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How God’s Nature Is Known: The Three-Fold Way

Acceptance of God’s existence is conditioned for many on whether or not a convincing proof thereof can be presented to them. But for others, it is not a problem of proving that God exists, but rather questions about whether the  concept of a Supreme Being is even coherent. Many atheists or agnostics simply find the classical conception of God to be unintelligible. God is said to be omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, all good, omnipresent, and so forth. But to many it is not at all clear how these divine attributes can either be proven as real or, more importantly, how they make any sense or can co-exist in one and the same entity or in relation to the world around us. Skepticism of the classical notion of God is evident in the tendency among atheists to deny the existence of “any gods,” rather than of just the one “God.”

Moreover, even if one accepts that the classical proofs for God do demonstrate an Unmoved First Mover, an Uncaused First Cause, a Necessary Being, and so forth, how can we prove that these are even the same being—or that this being possesses the properties associated with the classical conception of God assumed by most Western philosophers?

This article will not attempt to prove God’s existence. His reality is merely assumed for present purposes. I have previously offered arguments for God’s existence on Strange Notions here and here. Still, St. Thomas Aquinas presents the best proofs for God, as found in his opuscula, De Ente et Essentia (On Being and Essence), chapter four, his Summa Contra Gentiles I, chapters 13 and 15, and his famous quinque viae (Five Ways) of his Summa Theologiae I, q. 2, a. 3, c.—these, taken together with their interpretations by classical and modern commentators. Also, I do not intend herein to show how the divine attributes are coherent, consistent with each other, and consistent with the created world in which we find ourselves.

The present enquiry’s sole purpose is to show how the human mind can come to know the nature of God, once his existence is demonstrated. If any particular divine attribute is mentioned, it will be primarily to illustrate the methods being explained and not to attempt a full explanation or defense of that attribute’s existence or coherence.

Classical metaphysics attains knowledge of God’s nature by means of an interpretation, mostly taken from the Christian Neo-Platonist Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. late fifth century) known as the via triplex or three-fold way. This entails (1) the way of causality (via causalitatis), (2) the way of remotion or negation (via remotionis), and (3) the way of eminence (via eminentiae). It is only by understanding how these three methods work and how they interface with each other that it is possible to begin to establish a realistic and coherent understanding of what can be correctly said about the divine nature.

#1 - The Way of Causality

According to the Platonic doctrine of participation, creatures participate in the “pure forms” of heaven by way of imitation. Thus, an earthly horse reminds us of “horseness-in-itself” eternally existing in a spiritual pure form. Christian thinkers transformed this “participation” from mere imitation into real causality, where participation’s etymology (cipere – to receive, pars – a part) became ontologically real. Now, in virtue of preexisting formal perfections in the Creator, the creature is directly caused to have its own proper intrinsic form—thus making it to be, say, a horse.

Employing the basic metaphysical principle that non-being cannot beget being, it is self-evident that a being cannot give what it does not have. Certain proofs for God’s existence, for example, the second of St. Thomas’ five ways, show that he is the Uncaused First Cause. As such, he cannot cause qualities or perfections in creatures which he does not possess. Therefore, any perfection we find in a creature must somehow preexist in God. If a creature lives, then God must be alive. If a creature has intelligence, then God must be intelligent. If there is goodness in creation, then God must be good. If some creatures are persons, then God must be personal. The principle is evident. Still, considered alone it does not give us the full picture of how we form a coherent notion of God.

#2 - The Way of Remotion

What about things we find in creation that do not manifest perfections, but imperfections? Creatures are finite. Does that mean God is finite? There is evil in the world. Does that mean God is evil? Our intellects often make mistakes. Does God make mistakes? There is pain and suffering in the world. Does God suffer pain? The world is constrained by time. Does God exist in time? And in particular, how can a spiritual First Cause create material being? How can that which lacks matter cause matter to exist? These and many other questions arise in which it appears that God is causing problematic effects.

The key to resolving such enigmas is to remove from God any negation, imperfection, limitation, non-being, or evil found in the creature. For any creature to exist, God must create every extent of being or perfection of existence found within it. But non-being needs no cause. Hence, causality need not imply that God causes anything that entails limitation or imperfection in creatures.

Perhaps, the most challenging question would be, “How can God cause material things when he lacks it himself? If he cannot give what he lacks, how can God, who lacks materiality, give materiality to physical beings?”

And yet, being material simply isn’t all that great! It entails being extended in time and space, which also means to be limited by time and space. Being limited in time means not to possess the quality of being present to all time at once. Being limited in space means not to be present in all places at once. Still, such lack of being in these various respects self-evidently requires no direct causation from God. Moreover, Being material means to be composed of form and matter, which necessarily entails the possibility of decomposition and, thereby, destruction. The alternative would be to create no physical beings at all.

But cannot material beings impact other material beings? Yes, but so can God—merely by creating or uncreating whatever existential qualities are needed to change a thing.

God can create material being because he pre-eminently contains all the existential perfections contained within it, but without the corresponding defects that come with being an actual material substance.

Similarly, the very notion of a finite thing is that it possesses some perfections of existence and lacks others. God is needed to cause what being or perfection is present, but need not be the cause of what is lacking to a finite being. “Finitude” is not a name for the perfection of a being, but a reference of its very lack thereof.

Likewise, evil is not absolute non-being, since that would not exist at all. The proper metaphysical definition of evil is the lack of a due perfection, that is, the absence of some property or quality that ought to be in a given nature. For example, having a “cold” is the lack of the good health we should enjoy. Yet, the “cold” itself is caused by the multiplication of a virus in us. From the standpoint of the virus, having a “good” cold means the virus is thriving, while we are not!

Moral evil is the performance of an act that deviates from what a human being ought to do so as to attain his last end in God. It is performed to attain a good of some sort, but by a means that is lacking proper ordination to human nature’s true end. Again, God is the cause of all that is good in creatures, but moral evil is the result of a use of free will contrary to the good intended by God for human nature. That is to say, the lack of proper ordination of human free acts is caused by man’s misuse of his free will, not by an action of God himself. Thus, the moral evil is man’s responsibility, not God’s. Without addressing all the complexities of the problem of evil itself, the general principle is to remove from predication of God’s causality anything in a being that constitutes a mere lack of what is proper to its nature. The nature itself needs God’s creative causality; the lack does not.

Always focusing on the being of things makes clear what actually needs a cause and what is merely the lack of what ought to be, as measured by the nature of the thing. The challenge in each case is to determine precisely what positively requires a cause of existence versus what is merely a negation or lack of being. While God is needed to cause the perfection of a nature, its defect or lack need not be attributed to God as the ultimate cause of the thing itself.

What has no need to be caused, namely a lack of being, need not be said of God as its cause—since there is nothing to be explained by a cause. Thus, being is predicated of God; finitude is not. Goodness is predicated of God; evil is not. Intelligence is predicated of God; mistakes are not. Suffering is found in creatures, but not in God. Creatures are constrained by time and space; God is not. Some creatures are material; God is strictly immaterial, which is the proper meaning of “spiritual.”

One can see the nature of remotion or negation in the very way we speak of God as opposed to creatures. We say God is infinite, immutable, uncaused, non-contingent, immaterial, and so forth. In each case, we find a quality of creatures that mark their “creatureliness” and negate its application to God. Each term has a prefix indicating negation, followed by a term marking the finitude of the creature. Thus, we render a judgment that affirms that God possesses some perfection, but in a manner absent the limitation of that same perfection as it is found in the creature.

For example, we do not directly know what the “infinite” in itself may mean, but we do know that God’s way of existing is not limited the way that creatures are limited beings.  Because of the negative form of the prefix involved, the etymology of some of these attributes may make them sound as if they were something negative. Still, we should remember that such attributes express in fact a positive content.

Some have been deceived by such “indirect naming” into thinking that it is impossible to form any concept of God, saying that he is so ineffable that nothing can be known of him at all. Nothing could be further from the truth, since a term, such as “infinite,” actually affirms the infinite perfection of God’s being.

#3 - The Way of Eminence

Finally, we consider the way of eminence, which is manifest from the conclusions of St. Thomas’ proofs for God given in the fourth of his Five Ways and in his De Ente et Essentia argument. These proofs conclude to God as greatest in being, a being which is its very act of existing. That is, God is found to be that Supreme Being whose essence and act of existence are absolutely identical.

These arguments show that all the lesser perfections of existence that are found in creatures must be found in God in a manner that is identical with his very essence. Thus, whatever perfection is found in creatures is said to be preeminently contained in God. And, since God’s being is infinite, this means that any perfection found in creatures must be found in God as infinitely expressed. We sometimes illustrate this by saying that while man has intelligence or goodness, God is intelligence or goodness itself.

This again follows from the idea that creatures participate in the divine perfections – receiving, as it were, a part of the divine reality itself.

Here we see a certain conflating of the via triplex with the doctrine of analogy. Metaphysical analogy is based on a relation between creatures and God which expresses a real similarity or proportion, but not the exact same meaning of terms used to describe the subject. It is unlike univocal predication. When we say a tiger is an animal and a dog is an animal, the meaning of “animal” is exactly the same. This is univocal predication. But when we say man is a being and God is a being, the term, “being,” does not express the same formal identity. The predication is analogous. For in creatures, existence, or being, is received into a nature from which it is distinct. In the proofs of God’s existence, creatures are revealed to be effects of God’s creative act, which means that they receive their act of existence (esse) from God.

In fact, that need to receive existence from an external cause is why the creature needs to be created. But, in God, his very nature is to exist. His existence is identical with his essence. Indeed, every perfection of existence which is found in creatures must exist in God in a manner identical with his infinite essence or nature. Thus, each perfection found in creatures in a limited manner is found in God infinitely expressed, which is precisely the meaning of the way of eminence.

Conclusion

I have not directly intended to explain or defend the divine names or attributes in this article. Yet, by studying the conclusions of the various arguments to God’s existence, one can come to see the necessary properties of the divine essence. Thus, through understanding the logical implications of God being the First Mover, First Cause, Necessary Being, Supreme Being, and Ultimate End, knowledge of the various divine attributes, their internal and relational coherence, as well as the intelligibility of God’s relation to the world becomes possible. All the while, it remains true that in God these various divine names refer to one and the same identical reality.

While many discussions and disputes arise concerning the coherence of God’s nature, the primary purpose of this article has not been to defend that coherence, but rather to show the proper method for investigating the divine attributes—the project which logically follows after having discovered that God actually exists.

Therefore, the above explanation is not the end of man’s exploration of God’s nature, but simply the key to its proper beginning and methodology.

Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

Dr. Dennis Bonnette retired as a Full Professor of Philosophy in 2003 from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. He taught philosophy there for thirty-six years and served as Chairman of the Philosophy Department from 1992 to 2002. He lives in Youngstown, New York, with his wife, Lois. They have seven adult children and twenty-five grandchildren. He received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1970. Dr. Bonnette taught philosophy at the college level for 40 years, and is now teaching free courses at the Aquinas School of Philosophy in Lewiston, New York. He is the author of two books, Aquinas' Proofs for God's Existence (The Hague: Martinus-Nijhoff, 1972) and Origin of the Human Species (Ave Maria, FL: Sapientia Press, third edition, 2014), and many scholarly articles.

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  • But for others, it is not a problem of proving that God exists, but rather questions about whether the concept of a Supreme Being is even coherent.

    Gödel resolves that one: any formal system with recursively enumerable axioms (i.e. can be represented with a computer program) which is sufficiently powerful is either incomplete or inconsistent. Essentially, any rigorous attempt to understand God, using the tools of analytic philosophy, will either be inconsistent (⇒ incoherent) or incomplete. If it's incomplete, that means you haven't actually [formally] described God, but instead an idol. The response is that humans don't actually reason solely using formal systems with recursively enumerable axioms. Any framework which presupposes that they do (or ought to) is thereby disqualified when it comes to talking about God.

    Many atheists or agnostics simply find the classical conception of God to be unintelligible.

    Many scientists and philosophers find science's current attempts to explain [self-]consciousness to be unintelligible. The ways of reasoning apparently preferred by atheists for these discussions presuppose that at the fundamental level, causation is impersonal (and monist). This presupposes away the possibility that God could exist (at most you have Force) and it generates incredible problems for the very essence of personhood. This kind of reasoning is thereby disqualified when it comes to talking about God.

    But to many it is not at all clear how these divine attributes can either be proven as real or, more importantly, how they make any sense or can co-exist in one and the same entity or in relation to the world around us.

    I suspect the same reasoning which casts divine attributes in doubt also casts human attributes in doubt. If one's only true kind of causation is impersonal/​monist, then there is nothing to hold a person together as one coherent whole. You then get stuff like @johnnyp76:disqus's "discontinuous 'I'", which he later blogged about: The “I”, personhood and abstract objects. If this reasoning makes it impossible for individual people to be coherent wholes, it is disqualified when it comes to talking about God.

    Skepticism of the classical notion of God is evident in the tendency among atheists to deny the existence of “any gods,” rather than of just the one “God.”

    The sociological correlate is to obliterate personhood:

        Personalist theory claims that all adequate understandings of human life must take seriously the fact that human beings are persons and not something else. This requires that we understand what persons are, what distinguishes them from nonpersonal entities. It is not enough to know something about human bodies or genetics or social interactions. We need to understand more of the fullness of what it means to be a person. Only by understanding the personhood of human beings will we adequately be able to understand and explain people and their social relations, because humans cannot be properly understood apart from their personhood.[15] To ignore personhood is to evacuate the central and most important features of the basic unit that social science studies.[16] That creates a major blind spot that prevents us from seeing important facts we must observe if we wish to adequately understand human life. To ignore human personhood is to self-compromise our own ability—as social theorists, social scientists, and persons trying to negotiate ourselves and life—to understand ourselves as particular kinds of beings in the larger order of reality. (To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil, 8–9)

    [15] The psychologists Jack Martin, Jeff Sugarman, and Sarah Hickinbottom (Persons: Understanding Psychological Selfhood and Agency [New York: Springer, 2010]) correctly observe that “the concept of the person has all but vanished from psychology” and “while psychologists lavish their attention on the study of personality, they devote surprisingly little to the question of what is a person” (57, back cover).
    [16] Margaret Archer correctly notes that “sociological imperialists ha[ve] labored long and hard with a vacuum pump on humankind, sucking out the properties and powers of our species-being, to leave a void behind to be filled with social forces” (Being Human: The Problem of Agency [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000], 315–16).

    If God cannot be an agent who acts, then neither can humans. If we flatten God into a Spinozian pantheism, we simultaneously dissolve ourselves. Reasoning which prevents human individuals from existing and being knowers and doers is disqualified when it comes to talking about God.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Much of what you say here has profound implications which I cannot properly respond to at present. What I do see, though, is a lot of attempts by man to reach the deepest truths about himself and God through methodologies taken from natural science. While not denigrating these at all, I would make the case that some of the more profound works dealing with such issues are found in classical philosophical sciences and works and those of theologians as well. We have to be careful not to truncate the pyramid of knowledge at the level of natural science. Even if we prevent positivism from eliminating the reality of God from our knowledge, we also have to realize that a noesis limited to natural scientific methods is limited in its reach. There is an entire classical intellectual tradition found in Western Christian thought to be tapped. And many of the greatest insights as to the relation of the human soul to the transcendent God are found in the mystical writings of the saints.

      Please remember that my article above is but the most rudimentary introduction to the methodology of natural theology. Moreover, some of the most profound insights about the nature of God and his relation to man and the world are to be found when philosophical principles are applied to supernatural revelation in the form of sacred theology. The modern world is not particularly sensitive to these older paths to profound truth.

      • What I do see, though, is a lot of attempts by man to reach the deepest truths about himself and God through methodologies taken from natural science.

        Yup. So where that fails—and I think it fails the most profoundly in the social sciences—you have an opportunity to point out the failure in its full glory and suggest that maybe something alternative/​additional is required for deeper understanding.

        We have to be careful not to truncate the pyramid of knowledge at the level of natural science.

        Who is to say that a better way of thinking about reality, provided by Christianity, cannot become increasingly scientific as it is increasingly well-understood? Perhaps theology could feed to philosophy which feeds to the sciences.

        Please remember that my article above is but the most rudimentary introduction to the methodology of natural theology.

        Yup. But if you aren't careful to point out scientific failures, loads of people aren't going to care or some are going to nod in that way that means they believe you but don't find it awfully relevant. The thing is, I'm pretty sure the attempt to impose monistic & impersonal causation on all reality has incredibly damaged humans. One place to go for examples is Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonisation.

      • VicqRuiz

        We have to be careful not to truncate the pyramid of knowledge at the level of natural science.

        From my agnostic point of view, I have no problem with the concept of a spiritual realm, a realm of immaterial entities, a realm which can only properly be addressed via philosophy.

        For example, I would agree with any theist that things such as love, duty, and courage are immaterial, not chemical constructs, and yet quite real. In this as in other things my role model is the great nineteenth century agnostic Robert Ingersoll.

        But having said that, I also hold that things which take place in the material realm, in the realm of matter and energy acting within three-dimensional space, are governed by the laws of the universe and must be subject to analysis by natural science.

        My concept of a god who created the universe and gave it the laws of gravity and thermodynamics which govern it does not allow for that same god to occasionally play with those laws in our sight, causing us to doubt our powers of observation and analysis. That would be the action of a trickster god, a god whom I would certainly choose not to worship.

        For that reason, I reject the accounts of events which appear to defy physical law, whether in the biblical period (the parting of the Red Sea) or in recent history (the apparition of the sun at Fatima) unless a plausible natural explanation can be made.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I don't mean this critically, but are you literally saying that you would not believe a miracle even if you saw one? Does that mean you reject the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima a priori, regardless of the quality of the evidence and witnesses?

          And would you think God somehow immoral for suspending his own laws of nature momentarily so as to make clear to his creatures the truth of some revelation that might do them good?

          In the early part of his Summa Theologiae, I think St. Thomas argues that revelation is still needed even if reason could prove God's existence, because men often come to erroneous conclusions about God and, even if they got it right, they soon forget or distort the truth reason has achieved. In other words, must God be malevolent simply because he attempts to communicate with his own creatures for their own good?

          • VicqRuiz

            Does that mean you reject the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima a priori

            We only have one star in our solar system. If the sun actually stopped or moved abnormally with respect to a Portuguese hillside, it could not have continued its normal motion with respect to the remainder of the earth. So I conclude that if there was a supernatural intervention in the case of Fatima, it consisted of placing an image in the optic nerves of the viewers, an image that was not accurate as to reality, That is certainly as effective from a spiritual perspective, and consistent with the observations of the rest of humanity.

            If the movement of the sun happened in 3-D space and time, it should have left a fingerprint in 3-D space and time.

            would you think God somehow immoral for suspending his own laws of nature momentarily

            Yes, I think I am saying that. Loki might do such a thing, but I don't pay a lot of mind to people who believe in Loki.

            St. Thomas argues that revelation is still needed......must God be malevolent simply because he attempts to communicate with his own creatures for their own good?

            If my understanding of historical Christianity is true, there is no shortage of cases in which God revealed himself, and communicated with his own creatures, without in any way violating the natural laws of the universe. In fact, these cases run into the millions if not the hundreds of millions.

            I'm not challenging those events.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yes, I think I am saying that. Loki might do such a thing, but I don't pay a lot of mind to people who believe in Loki.

            FWIW, I basically agree. While I don't think I could coherently accuse God of being immoral even in that situation, I nonetheless view the laws of nature as promises of intelligibility that God has made to us, and I do not believe that God ever revokes his promises.

          • VicqRuiz

            Well said, Jim.

          • How similar do you think the laws of nature are to the scientific laws current held to be "most fundamental" by scientists? (We can restrict this to physicists for simplicity's sake.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I guess I would say that our current understanding of natural laws is probably about right, as far as it goes ... but in a sense I don't think our understanding really does go that far. Our current understanding is breathtakingly good for describing "simple" idealized or nearly idealized systems, e.g. scenarios that are well-approximated by a vacuum. But out there "in the wild" something extraneous alway impinges on those quasi-idealized systems. That forces us to consider complex systems more holistically, and so far I would say that we seem to have very limited ability to predict, or claim understanding of, complex holistic systems.

            ETA: what's your take on that question?

          • I guess I would say that our current understanding of natural laws is probably about right, as far as it goes ... but in a sense I don't think our understanding really does go that far.

            Interesting, that can be read a number of different ways. So for example, Robert B. Laughlin argues in A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down that our scientific laws could be due to a substrate almost no physicists will publicly admit to thinking they exist (I don't know how many privately think it might exist). If one combines this with the quasi-substrate-independence Pigliucci describes in Essays on emergence, part I, then one could imagine that within certain limits of variation, differences in Laughlin's substrate will not show up in any fundamental physics experiments and perhaps not anywhere we can perceive as such. But what if there's a slow time-evolution away from said "limits of variation"? Could something like this happen:

            And the Lord said:

            “Because this people draw near with their mouth
                and honor me with their lips,
                while their hearts are far from me,
            and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
            therefore, behold, I will again
                do wonderful things with this people,
                with wonder upon wonder;
            and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
                and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
            (Isaiah 29:13–14)

            ? Could it be entirely lawful, but just not based on our scientific laws? Incidentally, God futzing with the substrate of our reality could be interpreted as consistent with:

            Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:20–25)

            We humans think power is the amassing of nuclear weapons and manipulative strategies and such. But could God subvert such power by futzing with the substrate in entirely lawful ways? (We can always suggest that God pre-programmed reality to respond in various ways depending on how righteous/​evil humans are being. So for example, enough sin—perhaps just persistent mediocrity—might have caused instability in containment structures and thus allowed the Flood to happen.)

            Our current understanding is breathtakingly good for describing "simple" idealized or nearly idealized systems, e.g. scenarios that are well-approximated by a vacuum.

            I agree. But unless one is a reductionist, this tells us rather little. We must respect the philosophy that is Ceteris Paribus Laws, lest we think we've pretty much figured things out and thus establish human-created abstractions for reality and transitively violated Ex 20:4–6 (see תְּמוּנָה, 'likeness' in v4). Unless … we think it would be good for God to create a finite reality where science could "finish" and then there would be no more glorious exploration of creation.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Could it be entirely lawful, but just not based on our scientific laws?

            I think that's the sort of thing I was trying to get at, but I'm not sufficiently agnostic to imagine that there's no intersection. We may only understand a sliver of the logic of reality, but that sliver is still pretty cool and, within a limited scope of inquiry, seems to be very nearly correct.

            However, if your point is that that which we perceive to be lawless may in fact be entirely lawful, according to a far subtler (and perhaps more personal) logic that we are aeons away from understanding (and may never understand), then yes, I agree.

          • I'm reminded of the cataclysms the OT describes as coming upon those who were sufficiently deluded that they could not read the signs of the times. Why couldn't God do the same with our scientific laws, if we get sufficiently unrighteous (and deluded into thinking we're awesome)?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, perhaps He could. I just sorta think he wouldn't. As I recently wrote to VicqRuiz, I interpret the laws of nature as promises of intelligibility made by God, and I don't believe that God ever revokes his promises. But perhaps what seems like a promise really isn't, I suppose.

          • Promises of intelligibility to whom? Recall:

            Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:1–12)

            There's also:

            Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 20:25–26)

            God seems to apply something like the following:

            (I) If you love the truth and hate all forms of deception—including self deception!—I will lead you further into the truth and bless you beyond your wildest dreams.

            (II) If you hate the truth and love all forms of deception, I have the right to give you more of what you like—that is, more deception.

            One catalog of self-deception is The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. It'd be interesting to see that book featured on SN, from a Catholic perspective.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, no disagreement there, but do you think that our our contemporary scientific understanding has resulted from work mostly done in the spirit of your (I), or from work mostly done in the spirit of your (II)?

          • I would most strongly argue that the science which has succeeded most has been the science which could treat agency as the lens in a telescope: utterly transparent while also focusing. This means incredible ignorance about that agency and a reticence to articulate it:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            So mostly, I think that disorder and deception has been allowed to fester largely unchecked. That means (I) with respect to what is 'natural' and (II)-via-intentional-ignorance with respect to agency. Fortunately we're getting slightly less deluded, e.g. with lists of cognitive biases and books like The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.

            But I think there is also culpability of those intellectuals who have denied or suppressed or failed to publicize stuff like this:

            What the world really wants is flattery, and it does not matter how much of it is a lie; but the world at the same time also wants the right to disguise, so that the fact of being lied to can easily be ignored. As I enjoy behind affirmed in my whims and praised for my foibles, I also expect credibility to make it easy for me to believe, in good conscience or at least without a bad conscience, that everything I hear, read, absorb, and watch is indeed true, important, worthwhile, and authentic! (Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power, 26)

            Whether we ought to pin this trahison des clercs on scientists is an open question. The influence that experts have on the public is dubious (Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline) and journalists in the US and Germany seem to side more with the public than scientists (Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline). Hyper-specialization also means that very few scientists will be punished for not acknowledging the truth state of the art in their field. I guess we could ask to what extent psychologists and psychiatrists know that people adore flattery and delusion, but even for them if they're getting paid to make people feel better, the motives are exceedingly perverse.

            In the end, I can only really blame the failure on Christians, who have a beautiful compendium of 66 books which describes how humans love flattering delusions and flee from the truth and the many strategies God has tried to bring them back to the truth. As far as I can tell, there are so many lessons to be learned from the Old Testament and New, which we do not want to learn because:

                In fabricating Christianity, therefore, Christians have know what they were doing. They have freely chosen this course. They have voluntarily forsaken revelation and the Lord. They have opted for new bondage. They have not aspired to the full gift of the Holy Spirit that would have enabled them to take the new way that he opened up. They have made a different choice and left the Holy Spirit unemployed, idle, present only on sufferance. This is why the burning question is a purely human one: Why have Christians taken this contrary course? What forces, mechanisms, stakes, strategies, or structures have induced this subversion? For human aggrandizement and nothing else. (The Subversion of Christianity, 12–13)

            I'll end with some Romano Guardini:

            What happens to power depends upon man's tempered exercise of it, upon the reasoned ends to which he places it. Close examination proves that recent years have been marked by a monstrous growth in man's power over being, over things and over men, but the grave responsibility, the clear consciousness, the strong character needed for exercising this power well have not kept pace with its growth at all. Contemporary man has not been trained to use power well nor has he—even in its loosest sense—an awareness of the problem itself. He seems alert to the crisis of power today only in its limited external dangers, such as clearly arose during the recent War and were then publicly discussed. (The End of the Modern World, 82)

            If we imagine scientific and technological power as fuel and conscience as the reactor vessel, it is clear that the fuel : vessel strength ratio can take on dangerous values. If science cannot offer us guidance here—and I say that it at least does not—to offer it up as the main solution to our problems is egregiously irresponsible and could end up ending the human race. Or, this is the opportunity for a chastened theology to return to being queen of the sciences. Something has to serve that role (well, I'd prefer it be someone: Jesus Christ servant-king), and the current something is rather unreliable I claim.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't doubt that there is a lot of truth in that, but you are speaking in generalities and perhaps focusing a bit too much on our contemporaries. If we drill down into the lives of particular scientists, especially some of the more consequential ones, we find things like:

            ... I have the capacity of being more wicked than any example that man could set me, and ... if I escape, it is only by God's grace helping me to get rid of myself, partially in science, more completely in society, — but not perfectly except by committing myself to God ...

            Which hardly sounds like a person unaware of his deficiencies or given to self-flattery.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clerk_Maxwell

          • Ahh, but did that attitude from Maxwell come from science, or from elsewhere? What I'm targeting here is the idea that science and maybe 'humanism' can be our bulwark against delusion and barbarism. (The secularists will say that 'religion' is allowed to exist in private—but not in public life.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, it seems to have been part and parcel with his Christian orientation to reality.

            I'm afraid I must have misunderstood your line of questioning. I took your initial question to be about our current scientific understanding of reality, but now we are talking primarily about contemporary scientific culture. I'm losing the thread of how this relates to your original question.

          • J(hc): … I nonetheless view the laws of nature as promises of intelligibility that God has made to us …

            LB: Promises of intelligibility to whom? Recall: [2 Thess 2:1–12 and Ezek 20:25–26] God seems to apply something like the following:

            (I) If you love the truth and hate all forms of deception—including self deception!—I will lead you further into the truth and bless you beyond your wildest dreams.

            (II) If you hate the truth and love all forms of deception, I have the right to give you more of what you like—that is, more deception.

            J(hc): I'm afraid I must have misunderstood your line of questioning. I took your initial question to be about our current scientific understanding of reality, but now we are talking primarily about contemporary scientific culture. I'm losing the thread of how this relates to your original question.

            I think God only promises intelligibility to (I)-society, not (II)-society. I suspect there has been a slide from (I) → (II) on multiple fronts. The more one is (II), the more one is closed to exploring more of reality. I'm actually aligning quite well with atheists who claim that religion blinds one from the truth and that this is a bad thing, but … I think I actually have evidence on my side. :-|

          • I think God only promises intelligibility to (I)-society, not (II)-society.

            Couldn't the advocates of any minority religion make the same argument? It nicely summarizes what I was thinking when I was a Pentecostal. My fellow sectarians and I were convinced that the mainstream churches didn't agree with our interpretation of the Bible because they just didn't want to know the truth that God had revealed in the Bible.

          • That would seem to depend on whether 'truth' includes anything that the in-group shares with the out-group, or whether the spheres are pretty much disjoint. One possible overlap is miraculous healing—even the most evil of people seem to appreciate when their maladies are ameliorated. So suppose that a group of Christians can grow in excellence not only according to their own internal standards of excellence, but also according to at least some of the out-group's standards of excellence (e.g. scientific excellence). If that were to happen, then the problem to which you allude would seem to change in character if not evaporate.

            Two aspects I really like about naturalism is that (i) it does not value any sort of 'secret knowledge'; (ii) it expects gaps between various bits of knowledge to shrink and ultimately be closed. Much religion, to my knowledge, violates (i) and/or (ii). Some gnostic strains of Christianity have, for example. Strains of Dispensationalism which are sufficiently approximated by the term "lifeboat theology" would also qualify. The general principle of "Obey for reasons you cannot understand and will never understand this side of Heaven" fits in as well; it violates the "until" of Eph 4:11–16 and sets up a permanent leader/​follower dichotomy (against which the Reformation pushed).

            Here's an example relevant to excellence in science. I happen to be aware of a lab where the principles set forth at relational sin were violated. A lab member was gossiped about in a persistently negative light and a huge amount of drama ensued, distracting everyone from scientific inquiry and greatly damaging the gossiped-about scientist. At least one of the scientists at that lab is a Christian and he is quickly learning that these basic relationship principles apply outside the church as well as within. Personal integrity and discipline in a domain I often see shoveled into the "100% subjective" bucket can lead to better science.

          • Couldn't the advocates of any minority religion make the same argument?

            That would seem to depend on whether 'truth' includes anything that the in-group shares with the out-group, or whether the spheres are pretty much disjoint.

            It isn’t clear to me how any amount of common ground would make a difference, if the remaining disagreements are about issues deemed crucial and the in group attributes those disagreements to the out group’s aversion to crucial truths.

            The sect I belonged to agreed with all the other Pentecostal churches about almost everything except a couple of doctrinal points, but because of those points, we felt sure that those other Pentecostals were going to burn in hell right alongside the Catholics and the atheists. We thought our positions on those doctrines represented the plain and obvious teaching of the New Testament, and when anyone asked, “If it’s so plain and obvious, why don’t the others see it?” we said, “Because they just don’t want to see it.”

          • It isn’t clear to me how any amount of common ground would make a difference, if the remaining disagreements are about issues deemed crucial and the in group attributes those disagreements to the out group’s aversion to crucial truths.

            If a group of Christians starts excelling at science in ways that non-Christians (or other clusters of Christians, where a cluster is based on causal powers) cannot, that will attract plenty of attention, regardless of whatever hangups people might have. The True Believers will continue to do their thing, but they'll become irrelevant.

          • The True Believers will continue to do their thing, but they'll become irrelevant.

            We can always hope so.

          • Craig Roberts

            It's the blame game. If God pulls the wool over your eyes than he can't hold you responsible for your ignorance and condemn you to eternity in hell. So heathens, heretics, and every other person under the sun that does not believe what you do must harbor ill will and evil intent. Otherwise, how could they be held accountable?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If God routinely suspended his own natural laws, that would undermine the very intelligibility of his creation and the foundations of natural science which he gives to the mind of man in order to understand and reap benefit from the natural world.

            That said, there is no reason why God could not offer more evident interventions for the sake of humanity -- not merely private revelations that no one else need believe.

            If you know the context of the Fatima event, it was said to be given to warn the world to repent its immoral ways so as to avoid the advent of a Third World War.

            Your explanation of the event as entailing some sort of mass "vision" is the only rational one, since you are correct in saying that the natural sun could not have displaced its position in the Solar System without massive consequences.

            The question for Loki or any other hypothetical "lesser cause" is whether the events actually recorded could be explained by any cause less than the actual Creator of the universe.

            I leave it for your own judgment whether the three critical aspects of Fatima meet that criterion: (1) the prediction, (2) the mass vision, and (3) the sudden drying of rain-soaked woolen clothes and muddy earth.

            If you compare the "explanations" given by skeptical sites to the actual eyewitness details, I think you will realize that the speculative hypotheses simply do not fit the experienced facts.

            The "devil" is in the details. I suggest you take a look at the book, "Meet the Witnesses" by John M. Haffert, written some four decades after the events and in which he deposes over thirty still living witnesses (with excerpts from the two major Lisbon newspapers added).

            Take a look here and judge for yourself:
            https://www.amazon.com/Meet-Witnesses-Miracle-John-Haffert/dp/1877905356

          • the natural sun could not have displaced its position in the Solar System without massive consequences.

            Of course not, if it happened naturally. But wouldn't the God you believe in be able to move the sun without disturbing anything else? Isn't that kind of what omnipotence all about?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Of course he could. But then the event would have been observed by the entire planet, which it was not.

            The miraculous character of this event at Fatima was that the natural objective physical world order was NOT disturbed in general, whereas it was clearly so to thousands of observers on the ground at Fatima.

          • I don't mean this critically, but are you literally saying that you would not believe a miracle even if you saw one?

            Not trying to speak for Vic or any other skeptic besides myself.

            I'm assuming that (a) I'm the only witness and (b) when you call it a miracle, you mean it was caused by divine power. Let me go over the reasoning I would have to employ to logically reach the conclusion that I had seen a miracle, keeping in mind that this is a subject I have been studying for most of my life. First I would have to think myself incapable of being mistaken about what I had seen - - that on that occasion, at that moment, I was infallible, not only in my perceptions but also in my understanding of what I had perceived. Second, I would have to think that my knowledge of the laws of the universe was sufficient to justify my ruling out any possible natural explanation. I see no way I could justify believing either of those things, let alone both of them.

            Does that mean you reject the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima a priori, regardless of the quality of the evidence and witnesses

            I do not "reject the Miracle... regardless of the quality of the evidence and witnesses." I reject the hypothesis that it must have been a miracle because of the quality of the evidence and witnesses. You recently recommended that I read John Haffert's Meet the Witnesses. I have now read it. The case he presents is not sufficient to overcome what I consider reasonable doubt.

            There were two distinct alleged miracles at Fatima, apparently unrelated except for the coincidence of time and place. One was the dancing sun. The other was the sudden drying of clothing and mud. Concerning the second, I have not yet found any references to contemporaneous testimony. Neither of the two newspaper articles quoted by Haffert mentions it, and it is not to be believed that if it had actually occurred, neither reporter would have written anything about it. Some of Haffert's interviewees mention it, but those interviews were done in 1960 or so, more than 40 years later. Considering everything scientists have learned in recent decades about human memory, I need no appeal to any weird hypotheses to harbor a reasonable doubt that what those people remember happening didn't really happen.

            That leaves the dancing sun. Even most believers concede that the sun itself could not have been doing anything out of the ordinary. But, a large number of people did see something anomalous, and their reports are numerous enough and consistent enough, in my own judgment, to discredit the hypothesis of collective hallucination. That means they saw something that was actually happening. And what could that have been? Other than "some atmospheric phenomenon," I have no idea. I know next to nothing about meteorology, but I do know that even among the experts, the subject is rife with unanswered questions. The volume of data we don't have about what was happening in the air over Fatima that morning is immense. Just maybe, if it were to happen today, the scientific community would come up with a plausible hypothesis, but compared with what is available nowadays, the meteorological records for Spain in 1917 might as well be nonexistent. Given that much ignorance, there can be no cogent argument for the claim that no naturalistic explanation is possible.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, let me say that I do appreciate the fact that you were willing to purchase the Haffert book and actually read it.
            Second, I would say that you have given a quite good naturalistic response to what you have read, even though I come to a different conclusion myself.

            Still, as I think I said before, this is not the science of metaphysics or natural theology. It is a concrete historical event to which each person must give his own honest evaluation. That is one reason, perhaps, that the Church does not insist that Catholics must accept any particular private revelation – even though this one clearly appears to have ecclesiastical approval.

            As to your own personal epistemological criteria for accepting the evidence of your senses and intellectual judgment facing such an event, I suggest that it is easier for one to be a skeptic when one is not one of the actual witnesses. Clearly, the people there falling on their knees in the mud and crying out their personal sins in fear of imminent death had no such epistemic doubts.

            As to the sudden drying of the clothing and mud, I, too, noted that the newspaper reports did not include that aspect. Still, given the Marxist-Masonic control of both Lisbon papers, the real human miracle here is that the reports of the “dancing sun” got into print in both papers in any form -- and for just a single day.

            The fact that so many witnesses forty years after the event give deposed witness to the “drying” again to me suggests that that many could not be wrong about such a dramatic aspect, given the photos of all the umbrellas early in the day, so that the only way I see to doubt the fact would be to challenge the veracity of the witnesses.

            Finally, as to the apparent behavior of the sun, seen both locally and at distances of several kilometers away, I concur that one must make an evaluative judgment.

            Clearly, no one is saying the actual Sun moved in its celestial position. I realize that the final logical move of skeptics here is to suggest that, perhaps, some unknown celestial phenomenon occurred that with greater scientific knowledge we can explain by natural means.

            Still, the very fact that not every witness says they saw the same thing – and, apparently a few saw nothing at all, argues against a natural physical phenomenon. It sounds to me much more like a collective visionary experience, with variations on the part of individuals, but a common theme which the vast majority of witnesses experienced.

            The fact that people were crying out their sins and clearly thought they were about to die argues against easy naturalistic explanations. This is why I think it is important for people to read the actual words of the actual witnesses themselves, as is available in the Haffert book, “Meet the Witnesses.”

            Again, I sincerely appreciate that you actually were open-minded enough to purchase and read the book. And I appreciate your taking the time to present your best naturalistic explanation.

          • First, let me say that I do appreciate the fact that you were willing to purchase the Haffert book and actually read it.

            You’re welcome, and thank you for recommending it. It was an interesting read, actually, even if the author sometimes seemed to care as much about denouncing communism as about defending his belief in the miracle.

            I suggest that it is easier for one to be a skeptic when one is not one of the actual witnesses.

            Maybe. One can never be entirely certain beforehand of one’s own reaction to being in such a situation.

            Clearly, the people there falling on their knees in the mud and crying out their personal sins in fear of imminent death had no such epistemic doubts.

            It seems from the accounts that of those people, practically all were already believers. Even if some were not, even among skeptics there are degrees of skepticism. Some are more easily persuaded to believe than others.

            Still, given the Marxist-Masonic control of both Lisbon papers, the real human miracle here is that the reports of the “dancing sun” got into print in both papers in any form -- and for just a single day.

            It may seem miraculous to you, but I’ve been a journalist. Regardless of your political views, if you publish a newspaper, you put stories in it that people will want to read, unless and only unless it obviously makes your political views look bad. From the viewpoint of a committed atheist, a religious spectacle wasn’t likely to do that. If the editors and reporters were expecting anything, it was that all those religious folks were going to make fools of themselves, so it’s hardly anomalous that they were on the scene to watch what happened.

            The fact that so many witnesses forty years after the event give deposed witness to the “drying” again to me suggests that that many could not be wrong about such a dramatic aspect, given the photos of all the umbrellas early in the day, so that the only way I see to doubt the fact would be to challenge the veracity of the witnesses.

            We still don’t know how many of the witnesses remembered that particular phenomenon 40 years later. Without some data that would justify at least a rough guess of the fraction, we have it as an established fact that ordinary people can and do remember things that never really happened.

            The fact that people were crying out their sins and clearly thought they were about to die argues against easy naturalistic explanations.

            I don’t see why. When religious people see something they believe is a miracle, they will act a certain way no matter what is really happening. It’s like if I believe you are threatening me, I will act defensively, no matter what your actual intentions are.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I can understand why the reporters were on the scene to observe. But I am amazed at what they reported and that it got printed -- given the great antipathy of the state and its official organs against religion at the time.

            My point about people thinking that they were going to die is not that they were reacting with a religious interpretation, but that the phenomena were far too stark and threatening to be something easily explained naturally.

            Again, though, I respect you for getting the book and working out your own naturalistic interpretation. I think that the more one honestly ponders the details of the accounts the more questions it raises for naturalism. But, as I said at the outset, this is an event that each observer will have to adjudge honestly for himself. I am satisfied just to see people looking at the details of this event so widely unknown in today's secular society.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          My concept of a god who created the universe and gave it the laws of gravity and thermodynamics which govern it does not allow for that same god to occasionally play with those laws in our sight

          Who says that he does? The Catholic conception of the relationship between miracles and nature is that God is perfectly capable of working miracles without violating any laws of nature. As far as I can tell, we have no reason to doubt that the laws of nature underdetermine what happens in physical reality. On the contrary, we have every reason to think that the laws of nature do underdetermine what happens in physical reality (because we can observe the physical effects of our own intentionality). So, even if we suppose (as I am inclined to do) that laws of nature are inviolable, that does not preclude the miraculous and/or God's active participation.

          To make that more concrete, let's suppose for the sake of argument that the Red Sea was in fact parted by God. Is it clear that that would have involved any violations of any laws of nature? (Keep in mind that I don't violate the laws of gravity when, through the exercise of my apparently immaterial volition, I raise my arm away from the earth.)

          • Who says that he does? The Catholic conception of the relationship
            between miracles and nature is that God is perfectly capable of working
            miracles without violating any laws of nature.

            If that's the case then there is no difference between a miracle and a very unlikely natural event. Further, if no laws of nature were violated, then you should (at least in theory) be able to demonstrate a resurrection.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If that's the case then there is no difference between a miracle and a very unlikely natural event.

            I think the only thing that differentiates a miracle from a very unlikely natural event is God's intentional role in the event. As with any assessment of intentionality (certainly including human intentionality), we have to proceed by inference, not by direct observation. So, in a sense, yes: at the level of physical science (which prescinds consideration of intentionality) I don't think there is anything to differentiate an unlikely natural event from a miraculous expression of divine will.

            Further, if no laws of nature were violated, then you should (at least in theory) be able to demonstrate a resurrection.

            I'm not sure what you mean by "demonstrate a resurrection". Do you mean that one should be able to replicate the resurrection? If I postulate the inviolability of the laws of nature, have I thereby assumed that every event is replicable? For example, I don't think that biogenesis violated the laws of nature. Do I need to demonstrate that biogenesis is replicable in order to defend that view?

          • VicqRuiz

            I agree with you that replicability is too high a bar. We can analyze and explain many processes which we can't replicate.

            So how would you describe the event of resurrection in a way that's consistent with what is known or at least knowable about biology and chemistry?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Matthew Newland offered at least one intriguing post on this topic. To the extent that I understand his proposal, it seems sort of plausible (albeit vague and highly speculative, as he himself admits). I find that sort of speculation both fun and indispensable, but I'm not sure I would want to tie my cart to that particular horse. I would rather just say that we don't know. While I certainly want and actively seek explanations for the phenomena of experience (and the phenomena of historically attested experience, such as the Resurrection), I don't postpone belief in phenomena until such time as I have a theoretical explanation. That would be putting the cart before the horse (sorry for recycling my metaphors, and inconsistently at that). I think it is fair to say that most scientists don't necessarily believe that our limited brains will ever be able to understand everything. Accordingly, it doesn't seem wise to let our theories put any absolute limits on our phenomenology (though certainly, theory and phenomenology should exist in dialogue).

          • I think it is fair to say that most scientists don't necessarily believe that our limited brains will ever be able to understand everything. Accordingly, it doesn't seem wise to let our theories put any absolute limits on our phenomenology

            I have no quarrel with any of that, especially the part about us never understanding everything. But I'm not going to worry about how the resurrection could have happened until someone shows me a good enough reason to believe it did happen.

          • My point is that if you're now postulating a natural explanation performed by God. If you want me to accept that this natural explanation (which we don't know is even possible) is more likely than other natural explanations that we do know are possible, you'll have to give some pretty conclusive evidence.

            When we're talking about natural explanations ones that we know are possible are much more likely, and more rational to accept, than ones that we do not know are possible. If you can establish that resurrections can actually happen, then I might be able to accept that Jesus was actually resurrected. As it stands, I think it's far more likely that the disciples were mistaken, or possibly lied about their experiences, than a person being resurrected.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, this is all fine, but now we are getting a bit far afield from the gist of VicqRuiz's initial comment. His point was that it seems very inelegant and un-God like to go mucking about with the laws of nature on a whimsical ad hoc basis. And my point was that I agree and that one does not need to assume any such thing within an orthodox Catholic perspective.

            If we are going to move on to the evidence for or against particular miracles ...

            If you want me to accept that this natural explanation (which we don't know is even possible) is more likely than other natural explanations that we do know are possible

            The particular mechanism by which a putative miracle occurs is not usually of interest, from a theological perspective. When a miracle is claimed, what matters is: 1. Something truly extraordinary has happened, and 2. We can interpret that extraordinariness as a sort of "divine exclamation point", a way of God calling our attention to something. How that extraordinary thing happened, from a mechanistic perspective, is beside the point.

            When we're talking about natural explanations ones that we know are possible are much more likely, and more rational to accept, than ones that we do not know are possible.

            And those things that you "know are possible", does that consist only of the types of phenomena that are more or less directly accessible to you? If so, then your reasoning really implies the unlikelihood of any phenomena that are not directly accessible to you ... which seems like a very biased way to assess likelihoods.

            If you can establish that resurrections can actually happen, then I might be able to accept that Jesus was actually resurrected.

            I think that currently, the only way we can establish that resurrections can happen is by establishing that a resurrection has happened. And the methodology to investigate that latter claim is necessarily historical, not physico-scientific (again, because the phenomenon in question is not claimed to be replicable).

          • The particular mechanism by which a putative miracle occurs is not usually of interest

            I know that those who accept miracles don't tend to care how miracles were performed, this is why I call them credulous. They also tend to assert their particular causal agent into the picture and just leave it at that. They don't care about anything except jamming their agent into whatever gap they have. If you're going to assert a causal agent, you need to also give a plausible method, otherwise it's just another baseless claim.

            When a miracle is claimed, what matters is: 1. Something truly extraordinary has happened

            Sure, but extraordinary doesn't tell us what actually happened, and you're relying on our ignorance.

            2. We can interpret that extraordinariness as a sort of "divine
            exclamation point", a way of God calling our attention to something.

            I would say that all you're doing is creating a god of the gaps, and little different from somebody claiming that the earthquake in San Francisco of 1989 was God warning people about the gays.

            And those things that you "know are possible", does that consist only of
            the types of phenomena that are more or less directly accessible to
            you? If so, then your reasoning really implies the unlikelihood of any
            phenomena that are not directly accessible to you ... which seems like a
            very biased way to assess likelihoods.

            If we're talking about the supposed resurrection of Jesus, we know that people lie. We also know that people make mistakes in their perceptions. We know that memory is faulty and not as good as people think it is, and can be altered after an event just by talking to other people. Our brains fill in, and can alter details to try and harmonize them.
            It therefore seems vastly more likely that there was some mistaken perception, if not outright lying, about the resurrection, than an actual resurrection took place, since we don't know that a resurrection is even physically possible.

            If we're going to posit very unlikely possible explanations, why not posit something like the Devil deluding Jesus' followers to believe that Jesus was resurrected? Seems to me there are a lot of unlikely explanations we can invoke and they're all just as well supported as your resurrection hypothesis.

            I think that currently, the only way we can establish that resurrections can happen is by establishing that a resurrection has happened.

            At best the evidence you have for this claim is from a book that tells us that a handful of mostly ignorant people, all of whom are now long dead, claimed to have witnessed the result a resurrection. If you think this is sufficient to establish that a resurrection took place, I think you have a serious credulity problem.

            And the methodology to investigate that latter claim is necessarily
            historical, not physico-scientific (again, because the phenomenon in
            question is not claimed to be replicable).

            And ultimately, history cannot tell you that something happened in the past if it can not happen in the present. Historical methods simply do not allow for these kinds of assessments. Any good historian will tell you this. If you're relying on history to tell you the resurrection happened, you're going after the wrong field.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            They don't care about anything except jamming their agent into whatever gap they have. If you're going to assert a causal agent, you need to also give a plausible method,

            That seems to me to be an outrageous demand. Could I not claim that this message results from my desire to communicate with you, even if I were completely ignorant of the intervening biology, chemistry, and physics that makes this communication possible?

            Sure, but extraordinary doesn't tell us what actually happened, and you're relying on our ignorance.

            Yes, absolutely. An essential characteristic of miracles is surprise, and it is only from a stance of (partial) ignorance that we can be surprised. The question is whether we will always remain ignorant of some things, and whether some things will remain "permanently surprising" (and therefore miraculous). I'm not usually one to quote Aquinas, but here's how he put it:

            These works that are done by God outside the usual order assigned to things are wont to be called miracles: because we are astonished (admiramur) at a thing when we see an effect without knowing the cause. And since at times one and the same cause is known to some and unknown to others, it happens that of several who see an effect, some are astonished and some not ... Accordingly a thing is wonderful simply, when its cause is hidden simply: and this is what we mean by a miracle: something, to wit, that is wonderful in itself and not only in respect of this person or that.

            Finally, to me, this is the most astonishing thing you have said:

            And ultimately, history cannot tell you that something happened in the past if it can not happen in the present.

            I was unaware of this. Could you provide some references? And could you apply this principle to the question of biogenesis that I mentioned earlier? Must we show that biogenesis is possible now, in order to prove that it occurred in the past?

          • Could I not claim that this message results from my desire to communicate with you

            No, because you haven't established that there's even been a communication, or even a message. At best we have some event that we cannot currently explain.

            I was unaware of this. Could you provide some references?

            I can't find anything direct at the moment, but it ultimately comes from the assumption of the uniformity of nature. We try to explain the past by using our understanding of the world today.

            Flew, in 1966, stated:
            The basic propositions are: first, that the present relics of the
            past cannot be interpreted as historical evidence at all, unless we
            presume that the same fundamental regularities obtained then as still
            obtain today; second, that in trying as best he may to determine what
            actually happened the historian must employ as criteria all his present
            knowledge, or presumed knowledge, of what is probable or improbable,
            possible or impossible; and, third, that, since miracle has to be
            defined in terms of practical impossibility the application of these
            criteria inevitably precludes proof of a miracle.

            In our understanding of the world today, people don't get resurrected, but we do know that people make mistakes, and they're fairly common. From a historical perspective it's far more likely that people were mistaken than an actual miracle took place.

            If you know of any miracles that history has ever actually established, I'd love to hear about it because as far as I'm aware no miracles have ever been affirmed by history.

            And could you apply this principle to the question of biogenesis that I mentioned earlier? Must we show that biogenesis is possible now, in order to prove that it occurred in the past?

            Ultimately, we don't know how life started, and it seems very likely that we can actually never say how life actually started. We can offer some likely hypotheses, and try to show that these are plausible, however, the only evidence we've got is that life exists now. Even if we find a natural process that can get life started we could only say that we have a plausible explanation for how life started. We won't know if that's how it actually started.

            Such are the problem with dealing with ancient history.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, because you haven't established that there's even been a communication, or even a message.

            ?? Sorry if I wasn't clear, but I was referring to my combox message to you. My point is that, in that case, my intent can be inferred, even if one knows nothing of the biological and physical mechanisms that make that communication possible. If you accept that specific point, then you presumably accept the broader point that one doesn't need to posit, much less believe, a particular mechanism (in the sense of efficient causality) in order to infer intent and to make reasonable semantic inferences. Could you address that point?

            With regard to the Flew quote, I accept that we need to presume something about uniformity of nature (though I would prefer: "continuity of nature") in order to interpret our present relics of the past. But, as that very quote implies, uniformity of nature has to do with regularities. That is, we have to assume that the regularities that are in play today were also in play in the historical time of interest. Fine. But reality doesn't manifest itself only in regularities. There are also what we could broadly refer to as singularities (perhaps including, but not limited to "singularities" in the specific technical sense used in cosmology). Strange, unique, idiosyncratic things do happen, and any philosophy that denies that is, to me, patently false.

            we do know that people make mistakes, and they're fairly common

            But we also know something about the type of historical record that gets left behind when people make mistakes about an event that is attested to in multiple sources. The synoptic, Johannine, and Pauline sources diverge on plenty of lesser details, but they converge on fundamental aspects of Jesus's life, death, and Resurrection to a degree that we would not expect if the whole thing was just mistake. We also know that Paul claimed that many people were witnesses to the Resurrection and that he made that claim publicly while those people were still living, and yet we are not left with any historical record of anyone saying, "I was there, and these people are lying" ...

            Anyway, I think this sort of historical argument is an excellent way to proceed, but I'm afraid it will lead to a foregone conclusion in your case, to the extent that you believe in (what I see as) an overly aggressive form of "uniformity of nature". As I see it, reality is a lot more like this:

            The glory of the One who moves all things permeates the universe and shines forth more in one part and less in another.

            Lastly:

            Ultimately, we don't know how life started, and it seems very likely that we can actually never say how life actually started.

            But we can infer that it started, which is sufficient to contradict your proposal that we should never make historical inferences about things that (so far) can't be replicated today.

          • The synoptic, Johannine, and Pauline sources diverge on plenty of lesser details, but they converge on fundamental aspects of Jesus's life, death, and Resurrection to a degree that we would not expect if the whole thing was just mistake.

            At first this may sound quite reasonable, but I think it falls apart on any scrutiny. All of these sources are second hand, as none of the gospels were written by their ascribed authors, and Paul did not know Jesus at the time of the resurrection. They got this information from others, because it was dogma of the new religion. The creed of 1 Cor 15, which was almost certainly around long before any of the NT writings, would have been the basis for all writings.

            Further, when we look into what was going on in the first few centuries of the Christian Church, we can see all kinds of (now heretical) views popping up, including Docetism, Gnosticism, along with others who believed that if Jesus was really God then Jesus could not have died on the cross. The writings we have today are a product of several centuries of working out what was heresy, and what was orthodox. Obviously, the orthodoxy we have today is what survived.

            We also know that Paul claimed that many people were witnesses to the Resurrection and that he made that claim publicly while those people were still living, and yet we are not left with any historical record of anyone saying, "I was there, and these people are lying" ...

            There are a few problems with this kind of claim:
            1. We only have Paul's word about this.
            2. This fundamentally relies on a kind of argument from silence, namely that if Paul was wrong that somebody would have spoken up and said something. Perhaps they did but nobody paid any attention to them.
            3. My understanding of the ancient world is that people tended not to look at the evidence for extraordinary claims, but rather relied on how sincere people were when they made the claims.

            But we can infer that it started, which is sufficient to
            contradict your proposal that we should never make historical inferences about things that (so far) can't be replicated today.

            This is a slight misunderstanding of my position. My position is that historical explanations must rely on our ability to potentially replicate. We can infer that it's likely that something happened, but that on its own isn't very useful. We can infer that life started, but that on its own is rather mundane, and tells us exactly nothing. If you want to tell me how life likely started, you're going to need to show the work.

            Postulating an actual resurrection as an explanation for the resurrection stories isn't one that historians are going to make for historical reasons. Such a thing is beyond the investigative powers of historians, and as such any historian who says the resurrection happened is doing so because of their religious views, not their historical views. It's very likely that something happened to make the disciples believe that Jesus was resurrected, but I don't think that a resurrection is a justifiable explanation for this.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would just hope that historians would be sufficiently open-minded to at least postulate that the records have a substantially factual basis, even if many of them might quickly reject that hypothesis. But beyond that, I basically agree with you that the historical record in itself is not sufficient to adjudicate the question. This, I believe, is what Pope Emeritus Bendict XVI meant when he said:

            at its core, the debate about modern [historical] exegesis is not a dispute among historians: it is rather a philosophical debate

            Specifically as it relates to our discussion, the philosophical debate is about whether miraculous things are possible and whether we expect a God who is enmeshed in human history. Where we net out on those philosophical issues will determine how we interpret the evidence.

            I could haggle a bit more on some of the points you raise, but I'm willing to draw it to a close for now if you are. The way you are engaging me now suggests that you don't think I'm entirely unreasonable, and I think that recognition is all that I'm ever really seeking in any of these conversations :-)

          • Sure, we can draw this to a close.
            Cheers!

          • I would just hope that historians would be sufficiently open-minded to at least postulate that the records have a substantially factual basis,

            Open-mindedness does not postulate a factual basis. It postulates the possibility of a factual basis and then examines the evidence to see whether it confirms such a basis. It is as erroneous to presuppose even partial factuality as to presuppose complete nonfactuality.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The phrase "postulate the possibility" is redundant. To postulate is merely to assume something is true for the sake of an argument. There is therefore no meaningful difference between "postulating a factual basis" and "postulating the possibility of a factual basis", other than the latter involving clumsier phrasing.

          • To postulate is merely to assume something is true for the sake of an argument.

            Point taken. I was not aware of that usage, but the dictionaries seem to confirm its existence. I'm used to thinking of postulates the way Euclid thought of them.

            There is therefore no meaningful difference between "postulating a factual basis" and "postulating the possibility of a factual basis",

            I don't think the dictionaries will back you up on that. The difference between a fact and a possible fact is the difference between "You are the father" and "You could be the father."

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The difference between a fact and a possible fact is the difference between "You are the father" and "You could be the father."

            As you can hopefully imagine, I'm aware of the difference between facts and possible facts. My point was that the difference between a fact and a possible fact goes away within a conjectural context, e.g. there is no difference between "Let's postulate that you are the father." and "Let's postulate the possibility that you are the father." In either case it amounts to: "We are about to argue as if you are the father, leaving aside for the moment any consideration of whether you are, in fact, the father."

          • In either case it amounts to: "We are about to argue as if you are the father, leaving aside for the moment any consideration of whether you are, in fact, the father."

            Maybe in your semantics. Not in mine.

          • Do you think that the following statement is different for all N = 0, 1, 2, …

                 P[N]: Let's postulate ({ the possibility that } × N) Q is true

            ? Maybe just for N ∈ { 0, 1 }? I can introduce parentheses if you find that important.

            For some fun on the importance of slicing up grammar just right, see my (I) vs. (II) series in discussing Fitch's paradox of knowability.

          • Do you think that the following statement is different for all N= 0, 1, 2, …
            P[N]: Let's postulate ({ the possibility that } × N) Q is true

            I’ve never come across logical formulas using the multiplication sign. I’ll assume it is just an abbreviated way of representing a conjunction of N statements. A conjunction is true if all conjuncts are true and is false otherwise. Calling the conjuncts postulates doesn’t change that.

          • P[0] = Let's postulate Q is true.
            P[1] = Let's postulate { the possibility that } Q is true.
            P[2] = Let's postulate { the possibility that } { the possibility that } Q is true.

            Make sense? We can add some parentheses if necessary.

          • Make sense?

            I understand you now.

            We can add some parentheses if necessary

            They would be necessary if we were going to pursue this at some length, but I see nothing to be gained by that. Modal logicians might have fun with recursions of this sort, but I think that once you have postulated either a fact or a possible fact, you have covered all the cases you need to worry about.

          • What if something is possibly a fact according to one way of thinking, but not possibly a fact according to another? :-p

          • For us empiricists, the determination of fact is pretty much just a matter of observation. A way of thinking that denies, in any general way, the reality of what we observe is prima facie suspect. That noted, a particular observation might be inconsistent with all our other observations. A situation like that has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

          • For us empiricists, the determination of fact is pretty much just a matter of observation.

            Do you think what you have said here is 100% consistent with the underlined:

            It is commonly thought that the birth of modern natural science was made possible by an intellectual shift from a mainly abstract and speculative conception of the world to a carefully elaborated image based on observations. There is some grain of truth in this claim, but this grain depends very much on what one takes observation to be. In the philosophy of science of our century, observation has been practically equated with sense perception. This is understandable if we think of the attitude of radical empiricism that inspired Ernst Mach and the philosophers of the Vienna Circle, who powerfully influenced our century's philosophy of science. However, this was not the attitude of the founders of modern science: Galileo, for example, expressed in a famous passage of the Assayer the conviction that perceptual features of the world are merely subjective, and are produced in the 'animal' by the motion and impacts of unobservable particles that are endowed uniquely with mathematically expressible properties, and which are therefore the real features of the world. Moreover, on other occasions, when defending the Copernican theory, he explicitly remarked that in admitting that the Sun is static and the Earth turns on its own axis, 'reason must do violence to the sense', and that it is thanks to this violence that one can know the true constitution of the universe. (The Reality of the Unobservable, 1)

            ?

            A way of thinking that denies, in any general way, the reality of what we observe is prima facie suspect.

            What if what is in error is not our perception of what is, but the history we use to back it such that we make certain conclusions about what is possible? After all, the actual data woefully underdetermine theory. And yet we love to add to what is actually there:

                The ‘Law of Closure’ is part of this phenomenon: it expresses the tendency of human perception to be augmented by mental experience to generate a form (Gestalt) that can holistically encompass and explain perceptual stimuli, even when those stimuli are incomplete. The brain does not process well discrete, unrelated bits of information but rather seeks, if at all possible, to impose a coherent shape on them, “in a way that most simply organizes the disparate elements into a stable and coherent form” (Sternberg and Mio, 2009, 92). This is the Gestalt effect, the constant quest of the human mind to impose meaningful organization on the input provided, even when significant portions must be provided by the mind because they are absent to the perception. (The Verb and the Paragraph in Biblical Hebrew: A Cognitive-Linguistic Approach, 3)

            I can tell you a story of how the human blind spot may actually be crucial to our not over-fitting our visual field if you'd like. It involves science. :-)

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Harold,

            [All of these sources are second hand, as none of the gospels were written by their ascribed authors]

            I would like to know more about your thoughts on this. Perhaps there is a link you would recommend. I hope you don’t kind me picking your brain on this one.

            From what little I’ve read about the gospel of Mark, it seems most likely to have been authored by John Mark who knew both Peter and Paul. Who in your opinion authored the gospel of Mark?

          • Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels (2017)

            For the most part, traditional authorship is a hypothesis only held by conservative Christian scholars. The general scholarly consensus is that nobody knows who wrote any of the gospels. They're all internally anonymous documents written by highly educated people who were well trained in Greek rhetoric. Given the content of Matthew, it's very likely that the author was a Jewish Christian and the aim of the document was to try and convert other Jews to Christianity by showing that Jesus "fulfilled" Messianic prophecies.

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Harold,

            Thanks for taking the time to research the link and post. I read most of it (it’s quite long). I give the author credit for thoroughly exploring many nooks and crannies of this topic.

            I’m no scholar of any sort, so please take my thoughts with many grains of salt.

            In my opinion, there is no certainty who wrote the gospel of Mark, but Papias (130 AD), bishop of Hierapolis is quoted as saying, "When Mark became Peter's interpreter, he wrote down accurately, although not in order, all that he remembered of what the Lord had said or done." Two early church fathers, Irenaeus (203 AD) and Clement of Alexandria (215 AD) also name John Mark as the author. During that timeframe, I am not aware of the author being identified as someone else or unknown.

            As an interesting aside, there is also some new evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls not addressed in the article that is currently being debated by papyrologists (who knew there was such a thing?) A fragment was found that matches up with the gospel of Mark which would date it to 50 AD (possibly early). This doesn’t help shed light on the author, but it does make it more likely that an eyewitness authored it. I’m guessing the author of this article is Christian, so factor that into your reading (if you dare).

            http://www.british-israel.ca/Mark.htm

            I also think that the apostle John most likely wrote the gospel of John.

            “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24)

            At face value, this would make the gospel of John an eyewitness account. This author had “insider knowledge” at key moments in Jesus’ ministry – last supper, crucifixion, etc. There are also many unique details indicative of what an eyewitness would know: Nicodemus secretly meeting at night to see Jesus (John 3), Jesus mysteriously writing on the ground twice when talking with the adulteress (John 8:6, 8), Jesus’ feet getting doused with genuine aromatic nard (John 12:3) the dialogue that took place when Jesus was washing the disciples feet (John 13), etc. In my opinion, there would only be a small pool of candidates (twelve) to choose from who would know this gamut of details.

            Also, St. Irenaeus named John the author of that gospel. St. Irenaeus was taught by St. Polycarp (155 AD) who was a disciple of the apostle John.

            I respect your opinion, but I don’t think the evidence is strong enough to rule out Mark and John as authors of these gospels.

            Peace.

          • I'm going to adjust one of my positions very slightly. That there was an origin to life is pretty much an a priori assumption (one with good reasons to make.) Resurrections should not be an a priori assumption, but rather must be reach a posteriori from experience.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Instead of the Resurrection, if you consider the very recent event at Fatima in 1917, I suggest that the phenomena as actually described by the witnesses and even secular newspapers at the time are such the the agnostic will soon realize that his best defense is to insist the witnesses must be lying.

            https://www.amazon.com/Meet-Witnesses-Miracle-John-Haffert/dp/1877905356

            I love to look over skeptical web sites trying to explain what occurred there and see how pathetic are their generalized speculations compared to the stark and shocking detail of what the witnesses say actually happened.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Could be.

            I've become a bit curious about Fatima because of what you and others have posted, but to be honest I've never been especially interested in any miracle claim other than the Resurrection. That seems to be the only putative miracle with somewhat clear implications as to how I should live my life. I would take an interest in other miracle claims (including miracle claims from other religious traditions) if someone could tell me why those claims matter one way or the other, but generally they seem to be more like whiz-bang sorts of things without clear and consequential semantics attached.

            If what is at issue is the general question of whether miracles occur at all, to my mind that question can be addressed without evidence of any particular miracle. For that matter I think it can even be addressed without argumentation :-) I would just say that a natural stance of scientific humility would be to assume that not everything in the physical world is investigable with our limited ape brains and associated technology. To foreclose on the possibility of miracles is to foreclose on the possibility that some things will remain forever "behind the veil" and that, to me, is such an outrageous act of hubris as to not require any refutation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You say you would only be interested in miracle claims if they mattered one way or another as to how you should live your life. The claim that came from Fatima was that the world must repent in order to avoid a World War Three. Would that suffice to be of interest?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sort of :-) I mean, of course I'm all in favor of avoiding World War III. On the other hand, I think the call to metanoia is already sufficiently clear from the Gospels and Paul's letters. Moreover, I think the sort of metanoia we are called to is much more fully and convincingly articulated in the New Testament than it is in any accounts of post-Biblical miracles. If the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth happened, everything else is just gravy.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That is precisely why private revelations do not add to the Deposit of Faith.

            But, they can make prophesies in "local" history and warnings of things to come if we do not follow the teachings of the Gospel.

          • David Nickol

            Isn't it just a little schizophrenic of the Church to claim "public" revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, but "private" revelation occurs on occasion—but nobody is under an obligation to believe in it? And yet nevertheless, a number of "private" revelations seem to be almost an integral part of Catholicism (for example, "First Fridays.")

            You have used Fatima repeatedly as an example of something that skeptics can only deny by being intellectually dishonest—or so I understand what you say. And yet the Catholic Church doesn't require anyone to believe in it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Let it first be carefully noted that I am not a theologian and so what I say here on the theological question you raise is no more than the opinion of a lifelong Catholic.

            As far as I know, the point about the public revelation is what is known as the deposit of faith, those truths revealed either explicitly or implicitly until the death of the last Apostle.

            Private revelations add nothing to that content of what is to be believed about what is necessary to man's salvation.

            Private revelations may be considered worthy of belief, but the Church places no obligation on any Catholic to believe them. That does not mean, though, that she does not place a pretty good stamp of approval on some of them, such as Lourdes and Fatima.

            As to the evidence for belief in what happened at Fatima, each person must examine the evidence and draw his own conclusion. I think the facts are pretty clear and should convince any honest observer who accepts the witness accounts that something amazing occurred there in 1917. One can also infer that the several simultaneous elements of prodigy could only have been caused by God himself, which would quality it as a genuine miracle.

            But I have always left open the possibility that one reject the testimony of all the witnesses as not telling the truth. Would that be intellectually honest? I am not in the business of telling others when they are being honest with themselves or not. We all must judge ourselves in that regard.

            I can only point to the evidence and encourage others to seek the truth, whatever they may find. What is most important about any alleged miracle is not did it happen, but if one concludes it did happen, what does one do about it?

          • VicqRuiz

            It is easier for me to believe that:

            - those who claim that they saw at Fatima an event in 3-D space and time are wrong (I will not say they are lying, because lying requires intent)

            than it is to believe that:

            - immaterial, spirit entities can reach into the physical world and manipulate matter and energy in ways which contravene the laws of nature.

            Note that this does not mean I reject the concept of immaterial entities as impossible.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            IF God really exists and creates the physical world and all its natural laws, do you really think he would be unable to suspend or contravene the laws of nature he created and sustains in existence?

          • VicqRuiz

            I did not say he would be unable. I say that a God who respected the power of reason and observation he had given me would not do so.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I hope I am not misunderstanding your point, but it seems to me that it is similar to the question as to why supernatural revelation is needed at all. In the questions just before he gives the Five Ways in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas considers the same question, namely, why, if reason can prove God's existence, is revelation still needed?

            His answer is basically that it takes mankind too long and with too many errors to come to an adequate understanding that God exists and something about his true nature. And, even when such knowledge is attained, it tends to get lost again over time.

            Supernatural revelation is needed by man, not because of any defect on God's part, but because of the weakness of human reason. So, too, miracles are sometimes needed in order to document to the weak mind of man that God is actually trying to get his attention.

            This is not because God disrespects our powers of reason and observation, but because he knows too well their inherent weakness following the "event" in the Garden of Eden. If you do not believe in original sin, it will be even more difficult for you to see the need for miracles, but just observing the errors and confusion that exist in the world should make the need for the miraculous intervention by God at times intelligible. Left totally to ourselves, we tend to become like the inhabitants of Babel after the Tower's fall, having about as much common grasp of truth as the UN General Assembly.

          • Left totally to ourselves, we tend to become like the inhabitants of Babel after the Tower's fall, having about as much common grasp of truth as the UN General Assembly.

            Fill a room with representatives of the world's major religions. How would the observable result differ from the General Assembly in terms of a common grasp of the truth?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That is precisely why there was a natural need for supernatural revelation to sort out what the truth is. The multitude of religions today only underscores what mankind does completely on his own. God can reveal truths to us, but even then, we are not very good at holding on to the authentic message. That is a problem, not for God, but for humans.

            I do not claim that all religions are true -- only Christianity, and specifically Catholic Christianity.

          • God can reveal truths to us, but even then, we are not very good at holding on to the authentic message. That is a problem, not for God, but for humans.

            It's a problem for humans, all right. It's a problem for all humans who claim to have gotten a revelation from God.

            I do not claim that all religions are true -- only Christianity, and specifically Catholic Christianity.

            I understand that. My point is that your own claim to have the only true religion is no more credible to us skeptics than anybody else's. I used to belong to a Protestant sect that said their version of Christianity was the only true religion. According to them, not only were all Catholics going to burn in hell, but so were the followers of all other Protestant sects. So, they agreed that all religions were false -- except theirs. Now you're telling me, "No, they are not the exception, we are the exception."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I have always maintained that every person thinks that his own belief system is the only true one and that all others are somewhat wrong at least. Otherwise why would he believe what he believes?

            If I did not believe that Catholicism was that one true faith that constituted the full revelation of God, how could I be a Catholic.

            You think that skepticism is the one best worldview, don't you?

          • David Nickol

            I think the facts are pretty clear and should convince any honest observer who accepts the witness accounts that something amazing occurred there in 1917.

            I have no problem acknowledging that something amazing occurred in Fatima in 1917, but even if it falls into the category of "miraculous," does that necessarily mean that Mary the Mother of Jesus made an appearance and spoke words like the following (from the "second secret"):

            The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.

            Do we really believe today that God punishes the world for its "crimes" and punishes the Church and the Holy Father, too? Are war, famine, and religious persecution punishments from God?

            Granting for the sake of argument that the Catholic Church has interpreted everything correctly about "public revelation," are the words attributed to the Virgin Mary compatible with what the Church teaches about how God deals with the world? I am aware that the Church has deemed Fatima "worthy of belief," but I don't see how some of the language of the "secrets" can be reconciled with 21st-century theology.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I cannot give an extensive comment on this, but I fear that what you are reflecting is a kind of second-guessing of the mind of God, and making him conform to 21st century theology may speak more badly for recent theological developments than for God.

            This comes down to basic questions as to what God can rightly demand of man as a creature. Do we have the right to live in any manner we wish, or, are we bound to our human nature in a manner that requires certain actions be judged as morally right or wrong? Does morally good actions and life lead to a last end which is a reward and evil actions take us away from that last end?

            Does God have the right as Creator to insist that not only individuals, but entire nations, live up to the structure of goodness that God has infused into our very being. Can we treat human life and social relations as if they were the free product of our choices, or is there an inherently right order to creation that we are obliged to follow?

            These are the much deeper kinds of questions that you must consider before second-guessing what God may rightly demand of his creatures and whether divine punishment both of individuals and whole nations is totally irrational or makes some basic sense.

            I would suggest the universal moral experience of mankind suggests that being human entails the possibility of divine judgment regarding our life choices.

            After all, if he created us, who are we to judge his standards as being too high and too strict?

          • David Nickol

            These are the much deeper kinds of questions that you must consider before second-guessing what God may rightly demand of his creatures and whether divine punishment both of individuals and whole nations is totally irrational or makes some basic sense.

            I would, of course, never presume to "second guess" what God may or may not do! What I am attempting to determine is if threats to punish whole nations (including innocent children) by war and famine, and threats to punish the Church, may indeed be considered to come from an all-just, all-merciful God.

            If the God I was taught to believe in does indeed exist, it would be insane of me to "second guess" him!

          • Sample1

            Job's avoidance of rebellion against God has nothing to do with God being good or wise or anything like that; it's strictly because God is so powerful, and you don't fight something when you are so much weaker than that which you would fight. -George C. Williams

            Mike

          • Job's avoidance of rebellion against God has nothing to do with God being good or wise or anything like that; it's strictly because God is so powerful, and you don't fight something when you are so much weaker than that which you would fight. -George C. Williams

            How could such a claim be falsified? If this is George C. Williams (biologist), then surely he was aware of the need to make claims which can possibly be falsified.

          • Sample1

            I’ve reviewed this mentally, anticipating your replies, and I know you’ve done the same.

            I’m into the economical use of my time right now. Call it speed dating for SN.

            You’re welcome.

            Mike

          • I’ve reviewed this mentally, [A] anticipating your replies, and [B] I know you’ve done the same.

            [A] I doubt you have done this to any interesting level of accuracy or precision.

            [B] Your knowledge is faulty; I have not done the same.

          • Sample1

            I don’t believe you.

            Precision. Precision is not among your better skill sets. Earlier to another you said something sloppy about Venus. It would have been better, that is to say unambiguously accurate, to say light reflected from Venus. The way you wrote it can be interpreted that planets emit light which isn’t in evidence.

            Step up your game.

            Mike

          • Precision. Precision is not among your better skill sets. Earlier to another you said something sloppy about Venus. It would have been better, that is to say unambiguously accurate, to say light reflected from Venus. The way you wrote it can be interpreted that planets emit light which isn’t in evidence.

            I don't recall this and it sounds like excessive pedantry. Suffice it to say that when precision is needed—such as fixing the issue Andrew identified at EN: SN Broken Comments—my game solves the problem while yours (and @outshinethesun:disqus's) does not. As it stands, you have cited something which could easily be unfalsifiable:

            S1:

            Job's avoidance of rebellion against God has nothing to do with God being good or wise or anything like that; it's strictly because God is so powerful, and you don't fight something when you are so much weaker than that which you would fight. -George C. Williams

            You have not demonstrated how it could possibly be falsified. Therefore, it seems more likely that you've advanced a metaphysical principle you wish people to adopt, rather than an empirical observation about reality (or a text).

          • Sample1

            Lordy, I know just how much you want to talk about one of your favorite chew toys, Karl Popper, and as I rightly suspected, you’re still mentally weighing the directions of a possible discussion soliloquy. Yawn.

            Nice try to redirect the topic to AndrewG. Good luck with that.

            When precision is needed. According to you. Fascinating.

            Move along. This isn’t the interlocutor you were looking for.

            Mike

          • Lordy, I know just how much you want to talk about one of your favorite chew toys, Karl Popper …

            Incorrect. I'd rather talk about whether what you quoted—

            S1:

            Job's avoidance of rebellion against God has nothing to do with God being good or wise or anything like that; it's strictly because God is so powerful, and you don't fight something when you are so much weaker than that which you would fight. -George C. Williams

            —is supposed to be a statement of empirical/​textual fact or metaphysical principle. (Or something else?) If you indicate the former, I want to know how that is justified; for example, could Job have said or done something [in the text] to indicate that he isn't merely refusing to rebel against a vastly superior power?

            Move along. This isn’t the interlocutor you were looking for.

            You are always welcome to not comment on SN if you do not wish to explain your cryptic comments. As it stands, your behavior is 100% consistent with a belief that "Might makes right.", or phrased differently: power ⇒ goodness/​righteousness. I have a vested interest in arguing against such a position.

          • Rob Abney

            You seem to be comfortable second guessing God, in the least by changing His name from I AM to if he exists.

          • David Nickol

            You seem to be comfortable second guessing God, in the least by changing His name from I AM to if he exists.

            I am a bit mystified by the above comment itself and by the "upvote" by Dr. Bonnette. It seems a bit of a taunt.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know that there are mysteries in God that challenge mere human understanding. You may look at this as an appeal to the irrational. But unless an outright contradiction can be demonstrated, what we may be looking at is not the irrational, but the trans-rational. God does ask something of us. He asks us to trust him.

            We may be asking for answers that do not seem to make sense to us in the short run. But I am reminded of what the Blessed Virgin was said by St. Bernadette to have said to her: "I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next."

            If we fully understood the depth and breadth of what the next world is like, as well as the nature of God as the infinite good, we might be less quick to judge what the justice and mercy of God in this life should look like.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            With respect, I don't think that addresses David's concern. I absolutely agree on the need to trust God in spite of the uncertainties of this life. But that sort of ultimate, foundational trust does not entail specific trust that the so-called "second secret" is revelatory of God / truth. The latter sort of specific trust is a separate species of trust as compared to a deep foundational trust that in the end "all manner of thing will be well."

            I can only agree with David and Ignatius Reilly that, in assessing whether the "secrets" of Fatima are revelatory of God, we have to inquire not only after the putative "facts on the ground", but also we have to inquire whether such a thing would be consistent with everything else that we know about God through scripture and theological reflection. That would almost seem to be the point (or at least a point) of having a Biblical canon: to provide reliable assistance to us in our discernment of what comes from God and what does not.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, please remember that this is a side issue to the philosophy and natural theology which is central to my articles.

            Second, I have merely said that the witness testimony suggests that something amazing occurred on October 13, 1917, at Fatima. I have also said repeatedly that it is still possible for people to challenge the testimony both of the witnesses and the two major secular newspapers of Lisbon.

            Third, even if the events are as widely depicted, each person has to make his own judgment as to whether they would constitute a genuine miracle, that is, something attributable to God.

            Fourth, as to the "second secret," the logic is simple. IF one concludes that the basic events were miraculous, it appears incredible that God would allow his chief and only remaining living seer to deceive the whole world as to what was revealed in the original event. In other words, the credibility of the later claims from Fatima appear to stand or fall on the credibility of the original events and their meaning.

            Still, it remains easy for armchair speculators to dismiss the original events with hypothesized generalizations that simply do not fit the actual details provided by the witnesses, including the newspapers.

            Everyone is, of course, free to come to his own conclusions. This is not philosophical science, although some philosophical observations may be relevant.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            it appears incredible that God would allow his chief and only remaining living seer to deceive the whole world as to what was revealed in the original event

            But how is this any different from what you accuse David of doing, namely presuming to guess what God would and wouldn't allow? Just to pick the paradigm example, God allowed the Holocaust. Or, if we try to think specifically of an example with deceptive semiotics, God allowed men wearing Roman collars, men at the heart of the Church's sacramental life, to rape innocent children. I don't bring any of this up to be gratuitous, but to point out that all of us can fall prey to projecting our suppositions onto God, and so I think that in our necessary acts of discernment it almost never the case that "the logic is simple". In comparison to the Holocaust, it would seem to be an almost trifling matter if God were to allow Satan to deceive us with a miracle here or there.

          • Rob Abney

            "Can we treat human life and social relations as if they were the free product of our choices, or is there an inherently right order to creation that we are obliged to follow?"
            It seems to me that this quote from Dr. Bonnette explains the difference between second guessing God and knowing that we are made, our nature is, to pursue the good. I think you fall for the skeptics' false complaint when you focus on God's punishment. God "punishes" people every day, every time we go against the pursuit of the good we are punished.
            You have very specifically been saying that God wants us to know the order He has built into the universe, so why not the order that we were met to choose the good.
            Jim, I highly recommend that you read "The second greatest story ever told" by Fr Michael Gaitley, he provides so many details about Fatima that afterwards you realize that it was one of the pivotal events of the 20th century. Like this one, Pope Pius (?) asked Catholics wordwide to pray a novena to Mary, the eighth day of the novena was the first day Our Lady appeared at Fatima. Of course it is a book for Catholics, its not written to answer the skeptics' complaints.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I don't believe I have focused on punishment at all. I haven't staked out a position on that either way. I am focusing on more fundamental epistemology, and I really only intend to refute the idea that discernment of God's will or God's activity in any given situation is a simple matter.

            Of course (I say "of course", speaking now as one theist to another) there is a right order to creation. What is at issue is how easy or complex it is for us to discern that right order.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know you are probably gone by the time I post this, so all I can do is hope you had a good vacation by the time you read this.

            First, if this is a true miracle, then Satan could not perform it. True miracles can be performed by God alone. Fallen angels can perform preternatural feats, but not supernatural ones. So, one has to judge could kind of cause could account for the observed phenomena.

            Second, I think it is a fallacy to compare Fatima to other instances in which human failure is evident. From the beginning, Christ had to deal with the betrayal of Judas.
            Yet, God made sure his message got out.

            IF Fatima was an authentic miracle caused by God with the intent of giving a message to the world, he must have been pretty dumb to have two of the three seers die young and the sole surviving seer be of such defective character as to distort the message and deceive the world. Surely, the true God foresees the actions of his selected messengers.

            Fatima is a rather uniquely "public" private revelation. I offer it for consideration to those who are totally skeptical about God's existence. Unless one is prepared to reject the veracity of the witnesses and newspapers, the details of the reported event should give any honest naturalist reason to reflect. I realize that some will, indeed, reject the testimony.

            Many who have studied this phenomenon are convinced that Fatima may be most important event of the twentieth century -- an event whose message all too well fits with the horrific dimensions of this nuclear age even a century later. Still, each person must make up his own mind as to its reality and significance.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Please see my reply to David immediately above your comment. I hope that is a more complete answer.

          • David Nickol

            If we fully understood the depth and breadth of what the next world is like, as well as the nature of God as the infinite good, we might be less quick to judge what the justice and mercy of God in this life should look like.

            I stand ready to defend the justice and mercy of God even given what little faith I have. However, that does not answer the question of whether God punishes various peoples (or the world in general) by means of wars, famines, and persecutions of the Church. However firmly convinced one is that the events at Fatima were miraculous, the only correct way to proceed, it seems to me, is evaluate the words attributed to Mary at Fatima based on the teachings of the Church. This is especially true because, as has been pointed out, at best Fatima can only be a matter of private revelation. The words allegedly spoken by Mary at Fatima are not to be taken as the teachings of the Church unless they are deemed to be in accord with what the Church already teaches.

            If it is already the teaching of the Church that God punishes the world by means of wars and famines, then the words attributed to Mary are not problematic. My question is whether the Catholic Church really does teach that God punishes the world by means of wars and famines (and persecution of the Church).

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Good question.

            It seems the Bible does, and the Bible is the Church's book.

            If you accept biblical inerrancy in the teaching of the New Testament about the facts of the Old Testament, then the following text sure sounds like God punishes even all of mankind for sin:

            “They were the generation who did not believe when God, in his great patience, delayed punishing the world while Noah was building the ark in which a small group of eight persons escaped through water. That was a type of the baptism that now saves you.” 1 Peter 3:20-21

            Indeed, the Flood appears to be the very image for the sacrament of baptism.

            Moreover, the effects of original sin by just one man became a punishment for all mankind in the form of the universality of death, that is the loss of the gift of immortality. And that is De Fide: Denzinger 788 ff.

            And then we have Psalm 79:6 “Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.”

            When ancient Israel turned against God, the prophets warned that God’s judgment would eventually come upon them—and it did.

            I think we can make a case for precedent in the punishment of nations for their sins. The exact form of punishment may, of course, change with the circumstances, such as the development of nuclear weapons

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But as we so often remind our proof-texting detractors, we can't adjudicate this question by looking at scriptural passages in isolation. We need to somehow reconcile the passages you cite with the whole narrative trajectory of the Bible, as summed up especially in Paul's pithy "God is love". I'm not saying that punishment of a sort is irreconcilable with love, but we need to do the hard work of elaborating the sense in which that is or isn't true. This is, in a sense, the whole project of Biblical theology. To discern where the Bible is leading us in any given situation takes a lifetime (at least one!) of growth in wisdom. And if that discernment is difficult, how much more is it difficult to discern whether a putative miracle is consistent with the divine will.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As a Catholic, I am not so concern as to where the Bible is leading me as to where Christ's Church is leading me. The Catholic position is that the Bible is the Church's book, not vice versa. But we do accept what the Bible authentically teaches as interpreted by the Church when necessary.

            I also believe that the Church is custodian to certain eternal truths which do not evolve out of existence. God may be love, but is the traditional doctrine of Hell now evolved away? Some seem to think so.

            I don't think God works miracles primarily for the benefit of theologians. Certainly the many tens of thousands at Fatima were not theologians. I am not pressing the issue of what the message must be, but merely drawing the attention of naturalists to an event whose detailed dimensions challenge the denial of the possibility of divine intervention in the world. Everyone is still free to reject the word of the witnesses and the newspapers.

          • Everyone is still free to reject the word of the witnesses and the newspapers.

            I'm not rejecting the word of witnesses. I'm rejecting some inferences that some Christians have drawn from the witnesses' words.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I just responded to this in another reply to you.

          • Got it. Thank you.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            God may be love, but is the traditional doctrine of Hell now evolved away?

            I think the question is partly whether the "traditional doctrine of Hell" (if by that we are referring to some sort of state of unending torment) was every really all that traditional, or whether it was layered on by later theoreticians. As David Bentley Hart writes in defense of his new translation of the NT:

            Yes, Jesus speaks of a final judgment, and uses many metaphors to describe the unhappy lot of the condemned. Many of these are metaphors of annihilation, like the burning of chaff or brambles in ovens, or the final destruction of body and soul in the Valley of Hinnom. Others are metaphors of exclusion, like the sealed doors of wedding feasts. A few, a very few, are images of torture and torment, and yet these are also for the most part images of penalties that explicitly have only a limited term (Matthew 5:36; 18:34; Luke 12:47-48, 59). Nowhere is there any description of a kingdom of perpetual cruelty presided over by Satan, as though he were a kind of chthonian god.

            While we are on the topic, however, I might mention that, alongside various, often seemingly contradictory images of eschatological punishment, the New Testament also contains a large number of seemingly explicit statements of universal salvation, excluding no one (for instance, John 3:17; 12:32, 47; Romans 5:18-19; 11:32; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Timothy 2:3-6;4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; Colossians 1:19-20; 1 John 2:2 … to mention only some of the most striking). To me it is surpassingly strange that, down the centuries, most Christians have come to believe that the former class of claims—all of which are metaphorical, pictorial, vague, and elliptical in form—must be regarded as providing the “literal” content of the New Testament’s teaching, while the latter—which are invariably straightforward doctrinal statements—must be regarded as mere hyperbole. It is one of the great mysteries of Christian history (or perhaps of a certain kind of religious psychopathology).

            (Bold emphasis mine).

            Excerpt taken from: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/02/11/anent-garry-wills-and-the-dbh-version/

          • David Nickol

            If you accept biblical inerrancy in the teaching of the New Testament about the facts of the Old Testament . . . .

            In your opinion, does the concept of biblical inerrancy (as Catholics understand it)—in light of the story of Noah and the quote from 1 Peter—mean that we are to accept as factual a worldwide flood that killed all of humanity with the exception of Noah and seven others?

            I am not particularly interested in debating what were the "actual events" that inspired the story of Noah and the Ark, but I do want some idea of what you mean by "biblical inerrancy." My understanding is that the concept was left deliberately ambiguous in Dei Verbum.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I am not a scripture scholar. Still, as far as I know the Church takes no dogmatic position on Noah's flood.

            As to how Scripture should be interpreted, one explanation regarding the "worldwide" nature of the flood is that it appeared as worldwide since water extended in every direction from what Noah could see. That could be fully compatible with a localized event.

            There were apparently many floods in ancient times. So a story of this type could well be based on the experience of one Noah and his family, without making it the universal epic people have believed in the past.

            The only part of Genesis on which I am certain the Church takes a dogmatic stance is that relating to Adam and original sin, which, I believe, is confirmed by the Council of Trent. Even so, many other parts of Genesis are permitted to be read in a figurative way.

          • He asks us to trust him.

            Many people ask me to trust him. Or rather, more specifically, they ask me to trust what they tell me about him. God himself has never said anything to me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Obviously, the issue of trusting God first presupposes the conviction that he exists and is, by nature, trustworthy.

            You tell me that do not accept the first presupposition.

          • You tell me that do not accept the first presupposition.

            And I have explained why I don't. The people who tell me to accept it have given me no reason to trust them when they're discussing that particular subject.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, the point with which I suspect you may agree is that you should not need to trust the people, but rather need to judge the evidence they present.

            I am not saying you should trust in God if you do not first believe in him. And until you are convinced by the evidence that he exists, the issue of trusting in God is irrelevant.
            I concur that it is irrational to trust in someone whose very existence you reject. I would hope that you will come to find rational reasons to come to belief in God, of course.

          • Well, the point with which I suspect you may agree is that you should not need to trust the people, but rather need to judge the evidence they present.

            Suppose I had no doubt about God's existence. What is it about him that I'm supposed to trust, if not something he has revealed? But the only kind of evidence any believer has shown me for there having been any divine revelation is the testimony of other people. There seems to be no way I can trust God in any useful sense except by trusting some people. And, no one I have encountered has said, "I have gotten a revelation from God, and here is the evidence that it was a real revelation and really from God."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I agree with your reasoning completely. This is the inherent weakness of Sola Scriptura. Why believe a written document, even if you do believe it is the inspired word of God -- unless you have reason to believe that God is truthful. Every liar tells you that he is sincere and tells no lies.

            All this is the reason that Catholic teaching insists on the preambula fidei, that is, that there are certain rational presuppositions to the faith. Among these is that man can have natural knowledge of God's existence, as I says in Romans 1:20 -- effectively meaning that the human mind can trace from the effects God has created in this world back to his existence as the necessary explanation of those effects.

            But what is often overlooked is that we also have to have some sort of primitive natural knowledge that God is good, and that among other aspects of his goodness would be the fact that he would never lie to us because he is Truth Itself. This latter knowledge is known to man through either an unarticulated natural intuition of God's most general nature or through the articulated careful reasoning entailed in the philosophical science of natural theology.

            All this is why I agree with you that there is need for a way to know both that God really reveals something to us -- and also we would need to know that we can trust his revelation.

            Perhaps, I am even more of a skeptic than you? :-)

          • unless you have reason to believe that God is truthful.

            I would, if I thought he was real and was communicating with us. A being with the power to create the universe would have no motivation for being dishonest. People lie because they perceive it to be the easiest or only way to get things they want or because of some cognitive pathology. God would not have either problem.

            All this is why I agree with you that there is need for a way to know both that God really reveals something to us -- and also we would need to know that we can trust his revelation.

            Convince me that there has been a revelation from God, and I'll assume it was truthful for the reason just stated.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, you have just offered a little bit of natural theology of your own, justifying the proposition that God is not a liar.
            I won't even attempt to begin the conventional approach to that question found in traditional natural theology.

            And, of course, we have not been discussing the question about revelations from God -- other than possibly the Fatima issue, but that we have already considered at some length.

            I don't know if we are done for now, but this has been enjoyable. Thank you.

          • Doesn't Ed Feser use the conventional (for Catholics) approach? I've read his The Last Superstition.

            And, of course, we have not been discussing the question about revelations from God -- other than possibly the Fatima issue, but that we have already considered at some length.

            Revelations, Fatima, resurrection, mundane claims about the church's early history, whatever. Christians say I should believe X, and when I ask why I should believe it, they give me some Y that just isn't a very good reason. As I judge these things, Y is a good reason to believe X only if (a) Y is an undisputed fact and (b) it is demonstrably improbable that Y would be true unless X was also a fact.

            [Edited for clarification.]

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If you have edited it for clarification, I would have hated to see it before clarification! :-)

            Sorry, I have not read The Last Superstition.

            And I am not a theologian. But I have always been impressed with the degree to which Thomistic philosophy comports with Catholic theology. I know that would be expected, given that the two sort of "grew up" together. Still, they might have proven entirely incompatible at some point if reason and this particular revelation were totally at odds.

          • I don't know if we are done for now, but this has been enjoyable. Thank you.

            You're welcome. I'm enjoying it, too.

          • I would, of course, never presume to "second guess" what God may or may not do!

            Do you think Abraham second-guessed God about how many righteous inhabitants of Sodom & Gomorrah would save it? Note that in Jeremiah 5:1, the number is reduced to "a man / one who does justice / and seeks truth".

            What I am attempting to determine is if threats to punish whole nations (including innocent children) by war and famine, and threats to punish the Church, may indeed be considered to come from an all-just, all-merciful God.

            I would like to understand a bit more of how you understand this. For example, in the book of Habakkuk, God says he's going to punish one evil nation (Judah) with an even more evil nation (Babylon). It is not as if God brought evil into existence ex nihilo; I like to think that it's more like he is colliding evil with evil to yield the possibility of less evil (viz., a remnant which would return to truth and justice and love of neighbor). I generally see the OT as teaching Israel truths about moral causation, which take place over a period of generations. Admittedly, it can be hard to understand how sin would lead to lack of rainfall, but if someone claims I must resolve all plausible problems in scripture, I will ask him/​her to do the same with his/​her understanding of reality. :-)

            If the God I was taught to believe in does indeed exist, it would be insane of me to "second guess" him!

            But isn't this exactly what God is asking for here:

            And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 22:30–31)

            ? We could also look at Job 40:6–14. Now, I'm open to there being an intriguing duality of interpretations, one which supports your point of view and one which supports mine. I suspect God does some very interesting things with such duality, related both to J.H.H. Weiler's 2010 First Things article The Trial of Jesus and 'dual rationality'.

          • David Nickol

            I think we need to agree on what second-guess means, since it has more than one meaning. Here is the meaning I had in mind when I read what Dr. Bonnette wrote:

            : to criticize or question actions or decisions of (someone) often after the results of those actions or decisions are known

            Writing a commentary on Genesis, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, and an article in First Things is a little more than I am willing to take on at the moment!

          • There is still ambiguity in that definition. For example, when the Ninevites repented in sackcloth and ashes and God relented of what he said he would do, was that a kind of "second-guessing"? What I'm pushing at is a nuanced difference between:

                 (I) ignoring God's claims
                (II) taking God's claims seriously

            What if we were to read scripture with God saying what's going to happen if humans continue as they are, always allowing that they could take it up a notch and thus have a better future? So for example, Abel seems to have skirted the curse ("cursed is the ground because of you / in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life") by raising sheep. (I've stolen this idea from Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.)

          • David Nickol

            Here is the passage in which Dr. Bonnette made charges of "second-guessing":

            I cannot give an extensive comment on this, but I fear that what you are reflecting is a kind of second-guessing of the mind of God, and making him conform to 21st century theology may speak more badly for recent theological developments than for God.

            I don't see what it had to do with Ninevites or any of the other peoples or books you have cited. It had to do with modern theology and—to the extent that I had been (presumably) misled by it—me.

          • I am loathe to think that God has let develop that which cannot be redeemed; this indicates to me that philosophical ideas from the 20th and 21st centuries may well help us correct bad understandings from the 19th century and before. Simultaneously, I suspect that understandings from the 19th century and before have things to tell us which we may not wish to hear.

            P.S. You may want to integrate this into the discussion:

            There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5)

          • SpokenMind

            [As it stands, I think it's far more likely that the disciples were mistaken, or possibly lied about their experiences, than a person being resurrected.]

            Most of the apostles were brutally tortured and killed because they testified they saw the resurrected Jesus. It’s hard for me to imagine someone going to their grave that way for a lie.

            "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)

          • Most of the apostles were brutally tortured and killed because they testified they saw the resurrected Jesus.

            First, I'd like to know what evidence you have for this claim. I hear this a lot, and the I happen to think that the evidence for this claim is very weak. I think it's quite possibly a story created by the early Church to help support their claims ("hey, these people were willing to die for this belief, so it must be true, right?")

            As Bart Ehrman stated in his debate with William Lane Craig:
            And an earlier point that Bill made was that the disciples were allwilling to die for their faith. I didn't hear one piece of evidence for that. I hear that claim a lot, but having read every Christian source from the first five hundred years of Christianity, I'd like him to tell us what the piece of evidence is that the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection.

            The second problem is that it assumes that they were motivated by the truth, and not some other reason. If the disciples believed that their message had a higher purpose, even if it wasn't a literal truth, they may have been willing to die for that cause.

            We don't know if the disciples martyred (it's quite likely that Peter, Paul, and James, were martyred, but even the evidence for this comes from late in the second century), and we don't know why they would have been willing to be martyred. You can speculate that it was because they really witnessed the resurrected Jesus, but I don't see good evidence for any of this.

            So what good evidence can you present to establish that the disciples were martyred?

            "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)

            The best part is John 20:29:
            Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

            This invented story is an early apologetic, right in your own holy book. It attempts to deal with the fact that they have no credible evidence for their outrageous claim and so they assert that believing without credible evidence is better than believing with credible evidence. It attempts to paint skeptics as somehow being unworthy, and I reject this that outright.

            Otherwise, I care little for what's written in your holy book. Resurrections don't happen, and are therefore not good explanations for whatever may have happened in the first century of the common era.

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Harold,

            Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts.

            If I’m understanding you correctly, you think the evidence for the claim that most of the apostles were tortured and killed for their faith in the resurrected Jesus is weak.

            I would recommend “The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus” by Sean McDowell if you are interested in learning more about this claim.

            All the evidence suggests all the apostles were willing to die for their faith in the resurrected Jesus. Are you aware of any evidence they recanted? I am unaware of any such evidence.

            You mentioned the apostles may have submitted to being tortured and killed for a higher cause. What types of “higher causes” might motivate someone to be tortured and killed?

            What evidence do you have that John 20:29 is an invented claim? By the way, in my opinion, I don’t think Jesus is painting skeptics negatively or unworthy. He just dealt graciously with skeptical Thomas, who had rejected the claims of his closest friends. I think he would be willing to deal graciously with you, if you are open and humble.

            All the best!

          • I would recommend “The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom
            Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus” by Sean McDowell if you are
            interested in learning more about this claim.

            McDowell is an apologist, not a historian. His credentials are philosophy, theology, and apologetics. I see little reason to believe he's a good source for your claim.

            Are you aware of any evidence they recanted? I am unaware of any such evidence.

            Let's assume, for just a moment, that they were captured and ordered put to death for their preaching (which seems really unlikely to me). If the punishment for such action was death, why would they ask them to recant? What could be gained by recanting?

            You mentioned the apostles may have submitted to being tortured and
            killed for a higher cause. What types of “higher causes” might motivate
            someone to be tortured and killed?

            Hard to say exactly. People sometimes have difficult to understand motivations for their actions. It's possible they were idealists who thought that believing in divine salvation would make the world a better place. My point is that you cannot establish that the only reason they would possibly be willing to be tortured and killed is because they knew that Jesus was bodily resurrected.

            What evidence do you have that John 20:29 is an invented claim?

            If Jesus wasn't resurrected then John 20:29 is definitely invented. Even without considering that aspect, most of the stories presented in John are not presented in the synoptic gospels. Mark says nothing about Jesus after the women run away from the tomb. Matthew tells us that Jesus met the disciples on the top of a mountain and ends there. Luke tells us that Jesus met the disciples and they were amazed, and he then ate a broiled fish, led them out of the city and ascended to heaven.

            When we read John we read that the disciples were in a house, with locked doors, and Jesus appeared to them. A week later, in the same house, Jesus appears again with Thomas being part of the group.

            None of the stories of Jesus' last appearances match up in any way, so I don't think that any of them are true. I think it's much more likely that all of them are inventions either by the authors, or the by the oral traditions that passed the stories along before they were written down.

            I think he would be willing to deal graciously with you, if you are open and humble.

            Jesus is dead. He has no ability to deal with anyone anymore!

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Harold,

            [McDowell is an apologist, not a historian. His credentials are philosophy, theology, and apologetics. I see little reason to believe he's a good source for your claim.]

            OK.

            [Let's assume, for just a moment, that they were captured and ordered put to death for their preaching (which seems really unlikely to me). If the punishment for such action was death, why would they ask them to recant? What could be gained by recanting?]

            The point I’m trying to make is, the apostles dedicated the remainder of their lives to spreading their message. I am unaware of any evidence they changed course, retired or recanted their beliefs (threatened with death or otherwise).

            If I’m understanding you correctly – and please correct me if I’m misunderstanding – your find it really unlikely Christians were captured and ordered put to death for their preaching. What’s your take on why Christians were killed in the early church? Why do you think the early Christians went “underground”?

            “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.” (2 Cor 11:23)

          • Bob Sidensticker pretty much explains most of the reasons why I don't buy into the whole "die for a lie thing". The whole argument is basically a variation of the appeal to authority fallacy, and it also makes a bunch of assumptions that don't really work hold up very well. The two part article is below:
            Who Would Die for a Lie? (Another Weak Christian Argument)
            and the follow up:
            Who Would Die for a Lie? (Another Weak Christian Argument) (2 of 2)

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Harold,

            I did read your articles. Respectfully, they only somewhat addresses my perspective, though I understand where you are coming from.

            I noticed you chose to not answer my questions directly. If your mind is made up - fair enough - I will move on. Hopefully we can discuss another topic at a future time.

            All the best!

          • If I’m understanding you correctly, you think the evidence for the claim that most of the apostles were tortured and killed for their faith in the resurrected Jesus is weak.

            I would recommend “The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus” by Sean McDowell if you are interested in learning more about this claim.

            Does McDowell present any evidence that a diligent Internet search would fail to turn up?

          • SpokenMind

            Hi Doug,

            I don’t know. How’s that for an anti-climactic response?

          • Your candor is commendable.

          • VicqRuiz

            Is it clear that that would have involved any violations of any laws of nature?

            No violation if it's possible to reconstruct how it happened, what was holding the water up there, using what we know or could hypothesize about the laws of nature. (Unless one of the laws of nature is "God can do whatever he wants", which pretty much puts paid to the whole discussion).

            I don't violate the laws of gravity when, through the exercise of my apparently immaterial volition, I raise my arm away from the earth.

            Of course not, since as you know, the energy contained within your arm muscles is sufficient to overcome the localized effects of gravity.

            For the same reason, you don't violate any laws of nature by standing up from your chair and walking across the carpet to the doorway.

            It would be a violation, oops, miracle though if you stood up from your chair and walked to the doorway via the ceiling....

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Of course not, since as you know, the energy contained within your arm muscles is sufficient to overcome the localized effects of gravity.

            Yes, but the electrochemical process in my muscles is only a proximate explanation. The ultimate explanation (or at least, a more ultimate explanation) is that I want to raise my arm. Likewise, in Exodus 14, we do have a proximate explanation on offer: "the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind", but that proximate physical mechanism is neither here nor there when it comes to inferring God's intentional role.

            It would be a violation, oops, miracle though if you stood up from your chair and walked to the doorway via the ceiling

            Well, it's not even clear that that would be a violation. All we know is that it would be inexplicable in terms of our current understanding of the laws of nature. But in any case, note that that sort of thing is not happening in Exodus: we don't see Pharoah's army inexplicably incinerated or mysteriously teleported to a faraway island. Rather, the claim is that God is working through very natural means.

          • VicqRuiz

            Pharaoh's army inexplicably incinerated or
            mysteriously teleported to a faraway island.

            If something like that had been the biblical account (say, for example, all of the Egyptian soldiers transformed into pillars of salt) would you find it more dubious?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Yes, I would.

            So why then, if I may anticipate your next question, would I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth? And my answer is that, when you look at this really globally and historically distinct and extraordinary phenomenon of Christianity and you ask where the heck this all came from, it all seems to trace back to something highly unusual that happened after Jesus's crucifixion. And when one evaluates the different candidate hypotheses for what that unusual thing was, the only hypothesis that seems to hold up is the one on offer from the early Christian church, namely that they had some common experience of a living breathing Jesus after he was already known to be dead.

          • it all seems to trace back to something highly unusual that happened after Jesus's crucifixion.

            Several decades after the resurrection, people were telling stories about something highly unusual that happened over the next few days. The telling of such stories is not the least bit unusual.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That they were telling stories is not, in itself, unusual. But, the fact that multiple proto-New Testament story-telling traditions were all speaking about Resurrection in a historically new way, and that they were all speaking about it in fundamentally the same historically new way (specifically, they were all now speaking about Resurrection as something that had actually been inaugurated in the life of one man in the middle of history rather than at the end) ... that sort of coordinated story-telling is highly unusual in situations where there is no common root in an actual historical event.

          • ... that sort of coordinated story-telling is highly unusual in situations where there is no common root in an actual historical event.

            What coordination are you talking about? The canonical narratives do not look coordinated. They look like they evolved sequentially from a common source so that each would suit whatever agenda its author had in writing it.

            Neither was the story as innovative as you suggest. Some members of some religious sects had some doctrines about when a man could expect to be resurrected. That doesn’t mean nobody else in the ancient Near East could have had other ideas. Even if it were a new idea at the time, history is very much about, if nothing else, the occasional invention and propagation of new ideas.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My reply to this was caught by the spam filter. Not sure why, but I will just try again and hope for the best ...

          • I've noticed it happening now and again for no obvious reason. Seems to be some kind of glitch in the Disqus software.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            They look like they evolved sequentially from a common source

            If you mean something like a linear progression with gradual accretions and deletions, that would be a pretty novel theory, as far as I'm aware. E.g., as I'm pretty sure you are aware, the Markan tradition fed into Matthew and Luke in a very substantial way, but also appears to have merged with material from a different tradition(s), conventionally referred to as "Q". The Johannine tradition likewise has all sorts of material that isn't in the synoptics. So what we seem to have is multiple interwoven threads that partly overlap, and partly seem to have diverged and recombined at different points. This is all along the lines of what one would expect if multiple historical traditions were all rooted in the same event. It is not what one would expect if it all started with a single literary source, or with a single conspiratorial narrative.

            That doesn’t mean nobody else in the ancient Near East could have had other ideas.

            In principle I suppose any sort of idea could have arisen. Do you have any actual examples where this did happen? And by "this", I mean the idea of an eschatological event that had been inaugurated in the midst of history?

        • My concept of a god who created the universe and gave it the laws of gravity and thermodynamics which govern it does not allow for that same god to occasionally play with those laws in our sight, causing us to doubt our powers of observation and analysis. That would be the action of a trickster god, a god whom I would certainly choose not to worship.

          What's the difference between:

          (A) Our epistemic horizon expanding, such that previous incorrect beliefs are corrected, nuance is added to previous beliefs which were ok, and utterly new phenomena come into view.

          (B) God altering the most fundamental laws of nature, of which our scientific laws are only an approximation.

          ? In other words, perhaps the trickster is us. For example:

          Our basic thesis—that we are strategically blind to key aspects of our motives—has been around in some form or another for millennia. It’s been put forward not only by poets, playwrights, and philosophers, but also by countless wise old souls, at least when you catch them in private and in the right sort of mood. And yet the thesis still seems to us neglected in scholarly writings; you can read a mountain of books and still miss it. (The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Preface)

          See also Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 article The Unreliability of Naive Introspection, 2014 blog post On Aiming for Moral Mediocrity, and 2015 Aeon article Cheeseburger ethics.

          • VicqRuiz

            Are you saying that what appears to us to be alterations of the fundamental laws of nature are actually in accord with those laws, it's just that we do not fully comprehend them?

          • That certainly seems to have been the case with the transition from Newtonian Mechanics to General Relativity. Newton got something right, but he arrogantly universalized it. It's really important to note that in most domains in life, NM gives exactly the same results as GR because of the noise floor. It's hard to call NM "wrong" in those domains. But for the one who over-extrapolates, the appearance of GR was shocking.

            I don't see why the NM → GR change won't repeat. If we "harden the categories" like Sean Carroll does with his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization), we do two things:

                 (A) require that falsification pass a higher bar
                 (B) stunt research into how reality is more nuanced

            Now, there is a charitable way to interpret Carroll: if "everyday life" is sufficiently restricted, then perhaps he is right. But who says that "everyday life" cannot change to be like Star Trek life, which ostensibly requires fundamental laws of physics other than Carroll's Big Equation™? Perhaps current physics is like those Tower of Babel folks who said “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” This can be contrasted to God's command to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” What if our scientific endeavors have been extraordinarily myopic, living “under the canopy”?

            In a sense, I'm just repeating the realism vs. anti-realism/​instrumental debate from the philosophy of science. But I don't think I'm being a true anti-realist (for a hardcore example of anti-realism, see Constructive Empiricism). When I discover a "law" which holds:

                 (0) with my current abilities to perceive & judge
                 (1) in certain circumstances
                 (2) for certain purposes
                 (3) to a certain approximation

            —I truly have discovered something! However, it doesn't feel as good to include all those qualifications. It is much more exciting to have discovered a Universal Law of Nature™. More than that, it is safer to discover enough about reality to feel like one won't be overly surprised by … Nature. Instead of relying on God's goodness (see Providence), we can rely on Nature's predictability. This doesn't actually work (see false vacuum), but we can pretend it does within our limits of self-deception.

            I'll stop here, except to point those really interested in this to Robert Nozick's Invariances. He suggests that there is a kind of relativism which is not self-refuting. I haven't read the whole book, but what he says seems consistent with my (0)–(3). One can never take refuge in having finally understood the foundations of reality so in a sense, one is always in Neurath's boat. But one can still accrue knowledge. It just has to be finite, qualified knowledge. Humble knowledge. Knowledge always open to the possibility that reality (and other persons!) are more complex than thought.

      • The modern world is not particularly sensitive to these older paths to profound truth.

        I lost my sensitivity to them when I realized that the arguments in their defense were, without any exception that I could find, either circular or grounded in an appeal to personal or institutional authority.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Your point is well taken. I have long noted the implicit depersonalism of scientific materialism, to wit, my video: "Does Richard Dawkins exist?"

      If human beings as substantial personal unities do not exist, if ethical values have no real ontological basis in an atomistic world, how can this epistemic void provide any genuine intellectual foundation for an understanding of God's nature as a personal and morally good Creator?

      There is much to be said for the "old" classical natural theology, which takes as reality the personal and ethical dimensions of the created world and uses them as the starting point for a search for God's own intelligibility. Knowing he is the cause of all that is good and holy in the world provides an authentic foundation for rational enquiry into the spiritual riches hidden behind his creative action. We are only on the receiving end of those agencies, but using the principle of analogy, we can at least get a hint of the nature of the Source of created being.

      It is only by seeing the actual realities that God has created that we can get a hint of his real nature. I don't in any way underestimate the daunting challenge still entailed in investigating the full implications of an adequate natural theology, but it at least serves us well to realize that the spiritually blind perspective of positivism offers mere skeletal remains of the full flesh and blood world as a point of departure for exploring its divine origin -- even should one find a positivist with enough intellectual openness to discover that the world does, indeed, have a transcendent First Cause.

  • Therefore, any perfection we find in a creature must somehow preexist in God.

    I struggle to see how this makes sense; it seems to turn us into carbon copies of aspects of God, *except* to the extent that the imago Dei is marred by sin. It seems rather close to us being robots. I don't see how God could be said to have a meaningful relationship with an aspect of himself—fallen or not.

    But there is a way to see God as causing and us as causing, with the causation being different in kind. The trick is to reason from orbital mechanics. When you have two or more celestial bodies orbiting each other (the Sun at least wobbles), there are places between them where gravity completely cancels. They are called Lagrangian points. Some are unstable: if a spacecraft passes through them just right, then an infinitesimal thrust can radically change the resultant trajectory. The Interplanetary Transport Network makes use of this fact to provide trajectories for spacecraft which use fantastically little fuel. In theory, it could be infinitesimal fuel.

    What if God causes the law of gravity to hold, but does not cause the infinitesimal thrusts? What if we cause the infinitesimal thrusts, and therefore we can do things which God did not cause us to do? Our choices can surprise him in good and bad ways. (Jesus "marveled" and we know that YHWH himself can self-limit: Jeremiah 19:5.) I don't see how God can have a relationship with us that is in any way analogous to our relationships with each other, unless he self-limits. The self-limiting would need to take the form of power and knowledge. Arguably it also takes the form of wisdom, given that God provided for certificates of divorce even though that was not his preference.

    By the way, it seems like the above is how we ought to treat each other. It's also a way to make sense of "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:25) We Moderns are exceedingly voluntaristic; if only we were to gain more power, we could make reality better. I think that has been falsified by now, but there are plenty of True Believers who insist on worshiping harder and better (cf. Jeremiah 44:15–19). For those willing to test predictions against reality, I suggest Romano Guardini's The End of the Modern World. At some point, trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insane. Maybe our understanding of power—and causation—is seriously messed up. (See also my other comment, on impersonal monistic causation.)

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I share your concern that the knowledge we can acquire of God through pure reason is badly limited, but it is all we possess in the natural order. The third via warns us that what we find in creatures must exist in God in a supereminent fashion. When we say that God is infinitely powerful or good, we have no direct concept of what that means. But we do have some knowledge and that is better than none. We know that the judgments we make through this indirect knowledge are true, even if we have little understanding of their actual referent. We do know that God has knowledge, even though the comparison to our knowledge is abridged by realizing how pitiful our human knowledge really is. When St. Thomas was asked, near the end of his life, what the next life was really like, he is said to have responded that it is simply "other." This does not mean we know nothing or that the next life if empty of all reality or meaning. For reason tells us that this life is created by spiritual forces in that other world, and that the cause is superior to the effect. That tells us something breathtaking about the next life -- even though its formal content appears empty at the moment.

      Clearly, nothing prevents us from penetrating the mysteries of God in deeper fashion through theological revelation -- starting with the mystery of the Trinity which invites an entirely different order of speculation.

      • I share your concern that the knowledge we can acquire of God through pure reason is badly limited, but it is all we possess in the natural order.

        Hmm, how convinced are you that 'pure reason' is an unchanging entity? Paul seems to tell a different story:

        For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:18–25)

        There is a clear transition here:

             (I) from productive thinking
            (II) to futile thinking

        Are you suggesting that (II) ∼ 'pure reason'? I'm disinclined to say that, myself. Instead, I have a sneaking suspicion that 'pure reason' is a notoriously unstable beast. It's not clear there was ever a single version of 'reason'—despite the Enlightenment philosophes capitalizing it to 'Reason'.

        When we say that God is infinitely powerful or good, we have no direct concept of what that means. But we do have some knowledge and that is better than none.

        Agreed. But can that knowledge grow? Can … reason itself grow? The source of the growth would not itself be 'reason', by the way. Reason cannot enhance reason; it will reproduce any pathologies which exist within itself and cannot transcend itself on pain of contradiction. An evolutionary interpretation of 'reason' (e.g. by Karl Popper) doesn't help either, because "more evolved" does not mean "more advanced".

        Clearly, nothing prevents us from penetrating the mysteries of God in deeper fashion through theological revelation -- starting with the mystery of the Trinity which invites an entirely different order of speculation.

        You seem to be drawing a rather sharp line between 'reason' and 'revelation'. Do you think that line is constant? Do you think that God wants it to be constant? To push toward some sort of [partial] "no", I could explicate Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. I would like to suggest that it is Satan/satan who wants the following to be the case:

            divine, heavenly revelation
            ---------------------------   ← impenetrable barrier
               earthly, human reason

        God, on the other hand, has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          You are right to suspect "pure rationalism." By pure reason, I do not mean an alienation from revelation at all.

          The Catholic Church has always insisted on the harmony of faith and reason. There was some controversy as to how there could be a Christian philosophy, since "Christian" bespoke faith as opposed to "philosophy" which bespoke pure reason.

          Yet, Pope Leo XIII quite reasonably affirmed that Christian philosophy was a concrete historical reality in that many Christians were also good philosophers, and that philosophy, even though faithful to its purely rational premises, could still be enlightened and guided by supernatural faith.

          Such guidance need not take away the purely natural and rational character of philosophical enquiry. Indeed, like a good road map, revelation can offer direction as to fruitful enquiry and insights leading to rational truths that might otherwise be overlooked. Yet, like any road map, if you are directed to a bridge crossing a river, and if the bridge is not there when you reach the river, only a fool would try to cross without a boat. So, too, faith can guide reason, but only as far as reason itself can discover the natural paths to such truths. If the path ceases to be merely natural reason, reason simply stops at the edge of what can be rationally proven. Faith then proceeds on its own.

          The best example of this truth is how natural reason can prove in metaphysics that God exists. Yet, only supernatural revelation can inform the intellect that the God of reason is also a Trinity with further riches beyond the reach of natural reason.

          Thus, faith and reason do not conflict, but are harmonious -- with faith acting as a lantern illuminating paths to guide reason to discoveries it might not reach entirely on its own. Yet, once the natural paths are found, pure reason can investigate and defend the natural truths that faith has led it to without in any way turning reason into fideism.

          • If the path ceases to be merely natural reason, reason simply stops at the edge of what can be rationally proven. Faith then proceeds on its own.

            I understand that there is a strong current in Catholicism (and perhaps Protestantism as well) which says exactly this. But is it true? Consider Abram/​Abraham, who is held up as the preeminent example of faith. I don't see where "reason simply stops at the edge ... Faith then proceeds on its own". Instead, it seems to me that Abram/​Abraham continued to accrue empirical evidence that the voice he was hearing was trustworthy. He did screw up big three times (once passing Sarai off as his sister, once doubting God's promise of a son through Sarai, once passing Sarah off as his sister), but God graciously got him through that. I don't see there being a 'pure reason' in how Abram/​Abraham trusted God, such that there was a cliff somewhere where 'faith' took over.

            I'm rather inclined to think that 'reason' is a discrete approximation of some function/​manifold, and 'faith' is an analog approximation which both holds all the various discrete bits together and suggests where to look next (which is sometimes between the discrete data points, sometimes beyond). With this metaphor, we can see that 'reason' and 'faith' each have characteristic strengths and weaknesses. They can also intertwine rather intricately.

            BTW, I'm partly riffing on Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary, although I haven't read much of it [hopefully: yet]. He argues, based on copious science, that the left hemisphere of the brain has an overall analytic focus which abstracts from reality to articulately comprehend, while the right hemisphere has a holistic focus which remains tethered to reality and all of its grittiness. While it is important that the two hemispheres remain separated, they also interact much more than your 'pure reason' interacts with 'faith'. I suspect that this is a problem.

            The best example of this truth is how natural reason can prove in metaphysics that God exists.

            I'm afraid I don't much trust any understanding of "God" which comes from 'natural reason'. Perhaps this is because I believe the noetic effects of sin can pervert the intellect just as much as they can pervert the will. One way this shows up today is that atheists constantly demand "evidence of God's existence" which reduce to miracle or predictive success—the two things which are not to be considered evidence of God's existence by Deut 12:32–13:5. Flipping from the senses to the abstract realm of the intellect is no better: logic is just as coercive as physical force. Only when heaven and earth are reunited and the Cartesian dualism (in thought) is fully undone can we truly "see God"—both intellectually and physiologically. "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." But first: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

            I'm much more convinced of this: "We love because he first loved us." It is impossible to know God without loving as he loves. One cannot do that while reclining in a metaphysical armchair. Without loving, the only kind of "knowledge" we can have is this:

            You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:19–20)

            That "useless" is a pretty strong word! Does James mean that the demons' kind of knowledge cannot be a springboard for the kind of knowledge John talks about in his first epistle?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Despite the limitations of pure reason (guided by Faith?), judgments made in natural theology do inform the intellect with certain truths. It is just that the positive content to which the judgment refers may not be understood fully. Thus, we know that God is infinite in that he is not limited as creatures are, but we do not grasp at all the fully meaning of infinity's positive content.

            Rather than despair of the value of natural reason, we need merely realize it limits. Still, proving God's existence by natural reason is a preamble to faith that supports believers and may even remove an obstacle to belief for non-believers.

            In no way would I wish to restrict or criticize the added understanding of God that comes from the active exercise of virtues, such as charity, or even mystical experience of the saints. With God there is no limit to his depths -- so that all legitimate modes of knowing him are to be encouraged.

            Remember that faith can guide reason in its pursuit of truth, which is the kind of thing Pope Leo XIII was encouraging when he promoted a revival of Thomism. If faith tells us there is only one God, then reason wastes no effort by pursuing the errors of polytheism. It can safely head directly to monotheism. If faith tells us God is love, natural theology can surely pursue that same discovery in the divine simplicity.

            Since the God of reason is the same God as the God of faith, the Catholic Church has always maintained the full harmony of faith and reason -- to the benefit of both.

          • How do you understand the belief that the demons have, according to James 2:19? Could it be the belief that "pure reason" is able to justify?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This is outside my field, but the word "believe" may be used in more than one manner, that is, it might mean belief in things unseen, or, it might simply be another word for "knowledge."

            Certainly, demons, as fallen angels, have a natural knowledge of God as the Cause of their existence. They do not know him directly in himself as in the Beatific Vision, since they certainly are not in Heaven.

            Rightly they tremble, given that they have rejected the Supreme Good and now are subject to their deserved punishment.

            As for pure reason in Scripture, I think first of Romans 1: 20, where St. Paul chastises the Romans for failing to recognize the invisible things of God "being understood by the things that are made." This is the proper use of pure reason in the proofs for God's existence, reasoning from his creaturely effects back to him as their First Cause.

            This looks a lot like divine approval of metaphysics to me!

          • Thanks for the engagement, Dr. Bonnette. I generally try and let my serious engagement of others be the most obvious testament to my respect and appreciation, but perhaps I do that too much.

            LB: I'm afraid I don't much trust any understanding of "God" which comes from 'natural reason'. Perhaps this is because I believe the noetic effects of sin can pervert the intellect just as much as they can pervert the will. One way this shows up today is that atheists constantly demand "evidence of God's existence" which reduce to miracle or predictive success—the two things which are not to be considered evidence of God's existence by Deut 12:32–13:5. Flipping from the senses to the abstract realm of the intellect is no better: logic is just as coercive as physical force. Only when heaven and earth are reunited and the Cartesian dualism (in thought) is fully undone can we truly "see God"—both intellectually and physiologically. "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." But first: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."

            DB: Rather than despair of the value of natural reason, we need merely realize it limits. Still, proving God's existence by natural reason is a preamble to faith that supports believers and may even remove an obstacle to belief for non-believers.

            LB: How do you understand the belief that the demons have, according to James 2:19? Could it be the belief that "pure reason" is able to justify?

            DB: As for pure reason in Scripture, I think first of Romans 1: 20, where St. Paul chastises the Romans for failing to recognize the invisible things of God "being understood by the things that are made." This is the proper use of pure reason in the proofs for God's existence, reasoning from his creaturely effects back to him as their First Cause.

            But surely there is a difference in exercising "pure reason" before this:

            For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:18–25)

            —and after? Perhaps it would help to draw in an understanding of mortal/​irreparable sin; I shall draw on Josef Pieper explicating Aquinas:

                Nevertheless [Aquinas] remains committed to calling "mortal" sin "irreparable." What he means of course is that from within its own essence, from its inherent power to stand fast by its guilt, a healing is not possible—just as we call a disease "mortal" if it can no longer be overcome from within the resources of the sick person, since the very principle of life has been jeopardized and affected by the fatal disease. There are various analogies that might make the matter clearer. For example, if an arithmetic mistake lurks in the very first line of the calculation, in the "principle," then it will never be discovered in any subsequent calculation, no matter how often performed. It can only be found and corrected, so to speak, "from the outside," meaning, only by comparing the erroneous sum with realities outside the calculation itself, that is, only if we completely leave the internal operations of the calculation. But of course that assumes there is such an outer context. "An error in the conclusion can be corrected only on the basis of the truth of the principles"[9] Whereas a mistake located in the principle itself cannot be corrected on the basis of prior calculations—for the very good reason that by definition there is nothing prior to appeal to. (The Concept of Sin, 68–69)

            How does mortal/​irreparable sin impact "pure reason"? Or rather: just how much damage can it do to "pure reason"?

            This looks a lot like divine approval of metaphysics to me!

            I think I can agree to that. Here's what Pieper says in his first chapter:

            In the following essay, we shall therefore be operating under two assumptions. First, we shall presuppose that there is in general a believed truth beyond the realm of known truth ("known" truth is defined here as truth gained through scientific research and in philosophical reflection), in which a dimension accessible in no other way becomes perceptible and shows itself, a dimension of the one visible reality of world and man [vor Augen liegenden Realitiit von Welt und Mensch]. This presupposition will naturally include the clear admission that there can be theological information about what ultimately happens when a person fails morally.
                But that shall not be our only presupposition. We shall also be reckoning with the possibility that this object to be discussed from various perspectives can also be made more deeply and clearly accessible to the efforts of a philosophical questioner from the light of that transhuman truth. Such "reckoning with a possibility" might seem at first glance to some to be not especially promising, but this is by no means so. In certain cases a great deal can depend on whether someone considers something "possible" or "excluded" from the outset. (The Concept of Sin, 12–13)

            I definitely agree with Pieper on this. In a sense he's just saying that it is possible that appearance ≠ reality (where 'appearance' can be my introspection—my looking at myself). But he's also talking about how appearance can get distorted. That's where one needs to multiply words and get philosophical.

        • Rob Abney

          The Greeks had pure philosophy and reasoning with the goal of knowing the fullness of the truth. The Jews of the Old Testament had divine revelation to understand the truth. The Christians have the person of God in Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church has all of the above, we can choose one way to know or a combination. But if we choose just one way then it should be Jesus Christ body and soul in the Eucharist.

  • Very interesting. You believers can know all those things about God. But as soon as we unbelievers say that a morally perfect God would not allow such-and-such to happen, you immediately tell us, "You can't know that."

    • Ahh, but what sense-data tells you what a morally perfect God would and would not allow?

      • David Nickol

        I don't think you can criticize "materialists" (or whatever) for temporarily adopting the assumptions of believers in order to criticize certain conceptions of God. If I believe that life is a random accident, existence has not meaning, and morality is purely a human invention, that shouldn't stop me from criticizing the god of a particular religion based on what that religion itself teaches. It is a matter of whether a particular concept of the god of that religion is consistent with everything else that religion holds to be true.

        I find it frustrating that the discussions on Strange Notions in the past several months have been largely "rarified" and have almost nothing to do with how the vast majority of Catholics and other Christians (even those who may know their Aquinas) experience and live their religion. The rancorous nature of some of the "dialogue" here is enough to make any sane individual wonder whether philosophy/theology isn't something akin to hate speech.

        • Jim the Scott

          @LukeBreuer:disqus
          >I don't think you can criticize "materialists" (or whatever) for temporarily adopting the assumptions of believers in order to criticize certain conceptions of God.

          That is not a problem at all provided they adopt the correct assumptions of the class of believers they wish to address otherwise they simply commit fallacies of equivocation or straw manning.

          >If I believe that life is a random accident, existence has not meaning, and morality is purely a human invention, that shouldn't stop me from criticizing the god of a particular religion based on what that religion itself teaches.

          It might, since analogously if a common citizen of Great Britain puts on the Crown Jewels gets arrested for treason but if Elizebeth Windsor does it then it is not. Why is she treated differently? Well she is the Queen. God even conceived of as some sort of "moral agent" can claim rights and privileges by His Nature that His creatures cannot claim.
          So it seems more then reasonable God by His Nature would be evaluated by different standards then his creatures.

          >It is a matter of whether a particular concept of the god of that religion is consistent with everything else that religion holds to be true.

          That in principle would be fair. But here is the rub you have to get the concept of God of the group your addressing correct as well as the professed truths before you make that attempt. Granted you can make the attempt anyway and see how they respond but if you mess it up you run the risk of making non-starter objections.

          >I find it frustrating that the discussions on Strange Notions in the past several months have been largely "rarified" and have almost nothing to do with how the vast majority of Catholics and other Christians (even those who may know their Aquinas) experience and live their religion.

          That is an interesting species of democracy(considering Catholicism is not really a democratic faith in spite of the historic voting record of the Catholic working class) but even within Catholicism outside of Faith and Morals where we might hold different opinions that doesn't make all contradictory opinions equal or correct.

          >The rancorous nature of some of the "dialogue" here is enough to make any sane individual wonder whether philosophy/theology isn't something akin to hate speech.

          Unless one is the sort to believe protestations of "hate speech" are just a tyranical virtue signaling or species of political correctness used to suppress ideas one may wish not to deal with intellectually.

          This has become a problem with discourse in general in the modern hot political climate.

          • DN: If I believe that life is a random accident, existence has not meaning, and morality is purely a human invention, that shouldn't stop me from criticizing the god of a particular religion based on what that religion itself teaches. It is a matter of whether a particular concept of the god of that religion is consistent with everything else that religion holds to be true.

            JtS: It might, since analogously if a common citizen of Great Britain puts on the Crown Jewels gets arrested for treason but if Elizebeth Windsor does it then it is not. Why is she treated differently? Well she is the Queen. God even conceived of as some sort of "moral agent" can claim rights and privileges by His Nature that His creatures cannot claim.
            So it seems more then reasonable God by His Nature would be evaluated by different standards then his creatures.

            For the record, I'm pretty sure I disagree with this. I'm afraid you've de facto denied the imago Dei, sundering the analogia entis into pure equivocation. I will qualify that I still don't understand the analogia entis all that well, but surely it permits the following:

            “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
                call upon him while he is near;
            let the wicked forsake his way,
                and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
            let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
                and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
            For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
                neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
            For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                so are my ways higher than your ways
                and my thoughts than your thoughts.
            (Isaiah 55:6–9)

            ? See also:

            Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1–2)

            Perhaps you could sketch out where the dividing line is, between us imitating God and us not imitating God, which would help tease out those "different standards"?

        • I don't think you can criticize "materialists" (or whatever) for temporarily adopting the assumptions of believers in order to criticize certain conceptions of God.

          Actually, I want them to do that. This is the approach Charles Taylor suggests is generally superior in his 1989 essay Explanation and Practical Reason and I think he's right. But @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus chose to play a game with my term "sense-data" which I think muddies the water, even if it were intended rhetorical effect. Where, for example, is the admission of imperfect comprehension of God in Doug's response? Recall Is 55:6–9. By the way, it could be that Doug is criticizing beliefs of the RCC which I do not hold. But in that case, his "Probably the same" could be markedly false.

          It is a matter of whether a particular concept of the god of that religion is consistent with everything else that religion holds to be true.

          I think I would say "understanding of the god" rather than "concept of the god", but in general I think I agree. I expect A/T folks to balk at "a god" instead of "the god" and there are reasons for The Shema, but I think I can let that slide for now. As to my trying to practice what you're talking about, see for example this comment on hell and my scriptural rebuttal. That's an example of my finding Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther to hold views inconsistent with scripture. (I'm sure I do, too.) Now of course, I'm a Protestant and so I spell 'tradition' with a little 't'.

          I find it frustrating that the discussions on Strange Notions in the past several months have been largely "rarified" and have almost nothing to do with how the vast majority of Catholics and other Christians (even those who may know their Aquinas) experience and live their religion.

          Discussion of "what a morally perfect God would and would not allow" and how we can know that doesn't seem "rarified" to me; perhaps you're talking about other things? Some more detail from you would almost certainly be helpful; you seem to a pretty good barometer for such things. If you're going to start talking about the A/T philosophy posts, I may respond with a question of whether the atheist can distinguish actual knowledge and possible knowledge. :-D

          The rancorous nature of some of the "dialogue" here is enough to make any sane individual wonder whether philosophy/​theology isn't something akin to hate speech.

          That seems rather extreme.

      • Ahh, but what sense-data tells you what a morally perfect God would and would not allow?

        Probably the same kind of sense data that tell you he is morally perfect.

        • Would you elaborate?

          • I don't use any sense data to figure out what a morally perfect God would allow or disallow, and I'm pretty sure you don't use any to figure out whether he is or isn't morally perfect.

          • Then what do you use? I was expecting sense data + non-sensory thought, but you have said you don't use any sense data whatsoever.

          • I use reason. The conjunction of moral perfection + omnipotence + omniscience implies certain consequents. It's just a matter of logic, not observation.

          • If it is just a matter of "logic", why did you start off with "reason"? Do you mean the two terms to be exactly synonymous, at least for that comment of yours?

          • Your initial question was about the use of sense data. I assumed you were referring to visual, auditory, tactile, etc. perceptions. None of those are involved in forming my beliefs about the obligations incumbent on moral agency. I can and usually do use reason when I interpret those perceptions, but the perceptions provide the initial data to which I apply my reasoning skills.

            Reasoning is just thinking in the most generic sense. Human reasoning may or may not be consistent with logic. When it is, we call it logical reasoning, or for short we say we are using logic.

          • Your initial question was about the use of sense data. I assumed you were referring to visual, auditory, tactile, etc. perceptions. None of those are involved in forming my beliefs about the obligations incumbent on moral agency.

            That would seem to leave whatever was preprogrammed into you via instinct, plus rigorously logical operations thereupon. Would that be fair to say? Or does emotion somehow enter the mix? Antonio Damasio's somatic marker hypothesis posits that the emotions connect us to reality, but not in the same way that the five senses do: "Emotions, as defined by Damasio, are changes in both body and brain states in response to stimuli."

            I can and usually do use reason when I interpret those perceptions, but the perceptions provide the initial data to which I apply my reasoning skills.

            So would it be fair to say that perceptions do not change your faculty of judgment of what is good/​moral? You could perceive what every human being on the planet perceives (such that you can process through it all) and that wouldn't change your judgment of what is good/​moral in the slightest?

            Reasoning is just thinking in the most generic sense. Human reasoning may or may not be consistent with logic. When it is, we call it logical reasoning, or for short we say we are using logic.

            But surely you know that logic never adds information; that's what makes it logic. So from whence did you get the premises which inform your understanding of what a perfectly moral being would do? Is it something like Anselm's "greatest possible being" applied to your answer to my first paragraph (this comment)?

          • Or does emotion somehow enter the mix?

            To some unavoidable extent, sure. I’m human.

            Antonio Damasio's somatic marker hypothesis posits that the emotions connect us to reality

            I believe natural selection used the emotions that we inherited from our nonhuman ancestors to help us cope with reality. I don’t believe they provide us with factual information about reality.

            So would it be fair to say that perceptions do not change your faculty of judgment of what is good/moral?

            I seems to me that we’re getting back to the fact/value dichotomy. My sensory perceptions, if I use them properly, provide me with factual data about my environment. Once I have those data, I can make moral judgments about them. If I am as rational as I think I should be, those judgments will not change the data.

            You could perceive what every human being on the planet perceives (such that you can process through it all) and that wouldn't change your judgment of what is good/moral in the slightest?

            Why should it? My judgments should be about the world as it is. Even if I believe some people should not be doing what they’re doing, I first need to accurately perceive what they are actually doing. If my values cause me to misperceive their behavior, that is not a good thing.

            But surely you know that logic never adds information;

            Information of which we are unaware is useless to us. We can use logic to extract, from a set of facts, other facts of which we were previously unaware. The logic didn’t add any new facts to the world, but it enabled us to learn something about the world that we didn’t know before.

            So from whence did you get the premises which inform your understanding of what a perfectly moral being would do?

            The same place I get my premises about what we morally imperfect beings ought to do. The only difference between a morally imperfect being and a morally perfect being is that one of them sometimes fails to do what they ought to do and the other never does.

            Is it something like Anselm's "greatest possible being"

            I don’t know. One of my problems with Anselm is that he didn’t define “great,” and I have no clear idea of my own what would make one being greater than another.

          • LB: Or does emotion somehow enter the mix?

            DS: To some unavoidable extent, sure. I’m human.

            Actually, you could see if those who have no conscious access to their emotions are able to come up with better morality than you. But you'd have to deal with this weakness, at least in a certain class of such people:

            When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (Descartes' Error, xii)

            Could we also consult sociopaths and/or psychopaths, to see if they come up with better morality? (Obviously some of them do very bad things, but let's not hastily generalize.)

            I believe natural selection used the emotions that we inherited from our nonhuman ancestors to help us cope with reality. I don’t believe they provide us with factual information about reality.

            If you hold to the fact/​value dichotomy, that is merely tautologically true.

            I seems to me that we’re getting back to the fact/​value dichotomy. My sensory perceptions, if I use them properly, provide me with factual data about my environment. Once I have those data, I can make moral judgments about them. If I am as rational as I think I should be, those judgments will not change the data.

            Yes, that dichotomy is rather relevant to 'morality'. Somehow, 'morality' is not connected to 'reality', and I find the disconnection to be absolutely fascinating. It reminds me of Descartes' mind/​body dualism, as well as the old distinction of natural/​supernatural which was actually between "natural"/​moral. But seriously, shouldn't people with problems accessing their emotions be [capable of being] better at morality than you, given your reasoning? This seems like a wonderful way to either falsify or corroborate your reasoning.

            LB: So would it be fair to say that perceptions do not change your faculty of judgment of what is good/​moral? You could perceive what every human being on the planet perceives (such that you can process through it all) and that wouldn't change your judgment of what is good/​moral in the slightest?

            DS: Why should it? My judgments should be about the world as it is. Even if I believe some people should not be doing what they’re doing, I first need to accurately perceive what they are actually doing. If my values cause me to misperceive their behavior, that is not a good thing.

            Wait, are your judgments about 'morality', about 'reality'? If so, how? If not, then how do I make sense of this response?

            DS: I don't use any sense data to figure out what a morally perfect God would allow or disallow …

            LB: Then what do you use?

            DS: I use reason. The conjunction of moral perfection + omnipotence + omniscience implies certain consequents. It's just a matter of logic, not observation.

            LB: If it is just a matter of "logic", why did you start off with "reason"? Do you mean the two terms to be exactly synonymous, at least for that comment of yours?

            DS: Reasoning is just thinking in the most generic sense. Human reasoning may or may not be consistent with logic. When it is, we call it logical reasoning, or for short we say we are using logic.

            LB: But surely you know that logic never adds information;

            DS: Information of which we are unaware is useless to us. We can use logic to extract, from a set of facts, other facts of which we were previously unaware. The logic didn’t add any new facts to the world, but it enabled us to learn something about the world that we didn’t know before.

            But then your idea of "what is moral" was … pre-programmed into you at birth, and never changed? I'm really confused. Is your conception of what a perfect god would do, entirely dependent on evolution (which is "red in tooth and claw", at least according to modern dogma—we don't know how much selfless cooperation was actually involved)? Contrast this to the theist who would say that God has actually spoken, and spoken against some of the results of natural evolution and social evolution. (Ugh, that should really be natural [agentless] evolution and social [agentful] evolution—see OED: The etymology of the word ‘evolution’.)

          • you could see if those who have no conscious access to their emotions are able to come up with better morality than you.

            It seems to me very unlikely that a moral code formulated without any consideration given to human emotions would be a good one.

            If you hold to the fact/value dichotomy, that is merely tautologically true.

            Since I do hold to it, so be it.

            Somehow, 'morality' is not connected to 'reality', and I find the disconnection to be absolutely fascinating.

            I don’t know where you got the idea of morality being not connected to reality, but it makes no sense to me. Morality is about human interactions and the consequences of those interactions, both of which are as real as anything gets.

            Wait, are your judgments about 'morality', about 'reality'?

            Morality is a judgment, or a set of judgments. Those judgments are about behavior, which is a component of reality.

            But then your idea of "what is moral" was … pre-programmed into you at birth, and never changed?

            We – or at least most of us – are born with some moral instincts hard-wired into our brains, but they can be modified to some extent by social conditioning. I suspect that any society that tried to change them completely would not last very long.

            Is your conception of what a perfect god would do, entirely dependent on evolution

            Our biological origin is a fact, and I don’t have time for critiquing a theology that would deny it.

            evolution (which is "red in tooth and claw", at least according to modern dogma—we don't know how much selfless cooperation was actually involved)?

            That phrase is not a scientific dogma as far as I’m concerned. It was coined by a poet, not a biologist, and he published the poem 10 years before Darwin published Origin of Species. I’m not sure how we could quantify selfless cooperation, but the amount that occurred in the earliest human societies could not have been zero.

            Contrast this to the theist who would say that God has actually spoken, and spoken against some of the results of natural evolution and social evolution.

            It does seem to me, as one who is looking at the theistic community as an outsider, that it is easier to justify a moral code by attributing it to a divine revelation than to formulate one that makes no appeal to any transcendent authority.

            (Ugh, that should really be natural [agentless] evolution and social [agentful] evolution—see OED: The etymology of the word ‘evolution’.)

            Etymology is always interesting to a wordsmith like me, but words are currently defined by current usage. The term you are looking for to contrast with social evolution is biological evolution. Both are natural, but you’re correct that one is agentless and the other is not.

          • DS: But as soon as we unbelievers say that a morally perfect God would not allow such-and-such to happen, you immediately tell us, "You can't know that."

            LB: Ahh, but what sense-data tells you what a morally perfect God would and would not allow?

            DS: I don't use any sense data to figure out what a morally perfect God would allow or disallow, and I'm pretty sure you don't use any to figure out whether he is or isn't morally perfect.

            LB: Then what do you use?

            DS: I use reason. The conjunction of moral perfection + omnipotence + omniscience implies certain consequents. It's just a matter of logic, not observation.

            DS: Reasoning is just thinking in the most generic sense. Human reasoning may or may not be consistent with logic. When it is, we call it logical reasoning, or for short we say we are using logic.

            LB: Or does emotion somehow enter the mix?

            DS: To some unavoidable extent, sure. I’m human.

            LB: you could see if those who have no conscious access to their emotions are able to come up with better morality than you.

            DS: It seems to me very unlikely that a moral code formulated without any consideration given to human emotions would be a good one.

            Sorry, I was picking on one side of an ambiguous sentence: saying "I’m human" could be an admission that you're imperfect and fall short of some perfect standard where emotion wouldn't matter; it could also mean … something else which seems rather fuzzier to me, given your terseness. I'm still trying to tease out just what the inputs are which formed that "reason" you use to know what "a morally perfect God would not allow". We have:

                 (1) "reason" which "may or may not be consistent with logic"
                 (2) "logic"
                 (3) "not observation"
                 (4) "emotion somehow" ("To some unavoidable extent")
                 (5) "some moral instincts hard-wired into our brains"

            Have I missed anything, distorted anything, or gotten anything flat wrong so far?

            LB: Somehow, 'morality' is not connected to 'reality', and I find the disconnection to be absolutely fascinating.

            DS: I don’t know where you got the idea of morality being not connected to reality, but it makes no sense to me. Morality is about human interactions and the consequences of those interactions, both of which are as real as anything gets.

            Well, you say that morality is about that which is "as real as anything gets", "emotion somehow enter[s] the mix", and yet you "don’t believe [emotions] provide us with factual information about reality". I can't guarantee that this is contradictory because our discussion has not been perfectly formal, so perhaps you can comment as to why one might plausibly see there being a contradiction, and why you think there isn't one? It might help to distinguish between emotion being an input to the morality algorithm and emotion shaping the morality algorithm. This distinction does blur if the algorithm itself can generate algorithms based on input, but perhaps we can ignore that for now.

            If I am as rational as I think I should be, those judgments will not change the data.

            It sounds like you might have gotten the idea that I think that judgments should "change the data"; is that the case? I'm actually rather big on keeping distinct one's understanding of the world as it is, and one's understanding of what would constitute a better world. The question in all this, I thought, was how one forms the idea of "what would constitute a better world".

            LB: You could perceive what every human being on the planet perceives (such that you can process through it all) and that wouldn't change your judgment of what is good/​moral in the slightest?

            DS: Why should it?

            I didn't necessarily think it should, but this was a helpful verification. Now, what if I were to change "perceives" to "feels"? "You could perceive what every human being on the planet perceives feels …" Would that "change your judgment of what is good/​moral in the slightest"?

            LB: But then your idea of "what is moral" was … pre-programmed into you at birth, and never changed? I'm really confused. Is your conception of what a perfect god would do, entirely dependent on evolution (which is "red in tooth and claw", at least according to modern dogma—we don't know how much selfless cooperation was actually involved)? Contrast this to the theist who would say that God has actually spoken, and spoken against some of the results of natural evolution and social evolution. (Ugh, that should really be natural [agentless] evolution and social [agentful] evolution—see OED: The etymology of the word ‘evolution’.)

            DS: Our biological origin is a fact, and I don’t have time for critiquing a theology that would deny it.

            I was not in any way intending to deny evolution, as I think the text in context makes clear?

            LB: But then your idea of "what is moral" was … pre-programmed into you at birth, and never changed? I'm really confused. Is your conception of what a perfect god would do, entirely dependent on evolution (which is "red in tooth and claw", at least according to modern dogma—we don't know how much selfless cooperation was actually involved)? Contrast this to the theist who would say that God has actually spoken, and spoken against some of the results of natural evolution and social evolution. (Ugh, that should really be natural [agentless] evolution and social [agentful] evolution—see OED: The etymology of the word ‘evolution’.)

            DS: That phrase is not a scientific dogma as far as I’m concerned. It was coined by a poet, not a biologist, and he published the poem 10 years before Darwin published Origin of Species. I’m not sure how we could quantify selfless cooperation, but the amount that occurred in the earliest human societies could not have been zero.

            Hmm, I didn't mean a scientific dogma so much as an atheist dogma used to generate a problem of natural evil (vs. human-caused evil). Evolution is said to be so utterly brutal. If evolution were actually 99.999% cooperation and 0.001% vicious competition, such an evidential problem of evil would seem to have problems, especially if humans are closer to 99% cooperative and 1% [viciously] competitive. (I mean to draw a relative comparison with 99.999% and 99%—one can rejigger the numbers and still get such a relative comparison. Your "could not have been zero" as currently situated does not appear to conflict with what I've said here.)

            Given that we are the instruments with which we measure reality, if we are rather terrible at cooperation, it stands to reason that we might not be able to see a tremendous amount of cooperation that could be going on in nature. There is a definitely a claim that we are more cooperative than our fellow primates and it appears true, but primates make up a vanishingly small percentage of the earth's flora and fauna.

            It does seem to me, as one who is looking at the theistic community as an outsider, that it is easier to justify a moral code by attributing it to a divine revelation than to formulate one that makes no appeal to any transcendent authority.

            That seems to me to be more of a rationalistic conclusion than an empirical one. I've seen no evidence that atheists find it harder to be good than theists; have you?

          • Sorry, I was picking on one side of an ambiguous sentence: saying "I’m human" could be an admission that you're imperfect

            Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, the ambiguity does seem pretty obvious, and I apologize for it.

            What I was acknowledging was not imperfection but inevitability. The interplay between our emotions and our other cognitive faculties is hard-wired into our brains. In some situations, we can reduce (though never eliminate) that interplay if we try hard enough. I would not argue that we should always even try to reduce it, but it probably is always wise to be aware of it.

            I'm still trying to tease out just what the inputs are which formed that "reason" you use to know what "a morally perfect God would not allow". We have:
            (1) "reason" which "may or may not be consistent with logic"
            (2) "logic"
            (3) "not observation"
            (4) "emotion somehow" ("To some unavoidable extent")
            (5) "some moral instincts hard-wired into our brains"
            Have I missed anything, distorted anything, or gotten anything flat wrong so far?

            I’m not sure what to say that I haven’t already said. Unless, what you’re really trying to ask for is the inputs to my moral code. That gets complicated.

            Any moral code, as I understand morality, is a set of value judgments, of a particular kind (not all value judgments are moral judgments), about the possible ways in which human beings – and, by extension, any other moral agents that might exist – interact with each other. To oversimplify a bit, those judgments affirm, for any given behavior in a given situation, that the code prohibits the behavior, requires the behavior, or makes no judgment one way or the other. Beings who violate the code are then, by definition, morally imperfect. It follows by elementary logic, then, that a morally perfect being will not violate the code.

            Now, an interlocutor might say to me (figuratively pointing to whatever), “Here is a morally perfect being. If you think that he violates your moral code, then your moral code is just wrong.” At that point, the challenge for me is to justify my moral code, but I have already justified my claim that the allegedly perfect being violates it.

            Well, you say that morality is about that which is "as real as anything gets", "emotion somehow enter[s] the mix", and yet you "don’t believe [emotions] provide us with factual information about reality". I can't guarantee that this is contr adictory because our discussion has not been perfectly formal, so perhaps you can comment as to why one might plausibly see there being a contradiction, and why you think there isn't one?

            I can only guess at how the perception of a contradiction might arise: a conflation of reality with the language we must employ to describe that reality. I see this often, and I think it explains many of the errors I believe Aristotelians habitually make. We cannot infer anything about reality just by analyzing the logical relationships among the words we use to talk about reality. A declarative sentence in English or any other natural language cannot be treated as if it were an algebraic formula of some kind from which we may extract information about its subject just by applying the rules of logic to subject-verb-predicate relationships.

            I'm actually rather big on keeping distinct one's understanding of the world as it is, and one's understanding of what would constitute a better world. The question in all this, I thought, was how one forms the idea of "what would constitute a better world".

            That is one of the questions philosophers have been wrestling with for as long as there have been philosophers.

            I suppose there are still some people who think that the world as it is, is the best of all possible worlds. Let’s ignore them. The rest of us agree that, in some sense of the word “better,” certain changes would result in a better world. What we don’t agree on is what those changes would be. And why don’t we agree on that? Among other reasons, because we don’t agree on whether the world would actually be better if those changes were made. Lots of people will never agree that the United States became a better place when gay marriage was made legal. It’s obviously better for gay people, at least for the time being, but what about the rest of us? Does it matter whether we think it’s better? If we just don’t like living in a country where gays can marry, is our discomfort relevant to the moral question?

            I don’t have a sound-bite answer. I am strictly heterosexual and politically conservative, but two good friends of mine are gay men, and I attended their wedding a couple of years ago. One of them is an atheist, the other is not, and the wedding was held in a church with all the usual religious trappings, except for a few very unorthodox comments that the minister made at one point in the ceremony.

            I was sort of monitoring my feelings the whole time. I don’t agree with anything religious, but that ceremony neither picked anyone’s pockets nor broke anyone’s bones, so, so what? I didn’t care one way or the other about that.

            And two men getting married? Indifference was harder to come by, but one feeling kept trumping all the others. I know what it feels like to love someone, and to feel committed to a certain relationship with that person, and I know what it feels like to demonstrate that commitment in a very public way. And I can think of no way to justify denying to my friends the satisfaction of indulging those feelings they have for each other in the same way I have indulged them with my wife.

            Other conservatives can’t go there with me. They say that gay marriage will metaphorically pick some pockets and break some bones with respect to heterosexual marriage. In other words, they say, it will have some unavoidable consequences that rational people will very much want to avoid. Whether that is so, I submit, is just a matter of fact. Legalized gay marriage either will or will not have such dire consequences. If it does, then a case could be made for telling my friends, “We’re very sorry, but for the greater good of our society, we just cannot allow you to do this.” But we cannot justifiably say that until we have solid empirical evidence about those consequences, and I have yet to see any such evidence.

            Now, what if I were to change "perceives" to "feels"? "You could perceive what every human being on the planet perceives feels …" Would that "change your judgment of what is good/moral in the slightest"?

            Sure. Morality, for me, is about preventing or reducing suffering. Suffering is something we feel. What causes it is a matter of empirical fact, but the experience itself is just a feeling. That is not, however, to deny that if I am suffering, it is also a fact that I have that feeling. That is part of what I meant about distinguishing reality from the language we use to describe that reality.

            I was not in any way intending to deny evolution, as I think the text in context makes clear?

            You made that clear. What was not so clear was the point you were trying to make.

            I didn't mean a scientific dogma so much as an atheist dogma used to generate a problem of natural evil (vs. human-caused evil).

            The characterization of nature as “red in tooth and claw” is not an atheist dogma any more than Soviet Communism was. No characterization of nature follows from a disbelief in God’s existence – aside from the trivial observation that whatever we think nature is like, it isn’t because God made it so. An atheist could, consistently with his disbelief in God, affirm that all evil is just an illusion, like the Christian Scientists do. I don’t think it would be a rational thing to affirm, but it would not be irrational because it contradicted a denial of God’s existence, because it would not do that.

            Evolution is said to be so utterly brutal.

            Yes, because it often is utterly brutal. But if evolution were falsified tomorrow, the brutality we observe in the real world would still be there and we would be no less compelled to find an explanation for it. Theists must try to make their explanation consistent with whatever God they believe in. Atheists don’t have that problem. For us atheists who are philosophical naturalists, the suffering of sentient creatures does not contradict any principle that is fundamental to our worldview.

            There is a definitely a claim that we are more cooperative than our fellow primates and it appears true, but primates make up a vanishingly small percentage of the earth's flora and fauna.

            The cooperation of which we are capable requires certain cognitive skills that didn’t exist until natural selection bestowed them on us.

            I've seen no evidence that atheists find it harder to be good than theists; have you?

            No, and I’m not saying it’s harder for them to be good. I’m saying they might have to work harder to justify their belief that their good behavior is good. To paraphrase what William Lane Craig likes to say: Of course atheists can be moral, but what they can’t do is justify their morality. I’m claiming that he is wrong to say we can’t do it, while I’m admitting that it ain’t easy compared with the option of saying “God commands it.”

          • Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, the ambiguity does seem pretty obvious, and I apologize for it.

            No worries; more of the time the ambiguity seems to be solely in my head.

            What I was acknowledging was not imperfection but inevitability. The interplay between our emotions and our other cognitive faculties is hard-wired into our brains. In some situations, we can reduce (though never eliminate) that interplay if we try hard enough. I would not argue that we should always even try to reduce it, but it probably is always wise to be aware of it.

            It's not clear to me that the force of 'should' comes from anywhere but emotion. Were emotion to be eviscerated or 100% disconnected, where would 'should' come from? I'm inclined to say we so distrust emotion (well, distrust it … schizophrenically) because our mental insides are [on average] exceedingly disordered due to terrible introspection. I can expand on this point quite a lot upon request.

            Unless, what you’re really trying to ask for is the inputs to my moral code.

            Because "input" is ambiguous, I would say I'm looking for what shapes your moral code.

            Now, an interlocutor might say to me (figuratively pointing to whatever), “Here is a morally perfect being. If you think that he violates your moral code, then your moral code is just wrong.” At that point, the challenge for me is to justify my moral code, but I have already justified my claim that the allegedly perfect being violates it.

            It seems iffy to use the objective language "perfect [moral] being" when the term "moral" is understood rather subjectively.

            LB: Well, you say that morality is about that which is "as real as anything gets", "emotion somehow enter[s] the mix", and yet you "don’t believe [emotions] provide us with factual information about reality". I can't guarantee that this is contradictory because our discussion has not been perfectly formal, so perhaps you can comment as to why one might plausibly see there being a contradiction, and why you think there isn't one?

            DS: I can only guess at how the perception of a contradiction might arise: a conflation of reality with the language we must employ to describe that reality. I see this often, and I think it explains many of the errors I believe Aristotelians habitually make. We cannot infer anything about reality just by analyzing the logical relationships among the words we use to talk about reality. A declarative sentence in English or any other natural language cannot be treated as if it were an algebraic formula of some kind from which we may extract information about its subject just by applying the rules of logic to subject-verb-predicate relationships.

            While I believe that Ceci n'est pas une pipe., I am lost as to how this applies in the present situation. I still don't really understand the role of emotion in shaping your moral code.

            … that ceremony neither picked anyone’s pockets nor broke anyone’s bones, so, so what?

            Responding only to the quoted text: there are more ways to harm someone, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. What if I construct an elaborate system to make most humans not want very much, so that they remain [relatively] docile? At the same time, the rich and powerful get remarkable freedom to strongly desire. BTW, I have run across some people who think that … domesticating humans is perfectly acceptable. The TV series Firefly played with this very idea in its concluding movie, Serenity.

            Morality, for me, is about preventing or reducing suffering. Suffering is something we feel.

            Umm … isn't that 100% about emotions? I'm also reminded of this:

            DS: We – or at least most of us – are born with some moral instincts hard-wired into our brains, but they can be modified to some extent by social conditioning. I suspect that any society that tried to change them completely would not last very long.

            It's not clear to me that animals can be well-modeled as having the highest priority being the reduction of suffering. Furthermore, I doubt that very many of the great scientists we've had would have done what they did, had they prioritized suffering-minimization. Were my wife to pursue suffering-minimization, she would probably drop out of science because it is terribly hard (I suspect the vast majority of the difficulty for the majority of scientists is human-caused these days). Indeed, suffering-minimization seems to be a really good way to over-fit the current environment and become an evolutionary dead-end which will get pruned with time. Am I being overly harsh in saying all this?

            Now, there's one thing I'm with you on: if there's lots of suffering which doesn't seem to be oriented toward anywhere productive [for the sufferers], it seems worth minimizing. I am against needless suffering. I just think that a lot of the problems in this world will only be solved if people take on extra suffering. For example:

                The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch. Churches and universities—in elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year—enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques. Labor leaders make lavish salaries and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak in the language of class struggle. Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers. Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills. (Death of the Liberal Class, 10)

            Those people are engaged in suffering-minimization, unless you mean a sort of global utilitarian suffering-minimization. But if so, why aren't you, Doug Shaver, an effective altruist? Suppose that a 3x increase in your suffering would be more than balanced by reduction in suffering of starving children in Africa. Would you then get a job (if you are retired) or strive to get paid more (if you're still working), even if it triples your suffering?

            What was not so clear was the point you were trying to make.

            I asked "Is your conception of what a perfect god would do, entirely dependent on evolution …?" Instead of 'evolution', I could have said 'evolved instinct'. If 'social evolution' is 100% dependent on 'evolved instinct', then you would have a morality that is 100% founded upon 'survival of the fittest', with whatever [minimal?] cooperation evolution selected for. To the extent that your morality has deviated from this path, I am interested to know what non-evolutionary causal factors led to the deviation. One option is that God could have spoken, and you could be keying off of echoes of that. Now, you can of course claim that what "God" said is really just want some [sometimes] wise people figured out. But one step at a time.

            The characterization of nature as “red in tooth and claw” is not an atheist dogma any more than Soviet Communism was.

            Sigh. When someone says "Christian dogma", that person is naive to think it applies to all Christians. What is probable is that it applies to the vast majority of the Christians [s]he has encountered. The same applies to my use of "atheist dogma", here. It appears required to support the evidential problem of evil, and I don't think I've met a single atheist who doesn't support the evidential problem of evil.

            But if evolution were falsified tomorrow, the brutality we observe in the real world would still be there and we would be no less compelled to find an explanation for it.

            If it were found that evolution is 99.999% cooperation and 0.001% competition while human society is currently 99% cooperation and 1% competition, that would change things radically.

            Theists must try to make their explanation consistent with whatever God they believe in. Atheists don’t have that problem. For us atheists who are philosophical naturalists, the suffering of sentient creatures does not contradict any principle that is fundamental to our worldview.

            Yes, the problem of suffering is indeed heightened by theism. Could that serve as a provocation for theists to fight suffering more effectively than those without something which heightens it? Incidentally, the current atheist push against the brutal versions of hell often propounded by Catholics and Protestants has been traced to Christian teaching which preceded the Reformation; see Dominic Erdozain's The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx.

            The cooperation of which we are capable requires certain cognitive skills that didn’t exist until natural selection bestowed them on us.

            I suspect there are many kinds of cooperation in nature. Furthermore, there are arguments that most of the increase in human brain size is due to competition, not cooperation; I can list some from The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, if you'd like. If effective deceivers prosper most, it becomes important to model truth vs. deception somehow. An arms race ensues. Perhaps Eve's choice to not repent of her being deceived is why God told her that childbirth would become painful. :-D

            To paraphrase what William Lane Craig likes to say: Of course atheists can be moral, but what they can’t do is justify their morality. I’m claiming that he is wrong to say we can’t do it, while I’m admitting that it ain’t easy compared with the option of saying “God commands it.”

            I haven't seen a shred of evidence which indicates it is easier to say "God commands it." I understand that the idea { if you believe "God said it" then you get some sort of psychological boost to obey } is a common dogma among some Christians and some atheists, but I don't see why I should believe that it is true. I'm much more inclined to believe MacIntyre's account, relayed by David Trenery:

                If ethical imperatives are identified with commands it becomes impossible to distinguish morality from the exercise of power.[170] There must therefore be an independent set of moral criteria through which that culture can determine that God’s commands are appropriate.[171] These moral criteria relate to the role played by both moral imperatives and God’s commands in the realization of an essential human nature. The point of conformity to the dictates of morality and of obedience to God’s commands is that such, submission leads to the fulfilment of human needs and desires. What would destabilize such a culture is a lack of agreement about what constitutes human nature and its fulfilment, as this would lead to a failure to agree on the meaning of moral propositions within that culture, and this in turn would weaken any connection between such propositions and their fulfilment through adherence to religious beliefs and injunctions. The point of both moral and religious beliefs would be lost with the loss of their interconnection with the achievement of human happiness and potential. (Alasdair MacIntyre, George Lindbeck, and the Nature of Tradition, 42–43)

            [170] Religious Significance of Atheism, 34–35.
            [171] Religious Significance of Atheism, 35.

            Now, I wouldn't be surprised if there are versions of Divine Command Theory which do in fact collapse morality and power, rather like MacIntyre argued that emotivism entails "the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations." (After Virtue, 23) But I doubt one could read the Bible in any way other than as a massive attempt to create those two distinctions. In the OT see Deut 12:32–13:5; in the NT see Mt 20:20–28. To get even more intense, one could contrast YHWH's actions in Genesis 15 with the Hittite suzerainty treaty form. How could one get further away from "Might makes right." than that?

          • It's not clear to me that the force of 'should' comes from anywhere but emotion.

            Nor to me. It is a judgment, and judgments are feelings, and emotions are feelings, and while those three words are not entirely interchangeable, I’d say their meanings are similar enough for the present context.

            Were emotion to be eviscerated or 100% disconnected, where would 'should' come from?

            I don’t know and I’m not convinced that it matters. For a human being, absence of emotion is a pathological condition. Whether such a person could have any moral sense does not seem relevant to how I justify my own morality.

            I'm inclined to say we so distrust emotion (well, distrust it … schizophrenically) because our mental insides are [on average] exceedingly disordered due to terrible introspection.

            I don’t know whom you’re including in that “we.” I rarely see much if any distrust of emotion in most public discourse these days. I think a major reason we got into the current political mess was the triumph within both political parties of the notion “If it feels true to me, then it is true.” I agree that within a certain segment of the intellectual class, emotions don’t get much respect, but it looks to me like hardly anyone is paying them any attention.

            I would say I'm looking for what shapes your moral code.

            A lot of things, but they start with the reasons why moral codes exist in the first place. Most basically, we need them for survival. But we don’t have too stop there. Reason does not dictate that we should want nothing more than to avoid dying for as many years as possible.

            The phrase “quality of life” has a nasty reputation in some circles, and I can see why. It can be misused to justify all kinds of atrocities. But so can every other good idea. It remains a fact that there are conditions in which we prefer to live over other conditions, and it is not irrational in any general way to indulge such preferences. Problems arise when some people’s preferences conflict with those of others, but some preferences seem to be nearly universal, and these can suggest a groundwork for a moral code to which few people would object.

            It seems iffy seems iffy to use the objective language “perf ect [moral] being” when the term “moral” is understood rather subjectively.

            It’s not about being objective. It’s about communicating our intended meaning. Given any set of rules (we’ll assume it is a consistent set), any person will comply with all of them or violate some of them. Compliance with all is usually said to be a kind of perfection.

            Responding only to the quoted text: there are more ways to harm someone, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy

            Yeah, no man is an island. This has always been a nettlesome problem for us who have found libertarianism seductive. How much and what kind of harm does your behavior have to threaten before the rest of us are justified in saying “We can’t let you do that”? I don’t have an answer conveniently at hand, but it is only one of many questions about conflicting values that arise in any discussion about values, be they moral values or any other kind. As individuals or as a society, we just cannot have everything we want, even if our desires are as pure as the driven snow.

            What if I construct an elaborate system to make most humans not want very much, so that they remain [relatively] docile? At the same time, the rich and powerful get remarkable freedom to strongly desire

            Assuming that the system was created and being implemented by any intelligent agent or group of agents, therein would lie the basis of my moral objection.

            Morality, for me, is about preventing or reducing suffering. Suffering is something we feel.

            Umm … isn’t that 100% about emotions?

            My philosophy is not about ignoring emotions. It’s about trying to keep them in their proper epistemological place.

            It's not clear to me that animals can be well-modeled as having the highest priority being the reduction of suffering.

            Nor to me, but I never said they could.

            Furthermore, I doubt that very many of the great scientists we've had would have done what they did, had they prioritized suffering-minimization.

            I believe science is the only collective human enterprise that has brought about any significant diminution in human suffering. The motivations of particular scientists may be more or less altruistic, but most them seem mainly to want to discover new knowledge. Knowledge is necessary to reliably and predictably effect any change, good or bad, and I don’t see how it matters a great deal if the people who get that knowledge for us are motivated mostly by hopes of winning a Nobel Prize.

            Indeed, suffering-minimization seems to be a really good way to over-fit the current environment and become an evolutionary dead-end which will get pruned with time. Am I being overly harsh in saying all this?

            What I think you’re overdoing is not harshness but simplification. A moral code that led to our extinction would be unacceptable on grounds of irrelevance.

            I am against needless suffering. I just think that a lot of the problems in this world will only be solved if people take on extra suffering.

            There is no possible way that we will eradicate all suffering. And, there being no free lunch, some will have to suffer more - - at least temporarily - - if others are to suffer less.

            Suppose that a 3x increase in your suffering would be more than balanced by reduction in suffering of starving children in Africa.

            Let someone show me exactly how my suffering more will cause someone else to suffer less, and we’ll talk about it. The conversation will, however, need to keep in consideration that there are few ways I can suffer without making my wife suffer as well.

            If ‘social evolution’ is 100% dependent on ‘evolved instinct’, then you would have a morality that is 100% founded upon ‘survival of the fittest’, with whatever [minimal?] cooperation evolution selected for.

            ”Survival of the fittest” is a considerable oversimplification of the concept of natural selection. That noted, yes, morality in its most general sense is entirely a matter of survival of the fittest. Societies whose members had some instinct about a difference between right and wrong behavior were more likely to survive than societies whose members lacked such an instinct.

            To the extent that your morality has deviated from this path, I am interested to know what non-evolutionary causal factors led to the deviation.

            I don’t think it has deviated. A society’s survival requires it to regulate its members’ behavior. It does not dictate anything specific about the regulations a society chooses to adopt. An example of a real deviation would be a truly anarchic society that managed to survive for several generations.

            Sigh. When someone says “Christian dogma”, that person is naïve to think it applies to all Christians. What is probable is that it applies to the vast majority of the Christians [s]he has encountered. The same applies to my use of “atheist dogma”, here.

            I got it when I read it that you were not claiming that all atheists believe it. That was not my point. My point was that a reference to an “X dogma” ought to mean something more specific than any belief held by most people calling themselves X. It ought to be something that indicates a distinction, owing to some definitive characteristic of X, between people who are X and people who are not X. Otherwise, what is the point of calling it an X dogma?

            But if evolution were falsified tomorrow, the brutality we observe in the real world would still be there and we would be no less compelled to find an explanation for it.

            If it were found that evolution is 99.999% cooperation and 0.001% competition while human society is currently 99% cooperation and 1% competition, that would change things radically.

            If human brutality were significantly greater than what we observed elsewhere in nature, then we would have to find a way to account for that observation.

            Yes, the problem of suffering is indeed heightened by theism. Could that serve as a provocation for theists to fight suffering more effectively than those without something which heightens it?

            It could be a provocation to fight it or to excuse it. I’ve seen them do both. I’ve also seen non-theists do both.

            Incidentally, the current atheist push against the brutal versions of hell often propounded by Catholics and Protestants has been traced to Christian teaching which preceded the Reformation;

            I doubt I was ever under the impression that skepticism about eternal torment for sinners was a new idea, even among Christians. I’m sure some of the earliest believers were saying, “Lake of fire? Forever? You’ve got to be kidding!”

            I haven’t seen a shred of evidence which indicates it is easier to say “God commands it.”

            Which nicely illustrates the hazards of trying to extrapolate from one’s own experience. I used to say it, and it was a heckuva lot easier than anything I’ve tried to say about morality since I stopped believing it.

          • … judgments are feelings …

            How are these words not interchangeable? I was rather surprised by your quasi-equality, here.

            LB: Were emotion to be eviscerated or 100% disconnected, where would 'should' come from?

            DS: I don’t know and I’m not convinced that it matters. For a human being, absence of emotion is a pathological condition. Whether such a person could have any moral sense does not seem relevant to how I justify my own morality.

            Can the process of justification involve emotions in any way, according to you?

            LB: I'm inclined to say we so distrust emotion (well, distrust it … schizophrenically) because our mental insides are [on average] exceedingly disordered due to terrible introspection.

            DS: I don’t know whom you’re including in that “we.” I rarely see much if any distrust of emotion in most public discourse these days. I think a major reason we got into the current political mess was the triumph within both political parties of the notion “If it feels true to me, then it is true.” I agree that within a certain segment of the intellectual class, emotions don’t get much respect, but it looks to me like hardly anyone is paying them any attention.

            I meant in discourse like I find on SN and EN and CE and SO, between atheists and theists about morality. You are the only atheist I've encountered whom I recall treating emotion as anything other than an enemy to reason and an enemy to figuring out how we ought to act. Now, I do think that a lot of what is called "reasoning" in such internet discussions has a tenuous connection to reality, because I think I agree with your analysis of public discourse. But in internet discussions I've come across, that "certain segment of the intellectual class" seems to be very influential. If I'm accused of being 'emotional', it is always an insult, or at least always an implication that I am falling short of some standard of rationality.

            LB: I would say I'm looking for what shapes your moral code.

            DS: A lot of things, but they start with the reasons why moral codes exist in the first place. Most basically, we need them for survival. But we don’t have too stop there. Reason does not dictate that we should want nothing more than to avoid dying for as many years as possible.

            Survival seems rather compatible with "Might makes right", so it seems like pretty thin gruel to me. The amount that is added by non-survival emotions/​reasons seems rather large, and rather absent in your treatment. Perhaps you could explain how your subsequent "some preferences seem to be nearly universal" could clarify some of the current major conflicts about what kind of future we should pursue. Hume also claimed that there was a lot of commonality to humans' conceptions of what is moral; it turns out that his ideas were conditioned by living in Christendom and being primarily exposed to those who were conditioned by Christendom. I would further cite Alasdair MacIntyre's observation in Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity (2016) that bickering among professional ethicists (and political scientists) seems to be endless and irreconcilable. He noted this in After Virtue in 1981 so this seems to be a stable phenomenon. Do you disagree, based upon your own experience?

            DS: Now, an interlocutor might say to me (figuratively pointing to whatever), “Here is a morally perfect being. If you think that he violates your moral code, then your moral code is just wrong.” At that point, the challenge for me is to justify my moral code, but I have already justified my claim that the allegedly perfect being violates it.

            LB: It seems iffy to use the objective language "perfect [moral] being" when the term "moral" is understood rather subjectively.

            DS: It’s not about being objective. It’s about communicating our intended meaning. Given any set of rules (we’ll assume it is a consistent set), any person will comply with all of them or violate some of them. Compliance with all is usually said to be a kind of perfection.

            Equivocating on 'morally perfect being' by swapping out which set of rules apply seems to be … unhelpful to discourse.

            LB: What if I construct an elaborate system to make most humans not want very much, so that they remain [relatively] docile? At the same time, the rich and powerful get remarkable freedom to strongly desire.

            DS: Assuming that the system was created and being implemented by any intelligent agent or group of agents, therein would lie the basis of my moral objection.

            Who is harmed by that? If people don't feel like they've been harmed, on what basis have they been harmed?

            DS: Morality, for me, is about preventing or reducing suffering. Suffering is something we feel.

            LB: Umm … isn't that 100% about emotions?

            DS: My philosophy is not about ignoring emotions. It’s about trying to keep them in their proper epistemological place.

            You wrote that you "don’t believe [emotions] provide us with factual information about reality". What is "their proper epistemological place", given that?

            LB: I'm also reminded of this:

            DS: We – or at least most of us – are born with some moral instincts hard-wired into our brains, but they can be modified to some extent by social conditioning. I suspect that any society that tried to change them completely would not last very long.

            It's not clear to me that animals can be well-modeled as having the highest priority being the reduction of suffering.

            DS: Nor to me, but I never said they could.

            A little bit earlier you wrote:

            DS: We – or at least most of us – are born with some moral instincts hard-wired into our brains, but they can be modified to some extent by social conditioning. I suspect that any society that tried to change them completely would not last very long.

            Do you think that making suffering-avoidance the highest priority might result in us humans not lasting very long?

            … I don’t see how it matters a great deal if the people who get that knowledge for us are motivated mostly by hopes of winning a Nobel Prize.

            It matters if you convince people to make suffering-avoidance a higher priority than winning a Nobel Prize. Were you to accomplish that, the quality of science would almost certainly decrease.

            A moral code that led to our extinction would be unacceptable on grounds of irrelevance.

            I don't know how to process that; plenty of species have gone extinct in the history of evolution.

            Let someone show me exactly how my suffering more will cause someone else to suffer less, and we’ll talk about it. The conversation will, however, need to keep in consideration that there are few ways I can suffer without making my wife suffer as well.

            You could earn more money and help improve the situation of poor children in Africa. Maybe you'd have to do more education to be capable of earning more money. If you and your wife have to suffer then we'd just have to rebalance the equations.

          • How are these words not interchangeable

            The same way brotherly and fraternal are not interchangeable.

            Can the process of justification involve emotions in any way, according to you?

            It depends on what you’re trying to justify.

            At a job I once had, one of my coworkers for a while was a creationist. One day he asked me, “How does it make you feel to think you’re descended from apes?” I replied, “I feel fine about it.” And that was true, but recalling the exchange some time afterward, I realized that my response should have been, “I think my feelings about it are irrelevant.”

            Whether evolution is true or false is just a matter of fact, and whichever is the case, how we feel about it doesn’t make a lick of difference. But suppose I’m tempted to have an affair? The would involve consequences that are all about people’s feelings, and it would be on the basis of those consequences that I would have to decide whether or not to resist the temptation.

            You are the only atheist I've encountered whom I recall treating emotion as anything other than an enemy to reason and an enemy to figuring out how we ought to act.

            It often is an enemy to reason, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Quite the contrary. We’d better understand it as best we can and watch it very closely with that understanding in mind. We especially need to understand exactly how it can subvert our reason so that we can do what we can keep that subversion to a minimal level while not kidding ourselves into thinking we can ever entirely eliminate it.

            As for how we should act . . . I’m a consequentialist, and when our actions have emotional consequences, those consequences are fully relevant to our assessment of those actions.

            Survival seems rather compatible with "Might makes right",

            Oversimplification is a constant hazard in these discussions. If we don’t survive, nothing else will matter, but the inference from “First, we must survive” to “might makes right” is conspicuously invalid.

            The amount that is added by non-survival emotions/reasons seems rather large, and rather absent in your treatment.

            A complete treatment of my ethical philosophy would take an entire book, at least. I can’t even start to outline it in this forum.

            Perhaps you could explain how your subsequent "some preferences seem to be nearly universal" could clarify some of the current major conflicts about what kind of future we should pursue.

            A proper analysis of cultural universals should give us some insight into the kinds of norms that any society must enforce. If no long-lived society has ever allowed its members to do X, then those who argue that we should allow people to do X will have a hard case to make. Not necessarily an impossible case, but the advocates of allowing X will have to think very carefully about what they’re proposing.

            Hume also claimed that there was a lot of commonality to humans' conceptions of what is moral; it turns out that his ideas were conditioned by living in Christendom and being primarily exposed to those who were conditioned by Christendom.

            Ethnocentrism affects the best of us, but we today have less excuse than Hume did. He was very knowledgeable for a man of his time, but he could not have known as much about cultures outside of his own as we can know nowadays.

            I would further cite Alasdair MacIntyre's observation in Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity (2016) that bickering among professional ethicists (and political scientists) seems to be endless and irreconcilable. He noted this in After Virtue in 1981 so this seems to be a stable phenomenon. Do you disagree, based upon your own experience?

            I wouldn’t try to compare my academic experience to his. My philosophical studies, meager as they are, have focused more on epistemology than ethics. That noted . . . .

            In the real world, I don’t think these questions will ever be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone whose opinion deserves our consideration. If there has so far been no noticeable progress at all, there are many reasons, one being that the issues are just far more complicated than those within the purview of the natural sciences. Another is that questions of value are at the core of those issues, and while values are not irrelevant to the natural sciences, they are peripheral, not fundamental. The scientists working on the Manhattan Project had to answer a factual question: Can this bomb be made to work? Whether such a bomb should ever be used was an ethical and political question that (a) nobody in charge of the project was asking those scientists because (b) it was irrelevant to the question they were being asked to answer.

            Let’s say that what we call civilized society has existed for 5,000 years. It has taken us that long to get to where we are scientifically, and the progress has not been constant the whole time in every place. But before 5,000 years ago, which was nearly all of human history, there was none at all. So, I don’t think the relative lack of ethical and political progress is cause for just giving up. And, as Steven Pinker recently reminded us in his Better Angels, it doesn’t seem to be the case that we’ve made no progress at all in those areas.

            Equivocating on 'morally perfect being' by swapping out which set of rules apply seems to be … unhelpful to discourse.

            It doesn’t look like equivocation to me. It looks more like trying to clarify the terms of discourse. If “moral” doesn’t mean the same thing to both of us, then we’re not talking about the same thing.

            If people don't feel like they've been harmed, on what basis have they been harmed?

            Feelings are a relevant consideration, and they are among the most important considerations, but they are not the only consideration. People’s autonomy as individuals is also important. The complete direct and intentional but imperceptible manipulation of those feelings by another sentient being violates that autonomy. And if you say it’s already happening, OK, but the manipulation is nowhere near complete, and the fact that we know it’s happening proves that it isn’t imperceptible. And meanwhile we should be doing all we can to make sure it can never become complete or imperceptible.

            Suffering is something we feel.

            LB: Umm … isn't that 100% about emotions?

            Our aversion to it, whether our own or someone else’s, is 100% emotion, yes.

            Do you think that making suffering-avoidance the highest priority might result in us humans not lasting very long?

            That would depend among other things on the means of avoidance we tried to implement. It would also depend, in a related way, on the scale of avoidance we tried to achieve. At least in the foreseeable future, there will be human suffering no matter what we do. Any society that seriously tries to reduce it zero is probably doomed because of the means that would be necessary to attempt such a thing.

            I don’t see how it matters a great deal if the people who get that knowledge for us are motivated mostly by hopes of winning a Nobel Prize.

            It matters if you convince people to make suffering-avoidance a higher priority than winning a Nobel Prize.If the work they’re trying to do in order to get the prize would result in suffering-avoidance, it would be counterproductive for me to discourage them from doing it.

            Were you to accomplish that, the quality of science would almost certainly decrease.

            I believe that in the long run, when science decreases, suffering increases.

            You could earn more money and help improve the situation of poor children in Africa. Maybe you'd have to do more education to be capable of earning more money. If you and your wife have to suffer then we'd just have to rebalance the equations.

            Given my age, my resume, and my skill set, that is no longer an option available to me. I had my chances when I was younger, but I blew them.

            Yeah, some people my age can still do great things, but only because of things they did when they were younger. I wasted (mostly) all the good years of my life. That was not entirely my fault. Some people who could have motivated me to make better choices failed to do so. Others, usually with good intentions, actually motivated me to make wrong choices. But they were still my choices and I’m accepting the concomitant responsibility.

          • DS: … judgments are feelings …

            LB: How are these words not interchangeable? I was rather surprised by your quasi-equality, here.

            DS: The same way brotherly and fraternal are not interchangeable.

            I think it would be better for me to play dumb than try to accept your distinction without your own articulation of just what the difference is.

            LB: Can the process of justification involve emotions in any way, according to you?

            DS: But suppose I’m tempted to have an affair? The would involve consequences that are all about people’s feelings, and it would be on the basis of those consequences that I would have to decide whether or not to resist the temptation.

            Hmmm; is there any role that emotions cannot play, when it comes to what you are tempted to do?

            LB: You are the only atheist I've encountered whom I recall treating emotion as anything other than an enemy to reason and an enemy to figuring out how we ought to act.

            DS: … We especially need to understand exactly how it can subvert our reason so that we can do what we can keep that subversion to a minimal level while not kidding ourselves into thinking we can ever entirely eliminate it.

            Wait a second; what we "need" to do seems to be indistinguishable from what we "ought" to do and so far you've given emotion arbitrary reign over what we "ought" to do. You seem to think it should have less to do with what we think is "a matter of fact"—perhaps it should have zero to do with that? (Strict adherence to the fact/​value dichotomy would entail that emotion can say nothing about what is the case, right?)

            LB: I would say I'm looking for what shapes your moral code.

            DS: A lot of things, but they start with the reasons why moral codes exist in the first place. Most basically, we need them for survival. But we don’t have too stop there. Reason does not dictate that we should want nothing more than to avoid dying for as many years as possible.

            LB: Survival seems rather compatible with "Might makes right", so it seems like pretty thin gruel to me. The amount that is added by non-survival emotions/​reasons seems rather large, and rather absent in your treatment.

            DS: Oversimplification is a constant hazard in these discussions. If we don’t survive, nothing else will matter, but the inference from “First, we must survive” to “might makes right” is conspicuously invalid.

            I didn't make that inference, so I'm confused as to why you have said this.

            LB: Survival seems rather compatible with "Might makes right", so it seems like pretty thin gruel to me. The amount that is added by non-survival emotions/​reasons seems rather large, and rather absent in your treatment.

            DS: A complete treatment of my ethical philosophy would take an entire book, at least. I can’t even start to outline it in this forum.

            I don't recall asking for anything like a "complete treatment".

            A proper analysis of cultural universals should give us some insight into the kinds of norms that any society must enforce.

            Are you founding your trust in this process on empirical evidence and analysis which has survived the acid test of peer review?

            So, I don’t think the relative lack of ethical and political progress is cause for just giving up.

            Who's suggesting giving up? MacIntyre's critique targets a very specific class of strategies for achieving convergence on ethics and morality; your own strategy seems like it might fall into that class, although you haven't been articulate enough for me to be very confident about that.

            Steven Pinker recently reminded us in his Better Angels, it doesn’t seem to be the case that we’ve made no progress at all in those areas.

            Physical violence can be traded for others kinds of violence. For example, see how little people care about the economic violence perpetuated against Greece (see WP: Wolfgang Schäuble § Criticism). We might also consider how much the manipulation of Facebook users can be counted against "progress". One can make fantastic cases for just about anything via strategic omission of evidence.

            People’s autonomy as individuals is also important.

            Do you actually believe that people are anything like 'autonomous'? I would like to see scientific studies on said 'autonomy'. I know it's an Enlightenment dogma; I'd be happy to dive into Jerome B. Schneewind's The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy with you. However, I'm more inclined to think that most humans are mostly products of their culture and thus the opposite of 'autonomous'. Christopher Lasch captured this in his 1984 The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times. While that book is influenced by the Cold War, I wouldn't be surprised if fear of terrorist attack substitutes nicely.

            The complete direct and intentional but imperceptible manipulation of those feelings by another sentient being violates that autonomy.

            How can you possibly determine what a person would have done without any external influence, such that one can say when a person's autonomy has been violated and when it has not? On determinism, we cannot possibly know historical counterfactuals and the addition of indeterminism does not seem to help in the slightest, because no model of indeterminism I've encountered aids in knowledge.

            And if you say it’s already happening, OK, but the manipulation is nowhere near complete, and the fact that we know it’s happening proves that it isn’t imperceptible. And meanwhile we should be doing all we can to make sure it can never become complete or imperceptible.

            But what if "ignorance is bliss"? In your view, isn't 'emotion' the ultimate arbiter of "what we should do"?

            DS: … I don’t see how it matters a great deal if the people who get that knowledge for us are motivated mostly by hopes of winning a Nobel Prize.

            LB: It matters if you convince people to make suffering-avoidance a higher priority than winning a Nobel Prize. Were you to accomplish that, the quality of science would almost certainly decrease.

            DS: If the work they’re trying to do in order to get the prize would result in suffering-avoidance, it would be counterproductive for me to discourage them from doing it.

            You appear to be equivocating between a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of others, and a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of himself/​herself. I can guarantee you that the sacrifice and suffering required to win a Nobel Prize is antithetical to the second.

            I believe that in the long run, when science decreases, suffering increases.

            Then your thinking appears to have an aporia. If your solution is to make the few suffer so that the many can live in comfort, then that needs to show up in your theorizing. Shall we talk about how much suffering is incurred on young scientists when they find out that probably less than 10% of postdocs achieve that faculty position they've been promised from the first year of grad school if not before? But hey, the rat race we force them into is good for the rest of humans!

            Given my age, my resume, and my skill set, that is no longer an option available to me.

            Really? You can't even spend more time in an internet job that pays something and then send most/​all of that money to poor starving children in Africa? That would require you to post less, but might the total suffering in the world decrease? (BTW, I'm not trying to get you to post less; instead I'm trying to get you to see a contradiction in your thinking. Suffering-avoidance just cannot be the top priority. And it isn't the top priority, despite claims to the contrary—excepting perhaps the effective altruists.)

            Yeah, some people my age can still do great things, but only because of things they did when they were younger. I wasted (mostly) all the good years of my life. That was not entirely my fault. Some people who could have motivated me to make better choices failed to do so. Others, usually with good intentions, actually motivated me to make wrong choices. But they were still my choices and I’m accepting the concomitant responsibility.

            I'm sorry to hear that; do you plan to pass on the lessons you've learned so that others are less likely to make the same mistakes? That seems like a way to reduce suffering, although it might temporarily increase your own to revisit that stuff.

          • The same way brotherly and fraternal are not interchangeable.

            I think it would be better for me to play dumb than try to accept your distinction without your own articulation of just what the difference is.

            I don’t know about most other languages, but in English, synonyms are rarely fully interchangeable. That’s why they exist: one will convey shades of meaning that the other will not. And it may depend on context. In some contexts, it matters little whether you say that two men have a brotherly or a fraternal relationship. In other contexts, it will matter a great deal. So it is with judgment, feelings, and emotions.

            is there any role that emotions cannot play, when it comes to what you are tempted to do?

            Have I not yet made that clear? My emotions may tell me that I wish to avoid, or would welcome, a particular consequence. They cannot tell me what will be the consequences of any action I might contemplate.

            so far you've given emotion arbitrary reign over what we "ought" to do.

            I don’t believe I have done that. I could not have done that without claiming that whatever we like to do is what we ought to do.

            You seem to think it should have less to do with what we think is "a matter of fact"—perhaps it should have zero to do with that?

            That would be obvious nonsense for anyone claiming, as I am, to be a consequentialist.

            Strict adherence to the fact/value dichotomy would entail that emotion can say nothing about what is the case, right?

            Perhaps you can give me an example of when an emotion does tell us that something is the case?

            If we don’t survive, nothing else will matter, but the inference from “First, we must survive” to “might makes right” is conspicuously invalid.

            I didn't make that inference, so I'm confused as to why you have said this.Well, then, now I’m confused. What was your point in mentioning the compatibility between survival and “might makes right”?

            I don't recall asking for anything like a "complete treatment".

            An incomplete treatment has to leave something out. I’m leaving out whatever I judge to be unnecessary to respond intelligibly to your questions and comments, coupled with what I hope is a due regard for the patience of the other forum members who might be trying to follow our discussion.

            A proper analysis of cultural universals should give us some insight into the kinds of norms that any society must enforce.

            Are you founding your trust in this process on empirical evidence and analysis which has survived the acid test of peer review?

            I’m founding it mainly on what I believe morality is all about. That, in turn though, is related to what I believe about human nature, and that belief, yes, is founded on empirical evidence and analysis which has been peer-reviewed and has, as far as I can judge, survived objections that have been raised to this time. But, the relevant science is still pretty new, and current conclusions will no doubt have to be modified sooner or later.

            Who's suggesting giving up? MacIntyre's critique targets a very specific class of strategies for achieving convergence on ethics and morality; your own strategy seems like it might fall into that class,

            I haven’t read his critique, so I have no idea whether anything he says has any relevance to what I’m saying.

            Physical violence can be traded for others kinds of violence.

            Nonphysical violence is only metaphorical violence. If we forget that distinction or treat it as irrelevant, the suffering will continue unabated.

            We might also consider how much the manipulation of Facebook users can be counted against "progress".

            I am not claiming, and I’m sure Pinker is not claiming, that our progress has been uniform or anything approaching uniform. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have not read his book yet, but only watched a few of his talks in which he summarized what is in it. His point seems to be that all things considered, a substantial portion of the world is a better place to live than it ever used to be, and I am aware of no evidence to the contrary.

            Do you actually believe that people are anything like 'autonomous'?

            I addressed the relevant difference between our actual situation and the hypothetical situation you asked me about. To discuss it further would only lead to an argument over the definition of autonomy.

            But what if "ignorance is bliss"?

            Bliss can feel good. Pretty much by definition, it always feels good. A morality that claims nothing matters except how we feel about our situation is not a rational morality, in my judgment.

            You appear to be equivocating between a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of others, and a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of himself/herself.

            And you appear to be suggesting that no one can do both. Scientific progress, no matter what motivates the scientists who achieve it, is indispensable to the general alleviation of human suffering. In my moral calculus, one Louis Pasteur is worth more than a thousand Mother Teresas.

            Shall we talk about how much suffering is incurred on young scientists when they find out that probably less than 10% of postdocs achieve that faculty position they've been promised from the first year of grad school if not before? But hey, the rat race we force them into is good for the rest of humans!

            That might say more about American postsecondary education in general than about anything else. Anyway, I’m talking about science as it ought to be done. Nothing I have said is meant to endorse every particular aspect of the way it is being currently done in the United States.

            If your solution is to make the few suffer so that the many can live in comfort, then that needs to show up in your theorizing.

            That some people will suffer no matter what we do is a fact about the real world. Nothing in any theory that I or anyone else could propose is going to change that.

            Given my age, my resume, and my skill set, that is no longer an option available to me.

            Really?

            Prove I’m wrong. Find an employer who will look at the “Who I am” section of my website and will then offer me a job with a good and reliable income. I’ll give you a cut of my first month’s pay, percentage to be negotiated if you’re serious.

            do you plan to pass on the lessons you've learned so that others are less likely to make the same mistakes? That seems like a way to reduce suffering, although it might temporarily increase your own to revisit that stuff.

            I have zero problem revisiting my mistakes when the particulars are relevant to some point I wish to make. Passing on what I’ve learned is a lot of what my forum activities have always been about. Some of the mistakes I referred to were due, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, to religious beliefs I held at the time. And I’m not referring just to my years as a Pentecostal. I’m including decisions I made later when I was more conventionally religious.

          • DS: … judgments are feelings …

            LB: How are these words not interchangeable? I was rather surprised by your quasi-equality, here.

            DS: The same way brotherly and fraternal are not interchangeable.

            LB: I think it would be better for me to play dumb than try to accept your distinction without your own articulation of just what the difference is.

            DS: I don’t know about most other languages, but in English, synonyms are rarely fully interchangeable. That’s why they exist: one will convey shades of meaning that the other will not.

            Are you under the impression that I did not know this? I want to know how 'judgment' ≠ 'feelings' ≠ 'emotions', where that '≠' would be relevant for our conversation. I don't care about all uses of those words by people everywhere; I care about your uses when it comes to what shapes your morality and what the inputs are to your moral judgments.

            My emotions may tell me that I wish to avoid, or would welcome, a particular consequence. They cannot tell me what will be the consequences of any action I might contemplate.

            It's true that emotions cannot tell you what the consequences will be, but there are plenty of mechanisms for re-jiggering one's emotions; see for example choice-supported bias. Avoiding such instability seems to violate the two-factor system you have of emotivism and consequentialism.

            LB′: so far you've given left open the option of emotion having arbitrary reign over what we "ought" to do.

            DS: I don’t believe I have done that. I could not have done that without claiming that whatever we like to do is what we ought to do.

            See my clarification. I also disagree with your condition; if emotions are contradictory, it is ill-defined to talk about doing "whatever we like". Consequentialism is a way of letting some emotions win over the others. But it does not say which emotions should win.

            LB: You are the only atheist I've encountered whom I recall treating emotion as anything other than an enemy to reason and an enemy to figuring out how we ought to act.

            DS: … We especially need to understand exactly how it can subvert our reason so that we can do what we can keep that subversion to a minimal level while not kidding ourselves into thinking we can ever entirely eliminate it.

            LB: Wait a second; what we "need" to do seems to be indistinguishable from what we "ought" to do and so far you've given emotion arbitrary reign over what we "ought" to do. You seem to think it should have less to do with what we think is "a matter of fact"—perhaps it should have zero to do with that? (Strict adherence to the fact/​value dichotomy would entail that emotion can say nothing about what is the case, right?)

            DS: That would be obvious nonsense for anyone claiming, as I am, to be a consequentialist.

            I'm confused, given this and your "don’t believe [emotions] provide us with factual information about reality".

            Perhaps you can give me an example of when an emotion does tell us that something is the case?

            If our brains are 100% natural, then our idea of what ought to be the case is 100% natural. Any notion of '100% subjective' makes about as much sense as epiphenomenalism: that which is 100% disconnected from the natural is 100% undetectable via what is natural. So under this rubric, it seems that emotions may, among other things, measure the perceived difference between what we perceive is and what we [think we] believe/​hold ought to be. Again under this rubric, that would mean emotions allow you to compare two bits of reality, but perhaps only "through a glass dimly". I'm not sure how much more specific I am comfortable getting at this point, but I will throw Damasio's somatic marker hypothesis and Schwitzgebel's Perplexities of Consciousness out there for consideration.

            Well, then, now I’m confused. What was your point in mentioning the compatibility between survival and “might makes right”?

            As above where I clarified, I'm trying to clarify what possibilities you have left wide open so far. I'm quite happy with the process of gradually knocking out possibilities as the conversation goes forward. If your moral system is relatively powerless against "might makes right", that is an interesting datum.

            An incomplete treatment has to leave something out. I’m leaving out whatever I judge to be unnecessary to respond intelligibly to your questions and comments, coupled with what I hope is a due regard for the patience of the other forum members who might be trying to follow our discussion.

            Ok.

            DS: A proper analysis of cultural universals should give us some insight into the kinds of norms that any society must enforce.

            LB: Are you founding your trust in this process on empirical evidence and analysis which has survived the acid test of peer review?

            DS: I’m founding it mainly on what I believe morality is all about. That, in turn though, is related to what I believe about human nature, and that belief, yes, is founded on empirical evidence and analysis which has been peer-reviewed and has, as far as I can judge, survived objections that have been raised to this time. But, the relevant science is still pretty new, and current conclusions will no doubt have to be modified sooner or later.

            What are some examples of peer-reviewed research on this topic you could point me to?

            I haven’t read his critique, so I have no idea whether anything he says has any relevance to what I’m saying.

            We can start with MacIntyre's assertion that "emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations." (After Virtue, 23) If your consequentialism is merely instrumental to whatever your emotions happen to want, then you seem to be de facto emotivist. You seem to have pinned a lot of hope on "cultural universals". As far as I can tell, you've just entered at most one more contender to a vast array which seem no closer to attaining success in 2016 than in 1981.

            Nonphysical violence is only metaphorical violence. If we forget that distinction or treat it as irrelevant, the suffering will continue unabated.

            I say that if we believe that physical violence is the main way that suffering is incurred, then "the suffering" will probably intensify unabated.

            [Pinker's] point seems to be that all things considered, a substantial portion of the world is a better place to live than it ever used to be, and I am aware of no evidence to the contrary.

            From what I know, Pinker is more narrow and mostly argues that per capita physical violence has declined across recent millennia, centuries, and decades. To be as rigorous and data-supported as he is in Better Angels and then vaguely hand-wave would be quite gauche. I do worry that he leaves others to make that inference, though.

            LB: If people don't feel like they've been harmed, on what basis have they been harmed?

            DS: Feelings are a relevant consideration, and they are among the most important considerations, but they are not the only consideration. People’s autonomy as individuals is also important. The complete direct and intentional but imperceptible manipulation of those feelings by another sentient being violates that autonomy. And if you say it’s already happening, OK, but the manipulation is nowhere near complete, and the fact that we know it’s happening proves that it isn’t imperceptible. And meanwhile we should be doing all we can to make sure it can never become complete or imperceptible.

            LB: Do you actually believe that people are anything like 'autonomous'?

            DS: I addressed the relevant difference between our actual situation and the hypothetical situation you asked me about. To discuss it further would only lead to an argument over the definition of autonomy.

            Then let's back up and ask how autonomy fits with emotion—if it fits at all. Because it seems to me that you just introduced something to ought-land which did not come from emotion-land.

            A morality that claims nothing matters except how we feel about our situation is not a rational morality, in my judgment.

            Given that you said "judgments are feelings", I'm not sure how to process this except to suppose that your feelings are stable across situations. If you're relying on a great deal of stability in emotion-land, that would be a rather important aspect of your morality.

            LB: You appear to be equivocating between a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of others, and a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of himself/​herself.

            DS: And you appear to be suggesting that no one can do both.

            I am suggesting it is exceedingly rare if it has ever happened. You don't seem to be fully grappling with how our world would operate if people really just did only what their emotions said, conditioned (stabilized?) by some consequentialism.

            LB: If your solution is to make the few suffer so that the many can live in comfort, then that needs to show up in your theorizing.

            DS: That some people will suffer no matter what we do is a fact about the real world. Nothing in any theory that I or anyone else could propose is going to change that.

            Oh c'mon Doug, it's different to say that some humans should have to forgo your suffering-minimization plan themselves so that others may benefit, and to say that getting total suffering to zero might not be possible (at least in the near-term).

            Find an employer who will look at the “Who I am” section of my website and will then offer me a job with a good and reliable income.

            Remind me of your website; I don't seem to have saved a link. (You can put a link in your Disqus profile by the way.) But if you're really, truly serious about your suffering-minimization thing, I suggest contacting the effective altruism folks; you can start with this page. There are non-monetary jobs which involve raising awareness of effective altruism; that'd be another avenue.

            Some of the mistakes I referred to were due, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, to religious beliefs I held at the time. And I’m not referring just to my years as a Pentecostal. I’m including decisions I made later when I was more conventionally religious.

            Sorry to hear it. There's a lot of bad advice out there.

          • Remind me of your website;

            http://www.dougshaver.net

            You can put a link in your Disqus profile by the way.

            I thought I did. It's there now.

          • DS: Find an employer who will look at the “Who I am” section of my website and will then offer me a job with a good and reliable income.

            LB: Remind me of your website; I don't seem to have saved a link. (You can put a link in your Disqus profile by the way.) But if you're really, truly serious about your suffering-minimization thing, I suggest contacting the effective altruism folks; you can start with this page. There are non-monetary jobs which involve raising awareness of effective altruism; that'd be another avenue.

            DS: http://www.dougshaver.net

            I took a look at your website and I'll double down on my suggestion to get in touch with the effective altruism folks. In addition to that, it seems like you could do ad-supported blogging with comments enabled as another revenue stream. If you can do video alright and especially interview people, it seems you could start a YouTube channel. If you do either of the latter, I suggest adding other modes of discussion to your "ultra-cautious mode". Saying everything in a perfectly qualified manner while never exaggerating for effect is a useful skill, especially when ironing out just how two points of view differ, but it's a pretty tedious, dry way to interact. Maybe you could do something around the theme of "Pedantic Mode", where you only get pedantic when [you think] it really matters. After all, humans get by with a lot of sloppiness and pedantry might only actually be beneficial when laser-focused.

            As for other ideas, you could check out Top Online Medical Billing & Coding Programs for 2018; apparently the actual job can also be done remotely. I'm sure there are a whole range of activities which can be done online from your home for pay, but this is one that might be particularly suited to your detail-oriented personality. But I want to think you could do much better things using your philosophy experience, and ultimately get Patreon support. I suggest taking a look at Jordan Peterson's popularity on YouTube and observe that there are rather a lot of people who want to think deeply about reality. It appears to be a vastly underserved audience. But you'll have to do a lot of adapting to them. Whether you're up for that is something for you to decide.

          • Thank you for the suggestions. I'll think about them. That isn't just politeness. Really, I will think about them.

          • I don’t know about most other languages, but in English, synonyms are rarely fully interchangeable.

            Are you under the impression that I did not know this?

            You asked: “How are these words not interchangeable?” What impression was I supposed to get?

            I don't care about all uses of those words by people everywhere; I care about your uses when it comes to what shapes your morality and what the inputs are to your moral judgments.

            I believe I am using them the same way people everywhere use them. The following excerpts from the Oxford English Dictionary convey the distinctions I have in mind.

            Judgment: The ability to make considered decisions or to arrive at reasonable conclusions or opinions on the basis of the available information; the critical faculty; discernment, discrimination.

            Feeling: That which a person feels in regard to something; attitude, esp. emotional attitude, sentiment; opinion or belief based on emotion or intuition and not solely on reason. †Formerly also : judgement, considered opinion (obs.)

            It's true that emotions cannot tell you what the consequences will be, but there are plenty of mechanisms for re-jiggering one's emotions;

            Within some limits, yes, but on what basis do we decide to do so?

            if emotions are contradictory, it is ill-defined to talk about doing "whatever we like". Consequentialism is a way of letting some emotions win over the others. But it does not say which emotions should win.

            I was employing what I take to be common usage, which presupposes either that there is no conflict among one’s desires or that one desire clearly prevails over any contrary desires. People seem rarely to say they’re doing what they like when they can’t decide what it is they like most.

            Perhaps you can give me an example of when an emotion does tell us that something is the case?

            If our brains are 100% natural, then our idea of what ought to be the case is 100% natural. Any notion of '100% subjective' makes about as much sense as epiphenomenalism: that which is 100% disconnected from the natural is 100% undetectable via what is natural.

            I asked for an example in the hope that it would help to clarify your objection. You are trying to clarify your objection without providing an example. It isn’t working. I still don’t understand what your problem is.

            What was your point in mentioning the compatibility between survival and “might makes right”?

            As above where I clarified, I'm trying to clarify what possibilities you have left wide open so far. I'm quite happy with the process of gradually knocking out possibilities as the conversation goes forward. If your moral system is relatively powerless against "might makes right", that is an interesting datum.

            I don’t see how it is powerless. “Might makes right” has been the rule in effect for a substantial portion of human history and has caused quite a bit of unnecessary suffering.

            That, in turn though, is related to what I believe about human nature, and that belief, yes, is founded on empirical evidence and analysis which has been peer-reviewed and has, as far as I can judge, survived objections that have been raised to this time. But, the relevant science is still pretty new, and current conclusions will no doubt have to be modified sooner or later.

            What are some examples of peer-reviewed research on this topic you could point me to?

            If memory serves, Pinker mentioned some of it in The Blank Slate. I wasn’t taking notes when I read the book a few years ago.

            You seem to have pinned a lot of hope on "cultural universals".

            I see it less a matter of hope than of facing facts. If we want to improve ourselves, we must know what we have to work with. We should not be wasting our time and other resources trying to do the impossible. The accurate identification of cultural universals should tell us something about what we can and what we cannot achieve.

            I say that if we believe that physical violence is the main way that suffering is incurred, then "the suffering" will probably intensify unabated.

            I am not saying it is. I am objecting to language which suggests that there is no distinction that needs to be made.

            I addressed the relevant difference between our actual situation and the hypothetical situation you asked me about. To discuss it further would only lead to an argument over the definition of autonomy.

            Then let's back up and ask how autonomy fits with emotion—if it fits at all. Because it seems to me that you just introduced something to ought-land which did not come from emotion-land.

            Autonomy is something we value. That’s how it fits.

            Given that you said "judgments are feelings", I'm not sure how to process this except to suppose that your feelings are stable across situations.

            Our feelings, at least some of them, can change across situations, or they can change over time in a constant situation. I don’t see how that is inconsistent with anything I’ve said.

            You appear to be equivocating between a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of others, and a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of himself/herself.

            DS: And you appear to be suggesting that no one can do both.

            I am suggesting it is exceedingly rare if it has ever happened.

            Then that seems to be a point on which we disagree rather fundamentally.

            Oh c'mon Doug, it's different to say that some humans should have to forgo your suffering-minimization plan themselves so that others may benefit, and to say that getting total suffering to zero might not be possible (at least in the near-term).

            Of course it’s different, but you seem to think I’m being inconsistent. Our society already decides, as every human society has always had to decide, that some people must suffer in order that others either won’t suffer or will suffer less. I’m just pointing out that a morally superior society – no matter what criteria we use to judge its superiority – will still have to make that decision.

          • You asked: “How are these words not interchangeable?” What impression was I supposed to get?

            Common sense: while words have different shades of meaning across all their uses, when one is narrowly discussing a topic, some of those shades of meaning become nigh irrelevant. When this happens, words that weren't perfect synonyms before can become perfect synonyms. And sometimes things stop just shy of perfect synonyms, at which point you can guess at what circumstances relevant to the topic of conversation might make them not perfect synonyms.

            DS: … judgments are feelings …

            DS: I believe I am using them the same way people everywhere use them. The following excerpts from the Oxford English Dictionary convey the distinctions I have in mind.

            Judgment: The ability to make considered decisions or to arrive at reasonable conclusions or opinions on the basis of the available information; the critical faculty; discernment, discrimination.

            Feeling: That which a person feels in regard to something; attitude, esp. emotional attitude, sentiment; opinion or belief based on emotion or intuition and not solely on reason. †Formerly also : judgement, considered opinion (obs.)

            Those seem highly dissimilar, except according to an obsolete understanding. The current understanding of 'feeling' is anything but "the critical faculty".

            DS: My emotions may tell me that I wish to avoid, or would welcome, a particular consequence. They cannot tell me what will be the consequences of any action I might contemplate.

            LB: It's true that emotions cannot tell you what the consequences will be, but there are plenty of mechanisms for re-jiggering one's emotions; see for example choice-supported bias. Avoiding such instability seems to violate the two-factor system you have of emotivism and consequentialism.

            DS: Within some limits, yes, but on what basis do we decide to do so?

            Your two bases appear to be emotivism and consequentialism. Neither allows for the formation of character; emotion having the final say means it can be as fickle as it wants.

            I was employing what I take to be common usage, which presupposes either that there is no conflict among one’s desires or that one desire clearly prevails over any contrary desires. People seem rarely to say they’re doing what they like when they can’t decide what it is they like most.

            Do you think most clinical psychologists would agree with you that one desire generally "clearly prevails"? Do you think most pastors would agree? How about most people who mentor those between 16 and 30 years of age? In a sense, I think Christianity calls for the kind of unity of will you describe (perhaps we could say "monotheism inside the mind instead of polytheism"), but I'm skeptical that process ever got close to completion and I suspect that much of what was obtained has eroded or is in the process of being eroded. I do recognize that the abstraction of political liberalism obscures this kind of internal disorder:

            The problem of the self in liberal society arises from the fact that each individual is required to formulate and to express, both to him or herself and to others, an ordered schedule of preferences. Each individual is to present him or herself as a single, well-ordered will. But what if such a form of presentation always requires that schism and conflict within the self be disguised and repressed and that a false and psychologically disabling unity of presentation is therefore required by a liberal order? (Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, 346–347)

            Anyhow, if your claim here is critical to your understanding of morality, I suggest you articulate it some more and then at least I go and see what psychologists et al have to say about it. From what I've observed and read so far, I'm heavily inclined to think that people's emotions are radically unstable in ways that make them exceedingly manipulable and that your morality deprives us of the tools to observe that.

            DS: Perhaps you can give me an example of when an emotion does tell us that something is the case?

            LB: If our brains are 100% natural, then our idea of what ought to be the case is 100% natural. Any notion of '100% subjective' makes about as much sense as epiphenomenalism: that which is 100% disconnected from the natural is 100% undetectable via what is natural. So under this rubric, it seems that emotions may, among other things, measure the perceived difference between what we perceive is and what we [think we] believe/​hold ought to be. Again under this rubric, that would mean emotions allow you to compare two bits of reality, but perhaps only "through a glass dimly". I'm not sure how much more specific I am comfortable getting at this point, but I will throw Damasio's somatic marker hypothesis and Schwitzgebel's Perplexities of Consciousness out there for consideration.

            DS: I asked for an example in the hope that it would help to clarify your objection. You are trying to clarify your objection without providing an example. It isn’t working. I still don’t understand what your problem is.

            Did you miss the underlined? You of all people know that you suspect that more is the case than you will state publicly, because you wish to have pretty much every statement of yours well-defended from criticism. If you were to agree with the bolded text, I might be comfortable enough to try an example or three.

            “Might makes right” has been the rule in effect for a substantial portion of human history and has caused quite a bit of unnecessary suffering.

            How does your moral system combat "might makes right"? You've not hinted at any aspects of utilitarianism, so as far as I can tell one only goes off of one's own emotions and predicted consequences of various courses of actions to figure out what to do.

            If memory serves, Pinker mentioned some of it in The Blank Slate. I wasn’t taking notes when I read the book a few years ago.

            You seem rather attached to your understanding of morality and you seem to respect science; I'm surprised you don't have something more specific to cite.

            LB: You seem to have pinned a lot of hope on "cultural universals".

            DS: I see it less a matter of hope than of facing facts. If we want to improve ourselves, we must know what we have to work with. We should not be wasting our time and other resources trying to do the impossible. The accurate identification of cultural universals should tell us something about what we can and what we cannot achieve.

            Curious; I'm led to believe that before the ancient Israelites, there is no known record of a subordinate class having significant voice. If this is right and we applied your reasoning to back then, would we have concluded that the little guy will never have a voice?

            I am objecting to language which suggests that there is no distinction that needs to be made.

            'physical violence' ≠ 'economic violence' ≠ 'psychological violence' ≠ 'X violence'

            LB: If people don't feel like they've been harmed, on what basis have they been harmed?

            DS: Feelings are a relevant consideration, and they are among the most important considerations, but they are not the only consideration. People’s autonomy as individuals is also important.

            DS: Autonomy is something we value. That’s how it fits.

            But how can we value something about which our emotions are blind? I don't see how your morality permits this. If I manipulate you in a way where you don't feel harm, then on what basis have I harmed you? You seem to be suggesting that emotions aren't the only thing which shapes your morality!

            Our feelings, at least some of them, can change across situations, or they can change over time in a constant situation. I don’t see how that is inconsistent with anything I’ve said.

            After one allows for some change to adapt to new situations, the less stable our feelings are, the worse they are as guides to acting.

            LB: You appear to be equivocating between a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of others, and a person pursuing a Nobel Prize to reduce the suffering of himself/​herself.

            DS: And you appear to be suggesting that no one can do both.

            LB: I am suggesting it is exceedingly rare if it has ever happened. You don't seem to be fully grappling with how our world would operate if people really just did only what their emotions said, conditioned (stabilized?) by some consequentialism.

            DS: Then that seems to be a point on which we disagree rather fundamentally.

            How many scientists do you know well, such that you've heard about their struggles? How many of these scientists have made profound contributions to their fields, such that there was at least a 1/1000 chance that they would win the highest prize available in their field? I thought it was rather common knowledge that to rise to the top in one's field, one has to sacrifice pretty much everything else, and that the competition process is rather brutal.

            LB: If your solution is to make the few suffer so that the many can live in comfort, then that needs to show up in your theorizing.

            DS: That some people will suffer no matter what we do is a fact about the real world. Nothing in any theory that I or anyone else could propose is going to change that.

            LB: Oh c'mon Doug, it's different to say that some humans should have to forgo your suffering-minimization plan themselves so that others may benefit, and to say that getting total suffering to zero might not be possible (at least in the near-term).

            DS: Of course it’s different, but you seem to think I’m being inconsistent. Our society already decides, as every human society has always had to decide, that some people must suffer in order that others either won’t suffer or will suffer less. I’m just pointing out that a morally superior society – no matter what criteria we use to judge its superiority – will still have to make that decision.

            Then on what basis is that "morally superior society" actually superior? If you start appealing to utilitarian reasoning, then I'll have to change my understanding of your morality.

            On a somewhat separate note, I doubt that the scheme you have suggested will work, if it is done to one of the most creative professions (scientists). Whenever there is an interface between humans where one side is asked to suffer more than others (and both know it), I find that resentment builds. I do not find resentment to be good for creativity; indeed I find that it positively distracts. I suggest an empirical test: let's both go about asking scientists whether they'd be willing to be the sole members of society who suffer and forgo pleasure, so that everyone else can be healthy, happy, fat, lazy, with all the gizmos they could desire. What do you think they'll say?

          • Doug, I got a notification of your reply to my reply, but yours appears to either have been spam-filtered or you deleted it. Would you clarify?

          • Your second attempt to reply apparently also got eaten. :-/ (previous)

          • I guess the Disqus software has a problem with something I say in it. I'll put it on my website and post a link to it.

          • I'm having trouble remembering which post we're talking about. Can you post a link to the post of yours to which I was replying? If I can find that, I can retrieve what I wrote in response and put in on my website.

          • BCE

            You might be familiar with Hamilton's rule aka Kin Selection, Inclusive fitness. It is an algebraic formula for altruism.
            where Care is an advantage if by Relatedness you Benefit by passing genes
            This remains the most excepted evolutionary model for the optimal
            familial archetype of altruistic species

    • Jim the Scott

      Classic Theists don't believe God is a "moral agent" in the first place so it's kind of a non-starter for us. A "morally perfect" God is a tad bit incoherent to a Classic Theist.

      Post Enlightenment Theistic Personalists and Neo-Theist believe God is a moral agent and Free Will defenses and Theistic Skepticism are the only way to go to "defend" that view.

      Classic Theists take the WarGames option "the only winning move is not to play".

      See the philosophical writings of Fr. Brian Davies for details.

      • Classic Theists don't believe God is a "moral agent" in the first place

        Does that mean he is not moral, or that he is not an agent?

        • Jim the Scott

          Moral agency is an individual's ability to make moral judgments based on some notion of right and wrong and to be held accountable for these actions. A moral agent is "a being who is capable of acting with reference to right and wrong.

          God in the classic tradition is not an individual or "a being" & it just goes downhill from there with the non-starters......

          Here Doug if you have an hour to kill. A Classic Theist has as much use for a Theodicy as a Fish has for an Atari.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BpBaSftHHc&ab_channel=TheJoyceMcMahonHankAquinasChairinCatholicTheology

          • God in the classic tradition is not an individual or "a being"

            You're starting to make classical theism sound apophatic.

          • Jim the Scott

            >You're starting to make classical theism sound apophatic.

            By the God of Abraham and Aquinas I hope so because if I am not then I am doing it wrong!

            Cheers man.

          • I wasn't aware that ¬univocity of being is necessarily apophatic.

            [Edit: added the all important '¬'!]

          • My understanding of apophatic theology is almost certainly incomplete, but my general impression is that it says any statement of the form "God is X" is probably false.

          • Yeah, but how is the same not a well-accepted way to think of scientific characterization of reality? See, for example, Ceteris Paribus Laws.

          • I think "No scientific statement is true" would be an absurd interpretation of the ceteris paribus concept.

          • That depends on whether you mean "approximately true in some domains" or "exactly true everywhere". And feel free to pick a third option.

          • That depends on whether you mean "approximately true in some domains" or "exactly true everywhere".

            When the discussion reaches that stage, we're not talking science any more. We're talking philosophy of science, which I regard as just an application of epistemology.

          • So if no statement about reality is exactly true in all domains, then why can we theists not reasonably say the same thing about statements about God? Why does it have to be weird instead of completely normal, instead of exactly what is done in science when language is used most precisely?

          • David Nickol

            So if no statement about reality is exactly true in all domains . . . .

            If no statement about reality is exactly true in all domains, wouldn't the statement "No statement about reality is exactly true in all domains" be (paradoxically) exactly true in all domains?

            Just to clarify, I have no idea what you and Doug are talking about, or—for that matter—what I am talking about.

          • Doug and I are talking about this:

            DS: My understanding of apophatic theology is almost certainly incomplete, but my general impression is that it says any statement of the form "God is X" is probably false.

            I have claimed that science is also apophatic: any statement of the form "reality is X" is probably false. But that's a bit vague because we are vague with language. So I clarified with "exactly true everywhere".

            If no statement about reality is exactly true in all domains, wouldn't the statement "No statement about reality is exactly true in all domains" be (paradoxically) exactly true in all domains?

            Good question. :-) How can I be a finite creature, who knows finitely much about a possibly infinite reality, know that I am thusly limited? And yet, don't we want to assert this quite strongly? One answer is to know that reality is "nonseparably connected", such that to know one bit exactly is to know all of it. (See David Bohm's implicate and explicate order.) What we can have is approximate knowledge in some domains. Now, what if the doctrine of divine simplicity is actually divine nonseparability, as is hinted by James E. Dolezal book title God without Parts? Well, it would mean that ontological reductionism is exactly wrong. But … what would non-reductionistic science look like? I'll pursue that question if you're interested.

          • So if no statement about reality is exactly true in all domains, then why can we theists not reasonably say the same thing about statements about God?

            I for one am not saying you can't. Give me a statement about God that you think I should believe even if it's not exactly true, then tell me why I should believe it even if it's not exactly true, and we can take it from there.

            Why does it have to be weird instead of completely normal, instead of exactly what is done in science when language is used most precisely?

            If you're suggesting that apophatic theology is epistemologically equivalent in some useful sense to how science is done, then we need to examine some specific examples using statements typical of each domain.

          • Give me a statement about God that you think I should believe even if it's not exactly true, then tell me why I should believe it even if it's not exactly true, and we can take it from there.

            A statement about God in the Tanakh that is mostly true is that "God is for the underdog". I'll let the Catholics say something about natural revelation—I am rather skeptical about it, given the noetic effects of sin. (For a secular version, see The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.)

            If you're suggesting that apophatic theology is epistemologically equivalent in some useful sense to how science is done, then we need to examine some specific examples using statements typical of each domain.

            That would almost certainly be a Herculean effort, given your rigorous standards. But I'll think about it; I suspect something like the mechanics of that answer will be required to support the idea that God is continuing to create in reality but we must understand reality enough as it is as well as understand good kinds of addition in order to see that divine action. This requires a sufficiently good "growth plate of knowledge", which as far as I can tell most humans do not have. Some shut themselves up and thereby destroy the distinction between possible and actual knowledge (see this comment on Fitch's paradox of knowability and subsequent discussion), while others are undisciplined and end up being well-described by John Calvin's "seed of religion". I'm not sure how much scientists "sketch the boundaries of their ignorance"; my wife is threatening a major dogma in her field with her research proposal for faculty positions (she's finishing up her postdoc). We humans can restrospectively see how scientists were wrong (and should have been more "apophatic"), but we're not so good at doing this in the forward direction.

            Were the blog topic more amenable, I might try exploring the standard New Atheist caricature of YHWH:

            The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (The God Delusion, 31)

            How on earth this fits in with Elijah winning with magic on Mt Carmel, executing 450 prophets of Baal, and then fleeing for his life because Jezebel declared a vendetta—I don't know. Humans are not renowned for their consistency, except perhaps when they say things within an institution which highly values consistency. Popular books is not one of those institutions. But like Catastrophism, Dawkins' description does help organize some data—while blinding us to much of the rest (or at least severely distorting it, like the habitual liar seeing all others as liars).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'll let the Catholics say something about natural revelation—I am rather skeptical about it, given the noetic effects of sin.

            Are you proposing that interpretation of special revelation less likely to be tainted by the noetic effects of sin? If so, on what basis?

          • I am proposing that special revelation is harder to distort and pervert, yes. Let's take an example, inspired by Yoram Hazony in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture:

                The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’
                “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
                “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:1–11)

            This is cheap forgiveness. You get to sin, go to (not even in) the temple of the LORD, and be forgiven—so that you can go out and sin more, without it building up. I believe Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'cheap grace' is pretty much the same thing.

            Ok, so the above is a distortion; does special revelation make it any easier to show that it is a distortion than natural revelation would for something similar? I am tempted to say "yes" because natural revelation, to my knowledge, does not depend on history as much as special revelation. Much distortion happens slowly over multiple generations. Imagine how different politics would be if politicians were held accountable to promises and predictions they made 10, 20, 30 years ago? And yet, so much of the OT is analysis on that time scale and longer. We can trace how the temple of the LORD went from a place of sanctification and communion with God to a place of cheap forgiveness and spitting at God. It's not easy—the Bible is actually rather spartan—but one can fill in some of the gaps with historical happenings from one's own time. Perhaps that was always meant to be the way the Bible is understood—as directly applicable to one's circumstances.

            This might change with deepening understanding of various changes over time—evolution, social, cosmic. Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson's The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life appears interesting when read as a naturalistic characterization of some aspects of sin, and perhaps something approaching original sin (but probably with some alterations to what Augustine was thinking). I suspect God designed reality so that word and reality were supposed to be one; when they aren't, sometimes one corrects the other and sometimes vice versa.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK. I'm not sure I ultimately agree, but this is a very good point:

            natural revelation, to my knowledge, does not depend on history as much as special revelation

            Side note you may be interested in: as I understand it, Bernard Lonergan understood his own project as one of developing a valid philosophy of history (aspiring to build on, but surpass, that of Marx and Hegel). Presumably he did this at least in part because he saw a need to integrate history into systematic / natural theology, perhaps the same need that you see.

          • Give me a statement about God that you think I should believe even if it's not exactly true, then tell me why I should believe it even if it's not exactly true, and we can take it from there.

            A statement about God in the Tanakh that is mostly true is that "God is for the underdog".

            And I should believe it because . . . ?

            I'll let the Catholics say something about natural revelation—I am rather skeptical about it, given the noetic effects of sin.

            OK, so the assertion that It was revealed is not a reason for me to believe it.

          • And I should believe it because . . . ?

            I believe that for the purposes of this part of the conversation, discussion can be restricted to "the best interpretation of the Tanakh". If you do not like that restriction, then I'm afraid I cannot just advance one belief, due to the very nature of how plausibility structures work.

            OK, so the assertion that It was revealed is not a reason for me to believe it.

            Huh?

          • I believe that for the purposes of this part of the conversation, discussion can be restricted to "the best interpretation of the Tanakh".

            If we're talking about any sort of epistemological equivalence between theological and scientific statements, I don't think any such discussion is possible without some focus on why any statement in either domain should be believed.

            OK, so the assertion that It was revealed is not a reason for me to believe it.

            Huh?

            You brought up the subject of revelation. I was just saying all I had to say about it in the present context.

          • Help me understand the Classical Theism understanding of deity.

            Would you call God a "mind" or "agent" of any kind?

            If so you must agree that God is not multiple minds, in which case it is an "individual" in that sense?

          • Jim the Scott

            Not unequivocally. God cannot be compared unequivocally to creatures. Only by way of analogy.

            BTW if you understand what God is then it's not God.

            Go incomprehensible mystery or Go home so to speak.

            Cheers guy.

          • I'm not comparing anything. I'm asking you what beliefs you have about God .

            I take it your saying either God is not an agent or a mind, or that one cannot know this?

            Do you think it is fair to say God has a will? God makes choices?

          • Jim the Scott

            >I'm not comparing anything. I'm asking you what beliefs you have about God .

            I just answered you. I will rephrase. God is not a mind in the unequivocal way of a human mind. God is a "mind" in a manner analogous to a human mind.

            >I take it your saying either God is not an agent or a mind, or that one cannot know this?

            God is not at all like creatures in the unequivocal sense. That rule is absolute. I will not in principle defend or advocate a Theistic Personalist anthropomorphic God.

            God is only like creatures in an analogous sense.

            You should know that by now. I am a total Atheist toward Theistic personalist deities falsely called....

            >Do you think it is fair to say God has a will? God makes choices?

            God is His own will. But his will is not unequivocally like a human will.

            Doug gets it with the Apropotic theology(thought he need some work).

          • Ok so God has some kind of mind, does this mind make choices?

            And if so does it make choices about moral issues, e.g. judge whether an action is moral such as to cause a human to die?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Ok so God has some kind of mind, does this mind make choices?

            Yes.

            >And if so does it make choices about moral issues, e.g. judge whether an action is moral such as to cause a human to die?

            The problem I have with this question is that it is kind of like asking me "Can the instinct of a Dog lead it to make choices about moral issues e.g. judge whether an action is moral such as to cause a human to die?"

            The question is absurd because dogs are not moral agents and neither is God(thought not in the same sense as a dog). God has no obligations to his creatures and God is not subject to a Law higher then himself and willing his own Good.

            God is metaphysically and ontologically good and God is Goodness Itself but God is not a moral agent.

            See the Brian Davies video I posted to Doug Shaver on this thread if you have an hour & change to kill.

            Cheers.

          • Definitely don't have an hour to kill. But I get you. I do think that this does remove gods actions from any consideration of their morality. In fact it renders morality itself as meaningless or at least arbitrary .

          • Jim the Scott

            > In fact it renders morality itself as meaningless or at least arbitrary .

            Not for us creatures but when you find the time maybe we can talk.

            No pressure. Cheers.

          • SpokenMind

            This doesn't address your questions, but I thought you might find it interesting.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zMf_8hkCdc

          • Thanks but I just do this in the bus and I don't have the data for videos .

          • Here Doug if you have an hour to kill.

            An interesting and ingenious argument. Thank you for the link.

          • Jim the Scott

            No worries guy. Glad you enjoyed it.

            Peace.

    • David Nickol

      But believers are such nice people! Doesn't that alone make you want to join their ranks?

      • Alexandra

        Nice is well, nice. Anyone can be nice (and I think all should try to be.) But when it comes to the serious questions of belief, I think we seek much more than nice. We seek the truth. We seek justice. We seek love. Nice is helpful, but it's not enough.

        I had a friend who joined a Protestant church very much because the people there were very nice, very friendly. But it was insufficient. He had to grapple with uneasy truth that he ultimately found in the Catholic Church.

        Peter Hitchens wrote an article on the heroism of Catholic police officer Arnauld Beltrame in which he said:

        My late brother Christopher [Hitchens] was a militant atheist... He used to delight crowds of his supporters by demanding: ‘Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.’
        In the end he tired of his own question and told me that he had found an answer. He thought that Lech Walesa, the lone and indomitable leader of Polish resistance to the might of communism, would never have dared take on such a huge and merciless enemy without his faith to sustain him. I suspect he would have felt the same about Arnaud Beltrame.

      • From what I'm told, that's pretty much what you need to do get most people's votes. You can tell them whatever lies you want, but as long as you're nice, they'll vote for you. At least at the state level, where you can go door-to-door. Now state reps and senators are starting to use questionably collected data so that they can ask you how your dog or daughter or father are doing—depending on what you've indicated you care about. The simulation of a real relationship where no such relationship exists will only get better with mass collection of private data and machine learning.

        Oh, sorry. Wrong religion!

  • This is of pretty deep into theism alreadyl. But I'd be interested to know the way followers distinguish between those aspects of the world that are created and those that are deprivation of some created good?

    We are told that the method is to focus on the being of things, and that:

    "What has no need to be caused, namely a lack of being, need not be said of God as its cause—since there is nothing to be explained by a cause."

    It would seem that the obvious candidate it matter itself. The energy itself that can be wound up tight into mass. Indeed it is the obvious beingness of matter that, it is argued, necessitates a non-material creator.

    The three ways then obviously point to material being in the nature of god. But then we are told this intuitive inference us wrong.

    "And yet, being material simply isn’t all that great!"

    It is not at all by focusing on the being of things that shows us what is part of God's nature. It is not looking at what he creates, indeed the fundamental substance he created that informs us.

    So I ask how do you distinguish say between god being just, and god being aggressive? God being love, but not hate? Is god pleasure, pain, both neither?

    • It would seem that the obvious candidate it matter itself. The energy itself that can be wound up tight into mass. Indeed it is the obvious beingness of matter that, it is argued, necessitates a non-material creator.

      The three ways then obviously point to material being in the nature of god. But then we are told this intuitive inference us wrong.

      Compare:

      “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4–6)

      vs.

      Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1–4)

      Why wasn't YHWH to be represented by created object or concept, but Jesus could represent him? Both are made purely of matter–energy, according to you.

      • "Why wasn't YHWH to be represented by created object or concept, but Jesus could represent him?"

        A question of interest to some but not me. (Actually I do find this interesting but completely off topic)

        My question is: if one is to derive the nature of God from that which he created, why do we not indeed infer that his nature is material?

        How do we distinguish between aspects of reality that are part of his nature from those that are not.

        For example, aggression is a thing it is a tendency just as much as, say mercy. But we are to conclude aggression is not in God's nature but mercy is, presumably?

        • My question is: if one is to derive the nature of God from that which he created, why do we not indeed infer that his nature is material?

          That term 'material' is fatally ill-defined. It's an expando-term. There is no limit to what it cannot expand to. We also have to grapple with the fact that the prototype sciences for defining 'material'—physics and chemistry—are terrible at explaining consciousness and self-consciousness. Maybe that's because we need more mathematics, more patterns of reality.

          As to why we ought not derive the nature of God from what he created, why ought I not derive exactly who you, @briangreenadams:disqus, are—from only the words you've spoken so far? (Do we think God has ceased creating?) The idea that we are anywhere near finished exploring [everyday] reality†—including the fundamentals—is the height of arrogance in my opinion. When we are far away from such exploration, we must be extremely careful about what we conclude from our finite natures and finite discoveries.

          † See Sean Carroll's Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization). Compare to Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down and Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature.

          How do we distinguish between aspects of reality that are part of his nature from those that are not.

          For example, aggression is a thing it is a tendency just as much as, say mercy. But we are to conclude aggression is not in God's nature but mercy is, presumably?

          Good question; how did Jesus do this:

          So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:19–21)

          ? I think that's a fabulous topic for a future SN blog post. I would like to suggest that the question is whether "Might makes right." is quintessentially definitive of God or anti-definitive of God. So for example:

          “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5)

          Does this only apply to elohim acherim or YHWH as well? J.H.H. Weiler has written a fascinating First Things article on this, The Trial of Jesus.

          • "That term 'material' is fatally ill-defined."

            I'm using it how Dr Bonette is using it. But really I do think you know what I mean.

            It is in fact the topic of this blog post and I've pointed out a dodge by Dr Bonette.

            I can only assume you don't know or think one cannot determine aspects of the nature of the deity from observations of the universe .

          • BGA: My question is: if one is to derive the nature of God from that which he created, why do we not indeed infer that his nature is material?

            LB: That term 'material' is fatally ill-defined.

            BGA: I can only assume you don't know or think one cannot determine aspects of the nature of the deity from observations of the universe .

            You've moved the goalposts:

                 (I) "derive the nature of God"
                (II) "determine aspects of the nature of the deity"

            To (II), see my response to Dr. Bonnette four days ago.

          • It seems then that you're saying one cannot have justified beliefs in God's nature, such as us he just, cruel, aggressive, peaceful, angry, beautiful?

          • No. What we can have is knowledge which is (i) qualified; (ii) approximate. So for example, instead of knowing what would be just to do in all circumstances, we can have high confidence in what the most just option is in a given circumstance, with all the particular limitations of a given circumstance. Those limitations include what people are willing to do, by the way—humans don't become perfect in one giant leap.

          • Sorry I don't see what this has to do with my question which is about the ability to know the nature of God e.g. is he just or arbitrary, merciful or vengeful, etc?

            Dr Bonette argues we can glean these divine characteristics from observing the universe, you seem to disagree, do you have a method, or is such knowledge not possible?

          • Do you want to know what God is like outside of any particular situation with exactitude, or an approximate understanding in a particular situation? I claim humans cannot gain the former of other humans, not to mention God. But we can glean the latter from other humans and, if we do not self-deceive too badly†, God.

            † See my comment to Dr. Bonnette about the noetic effects of sin, or check out Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson's The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. Or check out the TEDx talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V84_F1QWdeU

          • Ok

          • LB: Do you want to know what God is like outside of any particular situation with exactitude, or an approximate understanding in a particular situation? I claim humans cannot gain the former of other humans, not to mention God.

            BGA: Ok

            May I ask if you agree or disagree with the underlined?

          • No I think we can say quite a bit about human nature in general and reach conclusions on the character of individuals from observations of their behaviour.

          • LB: Do you want to know what God is like outside of any particular situation

                 [A] with exactitude,
                 [B] or an approximate understanding in a particular situation

            ? I claim humans cannot gain the former of other humans, not to mention God.

            BGA: Ok

            LB: May I ask if you agree or disagree with the underlined?

            BGA: No I think we can say

                 [C] quite a bit about human nature in general
                 [D] and reach conclusions on the character of individuals

            from observations of their behaviour.

            So … are you doing something like:

                 [B] ∼ [C]
                 [A] ∼ [D]

            ?

          • We can know c and d but not with precision .

          • I see; so how self-delusional do you think human nature is?

          • I don't understand the question.

          • Do you understand that humans can deceive themselves, about themselves? Perhaps I should have written "self-deceptive", but I suspect that sustained deception leads to delusion.

          • Maybe, I don't know. What do you mean? The term "self-deception" seems to be a contradiction. To me "deception" implies a conscious intention. But if one is conscious of the deception, I don't see how one could actually be deceived. If it is unconscious it would be more like a cognitive bias or just mistaken belief.

            I would object to that use of "delusion" as I do to Dawkins' use of the term. People have beliefs that I say are mistaken and can be shown as such by way of evidence and critical thinking.

            I would reserve "delusional" for persons with actual delusional disorders.

          • BGA: No I think we can say

                 [C] quite a bit about human nature in general
                 [D] and reach conclusions on the character of individuals

            from observations of their behaviour.

            BGA: We can know c and d but not with precision .

            LB: I see; so how self-delusional do you think human nature is?

            BGA: I don't understand the question.

            LB: Do you understand that humans can deceive themselves, about themselves? Perhaps I should have written "self-deceptive", but I suspect that sustained deception leads to delusion.

            BGA: Maybe, I don't know. What do you mean? The term "self-deception" seems to be a contradiction. To me "deception" implies a conscious intention. But if one is conscious of the deception, I don't see how one could actually be deceived. If it is unconscious it would be more like a cognitive bias or just mistaken belief.

            I agree that it is important to distinguish between cases where we believe falsehoods about ourselves due to our intent, vs. believing those falsehoods due to nature or nurture. Let me address the former. People lie to each other and to themselves. (Do I need to cite science on the latter?) The most effective way to lie to others is to have at least part of yourself believe the lie, so that all the microexpressions and such are consistent with the lie. What may be unintentional is to have that lie slip from the outside to the inside. On the other hand, suppose that I receive evidence that I made a serious mistake. If I believe that a suffering-minimization move is to just deny that I really contributed the critical agency to that mistake, might I just … deny my own agency? (This is what Adam & Eve did in the Garden of Eden, by the way. They passed the buck.)

            I would object to that use of "delusion" as I do to Dawkins' use of the term. People have beliefs that I say are mistaken and can be shown as such by way of evidence and critical thinking.

            I would reserve "delusional" for persons with actual delusional disorders.

            You have just articulated the difference between mortal/​irreparable and venial/​reparable sin, at least according to Josef Pieper in The Concept of Sin. Reparable sin responds to "evidence and critical thinking". Irreparable sin does not. The difference between Pieper & me and you is that we think irreparable sin is committed intentionally. People know what they were doing at the time, even if that knowledge dissipates due to something like the "discontinuous 'I'" phenomenon. Curiously enough, our culture seems to be reverting to Greek times where irreparable sin was, well, irreparable. But we don't call it 'irreparable sin'; we call it 'mental illness'. (Not all mental illness is irreparable.)

            Perhaps you have come across the above matters of agency in your practice of law? I can find you some legal thinking on the "discontinuous self"; I am also friends with a lawyer who did work on how we can currently understand the insanity defense—he told me that old ways of understanding it no longer worked as of several decades ago.

          • "believing those falsehoods due to nature or nurture"

            Which would be absurd to call "self-deception"

            The difference is I don't accept that there is any such thing as "sin".

            In terms of the law, it holds you culpable for actions that are voluntary, if you are capable of apprehending the consequences of your actions. Involuntary would be things like a reflex.

            Even if you are delusional, if you understand what you are doing and the consequences you can be held criminally responsible.

            Intent means you meant to do what you did. There are different levels of intent for purposeful to negligent. The legal term for what I think you mean is "wilful blindness" which deals more with knowledge than intent. Other than that the law doesn't really care about your inner monologue.

            Thanks for your view on the theomoth of sin culpability.

          • What do you make of 1.2, below:

            OED: deceive
            1 Deliberately cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, especially for personal gain.
                ‘I didn't intend to deceive people into thinking it was French champagne’
            1.1 (of a thing) give (someone) a mistaken impression.
                ‘the area may seem to offer nothing of interest, but don't be deceived’
            1.2 (deceive oneself) Fail to admit to oneself that something is true.
                ‘it was no use deceiving herself any longer—she loved him with all her heart’

            ? That actually matches up quite well with "willful blindness".

          • These are different usages of the the word.

            No wilful blindness is I think a bit different. The example I can think of is a video store owner convicted of selling obscenity and claiming he did not know what was on the tapes but given the titles he should have strongly suspected they were snuff films and checked. It's wilfully ignoring something because you want to later claim you didn't know.

          • Ok. So, you said:

            BGA: The term "self-deception" seems to be a contradiction.

            Is the OED definition 1.2 a contradiction?

          • Yes, I would say a more accurate word would be "denial"

          • So you really don't like there being any intent to self-deceive. Returning to your words:

            BGA: The term "self-deception" seems to be a contradiction. To me "deception" implies a conscious intention. But if one is conscious of the deception, I don't see how one could actually be deceived. If it is unconscious it would be more like a cognitive bias or just mistaken belief.

            What you make sense is if there is no time, if what you intended in the past is always what you will intend, or if your intending something in the past is something you will always remember. But what if there are key decision points where you can either acknowledge the truth even though it's painful, or somehow refuse to acknowledge the truth and then start forgetting that that is what you did? I'm pretty sure that qualifies as 'self-deception'. The point though, is to escape the discomfort of facing the truth. Continuing to know that it is a willful deception would defeat the point!

            The more we do the above, the more the following becomes problematic:

            BGA: No I think we can say

                 [C] quite a bit about human nature in general
                 [D] and reach conclusions on the character of individuals

            from observations of their behaviour.

            BGA: We can know c and d but not with precision .

            The less we are facing the truth about the instruments with which we measure reality (us), the less sure we can be sure of the measurements those instruments make. That includes what we think we can conclude about any possible creator of reality.

          • I wouldn't have thought this was so difficult to understand. To me "being deceived" means you believe A when B is the case, and you believe A because an agent with knowledge through B is the case has taken a wilful action to mislead the subject. If the subject has knowledge that B is the case, I don't understand how the subject can both believe B and A are the case.

            This is why I would use the term "denial". The subject is aware that B is the case but strongly desires A to be the case and rationalizes acting as if A is the case and sure may even come to believe A.

            I think we both accept people do this, but have a different view on an accurate label.

            This is indeed what I think many theists do, and have advised me to do with respect for a belief in the existence of God. They literally tell me to act as if I believed, to go to church every day and keep pretending I believe until I do.

          • You're reasoning without time. With time, your former self can deceive your later self. Whether it happens in one fell swoop or bit by bit seems immaterial for purposes of this conversation. You say that many theists have done this and you might be right; I say that many atheists have done this, especially with respect to what MacIntyre writes here:

            For one way of framing my contention that morality is not what it once was is just to say that to a large degree people now think, talk, and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint might be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture.

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. (After Virtue, 22–23)

            The logical consequence of this is that "Might makes right." Goodness and power are no longer distinguishable, except by arbitrarily manipulable feeling.

             
            Now, my point in going down this rabbit trail is to ask how well we actually understand human nature. For if we do not understand human nature very well and human nature is the instrument with which we explore reality, then our understanding of God could easily be as distorted as our understanding of human nature—if not more, since errors that are small for humans will probably be larger when extrapolated. What's really important, though, is that I think our self-deception and willful blindness is chosen, intentionally. Romans 1 talks about "suppressing truth in unrighteousness"; that seems to be precisely what we humans have done. Do I really need to trot out empirical evidence on the matter? I won't be able to give evidence for intentionality and agency, as those seem mostly metaphysical topics at this point in time. (Maybe they will transfer from metaphysical to studied-by-science in the next fifty years; maybe not.)

             
            As to the theists who tell you to "fake it 'till you make it", there is some truth to that process in general; sometimes practice must precede belief. We have "without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." But actually, a lesser version of that is true of becoming a scientist. The amount of investment a person has to put in before [s]he can come up with a publishable result that adds something new to the field is intense. I know; I'm married to a scientist. But that verse is a more intense version of this; it makes a claim to a deeper, normative dimension to reality. How to be decent to your neighbor doesn't depend on the scientific theory turning out this way or that. If you think that you can progress in wisdom and goodness that isn't just getting what you want ever-better, that seems like a possibly empirical measure of what could be called "understanding God's will". And in so doing, one might actually observe oneself being formed by God, and learn to love him for it. At least some of us think that becoming better servants of others is superior to becoming better servants of ourselves. Whether you want to try that out is up to you—God does not compel, unlike humans who compel and manipulate and dominate and oppress.

          • Like I said I do think I agree with what you are saying is self-deception does occur.

            I further agree that a lack of understanding of human nature poses limits on our ability to recognize when we are mistaken or when conduct we are taking now will lead to mistakes in the future. For example, I might mistake that by nature going to church every day and praying will have a brainwashing effect and therefore am missing out on a path to god.

            I am sure some of this is intentional. I'd expect much of it isn't. But so is the opposite, so is actively learning what we can about cognitive biases and critical thinking. Humans do this too, maybe not so much in religion, but I think it is very common in science, and in the skeptic movement. It basically is what science is
            Take for example Julia Gelef's work. Someone seemingly dedicated to challenging her own views, updateting them and learning what she can about biases and self deception, if you will.

            Fake belief until you believe sounds like a great way to self deceive doesn't it? It seems purposefully designed to play on cognitive biases and fallacies. The bias that we have more affinity with things repeated, it generates a sink costs fallacy. Moreover it is completely unnecessary.

            Your comment about the amount of work going into publishable science can of course lead to being biased, particularly confirmation bias, which is why science has a check on it, repeatability. Your spouse's effort may bias them to p-hack or confirm results that are wrong. Because of publication bias they have an incentive to publish a positive result. But the incentive is reversed for those repeating or checking the results, they'd get little acclaim for confirming, more for debunking.

            Yes I can see real difficulties in confirming god's nature (not to.mention that a god exists in the first place!).

            I.also see how Christian morality is tricky too.

            Here's my reasoning for not acting like I believe until I do.

            1. It's dishonest. I don't believe and if this god exists I don't want my first impression to be me being misleading.

            2. I believe there are cognitive biases that will mislead me into changing my mind if I keep repeating something I think is false is true. I think this is exactly what cults do.

            3. if god exists he knows i.am open and interested in any god such as the one Catholcism demands . It should be sufficient for me to as once. But I have asked dozens of times attending many churches and by sites I love them.

          • Like I said I do think I agree with what you are saying is self-deception does occur.

            That's fine, but then we have to ask what the magnitude of the deception/​delusion/​denial is. Once again returning upstream:

            BGA: No I think we can say

                 [C] quite a bit about human nature in general
                 [D] and reach conclusions on the character of individuals

            from observations of their behaviour.

            BGA: We can know c and d but not with precision .

            What you say here is ambiguous; here are the options I see on the table:

                 (1) we know nothing about human nature
                 (2) we know a few things about human nature
                 (3) we know a great deal about human nature
                 (4) we know pretty much everything about human nature
                 (5) we know everything about human nature

            I don't know whether I should put (4) in strikethrough as well. Do you perhaps lean toward (3)? If you lean more toward (2), that doesn't really seem to match your claim; "not with precision" pushes one upward in that list, but how far? Recall the context from further upstream:

            BGA: My question is: if one is to derive the nature of God from that which he created, why do we not indeed infer that his nature is material?

            LB: That term 'material' is fatally ill-defined.

            BGA: I can only assume you don't know or think one cannot determine aspects of the nature of the deity from observations of the universe .

            LB: What we can have is knowledge which is (i) qualified; (ii) approximate. So for example, instead of knowing what would be just to do in all circumstances, we can have high confidence in what the most just option is in a given circumstance, with all the particular limitations of a given circumstance. Those limitations include what people are willing to do, by the way—humans don't become perfect in one giant leap.

            The worse we are at understanding ourselves, the worse we will be at understanding God. Defects in measurement instrument ⇒ defects in measurements. For some reason you zeroed in on God being material, which seems rather odd to me. I doubt the rigorous definitions of 'material' or 'physical' could help us in understanding matters of deception/​delusion/​denial. At best you have works which use evopsych to explain how humans insist on understanding themselves terribly (e.g. The Elephant in the Brain), but as the authors of that book admit, wise humans have known this stuff for ages. The issue of 'material' or 'physical' seems to be … a distraction.

            3. if god exists he knows i.am open and interested in any god such as the one Catholcism demands .

            I'm not sure I ought to believe this; I'm not sure the evidence warrants it. Our ability to accurately introspect is dubious—at least without significant testing that might need to be rather scientific. For example, to the extent that I believe that matters of the good/​right/​beautiful are 100% subjective, I have 100% isolated myself from the very personal being of others and reduced my ability to interact to that of picking and choosing items from a cafeteria line. With such 100% subjectivity, other people are really just other forces to me, and my interactions with them are necessarily pushing and pulling—treating them like billiard balls. In such a situation, there is no genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations.

          • Sure we can ask. This is why skepticism and science are so important they are tools to try and uncover this.

            But I would expand the problem from what you're calling self deception to beliefs that are mistaken and demonrabdemo so . I think the scale is quite large, in includes anything distinctively religious, pseudo science, cryptozoology, belief in visirivi ETs, and probably quite a bit of economics and other disciplines.

            I really don't know how to quantify what we know of human nature, because I don't know how much there is to know. We know many things. I also don't like the term human nature, I'd prefer psychology. I'd lean on us knowing less than half.

            I compliment you on your caution in claiming knowledge of god for the reasons disclosed above. I'd say you are being more reasonable than Dr Bonnette but I fairness I don't this he says how much he knows of god.

            My thing with God being material is a criticism based on Bonnette's method for knowing the nature of god. He argues we know god has the perfection of whatever needed to be created .but dismisses the fact that material needed to be created by just saying material just isn't that great .That doesn't follow.

            The thing with evopsych, my guess is that we did not at all evolve our intellect to understand ourselves at all, but it is something we can do with it.

            And sure humans have grasped much of our nature for millennia, as can be seen in classical drama.

            Of course you can never know whether I am truly open to a god existing. But I know I am as open as I can consciously be. Perhaps I am self deceived. But all I can do is my best.

            I can share my thoughts on this. Since I was very small I have been extremely anxious fory mortality. It's just a feeling I get when the fact of my end arises. Lately when not thinking about death but thinking indeed about whether the immaterial can be said to have fundamental existence and sometimes when contemplating quantum strangeness, and the mystery of my own consciousness and it's it's seeming independence of this flesh, I find myself indeed begin to accespt that I am something like a soul that I could survive without a body. But then I ask is this some conclusion I am reaching from evidence, or wishful thinking. It becomes immediately clear that I lack the evidence of the former and my desire for the latter is extreme.

            Furthermore, i just have no reason to be resistant to a god existing. I can elaborate on that if you like .

          • BGA: Like I said I do think I agree with what you are saying is self-deception does occur.

            LB: That's fine, but then we have to ask what the magnitude of the deception/​delusion/​denial is.

            BGA: Sure we can ask. This is why skepticism and science are so important they are tools to try and uncover this.

            I'm not sure what generally goes by 'skepticism' and 'science' suffice for the task. For 'skepticism', I agree with Wayne C. Booth: "A good general rule is: scratch a skeptic and find a dogmatist." (Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, 56) For 'science', I think it's pretty good when the person-as-agent can be approximated away; I don't see evidence that it's very good when dealing with the entirety of what it means to be a person. This is perhaps epitomized by your "why do we not indeed infer that [God's] nature is material?" Science thrives where the personhood of scientists is neutralized and all that is observed is mechanism (mathematics of minimal complexity). We can think of how the lens in a microscope is transparent to the phenomenon. Your desire to construe God as material slots perfectly into this, and would only deepen the neutralization of person-as-agent.

            I'll note that you didn't indicate where you think we are on my (1)–(5) scale. The closer we are to (1), the less we should expect to know about God (and the more noisy/​erroneous we should expect to be on that matter).

            But I would expand the problem from what you're calling self deception to beliefs that are mistaken and demonrabdemo so . I think the scale is quite large, in includes anything distinctively religious, pseudo science, cryptozoology, belief in visirivi ETs, and probably quite a bit of economics and other disciplines.

            The more false beliefs we harbor, the worse we are at being instruments with which we measure reality. Your [insinuated?] contention that "anything distinctively religious" is "mistaken and demonstrably so" seems to be a claim desperately in need of evidence. (I'm happy to acknowledge that some religious beliefs are mistaken—any member of an exclusive religion must say that.) What I think is the case is that there are two parts of our nature which are not known to exist in any other species:

                 (A) the future could be made better than the present
                 (B) I could be part of the bettering process

            One poetic way of putting this is that "[God] has put eternity in our hearts" (Eccl 3:11); another is that "man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection." (The Closing of the American Mind, 67) I don't see how 'science' and 'skepticism' can exclusively handle (A) and (B). The contention that they can seems like a crypto-ideology, manipulating us to believe things in the (A) and (B) domain without explicitly stating what those things are. One prominent American sociologist included such tactics in his definition of 'fundamnetalism' (The New Sociology of Knowledge, 41).

            I can share my thoughts on this. Since I was very small I have been extremely anxious fory mortality. It's just a feeling I get when the fact of my end arises. Lately when not thinking about death but thinking indeed about whether the immaterial can be said to have fundamental existence and sometimes when contemplating quantum strangeness, and the mystery of my own consciousness and it's it's seeming independence of this flesh, I find myself indeed begin to accespt that I am something like a soul that I could survive without a body. But then I ask is this some conclusion I am reaching from evidence, or wishful thinking. It becomes immediately clear that I lack the evidence of the former and my desire for the latter is extreme.

            I'm glad you feel comfortable saying the above. I myself would investigate whether it is rational to merely dismiss what you've said as irrational. :-) My sneaking suspicion is that we Moderns are very contradictory when it comes to the question Are there laws which govern minds?—when it's convenient we say "yes", and when it's convenient we say "no". This behavior allows us to facilely discount any thoughts which do not adhere to reigning dogma. What a great way to have hardened hearts and shut ourselves off from hearing anything from God which might expand/​correct our understanding of ourselves and reality!

            BTW, I hope you understand that most of my words about self-deception and closing ourself off to God targets the structure much more than the individual. Individuals can innovate upon how we've been formed and what we've been taught, but the vast majority of the momentum does not come from the individual's exercise of his/her own agency. What the individual can do is be like the child who noted that the Emperor does not appear to be wearing clothes.

            Furthermore, i just have no reason to be resistant to a god existing. I can elaborate on that if you like .

            Yes, please.

            My thing with God being material is a criticism based on Bonnette's method for knowing the nature of god. He argues we know god has the perfection of whatever needed to be created .but dismisses the fact that material needed to be created by just saying material just isn't that great .That doesn't follow.

            The concept of matter is deeply connected to the concept of limitation, of finitude. Are you really saying that only finite, limiting beings can exist?

            The thing with evopsych, my guess is that we did not at all evolve our intellect to understand ourselves at all, but it is something we can do with it.

            I wouldn't venture to say that, but I would say that if we are imago Dei and some part of understanding God is to understand ourselves rightly, then the more we're screwed up in understanding ourselves, the more we'll be screwed up in understanding God. This doesn't address the part where God shows us how he is unlike us, but I suspect that the more self-deceived we are, the less he can do that—by logical necessity.

            And sure humans have grasped much of our nature for millennia, as can be seen in classical drama.

            Then why is that knowledge not prominent among scientists and skeptics?

            Of course you can never know whether I am truly open to a god existing. But I know I am as open as I can consciously be. Perhaps I am self deceived. But all I can do is my best.

            You can understand how other people tend to be self-deceived and then soberly investigate whether you are self-deceived in the same or similar way. You can refuse to tell even white lies. You can refuse to withold parts of the truth. These are all things that I find almost no humans doing to a very great extent. Are you one of the rare exceptions? (I don't think I am.)

          • "Your [insinuated?] contention that "anything distinctively religious" is "mistaken and demonstrably so" seems to be a claim desperately in need of evidence."

            Well that's basically the project of this site.

            I wouldn't call the two statements elements of human nature but thoughts some humans have. There are unlimited thoughts and positions humans can have that animals can't.

            I don't see why science or skepticism would have to "deal" with these positions.

            I don't know that we have elements of human nature that are unique to humans. We have mental abilities that seem to be distinctive. Namely our level of cognitive ability. This allows us to have this level of abstract thought and problem solving, use of language that no other animals seem to come close to. But these capacitiesg seem to be biological.

            Look, people can be mistaken on their beliefs for many reasons, including self deception. How best to ensure your beliefs are accurate?

            There can be no knowledge of an absolute method because knowledge of such a method is subject to the same epistemological challenges. But wouldn't you agree that the best way is to apply critical thinking and make use of empirical evidence if you can, as much better than to try and force yourself by repetition and immersion that the opposite is true?

          • LB: The more false beliefs we harbor, the worse we are at being instruments with which we measure reality. Your [insinuated?] contention that "anything distinctively religious" is "mistaken and demonstrably so" seems to be a claim desperately in need of evidence. (I'm happy to acknowledge that some religious beliefs are mistaken—any member of an exclusive religion must say that.) What I think is the case is that there are two parts of our nature which are not known to exist in any other species:

                 (A) the future could be made better than the present
                 (B) I could be part of the bettering process

            One poetic way of putting this is that "[God] has put eternity in our hearts" (Eccl 3:11); another is that "man is a being who must take his orientation by his possible perfection." (The Closing of the American Mind, 67) I don't see how 'science' and 'skepticism' can exclusively handle (A) and (B). The contention that they can seems like a crypto-ideology, manipulating us to believe things in the (A) and (B) domain without explicitly stating what those things are. One prominent American sociologist included such tactics in his definition of 'fundamentalism' (The New Sociology of Knowledge, 41).

            BGA: I don't see why science or skepticism would have to "deal" with these positions.

            If they don't, then the person who claims to be purely scientific/​skeptical is actually being a 'fundamentalist': "fundamentalism is any project to restore taken-for-grantedness in the individual's consciousness and therefore, necessarily, in his or her social and/or political environment." (The New Sociology of Knowledge, 41)

            Look, people can be mistaken on their beliefs for many reasons, including self deception. How best to ensure your beliefs are accurate?

            I've thought extensively about this question, and I think the answer is this: you have to want goals which require you to hold more true beliefs and fewer false beliefs. Admitting error is difficult, especially if it is socially embedded error. It is easy to make yourself an enemy of those around you by seeking truth. I think Jesus was getting at this when he said, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." So I think you have to surround yourself with others who also desire goals that make purging false beliefs worth the cost. Hypocrisy has to be seen as one of the worst sins, along with arrogance. I know a scientist who is currently dealing with lab drama which came from failure to follow the progression in Mt 18:15–17; when he advanced that passage in secular terms, his adviser thought it was a really good idea. Just how many principles from the Bible contribute toward successful science and other truth-seeking is a project I'd have fun pursuing.

            Do you have a counterproposal? The principle of "trust the methods of science" seems to work only in the most narrow of domains: when you make claims in environments where error is punished. This in turn seems to work the best in the hard sciences, poorly in the social sciences, and pretty much not at all in day-to-day life (including politics).

            But wouldn't you agree that the best way is to apply critical thinking and make use of empirical evidence if you can, as much better than to try and force yourself by repetition and immersion that the opposite is true?

            I think that the notion of '100% subjective' is actually intended to keep critical thinking from uncovering ways we deceive ourselves, and so suggesting more of the same is like the insane person doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. As to your use of "opposite"—opposite of what? If your answer is going to be something about whether miracles happen, please step up a level and discuss why it matters whether miracles happen or not. I would like to suggest that the real issue is how much can be expected of humans—how much goodness, excellence, beauty, and truth. If we're "just evolved primates", then the standards are low. If we're imago Dei creatures, the standards can be high.

          • Sample1

            They literally tell me to act as if I believed, to go to church every day and keep pretending I believe until I do.

            This is correct. It was also how the last dead pope approached his religion. When I responded to David this is what I had in mind though what he said is also seemingly correct.

            We don’t choose our beliefs but some choose for the sake of choosing seeing that as a virtue with respect to faith claims. It is that which I find preposterous but, psychologically, understand why it’s done.

            MIke

          • Rob Abney

            I’m curious to know what you understand psychologically since you didn’t provide any specifics. Many Catholics embrace such a stance to avoid pusillanimity, many skeptics seem to embrace pusillanimity.

            I answer that, Pusillanimity may be considered in three ways. First, in itself; and thus it is evident that by its very nature it is opposed to magnanimity, from which it differs as great and little differ in connection with the same subject. For just as the magnanimous man tends to great things out of greatness of soul, so the pusillanimous man shrinks from great things out of littleness of soul. Secondly, it may be considered in reference to its cause, which on the part of the intellect is ignorance of one's own qualification, and on the part of the appetite is the fear of failure in what one falsely deems to exceed one's ability. Thirdly, it may be considered in reference to its effect, which is to shrink from the great things of which one is worthy. But, as stated above (II-II:132:2 ad 3), opposition between vice and virtue depends rather on their respective species than on their cause or effect. Hence pusillanimity is directly opposed to magnanimity

          • Sample1

            Hi Rob, you are always welcome to jump in when I make posts to others but usually I am speaking with others on such occasions and your reply this time doesn’t particularly interest me.

            No offense.

            Mike

          • Rob Abney

            I'm glad you are so gracious because every time I read a post by you it makes me think of Pusillanimity!

          • Rob Abney

            Luke, how does irreparable sin survive after this?

            On the evening of that first day of the week,
            when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
            for fear of the Jews,
            Jesus came and stood in their midst
            and said to them, "Peace be with you."
            When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
            The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
            Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
            As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
            And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
            "Receive the Holy Spirit.
            Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
            and whose sins you retain are retained."

          • The same way that so many slaveowners in the American South just couldn't see their slaveowning as sin.

          • Rob Abney

            Were those slaveowners beyond forgiveness for those sins?

          • Irreparable sin does not imply unforgiveability—at least in my book. It means that one cannot fix oneself from within one's own being, because one has internalized the sin—one has entered it into one's foundational judgments of reality and oneself, as it were.

          • Rob Abney

            It would require a perfect act of contrition to repair oneself in that situation, fortunately Jesus gave us the sacrament of reconciliation which only requires an imperfect act of contrition. Martin Luther did not believe that God's mercy could overcome an imperfect act of contrition.

  • Nothing in this article, as far as I can see, establishes the coherency of a being that is timeless yet does/causes/creates things. It is simply incoherent to claim god is timeless and can do things. So far from being constrained by time, god is constrained by his timelessness. So the exact opposite from what this OP states is true. Given the necessary rules of logic the traditional attributes of god are incoherent:

    P1. It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
    P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
    P3. It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
    C. As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

    The failure of theists to come up with a coherent description of god is enough by itself to warrant atheism, but there's many more reasons to think no gods exist. Now of course a Thomist could say there is timeless causality, simultaneous causality, and/or god is logically prior to the universe, not temporally prior. But since we've established that god is not logically necessary, any claim that god is metaphysically necessary falls short. Thomistic metaphysics, along with its version of the principle of sufficient reason, doesn't even claim everything/proposition has a reason, and that necessarily leaves it with brute facts. Once you have brute facts, god no longer becomes a necessary being, since the universe could be a brute fact. There's no need to accept AT metaphysics either, since it requires prerequisites like presentism, which we already have good evidence against, and makes ontological claims that are in conflict with known science. It can be dismissed as an incorrect and antiquated (though very complex and interesting) metaphysic. No special pleading will be accepted.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    It appears that the author of the comment below this one failed to read carefully what was explicitly stated in the OP:

    "I do not intend herein to show how the divine attributes are coherent, consistent with each other, and consistent with the created world in which we find ourselves."

    "The present enquiry’s sole purpose is to show how the human mind can come to know the nature of God, once his existence is demonstrated."

    • Jim the Scott

      I don't think he can read & he still thinks we give a hoot about the Rationalist version of the PSR vs the Scholastic one. He still doesn't get the concept of a non-starter objection. But it is interesting he has invented from scratch his own personal "natural theology & philosophy?" that no scholastic or Classic Theist actually believes to help him continue to make non-starter objections.

      I also don't think he knows physics either.

      • I'm hesitant to talk about @AtheismNTheCity:disqus in the third person so I may up and forgive his flagrant lie about what I said which caused me to initially cease conversations with him. But for the moment, I will say a few things which I have gleaned from arguing with him for well over 100 hours.

        I don't think he can read & he still thinks we give a hoot about the Rationalist version of the PSR vs the Scholastic one.

        I think TT can read; how much he distorts what he has read to fit his ideology is another matter. But this is not unique to TT; it appears to be statistically the case of those better at evaluating numerical evidence: Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government. I am sure I do it; I try to respond appropriately when this is pointed out, but I doubt I am anywhere close to perfect in correcting. When both parties have patience for enough iterations I find it often works out well, but I find that few have that much patience.

        As to anything Rationalist, I don't think that'll work for TT because if I recall correctly, when you bring up that GR and QFT contradict near black hole event horizons, TT seamlessly switches to the equivalent of "Science works and theology doesn't; checkmate theists!" He is welcome to reply to this comment and correct this characterization; I wish it to be as accurate as possible, noting that self-measurement is not always as accurate as possible.

        But it is interesting he has invented from scratch his own personal "natural theology & philosophy?" that no scholastic or Classic Theist actually believes to help him continue to make non-starter objections.

        I would investigate just how different it is from the A/T metaphysics that are espoused by the likes of Feser. You could ask him to first phrase it how he thinks Feser or Bonnette would phrase it, and then show how he thinks his own phrasing is superior. Maybe he will teach you something. I recall reading that Richard Feynman was at a bar one time with fellow Caltech scientists, and one of the others made some claim about the waitress being all she would ever be. Feynman rebuked him, saying that he could have an interesting conversation with anyone. I believe Feynman, and I think it is to Christians' shame that this is not one of their identifying characteristics.

        I also don't think he knows physics either.

        He probably knows it better than the average person who talks about physics on SN. Whether that is merely "enough to be dangerous", I will let an actual physicist determine. I do recall that he often states as certainties what are actually contested probabilities, but that's rather standard human behavior, including of scientists and scholars.

    • You can't demonstrate god's existence if you can't demonstrate god's coherence.

  • Jim the Scott

    Change is an effect not a cause. So change cannot cause anything.
    (Those who believe otherwise are just prone to make up their own nonsense.)

    For example something already in Act causes a potency to be in act and the change is a potency becoming act. But the initial Act could be Pure Act that was never a potency or an Act that was previously a potency.

    • Change is an effect not a cause. So change cannot cause anything. (Those who believe otherwise are just prone to make up their own nonsense.)

      No one says change "causes" anything. The argument is that to do anything requires change, which requires time, and thus a timeless being cannot change, and cannot do anything. So far from being constrained by time, as Dennis puts it, time is a liberator. To be timeless is to be constrained. It is to be functionally and causally impotent.

      For example something already in Act causes a potency to be in act and the change is a potency becoming act. But the initial Act could be Pure Act that was never a potency or an Act that was previously a potency.

      You can't "cause" a potency to be in act without the cause changing (otherwise you'd be claiming you can do something without doing something), and change logically requires time. Hence a timeless god can't "cause" any potency to be in act. It is completely incoherent to assert what you're doing.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I guess my thinking is that something that happens at a rate of once per universe is inherently pretty special.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Actually, if you read the lives of the saints, quite a number of resurrections are reported, including some ten by St. Francis Xavier alone.

      http://www.miraclesofthechurch.com/2010/10/raised-from-dead-saints-who-brought.html

      In fact, if you read Acts 20, it reports that St. Paul was preaching so long before a group that a young man perched on a window ledge fell asleep and fell from the third loft down to his death. St. Paul raised him back to life. This seems credible, since I cannot imagine the author wanting to admit that the Apostle's preaching was such as to put someone to sleep!

      I realize the modern skeptic will demand to know, not only how trustworthy is the testimony, but also how we can be sure the person was really dead. Skeptics abound. But so do the reports.

      • David Nickol

        But there is a major difference, is there not, between resuscitation and resurrection? I have not checked the accounts of resuscitations by saints, but I have a very strong feeling that (Jesus aside) in all the cases where people were (allegedly) miraculously brought back to life, they eventually died (or died again).

        I have always found it one of the most interesting things about Buffy the Vampire Slayer that when Buffy's friends brought her back from the dead, she hid from them for a while that although they thought they were doing something good, she had at last been at peace and would have wanted to stay that way. (I don't remember if they ever used the word heaven, but it certainly was implied.)

        What about the Catholic idea of being judged immediately upon death? How does that work if a person really and truly dies and then is miraculously raised?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Of course, they would be expected to die again even if they were brought back to life after death -- since living people die eventually.

          But you raise an interesting question, since death is a metaphysical concept, not a medical one. Death is defined as the separation of the soul from the body. That is why medical signs of clinical death cannot prove actual death.
          It is easier to prove that someone is still alive than to prove that they are actually deceased.

          Moreover, I suspect that observers of people being brought back to life are much more concerned with getting the person back than trying to establish proof of exactly what happened.

          Still, we do have the gospel account of Lazarus' death telling us that "he stinketh," which seems like a fairly good sign of death. Moreover, if you follow the link I provided above, you will find this account of the state of the deceased in one case:

          "When they opened the tomb and brought out the body, it was already giving off a stench. On Francis' orders they tore apart the shroud-to find the body already beginning to putrefy. "

          Sounds like he was pretty dead, if not "more sincerely dead," as was said in the Wizard of Oz!

          And I do recall reading of one account in which the deceased persons body was in several pieces, which seems an impressive feat for mere resuscitation.

          Of course, by definition, all such accounts are anecdotal and subject to one's estimation of credibility -- although some appear to have been well documented as to witnesses and, in the case of Christ, can be argued by external reasons, such as the impact on early Christians.

          As for the immediate judgment, that is in God's hands. God would certainly know the impending course of events and could allow the deceased person to experience merely a temporary state of unconsciousness.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            But the other point that I think David was raising is that there is a fundamental qualitative difference between being brought back to one's former "corruptible" mode of life and being raised to new incorruptible / glorified / pneumatic life of the sort that is ascribed to Jesus post-crucifixion. As it says in the catechism: "Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with Lazarus". As I understand it, we typically reserve the word "resurrection" / anastasis for whatever it was that happened to Jesus, and we use some other word like "resuscitation" for whatever happened to Lazarus and the revivals you refer to in the lives of the saints (even if they were indeed dead in, let's say, some medical sense).

            For that reason, I want to stand by my claim that, in the Catholic understanding, there has only been one proper "resurrection" to date.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your point is well made. That is why much of the literature about later such events merely speak of "raising from the dead."

            In modern parlance, the term, "resuscitation," usually refers to someone who has stopped breathing and moving, who is then "revived," but was never dead at all.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        I realize the modern skeptic will demand to know, not only how trustworthy is the testimony, but also how we can be sure the person was really dead. Skeptics abound. But so do the reports.

        Do you accept the testimony of the miracles of Muhammad?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          Mohammed's miracles? What miracles?

          https://www.thespiritofislam.com/mohammed-jesus/40-miracles-of-mohammed-and-christ.html

          https://www.thespiritofislam.com/mohammed-jesus/40-miracles-of-mohammed-and-christ.html

          There are some questionable traditions, unlike the direct accounts of the New Testament. In fact, he denied working any miracles. http://alisina.org/?p=261

          Besides, did Mohammed have 100,000 eye witnesses just a century ago of events reported in detail in then current major newspapers?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Mohammed's miracles? What miracles?

            Exactly.

            There are some questionable traditions, unlike the direct accounts of the New Testament. In fact, he denied working any miracles.

            I wouldn't call the New Testament a reliable source about the miracles of Jesus.

            Besides, did Mohammed have 100,000 eye witnesses just a century ago of events reported in detail in then current major newspapers?

            There weren't 100,000 witnesses. What you have is several conflicting accounts. So what? Some precondition believers looked at the sun and saw conflicting things.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The "devil" is in the details. If you don't research the details of Fatima, you can explain it away with a priori speculations.

            That is why the book I recommended is a good source of the details: "Meet the Witnesses" by John Haffert (Amazon). It gives the depositions of over thirty witnesses with names, photos, and locations -- forty years after the event, plus excerpts from the two leading newspapers of Lisbon telling the truth for once (Masonic papers).

            Here is a free PDF: http://johnhaffert.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Meet-the-Witnesses-91511.pdf

            The phenomenon that takes it all out of the realm of the subjective and visual-disturbance is the fact that it was a soaking rain all morning with woolen clothes sopping and watery mud -- suddenly drying out completely.

            How much credulity does it take to remain completely skeptical?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The "devil" is in the details. If you don't research the details of Fatima, you can explain it away with a priori speculations.

            I'm well aware of the details of Fatima. It was part of my catholic education. I've been to many a Marian conference.

            How much credulity does it take to remain completely skeptical?

            Not much. If you have been around the Marian cult for many years, as I have, you know that they are easily mislead, gullible, and willing to lie.

            The theology of Fatima is impoverished. God's going to punish us with hell and war if we don't repent and offer sacrifice. Who knew that fornication and masturbation caused the holocaust. I think it is important to look at the theology of a revelation and judge it is theologically sound or just the fantasies of frightened children.

            The ground being dried after the rain is has its origins in a book written by a priest in the 1950s. There weren't 100,000 people at Fatima. The WW2 prophecy was released after WW2 had already begun. The fact that you can go interview someone and they give a recollection of a strange occurrence that they thought was miraculous does not make the occurrence miraculous.

            You severely underestimate the gullibility of believers.

          • How much credulity does it take to remain completely skeptical?

            No believer has shown me how my skepticism rests on any belief of mine that is prima facie improbable.

          • Sample1

            That’s an interesting phrasing. I didn’t like the word improbable, thinking unreasonable would be better but now I see your point. Well said.

            Mike

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know you won't agree with me, but I find it prima facie highly improbable that the entire cosmos just happens to have existed in some form apparently from all eternity without some clear explanation other than itself. Ultimately, saying that it "just is so" is the ultimate instance of a "just so" explanation that I personally cannot bring myself to believe.

            Of course, metaphysics and natural theology are not built merely upon personal hopes, expectations, beliefs, and myths -- but the systematic exercise of unaided human reason. I realize that men will dispute the content of these sciences as well, but that is a different discussion.

          • I know you won't agree with me, but I find it prima facie highly improbable that the entire cosmos just happens to have existed in some form apparently from all eternity without some clear explanation other than itself.

            I fully understand the intuitive appeal of that presupposition.

          • Here is a free PDF

            Now you tell me :-)

            But no problem. I prefer hard copy, and mine didn't cost much.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I know. I hope you did not pay more than the six bucks or less I paid myself.

          • I hope you did not pay more than the six bucks or less I paid myself.

            It was about that. I consider it pocket change, these days.

        • Rob Abney

          Fulton Sheen might agree with you.
          Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text Fatima is made to say; I surpass all the women, except Mary.

          This brings us to our second point; namely, why the Blessed Mother, in this 20th Century should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as “Our Lady of Fatima.” Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too.

          Evidence to support these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he lived to Fatima. Thus the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

          Missionaries, in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ himself is born. In any apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which the people already accept. Because the Moslems have devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and develop that devotion, with the full realization that our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a “traitor,” in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, bit will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son

      • This seems credible, since I cannot imagine the author wanting to admit that the Apostle's preaching was such as to put someone to sleep!

        I can't agree with that particular assessment of its credibility. First, I don't believe for a minute that Christians always write only what they want to write about other Christians. Second, assuming that the author of Acts believed that he was writing a factual history, his primary purpose in telling the story was to present evidence of Paul's divinely ordained authority, the evidence in this instance being Paul's ability to bring a dead man back to life. It seems to me that in the author's mind, by comparison, the soporific effects of Paul's preaching would have been a trivial consideration.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          You are a good skeptic.

          I fully agree that the credibility of a given text can never be evaluated by itself, but only in the overall context in which it appears.

          Still, the greater details of the text were about the preaching, with the note about the raising amounting to only a single text: Acts 20:10. It is reported in no detail as if it were no big deal. I would think that anyone trying to prove the "divinely ordained authority" of Paul would have embossed the story of the raising so as to make it seem more "documented."

          He did not.

          But I am no big fan of internal or higher criticism.

          • You are a good skeptic.

            Mainly because of my personal history. I have discovered time and again that things I felt very sure about, on closer examination just weren’t supported by sufficient evidence. My current beliefs are the remnant that have withstood all the challenges that all their detractors have brought against them.

            Still, the greater details of the text were about the preaching, with the note about the raising amounting to only a single text: Acts 20:10. It is reported in no detail as if it were no big deal.

            We can do little more than guess what the author was thinking. We know nothing about him except that almost everybody believed in his own time, and continues to believe in our time, that whoever he was, he was also the author of the gospel attributed to Luke.

            In trying to assess the historical reliability of ancient documents, one principle to which I feel committed is that none are to be privileged just because my society’s dominant religion has accorded them a privileged status. Christianity’s paper trail is a set of documents preserved by the authorities of a particular sect of a particular religion because they validated the teachings of that sect. I think I can get a good idea of what to expect about their historical reliability by examining what religious people in general, in our own time, will and will not do when defending their faith. In light of my observations in that area, nothing in what the author of Acts said, or in the way he said it, tells me that it must have really happened. I can well understand, though, why someone committed to the truth of orthodox Christianity would think otherwise.

            But I am no big fan of internal or higher criticism.

            I don’t much care which taxonomic box any criticism might fit into. I try to focus on the nature of the evidence presented by the critic and the rigor of the arguments he uses to get from his evidence to his conclusions.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Obviously, we disagree about the historicity of the biblical text. But this area of apologetics is entirely outside my own area of competence, and so, I think we will just have to agree to disagree.

            For my part, I find the evidence of something like the witnesses to Fatima far less doubtful than hypothesizing that natural science will someday explain what made these people fall to their knees in wet mud and many fear to their very cores that they were about to die from a sun that appeared to fall upon them and burn them to death. Of course, I am also assuming that the theological context of these events is nearly self-evident -- but skepticism never seems to see anything as self-evident.

            Yet, even an historical phenomenon like Fatima is outside my own area of competence, and so I fear we may have to agree to disagree on this one also.

          • I've never participated in any discussion on any public forum (and I've been doing this for the better part of two decades) with the expectation that either my interlocutor or I would change our mind. It has happened, but far too rarely to justify any change of expectation.

            In the present instance, I have learned a bit that I didn't previously know about the thinking of some reputable Christian philosophers, and I trust that your own understanding of a certain segment of the skeptical community has been augmented to some nonzero degree. More to my own point in engaging thoughtful Christians such as yourself, I can hope to have shown some of those who have been silently following our conversation how reasonable is the doubt some of us have about the defensibility of Christianity's core doctrines.

    • Rob Abney

      It is special but fortunately for us it is the first, not just once.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I get that, but the General Resurrection is anticipated "at the end of the ages" or, as I understand it, at the conclusion of this universe. So, I stand my calculation: barring unforeseen eventualities, the correct numerator to use in calculating the number of resurrections per universe (at least, in the interior of the universe) seems to be 1. :-)

        • Rob Abney

          What is resurrection but the visible effect of a cause, the cause is that death has been defeated.

          [21] For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. [22] And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. [23] But every one in his own order: the firstfruits Christ, then they that are of Christ, who have believed in his coming. [24] Afterwards the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father, when he shall have brought to nought all principality, and power, and virtue

          I think this may be why private revelations are beneficial. The Virgin Mary is not awaiting the general resurrection.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            To clarify, I don't mean to disparage private revelation. I love it when God does that stuff. It sounds as though there is at least somewhat compelling evidence that Fatima was one of those instances. I think you have characterized it well by saying that such things (if true) are "beneficial". I'm just saying that I don't feel the need to hang my hat on any particular miracles other than the Resurrection.

            Insofar as the General Resurrection is a reality beyond this world (and therefore beyond time), I'm not sure that any of the dead are awaiting it. Those who are dead are already at least partly beyond time (though the forms of their lives are still with us, and in many cases perhaps, still awaiting a sort of purgation that only we living people can complete on their behalf), and so are already participating in the General Resurrection (or not, as the case may be, God forbid). Nonetheless: Jesus is the only one of whom it is claimed that his resurrection life intersected with our temporal existence in a bodily way. Nothing like that is said of Mary.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            To clarify, I don't mean to disparage private revelation. I love it when God does that stuff. It sounds as though there is at least somewhat compelling evidence that Fatima was one of those instances.

            The private "revelation" of Fatima consists of a call to penance, because of well this place called hell, in which poor sinners burn for all eternity, and if that isn't bad enough God's going to toss in another war worse than the current conflagration. Of course, this prophecy was released after the second war had already begun, so we can't really call it a prophecy.

            To even compare this revelation of scared shepherd children to the great moral teachers of civilization is laughable. There are great moral insights like love they neighbor, but penance or hell is not one of them.

            If anything, the only thing the Fatima event proves is the speed at which tales of the miraculous spread and how difficult it is to verify anything 100 years after the event and how unreliable "witness testimony" is when collected by one person 30 years after the event. If anything, Fatima is an argument against the reliability of the New Testament.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'd have to read more about Fatima before judging whether that is a fair characterization. I know almost nothing about it.

            Nonetheless, I can offer my own take on penance and hell in general terms:

            I would say that penance should be treated an "advanced topic" in soteriology, and specifically as somewhat narrow subtopic of metanoia, all of which is to be understood in an encompassing context of ultimate belonging. Nonetheless, something like penance seems to exist in almost all religious traditions, so I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it. For my part, I'm pretty sure it becomes essential to spiritual growth, at least at some stage.

            As for hell, I view it also as an "advanced topic", and one that shouldn't be addressed without first establishing a firm context of ultimate belonging. But again, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss hell tout court. For one thing, we could just consider Breaking Bad for goodness sakes. What better illustration could there be of man's ability to descend, bit by bit, into an inescapable state of incurvatus in se? And again, what religious tradition does not speak of some form of hell? Don't ask me how I know this, but IIRC, even the lovely Kama Sutra speaks of descending into the inner circles of hell if you apply its ahem, spiritual techniques, for purely selfish pleasure. Just because hell has been overemphasized since time immemorial by cowards and bullies, that doesn't mean it isn't a reality to be reckoned with.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Sikhism doesn't have a hell. Buddism and Hinduism have a temporary hell, which you have to be a particularly bad person to enter. You can still reach Nirvana. It is not remotely similar yo what we find in Fatima. Zoroastrianism has universal salvation. Early Christianity had notions of universal salvation. In all of these traditions, and unlike Fatima hell is a pretty rare occurrence. "Many souls" don't go there, because people aren't praying and sacrificing for them. You can google the Fatima messages. Any sane religious tradition would disavow the apparition.

            Penance isn't for reparation of to save others from eternal damnation, but rather to make yourself better. There is a difference between penance as reparation and penance used to make yourself a better person.

          • Rob Abney

            There is a difference between penance as reparation and penance used to make yourself a better person.

            What is the difference? You cannot make the world better without making yourself better.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            There is a acute difference in fasting because I want to disassociate myself with material pleasures and fasting because I want to repent for stealing $50 dollars. The first is arguably productive. The second is silly.

          • Alexandra

            " The second is silly. "

            What's your thinking on this? Assuming you've also returned the $50, why is it silly?

            There's a very powerful scene from the movie "The Mission" , where Robert de Niro's character portrays this second type of penance.
            Not to give anything away, but it beautifully exemplifies how remarkable this type of penance and reconciliation can be.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's funny I just re-watched that movie this past weekend for the first time in like 20 years, and I was thinking of the exact same thing in response to this discussion!

            Not really the greatest movie qua movie, but a fascinating bit of history and just a heavenly soundtrack.

          • Alexandra

            Sorry Jim, I meant to respond much sooner than this.

            That is really funny.
            Often when I read your comments, I find myself thinking -that's what I wanted to say, or that's what I was going to say. But you always articulate it much better than I can, so you save me work. :) Thanks! :)

            I find the movie very moving.
            The soundtrack is a work of art in itself. So haunting.

            https://youtu.be/xBLbH6vRwk8

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            That's very nice of you to say, Alexandra. I always enjoy your comments as well. You do a nice job of injecting little bits of peace and prayerfulness into the SN ecosystem.

          • Rob Abney

            I've never heard of such a penance as Fasting because you stole $50, I don't think that is a Catholic practice.

          • Rob Abney

            There are great moral insights like love they neighbor, but penance or hell is not one of them.

            What are the consequences of not adhering to a great moral insight? It seems as though there is a wide variety of interventions between penance and hell, some self-imposed and others imposed by those with authority. Surely, you can't be serious that these are not part of morality, or maybe you are just saying that you don't like them.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            What are the consequences of not adhering to a great moral insight?

            Living a bad life.

            Surely, you can't be serious that these are not part of morality, or maybe you are just saying that you don't like them.

            Punishment that is not rehabilitative has nothing to do with morality. Fatima punishment is gratuitous and grotesque.

          • David Nickol

            As I like to point out periodically, nobody in the Old Testament expected eternal reward or feared eternal punishment. The Jews (and their forebears) who followed God's commandments did so because that was the right thing to do, not because they were worried about an afterlife.

          • Rob Abney

            Living a bad life.

            Right, think a little harder about what that means, it means that at some point you'll have to repent or your life will be hell. At some point punishment will not be rehabilitative, that point is when you die without repentance. Fortunately, you can find God's mercy at the very last moment of life or you can refuse it. Did you ever read Flannery O'Connor back in your Catholic days? Consider Mrs. May in Greenleaf.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            At some point punishment will not be rehabilitative, that point is when you die without repentance.

            This is your interpretation of a particular religious tradition, but there are theologians (say Origen) and other religious traditions that disagree. If punishment is not rehabilitative than it is gratuitous.
            I've read O'Connor.

          • Rob Abney

            That is not my interpretation, I believe it is the Church's, I know it is Aquinas'

            I answer that, As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxi, 17,18), some evaded the error of Origen by asserting that the demons are punished everlastingly, while holding that all men, even unbelievers, are at length set free from punishment. But this statement is altogether unreasonable. For just as the demons are obstinate in wickedness and therefore have to be punished for ever, so too are the souls of men who die without charity, since "death is to men what their fall was to the angels," as Damascene says.

            Did you read Greenleaf?

          • Rob Abney

            Do you consider the dogmatic declaration of the assumption of Mary to be a glorified life intersecting with temporal existence? Or even the Incarnation, hers was not just a small part of that event.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Whatever may be the essential faith content of The Assumption of Mary, it certainly does not involve any assertion that she walked among us, post-mortem, in the tangible way that is ascribed to Jesus post-crucifixion. She certainly had a "glorified life", (where "glorified" there is understood in a more colloquial sense) but there was never any witness to her post-mortem glorified body in our midst (and now I am using "glorified" in the more specific sense that I intended it in my prior comment, the sense conveyed in 1 Corinthians 15).

            You seem to be responding to me as if I am somehow denigrating Mary or giving her short shrift. Her importance has not been at issue in my remarks. I am merely saying that Jesus's Resurrection is understood (in the Christian tradition) to be an event in a class of its own in cosmic history. It is precisely that uniqueness that signifies (to Christians) that that event marks the narrative center of cosmic history.

          • Rob Abney

            I don’t mean to imply anything about you or your motives, in fact, as I’ve told you before I admire your communication of the faith.
            I put the Assumption into the same category as the Resurrection because both are effects of the cause which is a life lived in unity with God. The Assumption could only happen because of the Resurrection but the Resurrection was only needed because of the gulf created by the rejection of complete unity with God.
            I do consider the many Marian apparitions to be evidence of Her interacting in our temporal universe. It seems to me, from what you say, that you haven’t considered those events much.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I do consider the many Marian apparitions to be evidence of Her interacting in our temporal universe.

            That's a sort of interaction, sure. But the interactions of the disciples with the Resurrected Christ are understood to be more than apparitions.

        • Wait a second, what about the other resurrections in the OT and NT?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Let me hide from that question for the moment and ask you instead :-) What do you think is going on in Matthew 27:51-53 ?

          • The promise of new life not founded on power. I can be less cryptic if you'd like, but a more elaborate question or reason why you're asking would be nice. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, so you asked me about the other resurrections in the OT and NT, and I don't think I can give a single answer so I'm taking them one at a time, starting with Matthew 27:51-53 (for the simple reason that I'm not at all sure what to make of that passage, and I figure maybe I'll figure it out by talking to you).

            I have to confess that I have only just now noticed that the passage reads, "And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection" (notwithstanding that this is otherwise an account of pre-resurrection events). So my understanding may be changing even in the midst of this conversation. Nonetheless ...

            Coming as it does on the heels of "the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom", I take these verses to be, first and foremost, a way of saying that in that moment there was no separation between heaven and earth, or at least that the barrier was strikingly permeable. Beyond that, I'm not really sure. I'm not really sure if the author intends to convey that these woken dead were physically present in the way that Jesus was reported to be post-crucifixion. And so I am probing you ...

          • I actually wasn't thinking of the zombie apocalypse, but Elijah and Elisha did resurrections, as well as Jesus with Lazarus. And then there's the question of whether Revelation 13 records an evil resurrection. :-)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Oh OK, well at least as far as Lazarus is concerned, the distinction I would want to make is here: http://disq.us/p/1rid8nr.

          • Ahhhh, ok. Raised incorruptible, e.g. not subject to entropy. Hmmm, we could do that just by being perfectly connected to an infinitely low entropy source. Now where might we get that …

    • VicqRuiz

      something that happens at a rate of once per universe

      To be precise, documenting that something has happened once on one planet tells us nothing about the rate of resurrections in the remainder of the universe.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Sure, I accept that. Our estimate is severely tainted by selection bias, but I think it's still the only estimate that we have. If I encounter good evidence of another resurrection, I will have to revise my views.

  • I doubt you would want people to think they understand you very well from your little snipes. And yet, somehow [apparently] you get to understand God quite well from your limited observations of the universe—if he exists, of course. That seems like a pretty flagrant double standard to me.

  • It apparently has happened many times, especially on the Indian Sub-Continent.

  • Jim the Scott

    Insane contradictions.

    QUOTE "No one says change "causes" anything."

    VS

    "It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).

    As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything."END QUOTE

    So which is it? (past experience tells us we will NEVER find out)

    What is the difference between "doing something" vs "causing" it?

    None really but people who confuse formal with efficient causes and confuse the different versions of the PSR are prone to write gibberish.

    • The agent is hidden. Because the agent must be transparent to studying mechanical phenomena, just like a lens in a telescope is transparent to the light coming in from Venus. But we have universalized the abstract math associated with Newtonian mechanics, and the agent now cannot speak—like Neo before being bugged.

    • Insane contradictions.

      In your god, yes...

      No one says change "causes" anything.

      VS

      It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).

      As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

      Change is the consequence of doing. In other words, doing must result in change, even if everything is immaterial.

      What is the difference between "doing something" vs "causing" it?

      There is no necessary difference. But doing something necessarily results in change. Hence your god is impotent.

      None really but people who confuse formal with efficient causes and confuse the different versions of the PSR are prone to write gibberish.

      Then tell that to the people who've written basically every article on this site that uses the PSR which makes no distinction between versions. Thomists will almost always hide the fact that their PSR allows for brute facts, which is a major and fatal blow to their PSR, effectively making it meaningless as a PSR. They'll promote a standard Leibnizian PSR, and only when forced into a corner will they admit their PSR is a far weaker version. You're welcome for having me expose that for everyone on this site.

      For example, here's a lovely contradiction: “Brute Facts” vs. “Sufficient Reasons”: "The fact that those who deny the universality of the principle of sufficient reason universally and absolutely and insistently demand even a single prior premise for claims bespeaks the urgency of the mind’s demand for reasons for all things."

      AND

      "Why Everything Must Have a Reason for Its Existence": "So rather than defend an entire argument for God in one post, I’d like to defend an important proposition that can play the role of ‘premise’ in various arguments for God’s existence, namely, “If anything whatsoever exists, then it has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.” Let’s abbreviate it to “If anything exists, it has an explanation of its existence” and call it ‘PSR’ for ‘Principle of Sufficient Reason’."

      VS

      Jim the Scott Quoting Feser: "Quote"Aquinas thus in his model cautiously keeps in view the explanation of the existence of objects, not reasons for literally everything. Aquinas thinks truth and falsity always accrue to individual beliefs in minds. Propositions for him are thus beings of reason and do not exist as disembodied abstracta, so they are not things out there to be explained in the manner real beings are."

      AND

      Jim the Scott Quoting Feser: "on the Scholastic understanding of PSR, propositions are not among the things requiring explanation in the first place, and explanation does not require logical entailment.- Feser SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS."

      "The universe exists" is a proposition. So the one prone to gibberish is the one who can't see the Thomist's own contradictions.

      • BCE

        I think it was Tommy who said he thought it dishonest that the
        premise of theists assumes god is outside of the laws governing the universe.
        Time, matter, gravity are inseparable, Catholics don't consider god
        to be a particle or wave.
        Change needs time. Time is inseparable from gravity. Therefore God is not gravity. Space and Time are inseparable, therefore God is not space.

        Whose on first?

        In that there is nothing you know of not subject to the laws of physics, it is unthinkable for you to image how Gods mind hold existence.
        However if God acted like you, or a particle or wave, then he wouldn't be
        God. If God's own existence was a wave, then he'd be a wave, not God.

        I can't debate god.
        But just as in other syllogisms(and sets) they can't follow proper form if your premise is not part of the set. Since God is not any particle, wave, field, plasma, singularity etc. you can't include God in a premise defining
        the operations of physics. That's an obvious error in your syllogism.
        Yes you can deny God, but theists can see your syllogism
        is improper.
        I can't see any way for theists and anti theists to reconcile their differences. Though we both can find our lives a delight and a struggle.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I can't see any way for theists and anti theists to reconcile their differences.

          What do mean by anti-theist?

          • Jim the Scott

            Iggy I want to take this opportunity to publically and shamelessly apologize to you for any bad things I said too you or telling you to F-off and whatnot.

            I never realized how much more reasonable you are compared to.....others.

            So thank you for being you and I am sorry being an ass to you in the past.

            Same goes to
            @davidnickol:disqus

            and

            @briangreenadams:disqus

            I may think you guys need to brush up on the Classic Theism (& not jerk around with Theistic Personalist views of God because well no Theistic Personalist deity exists IMHO and to quote Duddy Moore in HOLY MOSES isn't worth the sacrifice of a field mouse) but you guys are alright in my book.

            I mean that cheers.

            Cheers.

        • Obviously you didn't read anything I wrote on this thread because my argument specifically covers immateriality and in no way assumes materialism of any sort.

          I can't see any way for theists and anti theists to reconcile their differences.

          Logic would be one way. If you're not committed to logic, then yes, it is impossible for theists and atheists to resolve their differences. I argue that many of the Thomists on this site are so constrained by the philosophy of Thomism, that it acts like blinders preventing them from thinking in ways and of things that their philosophy prohibits, hindering them.

          • BCE

            Actually I read what you wrote here, and what you've written before
            and I have even went to your own blog.
            I don't like it when contributors block their comment history because I
            like having a general idea of their views.
            So never doubt I read what you wrote. So you should conclude I lack comprehension.
            I think I have a good idea of how a real orange might fit into an axiom
            and how an immaterial x follows the same rule.
            Of course I also understand math( and that x (while unknown) stands in place of... and is not immaterial ) that aside we've covered this before.

            I realize I have no credibility.
            Perhaps you have a friend you respect with a higher math degree.
            They might be able to explain how you fit god into your syllogism by applying certain attributes(like "doing" or "time" the way a physicists describe it)
            If theists don't except those, then material or not your conclusion
            doesn't refute god one way or another, it just says you don't
            believe in anything not explainable by physics.
            That's fine, just say that.
            I know that both famous theists and atheists use syllogisms, their fame
            can lead others to repeat them, even when the rules of higher math
            are being misapplied.

          • Nothing in my argument assumes materialism or physics. I even took note of that. "Time" is a logical consequence change. You can't have one without the other. "Change" is a logical consequence of doing. You can't have one without the other. In other words, doing must result in change, even if everything is immaterial. "Doing" is logically required to make anything happen. You cannot make an effect go from potency to actuality without doing something, even if the "doing" is an immaterial mental power. These are all logical relationships with one another. It has nothing to do with material or physics. But I guess it's easier to accuse me of assuming materialism.

          • BCE

            I am not making accusations(as a pejorative).
            But does "easier" mean you think I'm lazy and just against you?
            Actually, though even if you don't reciprocate, I believe you to be sincere, intelligent, and articulate. I think the same of theists.

            Curious, what do you think of Max Tegmark

          • Well I can say also, that you are one of the more reasonable theists on this site. You don't seem to be motivated by madness like Jim but sincere inquiry. I think that the accusation that I'm assuming materialism is a very simple one, because it is perhaps one that applies to many of the critiques of god in this way, and perhaps you made that too reflexively. I don't think it applies to what I've written. Regarding Tegmark, I think he's interesting. I don't buy his mathematical universe idea, but he has some interesting views on the multiverse, artificial intelligence, and other things. Anyway, no hard feelings.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    Philosophical issues should be taken in their proper order and context, since wisdom requires such an approach to truth. Solely imprudent thinkers plunge into every issue simultaneously and expect to make sense of the whole.

    That is why the present OP aims at a very limited, but essential, step in the discussion of the attributes of God and of their intrinsic coherence. That is why I stated clearly: "I do not intend herein to show how the divine attributes are coherent….”

    Nonetheless, a claim has been put forth repeatedly that is so far from the truth that it requires that I address it separately from other issues.

    It is claimed that it is “logically” impossible to do or cause something without change (even if everything is immaterial) – and that change requires time. This claim is clearly attached to God as the ultimate cause of creation. And thus, God is declared to be incoherent, since it is claimed that the immutable and timeless God must be both changing and in time.

    First, this claim that “to do” or “to cause” requires “change on the part of the doer” requires direct proof, not mere assertion. It is true that material causes change as they cause, because they are material and exist in time – but this accusation against God claims to apply even to immaterial causes, such as God. So, how is this claim against God not merely an assumption proclaimed without any proof at all?

    Second, when a mover moves something, it is the thing being moved that is in motion or changing, NOT the mover. Nothing logically entails that the mover must move in order to cause motion in another.

    While doing or causing something may well result in a change, it is grossly illogical to assume that the change is in the doer or cause. The “resultant” change is obviously in the thing being changed, not in the cause doing the changing.

    Since we are talking about Thomistic metaphysics, the proper analysis of causality does not begin with claims about the cause, but rather begins with examining the being of the effect and reasons back to its need for a cause.

    It is solely because the effect does not fully explain itself that it needs a cause. Thus, the only thing we know about causality is that the effect is lacking something it needs and that some cause is supplying that need.

    Since we know absolutely nothing about the cause other than that it is causing what the effect needs, there is absolutely no warrant to make the utterly illogical and purely assumed claim that the cause must be changing, much less that the cause
    must exist in time.

    It is hard to conceive a more illogical assumption on the part of any thinker than to think that a cause must change in the act of causing.

    As to the other absurd claim about Thomistic philosophers being inconsistent in their use of the principle of sufficient reason, all I can say is that the way contemporary Thomists conceive the principle (NOT to be confused with Leibniz and his followers), is NOT as a statement about propositions, but as a statement directly about being itself.

    Every major modern Thomist I have studied in over fifty years of research and teaching – including Sertillanges, Lagrange, Gilson, and Maritain – have concurred that the principle essentially amounts to this: “Everything that exists or comes-to-be must have a sufficient reason.” No exceptions. No ontological brute facts.

    • First, this claim that “to do” or “to cause” requires “change on the part of the doer” requires direct proof, not mere assertion. It is true that material causes change as they cause, because they are material and exist in time – but this accusation against God claims to apply even to immaterial causes, such as God. So, how is this claim against God not merely an assumption proclaimed without any proof at all?

      That proof was mentioned here:

      P1. It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
      P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
      P3. It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
      C. As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

      To claim I'm wrong is to claim it is logically possible to do something, without doing something, which is a contradiction in terms.

      Second, when a mover moves something, it is the thing being moved that is in motion or changing, NOT the mover. Nothing logically entails that the mover must move in order to cause motion in another.

      "Move" entails a material, and we're not talking about a material being here, so "move" is not the proper term. "Change" is the proper term, as it is far less confusing or in implication of materiality than "move." Logic necessitates that a being or thing change in order to move something, since moving something requires doing something (even if its all due to a mental non-physical power). To claim otherwise is to claim that god can do absolutely nothing, and still move X. What would be the difference between god doing absolutely nothing and not moving X? Or god doing absolutely nothing and moving Y instead? In each case you have god doing the exact same thing—nothing—and yet you have totally different effects.

      While doing or causing something may well result in a change, it is grossly illogical to assume that the change is in the doer or cause. The “resultant” change is obviously in the thing being changed, not in the cause doing the changing.

      And that's actually totally illogical as per the above.

      Since we are talking about Thomistic metaphysics, the proper analysis of causality does not begin with claims about the cause, but rather begins with examining the being of the effect and reasons back to its need for a cause.

      And if you use logic properly you will realize that the cause will have to do something to enable the effect from a potential to actual. That move requires the cause do something, which requires it change and be in time, and this is logically necessary.

      It is solely because the effect does not fully explain itself that it needs a cause. Thus, the only thing we know about causality is that the effect is lacking something it needs and that some cause is supplying that need.

      And the thing is, your watered down scholastic version of the PSR does not even demand every proposition has a reason, and that necessarily means that your supposed necessary cause will have things about it that cannot be explained even in principle. So the cause doesn't fully explain itself. See this comment for more on this point: https://strangenotions.com/how-gods-nature-is-known-the-three-fold-way/#comment-3841146638

      Since we know absolutely nothing about the cause other than that it is causing what the effect needs, there is absolutely no warrant to make the utterly illogical and purely assumed claim that the cause must be changing, much less that the cause must exist in time.

      We do know things about the cause because we can logically assess that, and your claim that the effect needs a cause is based on a faulty version of the PSR that admits some propositions cannot be answered in principle, hence it allows for brute facts!

      It is hard to conceive a more illogical assumption on the part of any thinker than to think that a cause must change in the act of causing.

      That's because you're not thinking hard and wide enough. You're taking your metaphysic as given and then thinking only within the confines of it's rules. And since it claims that god doesn't change, you must assert and believe this. But logic necessitates that it must, and that means there are problems in your metaphysic.

      As to the other absurd claim about Thomistic philosophers being inconsistent in their use of the principle of sufficient reason, all I can say is that the way contemporary Thomists conceive the principle (NOT to be confused with Leibniz and his followers), is NOT as a statement about propositions, but as a statement directly about being itself.

      The only thing absurd is claiming “If anything whatsoever exists, then it has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause,” and then claiming "Aquinas thus in his model [of the PSR] cautiously keeps in view the explanation of the existence of objects, not reasons for literally everything." A very convenient way to avoid the impossibility of explaining the necessity of why a god whose eternal non-necessary will (which is also identical to his nature) exists. Propositions include statements about ontology, "X exists."

      Every major modern Thomist I have studied in over fifty years of research and teaching – including Sertillanges, Lagrange, Gilson, and Maritain – have concurred that the principle essentially amounts to this: “Everything that exists or comes-to-be must have a sufficient reason.” No exceptions. No ontological brute facts.

      "Sufficient reasons" can only include—to quote your own site—"either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.” God's nature is his will (a Thomistic principle) and god's will includes the non-necessary eternal will to create this specific universe. Hence, god's nature contains a non-necessary nature. Since this existence can't be explained via the "necessity of its own nature" and since an external cause would lead to an infinite regress of contingent explanations, the Thomist is forced to accept the ontological brute fact that a god with this specific non-necessary nature exists. So no, these modern Thomists, can all be wrong.

      • Dennis Bonnette

        All you have done is to restate your same illogical assumption four times:

        “P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).”

        “To claim I'm wrong is to claim it is logically possible to do something, without doing something,”

        “ Logic necessitates that a being or thing change in order to move something, since moving something requires doing something (even if its all due to a mental non-physical power).”

        “That move requires the cause do something, which requires it change….”

        In each case, you are merely assuming that it is in the cause that the change must take place in order to cause a change in the effect, whereas logic and sound metaphysics shows clearly that the effect (change) takes place IN THE EFFECT, not in the cause.

        The rest of your comment does not address my clarification as to what Thomists actually teach about sufficient reason, but simply offers your usual diatribe against what they teach. That is why you conclude: "So no, these modern Thomists, can all be wrong."

        I’m finished with this.

        • In each case, you are merely assuming that it is in the cause that the change must take place in order to cause a change in the effect, whereas logic and sound metaphysics shows clearly that the effect (change) takes place IN THE EFFECT, not in the cause.

          Sorry, but that is not sound logic or metaphysics. Here's why.
          God exists in state G. Effect E is mere a potential, we can call this time t1. Then Effect E becomes an actual at time t2 from cause G. For G to have actualized Effect E at time t2, G had to do something. You're asking me to believe that G does nothing from t1 to t2 and yet somehow Effect E becomes actualized during that time.

          The rest of your comment does not address my clarification as to what Thomists actually teach about sufficient reason, but simply offers your usual diatribe against what they teach. That is why you conclude: "So no, these modern Thomists, can all be wrong."

          Your PSR allows for propositions to exist that have no answer in principle—those are not my words, they are Feser's, and that entails a proposition like "X exists" can have no answer. Sorry, but if you want to be taken seriously you have to defend your views. It is apparent that your PSR is not a meaningful one. I understand that you might not have time. That's perfectly understandable.

        • Jim the Scott

          >Sorry, but that is not sound logic or metaphysics. Here's why.I

          It is entertaining Doc how an anonymous person of dubious education can claim superior knowledge in Physics over an MIT graduate in physics and in metaphysics over a PhD in Philosophy.

          I love the part where this person quotes Feser and "reads into Feser" what he would like him to mean(reading the Rationalists meaning into the Scholastic PSR) and ignores Feser's own explanations(which I quoted at length and not in small sound bites) on what he means.

          All this time he STILL doesn't get the concept of a non-Starter. But if it makes this person feel better a Theist who advocates the Rationalist PSR is in trouble if he faces him.

          We simply would not care as our Theism is better.;-)

          • It is entertaining Doc how an anonymous person of dubious education can claim superior knowledge in Physics over an MIT graduate in physics and in metaphysics over a PhD in Philosophy.

            It's amazing how you can ignore the majority of physicists who are much more educated on the subject matter than your source and who disagree with him, and stick with him just because he says what you like. Confirmation bias? Argument from authority? I see a pattern with you.

            I love the part where this person quotes Feser and "reads into Feser" what he would like him to mean(reading the Rationalists meaning into the Scholastic PSR) and ignores Feser's own explanations(which I quoted at length and not in small sound bites) on what he means.

            You're still stuck on this? We've already established your PSR is a fake PSR. Any PSR that allows for brute facts is fake and can't be taken seriously. And that's why you have no foundation to your arguments.

            All this time he STILL doesn't get the concept of a non-Starter. But if it makes this person feel better a Theist who advocates the Rationalist PSR is in trouble if he faces him.

            Oh yes, and that means the only meaningful version of the PSR god can't satisfy. Far from being a non-starter objection, this shows how the whole of Thomism is built on a sham. One day you'll get this, but first you'd have to be deprogrammed from your Thomistic brainwashing.

            We simply would not care as our Theism is better.;-)

            LOL. Yeah, your theism—which is built on a PSR that allows brute facts—is so much better! Ironic comedy.

        • Jim the Scott

          BTW Doc B this will make you smile.

          It's it ironic a certain person who denies Change is real and is an Eternalist neo-follower of Parmenides is now arguing (since he now seems to want to ditch his "change causes and yet doesn't cause" nonsense from before) causality requires the ability to change?

          Which is weird because his "SR proves Eternalism" meme still suffers from empirical incoherence.

          So to sum his odd beliefs: Change is not real because Eternalism has been proven true by SR relativity which is in turn proven true by scientific experiments whose methodology presuppose real measurable change(which is not real) and God can't cause or do anything because that would require the ability to change, which god can't do.
          Even thought change is not real in the first place?

          I think he is just making this all up as he goes.....

          Don't answer him in the future. Save your sanity. As for me.....too late!

          :D

          • It's it ironic a certain person who denies Change is real and is an Eternalist neo-follower of Parmenides is now arguing (since he now seems to want to ditch his "change causes and yet doesn't cause" nonsense from before) causality requires the ability to change?

            Non-starter objection. First, I'm granting the Thomist his own basic metaphysical foundation for the sake of argument and showing him that his own metaphysic destroys his own theistic claims. Second, on eternalism "change" is the difference in ontology in different parts of the block universe. The naive idiot things that on eternalism every moment of time will have the same state of affairs. This is the stupidest and most naive critique I hear over and over again against eternalism. It's the worst non-starter objection.

            So to sum his odd beliefs: Change is not real because Eternalism has been proven true by SR relativity which is in turn proven true by scientific experiments whose methodology presuppose real measurable change(which is not real) and God can't cause or do anything because that would require the ability to change, which god can't do.
            Even thought change is not real in the first place?

            Non-starter objection. Change simply means something different on eternalism than on presentism. There is change, there is just no flow of time a la presentism. There's a bit of nuance involved that a simpleton like you will never get. Nothing in science or scientific experiments contradict eternalism. On eternalism, we would experience the world exactly as we do now because entropy increase makes it such that there is a psychological arrow of time that matches the increase in entropy. That's where we get the illusion of the flow of time. And, I don't need to assume eternalism in order to make my critique. I can assume Thomism's presentism, and that actually makes the Thomist's problem even worse.

  • Jim the Scott

    Insane contradictions confirmed.

    I asked:

    What is the difference between "doing something" vs "causing" it?

    Crazy person admits

    There is no necessary difference.

    But simultaneously claims;

    No one says change "causes" anything. & "It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).

    I said :
    Change is an effect not a cause. So change cannot cause anything.

    God can cause/"do something?" the effect known as change but He need not suffer the effect of change he causes by “doing something”.

    A burning match can set things on fire but it would be silly to claim it has set itself on fire while setting fire to other things. It is already in the Act of being on fire that does not change when it actualizes the potential for something else to be on fire.

    This is really simple to understand as long as you realize A does not equal Not A (at the same time in the same relation) & use the accepted standard terms instead making up your own which have no coherent meaning(& which you change or reverse at the drop of a hat). Or you can just talk gibberish because you are a crazy person.

    • Alexandra

      "Crazy person admits"

      Oh no. That's not right. It's bad enough that you 've been calling people thoughtless and idiots or whatever else, and that will likely get you banned here. But a person should be welcome to express their ideas here, without being insulted like this.

      • Jim the Scott

        You are fair & consistent in your criticism. I am therefore predisposed to want to listen too you.

        FYI this other person in my experience is not arguing in good faith and I don't believe this person can. So I am merely going to mock this person's bad arguments and try not to mock this person directly. Till they are shamed into actually doing some homework.

        (Because let's face this person can't string together a coherent sentence. But if you can explain his "arguments" too me have at it.)

        Cheers and God Bless you.

        • FYI this other person in my experience is not arguing in good faith and I don't believe this person can.

          That may be the case. But the way to deal with that rationally is to simply accrue a list of "not arguing in good faith" and rank-order them from "most obviously problematic" on down. There are ways to … corral such bad behavior and make it either intensify in badness, or attenuate toward rationality (or silence). Incidentally, this may be of use to you:

          TT: I particularly love debating theists into a corner so that the absurdity of their beliefs becomes apparent.

          TT: You don't have any dignity Luke.

          TT: You can grant the same foundational assumptions as I do.

          TT: I am right, that's the thing.

          TT: No one cares about your opinion.

          TT: I have no time for vagueness.

          TT: I am first and foremost concerned about truth and creating a rational society.

          In my experience dialoguing with people, I use their words to … bind them, in the same way that God uses his words to bind himself and render himself [somewhat!] predictable to us. TT is always welcome to repent of or clarify any of the above; to my knowledge he has done neither on any of them, and thus they stand. I've provided links to context so that it is trivially easy to see if I have quoted anything out-of-context and thus distorted it.

          Now, some people don't actually let their previous words bind them; this can be formalized by the concept of a "discontinuous 'I'" (for more: The “I”, personhood and abstract objects). I find that I just have to stop talking to such people. And it's not a binary matter: some will either re-align themselves with something they said before after repeated reminding, or finally qualify it. (There are reasons for multiple attempts to be rationally required.)

          • Jim the Scott

            >In my experience dialoguing with people, I use their words to … bind them,

            I did that with TT & he ignores the fact he contradicts himself then goes and proof texts Feser & Bonnette setting their words against each other.

            It's tedious.

            >I find that I just have to stop talking to such people.

            I pretty much has at this point. I just want to take some pots & do a little satire on his questionable reasonings.

            At point in time he still doesn't get the idea citing the Rationalist PSR is a non-starter objection vs the Scholastic PSR and his weird claims the Scholastic version is not the "true" PSR is well....It's like an Atheist I once butted heads with in my youth (when I was a much nicer person then I am today) who insisted the Young Earth Creationist interpretations of Genesis 1&2 are the only "serious" interpretations.

            What the Fuuu...Fudge? ;-)

          • I did that with TT & he ignores the fact he contradicts himself then goes and proof texts Feser & Bonnette setting their words against each other.

            You can always just end the tangent with him if he fails to resolve what you see as a contradiction, to your satisfaction. Who appears to be more reasonable will be something readers have to judge. And yep, it's tedious. But discussing with people who come at reality rather differently than you is often tedious, at least in my experience.

            I just want to take some pots & do a little satire on his questionable reasonings.

            Unfortunately, pot [shots] seem to spoil future discussion, even with different people. SN has a habit of letting theists get away with more than atheists; I think it would be a better witness to counteract that bias. But good satire—I find that can be very helpful. Sometimes the person doing the bad thing needs to see it from a rather different perspective and satire can be just the thing.

            At point in time he still doesn't get the idea citing the Rationalist PSR is a non-starter objection vs the Scholastic PSR and his weird claims the Scholastic version is not the "true" PSR is well....

            That sounds like an interesting disagreement that could be quite fertile. Would you say more, or point to where that conversation happened? I'm getting slightest of whiffs that this might be related to Fitch's paradox of knowability, which could be a severe problem for TT. (I'm currently discussing it over at SO; start here for those interested.)

            It's like an Atheist I once butted heads with in my youth (when I was a much nicer person then I am today) who insisted the Young Earth Creationist interpretations of Genesis 1&2 are the only "serious" interpretations.

            Sounds like that person was a YEC in his/her past, or someone who insists on strawmanning. After some pressing to abandon that single-mindedness, the only descriptor I see left is "bigot". It'd be rather like saying "all blacks are criminals".

          • Jim the Scott

            Thanks for the link and the practical advice.

          • You're welcome. I say all this having spent tens of thousands of hours arguing with atheists online and at least 100 hours arguing with TT in particular. I do hope I've learned a few things in all that time!

          • Jim the Scott

            I have & cheers and thank you again for your candor on your own beliefs.

            I can't promise I won't forget again. In April I am turning 50. The mind is going.....;-)

          • I did that with TT & he ignores the fact he contradicts himself then goes and proof texts Feser & Bonnette setting their words against each other.

            Sorry, but you have yet to show a genuine contradiction in anything I said. All you have is strawmen and the most imbecile attempts to interpret anything I write.

            And Bonnette and Feser/SN contradiction each other. For once you could just admit that and move on.

            At point in time he still doesn't get the idea citing the Rationalist PSR is a non-starter objection vs the Scholastic PSR and his weird claims the Scholastic version is not the "true" PSR is well....

            Any version of the PSR that allows for brute facts is not a real PSR. If you disagree, by all means make an argument. Bringing up the fact that the only meaningful version of the PSR (that doesn't allow for brute facts) is not compatible with your supposed "necessary" god, is not a non-starter objection: it exposes the fact that your claim to your god's "necessary" ontology is in fact, built on nonsense.

          • @Jimthescott:disqus this may be useful to you too:

            Luke: "I think Christianity is closer to the truth than anything else out there. Powerful signs of this have come from thinking about why Milgram experiment § Results are so bad, Steven Pinker's claims that scientists went all tabula rasa around the beginning of the twentieth century, and Donald E. Polkinghorne's Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, in which he exposes the epic failures of the mechanistic model of humans to help psychology and sociology (and perhaps even economics) past a certain point. (Google books preface)"

            Yup. This surely shows Christianity "is closer to the truth than anything else out there." How can we all be that dumb not to see this? Also, here's Luke's falsification standard:

            Luke: "I've told you what would falsify Christianity: Christians failing to show any special talents for doing what they say God really wants: taking care of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the foreigner. "

            Of course! Why wouldn't that falsify Christianity? Basically with Luke, you're going to get utter nonsense in place of a serious rational argument to defend Christianity. So much so that it's laughable. You're also going to get extremely vague answers to specific questions such that it gives him the ability to weasel out of any inconsistency in anything he says. Meanwhile, he'll assert with the utmost confidence Christianity is true. His reasons just don't match his confidence. That's why I had to call him out repeatedly. Hopefully he's improved on this in recent years, but judging from recent comments, maybe not.

    • God can cause/"do something?" the effect known as change but He need not suffer the effect of change he causes by “doing something”.

      No. God can't cause or do anything because that would require the ability to change, which god can't do.

      A burning match can set things on fire but it would be silly to claim it has set itself on fire while setting fire to other things. It is already in the Act of burning that does not change when it actualizes the potential for something else to burn.

      The burning match is changing; it's not a static object. In fact, heat requires change since it is the measure of movement of atoms. "Burning" is a verb, to claim "that does not change" is completely incoherent. Contradictions confirmed in the imbecile of SN.

      This is really simple to understand as long as you realize A does not equal Not A (at the same time in the same relation) & use the accepted standard terms instead making up your own which have no coherent meaning(& which you change or reverse at the drop of a hat). Or you can just talk gibberish because you are a crazy person.

      It's really simply to understand that "burning" is "not change"? That's insane! The ones who make up their terms are the Thomists who simply define god into existence! A static thing can't do anything. That is logically necessary. Creating, causing, or moving a thing from non-existence to existence logically requires doing something. This is really simple to understand. Only a mind perverted by a false metaphysic can't see this.

      • Alexandra

        Please read the commenting guidelines in the "MUST READ" section.
        Calling someone an "imbecile" and "Neanderthal" and "idiot" goes against the charitable dialogue we are working to achieve here. You'll also likely be banned.

        • Look. I only say those things to Jim. He's a Christian, and Christians follow the golden rule "do unto others as you want done to you." And since he hurls insults at me, that means he wants that done to himself as well. So I'm only giving him what he wants.

    • Crazy person admits

      I believe this violates the commenting guidelines, Jim. I suggest the following alteration:

      This is really simple to understand as long as you realize A does not equal Not A (at the same time in the same relation) & use the accepted standard terms instead making up your own which have no coherent meaning(& which you change or reverse at the drop of a hat). Or you can just talk gibberish because you are a crazy person.

      Also, it would be helpful if you'd hit the "Reply" button for the comment you're replying to, instead of starting a bunch of new threads. When the number of comments gets large, it becomes rather tedious to navigate to the text-in-context than you're quoting.

      • Jim the Scott

        >Also, it would be helpful if you'd hit the "Reply" button for the comment you're replying to, instead of starting a bunch of new threads.

        I can't really do that since I blocked TT. But there is a method to my madness. It restricts his argument by inundation tactics. He is like the Fundie Prots i've debated in my life who want to talk about 15 topics at once. You show them the biblical basis of the Papacy they switch the topic to the Virgin Mary. You want to point out the errors of Sola Scriptura they wamt to talk about Justification.

        Ya got too keep them focused.

        • It restricts his argument by inundation tactics.

          Yes, argument by inundation is a problem. There's also Whac-A-Mole, whereby rebutting one thing leads to the atheist bringing up another thing, such that the result is inundation but it's spread out in time and back-and-forths. I suspect I sometimes do both to other people, as well. :-/ With time and expertise, shorter letters are possible. (Mark Twain)

          You show them the biblical basis of the Papacy they switch the topic to the Virgin Mary.

          Hey if you want to debate the Papacy, I'll stay on target. :-p

          You want to point out the errors of Sola Scriptura they wamt to talk about Justification.

          Yeah Sola Scriptura makes no sense; ya can't talk about sheep and goats if you don't know anything about them. Prima Scriptura, on the other hand … :-p

          Ya got too keep them focused.

          Yes. The chaos needs to be bound, and sometimes a bit at a time. And sometimes you find out you were wrong!

          • Jim the Scott

            Remind me Luke are you Catholic or Protestant?

            (You might have told me you are Catholic in the past but I forgot...or I might be thinking of someone else. I am getting old)

          • Protestant, non-denominational, with a heavy lean toward Arminianism and a belief that God wants us to be his coworkers in bringing about the new heavens & earth aka the merging of heaven and earth. Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20 + Jn 17:20–23 and 13:34–35 all the way.

          • Jim the Scott

            Ah! I am an ex-Molinsit turned Thomist of the Domingo Báñez school(when I learned contrary to Jesuit polemics it is not Calvinism with Rosary beads. It has all the advantages of Calvinism and none of it real weaknesses IMHO).

            You are better suited to conversing with a Catholic Molinist I think on those issues. Where as I would love for you to become Catholic I would need to make you a Dominican on matters of Grace and Free Will vs a Jesuit.

  • Jim the Scott

    So does change cause or not cause and is it still merely an effect or not? We still don't know because some persons believe they can make up their own terms and concepts out of thin air. When called on it they will just change the subject or change their argument.

    For example:

    " God can't cause or do anything because that would require the ability to change, which god can't do."

    So we are abandoning the claim change is both causal and not causal(still not clear from you which it is) and you want to go on too this? All the while pretending change is causal and denying it when called on it?

    Pass....

    >The burning match is changing; it's not a static object.

    It's an analogy not an unequivocal statement. If you actually learned AT metaphysics instead of faking it you would know the difference between unequivocal, equivocal and analogous comparisons but that is too much to ask since you still seem to think Scholastics give a rat's behind about the Rationalist version of the PSR and you STILL haven't figured out formal causes vs efficient causes.

    It is just tiresome to talk to someone who won't do his homework.

    Poor Dr. B I notice has given up on you. He is wise to do so. A Donkey can ask more questions then a wise man can answer and Dr. B is a wise man.

    PS. A burning match is changing. But it is not changing itself from "Not on Fire" to "being on fire" because it can't do so. Something else has to cause that change.

    • So does change cause or not cause and is it still merely an effect or not? We still don't know because some persons believe they can make up their own terms and concepts out of thin air. When called on it they will just change the subject or change their argument.

      No, the people who make up their own terms out of thin air are the Thomists who claim god is necessary because of the PSR, but then when backed into a corner admit their version of the PSR says they're aren't "reasons for literally everything." Opps!

      So we are abandoning the claim change is both causal and not causal(still not clear from you which it is) and you want to go on too this? All the while pretending change is causal and denying it when called on it?

      I'm assuming the Thomist's metaphysic to make my point, I don't need to assume eternalism on Thomism because eternalism already destroys any hope for Thomism being true. Secondly, on eternalism there is change, it's just defined differently. People who are dumb and naive on the subject matter think that on eternalism the same state of affairs would exist at every moment. That is absolutely not true. That's why you, Dr B, and your MIT graduate make the more ignorant strawmen arguments against eternalism which are all non-starter objections.

      It's an analogy not an unequivocal statement.

      It fails as an analogy.

      If you actually learned AT metaphysics instead of faking it you would know the difference between unequivocal, equivocal and analogous comparisons but that is too much to ask since you still seem to think Scholastics give a rat's behind about the Rationalist version of the PSR and you STILL haven't figured out formal causes vs efficient causes.

      I know the difference between unequivocal, equivocal and analogous comparisons. Your analogy completely fails as it compares something that changes from moment to moment to something that does, hence it's a non-starter analogy. You might as well be using black as an analogy to white.

      And you keep keep bringing up the rationalist's PSR. The only reason why it's important is because it's the only meaningful version of the PSR and your god can't meet its standard. So you have to use a watered down PSR that allows for brute facts! Far from being a non-starter objection, this fact destroys any basis for you claiming your god is a necessary being. So instead of defending your god being necessary on your watered down PSR, you prefer to simply assert mentioning it is a non-starter objections. Take the easy road!

      It is just tiresome to talk to someone who won't do his homework.

      Tell that to all the people on this site who won't learn special relativity or the basic ontology of eternalism but who will never tire of confusing and strawmanning them both.

      Poor Dr. B I notice has given up on you. He is wise to do so. A Donkey can ask more questions then a wise man can answer and Dr. B is a wise man.

      Dr B unfortunately just wants to reiterate everything he believes is true. He will make the same mistakes about SR or eternalism over and over again and no effort to enlighten him will make any effect. That is not a wise man.

      PS. A burning match is changing. But it is not changing itself from "Not on Fire" to "being on fire" because it can't do so. Something else has to cause that change.

      Once you admit the match is changing, your analogy falls apart. To compare something you claim is not changing with something that is, is like using white as analogy to black. It's a non-starter analogy.

  • Jim the Scott

    That Feser and Dr. B might say seemingly contrary things in different contexts is un-remarkable. I would say the odds are they likely agree. Even if they didn't that is unremarkable as Feser has said there are different schools of Thomism and he said in his book Scholastic Metaphysics that not all Scholastics agree on the rationalist version PSR. But a single person who contradicts himself because he cannot articulate a coherent objection. Well that shows a great lack of reasoning skills as well as communication skills. I can accept Hawking would contradict Penrose on some things and Feser may or may not contradict Dr. Bonnette on others. But if you contradict yourself you better hit the drawing board.

    • Both Feser and Dr B contradict themselves in their writing. Maybe it's because they just weren't careful enough. Maybe it's because they changed their views. But the important thing is that when it comes to the PSR, Thomists have a long standing habit of making it seem as if they're defending the rationalist version of the PSR, which again, is the only meaningful version of a PSR.

      It's only when you back them into a corner, and show them that their god can't even meet the standard of the rationalist PSR—that they suddenly change their tune and admit that they're working from a PSR that allows for brute facts! Oh how convenient. Then of course the sham that upholds Thomism is exposed for the counterfeit that it is. It's a good thing there are thinkers like me on this site that help expose this for everyone!

      You're Welcome SN.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I have also addressed this matter before, but let me try to make it clear again for the readers.

      St. Thomas Aquinas did not formulate the principle of sufficient reason as such, but he did make many statements that amounted to saying that all things or beings must have existential reasons.

      Leibniz and the Rationalists formulated and defended the traditional principle of sufficient reason, but did so in a logical manner focused on propositions about reality, not directly on being itself.

      Modern Thomism picked up the phrase, "principle of sufficient reason," but applied it directly to being itself. While some may quibble as to whether there is really any difference between the approaches, the statement of it by Thomists is quite clear, but they understand it strictly in terms of Thomistic metaphysics. Thus, one must be careful about assuming that Rationalists, with their emphasis on the logic of propositions, intend exactly the same emphasis as modern Thomists.

      It is possible to entertain a proposition, even in contradictory forms, in ones mind -- without assigning a reason for its truth or falsity. This is because it is not true or false in reality until one attempts to predicate it of extramental reality. Perhaps, this is the reason that some say that propositions do not need a reason in every instance.

      BUT, as to whether Thomists contradict each other about the universal formulation of the principle of sufficient reason AS MODERN THOMISTS STATE IT, there are NO CONTRADICTIONS.

      I have read all the major modern Thomists, including Sertillange, Garrigou-Lagrange, Gilson, Maritain, Owens, Benignus, and many others -- and I found that they all endorse a statement to the effect that EVERY being must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be. The statement is always universal. No exceptions in being. No ONTOLOGICAL brute facts.

      • Jim the Scott

        Well said Doc of course I defer to your learning in this area.

        "EVERY being must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be. The statement is always universal. No exceptions in being. No ONTOLOGICAL brute facts."

        Love that bit. Sadly I don't think it will matter to certain extremists who delight in boring us too death with their non-starter arguments or weird insistence that the Rationalist PSR is the only "true" PSR even thought they still reject it.

        Peace be with you Doc B.

      • Jim the Scott

        Goal Post movement alert!!!!

        This Person(TT) wrote:

        "Second, on eternalism "change" is the difference in ontology in different parts of the block universe."

        So change is "real" when scientific experiments prove SR is true but it becomes "unreal" when this somehow leads us to believe Eternalism is true?

        So change is "real" in part of a Block Universe but "unreal" elsewhere? (what science or philosophy proves that I wonder?)

        So why can't the unchanging God cause real change in the part of the block universe where it is real from his seat in the unreal part?

        Gotcha! ;-) . (not that any of This Person's
        nonsense is coherent. I'm just having fun).

        You can't make this up! ROTFLOL!

        • Goal Post movement alert!!!!

          This Person(TT) wrote:

          "Second, on eternalism "change" is the difference in ontology in different parts of the block universe."

          So change is "real" when scientific experiments prove SR is true but it becomes "unreal" when this somehow leads us to believe Eternalism is true?

          You can't make up how incredibly ignorant you are. Spacetime as a whole doesn't change, change is the difference in ontology in different parts of the block universe. There is no "change" according to the AT definition of change, or change as it is defined on presentism. The definition of change on eternalism is compatible with running experiments. Only a dotard who can't learn would think eternalism means everything would be in the same position at all moments. You are 10x more ignorant on eternalism than I ever was on AT metaphysics.

          So change is "real" in part of a Block Universe but "unreal" elsewhere? (what science or philosophy proves that I wonder?)

          Never said that. Making things up is the best you can do.

          So why can't the unchanging God cause real change in the part of the block universe where it is real from his seat in the unreal part?

          A block universe can't be "created" so there is no need for a god for it (and no the PSR can't rescue you from this). And "cause" means something different given eternalism and makes no sense to use the term in the metaphysical sense it is used in AT metaphysics, and so that's why god can't "cause real change". And it is not the case that there is change in part of the block universe, you got this all wrong. Oh and my criticism of your god, I'm not assuming eternalism. As Aquinas said, simple errors lead to big mistakes.

          You can't make this up! ROTFLOL!

          We can all picture you in a straight jacket in Bellevue right now! Ha ha.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I’m heading out on vacation and not bringing laptop, so won’t respond to anything for at least a week. See you all in a few weeks ...

  • David Nickol

    Regarding Noah and the Flood, and also regarding questions about the second "secret" of Fatima and whether God punishes by famine and war, some might want to reread a Strange Notions article by Randal Rauser titled Does God Punish People Through Natural Weather Events?

    • Jim the Scott

      Randal Rauser is a liberal Evangelical Protestant and he is not a Classic Theist so I take what he says with a grain of salt since his views of the nature of God and Divine Revelation are completely 180 what the Church teaches.

      He seems to think that God is a moral Agent. No ancient Church Father or Talmudic Rabbi would think that.

      Just saying......

      Peace.

      But as per Job I would NOT be quick to claim wide spread disaster today must be some type of divine punishment.

      • David Nickol

        First, I did not endorse the Randal Rauser article, but merely pointed out that Strange Notions had published it and that it was relevant to some of the current discussions. However, I don't see why the opinion of a liberal Evangelical Protestant on whether or not God punishes people by natural disasters must be automatically dismissed.

        I watched the video of Brian Davies (very interesting, despite the siren), and I have begun reading Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil. But it seems to me whether or not God is a moral agent, one can't help thinking of the God of the Old Testament and asking questions. Feser says the following:

        For example, some theistic personalists hold that God is (contrary to what classical theism holds) capable of changing, on the basis of biblical passages which when taken literally would imply that God sometimes changes His mind. But other biblical passages (e.g. Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17) insist that God does not change. How do we reconcile them? The classical theist answers that we already know from following out the implications of God’s being the first cause of all things that He must be simple and thus unchanging, so that it is the passages that imply otherwise that must be given a metaphorical reading.

        But exactly what are the "metaphors" in something like the story of Noah? We have, for example,

        When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the LORD regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved. [ Footnote: the expression can be misleading in English, for “heart” in Hebrew is the seat of memory and judgment rather than emotion. The phrase is actually parallel to the first half of the sentence (“the LORD regretted…”).]

        Jumping to the end, we have the following:

        Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and choosing from every clean animal and every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the LORD smelled the sweet odor, the LORD said to himself: Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done.

        To deal with just the bare bones of it, God regretted creating the human race (and all the animals), drowned all but severn people, and then declared he would never do it again. I have not heard from Dr. Bonnette on whether he takes the story of the Flood to be historical (I rather suspect he does), but I fail to see how the God of the story can be reconciled with an unchanging, timeless God.

        It seems to me that whether or not God is a moral agent, when God is spoken of as he is in the Old Testament—commanding, warning, punishing, rewarding—we can't help but expect him to act "morally." And in the cases where he is depicted as doing things we may regard as questionable (ordering slaughter of men, women, children, animals), something needs to be explained. It will not do to say that God is not a moral agent and therefore he can do anything at all.

        • David Nickol

          Let me save Rob Abney the trouble by noting this.

        • Jim the Scott

          Good questions.

          > However, I don't see why the opinion of a liberal Evangelical Protestant on whether or not God punishes people by natural disasters must be automatically dismissed.

          I tend to be kneejerk suspicious of the opinions non-Catholic and non-classic theistic Christians. Especially the later.

          > But it seems to me whether or not God is a moral agent, one can't help thinking of the God of the Old Testament and asking questions. Feser says the following:

          Reading Feser is always a good step.

          >But exactly what are the "metaphors" in something like the story of Noah? We have, for example,

          Not every passage or event in the Bible is a metaphor. There was an ancient local flood in the Black Sea area so I tend to think there was a real Noah. OTOH I don't think I have to believe all humanity was wiped out with that flood only the humanity Noah was familiar with (OTOH perhaps one could simply put the flood further back in time? There is a New Book on the subject written by of all people a SSPX'er. Now I am suspicious of that lot but Pope Francis has gone a long way to regularize them & as such I follow his lead. According to my wife the book doesn't take a fundamentalist view of the matter so I might check it out & if I do I will let you know about it.).

          Anyway let's us skip too your impressions.

          >To deal with just the bare bones of it, God regretted creating the human race...

          That bit would be metaphorical God doesn't have emotions and cannot literally regret (anymore then he can literally fold me in his wings as it says in the Psalms. You know Giant divine Chicken and all that.).

          >(and all the animals), drowned all but severn people, and then declared he would never do it again. I have not heard from Dr. Bonnette on whether he takes the story of the Flood to be historical (I rather suspect he does), but I fail to see how the God of the story can be reconciled with an unchanging, timeless God.

          It doesn't have to be either or, there can be a historical core at the heart of the story. But I would not take the emotional expressions of God literally and the Fathers didn't either.

          >It seems to me that whether or not God is a moral agent, when God is spoken of as he is in the Old Testament—commanding, warning, punishing, rewarding—we can't help but expect him to act "morally."

          The Rabbis and the Fathers would find that concept absurd. God doesn't owe us anything if that is not the lesson of the Book of Job I don't know what is? God cannot go contrary to His nature. He could not command rape or sodomy or torture of the innocent. He can take life as he sees fit or command others to take it. This was natural for God and his rights over us his creatures.

          >And in the cases where he is depicted as doing things we may regard as questionable (ordering slaughter of men, women, children, animals), something needs to be explained.

          I don't know? I don't see animals as equivalent to humans. They don't have immortal souls and if I believe Thomas Nagel I don't know what it is like to be a bat nor an animal who "suffers"? Thus Rowe's fawn argument is lost on me. Change the fawn to a 5 year old little human girl and we will talk.

          The slaughter of the Canaanites OTOH. Well it is permissible to believe those where not literal. That is an easy solution but I prefer not to take the easy way. Given God's metaphysical relationship to His creatures even if we tried to apply moral standards to him I don't see why he doesn't have the right to take any life he chooses?

          > It will not do to say that God is not a moral agent and therefore he can do anything at all.

          If you read Davies in depth you will find he will tell you even thought God is not a moral agent he cannot do anything at all. He cannot for example command what is intrinsically evil and God taking human life(any life) or ordering it's taking cannot be intrinsically evil(or you could never have the death penalty). Now ordering the Israelites to rape and torture infants to death....now that is intrinsically evil and God's holiness would not allow him to directly command that. Of course not being a moral agent He is not obligated to immediately stop some other asshole who abuses his free will and chooses to do this on his own to innocents but he certainly cannot command it(& his nature is such he would judge the asshole who did that crime).

          It's a subtle argument and distinction.

  • David Nickol

    After watching SNL I can say with some degree of confidence that I will sooner understand classical theism than rap music.

    • Sample1

      Understanding the toolkit of classical theism isn’t that difficult, it’s the willful decision to embrace the claims that it’s true that is difficult if not impossible.

      Mike

      • Rob Abney

        Good conversation starter, now give some specifics please.

      • David Nickol

        In my own experience of belief, it is not willful. I can only assume that those who believe in classical theism honestly and sincerely experience it as persuasive.

        I find that I am in 100% agreement with my own opinions. And yet I can't really imagine that I am right 100% of the time. I think this is pretty much how other people feel. Who am I to say that because I can't understand or agree with classical theists, that they must necessarily be wrong.

        There's a really entertaining TED Talk by the author and New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz titled On Being Wrong. At one point, she asks member of the audience what it feels like to be wrong. Predictably, they answer that it's humiliating, embarrassing, disconcerting, and so on. She says they all give good answers, but they are not answering her question. They are talking about what it feels like to find out you are wrong. The question was what it feels like to be wrong, and the answer is that being wrong feels exactly the same as being right.

        • Sample1

          I agree. And I have seen that vid.

          Mike

        • Rob Abney

          As St. Augustine wrote concerning the Fall of Man in City of God, “So when man lives by the standard of truth he lives not by his own standard, but by God’s. For it is God who has said, ‘I am the truth.’ By contrast, when he lives by his own standard, that is by man’s and not by God’s standard, then inevitably he lives by the standard of falsehood… Falsehood consists in not living in the way for which he was created.” (Paul Krauss)

          If it’s difficult to know right from wrong then maybe it is less difficult if you have a clear purpose or destination.

  • Jim the Scott

    I get the distinct impression that TT is pretending to be someone else.......

    Skeptic_Thinking_Power?

    Quote"he traditional notion of god in classical theism is that of a timeless, changeless, immaterial mind, who also must be infinitely good, infinitely wise, and can do anything logically possible. There are some variations on this concept, but almost all traditional or classical theistic gods have these basic characteristics. The problem is that a timeless, changeless being by definition cannot do anything; it's necessarily causally impotent and nonfunctional. Change requires time, and time requires change. This is logically certain. And to create something, one must do something. Doing requires a change, regardless of whether that change is mental or physical. A being that cannot do anything cannot be omnipotent. As a result, the traditional notion of god is self contradictory."

    Yeh that is TT. alright! Doesn't get the idea Classic Theism denies God is "a being" and assaults us with other non-starter objections and Red Herrings.

    Like this one.

    "The explanation that suffering is the absence of good is not sufficient to explain why God created suffering in the first place. Either God is evil or it does not exist. The absence theodicy does not explain why god created the scale of good and evil. "

    Yep that is TT. Doing what he always does. Argues against the god he wishes we believed in instead of the one we actually believe in.

    I think it's TT. I'm taking bets.

    • Jim the Scott

      Now he is gone?

      Surreal...........

      • Talking to yourself? Makes sense. I'm calling Bellevue.

    • There is only one thinker here, and it's me.

      Doesn't get the idea Classic Theism denies God is "a being" and assaults us with other non-starter objections and Red Herrings.

      "Being" is not necessary to the contradiction. Change "being" with "thing" "power" "entity" "essence" or any other similar term, and you still have the same problem. So your criticism is a non-starter criticism.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      I have already answered this exact objection elsewhere on this thread. Amazing that the wording is virtually the same and yet allegedly comes from “another commenter!”

      The assumption that doing requires change is gratuitous. When a cause causes a change in an effect, the change is in the effect, not the cause. This is self-evident upon mere inspection of the terms.

      God, acting in timeless and immutable eternity, simply wills a sequential unfolding of created events in the finite world which in no way requires a change in himself.

      One can only be confused by this if one is a total materialist who simply cannot think in terms other than material causality which apparently always entails a change on the part of a cause. A material cause is mutable and exists in time.

      But God is not material, does not change, and is not in time at all.

      • I have already answered this exact objection elsewhere on this thread. Amazing that the wording is virtually the same and yet allegedly comes from “another commenter!”

        I do not comment under any other name.

        God, acting in timeless and immutable eternity, simply wills a sequential unfolding of created events in the finite world which in no way requires a change in himself.

        There are a couple of problems with this. First, this, as we've debated opens up the problem of why god has a particular "timeless and immutable" sequential unfolding of created events that is non-necessary in mind. God cannot be his "own explanation" why this is so, because that technically explains nothing. The Thomist, realizing this would lead to a dilemma on the standard PSR, must use a modified PSR where there are "not reasons for literally everything." This shows the weakness of Thomism's foundation.

        Second, to will is not the same thing as to do. I can will X and not do X. God wills we be good, for example, but clearly we aren't always good according to Christian notions of good. So god's will doesn't necessarily lead to the will be actualized. That opens up the question, why does god's will in some cases actualize the will, and in other cases not? Why does god's will have a causal effect sometimes and not others? Something has to be different about his will in such cases.

        Third, to claim god doesn't have to change or do anything and simply just needs a "timeless and immutable" will, that entails the effect has to be eternal like the cause. There can be no time before the will is actualized and a time after. And that means the universe must be eternal with god's will, and no creation from nothing is possible. If you combine temporal becoming in with this, you have a massive problem, as a static god cannot logically sustain a dynamic universe that is created at each moment.

        None of this relies on an assumption of materialism, as I mentioned in my original comment. Change is a logical requirement to do anything.

      • Jim the Scott

        That is the problem with TT and those of his mindset in addition to boring us to death with their non-starter objections regarding the Rationalist version of the PSR (as well as confusing Formal Causes with Efficient and the latest ignoring the distinction between analogous, unequivocal and equivocal comparisons)they try to recast Thomism and other competing metaphysical systems solely in terms of materialism. Which is begging the question because one can use multiple metaphysical systems to model the behavior of the material world but assuming a priori only the material world exists or matters is begging the question.

        Given the nature of material things I say it points to something beyond the material but rather then answer those arguments our opponents simply assume their metaphysics without examination.

        Cheers.

        • non-starter objections regarding the Rationalist version of the PSR

          Any PSR that allows brute facts is a non-starter PSR.

          (as well as confusing Formal Causes with Efficient

          That what Thomists do. I'm just repeating their confusions.

          and the latest ignoring the distinction between analogous, unequivocal and equivocal comparisons)

          If your analogies literally entail properties that are the exact opposite of what they're supposed to be compared to, they are non-starter analogies.

          Thomism and other competing metaphysical systems solely in terms of materialism.

          Which I don't do of course.

          Cheers.

      • Jim the Scott

        Additional.

        A weird thing about This Person and "another commentor" (we both know they are the same person and are taking the smeg) is he still contradicts himself. He both believes and doesn't believe "change" is causal and he both believes and doesn't believe "change" is an effect.

        You can't nail jello to a wall.

        If "change" is really not causal then there is no reason why God who is Immutable cannot be a First cause or ultimate cause of anything.
        But good luck figuring out what This Person is actually talking about.
        I don't think he really knows. I think he is just making it up as he goes.

        PS notice how This Person denies being the other poster yet picks up on the same theme as him?

        Quote”. God wills we be good, for example, but clearly we aren't always good according to Christian notions of good. So god's will doesn't necessarily lead to the will be actualized.”

        Curious how he wants to debate good or evil like the other poster?

        • Additional.

          A weird thing about TT and "another commentor" (we both know they are the same person and are taking the smeg)

          Conspiracy much? I bet you're a fan of Alex Jones.

          is he still contradicts himself. He both believes and doesn't believe "change" is causal and he both believes and doesn't believe "change" is an effect.

          There is no contradiction in my view at all. I define cause differently than you do. Under my definition (which is a definition that brings in modern science) event A can cause event B. Event A just doesn't bring event B into existence (becoming). And I also don't need to use my definition of causality to show that your immutable god must be causally impotent. Regarding change being an "effect" I was clear from the beginning. Change and doing have a logical relationship with one another such that one always entails the other. You make up contradictions in your mind because you can never refute my actual arguments.

          You can't nail jello to a wall.

          That's why the floor is covered with Thomism.

          If "change" is really not causal then there is no reason why God who is Immutable can be a First cause or ultimate cause of anything. But good luck figuring out what This Person is actually talking about. I don't think he really knows. I think he is just making it up as he goes.

          You make no sense here. Thing is you don't want to understand any views you already disagree with, I think out of the fear that they might actually make sense to you. So you construct the worst caricatures of it in your head to rest assured it's not true. That's why you rarely if ever engage in honest conversation.

  • Oh yes. And it's funny to finally get the Thomists on this site admitting that the principle of sufficient reason they are working with that is a cornerstone to their case for god is actually a far weaker and watered down version of the PSR that allows for brute facts. It's the biggest hypocrisy of all.

  • Jim the Scott

    This Person writes:

    >There is only one thinker here, and it's me.

    I don't believe you. You have lied before.

    >"Being" is not necessary to the contradiction. Change "being" with "thing" "power" "entity" "essence" or any other similar term, and you still have the same problem. So your criticism is a non-starter criticism.

    In other words you want to make up your own terminology instead of learning the terminology of your opponents and the definitions of their concepts so you can argue against that straw man. That is just bat poop crazy and self defeating.

    Definitions and common terminology convey ideas and you have shown repeatedly you don't want to critique the ideas we hold but the ideas you wish we held. So that is why you insist on redefining it. We don't care about the erroneous Rationalist version of the PSR and we don't care if non-ontological or non-metaphysical brute facts exist. They are not in opposition to our views.

    You still can't comprehend non-starter objections?

    Dr. B has confirmed he agrees with Feser. You OTOH contradict yourself.

    You are very entertaining and verbose but you have not made a single substantive objection to Classic Theism or Thomism. You have only shown you read sound bites of Thomists and read your own meaning into their words and don't really understand the concepts involved just as an MIT graduate has shown us you really don't understand physics either.

    Thanks for playing thought but I think we need a real thinking Atheist too take your place and there are many already here to choose from.

    • I don't believe you. You have lied before.

      Then since the Catholic Church has lied before too, they can't be believed.

      In other words you want to make up your own terminology instead of learning the terminology of your opponents and the definitions of their concepts so you can argue against that straw man. That is just bat poop crazy and self defeating.

      Nope, I'm just showing you that the term "being" is not necessary to my argument. So picking on the term is a non-starter objection.

      Definitions and common terminology convey ideas and you have shown repeatedly you don't want to critique the ideas we hold but the ideas you wish we held.

      This is exactly what you do when you fail to understand the definition of things used in science, or on eternalism. It's that only way you can show "contradictions." You just arbitrarily use different definitions at will.

      we don't care if non-ontological or non-metaphysical brute facts exist. They are not in opposition to our views.

      God exists with the particular non-necessary desire to create X. That is an ontological claim and the one you can't explain given your fake non-starter PSR.

      You still can't comprehend non-starter objections?

      Oh I can. All of your objections to eternalism are non-starters. Your PSR is a non-starter PSR. At any time make the case that it isn't.

      Dr. B has confirmed he agrees with Feser. You OTOH contradict yourself.

      Then he holds to the non-starter PSR.

      You are very entertaining and verbose but you have not made a single substantive objection to Classic Theism or Thomism.

      LOL.

      You have only shown you read sound bites of Thomists and read your own meaning into their words and don't really understand the concepts involved just as an MIT graduate has shown us you really don't understand physics either.

      LOL. And you know this because what? Because you understand physics? Not. You just found something on the internet that agrees with you. That's all. You don't understand any of it. I try and understand Thomism as it really is. It's just that Thomists are so unreasonably vague because Thomism is so unreasonably vague. It's an ever moving target that can shape-shift at will to dodge any criticism. "Oh that's not my version of Thomism, I hold to a slightly different version." I can simply just show how each version individually is incorrect.

      Thanks for playing thought but I think we need a real thinking Atheist too take your place and there are many already here to choose from.

      No, you want to continue accusing everyone of scientism/positivism and make madmen statements. That's your real motive. It's obvious my looking at a week's worth of your comments. You're simply incapable of having a real intellectual debate without giving in to this urge.



      • You're simply incapable of having a real intellectual debate without giving in to this urge

        This pretty much describes why I gave up on JtS.

        • As I wrote about before, this is @Jimthescott:disqus's MO:

          1. Accuse everyone of positivism and insult
          2. Dogmatically assert that metaphysical claims cannot even in principle be falsified (and perhaps corroborated by) scientific data (repeat step 1 numerous times)
          3. (Sees argument showing 2 is wrong)
          4. Repeat steps 1 and 2 continuously.

  • Jim the Scott

    More non-starter objections,

    >Any PSR that allows brute facts is a non-starter PSR.

    So we go from pretending there is no difference between the Rationalist PSR and the Scholastic PSR to pretending there is no difference between epistemological and metaphysical/ontological brute facts......

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

    Some people just can't give up their non-starter arguments.

    • The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

      You mean like praying?

      So we go from pretending there is no difference between the Rationalist PSR and the Scholastic PSR to pretending there is no difference between epistemological and metaphysical/ontological brute facts......

      Either there is a real difference and the scholastic PSR is meaningless and fake in any sense of a PSR, or it has the same problem the rationalist version does. Either way, it has a problem.

      Some people just can't give up their non-starter arguments.

      Tell me about it. 30 criticisms from you on SR and eternalism are the biggest nonstarters. Also, don't you really have non-starter PSRs like the scholastic one?

  • Jim the Scott

    Still even MORE non-starter objections & an honest omission for once........

    >There is no contradiction in my view at all. I define cause differently than you do.....

    So basically I was right I said "In other words you want to make up your own terminology instead of learning the terminology of your opponents and the definitions of their concepts so you can argue against that straw man. That is just bat poop crazy and self defeating.

    Definitions and common terminology convey ideas and you have shown repeatedly you don't want to critique the ideas we hold but the ideas you wish we held. So that is why you insist on redefining it."

    Silly.

    • So basically I was right I said "In other words you want to make up your own terminology instead of learning the terminology of your opponents and the definitions of their concepts so you can argue against that straw man. That is just bat poop crazy and self defeating.

      No you were wrong. I don't make up my terminology, I deduce the correct understanding of causality using input from science, which Thomist fails to do (which is why it gets causality so utterly wrong). You simply can't say my view is wrong by seeing a contradiction in how we define causality. You can only show my view in contradiction by using my definition of causality.

      Definitions and common terminology convey ideas and you have shown repeatedly you don't want to critique the ideas we hold but the ideas you wish we held. So that is why you insist on redefining it."

      That's absurd. The one thing every critic of Thomism learns is that nothing a Thomist ever says means what it says. It's the ultimate moving target or whack-a-mole. Also, not all Thomists agree on the same definition of things. So there is no "Thomist definition" of everything or anything necessarily.

      This Person has wasted our time arguing against a set of views he wishes we believed in not what we believe in & his own views are like Jello.

      When you talk to yourself in the mirror, at least have the courtesy of closing the door behind you so we don't have to hear your incoherent ramblings.

      You are the joke of this site and we all notice.

  • Jim the Scott

    Non-starter and not paying attention & showing a lack of originality in posting....stealing my lines.....LOL

    >Then he holds to the non-starter PSR.

    Doctor B has mentioned the version he holds in the comments box and his OP's.

    Here is one from the comments box

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/are_metaphysical_first_principles_universally_true/#comment-3473138875

    He even mentioned it to This Person who promptly ignored him.

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/are_metaphysical_first_principles_universally_true/#comment-3485149133

    And to Mr. Brian Green Adams.

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/are_metaphysical_first_principles_universally_true/#comment-3484796663

    QUOTE"If not every thing or being has a sufficient reason, then the bad news is that we cannot ever, ever be certain when a reason is “missing.”

    Note he never mentions propositions only beings or things.

    But someone who cites "not wanting to fund Theists" as an excuse not too to read the relevant material (as if he couldn't get the books he needed from QBPL or NYPL or any public library for free before he opens his mouth) is just all about the excuses.

    Anyway This Person is not paying attention and that is not going to change.

    • Non-starter and not paying attention & showing a lack of originality in posting....stealing my lines.....LOL

      LOL. Nobody takes you seriously now. It's hard to imagine anyone ever did.

      Doctor B has mentioned the version he holds in the comments box and his OP's.

      Here is one from the comments box

      https://disqus.com/home/dis...

      Oh sorry, I don't read every single comment on this site. Dennis is of course responding to himself, ensuring no one gets a notification. His comment is just basic Thomism. He doesn't of course explain in detail what exceptions to the PSR he holds. If he agrees to the same version of the PSR that Feser holds to, that there are "not reasons for literally everything" he needs to (and perhaps you too) explain in detail things that have no reason, and things that do, and why this is so. His comment is vague (as is typical of Thomists) as to exactly where the dividing line is. (Often this is to allow as much wiggle room as possible).

      He even mentioned it to This Person who promptly ignored him.

      https://disqus.com/home/dis...

      Oh, so were starting with assuming the worst intentions out right? There's no possibility I forgot to respond to this? It must be intentional ignoring! No other explanation is possible!

      I have responded to Dennis in other comments to this same spiel. Number 1, denying the PSR does not jeopardize our ability to do science or reason. It does not entail that if it isn't the case that everything has a reason, then all reasoning falls apart. Also his PSR allows that there are "not reasons for literally everything." So I can't see how you can even defend the claim the science or reasoning falls apart if you accept that there are "not reasons for literally everything"—which is similar to the view that I affirm—somethings have reasons, but not "literally everything." If you want to debate this point, let me know. Number 2, claiming that "God is his own sufficient reason for all that he is and does" is utter nonsense. Feser, in your quote of him seems to say that one of these things that there are "not reasons for literally everything" is why god has this eternal, yet logically unnecessary will. If so, Dennis is wrong. "God is his own sufficient reason for all that he is and does" cannot be answered in principle—it is not an epistemic brute fact.

      Epistemic brute facts by the way also destroy the claim that explanatory chains are essentially order series in the claim that all lower members of the chain derive their intelligibility from the first member. Many Thomists I've debated make this point. Feser makes it. It's nonsense. From the perspective of intelligibility, an epistemic brute fact is no different from a brute fact. It is a fact that cannot be explained. If an explanation chain terminates in an epistemic brute fact, we will in practice never be able to explain the first member of the chain, and so why shouldn't all the members of the chain be rendered unintelligible as well? There should be no difference. So if an epistemic brute fact doesn't negate intelligibility of the lower members of an explanatory chain, neither should a brute fact. To say otherwise would have to commit you to the notion that all members of a chain must be understood in order to explain any one part of it.

      QUOTE"If not every thing or being has a sufficient reason, then the bad news is that we cannot ever, ever be certain when a reason is “missing.”

      So? We can't know regardless of what view you hold, especially when you allow for epistemic brute facts. How will you ever know with certainty whether you've hit an espostemic brute fact in every case? You won't have that certainty. You will just try and find explanations as hard as you can. But running into an epistemic brute fact from the POV of intelligibility does nothing to ruin the other explanations, and neither does a brute fact. So all of Dennis's claims are utterly false.

      Note the never mentions propositions only beings or things.

      In logic, a proposition can be about truth claims, such as "God exists." So what limitations, if any, are you putting on propositions?

      But someone who cites "not wanting to fund Theists" as an excuse not too to read the relevant material (as if he couldn't get the books he needed from QBPL or NYPL or any public library) is just all about the excuses.

      Having already read Feser (and not being very impressed) I'm definitely not buying any of his books. All I simply need is an online resource. Interestingly, this site never explains the nuance PSR versions, it just assumes a broad generic PSR that leaves readers thinking it's the rationalist version.

      Anyway This Person is not paying attention and that is not going to change.

      This is fit for you actually. You're not interested in serious dialogue, just insults and middle school antics. I give everyone a taste of their own medicine.



  • Jim the Scott

    Interesting...no denial here....

    I said:
    >>I don't believe you. You have lied before.

    This Person said:
    >Then since the Catholic Church has lied before too, they can't be believed.

    • Oh I deny it. Just pointing out your standard is absurd. Prove I lied and on what.

  • Jim the Scott

    Interesting double standard.

    This person said:

    >Prove I lied and on what.

    and

    >the Catholic Church has lied before too.

    Of course This Person has offered no proof(unless given this person's tendency to equivocate he is equating possibly being wrong on something with "lying") and likes to shift the burden of proof because he refuses to do his homework. He rejects all versions of the PSR but for some odd reason thinks the Rationalist version is the "True" version of an erroneous proposition and he still doesn't understand the difference between formal causes and efficient.

    He can't learn and he lied when he said he understands AT metaphysics and physics. The experts it appears know better then him.

    • Of course he has offered no proof(unless given this person's tendency to equivocate he is equating possibly being wrong on something with "lying") and likes to shift the burden of proof because he refuses to do his homework.

      The entire Catholic church is a lie. It lied about the pedo-sex scandal. Kind of a big deal.

      He rejects all versions of the PSR but for some odd reason thinks the Rationalist version is the "True" version of an erroneous proposition and he still doesn't understand the difference between formal causes and efficient.

      I never said "True". You make up fake quotes because you have no real claim to anything. You're just like the church: a facade of truth covering a mountain if lies.

      He can't learn and he lied when he said he understands AT metaphysics and physics. The experts it appears know better then him.

      "It appears" - you have no basis for that, especially since you barely know physics at all. Now we're all starting to think you escaped from Bellevue.

  • Jim the Scott

    More contradictions.

    >This is exactly what you do when you fail to understand the definition of things used in science, or on eternalism.

    >No, you want to continue accusing everyone of scientism/positivism....

    Still pretends AT metaphysics is science and ignore the fact eternalism is from the Philosophy of Time not physics.

    Confusing philosophy with science? Who does that? Advocates of Scie.......we you get the drift.

    But we are still dealing with someone who claims Causality is unreal and real and thinks all versions of the PSR are the rationalist version & all versions of it are false but somehow the rationalist version is correct (even though it is false) and the scholastic is not?

    • Still pretends AT metaphysics is science and ignore the fact eternalism is from the Philosophy of Time not physics.

      I'm not talking about AT metaphysics. I'm talking about special relativity and eternalism......"the definition of things used in science, or on eternalism."

      Can't reason your way out of a paper bag.

      Confusing philosophy with science? Who does that? Advocates of Scie.......we you get the drift.

      Apparently you don't know the meaning of the word "or". It denotes 2 different things.

      But we are still dealing with someone who claims Causality is unreal and real and thinks all versions of the PSR are the rationalist version & all versions of it are false but somehow the rationalist version is correct (even though it is false) and the scholastic is not?

      Nope. We're dealing with a dotard who can't reason to save his life and who must constantly strawman other people because he's too afraid to engage with their actual arguments. All versions of the PSR are incorrect. The scholastic one is just incoherent.



  • Jim the Scott

    This Person has no ability to reason.

    >Any PSR that allows brute facts is a non-starter PSR.

    Says who?

    First we beg the question by pretending there is no difference between epistemological brute facts vs metaphysical/ontological brute facts.

    The Scholastic PSR does not allow metaphysical/ontological brute facts(thought it can allow epistemological ones). That is not a non-starter that is merely coherent.

    Aquinas said simple errors lead to big mistakes. But my question is how do you deal with a dogmatics who insists on their simple mistakes? (i.e. the Rationalist PSR is the only true PSR even thought it is false).

    Goofy.

    • Says who?

      Says anyone being honest.

      First we beg the question by pretending there is no difference between epistemological brute facts vs metaphysical/ontological brute facts.

      Nope. We've been over this. The PSR you advocate for says certain things will not have a reason. Not just an epistemic brute fact, an actual brute fact.

      The Scholastic PSR does not allow metaphysical/ontological brute facts(thought it can allow epistemological ones). That is not a non-starter that is merely coherent.

      No one is claiming that it is false due to epistemic brute facts. You simply cannot engage with real arguments and so you must strawman your interlocutor to death.

      In the past you've said something very similar to, "God is his own sufficient reason for all that he is and does". What is the sufficient reason why a god with an eternal non-necessary will exists? Is there an answer in principle? Is there an answer but an epistemic limit? If there is an answer, is the answer a necessary one or a contingent one? You can't say god's reason is his nature, because his nature is his will, and his will is non-necessary. So that is a dead end.

      But of course you can never seriously answer this. You will respond with more insults and incoherent nonsense and strawmen.

      Aquinas said simple errors lead to big mistakes.

      I agree. Look at the nonsense Thomism has lead to. Start with an incorrect understand of the world, and derive nonsense.

  • Jim the Scott

    Still with the non-starters objections

    >The PSR you advocate for says certain things will not have a reason. Not just an epistemic brute fact, an actual brute fact.

    So this person is STILL insisting on conflating epistemological brute facts with metaphysical ones so he can continue to beg the question.

    >In the past you've said something very similar to, "God is his own sufficient reason for all that he is and does".

    Still proof texting like he is in a Bible verse slinging fight with a fellow fundamentalist rather then deal with precise professionally formulated definition that have been provided by myself and even by Doc.

    He still insists on pretending he understands AT metaphysics and is not just making it up as he goes along.

    So entertaining.......he loves his simple mistakes.

    • So this person is STILL insisting on conflating epistemological brute facts with metaphysical ones so he can continue to beg the question.

      Oh no, your fake scholastic PSR says there is no reason why in principle a god with an eternal non-necessary will that is identical to its essence exists the exact way it does. That's an ontological claim and that is not regarding epistemic brute facts. It needs a sufficient reason according to the fake scholastic PSR and it seems to be that you and uncle Feser realize an inherent dilemma you'll be in in trying to answer that, and so adopt a PSR that says there's no answer in principle.

      Still proof texting like he is in a Bible verse slinging fight with a fellow fundamentalist rather then deal with precise professionally formulated definition that have been provided by myself and even by Doc.

      Nope, just reading your words (and Denniss's) for what they are. The one thing every critic of Thomism learns is that nothing a Thomist ever says means what it says. It's the ultimate moving target or whack-a-mole.

      He still insists on pretending he understands AT metaphysics and is not just making it up as he goes along.

      I understand enough of it to know it's false. I never said I knew everything about it.

  • Jim the Scott

    We agree!

    This Person says, "I'm not talking about AT metaphysics" well no duh! This Person has been arguing against neo- cartesian views on dualism and has been wasting months flaunting around Liebniz's version of the PSR and ignored the Scholastic one except to say "it's not the real PSR" or some such nonsense as that & this person invented their own version of causation to argue against God having the power to cause.

    This person has been trying to talk about everything but AT Metaphysics.

    That won't change.

    • That was talking about eternalism. When talking about your god, or your reasons for god, or your ontology, I am talking about AT metaphysics. And I'm pointing out how its based on 2,400 year old misunderstandings of how the world works! That's the hilarity of it.

  • Jim the Scott

    This Person is attacking himself?

    >Nope. We're dealing with a dotard who can't reason to save his life and who must constantly strawman other people because he's too afraid to engage with their actual arguments.

    Maybe if This Person (attacking himself above) would learn the difference between formal vs efficient causes he wouldn't come off this way to others?

    >All versions of the PSR are incorrect. The scholastic one is just incoherent.

    No the Rationalist PSR is incoherent. I cited the reason from Feser citing Weigel.

    QUOTE "Leibniz presents the principle, every fact and every true proposition -- at least every contingent proposition -- must have an explanation"..........For Aquinas, to say X explains or accounts for Y is not to say it necessary [sic] entails it (when Aquinas is talking about real-world causation). Aquinas thus in his model cautiously keeps in view the explanation of the existence of objects, not reasons for literally everything. Aquinas thinks truth and falsity always accrue to individual beliefs in minds. Propositions for him are thus beings of reason and do not exist as disembodied abstracta, so they are not things out there to be explained in the manner real beings are."END QUOTE

    CONTINUING: The Leibniz version of PSR is incoherent because "For example, one well-known objection to PSR asks us to consider the proposition comprising the conjunction of all true contingent propositions. Since each of its component conjuncts is contingent, this big proposition is contingent. In that case, the explanation of this big proposition cannot be a necessary proposition, for whatever is entailed by a necessary proposition is itself necessary. But neither can its explanation be a contingent proposition. For if it were, then that contingent proposition would itself be one conjunct among others in the big conjunction of contingent propositions. That would mean that the big conjunctive proposition explains itself. But the PSR tells us that no contingent proposition can explain itself. So, the big conjunctive proposition cannot have an explanation. But in that case there is something without an explanation, and PSR is false. (Cf. Ross 1969, pp. 295- 304; Rowe 1997; Rowe 1998; Van Inwagen 1983, pp. 202-4; and the critical discussions in Gerson 1987 and Pruss 2009, pp. 50-58)

    From a Scholastic point of view this sort of argument is a non-starter, since on the Scholastic understanding of PSR, propositions are not among the things requiring explanation in the first place, and explanation does not require logical entailment.END QUOTE

    • Maybe if This Person (attacking himself above) would learn the difference between formal vs efficient causes he wouldn't come off this way to others?

      Oh, I know the difference. Formal "causes" are the fake causes made up by Aristotle and kept alive by Thomists.

      No the Rationalist PSR is incoherent. I cited the reason from Feser citing Weigel.

      The fake scholastic PSR still has the same dilemma the standard PSR does. That's why all versions of the PSR can be thrown out. They will either make themselves incoherent, or make themselves meaningless.

      The PSR entails necessitarianism which cannot be justified and which is obviously false. The fake scholastic PSR does not avoid this problem.

      since on the Scholastic understanding of PSR, propositions are not among the things requiring explanation in the first place, and explanation does not require logical entailment.END QUOTE

      Yeah, except for the fact that propositions can be about the truthfulness of ontological claims. So, yeah. Uncle Feser's fake scholastic PSR doesn't seem to avoid the problem. It's either a cop out and fake PSR, like a Chinese bootleg masquerading around as a real PSR, or it has the same problem the rationalist PSR has. A new dilemma?



  • Jim the Scott

    contradictory views on change

    This Person thinks this statement is true.

    >Change is the difference in ontology in different parts of the block universe.

    This person thinks this statement is false.

    >So change is "real" in part of a Block Universe but "unreal" elsewhere? (what science or philosophy proves that I wonder?)

    Which still doesn't tell me why God can't from his seat in the unchanging part cause change in the changing part other then "reasons" .Eternalism negates all change except when trying to verify Special Relativity or whatever......

    • Which still doesn't tell me why God can't from his seat in the unchanging part cause change in the changing part other then "reasons"

      You're borrowing eternalistic ontology, but then you're bringing in a presentistic definition of "cause". That is contradictory and incoherent.

      It's obvious you have no clue what change and cause mean on eternalism.

      Eternalism negates all change except when trying to verify Special Relativity or whatever......

      Yup, it's confirmed.

  • Jim the Scott

    The Leibniz version of PSR is incoherent because if we consider the proposition comprising the conjunction of all true contingent propositions. Since each of its component conjuncts is contingent, this big proposition is contingent. In that case, the explanation of this big proposition cannot be a necessary proposition, for whatever is entailed by a necessary proposition is itself necessary. But neither can its explanation be a contingent proposition. For if it were, then that contingent proposition would itself be one conjunct among others in the big conjunction of contingent propositions. That would mean that the big conjunctive proposition explains itself. But the PSR tells us that no contingent proposition can explain itself. So, the big conjunctive proposition cannot have an explanation. But in that case there is something without an explanation, and PSR is false.

    However from a Scholastic point of view this sort of argument is a non-starter, since on the Scholastic understanding of PSR, propositions are not among the things requiring explanation in the first place, and explanation does not require logical entailment.

    Note the above is quoted from SCHOLASTIC METAPHYSICS by Ed Feser edited by moi for this post.

    • Propositions can be about ontological claims, so no you're wrong (and so is uncle Feser). The fake scholastic PSR still has the same dilemma the standard PSR does. That's why all versions of the PSR can be thrown out. They will either make themselves incoherent, or make themselves meaningless.

  • Jim the Scott

    Edward Feser on Brute Facts.

    Consider first that we can distinguish a metaphysical sense in which something might be claimed to be a “brute fact” from an epistemological sense in which it might be. Something would be a brute fact in the epistemological sense if, after exhaustive investigation, we did not and perhaps even could not come up with a remotely plausible explanation for it. Something would be a brute fact in the metaphysical sense if it did not, as a matter of objective fact, have any explanation or intelligibility in the first place. With a metaphysical brute fact, it’s not merely that we can’t discover any explanation, it’s that there isn‘t one there to be discovered.

    Now I do not deny that there could be epistemological “brute facts,” but only that there could be metaphysical brute facts.

    It is a non-starter objection to claim the only true or valid PSR we need must eliminate all brute facts of any species...

    We need only eliminate metaphysical brute facts. Such as why is there a law of Nature? vs Why did God Almighty in his providence create a universe where Earth Sky is mostly blue in the daytime on a clear day at noon? which is more epistemological.

    • Yeah, we know the difference between the two kinds. I wrote about this years ago on my site.That point is actually irrelevant here, except for the fact that epistemic brute facts ruin any claim that ontological brute facts ruin the intelligibility of explanatory chains. But some slow minded people on this site will never learn.

      The question is: Then what's the sufficient reason why god eternally exists with the non-necessary will to create a specific universe and not any other, or no universe, given that his essence and will are identical? "God is his own sufficient reason" is a non-starter response. It's a word salad of epic proportions, explaining nothing. It doesn't give me the reason why a god with a specific non-necessary will exists, and it doesn't tell me whether that reason is necessary or contingent. The question is regarding ontology and hence can't be a brute fact according to the scholastic PSR. So it needs a sufficient reason "for its being or coming-to-be either within itself or from some extrinsic reason (a cause)." Although, since god's will and therefore essence isn't necessary, any such reason must necessarily be contingent. Hence the dilemma still stands.

      You could claim it's an epistemic brute fact. But that doesn't get you out of the dilemma. It's a completely futile effort, because all that's saying is we can't know the exact reason. And as I will reiterate for the 20th time that's not the point. The issue is that given your PSR it must have a reason because it is an ontological claim, and since it is non-necessary, its reason cannot therefore be a reason that is necessarily the case. It therefore must be a reason that is contingent in nature. Same dilemma, same problem.

      This is why there is no good reason for an educated person to accept your claim god is a necessary being. It's complete gibberish. But some slow minded people on this site will never learn.

  • Jim the Scott

    This Person is now using slight-of-Hand to try to rescue his non-starter.
    >Propositions can be about ontological claims,

    But propositions considered in themselves are not
    Ontologically existing objects but objections of reason.

    Propositions about rocks are not themselves existing rocks.

    After using this slight of hand This Person continues to
    Pretend the Rationalist and Scholastic PSR are the same.

    For example:
    > The fake scholastic PSR still has the same dilemma the standard PSR does

    Simple mistakes which this person tries to mask with a ton of verbose nonsense so he can repeat his non-starter objections.

    But too this day he still confuses epistemological brute facts with metaphysical ones and formal causes with efficient ones.

    He refuses to learn. He is still arguing with the philosophies and deities he wishes we believed in not the ones we actually believe in.

  • Jim the Scott

    Eternalism weirdness.

    So under Eternalism Universe according to This Person change is not real except when practical science (which presupposes real change) proves Special Relativity which somehow proves eternalism because of “science?” or bad philosophy (likely the later) which show change is not real but God who is Eternal and Unchanging cannot be so because the reality change shows he cannot be unchanging and Eternal(like the Universe)?

    Dan Brown could not follow this plot folks.

    • No, change has a particular definition on eternalism. The block universe as a whole doesn't change, change as experienced by consciousness is simply the fact that events in the block universe are not uniform throughout it. Different events/states of matter exist differently in the various parts and we consciously experience different things at different times. Once you understand that, no contradictions or confusions arise. But none of us expect your brain to be able to get this.

  • Jim the Scott

    Can anyone else here but This Person explain this nonsense to me?

    >Either there is a real difference and the scholastic PSR is meaningless and fake in any sense of a PSR, or it has the same problem the rationalist version does. Either way, it has a problem.

    ?????????????

    The Scholastic version of PSR applies only to existing objects and the rationalist PSR includes propositions which are beings of reason not real beings. So one is A and the other is Not A so how can they be the same?

    Also how can one be "meaningless and fake" and the other presumably meaningful and real yet both are somehow false at the same time?

    According to current science the Steady State Theory and Oscillating Universe views appear to be false but would it make sense to call one "meaningless and fake" and the other meaningful and real even if apparently false?

    Weird......

    • The Scholastic version of PSR applies only to existing objects and the rationalist PSR includes propositions which are beings of reason not real beings. So one is A and the other is Not A so how can they be the same?

      So the claim that a specific god—whose non-necessary will is identical to its essence (making it's essence non-necessary), that also just so happens to be a triune god for no necessary reason—exists, is of course an ontological claim. Since necessary reasons for why such a god exists are off the table, all you have are contingent reasons. God is pure act is not a sufficient reason.

      Also how can one be "meaningless and fake" and the other presumably meaningful and real yet both are somehow false at the same time?

      Because one actually says everything has reason, and the other is a cop out that allows for ontological brute facts to exist regarding god. Since there can never be a necessary reason why your highly specific god exists, and not another god, you are still stuck in the dilemma. Now the fact that both PSRs fail is one thing, but at least one claims everything has a reason, the other doesn't.

      According to current science the Steady State Theory and Oscillating Universe views appear to be false but would it make sense to call one "meaningless and fake" and the other meaningful and real even if apparently false?

      No comparison. Rather it's like comparing two bootleg products, one that attempts to look like the real thing, and the other that barely even tries. They're both ultimately fake, but one at least is trying to live up to the claim.

  • Jim the Scott

    Easy question and easy answer.

    >Then what's the sufficient reason why god eternally exists.

    God is Pure Act.

    (But Persons who refuse to stop pretending the Scholastic and Rationalist PSR are equivalent won't get it as well as persons who to this day STILL don't know the difference between Formal vs Efficient Causes).

    • But since this god isn't logically necessary, it is logically possible another god existed, especially one that isn't triune. This is the claim lodged at the universe to the atheist. I can just say then that the universe is pure act. It always was, and always is. It has no potential because it's a static block; every part tenselessly exists. No reason it needs a god.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    @The Thinker

    “God, acting in timeless and immutable eternity, simply wills a sequential unfolding of created events in the finite world, which in no way requires a change in himself.” [me]

    There are absolutely no problems with this explanation. I have explained too many times already that God exists and acts necessarily with respect to his own existence and willing his own goodness, but that, since lesser goods are not necessary to his already perfect possession of goodness, such finite goods -- as this or that created world, or no creation at all -- are perfectly free options to God.

    The glaring error of your beloved “necessary vs. contingent dilemma” is that it implicitly assumes that “necessary” means what cannot be otherwise than it is, and that, thereby, it must also be determined. On the contrary, God’s will is necessary, in that it cannot be other than it is, but it is also perfectly free with respect to the lesser goods that it actually and eternally wills. Hence, it is necessary solely in the first part of the meaning, and yet, clearly NOT determined.

    Given the suppositional necessity that this is the one and only choice that God actually and eternally makes, there is, in fact and in truth, no other actual hypothetical choice that God could have made, nor any other hypothetical Gods that could have made other hypothetical choices. As St. Thomas says, “… for supposing that [God] wills a thing, then he is unable not to will it, as his will cannot change.” (S.T.I, 19, 3, c.) This is why you were obsessed with “logical necessity,” whereas suppositional necessity constitutes a form of metaphysical necessity, which is fully compatible with divine freedom.

    That you cannot understand how God is simply an eternal act of free will respecting the non-necessary objects of his will merely shows how inadequate is your grasp of the metaphysics involved. Since God is his own sufficient reason for being, and given the manner in which he exists as free with respect to willing lesser goods, it is clear that he is indeed his own explanation for this truth. And, of course, Thomists do insist that there are reasons for every thing, including God being his own sufficient reason – despite your unfounded counter-claim.

    The fact that you keep saying that God cannot be his own reason for being and willing -- as he eternally is doing -- reveals that you do not grasp how sufficient reason works respecting God. Since, as First Cause, he can have no possible composition of intrinsic metaphysical principles, such as essence and existence, his essence must include its own act of existence, which is precisely why he is his own reason for being – and also his own reason for being such as his essence both dictates and permits.

    Your argument that God’s will is not always efficacious simply because men sometimes violate divine natural law is worse than weak. Obviously, men are able to sin and often do sin -- for the simple reason that God wills, and thereby causes, them to be free beings, so that their salvation may be justly merited.

    Although you claim to understand that God is outside of time, you keep thrusting him into time -- and then ask how there can be a before and after of his willing with respect to the sequential unfolding of creation events. Is he in time or not? You really appear unable to grasp the simple fact that God’s eternal unchanging will has, as its object, sequential created effects that unfold in time – with the unfolding and sequencing being on the part of the effects only, not on the part of the Creator Cause. No, this does not mean that the cosmos must be as eternal as God is, since its beginning marks a finitude willed by God eternally – not a “beginning point” insanely placed somehow upon God himself!

    You continue to insist that change in a cause itself is a requirement in order for it to do or cause anything, no matter how many times I point out that the change effected takes place, by definition, in the effect, NOT in the cause. All that you do is to keep restating your absolutely unproven and unprovable assumption that to cause means for the cause to undergo a change. Every “proof” you offer is merely another example of change in creatures occurring -- and then you, with a total lack of logic, wind up by thinking that this must somehow also require a change in the Creator.

    Your evident inability to understand how all this works in metaphysics makes even less impressive to me some of your absurd philosophical claims about the implications of physics, especially when I am aware that competent counter-explanations exist.

    Since you have also convinced me that you are either unable or unwilling to improve your arguments, I am simply going to block you on Disgus, since I cannot continue to take time to keep restating what should by now be abundantly evident.

    • Jim the Scott

      He won't learn the subject matter at hand, questions begs, equivocates, shifts definitions, tries to change the subject & repeats his non-starter objections over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over ......I don't blame you.

      Cheers Doc.

      PS Plus I don't think he really understands physics either.

      • Mad man! No, rather I show how either the objections aren't non-starter, or that the other view leads to a new dilemma. Keep up!

    • Well if you prefer to block me, that is your loss. I contribute to this site's commenting immensely.

      There are absolutely no problems with this explanation. I have explained too many times already that God exists and acts necessarily with respect to his own existence and willing his own goodness, but that, since lesser goods are not necessary to his already perfect possession of goodness, such finite goods -- as this or that created world, or no creation at all -- are perfectly free options to God.

      And I have explained too many times already that any being that could not have done otherwise is not a being that has free will in any meaningful sense of the term "free". Your god just so happens to want X, and there cannot be in principle a necessary reason why this is so. So any reason why will have to either entail an infinite chain of contingent reasons, or a brute fact (ie, God just wants X, and there's no reason why).

      The glaring error of your beloved “necessary vs. contingent dilemma” is that it implicitly assumes that “necessary” means what cannot be otherwise than it is, and that, thereby, it must also be determined. On the contrary, God’s will is necessary, in that it cannot be other than it is, but it is also perfectly free with respect to the lesser goods that it actually and eternally wills. Hence, it is necessary solely in the first part of the meaning, and yet, clearly NOT determined.

      It's not my dilemma. It's the dilemma of the PSR, including the version you hold to. The dilemma only arises when one asserts the PSR is true. It shows that your god can't even satisfy the PSR, lest you water down the PSR to make it meaningless. Here's why, if something can be "necessary" merely by not being "other than it is", then this waters down the meaning of "necessary" to allow the atheist to claim the universe is necessary because the universe is what it is and cannot be "other than it is." This is especially true on eternalism.

      So another dilemma for you is either you hold to a version of the PSR that your god can't meet, or you water down the PSR to the point where it allows the atheist to make the universe have the traits you'd typically ascribe to god, making god superfluous. I'll take the latter!

      Given the suppositional necessity that this is the one and only choice that God actually and eternally makes, there is, in fact and in truth, no other actual hypothetical choice that God could have made, nor any other hypothetical Gods that could have made other hypothetical choices. As St. Thomas says, “… for supposing that [God] wills a thing, then he is unable not to will it, as his will cannot change.” (S.T.I, 19, 3, c.) This is why you were obsessed with “logical necessity,” whereas suppositional necessity constitutes a form of metaphysical necessity, which is fully compatible with divine freedom.

      By this logic, our eternal universe is suppositionally necessary and needs no god to "create" or sustain it (the latter being a false claim made on outdated Aristotelian metaphysics).

      That you cannot understand how God is simply an eternal act of free will respecting the non-necessary objects of his will merely shows how inadequate is your grasp of the metaphysics involved. Since God is his own sufficient reason for being, and given the manner in which he exists as free with respect to willing lesser goods, it is clear that he is indeed his own explanation for this truth. And, of course, Thomists do insist that there are reasons for everything, including God being his own sufficient reason – despite your unfounded counter-claim.

      Oh I'm aware of the metaphysics involved, and that means I'm aware that you have to water down the definition of "free will" in order to make your claim. Traditionally, libertarian free will requires the ability to have done otherwise. Without that, you'd typically have a form of compatibilistic free will; a watered down version.

      And "God is his own sufficient reason for being" is a non-starter reason, since god's essence is non-necessary due to his essence being identical to his will which is non-necessary. Your claim literally answers nothing.

      What is the sufficient reason why a god with an eternal non-necessary will exists?

      The fact that you keep saying that God cannot be his own reason for being and willing -- as he eternally is doing -- reveals that you do not grasp how sufficient reason works respecting God. Since, as First Cause, he can have no possible composition of intrinsic metaphysical principles, such as essence and existence, his essence must include its own act of existence, which is precisely why he is his own reason for being – and also his own reason for being such as his essence both dictates and permits.

      I can definitely grasp how Thomists have to water down concepts and be sufficiently vague in order to make the leaps to arrive at their conclusions. I just don't think you can see this being on the inside (likely) your whole life. Since there is no need for a first cause, the logic by which you deduce the nature of a first cause is already suspect, and false. Since god's essence is identical to his will, and his will is at least in part non-necessary, god's essence cannot be wholly necessary. So you're claiming that a non-necessary essence must be identical with existence. The claim thus that god's essence is existence is illogical, for at least this reason.

      Your argument that God’s will is not always efficacious simply because men sometimes violate divine natural law is worse than weak. Obviously, men are able to sin and often do sin -- for the simple reason that God wills, and thereby causes, them to be free beings, so that their salvation may be justly merited.

      This comment is wrong on so many levels. God wills men do X, who then do Y, this logically proves god's will is not always efficacious. That's the only point I was making there: god's will is not always actualized. And also, on Thomism there is no free will, because the Aristotelian principle "Whatever is changed is changed by another," or, in its more traditional formulation, "Whatever is moved is moved by another" negates it. If we "change" when we have a thought or perform an action, then we must be changed by another — according to the Aristotelian principle — meaning, something that is not us. Hence Thomism entails a kind of theistic determinism. But that's a side note.

      Although you claim to understand that God is outside of time, you keep thrusting him into time -- and then ask how there can be a before and after of his willing with respect to the sequential unfolding of creation events. Is he in time or not? You really appear unable to grasp the simple fact that God’s eternal unchanging will has, as its object, sequential created effects that unfold in time – with the unfolding and sequencing being on the part of the effects only, not on the part of the Creator Cause. No, this does not mean that the cosmos must be as eternal as God is, since its beginning marks a finitude willed by God eternally – not a “beginning point” insanely placed somehow upon God himself!

      The reason why I keep thrusting him into time is because you keep claiming god does/causes things. It is therefore you who keep thrusting god into time. I'm fine with a timeless god, so long as this god is causally impotent because a being that cannot change must be causally impotent. Regarding god having sequential created effects that unfold in time, god had to start this process, and to start a thing requires one do something. Creation ex nihilo, as it is commonly understood, entails there is a state of affairs where god exists and nothing else does, and there is a state of affairs where god exists and a universe exists. God being timeless negates this possibility, because god would have to act to make the universe, otherwise you're saying god can do something without doing something.

      You continue to insist that change in a cause itself is a requirement in order for it to do or cause anything, no matter how many times I point out that the change effected takes place, by definition, in the effect, NOT in the cause. All that you do is to keep restating your absolutely unproven and unprovable assumption that to cause means for the cause to undergo a change. Every “proof” you offer is merely another example of change in creatures occurring -- and then you, with a total lack of logic, wind up by thinking that this must somehow also require a change in the Creator.

      You can't simply define the change to take place in the effect and not the cause and think you've resolved the problem. It doesn't work that way. I've already logically proved my view. It is your job to show which premise is false:

      P1. It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
      P2. It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
      P3. It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
      C. As such, a timeless, changeless being cannot do anything.

      To claim that god can timelessly cause, create, and sustain effects that are temporal is to violate the first premise. You'd be claiming that it is logically possible to do something without doing something. That is impossible, not only by definition, but by logic. In other words, this is not dependent on materialism being true. This is dependent on logical necessities.

      Your evident inability to understand how all this works in metaphysics makes even less impressive to me some of your absurd philosophical claims about the implications of physics, especially when I am aware that competent counter-explanations exist.

      LOL, so you having never studied special relativity (or perhaps physics for that matter) somehow know what's absurd about implications from physics? The same implications the majority of the physics community including Einstein had?I've shown repeatedly that your knowledge of special relativity is elementary and filled with mistakes and misunderstandings. I'd say your understanding of SR is far worse than you think my understanding of AT metaphysics is. You don't even understand the counter-explanations.

      Since you have also convinced me that you are either unable or unwilling to improve your arguments, I am simply going to block you on Disgus, since I cannot continue to take time to keep restating what should by now be abundantly evident.

      I have the exact same assessment of you on physics and its implications. Good day!

    • Jim the Scott

      Hay doc!

      The only "necessity" in God's Will is if God from all eternity wills X He must by necessity both will and do X and He cannot therefore will or do Not X.

      But notionally prior to Willing from all eternity God is free to Will either X or Not X and there is no necessity in his divine essence(other then the choice of his will) or external to him compelling or limiting his choice.

  • Jim the Scott

    Last shot This is meaningless at best trivial

    >But since this god isn't logically necessary, it is logically possible another god existed, especially one that isn't triune.

    I told this guy over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over over and over and over and over and over and over etc that we can't know God is a Trinity via rational argument only by divine revelation.

    The subject of the Trinity is not part of Natural Theology or Philosophical Theology (except as a given in regards to the later).

    He doesn't listen so there you go................

    I am amazed he has not made even ONE valid objection to Classic Theism. Arguing with him is 90% correcting his mistakes and him dumping a ton of verbage.

    I don't blame Doc for Bailing. Wish he would get the hint.

    • I told this guy over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over over and over and over and over and over and over etc that we can't know God is a Trinity via rational argument only by divine revelation.

      I know it isn't logical, I'm not denying that, I'm affirming that --- that is part of why god is not necessary.

      am amazed he has not made even ONE valid objection to Classic Theism. Arguing with him is 90% correcting his mistakes and him dumping a ton of verbage.

      Oh I have, you just can't understand my arguments and prefer to strawman, just like the above.

  • Jim the Scott

    the Clueless leading the even more clueless

    >Classical Theism is not Christian Theism.

    Only if one defines "Christianity" strictly & solely in terms of 19th century Protestant Fundamentalism or any Post Enlightenment version of Protestantism.

    Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Orthodox Jews (even Muslims) beg to differ.......

    Some people should stick to being mere cheerleaders and not get ideas above their station.

    • the Clueless leading the even more clueless

      Sounds a lot like a general summary of religion.

  • Jim the Scott

    Can anyone explain to me how God can be proven that he is not "logically necessary"
    (whatever that means God isn't a math axiom?) by a version of the PSR (the Rationalist version of Leibniz) which pretty much everyone here(Classic theists and skeptics alike) rejects as invalid in the first place?

    That seems odd?

    Can anyone here who speaks English and not gibberish explain this to me?

    • Your question is gibberish. Learn proper grammar.

  • Dennis Bonnette

    Of course there are rational reasons to believe in the Trinity.

    People do not have to believe in Christianity on the basis of blind faith. There are many reasons available in apologetics that move people to accept Christianity as genuine revelation.

    The fact that not all people come to believe is just as personal a decision as is the decision to accept the evidence leading to accept the truth of faith. If one does accept Christianity, this does not mean that one confuses God, as he can be known by natural reason, with God as his nature is revealed in the Christian mystery. The Christian knows it is one and the same God, but does not confuse what he knows by reason and the mystery of God's triune nature which he knows by faith.

    It is silly to call this "bait and switch." The belief in God as the Trinity is found early in Christianity. Aristotle's God was quite foreign to Christian thought in the first place, since he thought of him as a "thought thinking itself," impersonally removed from a world that he did not even create.

    The work of Christian philosophers developed a natural knowledge of God that culminated in St. Thomas' understanding in the early second millennium that God was Ipsum Esse Subsistens -- the highest natural intellectual expression of the divine nature. This philosophical development of a natural understanding of God took place under the influence of faith, but neither proved the faith nor replaced it.

    So, what was your "bait," and where was your "switch?"

    It helps to understand the history of what you are talking about.

    • Jim the Scott

      I don't think Tommy & his friends gets the idea we can't rationally or philosophically argue if there is a God then He must be a Trinity?

      Some people just can't take yes for an answer?

      We can only know God is a Trinity by divine revelation alone. In which case the emphasis shifts to arguments for or against the validity of any particular claimed divine revelation.

      Whatever God is then He is that by necessity and logically cannot be anything else but noting that is trivial but some people think if they repeat volumes of gibberish that will get them somewhere.

      Cheers.

      • I don't think Tommy & his friends gets the idea we can't rationally or philosophically argue if there is a God then He must be a Trinity?

        Oh we perfectly get that. That is central to our arguments why you are in no position to argue god is a necessary being, because you can't claim a god is necessary when that god's essence is non-necessary.

        Whatever God is then He is that by necessity and logically cannot be anything else but that but noting that is trivial but some people think if they repeat volumes of gibberish that will get them somewhere.

        Whatever the universe is then is that by necessity and logically cannot be anything else but that but noting that is trivial but some people think if they repeat volumes of gibberish that will get them somewhere. There you go, naturalism proved using your same logic. Any attempt to refute this using that watered down PSR will be futile.

  • Jim the Scott

    We don't use philosophical reasoning to conclude God is a Trinity because we cannot do so. I can't use physics or quantum mechanics to conclude biological evolution is true but that doesn't mean I can't know evolution is true by other rational & or scientific means.

    We might have reasons for believing if there is a God then He might send a divine revelation and we might have reasons to believe something is an authentic divine revelation(that is outside my personal abilities to argue I only do natural theology). But there is no way one could use a Cosmological Argument or ontological argument to conclude God is either a monad, unitarian or trinitarian divinity.

    One could conceive of a Classic Theistic God in purely apropotic terms, unitarian terms or Trinitarian terms. There is nothing in Classic Theism that makes any of those positions impossible. There is no contradiction. But unless God tells you then you cannot know He is unitarian or trinitarian or whatever.

    Especially since in Classic Theism and Thomism the Trinity is also conceived in purely apropotic terms via negative theology so that reinforces their compatibility.

    How do you prove there is a contradiction between a Classic Theistic Godhead and that Godhead having divine relations subsisting in the divine essence(which is the Trinity in a nutshell)?

    You really can't. It's not falsifiable either by logic or evidence in and of itself. You would have to give me reasons to doubt the New Testament or the Church then I can doubt the Trinity. Of course that doesn't mean I would have to default to Atheism. I would still be a Classic Theist. I could be an Aristotelian Classic Theist/Deist until someone comes up with good arguments for Atheism and good defeaters for Classic Theism (& citing the Rationalist PSR against Classic Theism or pretending it is no different from the Scholastic one is not ever going to cut it).

    Natural Theology can tell you something about the attributes of the divine essence but nothing about the divine relations.

    (if some people are foolish enough to get in this fight with me on this please don't bore me too death by to making up your own terms and arguing them rather then learn the difference between a divine essence, divine nature, divine relations or divine attributes. There is nothing like a silly opponent arguing his own red herrings and straw men to put me to sleep.)

    A divine person is a subsisting divine relation. It is a real distinction that subsists in the Godhead but it's nature is mysterious by definition. It is not a real physical or metaphysical distinction in God as that would violate the divine simplicity.

    But then again if I understood it is in itself it would not be the doctrine of the mystery of the Trinity now would it?

    • We don't use philosophical reasoning to conclude God is a Trinity because we cannot do so.

      We all agree, and that's why your god is not a necessary being.

      One could conceive of a Classic Theistic God in purely apropotic terms, unitarian terms or Trinitarian terms. There is nothing in Classic Theism that makes any of those positions impossible. There is no contradiction.

      There is only a contradiction in saying one of these versions is a "necessary" being, which is exactly what Thomists (and all Christians technically) say. You cannot claim a being that logically could have been otherwise is a necessary being. Thomists claim that because the universe logically could have been otherwise, it is contingent, yet god could have logically been otherwise and is necessary. That makes no sense. If all you have to deny this is "suppositional necessity" (IE it just is eternally this way, therefore it must be this way), then the atheist could say the same exact thing about an eternal universe: it didn't have to be the way it is logically, but because it is eternal and therefore not any other way, it is "suppositionally necessary."

      You really can't. It's not falsifiable either by logic or evidence in and of itself. You would have to give me reasons to doubt the New Testament or the Church then I can doubt the Trinity. Of course that doesn't mean I would have to default to Atheism. I would still be a Classic Theist. I could be an Aristotelian Classic Theist/Deist until someone comes up with good arguments for Atheism and good defeaters for Classic Theism (& citing the Rationalist PSR against Classic Theism or pretending it is no different from the Scholastic one is not ever going to cut it).

      Well you can show that such a classically theistic godhead is not a necessary being, since its essence is its will, and its will is not necessary. Doubting the NT or Church is fantastically easy. Just require a basic level of evidence and consistency along with knowledge of its history and human nature and it falls apart. Arguing against generic classic theism with defeaters is easy. All one has to do is show that the classical theist's starting assumptions are wrong, and then the conclusions will not follow. And this is easy to do, since classical theism is built of a faulty understanding of how the world works (and it's version of the PSR allows atheists to say the universe is necessary since it's a watered down PSR).

      Natural Theology can tell you something about the attributes of the divine essence but nothing about the divine relations.

      Which is exactly why you will have things about the "divine essence" that cannot in principle be logically concluded out of necessity, and that means the only explanations available to you for why it is the way it is, must, in principle, be contingent ones or brute facts. And then you're in the same position the atheist is in.

      But then again if I understood it it would not be the doctrine of the mysteryof the Trinity now would it?

      Sure, but all your possibilities can be logically mapped out and you have no good optins. And the Thomist/classical theist has nothing over the atheist in terms of an explanation of existence. Once one probes the Thomist/classical theist's reasoning, it becomes apparently that their explanation chain terminates in a "mystery" that they have no real justification for calling "necessary."

  • Dennis Bonnette

    Total non sequitur.

    Reason DOES lead to the Christian God, but only as he is naturally known. That one and the same Supreme Being is known to be the Trinity soley by supernatural revelation.

  • The problem with your solution: materiality, finiteness etc. aren't “non-being”, they're aspects of being. Something, not nothing.

    You claim that it's “self-evident” our limitation in terms of space and time do not result from direct causation by God. I'm afraid it's anything but.

    There is a third option beside creating physical creatures, or none at all. It would have been possible for God to create only non-physical creatures (like I assume angels are conceived as being).

    What is the cause of these things limitations, if not God? That question never gets answered. You simply assert that God need not be the cause. What else would it be then?

    Moral evil can be ascribed to free will, sure. However, that too was God's creation within people. Not only that, but on Thomist metaphysics I'm pretty sure that only compatibilism is supported. Thus there would be no contradiction in beings who freely always act to the good.

    It strikes me that if you posit an all-knowing and all-powerful creator, there is no way the buck stops anywhere where else. There is no way to acquit God.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      It is easy to criticize the metaphysical explanations of the via triplex when you deny God’s existence in the first place.

      But the three-fold way is part of natural theology which follows the demonstrations of God’s existence. That is, metaphysical science has already proven that God exists. What is now being done is to attempt rational explanation as to how we can know something of his nature, not merely the fact of his existence.

      Yes, God could have created solely angelic beings. Yet, even they are lacking some perfections of existence, or else, they would be identical with God himself.

      For physical beings, there are only two options: exist as what they are or not at all. If they are to exist at all, they must exist as what they are, complete with the limitations that go with that nature. Thus, it is better for a man to be human, with all his limitations, than for him to not be at all. Besides, we manifest certain perfections that are not found in angels, such as the capacity to give each other hugs. And revealed theology promises man a last end that is analogous to that of the angels.

      Are we to deny to God the freedom to create a variety of perfections in his garden of creatures?

      Other than denying God the ability to create physical reality, there is no way to disallow the “aspects” of materiality known as space and time, which, yes, are limitations of being proper to physical things.

      What metaphysics tells us is that God must produce the perfections of being found in physical things, but need not directly produce the limitations or non-being attendant upon those perfections. For example, if you make the Earth, it necessarily entails its being located in this part of space and not throughout all of space.

      Of course, God is the cause of the limitations, just like the baker is the cause of the cake being only so big and chocolate. But we still praise and thank the baker for the cake.

      If God is to create real persons (angelic or human), they must have intellects and intellectual appetites (free wills). It may seem a mystery to you why he did not just make us only choose the good, but the reality of freedom is that it can be misused. The deeper truth is that divine justice requires that we must merit the happiness of heaven, which entails the real possibility of rejecting our last end. There is nothing unjust about requiring creatures to freely seek their own ultimate good.

      Given the value of eternal complete happiness, it just might be unjust on God's part to gratuitously give heaven to all without any proper free response on the part of creatures. Would someone whose response to the beauty of creation -- given the choice -- be like that of Adolf Hitler really deserve eternal beatitude? And how can that be existentially determined without creating the actual conditions for choice?

      • Equally, this is probably to easier accept for a theist. However a theist could still reject this. In any case your arguments will stand or fall on their own.

        I don't accept that it has, but I'm aware of your purpose here.

        I realize they wouldn't be equal to God.

        Why is it better to have limitations than not exist at all?

        How is it God need not create these limitations? If creating physical things entails that, he is creating those.

        That is irrelevant.

        Going by Thomism, everything which exists has a cause, our thoughts and desires both included. Therefore only compatibilism is a viable option here. A libertarian free will that you posit here has no place.

        The rest only flows from libertarian free will, which as above is a non-option for you.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          “Why is it better to have limitations than not exist?”

          I don’t want to get into all of metaphysics here, but if God is the infinite good and God is pure existence, then the divine simplicity requires that goodness is proportional to existence. This means that any level of existence is better than non-being.

          “Going by Thomism, everything which exists has a cause, our thoughts and desires included. Therefore only compatibilism is a viable option here. A libertarian free will which you reference has no place.”

          I do not know of St. Thomas ever using such modern terms as “compatibilism” and “libertarian” in reference to the will.

          What he does say is this:

          “Free will is the cause of its own motion, because by his free will man moves himself for the sake of acting. Nevertheless, it does not of necessity belong to liberty that what is free should be the first cause of itself, as neither is it required for one thing to be the cause of another that it be the first cause. God, therefore, is the first cause, moving both natural and voluntary causes. And just as by moving natural causes he does not divert their acts from being natural, so by moving voluntary causes he does not divert their actions from being voluntary; but rather he produces this ability in them: for he
          operates in each thing according to its own nature.”
          (Summa Theologiae 1, q. 83, a. 1)

          I do not intend to get into a lengthy discussion here about the metaphysics of free will, but the mere fact that God moves the will to seek ultimate happiness does not mean that he forces us to choose means appropriate to that end. The concept of sin is precisely that we refuse the proper means to that end.

          Everything which exists does not have a cause according to Thomism. Everything must have a sufficient reason. Only extrinsic reasons are called causes. A thing could be its own sufficient reason, such as God, and hence, not need a cause.

          God moves the will to act, but to act in accordance with its own nature as a free faculty to choose between various means to the end. Some people don’t rob banks because they know it will make them miss their last end. Others do rob banks because they allow their imagination to overwhelm their better judgment, and so choose the means to temporal happiness while blinding themselves to the true means to happiness, which is virtue.

          Yes, our thoughts and desires have causes (psychological?), but we choose between various finite goods which are more or less fitted to our ultimate end. God sustains our free will’s nature in its own proper act of choosing between these lesser goods. Thus, the will is both free, and yet, sustained by God in its ordination toward happiness and in its operation of freely choosing between immediate means which may be either properly ordered to that end or not.

          • I honestly don't know what that means.

            Of course Aquinas didn't use terms that hadn't been invented yet in his time.

            Well, you're the expert, so I'll shelve the free will issue.

            Everything except for God does.

            I would take to get back onto the issue of being and non-being, as it still makes no sense to me that God is not the ultimate cause for both.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I don't know how to explain this more clearly: You simply do not need a cause for non-being.

            Let me try an example. (Examples can be dangerous!) But you need a cause for the doughnut, not for the hole. If you create the circle of dough and fry it, you have indirectly made the hole. But the hole, as a hole, needs no direct cause.

            (Of course, I know that they sell the holes -- which may put a hole in my example!)

          • Well you say this, but I'm not seeing a justification of it.

            The doughnut and the hole are inextricable. When a doughnut gets made, the hole is created by carving out part of it. So this is caused by the baker. It has a direct cause. Thus it is a poor example. I'm not sure what example would be an exception to this either.

          • Jim the Scott

            >Well you say this, but I'm not seeing a justification of it.

            Allow me......

            >The doughnut and the hole are inextricable.

            Ah no! I have eaten Duncan Doughnuts dude. I have had jelly doughnuts without holes. (Also so called doughnut holes that you eat are only "metaphorical" doughnut holes not "actual" ones). In principle you cannot have the doughnut hole without the doughnut.

            > When a doughnut gets made, the hole is created by carving out part of it.

            Actually you often bend them & connect the two ends & the the privation of doughnut in the middle constitutes the "hole". You can have a doughnut without a "hole" but not a hole without a doughnut.

            For example the Jelly doughnut.

            https://memes.getyarn.io/yarn-clip/bd12aa23-efd5-41cd-82ca-510586d145d0

            >So this is caused by the baker. It has a direct cause. Thus it is a poor example. I'm not sure what example would be an exception to this either.

            Well the bake causes doughnuts with holes by causing there to be an absence of doughnut in the middle of it.

            He doesn't actually mix non-dough and non-flower & bake "nothing" to put it in the middle.

            The baker is the formal cause of the hole.

            I hope this helps and I hope you enjoy the Mckenzie brothers. They are so Canadian..........

          • Okay. I'm not familiar with these holeless doughnuts. That was my point, you can't have a doughnut like this without a hole.

            All right. This again seems like what I said.

            Yes, that's what I was saying.

            Of course, as this isn't "nothing".

            I also was claiming the baker is the "formal cause". Not sure where we disagree really.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If we do disagree, that is a lack of the being of agreement, which has no actual cause. What is caused is viewpoints that happen to diverge in virtue of going in different directions. What causes the viewpoints is actual, but you need no actual cause for the lack of agreement.

            Do you agree? Or not?

          • The cause of our disagreement is having different opinions. It's an actual cause.

            I don't agree.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The opinions need a cause. Their divergence is merely an incidental side effect of their positive thrusts. It has no cause as such, whereas the opinions themselves are directly caused by us who hold them.

            More seriously, God can create only things less than himself, which means things with fewer perfections. The nature of a thing determines what perfections it has and what ones it lacks.

            The key insight is that non-being does not need a cause; being does.

            So to the extent God causes a certain set of perfections in something, he is the cause for it. What it lacks, he "causes" solely by not causing anything to be of that sort.

            So, how precisely is he responsible for what he does not cause?

          • How is it an "incidental side effect" of this? When two people's opinions differ on something, it follows that they disagree. It's hardly incidental.

            You keep claiming that non-being does not need a cause. I'm not seeing how that follows. Or worse, that these things are even non-being at all.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You have to try to think in terms of existential perfections. A given nature has a certain set of them, but is limited in its being because it lacks others. Thus, a bird can fly, but may not be able to dive to the bottom of the sea like a whale. Both have certain sets of perfections, but creating them naturally prevents them from having the alternative abilities.

            God needs to create the perfections that they have, but he simply does not create the ones they lack. That is not a fault of God's, but the inherent limitations of being a whale or being a bird. This does not make God evil, but merely recognizes the nature of what it means for him to create things less than himself.

            You have to try to think in terms, not merely of material quality, but the act of existence that makes those qualities real. A dinosaur is a wondrous beast, but none of them have existence today. Actual existence is everything to an essence. Without it it is nothing.

          • By creating things one way, it necessarily limits them in others. This is not even to mention things whose inherent nature is harmful to others, for instance viruses.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Unlike God himself, limited beings may mutually exclude each others perfections -- at least in the material world. Still, it is better for the material world to exist than never to have been.

            Sort of like it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

            Also, the beauty of a whole garden of various flowers is greater than one of only roses, even though a rose may be more beautiful than a buttercup.

            When you create a material world of living things, the actions of one to live may entail harm to another. Here you get into the great complexity of the problem of evil, which could take a lot of explaining -- but is not impossible.

            Nothing has an inherent nature to harm others, or at least that is not its primary purpose. Its primary purpose is its own survival and being. Others may be harmed incidentally. Think of the last time you ate a hamburger. It was good for you, but what about the cow?

          • My points were that God could have created things differently, and was the direct cause of these things. I don't think anything you've said here disagrees with that.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Yes, God could have created things differently and is the direct creator of what he creates.

            Does any of that pose a problem?

          • Well you were saying he wasn't the direct cause of privations, and that's what I've been disputing. As for any further problem, that would get us off into different issues.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It might help to distinguish limitation from privation.

            God is a direct cause of limitation, but not privation.

            A privation is the absence of a perfection due to the nature of a given substance, for example, that a horse should be lame.

            That a horse have only four legs is a limitation, but not a privation.

          • Is he not the direct cause of horses falling sick due to various diseases however, to extend this analogy, by creating bacteria that have such an effect on them? Does this not rob them of good health, a privation?

          • Jim the Scott

            Is God responsible for creating world which contain some type of evil that creatures will fall victim too and God knowingly allows that too happen?

            Obviously........

            Now that we got that out of the way let's move on.

          • I'm afraid that seems less than "all good" to me.

          • Jim the Scott

            He is metaphysically good and ontologically good. Ergo God is the source of the goodness in things including the goodness of the Moral Law. But God is not morally good. Or more precisely God is not a moral agent. Or even more precise then that God given His Nature is not a moral agent unequivocally comparable to a human moral agent.

            Looks good too me.

          • So what is he? Is this one of the apophatic things?

          • Jim the Scott

            You are getting it.

          • Okay.

          • Jim the Scott

            Because your view of God is as of now (hopefully it will improve in the future) too anthropomorphic.

          • I'm not sure it's that.

          • Jim the Scott

            I guess we will have to disagree there. But IMHO you are a textbook case of that. But that is just my opinion. U'R free to disagree naturally.

          • All right.

          • Jim the Scott

            Bavarian cream donuts? Jellies? They don't have holes. The hole is accidental not essential for the doughnut but the hole needs the doughnut not the other way around.

            >Of course, as this isn't "nothing".

            It is "nothing" in so much as it is an absence of doughnut.

            >I also was claiming the baker is the "formal cause". Not sure where we disagree really.

            Excellent then so far so good.

          • I've only had the kind with holes. My knowledge of doughnuts is obviously lacking. In any case I agree that the hole requires the doughnut.

            It isn't literal nothing is my point.

            So if we're agreed, do you agree that God is the cause of these privations too? That's what the analogy is about.

          • Jim the Scott

            God is the formal cause of these privations. God is the formal cause of evil in that he creates a material world and it is the nature of material things to compete with other material thing for their perfection and fulfill their perfection at the expense of another thing. God could have created a world where this does not happen but then he would not have created a material world.
            God is the formal cause of evil in that he creates rational beings who are moral agents who might choose to defy the moral law.

            God is the formal cause of evil but not the direct creator of evil.

            Of course God is not obligated to create any particular world and not possible world is so good God is obligated to create it and non is so bad that as long as it participates in His Divine Goodness he should refrain from creating it.

            The Best of All Possible Worlds is in fact impossible since any world God could potentially create is by definition less then Him and any world God creates he could have always made a better one.

          • What is the difference between formal cause and direct creator of something?

            You need to justify that "of course". How do you know there is no such possible world?

            If a better one could exist, why is it not made instead?

          • Jim the Scott

            >What is the difference between formal cause and direct creator of something?

            Isn't it self evident? Formal Cause = the pattern that determines the form taken by something.

            Efficient Cause =an agent that brings a thing into being or initiates a change.

            >You need to justify that "of course". How do you know there is no such possible world?

            Such a world would have to be "un-caused" as a perfection like God and how can God cause an "un-caused" world? He cannot do so (& we naturally assume Aquinas' correct view of omnipotence and not Descartes wacky view).

            Ergo God cannot create the best of all possible world. He can make a world and could make a better one and one still better then that......

            >If a better one could exist, why is it not made instead?

            If He did He could still make a better one and you could/would still ask the same question. Also God isn't really obligated to create any world. The one he does choose to create is an act of Charity toward that world.

          • It's not self-evident as I wasn't sure what these terms mean.

            I don't know what you mean by "un-caused" as a perfection like God". Nor am I at all familiar with Aquinas's concept of omnipotence.

            So is there no world so bad that God couldn't make it? Does he have any obligations at all?

          • Jim the Scott

            >It's not self-evident as I wasn't sure what these terms mean.

            Very well.

            >I don't know what you mean by "un-caused" as a perfection like God". Nor am I at all familiar with Aquinas's concept of omnipotence.

            Doesn't have a cause? In principle cannot have a cause? Aquinas believes God can only in theory do what is logically possible. Descartes believed comically that God can make contradictions true (like make 2+2=5, rock so heavy etc...God can't lift it etc).

            >So is there no world so bad that God couldn't make it? Does he have any obligations at all?

            As long as it participates in God's being then it is already good in some manner and God is NOT a moral agent so He has no obligations to creatures per say.

            That later concept requires development see the writing of Brian Davies for details.

          • I get what "uncaused" means, I'm just not sure how that would apply to the possible world here. As to making contradictions true, I've heard something similar of Occam, that he thought if God willed murder was right, it would be.

            So what does it mean when people say "God is all good" if he isn't a moral agent? I am confessedly confused.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I get what "uncaused" means, I'm just not sure how that would apply to the possible world here.

            God is absolutely infinitely perfect so any world He creates by definition has to be less then that and cannot even in principle be equal that.

            > As to making contradictions true, I've heard something similar of Occam, that he thought if God willed murder was right, it would be.

            Murder is the unlawful taking of human life(or rational life in general). God cannot coherently will or command that we break His Laws. It is self-referential. So God could not will murder.

            >So what does it mean when people say "God is all good" if he isn't a moral agent? I am confessedly confused.

            See my other post. God is metaphysically and ontologically good and thus the source of all the goodness in things. But moral being are under the Law & God isn't under any Law above him but is a Law unto Himself.

            Now that doesn't mean God can do anything but He is not obligated to stop other moral actor (in the short term) from doing anything wicked.

          • I'm still unclear on why he couldn't create a maximally good world, even if it's not as good as him. Heaven, for instance-isn't that the ultimate good world?

            I didn't think he could, just mentioned it as a similar view. Now by a rational life, you mean creatures similar to us, assuming that any exist out there?

            I'm not sure what God's goodness consists of at all.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I'm still unclear on why he couldn't create a maximally good world, even if it's not as good as him. Heaven, for instance-isn't that the ultimate good world?

            Nope, Heaven is the soul looking upon the Beatific Vision. That is we look at Him for all eternity. The Un-caused God in and of Himself is the Best of All Possible Worlds.

            So God can make a better world and one still better but he really can't make the best of all possible worlds.

            >I didn't think he could, just mentioned it as a similar view. Now by a rational life, you mean creatures similar to us, assuming that any exist out there?

            I anticipated you might bring up possible intelligent aliens so I shappened the definition.

            >I'm not sure what God's goodness consists of at all.

            You should learn the scholastic definition of The Good.

          • That seems like the best thing possible then. A gradation would exist in relation to this.

            I wasn't thinking about that actually, but it's good to include.

            How do I learn that?

          • Jim the Scott

            Study Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas to get the metaphysical and philosophical evaluation of goodness.

            God is Goodness Itself but God is not morally good (in the sense I already briefly explained). One would say God is Goodness Itself & the rootbeer I am drinking is very good in taste but that doesn't mean God maximally "tastes good". God isn't the sort of thing you literally taste so he can't taste good. God does not have obligations to His Creatures but that doesn't mean he can do what he wants with them(contrary to his nature) and that doesn't mean his isn't good.

          • I don't think either of them thought the good could be a person.

          • Jim the Scott

            God is not "a person" like we are persons. God is not compered to creatures unequivocally but by way of analogy.

            Also God is said to be "personal" because He has intellect and will.

          • I don't think either of them thought an entity was the good.

          • Jim the Scott

            God technically is not "an entity".

            More like "Being Itself" or "the Ground of All Being" or "Substantive Being Itself" or "Unconditional Reality" etc....

            You are thinking of pagan deities or theistic personalism...

          • I'm not thinking about Zeus or something here. Yet they say God does have intellect and will. That seems close enough. So did Plato and Aristotle feel the good had those?

          • Jim the Scott

            One of the links I posted too you should be about Classic Theism.

            I hope it helps.

          • Thanks.

          • Jim the Scott

            >That seems like the best thing possible then. A gradation would exist in relation to this.

            Well God is comparable to Infinity and if we rated our world with a Score of let us say 10000 we can it as high as possible and as low as possible (using negative numbers) but no world in principle can score infinity.

            >How do I learn that?

            Maybe this will help too?

            https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

          • Okay, but some could be closer.

            All right, thanks again.

          • I don't know what this means.

          • Jim the Scott

            That is a Start.

            Some basic info.
            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06636b.htm

          • What is a start?

            Thanks.

          • Jim the Scott

            >What is a Start?

            Saying "I don't know". Socrates was the wisest man in antiquity since he knew that he knew not......

            >Thanks.

            My pleasure.

          • Oh, well I'm always fine with saying that.

        • Jim the Scott
          • Okay.

          • Thing is there is technically no human free will on Thomism. On Thomism there is no free will because the Aristotelian principle "Whatever is changed is changed by another," or, in its more traditional formulation, "Whatever is moved is moved by another" negates it. If we "change" when we have a thought or perform an action, then we must be changed by another — according to the Aristotelian principle — meaning, something that is not us. Hence Thomism entails a kind of theistic determinism. But there's still a hell!

          • That was my thought too. Apparently not according to them though. I don't know how we would categorize it according to modern terms. Jim the Scott thinks it can't fit into any post-Enlightenment view.

          • Jimbo rarely knows what he's talking about or what actually entails from what he's talking about. Thomists will all say humans have free will on their view, but that doesn't mean they actually do. If their metaphysics negates the possibility of free will, claiming that humans have free will will not change that. So it all comes down to definitions. Thomists cannot justify libertarian free will on their metaphysics. At best they can make a claim for a version of compatibilistic free will, but compatibilism isn't real free will. And of course they will deny their "free will" can fit into the modern day categories, but there's no reason to believe that. Upon analysis their "free" will will fit into a category at some level, as the categories themselves are broad.

          • Well of course it's true if their metaphysics denies free will, then saying it doesn't won't help. I just don't want to go into another issue here now though. These discussions have a way of just moving into tangents that I don't have time for. I'm also comfortable as a compatibilist myself, whether or not that is a "real" free will.

          • Jim the Scott

            If I may interject again.

            >Well of course it's true if their metaphysics denies free will, then saying it doesn't won't help.

            But I trust you realize the opposite of what you wrote above is also true. Merely claiming Thomists are determinists does not make it so. Of course Thomists are not determinists and Thomists all things being equal might still be wrong ultimately regardless.

            (Even within our own religion since most of us are Catholics the followers of Dun Scotus disagree with us on many philosophical views. )

            > I just don't want to go into another issue just now though. These discussions have a way of just moving into tangents that I don't have time for.

            That is wise. Sadly you can't learn quantum mechanics in a sound bite and you need to study philosophy with equal diligence.

            > I'm also comfortable as a compatibilist myself, whether or not that is a "real" free will.

            Well there are Atheists and Skeptics who believe in Free Will and they may or may not believe in determinism.

            There are non-Thomist Theists who hold too Mechanistic schemes (like Leibniz) & they might both have views in common. Naturally if you reject determinism then you need not be a compatibilist.

            Of course if you reject mechanistic metaphysics then you are playing Soccer while those guys are playing American Football so it is a different game all together but are confused because the Soccer players call it football too.

            Thomists can't be compatibilists except by equivocation of terms.

            We do believe God is the cause of causes but it's not all efficient vs material causes.

            God is the cause of my free will and is the cause of my willing something being free.

            Cheers man. I am off to play an MMORPG.

          • Of course. I don't want to pigeonhole here (despite my effort earlier).

            So there are some Dunsmen left too? Interesting.

            I learn philosophy slowly, since too much of it simply goes over my head. The academic texts especially are daunting.

            I agree that atheists and theists both can hold far more positions than many think.

            So would you call Thomism libertarian, or do any of the terms even fit?

            P. S. For some reason your interjection before this isn't showing up. I'd just say regarding that...

            Some post-Enlightenment types do accept realism, both Platonic and Aristotelian. I am sympathetic to such views.

            Your warning is well taken, since many of these terms utterly confuse me. I'm still not very clear on your four causes for instance.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are wise to be cautious about adopting some of these terms devised more recently to describe such things as human freedom. Terms like compatibilism and libertarianism come with so much confusing definitional baggage as to be virtually useless.

            Rather than trying to impose this convoluted terminology on human freedom, it is better just to read the Thomistic explanation itself in order to see what it means.

            As for the four causes, they come from Aristotle and are not all that hard to grasp.

            1. The material cause is simply what something is made out of, like a house is made out of wood or man has a material body.

            2. The efficient cause is the agent or cause that makes or even creates something, as a carpenter makes a cabinet or God creates the cosmos.

            3. The formal cause is what makes a thing to be what it is, the essence of a thing -- as a lectern has such a structure as to support books or a man has some unifying principle that makes him a man and not a carrot.

            4. The final cause is the purpose of a thing or the end result that is expected to occur, as when I make a house for the purpose of living in it or when the element, sodium, always acts in the same way under the same conditions so as to tend to produce the same expected result.

            I realize that there are complex philosophical arguments over each of these causes today, but understanding the basic notions should help you to better engage in discussions about these concepts.

          • I've read what you said, and Feser. Still, it's hard to speak of without a term for it.

            I think my understanding was pretty close to what you said.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I was not trying to be original. :)

          • It wasn't meant as a criticism.

          • Compatibilism is a perfectly fine position on free will - to a certain extent. On any view that involves the possibility of eternal hell under any circumstances then compatibilistic free will is not a fine position. There is no logical compatibility with an eternal hell for people who are technically determined to go there, with a god that is infinitely good (literally goodness itself). Such a god would be a monster.

          • Agreed. I recall Augustine was pretty explicit that no one can have libertarian free will, and of course Calvin is too. Calvinists seem to think God is just allowed any action without it being wrong.

          • Jim the Scott

            Calvinists hold to post enlightenment mechanistic metaphysics. Scholastics do not which is why they are properly deniers of libertarian free will. But Catholics and Scholastics reject Calvinist readings and interpretations of Augustine.

          • Okay, but that isn't the only reason people could deny such libertarian free will. This paper argues Augustine did just that. http://www.academia.edu/5238739/The_Indicative_in_the_Imperative_On_Augustinian_Oughts_and_Cans

          • Jim the Scott

            Except "libertarian free will" and compatiblism all imply Mechanistic Metaphysics and Calvinism. Catholics interpret Augustine differently.

          • I'm not sure that's true. Libertarian free will means that in any situation you could have done otherwise, no? That seems to be what you've said Thomism supports.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I'm not sure that's true. Libertarian free will means that in any situation you could have done otherwise, no?

            If that is how you narrowly define it but it has got to be more then that....

            >That seems to be what you've said Thomism supports.

            But it's not a term we use and thus has no meaning in our system. Like reading "Total depravity" into the Catholic view of fallen humanity. Total depravity is a Calvinist concept. There may be parallels but they are not the same. Like the Jewish view of the "evil impulse" is similar to the Christian view of original sin but it's not the same.

          • All right, so tell me your view.

            Okay. What then makes the will free for Thomists, other than this ability to do otherwise?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Okay. What then makes the will free for Thomists, other than this ability to do otherwise?

            Well nobody forces me to will X. God doesn't will X on my behalf or instead of me. I am still doing it.

          • Okay, but that seems like a definition which also applies to compatibilism. I know you reject that. Just saying.

          • Jim the Scott

            I am sure Compatibilism is related to it in some fashion. Zeus being a "god" is related to God conceived of in the Classic Sense in some manner because they share a similar referent term "god". But we must understand the terms are not used in the same way.

            God being Cause of causes and the First Cause of all things is compatible with Free will in the classic Thomistic scheme. But it is not the same as Calvinist Compatiblism or some theistic scheme that presupposes mechanistic metaphysics or divine occationalism.

          • I understand it's different.

          • Yeah. Libertarian free will is arguably not even logically possible, regardless of what ontology you have (theism, atheism, materialism). It seems it's compatibilistic free will, or no free will. But then I can't see a justification for hell.

          • I don't even know what arguments there are for it either.

          • The main ones I've heard are usually something like this: "determinism is false, therefore free will," or "if we don't have free will, consequence X,Y,Z would be true, therefore free will." All of these routes fail.

          • Both of those are simply fallacies.

          • Jim the Scott

            I thought you might like this Michael as a side issue(we don't have to discuss it as that is too much on the plate).

            SOME ARGUMENTS FOR THE
            EXISTENCE OF FREE WILL

            http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/philn/philn046.pdf

            Personally I like the Reductio Ad Absurdum argument. Not sure about the "quantum argument". I don't think it's a scientific issue.

            Enjoy.

          • Thanks. I think scientific evidence does bear on it, though this isn't only a matter of science.

          • Jim the Scott

            The Science can tell you the physical processes in a brain and....that pretty much is it. It can't tell you what is means or what is a consciousness at that point you must go with philosophy.

          • I agree, but the evidence has import after that.

            P. S. An interesting link by the way. It had some bad words toward Scholasticism though, did you notice?

          • Jim the Scott

            The scientific evidence in principle cannot go beyond that. To claim that is all there is cannot itself be verified by the same science.

            OTOH in my link to the arguments for free will. Next to Reductio Ad Absurdum the empirical argument for Free will is equally powerful. Which is why many Atheists like Negal or Searle will give it a second look.

          • Go beyond what? I don't advocate scientism if that's what you mean.

            You mean introspection? I'm willing to give it a second look as well.

          • Jim the Scott

            >Go beyond what? I don't advocate scientism if that's what you mean.

            If so then you would know science cannot tell us if we have free will or not and in principle it cannot.

            >You mean introspection? I'm willing to give it a second look as well.

            No the The Argument from Observation. But look at what you like.

          • I merely think it can inform our view.

            I read them all. The argument from observation here seems to be introspection.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I merely think it can inform our view.

            Good I have no problem with that.

            >I read them all. The argument from observation here seems to be introspection.

            If you say so. I see no reason to quibble about that then.

          • Great.

            Cool.

          • Yup. The best arguments for free will are usually fallacies.

          • I have just read some which seemed different. Not sure how to find one link, but here is another: http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/

          • This argues that indeterminism is needed for creative thoughts, which is needed for free will, but that is simply false. Determinism would allow for all the creative thoughts like Mozart's symphony's and all scientific breakthroughs. This is not to say determinism is true, it's just to say that indeterminism isn't needed for creativity, which seems to be the linchpin of the argument.

          • It seems to argue both are needed for free will, but I haven't gotten into all of it yet.

          • Jim the Scott

            Compatibilism requires determinism but since Thomists are concurrentists & not determinists then they can hardly be Compatibilists.

            Some people confuse Formal Causes with Efficient causes because they want to recycle their non-starter objections to cartusian dualism and illegitimately apply them to hylemorphic dualism. Some people are just addicted to non-starter objections.

            The Atheist philosopher Rowe developed the evidentialist argument from Evil as a defeater against the Free Will theodicy. Fr. Brian Davies it seems agrees with Rowe's criticism(since he rejects the Free Will Theodicy and Theodicy in general since like all Classic Theists he believes God is not a moral agent in the first place and thus doesn't need no stinking theodicies ;-) ).

            Rowe points out there is no reason why God couldn't just create people he know will only choose good and not resist grace so that kills any moral justification for creating free will and allowing evil. But God's not a moral agent in the first place so the point is moot. God is not required to make any particular being and God need not refrain from creating any sort of being who will freely choose to reject Him. Of course revealed theology at this point would be added to natural theology and revealed theology tells us that divine revelation tells us that God somehow gives sufficient grace to all human beings to be saved. As such then salvation is in fact a real possibility for all men. This is a mystery.

            Of course Atheists who believe in free will also sometimes employ the concept of mystery. Even those who don't have to do so.

            https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/11/reading-rosenberg-part-iii.html#more

            A mystery in this case is not just something we don't know the answer too but in principle cannot know.

          • I know. You should really tell him this, not me.

            I'm not sure why you're talking about this now, as I haven't mentioned the argument from evil. However a supposedly all-good being needs an explanation of how it's compatible to this. I don't know how it could not be a moral agent.

            I don't see what mystery has to do with this. Assuming that you mean "God's ways are mysterious", it cuts both ways.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I know. You should really tell him this, not me.

            We have tried for months but he is determined to argue against the god he wishes we believed in not the one we actually believe in.

            >I'm not sure why you're talking about this now, as I haven't mentioned the argument from evil. However a supposedly all-good being needs an explanation of how it's compatible to this. I don't know how it could not be a moral agent.

            Well I don't see how he can be a moral agent? One might imagine the perfect root beer which tastes great but should we then imagine an all perfect God also "tastes great"? God may be all perfect by virtue of being Subsistent Being Itself but God isn't the sort of thing you taste and God isn't the sort of thing a moral agent is either.

            >I don't see what mystery has to do with this. Assuming that you mean "God's ways are mysterious", it cuts both ways.

            Very well one thing at a time.

          • All right, then if so I sympathize but I'm really not the one who should hear it.

            What does moral agency mean to you? It's best we get that straight, because I'm not sure how this relates to the analogy.

            Okay.

          • Jim the Scott

            A moral agent is a rational created being who is under the moral law.

            That is excludes God across the board. Anyway that is a side tangent to TT claims God is "evil" for allowing us to choose evil or more properly creating beings he knows will choose evil.

          • By definition yes. I'm not sure I agree with it though. However, it seems to leave God as more amoral than anything. What does the statement that "God is good" really mean?

          • Jim the Scott

            Davies said "In a sense God is amoral. But unlike an amoral human He isn't literally amoral in the sense an amoral human can be."

            >What does the statement that "God is good" really mean?

            Well God is goodness itself and the good is that which everything desires.

          • So in what sense is it then?

            Don't we desire not to suffer?

          • Jim the Scott

            In the sense God is not a human being. God is not something that is under the moral law. God is not a creature. God is not mutable like a human being. God does not have obligations like a human being does...etc....

            >Don't we desire not to suffer?

            I guess but speaking personally I would consent to suffering for a good end.

          • Doesn't moral law come from God on your view? He can't violate that, I take it. Even if that was from him, this seems to bind him in a sense. Like a person is bound by conscience.

            That's exactly the issue though, whether there is a good end, what it would be, if that's adequate justification etc.

          • Jim the Scott

            >Doesn't moral law come from God on your view?

            Yes, God also creates the sassafras tree needed to make good root beer but that doesn't mean God must taste good or that he can be tasted at all or that he is a Tree.

            >He can't violate that, I take it. Even if that was from him, this seems to bind him in a sense. Like a person is bound by conscience.

            Well God cannot will that we violate it. God can allow other rational beings to abuse their free will to do so. God can't will contrary to His nature. God isn't under the moral law He gives anymore then the Queen of England is her own subject.

            >That's exactly the issue though, whether there is a good end, what it would be, if that's adequate justification etc.

            Only if you are a Theistic Personalist who believes God is morally good or morally perfect. Plantingia and those who argue Theodicy presuppose that is the case. But no Classic Theist can as God is not the sort of thing we can say is a moral agent given his nature.

          • Yeah, but one is contingent, the other stemming necessarily from his all-good nature no?

            That's what I mean. He can only will one way. So How can he give people this ability?

            I'm not clear on what all-good means here then since it doesn't include moral.

          • Jim the Scott

            >Yeah, but one is contingent, the other stemming necessarily from his all-good nature no?

            Well God's all good nature doesn't include God being under some sort of Law that is above him. God must act according to His nature but God's nature doesn't include obligations to his creatures.

            >That's what I mean. He can only will one way. So How can he give people this ability?

            How can he not? God can't literally ride a bike but I can. An immaterial divine nature cannot sit on a bike and physically move it because it is not physical. Sure God could supernaturally move it or become Incarnate and have his human nature physically move it. By this reasoning God cannot create bike riders just because he can't literally ride a bike. God cannot will contrary to his nature or directly will what is intrinsically evil.

            >I'm not clear on what all-good means here then since it doesn't include moral.

            Does something have to be moral to be good? A good root beer is not moral. Being Itself is not the sort of thing you would say is well behaved or need follow a law above it?

            God as he is understood classically is not a moral agent and in principle cannot be one(except in so far as God is the moral law itself can he be called morally good).

          • Why?

            So that contradicts what Dennis said back in the article, that God can't give something he doesn't have. Now you seem to agree with my objection.

            I don't think that all goodness means moral goodness, but to say God's goodness doesn't entail that is surprising. What is it?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Why?

            That is a Vague question. Hope this is not too vague an answer because that is how God is according to his nature. God is nothing like us we are something like what he is but he is nothing like us.

            >So that contradicts what Dennis said in the article, that God can't give something he doesn't have. Now you seem to agree with my objection here.

            No Dennis is talking about natures and essences you are thinking of accidents and attributes and confusing the two IMHO.

            >I don't think tgat all goodness means moral goodness, but to say God's goodness doesn't entail that is surprising.

            When I read Brian Davies works I thought the same thing and the Free Will Theodicy was my favor answer to the argument from Evil.

            Now I reject the Free Will Theodicy and all theodicies.

            >What is it?

            God is Being Itself.

          • How can we be something like him if he's nothing like us?

            How so?

            The free will theodicy can't explain all evil in any case.

            How is being itself the good?

          • Jim the Scott

            >How can we be something like him if he's nothing like us?

            A statue of a man is something like the man but the man is nothing like the statue.

            >The free will theodicy can't explain all evil in any case.

            Rowe's objection which I agree with but it's moot since God is not a moral agent.

            >How is being itself the good?

            Did you read my links on being and goodness?

          • A man is something like a statue, in that they have some resemblance.

            So nothing God does could be wrong?

            I read them. The first doesn't really defend it well I don't think, the second wasn't understandable.

          • Jim the Scott

            >A man is something like a statue, in that they have some resemblance.

            The statue is modeled after the man not the other way around ergo the man is nothing like the statue.

            >So nothing God does could be wrong?

            God cannot by definition do wrong and God can take life at will and that is never wrong.

            God can order the death of the Canaanites, even the women and children but he could not order them raped to death.

            >I read them. The first doesn't really defend it well I don't think, the second wasn't understandable.

            Without specific objections I can't respond. I can't help it if the links don't "do it" for you my friend.

            Peace friend.

          • I think they have a mutual resemblance given this.

            Why is that?

            So killing them would be fine, but not rape? Odd.

            I don't remember anything more specific.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I think they have a mutual resemblance given this.

            But it still goings only one way IMHO.

            >Why is that?

            Well God created life and causes all things to exist here and now. So how can he not?

            >So killing them would be fine, but not rape? Odd.

            Rape is intrinsically evil but killing is not. You can kill in some circumstances you may never rape in any circumstance.

            >I don't remember anything more specific.

            No worries.

          • I'm not sure about that.

            Well it doesn't necessarily follow.

            So assuming God ordered them killed, it would not be murder?

            I'll to read the paper that you linked.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I'm not sure about that.

            K'ay.

            >Well it doesn't necessarily follow.

            It seems reasonable to me or am I somehow forbidden to erase any computer program I write? Well God is more my creator and author then a programmer is to his program so how it is wrong for God to will someone's soul be separated from their body?

            >So assuming God ordered them killed, it would not be murder?

            Assuming God really ordered that (thought I am open to the idea the Haraam commands may not have been understood to be literal. That is a valid interpretation but it's too easy) then how can God in principle commit murder given the definition I provided for murder? How is it "unlawful" for the supreme lawgiver to authorize the taking of any human life? It's is like accusing Elizabeth II of treason for wearing the crown jewels and calling herself Queen of England? Now if someone else made that claim they could be charged with that crime.

            >I'll to read the paper that you linked.

            Thanks. Cheers man. Also maybe we can get Dr. B to chime in on the hard questions if they turn out to be above my pay grade.

          • If we were just computer programs sure.

            Yes, forgot. I still reject the idea, but you answered already.

          • Jim the Scott

            >If we were just computer programs sure.

            Computer programs compared to us have no right too complain. How much more is God in relation to us then a mere program?

            >Yes, forgot. I still reject the idea, but you answered already.

            Very well.

          • I'm saying we're not like them, and far more. They lack any desire to live, and self-awareness at all. God gave us both, in your view, thus it's not surprising we would find the idea of his taking our lives at a whim repugnant. We are also created in his image by the same view. I don't know precisely what this means, but that seems far more than the relationship between programmer and program.

          • Jim the Scott

            >I'm saying we're not like them, and far more.

            God is far more then us and all that we are we get from God and cannot give ourselves.

            >They lack any desire to live, and self-awareness at all.

            So what?

            >God gave us both, in your view, thus it's not surprising we would find the idea of his taking our lives at a whim repugnant.

            Rather I find it absurd that He cannot just as I would find it absurd to charge Elizabeth II with treason for claiming to be Queen of England.

            If I want to mod my video games I can do it. Even if He was a moral agent (He is not) how is it God wouldn't have the sole moral right to take our lives? He alone has the power to restore what he takes. I can't bring too life anyone I kill?

            > We are also created in his image by the same view.

            Meaning we have intellect and will not that we are absolutely equivalent or equal in dignity to God.

            >I don't know precisely what this means, but that seems far more than the relationship between programmer and program.

            What we are to Him is more then that for sure but God has the right to cause our souls to separate from our bodies according to His good pleasure.

            Given His relationship too us I don't see how it can be otherwise?

          • Jim the Scott
          • Maybe, we'll see.

          • Jim the Scott

            very well.

          • Jim the Scott

            Also God being Goodness Itself is the source of all the good in things so God is the source of the goodness in morality and the moral law (God could be said to be the Moral Law Itself). God is Being and Aquinas and Aristotle both argued Being is interchangeable with goodness.

          • You've said God couldn't will what's immoral though. It seems like he's moral then.

            Why is being interchangeable with goodness?

          • Jim the Scott

            >You've said God couldn't will what's immoral though.

            More like he can't will directly we do what is intrinsically evil. For example God could not will we commit sodomy.

            (OTOH keeping with our Aliens theme God could create a race of creatures that use the same orifice to expel waste as to receive genetic material or the alien equivalent for reproduction and that is not the same thing)

            > It seems like he's moral then.

            More like he functions like one but God cannot will what is intrinsically evil because it is against his nature and God cannot will contrary to his nature.

            >Why is being interchangeable with goodness?

            Gonna punt here with a link.

            http://www.aquinasonline.com/Questions/goodevil.html

            http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1005.htm

            Like I said you can't explain Quantum Physics in a soundbite.

            Same with philosophy.....

            Cheers.

          • What makes anything intrinsically evil, if it depends on the situation this much?

            God lacks free will?

          • Jim the Scott

            The thing in itself thwarts something's final causality or better yet perverts it's final causality.

            >What makes anything intrinsically evil, if it depends on the situation this much?

            We don't do situation ethics...we are Thomists. It's not our thing.

            >God lacks free will?

            God defiantly lacks an absolute volunteerist free will. Some Muslim Theologians and some westerners like Locke believed in divine volunteerism. The idea God will's was notionally before his intellect. Thus God in this scheme could will that we hate him or will we do evil to go to Heaven and good to go to Hell or some such nonsense as that.

            God by necessity must will his own good.

          • Why does it pervert or thwart this?

            I mean that this depends entirely how things are created-that situation. Moreover you do think things differ morally based on the situation I'm sure, i.e. it's okay to kill if your life is threatened by deadly force.

            So in what sense does God have free will? Any?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Why does it pervert or thwart this?

            This is a tangent and we would have to get into the perverted faculty argument.

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2017/02/how-to-be-pervert.html

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2017/02/foundations-of-sexual-morality.html

            >I mean that this depends entirely how things are created-that situation.

            Well if God creates some type of being he gives them a nature or essence and such beings should live their lives in service of that nature and not act perversely against it. That is not the same as situation ethics.

            > Moreover you do think things differ morally based on the situation I'm sure, i.e. it's okay to kill if your life is threatened by deadly force.

            Rather I reject murder which is defined as the unlawful taking of human life. But government authority inflicting capital punishment on a person objectively guilty of a capital crime is not murder and God being the supreme authority it is never murder for him to take any life at any time.
            Self-defense is using sufficient force to protect your life that has as an unfortunate consequence of taking someone's life to protect yours.

            God can kill but he cannot murder. Killing per say is not always murder.

            >So in what sense does God have free will? Any?

            Notionally prior to God willing something from all eternity there is nothing external to God that can move him to will something and there is no passive potency in his nature that can actualize his will other then his will. Notionally the divine intellect precedes the divine will & moves it but in essence they are the same and of course the divine essence is pure act without passive potency. Of course God can will conditionally but he cannot change his mind. If God wills X from eternity he must do X and cannot will Not X.

            Notionally prior to willing from all eternity God could will X or Not X.

          • All right.

            No, I don't say it is. The point is it depends on the specifics of what has been created, i.e. the situation here.

            Also with morality. The situation, i.e. specifics, determines whether it is a murder or justifiable homicide. Now why is it God cannot murder?

            I don't know whether that means he does or not. How can you will "prior to all eternity"?

          • Jim the Scott

            > The point is it depends on the specifics of what has been created, i.e. the situation here.

            True but I would venture if those aliens had an orifice in their bodies that didn't receive genetic material and they had their equivalent of sex with it that would be their equivalent of the crime of sodomy.

            My point is we don't use Situation ethics here.

            >Now why is it God cannot murder?

            By definition it is never unlawful for him to take human life.

            >How can you will "prior to all eternity"?

            It is a notional concept. I can notionally conceive of time having no formal beginning but I don't need to literally think backward in time infinitely.

            I can notionally conceive of the ontological "prior" in God's eternal act of will.

            More later I have work to do.

          • It seems that these ethics do depend on the situation, even if they're not Situation Ethics.

            Why not?

            By notional does it mean this isn't real?

          • Jim the Scott

            >It seems that these ethics do depend on the situation, even if they're not Situation Ethics.

            I can upon face value agree with this.....

            >By notional does it mean this isn't real?

            It's at least notionally real. The beginning of time is real even(if I believe Stephen Hawkings no boundry view) thought I can't get to it even if I could travel back in time. Infinity is real even if I can't count to it and notionally and onto-logically I can conceive of "prior" to God willing eternally.

            At best it's not "literal".

          • Okay, good.

            What is "notionally real"?

          • Jim the Scott

            It is a real abstract concept about reality.

          • I'm not sure what this means.

          • Jim the Scott

            I am trying to describe how we can conceive of God's "prior" eternal choice between two different things. God could have chosen A or Not A from all eternity.

          • For instance God could have chosen to create or not from all eternity, but once having chosen this cannot then change his mind?

          • Jim the Scott

            God cannot change his mind.

            If He appears to do so it is only because God can will immutably & conditionally. He could will from all eternity if your or I pray tomorrow for rain he will make it rain and if we do not then it won't rain.
            God can foresee every prayer ever offered. From all eternity choose which ones he will answer positively & via His divine providence will that the universe unfold accordingly.

            It is not hard.

          • Why can't he? A strange limitation on the divine omnipotence.

            So he knows everything which will ever occur?

          • Jim the Scott

            >Why can't he? A strange limitation on the divine omnipotence.

            Are we talking omnipotence as weirdly defined by Descartes?
            Or the correct view?

            >So he knows everything which will ever occur?

            He knows what will actually occur and what can potentially occur.

          • I don't know.

            So then Molenism is true?

          • Jim the Scott

            >So then Molenism is true?

            I personally don't think so since I am an ex-Molinist. But it's not a dogma so I don't care to convince other Molinist Catholics to agree with me.

            >I don't know.

            Well Omnipotence means literally God has all real powers. There is no real power for Goodness Itself to do evil to Itself just as there is no power t