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Does the Immaterial Exist?

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Cows

One common arguments from atheists is that matter is all there is, and that the immaterial (God, angels, the human soul, etc.) simply doesn't exist. This position is generally called “philosophical materialism,” although that term encompasses a number of distinct positions. In any case, here’s one of the clearest presentations of this argument:
 

"When we speak of immaterial things, we are speaking of something that has no physical substance. Now, if you think about this, everything we know to exist has physical properties. Your arm, leg, mind, blood, teeth, tongue, and everything else are physical. They are in the form of your physical body. Your brain can’t work without physical/material processes of chemistry and electricity. Electricity can’t work without the physical electrons. A windmill can’t work without the physical air that passes across its blades. Everything we know to exist is physical. [….]
 
So, if God is not material, what is God? If there is no answer for what God is, all we can say is God doesn't exist, or he exists nowhere and is comprised of nothing, which I don’t see how that isn't the same exact thing. It is rather interesting how the theist description of what there God is actually puts their God out of existence."

 
Or, a shorter version of essentially the same argument:
 

"If we are talking about immaterial existence, then there is nothing to differentiate an entity or "thing" which exists from one which does not exist."

 
Often (including in the second link provided), these discussions descend into debates over speculative science: whether or not dark energy or photons have mass, etc. But I think that this materialist argument can be answered easily, using agreed-upon evidence. In other words, the fact that the universe is made up of something other than matter is self-evident, and should be admitted by anyone, upon close reflection. In addition to matter, we also see immaterial forms that can dictate the nature and behavior of the matter itself.

We can observe forms in nature, and cannot account for them in purely material ways. This is true even of forms that cannot exist apart from matter.  Consider the following examples, from most to least technical:
 
1. Isomers: This is my favorite example. When two or more (different) compounds share the same molecular formula, you have isomers. For example, there are three different compounds with the molecular formula C3H8O: methoxyethane (a colorless gas that is extremely flammable and reactive); propanol (a liquid solvent used in the pharmaceutical industry); and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

These are different substances, with different chemical properties. Yet these differences are not material. They’re formal. That is, each of the three substances is made up of the identical atoms: three carbon, right hydrogen, and one oxygen. It is the arrangement of those molecules that determines whether the substance will be methoxyethanepropanol, or rubbing alcohol. The same matter, in different forms, produces different substances.

2. Phase Changes: A more obvious example of this would be the phase changes of water. Depending on its form (solid, liquid, or gaseous), it exhibits different properties, and is structured differently. Yet it maintains the same molecular and structural formula.

3. Surfaces: The surface of a table is not the table itself. Surfaces are immaterial, and have no mass, and occupy no three-dimensional space. If you doubt this, try to imagine a surface that is three feet deep. Whatever you are visualizing is not a surface, but a substance with surfaces of its own. But we can still observe that surfaces exist.

4. Shapes: Envision two different objects of equal mass, made of identical materials. The first is a wooden cube, and the second is a wooden sphere. The difference between the two objects wouldn't be material, but formal.
 
In each of these cases, the form itself is immaterial. To test this, take your wooden objects, and remove the matter that they have in common (the wood). Likewise, take your isomers, and remove the matter that they have in common (the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen). The result will be the same: you will be left with nothing. But does that mean that the different objects were, in fact, the same? Of course not. It means only that, in each of these cases, differences exist between the substances, but these differences cannot be isolated by removing the material common to each. That’s because these differences are immaterial, rather than material.

Those cases are obvious enough. A less obvious, but dramatically more important, example of a perceivable form is life itself. Consider what philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft fittingly named the “Dead Cow Argument”: imagine you come across two cows--one that is alive, and one that has just died. What is the difference between these two cows? Craig Payne, quoting Kreeft, explains:
 

"There appears to be no material difference (e.g., in size or weight or color) between the two cows. Yet something is clearly missing. What is it?” The obvious answer is that the cow is “clearly missing” its life – its “soul” or anima, in other words, its animating principle or form, that which causes the cow to live and develop as a cow."

 
So the living and the dead cow, at this point, are still materially identical. Nevertheless, we can immediately observe that an immaterial difference exists, and a radically important one. As Kreeft notes, both cows have air in their lungs, but only one can breathe. This distinction is, as noted above, the “animating” principle of the matter: the form enabling a particular material substance to live. It is from this that we have the simplest understanding of what a soul is: the animating principle of a body.

Certainly, this is only the beginning of a discussion on the soul, not the end. We’re still left to determine what sort of a thing the immaterial soul is, whether a human soul is like a cow soul, and so on.  But this line of reasoning does dispel the notion that the material is all that there is.
 
 
Originally published at Shameless Popery. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Coleman Report)

Joe Heschmeyer

Written by

Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • Rationalist1

    You realize that most of the world doesn't accept material to be limited to the material cause of Aristotelian metaphysics. To say an isomer is the same material but a different formal cause (i.e. shape) is not the same as saying an isomer is immaterial like God, angels or the soul is immaterial. This argument is as dead at that cow he mentions.

    • Rationalist, perhaps you can answer simply, yes or no, the question in the article's title: does the immaterial exist?

      • Rationalist1

        If the immaterial is defined at the shape of a material substance, then no. Because even if you call a tail a leg, a god still only has four legs.

        • Rationalist, please see my warning above. Future comments with needless sarcasm will be removed.

          You gave an answer to the question but you're using a very strange and novel definition of immaterial. I'd like you to answer this question: if "immaterial" is defined as *any* concept, idea, or entity that is *not* exclusively material--or can be completely reduced to material explanation--then does the immaterial exist?

          • Rationalist1

            I'm not using an odd definition of materialism, the author is. He's claiming that shape of a material substance isn't material.

          • "He's claiming that shape of a material substance isn't material."

            I would tend to agree. Conceptual shapes (i.e. "circle" or "triangle") are not material objects; they are philosophical forms.

            You may have *a* material "circle", which is a material object that has taken the *form* of a circle, but its circularity is an immaterial essence.

          • 42Oolon

            Shapes are concepts we use to identify patterns we attribute to physical things. The concepts exist only in our minds and are material.

          • "The concepts exist only in our minds and are material."

            So if the concept of "circularity" is material, please explain how I can touch, see, hear, smell, or taste it.

          • Andrew G.

            Measure the distance from edge to center (you can see marks on a ruler, right?)

            Observe that "circularity" corresponds to the fact of this distance falling within a narrow range over the whole edge of the object.

          • epeeist

            So if the concept of "circularity" is material, please explain how I can touch, see, hear, smell, or taste it.

            "Circularity" is a concept we abstract from viewing approximate circles in nature.

            If you want to limit the idea of material to sense data then presumably prayers don't exist either, neither does the ethical system purportedly instituted by divine command.

          • Rationalist1

            You can measure the circumference of a circle and its radius and see how it conforms top the mathematical concept of a circle.

          • 42Oolon

            You can see it in an FMRI.

          • alexander stanislaw

            It's not material or immaterial, its an abstraction.

          • Rationalist1

            Shapes like a triangle and circle are mathematical forms. I can precisely define a circle mathematically but I only have circles in the material world that approximate that definition.

          • Congratulations.

            You just made Brandon's point.

            And Plato's.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            There are things about which Plato was right, and things about which he was wrong.

            Every circle we can construct is at best an approximation, looking at any of them with a fine enough microscope we can find a way in which it fails to meet the Euclidean definition.

            However, every cow we see in the picture at the head of this thread is .... a cow. In every way. There is no "ideal of cow-ness" against which they all fall to qualify.

          • Rationalist1

            Indeed, some maintain that Plato's essentialism was what prevented the theory of Evolution from being discovered till relatively recently.

          • "There are things about which Plato was right, and things about which he was wrong."

            >> We agree.

            "Every circle we can construct is at best an approximation, looking at any of them with a fine enough microscope we can find a way in which it fails to meet the Euclidean definition."

            >> A most interesting fact.

            "However, every cow we see in the picture at the head of this thread is .... a cow."

            >> What makes it a "cow"? Why, just exactly its "cow-ness" and nothing else, in fact.

            It is no different with circles, than it is with cows.

            We perceive circles in relation to our conception of "circle-ness". We perceive cows in relation to our conception of "cow-ness".

            No difference.

            "In every way. There is no "ideal of cow-ness" against which they all fall to qualify."

            >> Quite to the contrary. When we see a large, reclining four legged animal in a pasture, we cannot tell from a distance whether it might be a cow, or a bison.

            But we have in our minds a conception of "cow-ness" that allows us, on closer inspection, to distinguish between the two otherwise quite similar things.

          • epeeist

            Every circle we can construct is at best an approximation, looking at any of them with a fine enough microscope we can find a way in which it fails to meet the Euclidean definition.

            And we abstract the idea of a perfect circle from these approximations, rather than the approximations being some kind of derivative of an actual perfect circle.

        • DestroyHER

          1. I can't believe so many people are missing such an important part of Materialism. Obviously the immaterial exists. Whether or not the immaterial exists should not even be an argument. Philosophical Materialism specifically acknowledges that the immaterial exists (in the FIRST SENTENCE of the Wikipedia Materialism page—does anyone do research anymore?). However, Materialism also states that the immaterial ONLY exists as a result of material interactions. So, all these concepts being thrown around all exist as a result of the material interactions within the human brain.

          2. Is this mod SERIOUS? First, he asks for a simple yes/no. Imagine a world where 100s of comments below an article all stated only "yes," or "no." That completely defeats the purpose of a comment section altogether, and diminishes the value of the website. I'm surprised this site allows a moderator promoting this type of situation. And he threatens to censor comments if they have "needless sarcasm"? SARCASM is a deletable offense!?! WTF? That boggles my mind. And, I would really like to know in what scenario is sarcasm actually NEEDED???

          • Michael Murray

            Brandon is the owner of the website.

            Just in case you end up joining the long list of atheists banned from here many of the others are feasting and carousing over at

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

          • Will

            I've found it pointless to attempt to correct their errors about philosophies such as physicalism. They are not interested in the truth (even though no one has the capital T truth, of course), only sales. This motive is the only thing that explains the behavior.

      • 42Oolon

        I would say the best answer to this is that there is no good reason to believe that anything other than matter and energy exist.

        • "I would say the best answer to this is that there is no good reason to believe that anything other than matter and energy exist."

          Joe presented several good reasons above. I think the dead cow is particularly powerful. Would you agree that some immaterial life-force differentiates a live cow from one who just died a couple seconds ago?

          • BenS

            Would you agree that some immaterial life-force differentiates a live cow from one who just died a couple seconds ago?

            No. If a running engine stops, we don't presume that it's now lacking some immaterial 'engine force'.

          • Rationalist1

            Shades of vitalism perhaps?

          • BenS

            BenS, but a running engine and a non-running engine *are* materially different--one has material fuel (i.e. it's life-force), and the other doesn't

            So when you turn your car off, all the fuel vanishes and comes back when you turn it on again?

            Similarly, for cows (and humans) the animating life-force distinguishes a live being from a dead one.

            We don't distinguish living and dead creatures by determining if they have an 'animating life-force' at all. Where are these 'life-force' detectors that hospitals presumably have? What are they measuring and how?

            And before I start jumping through hoops answering those odd questions, let's put the burden back where it belongs, shall we?

            If you claim the existence of an 'animating principle' then define it and demonstrate it.

            ---

            Edit: Clearly intended for Brandon. Disqus apparently thought R1 was more attractive, though.

          • BenS, but a running engine and a non-running engine *are* materially different--one has material fuel (i.e. it's life-force), and the other doesn't. Similarly, for cows (and humans) the animating life-force distinguishes a live being from a dead one. What we're arguing is that this animating principle is immaterial. If you think the animating principle is not immaterial, then please explain:

            1. What is is?
            2. What materials make it up?

          • primenumbers

            So if there's no blood flow pumping chemical fuel to cells....

          • Andrew G.

            Brandon:

            This diagram shows a selection of some of the more important known materials and processes that make up "life".

            "Life" is not one single "animating principle", but a vast collection of tiny engines, each with its own fuel and interacting in complex ways with other engines.

          • The Other Weirdo

            I dare you to look at that chart after half a case of beer.

          • 42Oolon

            The animating principle, like all principles are concepts. They are made up of brain activity, nothing more. If you want to argue that concepts are immaterial, please do, but identifying concepts and saying they are evidence of immaterial existence is not going to work.

          • Max Driffill

            I simply cannot believe you are still entertaining this antiquated notion.
            Life is characterized by a number of physiological processes that keep a body active (metabolizing, respirating, breaking down waste etc). When to many of these systems fail a living thing can no longer maintain its body and it returns to equilibrium with the environment.
            There is no animating life force, but biological systems maintaining a living system away from equilibrium with the environment.
            Hospitals don't keep people alive by imprisoning a life force, they do it by keeping physiological processes from halting.

            You can only entertain this life force hypothesis by being completely ignorant of biology.

          • 42Oolon

            See my other post. No there are a multitude of physical objective material differences between living and dead things. No evidence of anything immaterial.

          • The measure of "death" has changed over time. Now, you are only dead when attempts to revive you are stopped. "Dead" has come to mean "We can't get him/her restarted."

          • BenS

            And the advent of cryonics redefines this, for some, so that dead means "We can't get them restarted... yet.".

          • Rationalist1

            No, the theory of Vitalism is dead, so to speak.

          • epeeist

            No, the theory of Vitalism is dead, so to speak.

            Dead since the time of Wöhler.

          • Andrew G.

            Would you agree that some immaterial life-force differentiates a live cow from one who just died a couple seconds ago?

            Of course not. Vitalism is as dead as Aquinas, not to mention that death is not an instantaneous event but rather a progressive failure of material processes.

            The cow was alive because its (material) body was carrying out thousands or millions of physical and chemical processes. The dead cow is no longer carrying out many of these processes (and instead is participating in others).

          • Fascinating. So something was coordinating this amazingly complex series of physical/chemical processes.

            Then something stopped coordinating this amazingly complex series of physical/chemical processes.

            And you conclude that this is somehow evidence that nothing was coordinating this amazingly complex series of physical/chemical processes.

            I would predict a dead end lies down that path.

          • Sample1

            Darwinian Medicine can be used to explain why human beings are left susceptible to disease and antagonistic pleiotropy is a leading, perhaps the leading, explanation for how senescence can be naturally selected for.

            So there you have it. You're welcome!

            Mike

          • josh

            "I would predict a dead end lies down that path."
            That prediction has been falsified to the extent that it is falsifiable. Mechanistic (non-vitalistic) science has produced more progress than any other picture in human history, by uncounted orders of magnitude.

          • Quite to the contrary.

            There is not a single great discoverer in biology- just as there is not a single great discoverer in physics- who understood science to be "mechanistic" in the sense that it disallowed non-material hypotheses.

            Not Kepler. He used frankly metaphysical Platonic conceptions to derive the laws of planetary motion. He believed that science consisted in us thinking God's thoughts after Him.

            Not Galileo.

            Not Newton.

            Not Einstein.

            Not Planck.

            This "mechanistic", materialist/reductionist notion of science is a newbie on the block, and it is a dead end.

          • "The cow was alive because its (material) body was carrying out thousands or millions of physical and chemical processes. The dead cow is no longer carrying out many of these processes (and instead is participating in others)."

            I'm not sure you understood Joe's or my point. We're referring to the animating life-force that *allows* those processes to occur. Of course we agree that a dead cow no longer has the physical and electro-chemical processes necessary for life--that is, after all, what we mean by dead.

            But what "life-force"--or animating spirit, or whatever you want to call it--sustain those processes in a live cow but, through its absence, prevent them in a dead cow?

            In other words, what ultimately *causes* those processes to occur?

          • Andrew G.

            Nothing needs to "allow" the processes to occur; they are ordinary chemical reactions, they occur by themselves, and they sustain each other, while resources last.

            What "causes" them to occur is, ultimately, the gradual development of self-reproducing and self-sustaining processes 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, which everything now alive is descended from.

          • Rationalist1

            "In other words, what ultimately *causes* those processes to occur?" The same mechanisms that cause those prepossesses to start, chemistry and physics.

          • epeeist

            The same mechanisms that cause those prepossesses to start, chemistry and physics.

            There is only physics, everything else is stamp collecting ;)

          • Rationalist1

            Epeeist - As a person who replaced the sign on my university's Chemistry Society's door with an sign that said "Stamp Collecting Society" I concur heartily.

          • josh

            And I might add, the same mechanisms that cause the cow to die and to stay dead and to rot. This is like watching a ball roll slowly down a slight decline, then quickly down a steep decline, then coasting along another relatively flat section. Vitalism is declaring that the the 'animating spirit' that kept the ball on the high plateau must have vanished.

          • robtish

            Sometimes it's a good jolt of voltage to the heart.

          • Sometimes it's a good jolt of voltage to the heart.

            Worked for my dad.

          • alexander stanislaw

            I've heard this argument before and it baffles me. Do you think that a universe described by physical laws in incapable of resulting in life? Ergo, if I were to simulate a cow according to the laws of physics, it would act differently than a living cow because it lacks life force?

          • Max Driffill

            To really really really over simplify the story of life. Its really just about keeping most of the body well supplied with O2 for most vertebrates and plants, and keeping them fed. If that happens, then ATP will be produced in large quantities, and there will be raw material for mitosis and other cellular processes. ATP is the fuel that runs cellular processes for the most part and big organisms need a lot of it if they are not sessile. If O2 is getting to the cells of big multicellular organism (and CO2 is being taken away), then ATP is being made, cell processes are working and the organ systems which are comprised of these cells will keep functioning. When this stops the organism is dead.

          • Sample1

            whatever you want to call it

            I want to call the life-force one of the Emperor's older pieces of clothing.

            Mike

          • Vincent Herzog

            I think everybody here is at least a little closer to each other's position than they realize. I think Aquinas shows this in the Summa Theologica Question 75, article 3 (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1075.htm#article3). If I understand Aquinas's thinking and Church teaching on this matter (wink), the material soul of the animal is merely a function of the material organism. That might make us tempted to say, on the detractors' behalf, that the dissipation of any "life" of the cow follows as a consequence, rather than precedes as a cause, some change in the body. On the flip side, the soul is the form of the body (i.e., makes the body what it is, a body--here a cow body), and in this case it is cow-functioning that makes it a living cow's body a cow's body. If Joe, Brandon, et al., are right about distinguishing the form from the matter, then we cannot put the destruction of the form causally after the change in the body. But, likewise, we cannot put the formal change before the change in the cow body. They are the same event of change, spoken of either with reference to the form or with reference to the whole! Rather, the extinguishing of the cow's material soul is the breaking down of the cow's body. I think.

            My preferred entrance into the immaterial is our freedom. Even those who deny freedom when making theoretical claims approach each and every choice exactly as if they have it, and they cannot help it. We have freedom and we know it, even if we cannot explain it. Why can we not explain it? Because it is a function of the immaterial soul. No physical system, no matter how complex, can provide for freedom, because it will be subject to causal laws. Sure, it may be that those causal laws are not entirely deterministic, but that doesn't grant freedom, but only chance. However, the experience of freedom does not all all consist in being surprised by our choices, as if we were utterly passive with respect to them, as if they happened to us. No, we all know freedom, and it is impossible to account for with only the material.

          • ... (and instead is participating in others).

            Party time, for the bacteria (and phage).

          • Ben

            Once again: I would be really gratified if you could give us a sense of what you think when you see that the general reaction to an article is that it is full of bad arguments and does not show what it is supposed to. Because I find it frustrating to see you responding that the article is full of good reasons to believe in immaterial things existing when you know your audience disagrees, and in this case finds the arguments presented laughably bad. So what effect do disagreeing comments have on you? What do you think is going on in our heads that pointing to this article is helpful at this point?

          • epeeist

            Once again: I would be really gratified if you could give us a sense of what you think when you see that the general reaction to an article is that it is full of bad arguments and does not show what it is supposed to.

            You're not seeing a pattern here are you? Is your comment directed just towards this article, or could you make the same point about a plethora of recent articles?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I would also like an answer from Brandon on this point. The recent run of articles (particularly the one equivocating on the meaning of 'faith') have been particularly poor - badly reasoned, generally insulting, and unlikely to produce any of the rational discourse which Brandon claims to desire.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Well, something differentiates a living cow from a dead one, but absent widespread reports of disembodied mooing, I think we can safely conclude that whatever that life force is, it can't exist outside a physical bovine structure.

          • epeeist

            Well, something differentiates a living cow from a dead one

            The real question is whether an article can die, and if so how can you tell.

          • Would you agree that some immaterial life-force differentiates a live cow from one who just died a couple seconds ago?

            No. Would you agree that the running-force has left my car when I turn it off? How about when embryos are frozen in IVF clinics? I personally know three teen-age persons (triplets) who were once frozen solid as embryos. Where (or how) did the inanimate material they once were get its "life-force"?

          • Sample1

            I personally know three teen-age persons (triplets) who were once frozen solid as embryos

            Extremophiles, eh?

            Please tell me you call them the Tardigrade Triplets. :)
            Mike

          • Guest

            So does that mean embryos when just fertilised don't have a life-force?

      • BenS

        I'll not answer for R1, but my answer is yes - if you consider concepts to be immaterial. Of course, concepts can't do anything, they can't affect anything at all. If you're happy with your god being lumped in this category, so am I.

        Of course, this is playing fast and loose with the word 'exists' and I fully expect the rather predictable bait and switch whereby the acknowledgment that concepts exists allows for an immaterial god that can cause global floods. Let me say now that I would consider such practice thoroughly dishonest.

      • Sid_Collins

        ". . . .does the immaterial exist?"

        If one answers "No" that is like asserting that one can prove God doesn't exist. Which I don't believe can be proven. Total lack of evidence for the existence of the immaterial cannot count, by definition, as evidence of the non-existence of the immaterial. Is there an immaterial dragon in your garage? I don't believe there is, but how would I go about proving that there isn't?

      • primenumbers

        First tell us what the immaterial actually is. All you've told us is what it's not....

        • First tell us what the immaterial actually is.

          Really? I thought I've been pretty clear. The immaterial is simply anything that's *not* material, anything that is *not* tangible. If it is capable of being seen, touched, heard, tasted, or physically felt, it is material. If it is not capable of all those things, then it is immaterial.

          Is that clear enough?

          • primenumbers

            It's a clear but negative definition.

            " If it is not capable of all those things, then it is immaterial." - so x-rays are immaterial by your definition as we cannot see, touch hear taste or feel them?

          • But you might notice, after a while, that they have killed you.

          • Neutrinos might be a good example.

          • Rationalist1

            But neutrinos interact, just very, very infrequently.

          • Yes, I know. But Brandon said,

            If it is capable of being seen, touched, heard, tasted, or physically felt, it is material. If it is not capable of all those things, then it is immaterial.

            I believe a high-intensity x-ray beam would certainly be felt. Whereas the human senses, unaided, could never detect neutrinos.

            Wolfgang Pauli (who predicted the neutrino) has just died . . . in the biography of Dirac I am currently reading. Dirac and Pauli could not stand each other, and Dirac's conjectures about magnetic monopoles inspired what the author tells us was one of Pauli's more polite nicknames for Dirac—Monopoleon.

          • Rationalist1

            But one must not limit to the material realm only those items that are senses can interact with. We must include items our scientific instruments can interact with (viruses, distant stars, etc.).

          • Mikegalanx

            In the spirit of Rationalist1's comment about Chemistry=stamp collecting (that is, the arrogance of physicists), when Pauli's wife ran away with one of his colleagues, he was devastated:
            "Had she taken a bullfighter, I would have understand - but a chemist?!?"

          • primenumbers

            Unless you live deep underground in Sudbury.

          • Jonathan West

            If it's not material, how would you ever find out whether it exists or not?

          • Rationalist1

            I think the problem is with the word finding. As a general rule people I find that people who posit the existence of immaterial objects are less concerned with finding out if the objects exists and more preoccupied with reason out that their immaterial objects exist.

          • But this is ridiculous.

            Einstein did not "find" spacetime.

            He hypothesized it.

            It doesn't exist materially.

            It exists solely as a mental object.

            The mental object is useful on certain scales.

            It falls apart completely on others.

          • Jonathan West

            Are you suggesting that the universe did not operate according to principles of relatively before the concept formed in Einstein's mind?

          • Rationalist1

            Jonathan - I've argued with Rick before on similar topics and it's fruitless to attempt to reason. As a rule now I just ignore everything he says.

          • Jonathan West

            Jonathan - I've argued with Rick before on similar topics and it's fruitless to attempt to reason.

            I agree with him. I'm not expecting to make the slightest difference, but I'm amusing myself by inviting him to choose between keeping silent or speaking, and thereby allowing or removing doubt as to his reasoning capabilities.

          • I enjoy engaging our atheist friends, in order to bring to light certain difficulties in their habits of thought.

            Some of them don't like it, so they make me the topic of conversation, instead of the difficulties in their habits of thought.

            It is indeed amusing :-)

          • epeeist

            I'm amusing myself by inviting him to choose between keeping silent or speaking, and thereby allowing or removing doubt as to his reasoning capabilities.

            Ah yes, the Hávamál

            For the unwise man 'tis best to be mute
            when he come amid the crowd,
            for none is aware of his lack of wit
            if he wastes not too many words;
            for he who lacks wit shall never learn
            though his words flow ne'er so fast.

          • epeeist

            Are you suggesting that the universe did not operate according to principles of relatively before the concept formed in Einstein's mind?

            Almost like the idea that Rameses II could not have died of tuberculosis since Koch did not discover the bacillus until late in the 19th century.

            Very post-modernist.

          • Obviously, the universe does not, did not, and will not operate according to the principles of relativity, as has been known since Max Planck experimentally derived the quantum of action.

          • One way would be to notice that everything material begins to exist.

            Think it through sometime.

          • Jonathan West

            But does it? Does a proton begin to exist or was it transformed into a proton from something else? In the context of material things as Aquinas understood them (he being unaware of atoms, and even more unaware of subatomic particles and quanta of energy), I suggest that "begin to exist" is a misnomer. Material things are transformed from one form to another, and it is these temporary arrangements of matter in different forms which Aquinas mistakenly took to mean "beginning to exist"

          • 42Oolon

            Have you ever observed anything "beginning to exist" rather that being assembled from pre-existing matter and energy?

          • Rationalist1

            I've observed things beginning to exist in my radioactivity experiments. One moment there's no gamma ray, then there is.

          • 42Oolon

            But are not gamma rays electromagnetic radiation resulting from things like radioactive decay, by relatively well-understood material mechanisms? You are not suggesting that this energy did not exist in some form prior to it being emitted as gamma rays?

          • Rationalist1

            But the gamma ray didn't exist prior to the radioactive decay and the decay occured randomly in a radioactive isotope.

          • 42Oolon

            The question is did the gamma ray come about by changing things that already existed, like a table coming into existence or did it come into existence from nothing material.

          • Vickie

            Brandon,
            I think that the problem is the totally different viewpoints on what constitutes material. You and I say "tangable" or can it be detected with the senses. They will ask, for example "can it be indicated in a real way by observing an affect on the material world?, can it be modeled? can it be measured in some way? If so, then there is a material element, or indication, this, therefore makes it material in nature.

          • epeeist

            The immaterial is simply anything that's *not* material, anything that is *not* tangible. If it is capable of being seen, touched, heard, tasted, or physically felt, it is material.

            So are "causes" material or non-material?

          • "So are "causes" material or non-material?"

            This is a false dichotomy. They can be either.

          • alysdexia

            Causes must be material.

            Forms are material. "Circularity" exists as a form of brain cells. You feel it every time you think of it.

            Not to say that the soul isn't material, when it is, or mortal, when it is.

            Not to say that gosts and reincarnation don't exist, when they do. However only the privileged survive or witness them coherently, and past memories persist mostly when one is a toddler and then fade by teenage years by which I conject is due to mýelinization which insulates the brain and reduces the dipole moments of off-band signals.

            Kepler was wrong about the Platonic solids. Newton was wrong about alkemy and infinite celerity. Einstein said a lot of things.

            I actually wrote a disproof of the three kinds of gods under natural laws; one of the theorems owes to Newton's law: https://www.quora.com/How-do-antitheists-justify-their-belief-that-there-is-no-God/answer/Autymn-Castleton.

      • kat

        simply replying yes or no does not do justice to such a complicated issue

  • primenumbers

    "It is the arrangement of those molecules that determines whether the substance will be methoxyethane, propanol, or rubbing alcohol." - exactly - the arrangement is different. That arrangement is physical, in space, and hence totally materialistic.

    "We can observe forms in nature, and cannot account for them in purely material ways." - yet the author gives an example of how they can be accounted for in purely material ways.....

    • Rationalist1

      And interesting, I assume the entities the author would purport to have a non material existence, God, angels, mind, soul, he would probably argue have no formal shape. I thank Science I am not making arguments like this.

    • "I thank Science I am not making arguments like this."

      "This argument is as dead at that cow he mentions."

      Rationalist, your concluding zingers are unnecessary and do nothing to help your argument. They only 1) distract from your other points and 2) persuade people that you're not worth engaging.

      • robtish

        Brandon, do only the atheists get chastised for zingers and sarcasm?

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          From empirical observation - yes.

          From abstract logic - perhaps not. Someone will be along shortly to prove this, I don't doubt.

          • epeeist

            Someone will be along shortly to prove this, I don't doubt.

            To prove it, or to punt it off to Aquinas?

        • Max Driffill

          Boom!

        • No, we try to fairly moderate the site. In fact, we've deleted more Catholic comments than atheist comments (despite about 80% of all comments coming from atheist), and have banned an equal number of each.

          If you have a specific grievance, please let me know. Just email me at contact@strangenotions.com. Thanks!

          • robtish

            It's not that I have a grievance with other commenters. I don't think Rick Delano should be banned for calling amother commenter stupid (as he has on this thread) or for criticizing people beyond what they've said in a particular comment (which he does frequently).

            Rather, it's that you don't call him out for such things when you do call out R1 for much lesser things.

            Admittedly, though, I don't know what comments you've deleted, so I can see it's possible that I don't know the extent of your moderation of both sides.

          • Rick DeLano has had scores...perhaps half a hundred...comments deleted.

            Nice to know I'm close enough to the target that I seem to be catching a lot of flak :-)

          • robtish

            Actually, people are more likely to catch flak for shooting far, far wide of the target. In the end, though, ever comment speaks for itself.

          • "Actually, people are more likely to catch flak for shooting far, far wide of the target."

            >> Remind me never to hire you to direct my air defenses, rob ;-)

    • "Yet the author gives an example of how they can be accounted for in purely material ways"

      I must have missed that section. How is the abstract idea of "phases" a physical concept? The idea seems to extend beyond the material for two entities (i.e. water and ice) can contain precisely the same material but be different. Therefore some immaterial category must distinguish them.

      • 42Oolon

        Add heat energy to ice and it becomes water because the energy makes the molecules move more quickly and separate causing physical changes to the H20. The water stays material, the energy stays material, the physical and chemical changes are physical, material, observable. There is nothing immaterial going on here.

      • Rationalist1

        Better than that. Every element is composed of the same material, protons, neutrons and electrons. Yet every element is different. Why? The arrangement of constituents.

        • Well now that's not quite true, is it?

          Four per cent of the universe is composed of such baryonic matter.

          Ninety six per cent is composed of something else entirely.

          Another possibility is that the materialist physics which has arrived at this remarkably non-materialist dead end is drastically wrong.

          • Ben

            Rationalist1 is talking about *elements*, which are baryonic matter by definition.

            Dark matter and dark energy presumably aren't made up of elements (since some kind of baryonic dark matter explanation like MACHOs seems to have been ruled out).

            Your comment would only make sense if Rationalist1 had said "all matter is composed of protons, neutrons and electrons".

            Also, the fact that we don't know what dark matter and dark energy are doesn't make their existence "non-materialist". They're still matter and energy. If it turns out that dark matter is actually accumulated cow souls, you might have a point.

          • The dead end of a physics which must invent 96% of the matter/energy in the universe out of thin air in order to get its equations to work, and spends fifty years failing to find any, while simultaneously objecting to metaphysics............

            Makes my point.

          • Ben

            Well, it's certainly unknown what dark matter and energy are, but how is introducing metaphysics going to explain what they are? Is dark matter made up of discarded souls?

            I know some physicists have considered modified theories of how gravity works to try to account for dark matter/energy, so it's not like physics is dogmatically committed to one set of equations.

            And how does going back to geocentrism help? Since it breaks down as soon as you look at Mars's orbit, surely it's much worse than the current physics theories. Is geocentrism more "metaphysical"?

          • "Well, it's certainly unknown what dark matter and energy are"

            >> No. It is known perfectly what they are. What they *are*, are fudge factors invented and introduced into equations, to bridge the otherwise insuperable ghaps between theory and observation.

            That is, exactly, what they *are*.

            "but how is introducing metaphysics going to explain what they are?"

            >> Because of metaphysics, I am able to tell you what they *are*, which thing you did not, apparently, know before I told you.

            "Is dark matter made up of discarded souls?"

            >> You really need help in metaphysics, Ben. I suggest Aquinas for starters.

            "I know some physicists have considered modified theories of how gravity works to try to account for dark matter/energy, so it's not like physics is dogmatically committed to one set of equations."

            >> There are dissidents in physics. The number is growing rapidly, now that the manifest failures of consensus cosmology have reached a stage where the fudge factors are multiplying at alarming rates.

            But they don't get the funding that the mainstream gets.

            It's a human enterprise, just like used car sales or politics.

            "And how does going back to geocentrism help?"

            >> If the universe is geocentric- and it certainly appears from the latest observations that it *is*, then that assists us in more rapidly casting off the false assumption to the contrary known as the Copernican Principle.

            This purges our physics of an incorrect metaphysical assumption.

            This in turn allows physics to progress.

            "Since it breaks down as soon as you look at Mars's orbit,"

            >> False.

            " surely it's much worse than the current physics theories. Is geocentrism more "metaphysical"?"

            >>Cosmology depends upon its metaphysical assumptions. The present assumption, the Copernican Principle, has been observationally falsified.

            A contrary assumption- that Earth is in fact in a special position, and that we are privileged observers of the cosmos- will necessitate new physics.

            That's just how it works, when one has correctly nunderstood the relationship between physics and metaphysics in the hierarchy of knowledge.

          • josh

            "A contrary assumption- that Earth is in fact in a special position, and
            that we are privileged observers of the cosmos- will necessitate new
            physics."

            To paraphrase: 'Physics is dead because it has to introduce new physics to account for newly available observations, which happens to give a very consistent picture. What we really need is new physics, which I can't make a consistent picture of at all.'

          • I think there is a term for taking someone's words and rewriting them to better suit one's agenda.

            "Straw man", right?

            Nice straw man there, josh.

          • josh

            The term is 'shorter'. It's quite popular on the internets. It's not a strawman.

          • alysdexia

            The univers is no more gèòcentric than hèliocentric or galacsiacentric. That is, the WMAP survey shows no dipole which means observers here aren't in motion with respect to the CMB; the finite mass, time, and room of the univers means that other observers must see a dipole and thus aren't at the centre.

            However relativity isn't affected.

            Special relativity is a corollary of finite celerity and the Doppler effect. You can see the same effects for sound waves. Moreover the Doppler effect along with Terrell rotation predict that waves are smaller in front and greater in back.

            Like flat earthers relativity deniers cannot tell between velocity, which is relative, and acceleration, which is absolute. The latter takes work. Foucault's pendulum and flywheels or gýroscopes prove the motion of earth. The earth's day sped down and up by microseconds after the Banda Aceh and Japan earthquakes.

      • AshleyWB

        Brandon, why don't you try reading people's responses a bit more carefully? 42Oolon answered your question quite precisely:

        "Phase changes are physical changes in matter due to the amount of energy present. Energy is part of the observable material world."

        The amount of energy present and the density of that energy distinguishes between phases of matters. That is a very well-understood material concept.

        A deficit of basic science knowledge and a refusal to engage honestly with modern science has plagued this site since its inception, and this article represents a new nadir.

      • Andrew G.

        Phases are not an "abstract idea"; first-order phase changes such as those between solids and liquids, or liquids and gases, have measurable and precise energy content. (Second-order phase changes have more subtle physical consequences, but they do have them.)

      • primenumbers

        An abstract idea is physical in your brain as the arrangement, structure, chemicals and energy.

  • 42Oolon

    Isomers are different in a material way, they have different physical structures and therefore behave differently.

    Phase changes are physical changes in matter due to the amount of energy present. Energy is part of the observable material world.

    The surface of something is a concept about an observable physical shape.Concepts, I would argue, do exist materially in the brain activity.

    Different shapes are simply different arrangements of matter, I do not see how this entails that there is non-material existence.

    A dead cow is materially different than a living cow and there are objectively observable chemical and mechanical differences. Again we come back to the concept of one being "alive" which is a label we use for this difference. The alleged "non-material" difference is a material difference in the cows and conceptually in our minds.

    The author has identified a number of physical material phenomena that I suppose seem mysterious to him, but he has not identified anything immaterial.

    The best argument for non-material existence, hinted at here, is that our concepts of things are not material, that things like ideas and processes may be represented by matter and energy (typed words, images, brain activity) but have some level of existence that is more than these material representations. There is a lot of speculation about this, dating back to Plato, but I have never encountered any evidence for it.

    • "The best argument for non-material existence, hinted at here, is that our concepts of things are not material, that things like ideas and processes may be represented by matter and energy (typed words, images, brain activity) but have some level of existence that is more than these material representations"

      As far as I can tell, this was Joe's precise argument. For example, the abstract concept of isomers is not one that can be reduced solely to matter and energy (for the matter and energy are identical in these compounds, and thus indistinguishable.) It's an immaterial concept.

      • Rationalist1

        But one can describe the precise shape of an isomer, describe the physical change in constituent arrangement that occurs at a phase change, etc. These are not an immaterial concept the same way as an angel is or the soul is. He should a real immaterial concept rather than these somewhat contrived ones.

      • 42Oolon

        No, Brandon, a brief glance to the Wikipedia article linked by Joe shows that the difference between isomers if physical. The atoms making up the compound are arranged differently. This is entirely physical material difference. Isomers are not at entirely materially indistinguishable. This would be like saying two paintings with the same size canvas, volume and colour of paint, are materially indistinguishable. That would be silly.

        Joe should go ahead and make his argument for Platonism, but framing as if phase changes and the existence of shapes is evidence of something immaterial existing is, frankly, absurd.

        • 42Oolon (by the way, what's your real name?), thanks for the comment.

          "The atoms making up the compound are arranged differently."

          I agree, but this leads to an important question: is the structure of certain material, or its spatial arrangement, a material quality? I don't think so.

          Two compounds may contain the same matter and the same energy, but we agree they are distinct. Which makes me confused when you say, "there is no good reason to believe that anything other than matter and energy exist". If matter and energy are all that exist, and yet we agree that isomers can be distinguished by structure (structure not being a component of matter or energy but a specific arrangement, or "form", of matter), then it seems there *does* exist some immaterial concept beyond matter and energy.

          • Rationalist1

            "is the structure of certain material, or its spatial arrangement, a material quality?" Are you trying to distinguish material cause from formal cause and that is the basis of this perplexing argument.

          • 42Oolon

            You say "there *does* exist some immaterial concept" . I agree that there is a different concept here, but not that that the concept is immaterial. But there are more than conceptual differences at play, there is are obvious physical, material differences between isomers that completely explain the differences in their properties.

          • 42Oolon

            I don't use my real name because I am concerned about discrimination for my atheist views. If you like, you can call me Jim. But this might get confusing when replying to my posts.

          • ... then it seems there *does* exist some immaterial concept beyond matter and energy.

            Well, the god Thor does exist in mythology, even though most people, today, don't think He exists in reality. Fictional characters are not material objects, so one would think they qualify as "immaterial." Now, how much equivocating around with the words "exists" and "immaterial" do you think it would take for you to believe that Thor is real?

          • Max Driffill

            Thor is such an unfair example. Because who doesn't see the appeal of Norse mythology?

          • BenS

            I know! I thought, yes!, Sto-vo-kor sounds great!

            Then I remembered that was Klingon mythology.

            Well, whatever. You say 'potato', I cleave your skull in half with an axe.

            More bloodwine!

          • josh

            I seem to recall that in Klingon mythology, the Klingons had gods, until the Klingons killed them. :)

          • BenS

            That's my favourite part. :)

          • Octavo

            I used this line of argument before with a friend, and was surprised by the response that Thor and other gods do exist as vile demons.

          • Max Driffill

            Blasphemy!

      • primenumbers

        "It's an immaterial concept." - but it's not - it's the physical arrangement of matter and energy in space and time and thus falls entirely in the realm of materialism.

      • Sample1

        Are you implying that words have an existence prior to air contacting the larynx?
        Mike

      • epeeist

        For example, the abstract concept of isomers is not one that can be reduced solely to matter and energy (for the matter and energy are identical in these compounds, and thus indistinguishable.)

        Except that they aren't. If you take the two forms of propanol then there will be different potential barriers to internal rotation, which you can see by spectroscopy at microwave frequencies. There will also be different vibrational modes which you can see using infra-red spectroscopy.

        To use your phrasing, if the energies in the two molecules was identical then one would expect they would have the same boiling point, but propan-1-ol boils at 98 degrees while propan-2-ol boils at 80 degrees. Indicative of different intra-molecular forces.

      • The concept is on the map, not in the territory.

  • Ben

    Hahahaha, this is amazing stuff. So isomers have different properties because of some mysterious, immaterial form? That's funny, because in chemistry I learned that the differences between isomers are due to having different chemical bonds, which are arrangements of electrons, and therefore material things.

    And wooden objects can come in different shapes and sizes because of the different arrangements and numbers of whatever molecules make up wood. I can assure you that we materialists have methods to detect the difference between a wooden block and a wooden sphere, using purely the trappings of this humdrum material plane. I've seen even seen atheist children using a Godless apparatus containing appropriately shaped holes to sort them. The blocks fit through a square hole, and the spheres fit through a round hole. I guess you could say that perhaps it is only the immaterial souls of the children which power this arrogant device, but then I could imagine a modified device sorting wooden shapes automatically. How, then, can there be no material difference between them?

    Once again, it seems like you've found someone who literally just woke up from suspended animation from before the atomic theory of matter was discovered, and is struggling to catch up.

    According to Catholic Answers, it seems like it's Catholic doctrine that only humans have *immaterial* souls, so I'm concerned that Joe's assertion that cows have immaterial souls makes him a heretic. I hope for the sake of his immortal soul he will confess his heresy as soon as possible.

    I don't think this is a project to engage atheists and Catholics in productive dialogue. I think you're masterfully, subtly trolling us. Well played, sir, well played.

    • Rationalist1

      ANd Joe Heschmeyer is a former lawyer, now a seminarian and if ordained will be teaching this to a new generation of Catholics. I wonder if they'll find it as baffling as we do.

      • Rationalist, consider this a final warning. We don't need the sarcasm, nor the ad hominem attacks. Cut it out or comment elsewhere.

        • robtish

          The selective enforcement of commenting guidelines continues.

        • Jonathan West

          Are you going to apply the same warning to Rick DeLano?

          I am a Atheist. Hath

          not an Atheist eyes? hath not a Atheist hands, organs,
          dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
          the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
          to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
          warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
          a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
          if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
          us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
          revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
          resemble you in that. If a Atheist wrong a Christian,
          what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
          wrong a Atheist, what should his sufferance be by
          Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
          teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
          will better the instruction.

          (Merchant of Venice Act 3 Scene 1, with minor emendations)

          • Loreen Lee

            PORTIA: The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
            It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
            although it is immaterial, and we thus question its existence.
            It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
            'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
            The atheist and theist better than his arguments.
            All prejudice shows the force of temporal power,
            The attribute of debate without purpose.
            Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of readers,
            But knowledge is above this rhetorical sway;
            It is enthroned in the learning of good judgment
            It is an attribute to God and universe;
            And earthly power doth then show likest Unity
            When taste seasons dialogue. Therefore, commentators,
            Though victory be thy plea, consider this,
            That, in the course of debate, none of us
            Should see agreement.: we do pray for mercy;
            And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
            The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
            To mitigate any possible violence,In any further argument.
            Which if thou follow, this strict court of Strange Notions
            Must needs give deletion 'gainst the comments here..

          • I love that character.

        • Rationalist1

          Can you explain how this is ad hominem? It's his argument I find baffling, not him.

          • 42Oolon

            It would be better if Brandon were able to treat all sarcastic remarks equally, but I think his point is well-taken. He is trying to raise the level of discourse and that is a good thing.

            He has designed this website as a place for Catholics and others to discuss and debate these kinds of topics civilly.

            I think he is perfectly entitled to caution us to keep sarcasm out of our comments. This site has generally kept the debate quite civil and often interesting. I think we should not be sarcastic and accept the criticism even if his cautions and bans are unequally applied.

            Lets put our best feet forward as Atheists and show Catholics just how civil, clear and reasonable we can be. If they respond with sarcasm and ad hominem, they will look the worse for it, and we might point this out.

            If you want to be sarcastic there are plenty of fora for that. the alt.atheism in google groups, PZ Myers' Thunderdome spring to mind.

          • Rationalist1

            I will remain chastised again. I will try to follow your advice but I would not point out if atheists are more civil or reasonable commentators than theists as it could get you blocked.

          • 42Oolon

            We might also point out when the articles themselves are sarcastic and insulting to atheists.

          • Rationalist1

            I think we have to accept that. At one level I don't mind insulting to atheists articles, but if it gets too bad I just refuse to comment.

        • staircaseghost

          How do you sleep at night?

    • "According to Catholic Answers, it seems like it's Catholic doctrine that only humans have *immaterial* souls, so I'm concerned that Joe's assertion that cows have immaterial souls makes him a heretic."

      >> Ben not even CA is stupid enough to have botched this as badly as you have.

      *Rational* souls.

      You really need to tighten your game up here Ben.

      • Ben

        Here's my source: http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/do-animals-have-souls-like-human-beings

        "Animals and plants can't do anything which transcends the limitations of matter...

        Animal and vegetable souls are dependent entirely on matter for their operation and being. They cease to exist at death. (There's no "doggie heaven.")

        Human souls, by contrast, aren't material. They're spiritual. Only a spirit can know and love, a spirit's two chief faculties being the intellect (which knows) and the will (which loves). We know human souls are spiritual since humans can know and love."

        • epeeist

          Animal and vegetable souls are dependent entirely on matter for their operation and being. They cease to exist at death. (There's no "doggie heaven.")

          Haven't we had this one before? And wasn't it pointed out that some animals at least exhibit self-awareness, can make simple tools and can use them without training to solve tasks, show other forms of simple reasoning, exhibit empathy and reciprocal altruism. In other words the idea of Aristotle's that other animals besides ourselves are somehow automata is falsified by the evidence.

          • Ben

            Oh yeah, because I was just trying clarify Joe's heresy, I only quoted the parts relevant to whether their souls are material. The page also claims that "Animals and plants also lack a moral sense", although experimentally they have shown that monkeys and dogs can understand fairness.

            But don't forget, Catholic doctrine is 100% compatible with science!

          • I have met plenty of people who "lack a moral sense."

          • What is confirmed by all evidence, is that animals can not generate hypotheses.

            Therefore they can neither write fugues, nor develop Theories of Everything.

        • Well, I have to admit, CA is more than even usually dumb on this one.

          But notice that CA does not descend quite all the way to your botch job, since CA doesn't say that animal souls *are* material, only that they are dependent entirely on matter.

          But this is so botched I can't blame you.

          The actual issue is subsistence, and it is addressed by Aquinas here:

          "The ancient philosophers made no distinction between sense and intellect, and referred both a corporeal principle, as has been said (1). Plato, however, drew a distinction between intellect and sense; yet he referred both to an incorporeal principle, maintaining that sensing, just as understanding, belongs to the soul as such. From this it follows that even the souls of brute animals are subsistent. But Aristotle held that of the operations of the soul, understanding alone is performed without a corporeal organ. On the other hand, sensation and the consequent operations of the sensitive soul are evidently accompanied with change in the body; thus in the act of vision, the pupil of the eye is affected by a reflection of color: and so with the other senses. Hence it is clear that the sensitive soul has no "per se" operation of its own, and that every operation of the sensitive soul belongs to the composite. Wherefore we conclude that as the souls of brute animals have no "per se" operations they are not subsistent. For the operation of anything follows the mode of its being.

          • Ben

            But some animals are capable of "understanding", not just sensing. So do those animals have proper souls? Does a cow have enough understanding to have an immaterial soul?

          • All souls are immaterial.

            Cows do not understand, as Aristotle uses the term.

            They do not hypothesize.

            Only beings with rational, and hence non-subsistent, and hence immortal, souls can do that.

          • 42Oolon

            I agree all souls are immaterial. They are concepts imagined by people.

            I disagree that only humans can be rational. Computers are quite capable of reason, are you saying they have souls?

          • The Other Weirdo

            Computers are in no way capable of reason. They are electronic devices that execute instructions which have been thought out in the minutest(you hope) detail by a human programmer. They are not capable of reason or understanding. That they appear capable of reason is merely an artifact of their ability to compare numbers to each other very quickly.

          • epeeist

            They are electronic devices that execute instructions which have been thought out in the minutest(you hope) detail by a human programmer.

            And yet it would seem that computers can learn and produce better code than humans, in fact producing algorithms that humans cannot understand.

          • The Other Weirdo

            Your proof is one lone paragraph on Slashdot by an anonymous poster and some links? Maybe it works, in this one instance, for reasons no one apparently understands, which makes me question the whole thing. And all it basically says is, we have a program that accidentally deals with numbers faster than we could if we wrote it by hand. Who wrote that program?

          • epeeist

            Your proof is one lone paragraph on Slashdot by an anonymous poster and some links?

            It is one example, you might want to have a search for genetic algorithms, neural nets and machine learning. Here is a list of applications for just the former.

            And all it basically says is, we have a program that accidentally deals with numbers faster than we could if we wrote it by hand.

            Computers don't really work with numbers, but rather with bit strings.

          • "This paper asks whether the design of distributed congestion-control algorithms for heterogeneous and dynamic networks can be done by

            *specifying the assumptions that such algorithms are entitled to have*

            Humans do that.

            *and the policy they ought to achieve*

            Humans do that.

            *and letting computers work out the details of the per-endpoint mechanisms*

            >> Machines do that, by generating an algorithm "that tries to maximize the total expected value of the objective function,"

            Very cool.

            Very interesting.

            Nothing that an abacus couldn't do given enough time.

            In other words, just algorithms.

            As good as the assumptions which they are "entitled to have".

            As here:

            "As we will see later, however, this substantially
            better performance will not hold when the design assumptions of a RemyCC are contradicted at runtime."

            Interesting link, even though it does nothing to prove what you claim:

            "computers can learn and produce better code than humans, in fact producing algorithms that humans cannot understand."

          • 42Oolon

            You may question the source of the rationality, but it was big blue, not the programmer that beat the chess grandmaster. What you are saying is like saying that no humans reason because it was God that created capacity to reason.

          • The Other Weirdo

            I am saying nothing of the sort because humans are in no way comparing to computers and I don't think you understand how computer chess works. Hint: it doesn't play chess the way a human does, it doesn't reason.

          • 42Oolon

            My understanding is that when you program a computer, you are programming logic. When the computer runs these programs, it is applying this logic, which is what I call reasoning. My understanding of how humans play chess, specifically grand-masters, they are using a mix of conscious reasoning but also intuition. Indeed, decades ago, a computer winning against the top grand-master was put forward as something that would demonstrate artificial intelligence. I am NOT saying this is evidence of AI or a consciousness, though I am neither ruling this out. I AM saying that these devices are using reason. I'll let you have the last word, but I think this discussion has gone off the rails from the content of the article.

          • Andrew G.

            Computer chess is unfortunately a bad example, because the search space for chess moves turns out to be small enough that brute-force methods work (once hardware becomes powerful enough).

          • The Other Weirdo

            One doesn't program computers; one writes program that are executed inside said computer. When you are writing a program, you are laying out instructions, not logic except in the most abstract sense, such as "business logic". Each instruction selected by the programmer naturally flows from the previous instruction selected by the programmer.

            When the computer is executing those instructions, it is not apply reasoning, nor logic. It is simply reading each instruction and executing it. It may seem like the computer is making a decision, but in reality it is merely altering the flow of execution based on programmer-defined conditions. All the logic and reason belongs to the programmer, not the computer.

          • josh

            Weirdo, your brain is executing a set of instructions. By the same reasoning we would have to say that you are not reasoning. But in fact, if there is such a thing as reasoning that can arrive at correct answers, then it seems it has to be deterministic, i.e. following a set of instructions. (Otherwise we couldn't even in principle be guaranteed of arriving at a correct answer.)

          • The Other Weirdo

            But computers aren't reasoning devices. They are not searching for a solution. To them, the solution is a foregone conclusion, based on their programming provided by humans. They are merely executing pre-determined instructions on a data set and their responses are limited to the responses programmed into them. Thus the S0C7 abend on the mainframe. S0C7 means character data has been encountered where numeric data was expected and programming code has not been supplied by the programmer to handle such an eventuality. The computer can't just reason its way out of this box; only a human can, which is why the human should have provided instructions to the computer on how to handle that eventuality.

            Please define what a correct answer is. To what question? With the exception of religion, every single question has had a succession of improved answers over the years, answers that improve on answers of the past. Newton comes up with the theory of gravity. Then Einstein provides a better explanation with his theory of general relativity.

            Put 5 million people with the same experience in a room and present them with the same problem. Chances are that you are not going to see 5 million identical solutions. Religions, engineering, cooking, each one is as different across the world as there are people. Biology may be the same the world-over, but doctors who practice medicine have different approaches to it. Programming trying to solve the same problem in the same language are not necessarily going to create the same code. Tell these 5 million humans to write a short story that includes sexuality, religion and mystery, and they are not going to produce the same text.

          • josh

            "That they appear capable of reason is merely an artifact of their ability to compare numbers to each other very quickly." I might say the same of you, give or take some math errors. Also, note that we can develop computers whose internal workings are not put in in detail at all by humans.

          • The Other Weirdo

            First, who is this we? Second, how do you know that we can develop such computers?

          • Ben

            What if it's a bright cow? Or a chimpanzee? Or a human-chimpanzee hybrid?

        • alysdexia

          Humans are animals. Animal by definition is a being with a soul (animus).

          Spirit is material, whether it means breath or booze. It was a Vulgate mistranslation of pneýma which in Latin is vis and English wit; pneýma itself was the reflex or counterpart of ŕuax which means wind and should be understanden as a female god (actually the mother and wife of the heavenly father). This animative material, as it's still material, was supplanted in medieval times by humors and in modern times by hormones and neurotransmitters. Hormone itself is cognate with serum.

    • I sometimes wonder where the soul of my computer goes when I shut it down. Same for my car. It must go somewhere as each becomes an inanimate object, i.e. "just stuff."

    • Ben, please cut the sarcasm. It's unnecessary, unfruitful, and violates the intended tone of our site. If you find the articles on the site so repulsive, feel free to comment elsewhere. But if you're interested only in sarcastic rants, we'll remove your future comments.

      I'd like to respond to two specific claims in your comment:

      "I can assure you that we materialists have methods to detect the difference between a wooden block and a wooden sphere"

      Perhaps you do, but I'd be interested in learning how since, of course, "methods" are immaterial. What material explanation do you have for differentiating a wooden cube from a wooden sphere?

      "[I]t seems like it's Catholic doctrine that only humans have *immaterial* souls"

      This is not true and I'm not sure why you believe it. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, taught that animals have souls. Those souls are (obviously) immaterial but not immortal. Maybe that's where your confusion lies.

      • Octavo

        While you're at it, will you remove Rick DeLano's sarcastic comments?

  • AshleyWB

    I really cannot find the words to express how horrible this article is. For anyone versed in basic physical science, it is obviously completely false. My mouth was quite literally wide open in shock as I read it.

    As others have stated, isomers have different physical structures, which is clearly a material difference. Phase changes are due to changes in the amount of energy, an observable material object. Concepts like surface exist materially in the brain. Dead cows are vastly materially different than living cows, chemically and mechanically.

    The key problem with this article is its abandonment of the powerful, model-building tools of modern science and rationality in favor of vague and useless concepts such as Aristotle's causes.

    • Rationalist1

      I think the four causes of Aristotelian metaphysics (material, formal, efficient and final) need to be discarded just like we've discarded Aristotle's five elements (earth, water, air, fire and aether)

      • BenS

        I considered them junk the first time I came across them. I think we can acknowledge our debt to the great thinkers of the past without having to cling to every useless concept they came up with.

        • I think the demonstrated absurdities of the something from nothing materialists indicates that the great thinkers of the past have much to teach the New Barbarians.

        • ... acknowledge our debt to the great thinkers of the past ...

          The lives of my ancestors were absolutely necessary to me being here, but that does not mean that my life must (or even should) be the same as theirs.

    • "Dead cows are vastly materially different than living cows, chemically and mechanically"

      >> Thanks for this.

      So what is the vast physical and mechanical difference between a live and a dead cow?

      Since there isn't one, you will of course appreciate that the difference between a live and a dead cow cannot be explained by the physical and mechanical properties of the cow.....

      One reason why materialist reductionism is a complete dead end.

      • Sid_Collins

        ". . . the difference between a live and a dead cow cannot be explained by the physical and mechanical properties of the cow....."

        We are discovering that humans (and other organisms) ". . . are best viewed as walking 'superorganisms,' highly complex conglomerations of human cells, bacteria, fungi and viruses."

        http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/news/2004/10/65252

        An individual bacterium can be isolated and it can be determined if it is alive or dead. Does it require an immaterial difference to account for this difference in state? Is each living cell in an organism's biome sustained individually by an immaterial, animating principal? Why would a bacterium differ from a cow in this respect?

        So is there an additional, executive, immaterial animating principal that sustains the overall superorganism of co-operating cells? Can all the individual cells, including cow cells and non-cow cells, that make up the superorganism we call a "cow," be dead, but the "cow" remains alive? If not, why not? (I think I have just proposed the existence of zombie cows. Yikes!)

        I cannot see how postulating this immaterial difference between living and dead cells and organisms adds anything to our understanding of biology or life processes

        • "I cannot see how postulating this immaterial difference between living and dead cells and organisms adds anything to our understanding of biology or life processes"

          >> LOL!~ Hereby gets my nomination for The Most Hilarious Comment Ever Posted on SN!

          Life and death are irrelevant to our understanding, you see.

          Just outmoded old metaphysical concepts.

          The reductionist enterprise is a dead end in physics *and* in biology.

  • epeeist

    You know if the writer had read this article first then he might have better fist of his article.

    On second thoughts, he might not even have written it.

    • "But the question what ontology actually to adopt still stands open, and the obvious counsel is tolerance and an experimental spirit. Let us by all
      means see how much of the physicalistic conceptual scheme can be reduced to a phenomenalistic one; still, physics also naturally demands pursuing, irreducible in toto though it be. Let us see how, or to what degree, natural science may be rendered independent of platonistic mathematics; but let us also pursue mathematics and delve into its platonistic
      foundations."

      Two things.

      1. Great summation

      2. The acorn does turn out to fall pretty far from the tree, in this case.

  • Octavo

    The point isn't really that the material is all that exists. It's more that non-material minds have not been demonstrated to be logically possible.

    • Octavo - Not extant is one thing; but not even logically possible? This is a very bold assertion. 2+2=5 is not logically possible. But the existence of my mind and yours? How are you so sure?

      • Rationalist1

        Matthew , 10 + 6 = 4 is logically possible and we all do it every day.

        • "10 + 6 = 4 is logically possible and we all do it every day."

          Alright, I'll take the bait. How is this logically possible?

          • 10 am plus 6= 4 pm.

            As if that were relevant.

          • Jonathan West

            modulo 12 arithmetic I should think.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            I love Number Theory.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • Rationalist1

            Clock time. 6 hours from 10 is 4.

        • epeeist

          Alright, I'll take the bait. How is this logically possible?

          Dedekind-Peano axioms and some second order logic. The proof is left as an exercise for the reader...

        • alysdexia
      • Octavo

        I'm simply asserting that I've never seen someone demonstrate the logical possibility of minds that are not contingent on matter.

        • What, for you, constitutes a demonstration of a logical possibility? Do you really find the thought of the immaterial mind completely inconceivable based on the arguments and evidence presented, like a square circle? I couldn't even put God's non-existence in that category.

          • Octavo

            Yes, I think a "mind that is not contingent on matter" (or quantum fields to use more accurate and modern terminology) is like a married bachelor or a square circle or an immaterial molecule.

          • Mind is material if you are a materialist but is immaterial if you are not. But both metaphysical views of mind are logical possibilities according to their metaphysics (i.e., not contradictions like "immaterial material"), even if you find the former more plausible. I can argue for the implausibility of materialism (or pantheism, or panpsychism, or any ism) given the available facts without daring to call it a logical impossibility; I'm simply asking you give the same courtesy.

          • Octavo

            Since in the Thomist narrative, minds are asserted (against all the findings of neuroscience) to be immaterial, I suppose there is no point in arguing that it is logically impossible.

            It does seem like a better idea to instead discuss whether there is any evidence for the the existence of immaterial minds.

            To that end, what do you think minds are made of? Are there any moving parts? How do they interact with the brain? Are you aware of any minds that are completely free of any matter?

          • Thanks - and I agree! I'm glad we can get off the ground here. As an advocate for p=~p one hesitates to defend oneself.

            See my article "What Is the Soul?" here at SN for a more complete picture of why I think materialism fails to explain man. But I'll try to give snapshot answers to your questions.

            First, we are conscious - we have qualia, subjective experiences. Second, we have reason and the seemingly endless (and constant) capacity for abstraction and language (underpinning economics, art, literature, religion, and the whole gamut of human activity). Third, we recognize objective value, a real goodness and badness of certain behaviors and outcomes (e.g., you might argue for the badness of religious belief). Lastly we have freedom of the will, and the ability to love, i.e., will the good of another person. All of these, consciousness, cognition, value, and will, cannot be reduced to constituent material parts and evolutionary emergence on the pain of denying them, explaining them away, or watching helplessly as they self destruct. Rather than twist the evidence to match the model, we should look for a better model.

            As to whether that soul is immortal and not just immaterial, I look to the evidence for God's existence (see 20 Arguments for God's Existence here), evidence of God's relating to and speaking to his creation, and to the vast amount of literature on NDEs.

            How does the soul relate to the body? Are there souls free of matter? Those are different and heavy questions - first things first. It seems clear to me, given the evidence, that the simplest explanation that explains the largest chunk of reality while making the fewest needless assumptions is that the human being is not reducible to material causes and effects, but is, in fact, an embodied spirit.

          • It seems clear to me, given the evidence, that the simplest explanation that explains the largest chunk of reality while making the fewest needless assumptions is that the human being is not reducible to material causes and effects, but is, in fact, an embodied spirit.

            It seems clear to me, given the evidence, that the simplest explanation that explains the largest chunk of reality while making the fewest needless assumptions is that the human being is reducible to material causes and effects, without need of an imaginary embodied spirit.

            That the things you mention have yet to be explained by natural processes is not justification for the imaginary. We can take the whole consciousness debate to the thread under your "soul" article, if you wish, but in any case you can't argue for something based on what you don't know, even if you claim that no one knows. That is arguing from ignorance. It used to be argued that fire had to have a "fire spirit" because its mechanism was unknown. Heat was thought to be substance because its mechanism was unknown. Life was thought to require a life-force because its mechanism was unknown. Epilepsy was thought to be demonic possession or divine revelation because its mechanism was unknown.

            What we do know is that we evolved from ancestors with fewer brain modules and processing layers (go far enough back, and there were no brains, at all). The same is true of the development stages you went through to grow your brain. At a far enough time back, your ancestors did not display the cognitive features you mention, and at an early enough development stage, either did you. These capabilities come about gradually, and do not display a discontinuity with the natural world around us. Our capabilities demonstrate our capabilities, not evidence for the supernatural.

          • Rationalist1

            And especially now with neuroscience explaining more and more of how the human mind works. And with research on brains damaged by disease or injury we can see how when certain parts of the brain are not working many higher order functions, that we've associated with the human condition, cease to operate.

            And the ancestor issue would raise the question that going far enough back would either see a gradual change in human brain function (the materialist view) or I assume an abrupt change when ensoulment of the human race or a human couple or whatever occured.

          • ... or I assume an abrupt change when ensoulment of the human race or a human couple or whatever occured.

            Which is not seen in the anthropological evidence. (Although I have heard of kids who think their parents are without "soul.")

          • Rationalist1

            And parents who say their children (especially teenagers) are without brains. :->

          • ... it's that development thing.

          • Rationalist1

            Parents or teenagers? :->

          • in any case you can't argue for something based on what you don't know, even if you claim that no one knows. That is arguing from ignorance.

            On the contrary, I'm not arguing for the immaterial soul based on what I don't know, but based on what I do know. I know that I am conscious and have subjective experiences, that I can reason and make true statements, that I can perceive real goodness and badness in charity and theft respectively, and that I freely choose to love my wife.

            If neo-Darwinian materialism is true, conscious experience cannot be conscious experience, my beliefs about the world are based on survival and not truth, logic and value are mind-dependent, will is a fiction, and love is in the glands, not the heart. This is quite the dance, and whatever we end with is not man, and certainly not me, or you. Faulkner said it beautifully:

            I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure...I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

          • If neo-Darwinian materialism is true, conscious experience cannot be conscious experience, ...

            "Cannot be" or just you don't know how it can be. That is what I mean by arguing from what you don't know.

          • Cannot be. The most notable rejection comes from physicalists like Dennett, Searle, and Churchland, who argue that there is no hard problem of consciousness because there really is no consciousness. It amounts to a denial of what I know most certainly to be the case, i.e., that I have conscious experiences of the world around me and that those experiences are not material but mental.

            And besides consciousness is just one piece of the picture to be explained. There sit cognition, value, and will, hanging in the balance as well.

          • Max Driffill

            I"m sorry but you are at least mischaracterizing Dennett when you say that.

          • Matthew, it still sounds to me that you are saying "I can't understand how my experiences can be the results of natural processes," but you are not giving any argument for that as objectively being true. We will all grant you how it feels, but what are you going to use to show that it is true?

          • Subjectivity is what objectivity is not! How can I give you objective proof of my subjective experience? Can we put the sum of your experiences as a man under the microscope, into the MRI, on the dissecting table? I would never find and know experiences that way. Instead, you need to disclose them to me.

            The great pitfall of scientism (from "scire," to know) is that it leaves consciousness/conscience (from "conscire," to know with, to be mutually aware) out of the picture.

          • Subjectivity is what objectivity is not! How can I give you objective proof of my subjective experience?

            I am not asking for that. It will, likely, be a long time before we have at third person description of first person subjectivity. However, you are using "cannot be" in terms of establishing a "gap" in natural processes that you then fill with the supernatural, without the benefit of rational justification. Perhaps you are the special case, and your subjectivity is supernatural. The problem is that you can't produce evidence for that in either your own case, or in the cases of any other living beings. Did you have these same subjective experiences when you were 6 months old? If you are like the rest of us, your capabilities for subjective experiences increased as your brain developed the machinery to produce them, and if you get Alzheimer's, they will fade away as that machinery is destroyed. How are you going to support the assertion that your subjectivity "cannot be" the result of natural processes?

            Got evidence?

          • It will, likely, be a long time before we have at third person description of first person subjectivity.

            Sam Harris and I agree on one thing - that you're incorrect about that, in principle.

            I believe that no description of unconscious complexity will fully account for [consciousness]. It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work, an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness.

            I hope I'm not seeking to fill a gap with the supernatural! I find that kind of thinking deplorable. We can set aside God and the eternal soul entirely, if those implications are what bother you. I'm not dogmatically saying, "we don't know how it happens, but God must do it somehow" (this seems to be what you're saying, in fact - only, invoking the magic of material complexity rather than God). Instead, I'm seeking the metaphysical framework that best explains the world as we both know it.

            Naturalists like yourself have sought to give a natural explanation for consciousness. But as Nagel rightly points out, "here begins a series of failures." Conceptual behaviorism, identity theory, functionalism - "all such strategies are unsatisfactory for the same old reason: even with the brain added to the picture, they clearly leave out something essential, without which there would be no mind." In short, they all end with, "voila, consciousness!" - not an explanation that gets us from brain/behavior to mind/experience, but a kind of smoke-and-mirrors approach to dissolving the problem.

            Now it's worth repeating (as I do a lot on SN, sorry if I'm like a broken record) that this is not simply a theist front. Rigorous atheist thinkers (Nagel, Chalmers, Tooley, Penrose, Harris, etc.,) are increasingly adopting panpsychism, property dualism, and other non-materialist metaphysics, precisely because they refuse to let a feature of our world as systematic and familiar as consciousness stagnate as a brute fact, but are rightly convinced that materialism does not in principle give us the tools to explain it. Even the great Hitch spoke of the numinous, the transcendent, that which is not entirely consistent with or even beyond with the material. This should all serve as a clue, and I hope vindicate me from suspicion of being a disingenuous or sneaky believer.

            Still, even I'm not personally content as a philosopher to jump from consciousness away from materialism. We need to look at the whole picture of the world and human experience, and materialism fails on multiple fronts.
            The subjectivist conceptions of value that metaphysical naturalism tends toward, for example, are to me every bit as problematic as consciousness. It seems clear that our moral responses reflect something true in itself (goodness of charity, badness of child torture) and are correct or incorrect in reference to that truth. Rather than toss out moral realism (which no one really can do - we all cry foul when injustice is done to our own little life), I think we need to consider whether metaphysical naturalism is just not cutting it as a world picture - again, in light of that whole picture.

          • alysdexia

            sci = skill; gnosce = know.

          • Max Driffill

            Matthew,

            If neo-Darwinian materialism is true, conscious experience cannot be conscious experience,
            Why not? Even if conscious experience is a product of interacting modules in our brain, and the product of natural selection, why should that damage its power, or importance?

            my beliefs about the world are based on survival and not truth,
            I'm sorry but again that doesn't follow. If brains (and the minds they create) are evolved systems this doesn't say much, necessarily about why you believe a red sunset is the product of sunlight refracting through an atmosphere.

            logic and value are mind-dependent,
            It seems like whether or not a thing is logical is proposition dependent, and value dictated by a host of factors. Gold is only valuable because people think it is pretty and it is relatively rare on our planet. Different things are valued for different reasons so this generalization you are trying to make seems like a bit of a stretch.

            will is a fiction,
            Free will probably is a bit of a fiction, but that doesn't mean that humans are not open to new possibilities based on new or better information.

            and love is in the glands, not the heart.
            Again true. But so what. Love is a process that occurs and is mediated by the nervous and other systems. Why is this a problem?

            This is quite the dance, and whatever we end with is not man, and certainly not me, or you. Faulkner said it beautifully:

            This of course is untrue and doesn't make sense. We are humans whether our consciousness arises from our biology or whether it is something else.

          • Free will probably is a bit of a fiction

            I don't think you believe that, because if that's true how could you believe anything at all, including that? Isn't it fundamentally incoherent to assert the end of assertion? In fact I begin to find it difficult to understand why we would hold anyone as responsible for their actions in a court of law at all. There are some frightening discussions being had about the implications of this for the criminal justice system:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o__HW4v4MrU

            Faranhay (an advisor to Obama on bioethics, incidentally) suggests that even if we are not free, we could continue to treat each other as if we are. But why, how? We wouldn't lock up or punish an animal for playing out a set of causal operations according to its nature. There is no rape, murder, or theft in the animal kingdom - just reproduction and survival. Why should we punish or judge a human being if, finally, the human being has no agency at all?

          • Max Driffill

            Matt,
            You will probably have to define what you mean by free will in future discussions with doubters of it. Sadly I won't be around to continue discussing it with you. Blame that on Brandon and his oddly enforced commenting policies.

            I will leave you with a question, and two book suggestions.
            Do you choose what you believe?
            There is the question,
            Freedom Evolves by Dan Dennett and Free Will by Sam Harris.

            I'm out.

          • Max Driffill

            It would be nice to like this twice.

          • Octavo

            I'll be more interested in dualistic accounts of consciousness when a scientist manages to isolate matterless minds or spirits - kind of like Sid does in the old Final Fantasy film.

            Meanwhile, the things you say cannot be reduced to physical processes continue to be reduced to physical processes by neuroscientists. It's an ongoing process of discovery. Right now, we have uncovered quite a bit about how the brain generates cognition, stores memories, plans, and emotes. Pretending that isn't the case involves a denial of science on the level of young earth creationism.

          • And I'll be more interested in materialist accounts of consciousness when a scientist manages to offer a material account of it! But they can't, in principle. Sam Harris and I agree on one thing at least:

            Consciousness—the sheer fact that this universe is illuminated by sentience—is precisely what unconsciousness is not. And I believe that no description of unconscious complexity will fully account for it. It seems to me that just as “something” and “nothing,” however juxtaposed, can do no explanatory work, an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness.

            (PS - See my "What Is the Soul?" article for important distinctions between the Cartesian dualist notion of soul and the Aristotelian-Thomistic notion of soul.)

          • Jonathan West

            Yes, but don't take the non sequitur followed b y many religious people and say that consciousness is unexplained (and might be unexplainable) - therefore God did it.

            Just accept that "I don't know how it works" is not a synonym for "God makes it work". Far too many religious people cannot tolerate the idea of not knowing, and so define answers (and usually call them God) instead of waiting for the answer to be discovered.

          • alysdexia

            Do our senses vary? That is, do two persons see a shade of green or hear a word differently? (They do, and one is more wrong than another.) So qualia depend on matter.

          • Matthew, I have to give Octavo the edge on that because the jump of attributing mind, which we only see as an activity of a physical neurosystem, to an imagined being without substance is like assuming that ghosts can run without legs. It is a conceptual leap that is beyond any experience or evidence to justify.

          • Matthew, I have to give Octavo the edge . . . . It is a conceptual leap that is beyond any experience or evidence to justify.

            It seems to me you can only say your sympathies lie with Octavo and not with Matthew, because in claiming an immaterial being is a logical contradiction, Octavo is simply flat-out wrong.

            A conceptual leap is quite different from a logical impossibility. If it could be demonstrated that the God of philosophers must be an immaterial being, and that an immaterial being is a logical contradiction, then the existence of God could be definitively disproved. I believe it is universally admitted by the atheists here that it is impossible to prove there is no God. But if God is an immaterial being, and an immaterial being is, logically, on a par with a square circle or a married bachelor, then there is a successful proof that God can't exist, and we can all stop arguing.

          • ... then there is a successful proof that God can't exist, and we can all stop arguing.

            Pretty much. It's back to the definition of "immaterial." We have come to know more and more about the properties of material as science has gone on, and we have also come to know more and more about the control systems of beings from single cells all the way up to beings to whom we attribute "thought." What we have found is that information can't be processed without material substrate interaction and dissipation of energy. So the kind of immaterial being that the theology of Aquinas brings us is not consistent with the meaning of words like "being" and "exists" and "immaterial" as we know them today.

            Of course, it is not going to stop the debate because theists will retrench so that they now define their deity as some kind of substance that is "not of this world" or other magic so that the rules for beings we see around us will not be a defeater. Just insert "magical" for "immaterial" and see how it goes. Argue on.

          • will retrench so that they now define their deity as some kind of substance that is "not of this world"

            But that is not a matter of "retrenching." Of course theists define God as "not of this world." What you say reminds me of the grade school nuns' story about the communist surgeon who says, "I've performed thousands of operations, and I have never seen a soul." It seems to me you really have to do better than that! For those who believe that God created the universe, it is hardly convincing to say, "We know all about beings, and they have to be material."

            Octavo's assertion was that an immaterial mind was a logical contradiction, like a square circle or a married bachelor. But saying there can't be an immaterial mind is begging the question. Why can't there be an immaterial mind? Because minds are material. How do we know minds are material? Because there can't be an immaterial mind.

            I believe you—and if not you, others—have said you don't believe God doesn't exist, or at least you don't believe it can be proven God doesn't exist. But you basically seem to be saying you "pretty much" can prove God doesn't exist.

            Argue on.

            What exactly would the point be? The theists believe they have proved the existence of God, and you feel you have proved he can't exist. Why continue to argue?

          • "We know all about beings, and they have to be material."

            It's not that, David. It's that we have a definition of "minds" that comes from the examples of the beings we have examined. It conflicts with not having the physical machinery to run it. That does not prove that deities necessarily don't exist, it just derails the simplistic move of putting together the words "immaterial" and "mind" as if that has actual meaning. What we are narrowing to is getting the theists to admit that they are talking "magic," and that they don't know how it works (or even could work). We can't disprove magic or stop people from engaging in magical thinking, but we can stop pretending that they are making any sense in the process.

          • Octavo

            One person came up with such a proof and called it the argument from the impossibility of embodied cognition.
            An overview is here: http://philosotroll.com/2012/03/15/argument-from-the-impossibility-of-god-from-embodied-cognition.aspx, the substance variant is here: http://philosotroll.com/2012/07/18/the-substance-version-of-the-igec-argument.aspx, and the consciousness variant is here: http://philosotroll.com/2012/04/16/the-consciousness-version-of-the-igec-argument.aspx.

  • Sample1

    What is Trinity saying here?

    Leviticus 17:11
    For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.

    Mike

  • I am a little confused. Clearly there are ideas, concepts, and abstractions. They "exist" in some sense of the word. The concept of the circle exists, although if there were no minds to grasp the concept, then it would make no sense to say the concept existed. So the "immaterial" exists in that sense. But it seems to me that, in a very real sense, its existence depends on the existence of minds. The game of Chess certainly exists in some sense, and it exists as an immaterial "thing," but it certainly did not exist before human beings invented it.

    But what this has to do with the assertion that immaterial beings exist I cannot fathom. One can say a soul exists if soul is defined as some kind of essence or defining principle. It makes some sense to say that a giraffe soul exists if a giraffe soul is "the collection of abstractions that makes a giraffe a giraffe and not a horse." Giraffes are giraffes because they possess "giraffeness." But giraffe souls do not exist apart from sentient beings formulating the concept of a giraffe soul.

    So ideas, concepts, and abstractions exist, but they are dependent for their existence on minds. If there were no minds, there would be no concept of a circle, although there would be things that could be described as circular if minds developed to arrive at the abstraction circle. It does not seem to me that this kind of existence of abstractions lends any support to the existence of immaterial souls or immaterial beings, such as God or angels.

    • The game of Chess certainly exists in some sense, and it exists as an immaterial "thing," but it certainly did not exist before human beings invented it.

      Depends on your definition of "thing." I know people are sloppy and say "immaterial thing" although it is an oxymoron. A chess set is a collection of things, but the game of Chess is not. If all the people in the world suddenly vanished, all the chess sets would still be here, but would the game of Chess?

      • Sample1

        Perhaps. Take genes. Information doesn't need humans to be around for it to exist. Chess could be written as a pdf, or to disc, etc., before the humans vanished. Interesting question, or at least I think it is.

        Mike

        • The marks on the paper would exist, but is that the "information"?

          • Sample1

            My understanding is yes. Information can exist as AGTP, smoke signals or as bytes on a compact disc yet all those formats may represent exactly the same thing.
            Information can be a squirrely subject but in this case, I think I've got the gist correct about the chess scenario.
            Mike

          • Can information exist without context?

          • Sample1

            If I understand what you mean by context, then I'm going to, (from my armchair) say it seems so; yes if information might exist without context. Context is a human model, I would argue, and it's a meaningful model, an important model, for humans to have.

            But what about non-locality? Does the universe need context? I'm saying no but still, I am not aware of another way to describe spooky action at a distance without saying an information exchange is involved in the phenomenon.

            I strongly suspect you are cocking the metaphorical hammer to your musket. So fire away. :)

            Mike

          • I strongly suspect you are cocking the metaphorical hammer to your musket. So fire away. :)

            No, I am not going to be doing any "shooting." Information is a big subject with many books full of ideas to sort out. It is easy to confuse because people use somewhat different definitions in physics v. communication v. data processing. My old teacher Gregory Bateson used to say that information was the difference that made a difference, and that context was the difference that made information make a difference.

            Spooky action at a distance is small change next to Leonard Susskind's ideas of all reality as information projected on a holographic surface.

          • Sample1

            I had never heard your question about information without context before so thanks for that. I have only investigated information in a "semi-serious" way through an evolutionary lens such as how important it is not to confuse matter with information. Genes versus the information they transport, etc.

            Non locality was the first thing that I thought of when trying to figure out a reply and I think it conveys a point worth wrangling about. But yes, Susskind's ideas are remarkable too and here is where my naivete is going to show: I don't see it as more remarkable than non-locality. Should I?

            Mike

          • Sample1

            Well, after getting some potatoes, pickles and cheese into my belly, now I don't like my non-locality point. It's just another model. And as an aside, solipsism seems so precariously close to these kinds of subjects. Yuck.

            I thought I could envision ways to respond affirmatively or negatively to your question about context, but I keep coming back to what's useful (context). I guess I don't know if it's necessary. Do you have a book on this subject you like?

            Thanks also for the link to Gregory Bateson, how fortunate for you to have been able to experience a mind like that. What a great quote about information/difference/context.

            Mike

      • Depends on your definition of "thing."

        Which is, of course, why I put "thing' in quotes.

        If all the people in the world suddenly vanished, all the chess sets would still be here, but would the game of Chess?

        As long as the rules of Chess continued to exist in books and and other records, and there was a possibility that another intelligence came along figured out what Chess was, then I suppose it would exist.

        If all the humans on earth die, and 10,000 years from now an alien race comes and decodes the English language and the rules of Chess, I don't think it would make sense to say that English and Chess existed once, ceased to exist, and then existed once again when the aliens figured it out.

        However, English and Chess certainly didn't exist before there were humans, and if all traces of the game and the language are destroyed, then it won't exist.

        Concepts and abstractions exist, it seems to me, in some sense of the word exist. But why acknowledging that would be a step toward acknowledging the existence of angels or God is in no way obvious. If God or angels exist, they certainly would have to exist as something more than concepts or abstractions. The concepts of God and angels exist, but the concept of Hobbits exists as well.

        I note there is an article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Abstract Objects, but of course if you find a really good philosophical treatment of any of the kinds of controversies we discuss here, reading it often leaves you knowing less than you thought you did before. I have not read the entry, but typically with a question like "Does the Immaterial Exist?" a third of philosophers say "yes," a third say "no," and the remaining third point out all kinds of problems with the question itself that raise doubts that it is at all clear whether the question has any definite meaning and, if so, whether it can be answered. (Just kidding . . . sort of!)

        • Are abstract objects "things"?

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      D.

      "The concept of the circle exists, although if there were no minds to
      grasp the concept, then it would make no sense to say the concept existed"

      The reality is this, circles do not exist in our material world. Circles are but an idea (Ideal perhaps?). When a set of points in a two dimensional space are arranged in such a way as to follow certain rules and properties, and these rules and properties happen to be the ones who define the non physical idea of circle, then we call this a circle. However just because you can apply these properties to a set of points, they do not make "a circle". Why? because the idea of circle is dependent on Pi (3.1416) which is an irrational number which extends into infinity. So what we perceive with our senses as "circles" are just material approximations, never to be exactly the idea of circle.

      "So the "immaterial" exists in that sense. But it seems to me that, in a
      very real sense, its existence depends on the existence of minds."

      According to what I said above then the idea of circle does not depend on a mind, since circles are defined by a set of rules which exist independently of material reality. "Circle" is just part of the fabric of reality in dependent of the mind.

      Imagine we are standing in a distant corner of our universe and a see set of particles arranged in a way which their form follows the rules of "Circleness" we have discovered, since Pythagoras? These particles do not need a mind to behave in the way the idea of circles is supposed to behave, although they are not a "circle" because of what I mentioned above.

      "The game of Chess certainly exists in some sense, and it exists as an
      immaterial "thing," but it certainly did not exist before human beings
      invented it."

      You can apply the same treatment I gave to circles to the idea of Chess. Chess is just a set of rules, a game of chess is the application of these rules. When one of these rules is broken (i.e an invalid move) you do not have a game of chess anymore. So the idea is independent of the players, in a sence the players depend on the idea of chess (its set of rules) to be honestly called "Chess player". (Or a patzer :-)

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

      • robtish

        "According to what I said above then the idea of circle does not depend on a mind, since circles are defined by a set of rules which exist independently of material reality."

        No. If there is no material reality in which a true circle exists, and there is no mind conceiving of a true circle, then there is no reason to say there exist a set of rules defining a true circle.

        • Dcn Harbey Santiago

          No. If there is no material reality in which a true circle exists,

          and
          there is no mind conceiving of a true circle,

          When a mind conceives a circle is conceiving an idea which follows very specific rules. We call this set of specific rules "A circle". These rules exist in reality, they are part of what makes the universe work the way it does, they are not created by us but recognized and understood by us. In fact 65 million years ago a circle was a circle even when there was no human being around.

          "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
          DHS

          • Susan

            In fact 65 million years ago a circle was a circle even when there was no human being around.

            There were true circles 65 million years ago?

            Did they find fossils or something?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            S.

            As far as I know, the value of Pi has not changed since the early days of the Big Bang.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • alysdexia

            Circles did not exist until a mind made one, in the mind of course. See constructivism.

            http://www.answers.com/Q/Was_Jesus_Christ_mentioned_in_Roman_history
            http://nazarethmyth.info
            http://jesusneverexisted.com

          • The mind can not "make" a circle. The mind can discover a circle and realize that the ratio between its perimeter and radius is an irrational number, in fact the mind will give a name to this number: Pi. The mind can not "make" a number as this, since it is a number which tends to the infinite and the mind is finite. Circles and numbers as Pi exist in nature, they do not need a mind to "make them", only to discover then and define them.

            "Viva Crsto Rey!!"
            DHS

          • alysdexia

            There should be quotes on "Circles". Real circles are not discovered, only inferred after all measurements are exhausted as it takes infinite work and bodies to outline a circle. pi doesn't exist. There's always a cut-off for the power series.

            Now take off your silly motto.
            http://jesusneverexisted.com
            http://nazarethmyth.info
            https://www.quora.com/Did-Jesus-God-think-the-world-was-flat/answer/Autymn-Castleton

          • Real circles are defined by an equation, the equation describes the circle it does not create it. The Circle was there before the equation was created.

            " pi doesn't exist" By this statement I can infer you very little mathematical training. Let me help you here. Pi in fact does exist, it is a number which defines a ratio of two other numbers, to say Pi does not exist is to say that these two numbers are also non existing either. A line or argument you do not want to defend any further (Trust me on this one!)

            Have a blessed Fathers Day!!
            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • alysdexia

            Equations don't define anything real, you Platonist cretin. They define abstract properties, of which real objects overlap with but not match. If circles and pi exist, you must prove they exist. It's one thing for 1 or 2 to exist, but transcendentals are composite relations between elements.

            Bledse yourself. You know nothing about the Scripture you allegedly believe in: Mt 23:9.

            Your fictional king sent himself to hellfire: Ps 14:1 > Mt 5:22 > Mt 23:17.

          • "Equations don't define anything real"

            Tell that to the engineers who designed the space shuttle.

            "you Platonist cretin"

            On that note, I think we have reached an impass.

            Have a blessed day.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • alysdexia

            Lockheed engineers who also crash landed a probe on Mars. Engineers work with finite precision.

            I'll /bledse/ you, autistic arsehole. bless, short for bledse, Englisc for "sprinkle blood on a pagan animal sacrifice".

      • According to what I said above then the idea of circle does not depend on a mind, since circles are defined by a set of rules which exist independently of material reality.

        If circles are defined by a set of set of rules, who is responsible for the definition? If there were no minds in the material world, where would the definition of circle come from? Where would it exist?

        You can apply the same treatment I gave to circles to the idea of Chess.

        But we know (from the source of all knowledge—Wikipedia) the precursors of Chess and the evolution of the modern version of Chess. If you treat Chess like the circle, are you claiming that Chess exists, and has always existed, independent of the material world? What about Texas Hold 'Em? Monopoly? Sudoku? I'm going to invent a game right here. I call it SynoNames®. Using the letters of my name, I begin with the first letter, and I give a word beginning with that letter. You must give a synonym for my word that begins with the first letter of your name. Then I must give a synonym for your word that begins with the second letter of my name, and so on. Did that exist independent of the material world before I typed it out? Or did I just create something from nothing? :-)

        Why? because the idea of circle is dependent on Pi (3.1416) which is an irrational number which extends into infinity.

        I don't agree. Why is it not just as accurate to say that a circle depends on its radius, which can be any length? The fact that the formula for the circumference of a circle uses an irrational number (pi) does not make a "material" circle any more impossible than a "material" right triangle with sides of 1 and 2, since the hypotenuse will be the square root of 5, which is just as irrational as pi.

        There is a difference between the abstract idea of circle and the abstract idea of Chess, it seems to me, in that "roundness" exists in nature. If you drop a stone in a pond, you will get waves that are concentric circles. But the game of chess is not abstracted from nature. It is an invention.

  • epeeist

    For example, there are three different compounds with the molecular formula C3H8O: methoxyethane (a colorless gas that is extremely flammable and reactive); propanol (a liquid solvent used in the pharmaceutical industry); and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

    And just to be pedantic, "propanol" and "isopropyl alcohol" would get you a fail in a chemistry exam here in the UK. It should be propan-1-ol and propan-2-ol. Why use the IUPAC name for methoxyethane but not for the other two compounds?

  • Loreen Lee

    An interesting distinction was made for me when I was studying Buddhism. I casually said that Nirvana was a state of 'nothingness', and I was immediately corrected, being assured that it was not 'nothingness' (the negativity is in the connotation) and was reminded that the correct word as 'emptiness'. It was explained to me that this is a state of utmost bliss, ultimate truth, etc. etc. I think of the Christian concepts of beatific vision, and the attainment of 'heavenly bliss' in this regard.

    I consequently had no difficulty reading the link on the discussion of nothingness as the definition of what 'is' immaterial. But I have mentioned before that I have no difficulty identifying God with 'no-thing' the parsing and origin of its conflation into the term 'nothing'. I have no 'problem' in thinking of God as 'nothing'. Note I have not used the word is, for the sake of avoiding the need to define what constitutes 'existence'.

    I am slowing developing a greater appreciation of the opportunity to express myself in these comment sections. By writing things out, I now have the certainty, that this process can clarify for oneself just where one 'stands' on particular matters of interest.

    I have learned that I appreciate Aristotle 'definition' of substance, etc. over Plato's for instance. That I prefer to think the 'universal' is found within the particular, rather than the Platonic method of going from the universal to the particular. I think of my sense of being at one with myself; as having the conscious ability to even attribute a possibility of 'universality' to the consciousness of an awareness of some kind of 'unity' within my being.

    But I am immediately at loggerheads, because this would put me in the atheist camp of arguing towards finding a physical unified theory, rather than basis all my 'rationalizations' on the 'premise' that the Platonic universal is the utmost consideration, and thus that I should assume, prove, have faith in God, and start from that point in arguments, etc. etc.

    The idea of formal causes has thus acquired 'new meaning' for me.
    Could they indeed be 'immaterial'. Or might I be tempted to go with the
    reductionists, like Dennet, et al, and accept that even consciousness,
    generally, is a mere illusion.It appears that in my attempt to
    'understand' modern science etc. that I remain on some sort of cusp
    between atheistic scientific 'rationalizations' and theist 'faith'.

    So I learn that possibly it is more difficult to have consistency in one's point of view than would appear from the arguments, or attempts at same, that one involves oneself in. So I need Socrates' 'Know thyself' even with respect to my 'epistemology'. I also suspect that it is an easier road, to accept the greater knowledge and erudition of such philosophers as Aristotle, rather than attempting to make the study on the basis of one's own 'life' experience. Thus, I will continue to read the arguments put forward in the comment section, hopefully reserving judgment until I have developed a greater capacity to make distinctions which I have thought through, not by rote, or by imitation, but through the examination of my own 'conscience', 'consciousness'.

    But Yes, no matter the prejudice in regard to 'being' a 'no' 'thing', I feel strong enough that I can be content with my own interpretation of the use of this word, without the pressure to be hopefully, offended or persuaded by the common consensus of what such definition would assume. Is it true that 'nothing comes from nothing'. Well yes, because I can also think of the 'no-thing' as an eternal, rather than a Dennett induced illusion/delusion, and therefore why cannot eternity come from eternity. I have had the thought that my ability to be conscious of both space and time (Kant's intuitions) give me at least a personal 'evidential' basis for have at least a supposition that I am somehow 'outside' of them; and has been more regularly put forward even within Catholic blogs, that I can experience degrees of fulfillment and eternity even within my own life experience. I have indeed travelled a road in the course of these years, in going from the 'experience' of feeling that I have no worth, being a 'no-thing' defined as having no value, to my general feeling of degrees of fulfillment I feel today. It is this connotation of worth, dignity, integrity , wholeness, that I can now associate with being a 'no-thing'. I can consequently identify the 'fruits' of this definition to even the possibility of becoming and being at one, with a 'no' -'thing'.

    • You are moving along nicely, Loreen, keep at it.

      • alysdexia

        fake

        also: nice < niais < nescius := not-skilled.

  • Thanks for the article Joe! But here's my constructive critique. I don't think the mere structure of matter in the natural world will strike anyone who doesn't already share a view of forms as a very compelling indicator of hylomorphism or something like it. Let's never forget, our milieu was shaped by successive waves of Nominalism, Cartesianism, Darwinism, and Positivism. All of these battles constitute a greater metaphysical war on teleology and the immaterial - and these precepts have been linked (unnecessarily) with the massive success of modern science. So our knee-jerk reaction is to cast off or laugh at any perceived threat to that program of "mastering and possessing nature" (to use Descartes' phrase).

    To my mind the great outlier in our reigning world picture is the historical emergence and ontological constitution of life, consciousness, cognition, and value, which all depend on their preceding terms, and which we all have privileged access to as human subjects. Unlike the organization or form of matter, we cannot do a dance of reduction there - there is no way around it. It's not a matter of course (we will explain these things eventually), but, as Nagel, Chalmers, Tooley, Penrose, Harris, and other leading atheist-philosophers point out, a matter of the immaterial (pun intended).

    • I wouldn't be nearly as quick to cede physics to the reductionists as Matthew.

      Neither would Max Planck, who discovered a thing or two about physics in his time:

      "As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

      Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], speech at Florence, Italy (1944) (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)

  • Rationalist1

    If an arrangement or shape of a material object (Aristotelean formal Cause) is claimed to be immaterial would that also apply to an object's efficient or final causes. Are all efficient or final cause immaterial as well?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I've tried to figure out what you are asking and can't.

      • Rationalist1

        Basically material items correspond to the material cause of Aristotelian metaphysics whereas the author claims that formal cause (the arrangement) is immaterial and therefore immaterial exists. Would the day reasoning be applied to the other two Aristotelian causes (efficient and final)?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I tried to work out what you mean with two examples, a baseball and drawing a circle, and still can't grasp your point.

          Could you maybe gives an example that goes through the four causes?

    • Loreen Lee

      The material cause would be the stone. The efficient cause would be the artist's work of taking the stone and shaping it into a statue. The formal cause, (I have just learned by reading former comments) would be the shape of the statue, (and previously the stone!). The final cause, (a merely pragmatic as distinct from moral end) would be the money he gets when he sold it to a rich connoisseur. This is definitely not immaterial!!! grin grin. The first cause is the 'principle' of the cosmological argument; the Aristotelian conception of g/God.

  • Since this post and a lot on this blog relate to the idea of “evidence”, I’d like to share a practical perspective on it.

    I’m certified to use and teach a logic method in problem solving for a global 500 company (you’d recognize the company name if I said it). It’s all about finding the root cause of a deviation (troubleshooting). You might say it is about finding “the truth”, regardless of any opinions or feelings, even regardless of some facts that seem relevant at first glance. You may think our method is 100% about facts and evidence. It is not! Most often it is physically impossible for us obtain all the facts & data we need to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a time when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal.

    So what do we do? Part of the process involves carefully making and tracking assumptions that would connect the facts we have. We then have a way to move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable. This is not done via experimentation, observation or trail & error because this kind of troubleshooting wastes company resources. It’s all done “on paper” (Excel spreadsheets) using the available facts & knowledge we already have. We conclude a Most Probable Cause (MPC), a conclusion with NO empirical evidence that it is actually correct.

    My point is this, Accepting some things without evidence is reasonable & responsible because of the reasoning. Rejecting those same things is unreasonable & irresponsible because of the same reasoning. Yes, we ultimately prove out the MPC, but if an engineer or technician at our company were to keep repeating to management, “I reject your conclusion because there is no evidence that it is correct”, he or she would not be employed with us for long.

    • Rationalist1

      So does the reasoning determine the validity of the evidence you accept or is the validity of the evidence proffered not pertinent at all.

      • Not exactly sure what you mean. One of the assumptions we use is that the observed facts (evidence) about a problem are actually true, but the evidence of a problem (its effects) do not give us the cause. Getting the root cause requires a thinking process. Everyone does this to some extent; we just have a very structured and proven way of doing it.

        • Rationalist1

          So the evidence has to be true. Do you verify the truth of the facts or just accept them. I ask this as I often get involved with analysis of issues and the veracity of a statement can be very questionable.

          I agree the problem does not necessarily give the cause and the analysis process is critical, but facts for the process are just as critical.

          • Like any process, the inputs need to be good for the output to be good. The input facts must be true for the output conclusion to mean anything. So yes, we trust that the engineers or techs are sharing vaild facts about what is being observed.

          • Rationalist1

            You're luckier than I am at times.

        • josh

          How do you prove your way of doing things? If it's not empirical I'm not likely to take you seriously.

    • Jonathan West

      It’s all done “on paper” (Excel spreadsheets) using the available facts & knowledge we already have. We conclude a Most Probable Cause (MPC), a conclusion with NO empirical evidence that it is actually correct.

      Either you are using definitions of words that are local to this method and not explained to the rest of us, or you have just contradicted yourself.

      • I’m using plain English. Does it help if I word it this way? We conclude a Most Probable Cause (MPC), a conclusion with NO empirical evidence that it is actually the TRUE CAUSE.

        • Jonathan West

          I see what you mean, but I think the phrasing is a bit clumsy & misleading. You have evidence sufficient to estimate which cause is most probable and therefore should be investigated first, but until that investigation is done, the evidence is insufficient to conclude that it is definitely the cause.

          In other words, you have empirical evidence, but the quality of it isn't sufficient to justify certainty.

          • Exactly. So my point of all is that accepting some things without "perfect" evidence is reasonable & responsible because of the reasoning and vise-versa. This kind of thinking can be applied to the existence of non-physical things.

          • Rationalist1

            Ben - In science one doesn't get perfect evidence, all facts have error bars. In regards to the existence of non physical things like Gods, angels, souls, etc. please given any non philosophical evidence and we can discuss it.

          • R1 & Johnathan,
            To prove or even explore non-physical realities you must go outside the physical sciences, otherwise it’s like using a measuring tape to gather timing data; it’s the wrong tool. What you need is a stopwatch. This gets into all the metaphysical proofs for the existence of God, God as personal, God as infinite (unlimited by other realties even knowledge & power), etc. If you refuse to accept metaphysical logic, it’s like saying I refuse to use a stopwatch to measure time. I will only use my measuring tape .

          • Rationalist1

            But if those non physical realities have any interaction with the physical world at all, then the enter the domain of science. That's why Deistic God is not a problem to most scientists, whereas a theistic God that interacts with creation is fascinating.

          • The measuring tape and stopwatch can actually be shown to exist.

          • BenS

            If you have to resort to metaphysical proofs of god then, by definition, you're acknowledging that god cannot be measured or detected - not even in theory.

            A god that cannot be detected, even in theory, is merely a concept; it either has no effect on reality or it is indistinguishable from the general workings of the universe and therefore redundant.

            This is a far cry from the theists' defintion of god that has personal relationships, floods planets and generally causes mischief.

          • Jonathan West

            To prove or even explore non-physical realities you must go outside the physical sciences, otherwise it’s like using a measuring tape to gather timing data; it’s the wrong tool.

            Well that depends.

            If the immaterial whateveritis has no interactions, no effect on anything in what we call the material world, then the only thing we can ever do is speculate about it. Of necessity, everything that we can ever say about it is made up, none if it is based on evidence, because if there is no interaction with the material world then is not and cannot ever be any evidence to gather.

            But i rather suspect that this would not make a very satisfying object of worship, and so Christians and other theists claim that their immaterial God does in fact interact with the material world. Now we are back in the realm of science. If there are material interactions being hypothesised, the scientists can go looking for them, and see if the predicted effects of those interactions can be observed.

            So, do you think "the immaterial" (however you choose to understand it) interacts with the material world or not?

          • Yes. Catholics might the material interacting with the immterial "Sacraments", but as a simpler example, if I act morally or immorally with my physical body it is because of the state of my soul which is affected by God’s grace and science is not the right tool to deal with God’s grace, the soul or morality.

          • Jonathan West

            if I act morally or immorally with my physical body it is because of the state of my soul which is affected by God’s grace

            Well, there are two problems with this. The first is whether you have a soul that is independent of the workings of your body. But that is largely a matter of definition, so we can set it to one side. The more important claim is that some aspect of you (we can call it your soul if you like) is affected by God, and this in turn affects the actions of your physical body.

            In principle that is something which could be tested scientifically, though your statement is at present far too vague to be usable as a practical and testable scientific hypothesis.

          • Jonathan West

            Oh, I agree, and I would also suggest that the same means of investigation and standards of evidence should apply to our exploration of the immaterial as it does to our investigation of material things

          • epeeist

            So my point of all is that accepting some things without "perfect" evidence is reasonable & responsible because of the reasoning and vise-versa.

            Providing you accept that your conclusions are only provisional.

          • I agree that reason alone is not enough, but reason can start the journey from the head to the heart. Faith is something personal, this is why Jesus first asked his disciples, “Who do others say I am?”, but then his real point comes in when he asked, “Who do YOU say I am?” This makes it personal.
            God wants it personal. This makes sense to me as a father. I want my kids to have faith in me, not because they have evidence, but just because I’m their father.

          • Michael Murray

            Good to see you back Epeeist. If only by reincarnation:

            It would seem that there has been another "Night of the Long Croziers" on the site with a whole stack of other atheists joining those who were banned a time back.

            Interestingly when I was banned a Catholic, Rick DeLano, was also banned at the same time. Did I notice him posting again?

          • Sid_Collins

            The problem-solving you describe sounds more like using observations (imperfect evidence) to develop a hypothesis. In the material world one might act as though a hypothesis were true, if the risk were low. Try adding a day's training for associates at a particular franchise location, and see what happens. It would be unwise to for the FDA to approve a drug at this point, of course. Nor would it be wise to invest all the college funds at this point.

            Is it wise to act as though immaterial things of a very specific nature have serious repercussions of a very specific kind on our material world based on the evidence we have? I don't think so personally.

        • Sid_Collins

          Why don't the available facts and knowledge count as evidence?

          • They do count as evidence, but we need more than this to get to a conclusion.

    • 42Oolon

      But I expect they would also be fired if they kept repeating "Your analysis is flawed because it fails to account for the immaterial existence."

      Are any of the analyses based on things like souls existing? Is not your analysis always premised on the existence of things in the material world and reasonable logical conclusions based on such?

    • Andrew G.

      Evidence is anything that is more probable assuming the hypothesis is true than if assuming it is false.

      Unless you go around applying the label "most probable cause" based only on priors, which seems an unsafe engineering practice, then your conclusion must be based on evidence.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      Yes, we ultimately prove out the MPC

      Are you talking Six Sigma or a similar process? I work with this from time to time although I am not one of those at my company with formal training.

      If you are, you know that one of the key elements is the feedback loop by which the implementation of solutions is tested and monitored to see if the MPC was right from the get-go, or whether it needs to be tweaked based upon the real world results.

      • The process is called KT Resolve (problem analysis). Yes, the MPC is proved out to see if it is in fact the TRUE cause. The whole point is to save company resources. We must get “buy-in” that the company should spend the time and money based on the MPC we come up with, even though we have no absolute proof that it is correct. We just prove that it is the most reasonable.

    • Sample1

      Your method sounds similar to peturbation theory (so thank you for letting me dust the cobwebs off that concept which I haven't thought of [informally] since about 1999) but the physicists/mathematicians here will let me know if that's a fair assessment. And if it is, that's not the same as having no evidence.

      Mike

  • robtish

    I'm seeing a pattern on this site with abuse of words. An article gives us a word with many different meanings and seems to argue that because atheists are willing to accept one concept represented by the word, they ought to accept all concepts represented by the word.

    We saw it yesterday,with the implication that atheists should accept religious faith because they're willing to drive in cars.

    Today's article implies that we should accept the existence of immaterial souls because matter, when arranged differently, has different properties.

    And of course, "God" is one of the slipperiest terms around, referring from moment-to-moment to either an uncaused cause, the God of philosophers, and the God of revelation.

    It's almost as if I were to say: "I've developed a refutation of Aquinas' Five Ways, and I've dubbed it 'chocolate,' and I know you like chocolate, so you must like 'chocolate.' Ergo, I can know you should agree with my refutation even without telling you what it is."

    That's ridiculous reasoning, but these articles seem to make that same sort of error, just with a bit more finesse. But the error's still there. It's the problem we had with the article about atheists having faith, and it seems to be popping up in this one, too.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      I came to this site because I hoped to encounter the very best arguments that Catholic theists could put forth. Now I'm beginning to fear that my hopes have been fulfilled.

      • epeeist

        I came to this site because I hoped to encounter the very best arguments that Catholic theists could put forth.

        I am beginning to think this sketch is apposite.

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          THIS IS AN EX-COW!!!!!

      • Rationalist1

        Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) has an material cause 3 atoms of carbon, 8 of hydrogen and 1 of oxygen. It's formal cause (what the author here is claiming to be immaterial) is the specific arrangement of atoms for that isomer. It's efficient cause is being produced by combining water and propene in a hydration reaction and its final cause is to provide disinfecting as a hand sanitize Just as the formal cause was claimed to be immaterial can one equally claim the efficient and final causes immaterial as well?

      • Well, Vicq, since we both know you walked away from mine I think there is a word that applies to your snark.

        It begins with an "h".

        • Vicq_Ruiz

          Rick, you are not one of the authors I referred to in my comment. As I have noted before, I appreciate the way you present Catholicism without the sugar coating.

  • I was just informed yesterday by an atheist commenter that the immaterial does indeed exist: at least some atheists call it "time-space".
    Time-space is not a "thing"--it's a "physical context" (which I assume, since it's not a "thing", must mean that time-space is somehow a non-physical "context" for things that *are* physical? or is time-space also physical but not a thing? help me out here...)
    It can't be directly measured but is indirectly inferred from measurements taken of actual "things."
    Atheist commenters: do I have this correct?
    As I mentioned yesterday, this is more or less the same kind of description theists use to describe the "immateriality" of *God* (apart from the "physical context" stuff)....

    • Rationalist1

      If God is just space-time, we may have a consilience of opinion here.

      • epeeist

        If God is just space-time, we may have a consilience of opinion here.

        That seems to adopt a somewhat Jewish point of view, that of Spinoza and Einstein.

        • Rationalist1

          A pantheistic God. Way better than a theistic one.

          • Cool--so you two are in agreement that the "immaterial" *does* exist?

          • Rationalist1

            As long as God is nothing more than Space-time. Then we can close up this web site and all go home.

          • Then I'll assume by that you mean, "yes, I concur that something immaterial *does* exist," unless you say otherwise...

          • Rationalist1

            Actually the concept of space-time occurs in our minds as a way we have to model the universe. The concept has a material existence as does the object we are trying to model.

          • Interesting. Then I'll assume by that you mean, "yes, I concur that something immaterial *does* exist," unless you say otherwise...

          • Rationalist1

            No, there is no evidence for the existence of anything immaterial, whatsoever. If there was you and othewr would have said so long ago.

          • And therefore you disagree that space-time is immaterial?
            You would say space-time is *material*? A thing?

          • Rationalist1

            One last time. The concept of space time is a model humans have made to describe the large scale structure of the universe that manifests itself in the material workings of the human brain.

          • You're saying space-time is not an objective reality in itself--it's just a subjective conceptual model that exists in the human brain?
            Which of course must mean that, prior to human consciousness, space-time did not exist at all? I'm not clear on what you're getting at, obviously...

          • Rationalist1

            Of course the concept of space time didn't exist. Humans created it.

            DId fish exist before human consciousness? Fish did, but the categorization we can fish didn't.

          • Hence my confusion--I was told yesterday by someone else that space-time was a *physical context*. Today I am told it is a conceptul model found only in the human brain...

          • Jim, I feel you are doing a bit of equivocation here. Yesterday I told you that I did not think "time" was a "thing." By "thing" I meant "material object" such as a chunk of rock. Time is a property of changing events. It is not material, so I can see why you want to say that it gives you a justification for belief in "the immaterial." That does link into this OP because the author does the same thing by saying that patterns of objects are not in themselves "material" so "the immaterial" must exist, an be a defeater for materialism. Andrew pointed out, earlier, that this is a straw man argument. Heat, is also not a "thing" but the fact that I can heat up my cup of coffee does not imply the existence of an immaterial mind any more than the immateralness of the "running" that exists after I start up my car.

          • Not trying to equivocate--but am trying to understand the use of terms--and understanding of terms--in the atheistic view. It's very new to me to consider how we each understand supposedly simple terms like "thing" and "nothing" and "material" and "immaterial" and "faith" vs. "trust" etc.
            In fact, I think both atheists and theists need to work more on this. We'd understand each other better if, for example, we recognized that the term "thing" for the atheist may mean "made of matter" while for the theist it may mean "that which is created by God" or "that which is part of the universe" (including time and space and gravity etc.).

          • "that which is part of the universe"

            Okay, but first you are going to have to define "part." If we were talking about my car, all the "parts" would be material things.

          • BenS

            My take on it is thus:

            The concept of space-time is immaterial; it's just a concept.

            The working structure of the universe - which we have labelled 'space-time' - is material. It exists independent of minds.

          • Susan

            And therefore you disagree that space-time is immaterial? You would say space-time is *material*? A thing?

            What is "a thing"?

          • epeeist

            Then I'll assume by that you mean, "yes, I concur that something immaterial *does* exist," unless you say otherwise...

            See this reply from Andrew G. above.

            I would use a slightly different terminology to him. I would say monadic physicalism rather than metaphysical naturalism.

          • This is a bit confusing--we've whittled it down to a straightforward yes/no. Couldn't you just tell me whether you concur that something immaterial exists, or not?

          • SJH

            Way too many "isms".

        • Michael Murray

          Why has epeeist been banned ? His posts are informative and some of the few I've learnt something from.

          • primenumbers

            Epeeist's post have been reasonable and intelligent. Why was he banned?

          • Susan

            Why has epeeist been banned ? His posts are informative and some of the few I've learnt something from

            Agreed. I can only hope that this is due to a technical glitch. It makes no sense at all to ban a member who has contributed some of the highest quality comments I have seen here.

            I hope this is straightened out soon.

          • Vicq_Ruiz
        • Sample1

          What makes you think that? I've noticed some of my posts disappearing but have decided to just trudge onward. Did you get a memo?
          Mike

          (I'll take a non-response as strong evidence that you can't respond and that the claim is true).

          • Michael Murray

            He can't post new posts and can only edit.

          • BenS

            If epeeist has actually been banned (rather than Disqus just playing silly buggers) then I'm done here. This site is failing to live up to its promises.

          • GreatSilence

            I'm sure that he has not been banned and that this is just some Disqus glitch.

          • BenS

            I hope so but from his edits above it's looking more likely it's a ban. I've no idea what happened but epeeist's posts have generally been far more measured, polite and informative than mine and yet I'm still here...

          • GreatSilence

            No doubt a mod will be along soon to clarify all of this for us.

            Andre

          • Andrew G.

            The error message seems clear enough.

          • GreatSilence

            Do not question Disqus. Its ways are not known to us mere mortals.

          • He is no longer listed at the "Community" link. Same thing happened to Articulett.

          • Michael Murray

            Not good.

          • Are we watching a slow motion implosion?

          • Corylus

            The informational content of Epeeist's post have been huge.

            If this cannot be processed by someone it is they that have the problem.

            Extremely disappointed. The truth will set you free - except when it won't.

          • Sample1

            I'm wondering if it has to do with the "real name" requirement?

            Mike (is it my real name?) Does it really matter? Of course not. Besides, I figured epeeist was a Dutch or Flemish first name rather than just a sabre. :-j

          • Michael Murray

            Maybe but it's never been enforced before. He got something deleted at the same time.

        • Epeeist banned? That's ridiculous!

        • BenS

          Do you have any idea what you did to attract the attention of this capricious god? I mean... mod....

          • Michael Murray

            It was here but I didn't notice till after it was gone. It had a reply. when I last looked which was how I knew it was epeeist.

            https://strangenotions.com/does-immaterial-exist/#comment-982688742

          • BenS

            Intredasting.

            So, without any conclusive evidence I can make the wildly unsubstantiated claim that epeeist was stricken down and yet has risen again! The evidence is there in the edits! It's a miracle!

            There is no god but epeeist and I am his prophet!

            He gave me some tablets and scones from a gurning brush and on them were the following commandments*:

            1) I am the poster epeeist and thou shalt have no other posters before me. Not even posters of Hannah Montana on your bedroom wall.

            2) Thou shalt not make any graven image, except in soap for this is a holy material and it makes bubbles so, you know, go for it.

            3) Thou shalt not take the name epeeist in vain, except during sex, then it's ok.

            Maybe I'll reveal the rest later. For now, I tire. Bring me wine and cheese.

            ---

            * For legal reasons, it should be made clear that these commandments are in no way related to or derived from anything associated with epeeist, his partners, licensors, agents or assigns. All rights reserved. Your posts may be at risk if you do not keep up payments on loans secured on them or fail to continually pander to the mods.

        • Sample1

          Well epeeist,
          Sounds like you've "chosen" Hell eternal separation.
          Mike

        • Jonathan West

          Well I can't take this conversation any further since it appears that I have been banned from the site

          That's a disgrace. There's no justification for banning epeeist.

        • I hope that this is an honest mistake. Epeeist contributes significantly to the evolving conversation here, and the Strange Notions project would be worse without him.

        • primenumbers

          Why ban one of the intelligent posters here? It makes no sense!

          • GreatSilence

            Could the mods please clarify this situation? All the speculation seems rather unnecessary.

        • I have never read a post by epeeist that I thought was inappropriate, so if he has been banned, it makes no sense to me. I hope this is some kind of mistake or technical glitch.

        • Rationalist1

          Wow - I never thought you were sarcastic or inappropriate and had first rate comments. Sorry to see you go.

        • That teaches you. Mention Spinoza and get excommunicated!

    • Andrew G.

      This is an argument about meaning of words, not an argument about real things. (And it's one reason why I prefer the label "metaphysical naturalism" rather than "materialism".)

      Spacetime is not "immaterial" in the sense that Platonic forms or souls or deities are "immaterial".

      • Is space-time real?
        Does space-time exist?
        If it exists, is it material or immaterial?
        You say above it's not immaterial. Meaning it's material--a thing?

        • Andrew G.

          You are still arguing as though you can change reality by applying different words to it.

          Spacetime interacts with mass and appears to possess energy; this is enough to include it in non-strawman versions of "materialist" philosophical positions (which as I mentioned elsewhere, include the relationships and interactions of material things).

          • "Spacetime interacts"? But if space-time is a conceptual model existing only in the human brain, as I'm told it is below, how can it "interact" with mass and possess energy?
            I'm seriously trying to pin down what y'all mean by "space-time"....

          • Susan

            I'm seriously trying to pin down what y'all mean by "space-time"....

            Here's a starter:

            http://www.theory.caltech.edu/people/patricia/st101.html

        • SJH

          There are more than two options. Either something is material, immaterial natural, action/reaction and immaterial supernatural.
          Space-time is immaterial but not supernatural. Actions/reactions achieved by the other three or a combination of them.
          The debate atheists would have is not that any of the first three do not exist but that the fourth one does not exist.

          • Vickie

            I appreciate this as it gives me a clearer understanding of your point of view. Are you saying that the first three can be described as occuring by way of the natural world: relating to or attributed to phenomena that can explained by natural laws. And that supernatural would then, of course, be outside of this? So that you do acknowledge some things as being immaterial but natural in their occurence or achieved through natural means.

          • Jonathan West

            i think that you have understood well. Now you need to watch out for the fallacy of equivocation. Once atheists acknowledge that the varieties of immaterial described by SJH exist, there will be others who say that this is an acknowledgement that "the immaterial" exists and therefore that God exists because God is immaterial.

          • Vickie

            No, I do understand this. So the Catch-22 for me is that an attribute of an all inclusive and perfect God would be that of being supernatural otherwise he would be just another natural thing. He might be a BIGGER natural thing than others but could not then be God.

          • Jonathan West

            There are probably more conflicting conceptions or definitions of God than there are people who believe in him.

            Do you have any thoughts on how one might distinguish the true definition from the false ones?

          • Vickie

            For me I would say that it was a process and that process did start as a child. Children have an uncanny ability to ask Why? until it drives you crazy until you finally say "I don't know" or "just cuz" or even "God made it that way". And even after that they have one more "Why?" So I answered my own whys. I looked at the world around me. And for me myself I could not get past how well ordered natural law was. I could not conceive in my own mind that it was merely random, coincidence or spontaniously generated. I decided that the world was too intellegently ordered for that to be. It is the word intelligent that put me over the top as far as believing that there was something greater. Now I know that any athiest can refute God in the order of nature agrument. I am not expecting you to accept it I am just saying that was my first process. As time went I became more mature. I asked more and different questions. I cannot really tell you how one might distinquish the true definition from the false one. I can only tell how I did. And that would take more time and more discussions than a comment box. I guess I would say, for a start, that you would have to ask yourself...If there is something greater what attributes would it have to have to remain greater? The things that cannot even satisfy this answer are the first to be eliminated.

          • Sure. The dogmatic definitions of the Catholic Church are absolutely certain to be true.

            All else is some theologian's best thinking.

      • Spacetime is not "immaterial" in the sense that Platonic forms or souls or deities are "immaterial".

        Indeed. It seems to me that an equivocation trick is in play to get to "supernatural" through an intermediate "immaterial."

  • Andrew G.

    This entire article is a strawman argument, since it attacks a version of materialism that nobody actually holds.

    The idea that materialism implies that processes of matter, arrangements of matter, forces generated by and acting on matter and so on do not exist is nonsense. Nor do "materialists" deny abstraction - only that abstract objects do not exist as "things" in the same sense that material objects do, or the sense that would be implied by Platonic forms or "essences" or similar, and that in particular they do not have causal powers.

    I personally find the term "materialism" misleading; the term I usually choose to adopt is metaphysical naturalism.

    • Loreen Lee

      Is this not an oxymoron?

      • Andrew G.

        No, it's not. "Metaphysical naturalism" or (equivalently) "ontological naturalism" is the position that (in short) the subject matter of the natural sciences - the constituent particles or quantum fields, the relationships and interactions between them, the spacetime in which they are found, and so on - constitutes the whole of existence. This is distinguished from "methodological naturalism", which is the position that science should conduct itself as though this is all that exists without actually committing itself on the subject. (Using just "naturalism" without qualification may result in confusing the two positions.)

        • Loreen Lee

          I take correction. If I may explain, I had trouble relating to the concept of 'meta-physical' meaning beyond the physical or the 'natural'. But you have demonstrated that this is not the accepted definition. I would however, prefer the use of the word 'ontological' related to naturalism, which does not present this problematic as ontology refers only to being, not something beyond what 'is'. (Not going to define that word!). The methodological naturalism, with its 'as though' reminds me of Kant's categorical imperative, which suggests that we should act 'as if', we lived in the projected ideal of his Kingdom of Ends. In that case, it is presumed to be a case of commitment, although it runs into difficulties. It could be argued that the 'as if' or the 'as though' doesn't really change much the way one actually carries oneself within the 'real' world! I would not be confused, however, I assure you, if you simply used the term 'naturalism' without qualification. It's actually 'simpler', I feel. Thanks.

          • Loreen, I would call any of our thoughts about the nature of reality, "metaphysical." It is not a bright line test, though. Here is the first paragraph from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's definition of "metaphysics":

            It is not easy to say what metaphysics is. Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject matter: metaphysics was the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change.” It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, and for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics—first causes or unchanging things—would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Secondly, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things; the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you Q. Quine. I am honored by your comments and interest to the point where I feel 'someone is looking after me'. You have given me a lot of work to do. I know that I do not assimilate everything I read. I am honest about that at least. But I have just learned the distinction in my initial attempt to read this article, that the term 'understanding', is related structurally, (may I say metaphysically as distinct from logically or abstractly) to the concept of 'substance'. May I speculate therefore that a lot of our epistemology is not related to an integration of concepts within 'experience'. I am finding both articles you gave me valuable. Indeed I have been a member of Stanford for several years. I put away the books I had bought to read for my old age, and find the commentary in these dialogues allows me to 'relate' concepts in a way that reading original tracts of philosophy does not. I have much reading to do. The definitions and clarifications in this article particularly, convince me that a dialogue between atheistic/theist perspectives is not 'cut and dry', especially if seen within the context of these philosophical distinctions. It is possible that many of our strange notions can be examined from both of these perspectives, and that the discussions will be edifying for all concerned.

          • Thank you, Loreen, and best regards.

            -Q

  • Vickie

    I thought of this afer reading the article yesterday and many of the comments sparked by that article. I read the article today and some of the comments and think that maybe it still fits.Here is what I was thinking. I was thinking about having a collection of various items. My collection is, let’s say, the souvenirs from my travels. I ask others what the source or cause of my collection is. So they look at each individual item to determine its individual source. They determine a commonality to the items so that by describing this common source they will know the source of the whole. Some take a more concept related path saying that it all traces back to the human mind because without the thought that created it, it would not be what it is. There are some who decide to relate their common source to the materials it is made from, arguing that without the materials it would be nothing at all. The problem with each argument is that there is one thing that doesn’t quite fit. There is a rock in my collection and notes from a conversation that I had on the plane containing the thoughts of someone I talked to and my thoughts in relation to that. The concept based side says of the rock, you still had to think the thought that caused you to put it in the collection. Therefore the rock is not contrary to my argument. The material based side says of the thoughts, you still had to write them on a piece of paper and the paper is material. Therefore, the thoughts are not contrary to my argument. Then along comes a third argument. The source or cause of my collection is me. Though not the source or cause of each individual item I am the one who relates them to each other in a collection. I am the source of the whole as having created it as a collection and unified it as a whole. The concept based side says, you still had to think the thoughts that caused you to choose the items in the collection. This does not disprove my argument. The material side says, your collection can still be observed as a physical reality. This does not disprove my argument. Both of these two sides say, but she is not the source of each individual item themselves so how can she be the source of the whole? And the arguers for the whole say, because she is the element that makes it whole.
    This is what these discussions are like sometimes.

  • robtish

    I've found a big contradiction. Ask yourself: Is "running" material? According to the article, it's not. "Running" is just different arrangements of material through time: the matter that makes up the runner does not change except to change position.

    On the other hand, according to Brandon, "running" is material: "If it is capable of being seen, touched, heard, tasted, or physically felt, it is material. If it is not capable of all those things, then it is immaterial."

    And of course, I can *see* running. I can identify its existence by pointing at it.

    So I think we need a new criteria for what makes something material or immaterial.

    • No contradiction here. "Running", per se, is immaterial. It's an abstract action. You can't touch "running", nor see it, smell it, hear it, or taste it.

      Now, "a man running" is a different story. That would be a material being where the concept--or "form"--of running has been actualized in a specific, material person.

      • robtish

        If you can't see "running," then how do you know the man is doing it?

      • 42Oolon

        I think you should write a post on Platonic idealism. The approach you are putting forward is one in which nothing we consider "material" actually exists or is "real", rather it is these unobservable ideal abstractions which the true existence. In that world the article above is more or less meaningless. Joe seems to accept that the material world has true existence and he is relying on the true existence of things like isomers to show that there is an immaterial world. Or, it is at least unclear where he is coming from in this respect.

      • Brandon, the problem is that theists want their deities to be real the way other people in our lives are real, not as merely abstractions or abstract actions.

      • josh

        By the same token 'being material' is an abstract action and is itself immaterial. You are equivocating between the existence of a thing and a description of that existence. The description, it's properties, etc. are 'things' in your mind, abstract categories into which you sort things. If we say that they don't have material existence we mean that they only exist as ideas in your mind, they are not 'things' out in the universe. Now we can take a step back and see that the 'ideas' in your mind also physically exist, they are apparently material patterns of electro-chemical activity in your brain. So I could say that the 'idea' of quantum mechanics did not exist in Aquinas time, but obviously for any concrete idea, to make such a statement I have the idea in my mind itself, so it physically exists now.

        Put it this way, 'material' and 'immaterial' are both proposed descriptions of existent things 'out in the universe', but as concepts they are both equally immaterial. But we shouldn't equivocate between 'immaterial' as a proposed description of existing things out in the universe, and 'immaterial' as 'a word applied to all concepts because they exist in the mind'. The latter is not in conflict with all existing things being 'material'.

    • Running is a activity that your legs sometimes do just as mind is an activity that your brain sometimes does. Activities are not "things." I have a bit of a problem when you write "... something material or immaterial." By using "something" you are already talking about "things." I know it seems pedantic, but we are under assault by equivocation in the OP so we have to be on guard and use care with language, in reply.

      • Loreen Lee

        I went back to read the article on 'begging the question' and found that many kinds of 'equivocation' in the use of words, change a definition (humpties!!) for many different reasons. Not only to deceive, or because of confusion, etc. etc, but as a means of making a point, as in the change of meaning used in satire, as well as to point out a deficit in something with the purpose of bringing a wider understanding, etc.

    • Loreen Lee

      I would hazard that of the four Aristotelian causes, running would be an efficient cause, particularly if it gets you somewhere!!, like to the final cause. Material causes, I would argue are not the only example of the existence of causative matter. Only the formal causes, the structures, etc. could be argued, I submit, to be 'immaterial'. The final cause, if pragmatic would be something that could be in evidence, but if the final cause is a moral purpose, it may not be seen by 'some'!!!! As an element of mind, it would be argued that it is immaterial, in any event. Logos, (including logic), Ethos, (practical reason) and Aesthetics, beauty and teleology, for instance, are all considered to be 'metaphysical': in Aristotelian terms, 'beyond the physical', and therefore not 'things'. But my, they certainly have an effect upon objects within the real world: would you agree? Actually, a structure can have an effect. I would be most interested in the shape/construction of a building for instance, particularly if I were thinking of living in it.

  • Jonathan West

    Brandon, the articles here seem to fall into two main categories. Some fall into one, some fall into both.

    The first category consists of articles quite which are apparently deliberately engaging in Equivocation, usually for the purpose of obfuscating the fact that evidnce for God (in general) and of the Christian God (in particular) basically does not exist, and that by the standard applied to any other subjects, beliefs in God (the plural is deliberate because there are so many conflicting beliefs) are all irrationally held.

    This article falls into this category, because if the varying and mutually conflicting definitions of "immaterial" that are being thrown around.

    The second category of article is what I would describe as "evidence-free speculation", where you take some aspect of God, or of Christian teaching, and speculate what thew consequences would be if it were true.

    This article also falls into that category.

    Instead of doing so much deciding and defining, how do you think that it might be possible to find out whether various aspects of Christian teaching are true.

    So I have a suggestion for you. You have probably heard of the book The Existence of God by Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford. It is the book I have most frequently heard recommended by serious students of religion as the best explanation of the arguments for the existence of God. The book goes through all the standard arguments, cosmological, teleological etc.

    I suggest that we both get a copy of the book, and that once a fortnight or so, we each write a review of a chapter, and that you publish both reviews of the chapter side by side in the same article here and let people comment.

    I'm just thinking of a way of getting yourself out of the rut of publishing same-old-same-old articles every could of days. If you want to have a dialog let's actually have one.

    • Sounds like a plan. We could do the same for Dennett's Breaking the Spell.

      • Rationalist1

        Great idea. Breaking the Spell was the book that finally pushed me over to non belief. For years I didn't want to admit I didn't believe. I realized I had not faith, but faith in faith and that was much easier to let go.

  • Loreen Lee

    Does the immaterial exist? Is this a question of epistemology or ontology. The term 'existence' refers to many uses of is, including the copula. I associate it more in its grammatical usage with the predicative powers of words, rather than as a noun in the 'existent', for instance. Indeed this term is seldom used, even in arguments such as these. It seems like an epistemological question demanding an agreement that the verb 'to be' can constitute the existence of a 'Person' that we can 'know'. I have been comparing this, (in my musings) with the development of ontology in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Here he talks not about what 'is' but of being. Actually he has two classifications: being and Being. In both cases, I assume there is an implicit assumption of the 'existence' of an entity. The case is made in the selection of words. Of course, he also has a concept of pure b/Being which is associated with the reality of a 'no-thing', which has as much metaphysical import as I trust the mathematicians find in the concept of zero. But think about it. If we think 'ontologically', because of the assumptions inherent in language, perhaps the theist will have a better chance of making their case. Of course, this might also help out the atheists, as well. After all, there is some controversy about the existence of black matter, and other theoretical constructs. So. Let's all think in an optimistic, agreeable manner together on this topic, and in the future direct our conversations to an analysis, of various kinds of real and possible 'b/Being'. .

    • Loreen, let me direct you, as Epeeist did below, to W.V.O. Quine's paper, "On What There Is," which I think you will find most helpful.

  • alexander stanislaw

    Material things exist in the territory (ie. in reality), relationships between them, properties etc. exist in the map. They are not immaterial.

  • green felt

    The problem with this site seems to me to be that article after article is reprinted from other sources. There seem to be very few that are actually composed with the audience of this site in mind. I don't think it is really fair to either party; we Catholics are made to look like we are unwilling or incapable of real dialogue, and the atheists are handed articles that were generally directed at a much different audience and as such fail in their effect.

    • Rationalist1

      I'm curious as to what audience you think this article is directed and why it doesn't work here?

      My opinion is that it's aimed at a general audience and the atheists here tend to have a science background and approach it from a more scientific angle. Although this site is a dialog between the Catholic faith and science its probably difficult to get articles written by scientists from a Catholic perspective. There have been some here however but most take a Scholastic philosophy route which is somewhat at odds (in my opinion with modern science,.

      • GreatSilence

        I have to agree with green felt and R1 here. Would it be possible to commission an article from say Fr Baron or Edward Feser if we give them enough time? An alternative would be to ask one of the leading Catholic authors / theologians to make available some time for us where they could (for a few hours maybe) participate live on one of these threads.

        • Rationalist1

          The article by the Catholic scientist, who was admittedly more into philosophy and theology now, was good but it would be great to get an article from an active Catholic scientist and see what his or her thoughts are on how faith and science can be reconciled.

  • Slocum Moe

    To begin to discern what is real, one must have at least some evidence. Conceptualization does not require evidence but you may indeed find evidence that your conceptualization is or could be real. Lacking evidence, your conceptualization remains something you made up.

    I have seen some things for which I have no explanation. I attribute this to a lack of intellectual acuity on my part.

  • This is such a poor piece of support for the soul.

    If you slice my arm off, my arm plus the rest of my body has the same makeup as when I was a single piece. And yet with my arm sliced off, I can no longer use my thoughts to control it.This doesn't mean that my arm no longer has a soul. It means there is no means of sending messages from my brain to my arm.

    The cow vs. dead cow argument fails for the same reason. So what if there are the same molecules? The physical connections need to work the same as well. Getting from dead cow to soul is such a blatant show of a religiously motivated failure of reasoning.

    • Here's another analogy that occurred to me:

      Imagine comparing a bridge to a broken down bridge. Both bridges have the same physical molecules, but the broken one is in pieces at the bottom of a river. Heschmeyer type apologists could say:

      "The difference between the two bridges cannot be material. They're made of the same thing. So this necessitates a "bridgifying" principle of matter, which I call the soul. Of course this is preliminary. We still need to decide what the nature of the bridge's immaterial soul is."

      • No, what you need to do is put the pieces of the bridge back together. When you do, it works again.
        Ever try jump-starting a dead cow?

        • robtish

          I'm sure defibrillators were tested on animals before being tested on people (and if they weren't they could have been!).

          • So defibrillators can bring dead animals back to life?

          • robtish

            They can certainly do it with people sometimes -- assuming, of course, that they haven't been dead so long that the materials in their body have broken down too much.

          • So, if you can identify a mere "moment" after an animal's life ends--meaning all biologic processes have ceased, heart, brain activity, etc.--before any decay sets in, you're saying the animal might come back to life if you add the right jolt of electricity?

          • primenumbers

            Biological processes are all interdependent. By the time they've all ceased irreversible damage has already set in at the cellular level. When just one of those processes has just stopped - respiration or blood flow for example, and if it can be restarted quickly enough, we can get life going again. Move beyond that point and because the damage is at a cellular level you can't see it (without a microscope or chemical analysis) and you think that the body looks just as it did when it was alive. There is no magic blue smoke.

            FYI: transistors only work because they contain magic blue smoke. We know this because when they fail we see the magic blue smoke is released and without the magic blue smoke the transistor won't work ever again no matter how many volts are shot through it.

          • I may have to concede that the issue (at death, biological processes cease and cell decay begins at once) arising from my objection to "non-soul" thinking (objection: you can't resuscitate a completely dead thing because the soul isn't present) doesn't really do much to support the existence of a soul in the living thing. But on the other hand the "non-soul" view gains no ground either by pointing out that death--not "almost death" (like when the heart stops but the brain/body hasn't completely stopped functioning) but "absolute" death--renders the body fundamentally unfit for life. Both assertions merely point to the thing we already observe and know: a functional body is required for life.
            Glad to have discussed it though, as it indicates I have more pondering to do on this particular question.

          • primenumbers

            Thanks Jim.

          • Thanks to you and all who commented--reminds me of something important about the Catholic view--my obligation is to the Magisterium's official teachings on faith and morals and not necessarily to every assertion of even a great mind like Aquinas (whose own view of souls derives from Aristotle, I'd guess). So I've got to get a better idea of what the Magisterium has and has not said about not only the human soul but also about the "life principle" associated with all life. AND I've got to do a similar amount of homework regarding the state of the question from the scientific perspective.

          • This is precisely why the dead cow argument for the soul is so weird. The more close, physically, an animal is to a normal living animal, the easier it is to bring back to life, which seems to support physical causes of life, not material ones.

            Life physically degrades very quickly when it is not in the right arrangement, and that makes it more difficult to heal. This seems to be totally contrary to the idea of the "soul."

          • Susan

            So defibrillators can bring dead animals back to life?

            As far as I know, defibrillators are used as a strategy to get the heart to beat again by administering a shock.

            I'm not sure what you mean about "bringing the dead back to life". When is an animal (which includes humans) dead?

            Not necessarily when its heart stops beating, although a stopped heartbeat will certainly lead to death if that status doesn't change.

          • That's how I understand it, too. My comment was "ever try to jump-start a dead cow?", which led to the defib comments.
            But my point is really that if an animal has just died, really died, you can't just jump-start it back to life...meaning that, yes, I assert the absence of the animal's immaterial life principle or soul being the missing component...

          • That just sounds like you're begging the question though. You're defining death in a way that keeps your position from being falsified. If we ever did get the molecules of a long dead animal back in the right arrangement to bring it back to life, you could just say "well it wasn't really dead then."

          • Susan

            But my point is really that if an animal has just died, really died,

            When something has "really" died is not as fixed as you seem to think. There is a point of no return, but that point changes as medical advances progress.

            When is something "really" dead? At some point. That's obvious. But, at what point?

          • Michael Murray

            We have been over this at length once before Jim. The only life principle involved is that we humans have decided that a certain arrangement and motion of molecules and electric fields will be called alive and another arrangement called dead. As usual in this discussions you can see the matter is subjective because there is a grey area between dead and alive which, in humans, is the subject of much controversy when it comes to turning off life support, removing organs for transplant etc.

          • Susan

            there is a grey area between dead and alive which, in humans, is the subject of much controversy when it comes to turning off life support, removing organs for transplant etc.

            I'm looking forward to the day they've gotten all the bugs out of the ILPD (immaterial life principle detector) so those controversies will finally be a thing of the past.

            I can't seem to find a link for that. I'll poke around and post it when I find one.

          • Michael Murray

            Ta. And when we have finally detected the soul it will be interesting to see if when it leaves the human whether it is going off to be reincarnated on its quest for Buddahood or Islamic heaven or Catholic heaven or nipping out for a quick feast at Valhalla ...

          • Susan

            when we have finally detected the soul it will be interesting to see if when it leaves the human whether it is going off to be reincarnated on its quest for Buddahood or Islamic heaven or Catholic heaven or nipping out for a quick feast at Valhalla

            You could just tag them... once you figure out where to put the tag.

            I wonder where all the sentient souls go. The rational souls are one thing, but when the sentient soul leaves the cow, where does it go?

          • Max Driffill

            Jim
            What do you mean by really died? If an animal has really died then the reason we cannot bring it back from death would suggest that things like massive cell and organ damage owing to injuries or time deprived of oxygenated blood are the culprits you are looking for.

          • Sample1

            "ever try to jump-start a dead cow?"

            In a manner of speaking, yes.

            Semen with living sperm can be extracted from a clinically dead bull and used to perpetuate life. Don't ask me how I know this but it took a lot of electricity.

            Mike

          • primenumbers

            No, because irreversible chemical change has occurred in practically every cell of the cows body. How are you meant to go into each cell and change the chemicals back to what they should be for life to be sustained?

          • Max Driffill

            Yes. We are animals, and are brought back from death in this way quite often, its why more and more places have defib kits.

            Clinical death occurs when the heart stops. Defibrillators can jar the heart to beating, (or stabilize dangerous arrhythmias). That doesn't mean all processes that lead to the state we call life stop immediately, they don't, but they do stop shortly after in most cases. If the heart isn't pumping blood then the body isn't getting O2 delivered to the cells of the body and to the various organ systems, and it isn't taking CO2 away. If this isn't happening ATP production is going to come to crashing halt in short order, It will do so at least on the massive scale necessary for large multi-celled organisms. ATP is the chemical fuel that powers pretty much every cellular process. It can be produced in small quantities anaerobically but that doesn't help an organism long term. If this happens there will be cell death, followed by organ system failures. IF there isn't too much damage, and a patient is revived quickly they can go have a nice life. But the longer the gas exchange is halted the more cells will die. The brain is particularly susceptible to this because it a huge consumer of ATP, and needs a constant flow of oxygenated blood. Its a particularly easy organ to damage.

        • I don't know how your comment is relevant. In my bridge example, I showed that two things with the same material makeup can function totally differently, and yet it would be absurd to conclude a soul from it. I think this shows the dead-cow argument to be absurd as well.

          But still, in principle, I think it's true that if you put the pieces of the cow back together in the right way, and the blood flowing and the brain functioning in the right direction, you could "restart" a cow.

          • Susan

            But still, in principle, I think it's true that if you put the pieces of the cow back together in the right way, and the blood flowing and the brain functioning in the right direction, you could "restart" a cow.

            Then, the farmer and the media would be thanking "God".

        • Max Driffill

          How long has it been dead?

        • primenumbers

          Life, as you know Jim, is complex. We know how to start up human life, but only in it's simplest manner of making a baby, or when something physical (like blood flow) has briefly stopped where we can supply the physical process for the body while it repairs enough to take over again. We know how to put a bridge back together, but we don't know how to put a full human back together. Life is a cascade of chemical reactions that must be always occurring for life to continue. If they don't, after a short time, irreversible damage occurs at a cellular level and even creating the right external conditions for the chemical reactions to once again occur will not bring that cell back to life.

          The irreversible damage means that for every cell in the body a chemical change will have occurred that means each cell does not have the same chemical makeup that it did before death. They are not the same chemical building blocks that they were before death, even if to the human eye from the outside they look the same.

  • Ben

    Please ban me from this site so I won't be tempted to respond to any more of your stupid articles. Arguing with your medieval worldview where everything is decided by what Aristotle or Aquinas thought is pointless. I wish you the worst in all your future endeavours, and fuck the Pope.

    • Sample1

      Well, you definitely covered your bases there Ben! Hate to see you leave but completely understand.
      Mike

    • 42Oolon

      Respect. I'm probably two posts away from going out in a similar blaze.

      • Rationalist1

        I'm on my last legs too. I've been told one more sarcastic or inappropriate post and I'm banned as well.

        • BenS

          And yet there's one knobber with north of 1500 posts, almost all of which are sarcastic or snarky and ALL of which are complete drivel and yet nary a murmur.

          I stopped posting on theist moderated sites a long time ago because, in every single case, the moderation was capricious and dishonest. I had hoped this site would be different - and to begin with, it seemed to be - but now it seems to be reverting to form.

          Apparently, if you can't credibly respond to the valid points raised by atheists then just ban them and have the site as a circle jerk for Catholics who pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other that those pesky atheists have no rebuttals (conveniently forgetting that they did, but they were banned or just modded into leaving).

          What part of dialogue involves silencing opposing viewpoints by force?

          As you can tell, this has pissed me off.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            BenS, you accuse the Catholics her of a "circle jerk" and you think that is a moderate comment?

          • BenS

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

            I was referring to the second one down, the site ending up with no dissenting opinions and only reinforcing posters' own Catholic opinions. I think you believing I was referring to masturbation says more about you than it does about me...

            Anyway, I'm done here. Toodle-pip!

  • Elmwood

    I think I have to agree that the atheistic arguments are making more sense. As far as I can understand, immaterial things may exist, like our intellect or personalities, but they depend on the physical material world to exist. I fail to see how immaterial existence says anything about God's existence because by definition God doesn't depend of the material world to exist.

  • English Catholic

    There's no way of making sense of the material universe without the immaterial. Here's a repeat of a post I just made, which makes sense in the context of the OP:

    We agree that the material universe is reality, not something whose
    existence our minds posit or imagine. Our disagreement is over whether
    it makes the sum total of reality. So we might think of material reality
    as a circle on a piece of paper; we both agree that the contents of the
    circle exists and is real; the difference is over whether there's
    anything outside that circle (and, crucially, whether this can be
    rationally known). Or to put it another way: are there any component
    parts of reality other than the material (and can these be rationally
    known)?

    (Just to be quite clear: we need to draw a distinction between 'that
    which is known rationally' and 'that which can be known through
    experiment'. They might be the same thing, but this needs to be
    demonstrated, not assumed. No experiment will ever prove the existence
    of God. However, scientific experiments only look within the 'circle',
    telling us about it with greater and greater accuracy. God doesn't exist
    as a fact or an object within the circle, so it isn't surprising that
    no experiment will ever prove His existence. That belief in Him is therefore
    irrational follows only if one assumes materialism. This is why the
    claim that scientific progress has disproved God's existence is so
    laughable: not only has it not done so, but it cannot do so, unless one begins
    by assuming that the material is the sum total of rationally-knowable
    reality -- a first-year textbook example of question-begging.)

    Anyway, back to the point. Consider mathematics -- think of something
    simple and axiomatic, like the statement 'x + x = 2x'. My proposal is
    that this statement, along with all true mathematical statements, is
    every bit as much a 'component part' of reality as the material. I
    further propose that it's impossible to reduce mathematics to something
    material, or to argue that it's merely an extrapolation or
    generalisation of observations of the material.

    And I don't think this is too difficult to show. Firstly, although
    mathematics appears again and again in material reality, the statements
    it lays down are true ('obeyed' by material reality) regardless of any
    given material state. Indeed, it couldn't be any other way. 2 bananas
    and 2 bananas will always make four bananas. 10 stars each having mass
    of 10^1000 kg will have a total mass of 10^1001 kg. Etc. By the nature
    of what numbers are, and by the nature of what addition (or
    multiplication, or whatever) is, the answers follow necessarily from the
    premises.

    Nor is this mere extrapolation from observed facts. We know what will
    happen in material reality when we apply mathematical principles to it.
    Combining a barrel of 2349 apples with another of 8891 apples, provided
    nothing interferes with the process, will give us 11240 apples. This is
    an absolutely certain fact. That nothing will interfere with the process is not a certain fact; it's technically possible that some quantum fluctuation or magic trick will make 10 apples appear as if from nowhere; but this will not break any of the statements laid down by mathematics. It would just be an example of 2349+8891+10=11250. The laws of arithmetic will always hold, because they cannot be broken; they're necessarily true. And what is true for arithmetic is true for mathematics as a whole.

    (Physics, by contrast, is contingent on the situation of the object
    being observed. That's why we test in a lab -- to remove external
    influences as far as possible, and investigate a particular phenomenon
    in isolation. There's a great deal more that could be said here on
    Aristotle's final cause, and on why sociology isn't a real science, but
    not now.)

    Further, mathematical statements are true even when they have no
    appearance in material reality, or when they have no appearance that we
    know of. It might be that nothing in material reality is instantiating
    234233424+86789, and it might be that this has never been instantiated,
    but 234320213 is the result nonetheless. Again, this is a certain fact,
    and it applies to everything from the most basic mathematics to the most
    advanced. The mathematician G.H. Hardy famously boasted that none of
    his work would ever be useful, but it was none the less true for that.

    Even more so, any reasonable experiment depends on mathematics' being
    true. If I want to measure the speed of sound, I depend on dividing my
    distance from the source of the sound by the time it takes to reach me. I
    can't prove division, and still less can I disprove it! It just is.
    It's a statement about how the universe is - just as much as 'objects
    with mass attract' or 'light is affected by gravity' are. And the same
    is true for any aspect of physics that uses mathematics -- virtually all
    of it, in other words. Changeable physics is only intelligible through
    unchangeable mathematics. Going deeper into physics means having to go
    deeper into mathematics first.

    Mathematics is a component part of reality -- we don't make it up, in
    the way atheists claim we make God up -- but it isn't material. It
    exists outside our 'material circle', because it isn't an extrapolation
    from observation: it exists in and of itself. I will happily admit that
    this is difficult to conceive or imagine. But it's still real. And
    because of this, materialism must be false.

    • bigshotbob

      Thanks for your post. A major failure of the atheistic worldview has been to explain the origin of the immaterial. There is no doubt in my mind that the only source is an infinite, powerful, personal being that exists outside of time, space and matter.

  • Eh, this article failed on its own terms, let alone on terms that its audience would accept.

    The definition given in the article of an immaterial thing:

    "When we speak of immaterial things, we are speaking of something that has no physical substance..."

    The putative examples of immaterial things:

    1. Isomers ... three carbon, right hydrogen, and one oxygen ...
    2. Phase Changes ... of water ...
    3. Surfaces ... of a table ...
    4. Shapes ... a wooden cube ... a wooden sphere ...
    life itself ... you come across two cows

    So as soon as we can find ourselves some carbon, water, tables, wood, and cows that have no physical substance, we'll be able to demonstrate that the above list of immaterial forms exist.

    In the meantime, all we have are (representations in the physical substance of our brains for) patterns of observations we make about things with physical substance.

    Heck, I'll grant that immaterial things may in some useful sense "exist". But you can't get there from the author's argument here.

  • Roger Hane

    So Joe seems to be reasoning that a difference in the arrangements of the constituent parts of different objects means they have different "natures." No. The same physical laws are at work in both of them. It's just that different arrangements of their inner parts will result in different physical interactions, but based on the same laws. Location matters in interactions. The laws are complicated. Different forms *can* be accounted for in purely material ways.

    Joe seems to argue that a difference in electrochemical reactions in two cows shows that one has a soul, while the other doesn't. No, they just have different inner arrangements. Refer to my first paragraph.

  • John Biard

    You are creating a strawman. Many atheists are not Philosophical Materialists, but Philosophical Naturalists. They admit that both material and immaterial things exist, but just deny that there is any evidence of a teleological force behind things - no external mind or god or consciousness watching over us. Clearly some immaterial things exist (emotions, relationships, ideas, mathematical formulas, music, etc). But just because SOME immaterial things exist in no way proves that ALL immaterial things exist, including ghosts, goblins, and your particular immaterial god.

  • Richard Winkler

    I'm sure there are physical processes that define whether a cow is alive or dead!

  • AnotherEasilyRefutableIdiot

    Every consider that Plato's 'forms' simply aren't a thing? There is not an immaterial difference that causes the cow to be dead or alive, it is a material difference called movement. What's missing is movement, or physical change (and in a specific way).

    The shape of things is a product of the purely physical world, it has nothing to do with this vague philosophical word you call 'forms', rather, it's physical structure. The difference is material in all these things. You are right that isomers often react differently but's because the difference is physical.

    And Surface is simply a word we use to aid observation, not an immaterial object or 'form'.

    It's blatantly impossible to prove the existence of something immaterial, and also of that which is material for that matter, however, the material world has consistent pragmatic value, while the immaterial does not.

  • Dan

    Is the equator material ?
    Is the mass center of the solar system material ?
    Is a symphony material, if it doesn't exist on paper and is played anyway ?
    Is a thought material (the result from a physical process in a brain) ?

  • Berliner

    "Consider what philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft fittingly named the “Dead Cow Argument”: imagine you come across two cows--one that is alive, and one that has just died. What is the difference between these two cows?"

    This is a pretty good reason why you should never listen to philosophers. As a point of fact, the live cow will weigh more. Life takes energy, energy is mass. A spinning top has more mass than a stationary one. Same is true of a live or dead cow all things being equal.

  • knarfisfraud

    Numbers are immaterial and I have yet to meet someone who says they do not exist. If they do deny the existence of numbers, they won't do it more than once. (Get it?)

  • JKGIK,GGIUK,G
  • DestroyHER

    I think the poster of this idiocy has a complete fundamental misunderstanding of philosophical materialism. The concept: All that exists is matter or as a result of material mechanisms (the material mechanism portion being the idea that this guy does not seem to be aware of). So, materialism does not state that immaterial concepts do not exist—but that they ONLY exist as a result of the mechanisms of physical matter.

    NONE of the examples listed above are immaterial. Immaterial concept examples: pride, fear, religion, etc. Nobody can try and argue that pride does not exist. It does exist, but it exists without matter. It is immaterial. Pride, however, only exists as a result of a material mechanism: the human brain is material, and it created the idea of pride. Without the physical matter of the brain, there would be no pride.

    Debunking:

    1. ISOMERS: The three compounds listed are all material. The differences between the compounds are not immaterial. The differences between three different types of matter can never be immaterial (unless the differences are not actually real, but a figment of someone's imagination). The differences between the compounds exist because of a material mechanism: the order in which they were created. If the person creating the compounds alters the order in which he PHYSICALLY combines them, then he is applying the material mechanism of order. If you put some lettuce on a plate, then some tomatoes on the lettuce, then some lamb meat on top of the tomatoes, and then a pita on the side, you've got a lamb meat salad with a pita inside. If you instead stuff the salad inside of the pita, then your salad is now a gyro. The differences between a gyro and a salad are the product of a material mechanism: the order used when creating them.

    2. PHASE CHANGES: Again, material mechanisms. Water does not turn into ice or gas in an unchanging environment. In order to alter its state, you must apply the material mecanism of temperature (cold for ice, heat for gas). The molocules in the water PHYSICALLY slow down or speed up, resulting in the physical change of the substance.

    3. SURFACES: Surfaces are physical material. A surface can be seen, touched, measured, and altered. Again, I believe this person clearly just does not understand the difference between material/immaterial. The surface of a bat is real, and it is physical, and the surface of the bat—in it's physical/material form—definitely feels like it physically exists when it's bashed into someone's head. The surface of the bat is a part, or a component, of the bat, just as the handle of the bat is its own component, and the inside of the bat is a component, etc. The surface of the table is not THE table, it is a PART of the table. The material mechanisms of the carpenter's mind envisioned the concept of the table (the concept being immaterial resulting from the material of the carpenter's mind), he took the raw materials, and combined them together to make the table. At some point, the carpenter decided the table would be 2" thick. Once he cut the wood, and sanded it down, the physical table surface came into existence. At some point later on, maybe he decided he wanted to stain or gloss the surface of the table, so he did—physically altering the table. We can see/feel the difference that the gloss makes to the surface, because it is a physical object. If your argument was simply referring to the concept of a surface in general vs. what exists beneath the surface, well then, that makes your argument even more dumb. At some point near the beginning of existence of modern human beings, a human may have broken a stick, and then realized the stick was not hollow. He realized that there was physical matter that existed inside—even though he could not see it prior to breaking the stick. The concept of the surface was then devised because humans needed to differentiate between the visible surface of physical objects, and the insides which they could not see. In this sense, the concept of a surface is immaterial, BUT was created only as a result of the material mechanisms in the human's mind. Again, many concepts are immaterial, like your surface example, or like the ideas of "up," or "down." But, again, these concepts only came into existence after a mind created them.

    4. SHAPES: The difference between a cube and a sphere is clearly a physical difference. This seems like common sense to me? The difference occurs as the creator of the cube and the sphere physically shapes the objects.

    THE COW EXAMPLE: The difference between a living and a dead cow is, again, material. The molecules of a living cow are constantly in a state of motion. Blood physically flows constantly, blood cells physically attack infection, the heart physically beats. And then, a physical event occurs—a bullet to the head, a blood clot, a heart attack, etc.—which causes the heart to physically stop beating, the blood from physically flowing, etc. A dead cow has none of these components physically active anymore, while a live one does. Dead cow vs. live cow may look identical from a distance, but the afore mentioned attributes can PHYSICALLY be heard, felt, and seen (with a microscope, for example) as active in the live cow, and inactive in the dead cow. The biological wonders of life are physical, and can be detected by our senses. The fact that you actually used a quote which states there are no physical differences between a live and a dead cow actually makes me think your whole perspective, AND your sources, are retarded. Any idiot knows how to check for a pulse (besides your source, obviously), and can physically feel the difference between a body with no pulse vs. a body with an active pulse. The millions of tiny living, moving, components in the body of a living thing are constantly in motion, and remain in motion until acted upon by an outside source (like a bullet to the head). Death is not caused by the exit of a soul, but by the tiny living components of organic flesh ceasing their motion. Otherwise, you'd just be admitting that every single living thing has a soul: trees, grass, beetles, white blood cells, viruses, etc. Ex. If we placed two identical hairdryers next to each other, but turned one on: we can see that there is also an obvious difference between these two. The physical components of the hairdryers will still be identical. The hairdryer that's off is not off because it does not have a soul, but because the energy circuit (like blood flow) is not active in the off dryer.

    IDIOT.

    • Darren

      Saving this now as you have clearly violated the terms of use for non-theists...

  • One might as well ask, "does space exist?" Or perhaps, "just what is the existential nature of time?"

  • kingRidiculous

    So I walk to the store, my soul (immaterial) travels with me, contained in my body (material), like my keys in my pants pocket. How can the material contain the immaterial? I think this paradox can be resolved by removing the assumption that an immaterial soul exists.