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Can We Know God’s Existence with Certainty?

Man standing

The Catholic Church makes some bold claims about what can be known about God via unaided reason. The First Vatican Council teaches:

"The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason…
 
If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema."

In Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII reaffirmed this teaching and made clear what were in his view the specific philosophical means by which this natural knowledge of God could best be articulated, and which were most in line with Catholic doctrine:

"[H]uman reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world…
 
[I]t falls to reason to demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, personal and one… But reason can perform these functions safely and well only when properly trained, that is, when imbued with that sound philosophy which has long been, as it were, a patrimony handed down by earlier Christian ages, and which moreover possesses an authority of an even higher order, since the Teaching Authority of the Church, in the light of divine revelation itself, has weighed its fundamental tenets, which have been elaborated and defined little by little by men of great genius. For this philosophy, acknowledged and accepted by the Church, safeguards the genuine validity of human knowledge, the unshakable metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality, and finally the mind's ability to attain certain and unchangeable truth.
 
Of course this philosophy deals with much that neither directly nor indirectly touches faith or morals, and which consequently the Church leaves to the free discussion of experts. But this does not hold for many other things, especially those principles and fundamental tenets to which We have just referred…
 
If one considers all this well, he will easily see why the Church demands that future priests be instructed in philosophy "according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor," since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and for bringing truth to light…"

Similarly, in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of November 22, 1951, Pius XII says:

"[T]he human intellect approaches that demonstration of the existence of God which Christian wisdom recognizes in those philosophical arguments which have been carefully examined throughout the centuries by giants in the world of knowledge, and which are already well known to you in the presentation of the "five ways" which the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas, offers as a speedy and safe road to lead the mind to God."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reaffirms the teaching of Vatican I and of Pius XII that God’s existence can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason, and even teaches, more specifically, that we can “attain certainty” about God’s existence via “proofs” which begin “from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty.” Most of these are, of course, among the approaches taken by Aquinas’s Five Ways. In Fides et Ratio, Pope St. John Paul II also reaffirmed the teaching of Vatican I and Pius XII on the power of human reason in theological matters:

"[T]he First Vatican Council… pronounced solemnly on the relationship between reason and faith. The teaching contained in this document strongly and positively marked the philosophical research of many believers and remains today a standard reference-point for correct and coherent Christian thinking in this regard…
 
Against the temptations of fideism… it was necessary to stress the unity of truth and thus the positive contribution which rational knowledge can and must make to faith's knowledge…
 
Surveying the situation today, we see that the problems of other times have returned…
 
There are… signs of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God…
 
[M]odes of latent fideism appear in the scant consideration accorded to speculative theology, and in disdain for the classical philosophy from which the terms of both the understanding of faith and the actual formulation of dogma have been drawn. My revered Predecessor Pope Pius XII warned against such neglect of the philosophical tradition and against abandonment of the traditional terminology…
 
Pope Leo XIII… revisited and developed the First Vatican Council's teaching on the relationship between faith and reason, showing how philosophical thinking contributes in fundamental ways to faith and theological learning. More than a century later, many of the insights of his Encyclical Letter have lost none of their interest from either a practical or pedagogical point of view—most particularly, his insistence upon the incomparable value of the philosophy of Saint Thomas. A renewed insistence upon the thought of the Angelic Doctor seemed to Pope Leo XIII the best way to recover the practice of a philosophy consonant with the demands of faith."

To be sure, the Church has not officially endorsed any specific formulation of any particular argument for God’s existence. All the same, in her authoritative documents she has gone so far as to speak of God’s existence as something susceptible of “certainty,” “demonstration,” and “proof”; has commended “classical philosophy” specifically as providing the best means of showing how this is possible; and has held up Aquinas and the general approaches taken in his Five Ways as exemplary. Pius XII even went so far as to imply that the “metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality”—to which formulations of arguments like Aquinas’s typically appeal—are not only “unshakable” but are so connected to matters of faith and morals that they are not among the things to be left to “free discussion” among theologians.

Quod erat demonstrandum?

Needless to say, many modern readers find all of this baffling. They find it baffling that anyone could be so confident that God’s existence is demonstrable, and baffling that anyone could think it demonstrable in the specific way in question—via arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways and metaphysical principles like the principle of causality, the principle of sufficient reason, etc. Indeed, they think it obvious that God’s existence is not demonstrable, and obvious that arguments like the ones in question do not work.

Though this attitude is common and even held with great confidence, there is no good justification for it. There are three main problems with it. The first is that those who exhibit it typically do not even understand what writers like Aquinas actually said, and aim their dismissive objections at crude caricatures. I have documented this at length in several places, and will not repeat here what I’ve already said elsewhere (such as in my book Aquinas, in my Midwest Studies in Philosophy article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument,” and in articles at Strange Notions like this one and this one.) Suffice it to say that if a skeptic argues that cosmological arguments essentially rest on the premise that “everything has a cause,” or supposes that Aquinas was trying to prove that the world had a beginning in time, or suggests that Aquinas never explains why we should suppose a First Cause to have divine attributes like unity, omniscience, omnipotence, etc., that is an infallible sign that he is utterly incompetent to speak on the subject.

A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments. For instance, the mere fact that someone somewhere has raised an objection against an argument for God’s existence is commonly treated by skeptics as showing that “the argument fails”—as if an argument is a good one only if no one objects to it but all assent to it upon hearing it. Of course, skeptics do not treat other philosophical arguments this way. That an argument for materialism, or against free will, or whatever, has its critics is not taken to show that those arguments “fail.” The attitude in these cases is rather: “Well, sure, like any philosophical argument, this one has its critics, but that doesn’t mean the critics are right. At the end of the day, the objections might be answerable and the argument ultimately correct, and we need to keep an open mind about it and consider what might be said in its defense.” In general, even the most eccentric philosophical arguments are treated as if they are always “on the table” as options worthy of reconsideration. Mysteriously, though, arguments for God’s existence are refused this courtesy. The mere fact that Hume (say) said such-and-such two centuries ago is often treated as if it constituted a once-and-for-all decisive refutation.

Related to this is a tendency to approach the subject as if a successful argument for God’s existence should be the sort of thing that can be stated fairly briefly in a way that will convince even the most hardened skeptic. Again, no one treats other arguments this way. If a fifty page article on materialism, free will, utilitarianism, etc. fails to convince you, the author will say that you need to read his book. If the book fails to convince you, he will then say that the problem is that you have to master the general literature on the subject. If that literature fails to convince you, then he will say that the issue is a large one that you cannot reasonably expect anyone decisively to settle to the satisfaction of all parties.

By contrast, if you suggest that the existence of God can be demonstrated, many a skeptic will demand that you accomplish this in an argument of the sort which might be summarized in the space of a blog post. If such an argument fails to convince him, he will judge that it isn’t worth any more of his time, and if you tell him that he would need to read a book or even a large body of literature fully to understand the argument, he might even treat this (bizarrely) as if it made it even less likely that the argument is any good!

Then there is the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us suspicious of their very project. Once again, the skeptic does not treat other arguments this way. He doesn’t say: “Well, you have to be very wary of arguments against free will or for revisionist moral conclusions, because their proponents are no doubt trying to rationalize some sort of activity traditionally frowned upon.” Nor does he say: “Atheist arguments are always suspect, of course, given that people would like to find a way to justify rejecting religious practices and prohibitions they find onerous.” For some reason, though, the very fact that a philosopher defends an argument for God’s existence is treated as if it should raise our suspicions. “Oh, he must have some religious agenda he’s trying to rationalize!”

Now there is no good reason whatsoever for these double standards. They reflect nothing more the unreflective prejudices of (some) atheists and skeptics, and in some cases maybe something worse—a dishonest rhetorical tactic intended to poison otherwise fair-minded people against taking arguments for God’s existence very seriously. But I submit that these unjustifiable double standards play a major role in fostering the attitude that there is something fishy about the very idea of demonstrating the existence of God.

A third, and perhaps not unrelated, problem with this attitude is that those who take it often misunderstand what a thinker like Aquinas means when he says that the existence of God can be “demonstrated.” What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis. That entails that such a demonstration gives us knowledge that is more secure than what any scientific inference can give us (as “science” is generally understood today), in two respects. First, the inference is not a merely probabilistic one, nor an “argument to the best explanation” which appeals to considerations like parsimony, fit with existing background theory, etc.; it is, again, instead a strict deduction to what is claimed to follow necessarily from the premises. Second, the premises cannot be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because they have to do with what any possible empirical inquiry must presuppose.

For example, Aristotelian arguments from motion begin with the premise that change occurs, together with premises to the effect that a potential can be actualized only by what is already actual (the principle of causality) and that an essentially ordered series of causes cannot regress to infinity. The first premise is in a sense empirical, which is why the argument is not a priori. We know that change occurs because we experience it. However, it is not a premise which can be overthrown by further empirical inquiry, because any possible future experience will itself be a further instance of change. (We can coherently hold, on empirical grounds, that this or that purported instance of change is unreal; but we cannot coherently maintain on empirical grounds that all change is unreal.) The other premises can be defended by various metaphysical arguments, such as arguments to the effect that the principle of causality follows from the principle of sufficient reason (PSR), and that PSR rightly understood can be established via reductio ad absurdum of any attempt to deny it. (See Scholastic Metaphysics for detailed defense of the background principles presupposed by Thomistic arguments for God’s existence.)

Now, the problem is this. Contemporary philosophers tend to work within a conceptual straightjacket inherited from the early modern philosophers. In particular, and where epistemological matters are concerned, they tend to think in terms inherited from the rationalists, the empiricists, and Kant. Hence when you put forward an argument that you claim is not an inference of empirical science, they tend to think that the only other thing it can be is either some sort of “conceptual analysis” (essentially a watered-down Kantianism) or an attempt at rationalist apriorism. And since arguments for God’s existence are obviously attempts to arrive at a conclusion about mind-independent reality itself rather than merely about how we think about reality or conceptualize reality, the assumption is that if you argue for God’s existence in a way that does not involve an inference of the sort familiar in empirical science, then you must be doing something of the Cartesian or Leibnizian rationalist sort.

As I argue in Scholastic Metaphysics, this is simply a false choice. Thomists reject the entire rationalist/empiricist/Kantian dialectic, and maintain an epistemological position that predated these views. But modern readers who are unfamiliar with this position, and falsely suppose that it must be an exercise in rationalist metaphysics, sometimes come to expect the trappings of rationalist metaphysics. In particular, they will expect geometry-style proofs, highly formalized arguments from axioms and definitions, which can be stated crisply in the course of a few pages and be seen either to succeed or fail upon a fairly cursory examination. When a Thomist does not put forward an argument in this style, the skeptic supposes that he has failed to produce a true demonstration. But this simply mistakes one kind of demonstration for demonstration as such, and begs the question against the Thomist, who rejects rationalist epistemology and methodology. (Students of the Neo-Scholastic period of the history of Thomism will be familiar with Thomist criticisms of “essentialism”—in Gilson’s specialized sense of that term, which is different from the way I or David Oderberg use it—and of “ontologism.” These are essentially criticisms of the Leibnizian rationalist approach to metaphysics and natural theology.)

Presenting theistic arguments in this pseudo-geometrical formalized style can in fact inadvertently foster misunderstandings, which is why I tend to avoid that style. You can, of course, set out an argument like the Aristotelian argument from motion in a series of numbered steps, as I do in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.” However, the argument contains a number of crucial technical terms—“actuality,” “potency,” “essentially ordered,” etc.—which are not explained in the argument thus stated. Even if you somehow worked definitions of these key terms into the formalized statement of the argument, that would simply push the problem back a stage, since you would have to make use of further concepts not defined in the formalized statement of the argument. The idea that such an argument (or any metaphysical argument) could be entirely formalized is a rationalist fantasy.

The trouble is that by presenting such semi-formalized arguments—“Here’s the proof in ten steps”—you risk encouraging the lazier sort of skeptic in his delusion that if such an argument is any good, it should be convincing, all by itself and completely removed from any larger context, to even the most hostile critic. Naturally, it will never be that, because it will not properly be understood unless the larger conceptual context is understood. But the lazy skeptic will not bother himself with that larger context. He will simply take the brief, ten-step (or whatever) semi-formalized argument and aim at it any old objections that come to mind, thinking he has thereby refuted it when in fact he will (given his ignorance of some of the key background concepts) not even properly understand what it is saying. (That is why a reader of a book like my Aquinas has to slog his way through over 50 pages of general metaphysics before he gets to the Five Ways. There are no shortcuts, and I do not want to abet the lazy or dishonest skeptic in pretending otherwise.)

Now, I submit that when we take account of these three factors underlying the common dismissive attitude toward the very idea of demonstrating God’s existence—the widespread misconceptions about what the traditional arguments for God’s existence actually say; the arbitrary double standard to which these arguments are held; and the common misunderstanding of what a “demonstration” must involve—we can see that that attitude is simply not justified. Meanwhile, the approaches to demonstrating God’s existence represented by arguments like the Five Ways in fact are—when fleshed out and when correctly understood—convincing, as I have argued in several places (e.g. in Aquinas and in the ACPQ article).

The Church’s insistence that the existence of God is demonstrable is not, in any event, an attempt to settle a philosophical issue by sheer diktat. It is rather a carefully considered judgment about what must be the case if Christianity is to be rationally justifiable. What the Church is doing is distancing herself from fideism by affirming the power of unaided reason and affirming the duty of Christians to provide a rational justification of what Aquinas called the “preambles” of the Catholic religion. (I’ve discussed the crucial role that proofs of God’s existence and other philosophical arguments play in Christian apologetics here and here.) It is not an expression of blind faith but precisely a condemnation of blind faith.

So, something Catholics and New Atheists can agree on. Isn’t that nice?
 
 
NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Dr. Edward Feser

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

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  • Doug Shaver

    Needless to say, many modern readers find all of this baffling.

    I just find it mistaken. I'm not baffled when people make mistakes.

    • And where does the mistake lie, Doug? Could it be that you're mistaken, or are you certain you are not?

      • Doug Shaver

        Could it be that you're mistaken, or are you certain you are not?

        My being mistaken is never an impossibility, but in this instance I'm fairly confident that I'm not.

        And where does the mistake lie, Doug?

        My response to that question is taking longer than I thought it would, but I'm still working on it. Please stay tuned.

      • Doug Shaver

        And where does the mistake lie, Doug?

        I'll explain in a moment, but I wish first to respond to two of Feser's "three main problems" with the skeptical attitude, as he perceives it.

        The first is that those who exhibit it typically do not even understand what writers like Aquinas actually said, and aim their dismissive objections at crude caricatures.

        I can certainly sympathize with this criticism. Many creationist arguments rest on attacks against positions that are not entailed by evolutionary theory and have never been affirmed by any competent biologist. But the existence, or even the overwhelming prevalence, of bad arguments against a position does not imply the nonexistence of good arguments against it. In the case of evolution, I will claim to have never seen a good argument against it. That doesn't prove there are none, of course, but after half a century of confronting creationist arguments, I'm pretty sure I'd have seen one by this time. As for Aquinas, more in due course.

        A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.

        Yeah, some people do that. Whether they are typical of the skeptical community might depend on your sampling technique, but any given argument has to be addressed on its own merits, not on the consistency with which the advocate applies it to his other beliefs.

        Suppose, for instance, that I use a certain argument to justify my disbelief in some proposition P. My interlocutor says, "That same argument would disprove Q, but surely you don't doubt Q." This has happened to me a few times, and my usual response is to deny that the argument does disprove Q and to explain why, when the argument is actually applied to Q in the same way that I apply it to P, it fails to disprove Q.

        But suppose I couldn't do that. Then I'm being inconsistent, but my interlocutor isn't off the hook yet, because he has not shown my argument to be invalid. In particular, it is certainly not invalid just because I don't use it every time I should use it. If it is a valid argument, then yes, I ought to be denying Q, and the fact that I don't is irrelevant to whether it justifies my denying P. If, on the other hand, it is invalid as an argument against P, then it makes no difference whether it disproves Q. But then its invalidity has to be demonstrated, not merely asserted.

        A third, and perhaps not unrelated, problem with this attitude is that those who take it often misunderstand what a thinker like Aquinas means when he says that the existence of God can be “demonstrated.” What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis.

        Now we're back on track.

        Feser says: "What is meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis." Considering the context, I construe this as an epitome of Pius XII's statement that

        "[I]t falls to reason to demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, personal and one … But reason can perform these functions safely and well only when properly trained, that is, when imbued with that sound philosophy which has long been, as it were, a patrimony handed down by earlier Christian ages, and which moreover possesses an authority of an even higher order, since the Teaching Authority of the Church, in the light of divine revelation itself, has weighed its fundamental tenets, which have been elaborated and defined little by little by men of great genius. For this philosophy, acknowledged and accepted by the Church, safeguards the genuine validity of human knowledge, the unshakable metaphysical principles of sufficient reason, causality, and finality, and finally the mind's ability to attain certain and unchangeable truth.

        What the church calls "sound philosophy" is, I take it, the "metaphysical analysis" to which Feser refers.

        And so the proposition at issue is: We can know with certainty that God exists by means of a deductively valid argument from premises that we can know with certainty to be true.

        What are those premises? We're not told. Feser doesn't tell us, and neither does the church. Feser says he can't tell us what they are because they cannot be stated in the space of blog post. In order to learn them, we have to read a whole book, if not several books.

        I get it that many valid arguments from undisputed premises, some of which prove conclusions that are of the utmost importance, cannot be briefly summarized. I've studied enough mathematics to know that it is so, and to know why it is so. And perhaps we should not be greatly surprised if God's existence requires a proof of that sort. Perhaps. I might return to that issue in a later post. The issue on the table is whether such an argument for God's existence actually exists.

        Why should we think so? Because Feser says so, or the church says so? Obviously not. But just as obviously, no one should think the argument does not exist just because I say so, especially since I admit to not having the read the book in which Feser claims to have presented such an argument.

        I will stipulate that Feser has, in his book, presented an argument reaching the conclusion of God's existence from premises that he regards as incontrovertibly true, and that he has included arguments for the truth of those premises that he regards as indefeasible. How can I blithely assert that he is mistaken if I haven't even looked at his arguments? Should I not at least admit that I have no idea whether he is right or wrong?

        Well, I know that he bases his arguments on Aristotelian metaphysics. He has made that clear enough. And so, if Aristotle was mistaken about his metaphysics, then any argument that presupposes the truth of Aristotelian metaphysics fails to prove its conclusion, even if it is a valid argument. A proof needs a sound argument, not just a valid one, and a sound argument, by definition, has only true premises. Therefore, if I am justified in disagreeing with Aristotle, then I am justified in thinking that Feser has made a mistake, the mistake being that he agrees with Aristotle's metaphysics.

        At this point, an appropriate rebuttal would be a demonstration that I cannot be justified in disagreeing with Aristotle.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          You would first need to state *what* you disagree with that you think Aristotle said that Aquinas also held.

          • Doug Shaver

            You would first need to state *what* you disagree with that you think Aristotle said that Aquinas also held.

            To a first approximation, all of it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mean like prove to you that change is the actualization of a potential?

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm guessing that would be a good place to start.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think one of Feser's key points is that if you want to be a critic it is your responsibiltiy to study the philosophy and once you understand it, refute it if you can.

          • Doug Shaver

            If I ever feel compelled to refute Feser, I will read his book. All I'm saying in this context is that I don't believe the proposition that Feser wrote his post in defense of, I think I have a good reason for not believing it, and I have presented a brief account of that reason.

            I do not accept the proposition that whenever someone writes a book in defense of something he believes, I can never justifiably believe he is wrong unless I read his book. It suffices if I know that his argument, whatever it is, depends on believing X and I have good reason, independent of his claim, to disbelieve X. My reasons for disbelieving Aristotelian metaphysics have nothing to do with whatever support they might lend to theism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think Feser or the Magisterium of the Catholic Church would disagree with anything you have written above until you got to your summary dismissal of Aristotle's metaphysics.

            The value of reading a book like Feser's "Scholastic Metaphysics" is that he states the principles, explains them, and examines the objections that have arisen against them. In other words, he really does his job as a philosopher and teacher.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think Feser or the Magisterium of the Catholic Church would disagree with anything you have written above until you got to your summary dismissal of Aristotle's metaphysics.

            Well, then, the answer to the question "Can we know God's existence with certainty?" would seem to be: "Yes, if we are Aristotelians."

          • Doug Shaver

            Addendum to the previous:

            Any claim by any person to know any proposition P presupposes that P is true. In the case of God's existence, I'm not going to object to the church's making that presupposition. But I don't think we should forget that, beginning at least with Plato, philosophers have agreed, almost unanimously, that if P happens to be false, then nobody can know P.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know that this means.

          • Doug Shaver

            It goes to the issue of what we mean when we say that someone knows something. When we say that some person S knows some proposition P, what exactly are we trying to say? There is a substantial consensus that most of us, when we say "S knows P," are affirming something like the following:

            1. P is true as a matter of fact.

            2. S actually believes P.

            3. S is justified in believing P.

            This is conventionally referred to as the JTB interpretation of knowledge ("justified true belief"). As with all things philosophical, each of the three criteria has been disputed, but most of the philosophical debate has been over the meaning of "justified." The least disputed criterion has been #1. Practically everyone agrees that if P is false, then anyone who says "I know P," assuming they say it sincerely, is simply mistaken.

            This is not to say that anyone who mistakenly affirms knowledge of P ought to know that they are mistaken. A paradigmatic example is belief in a flat earth during ancient times. We often say that before the Greeks discovered reasons to believe in a spherical earth, "everyone knew" that the earth was flat. They believed it, and they had good reason to believe it. Considering the state of their scientific knowledge, they could hardly have believed otherwise. And so if any of them had actually said, "I know the earth is flat," none of their contemporaries could reasonably have criticized them for saying so. Even so, their statement "I know the earth is flat" was not a true statement. That particular claim of knowledge was an error, but they had no way of knowing that it was an error, and so it was a blameless error.

            Of course it is no longer a blameless error. There are people modern world who still believe in a flat earth, but those people are without excuse.

            This means that if we agree that S knows P, then we ourselves accept that P is true. That is to say that, whatever justification we have for believing P, we think it sufficient for us to regard P as a fact. In that case, if there is any question whether S knows P, then the question is just whether actually believes P or whether their belief is justified.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So the question is whether Scholastic metaphysics describes reality.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, but if I'm understanding Feser correctly, Scholastic metaphysics was based on Aristotelian metaphysics. If Aristotle was not describing reality, then neither were the Scholastics.

  • I'm not going to argue the contentions of this post, mostly because they've been argued, rather successfully and (in my estimation, of course) without sufficient response, in several previous articles.

    Rather, I'm going to point out two consequences of this view, that knowledge of God's existence is certain*.

    1) It means that all atheists are irrational, delusional or ignorant. That really is the only possibility. If God can be certainly known, then either atheists haven't seen the argument (or don't understand it properly), or they have a different perception of reality than what the theist holds for certain, and are delusional, or they see the evidence, follow the argument and still refuse to accept the conclusion, in which case they are irrational.

    I wonder which Ed Feser thinks atheists are: ignorant, delusional or irrational. Or maybe it depends on the atheist.

    This first consequence holds one very amusing implication: Ed Feser may be the first of the New Theists, with all the intellectual respect Dawkins and the New Atheists have. What heights to aspire for a philosophy professor!

    2) It means that struggles theists have about belief in God are because of an intellectual error or some deficiency in their perception, or that their struggles are simply emotional. This is a very different picture than Ratzinger gives at the beginning of his "Introduction to Christianity", the chapter "Belief in the World of Today":

    The believer is always threatened with an uncertainty that in moments of temptation can suddendly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him. (pg. 42)

    Certainty isn't fragile. Ratzinger must simply be ignorant of the theology Ed Feser knows so well, or maybe he was being irrational or suffering from delusions when he wrote that passage.

    Some distasteful implications for both theists and atheists this time around.

    *(This depends on what you mean by 'certain'. Some kinds of certainty, certainty in the light of faith or certainty arising from the sensus divinitatis [see e.g. Plantinga's 'Warranted Christian Belief'] would be possible without someone being certain via reason and the five senses alone.)

    • "Rather, I'm going to point out two consequences of this view, that knowledge of God's existence is certain."

      Right off the bat, you've mischaracterized Dr. Feser's view (and the view of the Catholic Church.) That view says the existence of God can be known with certainty, not that it necessarily is. There are many reasons why a particular person is unable to realize that potential (i.e., arrive at that certainty), either due to their own willful rejection, personal or cognitive limitations, or external influences.

      "It means that all atheists are irrational, delusional or ignorant. That really is the only possibility....I wonder which Ed Feser thinks atheists are: ignorant, delusional or irrational. Or maybe it depends on the atheist."

      Of course it depends on each atheist, and nobody beyond that atheist can determine such reasons. However, I think ignorance would cover most cases. In fact, by definition, someone who lacks knowledge of a particular truth is ignorant of that truth. Unfortunately, that word has developed all sorts of negative connotations in our society. But it's nevertheless true to say, and true by definition, that all atheists are ignorant of God's existence (whether God's existence is itself true or not, and whether that ignorance is intended or unintentional.)

      "This first consequence holds one very amusing implication: Ed Feser may be the first of the New Theists, with all the intellectual respect Dawkins and the New Atheists have."

      I'm not sure I understand this paragraph. Perhaps you can explain? Feser hasn't offered any views in this post that haven't been promoted for centuries by other Catholics.

      "It means that struggles theists have about belief in God are because of an intellectual error or some deficiency in their perception, or that their struggles are simply emotional."

      That is correct, as it is with anyone--including ourselves!--who holds a wrong belief. I see nothing problematic about this admission, though.

      "Certainty isn't fragile. Ratzinger must simply be ignorant of the theology Ed Feser knows so well, or maybe he was being irrational or suffering from delusions when he wrote that passage."

      Certainty isn't fragile, but the process by which we arrive at certainty can be. For example, I'm certain God exists for many reasons, but suppose the only way I arrived at that certainty was by Aquinas' First Way. Say I'm convinced the argument has true premises, clear terms, valid logic, and thus a certain conclusion. As a result, I'm certain God exists.

      But then I experience a horrific act of evil which seems difficult to reconcile with my certainty in God's existence. That difficulty may cause me to wonder: maybe the premises in Aquinas' arguments are false (even though I have no reason to suppose they are)? Maybe the terms are ambiguous (even if I don't know how)? Maybe the logic is invalid (even if it seems valid on the surface)? Or maybe logic as or whole, or, worse, my own mind is untrustworthy and my certainty is thus groundless!

      Whatever the case, my certainty remains, although in dark moments of internal questioning, it can seem fragile. This is precisely what happened in the lives of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Paul Claudel's Jesuit priest, both examples that Cardinal Ratzinger uses in the page after the one you quoted from (p. 43 in "Introduction to Christianity.")

      "Some distasteful implications for both theists and atheists this time around."

      As far as I read it, your comment contains no distasteful implications. Yet even if it did, they would say nothing about whether Dr. Feser's contention is true (i.e., whether it's possible to know God's existence with certainty.) You've simply attempted to discourage people from accepting that contention but you've offered no serious challenge to it.

      • Vicq Ruiz

        Brandon,

        Aquinas' First Way, (at least as I read it) is completely silent upon the concepts of "good" or "evil".

        Therefore, if your certainty about God's existence is shaken by the experience of a "horrific act of evil", then that certainty must incorporate other assumptions about God, derived from sources other than the First Way.

        • It was only a hypothetical example; swap in another argument, such as the Moral Argument, if you like. Either way, the point remains.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Are all five ways proofs, or do some of them fail?

          • "Are all five ways proofs, or do some of them fail?"

            They are five philosophical demonstrations, and I don't think any of them fail.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            When you say philosophical demonstration do you mean that they are all valid arguments, but one or more of the premises could be false or do you mean that the arguments are sound? Is this philosophical demonstration on the level of a mathematical demonstration or are we less certain?

          • "When you say philosophical demonstration do you mean that they are all valid arguments, but one or more of the premises could be false or do you mean that the arguments are sound?"

            No. They are each a philosophical demonstration, which is a type of argument, and I'm convinced they have clear terms, true premises, and valid logic. Thus they are sound arguments.

            "Is this philosophical demonstration on the level of a mathematical demonstration or are we less certain?"

            This is tough to answer because I'm not how you're using terms like "level" or "certain." But in general, if a philosophical demonstration is sound, we can be certain about its conclusion. Similarly if a mathematical proof contains true axioms and valid deductive reasoning, then it can lead us to true mathematical statements (though this gets more complicated when considering informal mathematical logic vs. formal.)

            Philosophical demonstrations are similar to mathematical proofs in that they offer logical ways of arriving at truth. But they are different paths, used in different contexts.

            As Dr. Feser rightly observes, one of the most serious confusions in philosophy of religion is to equate philosophical arguments for God with formal mathematical proofs.

          • David Nickol

            Philosophical demonstrations are similar to mathematical proofs in that they offer logical ways of arriving at truth. But they are different paths, used in different contexts.

            It seems to me that according to your view, it is an established "metaphysical fact" that God exists. I am currently reading Metaphysics, Fourth Edition, by Peter Van Inwagen, and this is what he has to say about metaphysical "information":

            In metaphysics there is no information, and there are no established facts to be learned. More exactly, there is no information and there are no facts to be learned besides information and facts about what certain people think, or once thought, concerning various metaphysical questions. A history of metaphysics will contain much information about what Plato and Descartes and the other great metaphysicians of the past believed. . . .

            . . . Why is there no such thing as metaphysical information? Why has the study of metaphysics yielded no established facts? (It has had about twenty-five hundred years to come up with some.) This question is really a special case of a more general question: Why is there no such thing as philosophical information? The situation confronting the student of metaphysics is in no way different from the situation confronting the student of any part of philosophy. If we consider ethics, for example, we discover that there is no list of established facts the student of ethics can be expected to learn (nor are there accepted methods or theories the specialist in ethics can apply to search out and test answers to resolve ethical questions). And the same situation prevails in epistemology and the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of law and all other parts of philosophy. Indeed, most people who have thought about the matter would take this to be one of the defining characteristics of philosophy. . . .

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What is that guy trying to say? What does he mean by facts and information?

            Anyway, every philosopher who is an actual lover of wisdom is not content to know what others have said but what actually corresponds to reality.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is interesting. Are there any philosophical truths that are nearly universally accepted?

          • Doug Shaver

            As Dr. Feser rightly observes, one of the most serious confusions in philosophy of religion is to equate philosophical arguments for God with formal mathematical proofs.

            In his post, I saw no demonstration of a relevant difference. In both cases, the argument comprises a set of statements, called premises, and an attempt to demonstrate that they entail another statement called the conclusion.

            What Feser points out is that a proper demonstration of God's existence involves an argument much more complex than the sort of mathematical proof that one learns in an undergraduate mathematics course. I can grant that his proof of God's existence is not like (in his sense) a proof of the Pythagorean theorem. But it is, in his sense, like a proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, or maybe even more like Wiles's proof Fermat's Last Theorem.

      • That view says the existence of God can be known with certainty, not that it necessarily is, by all.

        The consequences I list are consistent with that reading. That's what I thought he was saying. So in fact I haven't mischaracterised his argument at all.

        Of course it depends on each atheist, and nobody beyond that atheist can determine such reasons. However, I think ignorance would cover most cases.

        Not ignorance of God, of course (that would be mischaracterising the argument; after all, you could be uncertain about God's existence but not ignorant of it. Most of what we know, are not ignorant of, we don't know with certainty).

        Ignorance here refers to ignorance of the argument; with knowledge of the argument, certainty will follow (unless the atheist is delusional or irrational). So why not present the argument? If you say that the arguments have been presented before, why do you suppose atheists are not convinced by them?

        Maybe they continue in their ignorance out of arrogance or laziness? Or stupidity? There aren't very many charitable options here.

        That difficulty may cause me to wonder: maybe the premises in Aquinas' arguments are false (even though I have no reason to suppose they are)?

        If you can ask the question, then you aren't actually certain, either.

        This is precisely what happened in the lives of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Paul Claudel's Jesuit priest, both examples that Cardinal Ratzinger uses in the page after the one you quoted from (p. 43 in "Introduction to Christianity.")

        Both examples of people who were clearly uncertain about God's existence, although they had faith.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          If you can ask the question, then you aren't actually certain, either.

          I agree with this. Things that we are certain about are immune to doubt.
          Actually I agree with pretty much the entirety of both of your posts.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Human beings are not that rational in the sense that overwhelming emotions and passions make us doubt or believe all kinds of things, regardless of reason.

          • And that's another reason there are very few things about which I'm actually certain.

          • "But, not to beat around the bush, do you think that all atheists are delusional, irrational or ignorant in their lack of belief in God's existence?"

            I don't know, nor does anyone else. None of us are in a position to psychoanalyze why someone holds deficient beliefs--much less why "all atheists" hold particular beliefs.

          • But what other options are there?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why would I want to speculate on the psychological conditions of atheists?

            I can say that when I was an atheist, I was massively ignorant and rash and was to some extent engaging in wishful thinking, so my personal reasons for embracing atheism were not very strong. But I was only sixteen at the time.

          • Do you think there's another option besides deluded, irrational or ignorant of the arguments?

            That doesn't involve psychoanalysis. It's just talking about broad possibilities.

            Also, I recall (you can correct me if I'm wrong) that in a conversation at New Apologetics, you had come to the realization that all Christians are agnostics, in the sense that Christians also are not certain of their beliefs; there's a chance that they could be wrong and they don't know. Maybe I'm thinking of someone else? I'll delete this part of the comment if you tell me I'm mistaken.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If it is objectively true that God exists and if what the Church teaches about rational knowledge of God is also objectively true, then every problem in this regard must be due to some defect of reason. So whatever options there are for characterizing not getting the arguments must come down to whatever is in the broad range of defects of reason.

            I don't remember what I said in the NA conversation. Certainly there are different kinds of certainty based on the various field of knowledge and one's subjective understanding.

          • "Human beings are not that rational in the sense that overwhelming emotions and passions make us doubt or believe all kinds of things, regardless of reason."

            This is a good point, and better said that my version above. One can be rationally certain about a belief yet still have irrational doubts about it.

            For example, I'm certain that I exist. But at times, in moments of irrational speculation, I wonder whether I'm merely a projection of a disembodied mind and am really a figment of someone else's imagination. Yet there's clearly no rational ground for such a hypothesis, and thus my certainty in my own existence remains.

        • "with knowledge of the argument, certainty will follow (unless the atheist is delusional or irrational)."

          I would say that certainty only follows from clear and true knowledge of an argument. You can't just have knowledge about an argument to gauge its veracity. You have to clearly and accurately understand its terms, premises, and logic.

          "If you say that the arguments have been presented before, why do you suppose atheists are not convinced by them?"

          Dr. Feser adequately answered this in the article, but I'll repeat what he said. In my experience, most atheists misunderstand either the terms involved or the assertions in each premise (and sometimes both.) They are logical thinkers, and therefore reject the argument on this basis, as they should. But that doesn't mean it's a bad argument; it means they've rejected a straw man.

          "Maybe they continue in their ignorance out of arrogance or laziness? Or stupidity? There aren't very many charitable options here."

          I'm not in a position to psychoanalyze any atheist, much less all atheists in general, so I'm not sure why you keep pressing me to do so. I have no special knowledge about why atheists misunderstand what I see as strong arguments for God.

          But I will say that many of my atheist-to-Catholic friends affirm that they rejected the classical arguments for God because they were resolutely committed to an atheist lifestyle and didn't want to face the possibility God existed. In other words, they had an a priori bias against the arguments. Now, this obviously isn't true of all atheists. It's simply what I've heard from a significant number of former atheists.

          "If you can ask the question, then you aren't actually certain, either."

          This is not true. You can arrive at intellectual certainty but still question, in dark moments, whether your intellectual faculties are reliable. Even certain beliefs can be doubted, although such doubt might not be reasonable or grounded.

          • I would say that certainty only follows from clear and true knowledge of an argument. You can't just have knowledge about an argument to gauge its veracity. You have to clearly and accurately understand its terms, premises, and logic.

            That makes good sense. If you don't understand the argument properly, you won't be convinced by it. There are certainly an infinite number of primes. The proof for this requires understanding what a prime is, for one thing.

            Anyone who doesn't accept that there are an infinite number of primes either doesn't understand the proof or is irrational.

            But [misunderstanding terms or assertions] doesn't mean it's a bad argument; it means they've rejected a straw man.

            There aren't only two options here. It's typical to have a good argument for something and be uncertain about it. It's possible to know a good argument for a claim and still rationally reject the claim (because of various defeaters; compelling other reasons to reject the claim). Not many arguments lead to their conclusion with certainty: often rational people can doubt the premises or the structure of the argument.

            I accept the possibility that there are good compelling arguments for God's existence. That's one of the reasons why I'm still here. I don't accept that anyone has rational certainty that God exists (although I could be wrong).

            In my experience, most atheists misunderstand either the terms involved or the assertions in each premise (and sometimes both.)

            So in your experience, most atheists are ignorant of the arguments.

            I think that this sort of attitude poisons dialogue. Because it leaves (a far as I can tell) only three options for the atheist.

            The atheist is ignorant. All that needs be done is to communicate the proof accurately, and the atheist, once she understands the proof, will have certainty about God as well, and become a theist. Real dialogue is difficult here, since this isn’t a conversation between two equals, but it’s education, and education of a particularly frustrating sort: educating people who don’t think that they need the education in the first place.

            The atheist is delusional. There’s some self-evident premise that the atheist rejects, due to delusions. In this case real dialogue is next to impossible. Conversation is really a sort of therapy session, where the theist tries to reveal to the atheist the deficiencies of her delusions, and the virtues of accepting reality.

          • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Paul, and for your concessions. I think we're moving toward common ground.

            "So in your experience, most atheists are ignorant of the arguments. I think that this sort of attitude poisons dialogue."

            I don't understand how this poisons dialogue. It is an absolute fact that God either exists or doesn't exist. There is one single truth under concern. Catholics believe God does exist, and atheists believe he does not. Therefore, one of the two groups is necessarily ignorant of the truth in this case. The point of dialogue is to mutually arrive at the truth. (Thomas Aquinas famously said the greatest act of charity is to lead someone to the truth.)

            Therefore rather than poisoning fruitful dialogue, the presence of ignorance helps produce it.

            In fact, anyone who has participated in or attended a formal debate knows this well, for a debate depends on the idea that both parties think the other party is, at least in part, ignorant of particular truths.

            If neither party thought the other's knowledge was deficient, there would be no reason for debate or conversation!

            "I'll just close this (rather too long) comment by saying that it does appear as intellectual hubris to claim certainty on such a controversial question as God's existence."

            Dr. Feser handled this criticism in his article. Just because a question is debated doesn't mean we can't arrive at certainty. Perhaps the question is "controversial" simply because most people misunderstand the relevant arguments.

            I'll also note the irony in this claim, which suggests rather certainly that anyone who expresses certainty about God is plagued by "intellectual hubris."

            "If they were any good at communication, most of the atheists here (and the agnostics like me) would have already changed their minds."

            I don't see why this would be the case. This claim assumes that the only barrier to atheists discovering God, or being convinced by arguments, is clear communication. But in my experience with former atheist friends, clear communication was irrelevant in their resistance to faith. There were many other barriers that prevented their assent, ranging from a priori biases, lifestyle choices, emotional baggage, and, yes, sometimes intellectual hubris.

            "Given your communications deficiencies, it might be best to keep your beliefs in your own certainty to yourselves."

            This makes little sense to me, for:

            1. If I am certain about a belief, and

            2. I'm convinced you are ignorant about that belief, and

            3. The greatest act of charity is to lead someone from ignorance to truth, then

            4. I'm obligated to help lead you to the truth if I want to treat you with charity.

            I can only hope you and other atheist/agnostic friends would feel the same way toward me. If you're certain about your atheism--or even reasonably sure--and you are convinced I am ignorant about the truth "God does not, or likely does not, exist", then it would be charitable for you to correct that error in my own mind.

          • I don't understand how this poisons dialogue. It is an absolute fact that God either exists or doesn't exist.

            It's an absolute fact whether life originated from lightning or didn't. It's a necessary truth (so it seems to me) that water is H2O. But neither of these are known with certainty. That water is H2O is known with near certainty, but maybe there will be a revolution in Chemistry someday, and we will find out that water really is something else.

            Therefore, one of the two groups is necessarily ignorant of the truth in this case.

            Or both are.

            In fact, anyone who has participated in or attended a formal debate knows this well, for a debate depends on the idea that both parties think the other party is, at least in part, ignorant of particular truths.

            A healthy discussion (I don't care much about the debates, but I think this is true for debates as well) generally depends on that neither party is completely certain of their conclusions and methods of reasoning. Each thinks he or she is right. That's good! But each admits that he or she may have made a mistake. Without that admission, what's the point of the discussion? Why have the debate? The issue is already settled; one side just hasn't realized it yet.

            Certainty about a controversial claim suggests intellectual hubris. It doesn't prove it. But it does invite the question, how do you know for certain? Various arguments have been presented on this site. There have been objections. Almost none of the objections has been answered in any satisfactory way (that I can tell). Maybe the communication here is very poor, or maybe I'm not smart enough to understand such sophisticated proofs. Either way, it doesn't look good.

            I don't see why this would be the case. This claim assumes that the only barrier to atheists discovering God, or being convinced by arguments, is clear communication. But in my experience with former atheist friends, clear communication was irrelevant in their resistance to faith. There were many other barriers that prevented their assent, ranging from a priori biases, lifestyle choices, emotional baggage, and, yes, sometimes intellectual hubris.emphasis mine

            If clear communication doesn't help people come to accept an argument that leads to certainty, then the people you are communicating with are either deluded or irrational. What you had to do was address their delusions and irrationality.

            If that's not poison for dialogue, I don't know what is.

            This makes little sense to me, for:

            1. If I am certain about a belief, and

            2. I'm convinced you are ignorant about that belief, and

            3. The greatest act of charity is to lead someone from ignorance to truth, then

            4. I'm obligated to help lead you to the truth if I want to treat you with charity.

            If you are certain in your belief, then you should be able to lead someone to your belief without claiming that certainty. In fact, it may be the best strategy to avoid mentioning "certainty" altogether, until the other person comes to believe as you do. At that point, you can introduce your ideas of certainty.

            Until then, regardless of the strength with which you hold your beliefs, or the strength of your arguments (however esoteric they must be), your position of certainty will be seen by many as both arrogant and out of touch with reality.

    • Roman

      all atheists are irrational, delusional or ignorant.

      No. A person can be very intelligent but highly biased against some idea. There are both atheists and theists that come to the table with biases and preformed opinions.

      • I think that sounds far more reasonable. But then it makes me wonder what Feser means by certainty. It doesn't seem as though it can be rational certainty, otherwise atheists would be compelled by the strength of the argument once they understood it. There would be no escape. As with mathematical proofs; understanding leads to acceptance.

        • It doesn't seem as though it can be rational certainty, otherwise atheists would be compelled by the strength of the argument once they understood it."

          That is correct. However, Feser would maintain (as would I), that very few atheists adequately understand the arguments.

          We say this to their credit for it means we are not claiming atheists, in general, are irrational. Most of them rationally reject God on the basis of faulty understandings of the arguments.

          Were they to understand the terms, premises, and logic of the classical arguments for God, however, I'm convinced the arguments and their conclusions are rationally persuasive.

          • Were they to understand the terms, premises, and logic of the classical arguments for God, however, I'm convinced the arguments and their conclusions are rationally persuasive.

            Would you say that this forum here, Strange Notions, is in some large part a platform for educating atheists in the arguments for God's existence?

            What about atheists who claim to understand and reject Aquinas's arguments for God's existence? I suppose you could say that, for whatever reason, they are certainly wrong. Some of them have studied the arguments a great deal and still reject them. I suppose you could say that they are stupid; they don't know that they misunderstand the arguments. There's still the "deluded" and "irrational" options... there's not simply being biased. Bias, unless it extends to an irrational extreme, can't be enough to overcome certainty.

            But not only atheists. Prominent theist philosophers, people like Plantinga and van Inwagen and Rasmussen, say that they are not certain that God exists, but that they are very confident that God exists. They admit that there's a chance that they are wrong, but think that the chance is very small. I suppose that they also don't understand these arguments for God's existence.

            If this is the case, I certainly don't understand these arguments for God's existence. I've given it a good shot. If it's an argument that yields certainty, and I still don't understand it, that's not a good sign. Maybe at some point I should just give up, admit I'm not smart enough to understand arguments of this calibre, and seek other answers to my questions, answers that I have a hope of understanding, somewhere else.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think in order to understand cosmology today, it is necessary to master the terms and arguments and kinds of proof that astrophysicists use today. That takes a bit of work, right? I can't just start reading astrophysics that think that gives me the right to critique it let alone reject it.

            In a similar way, before saying the Scholastic arguments don't work, it is necessary to do the same kind of preliminary work with metaphysics. That is what Feser says is necessary.

          • I see three problems with this.

            First, almost nothing in astrophysics is certain. No one is claiming certain knowledge about how many exoplanets there are in the habitable zone or how galaxies formed, or which theory of inflation, if any, is right. It may be better to compare with a field that does claim certainty more often, like mathematics.

            Second, when I've asked mathematicians about proofs, there's typically a very strong consensus about what's been solved and what hasn't. There may be a small number of people who disagree about whether a given proof really works, but you can find broad consensus. Among people who have carefully studied the arguments for God and other philosophical questions, professional philosophers, there's no consensus. In fact, Michael Murray and Brandon Vogt both provide statistics below that show there's no broad consensus on the question of God's existence.

            Third, I've worked very hard on these arguments. Most of them seem less likely to be true now than when I started. There are some new arguments out there on God's existence that seem promising to me. But nothing that suggests any sort of certainty. Given the time that I've spent, to hear that someone can have rational certainty that God exists from the arguments, that's discouraging. Maybe I'm not smart enough to understand these sort of arguments, and need to find a simpler, more basic way to approach the question of God's existence than what's on offer here.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you are not smart enough, then we are all in big trouble!

            However, putting in lots of time and effort by itself does not work unless you go about it in the right way; in this case really understanding the metaphysical concepts.

            To provide another analogy, I like woodworking, but if I happened upon a workshop chock full of 19th century hand tools, I could put in a lot of time and effort woodworking without getting anywhere because I would not know what the tools are for or how to use them well.

          • The converse could be true, as well. It may be that you and Brandon and Ed (etc.) haven't considered Aquinas's arguments properly; if you understood them, you'd reject them.

            It's sad to me that you can't even acknowledge that possibility. You aren't allowed to.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. You could be right.

          • Then what do you mean by "certainty"?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think what the Catholic Church means by "certainty" can be gleaned by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church 27-49, especially point 31, which refers to "converging and convincing arguments," as long as we bear in mind what point 37 says about the subjective difficulties we have in regard to them.

          • I'll reread these carefully, but I'm very confused about 31. First, what is a "proof in the natural sciences"? I don't know what this is.

            Second, the term "certainty" is used but no meaning is provided. I'd assume that they meant what I typically mean by certainty: I'm certain of X if I think that there is a 100% chance that X is true, a 0% chance that not-X is true. There's no chance that I'm wrong, and if there is, then I'm not certain.

            Otherwise, what do you think that the Catechism means by "certainty"? That there's a small %? Or something else entirely (and if so, what is it?)?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In law, there are standards of certainty. One is preponderance of the evidence. A higher bar is beyond a reasonable doubt. I think "proof in the natural sciences" means something as simple as we can be certain that water boils at 100 c at sea level because we can empirically test this. In metaphysics, I think your 100% certainty holds, if, as Brandon puts it, the terms, premises, and logic are understood. I think when the Church says the existence of God can be known by the light of human reason through the things that have been made, she means something like "beyond a reasonable doubt."

          • I'm still a bit confused:

            In metaphysics, I think your 100% certainty holds, if, as Brandon puts it, the terms, premises, and logic are understood.

            Does anyone have this 100% certainty of God's existence? Are there any arguments for God's existence that can provide this 100% certainty?

            I think when the Church says the existence of God can be known by the light of human reason through the things that have been made, she means something like "beyond a reasonable doubt."

            So not 100% certain?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know. I don't even know if I know what 100% certainty means! I've never seen a discussion before on the question of what the Church means by "certain."

          • Thanks for your answer: I think "I don't know" is an excellent answer.

            But, as you think more on the issue of certainty, here's what I think when I hear the term "certainty".

            Here's an example of "rational certainty". There's a mathematical series:

            1+2+3+4+...

            and on to infinity. This series diverges, but it can be uniquely assigned a value of -1/12. It can't consistently be assigned any other finite value but -1/12. It's strange to think that, in some absolute sense:

            1+2+3+4+... = -1/12

            I don't like this. In fact, I hate it. I wish it wasn't true. But I've seen the proof. http://terrytao.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/the-euler-maclaurin-formula-bernoulli-numbers-the-zeta-function-and-real-variable-analytic-continuation/ You can see it too. Once the proof is understood, you have to agree with the conclusion. 1+2+3+4+... = -1/12.

            Now, maybe you can say that this is too technical, so many people would be uncertain about the conclusions. But virtually 100% of mathematicians agree with the result; they have no choice. Anyone who understands the argument agrees.

            Anyone who thinks that 1+2+3+4+... does not = -1/12 (in the way presented in the proof) is either ignorant of the proof (they haven't seen it or don't understand it properly), or they are delusional or irrational.

            I'm certain of the result. There is no chance that I am wrong about the result, unless human reason itself is generally unreliable.

            Do arguments for God reach this level of confidence? If so, it's pretty poisonous to dialogue with atheists. There's no debate about the -1/12 among mathematicians. It wouldn't work. Anyone who doesn't know the right result just needs to be educated.

            Now, as you rightly point out (and maybe I didn't consider this as carefully as I should have, but I did mention it in my very first comment) there's different sorts of certainty. There is personal certainty: maybe you can see God, or have a special God sense that some people lack. There's moral certainty. As you point out, there's "legal certainty", some sort of "maximal predictability", as far as I can understand it (I'm not a lawyer). The idea that you have the maximum practical confidence about how officials are going to apply the law. And some people (maybe the Vatican) use "certainty" in this sort of softer sense, although I'm not sure how such uses of "certainty" are distinct from simple "knowledge".

            Feser's understanding seems to be "rational certainty", that if you really understand the argument, no matter how much you dislike the conclusion, you have no choice but to accept it. That's poison to dialogue, and unnecessary to discussion. If true, it need not even be mentioned; all that need be raised in polite discussion is the argument itself. If I talk with a difficult student about the -1/12 result, I don't spend time talking about my certainty; I just present the argument. The argument, if the student bothers to understand it, will result in certainty without my having to bring it up beforehand.

            Maybe not all Catholics need to accept this kind of rational certainty anyway. It seems Pascal didn't. He held that:

            This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied; wherefore I have a hundred time wished that if a God maintains nature, she should testify to Him unequivocally, and that, if the signs she gives are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether; that she should say everything or nothing, that I might see which cause I ought to follow. Whereas in my present state, ignorant of what I am or of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty. My heart inclines wholly to know where is the true good, in order to follow it; nothing would be too dear to me for eternity. (Pascal, Pensées, 229)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Church thinks that for humanity in general to have a relationship with Christ that people must already know that God exists and that we have immortal souls. Feser thinks he needs to defend that view (and I agree with him).

            I see your point that you don't need to hammer away at your certainty that 1+2+3+4+... = -1/12 with doubting students. However, what if you thought it was essential for every student to accept this proof in order to go on to do more mathematics? What if, moreover, seeing this conclusion required those students to give up, say, binge drinking and hooking up? Can you imagine that some math students would find all kinds of problems with it?

          • However, what if you thought it was essential for every student to accept this proof in order to go on to do more mathematics? What if, moreover, seeing this conclusion required those students to give up, say, binge drinking and hooking up? Can you imagine that some math students would find all kinds of problems with it?

            Yes. And they'd be irrational and/or deluded. Do you think all atheists fit into this sort of camp?

            It sounds at least as though you think it is not necessary to point out that all atheists fit into this camp (which is what bringing up certainty really accomplishes, in conversation). That would be sufficient for me.

            If I never saw an article like this on Strange Notions again, I'd be very happy. Articles like this simply do not belong here.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If the following points are true and the would benefit me, why is it terrible to tell me?

            37 In the historical conditions in which he finds himself, however, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone: (1960)

            Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation. The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.13

          • The assertion of certainty is not beneficial to me. And I don't think it's actually true, in most cases, even with Catholics. Maybe certain Catholics think they are rationally certain about God (and can't keep those thoughts to themselves). In that case, I don't want to talk with them about it. That Catholic and I can talk about something else instead.

            So clearly the assertion of rational certainty about God isn't going to be healthy for a conversation between me and a Catholic.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quote: "The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin".

            In a recent discussion, the author made a point that imagination led her to embrace the Church. I posted a remark on EN that the church has never 'condoned?' the use of the imagination, particularly for metaphysical truths such as these. I do not know where the beatific vision, or apparitions fit into this 'doctrine'. I shall be open to the possibility of finding any kind of contradiction. For the moment, I am merely attempting to know more about 'the faith'.. Thus I wish to thank you for reference.

          • "It's sad to me that you can't even acknowledge that possibility."

            When have we admitted a refusal to acknowledge this possibility? Of course, it's possible I'm mistaken about my certainty, for the reasons explained above. One can be certain about a given belief, given particular data and intellectual capabilities, but still at times doubt those capabilities that led to the certainty.

            In other words, you could hold certain beliefs but be uncertain about the faculties that certainty depends on.

            "You aren't allowed to."

            Who or what is barring us? See above.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Probably the anathema Feser quoted from Trent (the council, not the apologist!).

          • If you acknowledge the possibility that you are wrong, then you can't be certain. If you aren't certain about your certainty, then you aren't really certain in the first place (I'm not talking about being certain about reason itself).

            Or you are using "certainty" in a different sort of way than rational certainty. Maybe something like the certainty granted by this sensus divinitatis, a sort of inner human sense of God. Or maybe certainty is being used in a softer way, to just mean a great deal of confidence.

            I suspect, after reading more and more responses, that some people are using "certainty" in a way pretty-much indistinguishable from "knowledge", "justified true belief". People are just saying that they have a good reason to think God exists, and so if God exists, then they know it. But they could be mistaken. They aren't *rationally certain*. There's a possibility that they are wrong, and they can acknowledge this.

            Is that what you actually mean, that certainty is really just knowledge?

            Because if you mean *certainty* in the way it is often used (and the way Feser seems to be using it), knowledge the arguments for which, properly understood, compel consent, then you really don't have the ability to acknowledge that you might be wrong, or even that you might have misunderstood the argument.

            Any more than I have the ability to acknowledge that I might be mistaken that 1+1=2. I don't have the ability to acknowledge that I might be wrong about 1+1=2, because I'm certain that I'm right.

          • "Would you say that this forum here, Strange Notions, is in some large part a platform for educating atheists in the arguments for God's existence?"

            In part, yes. Although it also exists to allow atheists the opportunity to correct what they perceive to be ignorance in their intellectual opposites. If I'm wrong about God, or mistaken about the arguments for him, I would like to be saved from my ignorance.

          • Although you, as said before, are certain that you are not mistaken about God (otherwise, what does this word "certainty" mean, separate from simple knowledge)?

    • Peter

      Materialists are by no means irrational, delusional or ignorant, but they do occasionally shoot themselves in the foot. Take, for instance, the multiverse which is proposed as an eternal and infinite natural alternative to our universe having been created by God.

      Within the multiverse all universes begin at t=0 (or below the planck time) regardless of when and where they are (if those terms can be used) in relation to each other. This timeless state from which each universe emerges is one and the same, irrespective of which universe emerges from it.

      Even if universes have been emerging for eternity or have emerged in infinite numbers, they all emerged from the same timeless state which is synonymous with St Augustine's eternal present from which creation sprang. So, far from undermining the notion that all of creation had a beginning, the multiverse proposal has reinforced it, an infinite number of times over!

      • Take, for instance, the multiverse which is proposed as an eternal and infinite natural alternative to our universe having been created by God.

        I didn't think the multiverse proposal has much to do with God, for or against.

        Within the multiverse all universes begin at t=0 (or below the planck time) regardless of when and where they are (if those terms can be used) in relation to each other.

        Why do you think that this is true?

        This timeless state from which each universe emerges is one and the same, irrespective of which universe emerges from it.

        Even if universes have been emerging for eternity or have emerged in infinite numbers, they all emerged from the same timeless state.

        Why do you think that this is true?

        Far from undermining the notion that all of creation had a beginning, the multiverse proposal has reinforced it, an infinite number of times over!

        I don't think it's purpose was to do either. I don't see why physicists would care much one way or the other about this sort of question, compared to the question of whether there are multiple 'universes' or not.

        • Peter

          On the absolute contrary, prominent physics writers use the multiverse as a reason to make God reduntant. Such writers are Victor Stenger, Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, Stephen Hawking etc..

          • People, even physicists, can use whatever ideas they want to, I suppose, to defend what they like. It's a free country.

            I'm with Stephen Weinberg on this one, though. It would be an interesting sort of anthropic case for why our universe is the way it is, but that's no good reason to accept the multiverse. The multiverse should be accepted or rejected based on the evidence.

            I frankly don't care much about what Victor Stenger or Lawrence Krauss has to say about the multiverse. The interesting question to me is, how many universes are there, and how can we know?

          • Peter

            But the writers I mentioned, and non-physicists such as Richard Dawkins, are predominant in the public domain and have produce popular publications and debates which proclaim the multiverse as the sure fire-way of side-stepping God.

            Without the multiverse, without any notion of it whatsoever, the idea that the universe is designed and created by God becomes much stronger, almost to the point of certainty.

          • But the writers I mentioned, and non-physicists such as Richard Dawkins, are predominant in the public domain and have produced popular publications and debates which proclaim the multiverse as the sure-fire way of side-stepping God.

            That's too bad for science outreach. They're misrepresenting and (in my opinion) trivialising an interesting possible implication from certain scientific hypotheses (string theory may imply the existence of a multiverse; some versions of inflation imply that there are different regions of our universe with different physical laws). The multiverse wasn't introduced as a way to sidestep God. If people want to use it like that, in my opinion it's the same as when Intelligent Design people use theories of the cell to argue that God must have been specially involved in their construction. It's pseudoscience at worst, rubbish science popularisation at best.

            Without the multiverse, without any notion of it whatsoever suggesting that our universe is anthropically selected out of countless others, the idea that the universe is specifically designed and created becomes much stronger,

            Wasn't your first comment that the multiverse made things even harder for atheism and suggested even more strongly a designer? Which is it?

            What's the matter with just saying "I don't know"? How did the universe come about with the constants the way that they are? I don't know. Maybe there's some deep underlying theory that makes it likely or even certain that the universe has the laws it does. Maybe God had no choice in the way She made the universe. I don't know.

          • Peter

            "The multiverse wasn't introduced as a way to side step God"

            Well, even Sean Carroll makes a great fuss about about it. The multiverse is fundamentally implied in the naturalistic models he promotes with the aim of removing God completely from the equation.

            "Which is it?"

            Both. They both arrive at God through different routes. It's checkmate for the materialist.

            "Maybe there's some deep underlying theory"

            The theories we currently have are creations of the human mind. No theories exist that are not created as such. A fundamental theory would also need to be the creation of a mind for it to be labelled a theory.

          • The multiverse is fundamentally implied in the naturalistic models he
            promotes with the aim of removing God completely from the equation.

            Well, I don't think Sean Carroll proposed his cosmology with the goal of displacing God. After all, God wasn't in the equations to begin with. Also Sean Carroll didn't originate the multiverse hypothesis.

            But maybe the originators of the idea are more aware of these theological issues than Sean Carroll is. Can you cite a peer-reviewed science paper (preferably one of the originating papers for the multiverse hypothesis) that mentions the relationship between God and the multiverse, or that spells out this strategy of avoiding God that you believe exists?

            Otherwise, it just sounds, at most, like some physicists trying to do theology (maybe not very well), using the idea of the multiverse.

            Both. Both multiverse and non-multiverse scenarios arrive at God via different routes. It's checkmate for the materialist.

            So it's both more consistent for the naturalist to have a multiverse and more inconsistent for the naturalist to have a multiverse. How can I possibly refute such iron-clad logic?

            Do you have any arguments for these assertions? Admittedly it's an interesting feature that they contradict, but some sort of argument would also be helpful for your cause, I'd imagine.

            As for the rest of your reply... I don't know what to say, because I don't understand it at all.

          • Peter

            "How can I possibly refute such iron-clad logic?"

            The logic is quite straightforward. Without a scientific hypothesis for the origin and nature of the universe, the default position is God. All scientific hypotheses for the origin and nature of the universe imply a multiverse scenario.

            However, a multiverse scenario, far from taking us away from God, brings us closer still in the sense that God has created not merely one universe from nothing but countless universes, thereby endorsing his omnipotence.

          • So then why would these theologically motivated physicists bother with the multiverse hypothesis, since it doesn't help them?

            If both really lead to God, as you say, why go to all this work with such a hypothesis?

          • Peter

            The motives of these physicists are first and foremost to refute the claims of creationists who believe that God waived a magic wand and instantly magicked the universe and its fine tuned laws into existence through what we recognise as the big bang.

            The multiverse hypotheses attempt to offer plausible scientific explanations of why our universe with its fine tuned laws would not need to be magicked into existence but could arrive at that point through naturalistic processes.

            These hypotheses are plausible explanations of why there is no God with a magic wand and go a long way to refuting creationist claims. This, I believe, is the objective which theologically motivated physicists aimed to achieve when presenting them.

            However, what they have unwittingly done in their efforts to debunk the creationists, is vastly widen the scope of creation outside the finite space-time boundaries of our universe in a manner which is sublimely consistent with the potential handiwork of an omnipotent Creator.

          • You make all these assertions. How do you back them up? Hugh Everett, for example, came up with a multiverse idea to try to explain quantum mechanics in a deterministic way. There's a lot of philosophical motivation, but none of it seems to have much to do with God; there are atheists who are determinists and atheists who are indeterminists, atheists who accept a multiverse and atheists who hate the idea. I, myself, don't accept a multiverse, and still see no compelling evidence for God. I don't see how a multiverse would help atheists. And neither do you. You said before that it doesn't help.

            I don't think most physicists who think about the multiverse care much about what the multiverse idea means for God. Susskind, for example, says agnosticism is too much of a commitment about God for him, doesn't think about God at all, and has spent a great deal of time working on the connection between the multiverse idea and string theory.

            You tell an interesting story. Do you have any evidence that the story's true? That the multiverse idea really was developed as a way to get around God, instead of just being hijacked by some physicists with bad theology?

          • Peter

            Whether the multiverse idea was developed as a way to get around God or not, the net effect is the same which is a greater endorsement of an omnipotent Creator.

            But not only that. The multiverse idea blows Spinoza's pantheism out of the water. A single universe can be deemed to be wholly synomymous with God, but distinct multiple universes would imply multiple Gods or a God which is partly synonymous with each of them. Both of these scenarios are at odds with Spinoza's pantheism.

          • So you think that, if true, the multiverse idea means that God is more likely. It's an interesting theological proposition; do you know if you are the first to explore it? Have you thought of writing up an analysis, relating the likelihood of God to the number of universes? Would this likelihood change depending on the level of the multiverse (using Tegmark's idea about levels)?

            Level 1 universes are in a sense all part of our universe; they are just different regions of our universe. All the physics is the same. The conditions are simply different. So how does the likelihood of God scale with the ratio of the size of our universe to the size of our visible universe? Does it go to one as the ratio goes to infinity?

            Level 2 universes have different physical constants. They may also be different regions of our universe, and the different constants may arise from those regions settling out of inflation in different low-energy solutions of some M-theory; who knows. Does the likelihood of God go up with the number of sets of physical laws?

            Level 3 universes arise from Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Level 3 universes are in a sense contained within Level 1 and 2 universes; and enumerate all possible observations for the wave-functions within the Level 1 and 2 universes. This may pose some problems for God. There may be a possible universe where Jesus died at birth, or where Mary said "no", or where everyone goes to hell. There are some Christian philosophers who have wrestled with these sorts of ideas; I like Max Andrews's article here: http://sententias.org/2011/09/07/the-theological-attraction-of-the-multiverse/ I wonder how this would work with probabilities for God. Is God more likely if the Everett interpretation is true? Or less likely? Or maybe some quantum mechanical solutions are miraculously prevented by God?

            I don't understand really what the Level 4 Multiverse Ensemble is; it sounds like Platonism to me. But who knows?

            And how does this relate to Spinoza? Spinoza didn't think that God and the universe were identical, but that the universe was in God. The physical universe was, to Spinoza, only one of the infinite attributes of God. There's a certain sense in which multiverse theory would align very well with Spinoza's pantheism. The concept of biological evolution provides a much more formidable challenge to Spinoza's philosophy than does the multiverse; it's hard to see how the multiverse is a challenge for Spinoza's philosophy at all. Also, it seems that Spinoza's pantheism runs into less problems with the multiverse idea (especially Level 3) than traditional theism would.

          • Peter

            These multiverses have two things in common; they are infinite in number and all have a beginning in their respective space-times from a point where, as far as they are concerned, there is no space and time.

            Infinite numbers of universes emerging from a common timeless state? Sounds like the work of an eternal and omnipotent Creator to me.

          • How do we know that there are an infinite number of other universes? Why not just 10, or 10^500? Why must it be infinite?Also, how do we know that all or any of these universes have a beginning from no space and time? Maybe there's never been a beginning to time. And how do we know that this timeless state is common to all the universes? Maybe there are multiple timeless states.

            Most important for this discussion, how does any of this imply an eternal omnipotent creator?

          • Peter

            I believe a multiverse scenario, if true, would lead to greater certainty in an eternal omnipotent Creator than a single universe. Such a Creator would have the potential to create an infinite number of universes for eternity, and in a multiverse scenario he does just that.

            The multiverse, therefore, far from being a way to side -step God, is the complete opposite. If proved, it is evidence of an eternal and omnipotent Creator in a way that a single universe could never be, because it displays the full potential of such a Creator.

            The multiverse would be an eternal and infinite sign of an eternal and infinitely powerful Creator. The eternity and omnipotence of the Creator would be recognised by his eternal and infinite handiwork.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for your comments regarding Spinoza's conception of a God as 'substance' with infinite attributes. Although it has been a 'human' characteristic to identify that 'unknown source' with some form of intelligence, is it not possible that, as recognized, this intelligence is an 'unknown/unknowable?' 'substance'. But the concept of unity is indeed a powerful one, although my understanding is that Buddhism does not recognize this factor within the material universe. Is it not possible or implied by Spinoza that this 'source of all' is greater than, is more different than, that intelligence that we recognize as consciousness? Perhaps whatever what we do not know, God is, is neither mind nor matter? But we sure speculate both in science and theology, in similar ways, as to what this 'final answer/being/non being' IS ?

          • I think that's pretty-much right about Spinoza. He thought mind and body are two of an infinite number of God's attributes. Spinoza didn't know about the multiverse hypothesis, but it seems to fit naturally into his philosophy in one of two ways.

            God could have be set of mind/body pairs for each universe. Or all the multiverse altogether, the whole ensemble, is part of a single attribute of God.

            I think it's also right the idea that the division of attributes is more a way that we understand God than the way God actually is. God is neither mind nor body; we can think of the mind of God and the body of God, but they are fundamentally the same substance. Spinoza was a monist.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for your assurance, Paul. But I also believe that Catholicism is monist, and that this is related to the concept of unity, (anti-Cartesian) as both mind and body are 'united' in God. Although I am still attempting to understand the idea of 'incarnation' within the Christian context, from 'man/woman's perspective', that the intellect of God is considered to be 'manifest', I can't help think that this recognizes some form of 'pantheism'. In this way, if not 'the whole ensemble' (although it is an assumption that such intellect would necessarily be all-inclusive) it is recognition that the intellect is indeed an incarnation of the primary 'source'. So, again I find that when it comes to theology, these ideas, have not been surpassed in any of the world religions or naturalistic theories. Indeed without such an assumption, even if merely human, I don't believe physicists would strive to 'discover' even a unified field theory, etc . etc. Thanks.

          • That's a valuable insight about the field theories. Thanks. :)

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks. Unity within the physical universe. Makes me think or connect this quest to both pantheism, and monism. The atheists, which I prefer to call Naturalists do generally 'believe' or 'have faith' that there is some sort of unity. Unlike the Buddhists they are looking for it within the material 'world' as some kind of modern version of ore-socratic aleithia. (Not sure of spelling)

          • Loreen Lee

            Although but a superficial reading, while investigating Hinduism some time ago, I came upon the idea that the cosmologists today could be considered to be giving an update of this most ancient of all traditions. There cosmology recognized the concept of multiverses, although perhaps the idea could have been related to what evidence was available with respect to the constellations within our 'home universe'. Their primary god, Brahman, however, is considered to be the manifestation of this universe, although he is conceived in what? an animistic? way, in which his eyebrows could be seen in flowers, his food in the waves of the ocean, etc. etc. Metaphor perhaps rather than mythology? But with this in mind, I believe that any account of origins could be considered theological, (identify based) in the sense of being thought of as an ultimate explanation. Like the aperion in presocratic philosophy. My understanding of a recent question in a previous blog: 'Atheist' to my thinking is a very inappropriate term.

        • Nick Cotta

          "I didn't think the multiverse proposal has much to do with God, for or against."

          There are two separate arguments in Christianity - the first is that God is that "timeless state" referenced. In a strict physical sense, you can know there is an immutable truth from which creation springs. The multiverse proposal has everything to do with this and I think that's why Peter announces his astonishment that a bunch of atheists, in order to refute God, have logically constructed a proof for his existence.

          The second argument is that God, the single timeless state from which creation springs, is an intelligence. He has a mind and is a being like you and me.

          Many people believe in the first and not the second. We believe it is evident to every person that the first is true. The second depends on the Deposit of Faith!

          • The first isn't evident, or almost all scientists would accept it. They'd have to. Some people don't think that there is this "timeless state".

            Also, I find it amusing that God is a 4-space that has a Euclidean metric. God is Equation 1 out of Hawking & Turok (1998) and we live inside God. We are part of God.

            I mean quite sincerely that I am amused, even enchanted, by this sort of view. It is Spinoza's pantheism.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Paul, this seems to be an attack on the man, not his arguments--you write in an ironic tone that Feser aspires to be like Dawkins and he thinks he knows something the pope does not.

  • GCBill

    "To be sure, the Church has not officially endorsed any specific formulation
    of any particular argument for God’s existence. All the same, in her authoritative documents she has gone so far as to speak of God’s
    existence as something susceptible of “certainty,” “demonstration,” and
    “proof”; has commended “classical philosophy” specifically as providing
    the best means of showing how this is possible; and has held up Aquinas
    and the general approaches taken in his Five Ways as exemplary."

    Well, that's a problem. Whether or not these proofs actually work is largely dependent on the details of the "specific formulations" of each proof. Therefore, I don't think it's reasonable to endorse certainty without being able to agree upon the way in which it is reached. Otherwise, you should at least be able to show that there is an argument for the existence of God that works for each reasonable set of starting axioms.

    "A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that
    the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for
    God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.
    For instance, the mere fact that someone somewhere has raised an
    objection against an argument for God’s existence is commonly treated by
    skeptics as showing that “the argument fails”—as if an argument is a
    good one only if no one objects to it but all assent to it upon hearing it. Of course, skeptics do not treat other philosophical arguments this way."

    Indeed, we hold them to the standard of "certainty" that you profess them to meet. If there can be any reasonable disagreement at all over the arguments, it follows that their conclusions cannot be certain. Theists seem to act as if there are at least some reasonable objections to these arguments (even though they ultimately think they fail). So even if the arguments ultimately succeed, again it looks as if they wouldn't succeed with certainty.

    "Then there is the common tendency to suggest that defenders of arguments
    for God’s existence have ulterior motives that should make us
    suspicious of their very project. Once again, the skeptic does not
    treat other arguments this way. He doesn’t say: 'Well, you have to be very wary of arguments against
    free will or for revisionist moral conclusions, because their proponents
    are no doubt trying to rationalize some sort of activity traditionally
    frowned upon.'"

    Ulterior motives such as dogmatic decrees that can never in principle be contradicted by philosophy, which are made even in the absence of commitment to specific formulations of arguments? If this tendency is a mistake on our part, I hope one can at least understand why we make it.

    "A third, and perhaps not unrelated, problem with this attitude is that
    those who take it often misunderstand what a thinker like Aquinas means
    when he says that the existence of God can be “demonstrated.” What is
    meant is that the conclusion that God exists follows with necessity or
    deductive validity from premises that are certain, where the certainty
    of the premises can in turn be shown via metaphysical analysis. That
    entails that such a demonstration gives us knowledge that is more secure
    than what any scientific inference can give us (as “science” is
    generally understood today), in two respects. First, the inference is
    not a merely probabilistic one, nor an “argument to the best
    explanation” which appeals to considerations like parsimony, fit with
    existing background theory, etc.; it is, again, instead a strict
    deduction to what is claimed to follow necessarily from the
    premises. Second, the premises cannot be overthrown by further
    empirical inquiry, because they have to do with what any possible
    empirical inquiry must presuppose."

    I can't speak for anyone else, but this is exactly what I expect when someone uses "demonstrate" in the technical sense. And when they do, I adjust my standards of scrutiny accordingly.

    "Presenting theistic arguments in this pseudo-geometrical formalized
    style can in fact inadvertently foster misunderstandings, which is why I
    tend to avoid that style. You can, of course, set out an argument like
    the Aristotelian argument from motion in a series of numbered steps, as
    I do in my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways.”
    However, the argument contains a number of crucial technical
    terms—“actuality,” “potency,” “essentially ordered,” etc.—which are not
    explained in the argument thus stated. Even if you somehow worked
    definitions of these key terms into the formalized statement of the
    argument, that would simply push the problem back a stage, since you
    would have to make use of further concepts not defined in the formalized
    statement of the argument. The idea that such an argument (or any
    metaphysical argument) could be entirely formalized is a rationalist fantasy."

    Not formalizing the argument does nothing to make these technical terms easier to understand, it just obscures the logical inferences in which they are embedded. In any case, laying out a semi-formalized version of the argument with footnotes (ex: potential*1, actuality*2, etc. with the footnotes explaining where these concepts are further elaborated) would assure that you could accuse someone of being lazy or dishonest if they persist in using its terms incorrectly. Not explicitly stating the logical structure of an argument, on the other hand, does nothing to increase culpability for misrepresentation of terms within that argument.

    "The Church’s insistence that the existence of God is demonstrable is not, in any event, an attempt to settle a philosophical issue by sheer diktat. It is rather a carefully considered judgment about what must bethe case if Christianity is to be rationally justifiable."

    "What must be the case if" does not get one to the level of dogmatic (or even doctrinal) certainty. It is merely a stipulation.

  • I suppose I would not say that any claim is utterly incapable of being demonstrated to an absolute certainty. I just do not think theists have done it. I think we are really stretching to say that even what Aquinas says he has proven is God.

    But I do not think theists have demonstrated it to an absolute certainty or even that the existence of any God is more likely than not.

    Just touching on one thing, these concepts of change and the impossibility of an infinite regress are not as obvious and universally accepted as Feser leads us to believe. But I certainly am out of my element here.

  • Vicq Ruiz

    many a skeptic will demand that you accomplish this in an argument of
    the sort which might be summarized in the space of a blog post

    You mean like these??

    https://strangenotions.com/god-exists/

    • Those are brief sketches of complex arguments--proof that (many) proofs exist. Few would expect those brief sketches to fully convince any atheist, as Dr. Feser agrees, but they can lead an open-minded atheist to consider arguments he either was unaware of, misunderstood, or unjustifiably dismissed.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It would be interesting to have a series of articles on the best proof of God's existence. If a complex argument would have to be broken into multiple posts, so we could engage all of the premises and definitions, I think it would be worth doing.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think Feser would say that no argument will make any sense or be convincing without slogging through all the basic philosophical and metaphysical preliminaries. It takes Feser 50 pages of text to explain the fundamental ones in "Aquinas." I think it does not really lend itself to blog posts.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But it is easier to understand philosophy in a group setting, than it is slogging away by yourself.

        • "It would be interesting to have a series of articles on the best proof of God's existence. "

          But "best" is a subjective term, if you're using it to mean persuasive. For example, I'm convinced all five of Aquinas' Ways are sound arguments for God. However, I personally think his argument from contingency is more persuasive. That might be, and likely will be, different for others.

          If you're using "best" simply to mean true, then there are no gradations of "best." An argument is simply true or untrue. There aren't arguments that are more true or less true.

          "If a complex argument would have to be broken into multiple posts, so we could engage all of the premises and definitions, I think it would be worth doing."

          But this is what books are far. Blogs are not books. A blog whets the apetite and hopefully points the interested and open-minded to books.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But this is what books are far. Blogs are not books. A blog whets the apetite and hopefully points the interested and open-minded to books.

            I agree. I do think discussion of philosophy often leads to clearer insight than reading a book in isolation, because of the feedback one receives. Also, I would like to see the very best argument put forth it all its detail, so we can flesh out what objections fail and which ones perhaps succeed, and what premises are the strongest. It would probably be a logistic nightmare, but if you ever did decide to do something like this (even if we all just read some Feser, which I will probably do anyway), I would definitely actively participate.

            Regardless, I enjoy the site, and have learned things from dialoguing with the different commenters.

          • Well said, Ignatius. I strongly recommend reading Feser's Aquinas and then his Scholastic Metaphysics, in that order. You might also explore some of the books in our Recommended Books section:

            https://strangenotions.com/books/

  • BrianKillian

    It's not just atheists who are baffled. Thomistic and medieval scholars themselves can't even agree on what these proofs mean or how to properly interpret them. There are entire schools of thought devoted to their own interpretations of Thomistic philosophy. So it isn't just a matter of modern atheists not understanding the proofs, there is a question about whether there is anyone at all who *really* understands them.

    Furthermore, in Fides et Ratio JPII also makes it clear that the Church has no official philosophy.

    I agree with the former pope and theologian Joseph Ratzinger that the real avenue of communication between believers and non believers is actually the experience of doubt.

    And if the Church condemns fideism, it also condemns rationalism.

  • Gray Striker

    The Catholic Church makes some bold claims about what can be known about God via unaided reason. "The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason. It falls to reason to demonstrate with certainty the existence of God, personal and one…

    No doubt bold claims in the extreme, and of course the church attempts to soften its' harsh stance with the caveat below.This makes it sound more reasonable nes't pas? I respect Dr. Feser for having the courage of his convictions...and thank him for posting the article..and find it interesting , it was worth posting.....but I find it very difficult to accept his summation, especially in regard to his implication, that if one has enough of an education regards church approved philosophy one will come to the conclusion that the Catholic god exists. ...implies that struggles theists or others have about belief in God are because of
    an intellectual error or some deficiency in their perception, or that
    their struggles are simply emotional.

    Reason can perform these functions safely and well only when properly trained.

    I can get my head around the fact that theists know with "certainty" in their own mind about the existence of god by virtue of their subjective experience of faith and prayer, but actually "knowing" that god exists simply by virtue of human reason by philosophical arguments approved by the "church" is a difficult pill to swallow.

    Just to be clear on this, I am in no way attempting to undermine or belittle Catholics who are certain about the existence of god by virtue or their faith ,"reasoning" or by virtue of their experience of "supernatural" faith experience. I am a total agnostic on the concept of god, and would welcome a supernatural experience or even a simple formula that would give me certainty about the existence of god.....but I am an old fart and do not have the time or inclination to delve into all the academic, philosophical arguments approved by the church, nor would I probably understand them all. I am well into my seventh decade of life , but don't want to buy into a delusion at this stage of the game...and don't have the time, being that I am sincere about wanting to know the truth....could or would not a merciful loving god not deign to grant me the grace of faith and the light of belief....of course I may not be worthy of redemption and may be deserving of a fate worse than death....ie...eternal damnation.. I would rather enter the darkness naked and without delusions rather than whimpering for the mercy of a "god who probably does not exist.

    The First Vatican Council teaches If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason let him be anathema.

    Definition of anathema from the Oxford dictionary:
    A formal curse by a pope or a council of the Church, excommunicating a person for denouncing a doctrine

    If not actual excommunication this would seem at least to indicate a type of "shunning". This seems to be a less than charitable teaching or attitude of the church. Does not sound a bit like Jesus from the New Testament.

    Guess I know where I am bound....at least according to the "church.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    If it could be proved that God existed, why are there numerous philosophers who hold that either God does not exist or that His existence cannot be proven? In any field, with results that we would consider certain or completely demonstrated, those who are experts in the field will all agree on the propositions that are certain. No one with an undergraduate degree in mathematics will deny that all differentiable functions are also continuous (hopefully they could also supply a demonstration), and could also provide an example of a function that is continuous everywhere, but not differentiable everywhere.

    If somebody disagreed with that proposition, it would be acceptable to tell them that they are ignorant of analysis and need to study it further, if they wish to understand the demonstration. We can be confident that this person is ignorant, because everyone with a basis understanding of analysis knows that differentiable functions are continuous.

    There are many highly educated people who think that the 5 ways are flawed in some fundamental way. Why should we consider these people to be ignorant? The "proofs" certainly do not attain mathematical rigor, as the terms are ill defined.

    Proofs for God's existence are based on intuitions that are false. It would be like if a mathematician claimed that every continuous function is differentiable everywhere except for a few isolated points, and then ignored a clever counterexample:

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

    If one wishes to talk about certainty in proofs for God, they need to approach mathematical rigor in definition and demonstration. For instance, let's take accidentally ordered and essentially ordered series. I have yet to see a definition that allows me to say whether any given series is accidental or essential. Furthermore, it has not been shown that the two types of series are disjoint. For instance, if I take a match and light a candle, the candle's flame is accidentally ordered with regard to the match, but essentially ordered with regard to oxygen. Why is the match seen as the cause instead of the oxygen?

    • Michael Murray

      If it could be proved that God existed, why are there
      numerous philosophers who hold that either God does not exist or that His existence cannot be proven?

      Have you seen this survey

      http://philpapers.org/surveys/results.pl

      Note I am concluding nothing about what is true just what philosophers think !

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I have not seen that survey. I thought philosophers tended to be pretty split on the whole God question. There is also a survey, which I believe states that around 97% of all fellows at AAS are atheists.They apparently need a primer in Thomistic philosophy.

        I certainly think the problem of evil gets much closer to what we would call demonstration than any of the cosmological arguments.

        • Roman

          There is also a survey, which I believe states that around 97% of all fellows at AAS are atheists.

          True, but its pretty well know that there is a lot of bias at the AAAS (I assume you mean AAAS) against religious scientists. I still remember the negative reaction by some members when Dr. Francis Collins was considered and then accepted for membership. One of the main complaints was that he wrote a book titled "The Language of God" , primarily about how he sees God's hand at work in genetics. Now this is the same Francis Collins that ran the Human Genome Program and is now head of the NIH.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            But I would never imply that because a group of scientists tends to disbelieve in God therefore God does not exist. It was brought up to counter this idea that those who sufficiently study the five ways will become convinced of their soundness. Of course, it has also been argued in a series of posts here at SN that Christianity is a necessary condition for science, which is a highly suspect claim.

            I haven't read Collins' book, but usually when I hear a design argument, it seems to ignore all of the evidence of careless design. Perhaps I have built a strawman in my mind, but I have never been convinced by any of the complexity therefore god arguments or the fine-tuning arguments.

          • Roman

            Its been a while since I read his book but Dr. Collins is definitely a proponent of Darwinism - not Intelligent Design. But he was referring to other things that suggest a higher intelligence (even within the context of Darwinian evolution) to him, like for example the fact that DNA and RNA are coded. I think he was promoting the idea that science and belief in God can be harmonious. I'v heard he has flip-flopped between Deism and Theism. Don't know for sure.

      • I'm familiar with that survey. The problem with reporting the general data, as you have done, is that philosophy is a highly specialized field (much like science.) Philosophers of language, mathematics, and social theory typically don't understand the intricacies of the arguments for God.

        If we narrow down the data in that survey to *only* professors specializing in the philosophy of religion, we get this:

        God: theism or atheism?
        Accept or lean toward: theism 121 / 177 (68.4%)
        Accept or lean toward: atheism 33 / 177 (18.6%)
        Other 23 / 177 (13.0%)

        In other words, the philosophers who best understand the arguments for and against God, because it's their discipline of specialty, are overwhelmingly theist.

        Now, it may be the case that such philosopher were already theistic before beginning their studies, and thus were motivated to become philosophers of religion. (Just as atheists may be motivated to study the natural sciences.)

        But the data, at best, would then be irrelevant to the atheist supporter. At worst, it would show, again, that those who best understand the arguments overwhelmingly accept them.

        • I do not think it is irrelevant. Philosophers of Religion will generally be biased towards religion in my guess. What is striking is that 18.6%, nearly one in five, of those who do specialize in philosophy of religion are unconvinced by Aquinas and his 5 ways.

          I think all philosophers would have a strong background in the arguments for the existence of God. My intro course 20 years ago spend a great deal of time on it. I would also expect that all philosophers would have turned their mind to this question and thought about whether there is a God that can guarantee something like "heaven". The fact that the majority of them do not believe or lean towards it shows to me that this is far, far, from anything approaching a settled topic in philosophy.

          • "I think all philosophers would have a strong background in the arguments for the existence of God."

            It may be true that all philosophers have a "strong background" in this field--I personally doubt this, from experience--but that hasn't prevented many respected philosophers from harboring a seriously deficient understanding of those arguments. This includes, as Dr. Feser has noted on this website in the past, many esteemed contemporary philosophers:

            "They include Bertrand Russell, Steven Hales, Nigel Warburton, Daniel Dennett, Robin Le Poidevin, Graham Priest, Michael Martin, Simon Blackburn, Jenny Teichman, and Katherine Evans."

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

          • Well, I think your doubt is unfounded. I did a very brief search of Intro to Philosophy courses, and found the first 2 specifically deal with the question of "does god exist" and have Aquinas on the reading list. The third did not but looked at the question of the soul and even had C.S. Lewis on the list. Honestly, this issue was primary over the majority of western philosophy for the last 2000 years.

            Are you really suggesting that people who study philosophy to the point of doing it for a living, are just uninterested in this issue? That they are all so biased in favour of a world without ultimate meaning governed by a good creator who under whom all suffering and evil will be defeated? That these people have the education and an enormous persona interest in getting this right but the vast majority are either too stupid or biased to do the homework and figure this out?

            Or might there be another explanation. All these people are not biased God, but biased towards critical thinking and reason? That the minority of philosophers who are driven towards religion are the ones who are biased or getting the arguments against Aquinas wrong? That the prospect of this all making sense somehow and living forever in the presence of God has blinded them just enough to the flaws in Aquinas' argument?

            https://www.uoguelph.ca/philosophy/sites/uoguelph.ca.philosophy/files/syllabus/PHIL1000%20W14%20Syllabus.pdf

            https://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/PHIL_1A_Fall_2011.pdf

            (could not find the third one without Aquinas, so here is another, from Cornell, guess who is listed?)
            https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/kb383/1100syllabus.pdf

        • Ignatius Reilly

          This doesn't tell us how many of these philosophers accept the five ways. I believe Kant rejected all of them, yet he was a theist.

        • Mike

          This part the results was way under reported; thanks.

  • Joe Ser

    Dogmas

    God, our Creator and Lord, can be known with certainty, by the natural light of reason from created things. (De fide.)
    The Existence of God can be proved by means of causality. (Sent. fidei proxima.)

    God's existence is not merely an object of natural rational knowledge, but also an object of supernatural faith. (De fide.)

    The Nature of God

    The Knowledge of the Nature of God

    Our natural knowledge of God in this world is not as immediate, intuitive cognition, but a mediate, abstractive knowledge, because it is attained through the knowledge of creatures. (Sent. certa.)

    Our knowledge of God here below is not proper (cognitio propia) but analogical (cognitio analoga or analogica). (Sent. certa.)

    God's Nature is incomprehensible to men. (De fide.)

    The blessed in Heaven posses an immediate intuitive knowledge of the Divine Essence. (De fide.)

    The Immediate Vision of God transcends the natural power of cognition of the human soul, and is therefore supernatural. (De fide.)

    The soul, for the Immediate Vision of God, requires the light of glory. (De fide. D 475.)

    God's Essence is also incomprehensible to the blessed in Heaven. (De fide.)

  • David Nickol

    A second problem is that those who are dismissive of the very idea that the existence of God might be demonstrable typically hold arguments for God’s existence to a standard to which they do not hold other arguments.

    Perhaps that is because other arguments are not put forward as "proofs." I think many philosophers (and others interested in arguments for the existence of God) would be willing to say there are some pretty good arguments, but good arguments are not proofs.

    Also, the OP uses the word certainty in its title and repeatedly throughout. It is one thing to claim to know something. It is another thing (it seems to me) to claim to know it with certainty.

    • Roman

      but good arguments are not proofs.

      I think it depends on how you are using the word "argument". In philosophy, an argument is a more general term that refers to an attempt to persuade someone of something, by giving reasons for accepting a particular conclusion as valid. Arguments can be inductive or deductive and can take many forms. A formal, deductive proof (a type of argument) is meant to provide a guarantee of the truth, i.e., its absolute, assuming the premises are true, and the logic is valid (similar to a mathematical proof). A syllogism is an example of that, i.e., comprised of a major premise, a minor premise, and the conclusion. Most of the philosophical (or logical) proofs presented for the existence of the God of Theism (including those presented on this site) take the form of a formal deductive proof. So, again, if the premises are true, and the logic valid, the conclusion is absolutely true.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I can confirm one thing Feser says. It *is* necessary to slog through 50 pages of metaphysics in order for Aquinas' five ways to begin to make sense. After slogging throughout those 50 pages in "Aquinas" twice, the five ways did begin to make sense to me for the first time (despite many earlier attempts).

    Now I'm slogging, slogging, slogging through his book "Scholastic Metaphysics."

  • David Nickol

    The Church’s insistence that the existence of God is demonstrable is not, in any event, an attempt to settle a philosophical issue by sheer diktat. It is rather a carefully considered judgment about what must be the case if Christianity is to be rationally justifiable.

    This is by far the most interesting part of the OP. It seems to me that those who are not believing Catholics should regard the Catholic dogma that God can be known by reason alone as in the same category as other Catholic dogmas (for example, the Immaculate Conception—i.e., that Mary was conceived without Original Sin). To Catholics, dogmas say something about reality as they understand it. To those outside the Church, dogmas say something about how Catholics understand reality, not about what reality really is.

    So, it seems to me that this particular Catholic dogma is no more of a challenge to those who are not Catholics than any other dogma—say, that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. Of course, the Catholic insistence that God can be known through reason alone is often taken to be (and used by apologists as) a Catholic statement about truth and ultimate reality—or perhaps a statement about epistemology. But really it should be regarded as no more of a challenge to those who are not Catholic than any other Catholic belief.

    Perhaps from within Catholicism, some of the "proofs" of God's existence really are proofs, in much the same way that Catholics arrived with certainty that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Within Catholicism, it just has to be true.

  • David Nickol

    The more I think about the claim, the less it means. If the answer to the question, "Can we know God's existence with certainty?" is "Yes," exactly whom does we refer to?

  • The Catholic Church condemns fideism. However, Prof. Feser is condemning all but elite intellectuals, willing to slog through fifty pages of general metaphysics, to fideism. One of the marks of the Catholic Church is that it is not fideist, elitist or gnostic, thank God.

    • stevegbrown

      I think this was Blaise Pascal's problem in general. He pointed out that these abstract concepts fade out of the mind within about 20 min. even if understood properly. That might be why he thought his "wager" proposition would help the common person wrestling with the problem.
      St. Thomas points out the same problem for the general population in his Summa Contra Gentiles - thus the need for special revelation.

  • "It is not an expression of blind faith but precisely a condemnation of blind faith."

  • Peter

    If I were a materialist, and considered myself a rational person, I would need to satisfy myself that the claims of Catholicism were falsifiable. Two stand out in particular: life after death and God the Creator. Failure to falsify the former adds credence to the latter. The greater the likelihood of life after death, the greater the certainty that God exists.

    String theory with strings vibrating in 10 or 11 dimensions results in 10>500 different states a universe can be in. This is used to support the notion of multiple universes. If quantum consciousness exists, could it not continue to survive in the vibration of one or more of the 6 or 7 higher dimensions once the 4 dimensions of space and time have been extinguished? This may seem far-fetched, but it is no more far-fetched that justifying a multiverse through the same theory.

    The Church does indeed teach that God's existence can be known with certainty through his works by the light of human reason. Is it not possible that the same human reasoning which gives us the multiverse can also give us life after death and, in doing so, provide added certainty that God exists?

    • Caravelle

      I'm a materialist, and consider myself a rational person, and before I worry about the claims of Catholicism being falsifiable I'd rather they be well-defined. But then, that is a strict prerequisite for something to be falsifiable so I suppose to comes to the same thing.

      "Life after death" and "God the creator" for example aren't single concepts but can indicate many, many different concepts of what those phrases mean and what this post-death life or God are like. Nor are they unique to Catholicism, and nor are the beliefs of Catholicism reducible to those claims (Catholicism has very specific ideas of what this life after death is like, or what properties God the creator has, that are different from the claims of different belief systems that also affirm those sentences).

      The Church does indeed teach that God's existence can be known with
      certainty through his works by the light of human reason. Is it not
      possible that the same human reasoning which gives us the multiverse can
      also give us life after death and, in doing so, provide added certainty
      that God exists?

      I wouldn't put any limits on humans' abilities to figure out what's true; it's not that I think those limits can't exist, they certainly could, but positing any specific limit means making assumptions about the progress humans will achieve in terms of methodology and instrumentation for figuring things out, and who knows whether those assumptions are warranted or not.

      So sure, if there is life after death (however we mean that), then it's possible that physics (the specific form of human reasoning that gave you string theory) could figure it out. So far though it hasn't.

      Also, string theory is more of a hypothesis at the moment; the conceptions of multiverses based on it aren't the most well-supported. The multiverses implied by inflationary cosmology, or quantum mechanics, are more realistic options at this time.

      (That said, when I say "string theory is more of a hypothesis" I'm not saying it's armchair theorizing of the kind you're engaging in here. String theory has very precise and specific mathematics backing it.)

      • Peter

        "The multiverses implied by inflationary cosmology, or quantum mechanics, are more realistic options at this time."

        Life after death implied by NDE's and centuries of human belief is an equally realistic option.

        "String theory has very precise and specific mathematics backing it."

        And those very precise and specific mathematics point to 6 or 7 higher dimensions of reality.

        • Caravelle

          Life after death implied by NDE's and centuries of human belief is an equally realistic option.

          I don't know how you're defining "realistic" to make that comparison work, other than "hey, it's possible!", which is true but uninteresting. And NDEs are much more consistent with confabulation and other brain-specific effects than they are with life after death.

          And those very precise and specific mathematics point to 6 or 7 higher dimensions of reality.

          What do you mean, "higher"? The mathematics say nothing about the height of dimensions. They just say something about size, in that the 6 or 7 additional dimensions are completely tiny, on the Planck scale or so.

          • Peter

            The multiverse is nothing other than possible which makes it equally uninteresting. Eternal inflation is a hypothesis and so too is the many worlds interpretation in quantum mechanics.

            Furthermore, if quantum consciousness is true, it could operate around the planck scale within those 6 or 7 compactified dimensions.

          • Caravelle

            The multiverse is nothing other than possible which makes it equally uninteresting.

            No, it is one logical consequence of various versions (maybe most) of physical theories which are currently the leading hypotheses in the physics community based on the evidence and their mathematical consistency.

            As such it is, to start with, a well-defined concept (among physicists, if not laypeople) with specific consequences (which differ depending on what theory the multiverse derives from - there isn't "a multiverse", there are several different hypotheses involving different kinds of multiverses). "Life after death" is a vague idea with a million potential things it could mean but it's never clear in any given conversation (like this one) which of those things we mean.

            What's quantum consciousness, why would it operate at the Planck scale as opposed to any other consciousness, and how would operating at the Planck scale within 6 or 7 dimensions affect it as opposed to operating at that scale within 4 dimensions?

          • Peter

            The multiverse cannot be a well defined concept if there are several different versions of it depending on different hypotheses such as string theory, colliding branes, eternal inflation, cyclic universe, many worlds or the CarrolChen low entropy model.

            The multiverse is a vaguely defined collective hypothesis based on multiple hypotheses which themselves have no basis in reality. Life after death, on the other hand, has one specific thing in common: the continuation of consciousness after the death of the body.

          • Caravelle

            The multiverse cannot be a well defined concept if there are several different versions of it depending on different hypotheses such as string theory, colliding branes, eternal inflation, cyclic universe, many worlds or the CarrolChen low entropy model, or even Smolin's landscape of naturally selected universes.

            Sure it can, or rather, while "the multiverse" would be vague, each of those specific versions can be defined precisely (and even the aspects that cannot be defined precisely can be determined). And that's all that's required to make coherent arguments about them.

            When you asked whether human reasoning could "give us life after death", what did you mean by "life after death"? I assume some kind of continuation of our consciousness after dying, but what kind? What capacities would continue and which wouldn't? Does it involve some kind of "soul", is that "soul" immaterial? If so, what does "immaterial" mean and what are the implications of that concept? It is immortal? Does it go anywhere? Are "go" and "where" meaningful terms in that context? How does it work before death, and how does death affect it? What is the relationship between an individual person, their body, and that soul, i.e. can a soul only inhabit one specific body, and if so why this limitation, and if not how does our individuality relate to the specificities of our bodies and brain vs "our soul", if that's even a meaningful concept?

            And I haven't even gotten into asking which religion's version of the afterlife we're talking about.

          • Peter

            Regarding different routes to the multiverse, my own suspicion is that the mutiverse was originally thought up as a way of side-stepping God and then various hypotheses were ingeniously created in order to justify it. Otherwise there is no evidence of it at all. None at all.

            Life after death on the other hand, although not supported by fancy mathematics, does benefit from the fact that some individuals claim to have experienced it. While most NDE's could be put down to brain chemistry, there are several instances which defy explanation, given the unique information the individuals gained from the experience.

          • Caravelle

            Regarding different routes to the multiverse, my own suspicion is that the mutiverse was originally thought up as a way of side-stepping God and then various hypotheses were ingeniously created in order to justify it.

            That's a nice "suspicion" but it's false, as one can find out by reading the relevant papers and looking at how different multiverse hypotheses developed over time and what caused them to become popular, or not, among physicists. Worse than being false though, it's defamatory. Do you have any evidence backing this "suspicion"?

            Otherwise there is no evidence of it at all. None at all.

            Duh, that's why multiverses are hypotheses and not consensus. As I said they're logical extensions of existing theories that do have evidence for them, just like the Big Bang hypothesis was one mathematical implication of General Relativity before Hubble found evidence for it.

            Life after death on the other hand, although not supported by fancy mathematics, does benefit from the fact that some individuals claim to have experienced it. While most NDE's could be put down to brain chemistry, there are several instances which defy explanation, given the unique information the individuals gained from the experience.

            There's a reason "fancy mathematics" are a nec plus ultra in science, and a measure of a science's "hardness". Their value can be overstated, but it's real. The reason is that expressing a problem in mathematical form forces one to define it exactly, and the only conclusions that can be derived are those that follow logically from the premises as defined. You can still do logical trickery, like all those mathematical proofs of why 1=0, but that trickery is harder to pull off and easier to identify than with purely verbal arguments. An example of this is the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis" in ecology, a hypothesis that sounded good to the people who made it until others looked at what it meant mathematically, and they found that depending on the interpretations it ranged from wrong to nonsensical.

            But as it happens none of the questions I asked you required "fancy mathematics" to answer, just a non-vague idea of what you meant by "life after death". The only way in which something can be said to be evidence for a hypothesis, is if that evidence is more expected under that hypothesis than under the null hypothesis; in other words, we need to know what we would expect from a given hypothesis, which requires in turn a precise idea of what the hypothesis is.

            To take a practical example, in the post just before this one Dr. Feser seemed to explain that the human soul is basically our intellect, and he specifically singled out perceptions and imagination as being of the body, not the soul, giving examples of animals having those things but not having immortal souls the way we do.

            If I use this conception of the soul, then I would expect NDEs, which are perceptual experiences, to be related to the body and not the soul. In fact I'm not sure why I'd expect NDEs to happen at all.

            In other words you can't talk about NDEs being evidence for a hypothesis unless you define that hypothesis precisely enough to make predictions we can evaluate.

  • Mike

    IMHO there is just enough reason to believe and to disbelieve; the choice is ultimately ours; God hasn't stacked the deck either way but has allowed us to choose to embrace or reject; that means that one can rationally choose for and choose against; but ultimately it depends on what "weight" we attach to the variables/arguments or bits of data that determine where we find ourselves. The important point here is that "we" do the choosing not God forcing us one way and or the universe or "objective material" reality in another; the choice is ours; if we want to find more reasons to not believe they're out there and vice versa.

    Having said all of that IMHO IF ones "weights" are properly distributed as in if certain things/ideas/desires are properly weighted then one will surely or should discover intellectually that there is more evidence to support belief than unbelief.

    • Gray Striker

      IMHO there is just enough reason to believe and to disbelieve; the choice is ultimately ours.

      Sorry if we got off to a bad start, but I agree to a point. If you replace the part "just enough reason to believe" with the words"...."just lacking enough evidence to believe". I will agree.The choice to believe something, is ultimately an individudual choice....be it belief in God, UfOs", ghosts or any other phenomenon that has no real testable evidence that is in support of the hypothesis.

      • Mike

        Thx. but don't forget the last part of my comment; plus remember i think there is overwhelming evidence to believe but that depends on interpretation; remember also that based on a very strict standard such as "repeatable experimental data" we simply wouldn't be able to do almost anything as most of actual human life is NOT repeatable and quantifiable (love, justice, law, government, economics etc. etc. probably 99.9% of actual life) also even things like einsteins general relativity are 'believed' bc of a patchwork of experiments that TOGETHER CONVINCE physicists it is correct and of course the math predicts that and the 2 match up well but still it is a consensus albeit one very very strongly supported by data; so my point it that if your standard is so strict as strict as that which can ONLY be applied to physics, chem, and mostly to pure math, then and only then ;) yes i agree with you BUT based on the patchwork of evidence i think (depending on your bias) there is overwhelming evidence to believe in the christian god.

        Like someone famous once said you can go through life as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle.

        • Gray Striker

          There is no doubt as you say, that "science" is built upon the shoulders of all scientists that preceded the present discipline of same. But to equate philosophy and theology as an equal sister to or as credible as the scientific discipline because they too have an evolutionary history built upon the shoulders of their own turtles, seems a bit too much to accept for many of us.

          Like someone famous once said you can go through life as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle.

          Clever little aphorisms add nothing to discussions.

          How about this one..."there is a sermon in every leaf and on every blade of grass.

          See what I mean?

          • Mike

            I think the little aphorisms add more to real life than all the chem equations but that's another issue or maybe the one where atheists and theists really seem to be unable to agree on the common ground or language in that atheists seem really really really fixed on the physical sciences (which btw are nothing but natural philosophy or the study of patterns and relationships between things that reoccur over and over; if something is a one off it is almost by definition excluded by science which is a good thing) at the expense of all the other ways of knowing things; see if the hard sciences are the only way to get a reliable knowledge we might as well close down 75% of all departments at universities.

  • Nick Halme

    Define "certainty". Modern science is Bayesian, and if we are implying 100%, no such thing exists. Short of seeing a god substantiated in front of you, to be certain of its existence is not even something we can say about scientifically accepted facts which fulfill the requirements of 5 sigma probability.

    But more interestingly, and I say this as an atheist, I would think that such certainty would be damaging to the concept of faith. There can be no believers in something which clearly and undoubtedly exists.

  • What can one know? What can one hope for? What must one do? One can hope to know what one must do! Love one another.

    Faith, properly considered, in my view, will inescapably take us beyond the empirical and rational, but it doesn't travel without it. It thus requires both logical validity and as much abductive plausibility as can be mustered, all which can be incredibly suggestive even if not syllogistically decisive. The best models of faith "certainly" enjoy epistemic parity with competing models of reality.

    Faith goes beyond the merely informative, which might consider knowledge as empirical and analytic, to the robustly performative, which evokes Walker Percy's distinction between Information and NEWS.
    This is to say that it's not just a descriptive (factual), evaluative (value-oriented) and normative (moral & practical) determination, it has an interpretive aspect, which reveals itself in terms of existential actionability, a "living as if" this model of reality is suitably justified.

    One can be certain that the Good News enjoys as much existential actionability and epistemic virtue
    as any competing model of reality ever has or ever will. It's an axiological jacket that fits, but one must try it on to be "certain."

    What justifies its performative significance? Walker Percy would insist we evaluate its informative elements (I'd say logical validity & significant abductive plausibility), its relevance to our human predicament and the trustworthiness of the author.

    Jesus asks: Who do you say I am?

    Even as one vascillates: To Whom shall we go?