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Cows, Quarks, and Divine Simplicity

Cow

Recently, Cardinal George Pell publicly debated atheist Richard Dawkins on the subject of God’s existence. When Mr. Dawkins was asked about the cause of the universe, and how something could come from nothing, he replied that while his own theory cannot sufficiently answer this question, any answer would be better than something as complex as God. “'Nothing' is very, very, simple,” Dawkins says, “but God as a creative cause is very complex.”

Pell DawkinsDawkins’ point is that an immaterial God has to be at least as complex as the material universe he creates that, therefore, God’s existence would itself require an explanation, just as the existence of the universe does. In point of fact, however, the Christian philosophical and theological tradition has always conceived of God as uniquely and utterly simple, i.e., without any division or complexity. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, deals with this question in the First Part of his Summa Theologiae, and he explains why God, as the source of existence itself, must be simpler than the universe he created.

To see how this is true, we need to look at some concrete material beings, like cows. All cows share one thing in common: the fact that they are cows. This is their common “cow nature,” or what defines them as cows. But on top of this common cow nature, each cow has certain characteristics that make it “this particular cow.” One cow, Bessie, has a different spot pattern, for instance, or weighs more than her sister cow, Molly. These and other particular traits account for the fact that “this cow Bessie” and “that cow Molly” are not identical, despite the fact that they have the same nature.

This holds true for everything material in the universe. Even the smallest and simplest things, like electrons or quarks, still have some traits that make them more than just their natures. When we say “this cow”, “this electron,” or “that quark”, we mean something more than what defines any cow, any electron, or any quark. This is because a material thing is individuated from other material things simply by having matter and particular qualities.

In God, however, this does not happen. Whereas Bessie and the quark differ from their cow or quark natures by virtue of individual traits, everything that God is or does is identical to what he is, i.e., to his divine nature. For God, there is no difference between essence and existence. God is so simple that he is nothing but his divine nature. When God acts, thinks, loves, and creates, he does this just from what his nature is. As the cause of the universe and the source of all existence, God doesn't receive his existence from anything. Instead, God exists through himself; it is his essence to exist; he is the necessary Being that grounds the existence of all contingent beings. Of course, we cannot understand what it means to be “existence itself”, but we do know that something identical with its own existence must be the most simple and most actual being possible.

Responding to the same question about the cause of the universe, Cardinal Pell said of Dawkins’ response that it "dumbed down God and souped up the universe." Mr. Dawkins rejects God because he thinks a complex universe must have a complex cause. But the complexity of the universe does not imply that God is complex; it only implies that God’s simplicity transcends material limits. If God had created just one material thing, that one creature would not have sufficiently expressed his perfection. A whole universe of different kinds of material things, on the other hand, more fully reflects the divine goodness. Of course, the entire created order is only a pale reflection of divine perfection. Nevertheless, it still shows forth the splendor of its Maker. The heavens still proclaim the glory of God.
 
 
This article first appeared on DominicanaBlog.com, an online publication of the Dominican Students of the Province of St. Joseph who live and study at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. It was written by Br. Athanasius Murphy, O.P. He is a graduate of Providence College and studied Humanities and Philosophy there. Article used with author's permission.
 
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  • Even the smallest and simplest things, like electrons or quarks, still
    have some traits that make them more than just their natures. When we
    say “this cow”, “this electron,” or “that quark”, we mean something more
    than what defines any cow, any electron, or any quark.

    This is simply not true of elementary particles such as electrons or quarks. See the Wikipedia entry for Identical Particles:

    Identical particles, also called indistinguishable or indiscernible particles, are particles that cannot be distinguished from one another, even in principle. Species of identical particles include elementary particles such as electrons, and, with some clauses, composite particles such as atoms and molecules.

    There are two main categories of identical particles: bosons, which can share quantum states, and fermions, which do not share quantum states due to the Pauli exclusion principle. Examples of bosons are photons, gluons, phonons, and helium-4 atoms. Examples of fermions are electrons, neutrinos, quarks, protons and neutrons, and helium-3 atoms.

    The fact that particles can be identical has important consequences in statistical mechanics. Calculations in statistical mechanics rely on probabilistic arguments, which are sensitive to whether or not the objects being studied are identical. As a result, identical particles exhibit markedly different statistical behavior from distinguishable particles. . . . .

    • Loreen Lee

      I 'wish' I could understand this science. I have just returned from a 'Google' examination of such concepts as 'Metaphysical Naturalism', which I still hold, despite the objections of a naturalist is at least a nominal oxymoron, Methodological Naturalism, Religions Naturalism, Naturalism, simply put, etc. etc. etc. Thus I am closer to understanding why there is a least 'some truth' as to how, why, I refer to myself as an 'a-theist Catholic', and feel that this is not a contradiction. Although it cannot hold in a complete denial of 'God', as in the Metaphysical Naturalism, explanation, I find it is congruent with a secular-religious perspective.

      And so I continue in my search for 'meaning'.
      P.S. If you could direct me to simple explanations of these scientific concepts if they are available on the web, I would 'more than' appreciate it. Just an inquiry. Please do not consider any 'necessary' obligation. In other words, I am open to a theory of chance in this casual chain!!!!!

      • Vickie

        Do what I do and google "identical particles for dummies". You will usually come to an explanation that you can understand. Here is the simplist one I found...By “identical”, we mean particles that can not be discriminated by

        some internal quantum number, e.g. electrons of same spin.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks Vickie. This contests my 'belief' in Leibniz's 'Identity of Indiscernibles' which confronts me with a contradiction on the 'physical level' here. Almost the same kind of 'contradictions' I find in my attempts to 'understand' Catholicism. So, I'm off, thanks to you. Also want to search Quine, et al. (These particle theories of course are 'impersonal' which our belief in a 'personal' God is not. I thus feel they are compatible but on different 'levels'.)

          • Vickie

            Remember that this is a mathmatical reality due to the fact that it is impossible to measure the differences. That doesn't mean the differences aren't there.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks for connecting with me on FB. And especially for this comment which assures me that the principle of indiscernibles still holds. As I said though, I believe this has some consequences for mathematics which may or may not be 'problematic'.... I'm neither mathematician nor a physicist. But if they 'can't measure' the differences, (if this is true) in my humble understanding that seems to involve some 'limitation'.
            I have at least learned that Quine is a mathematical realist. Interesting.....

          • Remember that this is a mathmatical reality due to the fact that it is impossible to measure the differences. That doesn't mean the differences aren't there.

            No, you misunderstand. It is not that electrons differ one from another—like a cow with spots and a cow without spots—and we are unable to detect or measure the differences. It is that experimentally, electrons can be proven to be indistinguishable, because the behavior of distinguishable particles differs from the behavior of indistinguishable particles, and when the appropriate experiments are done, electrons behave as indistinguishable particles.

          • Vickie

            Actually, I think we have a difference in concept here. I saw the article as describing the cows as individual. Even if they were equivalent in all aspects of discernment, they would still be two seperate cows. Your first post seemed to concentrate on the aspect of being identical. So that identical particles are equivalently proven and therefore work mathmatically. My argument is actually that even though they are indistinguishable in their properties we are still talking about individual particles. Individual and distinct from each other (different), that difference need not be measurable or discernable.

          • Loreen Lee

            They 'behave' as indistinguishable particles!!!! Seems to agree with being indistinguishable 'in a property, or properties. That is abstractly, as a mathematical measurement, real or ?, they are distinguishable? But then, what is the method of 'perception' of the actual individual particles.

            Actually, I think we have a difference in concept here. I saw the article as describing the cows as individual. Even if they were equivalent in all aspects of discernment, they would still be two separate cows.

            This might indeed go against Leibniz principle. But I think there is confusion, in all this discussion between the physical and the mathematical. .

            No need to be concerned about getting me to understand this, Vickie. I've got a couple of leads on some books, now an your idea to Google 'identical particles' and I am a dummie!

          • Vickie

            Loreen, you and I both know that I am not erudite enough to be confusing. Could be that I was being too booshie though (Sorry to everyone else. This is a private joke)

          • geekborj

            Indistinguishability is the principle one applies in analyzing physical (or in general, natural) phenomena involving fundamental particles. This actually results to symmetry properties of nature (read: "beauty") which in turn results to conservation principles (read: "justice").

            Let's say there are two electrons (let's label them A and B for specificity) separated by a distance r. The dynamics of the resulting system (that is, A and B together with the entire Universe) is equivalent to another system with A and B interchanged. The resulting physics does not change if we swap A and B. Electrons are indistinguishable from each other. That is, all electrons (fundamental particles) are created equal, equal in the strictest sense of the term (given their quantum numbers are equal, of course).

      • P.S. If you could direct me to simple explanations of these scientific concepts if they are available on the web, I would 'more than' appreciate it.

        I wish I could help! Over the years I have read one book after another about particle physics, quantum mechanics, and cosmology, but all of them on a popular level, meaning with little or no math. I can recommend some fascinating books. One of the most enjoyable is Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. An excellent book on quantum mechanics is Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's The Quantum Universe: (And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does). I have not read it yet, but based on his other books I have read, I can recommend Jim Baggot's The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments.

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks David. I'm going to look into this. If only for defending my 'reputation' as an 'a-theist Catholic' whatever that 'means'!!!!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      You mean identical in the sense that this boson in my table is the same boson as the crumb on your kitchen floor?

      • You mean identical in the sense that this boson in my table is the same boson as the crumb on your kitchen floor?

        I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. If there was a set of identical twins that you simply could not tell apart, if one was on your left and one was on your right, you could say, "One is on my left and one is on my right." But that wouldn't mean they weren't identical or that you really could tell them apart. And if they moved while you had your eyes closed, you would not be able to say, "The one that was on my left is now the one in front."

        There are of course some problems with comparing twins and electrons, since electrons exist only as probabilities until observed. I found this while googling, and although I am not familiar with the site and cannot vouch for it in any way, this explanation fits with what I know:

        Not only is it impossible to tell electrons apart based on their physical properties, it's essentially impossible to tell them apart at all. This is because determining specific electrons by their position would require measuring their trajectories with exact precision, and the laws of quantum mechanics forbid this. Between measurements, electrons in the quantum world are probabilistic, defined by wave functions that give the odds of finding that particle in any given position. When the wave functions of multiple electrons overlap, it becomes officially impossible to determine which of the electrons was the one that was originally measured.

        This is all well-established quantum theory, backed up by nearly a century of experimental work. But it doesn't answer the deeper question - why are all the electrons identical? They most assuredly are, but there's no actual reason why they should be. For many scientists, a question like this traipses over into philosophy, at least at current level of knowledge. As far as most of physics is concerned, indistinguishable particles are indistinguishable simply because that's the way the universe is. No further explanation can be advanced, and so far one hasn't really been needed.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I just mean even if no physicist can tell one particle from another, they are different particles. Like particle A and particle B.

          • I just mean even if no physicist can tell one particle from another, they are different particles.

            That may or may not be so. Nevertheless, I maintain that this is an untrue statement or at best a very bad comparison.

            Even the smallest and simplest things, like electrons or quarks, still have some traits that make them more than just their natures. When we say “this cow”, “this electron,” or “that quark”, we mean something more than what defines any cow, any electron, or any quark. This is because a material thing is individuated from other material things simply by having matter and particular qualities.

            The piece is titled Cows, Quarks, and Divine Simplicity. The authors no doubt believe they are giving the impression of saying something "scientific" by using quarks or electrons as examples. But I think anyone who is reasonably familiar with particle physics would react the way I did.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you David. There is, to my interpretation, at least an equivocation concerning the meaning/reference of the word nature. Does it refer/describe both the universal and the particular? (This is problematic to me also in the talk about the Divine Nature of the Trinity) That is, does nature refer to something contained or distinct from the originating specific 'concepts'/of 'person', etc. I am a little hesitant to approach this because I feel an obligation to confine myself to philosophical questions. To approach such a 'theological' question, I feel, puts me on the brink of some kind of 'sinful' behavior!!!!! So please understand that I am only attempting to understand this 'conceptually'....if I am expressing myself 'sufficiently'.....I'm merely doing a 'language analysis'?????

      • geekborj

        Identical because we (read: no science) cannot distinguish that situation to that when these two bosons are swapped. But when we say, "the same" as in "one and the same" they are not. One can annihilate the boson in your table but not result to annihilation of that one in my kitchen floor.

        In science identity is different from distinguishability.

    • I think the idea is that electrons, any electron or other particle, has some quantum numbers that define its position in Hilbert space (and therefore everything about it; position in real space, momentum, everything, although in a probabilistic way). An electron can be spin up and still an electron or spin down and still an electron.

      Presumably, if God is a spin 1/2 particle, God is always spin up. To change God to spin down would make him no longer God.

      Any change to God makes God not-God.

      This is one of the reasons most contemporary philosophers interested in this sort of thing suspect that the concept of divine simplicity is incoherent. Plantinga raises a good objection to divine simplicity. He effectively argues that, right now, God believes I'm typing in the com box. When you read this God won't believe that anymore. So God's changing what he believes, and he's still God. So God's not simple.

      • ziad

        This is a misunderstanding of what God is (If I understood you correctly, apologies in advance for any misunderstanding). God is not bound in Time since He created it. God sees everything and from beginning of time to the end of it all at once(or from -infinity to +infinity if time has no beginning or end). It is difficult to understand because we are bound by time while He isn't.

        • Oh, I think that the argument is compelling. For one thing, Plantinga gives this argument from an A-Theorist's perspective, such that only the present exists, and the present is constantly changing. God can sit outside it, and knows what will happen in the future and in the past, but only the present actually exists, and so the statement:

          "Paul Rimmer is presently typing in the combox." is something God believes now, but won't by the time you read this.

          I can make the argument more technical for a B-theorist's perspective on time, that the universe is like a space-time block, and God sits outside it (past present and future are all equally real for God in this view). In that case, I talk about possible differences, and get to strange consequences for God.

          For example, maybe I chose to sin today by stealing a candy bar. If I chose not to steal the candy bar, God would cease to exist. Why? Because God believes that at time T1, I stole a candy bar. God's simple, so if God did not believe that at time T1 I stole the candy bar, God would not be God. Therefore my sin (and all human action) is necessary for God to exist.

          If on the other hand, I could have avoided stealing the candy bar, and God would go on, then it is possible for God to have different beliefs and still be God, and so God isn't simple.

          • ziad

            God simplicity does not mean that he is not intelligent (at least that is what I am getting from you). When we say he is outside of time, I mean that he knows that you thought of sinning and then you chose not to all at the same time. He is all knowing. He already know what will happen in the future and what happened in the past and what is happening now. So he is not changing.

          • I'm not saying that he is not intelligent. God could study math, for example. But maybe it would be best for me to ask you what you mean by "divine simplicity".

            The sort of classical "his existence is his essence" definition, cashed out, seems to say that all God's properties are essential, and so they can't be different. If that's the case, there are terrible problems.

            Saying that God knows the future doesn't solve the problem with the definition as stated above. It also requires that the future cannot work out differently, because if it did, God's knowledge would be different and then (according to the definition of divine simplicity above: different properties) God would not be God.

            But maybe you mean something different when you use the phrase "divine simplicity"?

          • ziad

            My assertion that God knows the future was to refute the example you gave regarding stealing, not existence=essence since we weren't discussing that directly ;)

            Regarding God's knowledge of the future and the future cannot change: As humans, since we do not know what the future holds, we see infinite possibilities of what will happen in the future. This is not the case for God. God sees what the future exactly looks like. He sees what my choices will be in the future and knows what I will and will not do. To me, I see myself with endless possibilities of things I could or could not do and can only speak of probabilities.

            As to explaining exactly what existence=essence, I will leave that to smarter people to discuss since that is beyond my brain to pick ;)

          • The candy bar example is connected to the existence=essence definition of divine simplicity.

            The candy bar argument runs like this:

            1. All of God's properties are essential.
            2. God's knowledge that I steal a candy bar is one of God's properties.
            3. It is possible that I do not steal the candy bar.
            4. Therefore possibly God's knowledge is that I do not steal the candy bar.
            5. Therefore one of God's properties is not essential.

            5 contradicts 1, so 1 is false and God isn't simple.

            Now, you can deny 3, but this will have three consequences.

            A. It is necessary that I steal the candy bar. Everything I do is necessary. I have no free will.

            B. It is necessary that God made me to steal the candy bar, so God made me sin.

            C. It is necessary that God make the world exactly as it is, so God has no free will.

            Most traditional theists will reject B and C, and I think most Catholics will reject A as well.

            I think it makes more sense to give up on divine simplicity, or at least to redefine it so you don't run into these kinds of problems.

          • ziad

            I would argue that God's knowledge for num2. is what you will do in num3. We do not know what God's knowledge is to pin point it to whether you will steal or not steal and then you do the opposite. We say that God knows what you think you will do (num2) and know what you will do (num3) at the same time. I do not see a problem with that.

          • This isn't about epistemic probabilities (whether someone knows what I will do) but metaphysical probabilities (whether I could do something differently). Intuitively it seems as though we can imagine a world (everything that is the case) where Socrates never existed. We cannot imagine a world where 1+ 1 = 3, or where substances don't exist.

            The argument against divine simplicity is about the metaphysical probabilities. It's not just that God must know whether I will steal the candy bar. It has to be that it is metaphysically impossible for me not to steal the candy bar. In other words, God must make me do it. God must make everything happen exactly as it happens (otherwise, his knowledge would be different than it is and he wouldn't be God). It means neither I nor God has free will. He didn't have a choice in sending his Son to die, and He made Adam and Eve sin. He would be powerless to have stopped them.

          • Loreen Lee

            Re-cognition!!!! Is this cognition on re-flection? Cognition with respect to the temporal past. See how intricate language is. Derrida, the de-constructionist, has demonstrated that a 'variable?' called 'trace' exists within language, that demonstrates that all words are inter-related, and only the 'whole' would constitute (a)-truth? Test this out sometime. Look up the definition of a word in the dictionary, and you'll find that it leads to another meaning of another word, ad infinitum!?

          • ziad

            I see now what you are saying. But I still respectfully disagree. Just because God is all knowing and know what we will choose, does not take away our free will (or His free will).

            an example of that (although terrible one) is that we know the sun will rise tomorrow. Just because we know does not mean we are causing it to rise. Same thing with God knowing what we will do in the future does not mean he is causing us to act that way.

            If he knows that something will happen then yes it will happen, but not because he knows, but because you chose to do so freely.

          • Zaid,

            Thanks for the dialogue. I wanted to clarify one more point.

            I think it is possible for God to be all knowing and for us to have free will. I think the example you gave of how this can work is a good one (maybe I will borrow it in the future). I just don't think that's possible if God is also simple.

            Now, there are easy ways out of this. You could say that God isn't simple. Many Catholic and Protestant theologians have.

            Or you could modify the definition of simplicity. This was what Eleonore Stump had been trying, and it's possible philosophers have now succeeded in coming up with a better definition. I don't know. I'm not a professional philosopher. This divine simplicity stuff is just a hobby for me.

          • ziad

            I enjoyed the dialogue as well :) I see that you did not have an issue with what I was saying (God knowing and gives us free will) but you have an issue with God being simple, given that he has these powers.

            I will not argue for or against that since my knowledge on the subject (God's complexity or simplicity) is very limited. I will just observe what you and others say on the matter :)

          • Loreen Lee

            l. Properties, I understand, according to Aristotelian 'logic?' are not considered 'essences'.
            2. Same with 2. If anything, the knowledge would be an 'essence'. (So maybe this is the epistemological/ontological confusion again!)
            3. Possibilities have been associated, within different contexts with both future and past. But it is also possible, within the physical 'world', that an actuality could be a possible, or potentiality. I have never studied modal logic, but the modalities are the basis of the concept of necessity that define moral thought in Kant's philosophy. These are derived from logical constructs, and applied to theoretical thought as necessity, actuality, and possibility, or potentiality.
            4. Yes, we could say that the determination of omniscient knowledge is that you don't steal the Candy bar. In this way we can assume that God knew that Adam and Eve would go against his 'command'. This implies to me some kind of 'necessity' in their 'action/sin'!!!!!
            5. Maybe it's not essential in the relation of the act to the 'free will'. We do distinguish Logos, The Word, (made flesh) from The Will of God. Could there not be 'different' aspects to the Trinitarian 'essence' of God, as it is represented as 'Mind'. (Note - Aquinas also holds that God has body. I couldn't help notice all the contradictions in this scholastic thought)
            5. Seems, in different ways, that both you and I are aware of contradictions. Put perhaps God 'contains' contradiction - meaning that contradiction is 'assimilated' in some way that is not 'problematic'?????
            There is some 'salvation' in Hegel's concept that 'freedom is the 're-cognition' of necessity. But this is another 'complex'!!!! issue.

          • You gave a very interesting "continental" response to an "analytic" problem. I think much of the problem is in how differently the words are used, the precision the words have, and even the broad goals these two schools have for philosophy.

            1. Properties are "entities that can be predicated of things." Properties can be essential or not. Essential properties, as analytic Thomists understand the term, are properties of a thing such that, if the thing didn't have the property, it wouldn't be itself anymore. If I cease to be an animal, or if I cease to be rational, then I will no longer be human. If I lose my arm, I'm still human. "Two arms" is not essential. "Rational" and "animal" are essential.

            Saying that God's essence is his existence is, in this context, saying that all God's properties are necessary by definition. Change anything about God, and it's not God anymore but something else.

            2. Any justified true belief God has (God's knowledge) can be predicated of God and so are properties.

            3. This involves Wittgenstein's and more specifically Kripke's modal logic, and the formalism involved. "The World" is "what is the case", possible worlds are worlds that can be the case. There are atomic facts "Aristotle is a philosopher" that can be changed without changing anything else in the world. Aristotle could have chosen to be a soldier, for example. Any statement that is true in all possible worlds is necessarily true.

            4. Maybe you don't believe this, but my intuition is that God can know the future without making the future necessary. The problem Plantinga and Stump identify about divine simplicity is not that God knows everything (past,present,future) about this world, but that God would be constrained to bringing about this exact world. Now, maybe your intuition is that knowing the future is the same as determining the future. People believe this. I think a distinction can be made, though, between knowing and determining. Jimmy Akin actually had a very helpful illustration about this. I can stand on the top of a building and see that a car crash is going to happen from my vantage, but I can't stop it or determine anything about it. I know the future but can't change it.

            5. I don't understand what you are getting at here.

            With this framework in place, can you reword your criticisms? As they are, I don't know how to address them.

          • Loreen Lee

            Dear Paul: Thank you. I have been wanting to 'get back' to you all night on the problematic of this post.. Haven't slept. You actually are going to be my 'teacher'. My interpretation of philosophy could be considered a hodge podge of what I have been able to piece together from my understanding, and not complete reading, within both the analytic and continental traditions. But I do not have an understanding of any of these philosophers that would pass the entrance exams to graduate school in any of these subjects.

            I'll be back to you. I'm going to copy, and print out this whole discussion, before I attempt an answer. Thank you for being patient with me. I at least feel that some of the conclusions I have come to 'on my own', are going in the 'right direction'. I have never studied modal logic. But I do think of various applications of how for instance possibility would be interpreted within a temporal in contrast to an eternal context. Eternal is a word used by analytic philosophers for instance. (I understand) to describe the truth of a 'tautology' for instance. So as I said in that horrid post on 'faith', so much of the misunderstanding is due to the use of terminology. I believe we 'agree' on that. Have never studied modal logic, I just imagine/speculate what philosophical terms could mean in both the 'contexts'. mentioned above. But I am lacking in the ability to make 'clearer' distinctions.

            P.S. I also have trouble with the limitations of language theory, used per se. I wonder sometimes whether we need to become more aware of our 'thoughts in process' as distinguished from their analytic meaning within logical constructs, and what I can only describe as the continental attempt to find 'systems'. You see I have to come up with my own terminology, because of my lack of formal education. This examination of process I would call for a better word, 'back to consciousness'!!!!!!

          • Loreen Lee

            Just on 5: An attempt to express my 'intuition'. No doubt you realize that my choice of words reflects the idiosyncrasy of my learning and understanding. But 'containment'. How do I understand that. When I can contain my emotions, for instance I have a 'control' over them. I can be 'outside' of them so to speak. Whenever I run into contradiction, whether logical or related to language, I feel that I have to make a choice on the one side or the other. This is true to the contradictions within the 'scope of my life', as well. I cannot contain, all possibilities, all necessities, within a unified 'actuality'.
            I'm not going to say that this is what I propose God could do, which I now understand to be your meaning in reference to the scope of analytic philosophy. However, this 'is' what I was getting at. So it turns out that I learn that Aquinas and the analytic philosophers believe they understand these perspectives according to 'God's understanding. In other words, there is an assumption that there conclusions are formulations of possible, if not actual comprehensions of what I conceived to be 'inexplicable'.

            God, perhaps, is our answer to the 'fact' that we have no comprehension on ultimate questions of what, why, and how the cosmos, and ourselves exists. I have left our 'who'- God, 'where' which may be relative to cosmology. We put these questions into a human perspective, perhaps I could say. We identify ourselves with God and with the cosmos.

            Indeed I have been thinking of Jesus Christ, since I read the Aquinas article that suggests God has a 'body'. Well, yes the body could be conceived as the universe, but I dare not identify with pantheism or deism on this site, explicitly. There are always such limitations of context, perhaps, within 'life' if not in such a context of this. Another example of how God would be able to 'contain' such contradictions.
            But I'm doing here what I referred to as my own personal 'constraint'. I find it very difficult, personally, to 'contain' the idea that I can in any way 'know' epistemologically, God or the ultimate 'nature' of the universe. I said in one comment, that I feel that going into the area of Theology etc. would be a difficulty that I could even regard as 'sinful'. I have wondered for instance, when Satan, gathered around him angels from other 'denominations', who were the Cherubs who 'rebelled' against God. I have firm belief in the reality of angels, as per Aquinas, and I feel this is comparable to Quine believing in the reality of 'mathematical' concepts. I even discovered that the Buddhists believe in the reality of ideas, or thoughts; that they have 'Being' (being?) This is my solution for instance to the rejection of Kant's Transcendental Ideality by the Catholic church as denying the 'reality' of God. But if Ideas can indeed be 'real' I don't feel there is a contradiction. I have 'contained' it.
            If I can hazard a speculative metaphysical comment within the area of Christology, for instance. What does it 'mean' for the Word, (Logos) to be made Flesh. Could I for instance consider that the thought of Jesus was identical in some analytic way with the 'Intelligence' within the Trinitarian conception of Intellect, Will and Judgment, and his body merely to be human. This would contradict however, the Resurrection of the body, and the 'substantial' idea that there is transformation not only within thought but within the physical universe. So am I being analytic in these statements. You see, I am not able to make such distinctions. You could almost say, I don't 'know' what I am talking about. That is why I relate my philosophic studies to literature, and the book I have been working on and continue to rewrite. Because I definitely cannot consider myself in any 'way,shape, of form', an 'academic'.....I also believe that men think more analytically than women do generally. The reason why possibly I consider it correct not to have women priests for instance. I do think that the logic of the church in these decisions, is right on and that there are 'substantial' difference between the thought of men and women, per se? But I also wonder what, and how the Virgin was 'pondering'!!!!!!!

          • Loreen Lee

            1. The distinction has been clarified. Thank you.

            2. Predicating things of God!!!! This reminds me of the true justified beliefs of those examples in scripture, where even Moses and Aaron acted on their understanding of what constituted God's understanding/purpose/knowledge, what not. One of the reasons again that I feel a personal obligation not to phrase my understanding within the context that it 'represents' God's knowledge. I must assume responsibility for my own thought. It could be considered 'justified' however, within the context of faith, rather than epistemology alone, though, could it not.

            3. This reminds me of Leibniz's 'This is the best of all possible worlds', and actually has given me more insight into this observation of his. It was of course the subject of Moliere's? irony at the time, though, I believe.

            4. This as an initial intuition, again presents itself as an example to me of how the knowledge that comes to us can be justified by presenting it within the context that it is what God would do, think. etc. We 'universalize' it. I like your distinction between (analytic) knowing and determination which suggests to me a context of 'contingency'. I agree with those philosophers who interpret the 'eternal truths' of tautology, for instance, as empty. I do agree with Kant on so many issues. For instance, his saying that the concept without the percept is empty, the percept without the concept is blind.

            Maybe you don't believe this, but my intuition is that God can know the future without making the future necessary.

            Maybe that is a good description if not a definition of what constitutes free will. A free will that is defined as necessary by Hegel however, suggests to me that an 'absolute?' or 'necessary?' instantiation of free will would be to do the will of God. (As in the Lord's Prayer, and as in what Christ said on the Cross'. This latter suggest to me the difference between the Logos/Word exemplified in Christ and The Will of God. The implications of this comparison however, are beyond the jurisdiction of these comments.)

            but that God would be constrained to bringing about this exact world. (I find difficulty with the use of the word constrained. Because my relationship to philosophy is a personal one, I have to consider my 'ontological' limitations as analogical within this context. Again the difference between contingencies and necessary being comes into play here, perhaps.

            Have I covered everything? I just checked with one of the guys at the cafe, and he gave me confidence that it is alright to go continue within the limitations of what reading I have already done. There are good links on the website for specific 'problems'. Someone once said that sometime you have to come to the point where you think things out for yourself. Wittgenstein, also made a statement that philosophy should be something you do 'only?' when it is necessary. I believe however, that philosophy need be a part of my life, within a personal context. But maybe this distinction has something to do with a truth, and how his reference to 'the end of philosophy' should/could be interpreted. Maybe the time has come, since we can no longer expect to develop a systematic philosophy, or indeed have a knowledge of all relevant factors, that it is warranted that we merely attempt to integrate what knowledge we come about within our experience and 'practical or personal wisdom?'

            Thanks Paul. Your comments have been extremely helpful to me. They have made me think.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            God's knowledge isn't pre-knowledge. Time is a creature that He created, so he isn't subject to it. I know that my phone is sitting on my desk because I am currently present to that event. Just as God knows that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon because He is literally present to that event. But seeing Caesar cross the Rubicon does not negate Caesar's free will to cross the Rubicon. Now, I suppose God, seeing that possibility, could make sure he didn't cross the Rubicon. But wouldn't that negate Caesar's free will? Another thing you have to remember is that we aren't necessarily using the modern category of libertarian free will, an agent that acts without cause and can change the future. The free will of Aristotle and Aquinas was never so robust.

          • I have repeatedly stated in my responses above that I don't think God would be subject to time. I've presented two arguments against divine simplicity (neither of them are originally mine, but I find both plausible), both of which assume God is outside time.

            Now, I suppose God, seeing that possibility, could make sure he didn't cross the Rubicon.

            If God could prevent Caesar from crossing the Rubicon, then, according to the argument I gave above, God's existence is not the same as his essence.

            The free will of Aristotle and Aquinas was never so robust.

            I agree with you on this point. But according to Aquinas (insofar as I understand him), God doesn't will things necessarily (Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 19, Article 3). That means God could have willed something other than he did. If that's the case, then God could be different than he is and still God. So it would seem that God is not simple.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            Aquinas replies to your objection in Reply to Objection 4. God's will is contingent from our perspective not because of some defect in the divine will, but because the objects of that will are contingent. Likewise with divine knowledge, as God's knowledge is necessarily related to the known. Now, it is possible that you do steal a candy bar in the future, and it is also possible that you do not. That is because it is a contingent action dependent on both opportunity and your free will. But, either action will not change the knowledge of God, as that action is already before him.

          • Sure. I don't see how this affects the argument against divine simplicity. Which premise above does it negate or which definition does it modify? Where do you think the mistake is in the above argument?

            But, either action will not change the knowledge of God, as that action is already before him.

            I'm not talking about God's knowledge actually changing (although theologians like Plantinga and Craig seem to say that God's knowledge does change, because only the present exists).

            I'm talking about God's knowledge possibly being different than it is. It seems to be the case that if God's knowledge cannot be any different then the world cannot be any different. Everything is necessary and neither we nor God have free will, even in a limited sense. God and humans are robots.

            It seems that way to me. Why? Because it seems as though the simple God has no choice. In some worlds where I exist I steal the candy bar, and in some worlds where I exist I don't. So in some worlds God knows I steal the candy bar, and in some worlds God doesn't know I steal the candy bar. This seems as though part of God's knowledge could be different than it is, and God would still be God. This seems to contradict divine simplicity.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            The simple God does have no choice! God's knowledge is necessarily what is true. The fact that some truths are contingent is irrelevant. As Aquinas points out, it's like claiming that the intensity of the Sun has changed because you've moved to the shade. I mean, how can you have an omniscient God if he can "choose" to believe an untruth? What good is that?

          • The consequences are more serious than God believing something that's not true.

            Do you think God could have made the universe any other way?

          • Alexander S Anderson

            Of course, as Aquinas says "It is not natural to God to will any of those other things that He does not will necessarily; and yet it is not unnatural or contrary to His nature, but voluntary." Prima Pars, Question 19, article 3. While His will springs from his nature, it is not part of his nature.

          • Right. And that's where I see the problem. If God existence is his essence, then he seems bound by his very nature to make the world exactly as it is. If he made it differently, then his knowledge about the world would be different and he wouldn't be God.

            As I just said to @ziad below, there seem to be two easy ways out. One is to say that God isn't simple (which some Catholics do). Another is to say that divine simplicity means something different than that God is identical to each of his properties. There's been some new work on this, but I cannot understand it (my expertise is physics, not philosophy). You seem to have a background studying philosophy, so maybe you can explain how they get around the argument I presented here?

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-simplicity/#TruDef

            The whole article is worth reading.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            It seems that Aquinas denies the second. While God is identical to his will (the object of which is always goodness) He is not identical to every action of that will, even if that action is determined by the above mentioned commitment to goodness. Now then, because there are many possibilities to achieve the good, God's will is free, as He can will anything that in the end achieves His goodness.

            As for article, on first glance I would object to Plantinga's assertion that God is identical to His omniscience. I would say that omniscience can describe God because of the convertibility of truth, goodness, and existence, and because God is existence Itself. Given those, it's proper to describe God as omniscient, and God's all knowledge comes from his essence, but that doesn't mean that God IS omniscience except in a sort of roundabout way. I sort of see "omniscience" as more of a proper description of an internal reality of God than something that can be properly predicated of God in the modern sense. But, admittedly that's only my first crack at an answer and I could be totally off.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            It must also be understood that the theistic personalism followed by Plantinga is a very different thing than the classical theism of Aristotle, Aquinas, or Augustine. I'm going to have a hard time defending it because I find it incoherent.

          • Loreen Lee

            I have been in a long standing difficulty in understanding the concept of presence in the temporal as distinct from an eternal sense. There are many 'definitions' of eternity which coincide with my puzzlement: (aeviternity, praternatural, sempiternal, aeturnus, aevum) for example. Also I find no satisfactory answer to the 'problem' of universals, as in the example of the 'universal' cow and the particulars. The post-moderns of course are determined anti-Platonists in this regard. Yet I cannot accept the philosophy of nominalism, because I believe there is 'substance', if only the 'connatative' understanding I have to my personal 'history'.....so I'm being praternatural here!!!!! P.S. I believe the 'problem of simplicity' is one of the four antinomies put forward by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason. However, my understanding of this book (these books) is very 'limited'.

          • The problem of divine simplicity that I'm relating here comes from Alvin Plantinga and Eleonore Stump, tweaked to match the way I understand the problem. I'm sure more recent work has been done on it, but if the problem's been solved, no one's told me the solution yet.

    • Vickie

      We are the ones that complicate it. Who says he won't believe it anymore? Can God make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? Yes... If he can't lift it he wouldn't be God then or no... If he can't make it he wouldn't be God either. We have now outwitted God or least the concept of him.

      • Vickie

        Sorry, that reply was to Paul's comment

      • If you are saying that the problems of divine simplicity don't arise if God doesn't make anything at all, I think you may be right.

        I'm not saying what God can and cannot do. I'm just saying that if God can believe something at one time and not at another, then it seems that God is not simple. So what if God isn't simple?

        • Vickie

          This is where we face some problems. If he is big G God than by definition of that in my simplest dictionary would be a Supreme Being. Therefore, as supreme, under it's simplest definition, (is above all things, greater than, superior) there would come a time when our language would not suffice. Is he simple? As a believer sometimes the answer to some questions is simply "Because he is God". That is simple. Is he complex or would a better description be that he is very deep? Like I said at a certain point language and analogy would break down. It is reasonable to conclude that something greater then us would be greater than our ability to describe him. Does this prove complexity or the simple fact that he is greater than we are.

        • Loreen Lee

          This is the reason, fundamentally, why I affix the 'a-theist' qualification to my identity with Catholicism. I have read much about the need for more descriptive metaphysics, for instance. That is metaphysics from the point of view of humanity, not from 'the assumed' position that we know the ideas, and plans, and 'identity of what God is'. There is a kind of arrogance, I believe, in this. Kant also was against 'speculative metaphysics'.

        • Vickie

          Actually, what I was saying that we create our own complications. I was also saying that we think we are smart enough to outwit God. LOL

          • Why does it matter to you if God's essence is the same as his existence?

          • Loreen Lee

            And 'smart enough' to 'define' God epistemological!

      • We are the ones that complicate it.

        Yes, by asking pertinent questions. We could just say, "If the Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph wrote it, and Brandon chose to reprint it on Strange Notions, who am I to have doubts? If it seems to contradict what we know through science, then science must be wrong, since we know there can be no contradiction between religion and science."

        There was even a post here recently that said of its arguments, "Only when complex, artificial objections are made do these arguments begin to take on a complex appearance." In other words, it's all simple and obvious, and those who say otherwise are deliberately clouding the issue.

        • Loreen Lee

          I think there is legitimacy to Nietzsche writing 'The Will to Power'. Buddhists for instance, and Schopenhauer, the philosophy against which he wrote this book as a response) hold that desire is something that should be routed out. But desire, is defined differently from will. Also there is a post-modern concept, that I think actually predates them, that 'knowledge is power'....This can be used rightly or wrongly. I just think there would be a different connotation with respect to it's application to either/or God and Man. God's knowledge must be a distinct concept (different meaning?) from it's application within our 'knowledge', of 'knowledge'
          to be 'redundant'?????

        • Loreen Lee

          My understanding is that 'The Will to Power', was written as a description of a tendency within the human condition. I don't believe that Nietzsche would ever have become a Nazi, if he had lived that long. However, there is a problematic around this with the philosopher Heidegger, who promotes/d the works of Nietzsche in his writings. Nietzsche's sister, however, to my understanding, was very influential not only in 'editing' his books, but in making them available to people who 'used' them, I hold, 'unethically'"

    • Loreen Lee

      Even the smallest and simplest things, like electrons or quarks, still
      have some traits that make them more than just their natures. When we
      say “this cow”, “this electron,” or “that quark”, we mean something more
      than what defines any cow, any electron, or any quark.

      This, I understand/believe reflects the saying that 'God is in 'all'. However, Theists are not Deists or Pantheists, so once again I find it difficult to come to an understanding of the 'terminology'......
      P.S. For one thing surely their 'nature' is not 'identical' with their 'individuality'. Is there not a contradiction in the above quotation?

      • ziad

        I did not see how you came to the conclusion that "God is in all" from saying that this cow is different that any other cow. Please explain :)

        • Loreen Lee

          It would be the idea that the universal covers all instances. I thought I read it in Catholic literature, but that may be my error. "I have no evidence" at hand. And it, as I say, sounds more deist or pantheist than theist. Maybe our moderator could come to the rescue!!!! Anyway, God is I think defined as an absolute, (as well as, or rather than) a universal. But when I tried to attend an Opus Dei lecture on this subject, I was denied because of my 'female status'. I was not included in the 'all'......(If 'God is all' is true, I can only come to some kind of tentative conclusion, that I don't have to regard them as some kind of 'gods' after all, despite my female status. (My mean old irony again.!)

      • Loreen Lee

        Actually we say three Persons in God, which has one nature, which I don't think anyone as explicitly dared/tried/attempted to 'define'....

    • Dylan Prevost

      I understand this physics you've just referenced, I assure you, but my argument against it is on a much simpler level. Surely two "indistinguishable particles" cannot occupy the same location in spacetime, correct? Wouldn't this very fact [that any two particles must occupy unique locations in spacetime] be a distinguishable trait, even if by concepts of quantum mechanics we are unable to measure these traits?

      • What about two electrons in the 1s orbital of a hydrogen atom? Now, these particles can be distinguished in terms of quantum numbers. One has spin +1/2 and the other has spin -1/2. But how can they be spatially distinguished prior to observation?

        What about a beam of light? It looks like the photons can stack on top of each other. How can the photons all be distinguished?

        This isn't the topic of this discussion, really, but I'm curious how you would answer these things.

      • Alexander S Anderson

        Depends on what you mean by "location" but, it is true that two particles cannot occupy the same quantum state, which seems to me a reason to distinguish them. Surely the fact that the location of electron A is somewhere in the parameters of equation B represents an accident, and not an essential feature of the electron. This is an accident (location) that God does not have, as He has no location, neither in the absolute sense nor in the sense of being defined by a probability field.

        • it is true that two particles cannot occupy the same quantum state

          What about bosons?

          • Alexander S Anderson

            Good point. But, this is why I think the article has some unfortunate wording. It may be possible that two particles are indistinguishable (how one knows that you have two if they are indistinguishable, I'm not going to comment on) but they still have accidents, at the very least the accident of location (either absolutely or probabilistically). There's nothing essential (i.e. in the their essence) that says they must be in a certain location or quantum state. This is evidenced by the fact that location and quantum state can change. The same is not true of God, who has neither the accident of location nor the accident of quantum state.

          • I agree. Even two indistinguishable particles (there's a way to count them) have accidents. They could be different from each other in some measurable way, but don't happen to be. Maybe they will be different in the future.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            Exactly. To compare, something else that shares God's essence would just be God, because there would be no accidents that can distinguish them. God therefore exists at a different level than contingent beings do. In other words, He is his own existence.

      • Wouldn't this very fact [that any two particles must occupy unique locations in spacetime] be a distinguishable trait, even if by concepts of quantum mechanics we are unable to measure these traits?

        I think Alexander S Anderson raises a key point when he mentions location. The OP says,

        All cows share one thing in common: the fact that they are cows. This is their common “cow nature,” or what defines them as cows. But on top of this common cow nature, each cow has certain characteristics that make it “this particular cow.”

        If location is one of the characteristics that makes a specific cow "this particular cow," then every time the cow changes location, it becomes a different cow! So Wikipedia says the following:

        Identical particles, also called indistinguishable or indiscernible particles, are particles that cannot be distinguished from one another, even in principle. Species of identical particles include elementary particles such as electrons, and, with some clauses, composite particles such as atoms and molecules.

        I don't think that means an electron observed on Mars is "distinguishable" from an electron observed at the same time on Jupiter because they can't be the same electron. I think it means if you took both of those electrons and put them in a box, the next time you opened the box, you would have absolutely no way of knowing the Mars electron from the Jupiter electron. (Whether such a thing could be done in reality, or whether it makes any sense, I don't know.)

        If I am able to make counterfeit $20 bills that are indistinguishable by any physical or chemical tests from government-printed $20 bills, it is true that as long as they are in my print shop, it can be known that they are my counterfeits. But once they get into circulation, the fact that each counterfeit bill has a particular location doesn't mean it is distinguishable from other real bills or other counterfeit bills.

        So I think location is not a property of an electron or other particle that makes it "distinguishable" from other electrons. I think what is meant is that every electron is absolutely identical to every other electron, and no two electrons can be told apart. Saying, "This one is here and that one is there," doesn't distinguish one from another. It merely states that two indistinguishable particles have different locations.

  • Even if God is the simplest explanation, and the God explanation is right, what is this God made of? What is she like?

    It seems that, with this article and with most articles that invoke divine simplicity, "God" is something esoteric, like a "ground of being". This rarified notion of God seem inconsistent with the God of Israel who has emotions and makes decisions and eventually becomes human. At least, it seems difficult to put them together.

    The divine simplicity God seems most like Spinoza's God. This might someday be a convincing case for naturalistic pantheism.

    • jakael02

      You make a good observation. I'd conclude from the article topic alone, we can't conclude what God is made of or what he/she is like. This God would have to reveal himself to us. Maybe?

      • I think that the sort of God who would reveal herself to us would not be the God of Divine Simplicity. There may not be a necessary contradiction (although it appears as though there is). I just don't think the idea fits very well.

        • Loreen Lee

          No need to use 'her' in order to placate any form of 'feminism'. I think we can find a way to speak of such a problematic that is 'gender neutral, without being offensive to God. Maybe if we just use that word, God, adjusting the structure of our sentences to facilitate this.

        • jakael02

          I agree God's existence, or "what God is" can be complex. But his nature, as revealed to us via Catholic doctorine, is simple. Please let me know if I'm missing the contradiction, I'm not expert here. :)

          • There may not be a contradiction. What do you mean by "simple nature"?

    • Loreen Lee

      I think that generally this reflects the 'natural inclination' for humans to 'identity' with God. I do however, believe there has to be some truth in the concept 'ground of being'. I can even think of beginning, end, and new within this semantic context. But the big thing is syntax, structure, form...... Way beyond my pay scale, but I continue anyway to 'speculate' hopefully merely from a point of view that doesn't assume that I am 'holy' enough to 'know' God.

      • jakael02

        As we grow in holiness, via responding to God's grace, God infuses us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One such gift being "wisdom", "understanding", "council", "knowledge", etc...
        Thus, we don't come to "know" God, but he reveals himself to us.
        These gifts allow you to pierce into glimpses of God's nature; thus knowing he exists and his revelation is true. What do you think?

        • Loreen Lee

          Through following the blogs on New Advent, I have come to understand that the seven gifts do not refer to knowledge, understanding, etc. within the context of the epistemology of the physical world. I can only phrase my understanding of this, being a gift, as the development of 'being' within our selves, perhaps our internal being, in which these words apply to something transcendent, even within the context of developing a more 'refined' character, or within the transforming contexts, in which we see the world in a different way, (through a better understanding of what love is, for instance) and thus, as I said there is some kind of 'ontological' development, rather than epistemological 'learning'. I do believe it is possible to feel more whole and complete as we overcome our personality difficulties or limitations. But I notice in one of the interpretations of the Credo, that the word 'holy' is not even used in a description of what would otherwise be the four characteristics of the church. But the reality of transformation represents for me the truth of the Catholic Faith.

          • jakael02

            Not gonna lie, a few of those terms were above my pay-grade. :) New Advent is a favorite source of mine. I was incorrect to use the term "infuse"; b/c that was correctly apply to the theological virtues. Better defined, the council, wisdom, understanding, are the seven sanctifying gifts of the holy spirit.
            These complete and perfect the theological virtues. So I was mistaken. :)
            I don't understand the context of "holy" that you referred to in terms of the Credo? Could you elaborate please?

          • Loreen Lee

            You see there, it was staring me right in the face. I missed the word "infuse". Of course that would imply what I was attempting to say. So need need for you to 'understand' my way of expressing it, because you actually said it 'better than me". I did work out, though, on my own, that they are theological virtues, like faith. There's 'hope' for me yet! Thanks.

            About the Credo, I was checking to see the different versions and the one in 354, I think, did not include the word 'holy' as one of the 'attributes?' of the church. They only had: one, Catholic and Apostolic. No Holy!!!!!

          • jakael02

            That is interesting. I did not know that about the Credo.

          • Loreen Lee

            In the latter council, about 381, I believe, they added the 'Holy'.

          • Loreen Lee

            Whoops! I misunderstood you again. "infuse" is with respect to the theological virtues. The seven gifts are or are not 'virtues'? But definitely 'sanctifying grace' which means for me that they are the 'overcoming' of sin, (which I understand is to be 'without grace'.......Ontological is the word that is used by philosophers to talk about 'being' rather than what we 'know' which is covered by the term 'epistemology'.

  • Steve Roberts

    Dawkins is right about one thing...God needs an explanation...He gave one through His son. He loves us enough to die for us on a cross, He loves us without cause, and it will take an eternity to explain His nature, given He is Eternal. Unfortunately for Dawkins, he denies God the right to love Him and deny's His existence when he knows he cannot prove He does not exist....thus he will never get the opportunity to get to know him because of his pride.

    • Loreen Lee

      We therefore cannot in a contrary 'mode' of thought 'assume' that we know God. Could we ever be humble enough to admit the possibility that we will never have an 'explanation' for the cosmos, or the ability to 'know' God. (Epistemologically!!!!) Thus I support the Catholic position that insists that this 'knowing' should be thought of as a relationship, an ontological 'commitment', even though this appears within an epistemological context to be a 'contradiction'. . .

  • Octavo

    It sounds like divine simplicity is an assertion tailored specifically to answer Dawkins' argument. How do Catholics know that God is simple? Why would his mind be the first one encountered that has no complicated moving parts?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Divine simplicity is not an assertion tailored to answer Dawkins, since it was formulated long, long ago.

      The link provided in the OP explains God's simplicity.

      • Octavo

        It looks like my objection is similar to objection 2 in article 2.

        His reply:

        "Anger and the like are attributed to God on account of a similitude of effect. Thus, because to punish is properly the act of an angry man, God's punishment is metaphorically spoken of as His anger."

        Basically, God isn't really angry. It's just an analogy.

        • O.

          Think about it this way. If we could get God angry, we would be exercising power over Him (AKA make him react when ever we pleased).

          It is better to understand it like this: God is a point of reference, when we do good things we place ourselves on His "Good graces" when we sin we place ourselves on his "Righteous Anger".
          In this way, God never changes, we are the ones who voluntarily move away or closer to Him.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          DHS

        • Alexander S Anderson

          Think of it like the sun. Mary in the valley sees the sun as a nourishing golden light, while Peter in the desert sees it as something scorching and torturous. The difference between the two perspectives isn't in the sun.

    • SJH

      I would say that we don't know it in the sense that you might be speaking but it does make sense that God is infinitely simple. If atheists are correct about God, due to the law of entropy then a more complex finely tuned system has to produce a system less complex and less finely tuned. But if God does exist then something more complex can come from something simple. Just as human life can eventually come from something as simple as the Big Bang.

      Its as if all the information is there waiting to be revealed and once you see it is as if all the colors have combined to form the most perfectly, beautifully, simple white light.

    • Raymond

      I think you are conflating the "mind" with the "brain." Brains, as material entities are indeed complex in that they are made of many parts. God, however, is an un-embodied mind. Not being made of matter and many material parts, he is not complex at all, but remarkably simple. Even if a person doesn't go so far as to say that God is absolutely simple, he could still hold that God, as an un-embodied mind, is very simple. This would be enough to answer Dawkin's claim.

      • Octavo

        How do you know God is not embodied? Maybe he's an atomic God, as Epicurus imagined the gods to be. After all, no one has ever observed a soul or proposed any substance or material that could make up a soul*.

        *Except in fantasy fiction.

        • SJH

          Knowing something to be true because of material evidence and knowing something to be true based upon reason and wisdom are two different things. We don't believe that God is as you described because there is no reason to believe that. There is however reason to believe what Catholics believe. We cannot and do not have the time to prove everything materially before we decide to believe it. Sometimes you have to take what information you have and make the best judgment you can.

          • Octavo

            "We don't believe that God is as you described because there is no reason to believe that"

            Sure there is. All minds that we know of are contingent on highly organized matter and energy - brains. There's no reason to assume that any hypothetical god has a mind that is not contingent on highly organized matter and energy.

          • SJH

            But that would not be reasonable because then that entity that you describe would not be God. A belief should be both rational and be consistent with your experience. My personal experiences in cooperation with my reason lead me to believe in the Catholic view of God.

          • Loreen Lee

            This was the basis for the proof of God's existence, called the argument from contingency, and the conclusion that God is a necessary 'Being'.......this is difficult, yes? A good response to 'naturalism' though.

        • Raymond

          I can't think of any theistic philosopher today who would take seriously the idea that God is material. Anyway, the point here is the concept of God. Dawkin's is raising the objection that there is a problem with the concept of God; to which the Christian replies that Dawkin's concept of God (and assumption he makes about Him) is badly mistaken. This suffices to answer Dawkin's objection. To go further and positively show that God or souls exist would, of course, require a separate argument.

          In short, the purpose of this post is not to convince you that souls actually do exist, but that Dawkin's objection to God is based on a poor understanding of the concept of God.

  • SJH

    Could it perhaps be compared to light. The simplest form of visible light would be white however when all colors of light are combined you get white light. The more complete color spectrum you combine, the more perfectly white the light will be. Not a perfect analogy but i like it.

    • Vickie

      I kind of like it too. No matter how many colors you add the light is still white. But combining more aspects causes it to be just more.

  • Loreen Lee

    Hi! Rather than scroll down to give an answer as a reply: Here is the thesis and antithesis of Kant's second antimony
    Thesis: Every composite (substance) in the world is made up of simple parts, and nothing anywhere exists save the simple or what is composed of the simple. (Leibniz's monads are a 'representation' of this idea.).
    Antithesis: No composite thing in the world is made up of simple parts, and there nowhere exists in the world anything simple.
    Note, that although the word substance is used, these definitions both relate 'to the world'. Both can be proved and disproved.
    I have though with respect to Kant's antimonies, that one of the other, (eliminate world in the thesis for instance) could be adjusted so that one of these elements satisfies the transcendental and the other the temporal. Transcendental may be the 'wrong word' here.
    In any case, through about three readings I have attempted to understand Kant's philosophy. But as I learned through Derrida about certain complexities and 'contradictions' within language itself, I am simply attempting to live my life within the context of others, to exercise my ability to think, (???) and attempt to develop more understanding in these contexts, without assuming there would ever be the possibility to know and understand 'it all'. But really, read Kant's critique. His language is very difficult, and there are perplexing problems in regard to his personal application of his philosophy, but there are also incredible 'gems' of 'truth' within it.

  • Peter Piper

    The article distinguishes the fact that cows have particular identifying traits from the fact that they are cows: that is, that they have "cow nature". But it seems arbitrary to make the distinction at this level: to say that by nature they are cows, but their other features are simply traits. Why not say instead that by nature they are mammals, or by nature they are Texas Longhorns? We could make just as good an argument for this, saying, for example, `all Texas Longhorns share one thing in common: the fact that they are Texas Longhorns. This is their common "Texas Longhorn nature," or what defines them as Texas Longhorns'. Or we could substitute something else for `cow', such as `mammal' or `vertebrate'. This makes much less plausible the basic distinction between nature and qualities which is essential for the succeeding argument.

    At a more mundane level, I think the article gives a misleading account of the role simplicity plays in the question of the origin of the universe. I would argue that what is important is that the assumptions needed for the explanation should be simple, not that the explanation should be given in terms of entities which are simple. Thus, in response to the question `why is the earth approximately spherical?' I would favour the explanation `because of the gravitational force pulling the stuff in it towards the center' over `because of the preferences of a perfectly simple entity called Kevin', even though the entity invoked by the second explanation is simpler. Now, because of centuries of scientific endeavour we have available to us explanations of much of the complexity of the universe from startlingly simple assumptions. I do not know of any explanation of any feature of the universe which is simplified in this sense by introducing God as a part of the explanatory story. Can any of you think of such an example?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Speaking as an named Kevin, I think your objection is not relevant to the OP's argument. You are saying God is not necessary for describing why any physical feature thing in the universe is the way it is--an argument nobody is making. That would be "god of the gaps." The question is, if God gives rise to the universe, must he be complex our can he be simple?

      • Peter Piper

        My second objection (you have not addressed the first at all) speaks to the argumentative context of the OP: this context is also referenced in the OP itself. As I see it, the context goes something like this:

        Theist: we know there must be a God, because how else could there be a universe?

        Nontheist: Here is a simpler explanation: [insert the theory of the Big Bang here]

        Theist: Your explanation is less good than mine, which is that God created the universe.

        Nontheist: in fact, my explanation is strictly simpler than yours.

        Theist (and OP): Nope! God is perfectly simple, so my explanation is simpler.

        I think that in this context the question of what sort of simplicity makes for a good explanation is key. I think that the OP misunderstands Nontheist as saying that God must be complex to create a complex universe, rather than as saying that an explanation of the universe which invokes God needs more complex assumptions than one which does not.

        In support of my claim that there is a misunderstanding here, consider this line from the OP: `Mr. Dawkins rejects God because he thinks a complex universe must have a complex cause'. Not so! Prof. Dawkins thinks a complex universe can have a simple cause, namely the theory expounded by Lawrence Krauss in `a Universe from Nothing' and referenced by Prof. Dawkins in the debate.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I didn't address your first objection because it doesn't make any sense to me. I thought the author was simply pointing out that there is a difference between the individual members of a group and the group itself. So what difference does it make how big the group is? For example, "all living things" and "this cow."

          • Peter Piper

            I also missed this the first time I read the OP. The discussion of cows is introduced in order to motivate the distinction between nature (which I assume is playing the role of essence) and traits or qualities (which are playing the role of attributes). The idea that this is a basic distinction is key for the argument which follows.

          • Vickie

            That is sort of what I saw. The attributes of the cows actually distinquish them from their nature or at least others with the same nature. Their attributes individualize or seperate them one from the other and therefore from their natures. In contrast, the attributes of God answer to or uphold his nature rather than distinquish him from it. His attributes are not seperate from his nature but identical to it.

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks for this comment, Vickie. Perhaps you can clarify something which confuses me about this idea. Is the claim that each of God's attributes is identical to His nature taken to imply that all of God's attributes are also identical to each other? For example, is God's Trinity taken to be identical to His Unity?

          • Vickie

            I describe it as being equal in perfection. So that one attribute is no less perfect than the other and all are equally balanced if that makes any sense.

          • Peter Piper

            Is `equal in perfection' all that you meant by `identical' above, or is there more to it than that?

          • Vickie

            For me we may be getting to the point where words or descriptions break down. But I will do my best. All God's attributes as being identical to his nature means that they are not seperate from it. His nature is Trinity, his nature is unity, his nature is justice, his nature is mercy, etc. For me the thing that unites it all is that if some of the attributes were imperfect he would not be God nor would the attribute be worthy of God. So all of his attributes are perfect but the perfection of one does not diminish or negate the perfection of the other. His perfect mercy does not diminish or negate his perfect justice. Perfectly in balance. But they are not identical in the fact that you cannot distinguish justice from mercy for example.

          • Loreen Lee

            Interesting - these are all concepts that can be defined as Logos or the Word, as distinguished from Will. Could that mean that they refer to the Word made flesh. Jesus always seemed to talk about his 'Father' as being greater, for instance.

          • Peter Piper

            I think you're right that we are reaching the point where words and descriptions are breaking down. So I'll offer no more words on this point, and remain confused.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Brother Murphy quotes Dawkins: "God as a creative cause is very complex.” If Dawkins didn't say that, then your context makes sense. You think Murphy was only paraphrasing or interpreting Dawkins?

          • Peter Piper

            The closest quote in what Dawkins says is `If you talk about a God who is a creative intelligence then that is something very complicated and very improbable and something that requires explaining in its own right': here it is ambiguous whether Dawkins is discussing God Himself or the assumption that there is a creatively intelligent God: I think it is the latter which he is calling complicated and improbable. Other relevant quotes:

            `now if you want to replace a physical explanation by an intelligent God, that's an even worse explanation, a more difficult explanation'

            `[What Krauss postulates] is very, very simple, and therefore is a worthy premise for an explanation, whereas a God, a creative intelligence, is not a worthy substrate for an explanation, because it is already something very complicated'.

            I think the first of these quotes supports my interpretation, and the second is hard to interpret because of its discussion of premises and substrates for explanations, but it is plausible that the distinction being made through the introduction of these odd terms is exactly the one I am also trying to make.

            The debate from which I lifted these quotes can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4oMfY7q-Uo , and the relevant part of the debate begins about 20 minutes in.

    • English Catholic

      The article distinguishes the fact that cows have particular identifying traits from the fact that they are cows: that is, that they have "cow nature". But it seems arbitrary to make the distinction at this level: to say that by nature they are cows, but their other features are simply traits. Why not say instead that by nature they are mammals, or by nature they are Texas Longhorns? We could make just as good an argument for this, saying, for example, `all Texas Longhorns share one thing in common: the fact that they are Texas Longhorns. This is their common "Texas Longhorn nature," or what defines them as Texas Longhorns'. Or we could substitute something else for `cow', such as `mammal' or `vertebrate'. This makes much less plausible the basic distinction between nature and qualities which is essential for the succeeding argument.

      To answer this objection, it might be easier to go to a simpler level of reality than biology.

      Consider atoms. There exist in reality hydrogen atoms, helium atoms, oxygen atoms, etc. Each of these three examples is a sub-category of what we might call 'category atom'. Every atom in existence is a sub-category of atom -- none is just an atom, without being a particular type of atom. But, for all that, we can group them under the heading of atom; objectively, not just in our minds.

      Exactly the same is true of cows and Texas Longhorns. All cows are a particular breed of cow -- there is nothing that is just a cow, without being a particular breed -- despite that, cows form a category. Longhorns and Jerseys are both cows, and not pigs or dinosaurs. We can understand what is meant by 'cow' without needing to specify a particular breed, even though every actually-existing cow is a particular breed.

      Of course, if you're arguing the nominalist position that 'cow' doesn't form an objectively-existing category at all, but instead there exist only 'this-object-that-we-call-cow' and 'that-object-that-we-call-cow', then our difference is far more fundamental. The consequence of nominalism is extreme scepticism (and the end of any rational scientific endeavour); any understanding of the universe at all relies on the existence of objective categories.

      • Peter Piper

        I'm happy with the hierarchy of categories and sub-categories that you mention. What I was questioning was that one level in this hierarchy (namely: the species level, `cows') plays the special role of nature denied to other levels (such as `Texas Longhorns' or `cows weighing more than 1000 pounds'), which are merely qualities. This basic distinction between nature and qualities is key in the argument which follows.

        • English Catholic

          I don't deny 'Texas Longhorn' as an objectively-existing category, for the reason I just gave: every cow has a breed, but 'cow' exists as a category nonetheless. Every individual cow is an example of a particular breed-of-cow, which itself is a category of cow; therefore, every individual cow falls under category cow, as well as category particular-breed-of-cow.

          For 'cows that weigh than 1000 pounds', or 'cows that have a spot on their front left side', it's a little different. A cow (or a Texas Longhorn) can have, or lack, these features while still being a cow. There are grey areas as to what is part of the 'substance' of the cow, to use the Aristotelian term, and what are merely 'accidental' features. But there are also black and white areas (pun not intended). A cow may weigh 100 pounds if it's a baby, or 5000 pounds if it's obese; but it will always be composed of flesh and bones, and will never learn to talk or argue about philosophy. If it did, it wouldn't be a cow.

          So the existence of grey areas doesn't affect the argument. We don't have to know exactly what is substantial and exactly what is accidental to know that they're two different things.

          • Peter Piper

            Right, but you do need a clear distinction between substance and accidents. As I pointed out, the OP doesn't make a good case for such a neat distinction (incidentally, nor do you: we could refine the hierarchy of categories and fill it in with many cases between `weight' and `species', and it isn't at all clear where we would cross the dividing line from accident to substance).

            You might say that this case is made successfully elsewhere. I don't think it is, but even if it were there would be no excuse for relying on obscure and largely discarded philosophical ideas with such a meager explanation in an article intended to promote discussion with the atheist on the street.

          • English Catholic

            Put it this way: when I say 'cow', you know I'm talking about an 'idea' with the following properties:

            - Made of flesh, blood and bones;
            - Eats;
            - Makes milk that is good for human health;
            - Can't argue for or against the existence of God, because not rational.

            You won't know whether:

            - It weighs 900 or 1100 pounds;
            - It was milked today;
            - It's called Daisy or Bob.

            The first set of features is substantial: they are things that a cow has or lacks because it is a cow. The second is accidental: specific to individual cows, without having any effect either way on its 'cow-ness'.

            There may be some grey areas, where we don't know whether they're substantial or accidental (can you think of anything that doesn't fit into either list above?), but this is irrelevant. There are properties that either definitely do form the definition of 'cow-ness', or definitely do not, and this is enough to be able to distinguish substance and accident as objectively-distinct things.

          • Peter Piper

            As you point out, if you say the word `cow', then that word has a meaning for me. Similarly, if you say `Texas Longhorn' or `mammal' then that will have a meaning for me. Indeed, if you say `cow weighing over 1000 pounds', that will have a meaning for me. The fact that I understand these words and phrases does not give some of them the mysterious extra quality of comprising the nature of their referents.

            For some grey areas, have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cattle , especially the section `terminology'. As I understand it, a clean distinction between substance and attributes, without grey areas, is needed for the argument in the OP. If I have misunderstood, I would appreciate it if you could rephrase the argument in such a way as to make this non-reliance clear (for example, by phrasing it in terms of the hierarchy of categories rather than in terms of nature and attributes).

          • English Catholic

            I'll reply tomorrow (and to the post above about simplicity) -- I need to stop using the computer now.

          • Peter Piper

            Fair enough. I'm in a similar timezone and should also be going. Talk to you later!

          • English Catholic

            I'm not sure I'm able to restate the article in different terms. As I said, it introduces concepts that should require pages and pages of explanation in the space of a few paragraphs, though the same criticism could be made of my comments I suppose.

            Anyway, most of the discussions in this place often have only a tangential reference to the OP, so I'll continue in the hope and (perhaps delusional) expectation that the difference between substance and accident, and the question of their objective existence, is interesting and meaningful in itself. I certainly think that if objects can be shown to objectively possess these qualities, it opens the way for a powerful criticism of materialism; and likewise, if it can be shown that these things are in our minds (or Aristotle's mind) only, the road to materialism and atheism seems secure. So it isn't an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin type argument.

            Anyway, trying to deal with a complex subject as briefly as possible:

            I'd distinguish between naturally-existing categories and those we invent. 'Cows' forms a naturally-existing category. We can say that any given cow will in the normal case possess the qualities I listed above. We can say this on the basis of what we know about 'category cow'.

            'Objects that weigh > 1000 lbs' doesn't form a natural category. Consider boulders, planets and whales. It could be a true statement for most (maybe all) of these things. But we can't know something about a particular whale on the basis of what we know about a particular planet. We can't say that Bob the whale is roughly spherical on the basis that Jupiter is! All we can say on the basis of this statement is tautological: 'it weighs > 1000 lbs'. So it doesn't form a natural category.

            (We could invent a mental category, of course, but this is distinct from a natural one.)

            Now suppose we invented a word for 'cow that weighs > 1000 lbs'. Have we also 'invented' a natural category? No. Because '> 1000 lbs' doesn't form a natural category, it can only be an attribute of an object; it can't itself form a category of object. A cow can go from 999.9 to 1000.1 lbs and still be the same thing. But it can't die and be eaten by worms and remain the same thing. At this point, it will change slowly into meat, and then earth (or whatever). It's no longer a cow, and a substantial change has occurred. The total of the stuff-that-was-once-a-cow may weigh >1000 lbs, but we can't say it's the same thing on that basis!

            This argument can't be proved through pure logic (at least, I've never encountered such an argument), but if we dismiss substance and accident as merely mental categories, we get into some very odd (and anti-rational and anti-science) discussions indeed. As I think I said, I'm conducting this discussion on the basis that you're not a radical sceptic who doubts absolutely everything :).

          • Peter Piper

            As I think I said, I'm conducting this discussion on the basis that you're not a radical sceptic who doubts absolutely everything.
            You're right, I'm not a radical sceptic. In fact, I'm very happy to accept what you seem to be arguing for here: that some categories are more natural than others, and that it is reasonable to call the especially natural ones `natural' and the especially unnatural ones `unnatural'. The only qualification I would introduce is that which categories are more natural can depend on the context of the classification. Thus in some contexts I think it would be more natural to group dolphins together with fish and other sea-creatures, whereas in others I think it would be more natural to group them with other mammals.

            I don't see the problem this causes for materialism, though. It could be that we are working with different definitions of `materialism'. I think that our conversation will be most productive if we can find a definition of materialism which fits my views but not yours. Do you have a favourite definition? If it doesn't fit my views, I'll propose an amended version, and hopefully we will be able to settle on a definition we can productively discuss.

          • English Catholic

            Here's one I used in another discussion:

            We both agree a common reality exists outside our minds and exists independently of them. Materialism is the belief that this reality is restricted to that which is, in principle, directly or indirectly, detectable by our senses.

            (For the avoidance of doubt, I include within this things that we might discover through science one day, but haven't yet, within the definition of 'material'. I also include 'invisible' things that are nonetheless detectable through technology by their effects on visible things, like radio waves and gravity.)

          • Peter Piper

            Will post a fuller reply tmrw.
            I look forward to this. In the meantime, let me suggest a different definition of materialism. The trouble is that there are things that I think are real, but not detectable by our senses, such as the number 3 (collections of 3 objects are detectable, but the number itself is not).

            So instead, let me try to refine this definition a little:

            Materialism.2 is the belief that the collection of things which are, directly or indirectly, detectable by our senses, is part of a closed causal system, and that the behaviour of such things can, in principle, be accounted for in terms of the impersonal rules governing that system.

            This isn't quite right (because quantum), but I think that at the level of the arguments we are making this shouldn't be a problem. In any case, feel free to suggest further changes or refinements. Note that what I'm aiming for is not something which is recognisable as a normal definition of materialism, but something which I believe and against which you can deploy the argument you have in mind.

          • English Catholic

            Materialism.2 is the belief that the collection of things which are, directly or indirectly, detectable by our senses, is part of a closed causal system, and that the behaviour of such things can, in principle, be accounted for in terms of the impersonal rules governing that system.

            I'm happy to go with this definition. What you've written doesn't sound like materialism to me, though. Do you think '3' is dependent upon material things for its existence? If so, you could make a case that this is still materialism. If not (and I would argue this), we're already pretty close to some form of essentialism.

            What about mathematics (and other logic)? Do you think they're dependent on material things for their existence? (Again, just trying to gauge your beliefs.)

            Maybe 'naturalism' would be better?

          • Peter Piper

            What you've written doesn't sound like materialism to me, though. I agree. Although I can't see how you could argue from the hierarchy of categories to materialism.1, to try to come to terms with your arguments in that context would be a sterile intellectual exercise since I don't accept materialism.1. I am hoping that materialism.2 is close enough that you can deploy your argument against it, since then it will be much more productive for me to consider your argument (it could actually change what I think). I apologise that this makes the context harder to classify philosophically.

            So: are we agreed? Will you now try to refute materialism.2?

            I will do my best to answer your other questions. I don't think that there is any plausible change which could be made to the physical world that would stop the number 3 or other mathematical or logical objects from existing. I hope that this is what you meant by the question about their reliance on material things: if not, I'll be happy to answer a rephrased version.

          • English Catholic

            I'm nearly happy with the definition. I've just added one word -- are you happy with this?:

            Materialism.2 is the belief that the collection of things which are, directly or indirectly, detectable by our senses, is part of a closed causal system, and that the behaviour of such things can, in principle, be entirely accounted for in terms of the impersonal rules governing that system.

          • Peter Piper

            Yes, that's fine.

          • English Catholic

            Ok. We can further clarify if need be. To continue with the argument:

            To accurately describe any object in the universe, we need to know several things about it.

            Think of something simple like a raindrop. It we want to understand what a raindrop is, it isn't enough to say it's made of water molecules, or hydrogen and oxygen atoms, or nuclei and electrons, or quarks, or whatever-is-below-quarks. It's made of these things arranged in a certain way: in the form of… a raindrop. (And they're arranged such that they behave in ways that are entirely different from if they were atoms existing on their own.)

            This is true for any object in the material universe -- raindrops, cows, stars, human beings, whatever. Nothing is just matter -- everything is matter arranged in a certain way. Even subatomic particles, considered alone, are matter arranged in a certain way. Happy to go into this matter further if you like: it's not a scientific distinction, but a logical distinction that is necessary for making any sense of the world about us.

            Aristotelians say every material object in existence is a 'combination' of form and matter. The matter is the stuff the object is arranged with. The form is the way the object is arranged. It's the combination of form and matter that defines what the object is. (By the way, please don't read anything into the word 'arranged' -- it just happens to be the first word that comes to mind.)

            So far, so uncontroversial, I hope. One objection would be to deny that these things are objects in their own right, and that it's only our minds that give them their identities as objects. Another would be that my definition of form is tautological. I'm happy to deal with either of these (or anything else), or happy to continue with the argument.

          • Peter Piper

            I'm fine with everything up to and including `We agreed above that things can be grouped into objective categories'. I'm a bit worried that when you say `so cows form a type' you are using the word `type' in a technical sense with which I am unfamiliar, but I think this isn't essential for your argument, so I will just flag it up and ignore it for now.

            As I mentioned above, I don't see a clean distinction between `substance' and `attributes'. I'm happy to make the following definitions: the substance of an object is given by those properties of the object which are natural. Unnatural properties are called accidents.

            Of course, in this form it is clear that this is a fuzzy distinction, with quite a lot of grey area (because the same is true of the qualifier `natural'). If you are happy to proceed with this definition, then I suggest that we work with it instead of the paragraph beginning `We agreed above...'. My reason for suggesting this is that definitions made by pointing to examples and counterexamples are difficult to work with and ambiguous, so I would like to avoid this if possible. But it may be that the definition I have proposed above isn't quite right, in which case feel free to suggest corrections.

            In the next paragraph, you propose that cows share their form, that is, the arrangement of matter that constitutes them. Of course, it would be absurd to suggest that the matter of any two cows is arranged in exactly the same way. But in fact, I don't think that it is even arranged in a geometrically similar way, at least once we start looking at the level of how the molecules and atoms are arranged. Even if a cow stands still, from one second to another its heart will pump its blood around in such a way that many of the cells end up in completely different parts of the cow, thus radically altering the arrangement of the matter.

            Or suppose a cow, which is lying in a field, dies. Surely the arrangement of matter in the cow one minute before death is more similar to the arrangement of matter in the corpse (which is not a cow) than it is to the arrangement of matter in a cow of a different species.

            So I would suggest that what cows have in common is some hard-to-quickly-describe feature of the way that the matter constituting them is arranged, rather than the arrangement itself. We are lucky that, given the way the world we live in operates, the concept `cow' is useful to us because, despite the complexity that would be necessary to make an adequate definition of which particular arrangements of matter constitute cows, we almost never encounter arrangements of matter which look, sound, smell and act like cows but in fact are not cows.

            Because of this, I cannot accept without further qualification the statement `All cows must share the same form'. I don't see any point in addressing the remarks you made after that until this issue is resolved. Would you be happy to have another go at explaining what you were trying to get across in the paragraph beginning `Now, given that cows ...'?

          • English Catholic

            I'm pretty stretched for time at the moment, sorry, give me a day or two...

          • Peter Piper

            That's fine. I'm happy to wait a few days.

          • English Catholic

            By 'natural' categories, I mean nothing more than 'categories not invented by a human mind'. I mean objects that are alike. 'This cow' and 'that cow' are both alike. 'This boulder' and 'this cow', while they may share a property of (say) having mass > 1000 lbs, are not alike.

            As I mentioned above, I don't see a clean distinction between `substance' and `attributes'

            …I cannot accept without further qualification the statement `All cows must share the same form'.

            I'll try and answer both objections, continuing with the example of 'cow' for the moment simply because it means fewer words than trying to discuss everything in entirely general terms.

            1. We agree that we know what 'cow' means, and that it refers to an actually-existing set of objects -- objects that are cows.

            2. We agree that all cows share a set of features. That is to say, based on what we know about 'cow-ness', we can say a certain thing will usually be true about a particular cow.

            3. The features that cows share define a cow. (Given 1, we are not inventing or merely positing the existence of some-thing-called-cow.) In Aristotelian terminology, when combined with a particular chunk of matter, these features make up the 'substance' of a particular cow.

            4. The 'form' of a cow is the 'substance' minus the chunk-of-matter-of-the-particular-cow; that is, the set-of-features that exists only in the abstract. The form can therefore be said to 'contain' the definition of a cow.

            5. We agree that each individual cow has features particular to that cow. They don't affect its 'cow-ness' in any way. An example is 'Bessie has a black spot on her forehead, but Daisy doesn't.' These features form the 'accidents' or 'attributes'.

            6. A person may not know all a cow's substantial features, or which features are substantial and which accidental.

            7. 6 does not affect 1 - 5.

            8. By definition, anything predicated of a particular cow will either be something it normally shares with other cows, or something it does not. [The argument does not hinge on a strange definition of the word 'normal' and I'm happy to discuss it if you like.]

            I can't see how grey areas could exist in this ontological way, as opposed to the epistemological way discussed in 6. One could deny or cast doubt on this only by also denying 1 and/or 2, which would imply radical scepticism.

            9. Given 8, a cow's substances and accidents are either/or. This is unaffected by 6. [It would seem to follow that this is true for substances and accidents generally.]

            10. Since the 'substance' of a cow is what cows have in common, and since a 'form' is just a 'substance' minus the individuating matter, cows share a form. A category (in this context) and a form are not quite synonyms, but pretty close.

            11. As stated in 4, a 'form' exists only abstractedly. But abstract needn't imply invented. It makes no sense to talk of real cows being really alike, but sharing an invented set-of-cow-features, or an invented definition, or an invented form. (At least, not if we hold to 1 and 2.) So, while abstract, a form is also real.

            Hopefully the above will clarify what follows.

            I'm fine with everything up to and including `We agreed above that things can be grouped into objective categories'. I'm a bit worried that when you say `so cows form a type' you are using the word `type' in a technical sense with which I am unfamiliar, but I think this isn't essential for your argument, so I will just flag it up and ignore it for now.

            I only mean 'collection of like objects'. Cows are a type. Raindrops are a type. Atoms are a type. No deliberately obscure vocab :)

            As I mentioned above, I don't see a clean distinction between `substance' and `attributes'. I'm happy to make the following definitions: the substance of an object is given by those properties of the object which are natural. Unnatural properties are called accidents.

            I wouldn't say that. As I said, the substance is what-a-cow-has-by-virtue-of-being-a-cow, and the accidents are any other properties. Daisy the cow might have a natural birthmark, but that isn't predicated by her being a cow. Conversely, both Jupiter and Daisy might weigh > 1000 lbs, and do so 'naturally'. But they're not therefore examples of the same thing!

            I think the next 2-3 paras of your reply seems to be directed at something I wasn't saying, though I can see how I may have given that impression. I wasn't saying that 'this matter is arranged in the shape of a cow'. I was saying 'this matter is arranged such that it is a cow'.

            So a dead cow is substantially different from a living cow of the same breed, even if (to begin with) it looks virtually the same and shares a shape.

            So I would suggest that what cows have in common is some hard-to-quickly-describe feature of the way that the matter constituting them is arranged, rather than the arrangement itself.

            I don't think it's either-or. The arrangement of the matter is a necessary part of a cow's having a particular 'cow' substance (which includes a set of features). We can't say a cow has any features independently of how its matter is arranged.

            We are lucky that, given the way the world we live in operates, the concept `cow' is useful to us because, despite the complexity that would be necessary to make an adequate definition of which particular arrangements of matter constitute cows, we almost never encounter arrangements of matter which look, sound, smell and act like cows but in fact are not cows.

            What, like two men in a cow suit? :) But surely you raise an epistemological question, not an ontological one? "How do we know this is a cow?" is one question. "Can cows (or raindrops, or hydrogen atoms) be categorised as 'sharing a substance' in reality?" is another.

            In any case, if an object resembled a cow in every way, then it would be a cow, would it not?

          • Peter Piper

            Wow! Thanks for putting in so much time and effort. I'm afraid I shall have to take a couple of days to digest all that before I can give a sensible reply.

          • English Catholic

            No problem :). I'm stuck on a commuter train for two hours a day so it's not too much bother.

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks once more for going to the trouble of producing this explanation. I agree with you that I had misunderstood what you were saying before. In particular, I had misunderstood what you meant by both `form' and `substance'.

            I still think that it is helpful to define the concepts we are using in general terms rather than by giving examples, for the reasons I mentioned before. Indeed, I would argue that my attempt to do this made it more likely that my misunderstandings would come to light and be rectified. I don't claim to have completely understood what you are saying yet, so I would like to have another go at making some general definitions. I hope that once more you will be able to point out where these definitions should be changed, so that I can come a little closer to understanding these essential preliminaries of your argument. Since you only stuck to particulars to save words, I hope you will not mind me working with general definitions.

            I've phrased everything below in terms of properties: though I could equally have phrased it in terms of categories (and we have gone back and forth between speaking in these two ways), I found some things easier to say in terms of properties and I wanted to maintain consistency of language throughout this post.

            First, and most importantly, there is the question of which properties are natural. I haven't given a definition of this term, since I normally use the word natural in a vague way: in fact, I think of the natural/unnatural distinction as a subjective one, though the things to which it is being applied are objective (namely: objectively existing properties). I'm also not especially happy with the definition you suggest for this term: By 'natural' [properties], I mean nothing more than [properties] not invented by a human mind.

            I'm pretty sure that this isn't what you mean, and I'd like to illustrate that by considering a very well-behaved collection of properties. For each number n, we have a property `weighs more than n lbs'. Because there are infinitely many numbers, there are infinitely many such properties. Because history is finite, only finitely many of them have ever been individually invented by a human mind. So there must be infinitely many of them which have not been invented by a human mind. Under your definition, that would make them natural properties. But I think you would want to classify these properties as unnatural. I'm sorry for being so pedantic, but I think that getting the natural/unnatural distinction right is the key to all that we have discussed so far.

            Ignoring this objection for now, there is another problem. It seems that you want to rely on the distinction between things which are invented and things which are discovered. I agree that some things are obviously invented and others are obviously discovered. But once more there are grey areas, especially when we turn our attention to abstract things, like algorithms (or properties). Once more, I think of the invented/discovered distinction as vague and subjective. So introducing it just pushes the problem back one step.

            How might we proceed if we had a clean distinction between natural and unnatural properties? Well, as I understand it you are suggesting that we proceed as follows. We define the form of cows to be the collection of all those properties which when considered purely as properties are natural and which are possessed by all cows. In particular, I doubt that you want to include the property `weighs less than 1,000,000 lbs' in the form of cows, since it is not a natural property, so would be an accident of any cow having it (though in fact all cows have this property). Please let me know if I am wrong about this.

            Then we define, for any object, the form of that object to be the collection of all properties which when considered purely as properties are natural and which are possessed by that object. Other properties are called accidents of the object. I want to pause at this point to explain the slightly clunky phrasing (`... when considered purely as properties ...'). This is to remove an ambiguity which you rightly pointed out. When I say that some property is a natural property of some object I might mean that the property, considered just as a property, is natural, or I might mean that the property is natural to the object in some way or has naturally arisen in the object. You give the example of a cow with a natural birthmark. So `having a birthmark' is a natural property of the cow in the latter senses, but not in the former sense. Since I wanted to specify that I mean the former sense I was forced to use a slightly clunky phrasing, for which I apologise.

            I think it is helpful at this point to consider some examples. Let's consider Daisy and Bessie, which are very similar fresian cows, Marilyn, which is a Texas Longhorn (so still a cow), and Jupiter, which is a planet. So all of Daisy, Bessie and Marilyn have the form of cows, whereas Jupiter does not. (I say that an object has a particular form if it possesses all the properties in that form.) The form of Daisy is not the same as the form of cows (since the form of daisy contains the property `is a fresian cow') and similarly neither the forms of Bessie nor the form of Marilyn is the same as the form of cows. The form of Bessie is not the same as the form of Marilyn (since the latter contains the property `is a Texas Longhorn' and the former does not). On the other hand, the form of Daisy is the same as the form of Bessie: although Bessie has properties that Daisy does not (such as a black spot on her forehead) these properties are not natural and so are accidents: they are not contained in the form of Bessie.

            One more definition! The substance of an object consists of the form of that object together with the matter of which the object is composed. At the moment, I'm thinking of this as just the pair whose first element is the form and whose second element is the matter, but I get the impression from what you've said that the substance is obtained by combining these two things in a less straightforward way. I would appreciate clarification on this point.

            Before I continue, I need to raise a slightly subtle point: the distinction between interderivability and identity. I'll say two things are interderivable if each can be derived from the other: if either is given, it determines what the other must be. For example, the radius and circumference of a circle are interderivable. As this example shows, it is possible for two things to be interderivable without being identical.

            With this distinction in hand, I can explain a point which is bothering me a bit. You seem to be saying that an object is given by its substance together with its accidents. But whilst it is clear that an object O is interderivable with the pair (substance of O, accidents of O), I don't think of them as being identical. So what alternative account would I give of the constitution of a cow? I would say that the cow consists of some matter, arranged in a certain way. If pressed on the point of what this arrangement consists of, I would say it consists of various simple facts, such as `this hydrogen atom is 7.38 nanometers from that oxygen atom'. Note that this is rather different from the form of the cow: all of these facts are accidents, and they are not even properties of the cow itself but relations between its constituent atoms.

            I'm now in a position to explain exactly the way in which I was confused before. I thought that by `form' you meant what I am now calling `arrangement' and that by `substance' you meant what I am now calling `form'. I hope that with this in mind it will be clear why I wrote what I did.

            A couple of final small issues:

            What, like two men in a cow suit? :)
            Doesn't smell like a cow.

            But surely you raise an epistemological question, rather than an ontological one?
            Your question raises some deep issues, and if I wanted to give as full an answer as I think it deserves it would take some time and, I think, lead us on a needless digression. So I would like to hold off answering for now. Is that ok?

          • English Catholic

            Thanks for your thorough response. I'll print it out and look through it tomorrow.

          • English Catholic

            Sorry for not replying -- I will shortly, I promise!

          • Peter Piper

            No problem. I'm glad that you are taking the time to respond properly.

          • English Catholic

            Just to step back a little: I suppose my argument could be framed in something like these terms:

            We accept that mathematical logic pervades the universe. Though this can’t be proved formally, it is impossible to make sense of physics (or any branch of the material science) without reference to mathematical logic as a really-existing, objective truth. Mutatis mutandis, what I’m discussing is a non-mathematical logic, one that also pervades the material universe. Without this logic, again, it’s difficult to make any sense at of the natural sciences.

            We need to be able to say two objects (such as hydrogen atoms or cows) are really alike in order to attain any understanding of the universe at all, so what follows from their being alike?

            It follows that these objects are examples of the same thing without being the same object. So it must be that a facet of their existence is the same, and a facet of it is different. A form, whatever else it is, is that which two alike objects share. Matter, whatever else it is, is what makes the two alike objects be distinct objects. I argue below that the ‘same-ness’ cannot be expressed in purely material terms, and that forms must be used to explain them.

            I apologise that what precedes and follows is a little messy. I need to tidy it all up in an essay format at some point.

            --

            I’m happy to drop the word ‘natural’, since it can be extremely ambiguous. But lest there be any confusion in how I’ve been using it up until now, I'm actually quite happy to class anything in your paragraph beginning ‘I’m pretty sure that…’ as 'natural'. What I was saying above was that objects can't be fitted into a natural 'category' (or, more technically, they can’t be said to share a form) simply by virtue of weighing more than n lbs, in the way that they can be fitted into a natural 'category' by virtue of being a cow or a planet. The property 'weighs > n lbs' is a natural property, but it's accidental. It can only be applied to some-thing. The statement 'is a cow' is a statement about something’s substance. It is some-thing.
            So the property qua property of weighing more than n lbs is most certainly natural, just not substantial. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

            Ignoring this objection for now, there is another problem. It seems that you want to rely on the distinction between things which are invented and things which are discovered. I agree that some things are obviously invented and others are obviously discovered. But once more there are grey areas, especially when we turn our attention to abstract things, like algorithms (or properties). Once more, I think of the invented/discovered distinction as vague and subjective. So introducing it just pushes the problem back one step.

            Do not the third and fifth sentences contradict one another?

            Hopefully it's now clear that I'm perfectly happy to say that properties (e.g. weighs > 1000 lbs, or weighs < 1m lbs) are real, and not an invention. I'm also very happy to agree that there are grey areas in what we know about the material universe. But to suggest the whole invented/mental vs discovered/real distinction is vague and subjective is to come dangerously close to radical scepticism.

            Your paragraph discussing different types of cows requires the introduction of more scholastic terms and definitions, which I'd rather not do right now. (St Thomas covers it in chapter 2 of On Being and Essence.) My talk of categories within categories, above, while not false, was a little loose. But it isn't relevant to the existence (or not) of forms. For the purposes of our discussion, it is enough that the two Fresian cows are alike, and if the above sequence of 1 to 11 holds, they therefore share a form. I’ve discussed this in more detail below.

            One more definition! The substance of an object consists of the form of that object together with the matter of which the object is composed. At the moment, I'm thinking of this as just the pair whose first element is the form and whose second element is the matter, but I get the impression from what you've said that the substance is obtained by combining these two things in a less straightforward way. I would appreciate clarification on this point.

            Yep, that's about right. All objects in material reality are 'compound' objects of form and matter. A facet (or element) of their existence is form, and a facet is matter. As I said above, Aristotle argued that both these things, not one or the other, make an object what it is. All objects must have form and matter, because all objects, as well as being made of matter, are made such that they are some thing.

            (The form of an object is also referred to as its 'formal cause', and its matter is referred to as its 'material cause'. To repeat myself, both of these are really, objectively-existing aspects of the object, each as crucial to its existence as the other.)

            Turning to the circle/interderivable paragraph: I’m not sure this works as an analogy to what we’re discussing:

            All properties of O either do or do not have quality Q; this is a matter of logical certainty. Q, in this case, is something that exists: it is the quality of being part of the object’s substance, or the quality of sharing something with other objects that are Os. Every Q is either part of the substance, or not part of the substance and therefore part of the accident.

            O must therefore necessarily be identified as a combination of its substance and its accidents, just as (if I understand correctly) a circle must be identified as 'all the points that are distance D from point P on a 2d plane'.

            So what alternative account would I give of the constitution of a cow? I would say that the cow consists of some matter, arranged in a certain way. If pressed on the point of what this arrangement consists of, I would say it consists of various simple facts, such as `this hydrogen atom is 7.38 nanometers from that oxygen atom'. Note that this is rather different from the form of the cow: all of these facts are accidents, and they are not even properties of the cow itself but relations between its constituent atoms.

            I don't see how this affects my argument, though. We both agree that cows are made of so many hydrogen, oxygen, carbons atoms, arranged such-and-such a distance from each other. This doesn't change the fact (that we agree on) that two cows are examples of the same thing. I suggest that from this fact it logically follows that they share a form, and have outlined my argument for this above (1 - 11). I don't see how putting a particular cow under an electron microscope changes anything in this argument. Describing a thing's material cause in more detail, which is a function proper to the empirical sciences, doesn't disprove or cast doubt on its being composed partly of form, whose existence (or not) is a question of logic.

            To put it another way: describing a cow's molecular structure would not describe what does or doesn’t follow from their being the same thing; it would just give us further confirmation that they are the same thing.

            >> But surely you raise an epistemological question, rather than an ontological one?
            > Your question raises some deep issues, and if I wanted to give as full an answer as I think it deserves it would take some time and, I think, lead us on a needless digression. So I would like to hold off answering for now. Is that ok?

            I do think it’s important, though. I’m happy to agree that grey areas exist in our knowledge (more simply, there are things we don't know), but not in reality. Everything in the material universe is composed of substance and accident; and form and matter. This must be true by definition, if we are to say objects are alike. These terms aren't grey areas, but objective logical categories like 'number', or 'exists', or 'true', or ‘cause’. They must exist before we can make any sense of the universe at all, and certainly before we can practise the material sciences in any thorough way.

            We might have trouble knowing what is substantial to an object and what isn't, just as we might have trouble knowing the number of the stars, and both these problems can in principle be solved by the material sciences. But we know logically that 'substance' exists (or we're outright sceptics), just as we know logically that 'number' and ‘existence’ exist.

            Just as a summary, that which two cows have in common must:-
            - Exist in reality, not just in our minds, otherwise they would only be alike in our minds, and radical scepticism would follow;
            - Be the same thing in each cow, otherwise they wouldn’t be examples of the same thing;
            - Not be the same thing as any particular cow, because then it would be only that object that is a cow, whereas there are many such objects;
            - Be immaterial, since it can exist in many cows, regardless of where they are in time or space;
            - Be unchanging, because what-a-cow-is doesn’t change (immaterial, logical ideas in general don’t change, and please see my reply above to David which deals with the evolutionary objection to this).

            Hence forms, or something very much like them, must exist. Talk about species and breeds of cow comes on top of this, but (I think) doesn’t disprove it.

            Do you think this, along with my sequence of 1-11, is logical? If not, where does the logic break down?

            Apologies if I’ve missed any of your questions. I’ll try and re-cap some of this if I have time. I know this is messy, sorry.

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks for going to the trouble of explaining all of that for me. Once more it will take me a few days to respond, especially since you have asked for further details on the epistemology/ontology issue. My current plan is to try to understand and engage with the stuff about substances and forms first, then make a second and later reply in which I discuss epistemology and ontology.

            You have said that you aren't entirely happy with the format of what you have written, so if you want to give a revised version whilst I am still considering what you have said then feel free to do so.

            I am working my way through Aquinas, though I am finding it hard going and often have to read sections a few times. Would you be happy for me to suggest something relevant for you to read as well, or are there too many pressures on your time?

          • English Catholic

            Sure, by all means suggest something, and I'll do my best. :)

            If you have any questions about Aquinas, by all means shout. A near-beginner like me might be more help than a professional philosopher like Feser.

            I will try and write something clearer by the weekend.

            Understand what you say about substance/forms vs epistemology/ontology, but I think they're linked, only because I suggest there are no grey areas in the ontological makeup of something, only in what we know. But happy to hear your thoughts.

          • Peter Piper

            Sorry for taking so long to respond. As I said before, I am deferring any discussion of ontology vs. epistemology to a later comment. I want to devote the heart of this comment to a discussion of what I see as the most important current issue: how to find an objective distinction between those properties that belong to the substance of an object and those which do not. But before doing that, I think it is necessary to deal with a question you raised about objectivity.

            You asked whether the sentences `I agree that some things are obviously invented and others are obviously discovered' and `Once more, I think of the invented/discovered distinction as vague and subjective' contradict each other. The claim of vagueness is merely a repetition of my claim that there is a large grey area, which I pointed out in the intervening sentences. So I am assuming that it is the claim of subjectivity which you see as in contradiction to the earlier sentence.

            Subjectivity means dependence of the appropriate standards of judgment on the particular subject making the judgment. Thus each person judges smells according to their own taste, and so whether or not a smell is pleasant is a subjective matter. Nevertheless, because of regularities in the structure of subjects, there are some subjective claims which essentially all subjects will agree with, such as the claim that rotten eggs smell unpleasant. So it is perfectly possible for some subjective judgments to be, in this way, obvious.

            Now we can come to the question of an objective criterion for substantiality of properties. As I understand it, you are currently suggesting that we can get to such a criterion from the notion of likeness. I think you are claiming that a property of an object belongs to the substance of that object precisely when the property is also possessed by all other objects alike to that object.

            I agree that if likeness is an objective matter then this gives an objective account of substantiality. But as perhaps you might expect, I see the question of whether two things are alike as subjective (though as for naturalness, I don't deny the existence of certain cases which are clear-cut). I see the question of whether two things are alike as depending on the reason for comparing them. Thus whilst Daisy and Bessie are alike for most purposes, a vet specialising in opthalmology might find Daisy unlike Bessie and instead like Marilyn for her purposes, since both Daisy and Marilyn suffer from pink eye but Bessie doesn't.

            On the other hand, there are certain ways in which things can be alike (such as `having the same mass' or `being of the same species' for animals) which are perfectly objective. I think that these particular objective kinds of likeness are enough to allow me to escape the radical skepticism and serious difficulties with making sense of the natural sciences which you suggest might be forced on me.

            Miscellaneous other issues:

            Yep, that's about right. All objects in material reality are 'compound' objects of form and matter. A facet (or element) of their existence is form, and a facet is matter.

            Thanks for confirming this. What I was hoping for was some clarification of the way in which these facets should be combined to obtain the object.

            All properties of O either do or do not have quality Q; this is a matter of logical certainty. Q, in this case, is something that exists: it is the quality of being part of the object’s substance, or the quality of sharing something with other objects that are Os. Every Q is either part of the substance, or not part of the substance and therefore part of the accident.

            O must therefore necessarily be identified as a combination of its substance and its accidents, just as (if I understand correctly) a circle must be identified as 'all the points that are distance D from point P on a 2d plane'.

            This does not in fact follow. Indeed, it is not clear that there is any need to consider the properties of an object as elements of that object rather than things which are true of it. I hope the alternative account of the constitution of cows I gave in my last long comment makes that clear, since on that account the properties of the cow are not elements of it at all.

            Do you think this, along with my sequence of 1-11, is logical? If not, where does the logic break down?

            I concede 1-11 etc. as showing that if likeness is objective then so is substantiality. I don't agree that likeness is objective.

            Sure, by all means suggest something [to read], and I'll do my best.

            Thanks! I'd like to suggest that you read the sequence of blog posts which can be found at http://lesswrong.com/lw/od/37_ways_that_words_can_be_wrong/ . Although I by no means agree with everything on that blog, or even in that sequence, I think that there are some helpful insights there which are relevant to our discussion. I would be happy to hear your comments on these posts.

            If you have any questions about Aquinas, by all means shout. A near-beginner like me might be more help than a professional philosopher like Feser.

            None as yet, but thanks for the kind offer. If I get stuck on anything I will certainly ask.

          • English Catholic

            Apologies for the very belated reply. It's a combination of busy-ness and disorganisation.

            Sorry for taking so long to respond. As I said before, I am deferring any discussion of ontology vs. epistemology to a later comment. I want to devote the heart of this comment to a discussion of what I see as the most important current issue: how to find an objective distinction between those properties that belong to the substance of an object and those which do not. But before doing that, I think it is necessary to deal with a question you raised about objectivity.

            Fair enough. Just to check we understand each other: my claim is that objects have properties that are substantial, and properties that are accidental; and that there's no grey area. (But our knowledge may well have grey areas and outright mistakes. Hence my constant rabbiting on about grey areas existing in our knowledge (e'ology), but not in reality (ontology).)

            Your argument is that drawing such a sharp line is a mistake, and that grey areas exist. Do you see the grey area as being a one-dimensional line between substance and accident? Or do you see the whole substance-accident distinction as merely a convenient way of thinking about things, but without a basis in reality? I'm just a little unclear.

            You asked whether the sentences `I agree that some things are obviously invented and others are obviously discovered' and `Once more, I think of the invented/discovered distinction as vague and subjective' contradict each other. The claim of vagueness is merely a repetition of my claim that there is a large grey area, which I pointed out in the intervening sentences. So I am assuming that it is the claim of subjectivity which you see as in contradiction to the earlier sentence.
            Subjectivity means dependence of the appropriate standards of judgment on the particular subject making the judgment. Thus each person judges smells according to their own taste, and so whether or not a smell is pleasant is a subjective matter. Nevertheless, because of regularities in the structure of subjects, there are some subjective claims which essentially all subjects will agree with, such as the claim that rotten eggs smell unpleasant. So it is perfectly possible for some subjective judgments to be, in this way, obvious.

            Can't agree with that example, sorry. I would say, in common with Aristotle and Thomas, that someone who liked the smell of rotten eggs had an objectively defective sense of smell, or objectively defective likes and dislikes. But I really don't think we should get into that discussion at this precise moment :)

            Now we can come to the question of an objective criterion for substantiality of properties. As I understand it, you are currently suggesting that we can get to such a criterion from the notion of likeness. I think you are claiming that a property of an object belongs to the substance of that object precisely when the property is also possessed by all other objects alike to that object.

            It's a little more subtle than that. It's 'that which objects share by virtue of being objects of that type'. I offer 'objects are alike' as a premise from which we can reason to the existence of forms, substance, etc, but not as a definition of substance. Please see next paragraph.

            I agree that if likeness is an objective matter then this gives an objective account of substantiality. But as perhaps you might expect, I see the question of whether two things are alike as subjective (though as for naturalness, I don't deny the existence of certain cases which are clear-cut). I see the question of whether two things are alike as depending on the reason for comparing them. Thus whilst Daisy and Bessie are alike for most purposes, a vet specialising in opthalmology might find Daisy unlike Bessie and instead like Marilyn for her purposes, since both Daisy and Marilyn suffer from pink eye but Bessie doesn't.

            Certainly, different things about an object will interest us at different times. But this, I suggest, does nothing to undermine my argument. For his purposes, a vet is happy to ignore the finer points about what a thing is (a breed of cow), and instead concern himself with a property it may have (bad eye). But while the property of having pink eye might interest him at a particular moment, and while two cows might have this property in common, it does nothing to change the fact that all three of the objects are cows. Nor does it make me the same thing as Daisy when I get pink-eye.

            If anything, this proves my point. The property 'has pink eye' doesn't change the fact that Daisy is a cow, which implies that there are accidental and substantial properties. It's the same as what we were saying earlier about weighing more than 1000 lbs. These are objective properties, to be sure, but don't change what the thing is.

            Further, you said some cases (of likeness) are clear-cut, and below say that, if two things are alike, the sequence of 1-11 holds and we must admit substantiality is objective. So it seems that we agree that substance exists objectively for some cases. Or have I misunderstood? :)

            On the other hand, there are certain ways in which things can be alike (such as `having the same mass' or `being of the same species' for animals) which are perfectly objective. I think that these particular objective kinds of likeness are enough to allow me to escape the radical skepticism and serious difficulties with making sense of the natural sciences which you suggest might be forced on me.

            I'm not so sure. A cow and a car might have the same mass (or differ by an amount so small that it's impossible to measure), but they're not thereby the same thing. Daisy's and Bessie's masses might differ by 10% or more, but they're still the same thing. Your position would seem to imply that there are no differences between these types of likeness, except what we choose for our purposes. This would make the natural sciences quite problematic.

            Miscellaneous other issues:
            >> Yep, that's about right. All objects in material reality are 'compound' objects of form and matter. A facet (or element) of their existence is form, and a facet is matter.
            >Thanks for confirming this. What I was hoping for was some clarification of the way in which these facets should be combined to obtain the object.

            Ah, gotcha.

            I don't know that they can 'be combined'. An object just is a combination of these two things, for the reason I think I gave above: The form is what gives it its likeness with objects of the same type, and its matter is what makes it a different object from objects of the same type. The matter can't exist without the form, because matter always is some thing.

            Obviously it's not a physical or chemical process of combination, in the way that hydrogen and oxygen can be combined to produce water. Nor is it the same as 'combining' 2 and 2 in a logical way to make 4. In a way it's something in between these two things. It's like a physical process of combination in that it involves material things, and can undergo change (because when a thing goes out of existence, by definition, the combination has come to an end). But it's like a mathematical sum in that it's a logically necessary combination, one that must be true by definition if objects are alike yet distinct.

            Hopefully this answers your question.

            >> All properties of O either do or do not have quality Q; this is a matter of logical certainty. Q, in this case, is something that exists: it is the quality of being part of the object’s substance, or the quality of sharing something with other objects that are Os. Every Q is either part of the substance, or not part of the substance and therefore part of the accident.
            O must therefore necessarily be identified as a combination of its substance and its accidents, just as (if I understand correctly) a circle must be identified as 'all the points that are distance D from point P on a 2d plane'.
            > This does not in fact follow. Indeed, it is not clear that there is any need to consider the properties of an object as elements of that object rather than things which are true of it. I hope the alternative account of the constitution of cows I gave in my last long comment makes that clear, since on that account the properties of the cow are not elements of it at all.

            I'm not sure how it doesn't follow; it's quite possible I've worded it badly. Could you explain? It seems to me that an object can be identified with every property that is true about that object (or every predicate about that object); it's not merely interderivable with these properties. I'll go and think about this, though.

            In any case, I don't think the alternative concept works. You said:

            > So what alternative account would I give of the constitution of a cow? I would say that the cow consists of some matter, arranged in a certain way. If pressed on the point of what this arrangement consists of, I would say it consists of various simple facts, such as `this hydrogen atom is 7.38 nanometers from that oxygen atom'. Note that this is rather different from the form of the cow: all of these facts are accidents, and they are not even properties of the cow itself but relations between its constituent atoms.

            To which I replied:

            I don't see how this affects my argument, though. We both agree that cows are made of so many hydrogen, oxygen, carbons atoms, arranged such-and-such a distance from each other. This doesn't change the fact (that [I thought] we agree on) that two cows are the same thing. I suggest that, from this, it logically follows that they share a form, and have outlined my argument for this above (1 - 11). I don't see how putting a particular cow under an electron microscope changes anything in this argument. Describing a thing's material cause in more detail, which is a process of the empirical sciences, doesn't disprove or cast doubt on its having a formal cause, whose existence (or not) is a question of logic.

            I see no reason to change this.

            >> Do you think this, along with my sequence of 1-11, is logical? If not, where does the logic break down?
            > I concede 1-11 etc. as showing that if likeness is objective then so is substantiality. I don't agree that likeness is objective.

            Ok. I thought we were agreed that two cows were the same thing, whatever explanation we might use for this. And above you seem to suggest that some cases of likeness are clear-cut, which would seem to concede the case. But perhaps I've misunderstood?

            I'm very happy to talk through the consequences of likeness's not being objective, in any case.

            I haven't read through your other comment yet -- please give me a little more time :)

          • Peter Piper

            First of all, I want to recall what we decided we wanted to do with this conversation. I have a particular worldview. On the basis of certain things I have said, you have come to the conclusion that my worldview is incoherent. I would like to know about any incoherencies in my worldview, so that I can try to eliminate them as far as possible. You offered to explain to me the incoherency in my worldview, for which I am very grateful; I am all the more grateful because of the amount of time you have put into this conversation. In fact, you offered at first to do something more specific, to explain the incoherency of the following belief:

            the collection of things which are, directly or indirectly, detectable by our senses, is part of a closed causal system, and the behaviour of such things can, in principle, be entirely accounted for in terms of the impersonal rules governing that system.

            We have now moved on a little from our specific focus on that belief, and I think you would also like to make use of other parts of my worldview, such as `there are at least two cows, which are alike in that they are both cows' and `it is possible to make sense of the practices and claims of scientists'. That is fine by me, but I would like to keep track of which parts of my worldview you are relying on in your refutation. I think the easiest way to do this is for me to formally concede, from time to time, that certain beliefs really do form a part of my worldview, and for you to then demonstrate the collective incoherence of the set of conceded beliefs. Thus right now I would like to formally concede the quote above and the two statements mentioned earlier in this paragraph. If there is anything else that you reckon I believe and that you would like me to formally concede, just ask.

            With this framework in mind, let's return to the current state of the discussion.

            Your argument is that drawing such a sharp line is a mistake, and that grey areas exist. Do you see the grey area as being a one-dimensional line between substance and accident? Or do you see the whole substance-accident distinction as merely a convenient way of thinking about things, but without a basis in reality? I'm just a little unclear.

            In fact, I am not making an argument at all, but pointing out the fact that my worldview does not include any definition whatever of subtantiality or accidentality of properties, and I am relying on you to provide such a definition. My answer to your question depends completely on what definition of substantiality you settle on: since you have not yet settled on any definition, I cannot give a sensible reply.

            Can't agree with that example, sorry. I would say, in common with Aristotle and Thomas, that someone who liked the smell of rotten eggs had an objectively defective sense of smell, or objectively defective likes and dislikes.

            As selfish as I might feel recalling your generosity here, the fact is that it is the coherence of my worldview and not yours which is currently in question. Thus the details of how you consistently make sense of the idea that the pleasantness of smells is an objective matter do not enter into the current discussion.

            I offer 'objects are alike' as a premise from which we can reason to the existence of forms, substance, etc, but not as a definition of substance.

            It is important to disambiguate the claim `objects are alike': it could mean `there are at least two objects which are alike in some sense', which I have now conceded as part of the belief about cows mentioned a couple of paragraphs above. If that is all you need for your demonstration then we are good to go. But I think you need the stronger claim `there is an objective, precise relation called `likeness' with respect to which any two things are simply either alike or not', which I have not conceded (since it forms no part of my worldview).

            you said some cases (of likeness) are clear-cut, and below say that, if two things are alike, the sequence of 1-11 holds and we must admit substantiality is objective. So it seems that we agree that substance exists objectively for some cases. Or have I misunderstood? :)

            You say a few things like this, so I've just chosen one representative quote. I'm afraid you have misunderstood. What I meant was that the stronger, not-yet-conceded claim would have been enough to get an objective, precise definition of substance.

            Let's look in more detail at how far we can get through 1-11 with only the weaker claim. The notion of likeness isn't even mentioned until point 11, but it is clear that in your discussion of cows you are simply using cows as a representative example of a type, or collection of like objects. But in order for the notion of types to even make sense you need the stronger version of `objects are alike'. Since you rely on the idea of cows as a type from at least point 3 onwards, your argument does not get off the ground.

            The property 'has pink eye' doesn't change the fact that Daisy is a cow, which implies that there are accidental and substantial properties. It's the same as what we were saying earlier about weighing more than 1000 lbs. These are objective properties, to be sure, but don't change what the thing is.

            For the sake of clarity: the idea that, for any object, there is a unique particular description of that object (such as `a cow') which tells you what that object is forms no part of my worldview. Instead, I reckon that there are typically many different descriptions, all of which say in some sense what the object is, and none of which is uniquely privileged (I'd be happy to formally concede some belief of this sort, but I'd want to take some time to come up with a precise formulation I was comfortable with).

            This is nicely illustrated by a quote from Aquinas:

            Hence a triangle drawn sloppily on the cracked plastic seat of a moving school bus is not as true a triangle as one drawn slowly and carefully on paper with a Rapidograph pen and a ruler. (page 33 of my copy)

            My point of view is that this does not make the former object less true, because as well as being a triangle it is also a graffito, and indeed a far truer graffito than the latter object.

            Miscellaneous extras:

            It seems to me that an object can be identified with every property that is true about that object (or every predicate about that object); it's not merely interderivable with these properties. I'll go and think about this, though.

            I can only think of a couple of things that might help you with thinking this through. The first is the fact that substance + accidents is not the same as `every property which is true about that object', which you here claim is equivalent to the object, since the former also includes the matter of the object as well as these properties. The second is an explicit account of how the two derivations (substance + accidents --> object and vice-versa) would go.

            One of the properties of the object O is the property `is the object O'. The reason for mentioning this confusing tautology is that this property is included in substance + accidents (specifically, it is an accident of O) and from this fact we can immediately deduce, given the subject and the accidents, or even just this one accident, that the object has to be O. You have already explained the reverse derivation, from the object to its substance and accidents.

            In any case, I don't think the alternative concept works.

            However, the reply you mention having given does not show that this alternative concept is incoherent, merely that it does not contradict your claim that every cow has a formal cause. It was not intended to contradict that claim, but instead to explain what answer I would give to the question `How is that cow constituted?' instead of the answer you suggest, namely `substance + accidents'. Again, if you want me to formally concede that some belief like the one I described forms part of my worldview so that we can address the question of whether (together with the other conceded beliefs) it is incoherent, then I will happily do so.

          • English Catholic

            Hello -- I apologise for not replying to you. I've started a new job which means I drive to work so I can't write on the train. And I'm behind on virtually everything. It took me several months to put a curtain rail up.

            More positively, I've been reading Oderberg's Real Essentialism, which goes into the nuts and bolts of hylemorphism much more deeply than Aquinas does. It's clarified some of my thinking -- and, horror, I find I've been using some terms incorrectly -- so perhaps I will be able to have a better crack at answering your question.

            I will need to read through virtually the entire dispute again, so please bear with me.

          • Peter Piper

            No problem. I understand what it is like to have pressures on your time.

          • Peter Piper

            I've finally managed to finish my discussion of ontology and epistemology, and I am eagerly looking forward to hearing your response to it and my last comment.

            After thinking about how to explain clearly and quickly my point of view on the interplay between ontology and epistemology, I've settled on a particular thought experiment. The trouble is that it is superficially similar to something that David Nickol said, so I want to first of all make explicit the way I disagree with him, so that you don't confuse our views. Unlike David, I think that `is a cow' is an objective property: it is an objective matter whether any given thing in the world is a cow or not. But I think that the fact I outlined in the last sentence is a contingent fact about the world, as I hope the following thought experiment will make clear.

            Current evidence suggests that 60 million years ago there lived an animal, whom I will call Evie, who was a common ancestor of cows, hippos and whales. Let us imagine that, through some freak of genetics, Evie obtained a gene which overrode the aging process. So Evie and her descendents did not grow old and die, but remained alive until they died of natural causes: indeed, many of them did not die at all, but remain alive today. To make the picture concrete, let us imagine that the WWF have managed to gather descendants of Evie from almost every generation in the line leading to modern cattle, and have converted the state of Texas into a giant sanctuary for all of them (my calculations suggest it would just about be big enough). Evie herself is in this sanctuary, grazing happily alongside Bessie, Daisy and Marilyn.

            My claim is that in this imaginary world there is no clear way to draw the line between cows and non-cows. Evie is not a cow and Bessie is, but where along the line is the transition? My view is that the question of where to draw the line would, in that world, be a subjective one.

            How, then, can I make the claim that, given the way the world really is, the distinction between cows and non-cows is not subjective but objective? The reason is that there is a large collection of objective properties (related to size, shape, physiology and genetic makeup) which are almost always found together and never found alone, so that any of a number of similar tests based on these properties would allow us to distinguish between cows and non-cows. Or, as I put it more informally in my earlier comment: we almost never encounter arrangements of matter which look, sound, smell and act like cows but in fact are not cows.

            However, since my claim that `is a cow' is an objective property relies on this contingent feature of the world, it is itself a contingent claim. Here is a summary of my position: to support the ontology of a complex property, the world must have the contingent feature that the epistemological distinction between things that have the property and things that don't must be robust. But this is often the case, so there are many objective complex properties.

            It is this requirement of robust epistemology which I hope allows me to avoid your objection to David Nickol:

            Surely if something is what it is only because a human classifies it that way, then there's nothing intrinsically wrong with classifying a cow as a dog?

            The fact that there is no collection of correlated simple objective properties which hold almost universally for dogs and for just one (or a few) cows is what makes it objectively silly to classify a cow as a dog.

          • English Catholic

            Thanks for your replies, and sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I'll do my best to give a full answer to both comments by the middle of next week!

          • All cows must share the same form. Otherwise it makes no sense to say that cows are (objectively) the same. At the same time, form-of-cow need
            not exist apart from the individual cows that instantiate it.

            I think the view you are expounding on here is one that stood in the way of people accepting the theory of evolution, and getting past it was an intellectual step forward to understanding the natural world.

            There was a news story about a month ago about the birth of a zonkey—the offspring of a zebra and a donkey. It was not some creation of fiendish scientists. It just happened that a zebra and a donkey mated successfully. How do we explain the fact that something with the "form" of a zebra can mate with something with the "form" of a donkey to produce something with the "form" of a zonkey?

            You have asserted (as I recall) that every cow is of a particular breed, but all cows are still cows. I am sure you would say the same thing about dogs, but what is and is not a particular breed of dog (or cow) is not "objective." First of all, how do you classify mixed-breed dogs? Second, how do you account for the fact that there are hundreds of dog breeds, most of them of relatively recent origin? By selective breeding, new breeds of dogs are "invented" and recognized every year.

            It is well known that modern dogs evolved from Grey Wolves when humans domesticated them thousands of years ago. Dogs and wolves can still breed successfully. If you follow the ancestors of any dog back far enough, you will find that you arrive at wolves. If you follow the ancestors of any modern dog back partway, you will arrive at an animal that is much like a wolf and much like a dog, but doesn't fit neatly into either category. This was the stumbling block for people who objected to the theory of evolution. Every animal had to be of some "kind." A wolf was a wolf, and a dog was a dog, and they could not accept that there were intermediates between wolves and dogs that didn't have the "form" of a dog or the "form" of a wolf, but something in between.

            It would be a little strange or impractical to deny that cows are cows and dogs are dogs, but in reality, dogs and cows are dogs and cows because human beings classify them as dogs and cows. It is clearly wrong to classify a dog as a cow or a cow as a dog, but I wouldn't say that the categories cow and dog are "objective." They are invented just like breeds of dogs are invented by classification schemes that may make perfect sense, and may be based on more or less objective characteristics, but are not themselves "objective." Taxonomists can disagree on classifying animals into species, and there can also be disagreement over what breed a dog is, or whether breeders who claim to have bred a new breed of dog have actually done so.

            So I think we have good reason to be skeptical about any argument that rests on the concept of "forms." It becomes rather meaningless in classifying animals over time, and in classifying zonkeys, ligers (offspring of a lion and tiger), and other hybrids.

          • English Catholic

            Stretched for time at the moment, and I'd rather reply properly than in haste -- please give me a day or two.

          • English Catholic

            The facts of evolution, as opposed to the evolutionist philosophical theories that (in illustration of Bayes' theorem) some people suggest they prove, don't change a jot about the existence of forms.

            The existence of a 'zonkey' presents no problems: it has the form of a 'zonkey'. It seems likely that other zonkeys have arisen at various times and places, but maybe they haven't; it makes no difference.

            The evolutionist philosophy, that living things (and by extension the entire universe) are undergoing constant change, and nothing is ever the same, is of course contradictory to the idea of forms. But the facts don't imply this theory. They will be cited in support by someone who already believes it, but I don't need to explain that this falls far short of a proof :)

            Elaborate classification schemes may be mistaken or over-simplified; they may reflect reality only partly, or not at all. It doesn't matter from a metaphysical standpoint. The only premise for the existence of a form is 'things are alike'. Cows are cows; not dogs, or roses, or hyenas, or stones, or galaxies. Bessie and Daisy are examples of the same thing. Bessie and the Milky Way aren't. Science takes the alikeness and un-alikeness of things as an assumption, and if we deny it, we get into some very strange discussions indeed.

            [I]n reality, dogs and cows are dogs and cows because human beings classify them as dogs and cows. It is clearly wrong to classify a dog as a cow or a cow as a dog…

            These two statements seem to contradict one another. Surely if something is what it is only because a human classifies it that way, then there's nothing intrinsically wrong with classifying a cow as a dog, since there's no reality 'out there' with which we can compare our classification?

          • English Catholic

            c

          • English Catholic

            You might say that this case is made successfully elsewhere. I don't
            think it is, but even if it were there would be no excuse for relying on
            obscure and largely discarded philosophical ideas with such a meager
            explanation in an article intended to promote discussion with the
            atheist on the street.

            Did I say the case is made successfully elsewhere? I don't remember doing so. (It is, though. Try Aquinas by Edward Feser.)

            I agree that the article should not have thrown out Aristotelian and Thomistic terms with so little explanation. It annoys me, too. And I would agree with your categorisation of these ideas as 'obscure' and 'discarded' (though why is an interesting question), but they're true nonetheless, which is what matters, isn't it?

          • Peter Piper

            Did I say the case is made successfully elsewhere? I don't remember doing so.

            No, you didn't. Sorry if you felt that I was putting words into your mouth. I meant `you might say' more in the sense of `one might say'.

            I will look up Aquinas, but I don't promise to get back to you on it quickly. I get the impression it will take some time to mull over the arguments in that book.

            In a discussion, it doesn't just matter that you are right (in this case, that the ideas are `true') but also, amongst other things, that your arguments are well explained. This is all the more true in a forum intended for the meeting of very different world views.

          • English Catholic

            Yeah, no worries. Take time over that book, it took me months to digest its arguments.

            And I agree with your last paragraph. The arguments for God's existence definitely shouldn't be thrown out in a few hundred words like that. I have a feeling the article was originally intended for Christian believers and reproduced on this site (though I could be wrong).

            Hasta manana :)

          • Peter Piper

            About the book: I have been intrigued by what I have heard about Feser's writing for a while, and had been planning to look into it, starting with the Last Superstition. But I'm not really sure if that is the best place to start. What would you suggest as a good place to begin? Aquinas, the Last Superstition or something else?

          • "What would you suggest as a good place to begin? Aquinas, the Last Superstition or something else?"

            "The Last Superstition" is somewhat polemical (think "The God Delusion") which turns some people off--atheists and Catholics. "Aquinas" covers much of the same content in a far more charitable style. I'd recommend starting there.

            You can find links to both, along with other helpful resources, on our Recommended Books page:

            https://strangenotions.com/books/

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks, Brandon. That is very helpful.

          • English Catholic

            I would agree with Brandon. TLS is extremely polemical (though no more than The God Delusion). On the other hand, I think it does present some arguments more clearly than Aquinas. If you do get it, start at chapter 2 :)

            I'd also recommend C.S. Lewis's Miracles (yes, he of Narnia), which I think contains a very strong and clearly-argued critique of materialism.

            And if you want to get seriously into the arguments for forms, essences, substances, accidents and the like, David Oderberg's Real Essentialism is meant to be good.

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks for these recommendations. I've read Miracles, but it was a while ago. I will perhaps come back to Real Essentialism, but for now I will focus on Aquinas.

    • English Catholic

      I would have to ask you to clarify your second paragraph. I think you're arguing along 'there's no need for God as a hypothesis' lines, but I'm not sure…

      How are we defining 'simple'? What is a 'feature' or 'explanatory story'?

      Why would you argue that the assumptions should be simple? What assumptions would you make?

      • Peter Piper

        My claim is `explanations invoking God need more complex assumptions than those that don't do so', which is certainly very similar to `there is no need to invoke God as a hypothesis in our explanations'. I hope that clears up your first question.

        As for simplicity, I'm not sure how to give a definition without either giving a synonym (since this is such a fundamental concept) or else invoking some technical ideas like Kolmogorov complexity. Maybe you can help me out here: are there a few different things that you think I might mean, and you're not sure which? If so, try to clarify the alternatives and I'll pick one. The same goes for `feature'.

        An `explanatory story' is just an explanation, though this phrase has the connotation that the explanation is phrased in some sense as a story: that is, it invokes concepts like cause and effect and the ongoing relationships between distinct entities.

        I would argue that having simple assumptions is part of what makes a good explanation good. It makes the explanation easier to understand, easier to apply and easier to generalise. Simpler explanations have also historically tended to be more accurate, perhaps because if your assumptions can be complicated then most of the `fit' between the explanation and what it is supposed to explain only comes from careful tweaking of the assumptions, whereas if they are constrained to be simple then any such `fit' must be present for deeper reasons.

        • English Catholic

          Very briefly - and really I'm only replying to your first paragraph -

          It's a common misunderstanding that the proofs for God's existence take a 'god of the gaps' approach. "I can't explain such-and-such a thing -- so God must be the [proximate] cause!" And then science discovers the actual proximate cause, and the 'need' for God is gradually reduced. Unfortunately, this suggestion is often put forward by Christians who don't know the arguments very well.

          Another common misunderstanding is that 'God-and-something-else' are the proximate causes of something. 'God' would then fall to Occam's Razor of course.

          In reality, the proofs for God take the form of a logical sequence, in the way that (say) a mathematical equation would. In maths, given certain premises (a right-angled triangle with sides of 1cm and 1cm), certain conclusions automatically follow (the hypotenuse is root-2 cm). No empirical discovery is ever going to change this.

          The proofs for God's existence are the same: if the premises and the intermediate logic are correct, the proofs necessarily follow. Just as maths doesn't 'postulate' a possible explanation but rather leads directly to a conclusion, and just as it doesn't look for the most parsimonious explanation but (again) leads directly to a conclusion; so do the metaphysical proofs for God.

          Very hastily-written, sorry.

          • Peter Piper

            As I said to Kevin Aldrich, the second paragraph of my response to the OP was directed to a particular argumentative context. I agree that there are other argumentative contexts in which it would not be so relevant.

            Do you concede my claim that explanations invoking God need more complex assumptions than those that don't do so?

          • English Catholic

            Proofs for (not explanations invoking) God's existence rely on the same premises that science itself does. Aquinas's proofs take the form of "if premise x is true and logic y is sound, conclusion z (God's existence) must be true". They do not go along the lines of "I can't explain x without invoking z, so z must be true".

            God is not invoked, or postulated, or suggested as a cause of things. His existence is proved with certainty - just as, if x+2=4, it's certain that x=2. The explanation will never be simplified.

            Too tired to develop this point further tonight, sorry.

          • Peter Piper

            I understand, and in a context where particular proofs of God's existence were the topic of discussion I would have said something more germane to that subject. But that is not the current context.

            Is there a particular proof of God's existence that you would like to discuss?

            Also, I would appreciate it if you would answer the question from my comment above: do you agree that explanations invoking God need more complex assumptions than those that don't do so?

          • English Catholic

            Is there a particular proof of God's existence that you would like to discuss?

            Let's tackle this in our discussion below.

            Also, I would appreciate it if you would answer the question from my comment above: do you agree that explanations invoking God need more complex assumptions than those that don't do so?

            There's no explanation for any natural thing that would invoke God in place of a natural proximate cause. A cue ball hits a red ball and causes it to move -- we can study the physics of this without worrying about God's existence, because the moving cue ball has an inherent ability to bring about the locomotion of another ball. Mutatis mutandis, we can study the natural history of the entire universe without having an opinion either way on God's existence, or without invoking Him as a cause of something.

            So I can't really answer your question: it has a bit of a 'do you still beat your wife?' quality about it. There are no explanations that invoke God as a proximate cause, in lieu of a cause that can be explained by natural methods.

          • Peter Piper

            My question doesn't rely on the distinction between proximate and ultimate causation, so I don't see why this is a problem.

            The question `do you still beat your wife?' only makes sense if a certain statement is true, namely, that at one time the person being addressed beat their wife. As I understand it, you are saying that there is a similar statement such that my question only makes sense if this statement is true, but the statement is false. What statement do you have in mind here?

          • English Catholic

            That God's existence is 'invoked' as an 'explanation'.

          • Peter Piper

            I said invoked in, not as, an explanation. From time to time, people do make explanations which refer to (or `invoke') God. So the statement `some explanations invoke God' is true. Does that clarify my question to the extent that you can answer it?

          • English Catholic

            The entire natural history of the universe, from the Big Bang until this instant, can legitimately and coherently be described in terms of cause and effect which make no reference to God. (I'm not going to go into what caused the Big Bang, since this would be mere speculation.)

            So in one sense, and to answer your question directly, we don't need to invoke God in an explanation for anything.

            But God is necessary if we're to explain the existence of anything at all (as I hope to show below). By this, I mean explain existence from instant to instant, not 'provide a history of how an object came to exist'. The entire universe would literally cease to exist were God not constantly holding it in existence.

            So in another sense, God is necessary to explain anything.

            Does that answer the question? :) If not, I'm happy to go into a discussion of Aristotle's four causes, since that may shed some light.

          • The entire universe would literally cease to exist were God not constantly holding it in existence.

            I certainly don't see why this should be so. Is this the Kalam Cosmological Argument again?

          • English Catholic

            But God is necessary if we're to explain the existence of anything at all (as I hope to show below)

            I certainly don't see why this should be so.

            You're welcome to follow the discussion below.

            By this, I mean explain existence from instant to instant, not 'provide a history of how an object came to exist'.

            Is this the Kalam Cosmological Argument again?

            From Wikipedia: The [Kalam] argument postulates that something caused the Universe to begin to exist, and this first cause must be God.

            No.

          • You're welcome to follow the discussion below.

            Apologies! My messages were sorting so that the "discussion below" was actually above!

          • English Catholic

            No problem!

          • Peter Piper

            Does that answer the question?
            Yes, thank you. Since you promise to expand more on the things I disagree with here below, I will also respond below rather than here.

  • ksed11

    "“'Nothing' is very, very, simple,” Dawkins says, “but God as a creative cause is very complex.”"

    Something simple can bring about a complex effect (at least more complex than its cause). For example, the basic formula for fractals is fairly simple but it produces complex patterns. There are probably other examples. There’s also the difference between simplicity of function versus simplicity of composition. God may be simple in terms of composition but not in terms of function or ability. In any case I don’t think there’s any reason to think that a simple cause cannot, in principle, bring about a complex effect.

    • Evolution is Dawkens's favorite example of something simple bringing about something complex.

  • Loreen Lee

    “'Nothing' is very, very, simple,” Dawkins says, “but God as a creative cause is very complex.” Just a reminder how very difficult it is to give 'meaning' or 'definition' to words. This is one of the good things that some Language philosophers especially Derrida, the post-modernist. have pointed out.

    What if, just making a thought experiment here, nothing, was a no thing and a creative cause was some kind of will, possibly a loving one. Could they both not be limited definitions of what 'constituted' God. Could not 'no thing- actually be very complex, and the 'creative cause' of Christianity be in comparison very simple. There always seems to be a confusion between knowing and being in these reflections on the meaning/definition of words.

    As I mentioned earlier, the Buddhist's insist that Nirvana, (an impersonal explanation, which is closer to our concept of heaven than that of a God,to be the ultimate 'state of being'? But in this respect the Buddha is thought to be comparable to what we consider to be a Divine 'personal?' being. They say that there have been many such personages, over the 'eons'. That is maybe even billions of years in their time line. They really are treated like some kind of g/(G?od(s?), allowing the 'personal into their 'religious, or spiritual' orders of thought.

    However, they do not believe the physical universe is 'good' and they seem to want to escape suffering by eliminating even 'discursive thought' from their meditations, rather than accepting the suffering of the world, and 'rising above it'. They are not the 'example' of Jesus Christ in this regard!!!!

    Buddhists believe, the other side of the Kantian antimony on first antimony, that the physical universe has always 'existed' but that it is called an 'illusion' or 'Maya', because it is not the ultimate. There is thus possibly in their concepts of conventional truth and ultimate truth 't/Truth' some merit. As I said, no other religion is a comprehensive as Catholicism. I just think it has to assimilate the complexities of epistemological modernisms into its explanation of the 'simplicity', for instance, of God..

  • severalspeciesof

    When God acts, thinks, loves, and creates, he does this just from what his nature is

    Now how is it possible to 'act' outside time/space and without matter? How is it possible to love outside 'time/space' without matter? And just how can anything have 'nature' without matter? Just what exactly is 'nature' in its use in the OP?

    Of course, we cannot understand what it means to be “existence itself”,
    but we do know that something identical with its own existence must be
    the most simple and most actual being possible.

    This is pure word salad. If we cannot understand something (anything for that matter) we cannot also insist that it must be a certain way. In this case we have no basis for stating 'its own existence must be the most simple and most actual being possible' since we do understand that existence itself is very complicated...

    Glen

  • geekborj

    Complexity resides in the perception of Man. In the mind of God --- the Word --- everything is simple, it's all about Love. Being Truth Himself, God must be the simplest being any one could ever think, even God Himself eternally contemplates Himself.

    When we think of different hierarchies of realities, we must think beyond the material realities. At this point, we can then see the internal consistency of Thomas' reason why God must be simple. In the immaterial reality, the simpler a being is, the closer that being is to God (e.g. seraphs vs guardian angels). Thus, simpler realities tend to cause more complex ones. I think this argument can be extended to material realities. In the context of complexity science, simple rules can result to complex dynamics. Thus, as would Prof. Hawking would agree, you only need the Gravitation as the cause of the Universe. For those who believe in TOE / GUT, that theory must be the cause of the Universe. It's simple! What if this God must have caused the Laws of Nature (Gravity, Hawking, and Dawkins included), would He need be complex? Perhaps He just can think complex creations being Infinite Creativity?

    An extension must be made about how God sustains the reality of the Universe, and all his Creation. But this is not the issue at hand.