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Why Reality Includes More (Not Less) Than You May Think

Santa

The most usual position among philosophers in the Western world today, in fact the most usual position among academics generally, is some kind of reductionism.  By “reductionism” I mean simply the belief that the world-view, or implicit metaphysics, of most people, or ordinary people, especially people of previous eras and cultures, errs by believing too much; that Hamlet’s Shakespeare was exactly wrong when he said to Horatio that “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”  The prevailing view among modern Western intellectuals is that there are in fact fewer things, or fewer kinds of things, or fewer dimensions of things, in heaven and earth, that is, in objective reality, than in most people’s philosophies or beliefs.  Thus most modern philosophers see the role of philosophical education primarily as a disillusioning, a debunking of myth, superstition, and naiveté.

This contrasts sharply with the way Plato and most classical philosophers saw the role of philosophy and the purpose of philosophical education.  They saw it as a “leading-out” (that is the literal meaning of our word “education”: from the Latin e-ducare), leading the student out of a smaller, narrower belief-system that was like a little underground cave into a radically larger world.  For Plato, this meant a world with more than the two metaphysical dimensions that most people believe exists: objective matter and subjective spirit or mind.  It meant a third dimension, the dimension of objective Platonic Forms, objectively real Ideas that were not dependent on subjective minds.

Plato’s “cave,” the most famous image in the history of philosophy, and Plato’s “theory of Forms” or “theory of Ideas,” the most famous theory in the history of philosophy, exemplify the claim that Shakespeare was right.  For they claim that there is not just another world, but another whole kind of world, another whole dimension of reality, which is neither subjective consciousness nor objective matter, but objective Form, essence, Idea, meaning, or “whatness.”

When Shakespeare had Hamlet utter his famous statement comparing the number of things in heaven and earth, that is, in objective reality, with the number of things in your philosophy, that is, in subjective consciousness, he probably did not have Plato’s theory of Forms in mind explicitly.  Hamlet was simply telling Horatio that ghosts are real even though Horatio did not believe they were; that heaven and earth were more commodious than Horatio’s thoughts because they contained real ghosts.  But what is common to both Plato and Shakespeare is the view that ordinary thinking errs not by believing too much to be real, but too little.

Certainly, most traditional philosophers, that is, most pre-modern philosophers, held this view.  This is certainly true of Eastern philosophy, of Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy.  (We can call these religions “philosophies” insofar as they are examples of the human “love of wisdom,” though not primarily through the instrument of reason).  It is true also of most pre-modern Jewish, Christian, and Muslim philosophers.  But the modern tendency in the West is the opposite.  It could be called “reductionism.”  It seeks to reduce rather than to expand the student’s objects of belief.  This tendency is already clearly present in Bacon, Machiavelli, Descartes, and Hobbes.  In fact, it began with William of Ockham’s Nominalism, the denial of objectively real universals, which even in the 14th century was called the “via moderna,” the modern way.

I will label these two directions in philosophy “reductionism” and “transcendentalism,” just to have two handy, one-word terms.  I mean by “transcendentalism” not the particular philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau but simply Shakespeare’s view that there is more, not less, in objective reality than we usually think.

It is usually thought today, by both reductionists and transcendentalists alike, that reason (in the modern sense of severely logical reasoning rather than in the older sense of the word “reason” that included intuitive or contemplative wisdom) leads to reductionism, and that the only way to justify transcendentalism is to reduce reason to a secondary or instrumental status and to exalt something else over it—for instance, intuition, desire, imagination or religious faith.  The purpose of this article is to refute that idea by demonstrating, by strictly logical reasoning, (1) that reductionism is self-contradictory, and (2) that transcendentalism is self-evident once we admit data from our three most valued and distinctively human powers, namely our power to think anything true, to choose anything good, and to appreciate anything beautiful.

Today we'll focus on (1) and in the next article, later this week, we'll focus on (2).

Narrowing the Definition

We must first define transcendentalism more carefully.  For in one sense, transcendentalism is obviously and non-controversially true: there are a larger number of entities in the world than we know about, more than any one individual human being and even all human beings, are aware of: more galaxies, more bacteria, more craters on the moon, more species of insects, etc.  But that is merely quantitative.  What is controversial is qualitative transcendentalism, which claims not merely that there are more things but more kinds of things than we think, more dimensions; that there are, in addition to rocks and dogs and stars, also things like gods or God, ghosts or angels, Platonic Ideas or Hegelian dialectical triads, attributes of Brahman or of Allah, and after-death experiences of reincarnations on earth or levels of Heaven and Hell.  I do not claim to demonstrate the truth of any one of these particular versions of transcendentalism, but simply to demonstrate transcendentalism in principle.

Other meanings of “transcendence” are either too broad or too narrow for our purposes here.  The term is too broad if it means simply any kind of moreness, for no one denies the purely quantitative moreness I mentioned above.  Also no one denies the literal, physical transcendence of a flying airplane over the ground, or of a tall person over a short one, or the quantitative transcendence of the number 4 over the number 3, or of the amount of territory in the United States in the 21st century over the amount of territory in the United States in the 18th century, or the psychological transcendence of an act of disobedience to a law over the intention of the lawmaker to limit such acts.   I want to use the term more narrowly and controversially than that.

On the other hand, “transcendence” is often used in a specifically theistic sense, as asserting a transcendent Creator-God.  This is only one case in point of what I mean by “transcendence,” though probably the most important one.  But I want to include also things like Plato’s “Ideas,” Plotinus’s “One beyond being,”  Buddha’s “Nirvana,” Spinoza’s “natura naturans,” and even Shankara’s nondualistic notion of Brahman, which is monistic or pantheistic or pan-entheistic and thus not transcendent in the theistic sense.  What all of these have in common is the claim that there are more kinds of things in reality than we ordinarily believe.

The Refutation of Reductionism in General

I will first refute reductionism in general, then three of the most important forms of reductionism in particular, namely the reduction of thought to something material, of moral choice to something relative, and of aesthetic experience to something subjective.  Metaphysical materialism, moral relativism, and aesthetic subjectivism are three of the most popular forms of relativism, among ordinary people as well as philosophers.  And they are all logically refutable.

Here is my logical refutation of reductionism.

The formula for reductionism is that “S is nothing more than P”, or “S is only P,” or “there is no more in S than P.”  For instance, we may say “He’s nothing but a fake,” denying that he is authentic, or trustable, or truth-telling.  Or we may say “that monster was nothing but a dream,” denying that it exists outside the dream.  Or we may say that “love is nothing but lust” or “thinking is nothing but cerebral biochemistry,” or “evolution is nothing but the survival of the fittest” or “religion is nothing but superstition.”  My argument here is not with the content but with the logical form of these assertions, so my point applies to all assertions that have this logical form, no matter what their content.

“S is nothing but P” means “there is nothing more in S than there is in P.”  This, in turn, means that “there is no more-than-P S,” or “there is no trans-P S,” or “S does not transcend P.”  For instance, “love is nothing but lust” means “there is no more-than-lust love,” or “there is no love that transcends lust.”  Thus the formula for reductionism can always be expressed as an E proposition, a universal negative.

But there is a well-known difficulty in justifying universal negative propositions.  To say that “there is no S that transcends P” means that “there is in all reality no S that transcends P.”  For instance, to say that there is no real Santa Claus is to say that there is no real Santa Claus anywhere in the world, either at the North Pole or at the equator or in your closet.

Let us define Santa literally, as the entity in the popular story, the fat man in the red flannel suit who lives near the North Pole, employs elves to make toys, and flies magical reindeer through the skies to deliver presents to children around the world every Christmas.  Even asserting skepticism about the existence of this literal Santa Claus has a logical difficulty.  It is this: to claim that there is no Santa Claus is to claim that you know that there is no Santa Claus; and that is to claim that you know this universal negative, that you know that there is no Santa Claus anywhere in objective reality, as distinct from subjective reality, or consciousness, or imagination, or belief.

The difficulty is that in order to know that a proposition of this kind is true, we would have to know all of objective reality.  For if we do not, then we cannot be sure that the thing we have denied existence to might not exist in some corner, or dimension, or  part, or area, of objective reality that we did not know about.

The difficulty can be overcome, however, and the assertion that there is no Santa can be reasonably verified.  For it does not require a universal knowledge of every particular, only of some empirical facts.  For instance, we do not need to search every closet to be sure there is no Santa.  For Santa, as defined, lives and works at the North Pole, and we have mapped all the regions around the North Pole and are quite sure that there are no factories there capable of producing enough toys for all the world’s children.  Also, the laws of physics prevent anyone, even if he had magic flying reindeer, from flying to every child’s house in the world and depositing Christmas presents in one night.

(By the way, I do not think that magic flying reindeer are refuted in the same way by the laws of empirical physics, any more than any other kind of magic is.  It is not logically impossible that some entities perform acts which defy physical laws, if those entities are not merely physical entities.  We ourselves defy gravity whenever we decide to jump, because while we live we are not merely physical entities, but have souls or minds or wills, which interfere with matter, as a hand interferes with a sword’s tendency to fall whenever that hand swings the sword.  But when we die, we (or what is left of us in this world) become merely physical entities.  That is what we bury in cemeteries.  And what we bury in cemeteries never jumps around and defies physical laws, just as a sword always drops to the ground and stays there when no longer wielded by a hand.)

Now let us substitute God for Santa Claus.  (According to atheism, that is exactly what we do when we grow up.)  God is not the only example of transcendence, but He is clearly the one most important, most interesting, and most argued about.  So let us analyze what we are saying when we say “there is no God.”

Let us define or describe God as most people do, as “the being that created the universe.”  Thus God by definition transcends the universe.  So when we say that there is no God we are saying that there is in all reality no being that transcends the universe, that there is nothing more in reality than there is in the universe.

Now in order for us to know that there is nothing more in all reality than there is in the universe, we have to know something about all reality—in fact, we have to know enough about it to be sure that it excludes God. And if the idea of God is neither logically self-contradictory nor refuted by any empirical fact, then in order to justify the assertion that there is no God, we must know that there is no corner of reality, no kind of reality, and no dimension of reality, in which God can possibly exist.  And that means that we have to know every corner, every kind, and every dimension of reality.

The word for that kind of knowledge is “omniscience.”  It is an attribute of God.  If there is an omniscient being, that being is God.  So the claim that we can know that there is no God logically implies that the person who makes that claim has omniscience, that is, is God.  So to claim to know that there is no God is to imply that there is a God, and that he is now speaking.

But just because reductionism is logically problematic, that doesn't mean transcendentalism is true. So on Friday I will offer a proof for transcendentalism. Stay tuned!
 
 
Originally published at PeterKreeft.com. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Associated Press)

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

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  • Douglas Beaumont

    I approached the conclusion with trepidation, worried that Kreeft might make the same blunder many apologists have made by asserting that atheism requires omniscience. Thankfully he makes this important qualification: "If the idea of God is neither logically self-contradictory nor refuted by any empirical fact . . . " Phew! Yes, logical contradictions can be consistently universally negated without knowing all of (empirical) reality. Spot on Dr. Kreeft!

    • Kraker Jak

      Kreeft might make the same blunder many apologists have made by asserting that atheism requires omniscience.

      He certainly clearly implied that very thing.

      • Douglas Beaumont

        He would be right to, given his qualification I noted in my statement. One cannot prove atheism without one of the two methods, and since neither has succeeded, omniscience is implied (for the "hard atheist" anyway - if one is merely noting their own non-belief in God, or saying that they think the balance of evidence is for atheism, that's another story. I think the article needs to clarify when it is speaking to the claim and when it is dealing with the reasons for making the claim.)

        • Do "hard atheists" exist? I don't know if I've ever met one.

          • Douglas Beaumont

            If "hard atheist" means one that says God's non-existence is provable / proven then sure, there are plenty. Some are quite smart.

          • Interesting. Have any written books? I'd like to learn more about this position.

          • Douglas Beaumont

            "The Impossibility of God" edited by Michael Martin has articles by a couple dozen of them. You can find similar arguments on Infidels here: http://infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/logical.html

          • Thanks.

          • William Davis

            Your link shows Martin is not a hard atheist at all.

            In this paper I present a disproof of the existence of God. Such a disproof does not disprove the existence of God in all senses of the ambiguous term 'God.' But no disproof does this. For instance what one might call the disproof of God's existence from the problem of evil, even if sound, presumably does not show that God does not exist if 'God' is meant to refer to some being that either is not omnipotent or not completely benevolent. Again, the so called ontological Disproof of God, even if sound, does not show that God does not exist if 'God' is meant to refer to some being that is less than perfect.

            http://infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/disproof.html

            This is from your link. I agree with Michael Martin, and I'm not an atheist (more like a deist than a theist). I think God, assuming anything like God exists, is completely indifferent to human suffering. Just watch the news for evidence.

            Every defense of theodicy I've seen revolves around free will. Free will does NOT explain hurricanes, volcanoes, degenerative disease, childhood cancer, ebola, plague, ect....

          • "Every defense of theodicy I've seen revolves around free will. Free will does NOT explain hurricanes, volcanoes, degenerative disease, childhood cancer, ebola, plague, ect...."

            This says more about your unfamiliarity with the subject than the arguments themselves. In the field of philosophy of religion, there have been several papers, and several chapters in books, devoted to the problem of natural evil (distinguished from moral evil, of which the "free will defense" is a legitimate response.)

            For a serious but accessible introduction to the typical theistic responses, I recommend David Bentley Hart's short book, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?.

          • William Davis

            Thanks, I'll check it out.

          • William Davis

            I just looked up reviews and some columns Hart has written. He uses free will as always. He claims the "fall" is the reason for natural evil which is something I've heard plenty of times. The fall make no sense, because death had to exist before humans, it was required for evolution. The idea that God suddenly changed the laws of physics and the nature of the universe because of a mistake of two people seems completely absurd (I don't intend to by snarkie but that is my true opinion), and it doesn't even match the text of Genesis (not that Catholics are concerned with the wording of the text). I do think evolution and geology completely invalidate this teaching.
            Let's think about the "fall" for a second.

            Let's pretend I'm God, and I just created two new children in my image. As a parent, I don't need to be omniscient, I know if I prohibit my children from eating something, it sparks their curiosity. On the one side they may want to obey me, but on the other, they'd really like to what it would be like to taste the forbidden cookie. A smart parent would lock the cookie away solving the problem. God didn't, he had to know what he was doing. Children will do what children do. A good parent would discipline them so they don't make the same mistake later. A bad parent would curse them, their children and the entire universe because of one silly mistake. In fact, that's worse than a bad parent, that's the action of a monster. Also consider that Adam and Eve didn't have the knowledge of Good and Evil until after they ate the fruit...so how would they even know disobeying God was wrong. Parents have to teach their children (give them knowledge of good an evil) that disobeying them is wrong, it doesn't necessarily come naturally.
            Of course, Catholic theologians say that God left the world as opposed to cursing it, but would a good parent leave their children because they made a mistake that was bound to happen. Theologians say God can't be in the presence of sin, but why not? If God is omnipotent, he can do whatever he wants. He could have given us free will, allowed us to choose evil, and still put us on a world that doesn't have tsunamis and volcanoes. Viruses and disease wouldn't be necessary with the right natural laws. It should have been easy for God to create a world where the only evil exists due to free will. He did not do this however. Thus God is either not omnipotent (can't make a world any way he wants), like to watch suffering (this world is filled with it), or just doesn't concern himself with human affairs or suffering. If he exists, I think the last is correct.
            I like to compare it to a human worrying about what happens to an ant. I think that is a reasonable comparison between our intelligence (ant) and God's, and it's likely a far greater divide. Ants die all the time, a no one cares. Why should we? We care about dogs and cats because they have somewhat similar emotions, i.e. they have similar minds. I know Catholics claim we are like God, but I don't see it. God seems so much greater than us, I can't possibly see a reason he would care, and the evidence points in that direction 100%, to me at least. It may sound odd, but one reason I'm not a Christian is because I believe God is much greater than what Christianity teaches, and I find the "fall" and original sin to be blasphemous. If I were God, I'd be offended by such a story.
            Of course, you think it actually happened, so it's not blasphemous for you because you think it's true. From the outside, however it looks blasphemous to me, and I don't know if it's possible to rearrange my thinking to get inside the belief bubble, so to speak, where it would not appear blasphemous. Original sin always seemed blasphemous to me, even as a child. I can't help but think God is better than that.
            Looks like I'm not that uniformed after all, unless you think I'm completely off base here. If I'm taking down a straw man, I'd like to know, but I've discussed this enough with all different types of Christians that I'm pretty sure I'm not taking down a straw man. I've even read the catechism (and used it in debate) on the subject. This is probably one of the biggest problems for the Christian God, so I'm more than willing to discuss it further with you or anyone else here. Thanks again for the book reference, but from my research I don't think it's going to show me much I don't already know. The fundamentalist school and church I went to growing up was amazingly orthodox. We weren't Catholic, but the doctrines were about the same.

          • William, I'd be happy to dialogue with you about this but there's just too much here to respond to. I'd be crafting a line-by-line response that would end up being 1,000+ words. A comment box just isn't the best place to do a brain dump like this and expect a substantial response.

            For my sake, and for the sake of fruitful dialogue, could you condense your thoughts into one or two short points you would like me to respond to? Or, even better, perhaps you could collect your thoughts and then pose one or two questions to me so I have something specific to respond to? Thanks!

          • William Davis

            I guess this is a core question: Do Catholics have a good reason why God would make the universe in such a way that he'd need to leave man and the earth behind because of a single mistake? Why didn't he make some straight forward punishment (so they'd have a good incentive to never disobey God again since they now understood the difference between good and evil). That's what parents normally do.
            One more question. Let's say God had good reason to take immortality away (though I don't think there is good reason to think man was ever immortal without eating of the tree of life, again going back to the Genesis story), why would he affect the world such that tsunamis and disease would occur. That seems completely unrelated, and it results in punishing animals who were not involved in the affair at all.
            I hope that's easier to deal with (sorry I was so long winded, but this is something I've thought about quite a bit :))

          • Thanks for asking more pointed questions, William. It's a big help.

            "I guess this is a core question: Do Catholics have a good reason why God would make the universe in such a way that he'd need to leave man and the earth behind because of a single mistake?"

            I'm surprised you would consider this a "core" question, for neither Christianity nor Catholicism would seem to turn on it. And regardless of the answer--whether there be a solid answer or whether it's "I don't know"--it wouldn't seem to lend any support for atheism.

            But to respond to your question, we Catholics don't have an answer for that specific question because we don't agree with its presupposition. We don't believe that God "left man and the earth behind." In fact it's a formal teaching of the Catholic Church, found in its Catechism, that, "After his fall, man was not abandoned by God" (CCC 410).

            "Why didn't he make some straight forward punishment (so they'd have a good incentive to never disobey God again since they now understood the difference between good and evil)."

            He did. The punishment was death. And that punishment was assumed by Jesus Christ on the Cross. God also intensified the pain of childbearing, the toil of work, etc. I suggest a careful reading of Genesis 3.

            "One more question. Let's say God had good reason to take immortality away. . . why would he affect the world such that tsunamis and disease would occur?"

            The simple and honest answer is: we don't know why God permits events like those to occur. We're just not in an epistemic position to know. But this fact certainly adds no support for atheism. Just because neither the theist nor the atheist knows (or can know) why natural evils occur, that doesn't make atheism any more appealing than theism, especially if we have other, independent reasons for accepting theism (which I believe we do.)

            However, if you're interested in my own speculation, here's what I would say:

            From a purely geological standpoint, events like tsunamis are due to tectonic activity, the same tectonic activity that is necessary to support human life. Plate tectonics play a critical role in keeping the Earth’s temperature constant during the Sun’s significant brightness changes.

            Similarly, planetary scientists affirm that events such as hurricanes and earthquakes must occur for Earth to maintain the delicate balances of atmospheric and other environmental conditions mandatory for human life to exist and survive.

            So there do appear to be reasons why, on the whole, such activity is necessary to support human life, even if, on occasion, it also produces events like hurricanes and tsunamis.

            Finally, a Catholic would also add that such events allow opportunity for compassion, sacrifice, and solidarity. This isn't to say God causes such natural evils in order to bring about these goods, only that he likely permits them in order to bring about even greater goods.

            "That seems completely unrelated, and it results in punishing animals who were not involved in the affair at all."

            There's a huge debate about whether, and to what extent, animals feel pain and experience suffering. I don't want to get into that here. I just want to point out in response that, once more, this question provides no challenge to theism, per se. It's an in-house question for Christians about God's character and why he permits certain suffering. It can't be used an argument against God's existence, however.

          • David Nickol

            He did. The punishment was death. And that punishment was assumed by
            Jesus Christ on the Cross. God also intensified the pain of
            childbearing, the toil of work, etc. I suggest a careful reading of
            Genesis 3.

            Is it really Catholic doctrine that women suffer painful childbirth (or childbirth more painful than it otherwise would have been) because of the sin of Adam and Eve? Even the Catechism acknowledges that the story is in figurative language. Why should the punishments be taken literally? Did snakes have legs before the sin of Adam and Eve? Interestingly, it is believed that the ancestors of snakes had legs, but they would have lived tens of millions of years before the first human beings.

          • David Nickol

            To the woman he said: I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain* you shall bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.

            Assuming Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, at the time of the fall, no woman had ever borne a child before. So if we are to take this literally, God somehow made a change in something (childbirth) previously planned one way so that it would be arduous and painful than he originally planned it to be.

          • William Davis

            I think it important to note precise wording, from the NRSV:

            16 To the woman he said,

            “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
            in pain you shall bring forth children,

            To increase pain indicates there was childbearing before eve. The NIV intentionally translates it wrong:

            16 To the woman he said,

            “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
            with painful labor you will give birth to children.

            Seems like a literalist conspiracy to me. The NABRE is closer to the actual text at least:

            To the woman he said:

            I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
            in pain[f] you shall bring forth children.

            This is a case where the translation you read actually matters.

          • PericaK

            If I may quote dr. Peter Kreeft: "Whether this consequence of sin was a physical change in the world or only a spiritual change in human consciousness—whether the "thorns and thistles" grew in the garden only after the fall or whether they were always there but were only felt as painful by the newly fallen consciousness—is another question. But in either case the connection between spiritual evil and physical evil has to be as close as the connection between the two things they affect, the human soul and the human body."

          • William Davis

            Ignoring Christianity and understanding all the mythology of the time (including Sumerian and Egyptian) these stories were about the rise of civilization and the advancement of the human intellect (which results in the knowledge of good and evil). I'm not a fan of Kreeft in general, but I think he demonstrates a good understanding of what was going with this quote. Of course, this makes the "fall" a complete non-explanation of the existence of natural evil.

          • George

            "From a purely geological standpoint, events like tsunamis are due to tectonic activity, the same tectonic activity that is necessary to support human life. Plate tectonics play a critical role in keeping the Earth’s temperature constant during the Sun’s significant brightness changes.

            Similarly, planetary scientists affirm that events such as hurricanes and earthquakes must occur for Earth to maintain the delicate balances of atmospheric and other environmental conditions mandatory for human life to exist and survive.

            So there do appear to be reasons why, on the whole, such activity is necessary to support human life, even if, on occasion, it also produces events like hurricanes and tsunamis."

            I'm so glad you brought this up. It's been bugging me for years: so did hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanos, etc all happen before The Fall? If this was necessary to support human life (wait, necessary according to what exactly? Who tells God the rules if God makes everything? Why is it necessary for god to make anything a certain way, including a universe?), and assuming humans had not fallen away, what would have happened when un-fallen humanity had been fruitful and multiplied? Would our non-fallen selves have intuitively known where not to live so that natural disasters never hit anyone? Or would we have settled everywhere, but instantly had advanced technology from day 1 that would enable us to know a natural disaster was going to happen and then instantly evacuated everyone from the area?

          • William Davis

            I think these are all very serious questions that prevent Christianity from making sense to many people.

          • Lucretius

            What is the Fall? Was it that the entire universe was a happy go lucky fairyland, or was it that Humans possessed Grace, which elevated them above nature to the extent that their bodies were immortal and they didn't suffer internal conflict.

            St. Thomas even argued against some of the Fathers on this, who thought that carnivores didn't eat meat before the Fall.

            I think you also assume that earthquakes and hurricanes are inherently evil, which a Christian would deny. They are accidently evil, not essential so.

            Christi pax.

          • George

            what indeed is the Fall? from all the theist answers, it seems to be that the universe itself was cursed with entropy, but no one just says that outright. (funny that a woman eating an apple could do THAT, but an entire industrialized civilization can't alter the climate of one little planet. I do wonder what the pope's upcoming enviornmental statement is going to consist of. will it have an a priori rejection of anthropogenic climate change?)

            I don't have to say natural disasters are evil. were they dangerous to human life or not? it's a yes or no question. were they lethal? are you actually saying people were immortal? like, superman levels of toughness? tornadoes couldn't throw debris hard enough to hurt these humans? how does that work? we know what human skin is made of, and it doesn't seem to show an empty slot for an immortality component. how exactly did human physiology change?

          • Lucretius

            it seems to be that the universe itself was cursed with entropy

            I don't know about that.

            funny that a woman eating an apple could do THAT

            The Adam and Eve story is a real event described in mythical and theological language.

            Further, St. Athanasius taught that naturally, man is bound to death, but due to Original Grace, he was preserved from it. However, he lost that Grace, and now is tortued by death. In other words, the original sin caused physical death in so far as by removing the human race from Grace, so that all humans after the first didn't receive it, and thus were not preserved from physical death.

            are you actually saying people were immortal?

            Yes. Adam and Eve were immortal. They were preserved from death through Original Grace.

            we know what human skin is made of, and it doesn't seem to show an empty slot for an immortality component. how exactly did human physiology change?

            Grace is not a physical thing, but a Spiritual thing. Grace is a participation in the Divine Nature. Because Man in his soul shared in God's very life, and that Man is a composite of spirit and body (one thing, not two), Man's body must have also shared in God, and thus too was perserved from death and damage.

            Regarding Man's physical aspect, it might have been different before the Fall, but I (and this is just my opinion) don't really think so.

            Christi pax.

          • William Davis

            I'm surprised you would consider this a "core" question, for neither Christianity nor Catholicism would seem to turn on it. And regardless of the answer--whether there be a solid answer or whether it's "I don't know"--it wouldn't seem to lend any support for atheism.

            It's interesting how different people evaluate evidence. For some, certain issues are pivotal, while others find them inconsequential. I don't doubt that certain issues that are important for you may not resonate in me, and I don't think anyone has a very good explanation for why that is, I guess it's unique to each mind.
            I'm not trying to argue for atheism; I'm trying to argue about the nature of God. It's a bit different, though there are some similarities. I actually accept the PSR and other arguments for God, or at least a first cause, but I don't get far past Aristotle or Spinoza with regard to what we can coherently say about God, just wanted to clear that up.

            He did. The punishment was death. And that punishment was assumed by Jesus Christ on the Cross. God also intensified the pain of childbearing, the toil of work, etc. I suggest a careful reading of Genesis 3.

            I've actually dealt with the Adam and Eve story a lot on this site, relating it to Sumerian mythology (I can make a powerful case showing the majority of the elements in the story come from Sumerian myth, and I can also explain why God chose to use a rib to create Eve, I won't do that for brevity in this post) and delving into the details of the story. Personally I can't find any reason in the story itself to think death was part of the punishment, Paul insinuated that later, sure, but it isn't in the story. Death was simply the end of the punishment. God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden so they would not eat of the tree of life, and thus gain immortality. God clearly did not want man to be immortal in the story. The problem I have is that the punishment extended to Adam and Eves children who were in no way morally responsible for Adam and Eve's mistake. Everyone today considers judging children for the mistakes of their parents to be unjust. Everyone. On a side note, I think the "curses" are better thought of as representations of the problems that come with evolution of intelligence (which leads to knowledge of good and evil and larger human heads which leads to increased pain in childbirth) and the rise of civilization (working the fields, hunter gatherers never did this, Sumeria is arguably the oldest civilization and the first to practice agriculture, I have to resist the urge to go into more detail here, lol).

            The simple and honest answer is: we don't know why God permits events like those to occur. We're just not in an epistemic position to know. But this fact certainly adds no support for atheism.

            Thank you for being honest and direct. I agree this is no support for atheism, but it's a major hole in the Christian understanding of God, at least in my opinion. I can't help but think it's incompatible with a God that became incarnated in Jesus. Jesus seemed very serious about helping and healing children, something I admire. The problem is, where is he now? Why did he stop when he ascended? Why didn't he come back within the lifetime of the apostles as he seemed to promise (and Paul seemed to believe he would see him return). I personally cannot relate the creator of this universe to Jesus without answers to those questions, and I have not found any good ones at all.

            From a purely geological standpoint, events like tsunamis are due to tectonic activity, the same tectonic activity that is necessary to support human life. Plate tectonics play a critical role in keeping the Earth’s temperature constant during the Sun’s significant brightness changes.

            Doubtless all you say as true, but since you have a background in engineering (like me, though mine is in electrical engineering) you can also conceive of God as the ultimate engineer. Surely he could have devised a planet that had a stable temperature without the need for tectonic shifts and hurricanes. The fact that they happen to be necessary to maintain the earth's temp isn't an argument that these things were necessary. If God couldn't have done better, it really puts a strain on the idea that he is omnipotent. The idea that God isn't completely omnipotent is another possible solution to the problem, but I don't know where that leaves us. If deists are correct, and there is no supernatural intervention, then there is no reason to think God specifically designed the earth for human, thus the fact that things are pretty messy isn't a problem. Deism, however, rules out Christianity.
            I do respect that Catholics don't view natural evil as judgement like some (Billy Graham comes to mind). Catholicism is much better than many forms of Christianity I've come across, but I do tend to favor more progressive Catholics than traditionalists (nothing person, I just seem to thing more like progressives). I really miss Johnboy Sylvest, for example...I like a lot of what he had to say. I wish his comments were not gone, he had a pretty good explanation of why it isn't necessarily heretical to think the "fall" didn't happen as such.

          • VicqRuiz

            "Listen: if everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it?...Tell me yourself, I challenge you answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that little child beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

            "No, I would not consent," said Alyosha softly.

            - Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

            I'm with Alyosha on this one.

    • Lucretius

      What sort of empirical fact would disprove the existence of God, in your opinion?

      Christi pax.

      • Douglas Beaumont

        I'm not sure there is such a thing. If God exists, he would be by nature "non-empirical." Looking for empirical proof or disproof might be like looking for mathematical or aesthetic proof. "Mere" evidence is another thing. Evidentially, the problem of evil is probably the atheist's best empirical shot at making their case.

        • Lucretius

          I did have in mind the AFE, but I think that Dr. Kreeft also might have in mind evidence that would refute the Christian God: like, say, the discovery of Jesus's body.

          Christi pax.

      • Doug Shaver

        What sort of empirical fact would disprove the existence of God, in your opinion?

        I cannot think of any empirical fact that would logically inconsistent with God's existence, so my response would be: Strictly speaking, none.

        However, I think that if the Christian God were real, the existence of atheists would be so improbable as to be epistemically negligible.

        • "However, I think that if the Christian God were real, the existence of atheists would be so improbable as to be epistemically negligible."

          What reason do you have for thinking this is true? I don't think it's at all implausible that, for instance, 2-5% of the American population would embrace atheism, given that God exists.

          Why would you think the existence of atheists and the existence of God are virtually incompatible?

          • Doug Shaver

            The Christian God wants all people to know he is real, and he could have ensured, without violating anybody's free will, that all people would know. But it is not the case that all people know that the Christian God is real. Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.

        • Lucretius

          However, I think that if the Christian God were real, the existence of atheists would be so improbable as to be epistemically negligible.

          I don't really see how that could be argued, but regardless, looking at history at large, the existence of atheists has always been a small minority. Some ages have more than others (I don't mean agnostic when I say "atheist" either).

          In fact, materialistic atheism is even more of a minority in history, and is actually peculiar to our times.

          Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't really see how that could be argued

            It has been argued. Therefore, it can be argued. Whether the argument convinces you is another issue.

            Here is one version of the argument: http://infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/aeanb.html

          • Lucretius

            I think the argument assumes that men are saved by knowledge, which is a form of Gnosticism, not Christianity.

            To be more specific, a Christian would have issue with at least (1) and (3):

            "...being able to bring about situation S, all things considered..."

            "...not wanting anything else that conflicts with his desire to bring about situation S as strongly as it..."

            God puts man's free will over the desire to bring out situation S. He attempts to bring out S, but he doesn't override a man's ability to reject His attempts to do so.

            I have never seem this argument before (I'm intrigued :-) ). I'm familiar with the AFE though.

            Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            I think the argument assumes that men are saved by knowledge,

            I'm not endorsing Drange's particular formulation of the argument. I'm just offering it as a counterexample to your assertion that no such argument can be made.

          • Doug Shaver

            God puts man's free will over the desire to bring out situation S. He attempts to bring out S, but he doesn't override a man's ability to reject His attempts to do so.

            Situation S consists of all or nearly all human beings believing that

            (a) There exists a being who rules the entire universe.
            (b) That being loves humanity.
            (c) Humanity has been provided with an afterlife.

            Are you saying that there is no way that could happen without violating some people's free will?

          • George

            how does revealing information to someone override their free will?

          • Lucretius

            It doesn't. Making someone accept the information, however, does. There are many people I've found on the Internet, for example (not on this website), who, after being presented an argument for theism and taught why their objections are objectable, they drop to a pure will stance: they simply assert that theism is "obviously" make believe, and then go back to mocking them.

            In other words, their beliefs are based on pure assertions, usually incoherent. I actually think most Americans today hold incoherent ideas based on pure choice, influenced greatly by celebrity appeal, popular culture, peer pressure, and sentiment (as well as the bit and pieces of the old Christian culture). And that doesn't apply just to atheists and those I disagree with, either. Most theists tend to be the same way.

            Christi pax.

          • George

            what do you mean "making" someone accept the information? how does that or your example apply to the concept of god revealing itself?

          • Lucretius

            You can't make someone accept something as true if they refuse to believe it. He might be irrational and/or insane, and deny the opposite (I've found no believers deny the existence of change, or the axiom "nothing comes from nothing," for example) but I still can't force him to accept.

            The only thing that can convert a heart is Grace. Not even rational argument can do that.

            Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            You believe, because of certain information you have, that the sun came up this morning. Did anyone have to make you accept that information?

            In another place and another time, you might have worshiped the sun, and someone could have made you worship it if you didn't want to. But nobody, sun worshiper or not, has ever denied the sun's existence, and that unanimity of belief is not the result of any compulsion.

          • Lucretius

            You believe, because of certain information you have, that the sun came up this morning. Did anyone have to make you accept that information?

            No. No one can make me accept anything, if I refuse. That's the whole point of will being "free." A man may force me into a tub of boiling oil, but he can never get me to deny the existence of God.

            In another place and another time, you might have worshiped the sun, and someone could have made you worship it if you didn't want to.

            No one can make me worship the Sun, unless worship is defined as going through the motions. However, worship involves a choice, consent.

            But nobody, sun worshiper or not, has ever denied the sun's existence, and that unanimity of belief is not the result of any compulsion.

            Descartes did at the beginning of his Meditations.

            Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            No one can make me worship the Sun, unless worship is defined as going through the motions

            Yes, they can make you go through the motions, and that was my point. Behavior can be compelled. Thinking cannot be compelled.

            But nobody, sun worshiper or not, has ever denied the sun's existence, and that unanimity of belief is not the result of any compulsion.

            Descartes did at the beginning of his Meditations.

            It was a thought experiment. By definition, it didn't really happen. If your response is: But he said he really did it, then my counter is: I don't think he meant it literally, and if he did mean it literally, then I just don't believe him.

          • Doug Shaver

            I actually think most Americans today hold incoherent ideas based on pure choice

            That would make belief a pure act of will, and I don't think that's a coherent notion.

            I don't deny that acts of will can influence what we believe or disbelieve, but do you think that you could, just by an act of will, without taking any other action, become an atheist?

          • Lucretius

            I wouldn't say that belief is a pure act of the will, as you cannot choose what you do not know (how can I choose to be an atheist if I don't know what that is?).

            It's just that, the will can influence the mind to go so far as to ignore information in order to reject a conclusion, basically what you seem to have in mind.

            Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            the will can influence the mind to go so far as to ignore information in order to reject a conclusion

            So, the only reason nobody denies the sun's existence is that nobody wants to deny it?

          • Lucretius

            No. The person who seriously denies the existence of the sun is either committed to a way of thinking that he refuses to abandon, even to the point of insanity, or he is mentally ill.

            Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            The person who seriously denies the existence of the sun is either committed to a way of thinking that he refuses to abandon, even to the point of insanity, or he is mentally ill.

            I didn't ask for an evaluation of people who deny the existence of the sun. I asked why no such people are known to exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            (how can I choose to be an atheist if I don't know what that is?)

            But you do know. So could you be one just by wanting to be one?

          • Lucretius

            I know some who clearly do such, actually.

            Christi pax.

          • Doug Shaver

            I know some who clearly do such, actually.

            That doesn't answer the question I asked.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Dr. Kreeft changes his definition of God midway through his refutation. At first, he defines God as the creator of the universe, but then as a being who has omniscience. When a hard atheist says that there is no god, it may be reasonable to say that he is claiming omniscience, but he is certainly not claiming to be the creator of the universe.

    He then also makes this fallacious statement:

    [Omniscience] is an attribute of God. If there is an omniscient being, that being is God.

    To see how this is fallacious, try the following parallel statement: "Warm-bloodedness is an attribute of humans. If there is a warm-blooded being (such as my dog) that being is a human."

    Saying that atheists claim to be God and thus disprove themselves may be rhetorically effective, but it is not a particularly strong argument.

    -----
    Also, a nitpick on Dr. Kreeft's parenthetical statement:
    We do not defy gravity when we jump. Gravity is very much still acting on us - it is what pulls us back to the ground. Also, his statement that a soul is needed to "defy" gravity by jumping is strange.... does that mean that the little jumping wind-up toy I had as a child had a soul? He seems to believe that the actions that ensouled humans take "defy physical laws." They absolutely do not- physical laws are in effect at all times.

    • joey_in_NC

      Dr. Kreeft changes his definition of God midway through his refutation. At first, he defines God as the creator of the universe, but then as a being who has omniscience.

      I wouldn't consider mentioning an additional attribute usually associated with God as changing the definition, since being the creator of the universe and possessing omniscience are not contradictory attributes.

      He then also makes this fallacious statement:

      [Omniscience] is an attribute of God. If there is an omniscient being, that being is God.

      It's only fallacious if you disagree with his premise that an omniscient being is God. Your parallel statement is clearly fallacious because we know there are warm-blooded beings that are not human. But are there any omniscient beings that are not also God? That's a debate in semantics.

      But it does seem that his entire argument hinges on that premise (omniscience => God), which probably is not universally accepted.

      We do not defy gravity when we jump. Gravity is very much still acting on us - it is what pulls us back to the ground.

      I think what Kreeft means is that "we" are not merely composed of physical entities which, like all physical entities, are subject to gravity. But rather "we" are also composed of non-physical entities ("souls or minds or wills") that are not subject to physical laws. I'm not saying that I completely agree with Kreeft here, but rather that is what I think he's arguing.

      • Kraker Jak

        Dr. Kreeft changes his definition of God midway through his refutation.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Yes, those two properties (creator and omniscience) are common in many conceptions of God. But he is making the assumption that that two MUST go together. But it is not clear to me that a creator of the universe must be also omniscient, or that an omniscient being must also be a creator.

        But it does seem that his entire argument hinges on that premise
        (omniscience => God), which probably is not universally accepted.

        I agree, but it also goes a bit further. Since his definition of God includes "creator of the universe," he is also saying that omniscient being => God => creator of universe. I don't see any reason to think that an omniscient being must also be a creator.

        • "But it is not clear to me that a creator of the universe must be also omniscient, or that an omniscient being must also be a creator."

          But given that this is a site for Catholics and atheists, the "God" under discussion is defined by those defending him, namely Catholics. And in Catholicism, the two are inherent properties of what we (including Dr. Kreeft) mean by "God."

          When we say "God", we are referring to the ground of being that is, among other things, omniscient, and that, among other things, is responsible for the universe coming into being.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Alright, but if Dr. Kreeft was using that definition the whole time, then his argument does not work. Consider how it would play out as a conversation:

            Kreeft: Do you believe in God, by which I mean an omniscient creator?
            Hard-Atheist: No, I do not. There is no omniscient creator anywhere.
            Kreeft: But you must be omniscient yourself in order to know that. You are claiming to be God!
            Hard-Atheist: Yes, I am omniscient, but no I am not the creator. So, no, I am not claiming to be God.

            The problem here is that the atheist is only claiming omniscience, but Dr. Kreeft is imposing all the other attributes onto him as well.

            It's fine to define God as having both attributes, I have no objection to that. But what Dr. Kreeft would need to show is that an omniscient being MUST also be a creator. Defining it to be so, doesn't cut it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A Catholic would not say an omniscient being must also be a creator, since we believe that God was completely free to create or not.

  • Kraker Jak

    Many atheists, if not most would, acknowledge that it is possible that there may be an entity that created the universe. When they say that there is no God, most of the time all they are saying is that they don't believe there is such an entity. At least not one , that can be supported in theory by any credible scientific evidence . That is a long way from their claiming any kind of omniscience.In conclusion...if one is walking down a dark lonely road at night and one hears the sound of thundering hooves behind him, he should think horses or cattle and not unicorns and get off the road if reason and common prevails.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      You are fond of the thundering hooves analogy but I don't see how it applies.

      It seems to me you are saying there is no credible scientific evidence that God exists. Therefore, there are no thundering hooves but stark silence.

      Is the silence of scientific evidence that God exists due to there not being evidence that should be there if God exists or because science could not, by definition, provide such evidence?

      • Kraker Jak

        It seems to me you are saying there is no credible scientific evidence that God exists. Therefore, there are no thundering hooves but stark silence.

        You said it....when it comes to god that seems to be the case allright.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          So we agree that there is a kind of silence from science.

          Why ignore my question, though?

          • Kraker Jak

            I am not ignoring anything. You on the other hand seem to deliberately obfuscate or misunderstand what some commenters such as myself say, You attempt to put words in peoples mouths. I did not say that science is silent, science speaks volumes about many things but so far science has not provided any credible evidence that god exists. I , and most atheists do not claim that the existence of a creator is not possible, or that there are not other dimensions of reality that exist. You should try to improve upon your ability to read between the lines, so that you can have a better understanding of people, as you are not very good at it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I thought it was understood that the silence about which we were speaking was silence toward the existence of God, not silence about other things.

            So, I'll repeat my question:

            > Is the silence of scientific evidence that God exists due to there not being evidence that should be there if God exists or because science could not, by definition, provide such evidence?

          • Kraker Jak

            I did not say that science is silent, science speaks volumes about many
            things but so far science has not provided any credible evidence that
            god exists. That is largely due to the fact that science has not yet provided any credible evidence that god exists. When and if it does...then It will get my full attention and I will weigh that evidence based on the consensus of the scientific community. Cartoon humor intended.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What *would* constitute scientific evidence that God exists?

            I'm pretty sure that the reason you are not seeing scientific evidence for God is that science simply cannot provide any. Science studies physical reality.

            For example, even in the face of a putative miraculous healing, all medicine can do is say is (1) this (actually) happened naturally or (2) we don't know why it happened (yet). It can never say, "God must have done it."

          • George

            And its pure convenience to define god as nonphysical

          • "And its pure convenience to define god as nonphysical"

            Pure convenience? This has been the accepted, consensus definition of God for millions of people over the last several hundred years.

            That would be like me saying, "And it's pure convenience to define allegory as non-literal."

            It would only be convenient to think of God as physical in order to refute his existence.

          • George

            Sorry for not posting with more substance. Should have waited until after work.

            How do you define physical? we have to start there. I don't see how it matters if millions of people said the same thing if they were not able to really explain what it meant.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Physical means constituted of energy/matter.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is your reason for posting that cartoon?

          • Kraker Jak

            Since my last two comments of today were removed from SN, including my reply to you here, with no explanation, so I see no point in continuing here on this particular Piece. In fact I may as well remove my other replies and comments since on this topic.

            There Kevin and Brandon.......happy now?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I had nothing to do with this. I'm not happy because I wanted to hear your answer.

  • VicqRuiz

    So the claim that we can know that there is no God logically

    This "claim" is simply unnecessary/irrelevant to my daily life as an atheist. Let me try an analogy other than Santa...

    I do not know, logically, that mosasaurs never frequent the ocean off the beach where I am periodically wont to swim. And the only way in which I could empirically demonstrate that they are never to be found would be to empty all the world's oceans and engage in an acre by acre mosasaur hunt on the now exposed sea floor. I believe that Kreeft would concur with both of the above.

    So do I then avoid swimming, lest I wind up as lunch??

    Of course not. Because what I have learned about the history of mosasaurs, and about the frequency of documented living sightings, enables me to act in my daily life in exactly the same way as if I had in fact searched every inch of every ocean. My internal knowledge about mosasaur danger, although it is never a perfect, logical knowledge, approaches it as an asymptote approaches a line.

    And thusly for God. I do not need to absolutely, irrefutably know that there is no God, in order to conclude, for the purposes and from the evidences of daily living, that this is so.

  • GCBill

    I would not have defined reductionism as "S is nothing but P," but rather "S can be explained entirely in terms of P," which could be expanded to "There is nothing in S that cannot be explained by P and P-interrelations." I think this definition more closely approximates contemporary philosophical positions and has a greater likelihood of being true than Kreeft's "nothing but" formulation.

    Kreeft also presents an epistemic argument against reductionism, claiming that we would have to be God in order to justify the claim that everything is reducible. But what he doesn't (and IMO, should) do is consider epistemic arguments for reductionism. What of all the folks who think we are not justified in believing in various other transcendentals, rather than flat-out denying their existence? Independent of domain, I'd state the claim as follows: "We have good reason(s) to believe that S can be explained entirely in terms of P, and whatever reason(s) exist for doubting this claim are noticeably weaker than those for affirming it."

    • Thank you. That's a much better understanding of reductionism than Kreeft gave. I worry that his definition amounts to a (probably unintentional) straw-man.

    • David Nickol

      The examples Kreeft gives while defining reductionism are rather telling:

      For instance, we may say “He’s nothing but a fake,” denying that he is authentic, or trustable, or truth-telling.

      It seems to me that those who object to reductionism find it demeaning or insulting. Kreeft's first example—"He's nothing but a fake"—is not an example of reductionism in anything resembling the sense of the word that Kreeft himself is trying to define. It's an insult. It is not the kind of statement that anyone would take literally. The "nothing but" in the sentence is not truly implying a strict limit. If Person A said, "He's nothing but a fake," and I said, "Yeah, and he's a freeloader, too," it would not make sense for Person A to say, "No, I said he's nothing but a fake, so you can't call him a freeloader." The words "nothing but" in this context function as an intensifier, similar to phrases like "big fat" or "dirty rotten."

      Or we may say “that monster was nothing but a dream,” denying that it exists outside the dream. Or we may say that “love is nothing but lust” or “thinking is nothing but cerebral biochemistry,” or “evolution is nothing but the survival of the fittest” or “religion is nothing but superstition.”

      Saying something is "nothing but a dream" doesn't really explain it. It denies it a true existence. Of course, not even the most fanatical of reductionist philosophers would say," Love is nothing but lust." It's obviously false, although it is the kind of thing that those who feel demeaned and devalued by reductionism seem to imagine reductionist explanations of love boil down to. The same goes for the remaining three examples. No one would ever make these statements.
      they come out of the imaginations of people who argue against reductionism. Neuroscientists would never say, "Thinking is nothing but cerebral biochemistry." That doesn't explain thinking. It dismisses it as unimportant. I just finished reading Michael Gazzaniga's Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience, and while he certainly qualifies as a reductionist by Kreeft's definition, there is not a hint of the "nothing but" kind of dismissiveness Kreeft sees in reductionist viewpoints.

  • Modern science seems not to be reducing, but greatly expanding, our vision of reality. We discover that reality may be far more than dreamt of in any philosophy, more than anyone could possibly have imagined. We may have more dimensions than just three, more even than four. We may have more universes than we can count. An infinity of universes set inside an infinity of universes.

    Reductionism done right shouldn't remove things, but should instead should find identity with things. Saying that water is nothing but H2O is stating an identity. It says water = H2O. You don't need knowledge of the entire universe to know that this is true. You might need knowledge of the entire universe to know this with certainty, but science isn't about certainty anyway.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I don't think reductionism says that water=H2O. I think reductionism says that water is "nothing but" two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. It would seem to me that this would be false because H2O is far different than its elements uncombined.

      • I think that's a straw-man reductionist position. The reason I think that is because I cannot identify any professional scientist or philosopher who believes it.

        Can you?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          That is a form of reductionism I've seen plenty of times from logical positivism and some popularizers of science.

          So, what is the form of reductionism that a professional scientist might subscribe to (if he would)?

          • David Nickol

            That is a form of reductionism I've seen plenty of times from logical positivism and some popularizers of science.

            PBR says he's never seen it. You claim you have. So it is up to you to cite some instances of what you have seen.

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • David Nickol

            It seems to me that the "nothing but" is the reviewer's characterization of Rosenberg's position.

            He also believes that everything is ultimately determined by what happens at the physical level—and that this entails that the mind is "nothing but" the brain.

            And of course to say that "the mind is 'nothing but' the brain" has a different meaning from saying "the mind is nothing but the brain." The use of quote marks in this context indicates that "nothing but" is being given a special meaning.

            What I have seen in my reading of "reductionists" (Searle and Pinkert, for example) lately is the statement, "The mind is what the brain does."

          • William Davis

            In a way Rosenberg is on to something, but it probably won't be as simple as reducing everything to particle physics, but we'll see.

            Biophysics is pretty darn impressive to me. It's considered and interdisciplinary field like the cognitive sciences and it includes philosophy of science because it is critical to ask the right questions (philosophy) to make progress.

            All these different philosophies, to me, speak to the fact that there is never only one correct approach to discovery or solving a problem, but some approaches are clearly better than others.

            In general, I'm not quite sure Kreeft is talking about philosophy of science in particular (the article you linked is about philosophy of science which should be separated from philosophy in general). Here is a couple of good links on biophysics, one happens to be from the Rosenberg Lab.

            http://rosenberg.ucsf.edu/

            http://www.biophysics.org/Education/WhatisBiophysics/tabid/2287/Default.aspx

            These approach hold a lot of promise not only for a deeper and better understanding of life (again reductionist approach create better understanding that allows a better transcendental view of what life is) but also major advances in medicine.

          • That water is H2O. Two hydrogen atoms chemically bonded to a single oxygen atom.

            I don't know any popularizer of science who would say that water is only hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms, full stop. If they did, they'd be wrong on the facts.

          • Lucretius

            I'm interested in the facts. I'm not trying to debate that the facts are false or anything like that, I'm just naturally curious as to what specific facts you have in mind here (Are you thinking of the emergent properties of water?)

            Christi pax.

      • David Nickol

        I think reductionism says that water is "nothing but" two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.

        I think the "nothing buts" are red herrings. They introduce an element of emotionalism into the statement, as if water (could it talk) would object to being called "nothing but" hydrogen and oxygen. The "nothing buts" are a sign of irrational, emotional rejection of reductionist explanations. But of course water is hydrogen and oxygen. The fact that when hydrogen and oxygen combine with each molecule of water being made up of two hydrogen atoms covalently bonded to one oxygen atom, that is water. The fact that the water molecule has different properties than two free hydrogen atoms and one free oxygen atom doesn't make the water molecule mysterious or "spiritual."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          It is weird that you ascribe irrational emotionalism to Kreeft. Do you have some kind of privileged insight into the psychology Catholic philosophers?

          • David Nickol

            I didn't say anything about the psychology of Catholic philosophers. I said, "The 'nothing buts' are a sign of irrational, emotional rejection of reductionist explanations." I don't think you find philosophers who are classified (by themselves and others) making claims that X is "nothing but" Y. And, as I said (and I think is clearly demonstrated by Kreeft's examples), the anti-reductionist's view of reductionism is very much associated with insulting or demeaning.

            The "nothing but" attitude toward reductionism seems to me rather similar to the attitude of naive anti-evolutionists who say, "How dare you say my great grandfather was a monkey!"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well somebody must be irrationally and emotionally reacting to reductionism. Who do you think is?

          • David Nickol

            Well somebody must be irrationally and emotionally reacting to reductionism. Who do you think is?

            You are not really making an argument. You are basically saying, "Who are you to disagree with Peter Kreeft?"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Time out. The question on the table is "who are you accusing of irrational emotionalism?" I thought you were accusing Kreeft.

          • David Nickol

            The question on the table is "who are you accusing of irrational emotionalism?" I thought you were accusing Kreeft.

            Guideline 4 for the site is "Critique ideas, not people." I have made it very clear, I think, that I believe characterizing reductionist thinking by examples that rely on the words "nothing but," as Kreeft has done, smacks of irrational and emotional (and incorrect) thinking. You seem to be trying to egg me into making negative personal remarks about Kreeft himself. I don't see any point. Clearly I think he is wrong. That doesn't mean I have to "accuse" him of anything.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So you are saying that Kreeft's *thinking* is irrational, emotional, and incorrect but you are not saying anything about Kreeft personally.

            I get it now.

          • OldSearcher

            It would be interesting to know how somebody can criticize the ideas expressed by a person in such a way that these criticism can not be interpreted as an attack on the person itself. I, personally, do not know how.

    • Ladolcevipera

      Water is also, but not only, a combination of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. You cannot reduce water to its scientific explanation. It is much more than that. Water quenches thirst, makes you look up in wonder at waterfalls, inspires the poet... Water *means* something to people that cannot be reduced to atoms.

      • Water is identical to H2O. Nothing more and nothing less. It's truly amazing that something so chemically simple can do so many different things, and can mean so many different things to people.

        • Lucretius

          What we call "water" in everyday life isn't H2O though. It's also minerals, salts, etc., as well as H3O and OH. There's also small bits of Heavy water molecules, and so on.

          Here's a philosophical/scientific question: is one molecule of H2O wet?

          Christi pax.

          • Lots of water is lots of H2O molecules. D2O is also water. The fact that other things are in water means exactly what it says.

            A cup of water will be whatever atoms are inside the cup, with whatever spatial relations and energies they have. Nothing more, but that by itself is already a whole lot! What more would you expect?

          • Lucretius

            I was unclear somewhat. What I was asking is whether you think wetness is a property of just a water molecule, or a group of molecules. Or do you think that wetness is not even an objective quality?

            Christi pax.

          • Some things are wet. Humidity can be expressed as a ratio of water molecules in the air to the number of water molecules at saturation (at the point where, if I were to add more water molecules, they'd start to condense onto available surfaces). Wetness is less exact.

            Both of these properties (humidity and wetness) involve large numbers of molecules.

          • Lucretius

            Wetness is qualitative, not quantitative. Thus, science, in the modern conception at least, has nothing to say about wetness.

            One of the peculiarities of modern science is its objective denial of purely qualitative properties. In other words, the modern tends to think that an object is reducible to what can be measured, which I (and probably Dr. Kreeft) think is insanely false.

            Christi pax.

          • I don't think wetness is a very good example of something that's qualitative and not quantitative. It's a sort of heap problem. There's heuristics on either side (one less molecule isn't going to make something wet to be dry, for example), and has a bit of a subjective aspect (in that fuzzy middle region, people will argue about whether something is 'wet' or merely 'damp', etc.) But that doesn't mean it's not quantitative. It just means that the quantities assigned are not so precise. If we are talking about cotton at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, I can give a quantity of water on the cotton such that the cotton will definitely be wet, and another quantity such that the cotton will definitely be dry. The stuff in the middle is fuzzy. It's inexact, but quantifiable.

            I also don't think it's accurate to say that scientists altogether deny all things that can't be quantified. As far as I can tell, it's impossible to quantify everything about electrons. An electron isn't just a set of numbers.

          • William Davis

            Here's a philosophical/scientific question: is one molecule of H2O wet?

            A single molecule of water would have to be in solution with something else, most commonly air. Whether air is "wet" would depend on the relatively humidity (concentration of water molecules in the air compare to saturation at a specific temperature) but we usually call this humid as opposed to wet.
            If you were in a room where the air contained only 1 water molecule, then the room would be absurdly arid, and likely cause health and static electricity problems.

          • Lucretius

            I think the question I had in mind is whether the wetness of water is an emergent property of the grouping of many H2O molecules or is reducible to just one molecule itself. I'm more inclined to the first view, based on my elementary understanding of chemistry.

            On another note, I wonder how it would feel like to be breathing air with no water in it? Please note that I've never really been much in a desert before. Would it be like being in a desert? Would it be painful to breath?

            Is air dry in the winter of the parts of the world which get snow at that time?

            Christi pax.

        • Ladolcevipera

          A painting is a canvas, some paint and a brush. That's a lot of atoms. But is that all there is to it?

          • It's impossible to change the painting without changing the atoms around, so in that sense, there's nothing extra. In another sense, there's a lot extra. You can't understand a painting by just understanding the configurations of the particles in the painting. It doesn't tell you why it was painted or who painted it or what for, or what it meant to the artist or what it means to you.

            Showing that there's nothing mystical about the painting, nothing extra in that sense, doesn't diminish or replace all the other ways the painting can be understood.

          • Ladolcevipera

            In other words: meaning transcends the substratum. It cannot exist without it, but neither can it be reduced to it. They refer to each other.

          • What do you mean?

          • Ladolcevipera

            "Substratum" is a term in metaphysics. (The Greek equivalent is "Hypokeimenon"). It's literal meaning is "the underlying thing", i.e. that what carries the "qualities" of a thing and remains unchanged by them. In plain English and oversimplified one could say that the substratum is the raw material (the atoms if you want) things are made of.
            What has all this to do with reductionism? To give an example: you need your brain (the substratum) to think, but your thoughts cannot simply be reduced to your brain. They transcend/rise above it, exactly as the meaning of a painting is not limited by the canvas.
            And now you think that philosophy is nonsense. Right?

          • William Davis

            By no means do I think philosophy is nonsense, but I think philosophers often don't give the brain enough credit ;) Without brains there would be no philosophy.

          • No, I don't think it's nonsense. It's just a different way of putting things, one that I'm not as familiar with. My own view (stated elsewhere in this discussion) is a sort of dual aspect theory. Mind cannot be reduced to body, nor body to mind. I think both are aspects of a single underlying reality that is neither mind nor body. Sort of like electrical and magnetic fields are both different aspects of a single reality: light.

          • Ladolcevipera

            "I think both are aspects of a single underlying reality that is neither mind nor body. Sort of like electrical and magnetic fields are both different aspects of a single reality: light"
            This is so beautifully formulated. I'll keep this sentence in mind. ✴

          • Thanks :)

    • Lucretius

      The idea of many worlds isn't a new one, actually. It was an idea thrown around quite a bit in latter medieval philosophy.

      Christi pax.

      • I think the scope and understanding of space and time, of the possibilities of many universes and dimensions, has been transformed by science in a way theologians and philosophers, in a way scientists also, would have been entirely unable to imagine beforehand.

        There are people who talk about the cyclic universe in Hinduism, as though the Hindus had the same sorts of ideas as revealed by science, and it seems cheap to me.

        • Lucretius

          I don't know if I would go so far as to say "entirely unable to imagine beforehand," but I see what you mean: reality is stranger than our imagination. The first responses from a good man to the world should be awe.

          Why do you think the Hinduism example is cheap? Is it because they came up with their theory without testing it (or being able to test it)?

          Christi pax.

          • Because what they had in mind isn't really the same. It's only superficially the same. It's sort of like this: The exoplanet HD189733b, around its orange-red star has a shimmering blue atmosphere. This was figured out by many scientists, using very careful photometric measurements.

            Maybe I talk about this amazing work to my psychic friend and he says "Oh, I've seen this planet in a vision. I already guessed it was blue. See? I wrote about it a couple years ago."

            Saying that he guessed the planet was blue before astronomers figure it out seems cheap to me.

          • Lucretius

            It doesn't seem cheap to me, at least. To put it in sciencey language, the psychic presented a hypothesis and when it was tested, it was shown to be true.

            The Hindus presented a hypothesis and when it was tested, it was shown to be true (hypothesitically. I reject the multiverse theories).

            Christi pax.

          • The hindu's guess isn't a hypothesis yet, because he didn't carefully explore the implications, in a way people could have checked.

            It seems clear to me that one way of doing things is far richer and closer to reality than the other. It's hard to justify aesthetic assertions. It's probably one of the reasons my primary interests are in science. I can't even imagine how someone could look at what the hindus say about the universe and what scientists say and come to the conclusion you do. I cannot really argue this. Not that I'm particularly interested to argue it.

            Why argue about something that seems to me pretty boring, when I could instead spend my time doing something actually interesting?

          • Lucretius

            I can't really argue against personal taste.

            However, I can argue that the Hindu isn't making a purely aesthetic assertion. Remember, the emphasis on purely empirical science as a way to truth is a Western culture thing (not to mention incoherent. But you seem smart enough to know that already :-) ). It doesn't apply necessarily to, say, Indian culture. I agree that science is a god way to find truth, but it certainly isn't the only way, or even the best way.

            Christi pax.

          • William Davis

            There were only 3 possibilities. Either the universe was static, expanding, or contracting (maybe 4 if you want to include oscillation). That gives a complete guess a 33% chance of success. That's a pretty cheap guess to me, nothing against the Hindus of course.

          • Lucretius

            Yes, but Mr. Rimmer was also arguing that the theories in modern cosmology were unimaginable in the past, which is clearly not the case.

            Christi pax.

          • William Davis

            I don't think they imagine it in the same way as we do now, even if they were right about the change in size of the universe. In case you didn't know Dr Rimmer is a postdoc in Astronomy at St. Andrews, giving him some pretty good qualifications to judge the way the universe was imagined historically. I think you'd have to read some books on modern cosmology and then study Hindu myth to get what we are talking about intuitively.

          • Lucretius

            I don't think they imagine it in the same way as we do now, even if they were right about the change in size of the universe.

            I don't think they're right, but, from my general understanding of Hindu thought (after Buddha), the universe basically works in cycles. Their view of the universe is related on their philosophy of reincarnation. I don't see how the modern theory is essentially different than their ancient one.

            Dr Rimmer is a postdoc in Astronomy at St. Andrews,

            That's cool :thumbs up:, and I don't necessary doubt he's wrong (I was just asking for him to be more specific). However, a person trained in the science of the stars is not necessary in the history of the stars. I actually ran into a physicist on the Internet who was quite knowledgable on physics (I learned something knew from him too :-) ), but was very ignorant on the history of physics. I'm not saying Mr. Rimmer is like that though.

            Christi pax.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Didn't one physicist/theologian think up the expanding universe?

          I don't see the theories of the multiverse and of the eternally expanding and contracting universe as particularly clever ideas. They just arose to explain something that otherwise could not be explained.

          But twelve dimension is another thing.

          • Michael Murray

            I don't see the theories of the multiverse and of the eternally expanding and contracting universe as particularly clever ideas. They just arose to explain something that otherwise could not be explained.

            Any answer to a question currently lacking an answer could be said to "arise to explain something that otherwise could not be explained". I don't see the connection with whether or not the answer is clever.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with your comment. However, I was responding to PBR's statement about how science opens up otherwise unimaginable vistas. I think an eternally expanding and contracting universe is no more imaginative than the conception of a phoenix.

            I'm not disagreeing that science opens up incredible vistas.

          • William Davis

            I agree with you. It's easy to compare the universe to a balloon. A balloon is either staying the same size, expanding, or contracting. 33% chance a pure guess would get it right. Proving what is actually true is another story entirely and requires a tremendous amount of "cleverness".

          • Didn't one physicist/theologian think up the expanding universe?

            If you are referring to Lamaitre, then a physicist/theologian discovered this. He didn't simply dream it up from nowhere. Who could have? That the entire universe, all the stuff that makes stars and galaxies and planets and you and me, was once contained in a region smaller than a single atom?

            Now, if you're referring to God as a physicist/theologian... maybe he dreamt up the expanding universe. I'd grant that.

          • George

            and another important question: would that theologian have changed his religious beliefs if he had not found an expanding universe?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. His view of religion after was the view he had before when the consensus was the "steady state" theory.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      > If this isn't true for philosophy, then maybe it's time philosophy catches up.

      I hear this kind of argument often from atheists and agnostics. What does it mean?

      • What argument in particular?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What is philosophy supposed to be doing that it is not and that natural science is actually doing?

          • According to Kreeft, showing people that reality includes more (not less) than you might think.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How is philosophy failing in this regard, in your view?

          • I don't know if it is or not (the philosophers I know seem to be succeeding). But Kreeft seems to think that philosophers and academics in general are narrowing our vision. He's a professional philosopher. He should know.

            If he's right, then philosophy is going the wrong direction, and needs to pay more attention to what science is saying about reality.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Isn't the problem only certain philosophies? For example a philosophy which adopted a materialistic, physicalist, reductionist view of all reality and then tried to apply it to human nature, human activity, human morality, and so on, would, I think, greatly impoverish human life.

          • There are difficulties with physicalism, and so I'm not a physicalist. Very few philosophers are, as far as I can tell.

            Nevertheless, a physicalist who respects science would still have a very enriched and expanded view of the world. There's lots of things in his philosophy: Maybe there's not minds, but there's strings and extra dimensions, and other vistas we haven't begun to explore, even in dreams.

          • William Davis

            Out of curiosity, what do you think the problems are with physicalism? The cognitive sciences and neurology operate under the premises of physicalism (as far as I know) when it comes to the mind. I'm pretty familiar with John Searle, and like his work. He's definitely a physicalist.

            Nagel's objections don't make a whole lot of sense to me. Of course understanding how the brain does what it does will never result in the experience of that brain without some kind of advanced brain interface technology. I compare it to my work in software. I can understand how the code works from the inside out, but that still isn't the same as experiencing the software interface...this is especially true of gaming.

            With regard to "we'll never know what it is to be a bat", I generally agree, but people already know what it is to see with sound via technology. Some can even use sound to recognize faces...

            http://www.wired.com/2014/03/blind-brain-sound/

            Direct neural connections will exist soon, we have already made mice see infrared, so there is no reason to think we won't be able to experience that too.

            http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-02/14/implant-gives-rats-sixth-sense-for-infrared-light

            All of this is relatively new, and is directly due to understanding the the physical brain. The more I learn about the brain, the more obvious it is that it's completely physical.
            I fail to see how physicalism is a problem for meaning. Sure, the brain is material, but it is the most complex known material structure in the universe. It is the structure/material that gives rise to all human meaning. The brain is truly awesome, no matter what it's made of (largely fat it seems, so the fat you eat matters a lot...enter fish and omega 3 fats ;)
            In general, the more we learn about the material the universe is made of (matter and energy are two sides of the same coin apparently) the more amazing it seems.

          • My problem with physicalism stems from intiuitive difficulties I have with it.

            When I look out of the window at the golf course, there's an image in my mind of the course. Neuroscientists haven't been able to locate that image in the brain. They find networks. But no pictures. Parts of the network are seen to correlate very closely to the pictures, but correlation, even very strong correlation, doesn't suggest identity to me (except maybe on a very deep level). It suggests causation. The network causes the image.

            And this brings up a puzzle. I have a particular experience, seeing a golf course. It seems as though I should be able to program a computer to have a similar experience. It also seems as though a wide variety of infrastructures could result in the similar experience. So something is staying the same even though the physical components are vastly different.

            My own position is a dual aspect theory. There's mind and body, and they are two aspects of a singular underlying reality. This is part of why mind and body correlate perfectly: the ordering of ideas is the same as the ordering of things. Because ultimately they are different aspects of a single underlying reality. How this actually works out is difficult to say, but it is not unpopular among neuroscientists. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7RL__ZgdEw . It's interesting that the strongest non-physicalist is one of the neuroscientists, Christof Koch. There's another neuroscientist who is sympathetic to Spinoza's view on mind and body, I can't remember his name. Rebecca Goldstein talks about him in some of her public talks.

            It's not a perfect theory. And I don't mean to imply that the problems with physicalism are unsolvable. It would be interesting to learn about what solutions people have come up with.

          • William Davis

            I'm a fan of Spinoza myself and I think that his view that emotion and reason are inextricably intertwined has been proven to be fact at this point, in opposition to Descartes separation of the two.
            With regard to computers thinking, I agree with Searles, that computation and thinking are not the same thing. I'm personally confident (though I could be proven wrong) that strong AI will require something that operates like our brain ( a very difficult task) and that it is impossible to do that with a pile of switches, which is what computers are at their core. A lot of money is being poured into doing this as we speak.

            I also think we may be stuck with some type of dual aspect approach (though perhaps more closely merged with physicalism when talking about the mind, but to me that doesn't mean physicalism is wrong, it just means the topic is too complex to reduce everything to talking about the hardware (brain). I like the concept of eliminative materialism, but I'll use computer to counter it, and demonstrate a pretty good analogy for talking about the mind.

            I think everyone agrees that computers are purely physical. Sure, most of the work is done by electricity (where the brain seems to use electrical and chemical interactions) but the energy is guided by specifically designed silicon. When making computers do things, no one mentions the hardware hardly ever. We have an entirely made up world we call software to make computers do things. I'm trained on computer hardware (it's been a while, but I've got a pretty good idea of how it works) but when I'm writing software in java, how the hardware works doesn't even cross my mind as it would be a waste of thought. The hardware matters when we implement difficult programs (insufficient memory will cause complete failure, and slow processor will cause all kinds of problems depending on what the program is doing and how important timing is), but while writing them it just doesn't matter. I think we will always be stuck with this with thought too. We might have enough specialists who bridge the gap between the neural networks in the brain, but we will always think of "thought" as something in itself, just like we think about software as something in itself. Brains just aren't able to handle the whole truth at once...that of course doesn't mean it isn't the truth :)
            Of course if we managed to build and artificial brain much more capacity than ours, perhaps it could model the whole thing at once and figure things out that we never thought of. This is one of the core arguments behind superintelligence (the idea that smart enough AI will feed back on AI technology it self, making it progress exponential for a period until reaching some time of diminishing returns). All fascinating stuff and very speculative...I think it's going to be a while before we settle on a specific philosophy mind, but we'll see.
            One problem with considering the mind is the fact that is clearly demonstrate non-linear causation. A lot of science is like domino's, A causes B which causes C, ect. Minds don't work like that and there is a tremendous amount of feedback, especially in higher animals and humans. This is the core problem with behaviorism, and why experimentation requires blinding. Knowing what going on alters behavior, and behaviorism can't account for meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). In spite of what appears to be a deterministic universe, there is clearly room for what we call free will inside the mind, especially when one thinks about their own thinking and intentionally tries to modify their thinking habits. This works and is one central goal of many religions. Virtues can be intentionally cultivated through will and practice, regardless of whether we can figure out how that works or not.
            Thanks for the response, I'll check out your video a bit later, I should learn more about dual-aspect.

  • William Davis

    Thus most modern philosophers see the role of philosophical education primarily as a disillusioning, a debunking of myth, superstition, and naiveté.

    I really haven't gotten that impression from modern philosophers, but I tend to gravitate to the better ones (at least well reviewed and recommended).
    Personally I think reductionism is a mean to an end. There are so many philosophers and philosophies it becomes very hard to keep track. Reductionism is, in my view, an attempt to sort of clean things up and get rid of the less useful or problematic ideas. This allows a focus on the better ideas and we can build back up to transcendence (so to speak) from there.
    Reductionism works that way in science and engineering. Someone who basks in a transcendent understanding of a whole car and just knows how to drive it does not understand a car nearly as well a mechanic who can completely tear a car down and rebuild it, understanding the function and purpose of every single part. Here reductionist understands of individual parts lead to a much better transcendental understanding of the whole thing.

    • Lucretius

      I think Kreeft has in mind early modern philosophers, which is spot on.

      However, many modern contemporary philosophers are starting to question many of the unexamined assumptions of Descartes, Hume, etc., as well as ask the questions that the early Moderns took for granted, and thus Analytical philosophy is becoming much more interesting (I'm not familiar with what's going on on the Continent of Europe).

      Christi pax.

      • William Davis

        I think Kreeft has in mind early modern philosophers, which is spot on

        I think you are right, but that makes his analysis only relevant if we took a time machine back 50 years or more. I also think he should specify who he is talking about so he doesn't mislead an uniformed audience. I think many Christians falsely think philosophy outside of their own circle is a wasteland. Nothing could be farther from the truth (though that isn't to say there aren't some truly bad philosophies out there).

        • Lucretius

          I do think he implies early modern philosophers when he lists off Descartes, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Bacon, all of which are early modern.

          I think many Christians falsely think philosophy outside of their own circle is a wasteland

          It's a shame too, as historically, Christians were known for working freely from "foreign" philosophical theories. However, I do think the more intellectual Christians don't act like this.

          I think Catholics in particular today still do try to work within some modern philosophical systems. Pope St. John Paul's work on phenomenology comes as an example. Since Catholics are more concentrated within the Continent of Europe, many seem to prefer Continental philosophy.

          There are, however, a small and growing number of Catholic analytical Thomist in English philosophy.

          Christi pax.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    It is not my website but I don't see why a reason can't be given publicly when a comment is removed by a moderator.

    • Ladolcevipera

      I agree!

    • Kraker Jak

      I agree and so do many others who can no longer comment here, including those on EN who have been banned from SN. Are you getting more tolerant in your old age or what? I think that many assume that you are an active member of the SN team. Time to set us straight perhaps?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I am just a Catholic guy represents himself alone.

    • Lucretius

      Was it off topic? Or was the topic banned?

      Christi pax.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I don't know. If I were to guess, it was probably for some form of saying Catholics are stupid or evil.

        • David Nickol

          I don't know. If I were to guess, it was probably for some form of saying Catholics are stupid or evil.

          If I remember correctly, it was a very strongly worded denunciation of Brandon for not including a SPOILER alert before the Kreeft piece warning away those who still believe in Santa Clause.

          • Michael Murray

            Well it was a pretty outrageous attack. I didn't comment as I'm used to this kind of ill-informed post on the internet from the so-called "New" Aclausists. But now you have opened things up let me just say that this mockery

            Let us define Santa literally, as the entity in the popular story, the fat man in the red flannel suit who lives near the North Pole, employs elves to make toys, and flies magical reindeer through the skies to deliver presents to children around the world every Christmas.

            is typical of these people. Have they read any clausism ? Have they read Rudolph RN ? S Nick ? Nobody thinks Clauss is a real man in a red flannel suit! It's a metaphor. The real Clauss is beyond this world. He is the First Giver. The Cause of all Gifts. The arguments for Clauss are well established and incapable of rejection by any serious minded person. I mean who takes the cookies and milk ? Where do the gifts come from ? Don't talk to me about parents and shops. Where do the shops get them ? An infinite regression of gift givers is a logical absurdity. There must be a First Giver and that is by definition Clauss. (Praise Be His Sleigh).

            Most aclaussists I have met are just selfish people who want to be bad and still get presents.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Were they there when that first gift was given? I think not.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It seems like a rather amusing comment was deleted. :-(

    • Michael Murray

      It would be nice to know when people are banned as well. Apparently Papalinton and Pofarmer are now added to the Index Persona Prohibitorum

      Andre B, Andrew G, Argon, Articulett, Ben Posin, BenS, Danny Getchell, Epeeist, felixcox, Geena Safire, Gwen, Ignorant Amos, Jonathan West, josh, MichaelNewsham, Mike A, Noah Luck, M. Solange O'Brien, Papalinton, Paul Boillot, picklefactory, Pofarmer, Ray Vorkin, Renard Wolfe, Rob Tisinai, Stjepan Marusic, Susan, Zen Druid.

      Of course they live on in the usual place

      http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

  • neil_ogi

    a cell can be reducible to chemical compositions.. and yet biologists can not simply recreate a cell by using those chemical compositions, even failed to give it life.

    • Lucretius

      I agree with the overall implications of your statement, but I caution you that just because bioengineers can't recreate something, that doesn't mean they don't understand the way it works. For example, scientists understood the basic principles of flight before engineers invented the airplane. In fact, it was the understanding of aerodynamics that allowed the airplane to be able to be invented!

      Even if bioengineers could make life, it wouldn't in itself prove that biology is reducible to chemistry.

      Christi pax.

      • neil_ogi

        it only shows that creating a life is not just 'a dice thrown into the corner' but needs intelligence

        • Lucretius

          Even if life were just "a dice thrown into the corner," it would still require intelligence: otherwise life itself couldn't be intelligible. If there is an order, then intelligence must ultimately be the cause of it. Isn't this the Fifth Way?

          Christi pax.

          • neil_ogi

            i agree with your views that life's origin could be the result of intelligent intervention. i don't know about the 'fifth way'?

          • Lucretius

            The Fifth way is the last argument that St. Thomas Aquinas (a medieval theologian/philosopher) gives as an arguement for the existence of God. It's based on teleology.

            Basically, St. Thomas argues that from the existence of things "pointing" to an end always or for the most part (such as acorns point to adult oak trees), we can deduce the existence of an infinite intelligence.

            However, it must be noted that the Fifth way is not an argument from design: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/03/thomism-versus-design-argument.html

            Christi pax.

          • neil_ogi

            i admired ID theory and i believed it. the main focus of ID is to point out that there is intelligent agency (not necessarily the God of the Bible) behind every causes the universe had.

            i think God created the universe, not on evolutionary, step-by-step processes, but in an instantaneous way (appearance of age), and after that, He allows every living things to undergo 'infancy' period to adulthood period, (natural laws now operating) and allows, for instance, the common ancestor of a dog to evolve into different species of dogs (micro-evolution)

          • Michael Murray

            ... it would still require intelligence: otherwise life itself couldn't be intelligible. If there is an order, then intelligence must ultimately be the cause of it.

            Why ?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Did you mean to say a glider enthusiast and a pair of bicycle builders? ;)

        • Lucretius

          Don't underestimate those bicycle builders. I heard somewhere (just some gossip) that two boys from Ohio built a flying machine out of just some bicycle parts! Sound just as unbelievable as a first century Jew rising from the dead!

          Christi pax.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            And a woman on the seashore made dresses out of the first test models.

          • Lucretius

            I'm not familiar with that one (stare in anticipation).

            Christi pax.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They abandoned their first full-sized glider at the end of their first season of testing and one of the local ladies made dresses out of the wing fabric.

          • Lucretius

            Neat. Do some of the dresses survive?

            Christi pax.

  • neil_ogi

    correct me if i'm wrong, Hume said that we must not trust our eyes of seeing things. if Hume is alive today, i'd like to tell him: 'go to the lion's den, sit back and see what will happen to you if a lion approach you'

  • Paul E Frederick Jr

    Your argument to refute the existence of Santa Clause is not a logical proof that he doesn't exist. It is merely a claim that the lack of empirical evidence makes it unlikely that he exists.

    The argument that reductionism is contradictory boils down to this:

    If a person claims God does not exist then he must be omniscient. Omniscience is a quality that only God has. Therefore, if the statement is true, then the speaker must be God, and the statement must be false.

    This argument takes as a premise that God is omniscient. To me it is not a valid argument when the object of the proof is named in a premise.

    I have always been bothered by discussions of the metaphysical realness of ideas. It always seems to imply a separability of matter and form and equivocates the word real. I feel more comfortable thinking of the universe as a work in progress that God is creating from within. We assign many fleeting names to our perceptions of his creatures, but our thoughts are not as real as his.

  • Doug Shaver

    Thus most modern philosophers see the role of philosophical education primarily as a disillusioning, a debunking of myth, superstition, and naiveté.

    I never heard that when I was getting my philosophy degree.

    But that is merely quantitative. What is controversial is qualitative transcendentalism, which claims not merely that there are more things but more kinds of things than we think, more dimensions; that there are, in addition to rocks and dogs and stars, also things like gods or God, ghosts or angels, Platonic Ideas or Hegelian dialectical triads, attributes of Brahman or of Allah, and after-death experiences of reincarnations on earth or levels of Heaven and Hell.

    I won't dispute the possible existence of those things, but possibility does not imply actuality. I don't see how I have any intellectual obligation to prove that they don't exist. If I have no good reason to believe they do exist, then I have all the justification I need for not believing that they exist. Kreeft has promised to provide a reason in his next post. We shall see.

  • Doug Shaver

    We ourselves defy gravity whenever we decide to jump,

    That is not a scientifically accurate statement. Gravity is a force, and nothing about the law describing it asserts that it is the only force existing in the universe. A body subjected to some other force will not behave the same way as a body subjected to gravity alone.

    When we jump, we defy gravity in just the same way that we defy gravity when we don’t jump. When you stand still on the ground, you defy gravity because under the influence of gravity alone, you would not be stationary on the ground. You would move through the ground toward the center of the earth. That does not happen because the ground itself exerts a force, directed away from the earths' center, against gravity. The reason you don't move is that those forces are equal and opposite. When you jump, you momentarily increase the force directed away from the earth's center, and that is why you move upward.

    • Michael Murray

      When you jump, you momentarily increase the force directed away from the earth's center, and that is why you move upward.

      And the earth moves just a tiny, tiny bit downwards.

      • Doug Shaver

        Yes, that too.

  • Doug Shaver

    The formula for reductionism is that “S is nothing
    more than P”, or “S is only P,” or “there is no more in S than P.”

    That isn't a formula. It's a caricature.

  • Peter

    On earth we have evolved five senses which allow us to see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Do these senses perceive the whole of reality or do they only perceive that part of reality which can be seen, heard, felt, smelt or tasted? From our point of view, everything that exists is perceivable by our senses, and that which is not perceivable by our senses does not exist. But that is only from our point of view.

    Where is the law that says that only five senses can evolve? Of course we cannot imagine more than five senses because we are limited to them. However, on other planets natural conditions may have favoured the evolution of more than five senses, so that the lifeforms there would perceive a broader reality than we do.

    The point I am making is that there is nothing necessarily transcendental about a reality existing beyond the realms of our own evolved perception. There could exist a much broader natural reality within the universe which we are oblivious to but which many other creatures throughout the cosmos would enjoy in varying degrees, depending upon the number of senses they have evolved.

    • Paul E Frederick Jr

      I think you are touching on the core of the argument here: namely whether or not we are oblivious to these realities we cannot sense. Plato comes down decidedly on being aware of the Forms of reality. A modern reductionist finds this absurd. The problem is that the argument immediately becomes semantic because the Platonist is discussing the world of Forms and the reductionist is not. (The water example: when the reductionist says water is H2O he is not arguing against the existence of clouds, but the Platonist takes him to be doing just that.) When Plato emerged from the cave, did he only end up in fantasyland? I think he did take some logical leaps that show that the Forms are not in reality what he thought they are.

      But the longing behind the question is alway looking for more than we can see in the universe. Our minds notice patterns and try to figure things out. We dig into what science teaches us and ask, not just how, but why? Plato lived at a time when science told us basically nothing about how the universe formed. Physics now gives an amazingly detailed story of how the universe formed. But the question of why has remained essentially unchanged over the years.

      Plato took a leap when he thought up the Forms. And some take this to be a leap towards answering why. To me its a leap toward answering how. The Forms are the ideas of the gods prior to their incarnation in reality. The Forms are eternally real, their incarnations are fleeting.

      But the Forms are answering the question: how did the gods create the universe? They are the intermediary step between the gods and the universe; the plan for the universe, so to speak. The premise to the question is: the gods created the universe.

      So the god question is still really the crux of the debate between materialism (or reductionism) and realism. The choice here is what gives meaning to our words. The arguments between the two forks of the choice are always semantic because the words they are using mean different things depending on the fork they have chosen. And arguments over whether God exists always have a built-in premise determined by which fork was chosen. The amazing thing to me is that this metaphysical choice determines so much of how our mind is structured and how we see things and talk about them.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      On earth we have evolved five senses which allow us to see, hear, feel, smell and taste. Do these senses perceive the whole of reality or do they only perceive that part of reality which can be seen, heard, felt, smelt or tasted?

      These senses are sufficient for both the logical problem of evil and evidentialist arguments.

      • Peter

        If the five senses do not encompass the whole of reality, then it can no longer be claimed that something does not exist simply because the five senses do not perceive it.

        Perhaps what we refer to as our "fallen state", where we are cut off from the Creator, is a metaphor for our limited number of senses which prevents us from perceiving and interacting with a wider reality which contains clearer signs of the Creator's existence.

        • Michael Murray

          If the five senses do not encompass the whole of reality, then it can no longer be claimed that something does not exist simply because the five senses do not perceive it.

          Which must be a serious problem for any straw person's who make such a claim.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          1) If the Christian God existed, there are certain things that we would expect to sense (with our five senses) or observe about the world around us that we do not observe. This is the evidentialist argument. Postulating a 6th sense does not help here.

          2) Suppose there is another sense X that we do not have that would allow us to sense deities. Since we do not posses this sense, we have not reason to think that it exists and we cannot know what type of deity (ies) it might yield. We could get Spinoza's God or the Abrahamic God or we could get a God who rewards atheists and punishes people who believe he exists without evidence.

          Or maybe we have the deity sense, but we don't sense any deities because there aren't any.

          3) If God existed, why would he not want us to sense him with the senses that he has given us? This is part of the evidentialist argument.

          If we can't sense God with out 5 sense, why believe? If we can sense him with our 5 senses then why are you postulating a 6th sense? It is not necessary. You should be arguing about the other 5. You are making the evidentialist case yourself.

          • William Davis

            The lack of a deity sense is an interesting problem for theism...

    • Michael Murray

      From our point of view, everything that exists is perceivable by our senses, and that which is not perceivable by our senses does not exist.

      X-rays don't exist ? Science lets us probe reality beyond the limitations of our evolved perceptions.

      • Peter

        Nonsense. X rays exist because our senses perceive them through our instruments, just as they perceive the voice of a distant caller on a mobile phone or a loudspeaker, or perceive a distant star through a telescope..

        • Michael Murray

          Exactly. So we can perceive things beyond our evolved senses by using science and technology. So the part of reality that we can perceive is not limited by our evolution. So I would dispute this claim

          There could exist a much broader natural reality within the universe which we are oblivious to but which many other creatures throughout the cosmos would enjoy in varying degrees, depending upon the number of senses they have evolved.

          • William Davis

            Yep, but N-Rays don't. Good example of pseudoscience

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

          • Peter

            You miss the point. The perception of what our instruments record is limited by our senses, so ultimately everything we perceive is limited by our five senses.

          • Michael Murray

            so ultimately everything we perceive is limited by our five senses.

            No it isn't. The instruments translate to a range our senses can perceive. What the instruments perceive depends on how we design them. Whether you can hear AM or FM or digital radio depends on your radio not on your ears.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I don't understand what you mean by saying everything that exists is perceivable by our senses, and that which is not perceivable by our senses does not exist. Aquinas did say (wisely) that everything in our intellect was once in our senses. However, our intellect can completely transcend our senses. One example is we can grasp geometric concepts like a point, line, triangle, etc. No one has ever seen a perfect triangle but our intellect can easily conceive of it.

      • So what exactly is 'immaterial' - the mind, the image, the idea (like if the definition of a triangle really is a tautology does that make it immaterial?. Kant didn't think so. He thought synthetic a posteriors were 'transcendental ideals) So again, are transcendental ideals immaterial? Kant: quotation: A concept without a percept is empty, a percept without a concept is blind. Percept:= an intuition? What does 'empty' -mean?

      • Peter

        I said that what is not perceivable by our senses does not exist from our point of view, not that it does not exist at all. As far as we are concerned a perfect triangle does not exist because we do not perceive it, but it may still exist. Indeed perfection of every kind may exist but we cannot perceive any of it with our limited senses.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          If I've got this right, the concept "triangle" is something non-physical, does not reside anywhere, is not perceived by our senses, but is grasped by our rational intellects.

        • William Davis

          I see perfect triangles on papers all the time. I mean, maybe if we measured them on the micron level with fancy instruments we would find they are not perfect, but they look perfect to me, so I perceive them as perfect. How would you know what a triangle was without senses? Even Helen Keller had the sense of touch, and she could use it tor reconstruct the shape of a triangle, and thus "see" it in a sense.

  • May I interject a comment with respect to the position, adapted from the philosophy of John Searle, I understand, that the definition of the reductionism proposed in these contests between SN and EN, does not involve putting forth any theory. Fortunately, I just came across this discussion. Is the position taken that 'the mind is what the brain does' in conformity with the modus tollens position discussed in the article. I will leave it to your judgment to ascertain how relevant this distinction is. Thank you.

    http://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/6341332.pdf

    The article also includes a discussion of 'ordinary language' theory. This as well as Derrida's work with respect to grammatology, underscores, for me, the acceptability of the 'logic of ordinary language' as well as more 'formal' systems.
    Also want to follow up more closely on the distinctions between paradigm, theory and model. At last I have a better 'paradigm?' in which to explore the possibilities. Just so there is a greater understanding of the context in which these 'discussion/arguments' can be placed.

  • Theists are also reductionist. They say everything comes down to god.

  • Why does it seem like there is so much Jungian coincidence in my life. Just found this on New Advent. What I talked about in another comment: why I have dared to call both this and the Scientism posts, alternative forms of a kind of 'fundamentalism' -Ban with if you will. http://www.opednews.com/articles/Pope-Francis-Calls-Right-W-by-James-Quandy-America_America_Anti-gay_CHRISTIANS-CANNOT