• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Cosmology and Causation: Why Metaphysics Matters

Sean Carroll

Several people have asked me to comment on the remarks about causation made by atheist physicist Sean Carroll during his recent debate with William Lane Craig on the topic of “God and Cosmology.”  (You’ll find Craig’s own post-debate remarks here.)  It’s only fair to acknowledge at the outset that Carroll cannot justly be accused of the anti-philosophy one finds in recent remarks by physicists Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Indeed, Carroll has recently criticized these fellow physicists pretty harshly, and made some useful remarks about the role of philosophy vis-à-vis physics in the course of doing so.

It is also only fair to note that, while I have enormous respect for Craig, I don’t myself think that it is a good idea to approach arguments for a First Cause by way of scientific cosmology.  I think that muddies the waters by inadvertently reinforcing scientism, blurring the distinction between primary (divine) causality and secondary (natural) causality, and perpetuating the false assumption that arguments for a divine First Cause are essentially arguments for a “god of the gaps.”  As I have argued many times, both on my blog and in  my published works, the chief arguments of natural theology (i.e. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic, and other Scholastic arguments) rest on premises derived from metaphysics rather than natural science, and in particular on metaphysical premises that any possible natural science must presuppose.  For that reason, they are more certain than anything science itself could in principle ever either support or refute.

Arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways, when properly understood (as unfortunately, these days, they usually are not), no more stand or fall with the current state of play in scientific cosmology than they stand or fall with current gastroenterology or polymer research.  (On this point, see chapter 3 of my book Aquinas, my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” my Midwest Studies in Philosophy article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument,” and many other articles and blog posts.  Or see my YouTube lectures “An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God” and “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science.” )

Carroll’s remarks during the debate are largely directed at the question of whether scientific cosmologists should regard theism as a good explanation for the sorts of phenomena they are interested in, given the standard criteria by which models in physics are judged.  Since I don’t find that a terribly interesting or important question, I have nothing to say about his criticisms of Craig on that score.

Having said all that, Carroll’s remarks, where they touch on philosophical matters, are pretty shallow, and he does clearly think that what he has to say somehow poses a serious challenge to theism in general, not just theistic arguments grounded in scientific cosmology.  So those remarks are worth a response.  The key passage concerns Carroll’s criticism of Craig’s claim that “If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.”  Carroll says:

"The real problem is that these are not the right vocabulary words to be using when we discuss fundamental physics and cosmology. This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics. That’s what the word 'metaphysics' means. And in modern physics, you open a quantum field theory textbook or a general relativity textbook, you will not find the words 'transcendent cause' anywhere. What you find are differential equations.
 
This reflects the fact that the way physics is known to work these days is in terms of patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature. Given the world at one point in time, we will tell you what happens next. There is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage, like transcendent causes, on top of that. It’s precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works.
 
The question you should be asking is, 'What is the best model of the universe that science can come up with?' By a model I mean a formal mathematical system that purports to match on to what we observe. So if you want to know whether something is possible in cosmology or physics you ask, 'Can I build a model?'"

Now, it would take a book to explain everything that’s wrong with this passage.  And as it happens, I’ve written such a book; it’s called Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  Since I’ve already said so much about these issues both in that book and elsewhere, I’m not going to repeat myself at length.  Let me just call attention to the key begged questions, missed points, and non sequiturs in Carroll’s remarks.

Carroll tells us that explanation in physics proceeds by way of building a “model” that describes a “mathematical system” reflecting “patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature.”  Fine and dandy; I’ve pointed this out many times myself.  If Carroll’s point were merely that, to the extent that theism can’t be formulated in such mathematical terms, it just isn’t the sort of thing the physicist will deem a useful explanation for the specific sorts of phenomena he’s interested in, then I wouldn’t necessarily have any problem with that.  That’s not what classical theism, properly understood, is all about in the first place.

But Carroll goes beyond that.  When he says that once you’ve hit upon the best mathematical model, whatever it turns out to be, “there is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage… on top of that,” he evidently means not just that you don’t need anything more for the purposes of physics, specifically, but that you don’t need anything more than that, period.  For he says that asking for more is “precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works” and that “our metaphysics must follow our physics.”

The idea seems to be that once you’ve answered all the questions in physics, you’ve answered all the questions that can be answered, including all the metaphysical questions.  There’s nothing more to be done, not just nothing more for the physicist to do.

Now, why should anyone believe that claim (which is essentially just a version of scientism)?  Carroll gives no argument for it at all; he just asserts it with confidence.  This is a step down from Alex Rosenberg, who in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality did give an argument for a similar claim -- an argument which, as I noted, is extremely bad, but is at least still an argument.

Nor could there be a good argument for Carroll’s scientism, because scientism is demonstrably false.  For one thing, “scientism” is more poorly defined than Carroll claims theism is.  However we tighten up our definition of notions like “science,” “physics,” and the like, the resulting scientism is going to be either self-refuting (since it will turn out that scientism cannot itself be established via the methods of physics or any other natural science), or completely trivial (since, to avoid the self-refutation charge, “science,” “physics,” etc. will have to be defined so broadly that even the metaphysical notions Carroll wants to dismiss will count as “scientific”).

For another thing, to suppose that since physics confines itself to mathematical models, it follows that there is nothing more to reality than is captured by such models, is fallaciously to draw a metaphysical conclusion from a mere methodological stipulation.  The problem is not just that, if there are features of reality which cannot be captured in terms of a mathematical model, then the methods of physics are guaranteed not to capture them (though that is bad enough).  It is that there must in fact be more to reality than is captured by those methods, in part because (as Bertrand Russell noted) physics gives us only structure, and structure presupposes something which has the structure and which a purely structural description will of necessity fail to capture.

I develop these points in detail in Chapter 0 of Scholastic Metaphysics.  I also show, in that chapter and throughout the book, that the appeal to “laws of nature” so routinely made by naturalists like Carroll, simply does not and cannot do the work they suppose it does, and papers over a mountain of begged metaphysical questions.  In fact the very notion is fraught with philosophical difficulty, as writers like Nancy Cartwright and Stephen Mumford have shown.  As I have noted many times, the notion of a “law of nature” was originally (in thinkers like Descartes and Newton) explicitly theological, connoting the decree of a divine lawmaker.  Later scientists would regard this as a metaphor, but a metaphor for what?  Most contemporary scientists who pontificate about philosophical matters not only do not have an answer but have forgotten the question.

One contemporary scientist who does see the problem is physicist Paul Davies, who, in his essay “Universe from Bit” (in Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, eds. Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics), writes:

"The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties.  The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe, and were imprinted on it at the moment of its birth from “outside,” like a maker’s mark, and have remained unchanging ever since… In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe… It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws.  And the asymmetry between immutable laws and contingent states mirrors the asymmetry between God and nature: the universe depends utterly on God for its existence, whereas God’s existence does not depend on the universe…
 
Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology.  It is remarkable that this view has remained largely unchallenged after 300 years of secular science.  Indeed, the “theological model” of the laws of physics is so ingrained in scientific thinking that it is taken for granted.  The hidden assumptions behind the concept of physical laws, and their theological provenance, are simply ignored by almost all except historians of science and theologians.  From the scientific standpoint, however, this uncritical acceptance of the theological model of laws leaves a lot to be desired…" (pp. 70-1)

Now some atheists may suppose that at this point I am going to exclaim triumphantly that there cannot be law without a lawgiver and proclaim victory for theism.  But in fact, like Davies, I don’t accept the theological account of laws.  I think it is bad metaphysics and bad theology (insofar as it tends toward occasionalism).  I want rather to make the following two points.

First, when scientists like Carroll confidently proclaim that we can explain such-and-such in terms of the laws of physics rather than God, what they are saying, without realizing it, is: “The explanation isn’t God, it’s rather the laws of physics, where ‘law of physics’ originally meant ‘a decree of God’ and where I don’t have any worked-out alternative account of what it means.”  Hence the “alternative” explanation, when unpacked, is really either a tacit appeal to God or a non-explanation.  In short, either it isn’t alternative, or it’s not an explanation.  This stock, naturalistic “alternative explanation” would be quickly dismissed if it were not so routinely and confidently put forward by otherwise highly intelligent, educated, and widely esteemed people.

Second, the original, explicitly theological Cartesian-Newtonian notion of “laws of nature” was intended precisely as a replacement for the Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysics of nature.  The Scholastics held that the regularities in the behavior of natural phenomena derived from their immanent essences or substantial forms, and the directedness-toward-an-end or immanent teleology that followed upon their having those forms.  In other words, regularities reflected the formal and final causes of things.  The early moderns wanted to get rid of formal and final causes as immanent features of nature, and thus replaced them with the notion of “laws of nature” conceived of as externally imposed divine decrees.  To keep talk of “laws of nature” while throwing out God is thus not to offer an alternative to the Aristotelian-Scholastic view at all, but merely to peddle an uncashed metaphor.

So, whereas Carroll glibly asserts that “now we know better” than the Aristotelians did, what is in fact the case is that Carroll and other contemporary naturalists have not only chucked out Aristotelian metaphysics but have also chucked out the early moderns’ initial proposed replacement for Aristotelian metaphysics, and have offered nothing new in its place.  This is hardly a problem for the Aristotelian; on the contrary, it is a problem for anyone who wants to dismiss Aristotelian metaphysics.

Like other contemporary Aristotelians, I would say that the right way to interpret a “law of nature” is as a shorthand description of the way a thing tends to operate given its nature or substantial form.  That is to say, “laws of nature” actually presuppose, and thus cannot replace, an Aristotelian metaphysics of nature.  (Again see the discussion of the metaphysics of laws of nature in Scholastic Metaphysics.)  There are other accounts of laws, such as Platonic accounts and Humean accounts, but these are seriously problematic.  Platonic accounts, which treat laws of nature as abstract entities in a Platonic heaven, push the problem back a stage.  To appeal to such-and-such Platonic laws as an explanation of what happens in the world only raises the further problems of explaining why it is those laws rather than some others that govern the world, and what makes it the case that any laws at all come to be instantiated.  Humean accounts, meanwhile, interpret a law as a statement that such-and-such a regularity holds, or would have held under the right conditions.  But in that case an appeal to laws doesn’t really explain anything, but only re-describes it in a different jargon.

Consider, in light of these points, what Carroll says about causation later on in the debate:

"Why should we expect that there are causes or explanations or a reason why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world inside of which we’re embedded has two important features. There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics -- things don’t just happen, they obey the laws -- and there is an arrow of time stretching from the past to the future.
 
The entropy was lower in the past and increases towards the future. Therefore, when you find some event or state of affairs B today, we can very often trace it back in time to one or a couple of possible predecessor events that we therefore call the cause of that, which leads to B according to the laws of physics.  But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole.  We don’t think that our universe is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Even if it’s part of the multiverse, the multiverse is not part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Therefore, nothing gives us the right to demand some kind of external cause."

Now in fact it is Carroll who has said absolutely nothing to establish his right to dismiss the demand for a cause as confidently as he does.  For he has simply begged all the important questions and completely missed the point of the main, traditional classical theistic arguments (whether or not he has missed Craig’s point -- again, I’m not addressing that here).  One problem here is that, like so many physicists, Carroll has taken what is really just one species of causation (the sort which involves a causal relation between temporally separated events) and identified it with causation as such.  But in fact, the Aristotelian argues, event causation is not only not the only kind of causation but is parasitic on substance causation.

Yet put that aside, because the deeper problem is that Carroll supposes that causation is to be explained in terms of laws of nature, whereas the Aristotelian view is that this has things precisely backwards.  Since a “law of nature” is just a shorthand description of the ways a thing will operate -- that is to say, what sorts of effects it will tend to have given its nature or substantial form -- the notion of “laws of nature” metaphysically presupposes causation.

Furthermore, what “allows us to speak the language of causes and effects” has nothing essentially to do with tracing series of events backwards in time.  Here again Carroll is just begging the question.  On the Aristotelian-Scholastic analysis, questions about causation are raised wherever we have potentialities that need actualization, or a thing’s being metaphysically composite and thus in need of a principle that accounts for the composition of its parts, or there being a distinction in a thing between its essence, or nature, on the one and its existence on the other, or a thing’s being contingent.

The universe, however physics and scientific cosmology end up describing it -- even if it turned out to be a universe without a temporal beginning, even if it is a four-dimensional block universe, even if Hawking’s closed universe model turned out to be correct, even if we should really think in terms of a multiverse rather than a single universe -- will, the Aristotelian argues, necessarily exhibit just these features (potentialities needing actualization, composition, contingency, etc.).  And thus it will, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, require a cause outside it.  And only that which is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, only what is utterly simple or non-composite, only something whose essence or nature just is existence itself, only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary -- only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation, whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be.

Carroll has not only failed to answer these sorts of arguments (which, again, I’ve only alluded to here -- see the various sources cited above for detailed defense).  He doesn’t even seem to be aware that this is where the issues really lie, and that they have nothing essentially to do with scientific cosmology.  That’s not entirely his fault.  As I have indicated, in my view too many people (and not just Craig) put way too much emphasis on scientific cosmology where the debate between theism and atheism is concerned.  That just opens the door to objections like Carroll’s, since it makes it sound (wrongly, but understandably) like theism as such is essentially in competition with the sorts of models Carroll pits against Craig.

NOTE: Dr. Feser's contributions at Strange Notions were originally posted on his own blog, and therefore lose some of their context when reprinted here. Dr. Feser explains why that matters.
 
(Image credit: YouTube)

Dr. Edward Feser

Written by

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.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • David Nickol

    I remember early in my college days I took an introductory philosophy course, and some of my fellow students expressed utter bafflement to what the point was. The whole thing was driving them crazy! They would get up in class and make rather anguished speeches about the pointlessness of it all. I remember being mildly sympathetic, rather amused, and perhaps feeling more than a little superior to them. But I confess I am coming at this advanced age to feel a little bit like them. I do feel philosophy is important, but I am beginning to lose patience with the Edward Fesers and William Lane Craigs of the world.

    It seems to me that philosophy, almost by definition, is the discipline that explores questions we cannot hope to answer definitively. Philosophy, of course, once included the natural sciences and other disciplines, but once effective ways of providing "real" answers to what had been philosophical questions emerged, the questions moved out of the realm of philosophy and in the realm of science (or some other realm).

    While people like Sean Carroll, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrence Krauss (and of course the predecessors on whose work they built) come up with real advances in human knowledge, the Fesers and the Craigs are still trying to convince us that people like Aristotle (4th century B.C.) and Thomas Aquinas (13th century) had all the answers. In truth, of course, while there are many no doubt brilliant people who are more or less Aristotelians or Thomists, their views are far from universally accepted as proven truths. Having delved a bit into the philosophy of science recently, it does not seem to me it is dominated by Aristotelians of Thomists. It also does not seem to me to come up with any "real" results, as does science itself. It seems to me if a scientist began his career by trying to master the philosophy of science, he or she would be bogged down in trying to answer many fascinating but unanswerable questions, and would never make it into the science lab.

    I must admit that my eyes glaze over when I read someone like Feser pontificating on science from a philosophical (and religious) point of view. This, of course, doesn't mean his is wrong. I may just be too dim to comprehend it all. But it seems to me to really understand what Feser is saying, it would be necessary to delve deeply into a branch of philosophy that might very well be an immensely elaborated system, developed over centuries and even millennia, that did not actually answer any "real" questions. Whereas if you read a book or listen to a lecture by Sean Carroll, you will actually learn something about reality. It may not be "ultimate" reality, but maybe we cannot know ultimate reality.

    I don't want to be categorized as anti-philosophy, but someone I read recently (it may have been Steven Pinker) characterized philosophy as the applying the methods we successfully use to solve a certain class of problems to another class of problems that are by nature probably insoluble. This does not mean philosophy is in any way a worthless endeavor. There is no way to know for sure what are insoluble problems and what are not. But these debates between philosophers and scientists are nevertheless frustrating, because science is tremendously productive and philosophy is not.

    This may come off as philistinism, anti-intellectualism, or "scientism," in which case I will maintain my Disqus account was hacked and I never wrote such a thing. :P

    • Greg Schaefer

      David.

      Thank you for writing this. As I find so often to be the case with your commentary, I wish I had written this! But, since you got there first, and expressed it so beautifully and eloquently, I'll just say "ditto."

    • Thanks for the comment, David! Since it's so long, I'd like to respond in parts.

      "It seems to me that philosophy, almost by definition, is the discipline that explores questions we cannot hope to answer definitively."

      This is a very strange and, I think, misguided definition of philosophy. It's demonstrably untrue. For example, all sound logical arguments (which fall under the discipline of philosophy) concern definitive answers to specific questions.

      But your definition is even more curious when considering other disciplines. For instance, which scientific, historical, or artistic discipline proposes definitive answers? Wouldn't you agree that it's the mark of a good scientist never to hold his findings as definitive? If that's not a mark against the scientist, why should it be against the philosopher?

      • David Nickol

        Thanks for the comment, David! Since it's so long, I'd like to respond in parts.

        Thanks for responding at length to my comment! I am going to hold off, at least for the moment, on answering your responses point by point, since in many ways my post was kind of a big long *sigh* rather than an attempt at a compelling logical argument.

    • "While people like Sean Carroll, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrence Krauss (and of course the predecessors on whose work they built) come up with real advances in human knowledge, the Fesers and the Craigs are still trying to convince us that people like Aristotle (4th century B.C.) and Thomas Aquinas (13th century) had all the answers."

      This is a very simplistic and, again, misguided caricature of the situation. Nobody claims that Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas "had all the answers." Thus you're merely posing a straw man.

      What Dr. Feser clearly argued in this post is that Aristotle was right (and Carrol/Dawkins/Hawking/Krauss were wrong) about certain metaphysical questions regarding causality.

      "In truth, of course, while there are many no doubt brilliant people who are more or less Aristotelians or Thomists, their views are far from universally accepted as proven truths."

      This assertion is too vague to engage. For example, you appear to insinuate that Aristotelians or Thomists claim their views are "universally accepted" truths. But who claims this? You cite no example.

      Also, does a view need to be universally accepted to be true? Are facts determined by democracy? I don't think so, and I assume you would agree. Just because many scientists disregard metaphysics doesn't mean they are right in doing so. (And just because the majority of Americans denounce evolution doesn't mean they are correct either.)

    • "Having delved a bit into the philosophy of science recently, it does not seem to me it is dominated by Aristotelians of Thomists. It also does not seem to me to come up with any "real" results, as does science itself."

      What do you mean by "real"? Do you simply mean "true"? If so, I would vigorously disagree (and would challenge the audacity of such a claim.)

      If by "real" you mean "physical", then this is a major confusion about the purview of philosophy. Philosophy deals with immaterial arguments and knowledge, not with physical research. Thus it cannot, by its nature, produce physical results anymore than history can produce musical results.

    • "I must admit that my eyes glaze over when I read someone like Feser pontificating on science from a philosophical (and religious) point of view. This, of course, doesn't mean his is wrong. I may just be too dim to comprehend it all."

      I admire and appreciate your humility. But it's worth noting that even by the fourth paragraph of your long comment, you've yet to substantially engage any of Dr. Feser's actual arguments.

      (UPDATE: And after reading your whole comment, this lapse continues to the end.)

      "But it seems to me to really understand what Feser is saying, it would be necessary to delve deeply into a branch of philosophy that might very well be an immensely elaborated system, developed over centuries and even millennia, that did not actually answer any "real" questions. Whereas if you read a book or listen to a lecture by Sean Carroll, you will actually learn something about reality."

      This is to beg the question because you're assuming precisely what's under discussion: whether philosophy (and thus metaphysics) produces real and distinct knowledge.

      Your rejection of Dr. Feser's answer because of its distinction from science is not a refutation but a refusal to engage the question.

      "I don't want to be categorized as anti-philosophy, but someone I read recently (it may have been Steven Pinker) characterized philosophy as the applying of methods we successfully use to solve a certain class of problems to another class of problems that are by nature probably insoluble."

      This is a another poor and confused definition of philosophy. It also begs more questions. For example, it assumes all problems that philosophy engages are "probably insoluble." But that's precisely what philosophy aims to determine! Why assume one answer in the definition?

      Defining philosophy in this way intentionally sets it up for failure. Some might consider that a clever strategy, but redefining a discipline doesn't invalidate it. It simply adds unnecessary confusion.

      "This may come off as philistinism, anti-intellectualism, or "scientism," in which case I will maintain my Disqus account was hacked and I never wrote such a thing. :P"

      Ha! I don't think it suggests those things. I think you're thinking along the right lines, and beginning to ask the right questions, but you must be careful not to assume a specific answer before even getting to the question.

    • Robert Caponi

      You or Carroll or Tyson are well within your rights to find this kind of philosophizing boring or useless, and it is your prerogative to ignore it. In fact, I wish Carroll and Tyson would treat religion and philosophy with the disdainful silence they should thinks it deserves. Instead, they insist on voicing their ignorant opinions on these topics, and asserting a spurious antagonism between theology and science, reinforcing a narrative that is lapped up by their philosophically illiterate fanboys, who then take trading the facile slogans of scientism as a mark of sophistication. Whatever advancements Carroll or Tyson or Dawkins bring to the public understanding of scientific matters, has to be weighed against the dumbing-down they bring to the public understanding of non-scientific matters.

      • David Nickol

        You or Carroll or Tyson are well within your rights to find this kind of philosophizing boring or useless, and it is your prerogative to ignore it.

        Just let me point out that I did say, "I do feel philosophy is important," and, "This does not mean philosophy is in any way a worthless endeavor."

        I do think, thought, that philosophy can be very frustrating! And the philosophy of science can drive a person insane!

        • "I do think, thought, that philosophy can be very frustrating!"

          Ah! I think you'll find lots of agreement there. (But that of course is no reason to dismiss it. The best things in life are often frustrating!)

      • Chee Chak

        In defense of Sean Carroll. I think you may have been a little harsh.

        Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy
        http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2014/06/23/physicists-should-stop-saying-silly-things-about-philosophy/

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      Many people who don't understand advanced science make this same sort of objection against funding science. They say who cares about quarks, quantum theory, quasars, going to the moon, when the real things being made are not in universities but actual businesses by people with practical knowledge. (Science and its fruits is sure a large term)
      The fact is that Philosophy is the science of logic and how to think about truth - while advanced metaphysics seems irrelevant, so does advanced astrophysics (in terms of its practical relevance to our everyday lives).
      I would argue that the benefits of both can't be easily measured in our own lifetimes, but their absence would be felt in the future. Philosophy is in the basic business of connecting ideas together and that has practical consequences on economics, sciences, and giving other advanced heuristics of knowledge a language in which to speak to each other. I find myself needing the language of philosophy whenever I delve too deep in to any field of knowledge that is relevant at the time.
      I seem to remember a similar disdain for the uselessness of studying history and I remember pointing out that while studying 14th century Northern Italian history might not be big on relevance, it is just a natural extension of remembering what we did yesterday.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I recently spent quite a bit of time reading and rereading Feser's book Aquinas. There is a difficult and long chapter at the beginning on metaphysics. I think if you invest some time working through that chapter until you understand what he is saying, you will not say that philosophy and metaphysics are a waste of time that explore nothing that matters.

      • David Nickol

        you will not say that philosophy and metaphysics are a waste of time that explore nothing that matters. . . .

        I haven't said that, and I will never say that. Please read what I say carefully.

    • Mohammed Hanif

      David,

      You should complain if Feser was pontificating on whether a datum of science was true or not but what he's actually doing is pointing out that scientists are pontificating (badly) when they go beyond science and judge on philosophical matters outside their expertise using a methodology and set of tools that are simply inappropriate.

      Aristotle's Physics is a curio; his Metaphysics is cutting-edge.

    • Ararxos

      "While people like Sean Carroll, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and
      Lawrence Krauss (and of course the predecessors on whose work they
      built) come up with real advances in human knowledge"

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA
      Yes that made me laugh!!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      when I read someone like Feser pontificating on science

      Where did you read him doing that? In the above essay he was discussing errors in metaphysics. That the errors were made by a scientist is no more astonishing than that veal cordon bleu might be messed up by an auto mechanic. Physics ≠ "Whatever a physicist says"

      applying of methods we successfully use to solve a certain class of problems to another class of problems

      This sounds like a criticism of Carroll trying to apply the methods of physics to the problems of metaphysics!

      • Michael Murray

        applying of methods we successfully use to solve a certain class of problems to another class of problems

        This sounds like a criticism of Carroll trying to apply the methods of physics to the problems of metaphysics!

        Remind me of some successful solutions of metaphysical problems. You know the kind of thing that is supported by the overwhelming majority of metaphysicists.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Questions in metaphysics are no more resolved by popular acclaim than questions of physics. Eugenics was supported by all the big names in biology in the early 1900s. That did not make it either true nor actually scientific.

          The difficulties with metaphysical conclusions is that they often deal with matters closely affected by a priori beliefs and so may be rejected for reasons having nothing to do with the arguments. The history of science is littered with the corpses of "successful solutions" that turned out to be wrong or insufficient. No one suggests that this impeaches the worth of physical science.

          • Michael Murray

            The history of science is littered with the corpses of "successful solutions" that turned out to be wrong or insufficient. No one suggests that this impeaches the worth of physical science.

            You jest surely. You haven't run into the argument that "science changes all the time so we don't have to take it seriously"? I'm sure I've seen it on these very boards.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Amendment: "No one who gives the matter serious thought suggests..."

            Those who do not give matters serious thought and thereby make silly objections come in all flavors. It grieves me to report that the demand for popular agreement -- which holds any proposition hostage to the least rational participant -- seems to be one of them.

        • Phil

          Hey Michael,

          Well, I'd have to say that most modern day metaphysicians agree that the external physical world does actually exist. ;)

          But to go beyond that, you might be surprised that there is a resurgence in realizing that all things have a nature and are teleological (i.e., have a formal and final cause in Aristotelian language). I think a reason for this is partially because of the physical sciences and the fact that they cannot function completely coherently without assuming formal and final causality as a part of all physical objects they study.

          I will say that philosophy is an old science relatively speaking and a lot of the most basic grounding principles and starting points one can take in metaphysics, and philosophy as a whole are out there if we look at the past 2000 years. So we need to learn to not try and "reinvent the wheel", but look to the intellectuals of the past 2000s and see what wisdom we can learn from them. Then we can run with it and make little tweaks here and there.

          • Michael Murray

            Well, I'd have to say that most modern day metaphysicians agree that the external physical world does actually exist. ;)

            How is that a solution of a problem though ?

          • Phil

            Did they solve that problem by proving that the external world exists ? That's news to me. Or did they just all decide that given the way the world behaves we might as well agree that there is a common external reality ? I'd also agree with the latter. It's a useful working assumption.

            You may think it is a "good assumption" but that doesn't make it true, one job of metaphysics is to show based on inductive and deductive evidence that it is rational to believe that an external physical world actually exists.

            I would say that most modern metaphysicans would agree that It is simply true beyond a reasonable doubt that the external physical world actually exists based on deductive and inductive evidence.

            This is obsiously good for all physical scientists so that they can do science coherently and not pointlessly!

            On a side note--I don't think that using the word "proof" is a good idea because when it comes to any science, be it a physical science or a philosophical science, as there is ultimately no such thing as 100% definitive proof.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. Can you point me at somewhere that discusses this deductive and deductive evidence in more detail?

          • Phil

            I wish I could point you to a single comprehensive volume, but I'd have to do some searching for that. So I'll list a couple that I remember them discussing this issue that I have also read personally:

            -"The Wonder of the World" -Varghese (Does a good job giving a single chapter overview of an idealist vs. realist metaphysics)

            -"Life, The Universe and Everything" -Ric Machuga

            -"The One and The Many" - W. Norris Clarke

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks.

    • BrianKillian

      Both science and philosophy are productive in different ways. Science feels more productive because it's literally productive - its results are concrete in the form of technological innovation.

      When Bacon said that knowledge is power, he was sort of redefining knowledge a bit. Increasing power can be impressive, but it doesn't always equate to increasing real knowledge.

      That science is not the most fundamental discipline is shown by the fact that there is a philosophy of science but not a philosophy of philosophy (or rather that 'philosophy of philosophy' just is philosophy). Philosophy is more 'meta' than science.

      Philosophy has its own kind of productivity. The mere fact that it often wrestles with questions that are supposedly insoluble should not be a problem. Human beings value reasoning about fundamental questions about reality, and they value good, sound, logical reasoning about those questions. That's why the chaotic, contradictory, arguing about such issues by philosophers is valuable. Out of the chaos comes greater awareness and understanding of the assumptions, implications, and consequences of the various paths one can choose on those issues. The logic of the issue comes to light, its pitfalls and traps, and new paths are discovered for exploration.

      It's productive in the sense that when one reasons about, say, whether consciousness is a material thing, one can have a well founded, justified, rational opinion about it, even if it is a problem that will probably never be solved in a laboratory experiment in a manner that scientists are accustomed to 'proving' things (philosophers conduct their own 'thought experiments').

      If you're the kind of person that is uncomfortable by the lack of any consensus on some topic (which is really a reliance on authority) then philosophy will be very off-putting because for any position you could possibly think of on any issue - you will find another philosopher saying something opposite. You are responsible for your own opinions about these issues and all the contradictory wrangling about it is actually beneficial to forming a reasonable position about it.

      It can all seem very futile and fruitless - but it's actually all for the good of having a better understanding of things, which really can lead to a legitimate progress.

  • Chee Chak

    Sean Carroll in his talk said:(paraphrased).

    Theism is not well enough defined for the scientific community to take seriously.There is not debate in the scientific cosmological community or conferences that give any serious consideration to any theistic hypothesis that claims god as a cause or creator of the universe.

    I have to defer for now, to the physicists, astrophysicists and cosmologists in these matters of science and not to the theologians and theist philosophers.After all what is the average reasoning person to do? Don't get me wrong please....I am not stating categorically that an entity such as a "Creator" is not possible.

    Though Carroll says that preexisting eternal conditions did not exist, the universe had a moment in time where it came into existence, That does not translate into a transcendent first cause as in god as creator.

    Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists Sean Carroll.
    http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/nd-paper/

  • GCBill

    The idea seems to be that once you’ve answered all the questions in physics, you’ve answered all the questions that can be answered, including all the metaphysical questions. There’s nothing more to be done, not just nothing more for the physicist to do.

    Now, why should anyone believe that claim (which is essentially just a version of scientism)? Carroll gives no argument for it at all; he just asserts it with confidence. This is a step down from Alex Rosenberg, who in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality did give an argument for a similar claim -- an argument which, as I noted, is extremely bad, but is at least still an argument.

    Carroll's failure to account for his views can rightfully count against him in an assessment of his debate performance. But Feser intends to give a much broader critique, as evidenced by the fact that he focuses on Carroll's claims devoid of their context with regard to Craig's own. And he gives me the impression that he's completely unaware that Carroll does give a defense of his (allegedly scientistic) cosmology. And sure enough, it goes well beyond saying "all that anyone should care about is what we physicists care about." No doubt Feser won't find it persuasive, but I'm disappointed that it isn't mentioned anywhere in this article.

    And why should I be disappointed? Because it's fairly easy to find the piece to which I linked – it's listed under "Greatest Hits" on Carroll's blog. So I'm guessing Feser simply didn't look very hard before claiming Carroll's views are without basis. It's kind of disappointing when someone who so routinely chastises atheists for not paying attention to certain theistic arguments seems so disinterested in finding out if someone he's criticizing has given an argument for a contentious claim. Dare I say it? – it seems an uncharacteristically lazy omission on Feser's part.

    [Cross-posted at Estranged Notions.

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      There is no explanation of anything there; he boils down his cosmology to this simple statement, "The final possibility, which seems to be the right one, is: that’s just how things are. There is a chain of explanations concerning things that happen in the universe, which ultimately reaches to the fundamental laws of nature and stops. This is a simple hypothesis that fits all the data; until it stops being consistent with what we know about the universe, the burden of proof is on any alternative idea for why the laws take the form they do."

      The causality just stops? So everything else in the universe has a cause that can be explained within the larger system it is in but in the case of the largest systems, they just "are." This is a baseless claim - it doesn't fit all the data whatsoever because all observed things have causes within a larger system, as stated by him. Merely positing that at some point the systems stop is just a convenient gap filler, not any real evidence based hypothesis.

      Then he states that burden of proof shifts on to the "alternative ideas" as if it's been solved that the laws stop. No sir, it is on you to prove that the chain of causality stops because that's how science works or anyone else is free to substitute any theory they believe.

      These scientists definitely have philosophy and science confused, as in they think science is "this is the best theory that explains the evidence" but really that is philosophy. Science is this, "we have tested our hypothesis and we have found it repeatable."

      Where science becomes scientism. Right there in the link.

      • staircaseghost

        Do you see where you shifted from Carroll's claim about explanations to a claim about "causality"?

        Do you see how those are not the same thing?

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          Yeah, I'm starting to understand what he's saying. Causes are explanations that are relevant only within the frameworks they exist in? Without a wider, framework, there is no use asking the question.

          I guess I would argue a few different points against if I understand what he's saying.

      • GCBill

        The causality just stops? So everything else in the universe has a cause
        that can be explained within the larger system it is in but in the case
        of the largest systems, they just "are." This is a baseless claim - it
        doesn't fit all the data whatsoever because all observed things have
        causes within a larger system, as stated by him. Merely positing that at
        some point the systems stop is just a convenient gap filler, not any
        real evidence based hypothesis.

        Carroll is arguing that the notion of cause (and by extension, causal chains) only makes sense within a larger framework that is the universe. If he's correct about this (I'm not sure he is, but am granting it for the sake of argument), then it is not baseless to infer that normal questions about causation cannot apply to the universe itself. This is because the universe itself provides the framework in which the question "what caused x?" makes sense. On Carroll's characterization of causation, "what caused the universe?" is asking "what caused the set of conditions that allow us to ask what caused any particular x?" I'm not as confident as Carroll is in this response to classical theistic contingency arguments, but I do think it's at least logically valid.

        Then he states that burden of proof shifts on to the "alternative ideas"
        as if it's been solved that the laws stop. No sir, it is on you to
        prove that the chain of causality stops because that's how science works
        or anyone else is free to substitute any theory they believe.

        I think virtually all metaphysical claims bear a proof-burden, and this naturally includes Carroll's. But he has supplied an argument which he perceives as meeting that burden. Someone who wishes to disagree with him should 1) supply a defeater for his argument, or 2) provide a stronger argument for another metaphysical position.

        These scientists definitely have philosophy and science confused, as in
        they think science is "this is the best theory that explains the
        evidence" but really that is philosophy. Science is this, "we have
        tested our hypothesis and we have found it repeatable."

        Carroll acknowledges that theoretical physics blurs the boundaries between science and philosophy. I'm inclined to agree with him. Furthermore, I don't think there's a strong need to draw hard demarcation boundaries between the two, as both are valid ways of acquiring knowledge. If the two need to collaborate to produce a coherent picture of reality, so be it. The real point of contention between Feser and Carroll is over which problem that science and philosophy ought to be solving.

        • Michael Murray

          Yep it's the fallacy of composition.

        • On Carroll's characterization of causation, "what caused the universe?" is asking "what caused the set of conditions that allow us to ask what caused any particular x?"

          This sounds like making the universe the uncaused cause or the unmoved mover. That is the universe becomes God. My understanding of why that fails is because the universe is composite. It is not a thing that transcends its component parts. It is merely the sum of its component parts. As such, it cannot be the uncaused cause. A composite of contingent things is going to be contingent. That is why God has to be simple.

          • GCBill

            If any uncaused cause is deserving of the title "God," then yeah I guess it is. But that seems to sell the concept of "God" a bit short, no? For instance, an uncaused universe wouldn't possess any of the three omni-virtues normally attributed to the God of classical theism. I'm tempted to say

            If the laws of nature really could have been different, then yes the universe is contingent. However, that depends on which conception of "law" you ultimately accept. If you think "laws" are merely manifestations of inherent telos, then the universe is merely the sum of its parts, as they are in some sense contained within the things they pertain to. But from a non-Humean supervenience angle, I don't think it can be reduced to a single contingent composite, since the things are governed by principles not contained within themselves. If you argue that the laws are "brute facts" (a sentiment which Carroll seems to endorse under different language), then I'm not sure how you'd judge the universe to be either necessary or contingent.

            Of course, I agree with Dr. Feser that the supervenience accounts leave something to be desired. However, I'm also skeptical of teleological accounts as well (for reasons that I would struggle to explain briefly, especially while under the influence of alcohol). The reason I'm less certain in Carroll's position than he is is because I'm not really happy with any of the popular accounts of the "laws of nature," and am still trying to decide which I dislike the least.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The universe is not a "thing" at all. It is a collection of things.

          • David Nickol

            The universe is not a "thing" at all. It is a collection of things.

            Is a galaxy not a thing because it is a collection of things?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That's not clear, at least to me. There does seem to be an organizing principle that makes a galaxy whole and distinct: current thought postulates a "black hole" at the center. I'm inclined to think a galaxy is a thing, but I can be persuaded that it is more like a sand dune: a haphazard collection of things (stars, etc.) that has no essential existence.

          • Michael Murray

            The universe is a thing which our sensory systems and brains divide into a collection of things for easier processing.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Ah, the good old sensory system and brain. But since these are individual, then the division into things-for-easier-processing should be as multifarious as sensory systems and brains.

            Your comment seems to border perilously close to the organismic concept of the universe that stifled the birth of science in so many cultures. Tell me: is the Murraymoon a thing? The Murraymoon is the mereological sum of Michael Murray and the Earth's Moon. Is that one thing or two?

          • Michael Murray

            Your comment seems to border perilously close to the organismic concept of the universe that stifled the birth of science in so many cultures.

            No it doesn't. Dividing the universe into bits is a useful thing to do. I'm just saying it isn't an absolute.

          • George

            but yawheh is most definitely composite. that's extremely obvious from theists' own descriptions. HE (it's always a he, isn't it) is lawful AND compassionate AND loving AND intelligent AND he's got plan AND he's just. He can do X, and Y. He desires this and avoids that. He can observe you, he can think, he can communicate, and he above all desires glory.

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          When he calls for people to prove him wrong, there is a need to demarcate because he is simply engaging in what theists are accused of all the time, of keeping invisible dragons in our garages. So he can make up facts about the outer edges of science like, "laws are basic facts which have no causes" and for it to be considered untrue, we have to prove him wrong? First of all, I deny that it fits the facts because (based on our own history)we've already changed our minds on the tautological nature of light and time, why would we assume the tautological nature of laws? Second of all, something that is true is true regardless of proof and science is the method for having proved things true - anything else should be demarcated from science otherwise, you've lumped in any philosophical position for which a claim can be made - this really then means,"all plausibilities are true until shown otherwise". Sounds like the inverse of science to me.

          • GCBill

            I'm not sure I understand your objection. What do you mean by "tautological nature?" These things aren't true by virtue of tautology, they're just our best guesses as to how nature behaves. We can be wrong about what nature's regularities entail, but we are (and should be) confident that it is regular. Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to so much as have this conversation.

            If there's a weakness in Carroll's position, it's that it takes our best models of the universe and imagines that there are principles which govern nature, making it so that the regularities we detect within our models hold. It's not exactly clear what these principles are. This is what Feser alludes to when he accuses naturalism of peddling in "uncashed metaphor," which in previous centuries took the form of Divine fiat. I myself am not comfortable with the move from Humean regularity to some kind of non-Humean theory, which is where my own doubts in Carroll's contingency deflationism arise. They are a result of my skepticism in a specific inductive move that he makes.

            Carroll's position is more tenuous than he admits, but it is in no way tantamount to claiming that "all plausibilities are true until shown otherwise." I think it's best modeled as an inference to the best explanation from observed regularities to non-contingent governing "laws." It is dubious argument, but it is certain not an "invisible dragon." The dragon is a criticism for ideas that yield no expectations about how the world will behave in the future. Non-Humean theories of laws stipulate that nature cannot deviate from their "prescriptions." A possible way to prove this wrong would be to demonstrate that the laws of nature change over time. The dragon, on the other hand, can never be proven wrong, because (in Sagan's famous analogy) every failed prediction is further explained away.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Tautological nature would mean that something "just exists" or is "just true" without reason or justification, and without need for one. Causes are explanations - like what explains why atoms are attracted to each other in this certain way? If you are calling laws "our best guesses," then we are going to have a different argument because I believe there is something tangible that exists outside of our descriptions. I am addressing those "things" that exist called laws. He has basically avoided the question in my opinion, but obviously you are much more familiar with his work; i read the one link one time.
            The dragon is completely apt for me if you can come to certain facts about the universe and then say, "these facts have no causes or explanations, they just exist." Because, on the off chance we do come to a greater understanding of them, you can just say that the next layer of cause/explanation "merely is". It is a way to continue to kick the can down the road.

          • Michael Murray

            To borrow a quote of Richard Feynman's:

            People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No I am not. I am just looking to find out more about the world. And if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is! But whatever way it comes out it’s nature, it’s there, and she’s going to come out the way she is.

      • Michael Murray

        No sir, it is on you to prove that the chain of causality stops because that's how science works or anyone else is free to substitute any theory they believe.

        No science doesn't say that if I can't explain something you get to substitute anything you like. Your theory still has to fit the known evidence.

        These scientists definitely have philosophy and science confused, as in they think science is "this is the best theory that explains the evidence" but really that is philosophy. Science is this, "we have tested our hypothesis and we have found it repeatable."

        Why repeatable? Testing a theory by making predictions and then seeing if they happen in the real world is science. Personally I would call that "this is the best theory that explains the evidence". I don't see the problem. You might want to define "best" of course and you might want to discuss how well it fits the facts. Is that what you mean by repeatable ? We have tested this theory lots of times in different ways ?

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          What is the evidence presented that laws just exist infinitely without cause? It is an assertion, not an argument, because no evidence is presented for it.

          Repeatability is the hallmark of objective truth. If your tests are repeatable with repeatable results, then I would agree that is science. But if, as GCBill notes, he admits theoretical physics blurs lines, I can accept that.

          • Michael Murray

            What is the evidence presented that laws just exist infinitely without cause? It is an assertion, not an argument, because no evidence is presented for it.

            I wasn't addressing the causality question but your claim that because someone doesn't have an answer to a question you are free to substitute any answer you like.

            Of course laws don't actually exist. What we see is that reality exhibits regular patterns of behaviour which makes it possible to develop theories that predict that behaviour. It's really an abuse of language to turn around and say that nature obeys the law of gravity. We all do it of course!

  • Mike

    Whenever a topic like this is discusses here I can't help but think the same thing.

    Why is a scientist concerning him/herself with religion? Especially trying to be an expert in religion. As far as I can tell the Bible shouldn't be treated as a science book, so why bother trying to refute it.

    The only thing I can imagine is that somehow scientists view religion as a threat to science, which I always find ludicrous.

    • Scientists are human. They ask the big questions. They wrestle with the claims of various religions. Why would they not ask whether science has anything to say about religion? It has already said a lot. How do we know the 6 day creation story is not literally true? Mostly from science.

    • Chee Chak

      Why is a scientist concerning him/herself with religion? The only thing I can imagine is that somehow scientists view religion as a threat to science,

      Dream On Randy. Typical of religious fundamentalist thinking.

      • Mike

        So we agree, religion isn't a threat to science.

        • Chee Chak

          I can agree with that fact....religion is no threat to science, however the corollary may not be true in the case of Catholicism.

          • Mike

            Ok Chee Chak. What scientific experiment should I run to disprove God? I'll run it, and co-publish it in the leading science and theological journals and we can put this whole debate of science vs. religion to bed.

    • Michael Murray

      The only thing I can imagine is that somehow scientists view religion as a threat to science, which I always find ludicrous.

      Surely politically in the US it is. Either through diminishing the quality of science education by watering down teaching of evolution in schools or by direct impact on science funding in congress because of religious senators opposed to scientism.

      Of course I know that is probably protestant evangelicals not Catholics but you said religion not Catholicism.

      • Mike

        Hi Michael. Good to see you again. Hope you've been well.

        I agree with your notion of trying to teach evolution and creationism in schools. However, I don't like to think that the whole of religion and how it impacts science boils down to that debate alone.

        Furthermore, I don't think it's good practice for scientists to go around saying look science therefore no God. I just don't think it's effective. I want and I think most people want to know the truth about the world we all live in. If scientists draw a sharp line that you either believe in strict materialism and science or religion and fundamentalism it forces people to make a decision between their strongly held beliefs and science. I would think it better from the perspective of spreading scientific knowledge to say here is what we know and what we don't and I'll leave it to you to figure out how/if it fits in with your notion of God.

        With regard to your point about science funding I agree that it's woefully small compared to what it should be. However, I think the problem is more nuanced than you alluded. In america I think both parties want to fund science more, but it's not a top priority for either. If it was one party would cut spending somewhere to pay for it, and the other would raise taxes somewhere likewise. However, republicans don't want to spend more money than they have to, and would choose to take it out of social programs. Democrats seem to want to protect the same programs at all costs, both sadly at the expense of science.

        Once again, hope all is well with you.

        • Michael Murray

          Once again, hope all is well with you.

          And you. Regards - Michael

    • George

      I don't know. But I sure hear a lot of theologians concerning themselves with science. Telling scientists what they can and cannot do: "You can't investigate past the big bang, that's our territory". How do they know this?

      • Mike

        Hi George.

        I can only speak for myself, but I think it's reasonable for science to have purvue to examine all things physical within the universe. If there is some physics prior to the big bang it's fine to investigate it scientifically. However, science can't examine everything, for example answering what is love? how should I live my life? and despite what Sam Harris says it can't tell me what's moral or immoral. Science is very good at what it does, and should be encouraged.

  • There are a lot of interesting arguments here; it's a long piece, and it would take another article of similar length to provide a satisfactory response. It does seem to boil down to something simple.

    Does God enter into our world? Is this kind of God the God who intervenes? If you believe in a God that intervenes in the world directly, then you take a very risky position. This God is going to change the way things are. This God enters into the realm of physics, maybe not the actual repeatable experimental physics, but his actions should have results that diverge from what would be predicted by physics, and in such a way that requires a mind, an intentionality, something that cannot even in principle be predicted for sure. There have to be exceptions to the rules. And God's activity, in a particular situation, can in principle be falsified. Maybe the claim that God started the physical universe will be falsified.

    Maybe instead you believe God only acts in this primary causality sort of way, a way that cannot ever be detected using physics. This position is not so risky. You can rely on maybe certain postulates of metaphysics and need not worry about God's activity being falsified. God can act as this final cause, this ultimate cause, and can be demonstrated with the chalkboard scholastic arguments. This position is safe, and to me, it's uninteresting. This is a boring God, one I don't really care whether he exists or not. Because, for all the day to day things, he might as well not exist. It's a question for academics, like Goldbach's conjecture. Interesting to some people, but not to me. Not to many people, I'd wager. It's a god for theologians and maybe for some mathematicians, but not a god for scientists to bother with.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Aquinas would argue that for almost everything that ever happens, God's primary causality makes it happen, but so far as we can observe, it happens through secondary causes, which is what science studies.

      God does also directly intervene, so when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead something did have to happen to Lazarus' body on the level of physics and biology, too.

      • If the body of Lazarus was reconstructed, maybe it was done directly. God would have moved the parts of Lazarus's dead body back together, maybe with other raw materials, to form again a living Lazarus. This process would either be able to be predicted before Jesus performed the miracle or it would not. If not, then in principle, the miracle of Lazarus could be empirically, scientifically verified. His reconstruction would necessarily involve something unpredictable. Nothing in the physical conditions of Lazarus or the surrounding area would have allowed a scientist to suppose he was going to come back from the dead.

        If this is true, I wonder, why doesn't God ever perform miracles in science labs, where they can be verified, and the matter settled? Statistically meaningful results from prayer studies would also work here. This is a riskier, harder to defend position, but it's more interesting.

        On the other hand, maybe God set it up from the beginning of the universe that Lazarus would just have come back from the dead, a sort of thermodynamic miracle. If that's true, then it doesn't matter much whether Jesus was there or not.

        If this is true, there's no way to find a miracle in a lab, but I wonder why people should care much about whether events are miracles or not. You could call all events miracles in this case. And this kind of God doesn't seem all that interesting, at least to me. He'd be more a matter of academic interest. People who are interested can take the time to learn about him. Those who aren't can learn about something else.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I wonder, why doesn't God ever perform miracles in science labs, where they can be verified, and the matter settled?

          The real question is "Why doesn't God just skype Paul Rimmer?"

          • David Nickol

            The real question is "Why doesn't God just skype Paul Rimmer?"

            A wee bit uncharitable, no?

            Exactly what happened to the God who went so far as to harden Pharaoh's heart so He could continue demonstrating His awesome power by visiting plagues on the Egyptians? The God of the Old Testament did not hesitate to manifest Himself. Why has he become so reticent?

          • Right! :D

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          This is a pretty specific proposition. "If God, you exist, then show thyself falsifiably in a lab."

          This line of logic was popular even to the naysayers in ancient times, as the God of the OT makes clear he puts on demonstrations to prove his existence, and Jesus, when responding to the devil's request to turn a stone in to bread, replies that "thou shall not put your lord to the test."

          Why would God not show himself in this manner to us now?

          I think this is the primal question for everyone at this site, and of course us theists have a hard time witnessing to a God who proved himself before but not now (because of the obvious). I simply propose to think of the counterfactual: let's say God just breaks out of the sky and says, "I am God, and furthermore, I am the God that the Catholic Church describes."

          Well, of course, at that point you would have an ample flood of converts to Catholicism but you'd also have doubters still. Maybe it was a trick, maybe a mass hallucination, maybe people just ignore it. You'd also have a very different world in this New Catholicism, one in which billions of new members now begin to wrestle with all of the questions that Catholics currently wrestle except that maybe you throw the whole Church out because its basic premise is gone; for current Catholics- what would we tell the new converts to do? The Catholic mission of bringing Christ to the world would be moot, for God has now skipped that step. The whole process of God would no longer be the process it is now, and our relationship to God would be one of simple acknowledgement, instead of the result of a deep, difficult, and hopefully fruitful search.

          Catholics would simply say, finding God is the relationship God wants with us, one that allows us to be ourselves and learn and do his work. It's why we were created in the first place. God wants us to be alive, and to be alive we have to have free choices - a God that passes our test is a mechanical God and we, his mechanical people. Can you seriously imagine having a true freedom to reject God if he produces verifiable results in a lab? His basic message is that we should not be forced to have a relationship with him; this is more important than giving us certainty about him. While not satisfying (especially to the Vulcans among us, of which I count myself), it doesn't mean it's false. We know intuitively that human beings barely act out their free will when faced with the presence and judgment of other human beings: how would our lives look with a clear and present deity? We'd barely be able to function.

          Like I said, of course it is tough not having proof but at some point, you have to think of proof as not an experiment in a lab.

          • Why would God not show himself in this manner to us now?

            I have no idea. Maybe he will some day. But this is backwards from where I'm starting. I'm asking whether God does anything that could in principle be measured in the lab (and then made a throw-away comment, one Kevin Aldrich recognized as mostly a joke, about why he hasn't done it in the lab). Does God intervene directly in time and space?

            If so, then what did God do, and how can we determine whether particular events are God's direct doing, or not?

            If not, what practical difference does God's existence make? What's the difference between an inactive God (or an indirectly active God), and no God at all?

            I agree with much of what you say following this question. Some people will become Catholics, some will be doubters. For myself, I don't know what I would do. I'd probably believe that God exists and is a Catholic. I'd want to ask him some questions about why he allows childhood cancer and why he ordered mass killings of children, if he did. Depending on the answers, I'd either become a Catholic or an anti-Catholic (in the most complete sense of the term). But different people would do vastly different things. One atheist friend of mine, a professional philosopher, admitted to me that no possible empirical evidence could possibly convince him of God's existence. He had metaphysical reasons for rejecting God, reasons he believes afford him certainty. I'm not so sure.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I didn't think you meant literally in a lab, but I didn't get it as a joke either, haha.
            Anyway, God is neither active nor inactive - he stands outside of space and time and is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. The premise, although it can seem "magical" to atheists, has a very good logic behind it and Catholics like to point to a consistency between Aristotle and the Jewish Yahweh as two sources that describe God in this way.
            Think about one of those shows where it seems everything the good guys do, the bad guy has already prepared for their action. It is just logical by our definition of God that God is not just one step ahead of us, he is every step ahead. He knows every single movement from the beginning of time to the end of time and the very act of creating the universe takes it in to account. For God, the inactive version: A causes B causes C... etc. and the active version: if I do A, God will do B doesn't make sense because he created A-Z and experiences A-Z without regard to time.
            Even before I converted, I thought theories on time's relativity were always fascinating - has modern science not confirmed that time is an illusion? Shouldn't this be a credit for the Aristotelian view of God?

          • Even before I converted, I thought theories on time's relativity were always fascinating - has modern science not confirmed that time is an illusion? Shouldn't this be a credit for the Aristotelian view of God?

            Modern physics has not confirmed that time is an illusion. There are ways to deal with time, mathematically, such that it acts much like another spatial dimension. The direction of time may be determined by the flow of entropy. Different philosophers, when looking at the physics, will conclude that time is an illusion, or that it's a special sort of dimension different from the spatial dimension, or that it's a fourth spatial dimension, or that there really only exists some sort of present state, marching from the past and into the future. Physics may not be competent to definitively rule out any of these possibilities, at least in the foreseeable future. I do think that physics offers suggestions about the way time is, suggestions philosophers should listen to. Currently, the suggestion seems to be that time is a dimension much like space. A new result in quantum mechanics suggests that future events can cause past ones, and the mathematics of general relativity lends itself well to a four-dimensional interpretation, as shown by the philosopher Ted Sider in his book "Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time"

            The way I understand Aristotle's argument, it doesn't matter whether time exists or not. The argument would still work. But I'm not sure what it would establish. Some sort of mental force or entity that only thinks about itself? Doesn't sound much like God, as we would think of it, and Aristotle's God seems to be the ultimate example of a purely academic entity.

          • BrianKillian

            The Old Testament reading at Mass today was about the prophet Elijah standing before the mountain of the Lord. And how there was fire, but God was not in the fire; and then a strong wind, but God was in the wind; and an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. The prophet discerns God voice in a gentle silence instead.

            I always feel like atheists' challenge to God to demonstrate himself is asking God to show himself in the fire, wind, and earthquake - that is in great, flashy, extraordinary feats. But what if the Bible is right that God is not to be found there?

            And how could he? How can an infinite, immaterial, transcendent mind that is not related to any finite, material creature (although all finite, material creatures are related to it) 'show' himself to creatures like us?

            If we can behold something with our senses, or prove something in a laboratory - that thing beheld and proven would not be God.

            Our natural equipment is not made to 'see' God directly. And there will always be a 'natural explanation' for any Fire, Wind, and Earthquake type demonstration of God anyway for those that are determined to find one.

            There will aways be some story that can be proposed to explain why it's not God that is behind Moses' plagues, or the voice that is in your head, or the writing in the sky that says "Hi, I exist - God", or whatever thing some atheists says will convince him that God exists.

            Even the most extraordinary mystical experience in the universe could be 'explained' by deciding that you've gone stark raving mad.

            I do think God acts in his creation. So how do we know when and where he is acting? How do we know that he exists and is active in our lives? Well, whatever the way is I don't think it will be the way that most people assume it should be - in fire, wind and earthquakes.

          • David Nickol

            You seem to believe that people are, or become, atheists by contriving by some bogus means or another to deny all of the evidence that God exists. I do not consider myself an atheist, but nevertheless for me what I experience is a near total lack of credible evidence. When I listen for the voice of God, I hear utter silence. When I look back on the times when I believed I believed (mostly when I was school aged), it seems to me I would have believed just about anything I had been taught—Catholicism, Christian fundamentalism, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or anything.

            Your experience may be that belief in God is obvious and natural. But try to understand that for many of us, it is not the case. It is not as if God is trying to inundate us with signs or feelings or intuitions of his presence and we are doing our best to rationalize everything away. It is not that if we just let down our guard, we would believe. It is that while you claim to experience God's presence, we experience his absence. Please try to respect that.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi David. Spot on. Thank you.

          • Michael Murray

            You really need to talk to some atheists and just ask them why they don't believe. Don't tell them why you think they don't believe. Ask them.

            Speaking for myself. I just look to see if the universe and the natural world appears to be the creation of a loving and benevolent being. It doesn't look that way to me. I look again to see if there appears to be a purpose for human existence. There doesn't appear to be one to me.

          • I might worry that the still small voice is just in my head.

    • You assume the starting point of metaphysics is God. God is not an initial definition. God is the name we apply to the conclusion that there must be a being whose essence is his existence, which conclusion defines the word, God.

      • You are incorrect in what I assume. Maybe I did not adequately communicate my meaning?

      • To clarify, I think God's a conclusion, or a name applied to a conclusion, like you say. I just think that, in many cases, that conclusion is purely academic. It doesn't affect my life much, and isn't the sort of academic question that interests me.

        The sort of God that actually messes with the universe, on the other hand. Now that's worth talking about!

        • Thank you for the clarification. I like your terminology, messes with the universe.

          Having concluded, from what we do experience, that
          there must exist a being, beyond the scope of our experience, whose essence is identical to its existence, ‘I am, who am’, we could ask if he messes with the universe, which he caused to exist. However, messes could not be in the sense of an engineer, who tinkers with or refines, what he has designed. The reason is that there are only logical distinctions among the intelligible, the good and the real. Since the ‘I am’ is complete intelligence, he could not have second thoughts of refinement. However, messes could mean sends us a communique. The Judeo-Christian Faith claims he did. Those who initiated the claim said they
          witnessed natural wonders as authenticating the communique. However, these were relatively few compared to the many Christians over the past centuries, who have accepted as valid the communique allegedly from the “I am’ beyond our experience. These Christians claim the communique was authenticated quite subtly. They said the intelligence of the communique was beyond the capacity of human invention. Blaise Pascal noted its subtlety thusly, “Just as Jesus Christ went unrecognized among men, so does his truth appear without external difference among common modes of thought. So too does the Eucharist remain among common bread.” Pensees, 789. It is the integral intelligence and beauty of the communique itself, i.e. the Catholic Faith, which authenticates its origin.

    • TomD123

      I hold that God is the primary cause of all things. I do not think however that this is uninteresting, unimportant, or entails that God does not or cannot intervene. I do think that this God can be falsified, that is, by refuting the arguments for His existence, but not in the same way a science experiment falsifies a scientific hypothesis.

      I hold that whether or not God (of this sort) exists is not uninteresting is because if He does, He is by definition the most fundamental thing, the source of all being. Uncovering this truth tells us about the fundamental nature of reality. Maybe this question doesn't interest many people, but it would certainly interest many others. In itself, it seems like an interesting question even if it is not everyone's cup of tea.

      It is certainly important. One obvious reason that would be relevant to this website is that Catholicism is based off of this conception of God. God is source of being who revealed Himself to the Jews and ultimately in Christ. If this God does not exist, Catholicism is false. If God does, we have to investigate further.

      Finally, it does not entail does not intervene. God, being the primary cause of things would not just be the being that started the universe off, He would be the source of its reality at all points in time. It would follow then that the entire history of the universe is subject to God's will. I could elaborate on this point but that suffices for now. Last, God can certainly intervene by miracles. If God ordinarily works through secondary causes, there is no reason, being the source of causal power for those secondary causes (because that is what a primary cause is), He can obviously suspend them and directly produce something. We could say that God who causes the laws of physics to be as they are can also suspend them at any moment. To use a weak analogy, a musician is generally playing notes within the proper key, but every now and then he can add a note outside of that key for some specific effect.

      • Right. There are two parts here. God as this sort of Aristotelian first cause, and God as intervener.

        God as first cause cannot be falsified, but the question God as first cause is academic. It will be very interesting to some people and not interesting to others. Like String Theory. Some people will study it intimately, but not everyone is going to be interested, in a day-to-day way, whether it's true or not. Not everyone should be expected to work through the math of string theory to find out for themselves. Not even most physicists will do this. It's not that important to them. Most people will instead wait until there's consensus one way or the other about string theory, and go with that. There's no consensus among philosophers about whether God, the first cause, exists. So I'm suspending my belief in such a first cause being. it doesn't matter enough to me to seriously look into the arguments, but I do have a cursory knowledge of some of them (Kalam cosmological, Leibniz's cosmological, argument from PSR, moral argument, etc.), and opinions on them, but I'm no expert.

        Then there's God as intervener. Some statements about God as intervener can be falsified. If this kind of God exists, and intervenes regularly enough and in a way relevant to human life, or with a concern for human well-being, then this should be of serious interest to anyone. The question ceases to be academic, but it does become to a certain extent scientific. For example, Jesus it is claimed turned water into wine at this weeding at Cana. If there were a chemist there, the chemist could have tested this claim. The statement "Jesus turned water into wine at Cana" could, in principle, have been falsified. The statement "Jesus came back from the dead" could be falsified. The statement "God started the universe" may someday be falsified.

        If you believe in God, but that God intervenes very little, or in undetectable ways, then the existence of that kind of God is, in my opinion, mostly an academic question. On the other hand, if God is so involved in the universe and in humanity as to change things in ways that can be tested, that sort of God should be interesting to everyone. That's relevant for everyone's life, whether God exists. For all that Creationists like Ken Ham and Robert Sungines bother me, they do at least believe that God affects the world in stark, detectable ways. God almost certainly didn't do the things they think he did, but their God is at least much more interesting.

        • TomD123

          (1) The comparison between the arguments for God's existence and string theory are similar in that they both have an academic element to them. However they are different because string theory is much more complicated and involves an in-depth background in physics and math. I do not think that the basic arguments for God's existence require deep philosophy in order to understand them or see that they are cogent. Perhaps in order to understand them at a deepest level or to discuss them on an academic level, but for all intents and purposes the everyday person can have reasonable knowledge about them in order to form some sort of opinion.

          (2) The first two examples you provide of falsifiable interventions are miracles. These are different than ordinary intervention. God can intervene regularly yet without miracles. Miracles are extraordinary and have a special purpose. Even so, the fact that God exists as first cause is an important thing to establish as true (or at least plausible) before establishing a miracle claim. If God exists, miracles are possible. If God does not, they aren't and we should find other ways of explaining supposed miracle claims.

          (3) As for ordinary, non-miraculous intervention, I think this is different. It follows from the view that God is first cause that He "intervenes" in the sense that He is the cause of all there is. Does an author intervene in a story? In the sense that he is the cause of the story at every point. This is how it is with God. So that certainly effects us as humans because this is more or less the idea of providence. Yet this follows directly from the idea that God is first cause.

          In summary, I think that the problem is pitting God as first cause up against God as one who intervenes.

          • Thanks for your response, Tom. I have some questions.

            You say:

            I do not think that the basic arguments for God's existence require deep philosophy in order to understand them or see that they are cogent.

            How do you explain the theistic philosophers and apologists who claim that their critics don't understand the arguments? If the arguments for God's existence are relatively easy to understand, how is it that so many professional philosophers even misunderstand them? I agree that on their face these arguments seem easy. To me, they seem easy to understand and unsound or at least very uncertain. But maybe that's because I misunderstand them. In which case, they weren't so easy after all?

            Also, something can surely be easy to understand and still of mostly academic interest.

            (2) and (3), You say:

            Miracles are extraordinary and have a special purpose. Even so, the fact that God exists as first cause is an important thing to establish as true (or at least plausible) before establishing a miracle claim

            Let's work backwards, and assume for the sake of argument that God exists. Does God work miracles? What evidence is there that he does?

          • TomD123

            With regards to my point about people's grasp of the arguments for God's existence, I should clarify my statements. I think many of the arguments in themselves are mostly intuitive. For example, the fact that we ask "why does anything exist?" is the underlying point behind arguments based on the principle of sufficient reason. Now, that doesn't mean that anyone can have an intelligible discussion about the argument. I only mean to say that the arguments themselves have an intuitive side to them.

            A lot of people do misunderstand the arguments. And I can't say I know all of the reasons. But the mistakes that I see most often, and that are most frustrating, are not misunderstandings which would require much effort to amend. For instance asking "who caused God?" demonstrates a blatant misunderstanding of almost any argument for God's existence yet it is not one which requires any background philosophy in order to understand the answer. Unfortunately, even philosophers sometimes make these kinds of mistakes.

            Finally, for your last question: I think God does work miracles. It is hard to establish any one claim as conclusive, but I wouldn't consider them by and large stand-alone. I consider the situation analogous to a crime scene. If lots of pieces of information seem to point to one man, it is likely he is the murderer. Some of the claims from Lourdes cures would be examples of cases that I would find compelling and more likely than not, miraculous. This has to do with the claims themselves as well as the context of the visions at Lourdes which are at least somewhat persuasive.

          • The "what caused God?" reply is often used in a way that misunderstands, say, the Kalam cosmological argument and can be easily answered. But it can also be used in a way that is not so easily answered, and hasn't been answered to my satisfaction. This is the way Bertrand Russell uses it in his essay on why he doesn't believe in God.

            Someone says that everything has a cause, the chain of causes can't go on forever, so there has to be a first cause and that cause is God.

            Ask, what caused God?

            Answer, nothing needs to cause God. He's special.

            Ask, why can't the universe be special like God is?

            Various responses have been brought up. Maybe anything that has a beginning needs a cause outside itself. But that doesn't seem obvious, at least not to me. Maybe something can both begin and be a necessary being. Maybe it starts itself, or maybe its existence is just a brute fact. Or maybe anything that is material has a cause. But that's not obvious to me either. After all, matter and energy seem indestructible. Maybe they have no beginning, either.

            Even that naive question, if pressed, becomes hard to answer.

          • TomD123

            If the question is posed in such a way that it means to ask "why does God not need a cause?" maybe it makes a little more sense. But in response to any argument for God's existence, it simply misses the obvious point of the argument.

            I think that the Kalam argument is a good example. To ask that question is to really misunderstand the argument because the point of the argument is to show that the universe has a cause because it began. Now, personally, I don't think the Kalam argument works for showing God exists, but I know that the objection "who caused God?" is easily answered and in no way threatens that argument. Other arguments are similar. Arguments based off of principle of sufficient reason, arguments that are similar yet use different metaphysics, etc. have obvious answers for the same reason. They start with types of things that need causes, and then explain why there must be something that is a different type of thing.

            "Someone says that everything has a cause" -obviously if you started with this premise "who caused God?" would be a devastating blow to your argument. The only problem is literally no one starts off with this premise.

            "Answer, nothing needs to cause God. He's special." this alone is a bad argument as well. Its a textbook example of "special pleading"

            "Even that naive question, if pressed, becomes hard to answer." Maybe if you start off with the idea that everything needs a cause, or arbitrarily pick which kinds of things do. But that is not what the arguments for God's existence are doing.

          • What does God have that the cosmos* doesn't, that makes it so the cosmos needs a cause and God doesn't?

            *cosmos is the all of physical reality, the universe, or the multiverse if there is one.

          • TomD123

            I think that the cosmos need a cause for a number of reasons. For one, they seem contingent because there are probably possible worlds with different cosmos or no physical cosmos at all. Also, what they are does not entail that they exist hence they have an essence distinct from their existence. Cosmos are composed of parts and thus less fundamental than their parts. I could go on.

            If it is true the cosmos need a cause, and a string of causes cannot go on to infinity, it follows that there must be some first cause, or most fundamental cause.

            Now, you could argue that causes can go on forever. Or you could argue that the cosmos don't in fact need a cause. But you cannot say "what caused the first cause?" The reason is that if the cosmos are the type of thing that needs a cause and the string of causes cant go on forever, it follows necessarily that there is a first cause in the series that is a relevant different type of thing than the cosmos.

            For instance, if the cosmos need a cause because they are contingent, and a string of contingent causes cannot go on for infinity, it follows then that there must be a non-contingent or necessary cause. Asking "what caused the necessary cause?" is asking a question which isn't even coherent given the argument. Asking "why are the cosmos contingent?" "why do contingent things require causes?" etc. are coherent but I think they have good answers. You can disagree, but to ask "why doesn't the necessary being have a cause?" misunderstands the argument---and in a very obvious way. That is my point.

            (On a side note, you may ask "why the necessary being has to be God?" or "why is God necessary?" That question I think misses the point as well. What we call the first cause is irrelevant to what the thing is. If what the question really is getting at is "why should we attribute traditional divine characteristics like goodness or knowledge to the first cause?" then the question is intelligible and there are arguments for these points. They are distinct however. If asking "why is the necessary being God?" you mean to ask "why is it the God of the Bible?" also misses the point. Whether or not a specific alleged revelation (like the Bible) is from God/the first cause, is a separate question to be determined independently. It is entirely separate even in the style of argument).

          • I think that the cosmos need a cause for a number of reasons. For one, they seem contingent because there are probably possible worlds with different cosmos or no physical cosmos at all.

            I am using Cosmos here to include all of physical reality. There are no different cosmoses in that definition. There can't be. They're all counted as one big category "all of physical reality." There's nothing physical other than the cosmos, by definition.

            Also, what they are does not entail that they exist hence they have an essence distinct from their existence.

            Now we are getting into things I'd call "hard to think about" (what is "essence", what is "existence", what does it mean for something's essence to be its existence? Is Aquinas's conception of divine simplicity coherent? Even some Catholic philosophers suspect not. This always seems very heady to me and I've never been able to make any sense of it really.). Why does this mean that the cosmos has to have a cause?

            Cosmos are composed of parts and thus less fundamental than their parts.

            Why does this mean that the cosmos must have a cause? Do the parts of the cosmos need a cause too?

            If it is true the cosmos need a cause, and a string of causes cannot go on to infinity, it follows that there must be some first cause, or most fundamental cause.

            Why can't the cosmos be its own cause?

            My whole point, and Russell's whole point, is, if God can be first cause, why not the cosmos?

          • TomD123

            (1) Be careful not to equivocate on "cosmos." If you mean "all existing physical reality" there could be other physical realities. I don't mean that there might be other physical realities somewhere, obviously that's by definition false. What I mean is that some possible worlds contain alternative physical realities. If you mean by cosmos "any potential physical reality" then I would say that the cosmos does not need a cause. But that is not entirely interesting because of course non-existent potential physical realities don't need causes.

            (2) True, speaking of essence and existence is starting to touch deeper philosophical issues. That said, the reason I bring it up is in answer to your question about why the cosmos need a cause, not to support my initial point about the intuitive nature of some theistic-arguments.

            (3) What I mean by cause when talking about parts vs. whole in this case is a condition which must be met in order for the thing to exist. Since the parts of a thing must exist for the whole to exist, a thing is conditioned on its parts. This idea comes from Father Spitzer's "New proofs for the existence of God,"

            (4) Cosmos can't be its own cause because self-causation is incoherent. It essentially boils down to the effect being prior to itself in some sense which is self-refuting.

            (5) I get that the question "why can't the cosmos be the first cause?" is a meaningful question. BUT the reason we got into this discussion is because I said "who caused God?" misunderstands theistic arguments. I hold that it still does. If you say that the cosmos do not need a cause, you must either deny that they are the kind of thing that needs a cause. For instance, to refute an argument based on contingency and necessity, you must either argue that the cosmos are necessary or that contingent things don't require causes. To ask "what caused the necessary being?" however manifestly misses the whole point of the argument.

          • (1) I'm not equivocating, just misunderstanding you. I wasn't talking about possible worlds, and I thought you weren't either. Now I understand (I think). You are saying that the cosmos could be different than it is so it needs a cause. Why is that?

            (2) Goldbach's conjecture is intuitive. It's easy to understand what it says. It's very hard to prove whether it's true. These demonstrations for God, some of them, are very easy to understand what they are trying to say. It can be very hard to tell whether they are valid or sound.

            (3) So the fundamental entities exist forever and simply come into different combinations over and over. Why does this mean that they need a cause?

            (4) How is self-causation incoherent? A causes B and C, B goes back in time and causes A and C goes on to cause everything else. A is prior to all, but is caused by something that has the rule "posterior starts prior". I can understand if you think this is unlikely, or that there's no evidence, but it seems coherent to me.

            (5) I think it depends on how you ask the question "who caused God?" If it's okay to say "nothing" for God, then why not say "nothing" for the universe? My whole point in this was only to point out that not everyone who asks the question "who caused God?" misunderstands the argument (although they get accused of it). The question can often lead up to "what does it take for something to be a necessary being?" So far, I'm almost to the point of Spinozistic naturalism. I am close to believing that the universe itself is the necessary being.

            Thanks again for this great dialogue. I'm interested in seeing where it goes. It's been educational for me, especially your (3) answer there.

          • TomD123

            (1) Okay then we are on the same page. I am saying that this cosmos could have been different, as they are in another possible world(s). That means that they are contingent, the reason being that in a possible world with different cosmos, ours don't exist. When contingency is understood in this sense, I think a better word than cause is explanation. Since only our possible world is actualized, this raises the question as to why this possible world rather than another? This seems to cry out for an explanation.

            (2) To show with certainty whether or not they are sound seems to be beyond common sense and intuition. So I agree there. However, to have an intelligent conversation about the arguments is not something that takes a lot of academic expertise in philosophy. Also, I think the plausibility of some arguments, like those based on PSR have an intuitive dimension too them.

            (3) In this context, a "fundamental entity" couldn't have a cause, because it is fundamental. That which is less than fundamental needs to be explained in terms of what is more fundamental because it exists on the condition that the more fundamental thing exists. For instance, I exist on the condition that my cells exist. If we keep going, it seems as though we have to reach a most fundamental thing that has no conditions upon which it exists. Having no conditions entails having no parts for one. Now, whether or not this fundamental thing is truly a "part" of the less fundamental things and in what sense it explains the other things in existence are legitimate questions. That said, I think that Father Spitzer's book does a pretty good job explaining these points. As it relates back to the initial point, it seems that whatever is composed of parts isn't the most fundamental sort of thing-and therefore the cosmos couldn't be, regardless of whatever turns out to be the most fundamental thing.

            (4) I can't say whether or not that scenario is metaphysically possible or physically possible. I'm not sure if anyone knows. That said, I don't think its a true example of self-causation. It is kind of like saying "I am always tired because I go to bed late. I go to bed late because I have lots to do. I have lots to do because I am too tired to do it during the day. I am too tired during the day because I am always tired." Regardless of which events come first in time, the circle is insufficient as a complete explanation. The same goes for your scenario with A, B, and C. Even if A causes itself through some strange time-travel like event, it doesn't matter. There has to be other causal factors in play in order to get to A. This point I think can be articulated and defended differently depending on what metaphysics one chooses to work from.

            (5) I get what you are saying, so in many cases maybe that is correct that people who ask that question don't misunderstand the argument. However, in many other cases I think that they do. For example, some people (including philosophers) are under the impression that first cause arguments start with the premise "everything has a cause." They even attribute this argument to people like Thomas Aquinas. This is manifestly untrue. On the other hand, asking "why can't the universe be a necessary being?" is a reasonable question- but it seems to concede implicitly that an argument for a necessary being succeeds. So it is really a question concerning the nature of a necessary being.

            I say that the universe can't be the necessary being for reasons articulated in my point 1. Additionally, if it were the necessary being, it would be in principle possible to deduce everything about it analytically which seems highly implausible. Finally, if it were necessary, it would have to always exist (because if it failed to exist, it wouldn't exist necessarily!) and this seems to be something that is at least possibly false--in the epidemiological sense and ontological sense.

            Yes thank you as well, it is a very interesting dialogue for sure!

          • (1) I agree that explanation is better to ask about than cause, or at least it's a more natural word to us at present.

            Then you ask:

            Since only our possible world is actualized, this raises the question as to why this possible world rather than another?

            I don't know.

            (2) I don't think common sense has much to do with "existence", "essence" and "divine simplicity", let alone "Trinity" and "hypostatic union".

            (3a) Maybe there are several fundamental entities, a bunch of atoms, say, and none of them has a cause? Even if there is only one fundamental entity, why think that it is God?

            (3b) Do you think fundamental entities require no explanation?

            (3c) If a fundamental entity is such that it cannot be other than it is, is God really a fundamental entity? Could God have made different choices than he in fact did?

            (4) I fail to see why the circle isn't well explained in terms of efficient causes (if you simply ask "what caused x?" I can always give an answer). But maybe you are talking about answering the question Why A B -> C and not something different? If this is the question you are asking, see my answer to (1).

            (5) You say:

            ...in many cases maybe that is correct that people who ask that question don't misunderstand the argument. However, in many other cases I think that they do.

            I agree.

          • TomD123

            (1) the important thing with asking why this possible world rather than another is actualized is that since every possible world in itself is equal in its ontological standing as a possible world, if there is any explanation at all why one is actualized and not another, it must lie in something external to the possible world.

            (2) the idea is that people without philosophical background can have intelligent and meaningful views and conversations about the arguments for God's existence without necessarily having found definitive proofs or answered every objection. "Trinity" etc. are certainly not common sense questions. My initial claim was that the arguments for God's existence had an intuitive dimension to them and were not only interesting as academic pursuits.

            (3) back again to the initial point- it was not to defend every aspect of the argument based on the unconditioned and conditioned realities. Fr. Spitzer takes a number of chapters to do so. The initial point was just to recognize that things which are composed of parts are less fundamental than their parts. Hence, something composed of parts can't be the most fundamental thing.

            As for each of your questions, I can give a short answer.
            3a- A fundamental entity, being not composed of parts, would not be distinguishable from another one hence there could in principle be only one. If by asking "why could that only be God?" I am not sure what you are saying. I would say that God by definition is the most fundamental being. What other attributes God must have besides being fundamental are the next question.

            3b- Fundamental entities would be by definition the most fundamental kind of thing and therefore, self-explanatory. As it relates specifically to this argument, the fundamental things have "unconditioned being." This means that no conditions must be fulfilled in order for the thing to exist. This entails that it exists by necessity. So the explanation lies in its own nature.

            3c- If you are talking about God as understood by classical theists (and thus Catholics), then you are correct in holding that God could not have been other than He is. However, God could have chosen to not create the world or to create another. The reason lies in the fact that the immediate object of God's willing (e.g. creating this universe) is distinct from His ability to will and thus from the Divine Nature. I must qualify this statement by adding that traditionally, the ultimate object of His will which is the manifestation of His goodness is in fact willed by necessity. That's not terribly important however for the discussion at hand.

            (4) Each member of the circle is explained individually in the sense that asking "why?" for each member of the series has an answer. However, as a whole, the circle remains unexplained. I think that my example given in my last response illustrates the problem with an explanatory circle. Put another way, while each member of the circle is explained, why there should be a circle to begin with is left unexplained given that there is no source of explanatory or causal power in the circle.

          • I think this post will simplify our discussion somewhat. If you disagree, you can choose one of the elements of our discussion, and we can talk about that. We've gone from (5) points to (4), and I hope this response will bring (4) points to (3).

            (1a) You wrote:

            the important thing with asking why this possible world rather than another is actualized is that since every possible world in itself is equal in its ontological standing as a possible world

            What do you mean by "ontological standing"? Why are all possible worlds equal in "ontological standing"?

            Since we don't know to begin with how our cosmos is set (or even much about what our cosmos is like), it doesn't seem as though we can be sure that the answer doesn't lie in the cosmos.

            (1b) You wrote:

            if there is any explanation at all why one is actualized and not another, it must lie in something external to the possible world.

            Maybe the explanation is outside the cosmos. In that case, how will we determine what the possible explanations are, and which explanation is the best explanation?

            (2) People without scientific backgrounds have discussions on string theory all the time. And I think (3) illustrates this point. I did not understand anything of your answers to (3a), (3b) and (3c). We can talk about God's existence, sure, but any real understanding requires a lot of work and study. Assuming that you understand what these answers mean, and I'm happy to think you do, it doesn't help me much unless I put in the effort to, say, try to find out how you know that God's nature and will are distinct, how they are distinguished, why his will doesn't also have to be the same, and how all of this fits with the idea of a fundamental entity (it doesn't seem very simple or fundamental to me).

            (4) This is an interesting point, and may suggest our intuition diverges. The circle exists because A causes B and C, and B goes back and causes A. I've never thought that there need be any further explanation for A and B, except that it doesn't answer the question of why this way and not another. It's possible that God is the answer, or that some other external entity or principle is the answer, or that there is no answer, or that the answer actually lies in the circle itself: maybe it's the only logically possible way things can be, for reasons that would become obvious to us if we knew everything.

          • TomD123

            (1) As for your first question, what I mean is that everything is either metaphysically possible or not. If it is, it exists in some possible world. If it is not, there are no possible worlds which contain that thing. The same applies to the cosmos. Given this truth, there is nothing inherent about any possible cosmos which could tell us why it is actualized, because qua possible cosmos, all are the same.
            To your second question-we would have to start by determining what kind of thing could actualize a possible world yet not be part of that world.

            (2) Yes they do have those discussions although I don't think people without the background in physics can make judgments on the matter.

            Our discussion on point 3 did illustrate that there is a philosophical side to the issue that can get deeper. I never denied that. What my initial point was that learning about the arguments for God's existence and making judgments about them was not only an academic pursuit in other words, they could be explained and understood to a degree even if one hasn't studied philosophy extensively. (This does not necessarily apply to all arguments. Maybe less so in the case of the argument I was referencing here. The main idea behind this one though is that something composed of parts is not the most fundamental type of thing that exists. Just like a cell is a more fundamental unit of life than the nervous system or an entire human being. This would consequently rule out the cosmos as the fundamental type of thing).

            (4) Well going back to my example about being tired from a few comments above: does that work?
            I would say it wouldn't because its circular. Would you disagree?

          • (1) There may be something internal to a possible cosmos that might make it more or less likely to be actualized, for example if our actual cosmos started itself.

            (2) Do you think string theory is accurate? Must someone have a degree in physics in order to have an answer to that question? My own opinion is that, no, anyone can answer the question. But the question is largely academic. It won't change someone's life much whether they accept string theory or not. It doesn't seem to change my life much whether I accept that this kind of God exists or not.

            (4) I agree that it's circular. I don't see a problem with that kind of explanation, so long as it's self-consistent. For example, maybe I go back in time and show Beethoven his Fur Elise composition. Then he copies it and claims it as his own. How did I get the composition? From Beethoven. How did Beethoven get it? From me. I see this as a completely satisfying causal explanation for Fur Elise, but most people wouldn't agree. Maybe it's different intuitions about how these things work. Time, as I imagine it is just like another dimension of space, but with some geometric properties that we interact with in different ways. If someone or something could go back in time, it's like explaining a circle versus a line. People are more satisfied with line-explanations (Beethoven wrote Fur Elise) than circle-explanations (no one wrote Fur Elise; Beethoven got it from me and I got it from him) because they live on lines.

            Now, that doesn't satisfy why Fur Elise and not a different melody. I don't know that. But it might be that it had to be Fur Elise because there was no other possibility. Or it might be because of God or some extratemporal agent. Or there might be no answer at all. Or something else. Who knows?

          • TomD123

            (1) I don't see how a possible cosmos can make itself actual. To be a cause means to have the power to bring about an effect. Something merely possible has no causal power, except insofar as it is actualized. The reason is being possible just means logically coherent. If a physical reality is logically coherent, this alone can't explain why it is a reality. As Stephen Hawking put it* “[The unified theory] is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?" I think the point can be applied to anything at all- Standing alone, it is just a description (whether it be mathematical or otherwise). Isn't that what a possible world is after all? So a description can't make something real.

            *I use his quote not to argue form his physics expertise, simply because I think the quote is a very good one.

            (2) I don't know enough to say. However, anyone who does have an educated opinion on the matter and is not a physicist relies on what he knows from physicists rather than any amount of his own personal study. Second, whether or not God exists and whether or not string theory is true each have different implications. If God exists, obviously it is possible that we are morally accountable to Him. Even if the existence of God was primarily a question of academic investigation, even if few people actually cared, it would not be on par with string theory because if God exists, He might want something to do with us.

            (4) My problem with circular explanations is not with the time element. I accept the eternalist philosophical stance when talking about time. So I admit that in theory some weird time-travel scenario might be possible (I can't say for sure, and definitely can't say if its physically possible). My issue is that as an explanation it doesn't explain much. Using ur Fur Elise example, the question of "what is the source for the idea of Fur Elise?" remains open and unanswered. This is related to the question of "why is it not a different melody?"

            You can answer with another mind, its necessarily that way, etc. Those are all possible. What is not possible, and the reason we got on the discussion in the first place, is that the circular explanation is a complete explanation. That is what I would deny.

            As it applies to the cosmos: even if the physical universe in some way can go back in time to start itself off, it cannot be the source or explanation of its own existence. This is part of what I was getting at in (1).

          • The key question appears to be "Why is the universe the way it is and not another way?" My answer is that I don't know. Maybe I will never know. The question may be too big for the human brain.

            Some people say God, some people say that there is no answer. I'll wait and see. Maybe one day more definitive evidence will be discovered. Maybe the Christians or the Muslims will be able to point out that they were right all along.

            It's uncomfortable not knowing, but it's better to not know than to start with an answer before looking for one. I'm not saying you are doing that. I'm saying that, if I just decided to believe in God right now, I would be doing that. Just making up an answer without figuring it out first.

            Thanks for the discussion.

          • TomD123

            I will make two final brief remarks.
            First, that is part of the key question although less fundamental. I see the key question as "what is the source of the universe's existence?" or "why does it exist?" Each of these sort of branches off into "why not no universe?" and "why this universe rather than another one." To me, the only answer that I see as possible is in a being which cannot fail to exist or be any other way. That being is necessary and absolutely fundamental and completely intelligible. That being is what I call God.

            Second, as for separate religions, at least as far as monotheists go, I think that they have the same answer to this question. The difference lies in what additional information God has revealed (e.g. in the Bible or Koran?)

            Thanks for the discussion as well. It was very thought provoking!

      • George

        "but not in the same way a science experiment falsifies a scientific hypothesis."

        and what would actually be wrong with that way? why the different standard?

        • TomD123

          Scientific experiments are how science falsifies things. That is not the only way to show something is false. If I make a philosophical argument against abortion for instance with the premise "killing an innocent member of the human species is wrong" you could not experimentally falsify this and thus can't scientifically. You could however still argue against the premise.

          So in some arguments for the existence of God, there may be philosophical premises which can be falsified in an observational-experimental kind of way. Others however, simply aren't those types of premises. This does not mean that they can't be shown to be false, only that they can't be experimentally falsified which is what science does.

          • Michael Murray

            So if they can't be falsified by science then they aren't connected to the real world. So in what sense are they proofs there is a God in the real world where we actually live ?

          • TomD123

            Really? What basis do you have for saying "so if they can't be falsified by science then they aren't connected to the real world"?

            I actually can easily falsify that statement with a counterexample: The statement "it is immoral to bomb cities with large numbers of innocent people during war is immoral" is either all true or not all true. We cannot scientifically falsify it or verify it. It is entirely relevant in the real world.

          • Michael Murray

            How is that statement a proof of anything ? It's an opinion. Are your proofs of God all just opinions ?

          • TomD123

            (1) You failed to answer my initial question: "what basis do you have..."

            (2) The words following "the statement..." are not proof for anything. Obviously, they weren't meant to be. I didn't even say whether or not I agreed with it...

            (3) My point of including that statement was not to take a stand on the issue one way or the other. It was to show that it is a true/false statement which is applicable in the real world yet not subject to experimental falsification. Therefore, it provides a counterexample to your original claim "so if they can't be falsified by science..."

            (4) And before you argue that statements about morality are opinions, that is really irrelevant because if morality isn't objective and it is in fact just a matter of personal taste, then the correct position is that my statement "it is immoral..." is not true.

            (5) Of course philosophical demonstrations for God's existence aren't "opinions." Neither are arguments for atheism. They are arguments that may or may not succeed, but they aren't just "opinions"

            I think that is sufficient to counter pretty much everything you have said thus far.

  • Peter

    I said a while back that William Lane Craig was wrong in attributing to God the physical beginning of the universe which could be explained naturally by cosmological models.
    However, I also said that Stephen Hawking was wrong to claim that such models which describe the universe naturally bringing itself into existence do away with the need for God, since a blueprint of how it occurs would need to exist.
    Finally, I said that Sean Carroll was wrong to claim that naturalistic models which describe an eternal universe without a beginning do away with the need for a Creator, since these models still require a beginning to the arrow of time in both directions, past and future.

    This is why I am sceptical about the philosophical argument that even if the universe were eternal it would still require an external explanation for its existence. A genuinely eternal universe would be a brute fact, requiring no explanation. It would just be.
    Only a universe with a beginning requires an explanation and, even if that explanation is purely naturalistic, it would need a blueprint to determine how it operates.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      I am sceptical about the philosophical argument that even if the
      universe were eternal it would still require an external explanation for
      its existence. ... Only a universe with a beginning requires an explanation

      Imagine an eternal Foot eternally planted in the eternal Sand. Beneath the Foot is the Eternal Footprint. The Foot remains the explanation of the Footprint, even though both have existed eternally.

  • As Feser notes Carol was debating Craig. Craig misrepresents science and his Kalam argument is very weak, as it relies in disproven scientific models of the cosmos.

    Carol seems to be arguing from a position of philosophical naturalism and perhaps failing to set it out effectively, which is understandable as he is a scientist, not a philosopher.

    But philosophical naturalism is not a fringe backwater in philosophy as some might infer from Feser's piece. I would say that few philosophers would state that this is anywhere near a settled issue.

    At the end of the day even if it was a settle issue, philosophical supernaturalism does not entail theism, and theism does not entail Christianity. You need other arguments and evidence to get there.

    • Ararxos

      Kalam Cosmological argument is bulletproof, BVG Theorem proved that even quantum fluctuations can't be past Eternal, the Universe had a Cosmic Beginning and demanded a non physical cause. In the debate even Caroll couldn't come up with a model without beginning, watch the debate.

      Naturalism doesn't kill God, it enforces Him, God created the world and the world follows Determinism, Nature is mindless to understand purpose. Atheists have failed in both of their arguments, eternal Universe was destroyed by BVG Theorem and something from absolute Nothingness can't exist. Besides that, how can you say that a Mind with intelligence that created the Universe doesn't exist when you present as counter evidence the intelligence of the scientists? Don't they have Minds?

      • Casey Braden

        BVG Theorem proved that even quantum fluctuations can't be past Eternal

        I'm no cosmologist, but hasn't Carroll already explained that the BVG theorem only works within relativity, and not quantum situations? So it doesn't have universal applicability.

        • Ararxos

          1) He clearly does not think that the fluctuations are that wild; 2) This makes it clear that the truth of the BGV theorem is not contingent on the lack of a quantum gravity model, but on the type of quantum gravity model proposed. If it is one that does not involve time and causation, then the BGV theorem no longer applies. But if it does involve time and causation, then the BGV
          theorem still holds.

          It’s worth quoting William Lane Craig’s comments in response to Vilenkin’s words: “The issue is not quantum gravity but the reality of time and causation. This raises very fundamental questions about the nature of time, whether time is identical to the operationally defined quantities in physics or whether those quantities are, as I maintain, but measures of time, which exists independently of them. So long as the universe is expanding over time in the quantum gravity regime, the BGV theorem holds. Indeed, it is questionable whether it is even coherent to speak of classical spacetime’s “emerging” from a timeless condition, since that state cannot be said to be before or earlier than classical spacetime. This suggests that any such model should be given at best an instrumentalist or anti-realist interpretation.”

        • Michael Murray

          According to Vilenkin on WLC's site:

          . . . of course there is no such thing as absolute certainty in science, especially in matters like the creation of the universe. Note for example that the BGV theorem uses a classical picture of spacetime. In the regime where gravity becomes essentially quantum, we may not even know the right questions to ask.

          Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/honesty-transparency-full-disclosure-and-bgv-theorem#ixzz39k2sIgka

      • Even if all you say is true, which I doubt, the Kalam is still an argument from ignorance. Your appeal to some mysterious cause is not justified by my failure to have any idea what the origin of all forms of existence is.

        • Ararxos

          Brian, you atheists to get rid of God said that the Universe was Eternal, it was debunked, get over it. The Kalam Cosmological argument alone is not proof of God, the Fine Tuning of the Universe is proof of an omniscience God, it goes together with the Kalam Cosmological argument because the Fine Tuning alone could be justified with eternal past time! Caroll knows that a finite Universe is a problem for Atheism and wants to put back Eternal Universe from the backdoor of quantums. Now please i ask every atheist and i don't get an answer, if the Universe wasn't created by a Mind then it popped out of Nothingness, assembles itself through Randomness and we are here by pure Luck. Where does Science supports Randomness Nothingness and Luck?

          • Greg Schaefer

            Ararxos.

            Methinks thy paint with too broad a brush.

            "Atheists" -- as a label for a very broad collection of folks whose only real genuine commonality is that they lack belief in the kinds of personal, interventionist, "3-O" gods venerated by Christianity, Judaism or Islam -- didn't come up with the idea of an eternal universe as a way "to get rid of God."

            I haven't read enough of Prof. Carroll even to begin to propose to respond as he might to your comment, so I'll leave that to other commenters.

            But, I am pretty confident that many scientists, quite a few philosophers, and many others who would classify themselves as atheists (in the sense I described above) would simply respond in the manner that Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins suggest: it is okay to say in response to some questions "I don't know" when that is the case. Or, as Profs. Sagan and Dawkins have been known to put it: what you've done in the last two sentences of your comment is nothing more than to make the argument of personal incredulity.

            There are endless things humans don't know. Human knowledge has always been provisional, and it very well may be the case that humanity may never know the entire "truth." But continuing to explore, to question, seeking greater knowledge and a more complete understanding of our universe and the manner in which nature appears to operate has served us well, especially over the past five hundred years or so with the advent of modern science. There is no good reason to give up now, and default back to the certainty of supernatural, metaphysical answers proposed by our Iron Age ancestors.

          • Ararxos

            Both Atheism and Theism can't know the answer, if God doesn't exist then there is an infinite chain of events in the past, how can you study all these infinite chain of events when they are infinite with no final answer? That's why atheists are hypocrites when they say "AHA YOU USE THE GOD OF THE GAPS ARGUMENT TO PULL BACK SCIENCE AND SUPPORT YOUR RELIGION!" Not at all! If you think that the physical Universe, AGAIN PHYSICAL UNIVERSE had a beginning its easier to understand it! As for what "existed" before the Universe, well it is like asking what is love made of, i prophesy that humans will reach a limit because the physical world has a limit and the only way to overpass this limit is to understand their consciousness.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Ararxos.

            "Atheism" isn't trying to know any answers. Atheism isn't a philosophy; a metaphysics; or a methodological approach to seeking knowledge. It's simply a label used to classify a collection of otherwise unrelated or unaggregatable humans who lack belief in "Gods" as envisioned by various religions/faith traditions.

            You, of course, are welcome to your beliefs, metaphysical, theological and otherwise.

            But, a metaphysical argument that God "logically" or "necessarily" must exist because otherwise there is "an infinite chain of events in the past" does not necessarily map onto reality. Reality is what it is and will be what it is regardless of the state of human understanding of reality at any given point in time.

            It really is okay, in the absence of empirical evidence and insufficient human knowledge on questions like "Did the universe have a 'beginning'?" to say "I don't know" and to keep exploring and seeking to increase human knowledge. Maybe one day we will have far better data and reasons to think we may have an answer to that question; maybe not.

            Again, just because a conclusion is adduced that makes it easier, for some, to profess understanding and claim the "answer" to such questions does not have any correlation to the ultimate truth of such conclusions/answers.

            Cheers.

          • Ararxos

            Atheism is the Dogma that a Mind that created the Universe doesn't exist while the counter arguments for atheism are Scientific deterministic discoveries and not random therefor it is a pharisaic philosophy. As i said neither Theist nor Atheist can have an absolute answer but the atheist makes the claim that the Universe exist forever and that was destroyed by Science therefor the Atheist to have an argument must support the past eternal non physical Mindless reality aka Metaphysics! Basically the debate must go like this "was the Universe a product of a mindless non physical process or a Mind?
            The argument that will destroy God will be something that is really random, that will persuade me that God doesn't exist but Science works with Determinism and not Randomness, if our Minds can understand the whole Universe then it is the biggest proof of God because we can say for certainly that it was pre-determined to have humans and pre-determinism adds purpose.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Ararxos.

            I can only say that personally, I don't subscribe to any of the views you attribute to Atheism/Atheist in yours, at least to the extent I am able to understand what you write.

            Beyond that, it seems we've come to the end of this exchange, as I don't see yours as plowing any new ground I've not previously addressed, and I don't know what more I can say to profitably and meaningfully move this conversation forward.

            Best wishes.

          • Guest

            If a Mind didn't created the Universe then

            (A) It existed forever <DEBUNKED
            (B) It existed forever through infinite chain of events ^DEBUNKED BY LOGIC ITSELF
            (C) It came out of Nothingness <DEBUNKED BY LOGIC ITSELF
            (D) Multiverses <DEBUNKED, EVEN IF MULTIVERSE HYPOTHESIS IS PROVEN THEY ARE FINITE

            What other option an Atheist can use to remove a Mind?

            Look, Science works Determinism, the Universe is Deterministic therefor we can say for certainly that it was created! The new atheists will tell you "The Universe was created from a mother Universe that creates random Universes and this Universe is the proof of what i say"
            The Theist will say "The Universe was created by a Mind and the fact that our Minds can understand this Universe is the proof that a Mind created it"

          • Ararxos

            Wait, If a Mind didn't created the Universe then

            (A) It existed forever <DEBUNKED
            (B) It existed forever through infinite chain of events ^DEBUNKED BY LOGIC ITSELF
            (C) It came out of Nothingness <DEBUNKED BY LOGIC ITSELF
            (D) Multiverses <DEBUNKED, EVEN IF MULTIVERSE HYPOTHESIS IS PROVEN THEY ARE FINITE

            What other option an Atheist can use to remove a Mind?

            Look, Science works Determinism, the Universe is Deterministic therefor we can say for certainly that it was created! The new atheists will tell you "The Universe was created from a mother Universe that creates random Universes and this Universe is the proof of what i say"
            The Theist will say "The Universe was created by a Mind and the fact that our Minds can understand this Universe is the proof that a Mind created it"

        • "Even if all you say is true, which I doubt, the Kalam is still an argument from ignorance."

          This is not true. The Kalam argument does not say, "We don't know what caused the universe, therefore God" (which would be an argument from ignorance.)

          Instead, it says "The necessary cause of the universe coming into being must logically be a timeless, immaterial, transcendent, supremely powerful, and personal cause" (for the reasons Craig lays out in that debate; I won't rehash them here.)

          All of these characteristics point to, but admittedly don't prove, theism. They also provide a very thick slice of what Christians mean by "God", a slice far too thick for any atheist to accept.

          Regardless of the implications of that conclusion, however, the conclusion itself is not derived from ignorance but logical deduction.

    • "Craig misrepresents science and his Kalam argument is very weak, as it relies in disproven scientific models of the cosmos."

      This is not true. First, the argument is not weak.

      Second, the Kalam argument does not rely on "disproven scientific models" of the cosmos. In fact, the Kalam doesn't even depend on a specific scientific model. It only requires a model of the universe that necessitates a finite past--something that *all* mainstream models require.

      Ironically, it's Carroll who, in that debate, showed support for multiverse models, which are accepted by a minority of cosmologists and have zero empirical support.

      That said, I am curious to know:

      1. Which specific cosmological model does the Kalam argument depend on?

      2. How has it been "disproven"?

  • Chee Chak

    Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists Sean Carroll.
    http://preposterousuniverse.co...

      • David Nickol

        Being able to describe the physical world with physical laws does not disprove God. Catholicism does not deny you can do that.

        Yes, it does. Catholicism says, for example, that human beings must have a "spiritual" soul in order to think rationally.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I don't understand your comment.

          • David Nickol

            I don't understand your comment.

            Randy Gitter said Catholicism does not deny you can describe the physical world with physical laws. However, Catholicism posits a "spiritual" realm which accounts for things in the physical world that materialists would say can be accounted for with physical laws. Catholicism maintains that you and I (and every human being who has ever lived) is a "composite" of the physical and the spiritual, and the very existence of human beings cannot be accounted for by a physical process (evolution) but required a direct intervention by God so that mere, physical animals (pre-humans) could think rationally.

            In short, evolutionary biology says no "miracle" was needed for the human race to begin on earth, and Catholicism says that human beings cannot possibly be merely physical creatures. They must have spiritual souls.

          • David Nickol

            A brief (I hope) addition.

            If you say you can describe the physical world with physical laws, and then exclude something in our everyday experience (and the fact of our very existence) from the "physical world," it seems to me what you are saying is tautological: The things that can be described by physical laws can be described by physical laws, and the rest is not part of the physical world.

          • David Nickol

            And, of course, Catholicism maintains that everything in the physical world was both created by God and is contingent, so the ultimate explanation for why physical objects do not wink out of existence when you stop observing them is that God is maintaining them in their existence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Feser addresses this in the video which accompanied the post. It has to do with primary and secondary agency.

            For reasons that metaphysics demonstrates there must be a primary cause, but natural science only deals with the secondary ones.

          • David Nickol

            So in other words, you and Randy maintain that Catholicism does not deny you can describe the physical world with physical laws. It's just that the you and the Catholic Church have your own definition of "the physical world." Human beings are not within the physical world. They straddle the fence between the physical world and the "spirit" world.

            Do you think the average evolutionary biologist would say there was an instant in the evolution of the human species where God took two individuals and ensouled them?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics don't believe human beings are in two worlds. The only world were are in right now is this one. It is just that the human mind is immaterial, even though everything that is in the intellect enters through the physical senses.

            I believe it is too early to unravel the brain/mind problem--not enough is known--but the average evolutionary biologist would never, as an evolutionary biologist, say God did something--because then he would be stepping out of natural science.

          • Michael Murray

            Catholics don't believe human beings are in two worlds. The only world were are in right now is this one. It is just that the human mind is immaterial, even though everything that is in the intellect enters through the physical senses.

            Why isn't this saying that there are two worlds "material" and "immaterial".

            I believe it is too early to unravel the brain/mind problem--not enough is known--but the average evolutionary biologist would never, as an evolutionary biologist, say God did something--because then he would be stepping out of natural science.

            If God really did something in the natural world that be part of natural science. The average evolutionary biologist would not suggest that though because the hypothesis is unnecessary.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Why isn't this saying that there are two worlds "material" and "immaterial"?

            A philosopher should be the one to explain this. Part of it is that the world is physical yet human beings can understand immaterial things.

            When God does something in the world that effects physical things, those effects can be detected by science, but science just does not have the resources to say the cause is God. So, when scientists study putative miracles of healing, their work is done when they conclude there is no natural explanation they know of that explains it.

          • George

            who does have the resources to say it was or was not a god? priests? how do we know that? they told us? how can they show their work to us?

            so when a scientists work is done, can they keep searching for the answer or not? when does the other side's work begin?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            To clarify, when the Catholic Church is officially examining a putative miracle as part of the process of beatification or canonization, if the doctors who examine the medical evidence determine either (1) that the healing can be explained by natural causes or (2) that no known natural explanation exists, their work is done. This examination begins with first establishing that the person healed really had the condition from which he was healed. Then, it must be established that the person really was healed. That's what I meant by "detected by science." Scientists, including doctors, don't have any resources to test that God did it.

            To answer the rest of your questions, see https://strangenotions.com/the-rational-judgment-of-a-miraculous-cure/

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Kevin.

            In your OP several months back, “The Rational Judgment of a Miraculous Cure,” you helpfully reported on the current legal process by which the Catholic Church considers claims of miracle cures in the context of cases for canonization.

            In your comment, you say – rightly, I think -- that
            "[s]cientists, including doctors, don't have any resources to test that God did it."

            But, that suggests a separate question.

            You’ve previously informed us that the Church’s process includes investigations conducted at the local diocesan phase and then by the Medical Consulta (MC) of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome (CCS), both of which pass the case up the chain if their investigation concludes that “a rapid, complete and lasting healing”
            occurred that was “inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge.” (Although, curiously, that conclusion at the MC-CCS level need not be unanimous.)

            So my question: What resources do those who sit on the
            theological panel you’ve described -- the Consulta of Theologians (CT) of the CCS -- use “to test that God did it”?
            That is, what resources do the CT theologians have that are not also available to scientists or doctors?

            Or, is it the case that -- once the CT theologians have reviewed the file detailing all the work done at the diocesan and MC-CCS phases and have also satisfied themselves with the accuracy of the medical diagnosis and concluded that a rapid, complete and lasting healing occurred that was empirically inexplicable by current medical and
            scientific knowledge -- the conclusion “God did it” follows inexorably as a fait accompli?

            This also suggests some additional questions.

            (1) Do you know if, at the threshold diocesan phase, the identity of the person being considered for canonization is kept secret/remains anonymous from all those involved in the investigation process?

            (a) Is this also the case at the next phase in the process, the MC-CCS phase?

            (b) Is this also the case at the next phase of the process, the CT-CCS phase?

            (2) Do you know if any individuals have ever been nominated (or “proposed,” whatever the correct terminology may be) for canonization at a time essentially
            contemporaneous to a claimed miraculous cure attributed to their intervention?

            (a) Does the Vatican make available to non-Catholic researchers data-bases or files that could potentially shed light on the percentage of cases of claimed medical cures that surfaced only after momentum had begun within the Church seeking canonization of high-profile, well-known Catholics?

            (3) Do you know if the CT-CCS (or whatever were the analogous bodies in earlier historical times) has ever finally and permanently derailed the proposed canonization of any high-profile, well-known Catholic by arriving at a determination that no true miracles could properly be attributed to them?

            (4) Do you know if the Congregation of Bishops and Cardinals (CBC) has ever, in the context of a case that has come to it after the CT-CCS (or any of its predecessor historical bodies) has pronounced the cure currently
            empirically -- medically or otherwise scientifically --inexplicable, finally and permanently derailed the proposed canonization of any high-profile, well-known Catholic by arriving at a determination that no true miracles could properly be attributed to them?

            (5) Do you know if any Pope has ever not resolved a case involving a high profile, well-known Catholic that has come to him after the CBC has pronounced a claimed miraculous cure empirically inexplicable, under current medical and scientific standards, with the determination that a miracle occurred?

            (6) On what basis does either the CT-CCS, the CBC or the Pope rely in concluding that a cure exceeded the powers of nature, and thus was performed by God? (See the definition of miracle in your earlier OP given by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.)

            (7) Has the Catholic Church ever canonized any person who was not a Catholic?

            (8) Has the Catholic Church ever failed to canonize any Pope put forward for sainthood?

            Finally, Kevin, I’d be interested in your opinion regarding the joint canonization a few months ago of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Does the canonization of two recent popes at the same time -- one coming fifty years after his death, the other nine years after his death -- one of whom was deeply revered by more “progressive,” “liberalizing” forces in the Church and the other perhaps even more widely beloved and deeply revered by more traditional
            and “conservative” forces in the Church suggest that perhaps some other forces might be in play beyond a truly objective consideration of their claimed foundational
            miracle events?

            At the end of the day, I wonder if this is just one more demonstration of the Catholic Church’s willingness to claim certainty by defaulting to the supernatural explanation of
            God in cases in which science, which by its very nature can never assert certainty, must keep searching for naturalistic explanations.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know the answers to any of your questions. You could write the book on it, if you want. [An entire book could be written on virtually every modern canonization, since the documentary record is so extensive and one could go back and reinterview everyone who is still alive and have other doctors review the medical evidence.]

            Until you have your answers, it is unwarranted to surmise that the way the Church attributes miracles in the process of beatification and canonization is an example of anything. I wonder why you are surmising a conclusion without any evidence.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Kevin.

            I'm not interested enough in this subject to devote the time that would be required to do all the independent research necessary and write a book.

            But, since this is obviously a subject on which you have some level of interest -- given that you've written on it before -- I thought perhaps you might be in a position to supply some more information, based on your prior research and underlying knowledge.

            As to your last paragraph, one thing we do know, in the case of canonization, based on what you've previously told us, is that Church theologians, bishops and Cardinals and the Pope, in some combination, have been able to state, with certainty, that "God did it" -- to use your phrase -- whereas the doctors (and others possessing relevant scientific knowledge) consulted during the process were left saying, in effect, "we can't explain it, based on the current state of medical and other pertinent scientific knowledge and the information available to us about the conditions and symptoms reported by the patient and the reports regarding remission of the disease/condition."

            I remain interested in why you think -- if you do -- that non-believers, generally, or other non-Catholics, should be persuaded by the claims made by the Church in the cases of canonization that "God did it" without being more forthcoming on the resources that are available to those within the Church hierarchy and on which they relied in arriving at their conclusion with such certainty and why those resources aren't equally available to scientific experts outside the Church hierarchy?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Why you think -- if you do -- that non-believers, generally, or other non-Catholics, should be persuaded by the claims made by the Church in the cases of canonization that "God
            did it"?

            When it comes to canonization, I don't think any non-Catholic is expected to believe that God performed a miracle through that person.

            > without being more forthcoming on the resources that are
            available to those within the Church hierarchy and on which they relied in arriving at their conclusion with such certainty

            I think the main resource is simply the prudential application of reason.

            > why those resources aren't equally available to scientific experts outside the Church hierarchy?

            A man who is a scientist who examines a putative miracle as a scientist can only say things like, the person was in condition A, then he was in condition B, and then he suddenly got in condition A again. As a scientist, he can say, the reason he went from condition B to A is X or there is no known reason he could have gone from B to A.

            As a man, he can reason something like, well, while the patient was in a coma, his family prayed constantly to so and so for his intercession and they did not pray to anyone else, and since I think miracles are possible if God wants it, and I cannot find any medical reason he returned to condition A, I think it is reasonable to attribute the return to condition A as the intervention of that guy they prayed to in heaven. A thorough knowledge of that guy's life--that he was heroically good--might add to the scientist-as-man's judgment.

            I think even the pope's decision to canonize is still a prudential judgment on his part.

            By the way, there does not have to be any miracles for the pope to declare someone a saint. Pope St. John Paul II canonized big groups of martyrs in Korea, China, and Vietnam.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Kevin.

            Thanks for your response and insights. From following the commentary at SN dating back almost to the very beginning, I regard you as being one of the most deeply grounded in Catholic doctrine and dogma, and also deeply interested in the history of the Church, the development of Catholic theology, the writings of the Church fathers, and the teachings of the Church. I did not know, until your last reply, for example, that one could be canonized in the Church without a miracle being attributed to the prospective saint's intervention.

            If you'll permit one last query.

            Do you think that the theologians who participate in the CT-CCS, the bishops and Cardinals who participate in the next phase of the investigation, and the Pope are in some way specially equipped with "the prudential application of reason" in ways not accessible to doctors and scientists (or any non-believers generally)?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thank you for the kind words, Greg.

            I don't know the answer to this question either.

            Catholics believe God gives all human beings grace and particular kinds of grace to the baptized. One class of grace is "grace of state" which helps baptized persons in a particular state in life (like marriage or the priesthood) carry out the duties of that state. So theologians and bishops and the pope when acting officially in virtue of their office have the assistance of grace when teaching about matters of faith and morality. The pope in particular has the gift of infallibility when exercised in very particular circumstances. I don't think it has been determined whether the pope exercises infallibility when he canonizes someone. I think opinions vary.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Why isn't this saying that there are two worlds "material" and "immaterial".

            It would, if you were a Neoplatonist. But then if you were a Neoplatonist, you would believe that the physical is exhausted by the mathematical models of it, as Carroll claims. That is, there is nothing more in the physics than was in the mathematics. But this reduces the material world to an immaterial world; viz., that of mathematics. Which some folks may find fairly ironical.

            "All models are wrong. Some are useful."
            -- George E. P. Box, "Robustness in the Strategy of Scientific Model Building" (
            http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2014/02/americas-next-top-model-part-i.html

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Do you think the average evolutionary biologist would say there was an
            instant in the evolution of the human species where God took two
            individuals and ensouled them?

            Of course not. He'd never get another grant if he did.

            Evolution deals with physical biology: DNA molecules build proteins and all that. Since soul is the form of a living body, it is difficult to suppose any biologist having much to say about it. Instead, the talk of "emergent properties," not realizing they are speaking of old-fashioned "formal causes." No science can demonstrate its own postulates; it must assume them. And one postulate of biology is that its objects are living things. (This of course leads to one more denial: namely that there is no such thing as life.)
            cf. recently in Scientific American: "Why Life Does Not Really Exist"] but earlier N. W. Pirie’s The Meaninglessness of the Terms Life and Living (1937) and Charles DeKoninck's sardonic response "The Lifeless World of Biology" in The Hollow Universe (1964) in which he claimed against the mechanists that there really is a difference between living and dead.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Randy Gitter said Catholicism does not deny you can describe the physical world with physical laws.

            From the Catholic perspective (as well as the position of what is sometimes called the perennial philosophical tradition), when you are talking about a human being's rationality, you have already left the physical world and so, yes, so physical laws don't apply.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            evolutionary biology says no "miracle" was needed for the human race to
            begin on earth, and Catholicism says that human beings cannot possibly
            be merely physical creatures. They must have spiritual souls.

            This is because evolutionary biologists go off the reservation and claim that human beings are only the biological species. Then they tie themselves in knots denying free will, intention, and even the existence of the self itself.

            In fact, every physical thing is a composite of matter and form. The matter is the stuff of which a thing is immediately made; the form is the arrangement and motions of that stuff. So an atom of, say, carbon, is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons arranged in a particular way. This form is not reducible to matter, but a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom differ in their powers and acts precisely because they differ in the number and arrangement of their parts. That is, it is the substantial form that gives a thing its powers.

            The substantial form of a living thing is called anima, which means "alive." It is from this anima that a living thing gets its powers and acts. For example, the anima of a plant includes the powers of metabolism, homeostasis, growth/development, and reproduction. If it is no longer alive, it will no longer do these things.

            We have commonly used "soul" to translate "anima." But if basketballs were alive, "sphere" would be its soul. Yet when we see a basketball, we do not think we have seen two distinct things. When a human being dies, he loses the form of a human being and takes on the "form" of a bag of chemicals. (Form is used with quotes because a bag of chemicals is not a thing but a "heap" and possesses no organizing principle.)

          • Michael Murray

            So you are telling me that the Catholic soul is nothing but the arrangement of the atoms in a human being ? An arrangement that ceases to exist when we die. An arrangement that goes nowhere. That's not very comforting.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The forms of animate things are far more complex than the forms of inanimate things. That is, part of it is the arrangement not of atoms but of tissues and organs. But this arrangement is also in motion: there is no material difference between a live petunia and one that has just died. All the same parts are there and all in the same arrangement. But there is a grave formal difference.

          • Michael Murray

            But this arrangement is also in motion: there is no material difference between a live petunia and one that has just died. All the same parts are there and all in the same arrangement. But there is a grave formal difference.

            So can you use forms to tell me the instant when the petunia died ? That would be interesting. It must be possible if there is a grave formal difference. (I am hoping that choice of the word grave was not a bad pun!)

          • Michael Murray

            But if basketballs were alive, "sphere" would be its soul.

            Basketballs are not spheres. Sphere is a mathematical concept we have abstracted from the real world by looking at a lot of round things and idealising them. A basketball is not only not a sphere but it's a mess of quantum fields constantly interacting with the world around it. If you look closely enough you will have great trouble even deciding which bits are basketball and which are not. You are confusing what is there with the model you have in your head of what is there.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Nah. I was just trying to keep it simple. The "sphere" is the form of the basketball to at least a close approximation. The rubber [or whatever] is the matter. Now you can go deeper and examine what is the matter and form of rubber, and the matter and form of those parts, and eventually you may get to those "quantum fields." De gustibus and all that.

            The effort to deny that there are distinct things is duly noted. It's just one more element in post-modern irrationalism.

          • Michael Murray

            The effort to deny that there are distinct things is duly noted. It's just one more element in post-modern irrationalism.

            At least try to get my point correct before the rude dismissal. I don't think there are distinct things in the real world. There are no end of useful ways of dividing the world up into approximately distinct things if you want to make an approximate calculation of something.

          • David Nickol

            When a human being dies, he loses the form of a human being and takes on the "form" of a bag of chemicals.

            Your explanation of what soul means is quite reasonable, but you forgot to include the part about when the person dies, his or her soul goes to heaven, hell, or purgatory, and continues to function as a human being—for example, hearing prayers requesting miraculous cures and interceding with God to request that those cures take place.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Presumably the nonmaterial portion of the soul -- the intellect and will -- survives, since it is not connected to any particular organic part. The ancient Creed stresses the resurrection of the body for a reason: a human being is a composite substance composed of matter and form. As Aquinas wrote: "I am not my soul." This was the error that the Cartesian dualists fell into.

            Post-modern pseudo science takes care of this by simply denying that there is a will or an intellect and our alleged thoughts are simply the winds of random chance blowing through the neurons of our brains.

          • George

            what did these ancient creed-sayers actually know? how can we see their work? how did they know any of this?

            calling it psuedo-science just takes care of the problem doesn't it? a bit of poetic hyberpole about materialism to dismiss the fact that "free will" can't even be put forward in a coherent way.

            but to be fair, here's a thought: why wouldn't free will be that demonized randomness I keep hearing about? if will is "free", why would you ever ask why someone did something? everything could be filed under: "they just chose to, end of story". do you accept mental illness as a thing?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            a. It's pseudo-science because it is not actual natural science, but rather metaphysical or socio-political stances dressed up in white lab coats, just like eugenics used to be,

            b. Free will, like many other concepts, got messed up in the Enlightenment. It's really pretty simple. The will is the intellective appetite: a desire for or aversion to the products of the intellect, i.e., to concepts. (Compare: the sensory appetites, which are desires or aversions to the products of perception, i.e., to percepts.) Now, it is not possible to desire what you do not know. (The intellect is prior to the will, contrary to Nietzsche and his triumph of the will.) The more completely you know a thing, the more your will will be determined to it. But when something is not known completely, there is "play" (in the engineering sense) or "degrees of freedom" in the will.

            c. A free will is not random -- which is why so many of these "scientific" experiments miss the point so badly. A free will is not unreasonable; in fact, it depends upon reason. "I just CHOOSE!", the mantra of so many Late Moderns, is basically irrational. Literally: without reasons.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Y.O.S.

            "Matter" and "form," as you articulate them in the second paragraph of your reply to David N, are highly conceptualized and abstract ways of seeking to explain the reality of physical things.

            That mode of thinking may have constituted brilliant metaphysical exposition back in the days of Aristotle and Aquinas, given the very primitive understanding humanity possessed in their day of the nature of physical things. But, it seems to me that it simply fails to take account of the far greater understanding we moderns now possess regarding the nature of matter, or to acknowledge fully the limits (as yet) of human comprehension and understanding of reality.

            (As as aside on Aristotelian and Aquinian metaphysics. I presume, Y.O.S., from your posts, that you are an expert on the writings and thought of Aristotle and Aquinas. (I'm not!) I propose we stipulate they were among the greatest and most brilliant thinkers of all time. But, we should then also remember that they were writing within modes of thinking and the context of their own times, more than 2,300 and 750 years ago. Are we really to suppose that such brilliant, imaginative thinkers, among the greatest intellects of all time, would write the same metaphysics today -- or perhaps, even care about metaphysics at all? -- if they knew what modern physicists and chemists now understand about the nature of matter?)

            Anyway, back to the more germane point.

            Human explanations of reality, however clever or as seemingly logical as they may be, are not the same thing as reality itself. Reality simply is what it is.

            I doubt that modern-day physicists or chemists would agree that the "in fact" distinctions you draw between "matter" and "form" as being actual and independent component aspects of "every physical thing" meaningfully model or explain reality as we presently understand it or that they actually exist outside the human mind.

            Great thought experiments? Perhaps.

            Devastatingly logical and rigid analytical thinking? Again, perhaps.

            But, as useful and accurate ways of describing or explaining the way physical things really are? That's an entirely different matter.

            I hope Michael will chime back in on this point, or perhaps Stacy Trasancos or Paul Rimmer, or other commenters here possessing expertise in physics or chemistry. (And how I wish Josh and Andrew and Q.Quine were still able to post at SN on subjects like this, given their particular scientific expertise!)

            But let me venture forth, hoping I don't bungle this too badly. And, with apologies in advance if I do, and the hope that someone with pertinent expertise will then step in to set the record straight.

            Taking your example of carbon and nitrogen atoms, it does not appear that there is any good (non-metaphysical, anyway) reason to suppose that the "arrangement" and "motions" of those elements' "parts" (the subatomic particles protons, neutrons and electrons you mention) -- what you refer to as their "form" -- are functional aspects independently separable or existent in reality from "the stuff [again, the subatomic particles you mention] of which [those elements] [are] made" -- what you refer to as their "matter."

            In the past couple hundred years, through the scientific disciplines we now broadly call chemistry and physics, we have come to understand far better how the matter we see around us in nature is composed, inter-reacts, combines and changes. That started with the development in the 19th Century of the concept of the "elements," as represented in the Periodic Table of the Elements. Still, carbon, nitrogen and the other elements in the Periodic Table are merely human constructs that try to explain the underlying reality of matter.

            The protons, neutrons and elections later thought to be the fundamental constituent "parts" of atoms were themselves "discovered" (perhaps hypothesized might be a more accurate term) by physicists between the late 1890s and the early 1930s as representing a deeper understanding of the true nature of matter. Particle/high energy physics since WWII has sought ever deeper, or more fundamental, understanding of the underlying "forces" or "particles" that explain ever more precisely and accurately the nature of matter we experience in reality.

            That "elements" are merely human constructs and "atoms" merely models but not themselves reality can be appreciated by recognizing that "carbon" and "nitrogen," as shown in the Periodic Table, are themselves merely a statistically weighted abstract of a number of naturally-occurring variants (isotopes). For example, while all carbon atoms are comprised of six protons and six electrons, one source I consulted lists 15 known isotopes, two stable and thirteen radioactive (the most well-known, of course, being the isotope C14 with a half-life of roughly 5712 years that is used for radio-carbon dating, but most of which have half-lives measured in milli- and nanoseconds), having anywhere from two to sixteen neutrons. Similarly, while all nitrogen atoms are comprised of seven protons and seven electrons, it appears there are 14 known isotopes, having anywhere from four to 17 neutrons.

            Staying within the century-old paradigm you are using of the three basic subatomic particles (and disregarding for purposes of this discussion the deeper and more fundamental understanding revealed by quantum mechanics and high energy particle physics in the past six or seven decades), my understanding is that physicists and chemists would say there is no reason to think that those subatomic particles could arbitrarily be arranged in nature differently than they actually are, so that it makes no sense to conceive of "matter" and "form" -- as you describe them -- as being separable aspects of the material reality that we call carbon and nitrogen.

            Instead, there is only "matter" -- whatever that may be -- and that which you purport to isolate as "form" as being in reality distinct from the "stuff" you call "matter" is inherently simply part and parcel of the very nature of the reality being modeled by the subatomic particles we call electrons, protons and neutrons in a model in which virtually the entire mass and all the positive electric charge of the "atom" are properties/characteristics assigned to protons and neutrons portrayed as being bound closely together in the "nucleus" whereas the negative electric charge property/characteristic of the "atom" is assigned to the electrons, imagined as being "distributed" outside and around the nucleus within the hypothesized structure of the "atom."

            At the end of the day, while metaphysics (and some theology) might represent prodigious feats of reasoning of the human intellect and are capable of claims of certainty, our scientific understanding of ultimate reality does not claim certainty or the "truth," but is always tentative and provisional, albeit hopefully moving us ever closer to ever deeper and more accurate understanding of the nature of reality.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Greg, you make some important points, but you seem to think that they are objections.

            "Matter" and "form" ... may have constituted brilliant metaphysical exposition ... given the very primitive understanding ... of the nature of physical things.

            Matter and form are metaphysical concepts. They are underlying principles which underlie any possible physics.

            I presume... that you are an expert on the writings and thought of Aristotle and Aquinas.

            Nah, I'm just a poor simpleminded statistician and former general topologist. But it may be that some appreciation of mathematics, which is also non-material, aids in the distinction between the physics and meta-physics. (The three constituting the three great realms of human knowledge.)

            would [they] write the same metaphysics today -- or perhaps, even care about metaphysics at all? -- if they knew what modern physicists and chemists now understand about the nature of matter?)

            Since modern science rejects the ideas of natures tout court, it's hard to imagine they understand anything about the nature of matter -- unless one realizes that while overtly rejecting the old consistent metaphysics, they have covertly (and unwittingly) relied upon it. Some, like Heisenberg, were quite aware of what they were doing and even made suggestions regarding Aristotelian "prime matter," but his was probably the last generation of scientists to receive a broadly liberal education rather than a narrowly technical training.
            The English philosopher Mary Midgley once wrote: "People who refuse to have anything to do with philosophy have become enslaved to outdated forms of it." I suspect enslaved to some mish-mosh of Kant, Hume, Descartes, and Nietzsche. Oh, and Popper.

            [The] distinctions you draw between "matter" and "form" as being actual and independent component aspects of "every physical thing" ... actually exist outside the human mind.

            Interesting. Many Late Moderns are materialists and deny that there even is a human mind. However, the swing into idealism or conceptualism is as big an error.
            However, a matter like a pile of building materials can be arranged in the form of a house, a gazebo, a fortification, or left in the form of a pile of building materials. The matter of whaling can be arranged in the form of a textbook on cetology or in the form of a novel. I don't think these arrangements are entirely imaginary.

            I doubt that modern-day physicists or chemists would agree

            Of course not. Most would not even be aware of it. People can also breathe air without the least knowledge of atmospheric chemistry.

            I hope ... commenters here possessing expertise in physics or chemistry [would chime in].

            Failing that, a physicist may have some useful comments here:
            http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02002.htm#3

            it does not appear that there is any good ... reason to suppose that the "arrangement" and "motions" of those ... protons, neutrons and electrons you mention -- what you refer to as their "form" -- are functional aspects independently separable or existent in reality from "the stuff ... of which [those elements] [are] made" -- what you refer to as their "matter."

            Now you simply repeat medieval principles of metaphysics:
            1. Every thing is some thing. (There is no sensible matter that is form.)
            2. There is no "white" without a white thing. (There is no form without its instantiation in matter.)
            IOW, every physical existant is an inseparable union of matter and form (hyle-morphe). This unified whole is called a synole in Greek [a "thing" in English], from which we get "synolistic" or "holistic." For example, the electrons bound in "orbits" in a sodium atom act in a very different way than do free electrons; so it cannot be the matter of the electron itself that provides the acts and powers. It must be the form. (The modern term for the result of such formal causation is "emergent property.")
            Matter is that which persists throughout change. For example, matter in the form of an apple, when digested, becomes the same matter in the form of the digester. That is, its materials are incorporated into the tissues of the horse or human or worm that ate it. The matter does not disappear; but the form is altered.
            Form is what makes matter intelligible. When we know a thing, we know it through its form: a horse, an apple, a proton, a novel. A science. (Recall Poisson, who wrote that a pile of facts is not a science any more than a pile of bricks is a wall. It is the arrangement of those facts that make them into a science.)
            Natural science is the study of the alteration of forms. Or, as you nicely put it:

            the scientific disciplines ... have come to understand far better how the matter we see around us in nature is composed, inter-reacts, combines and changes.

            All of which is called "kinesis" by Aristotle and "motus" by the Latins, usually translated into English as "motion" (although that word today is usually collapsed to mean only motion of location).
            But the physics must take things like Being or Motion as axioms and, like any scientia, cannot examine its own axioms. You can't use the tools of physics to demonstrate that Existence exists because the very nature of physics must assume a priori that there is being. Similarly, it may examine different forms of motion, changes of motion, combinations of motions, interactions of motions, but it does not examine Motion as such.
            Much of the Modern confusion stems from the belief that one is treating of Matter when one is actually treating of the Synole.

            carbon, nitrogen and the other elements in the Periodic Table are merely human constructs that try to explain the underlying reality of matter.

            I do not think it's all in our minds. Conceptualism is logically incoherent.

            The protons, neutrons and elections later thought to be the fundamental constituent "parts" of atoms were themselves "discovered" ... as representing a deeper understanding of the true nature of matter.

            Heck, "atoms" were said to be the ultimate particle of which all nature was composed -- at least when Late Moderns chortle over the foresight of Democritus and the "science" of ancient Greece. But Democritus meant a part-less ultimate particle, not those things which Dalton dubbed "atoms." So far, Democritus has not fared well. Since atoms differed from one form of element to another, atoms must be composed of parts (which btw need not mean components: a story is composed of beginning, middle, and end). These are protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons and neutrons are composed of parts as well, at least mathematically: the quarks. And since quarks are distinguished as up, down, top, bottom, etc., they too are composed of parts.
            All of which sounds more like Aristotle than Democritus: http://realphysics.blogspot.com/2006/02/aristotles-atoms.html
            In Aristotle, there is a least amount of matter that can support a given form. Below this, it loses its form and takes on another: water becomes H2O, the molecule becomes atoms, the atoms become protons, et al., the protons become quarks, and who knows how deep that can go.
            (There are also gage bosons and other such things, which are carriers of forces.)

            while all carbon atoms are comprised of six protons and six electrons, one source I consulted lists 15 known isotopes, two stable and thirteen radioactive ... having anywhere from two to sixteen neutrons.

            Congratulations. You have discovered that differences in form (number and arrangement of parts) result in differences in powers and acts of different kinds of carbon. The genus carbon contains fifteen species.

            physicists and chemists would say there is no reason to think that those subatomic particles could arbitrarily be arranged in nature differently than they actually are

            Actually, there are free electrons, alpha particles, and other arrangements, as well as the various elemental and isotopic forms into which they can be subsumed. These forms/arrangements determine their acts and powers just as you have said. The idea of the "common course of nature" in which things act as they do because it is in their natures to do so is Aristotelian to the bone.

            that which you purport to isolate as "form" as being in reality distinct from the "stuff" you call "matter" is inherently simply part and parcel of the very nature of the reality being modeled

            Holy Shinola, Batman! That entire sentence was 120 words long. I'm impressed. But it sounds like you think the form of a thing is simply a different kind of matter, as if you could have the matter in one hand and the form in the other. All the examples you gave of matter were all particular forms of matter. I do not exactly fall from the stalk to be told that things like the Bohr-Sommerville model of the atom is in fact a model. That's why Wallace entitles his book on Aristotelian natural philosophy The Modelling of Nature.
            http://www.amazon.com/The-Modeling-Nature-Philosophy-Synthesis/dp/0813208602
            "Wallace demonstrates," wrote one reviewer, "how Aristotelian philosophy of nature, that of form, prime matter, powers, etc. coalesces nicely with the current understanding of modern physics, biology, and chemistry."
            Do not suppose that the underlying support structure is in some way opposed to the structure it supports. If anything, Hume and the other Moderns created a far more rickety support structure for the study of nature than the one they discarded.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Y.O.S.

            Thanks so much for your extensive and prompt reply.

            As you obviously are a scholar in this area and I am not, I can't promise that I'll be able to advance this particular conversation any further. (In fact, I considered whether even to enter this dialogue in the first place for that very reason.) But, I'll certainly do my best to come to grips with all that you say and get back to you with any additional thoughts I may have.

            In the meantime, my apologies for that one especially Proustian sentence! Too much stream-of-consciousness keyboard pounding; too little reflective editing.

            And I do hope that Michael M, Stacy T or Paul R -- or others having pertinent expertise in the underlying physics/chemistry -- do weigh in as well.

            Cheers.

        • So what physical phenomenon are they saying cannot be explained by science?

      • Chee Chak

        Thanks.....Randy......didn't know that there was a problem with the link. Just throwing it out there for perusal. I know I certainly don't feel academically qualified to go into any in depth debates or rebutals on this matter I will do so. however when I do aquire the academic credentials of Carroll, Hawking and mainstream physicists and cosmologists then, I will feel more comfortable challenging their opinions.

      • Michael Murray

        Scientists have long rejected idea that theories should be evaluated by how they affect our emotions. It doesn't lead to the truth. Sorry to repeat the Feynman quote from yesterday but it's such a good one

        People say to me, "Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?" No, I'm not... If it turns out there is a simple ultimate law which explains everything, so be it — that would be very nice to discover. If it turns out it's like an onion with millions of layers... then that's the way it is. But either way there's Nature and she's going to come out the way She is.

        • You miss the point. Science should not be affected by emotions. Scientists? When a scientist gets married do they declare that their theory of their spouse was not affected by their emotions? I actually married a scientist and she said quite the opposite.

          What are emotions? Is the feeling that the holocaust was wrong an emotion that should be ignored? Is the feeling that Mozart is good an emotion that should be ignored. For the purpose of scientific experiments you should ignore feelings like that. Are you assuming all questions are science questions? If you are then you are arguing in circles.

          • David Nickol

            Idea for a sitcom: I Married a Scientist.

          • Michael Murray

            I said theories. Sorry if that was confusing but I thought in the context of scientists it was clear I was discussing scientific theories not marriage partner selection.

          • Actually I thought the context clearly excluded scientific theories. We were trying to discern whether it was rational to believe something beyond the material world. Something that science could not prove or disprove.

          • Michael Murray

            And I was trying to explain the scientific opinion on this question. The training is that your personal reaction to a theory or idea is not evidence.

          • Not so much my personal reaction but the general reaction of most human brains. People perceive non-material realities and believe them to be important. Even those who deny such realities exist say that our brains make them seem to exist. It is like solipsism. the fact that our brains could be tricking us does not make it rational to believe they are.

          • Michael Murray

            Our brain tricks us in all kinds of ways. For example we think we have a rich detailed field of vision but we don't.

            Why should we trust a feeling that our conscious internal life is more than just our brain working? I can't even imagine what it would feel like if our conscious internal life was just our brain working.

          • This is the problem. Once you have ruled out any human brain as a source of data then it is not surprising evidence becomes hard to come by. Yet you have not ruled it out for any scientific reason. You can choose to believe your brain is discerning real beauty and real goodness and real meaning. Then you can still do science just as well.

    • Michael Murray

      Great post - thanks.

    • Guest

      Hey Chee,

      Do you have another link to this as this one doesn't appear to be working for me? Thanks!

      [edit] Just found it, Sorry to bother you.

    • Peter

      The univer

    • Peter

      Carroll claims that the natural intelligibility of the universe is a sign that to posit a God is an unnecessary complication. On the contrary, the very intelligibility of the universe is sure evidence that the universe is designed:

      1. The universe creates matter and complexifies it in a one-way process it
      to create sentient beings.

      2. Sentient beings have an irrepressible drive to comprehend the
      universe.

      3. The universe obliges by making itself intelligible, thereby satisfying the
      urge of sentient beings to comprehend it.

      The above steps cannot have occurred through simple chance. A universe which creates intelligences driven to comprehend it and able to do so is far too elegant and coherent a process to have occurred randomly. It must be a product of design.

      • This is ridiculous. The universe doesn't create matter, the universe is matter. Not only that, matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed. Only 1 sentient species has the drive to comprehend the universe, that's humans. And even then, many humans have no interest in how the universe works.

  • Judith77

    The Magis Center also addresses these issues. I learn from these dialogues.

  • Mike

    Brilliantly easy to understand, thanks.

    • Michael Murray

      Hi Mike, You sent me a reply with good wishes yesterday and I lost it and now I can't find it on these pages. Disqus is incredibly random sometimes. So just here returning them. Thanks. Michael

      • Mike

        I did? Well if so i am glad i wish you all the best but i've never heard of you; anyway....how can anyone not be a neo-platonist when it comes to physical reality, where the hell do they suppose all of this s*hit came from? ;)

  • It's a bit ironic that Feser spends time arguing that scientism is self-refuting, when his worldview is actually self-refuting. Feser adheres to Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics which affirms libertarian free will, but also denies it because it affirms the Aristotelian principle, which states "Whatever is changed is changed by another, or, in its more traditional formulation, Whatever is moved is moved by another."

    If our will begins to exist, or changes, it must be "changed by another". That means it cannot be changed by itself, but another. If our will is changed by another, and whatever changed that is changed by another, and so on, you get a chain of causation going back way before we were born, and that is essentially the same thing as determinism, which is incompatible with libertarian free will. So Feser's traditional Catholic view requires libertarian free will in order to make sense, but it also denies it. Hence, his worldview is self-refuting.