exists, yet I am willing to admit that sufficiently distant or weak or disinterested godlike entities could very well exist and I would never know it.

            I have disagreed with other atheists in this definition, they
            who define atheism as disbelief in any god whatsoever. I stick to my literal interpretation, a-Theist. As to those other nebulous entities, a god or godlike entity who cannot be distinguished from no god at all is nothing much I need to trouble about. So it works out the same; perhaps it appeals to the pedant in me to insist on the distinction.

      • Doug Shaver

        Russell´s teapot . . . is invalidated by the same unlikelihood of the event that makes the question so preposterous.

        I can't quite parse that. To what event are you referring?

        • ClayJames

          The event is Russell´s teapot. The reason Russell´s Teapot ¨works¨ is because it is extremely unlikely that there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. But if we have reason to think this is very unlikely (and we do) then we do have reason to think that such a teapot does not exist and therefore, it doesn´t follow that Russell´s Teapot cannot be disproved like Bertrand Russell claims. We are warranted to believe there is no tiny teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars precisely because we have reasons to think this is not the case.

          • Doug Shaver

            The reason Russell´s Teapot ¨works¨ is because it is extremely unlikely that there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.

            Whether an argument works depends on its intended purpose. The intended purpose of Russell's Teapot is to rebut the claim that belief is supposed to be some kind of default position, that we're under some epistemological obligation to believe anything that we cannot disprove.

            we do have reason to think that such a teapot does not exist and therefore, it doesn´t follow that Russell´s Teapot cannot be disproved like Bertrand Russell claims.

            Arguably, he could have picked a better example, depending on what kind of proof he had in mind. But here is what he actually wrote (emphasis added):

            If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

      • Will

        Russell´s teapot fails so miserably because it is invalidated by the same unlikelihood of the event that makes the question so preposterous. This is why you have never heard of Russell´s aliens.

        Why would a resurrection be more likely than an orbiting teapot? From what we know of biology, a resurrection if physically impossible, teapots in space aren't. Saying Russell's teapot "fails so miserably" seems very emotional. I'd agree that the God question is a bit different from teapots and unicorns, however.

        • ClayJames

          Rusell´s teapot fails because we do have many reasons for believing that such a teapot does not exist. We can agree with Russell that there is no tiny teapot orbiting the sun because we have reason to think this is not so, not because we can´t disprove it as Russell claims.

          The ressurection is not a biological event, so I fail to see how the contraints of biological systems shows that it is improbable.

          • Doug Shaver

            The ressurection is not a biological event

            Why not? Because it was a miracle? That assumes your conclusion.

            I fail to see how the contraints of biological systems shows that it is improbable.

            I'll agree that divine intervention, if it happens, does make any constraints of natural law, biological or otherwise, irrelevant to an assessment of probability. But even assuming that dead people do occasionally return to life by divine intervention, the frequency with which it is claimed to happen remains entirely relevant.

            A common estimate of the number of human beings who have ever lived is around 100 billion. If you believe that over the course of human history, God has raised X people from the dead, then you are saying that the probability of any particular resurrection is about X in 100 billion.

          • ClayJames

            Why not? Because it was a miracle? That assumes your conclusion.

            When you are talking about Jesus´resurrection, you are talking about an event without a biological cause that either happened or did not happen. Therefore, biological contraints do not figure into the equation. The resurrection is not a biological event because that is not the claim that is being made, therefore, in no way am I assuming the conclusion (just stating the question).

            But even assuming that dead people do occasionally return to life by divine intervention, the frequency with which it is claimed to happen remains entirely relevant.

            A common estimate of the number of human beings who have ever lived is around 100 billion. If you believe that over the course of human history, God has raised X people from the dead, then you are saying that the probability of any particular resurrection is about X in 100 billion.

            I fail to see how this is applicable to the Jesus example. I agree that given God´s behavior so far, the probability of any given resurrection is X in a 100 billion. But the question at hand is not how probable is any resurrection, but how probable was this resurection.

            Just because the probability of being killed by a shot to the head from a 6.5 mm Carcano is X in 100 billion, does not mean that the probability that JFK was killed by a shot to the head from a 6.5 mm Carcano is X in 100 billion.

          • Darren

            ClayJames wrote,

            Just because the probability of being killed by a shot to the head from a 6.5 mm Carcano is X in 100 billion, does not mean that the probability that JFK was killed by a shot to the head from a 6.5 mm Carcano is X in 100 billion.

            Great example!

            What do you think the probability is that it was a magic 6.5 Carcano bullet? 50%? It was or it wasn't...

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think ClayJames's point is that, while the marginal probability of resurrection for a randomly selected person is inarguably astronomically low, the probability that at least one person in the history of the human race would be resurrected may, depending on what one already believes about God, be quite high. For example, if one already believes in a God who wants to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite, who wants to bridge the gap between the broken-ness of the present and the perfection of the future, one might then assign a high probability to just such a once-in-a-universe bridge coming about at, let's say, a rate of about once per universe, and one might expect it to be something spectacular, like a man having life after he was crucified.

            Conditional on that background set of beliefs then, you might assign a high probability to something like a resurrection at some point. Whether you think this once-in-a-universe sort of thing actually came about with Jesus of Nazareth in particular would depend on other background knowledge, like what you believe about the historical thread that led up to and included his life.

          • Darren

            Jim Hillclimber wrote,

            depending on what one already believes about God...

            Oh, I get it. It is analogous to asking, given what we know about Leprechauns, how likely is it that a pot of gold lies hidden at the end of a rainbow.

            But to your own comment, I have to just shrug. I don't make the "resurrection was unlikely" argument as the entire Plan of Salvation (TM) makes no sense at all. For a Judeo-Hellenic mystery cult, sure, but not for an omnipotent deity.

          • Doug Shaver

            the question at hand is not how probable is any resurrection, but how probable was this resurection.

            Agreed. That's why we need to evaluate the evidence, whatever it is, for this resurrection. But the evaluation cannot begin until we have established a prior probability. Once we have established that prior, then we can see how far the evidence moves it.

            Just because the probability of being killed by a shot to the head from a 6.5 mm Carcano is X in 100 billion, does not mean that the probability that JFK was killed by a shot to the head from a 6.5 mm Carcano is X in 100 billion.

            The prior probability actually is that low. It is the evidence we have that makes the consequent probability close to unity.

          • Will

            Rusell´s teapot fails because we do have many reasons for believing that such a teapot does not exist. We can agree with Russell that there is no tiny teapot orbiting the sun because we have reason to think this is not so, not because we can´t disprove it as Russell claims.

            First, what reasons do we have to believe the teapot doesn't exist? Human astronauts could easily put something like that in orbit. Let's change it to a lost satellite, if you want. Please list these many reasons you speak of.
            If the burden of proof for a claim doesn't rest on those making the claim, have you managed to disprove bigfoot? How about aliens? How about a resurrected Elvis? The Illuminati are really out there, you know ;)

            Russell's teapot isn't even controversial in philosophical circles, however there are reasons to believe God exist. The burden of proof for anyone making a claim in the academic world rests on the person making the claim. I used to think this was common knowledge.

            The ressurection is not a biological event, so I fail to see how the contraints of biological systems shows that it is improbable.

            If it was a physical/bodily resurrection is surely was a biological event. If it was a purely spiritual resurrection, then you'd be right. Christians, to this day, debate the nature of the resurrection, but I'd say most support a bodily resurrection consistent with the stories of people touching his wounds.

          • ClayJames

            First, what reasons do we have to believe the teapot doesn't exist? Human astronauts could easily put something like that in orbit. Let's change it to a lost satellite, if you want. Please list these many reasons you speak of.

            It is very unlikely that a human has taken a teapot to space (since everything that austronauts take is authorized and they have no need for teapots in space). It is also very unlikely that an amateur launched a tiny teapot that was able to not only espcape our atmosphere but also earth´s gravitational pull. Finally, it is even more unlikely that in either scenario they would be able to put such a tiny object into orbit around the sun since this would require a lot of precision. So yes, we have reasons to believe that there is probably not a tiny teapot orbiting the sun.

            The same can be said of bigfoot and a resurrected Elvis. The opposite might be able to be said about aliens. Given what we know of our universe and life permiting planets, it is possible that aliens exist. About the Illuminati, I haven´t looked into that one ; ).

            The burden of proof for anyone making a claim in the academic world rests on the person making the claim. I used to think this was common knowledge.

            I don´t disagree with this at all. My beef is that in atheist circles, Russell´s teapot is often used in order to show that we can believe things don´t exist (which is a claim) without holding the burden of proof.

          • Will

            It is very unlikely that a human has taken a teapot to space (since everything that austronauts take is authorized and they have no need for teapots in space). It is also very unlikely that an amateur launched a tiny teapot that was able to not only espcape our atmosphere but also earth´s gravitational pull. Finally, it is even more unlikely that in either scenario they would be able to put such a tiny object into orbit around the sun since this would require a lot of precision. So yes, we have reasons to believe that there is probably not a tiny teapot orbiting the sun.

            I agree it's unlikely, just like miracles. Not impossible, of course, depending on how one defines impossible and deals with imperfect.

            we can believe things don´t exist (which is a claim) without holding the burden of proof.

            Perhaps we should rephrase this a bit, and maybe we can agree. If I believe something, and you think I shouldn't, the burden of proof is on you to give me excellent reason I should change that belief. The burden is on the person wanting the other to change his or her mind. I think that is how it goes functionally.
            There are certain schools of skepticism that reject all belief without serious evidence, but everyone shouldn't and can't be required to be a skeptic. One could easily ask for evidence for the existence of human rights. With no evidence, do they exist? Things get sketchy if you try to use intersubjectivity as evidence, then God exists in the same way just by shared belief :)

          • ClayJames

            I agree it's unlikely, just like miracles. Not impossible, of course, depending on how one defines impossible and deals with imperfect.

            From the very beginning I have talked about improbability, not impossibility because the latter seems like to high of a burden of proof in order to justify a claim.

            I disagree that this applies to all miracles. I am sure it applies to some miraculous claims but I don´t think that it applies to others.

            Perhaps we should rephrase this a bit, and maybe we can agree. If I believe something, and you think I shouldn't, the burden of proof is on you to give me excellent reason I should change that belief. The burden is on the person wanting the other to change his or her mind.

            This is an odd way to put it. I would say that anyone who makes a positive claim for the existence or non-existence of something has the burden of proof, regardless of what that claim is. This is the case whether you are talking about an elephant in your room or a tiny teapot in space. I have seen that many atheists do not like to accept this because they believe that theists just redifine God so that his non-existence cannot be proved. I don´t think this is usually the case (especially when talking about how the Christian or Catholic god is defined) but even if it were the case, the same burden of proof applies! Even if someone defines God as an imaterial ¨thing¨, if you cannot show that this immaterial thing probably does not exist, then you cannot claim its non-existence.

            I say that the way you put it seems odd because if my reasons for believing in God are fallacious it seems silly to say that you have the burden of proof to convince me or else my belief is justified. I could not be convinced because I hold bad reasons and reject your good reasons.

    • Doug Shaver

      How many a-unicornists come up with philosophical arguments against unicorns?

      None that I know of. But how many times has anyone said to any of us, "The fool has said in his heart that there are no unicorns"?

      • ClayJames

        Why would someone who believes that unicorns don´t exist not have the same burden of proof to show that their positive claim than those that believe that God does not exist?

        • Doug Shaver

          Why would someone who believes that unicorns don´t exist not have the same burden of proof . . . ?

          They would, if they were challenged on the issue. On the day when somebody tells me, in apparent seriousness, that I should believe in unicorns, I will be more than ready to explain to them exactly why I think my unbelief is justified.

          • ClayJames

            I am not saying that you should believe in unicorns. I am saying that you have a burden of proof when claiming unicorns don´t exist. I guess I need you to clarify whether you were refering to the lack of belief in unicorns or the belief that unicorns don´t exist in your initial comment about ¨a-unicornists¨.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am saying that you have a burden of proof when claiming unicorns don´t exist.

            Have I said that I don't?

          • ClayJames

            This is what I was trying to clarify because I have heard many within the atheist comunity that would say no such burden of proof exists when talking about something like unicorns. Gladly, you don´t hold this view.

          • Will

            You don't seem familiar with Russell's teapot. You can't prove there isn't a teapot orbiting the sun, but it is reasonable to think it exists? What kind of burden of proof do the a-teapotists have, to build massive telescopes in search of said teapot? Even if they did they, not finding the teapot wouldn't mean it doesn't exist. It's really small, you see ;)

    • Darren

      PBR wrote,

      Why would atheists care about coming up with philosophical arguments against God? How many a-unicornists come up with philosophical arguments against unicorns?

      Good question.

      First answer, factual but probably not true, is that Invisible Pink Unicornists rarely band together to exert their political will in opposition to the perverse "freedoms" of the heathen non-unicornists.

      Second answer, some of us feel that we should expose ourselves to the best possible counter-arguments to our positions. If we have not engaged the strongest arguments and overcome them, at least to our own satisfaction, then how confident can we be?

      Third answer, it is just a bad time-wasting habit AKA ”Someone is wrong on the internet”

      Sadly, I am concluding that I have exhausted #2 and have slid to #3.
      Then again, there is the occasional intelligent questioner, such as yourself...

    • Peter

      Why would atheists care about coming up with philosophical arguments against God? How many a-unicornists come up with philosophical arguments against unicorns?

      Sorry, and correct me if I am wrong, but this to me is an absurd question.

      You can take an infinite and eternal universe as the ultimate fact of reality or you can take an infinite and eternal God who created the universe as the ultimate fact of reality. Where do unicorns come in, unless they are just another name for either the universe or God?

  • How do you know these things about God? That seems to be a good question for starting out with.

  • Chad Wooters

    So who created God? That is the same as asking who created the necessary being whose nonexistence is impossible. Phrased that way anyone can see the question doesn't even make sense.

    • neil_pogi

      then who created the 'self-replicating molecule/s'?

      • Peebo1

        I believe the molecules are the well known process of nuclear alchemy that happens within stars. As in the very lightest of elements is turned into successively heavier ones. Of, to quote Sagan "We are all made out of star stuff."

        So, you have a 'what' to answer your 'who'.

        • neil_pogi

          there are billions or trillions of stars in this universe.. but if these 'self replicating molecules' were born there, then why no living things are discovered in just the corners of the universe?

          anyway, the se 'self replicating molecules' are enclosed in cells. you got a wrong answer!

          • Peebo1

            I am sorry. I did not realize English was not your first language.

            Molecules generally don't replicate. At least, not in the way in which I think you're intending the conversation to progress. Sadly, I don't quite have the time atm to find a link to further things along. Much cheers to you and yours.

          • neil_pogi

            so what if english is not my first language?

            my only concern is just refute my arguments against atheism.

            but you didn't

            remember stars are not eternal and therefore they were created

          • Peebo1

            Yes.. though that force is simply 'Gravity'. :) Again, from the nuclear alchemy of 'Fusion' we get elements. From there we we get chemistry.

          • neil_pogi

            ..and prove that all these sorts (gravity, chemistry, elements, etc) came from nothing

  • Doug Shaver

    How then can the atheist go the full distance and prove theism false?

    I don't think he can. But nor do I think he needs to. I am not epistemologically obliged to believe anything just because I cannot prove it false. If I have no good reason to think it is true, then I need no further justification for not thinking it is true.

    • Phil

      I believe that normally the burden of proof is on anyone who asserts a proposition. So both the atheist and theist have a burden of proof. On the other hand, the true agnostic has less of a burden of proof than those two.

      • Doug Shaver

        Just to clarify, normally the burden of proof is on anyone who asserts a proposition.

        I agree with that. And so, if I assert that I have no good reason to believe in God, then the burden is on me, if you give me a reason, to show that it isn't a good one.

    • Peter

      "If I have no good reason to think it is true, then I need no further justification for not thinking it is true"

      That's about it. Why complicate it further? If one sees no reason to believe that God exists, there is no need to prove that he doesn't. The battleground should be whether the musings of philosophy and observations of nature convince one sufficiently that God exists. If in one's opinion they do not, what further justification do they need not to think otherwise?

      The opinion that God did not exist was prevalent among those who considered themselves men and women of reason before and up to the 20th century. They saw nothing within or beyond an eternal universe which could be considered as transcendental. Consequently they took the universe with its fundamental features as the ultimate fact.

      Now that the science points progressively towards a universe with a beginning, this opinion is on weaker ground whether one likes it or not. Of course such an opinion can still be held by recourse to multiple universes, time-reversal models or other eternal scenarios, but these are speculative.

      The opinion held for centuries among non-believers that the universe was eternal and matter immutable has received a body blow from which it can never recover. One can still find reasons for taking the universe as the ultimate fact but those reasons are diminishing.

  • David Nickol

    Regarding God making a weight so heavy he can't lift it, I think one would have to figure out what it means for God to lift a weight. There are a lot of things that God (as defined) cannot do that don't involve paradoxes or logical contradictions. He cannot see his reflection in a mirror, for example, or comb his hair. He can't sing or dance. As I mentioned before, he can't "get" a joke. He can't do anything that requires a before and after. Which, it seems to me, implies he can't "do" anything.

    • David Nickol

      This, it seems to me, raises questions about how fundamental time is, at least when it comes to intellect. Can there be intellect (or will) without time? Can God make a decision? We spend a lot of time praying, trying to persuade God to do this or that—e.g., make the hurricane avoid landfall and move out to sea. But of course if God is outside of time, he can't be persuaded to do anything, because persuasion involves change. In everyday language, even in religious language that is not academic theology, our concept of God relies on him being within time.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        even in religious language that is not academic theology, our concept of God relies on him being within time.

        I think meaningful distinctions can be made between

        1. a God who is embedded in time (a "being" within space-time), and

        2. a God who transcends time and space but is nonetheless present to all times and places, and

        3. a God who is completely divorced from the dimension of time.

        As a rough analogy, my footprints make a (roughly) two-dimensional interface between my body and the floor. I transcend those two dimensions, and I am not constrained by them, but neither is there any disjunction between myself and that two dimensional slice of reality.

        Generally speaking, I think the vision of God that emerges from the Biblical tradition is most in line with God number 2, and not so much with Gods 1 and 3.

    • David Nickol

      When my friends and I were in high school, one of the girls (a very intelligent and attractive young woman) was incensed the day the nun who taught her religion class dealt with the "weight so heavy he can't lift it" question. She was adamant that God could do anything. The conversation went like this, for as long as you cared to continue it:

      Can God make a weight so heavy that he can't life it?
      Yes.
      Then he can't lift the weight.
      Yes, he can. He can do anything.
      Then he can't make a weight so heavy he can't lift it.
      Yes, he can.
      Then he can't lift the weight.
      Yes, he can.

    • Doug Shaver

      The question, "Can God make a weight so heavy that he can't lift it?" is to ask in effect, "Can God make a contradiction true?" I have no problem with theists who say that even an omnipotent being could not do that.

  • neil_pogi

    i can't prove that God doesn't exists because:

    1. we can't say for sure that the universe's origin's from natural cause. if that is so, then atheists and supporters of the big bang should explain well how an 'inifintely small dot' bursts and eventually 'evolved' into a universe! sounds too good to be true!

    2. life can't be originated from lifeless matter. science says that 'life only comes from life'... so i would say that life is a supernatural force, a personal force!

    3. morality can't evolve from lifeless matter, nor it evolve from 'survival of the fittest' agency or something, because there would be no preys present on this planet.

    • Doug Shaver

      science says that 'life only comes from life'...

      No, it doesn't say that.

      • neil_pogi

        then tell me?

        • Doug Shaver

          If what I tell you contradicts what you already believe, you will just ignore me.

          • neil_pogi

            if your claim is just true, or if you insists it's true, then explain it.

            then tell me!

          • Doug Shaver

            Science says that every living thing now alive was produced by another living thing.

          • neil_pogi

            but not from non-living. you got it right there!

          • Doug Shaver

            Your statement was: 'life only comes from life'. Science does not assert that. Life is not the same thing as a living organism.

          • neil_pogi

            science says that life only comes from life.

            atheists say that life arose or evolve from non-life.

            so are you telling me now that science held it wrong?

          • Doug Shaver

            so are you telling me now that science held it wrong?

            I'm saying you are wrong about what science says.

  • David Nickol

    Do Catholics believe Jesus was omniscient?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      The idea that Jesus was omniscient has been considered a heresy since the First Council of Constantinople. At least, that's my reading of what it means to reject Apollinarism. If there is another way to interpret that declaration, I'd be curious to hear it.

      • Interesting. Jesus is not omniscient, Jesus is God, God is omniscient.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Yes, it is interesting. It is arguably the most interesting idea of all time. Anyway, thanks for driving by. If you ever want to actually engage in a conversation about it, come on back.

      • David Nickol

        Apollinarism, according to Wikipedia, was the belief that Jesus did not have a human mind. I think that many orthodox Christians might argue that Jesus had two natures, and in his human nature he was not omniscient, but in his divine nature, he was. Of course, it is difficult either to argue for or against that, since Jesus is the only person ever claimed to have a human and a divine nature, and only the vaguest hints (if any) can be found in the Gospels as to how his mind "worked."

        It seems to me not unreasonable, of one accepts the Incarnation and the hypostatic union, to conjecture that the human Jesus may not have been omniscient, but that he somehow had access to any knowledge he desired to have.

        Did the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple know he was God? I think many would say he did.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          It is hard not to chuckle at (Aquinas's read on) the Chalcedonian formulation, that the hypostatic union exists "without confusion" :-)

          I have to confess that I find hypostatic union language to be mostly unhelpful. I don't deny that it is true in some technical sense, but the technical language of "natures" doesn't have a lot of traction with me. I do think that the idea that the union exists "without mixing, mingling, or confusion" is meant to imply, among other things, that no, the 12 year-old Jesus did know that he was God. To have that knowledge would imply that his human mind was mixed, mingled, and confused with a divine mind.

          I am very drawn to N.T. Wright's Christology, as elaborated here:

          Let me be clear, also, what I am not saying. I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself “Well I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!” Rather, “as part of his human vocation grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.” I commend to you this category of “vocation” as the appropriate way forward for talking about what Jesus knew and believed about himself.

          http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_JIG.htm

  • Peter

    Proving that God doesn't exist is like presenting the universe with its particular features as the ultimate fact. If it were, there'd be no room for God since God would be unnecessary.

    If the universe were deemed eternal, as it had been for centuries, that would be straightforward. An eternal unchanging universe containing no sign of anything transcendental could be taken in its own right as the ultimate fact. However, in the face of scientific discoveries pointing to a beginning, and more recent ones suggesting an end, the idea of an eternal universe has been severely weakened.

    For many centuries in the past it was faith and faith alone which held out for a beginning, in the face of a universe which was generally observed to be static and unchanging and considered eternal. Now science has finally come to the aid of faith by shattering the long-held consensus of an eternal universe.

    With science against them, or at least unsupportive of them in their claim that the universe is eternal, those who wish to present the universe as the ultimate fact, and render God unnecessary, face an uphill struggle.

  • Darren

    A bachelor cannot forget his wife’s birthday because he is a bachelor; God cannot be overpowered by any creature because he is omnipotent.

    Not so. A date of birth would be a property, and non-existence is no impediment to having properties. So a bachelor's wife would have the property of a birthday, which the bachelor could then forget.

    ...or so I am told here at SN.

  • it does attempt to deal with the God hypothesis in the only arena where God’s existence may be decisively confirmed or refuted: the arena of philosophy.

    Props to the author for the concession that history, putative miracles, scriptural interpretation, putative prophecy, scientific knowledge, cultural consequences, and the like do not offer the opportunity for confirming a god's existence. Too many other believers claim otherwise.

  • if the skeptic could expose an error in the formulation of the popular kalam argument—say, that its major premise “Whatever begins to exist has a cause” is false—then this would force one of theism’s most compelling arguments to the chopping block.

    That's not something a skeptic, acting as a skeptic, would do. (An atheist might do so, of course.) A skeptic merely withholds belief in the conclusion until the premise has been shown to be true, which believers do not bother to do. Since believers cannot show that the premise is true, the skeptic points out that they lack adequate reason to believe the argument. The argument therefore fails on skeptical grounds.

    A positive atheist would argue that the major premise is false (or, of course, the minor premise or the relationship of the conclusion to the premises). He might do so by pointing out examples of things which, to the best of human knowledge, begin to exist without any cause. For example: virtual particles which constantly pop into and out of existence from the vacuum of space, and radioactive decay events which occur randomly at a constant rate regardless of physical conditions. In both cases, the experimental results only make sense if these things have no physical cause. (Granted, one might posit a cause beyond our universe for these things.) Thus we have reason for a positive belief that the premise is indeed false. The argument therefore appears to fail on positive grounds as well.

    If the believer wishes to salvage something of the argument to bolster their faith, they can modify the premise to something that survives both the skeptical and positive critiques. For example, a believer could correctly say, "The macroscopic objects we observe all seem to be higher-entropy forms of preceding physical conditions." Then he could go on to note that, inductively, this would lead us to expect that (1) there should not be an infinite sequence of past events leading to infinite negentropy, as that infinity does not make physical sense, and (2) it is equally counterintuitive and arbitrary that the sequence of past events should stop at a set of physical conditions with finite negentropy and yet no preceding physical conditions. From there he can validly conclude that in the deep past there must have been some event of a type we do not yet understand.

    Then the believer can go on, as they usually do, and claim that, until scientists provide evidence to the contrary, the believers will fill that gap with their god.

    Positive atheism can't argue with that. Skepticism, of course, still objects that the god-of-the-gaps is not justified. But faith, by definition, is not skeptical.

  • How then can the atheist go the full distance and prove theism He can show that a divine attribute (e.g., omniscience) is internally contradictory in itself; he can show that two or more of the divine attributes contradict one another; or he can show that God’s attributes contradict a known fact about the world we live in.

    This only works for particular definitions of a god. Other definitions will be unaffected. For example, we can disprove a god characterized by the following:

    1. The god can make any logical possibility real.
    2. The god does not want children to suffer.

    Since children do suffer, and this is not a logically necessary fact, we must conclude that no god with characteristics 1 & 2 exists. Some believers dislike the conclusion, are ethically committed to the second characteristic, and so modify the first characteristic; they suppose that their god is the most powerful existing entity, but still limited in its ability to affect the world. Other believers are more committed to their god being powerful, so they modify the second characteristic; they suppose that their god does not want children to suffer unless that suffering is somehow part of a greater, mysterious good.

    Similarly, we can disprove a god characterized by the following:

    1. The god exists outside time, such that he is unchanged at all in-universe times.
    2. The god knows all details about the entire history of the universe.
    3. The god grants humans free will of a type that cannot be known with certainty beforehand.

    Since these freely willed events cannot be known beforehand and yet the god knows the outcomes without changing, he must exist only after the outcomes, which contradicts #1. So no god with these characteristics exists. Some believers (e.g. Teilhard de Chardin) wish to preserve omniscience and free will; they reject #1 and suppose their god is an Omega Point at the end of time. Some believers wish to preserve transcendence and free will; they reject #2 and suppose their god creates free will by voluntarily hiding some facts from himself. Some believers (e.g. Calvinists) wish to preserve divine transcendence and omniscience; they reject #3 and suppose their god predestines everything.

    For a third example, we can disprove a god characterized by the following:

    1. The god grants prayer requests in a way measurably different from chance.

    Since studies of prayer do not show a measurable difference, no god with that characteristic exists. Some believers wish to preserve the idea of an interventionist god; they suppose that their god intervenes only secretly. (Some believers merely shut out the cognitive dissonance by ignoring the studies.)

    The key problem is that believers can always redefine their notion of their god to suit any ephemeral need. Then they can dispose of the unwanted, burdensome redefinition the moment their attention turns to other arguments. This is the real manner in which the existence of god is unfalsifiable; it's unfalsifiable because the god-concept is kept protean and adaptable.

    The rational thing to do would be to write down the god-concept's full list of refinements somewhere so that people could refer to it. But since it is based on faith, there is no verifiable way to choose between different proposed solutions, and believers end up schisming into (for example) Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Pentecostals, etc. Thus many religions institutions have adapted to ignore their own disposable conclusions and prevent further schism.

    How many schisms are there among scientists or mathematicians? There are a few, to be sure. But very few considering the volume of their data and theoretical work surpasses that of religion by orders of magnitude. The progress of the scientific and mathematical community on a matter of debate tends toward consensus, not schism.

    I think that's because science and math offer fundamentally better ways of knowing.

  • Because God has no parts

    Well, except the Trinity, according to Catholics. They say Jesus is God but he's not everything there is to God; they also say there's the Father and Holy Spirit.

  • Now let’s consider God’s omniscience. ... Yes, for God knows all truths;

    This proposal commits your concept of god to paradox. For instance, consider this proposition: "The god does not know the truth value of this sentence". If it's true, then there's a truth the god doesn't know. If it's false, then the god does know the truth value of the sentence, and so something the god "knows" is actually false.

    • David Nickol

      That seems to me to fall in roughly the same category as God creating a weight so heavy he can't lift it. Your suggested sentence is neither true nor false.

      • Adding more truth values doesn't avoid the paradox. If it's a third truth value of a neither-nor type, then it's not a truth, so the god doesn't know it, which makes it true. (i.e. the paradox doesn't rely on bivalence)

        Basically the options are to redefine truth or redefine what the proposed god knows. I'd do both. My overall aim with the different comments on this thread is to call out the disposable assumptions believers commonly use, as part of my ongoing hope they will come up with a consistent, rigorous argument.

  • God has the power to do all logically possible things

    Which type of logic? First order? Second order? Bivalent? Trivalent? Many-valued? Continuous? Intuitionistic? Paraconsistent? Computability? Modal? Fuzzy? Probabilistic?

    OK, ok. I know the answer is that no rigorous logic is currently acceptable, but only ancient Scholastic word-salad that gets called "logic" as a term of endearment. FWIW, I think it would be absolutely fascinating if believers voluntarily adopted a rigorous logic and applied it to their beliefs. I'd love to learn the results they are able to discover. Please do it and share. :)

  • Not only has God created all things, but also his presence is necessary to sustain them in being, just as the presence of hydrogen atoms is necessary to sustain water in being.

    Hydrogen atoms are necessary for water to exist because water is, in part, physically composed of hydrogen atoms. Do you really propose that all things are, in part, physically composed of God? If not, what do you really propose?

  • MNb

    "the only arena where God’s existence may be decisively confirmed or refuted: the arena of philosophy."
    There you have the first problem with any single version of the cosmological argument: it's firmly rooted in the arena of physics. Physics has a few things to say about "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" indeed. If you're familiar with Krauss' argument (which isn't very good indeed) you should know it.

    "Let’s consider three of God’s best-known divine attributes."
    Weird that you don't consider the fourth one, so well-known that most believers take it for granted. If you aspire to be reasonable you should address it as well. You still mention it though.

    "He is the one creator of all physical reality."
    This is not a mere definition, you see. It assumes that your god is capable of "creating". If omnipotence doesn't mean that god is capable of creating a stone heavier than himself because "it fails to acknowledge how God really is" I don't see why I should accept a priori that "capable of creating" does so. That would be defining something into existence.
    Any thoughts?

    "How then can the atheist go the full distance and prove theism false?"
    What about methodology regarding a presupposed supernatural reality? Any thoughts?
    What about Ockham's Razor? You undoubtedly have heard of "I don't have any need for this hypothesis." Any thoughts?

    Of course you already have build in a cheap cop out.

    "prove theism false"
    as you carefully avoided to formulate standards for what you mean with "prove". See, as an experienced teacher mathematics I can convincingly prove Pythagoras' Theorem. I do it every year. No pupil ever doubts it.
    I can as easily disprove it.
    It's a matter of standards. You omitted to clarify yours.
    Maybe next time?

  • neil_pogi

    i don't think that a 'nothing' can create a 'something'....

    i am thinking that the 'first uncaused' can create a 'something'

    therefore i can't think that it is impossible to disprove God's existence!

  • SparklingMoon,

    It is explained by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in his writings that the Being of God Almighty, despite its brilliance, is utterly hidden, this physical system that is spread out before our eyes is not alone sufficient for its recognition. That is why those who have depended upon this system and have observed carefully its perfect and complete orderliness together with all the wonders comprehended in it, and have thoroughly studied astronomy, physics, and philosophy, and have, as it were, penetrated into the heavens and the earth, have yet not been delivered from the darkness of doubts and suspicions. Many of them become involved in grave errors and wander far away in pursuit of their fancies. Their utmost conjecture is that this grand system which displays great wisdom must have a Creator, but this conjecture is incomplete and this insight is defective.

    The affirmation that this system must have a creator does not amount to a positive affirmation that He does in truth exist. Such a conjecture cannot bestow satisfaction upon the heart, nor remove all doubt from it. Nor is it a drought which can quench the thirst for complete understanding which man’s nature demands. Indeed, this defective understanding is most dangerous, for despite all its noise it amounts to nothing. In short, unless God Almighty affirms His existence through His Word, as He has manifested it through His work, the observation of the work alone does not afford complete satisfaction.

    It is a great mistake to imagine that God is like a corpse which has to be brought out of its grave by man. If God has to be discovered through human effort, all our hopes of such a God are vain. Indeed God is the Being Who has ever called mankind to Himself by announcing: I am present. It would be impertinence to imagine that man has laid Him under an obligation through his understanding of Him and that if there had been no philosophers He would have remained unknown.

  • Dr. Dennis Bonnette

    God can do or make any thing. But a "thing" is a being. A contradiction in terms is not a being or thing. It is a combination of words or ideas that cannot be actually combined in reality. Thus, a contradiction in being is actually non-reality. God can produce any reality. To say that he can produce any reality, but not non-reality, is not a limitation of his power, but an affirmation of its infinite nature, bounded by "nothing."

  • Arguments against the 3 oms are meaningless, as the theist can simply reply "Well maybe god is not omni*****" and you are no further forward.

  • K Sean Proudler

    What would God do to prove his existence ?

    I would encode my signature within the Bible.

    Go to http://www.outersecrets.com/real/biblecode2a.htm and click on the flashing words, ” Watch / Listen”.

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