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Is a Proof Bad If It Fails to Convince Everyone?

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Some atheists will object to arguments for God by observing, "If a particular proof for God is so strong, why doesn't it convince everyone?"

This objection is perhaps the most prevalent, and the cheapest one to make, yet a complete answer to it involves several components and is also interesting in its own right.

This objector presents the theist with a dilemma: either I must pretend to be a supergenius like none the world has ever seen, presenting new and amazing arguments for God’s existence that will, for the first time ever, convince everyone and bring hordes of atheists to their knees, or, less flatteringly, I must countenance the possibility that I am a hack with prodigious ignorance of the failures of past thinkers and arguments concerning this matter.

Well, I freely confess I am no supergenius. The arguments in my recent book, Who Designed the Designer?: A Rediscovered Path to God's Existence (Ignatius Press, 2015), convincing as I take them to be, are not my own inventions. Practically all of them come from a great tradition of thinkers that began with the pre-Socratic philosophers and acquired fresh vigor with Socrates and Plato and Aristotle, then continued through Boethius, the great Arab Aristotelians, and Aquinas, and lives on today in various universities around the world.

But if any of these arguments is truly a proof, then why has none been universally accepted? Why do so many smart people continue to reject them all?

Before I answer that question, it is only fair to note that since the time of Aquinas, if not since the time of Aristotle, there has always been a significant number of philosophers in the world who have accepted arguments like those in my book as successful proofs. That is roughly twenty-three centuries of measurable success. Somehow such reasonings persist down through the ages, convincing thousands of great minds in every generation along the way, some of whom were originally atheists. It is simply a matter of fact, in other words, that the arguments do convince many smart people and have done so since they first saw the light of day. That still leaves us with the unconvinced philosophers to account for, of course.

Some who go by the name philosophers are quacks, and we need not concern ourselves with what they think. Many others struggle with a willful attachment to atheism. Unlike any mathematical truth, the truth about God’s existence or nonexistence is profoundly relevant to everyone’s conception of goodness and happiness and purpose. Not only God but many other things considered by philosophers and not mathematicians possess this potentially life-altering character—a fact perceived most keenly by the philosophers themselves. Hence, there is a possibility of desire influencing thought in philosophical questions where there is no correspondingly strong element of desire in mathematical investigations. We should not expect, in other words, that even the most solid and genuine proofs of philosophy will enjoy the same universal convincing power as those in mathematics. In philosophical matters, even genuine proofs can be surrounded by obstacles nowhere to be found in the world of mathematics.

But if we continue scanning the people who have been called philosophers, after leaving aside quacks and those whose thinking is unduly shaped or inhibited by desire or prejudice one way or the other, we will still find a number of them left to be explained. There are many philosophers in the world who do not go about promoting arguments like those in my book and are nevertheless neither quacks nor particularly attached to atheism. What can be said about those?

It seems to me that most of them simply have never heard the arguments. This might at first sound incredible. Practically everyone who can read has heard of Aristotle, and most people have heard of Aquinas. Then how can there be nonquack philosophers who have not studied Aristotle’s or Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence? The answer is not far to seek. We must remember that philosophy is an enormous enterprise with a history spanning well over two thousand years and that modern education encourages specialization. That is a recipe guaranteeing significant lacunae in every philosopher’s intellectual formation. I believe it was Konrad Lorenz who said, “Every man gets a narrower and narrower field of knowledge in which he must be an expert in order to compete with other people. The specialist knows more and more about less and less and finally knows everything about nothing.” Not every philosopher winds up as bad as all that, but some degree of specialization is necessary, and consequently a generous dose of ignorance of one’s own general field is inevitable. Much the same is true in science. A particle physicist might be as ignorant as I am about the Krebs cycle of respiration or of the chemical formula for caffeine. A Kant expert might hardly have read two words of Aristotle. Even an expert in Aristotle’s logical works might know next to nothing about his ethical and political writings.

There are also powerful academic disincentives for anyone who might be tempted to study Aristotle or Aquinas at all with a view to finding out the truth. One of these is that Aristotle and Aquinas are both thinkers from the distant past. That is sufficient evidence for most people, even most of those who go into philosophy these days, that their thinking is in all ways outmoded. It doesn’t help matters that they were geocentrists. The result is that the study of them is widely regarded as an exercise in the history of thought, not so much a properly philosophical enterprise. But if we do bother to read them, we find in their writings more than geocentrism and similarly outdated ideas (which, by the way, they themselves regarded as hypotheses and distinguished sharply from philosophical truths that they considered absolutely certain and timeless). In Aquinas we find that the statements emphasized and insisted upon are not those like “Earth is at the center of the universe” but those of another type. I mean self-evident statements, such as “Nothing gives what it does not have” and “Among things actually existing but unequal, one must be the maximum” and also the necessary consequences of these. Such statements remain as true as ever. They are not time sensitive. And they have nothing to do with geocentrism.

Nonetheless, a thoughtlessly inherited prejudice against reading “ancient” and “medieval” thinkers for genuine insights into reality persists in modern universities, as it has now for at least a century or two. And so indeed the God-philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas is read by a bare minimum of today’s philosophers and read with any degree of care and open-mindedness by far fewer still. That is why Christopher Hitchens (who was not a philosopher) could mention the word geocentrist and consider Aristotle and Aquinas quite dispatched by it. It is also why Richard Dawkins (also not a philosopher) can grossly misrepresent Aquinas’ five ways while provoking hardly a squawk from any but a handful of philosophers. And it is also why Bertrand Russell (who was a philosopher) could set up a mere straw man and call it the “argument of the First Cause”.

Now let’s sum that all up. Unlike most mathematical questions, the God question is among those that affect human desires, and so it inevitably becomes the object of prejudices, intellectual fashions, educational policies, social trends, laws, obnoxious religiosity, and other cultural phenomena that can skew our thinking about it in either direction, for or against God. That philosophers do not all agree about it is therefore no proof that it lies beyond the sphere of inherently decidable (and decided) questions. The disagreement is instead largely due to other causes, such as those I have been describing. To suppose that the failure of an argument for God to convince some thinkers is necessarily the fault of the argument, before even identifying such a fault, is therefore a lazy assumption valued only by those who would avoid having to understand the argument itself.
 
 
Adapted from Who Designed the Designer?: A Rediscovered Path to God's Existence (Ignatius Press, 2015) by Dr. Michael Augros. Copyright 2014, Ignatius Press. Reprinted with permission.
 
 
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Dr. Michael Augros

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Michael Augros earned his doctorate in philosophy at Boston College in 1995, and has been teaching ever since. He is the author of Who Designed the Designer?: A Rediscovered Path to God's Existence (Ignatius Press, 2015) and a tenured member of the faculty at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Since one of his teachers said never to trust philosophers who are no good with their hands, Michael keeps up oil painting and woodworking, too. But it is not his job or his projects so much as his wife and three children that keep him busy, happy, and well behaved.

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  • David Hardy

    In discussions about God, some atheists will object to arguments for God
    by observing, "If a particular proof for God is so strong, why
    doesn't it convince everyone?

    Anyone making such an argument is failing to account for the responsibility of the listener to try and understand and the ability of the speaker to make the argument convincingly.

    Before I answer that question, it is only fair to note that since the
    time of Aquinas, if not since the time of Aristotle, there has always
    been a significant number of philosophers in the world who have accepted
    arguments like those in my book as successful proofs. That is roughly
    twenty-three centuries of measurable success. Somehow such reasonings
    persist down through the ages, convincing thousands of great minds in
    every generation along the way, some of whom were originally atheists.

    A similar argument can be made for any religious position, albeit with a different duration of how long it has been occurring. However, I would also point out that the author seems to be arguing only for some form of theism at this point, since his start point is prior to the founding of Christianity, and so we could not assume all the philosophers he is referring to would find proofs for Christianity convincing.

    Many others struggle with a willful attachment to atheism.

    I may be misinterpreting this, but it appears to be a position that treats atheists in a very superficial way. A willful attachment seems to imply that the person in question is intentionally holding to the position only because of some invalid clinging desire, in spite of recognizing evidence to the contrary. This sort of characterization, whether applied to atheists or to Christians or any other group, paints a two-dimensional picture of the person, rather than accepting the depth of reflection and thought many people who have come to a different position have put into their view.

    There are many philosophers in the world who do not go about
    promoting arguments like those in my book and are nevertheless neither
    quacks nor particularly attached to atheism. What can be said about
    those?
    It seems to me that most of them simply have never heard the arguments.

    Most people who encounter apologists have heard some formulation of the arguments. I had heard the five ways long before I actually read them as formulated by Aquinas. I grant the author's point that not everyone makes these arguments with the eloquence of Aquinas, and some may misrepresent it. However, having encountered them repeatedly, I do not find them convincing.

    The implication of this article seems to be that perhaps the proofs for God have not been presented to me properly, or they were and I did not understand, either due to a lack of philosophical grounding or a willful attachment to my current position. However, I see no reason why this same position could not be equally applied (or misapplied) to a different view. Perhaps it is the theists and atheist naturalists who have either not heard the proofs of Buddhism (as an example), or failed to grasp them, or ignore them from a "willful attachment" to their current position. This sort of presentation provides a potential explanation for religious differences while doing nothing to support that this explanation is true or, if it is true, which religious position is the true one that is being misunderstood by those who do not hold it.

    • "However, having encountered [arguments for God] repeatedly, I do not find them convincing."

      What do you think is the strongest argument for God, and why do you think it fails?

      "However, I see no reason why this same position could not be equally applied (or misapplied) to a different view. Perhaps it is the theists and atheist naturalists who have either not heard the proofs of Buddhism (as an example), or failed to grasp them, or ignore them from a "willful attachment" to their current position."

      Indeed. Which is precisely why Buddhist arguments, or those for other religions, shouldn't be rejected out of hand simply because they haven't convinced all people. They must be considered on a case-by-case basis. This actually affirms Dr. Augros' main point. We can't gauge arguments simply by how many people find them convincing; we have to gauge each argument intrinsically by its own merits.

      "This sort of presentation provides a potential explanation for religious differences while doing nothing to support that this explanation is true..."

      Of course! Dr. Augros never claimed that his article shows that religious arguments are true. That would be to badly misunderstand his point. He's arguing that religious (or non-religious) arguments shouldn't be assumed false simply because they haven't convinced everyone. "Being true" and "not being assumed false" or two very different things.

      • Raymond

        "He's arguing that religious (or non-religious) arguments shouldn't be assumed falsesimply because they haven't convinced everyone."

        But wouldn't the converse also be true: Religious or non-religious arguments shouldn't be assumed true simply because they convinced anyone.

        • "But wouldn't the converse also be true: Religious or non-religious arguments shouldn't be assumed true simply because they convinced anyone."

          Of course. Who here would deny this?

          • Raymond

            The author would, it seems. "To suppose that the failure of an argument for God to convince some thinkers is necessarily the fault of the argument, before even identifying such a fault, is therefore a lazy assumption valued only by those by those who would avoid having to understand the argument itself."

          • The original Mr. X

            How on earth did you read "It's not false just because it hasn't convinced everybody" as "It must be true because it convinced somebody"?

          • Raymond

            Huh?

      • Doug Shaver

        Please excuse the pedantry, but arguments are neither true nor false. Their premises and conclusions are true or false, but arguments themselves are either valid or invalid (if deductive) or strong or weak (if inductive).

        • "Please excuse the pedantry, but arguments are neither true nor false. Their premises and conclusions are true or false, but arguments themselves are either valid or invalid (if deductive) or strong or weak (if inductive)."

          I'm sure you know what I meant...

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, I knew what you meant. But when we're arguing about arguments, it seems to me we should be a bit more careful than usual with our terminology.

      • David Hardy

        What do you think is the strongest argument for God, and why do you think it fails?

        This is a difficult question for me. My first thought is that I consider none of the arguments strong: if I thought even one was, I would become, at the very least, a deist. However, you asked me which I thought was strongest, which does not require that I consider it strong, only stronger than the others.

        I suppose that I would rank the idea of God as the first cause as probably the strongest. Its strength comes from the idea that many qualities attributed to God (being infinite, neither created nor destroyed, giving rise to the rest of the universe) seem to logically follow as necessary to the basic structure upon which the universe is build. It fails, in my mind, because it also assumes qualities that do not seem to logically follow. Sentience is the biggest issue I find. The only place I observe sentience is in creatures with complex neural systems. The universe, as we better understand it, breaks down to ever greater levels of simplicity. Sentience developed long after stars, planets and other aspects of the universe. That indicates to me that sentience is the result of causal processes, not the beginning of them. For that reason, while I would agree with some traits theists attribute to the first cause, I reject the likelihood of one quality that is considered necessary for this cause to be God.

        He's arguing that religious (or non-religious) arguments shouldn't be assumed false simply because they haven't convinced everyone.

        I was primarily responding to his position of most people not being convinced because they have either never heard the proper arguments for God, or have a "willful attachment" that prevents them from being objective, or lack the proper philosophical grounding to grasp the arguments. I opened my post by acknowledging that the point you are highlighting is valid. I followed up by rejected the implied point that, if people understood them correctly, they would suddenly be convinced by the arguments for Christianity.

        • The Philosopher

          HI David. Thanks for being sincere. You make a very good observation about sentience (I would prefer the term intelligence, because it is more accurate, though I understand you) not following automatically from the conclusion of a First Cause. This is true. But that is because another other, *independent* principle needs to be applied to the First Cause to see that it must indeed have intelligence. This is called the principle of proportionate causality, which states that a cause cannot give to its effect what it does not have to give. For example, I cannot give you money I don't have, whether actually on me (in the form of cash) or else wired to you electronically from my bank account.

          Doubtless you are not yet convinced, and that's fine, but the illustration will suffice for the moment. So, if we apply this principle to the First Cause, we note that it must have intelligence, because it caused us. Now we can call the First Cause a He. For only intelligent beings are persons. Obviously there are many ways in which the principle as I have described it needs further qualification, but I'll let you reply first. Peace.

          • David Hardy

            I would prefer the term intelligence, because it is more accurate, though I understand you

            I considered the term sapience, but chose sentience as a more common use term, and both work for my example.

            This is called the principle of proportionate causality, which states that a cause cannot give to its effect what it does not have to give.

            So, if we apply this principle to the First Cause, we note that it must have intelligence, because it caused us.

            I have heard this argument before, and I do not find this principle to be universally true. Many new things can be generated through combinations of things that do not possess its qualities. For example, nothing in the materials used to create a computer have the inherent ability to give rise to computer programs, but by combining them and inserting the correct computer language, programs can be generated. Scientists have created a new, short lived element through a particle accelerator, and being new the scientists and their machines certainly did not possess the element prior to its creation.

            Sentience and sapience are the result of complex neural systems. I see no reason to believe they do not arise out of a combination of elements that do not innately possess sentience or sapience. The basic biological material and chemical elements of the brain can appear in other forms that do not appear to produce sapience and sentience, or at least not near to the level where we would normally apply these terms.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            "I have heard this argument before, and I do not find this principle to be universally true. Many new things can be generated through combinations of things that do not possess its qualities. For example, nothing in the materials used to create a computer have the inherent ability to give rise to computer programs, but by combining them and inserting the correct computer language, programs can be generated. "

            Um, I think that you are simply confused on what is being claimed here. Your position would work if the claim being made is if you simply put the materials in a pile, a functioning computer simply pops out of it. The claim instead is the materials plus the human intelligence gives rise to the functioning computer.

            "Scientists have created a new, short lived element through a particle accelerator, and being new the scientists and their machines certainly did not possess the element prior to its creation."

            Here it seems that you are equivocating over the term "new". Here new simply means that the capacity was dormant until the particle accelerator came on the scene. An analogous situation would be that my max heart rate is about 200 bpm. This started to happen a few months ago when I began to exercise regularly. That capacity was there but it only was seen under certain circumstances.

          • David Hardy

            Um, I think that you are simply confused on what is being claimed here.
            Your position would work if the claim being made is if you simply put
            the materials in a pile, a functioning computer simply pops out of it.
            The claim instead is the materials plus the human intelligence gives
            rise to the functioning computer.

            As I understand it, the claim is that the first cause must have intelligence, because it must possess it in order to confer it onto intelligent beings. I disagree that this is true, and am offering examples where something is generated by forces that do not previously possess that which is generated.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Okay, based on this response, it seems that you continue to be confused about the claim.

            1)Without the intelligence of the human, then you dont have the functioning computer. The human action is part of the "forces" that generated the outcome.

          • David Hardy

            That is just an example. Many elements are generated through a range of natural processes, so the claim that that which generates something requires the qualities of that thing itself is demonstrably false. There is no reason to believe that the formation of life and the evolution of intelligent beings requires an intelligent creator.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Okay, my point then is that it is a bad example. To defend your position, you would need a good example. Otherwise, how is your position different than simply asserting that you are correct?

            A number of things are generated through natural processes. The issue is whether those processes give qualities that the original did not have (or put another way, if something comes from nothing).

          • David Hardy

            The issue is whether those processes give qualities that the original
            did not have (or put another way, if something comes from nothing).

            This is a different question. Something from nothing is different from giving qualities not originally possessed. For example, You can mix colors to create a color distinct from those used in mixing. Neither had the new color as a quality beforehand. Likewise, to go back to the computer example, neither a human nor the materials used nor the computer language have some of the qualities found in computer programs themselves. You are asking a distinct question, one that has to do with the First Cause argument of how things originally came into being, not the argument about whether a creator requires specific qualities in order to convey them. If you want to discuss the first cause argument, I will need to know this, since I have not been responding to that argument in this particular discussion.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Let us look at the color analogy. I think the closest comparison would be someone who has a recessive gene for some trait, but does not express it because they also a more dominant gene at the same loci. They marry and have a child, who does express that gene because their spouse also has a copy of the recessive gene. Would you in that situation say that the child was given something that their parents don't have because they don't also express that recessive gene?

            If this is all you mean by giving properties that the original does not have, then okay, but such is different than what is being claimed by those who claim that one cannot give what one does not have.

          • David Hardy

            You chose an example where properties are passed following the principle suggested. So did the other commentator, Greg Johnson. However, it cannot be claimed to be a universal principle, unless it is universally true. If it is not universally true, it cannot be assumed to be true in a case where we cannot observe what is occurring. I have given examples where it is not true, showing it to not be universally true. I have no issue with saying it is true in some cases. I have issues with assuming it must be true and proves an intelligent God must exist for intelligent beings to exist. Even your example challenges the principle, because genetics do not possess the quality of intelligence. They possess instructions that cause biological structures to form that can give rise to intelligence. By this reasoning, the first cause may not possess intelligence, but rather a nature that allows for intelligence to arise.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Actually what I am claiming is that your examples are simply analogous to my examples and do not show that the principle is anything other than universally true.

            But let us assume that you are correct and your examples are not analogous to mine. What exactly are you claiming is the mechanism by which the different properties come about?

          • David Hardy

            The mechanism by which properties come about is generally through re-organization. The new organization of the material determines many of its qualities. Those qualities may not be present in the material that was used prior to the re-organization, nor in anything that helped shape how it was organized, unless these factors share a similar organization. For example, with the computer, we see a reorganization of the material into something that can generate computer programs. The base material, in its previous organization, did not have this property. Nor do the humans organizing it, since the brain is not organized in the same way as a computer, although there are some general similarities. The property emerges through the organization of that which demonstrates it, not through the transmission of the property from something that already has it.

          • David Hardy

            On additional reflection, you may also be arguing for the idea that any organization within the universe requires intelligent design, which is also a different argument from the other two.

  • GCBill

    "It seems to me that most of them simply have never heard the arguments. This might at first sound incredible. Practically everyone who can read has heard of Aristotle, and most people have heard of Aquinas. Then how can there be nonquack philosophers who have not studied Aristotle’s or Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence? The answer is not far to seek. We must remember that philosophy is an enormous enterprise with a history spanning well over two thousand years and that modern education encourages specialization. That is a recipe guaranteeing significant lacunae in every philosopher’s intellectual formation."

    My acquaintance with professional philosophers has led me to believe that they have at least heard those arguments. One might still argue that they haven't understood them, but that is a charge that can easily be leveled at most people who disagree on some complex intellectual topic.

    One of my (atheist) philosophy professors was fond of using St. Augustine's struggle against his sexual desires to illustrate the crucial self-altering decisions emphasized by modern defenses of free will. Granted, I attended a mid-tier liberal arts college, so I suppose you could argue he was less susceptible to the sorcery of the elites on account of his lot in the academy. But AFAIK he was an analytic whose sympathies lay with non-reductive physicalism. He was hardly the type you'd expect to have admiration for the writings of an ancient theist, but he still did.

    And I don't think he was (or is) alone in his regard for the ancients. This poll on a well-trafficked professional philosopher's blog has Aristotle losing to Plato as the "most important" philosopher of all time by a mere 3 votes. Given the visitor demographics, I have reason to believe that voting was conducted mostly by professionals and students. These are people who are currently taking (or teaching!) philosophy classes, and they consider his work to be among the most important ever written in their discipline.

    Whatever disagreement exists is probably not due to a lack of exposure. Aristotle's work is complicated and not easy to translate. Much of it was preserved by other scholars who all had their own interpretations of what it meant. I can tell you that the Thomistic reading of Aristotle seems quite different from that of contemporary secular neo-Aristotelians. So if anything I think people are hearing too much of him (from too many different places).

    If there is a general skepticism in the philosophical academy, I think it is of "bold theories" more so than "old theories." Many great minds throughout history have tried to supply us with a complete metaphysics, and the only thing that everyone can agree on is that at least most of them have to be wrong. Modern philosophy is much more modest in what it seeks to accomplish (which, more so than its technical nature, is the reason why it isn't so broadly appealing). The way I see it, it is a long view of the field and its unsettled issues that produced the shift toward smaller, highly-specialized projects and a more gradual view of progress.

  • David Nickol

    At the risk of repeating what some have already said, the above argument could be made for any issue on which there is not universal agreement, even issues that are more or less empirical matters. Is global warming a fact? Does an increase in the minimum wage put people out of work? And what is perhaps the main argument (that the existence of God is an issue about which it is almost impossible to be "neutral"), is a matter that cuts both ways.

    Perhaps the arguments for the existence of God are just persuasive enough to convince believers, but not persuasive enough to convince nonbelievers. In that case, they are not proofs.

    I think there are a number of reasons not to call them proofs. I think some of the theists have acknowledged before that philosophical arguments for the existence of God are not proofs in the same sense as mathematical proofs. In my humble opinion, a proof should be demonstration that something is (or is not) true that cannot be denied by people who make a serious effort to understand it, in spite of their prejudices.

    I think pointing out that a great many philosophers to not find the "proofs" compelling is a perfectly valid point to make, but it is certainly not, itself, a proof that the "proofs" are compelling. I think most of the skeptics and atheists here would think highly enough of their own powers of reason not decide an issue based on whether or not some group had (or had not) formed a consensus on it. I would add that most of us probably rely on consensus views in various areas most of the time, and that is perfectly defensible. But of course a consensus isn't necessarily right. To take a trivial example, look at all the people who ate margarine for years to avoid the saturated fat of butter, only to be told half a lifetime later that the trans-fats in margarine are much worse. One of my favorite moments from Woody Allen's Sleeper:

    Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."

    Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

    Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?

    Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

    Dr. Melik: Incredible.

  • Or, could be the arguments are wrong.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I would only consider my own convictions. I'm not an atheist, and so not particularly held by the sway of atheism. You'll have to take my word that I'm not a quack. I'm not a 'real philosopher', either. More an interested amateur. I have heard about and examined many of the arguments for God. There are problems with all of them.

    Some, the Kalam, for example, are clearly wrong. Others, like the Fine Tuning argument and Leibniz's Cosmological Argument, seem to have something for them, and at least seem to provide evidence for God, if not absolute proof. Still others, like the ontological argument or many of Aquinas's arguments, are either severely undercut by modern physics and philosophy, or completely misunderstood by me. Finally, there's Spinoza's argument from intelligibility. That one may well be a knock-down proof for God. But the kind of God Spinoza proves may well transform me into an atheist for believing.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      many of Aquinas's arguments, are ... severely undercut by modern physics and philosophy,

      It would be interesting to know which ones and how. Now physics is often undercut by physics. That's the nature of the scientific beast. But when Aquinas used the settled science of his day, it was only as an illustrative example, not as a part of the proof.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Aquinas's arguments seem to me to involve notions of time, motion, causation, that have been overturned by modern science, especially ideas in his first way (motion) and fifth way (design). I'm not a philosopher, and it may well be that I don't understand the arguments. I suspect that what happened is Aquinas built arguments out of ancient science. We know now the science is wrong. My suspicion is that some philosophers today have tried to repair these arguments using modern science, or simply make believe that Aquinas was really talking about something that contemporary science does not yet contradict.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Aquinas's arguments seem to me to involve notions of time, motion,
          causation, that have been overturned by modern science,

          These are notions that are prior to science. They are things science must take for granted in order to do science in the first place. Einstein, when he declared that space and time were metaphysical notions that would vanish if matter vanished was much closer to Aristotle than the mechanists like Newton.

          The only overturning of causation I have seen is allegedly quantum mechanics; but on closer inspection these are seen to be arguments against predictability (and the Newtonian deterministic metaphor) not against causation per se. A can cause B without being predictable.

          especially ideas
          in his first way (motion)

          The Greek word kinesis translated as "motion" refers to the actualization of a potency, not strictly to motion of location. "Motion" is from a state of potency to a state of actuality. Taking inertial motion for example: a body is actually in motion along a geodesic, but is potentially in motion to a different direction. But to change the motion requires a mover (or "force" in modern terms). But recall that the demonstration is not a theory about the local motion of physical bodies. That at least some physical bodies are in motion/change is taken only as the starting point.

          and fifth way (design).

          Not certain what you mean here. His fifth way is in opposition to Paley's watchmaker argument because Paley buys into the "dead matter" paradigm of Newtonianism. The fifth way takes as its starting premise that everything in nature acts toward an end -- i.e., that there are laws of nature, in modern parlance. For example, that natural selection works toward greater adaptation, or that birds gather twigs in order to build a nest.

          Aquinas used the settled science to cite illustrative examples, much as we would cite things like natural selection or inertial motion. Perhaps people half a millennium hence will laugh themselves silly over our naive beliefs; but the argument is that of logical deduction from experience, not one of induction toward a general theory of that experience.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It's too much to discuss in a comment block, but it seems to me that the words of Aquinas are being co-opted, given different meanings than what they had, and I'm not sure even then that there's much improvement. But it's also quite likely that I don't understand these arguments.

            A fundamental particle, something that as far as we know doesn't have any internal structure, can cause itself to decay. Motion itself needs no cause. It can simply be. Change in motion needs a cause. Electrons don't seem to act with an end or purpose in mind. Teleology is useless for science. Time isn't always separate from space, so things can move from being actual to being potential, and it would seem something can be both actual and potential in the same sense. The whole language of actuality and potentiality, like teleology, doesn't seem to have much use in science or in philosophy anymore.

            Perhaps people half a millennium hence will laugh themselves silly over our naive beliefs...

            I hope so. Tomorrow Darwinists will hopefully become what Thomists today seem to be. Obsolete in light of new discoveries.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            it seems to me that the words of Aquinas are being co-opted, given different meanings than what they had

            Actually, it may be that they were read differently in between, when "motion" condensed to "local motion" and "telos" was ground into the powder of "purpose." When we revisit the ancient Greek, we discover that kinesis didn't really mean the same thing as Newtonian motion. It included things like the change from a green apple to a red one.

            A fundamental particle, something that as far as we know doesn't have any internal structure, can cause itself to decay.

            A nucleus can decay; but a nucleus has an internal structure. It may be that a single proton can decay; but protons are thought to be composed of quarks. Electrons (and photons), which Feynman called "screwy" but "in the same way," are not thought to have parts; but insofar as they can be expressed as waveforms, they have extension and anything with extension has parts, even if they don't have components. I've never heard of anything that can change itself as a whole, although Aristotle noted that a part can act on the larger whole -- as when a dog's legs move the whole dog.

            Motion itself needs no cause. It can simply be.

            As Aquinas noted, all material being is in constant change. In this sense, "motion" (kinesis) simply is. It is a change from a current state (in potential to X) to a future state (actually X). A body has a tendency to preserve what it has of itself. In modern lingo, we call this "laziness" or in Latin, "inertia." "Momentum" ("impetus") is a better term. Kinesis needs a mover because nothing that does not already possess a motion can give that motion to itself.

            Change in motion needs a cause.

            Yes, and "change" is a better translation of "kinesis." Take a body in rectilinear motion in a hypothetical vacuum. As Buridan stated in the 14th century, it will continue in that motion unless encountering a resistance or a contrary impetus. If it changes course, there must be moved to do so by another body; e.g., the gravitational effect of Jupiter or the Sun. These would be the "mover" and the change is called "acceleration." Newton's statement that acceleration requires an outside force is the same as Aristotle's statement that that which is in motion is being moved by another. The change in velocity/direction may be moved by say Jupiter. If it remains unchanged and continues in the same vector, the mover is whatever set it in motion (gave it its impetus) in the first place, such as the Big Bang or a primordial collision.

            Electrons don't seem to act with an end or purpose in mind.

            Perhaps because they don't have minds. But a "telos" is not necessarily a "purpose." First, we need to ascertain the electron's ontological status. (cf. Representing Electrons: A Biographical Approach to Theoretical Entities by Theodore Arabatzis (U. Chi Press, 2006). But at first blush it would seem to be to carry a negative electrical charge.

            Teleology is useless for science.

            Yet, without teloi, scientific laws would be impossible, and matters would not "always or for the most part" tend toward the same ends. Combining sodium and chlorine might result in a parrot rather than salt. Planets might orbit great-aunt Matilda rather than a larger mass. We could not conclude that the heart is "for" pumping blood, or that natural selection moves a species toward "adaptation." What you mean to say is that working scientists simply assume natural telos (regular, lawful behavior) on the part of nature.

            Time isn't always separate from space, so things can move from being actual to being potential,

            Things do that constantly. An apple that is actually red is also potentially applesauce. But the thing doesn't "move" (kinesis) from actually X to potentially X. How can it? It already is X. Not sure how this is supposedly a consequence of space and time being not always separate.

            it would seem something can be both actual and potential in the same sense.

            Not logically possible. An apple cannot be actually red and potentially red at the same time.

            The whole language of actuality and potentiality, like teleology, doesn't seem to have much use in science or in philosophy anymore.

            I dunno. If I were standing in front of a locomotive, it would matter a lot to me whether it was only potentially in motion and not actually in motion. And telos, as I've said is what makes scientific laws even possible.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Alright, maybe not too much for you to talk about in a comment block, but you have the gift of brevity. Your comments help clarify some things. I'll think a while before responding in full (maybe a couple days, maybe not here). Nevertheless, a couple things stuck out about parts of what you said.

            I should have given an example for the simple particles that decay. Neutrinos. In the standard model, neutrinos don't have extension (like electrons don't), and they don't have parts. One neutrino can spontaneously switch to another (seemingly) without any outside effect. The Standard Model gets neutrinos wrong, so maybe a new model will have extended neutrinos.

            Photons are funny. There seem to be different numbers of them depending on how fast you accelerate, so I don't know what to make of their existence or properties.

            The way you describe teleology seems like a way of expressing ignorance or course-graining. You might say that salt is made for dissolving, but that's just a lack of understanding of how the components work together. Once that's understood, salt dissolving can be explained simply in terms of the properties, and (efficient) causes. If I do A, then B tends to happen seems not to require that A is B-oriented, but simply an understanding of what A and B are and the relatedness of the properties of these events. I don't think talking about goals or ends really provides any more insight into how things work on that scale. I rather prefer Spinoza's logical necessity way of understanding things, or Kit Fine's grounding language. There's something about A and B that, if we really understood A and B, we would see "if A then B" is necessary, there's no other way around it, and it doesn't require anything extra about A's orientation or goals. It's just a part of what it is to be A and what it is to be B.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            In the standard model, neutrinos don't have extension (like electrons don't)

            The opposite of divisible is a dimensionless point. Modern
            science regards the electron to be a point particle with a point charge and no spatial extent, but this is only true in a restricted sense. Our friend Figulus tells us than in real life, "confining an electron to an infinitesimally small space would require an infinitely large amount of energy. The electron's wave function is governed by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, just like everything else in quantum mechanics, and so its wave function extends over space, which means it is not a point particle in the relevant sense."

            You might say that salt is made for dissolving, but that's just a lack of understanding of how the components work together.

            But a final cause is not a rival or a replacement for an efficient cause. They are heads and tails of the same causal coin. (In fact, given modern usage, we should call material cause, formal cause, or final cause by the term "cause," since Late Moderns find that confusing.) Hence, there is no contradiction between saying how these two atoms combine into a salt and saying that these two atoms will combine into a salt. If there were nothing in the reaction that pointed toward salt, then 2Na + Cl2→ 2 NaCl would not even exist as a law. That's why telos was sometimes called the "cause of causes." Without it, there would be no efficient causes.

            It's just a part of what it is to be A and what it is to be B.

            Precisely! Glad to see crypto-teleology slipping back into matters. And the manner of expression even reinforces the ancient relationship between finality and formal causation. The form of a thing is precisely "what it is to be" that thing!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Re Neutrinos: First, I disagree with Figulus (whoever this is). That's not the relevant sense at all. The relevant sense is the dimension of the electron, what is it's spatial extent, not how small a box can you build around it. Second, neutrinos have no such problem. You can place them in a box as small as you like. Since they don't have any charge, they don't self-interact in that sense.

            Re Final Causes: There are clear distinctions between grounding relations, logical relations, and teleological relations. 2 + 2 = 4, is it 2's purpose to be united to 2 to be 4, or 4's purpose have 2 subtracted from it to make 2? Is the grounding of the speed of light in space-time geometry because the geometry is purposed to keep light constant or because light is purposed to follow these geometric rules? These are manifestly, obviously, different sorts of relations. Spinoza saw that. Hume saw that when he made his arguments about causality and contingency. Garrigou-Lagrange saw that when he criticized Spinoza.

            Finally, if a final cause is not a rival or a replacement for an efficient cause. They are heads and tails of the same causal coin, why not just stick with efficient causes rather than talk about final causes at all? What do final causes add?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The relevant sense is the sense which Aristotle intended when he talked of parts and extension. But even so, there is no reason to privilege matter over energy. They are (we believe) the same thing. So the extension created by the waveform is relevant. (Figulus is a physicist who sometime comments at my blog.)

            2 + 2 = 4, is it 2's purpose to be united to 2 to be 4, or 4's purpose have 2 subtracted from it to make 2?

            Neither. The purpose lies in the person doing the adding, not in an artifact like the numeral 2. The only purpose in 2 (or II or β or any other representation) is AFAIK to signify a quantity consisting of this thing and that thing. (More precisely, the set consisting of them with the fine topology.)

            if a final cause is not a rival or a replacement for an efficient cause... why not just stick with efficient causes rather than talk about final causes at all?

            It depends on whether you want to mention what A is an efficient cause of. Or if you want to discuss essentially teleological things like "adaptation" or "computers."

  • Doug Shaver

    Some atheists will object to arguments for God by observing, "If a particular proof for God is so strong, why doesn't it convince everyone?"

    Those atheists should be asked, "Why should we expect it to?" There are lots of propositions for which strong arguments exist but which fail to convince many people. Most atheists themselves think they have strong arguments against Christianity, but it's obviously a rare Christian who finds them convincing.

    This objector presents the theist with a dilemma: either I must pretend to be a supergenius like none the world has ever seen, presenting new and amazing arguments for God’s existence that will, for the first time ever, convince everyone and bring hordes of atheists to their knees, or, less flatteringly, I must countenance the possibility that I am a hack with prodigious ignorance of the failures of past thinkers and arguments concerning this matter.

    It's a false dilemma.

    It is simply a matter of fact, in other words, that the arguments do convince many smart people and have done so since they first saw the light of day. That still leaves us with the unconvinced philosophers to account for, of course.

    Aside from God's existence, is there any philosophical question about which anyone seriously asks, "Why don't all philosophers agree about this?"

    Many others struggle with a willful attachment to atheism.

    Do no theists struggle with a willful attachment to their belief in God? Is there a good reason to doubt that most of them do?

    there is no correspondingly strong element of desire in mathematical investigations.

    Not necessarily. For certain propositions generally accepted by the mathematical community, fame and fortune would be guaranteed to anyone who could prove them false. There are people still trying to prove that the circle can be squared, or that pi is a rational number.

    There are also powerful academic disincentives for anyone who might be tempted to study Aristotle or Aquinas at all with a view to finding out the truth

    I don't know about academic disincentives, but I have a powerful philosophical disincentive to study anybody, no matter how famous or respected, with a presupposition that they will lead me to the truth.

    One of these is that Aristotle and Aquinas are both thinkers from the distant past. That is sufficient evidence for most people, even most of those who go into philosophy these days, that their thinking is in all ways outmoded.

    If most people do think that way, then it's because most people are not philosophers. The supposition "They are ancient, therefore they are wrong" is philosophical nonsense, and I've never heard any philosopher suggest otherwise.

    • Doug Shaver

      And by the way, one might ask Andrew Wiles whether he had any emotional investment in his work to prove Fermat's Last Theorem.

    • ClayJames

      If most people do think that way, then it's because most people are not
      philosophers. The supposition "They are ancient, therefore they are
      wrong" is philosophical nonsense, and I've never heard any philosopher
      suggest otherwise.

      But unfortunately there are people like Stephen Hawking that are highly regarded thinkers but love to make claims about something they have no understanding of. It will never cease to amaze me that such an intelligent man can´t have even the most basic understanding of philosophy to prevent him from claiming that ¨philosophy is dead¨.

      • Doug Shaver

        It will never cease to amaze me that such an intelligent man can´t have even the most basic understanding of philosophy to prevent him from claiming that ¨philosophy is dead¨.

        Intelligence per se does not provide a person with any insight to areas they have not studied. Nor does it immunize anyone from Bacon's idols. Critical thinking of the kind that makes one appreciate the importance of philosophy does not come naturally to anyone, except possibly with rare exceptions. It requires particular study and a lot of practice.

      • cminca

        "But unfortunately there are people like Stephen Hawking that are highly regarded thinkers but love to make claims about something they have no understanding of.

        Seems to me the Catholic Church is full of of theologians and philosophers who are not either theoretical physicists or cosmologist yet have no seeming concern with critiquing Hawking's works. And these same theologians are routinely quoted by faithful. And one of them, who posts here, goes so far as to suggest that the church should have veto rights on scientific discovery.

        "It will never cease to amaze me that such an intelligent man can´t have even the most basic understanding of philosophy to prevent him from claiming that ¨philosophy is dead¨."

        You didn't quote the follow up line--"“Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."

        I'd say that is a demostrably clear and truthful statement.

        • neil_pogi

          what are the contributions of Hawking to mankind? that he tells us that 'we just came 'out of nothing'? that the universe just 'pop'? is Hawking has difficulty explaining what is a 'nothing'? do we need to be a physicist in order to explain a 'nothing'?

          • Michael Murray

            what are the contributions of Hawking to mankind?

            What a totally ignorant comment.

          • cminca

            Read some of his other comments and you'll see why I didn't bother responding.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I know :-(

            I've tried to engage him in the past but it's hopeless. He just parrots the same stuff over and over again. "Pop", "nothing", "just so stories" "aliens". I wondered for awhile if he was actually some kind of bot. I should really try to restrain myself. It just irritates me that on a site supposedly devoted to reason and seeking the truth by both theists and atheists the crazy theists are so rarely corrected by other theists.

          • Doljonijiarnimorinar

            I too, have just discovered the error of engaging with him.

          • neil_pogi

            one contribution he contributed is that the universe just 'pop' out of nothing.. :-)

        • Michael Murray

          I would have thought it was clear from the whole context of the statement

          Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of 'A Brief History of Time' said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don't worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

          that he is referring to using philosophy to discover things about the natural world.

          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html

        • ClayJames

          Seems to me the Catholic Church is full of of theologians and
          philosophers who are not either theoretical physicists or cosmologist
          yet have no seeming concern with critiquing Hawking's works. And these
          same theologians are routinely quoted by faithful. And one of them,
          who posts here, goes so far as to suggest that the church should have
          veto rights on scientific discovery.

          Why do people respond to criticism of a thinker on one side by also saying there are ignorant thinkers on the other side? Even if true, this says absolutely nothing about the validity of my statement. Its completely irrelevant.

          I completely disagree with the comment about philosopher´s not keeping up with physics. It is just not true. The comment about philosphy being dead follows a series of questions, some philosophical, some scientific, which he claims philosophy used to answer and now they are in the realm of science. This shows a complete misunderstanding of what philosophy is and how science fits in that framework. The biggest irony is that the first part of his book is focused on debating realism vs. anti-realism which is very much in the realm of philosophy.

          • cminca

            My statement stands for itself.

            You have every right to critique Hawking's statement--but you went beyond that. You questioned his right to even have an opinion.

            You didn't claim he was wrong and provide proof--you claimed he didn't have the knowledge or the understanding of the subject to be allowed to voice an opinion.

            That is the double standard I was referring to.

            So Clay--next time you want to voice an opinion about a scientist's work--be ready to trot out your CV so we all know you have the right you claim Hawking doesn't.

          • ClayJames

            You either have an axe to grind or are completely misunderstanding my point, I will assume the latter. I never said that Hawking doesnt have the right to make claims about philosophy because he is not a philosopher. You are the one who claimed that there are non-scientists who attack Hawking, I never said that someone´s CV is a prerequisite for discussion. You are attacking a strawman. There are scientists who understand philosphy and make intelligent philosophical statements and there are scientists that do not understand it and make ignorant philosophical statements. Hawking is clearly the latter.

            Also, please quote where I said that he doesnt have the right to voice an opinion. All I said is that the man has no idea about what he is talking about when making claims about philosphy. Anyone is allowed to voice an opinion regardless of how ignorant that opinion is.

            I hope I have cleared the misunderstanding.

          • cminca

            Read your last paragraph--the implication is clear.

          • ClayJames

            I was wrong, you do have an ax to grind.

            Have a good day!

          • cminca

            Do you have anything other than your assertions to back up your positions that Hawking doesn't "have even the most basic understanding of philosophy to prevent him from claiming that ¨philosophy is dead¨."?

            Or is "because I say so" supposed to suffice as "proof".

          • ClayJames

            Had you asked this in the beginning before attacking a strawman and throwing around baseless accusations, I would have loved to engage you in conversation. Ironically, I did answer the question you are asking in this comments section.

            But as I said, I doubt you really want to engage in a meaningful conversation so I´ll save both of some time and end this here.

  • neil_pogi

    secular astronomers say that the universe is billion years old, i am not convinced because, they were not there to observe it.

    secular scientists say that a single-celled organism started all forms of life, I am not convinced, because, they have never observed them evolved.

    I wonder why, despite of these facts, atheists still believe (by faith) in these claims!

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      I came home one day to find a window broken, the TV and other valuables missing. The police say it was a burglar, I am not convinced because they were not there to observe it.

      • neil_pogi

        it's easy to conclude that it was a burglar because the hints are all present, but nobody says what kind of burglar was this? or how many burglars were involve? now can you tell me if there were only one, two or three burglars? no, you can't! can the police make conclusion that the burglars are really criminals? or just their relatives?

        just like the universe, they say it's billion years old because of the light travels to each star counts 'billions' of lightyears to travel. nobody has observed how the universe was created. we don't know how fast the speed of light 'billions of years' ago. if 'big bang' is true, then can you really believe that a super explosion resulted in 'orderly' fashion? nope! explosion always result in 'disorderly' fashion. where did it gets its energy?

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          it's easy to conclude that it was a burglar because the hints are all present...

          Exactly. And similarly, there are many hints present that point to the big bang and to evolution. However, it does require understanding what scientists other than creationists say.

          If you are interested, I recommend reading some articles on http://www.talkorigins.org . This link talks about the change in the speed of light: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CE/CE411.html . This one talks about order coming from the big bang: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CE/CE441.html

          • neil_pogi

            so tell me how a tiny dot, trillion-trillion times smaller than you can imagine, produced a vast, vast, universe? is that a 'hint'?

            nobody has ever witnessed the original speed of 'speed of light' from the past.

            i wonder astronomers have stated that 'in 3 minutes, 98% of all matter in the universe were created..'

            ..and not billions of years!

    • ClayJames

      All astronomy and science is secular, by defenition. There is no such thing as non-secular science. There are scientist who are not secular, but science and astronomy are both intrinsically secular.

      • neil_pogi

        then who says that?

        and so 'aliens' that seeded life on earth is 'science'..

        so what's the difference between God and aliens?

        if creationists say that the universe is created by God and life on earth,, not science?

        then where the hell you think that it is science to include 'aliens' in the origin of life..

        i thought science ONLY deals with 'natural' cause..

        then atheists really ADMIT or concede that creation of life requires 'intelligent agents' (like 'aliens' to atheists, and 'God' to theists)

    • Peter

      It is by no means anti-Catholic to believe the recent findings of science. Nothing that science uncovers can contradict authentic Catholic teaching.
      In fact the Church throughout history has encouraged scientific discovery.

      Throughout human history, the Church has taught that the world (i.e. universe) was built upon universal and unchanging natural laws laid down by the Creator. Inspired by the confidence that these laws hold, she rigorously set about encouraging her members to discover them and their application in the world. Indeed most of the first scientists were priests, religious or devout laity.

      With this in mind, not only do I find your rejection of scientific discovery anti-scientific, but I also find it to some extent anti-Catholic. The Church has actively promoted scientific discovery from the beginning and so, to bluntly repudiate its findings is, in some way, to repudiate the ambitions of the Church.

      • neil_pogi

        what do you mean by 'scientific discovery'?

        secular scientists have declared that 98% of DNAs wer junked.. but 'scientific discovery' today says that it is not.. then who's the one who didn't support the latest 'scientific discovery'?. just one example.

        catholics and protestants differ very widely in philosophy, beliefs, and sometimes, in harmony with sciences. catholics believe in evolution, but not the evolution believe by atheists. some protestant christians likewise also believe in evolution, but this is God-guided. i don't believe in evolution and God-guided evolution because God created species of living things different from each others (ex: God can't create a cat into a dog because cat's DNA is different from dog's, therefor He would violate his own laws (laws of nature).

    • Doug Shaver

      secular astronomers say that the universe is billion years old, i am not convinced because, they were not there to observe it.

      Christians say the founder of their religion returned to life three days after being executed by a Roman governor. I am not convinced because they were not there to observe it.

      • neil_pogi

        i am so convinced that Christ was able to rise from dead, because: thousands of jews, including his disciples and enemies, have witness Him mingle with crowds. all these were recorded in the Scriptures, and in the writings of outside-Bible sources

        • Doug Shaver

          i am so convinced that Christ was able to rise from dead, because: thousands of jews, including his disciples and enemies, have witness Him mingle with crowds.

          It is not recorded even in the Bible that thousands of people saw him alive after he was executed.

  • To suppose that the failure of an argument for God to convince some thinkers is necessarily the fault of the argument, before even identifying such a fault, is therefore a lazy assumption valued only by those who would avoid having to understand the argument itself.

    I agree with this in a limited way. As the article mentioned, we humans cannot spare the time to become sufficiently well informed to be competent judges of all the arguments we come across. When we don't have that time, then it's appropriate to take the expert consensus (if there is one) as the best available borrowed opinion. When we do have that time, and acquire the requisite competence, then however the expert consensus becomes mostly irrelevant for us. It's just as if we had initially relied on the expert description of the Mona Lisa in our thoughts about it, and then on seeing it ourselves we would form our own judgement and we would relegate the expert consensus to "commentary" status.

    It seems entirely appropriate, then, for amateur philosophers like us here to point out as important evidence that professional philosophers and logicians reject the standard religious "proofs".

    • Craig Roberts

      That should read, "...SOME professional philosophers and logicians reject the standard religious proofs." The majority of mankind would take God as a given and not require a proof. But even among the pros, atheists have always been the minority. So some people will tell you that the Mona Lisa is overrated. You'll just have to look for yourself.

      • Um, yes, obviously it literally means "some" since I didn't say "all". That's just basic reading comprehension.

        The intended interpretation was "the consensus of the field of" professional philosophers and logicians. Definitely a majority of them are atheists and non-theists, not a minority as you suggested. A big majority.

        • Craig Roberts

          Speaking of obviously. You are obviously suffering from historical myopia. If you think a 'big majority' of philosophers are atheists maybe you should consider...er...um...I don't know.....history? Reality? Humanity?

          If you think you are aware of the 'consensus of the field' by pointing to your little sliver of history in your little American epoch, you are blind.

          The simple fact is that if you have not seen the Mona Lisa, you should not bother to supply comments on it.

          • Michael Murray

            Did you look at the survey Ryan linked to

            Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
            Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)

            Of course some of the historical figures like Aquinas didn't complete their survey for some reason.

          • Craig Roberts

            Perhaps a survey of professors from the year 200 B.C. would show that the sun revolved around the earth. Being in the majority obviously does not mean that you are right. It's the reliance on internet surveys to prove things that are highly questionable that brings credibility into question.

          • I gave evidence, you gave insult. I think that is sufficiently illuminating.

          • Craig Roberts

            You really think a survey of American philosophers in the 21st century constitutes evidence of a majority of atheists among all philosophers? If so, I will be glad to insult your 'evidence' and hope you don't take it personally.

            BTW I've seen a great picture of Big Foot on the internet that I would like you to consider as 'evidence'.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You really think a survey of American philosophers in the 21st century constitutes evidence of a majority of atheists among all philosophers?

            Do you think it is true that the majority of living American philosophers are in fact atheists?

            Do you think it is true that the majority of living western philosophers are atheists?

          • Michael Murray

            It certainly makes the decision whether to engage easy to make.

      • Doljonijiarnimorinar

        Would the majority of mankind take God as a given if they weren't told in no uncertain terms that it is true that God exists by their parents, clergy, peers, any 'authority figure' at a young age? Punishment if they don't believe? These things are drilled in from every direction in some communities. What if they were taught reason and critical thinking instead? What if they were taught the latter as young as the religious instruction/indoctrination comes? I find your remarks without merit.

        • Craig Roberts

          I'm sorry to hear that your parents failed you. Hopefully their instruction in other matters was not as deficient.

          • Doljonijiarnimorinar

            What is that even supposed to mean? I'm sorry you haven't the slightest clue what you're talking about. Seems to be a trend with you.

            Incidentally, when did you stop beating your wife and kids?

      • Michael Murray

        Sorry Ryan had linked that already.

  • Craig Roberts

    Proofs don't work because God does not want to be revealed as a cold abstraction. God wishes to love us intimately and so he chose to reveal Himself through His son Jesus Christ. "No one can come to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

    So beware of pagan philosophies. They are more likely to be an exercise in intellectual vanity, than a pathway to God. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber." (John 10:1) For all you pagans: Jesus is the door.

    • George

      why are you quoting scripture? am i supposed to be convinced by that?

      • Craig Roberts

        "But Abraham said, 'If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even if someone rises from the dead.'" (Luke 16:31)

        "In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving."' (Matt 13:14)

        So apparently, according to scripture, the answer is no. You fulfill the scripture by being oblivious to its meaning.

        • George

          Why do believe this stuff?

          • Craig Roberts

            Perhaps 'how' might be the more mysterious question.

          • George

            Again, why do you believe in scripture?

          • Craig Roberts

            In short, I've put it to the test. Checked the alternatives. Listened to all the likely explanations. When you read the bible you see all sorts of things that are clearly impossible for man and nature. The best conclusion that I've found is that it's not all made up. You can't make this sort of stuff up. So it must be revelation. God showing man who He is and what He wants from us.

          • George

            How do you know this sort of stuff can't be made up?

          • Craig Roberts

            Try it. You'd be laughed out of any bar if you tried. But somehow it remains the definitive history of mankind. Plus there is one other thing, when you sincerely seek the truth, it comes to you.

            "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matt 7:7-8)

            The capital 'T' Truth can't be known without help from above, and help is available.

          • Doug Shaver

            Plus there is one other thing, when you sincerely seek the truth, it comes to you.

            Oh, so you know that if anyone says they sought the truth but didn't find what you found, they couldn't have been sincere.

          • Craig Roberts

            Of course not. The tragedy is that many sincerely try and are not satisfied and give up. Not being satisfied means we have to keep going. Many expire before they ever find it and it's not for lack of trying.

          • Doug Shaver

            Many expire before they ever find it and it's not for lack of trying.

            In that case, it just isn't true, or at least isn't always true, that "when you sincerely seek the truth, it comes to you."

          • Craig Roberts

            The statement is not meant as guarantee of success. It just means that the truth that we seek is out there.

            Many people looking for love are disappointed. That doesn't mean it does not exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            The statement is not meant as guarantee of success.

            The way you worded it, it seemed to be. You did not qualify your statement with "frequently" or "usually" or "sometimes" or even "if you look in the right places."

            Many people looking for love are disappointed.

            And therefore, if anyone says, "When you sincerely seek love, it comes to you," they do not speak truthfully.

            That doesn't mean it does not exist.

            I don't deny the existence of either truth or love. I deny that either of them comes to everyone who sincerely seeks it.

          • Doug Shaver

            You'd be laughed out of any bar if you tried.

            You haven't been in some of the bars I used to hang out in.

      • Doug Shaver

        am i supposed to be convinced by that?

        But of course. If scripture doesn't convince you, nothing will. And we know that's true because scripture says so.

        • Craig Roberts

          Funny how logic always seems to be running in circles.

          • Doug Shaver

            That's about like saying, "Funny how the law is always breaking the law."

    • Doug Shaver

      God does not want to be revealed as a cold abstraction.

      Is that something he told you?

      • Craig Roberts

        No. But he demonstrates it everyday to all the people trying to reduce Him to a proof.

        • Doug Shaver

          A proof cannot be the thing it proves. When I believed in God, I would never have pointed to a proof of his existence and said, "That is God."

          • Craig Roberts

            Of course. I didn't mean literally 'make God a proof'. I just meant that He wants us to have the gift of faith, and all the people trying to do theology by 'reason alone' (a la St. Thomas Aquinas) are bound to be disappointed.

          • Doug Shaver

            How do you define faith? What is this gift, exactly? I've seen Christians define it in so many different ways, I can't assume anything about what you mean by it.

          • Craig Roberts

            Even if I could define 'faith' it wouldn't help you to understand. It's like defining laughter, or light. You have either experienced it or you haven't.

            The best I can do is say that it's like the light of inspiration where something formerly dark and vexing takes on a clarity that no longer requires formal definitions or proofs or abstract thinking. It's like when a part of you is compelled to say 'yes!' without consulting the parts that demand proof before giving assent. Sounds stupid, I know, but it's accompanied by an inner confirmation that cannot be denied. Sorry I can't do better.

            It's closest to trust. Like when a child implicitly takes their parents word to heart. They may be amazed, and have no way to comprehend 'how' what they are saying is true, but they believe prior to examining and asking questions.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK, so you can't tell me what it is. Then why should I believe you when you tell me I need it?

          • Craig Roberts

            I never said you need it. Lots of people go through life deprived of many things, some seemingly essential (like eye-site) that are actually just nice to haves.

            But you shouldn't believe me. You should try it for yourself. Man has a 'knowledge' that he is born with that is akin to instinct. It navigates the spiritual realm the way geese navigate their migrations.

          • Doug Shaver

            You should try it for yourself.

            Why are you assuming that I haven't?

            Man has a 'knowledge' that he is born with that is akin to instinct. It navigates the spiritual realm the way geese navigate their migrations.

            An interesting hypothesis. How could we test it?

          • Craig Roberts

            I'm not assuming that you haven't. I'm just saying that I can't try it out on your behalf and then prove it to you.

            You can try to objectively observe mankind. Does he tend to seek out and attempt to worship and pray? Or does he, in general, remain content with staying in a materialist mindset. The answer is tricky because we can observe both actions.

          • Doug Shaver

            The answer is tricky because we can observe both actions.

            If both actions are consistent with the hypothesis, then the actions cannot tell us whether we should believe the hypothesis. At this point, we have no reason to believe it except your say-so.

          • Craig Roberts

            You're the logician. You figure out how to verify it. I find it illogical to conclude that all the people seeking God are acting on an impulse that does not exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            You figure out how to verify it.

            Why should I bother? I'm not trying to defend it. I don't believe it, and so anyone who says I should believe it is the one who should be looking for a verification.

            I find it illogical to conclude that all the people seeking God are acting on an impulse that does not exist.

            Yes, that would be illogical, but I'm not denying the existence of the impulse. I am denying the reason you offer for why the impulse exists.

          • Craig Roberts

            I'm not big on 'proofs' but the, "If mankind has an itch, there must be a way to scratch it" one is probably my favorite. Why do you think the impulse to worship, pray, and seek out our creator exists if there is no way to satisfy it?

          • Doug Shaver

            Where did I say it couldn't be satisfied? Most of the religious people I know seem pretty satisfied to me.

          • Doug Shaver

            I never said you need it. Lots of people go through life deprived of many things, some seemingly essential (like eye-site) that are actually just nice to haves.

            I'm not interested in arguing about the definition of "need." I know what disadvantages I would suffer if I lost my eyesight. What disadvantages do you think I suffer by not having faith?

          • Craig Roberts

            The Church says that 'faith' is a free gift from God. If you do not have it, it seems that you could not possibly be held responsible for not having it. So as long as you're not doing things that you know are objectively evil, you're better off without it.

            If you actually have 'faith' you're going to have to start taking responsibility for all the stuff that 'faith' requires, like going to Church, renouncing all sin, practicing virtues, praying, etc.
            So 'suffering' seems like a relative term in this context.

            Having 'faith' is like having a child. As a parent you have all kinds of responsibilities that you would not have if you were not a parent. Some parents think it's worth it, others...well...not so much.

          • David Nickol

            If you do not have it, it seems that you could not possibly be held responsible for not having it.

            I believe it is Catholic teaching that faith is a gift from God given to everyone. I don't believe the Catholic Church teaches that some people are unbelievers, through no fault of their own, simply because God has not given them the "gift" of faith.

            Now, I do recall a grade-school nuns' story that there was an atheist who had a vast knowledge about all things Catholic. He said, regarding the Eucharist, that if he believed what Catholics believe, he would fall on his face before the altar and never give up. But he just hadn't been given the "gift" of faith. The lesson for us was that we should be grateful we had been given this gift.

            So as long as you're not doing things that you know are objectively evil, you're better off without it.

            Heresy!

          • Craig Roberts

            You're probably right. But as so often happens when discussing 'faith' the nebulous accounts of what it is, taught to us by the Church, often tend to obscure rather than illuminate.

            If it is a gift given to everyone, how could anybody not have it? The Church speaks of invincible ignorance and then turns around and says that everybody has faith? If everybody has been given faith by God, how is it that we are even having this conversation?

            It's a bit like saying, "everyone's a winner!" It may sound good to some but the meaning of 'winner' has been sucked of all meaning.

            "Everyone has been given the gift of faith" also sounds like a recipe for universalism. Equivocations like "everybody has been given it, but some have rejected it, and others through no fault of their own have never heard the Gospel message." just don't make sense.

            It sounds like you are saying that 'faith' exists potentially in everyone. But the potential for faith is not faith. Just like the potential to have kids is not actually having kids.

          • Craig Roberts

            Obviously nobody is "better off without it." But...

            "The servant who knows the master's will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:47-48)

            It seems pretty clear that what Jesus is saying is that our culpability for sins increases with our knowledge of the "master's will".

          • Craig Roberts

            If that's true, what I said earlier about it being a rare gift, is false.

          • Doug Shaver

            The Church says that 'faith' is a free gift from God. If you do not have it, it seems that you could not possibly be held responsible for not having it.

            Responsibly or not, either I have it or I don't have it. But if the church can't tell me what it is, then how do I know whether I have it? If I don't know what it is, then maybe I do have it and just am not aware of having it.

            Of course, the church would say that I must not have it if I don't believe the church's teachings. But it's obvious that I do have it if I do believe the church's teachings. In that case, isn't faith nothing more than acceptance of the church's authority?

          • Craig Roberts

            Unfortunately, for both of us, the Church is not very clear on this subject. Unbelievers might have it, and are just being rebellious. So called believers may just be faking it to curry favor with society or even just because they are comfortable with the routine they were raised with.

          • Doug Shaver

            I am never surprised when the church is not very clear on an issue that is vital to its apologetics.

          • Craig Roberts

            Apologetics is like any other art form. 95% of it is garbage. 4% is not so bad. 1% is worthwhile.

          • Craig Roberts

            A wise priest once told me that many Catholics are more motivated by fear than faith.

            Another priest once told me that a cleaning lady could have more faith than the world's greatest theologian.

            It's a bit weird.

          • Doljonijiarnimorinar

            This sounds like pretend. Very easy to fool yourself. You don't actually believe you have any new clarity, you just want to claim it so you do. And being accompanied by an inner confirmation that cannot be denied sounds exactly like a delusion. Honestly this is all hogwash, and that's why its inexplicable.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Unlike any mathematical truth, the truth about God’s existence or nonexistence is profoundly relevant to everyone’s conception of goodness and happiness and purpose. Not only God but many other things considered by philosophers and not mathematicians possess this potentially life-altering character—a fact perceived most keenly by the philosophers themselves. Hence, there is a possibility of desire influencing thought in philosophical questions where there is no correspondingly strong element of desire in mathematical investigations. We should not expect, in other words, that even the most solid and genuine proofs of philosophy will enjoy the same universal convincing power as those in mathematics. In philosophical matters, even genuine proofs can be surrounded by obstacles nowhere to be found in the world of mathematics.

    This is a poor parallel. Mathematical terminology is precisely defined and the proofs are rigorous. Therefore, we all know precisely what a mathematician means by his terminology. For example, we know exactly what it means for a function to be continuous, a natural number to be prime, or a set to be countable. Because we have good definitions and a logic, we can prove things, such as: there are infinitely many primes. This would be impossible if we did not have a precise definition of prime numbers. Proofs of theism lack precise definitions and therefore they cannot have rigorous demonstration.

    • ben

      If some one steals something from you, what equation will you show her that stealing is wrong? What equation can you write that proves that you have any rights at all? What is the solution to the Morality Matrix?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        This has nothing to do with my post. I am explaining why their is universal agreement about mathematical proofs among mathematicians, while there is not universal agreement about philosophical proofs among philosophers. It has nothing to do with wanting a certain philosophy to be true or an attachment to an philosophy. It has everything to do with precision and rigor.

        • Craig Roberts

          You highlight a good point. Christianity is not a philosophy. There is not nearly enough 'precision and rigor' in scripture to apply strict rules of logic to it.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Christianity is not a philosophy in itself, but it does place limitations on what philosophies one may ascribe to. Trivially, a Christian could not also be an atheist.

            Not sure why I would want to apply strict logic to the Bible or any other piece of literature. It is a book written by men with some wisdom and some foolishness. Now, if one views the Bible as the inspired Word of God all sorts of questions need to be asked.

            1) What does it mean for a book to be inspired?

            2)How do we know what books are inspired by God? Why is Genesis inspired by God but the Iliad is not?

            3) Is everything in the Bible inspired by God? Are the scriptures inerrant?

          • Doug Shaver

            Not sure why I would want to apply strict logic to the Bible or any other piece of literature. It is a book written by men with some wisdom and some foolishness.

            Without applying logic, how does one distinguish between wisdom and foolishness?

          • Craig Roberts

            Do you apply logic to poetry?

          • Doug Shaver

            Do you apply logic to poetry?

            That depends on why I'm reading it. If I'm seeking wisdom, then yes, I apply logic.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            With reason combined with life experiences and the insight that literature may provide. Literature can give us a fresh point of view on the human experience that is outside our own experience.

            Formal logic is not going to glean insights out of a literary text.

          • Doug Shaver

            Without applying logic, how does one distinguish between wisdom and foolishness?

            With reason combined with life experiences and the insight that literature may provide.

            With reason, but not with logic? How does reason work without logic?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I am not using a formal logic like in mathematics - that is all I meant.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. With informal logic, how does one distinguish between wisdom and foolishness?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It depends on what the proposition is about. I would try to test how well it jives with what I know about reality (or think I know), how well it fits with my experience of reality, how well it fits with relevant empirical investigations into reality, and how well does it fit in with how others have experienced reality. If the belief was part of a larger belief system, I would test for internal consistency. And finally, I may question a main assumption.

            For instance, if I came across an article advocating the quiver method as the best way of family planning, because it makes families happier and is in accord with God's will I would consider that to be foolish in a number of ways. Firstly, I would object that many people who use birth control are happy and fulfilled. (So it would not fit with my experience of reality). Secondly, I would check to see if there were any relevant studies on the subject matter (empirical investigations). Thirdly, I remember reading a couple articles about very large families and the children not having particularly good outcomes. (it doesn't fit well with others experience of reality. Fourthly, I would object that in their own belief system, God expects them to take part in providing for themselves by working and taking medicine when they are sick, so why would God not want them to take an active part in their reproductive planning. (Testing for internal consistency.) Then, finally, I would probably object that they do not have enough evidence to think that this is God's will for them or that God even exists.

            One more example is the maxim to forgive those who wrong you. A Christian may tell me that it is a wise saying, because God told it to us and that it leads to a happier life. I reject that God had anything to do with the maxim, but I still think that the person who wrote it down was saying something wise, because in my own experience, I am happier when I forgive others than when I hold a grudge. From what I have read, this seems to be common in others' experiences as well. So, I would reason that forgiving wrongs is better (will make you happier) than holding grudges.

          • Doug Shaver

            I would try to test how well it jives with what I know about reality (or think I know), how well it fits with my experience of reality, how well it fits with relevant empirical investigations into reality, and how well does it fit in with how others have experienced reality. If the belief was part of a larger belief system, I would test for internal consistency. And finally, I may question a main assumption.

            Those are all exercises of logic, and there is nothing informal about the logic involved. You're talking about avoiding contradictions, which is arguably the whole point of studying logic.

          • Craig Roberts

            Interesting questions. If atheism is a philosophy (and not a religion as some would maintain) is there some other religion, perhaps Buddhism, that could accommodate atheism's own limitations?

          • Michael Murray

            What do you mean by atheism in this context ? Even though I would call myself an atheist I've never really been that keen on the "ism" word as I don' think there is a philosophy that you sign up to. Not in the way that being a "marxist" would mean you subscribed to (some variant of) "marxism". You could of course collect together all the writings and arguments of self-described atheists relating to questions of god and religion and bind them into a big book. But I don't think that makes a philosophy.

          • Craig Roberts

            Dunno. Not being an atheist, I rely on atheists to explain to me what they believe. Some are probably just rejecting what they think the God of the bible represents. But I suppose there could be people that are rejecting something else. The God that can be proven or even the gods of antiquity, or Allah, or Buddha, or whatever their parents proposed to them was the source of existence. Most I would assume are simply materialists that don't really understand the implications of materialism.

          • Michael Murray

            Most I would assume are simply materialists that don't really understand the implications of materialism.

            Which implications would they be ?

          • Craig Roberts

            That there is no such thing as justice or love or art or any other abstract concept that cannot be reduced to a proof.

          • Michael Murray

            So how does not understanding that account for them being atheists ? You said

            Most I would assume are simply materialists that don't really understand the implications of materialism.

            I took that to mean that if they understood the implications of materialism they wouldn't be atheists theists ? Please correct me if I am misunderstanding your point.

            EDIT: Corrected typo.

          • Craig Roberts

            "...if they understood the implications of materialism they wouldn't be theists ?" Did you mean 'atheists'? Pure materialism makes no sense. Comes a time when people can understand that there are things that exist that are not made of material (i.e. justice, love, fantasy, numbers, ideas, etc.)

          • Michael Murray

            Yes sorry. That was atheists. I'll edit it. Thanks.

            I don't know of anyone who thinks that materialism means there are no such things as ideas and concept. But they may well exist. I just think that ideas are dependent on material or physical things. If you didn't have humans with brains thinking you would have no concept of justice. But I'm still an atheist.

          • Craig Roberts

            Interesting. So you think that the 'concept' of triangles would cease to exist if mankind went extinct? Would some alien species be able to acquire the concept independent of mankind? What if man went extinct, but a copy of Moby Dick was not destroyed. Would Moby Dick still exist?

          • Michael Murray

            So you think that the 'concept' of triangles would cease to exist if mankind went extinct?

            Yes.

            Would some alien species be able to acquire the concept independent of mankind?

            Depends a little what you mean by concept of triangles. Do you mean the formal system of Euclidean geometry with its axioms in which we model triangles or do you mean the vaguer idea we have of a triangle shape that lives in the world around us ? If they set up the same formal system they will deduce the same theorems. If they lived in an environment that predisposed them to abstract ideas like: the number three, straight line segments and lines lying in a plane they are likely to have a similar concept of triangle in the less precise sense.

            What if man went extinct, but a copy of Moby Dick was not destroyed. Would Moby Dick still exist?

            Moby Dick never existed. It was fiction :-). I assume you mean the idea of Moby Dick. That's harder. An alien species might never really understand what the concept of whale was, let alone the concept of Moby Dick as embodied in the book. Given I never got past the first few chapters I'm not sure I do.

          • Doug Shaver

            Materialism as such has nothing to say about what can or cannot be reduced to a proof.

          • Doug Shaver

            Most I would assume are simply materialists that don't really understand the implications of materialism.

            I am an atheist and a materialist, but I'm also a logician. I know good and well what materialism implies and does not imply.

          • Craig Roberts

            Its very name implies that there is no spiritual realm. That everything is made of something. But ideas are not made out of brains.

          • Doug Shaver

            Its name is just a label.

          • Doug Shaver

            If atheism is a philosophy

            It's not. A philosophy is a system of beliefs. Even if atheism is a belief, it is only one belief. You can't have a system composed of only one of anything.

          • Craig Roberts

            I would have to agree. Is it closer to a religion?

          • Doug Shaver

            You tell me. Can a religion consist of one and only one belief?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Atheism is not a complete philosophy and it is certainly not a religion. Atheism is a statement about one thing. A philosophy is more of a worldview. Just knowing that I am an atheist does not tell you that I am also a utilitarian.

          • Michael Murray

            Trivially, a Christian could not also be an atheist.

            That is not so clear. There is something called post-theistic Christianity.

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/2014/06/23/church-with-or-without-god/

            Her call is to leave the Bible and theism behind and reorient Christianity around shared values, with or without God.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I like to let people call themselves whatever they wish to call themselves. So if some atheists feel that Christianity's values are very important and wish to call themselves Christian, I am not going to argue with them.

            On the other hand, I would not label anyone as Christian unless they believed that Jesus was divine in some way.

          • Doug Shaver

            Christianity . . . does place limitations on what philosophies one may ascribe to.

            So does every other worldview.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Of course.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Christianity" is not equivalent to "scripture," except perhaps to certain Protestant fundamentalists. And philosophy is not just anything to which strict rules of logic can be applied.

          • Craig Roberts

            Well said. When things start to get slippery it's really no wonder that some people reject the bible. Others accept the bible but reject that philosophy can provide a substitute for faith. The author of this article seems to think that using pure logic one can arrive at a starting point that will force the thinking man to conclude that God does indeed exist. But this contradicts his own faith, because Christianity holds that faith is required to know God and that it is a gift and not a formula.

    • Michael Murray

      Because we have good definitions and a logic, we can prove things, such as: there are infinitely many primes. This would be impossible if we did not have a precise definition of prime numbers.

      As we see here regularly when the discussions become about infinity, orderings, maximality etc

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Still waiting for the philosophical definition of infinity.

  • I don't mean to poison the well here, but I can't help but point out that a professor at Thomas Aquinas college, a Catholic school does not suggest an individual who is unbiased with respect to the arguments of Aquinas.

    This by no means demonstrates he is wrong, but he suggests that many are prejudiced against Aquinas. Well, when you are part of a faith community largely influenced by Aquinas and your employer is literally named after him, it may be difficult to examine his arguments with unbiased critical thinking.

    When you say "There are also powerful academic disincentives for anyone who might be
    tempted to study Aristotle or Aquinas at all with a view to finding out
    the truth"

    Well, I shouldn't think so. I am currently listening to the Great Courses survey course "The Great Ideas in Philosophy". The instructor has already spent a great deal of time discussing Aritsotle, and Aquinas has been mentioned favorably though we have not yet progressed out of the Roman era.

    Even Massimo Pigliucci, a prominent name among skeptics, published a book Answers for Aristotle which has great praise for him. Survey intro to Philosophy Syllabae, and you will generally find Aquinas on the reading list.

  • One final thought. Consider the implications of what this author is saying: there are arguments that prove the existence of God. They have existed for centuries and have been widely available, known, and promoted by the largest and most powerful Chirstian religion in history for centuries.

    There are so good and so persuasive, that any non-quack philosopher will be convinced by them. The implications of being convinced are an acceptance of the source of all morality and good and likely access to eternal perfection.

    However, thousands of philosophers have not bothered to read these arguments, because they are old and made by people who held ignorant, if reasonable views on things given their historical context.

    I think this is unlikely.

  • Michael Murray

    It would be interesting to have a post by a theist about why they think people don't accept these so-called proofs. Are there intellectually respectable reasons or is it all about ignorance and or wilful rejection based on sinful desires ? I always get the impression, when I read here, sometimes more than an impression, that the author believes the latter. Whereas when I read a philosophy book like Inwagen's Metaphysics I am told that every philosophical position is up for argument and is accepted and rejected by different people for intellectually respectable reasons.

  • Howard

    "Some atheists will object to arguments for God by observing, 'If a particular proof for God is so strong, why doesn't it convince everyone?'" If that objection is so strong, why doesn't it convince everyone? [And then, "If your objection to my objection is so strong, why doesn't it convince me?" and so forth, until someone loses patience and a nose is punched.]