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The Big Problems with Naturalism

When skeptics, agnostics, and atheists oppose theists, Christians, and, specifically, Catholics, they frequently do so from the perspective of philosophical naturalism. This article will challenge the rational credibility of naturalism.

Naturalism has historical roots in early Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers: Thales, Anaximander, and Anaxagoras. These thinkers are sometimes called “naïve materialists,” because they espouse a purely material world—without explicitly rejecting a spiritual one. Later, Leucippus and Democritus elaborated “atomism,” the claim that all reality is composed solely of atoms and the void. But a “detour” into dualistic worldviews then took place through thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, the Neo-Platonists, the Scholastics (including St. Thomas Aquinas), and early modern philosophers, such as Descartes. Naturalism re-emerged by the time of Baron d’Holbach (eighteenth century) whose work has been called “the culmination of French materialism and atheism,” as epitomized in his book, The System of Nature.

Nineteenth century atheistic materialism has largely been replaced today by “metaphysical naturalism,” which affirms a purely natural world, largely based on natural science, while clearly rejecting God and other spiritual entities.

There is also “methodological naturalism,” which describes natural science’s default expectation that all events are the result of physical forces or entities. While methodological naturalism operates in much the same manner as metaphysical naturalism, it makes no ontological commitments as to whether physical reality is all that exists, or not.

Metaphysical Naturalism's Assumptions

Naturalism, a science-based take on reality, makes many related claims, including: (1) there is an objective extramental universe shared by all rational observers, (2) the universe is governed by uniform natural laws that make it orderly and comprehensible, (3) such orderly reality can be discovered through scientific observation and experimentation, (4) nature is in principle rationally intelligible, (5)  mental entities, such as theories, mathematics, ethical values, and so forth, reduce to, or emerge from, neural activities in the brain, (6) the universe itself is its own ultimate explanation of its existence and operations, (7) nature operates as a blind force acting according to fixed laws with no purpose, (8) complex things, such as minds and living organisms, are composed of simpler constituents that are reducible to ultimate particles obeying physical laws, (9) reason itself is the product of an undersigned process with no intrinsic relation to truth (yet, naturalism is claimed to be true), (10) all things are either physical in nature, or else, depend upon or emerge from physical entities. (Of course, emergentism violates the principle of causality by assuming that you can get being from non-being.)

While the first four of these claims are necessary premises of natural science, the remainder consists of ontological philosophical claims about the world, which—although they talk about the same physical entities that science deals with—do not, as purely philosophical assertions, derive any authority from natural science. Much more importantly, naturalism itself derives most of its seeming authority from natural science. The problem is that, while natural science need not justify its own assumed premises – since no science demonstrates its own starting points, any philosophy, such as naturalism, relying on natural science must itself justify those same scientific assumptions, or else, that philosophy itself relies on mere assumptions.

This means that all of the above claims are either mere assumption, or else, require philosophical demonstrations which are not directly attempted by naturalists. Rather, the last six of the above claims are simply ontological assertions hiding behind a façade of scientific verbiage. They rely on the philosophy of naturalism, which presents them as just-so stories that defy disproof, but for which naturalism itself offers no direct scientific demonstration that is independent of philosophical assumptions.

These just-so stories appear scientific, but hide their naturalistic assumptions. For example, claims of (1) abiogenesis (which assumes that life can arise unaided from non-life), (2) nature without purpose, (3) mental entities reducing to the brain, (4) complex structures arising from fundamental particles, (5) reason coming from an undersigned process, and (6) the universe explaining its own existence – all these claims rely on the blatantly philosophical assumptions that (1) everything is merely physical and (2) no non-material intellectual agent exists to produce these observable effects. Hence, naturalism argues, if these higher effects occur, blind material nature must have somehow produced them. Logical, if and only if, you beg the question by assuming that naturalism is true in the first place! So, too, is the assumption that all things are physical or physically dependent.

Of the first four claims, it is true that science presupposes them – and properly so, since that is simply the scientific method, which, as science, but not philosophy, is perfectly valid. Yet, the necessary scientific assumptions that (1) an extramental universe exists that (2) is governed by natural laws, which (3) can be discovered and understood by reason through (4) using observation and experimentation – while perfectly proper to natural science – are nonetheless clearly not facts that the scientific method itself can prove. Rather, these assertions are the undemonstrated intellectual foundations upon which the methodology of natural science rests. These are, in fact, philosophical assumptions.

Finally, while natural science necessarily operates on the principle that an extramental world really exists and we can directly observe it, this principle – when combined with naturalism’s physicalist assumption, plunges naturalism into an epistemological quagmire from which it cannot be rescued – as will be demonstrated now in detail.

Naturalism's Version of Extramental Realism

Naturalism assumes extramental realism, which is the philosophical claim that a real physical world exists independently of our consciousness of it. And yet, its own materialist account of sense perception logically implies the conclusion that all we really know are the internal states of our brains. Because the entire process of perception is assumed to entail exclusively material/physical components, this leads to the “causal theory of perception,” which means, for example, that sight entails light coming from an external object, hitting the retina in the eye, being conveyed as nerve impulses by the optic nerve to the occipital part of the brain, where, it is naturally assumed, vision actually takes place.

From this logical sequence follows the absurd, but necessary, inference that what is known is no longer the actual external object, but simply some “neural pattern” internal to the brain.

This latter inference would appear to make natural science merely a description of the internal rules that govern brain states, and yet, the existence of a real external world is presupposed in order to derive the very physical model whereby is inferred that all we really know is internal brain states!

Naturalism assumes a principle of causality, since no realist account of the extramental world can be given unless we presuppose, gratuitously, that external events somehow impact our sensory faculties so as to give an essentially accurate account of the external physical world. And yet, naturalists are inherently wary of metaphysical principles, especially causality.

Most importantly, to know that the external object somehow properly corresponds to the internal image we must know directly both the image and the external object itself – for purposes of comparison, which contradicts the inference that all we directly know is the internal image.

Naturalism must also presume the validity of extramental physical laws and mechanisms in order to derive the biological description of the way the senses physically function so as to infer that what we really know is changes inside the brain, instead of extramental objects directly themselves, such as the tree outside my window.

All this entails an ongoing ambivalent epistemology, wherein the naturalist cannot decide whether he really knows the tree outside his window, or merely an image of it inside his head. If he follows the physiological/optical pathway from the external tree to the inside of his brain, he must deny direct knowledge of the tree, and thus, of the whole external world. But if he does not directly know the external world, how then does he develop the scientific model that leads him to deny his immediate knowledge of the external world?

Implicit in the previous assumption is the problem of how does the naturalist even know that the external world exists at all – assuming we never actually have direct knowledge of it and all our scientific knowledge appears merely to be studying the relationships of neural patterns inside the brain?

If naturalism is actually based on so many assumptions, why do naturalists so firmly believe in its essential truth, or at least, that it is the only rational, sane way to approach reality – complete with immense confidence that nothing spiritual or metaphysical exists? The standard defense is that science has proven itself, and thus, indirectly, the value of a naturalistic perspective—because science works. It predicts experimental results which actually happen. And it makes phenomenal progress in understanding the extramental world. Conversely, they point out, religion and philosophy make no empirically verifiable predictions – at least none that skepticism cannot challenge.

Still, we don’t know if natural science actually works unless we can verify that the external world actually mirrors the claims of scientific progress. But naturalism merely assumes the existence of that world. As I have demonstrated elsewhere, naturalism’s inherently physicalist ontology necessarily leads to a subjectivist epistemology. Unless the naturalist assumes the world is extramental, all his “proofs for naturalism” cannot be known to apply to anything except the inner consistency of his own brain patterns – that “brain,” which he can only know to exist itself by assuming that  the external world exists.

This is circular reasoning in the extreme.

Is There a Better Alternative?

All truth claims require substantiating reasons. Proof requires evidence—some prior, more certain fact or facts from which a claim is deduced in valid logical form. If someone gives no reasons for his claims, no one will believe him – and rightly so.

Surprising to many, Aristotle defined the original meaning of “science.” He insisted that, if you really know what you are talking about, that means that you know something is true, you know why it is true, and you know why it cannot be otherwise.1 This fulfills the Greek meaning of “epistêmê” as absolutely certain knowledge. In Latin derivation, we call it “science,” from the word, “scire,” meaning “to know.” From this comes “scientia”—in English, “science.” Not experimental science, but science as meaning objectively sure knowledge. Aristotle defined science as “certain knowledge through causes.” (Remember that experimental science itself ultimately turns out to be based on certain assumptions!)

The reasoning process through which one comes to a “scientific” Aristotelian conclusion is called the “scientific syllogism,” which epitomizes “certain knowledge through causes.” The “causes” are the premises, which are prior and better known than the conclusion, and from which, assuming a logically valid inference, the conclusion necessarily follows – since the knowledge of the premises, combined with a valid deduction, causes our certitude of the truth of the conclusion.2

But then, how do we know the truth of the prior premises? What if they need to be proven as well? Well, if they need proving, then we must prove them by the same logical process, that is, by finding certain prior premises from which these premises needing proof are validly derived.

The “Assumed vs. Proven Pseudo-Dilemma”

A seeming dilemma now appears. Either prior premises are themselves proven, or else, they are merely assumed. Could one regress to infinity in the taking of prior premises? Aristotle rightly says, “No.” In the practical order, since reasoning takes some time, if you had to go to infinity in establishing prior premises, the mind could never traverse the infinite time it would take to reach a conclusion!

Thus, we must come finally to premises that are not themselves proven – which, then, it would appear, “proves” they must be assumed. Does Aristotle thus wind up mired in assumptions—just like the naturalist?

Not at all. Rather, insists Aristotle, what this logic actually demonstrates is that, since one cannot go to infinity in the taking of prior premises, we must come to first premises which – though they are not proven—neither are they merely assumed. They must, somehow, be immediately evident—evident in themselves.

Now a truth can be made evident by prior premises, as shown above. But it can also be “evident in itself,” that is, if it is somehow immediately evident. There are two ways in which a statement can be evident in itself: (1) if it is immediately evident to the senses, or (2), if it is a self-evident, metaphysical universal first principle of being.

But, didn’t Descartes prove that the starting point of all knowledge is just ideas or images in the mind? Isn’t that all we first know in sensation? Descartes did say just that when he posited his “Cogito.” Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore, I am. For Descartes, “thought,” as an internal, subjective experience, is the first object of cognition. But what he missed is that extramental reality is just as immediately evident as thought itself. In fact, it is logically prior to thought, since the thought or idea or image is but a secondary reflection of the object as externally encountered.3

If I open my door and see a man-eating tiger about to pounce upon me, I have no doubt about its given immediacy as an extramental object. It is only when I close the door and then recall an image of the tiger that I can doubt the reality of the tiger itself. But, curiously, I cannot doubt having an image or idea of the tiger when I am actually experiencing it as an intramental object. Should I reopen the door, the tiger’s extramental reality would again be undeniably evident.4

The perfectly licit and proper methodology of natural science begins by admitting that extramentally observed things are real. But while science observes solely physical reality, it does not logically follow from this that only physical things can exist – as naturalism gratuitously claims.

A correct description of cognition shows that we have the immediate knowledge of external reality that both natural science and philosophy require. Doubtless, this is the basis for the naturalist’s instinctive certitude that an external universe of physical objects is real.

The naturalist’s problem is that his own gratuitously-assumed physicalism leads him to the absurd inference that all he really knows are images inside his brain – a conclusion that contradicts his own initial direct experience!

Metaphysical First Principles of Being

But, what about metaphysical first principles of being? How do we know that they are true, self-evident, and universally applicable?

From the first time the human intellect encounters any reality whatever in sensation, it forms a concept of being.5 This concept is universal since it applies to all being, not just some restricted form of it. The mind immediately predicates being of itself and forms the self-evident principle of identity: being is being. Equally immediately self-evident is the negation: non-being is not being. From these, with equal certitude, is formed the principle of non-contradiction: being cannot both be and not be (at the same time and in the same respect).

The principle of non-contradiction is so evident that no one can ever deny it without rendering his own utterance or thought utterly incoherent. While there are other self-evident first principles, it suffices to focus solely on this most evident universal first principle, since all naturalists must use it in every thought and every statement, but none can adequately explain where it comes from within the schema of naturalism.

Some naturalists may claim that the non-contradiction principle is merely a rule of logic. But, even the mere positing of a logical rule presupposes the principle itself, since the intelligibility of any rule would be vitiated if its contradictory could simultaneously be affirmed. The principle is simply “there,” and every honest intellect is forced to affirm it in the very act of understanding it. Naturalism lacks the epistemic tools to defend the principle; Thomism discovers it comfortably within its metaphysics of being, as I have shown elsewhere.

Moreover, unlike other universals, the concept of being applies to all possible beings, since while there can be beings that are not, say, trees, there can never be an actual tree that is not a being. Thus, while our knowledge of chickens holds good for all possible chickens, there might be a being that is not a chicken – resulting in our knowledge of chicken-ness not applying to it. But there can never be a being that is not a being, and thus, our concept of being applies to all possible beings. Hence, the principle of being, known as “non-contradiction,” applies to all possible beings and is truly transcendental.

The philosophy of naturalism rests ultimately on certain gratuitous assumptions, whereas, Aristotelian-Thomistic sciences are grounded on premises which are known with immediate certitude, by being either (1) immediately-given knowledge of extramental objects, or (2) self-evident first principles of existential metaphysics.

Given its evident epistemological inconsistency and ungrounded assumptions, does not naturalism itself merit skepticism?

Notes:

  1. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics , I, ch. 2 (71b 8-15).
  2. Ibid., (71b 18-32).
  3. Brother Benignus Gerrity, Nature, Knowledge, and God (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1947), 300-305.
  4. Ibid., 304-305.
  5. Ibid., 360.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette

Written by

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

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  • I essentially agree with the author's conclusions about naturalism. But I don't agree with the following:

    //[W]hat [Descartes] missed is that extramental reality is just as immediately evident as thought itself. In fact, it is logically prior to thought, since the thought or idea or image is but a secondary reflection of the object as externally encountered.//

    We cannot know that the external world could be meaningfully said to exist in abstraction from any consciousness. Perhaps the external material world is like a grin. A grin only makes sense in the context of a face. Perhaps, likewise, the external material world is only given reality by a perceiving consciousness.

    Certainly it is preposterous to suppose that extramental reality is as immediately evident as thoughts. Thoughts are immediately given. We cannot doubt that we ourselves are conscious and have thoughts. And even if we assume thoughts are only possible if we have perceptions (which I would dispute), nothing entails that our perceptions have to be of an extramental reality.

    Berkeley's idealism is an example which I have wrote about here:

    http://ian-wardell.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-very-brief-introduction-to-subjective.html

    • papagan

      If one holds that an extra-mental entity or object (e.g., a horse) has no reality or existence apart from one's own perception of the object, how does one avoid solipsism, which is a philosophical nonstarter?

      • I meant by *any* perceiving consciousness, not just my own.

        • papagan

          If you embrace the Berkeleyan idealist doctrine that esse est percipi, and if you hold that your mind is not the only mind, on what grounds do you hold that your mind is not the only mind? If you respond by saying that you perceive other minds, do you then hold that your mind bestows existence upon other minds?

          • We can infer other people have minds from their behaviour, just the same as in interactive dualism (and commonsense).

            One is not saying the totality of reality is exhausted by peoples' perceptions. Rather only the "material" realm is exhausted by peoples' perceptions. We only know that "material" objects exist through our conscious perceptions. Why assume there is anything more to a material object? And if objects exist independently of our conscious apprehension of them, then what are they like? e.g are they coloured in the commonsensical sense of the term etc. And do they have the same shade of colour as we perceive? Same questions for sounds and smells.

            The concept of a consciousness-independent material realm seems like a superfluous hypothesis. Not so for other minds since the hypothesis other people have minds explains why their behaviour is similar to my own (assuming consciousness is causally efficacious).

          • papagan

            I'd say that human persons aren't minds, but they do possess minds as intrinsic capacities or spiritual faculties. Human persons are composites of body and soul (psyche), and I hold that these composite entities have existence apart from my perception of them. That isn't your position, however, as far as I can see based on what you've stated. So, given the Berkeleyan idealist theory of knowledge which you embrace, how do you know that your mind is not the only mind? The human behaviors I observe using my sensory faculties, which are faculties proper to body-soul composites, are the behaviors of body-soul composites. That way of knowing doesn't seem to be open to you as long as you embrace a Berkeleyan idealist theory of knowledge.

          • I have not stated I embrace the Berkeleyan idealist theory of knowledge. I merely dispute the notion that an extramental reality is completely certain.

            Nor do I know that my mind is not the only mind. Nor do you know your mind is not the only mind. Nor does anyone know. It is not a problem peculiar to idealism.

            What is meant by a "human person"? Is this the same as a self? My self is the experiencer, that which has conscious experiences. The body is a piece of meat. How can a piece of meat be part of what you are?? This seems almost as nonsensical as materialism.

          • papagan

            So you don't know how to get beyond solipsism, which is a philosophical nonstarter. I, however, am able to see beyond the empty delusion of solipsism. I know that I'm not alone, that I have real conversations with other mortal human persons (body-soul composites) who exist independently of my limited perceptions of them. If solipsism were correct, then either you or I wouldn't really exist. I know, however, that I exist and that you and I aren't the same person.

          • Barring some sort of anomalous connection or communication with others (psi), then you cannot know that other minds exist. I realised this from an extremely young age. Our lives could be akin to a dream for example. Nothing can rule this out. You cannot *know* that others have minds.

            However, we overwhelmingly *feel* that others exist, and I suspect there is indeed an aforementioned anomalous connection.

            Regardless, solipsism is no more likely under subjective idealism than any other position, including yours. Obviously if one subscribes to some reductive materialism and assuming it is correct, then it is certain that others are "conscious". But how could anyone know their metaphysical stance here is correct?

            I want to get the convo over to this "body -soul composite" thesis. In what sense is my body part of me? I jsut don't get it??

          • Dennis Bonnette

            This reminds me of when I was in graduate school and the amusement caused by the report that a solipsist had published a book.

          • Why shouldn't a solipsist publish a book? If one concluded that no-one else is conscious, what should one do? Just sit there for the rest of one's life doing nothing?

            Presumably no-one's a solipsist anyway. It's only philosophically clueless people who imagine that just because conscious plays a crucial role in what constitutes a physical object, then this somehow suggests other minds don't exist. They simply don't understand idealism. That's OK, I'm in the same boat as I simply don't get this mind-body composite notion.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            The joke of a solipsist publishing a book is, "Why bother?"

            Just read it yourself. Nobody else can.

          • In a few decades time chatbots might pass for human beings. If they're not conscious -- and I'm convinced they won't be -- would that mean it's pointless communicating with them?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Largely, unless their software enabled them to teach us something useful.

          • papagan

            "Nor do I know that my mind is not the only mind. Nor do you know your mind is not the only mind. Nor does anyone know. It is not a problem peculiar to idealism."

            A solipsist engaged in a genuine dialogue is a fine example of a performative contradiction. Of course, a solipsist could be dreaming that he is participating in a philosophical dialogue. I, however, don't care to participate in such a dream. Incidentally, what is a dream if there is no ontologically prior extramental reality by reference to which a dream can be understood to be nothing but a dream?

          • What part of the body makes up the "human person"? Presumably not my nails or hair since I constantly have these cut. Not my limbs since if I lose my limbs I am still precisely the same self. I'm baffled about how any part of my body can constitute *me*.

          • What about reincarnation? Ostensibly one is the same self, but operating through a different body. I'm guessing reincarnation is ruled out by an Aristotelian--Thomist conception of what we are? Even though one has memories of a previous life, is convinced and *feels* one is the same person, shares some of the same psychological proclivities as the previous person (and there are lots of reports of this), nevertheless one *by definition* is not the same self or person?

            Indeed, come to that, if I am a composition of body and soul, and my body has changed so radically since I was a newborn baby, in what sense am I still the same person under the Aristotelian - Thomist conception?

            I don't want to have a quarrel with you. I just find this position baffling. Not as baffling as materialism admittedly.

          • papagan

            I don't believe in reincarnation, which is incompatible with a hylomorphic conception of the human person. Such a conception was articulated by Aristotle. If you're unfamiliar with the Aristotelian doctrine of hylomorphism, you're free to read Aristotle's work if you're truly interested. One can learn much from the Stagirite.

            "...if I am a composition of body and soul, and my body has changed so radically since I was a newborn baby, in what sense am I still the same person under the Aristotelian-Thomist conception?" Aristotle can answer that question, but one needs to do more than a little reading to appreciate the philosophical wealth and depth of Aristotelian hylomorphism, and one must go beyond the boundaries of both substance dualism (e.g., Descartes) and philosophical materialism (e.g., Hobbes), which are ill equipped to deal with the important philosophical question of personal identity.

          • //I don't believe in reincarnation, which is incompatible with a hylomorphic conception of the human person.//

            The evidence strongly suggests the reality of reincarnation.

            //If you're unfamiliar with the Aristotelian doctrine of hylomorphism, you're free to read Aristotle's work if you're truly interested.//

            I don't believe this "hylomorphism" could possibly be correct if it rules out reincarnation . This is in addition to supposing my body is part of me, which I regard as nonsensical.

            //Aristotle can answer that question//.

            I don't believe he can. And I don't believe you can either, otherwise you would have answered my question.

          • There's no way in which this hylomorphism could be modified or interpreted to allow for reincarnation?

          • papagan

            Reincarnation, which I don't buy, presupposes matter, and hylomorphism precludes reincarnation.

  • Thus, we must come finally to premises that are not themselves proven – which, then, it would appear, “proves” they must be assumed. Does Aristotle thus wind up mired in assumptions—just like the naturalist?

    Not at all. Rather, insists Aristotle, what this logic actually demonstrates is that, since one cannot go to infinity in the taking of prior premises, we must come to first premises which – though they are not proven—neither are they merely assumed. They must, somehow, be immediately evident—evident in themselves.

    Well, how convenient that is. If I believe something because it is self-evident, then I’m not assuming it.

    This does not eliminate the need for assumptions. If I say that I believe X because it is self-evident, then I’m offering self-evidence as a proof of X. I am saying: X is self-evident, therefore X is true. But I’m still assuming something. I am assuming that whatever is self-evident must be true. Otherwise, I’m just engaged in special pleading. I am claiming that for any premise that appears self-evident to me, I need neither to prove it nor to assume it. I can discharge all my epistemological duties by simply declaring it to be self-evident.

    • Rob Abney

      Do you consider this statement to be self-evident? A whole is greater than, or equal to, any of its parts.

      • Do you consider this statement to be self-evident?

        That depends on what “self-evident” is supposed to mean. The meaning of any term in a natural language is established by usage. My observation of this usage tells me that it usually means something like “too obvious to require proof.” The statement “A whole is greater than, or equal to, any of its parts” probably fits that category.

        But I don’t think it matters. My objection to Bonnette’s argument is not about whether some statements are self-evident. My objection is to his claim that we can exclude self-evident statements from the category of assumptions. My argument is that if we believe anything that we have not proved and cannot prove, then we are assuming it. In other words, in my epistemology, the two categories “proved” and “assumed” are exhaustive.

        • papagan

          Insofar as the term "assumption" is taken to mean a belief or opinion which might or might not be true (irrespective of one's level of subjective or psychological certitude), a self-evident proposition or judgment is not an assumption. Unlike self-evident propositions or judgments (e.g., PNC), assumptions in the sense mentioned above can be challenged without in any way compromising one's intrinsic rationality. If the term "assumption" is broadly construed to signify any proposition or judgment that is not the conclusion of a process of syllogistic reasoning, whether deductive or inductive, then a self-evident proposition would be classified as an assumption broadly construed.

          You write: «My argument is that if we believe anything that we have not proved and cannot prove, then we are assuming it.» Emphasis added.

          Based on that statement, an assumption (in the sense which you employ above) does not cover what Prof. Bonnette intends to signify by a self-evident proposition or judgment. For a self-evident proposition or judgment is not an opinion or belief. An opinion or belief can be true or false, but a self-evident proposition or judgment cannot be false.

          One should note that the important epistemological category of opinion or belief (doxa) is something treated in the branch of philosophy known as theory of knowledge. Of course you're free to employ the term "belief" as you wish without reference to the history of philosophy and philosophical theory of knowledge; however, Prof. Bonnette should be understood to be operating on the basis of the history of philosophy and philosophical theory of knowledge. His use of the term "belief" isn't an arbitrary usage. He would not concede that a self-evident proposition or judgment is a belief or an opinion.

          One might add that you haven't actually established that an intellectual proposition or judgment which isn't derived on the basis of syllogistic reasoning cannot be anything other than an assumption. It seems that you simply hold or believe without rational demonstration that an intellectual proposition or judgment which isn't derived on the basis of syllogistic reasoning is an assumption. That belief, however, isn't an example of a self-evident proposition or judgment.

          • Insofar as the term "assumption" is taken to mean a belief or opinion which might or might not be true (irrespective of one's level of subjective or psychological certitude) . . . .

            That is not how logicians define the word.

          • papagan

            Are you trying to make a point? If so, what is it?

          • Are you trying to make a point? If so, what is it?

            That your argument is unsound. You are arguing "If A then B" without supporting A.

          • papagan

            I wasn't offering an argument. I was drawing a distinction, pointing out that the term "assumption" can be used in various ways, not only in the way that logicians employ the term. If you insist that the term must be used in only one sense in the present context, perhaps you can clarify why others may not use the term in a different sense within the context of the present discussion. Within the context of theory of knowledge, philosophers don't use the term exclusively in the narrow sense in which the term is employed in logic. If the term "assumption" is used broadly to signify a proposition or judgment that isn't the conclusion of a categorical syllogism, then this term can be used to signify a self-evident proposition or judgment. Unlike self-evident propositions or judgments, however, not all assumptions are true.

          • perhaps you can clarify why others may not use the term in a different sense within the context of the present discussion.

            Oh, they may, anytime. But then we're not talking about the same thing when we use the term.

          • papagan

            To have a meaningful philosophical conversation, persons need to be in agreement as to how they're using their terms. If you wish to engage Prof. Bonnette in a meaningful philosophical discussion, you need to understand how he is using his terms. If you think that he is misusing his terms, then you may try to explain why you believe that he is using his terms incorrectly.

          • but a self-evident proposition or judgment cannot be false.

            The mere assertion that it cannot be false doesn't count for anything. The assertion has to be proved. But once it is proved, then the proposition or judgment has been proved.

          • papagan

            An example of a self-evident judgment is the following: Something cannot both be and not be simultaneously and in the same respect. Could that self-evident judgment be false? If not, can you provide an example of a self-evident judgment that could be false?

          • Could that self-evident judgment be false?

            I don't consider it a judgment of any kind. It's just an instance of the logical principle of noncontradiction: For all propositions P, the conjunction of P and not-P cannot be true.

            can you provide an example of a self-evident judgment that could be false?

            I have not found self-evidence to be an epistemologically useful concept. It's up to those who do think it's useful to tell me exactly what they have in mind when they use it.

          • papagan

            You seem unaware that when one intellectually affirms PNC, one is making an intellectual judgment, namely, the universal and necessary intellectual judgment that something cannot both be and not be simultaneously and in the same respect.

            As regards the importance of self-evident propositions or judgments, Prof. Bonnette has already attempted to cast light on their epistemological importance. The fundamental point is that without self-evident propositions or judgments, one cannot avoid an infinite epistemological regress, which regress would undermine all knowledge based on discursive reasoning.

          • You seem unaware that when one intellectually affirms PNC, one is making an intellectual judgment,

            No, I'm making an observation, namely that without the PNC, no statement in any natural language can mean anything.

          • papagan

            One cannot reason syllogistically without relying on intellectual judgments (e.g., PNC). Those who really know classical Aristotelian logic know that. Have you engaged in a careful study of classical Aristotelian logic?

          • One cannot reason syllogistically without relying on intellectual judgments (e.g., PNC).

            I never said I don't use the PNC. I do use it. I just don't think it is a judgment, and I told you why.

          • Have you engaged in a careful study of classical Aristotelian logic?

            Enough to know how it differs from modern logic.

          • papagan

            Also, one might pose another question. Do you hold that one cannot apprehend the necessary truth of a self-evident judgment, a judgment which isn't derived on the basis of syllogistic reasoning?

          • Do you hold that one cannot apprehend the necessary truth of a self-evident judgment

            I'm not trying to judge what you can or cannot apprehend. But if you apprehend something and tell me I should apprehend it, too, I will try to get you to explain exactly why I should.

          • papagan

            If you fail to grasp the truth of a self-evident judgment (e.g., PNC), then you don't understand one or more terms used within the judgment. Such failure can be remedied by coming to understand all of the terms included within the judgment.

          • If you fail to grasp the truth of a self-evident judgment (e.g., PNC), then you don't understand one or more terms used within the judgment.

            So if I don't agree with your judgment, then I'm either ignorant or stupid. Got it.

          • papagan

            You have misconstrued what I stated. Apprehending the truth of a self-evident proposition (e.g., PNC) is not the result of syllogistic reasoning, but the result of understanding each of the terms contained in the proposition.

          • If you say that a proposition is self-evidently true and I say it isn't, what will you infer about my cognitive abilities?

          • One might add that you haven't actually established that an intellectual proposition or judgment which isn't derived on the basis of syllogistic reasoning cannot be anything other than an assumption.

            Words are defined by usage. In common usage, and in the usage of most logicians, "assumed" means "unproved." If Aristotelians want to define it differently, they are free to do so, but then they can't fault the rest of us for suspecting that they are engaged in special pleading.

          • papagan

            An assumption as such is an unproved proposition (within the syllogism in which it functions as a premise), and a self-evident proposition is an unproved proposition, so a self-evident proposition is an assumption. Is that your line of thinking?

          • Is that your line of thinking?

            Yes, it is.

          • papagan

            It's true that a self-evident proposition is an unproved proposition (minor premise), but the reasoning offered is formally invalid (undistributed middle term--"unproved proposition"). Not all unproved propositions or judgments need to be proven. Unproved propositions or judgments whose truth is self-evident to us (e.g., PNC) don't need to be proven. They are principles of reasoning. Syllogistic reasoning depends on understanding of principles or self-evident truths.

          • Syllogistic reasoning depends on understanding of principles or self-evident truths.

            The syllogism was Aristotle's attempt to codify logic. It was a very good start, but modern logicians, starting in the 19th century, have made significant advances. If all you know about logic is what Aristotle had to say about it, then you don't really know logic.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I think that is a bit strong. Aristotelian logic is still as sound as its original parameters intended. It is true that modern mathematical logic made additions that are impressive, but they do not contradict the amazing initial achievements of Aristotle. They add to them, but by such contrivances as model logic, where probabilities are entertained as well. I confess that I have forgotten most of what I learned of modern logic, but I do know that it did not totally replace Aristotle.

            I recall taking a course in Boolean algebra in which my fellow grad students and I were appalled when the fifty-third theorem we did was the principle of excluded middle, something any Aristotelian knows before he leaves the metaphysical starting gate.

            We studied the calculus of propositions invented by Boleslaw Sobocinski, who taught us at ND after running some fifty miles in one night to save his life from the communists in Poland. The remarkable advantage of Polish logic over Peano-Russell notation is that you can actually do it on a typewriter. I know, with modern computers, that is not such a problem, but at the time I was studying, the cost of a book in Peano-Russell notation was excessive, for example the one by Bohenski, since it took special type setting, whereas Polish logic could be done, as I said, on a conventional typewriter.

            No, I don't recall all the details anymore, but I do know that Aristotle was not outdated to the extent of being wrong. He just did not like to use terms, such as the null class, since he had a predilection for existing things! I don't demean the contributions of people, like Frege, Russell, Carnap, Wittgenstein, Peano, and so forth, but to say that Aristotelian logic is completely overturned is simply untrue. It remains a solid foundation piece of the furniture in the logic showroom.

          • No, I don't recall all the details anymore, but I do know that Aristotle was not outdated to the extent of being wrong.

            I would not say, because I do not believe, that he was wrong about what a syllogism could or could not prove.

          • papagan

            The term "assumption" can be employed legitimately in more than one sense, depending on the context. Now, in the present context, has anyone asserted that we must employ the term exclusively in the sense in which logicians employ the term? Prof. Bonnette is not disregarding logic, of course, but the philosophical matters of which he speaks transcend the boundaries of a purely nominalist logic.

          • If he is using a logic that transcends the logic I have studied, he can explain why and I will see whether his explanation works for me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            My explanation is immediately beneath your comment here.

          • papagan

            Logic is a propaedeutic to philosophizing about questions like whether philosophical naturalism or materialism is metaphysically tenable. Logic alone isn't sufficient.

          • Logic alone isn't sufficient.

            I didn't say it is.

          • papagan

            In that case, one must understand how Prof. Bonnette is using the term "assumption" and not insist that he must use this term in the special sense intended by logicians.

          • Why does either of us have a default obligation to defer to the other? Why can't we negotiate?

          • papagan

            Negotiate? What is there to negotiate? Do readers negotiate with Aristotle or Descartes the meaning of the philosophical terms which they employ? If you seek to understand what Prof. Bonnette is trying to communicate, you need to grasp the meaning of the terms which he employs, what he intends to convey by means of his external words.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If "assumed" means "unproved," then everything that is "unproved" must be "assumed."

            But that is to assume that nothing can be its own evidence, even though it is not proven through another (premise).

            It is more helpful to ask whether something has evidence, that is, does something render its truth evident to the mind -- regardless of whether that "something" is "something else" or simply "itself."

            Every truth requires evidence. It is clearer to distinguish between three categories then: (1) what is merely assumed, meaning "without evidence," (2) what is evidently true through another, that is, proven, and (3) that which is evident in virtue of itself.

            As I argue in the OP, the third category can be constituted of two subcategories: (1) those things which are immediately known through sense experience (or even secondary internal experience, such as, I am presently imagining a pink elephant), and (2) statements which are self-evident, because they are principles of being whose truth is immediately known in virtue of being necessarily contained in the concept of being.

            Merely dividing all claims into what is "assumed" vs. "proven" is not a sufficiently complete division, since it fails to include that which is neither assumed nor proven as explained in the above definitions.

          • papagan

            I just saw this. Very well put Prof. Bonnette!

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Banach-Tarski.

        • Rob Abney

          Good point, I'll have to confine my statement to reality.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think you would be better off reconsidering the assumption. What does it even mean for a whole to be greater than a part? Heavier? More artistically pleasing? More functional?

            Let's say I have a bicycle with a metal piece that jams the wheels so it wont work. Is the bicycle greater with the metal piece or without?

            Banach-Tarski shows that your statement is vague. Saying that a vague statement is metaphysically self-evident is a pretty questionable foundation.

          • Rob Abney

            It's not vague, all of your questions still end with the whole being greater than the part.
            It's self-evident, if it needs precise nuanced explanation then it is not self-evident.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I recently bought a remote. It had a plastic piece that stopped the battery from giving power. What is greater the remote with the plastic piece or the remote without the plastic piece?

            I have to remove the plastic piece for the remote to even work.

            It seems like it needs precise nuanced explanation. Banach-Tarski is a counterexample.

          • Rob Abney

            That plastic piece is not a part of the remote, I hope it didn’t take you too long to figure that out.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is still part of the whole. Remote + plastic piece. The part remote is more functional than the whole of remote+plastic piece.

            Your statement is not self-evident.

          • Rob Abney

            Is your hand part of the remote? Is the TV part of the remote? What about the plastic package the remote was in when you bought it?
            This is a universal concept, it’s going to seem vague and ripe for a nominalistic approach to dissect with clever articulation but universally it is self-evident.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Why couldn't the TV be a part in the whole remote+TV. It is part of the whole of what I bought at the store. It also came with some carboard and Styrofoam that protected the TV when I lugged it up the stairs (don't recommend).

            Just because the whole is greater than the part for a variety of garden variety examples does not mean that it is a self-evident universal principle.

          • I suspect you think it's obvious that the battery-disconnecting plastic strip is not "part of the remote" because you define 'the remote' in terms of function if not telos. But for pretty much any naturalist I've met, function and teleology aren't part of the most fundamental aspects of reality. I suggest trying to attack this matter by requiring a definition of 'science' which makes zero reference to function or teleology. Force them to play by their own rules fully, rather than where it is convenient.

            One place to possibly start is @jlowder:disqus's The Nature of Naturalism. I don't see how to understand Lowder's/​Draper's definition of 'physical entity' without reference to function.

          • papagan

            Ignatius Reilly is relying on an equivocation as regards the term "part." He's using the term "part" in one sense, and you're using that term "part" in another, philosophically more precise, sense.

    • Phil

      I think another way to say "evident in themselves" is to say that it cannot be denied with falling into self-refutation or contradiction.
      Something that is truly "evident in themselves" means that to deny its truth and validity leads immediately to self-refutation or contradiction.

      This is what happens when one tries to deny the PNC.

      In short, this "self-evidence" principle doesn't give someone license to claim that if they define anything that they believe as "self-evident", therefore it is automatically true.

      • I think another way to say "evident in themselves" is to say that it cannot be denied with falling into self-refutation or contradiction.

        A statement that cannot be denied without contradiction is provably true. Being provable, it doesn’t have to be assumed.

        In short, this "self-evidence" principle doesn't give someone license to claim that if they define anything that they believe as "self-evident", therefore it is automatically true.

        What’s to stop them? How do you prove that something is not self-evident?

        • Phil

          A statement that cannot be denied without contradiction is provably true. Being provable, it doesn’t have to be assumed.

          Yes, in a sense this is true. But it is different from something that you can use evidence outside itself to support it, which is not the case with first principles.

          First principles are not accepted because there is evidence beyond them that one could give for their truth, but merely that denying them leads to self-refutation.

          For example, the statement "All truth is subjective" is a self-refuting statement.
          In this way, we accept first principles where denying them leads to self-refutation.

          What’s to stop them? How do you prove that something is not self-evident?

          If accepting/denying it does not lead to self-contradiction or self-refutation, then it wouldn't be self-evident.

          • First principles are not accepted because there is evidence beyond them that one could give for their truth, but merely that denying them leads to self-refutation.

            If their denial entails a contradiction, then they are provable. If that contradiction has been demonstrated, then they have been proved.

          • Phil

            If their denial entails a contradiction, then they are provable. If that contradiction has been demonstrated, then they have been proved.

            I'm perfectly fine with you defining it that way. Especially since that is why I believe so strongly the first principles that I do like the PNC and metaphysics (being) as most primary reality as opposed to epistemology being primary.

            I was just pointing out the philosophical distinction between something that has evidence beyond itself vs. something that wouldn't have any evidence beyond itself (first principles).

          • that is why I believe so strongly the first principles that I do like the PNC and metaphysics (being) as most primary reality as opposed to epistemology being primary.

            I don't see how the negation of either entails any contradiction. I guess you do, though.

          • Phil

            I don't see how the negation of either entails any contradiction. I guess you do, though.

            I didn't say it is necessarily a logical contraction that leads one to accept them.

            Some other things that can cause one to accept a first principle:
            -Contradiction by action (The way one currently is acting negates a certain belief)
            -Disbelief in them causes one to have to see as false something that one is more sure about (such as the validity of natural sciences)

          • I didn't say it is necessarily a logical contraction that leads one to accept them.

            No, you didn't. I'm saying that unless they entail a contradiction, I see no reason to say that they are necessary truths.

            Some other things that can cause one to accept a first principle:
            -Contradiction by action (The way one currently is acting negates a certain belief)

            If the belief is a statement that we cannot do something, then that belief is falsified if we do it anyway.

            Disbelief in them causes one to have to see as false something that one is more sure about (such as the validity of natural sciences)

            Then their negation entails a contradiction. In that case, they have been proved.

    • [OP]: Rather, insists Aristotle, what this logic actually demonstrates is that, since one cannot go to infinity in the taking of prior premises, we must come to first premises which – though they are not proven—neither are they merely assumed. They must, somehow, be immediately evident—evident in themselves.

      ds: Well, how convenient that is. If I believe something because it is self-evident, then I’m not assuming it.

      Given that you availed yourself of careful logical analysis above, let me point out that these terms are not equivalent:

           (I) merely assumed
          (II) assumed

      The term 'self-evident' is clearly meant to add something to 'merely assumed'. Is it your claim that it adds nothing whatsoever which ought to count in the world of 'justified belief', or something weaker which amounts to: "it is reasonable for me to start with these assumptions instead of those"? That either something is 100% arbitrarily assumed or 100% logically proven? That seems to be the direction you're pushing with:

      This does not eliminate the need for assumptions. If I say that I believe X because it is self-evident, then I’m offering self-evidence as a proof of X.

      In other words, the only options you've left open are:

           (I′) I believe X [because I assume it].
          (II′) I believe X [because of this proof].

      Do you mean to assert such a dichotomy? That is, there is no alternative "because ___" which is anything like a 'reason'?

      • Given that you availed yourself of careful logical analysis above, let me point out that these terms are not equivalent:
        (I) merely assumed
        (II) assumed

        I agree that they not necessarily equivalent. It seemed to me that in this context, they were intended as equivalent.

        The term 'self-evident' is clearly meant to add something to 'merely assumed'.

        Context again. It was clearly (in my perception) meant as an alternative, not as an add-on. Unless I greatly misunderstood Bonnette, he is saying that a self-evident proposition is just not an assumption, not that it is an assumption-plus-something.

        That either something is 100% arbitrarily assumed or 100% logically proven? That seems to be the direction you're pushing with:

        This does not eliminate the need for assumptions. If I say that I believe X because it is self-evident, then I’m offering self-evidence as a proof of X.

        On this occasion, I meant “proof” in the sense of “rationally sufficient evidence-based reason,” not “strictly valid deductive argument.” And by “evidence,” in this context I mean any reason to believe. Reasonable people, I think, can often differ as to whether a particular datum offered as evidence is sufficient to warrant belief. An arbitrary assumption would be one for which no reason has been offered except perhaps “I want it to be true.”

        the only options you've left open are:
        (I′) I believe X [because I assume it].
        (II′) I believe X [because of this proof].
        Do you mean to assert such a dichotomy?

        Yes, if we allow for inductive as well as deductive proof.

        there is no alternative "because ___" which is anything like a 'reason'?

        Assumptions should not be arbitrary. They need justification, too. A sufficient justification for an assumption, though, is not the kind of argument that people ordinarily classify as a proof.

        • [OP]: Rather, insists Aristotle, what this logic actually demonstrates is that, since one cannot go to infinity in the taking of prior premises, we must come to first premises which – though they are not proven—neither are they merely assumed. They must, somehow, be immediately evident—evident in themselves.

          ds: Well, how convenient that is. If I believe something because it is self-evident, then I’m not assuming it.

          LB: Given that you availed yourself of careful logical analysis above, let me point out that these terms are not equivalent:

               (I) merely assumed
              (II) assumed

          ds: I agree that they not necessarily equivalent. It seemed to me that in this context, they were intended as equivalent.

          Why then do you think Dr. Bonnette used the term 'merely'? I generally assume that in discussions like this, when people add a word like that they intend it to mean something. I think I can see it meaning something here. You can't?

          LB: The term 'self-evident' is clearly meant to add something to 'merely assumed'.

          ds: Context again. It was clearly (in my perception) meant as an alternative, not as an add-on. Unless I greatly misunderstood Bonnette, he is saying that a self-evident proposition is just not an assumption, not that it is an assumption-plus-something.

          I suggest you put forward a definition of 'assumed', because this seems like a semantic issue. I say there is something special about premises which are not themselves entailed by the same logic by some other premises. One can change the reasons for why a premise is held (self-evident rather than proven by other premises), but it is nevertheless the case that the primary logic under analysis stops at those "first premises". And that is, it seems to me, a fundamental aspect of the term 'assumption'.

          LB: That either something is 100% arbitrarily assumed or 100% logically proven? That seems to be the direction you're pushing with:

          ds: This does not eliminate the need for assumptions. If I say that I believe X because it is self-evident, then I’m offering self-evidence as a proof of X.

          ds: On this occasion, I meant “proof” in the sense of “rationally sufficient evidence-based reason,” not “strictly valid deductive argument.”

          Well that's confusing because Dr. Bonnette wrote "though they are not proven". Without keeping clear what kind of justification/​logic/​rationality is at play at each stage in the argument, you're going to get awfully confused. I suggest using different words, at least in the scope of this conversation.

          • Why then do you think Dr. Bonnette used the term 'merely'?

            The word is often used as an intensifier. I’m guessing that was his intention.

            I suggest you put forward a definition of 'assumed', because this seems like a semantic issue.

            Semantics is what this is about. And I have already said that I take “assumed” to mean “not proved.”

            but it is nevertheless the case that the primary logic under analysis stops at those "first premises".

            I agree thus far. Any chain of deduction has to stop with some set of premises that are not themselves deduced from any other premises. We can call them “first premises,” or we can call them “first principles,” or we can call them “axioms,” or we can call them “postulates,” or . . . .

            And that is, it seems to me, a fundamental aspect of the term 'assumption'.

            . . . . or we can call them “assumptions.”

          • The word is often used as an intensifier.

            Huh? I generally see "merely X" and "X" as being different, especially in philosophical conversations. Because the world is a lot noisier and fuzzier than philosophy tends to want to admit, terms are actually fuzzy in everyday use. To say "merely X" is to signal that we should back off from anything which sometimes comes along with X or is associated with X, and focus just on its essence. The essence here seems to be "[arbitrarily] assumed", such that there are no reasons whatsoever for the assumption. Do you disagree?

            And I have already said that I take “assumed” to mean “not proved.”

            You're just moving the fuzz from 'assume' to 'prove'. The term 'prove' is notoriously vague and your definition mirrored that vagueness:

            ds: On this occasion, I meant “proof” in the sense of “rationally sufficient evidence-based reason,” not “strictly valid deductive argument.” And by “evidence,” in this context I mean any reason to believe.

            Formally, a premise in an argument is defined to not follow from any logical operations, but instead serve as their foundation. That premise can either be a [deductive] conclusion from some other argument using the same rules of inference, or it can have no such source, in which case it is a "first premise". But to say that said rules of inference cannot yield that premise is not to say that there is no way to prefer that premise over other possibilities. Your language to-date utterly obscures this:

            Any chain of deduction has to stop with some set of premises that are not themselves deduced from any other premises. We can call them “first premises,” or we can call them “first principles,” or we can call them “axioms,” or we can call them “postulates,” or . . . .

            And that is, it seems to me, a fundamental aspect of the term 'assumption'.

            . . . . or we can call them “assumptions.”

            In no way have you distinguished between a 'mere assumption' and 'assumption'. That is, you have left entirely unclear whether said 'first premises' can be grounded via some other rules of inference or reasoning process, or whether they are arbitrarily adopted. If something is 'merely assumed', then there appear to be no good reasons for assuming that thing over something else, except perhaps that we want to render an upstream conclusion proven. But if that's all we want, then maybe some other premise would work just as well.

            Given your extraordinary powers of quibbling, Doug, I'm rather surprised you aren't making clean distinctions in this situation.

          • I generally see "merely X" and "X" as being different, especially in philosophical conversations.

            They can be. Whether they are, in a particular context, depends on that particular context.

            Because the world is a lot noisier and fuzzier than philosophy tends to want to admit, terms are actually fuzzy in everyday use.

            One reason philosophy has such a bad reputation in certain intellectual circles is that philosophers usually try to get rid of some of that noise and fuzz. They’re often unsuccessful, but the advocates of many political and other agendas wish they would not even try, because those advocates need that noise and fuzz to accomplish their goals.

            The essence here seems to be "[arbitrarily] assumed", such that there are no reasons whatsoever for the assumption. Do you disagree?

            I agree that when someone says “merely assumed,” they sometimes mean “arbitrarily assumed,” particularly when they think all assumptions are by definition arbitrary.

            The term 'prove' is notoriously vague

            When I first joined this discussion, I was talking with an Aristotelian. Unless I’ve grossly misunderstood something, Aristotelians don’t think there is anything the least bit vague about the notion of proof.

            and your definition mirrored that vagueness:

            I’m not an Aristotelian. My intended meaning of proof depends on context. In a given context, I can clarify my intended meaning as needed. When the discussion covers all possible contexts, I need to give a definition that can work for all of them.

            Formally, a premise in an argument is defined to not follow from any logical operations

            That isn’t the way they taught it in any of logic classes I’ve taken.

            In no way have you distinguished between a 'mere assumption' and 'assumption'.

            Other people make a distinction. I don’t. When someone else says “mere assumption,” I have to guess how they think mere assumptions differ from whatever other kinds of assumption they think there are. And sometimes I guess wrong.

          • ds: And I have already said that I take “assumed” to mean “not proved.”

            LB: You're just moving the fuzz from 'assume' to 'prove'. The term 'prove' is notoriously vague and your definition mirrored that vagueness:

            ds: On this occasion, I meant “proof” in the sense of “rationally sufficient evidence-based reason,” not “strictly valid deductive argument.” And by “evidence,” in this context I mean any reason to believe.

            ds: When I first joined this discussion, I was talking with an Aristotelian. Unless I’ve grossly misunderstood something, Aristotelians don’t think there is anything the least bit vague about the notion of proof.

            Which is more relevant right here: the Aristotelian's understanding of 'proof', or Doug Shaver's? The following—

            I’m not an Aristotelian. My intended meaning of proof depends on context.

            —indicates the latter. So this appeal to Aristotelians seems like a red herring.

            LB: Formally, a premise in an argument is defined to not follow from any logical operations

            ds: That isn’t the way they taught it in any of logic classes I’ve taken.

            Can you point me to a single logic class where a premise in an argument actually comes from logical operations [within that argument]? My guess is you're being needlessly pedantic here, but perhaps you have a point I cannot see.

            LB: In no way have you distinguished between a 'mere assumption' and 'assumption'.

            ds: Other people make a distinction. I don’t. When someone else says “mere assumption,” I have to guess how they think mere assumptions differ from whatever other kinds of assumption they think there are. And sometimes I guess wrong.

            Wait a second, how often do you insert qualifier words such as 'mere' into discussion when they mean nothing but some sort of "[argument-irrelevant] intensifier"? For the rest, I suggest first trying to render a person's words as intelligible rather than stupid. You're smart enough that I'm pretty sure you could have done that with Dr. Bonnette's 'mere assumption', had you desired.

          • Which is more relevant right here: the Aristotelian's understanding of 'proof', or Doug Shaver's?

            You tell me. You’re the one who raised the issue when you said, “The term 'prove' is notoriously vague.”

            Can you point me to a single logic class where a premise in an argument actually comes from logical operations [within that argument]?

            The bracketed material (your insertion, not mine) was not in the statement to which I was responding.

            For the rest, I suggest first trying to render a person's words as intelligible rather than stupid. You're smart enough that I'm pretty sure you could have done that with Dr. Bonnette's 'mere assumption', had you desired.

            I have been continuing my conversation with Dr. Bonnette the whole time that you and I have been having this conversation. If he has a problem with my interpretation of his use of “mere assumption,” I am sure he will let me know.

          • Ficino

            On another board, I asked Luke Breuer maybe three times to provide arguments/evidence for the truth of the Christian faith. LB refused to do so. After going on two years now, I remain unconvinced that Luke Breuer's probing questions cut to the heart of any matter.

            If LB thinks we should all be Christians, I'd like to see him state why we should be so.

          • On another board, I asked Luke Breuer maybe three times to provide arguments/evidence for the truth of the Christian faith. LB refused to do so. After going on two years now, I remain unconvinced that Luke Breuer's probing questions cut to the heart of any matter.

            If LB thinks we should all be Christians, I'd like to see him state why we should be so.

            You sir, do not appear to keep your word:

            F: See, this is a good example of disputes over stuff that is not in principle able to be adjudicated on any methodology available to all in common. You can say the fathers at Vatican I were "am ha eretz," and who's to prove you wrong?

            LB: Did you miss this bit:

            LB: Now, we can ignore the Bible completely and just perform a brief philosophical treatment. What are miracles and fulfilled prophecy, but an indication that there is a power which is more powerful than you? Is anything else indicated? I've thought about this for a while and the answer appears to be: no. Miracles and fulfilled prophecy cannot indicate goodness. Do you agree, or disagree? If you agree, then how on earth are miracles and fulfilled prophecies supposed to be evidence that a good agent exists, rather than a powerful person (or maybe just force)?

            If not, what in that "is not in principle able to be adjudicated on any methodology available to all in common"?

            F: Since after all this time you offer no evidence/​reason/​argument to support the contention that the doctrines peculiar to Christianity are true (or even that classical theism is true), I am out. I will wait until such time as you present same.

            You are clearly not "out".

          • Ficino

            Deflecting yet again. Let us know when you are going to state the basis on which you think unbelievers should accept that the unique claims of Christianity are true.

          • I'm not going to engage in a unilateral discussion where you get to dictate terms of what can be discussed and what cannot. If you're unwilling to engage in dialogue on the matter—as you were unwilling 5 months ago—don't expect me to humor you. I have zero obligation to defend a claim I have neither made nor entailed ("unbelievers should accept that the unique claims of Christianity are true").

          • LB: Which is more relevant right here: the Aristotelian's understanding of 'proof', or Doug Shaver's?

            ds: You tell me. You’re the one who raised the issue when you said, “The term 'prove' is notoriously vague.”

            Given you that you seem more interested in deploying your understanding of 'proof' in this conversation, apparently yours is the more important one when it comes to examining your original statement:

            ds: Well, how convenient that is. If I believe something because it is self-evident, then I’m not assuming it.

            This does not eliminate the need for assumptions. If I say that I believe X because it is self-evident, then I’m offering self-evidence as a proof of X. I am saying: X is self-evident, therefore X is true. But I’m still assuming something. I am assuming that whatever is self-evident must be true.

            You did not allow for two different kinds of proof (within the logical system vs. self-evidence) and you did not allow for two different kinds of assumption (mere assumption which is arbitrary vs. assumptions which are grounded outside the logical system). Your vagueness (which is oddly uncharacteristic of you to the extreme) permits munging things together and thus criticizing what Dr. Bonnette wrote.

            LB: Formally, a premise in an argument is defined to not follow from any logical operations, but instead serve as their foundation. That premise can either be a [deductive] conclusion from some other argument using the same rules of inference, or it can have no such source, in which case it is a "first premise".

            ds: That isn’t the way they taught it in any of logic classes I’ve taken.

            LB: Can you point me to a single logic class where a premise in an argument actually comes from logical operations [within that argument]?

            ds: The bracketed material (your insertion, not mine) was not in the statement to which I was responding.

            Really? Examine the strikethrough—you excised not a sentence from a paragraph, but a clause from a sentence.

            I have been continuing my conversation with Dr. Bonnette the whole time that you and I have been having this conversation. If he has a problem with my interpretation of his use of “mere assumption,” I am sure he will let me know.

            He is in fact objecting to that in his own way. He also upvoted my comment distinguishing 'merely assumed' and 'assumed'. My guess is he does not wish to spend quite the time I do carefully analyzing what you say. For example:

            DB: But, please note again that in the article I focus solely on the single first principle of non-contradiction, whose immediate evidence is the fact that you cannot even understand the meaning of these words without affirming what they say while denying their contradictory.

            ds: You say that we have a third option: the proposition is self-evident. I cannot see that as anything other than the assertion that the proposition is too obvious to require proof. In the best of cases, though, that is just to say, "Although we cannot prove it, we cannot believe otherwise." Very well: We cannot believe otherwise. But that doesn't mean we're not assuming it. It just means we have a really good reason to assume it. Absence of proof is not the same as absence of a reason to believe.

            Assuming "this occasion" is the same (but noting "My intended meaning of proof depends on context."), we have the following:

            ds: On this occasion, I meant “proof” in the sense of “rationally sufficient evidence-based reason,” not “strictly valid deductive argument.” And by “evidence,” in this context I mean any reason to believe.

            So, if "evidence-based reason" collapses to "reason" and "rationally sufficient reason" can collapse to "sufficient reason", then either we have "sufficient reason" to assume something or we don't. If we have "sufficient reason", then we have a "proof". And yet we can't have a "proof", because then it wouldn't be an "assumption". What gives?

          • Given you that you seem more interested in deploying your understanding of 'proof' in this conversation, apparently yours is the more important one when it comes to examining your original statement:

            ds: Well, how convenient that is. If I believe something because it is self-evident, then I’m not assuming it.
            This does not eliminate the need for assumptions. If I say that I believe X because it is self-evident, then I’m offering self-evidence as a proof of X. I am saying: X is self-evident, therefore X is true. But I’m still assuming something. I am assuming that whatever is self-evident must be true.

            You did not allow for two different kinds of proof (within the logical system vs. self-evidence)

            In this context, I don’t regard them as different kinds of proof. An argument from self-evidence is an argument within the logical system. Or else, if the logical system does not include “Whatever is self-evident must be true” among its premises, then the argument from self-evidence is no proof at all.

            and you did not allow for two different kinds of assumption (mere assumption which is arbitrary vs. assumptions which are grounded outside the logical system).

            I’m trying to make the point that there can be no logical system without any assumptions. The issue of how any given assumption might be justified, or where its justification might come from, is beside that point.

            you excised not a sentence from a paragraph, but a clause from a sentence.

            And therefore what? Therefore you were not claiming that “does not follow from any logical operations” is included in the formal definition of the word “premise”?

            So, if "evidence-based reason" collapses to "reason" and "rationally sufficient reason" can collapse to "sufficient reason", then either we have "sufficient reason" to assume something or we don't. If we have "sufficient reason", then we have a "proof". And yet we can't have a "proof", because then it wouldn't be an "assumption". What gives?

            What gives is that I seem to have underestimated both your rhetorical skills and the persistence with which you are prepared to use them to make your interlocutors look silly.

          • What gives is that I seem to have underestimated both your rhetorical skills and the persistence with which you are prepared to use them to make your interlocutors look silly.

            You can suspect that is my motive all that you like; I am merely demonstrating frustration with an unusual vagueness from you. One property of vagueness is that it can lead to contradiction in some people's minds and not others. Here, I'll lay it out more carefully:

            ds: You say that we have a third option: the proposition is self-evident. I cannot see that as anything other than the assertion that the proposition is too obvious to require proof. In the best of cases, though, that is just to say, "Although we cannot prove it, we cannot believe otherwise." Very well: We cannot believe otherwise. But that doesn't mean we're not assuming it. It just means we have a really good reason to assume it. Absence of proof is not the same as absence of a reason to believe.

            +

            ds: On this occasion, I meant “proof” in the sense of “rationally sufficient evidence-based reason,” not “strictly valid deductive argument.” And by “evidence,” in this context I mean any reason to believe.

            From the first quote, we have:

                 (1) we cannot prove it
                 (2) we are assuming it
                 (3) we have a really good reason to believe it

            Based on the second quote, let's do some replacements:

                 (1) we cannot prove it
                 (1′) we do not have rationally sufficient evidence-based reason
                 (1″) we do not have rationally sufficient "any reason to believe"-based reason
                 (1‴) we do not have sufficient reason

            It seems that (1‴) plausibly contradicts (3). Much hangs on that word 'sufficient' in contrast to 'really good reason'. Do you disagree? Or perhaps you disagree with one of the steps I took from (1) → (1‴)? Or perhaps the two quotes cannot be combined in the way I have because of "My intended meaning of proof depends on context."?

          • I am merely demonstrating frustration with an unusual vagueness from you.

            Philosophers have been writing whole books arguing about these issues over the past two and a half millennia. The fraction of those writings that I have managed to study is almost negligible, but as far as I can guess that fraction has included the most crucial points raised by advocates of the most dominant epistemological and metaphysical theories. It all gets very complicated, and philosophers, unlike natural scientists, have not succeeded in developing a core vocabulary with which to exchange their ideas. Most of them do use the same words, but they don’t agree on the definitions, and so sometimes it’s hard to know whether they’re even talking about the same thing.

            And this is pretty much to be expected. Unlike natural scientists, philosophers, except for logicians, are stuck having to use natural language to express their ideas, and natural languages did not evolve for the purposes to which philosophers are trying to put it. So yeah, when you get to asking questions like “What do we know?”, “How do we know it?”, and “What is there outside of our heads for us to know anything about?”, you’re going to get some vagueness and a lot of confusion. Especially when you try to condense an idea that really needs dozens of pages to explicate properly down into a single readable paragraph.

            I will try again to clarify what I’m trying to say about proof, assumptions, and evidence. It will likely take a while -- whether more like a day or a week, I have no idea at this moment.

          • LB: From the first quote, we have:

                 (1) we cannot prove it
                 (2) we are assuming it
                 (3) we have a really good reason to believe it

            ds: I will try again to clarify what I’m trying to say about proof, assumptions, and evidence. It will likely take a while -- whether more like a day or a week, I have no idea at this moment.

            Ok. I await an explanation which isn't captured well by the following paragraph:

            LB: In no way have you distinguished between a 'mere assumption' and 'assumption'. That is, you have left entirely unclear whether said 'first premises' can be grounded via some other rules of inference or reasoning process, or whether they are arbitrarily adopted. If something is 'merely assumed', then there appear to be no good reasons for assuming that thing over something else, except perhaps that we want to render an upstream conclusion proven. But if that's all we want, then maybe some other premise would work just as well.

            It seems obvious to me that 'assumption' is agnostic on whether there is a (3) and that 'mere assumption' indicates that there is no (3). That (3) has to be something other than the logic used in the 'prove' of (1). One option is that the attempt to deny the concept involves depending on the concept—such as the principle of non-contradiction. Another option is that direct experience is certainly known (as experience, not necessarily of an external reality).

            For some reason, you just don't seem to like the above. I look forward to finding out why.

  • Metaphysical naturalism is the view that nothing non-natural exists. Dr Bonnette has tried to push in a number of other positions that do not follow.

    >Naturalism, a science-based take on reality, makes many related claims, including:

    It need not be science-based.

    (1) there is an objective extramental universe shared by all rational observers

    This this is a necessary assumption of all metaphysical positions other than global skepticism, so yes, ok.

    (2) the universe is governed by uniform natural laws that make it orderly and comprehensible,

    Orderly, consistent, comprehesible, I suppose maybe, but that isn't the point. Naturalism says these laws don't change and cannot be suspended or abridged.

    (3) such orderly reality can be discovered through scientific observation and experimentation

    Some of it can, it's open in naturalism that aspects of reality will be impossible to determine by science.

    (4) nature is in principle rationally intelligible,

    I don't know, consistent and orderly yes, I'm not sure intelligible follows. E.g. reality may have dozens of dimensions that are unintelligible to humans in many ways.

    (5) mental entities, such as theories, mathematics, ethical values, and so forth, reduce to, or emerge from, neural activities in the brain

    As concepts yes. They do not exist independently

    (6) the universe itself is its own ultimate explanation of its existence and operations

    No, naturalism need not take a position on this

    (7) nature operates as a blind force acting according to fixed laws with no purpose

    No, if nature has a purpose or a mind it can, it just has to be natural, not supernatural. The laws of nature cannot change.

    (8) complex things, such as minds and living organisms, are composed of simpler constituents that are reducible to ultimate particles obeying physical laws

    This is not required to be a naturalist, it's a finding of science. You can be a theist and believe this.

    (9) reason itself is the product of an undersigned process with no intrinsic relation to truth (yet, naturalism is claimed to be true),

    Again you can believe in the supernatural and hold this view

    (10) all things are either physical in nature, or else, depend upon or emerge from physical entities. (Of course, emergentism violates the principle of causality by assuming that you can get being from non-being.)

    No, you can believe in the supernatural and believe this, e.g. you can believe Thor is completely physical, and just can make thunder by thinking it into existence. One could also believe the immaterial is natural and follows natural laws.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Without conceding the accuracy of any of your own claims about what naturalism does or does not affirm, I will happily concede that my statement about naturalism would have been clearer had the following italicized minor changes been made:

      "Naturalism, a science-based take on reality, typically makes many related claims, for example:

      As the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out, the difficulty is that "[i]t would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term, [naturalism]. Different contemporary philosophers interpret “naturalism” differently." https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/

      But, most importantly, as the online Encyclopaedia Britannica points out, naturalists " make no philosophical attempts to establish their position."
      https://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalism-philosophy

      This last point is the sum and substance of my entire article. Naturalism is simply a quagmire of assumptions having no philosophical foundation, which would merit it being taken as rationally credible.

      That is why I stated at the very beginning of my article: "This article will challenge the rational credibility of naturalism."

      • Naturalism is simply a quagmire of assumptions having no philosophical foundation

        That is the judgment of Aristotelians. I see no reason to regard their position as a philosophical default.

        Yes, naturalism rests on some assumptions. But so does every other worldview.

        • Dennis Bonnette

          I did not realize that the philosophy editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica were Aristotelians.

          Where is your evidence?

          Where is your evidence that every worldview rests on some assumptions? Is that simply another assumption?

          • I did not realize that the philosophy editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica were Aristotelians.

            I don't presume to know whether they are or are not. I do presume to know, however, that this statement:

            Only rarely do naturalists give attention to metaphysics (which they deride), and they make no philosophical attempts to establish their position.

            is not logically equivalent to this one:

            Naturalism is simply a quagmire of assumptions having no philosophical foundation

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, let us put the full paragraph from which the citation appears here:

            "Only rarely do naturalists give attention to metaphysics (which they deride), and they make no philosophical attempts to establish their position. Naturalists simply assert that nature is reality, the whole of it. There is nothing beyond, nothing “other than,” no “other world” of being."

            While it might seem that the phrase, "make no philosophical attempts to establish their position," refers solely to their derision of metaphysics, the next sentence makes clear a broader referent when it says that "Naturalists simply assert that nature is reality ...."

            "Simply asserting" is essentially the same thing as failing to offer a philosophical foundation. So, I think my reading of the essential meaning of the text remains logically secure.

          • "Simply asserting" is essentially the same thing as failing to offer a philosophical foundation.

            To me, it is essentially the same thing as "assuming." The axioms of any mathematical system are assumptions. That doesn't mean they have no philosophical foundation.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Again, look at the context.

            "Simply assert" immediately follows the words of the previous sentence which says that they "make no philosophical attempts to establish their position." Thus the context indicates that making no philosophical attempts to establish their position is explained by saying that "naturalists simply assert that nature is reality." That is, it explains what it is that naturalists do not philosophically defend.

            Simply asserting may mean something different in the context of mathematics, but here it clearly means failing to give a philosophical defense -- which is my use of "assume."

            In philosophy, "to assume" means what the Latin etymology indicates: assumere, meaning "to take up." That is, to take up without proof or without evidence. Clearly, the history of Greek philosophy finds Aristotle right at its beginnings speaking of "self-evident" propositions in the Posterior Analytics, that is, those which are their own evidence, and hence, require no prior evidence or premises.

          • In philosophy, "to assume" means what the Latin etymology indicates: assumere, meaning "to take up."

            With all due respect, professor, surely you are familiar with something called the etymological fallacy? My academic credentials may be worthless compared with yours, but I’ve been reading about this and much related stuff for at least as long as you have.

            Clearly, the history of Greek philosophy finds Aristotle right at its beginnings speaking of "self-evident" propositions in the Posterior Analytics, that is, those which are their own evidence

            I get it that Aristotle endorsed the concept of self-evidence. Perhaps he even originated it. That does not justify the claim that if we say a proposition is self-evident, we are not assuming it.

            Simply asserting may mean something different in the context of mathematics, but here it clearly means failing to give a philosophical defense -- which is my use of "assume."

            My informal studies have included some competent commentary on the historical dialogues among mathematicians, epistemologists, and metaphysicians. In that context, your use of “assume” looks a lot like special pleading. That which is assumed is not ipso facto without philosophical foundation -- not even if the editors of that particular entry in the Encylopaedia Britannica thought it was.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I defined the use of these terms in the OP:

            "Either prior premises are themselves proven, or else, they are merely assumed. "

            Therefore, if a statement is merely assumed, it was alleged that it could not be proven.

            All that I have said is that naturalism ultimately does not prove its assumptions.

            A-T metaphysics claims that some statements can be immediately known with certitude, either through sense evidence or because of being a self-evident principle of being.

            You don't agree with the claims of A-T metaphysics. I understand that. But if the two instances of immediately evident certitudes are valid, as Aristotle and Thomists claim, then there would be immediately known starting points for philosophical science which would neither be assumed nor proven -- as I defined the terms initially in the article.

          • I defined the use of these terms in the OP:

            "Either prior premises are themselves proven, or else, they are merely assumed. "

            Therefore, if a statement is merely assumed, it was alleged that it could not be proven.

            That is what I'm saying, except that I don't say "alleged." I say "admitted." You, on the other hand, are alleging that certain of your premises are neither proved nor assumed.

            But if the two instances of immediately evident certitudes are valid, as Aristotle and Thomists claim, then there would be immediately known starting points for philosophical science which would neither be assumed nor proven -- as I defined the terms initially in the article.

            Arguments are valid or invalid. Certitudes are true or false. And they are either assumed or proved. They are not neither assumed nor proved just because Aristotle said so. The argument "if a certitude is valid, then it is neither assumed nor proven" -- even if "valid" is taken to mean "true" -- is a non sequitur, which is invalid. Unless, of course, you have some special Aristotelian definition for "valid" that fixes the logical problem.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            You are flyspecking. "Valid" can also mean "well founded."

            I am saying that two types of immediately known certitudes are well founded or valid. They are neither merely assumed nor the result of proof. I cannot help the fact that you don't recognize their reality. They are still real.

            Without them, all claims would resolve to prior premises that would either go to infinity in logical regression, or else, resolve to mere assumptions, that is, claims lacking required evidence. That is the position naturalism is in, since it apparently denies immediately known first certitudes.

            All of this is in the OP, so I shan't repeat it.

            The schema of the article is simply to show that whatever form of naturalism one embraces ultimately rests on a pile of unfounded assumptions, combined with this disconcertingly-ambivalent epistemic problem about what we really know first: external reality or internal images. See the article.

            The second part of the OP, which is not its main thrust, points out that A-T philosophy avoids the logical problems of naturalism by showing that some immediately known truths can serve as the starting premises for the various sciences.

            But that second part is not the main thrust of the OP, which, as I write in the opening paragraph, is simply to challenge the rational credibility of naturalism. Why? Because it is based philosophically on unfounded assumptions as enumerated in the article.

          • You are flyspecking.

            I am pointing out that although we’re both writing in English, we are not consistently using a common language.

            I am saying that two types of immediately known certitudes are well founded or valid. They are neither merely assumed nor the result of proof.

            Assumptions can be more or less well founded. “To assume” does not mean, necessarily, “to believe without justification.” Mathematicians are extremely well justified in believing their axioms, which are by definition unproved premises, i.e. assumptions. There is no a priori reason why naturalists cannot be well justified in believing their assumptions.

            I am saying that two types of immediately known certitudes are well founded or valid.

            And I’m not disagreeing with that. I am disagreeing with the claim that only Aristotelian metaphysics can provide that foundation or validity.

            The second part of the OP, which is not its main thrust, points out that A-T philosophy avoids the logical problems of naturalism

            Those logical problems don’t exist just because Aristotelians say they do.

            We naturalists admit to making some assumptions. From those assumptions, we think we can reason validly to everything else we believe. There are only two things we could be doing wrong that would constitute a logical problem. One would be that our reasoning was invalid. The other would be that our reasoning was unsound, meaning our assumed premises were not true. You have not demonstrated that either is the case. You have not even disputed any of the assumptions I have actually stated. All you have actually claimed is that naturalists are not entitled to make any assumptions to begin with. But that is not a logical problem. It is an epistemological problem, if it even is a problem.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As you correctly pointed out, you can have good reasons to believe an assumption. But that is only to recognize that some assumptions are not mere assumptions without any evidence at all.

            My article shows that many central assumptions of naturalism are really lacking in any philosophical foundation at all. See above.

            But an equally decisive problem for naturalism is the epistemological circular reasoning I point out concerning whether we directly know extramental reality or merely internal images. That one is a deal breaker to me for which I have not even seen a cogent rebuttal. And hand waving won't work when you examine the terms of the dilemma carefully as I do in my article.

          • I think we've taken this discussion as far as we can.

            Always a pleasure. Til next time.

          • Where is your evidence that every worldview rests on some assumptions?

            My evidence is the meaning of the word "assumption," as established by common usage, which is reported in the Oxford English Dictionary and other reputable dictionaries. According to that usage, a proposition asserted without proof is an assumption, and no worldview can, on pain of infinite regress, prove every assertion it makes.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            But that is precisely where you have to distinguish between something having "proof" and something having "evidence."

            If all statements require proof, then an infinite regress logically ensues, which is precisely the position you place your own naturalism into -- thus making it nothing more than a series of unproven and unprovable assumptions.

            But, if you read my article, you will see that I contend that the way to escape this logical disaster is to realize that some statements or truths must be immediately evident or evident in themselves. Of these, I delineate two possibilities: (1) truths known through immediate sense experience, and (2) self-evident first principles. (See the article.)

            You equate an assumption as meaning something without proof. But proof always presumes prior premises. I am using assumption to mean something without evidence, which is crucially different.

            Just as a being may either be its own reason for being, or else, must get its reason from another, so too, a truth may be either known to be true from another (proof by a prior premise or premises), or else, may be its own evidence.

            Thus, what is known in immediate sense experience is known to be true in virtue of its own evidence, that is, as we say, the evidence of the senses. So, too, self-evident first principles are known to be true immediately, in virtue, of the simple understanding of the terms used.

            But, please note again that in the article I focus solely on the single first principle of non-contradiction, whose immediate evidence is the fact that you cannot even understand the meaning of these words without affirming what they say while denying their contradictory.

          • But, if you read my article, you will see that I contend that the way to escape this logical disaster is to realize that some statements or truths must be immediately evident or evident in themselves.

            That is your position, which I understand was Aristotle's position.

            My position is that if we cannot prove some proposition but are convinced -- for whatever reason -- that we must believe it nonetheless, then we must assume it.

            You say that we have a third option: the proposition is self-evident. I cannot see that as anything other than the assertion that the proposition is too obvious to require proof. In the best of cases, though, that is just to say, "Although we cannot prove it, we cannot believe otherwise." Very well: We cannot believe otherwise. But that doesn't mean we're not assuming it. It just means we have a really good reason to assume it. Absence of proof is not the same as absence of a reason to believe.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, I am sure you are right that sometimes we accept assumptions because we have a really good reason to believe (which is not irrational) -- but, of course, that is not what Aristotle or St. Thomas or I am talking about.

            Some things are known with immediate certitude because they are immediately experienced. I often told my class doubters to go home and sit on the biggest roofing nail they could find, and then see whether they had immediate certitude of something or not. They might be unsure of what was causing the acute pain, but the existence of the painful experience was beyond doubt. Even pain is a reality with a kind of formal content, one we usually prefer to avoid.

            The other case is that of self-evident first principles, like that of non-contradiction, which I use in the article. I have pointed out before that this is based on the concept of being that is formed from the intellect's apprehension of "being" as first encountered in sense experience. Its universal certitude arises because the intellect actually does "see" (in its own order) the content of its nature and all that that it initially entails -- which is why we so certainly apply non-contradiction to all contexts, including the very meaningfulness of these words.

            I cannot give a full course in epistemology in this thread, but hope merely to at least depict the sort of bases for immediately-known premises that are available to the Thomist, but which the naturalist despairs of finding.

          • but, of course, that is not what Aristotle or St. Thomas or I am talking about.

            What I am talking about are my reasons for thinking Aristotle and Aquinas were mistaken. I get it that Catholics aren’t supposed to think that is a possibility.

            I cannot give a full course in epistemology in this thread

            Neither can I. But I’m now about halfway through the Benignus book you recommended, and it is quite apparent that you and I have little common ground on which to discuss even the meaning of “knowledge.” It would seem that for an Aristotelian, given any proposition P, we cannot know P unless it is impossible for P to be false. In other words, the only truths we can know are necessary truths. Am I missing something there?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Not according to my understanding of Thomism.

            I would say that we can have objectively sure knowledge of at least some information gleaned through sense experience, e.g., the reality of motion.

            Not all things have to be in motion. Nor do all things have to be in motion all the time. Therefore saying that some thing is in motion is not a necessary truth.

            But I am happy to hear you are reading Benignus! At least when you are attacking us Thomists in the future, you can do so with greater confidence and precision!

          • But, please note again that in the article I focus solely on the single first principle of non-contradiction

            I am not disputing the principle of non-contradiction. I am disputing your claim that it is not an assumption. I agree that it is a necessary assumption, but its necessity does not negate its being an assumption.

        • Not just the judgement of Aristotelians. It is true even if one subscribes to naturalism

          • It is true even if one subscribes to naturalism

            You're assuming your conclusion. If it is true, then it makes no difference who subscribes or does not subscribe to it.

      • I do think there is a strong foundation for naturalism. Nothing supernatural has ever been observed. However, billions of natural phenomena have been observed. It is reasonable to conclude that this is because there is nothing non natural.

        What is the evidence that anything non-natural has ever happened?

        • Dennis Bonnette

          "I do think there is a strong foundation for naturalism."

          The whole point of my article is that, philosophically, there is no "foundation" for naturalism.

          "Nothing supernatural has ever been observed."

          Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural? This is merely another naturalistic assumption, namely, that only things directly observed can be real.

          Spiritual realities can only be "observed" in this universe by means of reasoning from effects back to causes, just like we reason from observable phenomena in physics back to forces and particles too small to be directly observed.

          The only difference is that naturalism assumes that all causes must be somehow part of the physical universe, whereas, philosophically, no such limitation is logically warranted.

          The evidence of the existence of the "non-natural" is the very existence of the natural world and its properties, which the proofs for God's existence address in various ways, depending upon the nature of the particular effects which are the point of departure of a given proof. I am speaking solely in terms of philosophical proofs here.

          I am prescinding here entirely from all the evidences down through history for the existence of thousands of possibly miraculous events, each of which must be examined separately in accordance with the norms of natural science, philosophy, and theology.

          • "Nothing supernatural has ever been observed."
            Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural?

            Why ask me? I have never argued that whatever has not been observed cannot be real. No naturalist has ever observed a quark, but most of them feel pretty sure that quarks are real.

            This is merely another naturalistic assumption, namely, that only things directly observed can be real.

            I don’t believe that is a fair representation of naturalism.

            Spiritual realities can only be "observed" in this universe by means of reasoning from effects back to causes, just like we reason from observable phenomena in physics back to forces and particles too small to be directly observed.

            The existence of those forces and particles must be assumed in order to explain what we do observe. Naturalists do not agree that we must also assume the existence of spiritual realities in order to explain anything that we observe. That looks to us like a multiplication of entities beyond necessity.

            The evidence of the existence of the "non-natural" is the very existence of the natural world and its properties, which the proofs for God's existence address in various ways, depending upon the nature of the particular effects which are the point of departure of a given proof. I am speaking solely in terms of philosophical proofs here.

            Your philosophical proof of the non-natural, as best I can tell, assumes its conclusion.

            I am prescinding here entirely from all the evidences down through history for the existence of thousands of possibly miraculous events, each of which must be examined separately in accordance with the norms of natural science, philosophy, and theology.

            There are undisputably thousands of reports of possible miraculous events. Some have been debated at considerable length in this forum. Their credibility is obviously not beyond dispute. I happen to be willing to stipulate credibility in some cases where other naturalists will not, but in those cases, I will still dispute the claim that no natural explanation is plausible to a reasonable person.

            As I’ve said before, I am not attempting to prove that Aristotle or Aquinas is beyond the philosophical pale. The only position I’m trying to defend right now is: Neither is naturalism.

          • BGA: Nothing supernatural has ever been observed.

            DB: Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural?

            ds: Why ask me?

            Were you asked? That aside, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask whether @briangreenadams:disqus was making an empirical statement or outlining a metaphysical consequence of his belief system. It appears to be the latter:

            BGA: You can't observe it, it doesn't exist. If you believe nlit exists say why. I see no way to detect it in any way.

            If Brian cannot articulate any empirical observations which would falsify his way of looking at things, then at least by Karl Popper's definition, he is not asserting anything empirical or scientific:

                But I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest that it is not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a criterion of demarcation.*[3] In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense; but I shall require that its logical form shall be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.[3] (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 18)

            There's nothing wrong with Brian advancing a contrary metaphysic to @drdennisbonnette:disqus. What's problematic if Brian won't admit that he is doing this, and not being 'scientific'. Or, if he thinks he is being 'scientific', I think the burden is on him to provide a compelling definition of that term.

          • >If Brian cannot articulate any empirical observations which would falsify his way of looking at things,

            True, that's because this is metaphysics, not science. But I think it is rational when you have no positive definition of x, no observations (direct or indirect) of x, and no one can say how the existence of x can be demonstrated, that it is not justified to believe x exists.

            But I can say this, I would accept something like a car exploding them reconfiguring is itself into a car again in lab conditions as an empirical example if the supernatural. I'd accept similar evidence of amputees growing limbs back in a nanosecond.

            >What's problematic if Brian won't admit that he is doing this, and not being 'scientific'.

            It's not scientific! It's philosophy, it's Dr Bonnette who seems to assume some scientism on the part of naturalism.

          • True, that's because this is metaphysics, not science. But I think it is rational when you have no positive definition of x, no observations (direct or indirect) of x, and no one can say how the existence of x can be demonstrated, that it is not justified to believe x exists.

            The Roman Catholic Church certainly thinks it has ways to discern true miracles from false miracles; that's required for the beatification process. But pray tell: do you think that the supernatural would be demonstrated just like gravity? Would it be a perfectly repeatable thing just meiosis and mitosis in the petri dish?

            But I can say this, I would accept something like a car exploding them reconfiguring is itself into a car again in lab conditions as an empirical example if the supernatural. I'd accept similar evidence of amputees growing limbs back in a nanosecond.

            Ok. And the benefit to God or you of this is … what, exactly? I suggest some basic reflection and perhaps a read of Deut 12:32–13:5. As far as I can tell, all you would really be justified in thinking, from within your metaphysic, is that there's either a new law of nature we didn't know was there before, or a new way the existing laws interact.

            It's not scientific! It's philosophy, it's Dr Bonnette who seems to assume some scientism on the part of naturalism.

            If the justification for your position is, "Science works!", then it's scientism. If your justification is something else, what is it?

          • If the justification for your position is, "Science works!", then it's scientism.

            Why? Because science really doesn't work?

          • LB: There's nothing wrong with Brian advancing a contrary metaphysic to @drdennisbonnette:disqus. What's problematic if Brian won't admit that he is doing this, and not being 'scientific'. Or, if he thinks he is being 'scientific', I think the burden is on him to provide a compelling definition of that term.

            BGA: It's not scientific! It's philosophy, it's Dr Bonnette who seems to assume some scientism on the part of naturalism.

            LB: If the justification for your position is, "Science works!", then it's scientism. If your justification is something else, what is it?

            ds: Why? Because science really doesn't work?

            Why? Because if the standards of judgment of "works" is defined by science (and that is almost certainly entailed), then it is technically 'scientism'. This can be seen easily by how "religion works" is commonly refuted as not a good answer to think that religion is true. (There are plenty of studies which show that in certain circumstances, 'religion' really does 'work'. See for example Lim & Putnam 2010.)

            Your second question is out-of-line and really unbecoming of you, Doug.

          • Because if the standards of judgment of "works" is defined by science (and that is almost certainly entailed), then it is technically 'scientism'.What is “technically” supposed to mean? I have read plenty of commentary by people who think scientism is a prevalent problem among us naturalists, and this is the first time I’ve encountered the claim that “science works” is an example of it.

            This can be seen easily by how "religion works" is commonly refuted as not a good answer to think that religion is true.

            That is not because we’re being arbitrarily selective about which X can be defended by saying “X works.” We are saying that when X = religion, “X works” is false. Hence my query: “Because science really doesn't work?”

            (There are plenty of studies which show that in certain circumstances, 'religion' really does 'work'. See for example Lim & Putnam 2010.)

            Your scare quotes are noted.

            From the abstract of the Lim & Putnam article: “Our findings suggest that religious people are more satisfied with their lives because they regularly attend religious services and build social networks in their congregations.” Are you arguing that therefore religion works in some sense similar to that intended by the defenders of science when they say that science works?

          • It all depends on how one understands 'works' in "it works". So for example:

            In the 1960s, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote that

            It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. ... Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we seek its aid. ... The future belongs to science and to those who make friends with science.[3]

            Views like Nehru's were once quite widely held, and, along with professions of faith in the 'scientific' political economy of Marx, they were perhaps typical of the scientism of politicians in the 1950s and 1960s. (Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science, 2)

            What such thinking presupposes is that the element which current formulations of 'science' cannot study is not important, except in a sort of "problems we have to manage" sense:

                What gets in the way of solving problems, thinkers such as George Tsebelis, Kent Weaver, Paul Pierson and many others contend, is divisive and unnecessary policy conflict. In policy-making, so the argument goes, conflict reflects an underlying imbalance between two incommensurable activities: rational policy-making and pluralist politics. On this view, policy-making is about deploying rational scientific methods to solve objective social problems. Politics, in turn, is about mediating contending opinions, perceptions and world-views. While the former conquers social problems by marshaling the relevant facts, the latter creates democratic legitimacy by negotiating conflicts about values. It is precisely this value-based conflict that distracts from rational policy-making. At best, deliberation and argument slow down policy processes. At worst, pluralist forms of conflict resolution yield politically acceptable compromises rather than rational policy solutions. (Resolving Messy Policy Problems, 3)

            However, things are actually rather more insidious:

                At the level of ideas, policy actors plan to contain policy conflict with sophisticated knowledge management systems. By basing policy on objective evidence about 'what works', policy actors hope to create 'a common policy focus, [thereby] encouraging participation and mutual understanding …' among policy actors (Strategic Policy-Making Team, 1999). In this view, values are not only detrimental to understanding and participation, but policy positions based on values are '… likely to fail because they may not be grounded in the economic, institutional and social reality of the problem' (The Urban Institute, 2003, p2). By definition, arguments that challenge the prevalent perception of 'what works' can be safely ignored because they must be based on values rather than evidence. In this way, knowledge management systems designed to bring about 'evidence-based policy-making' help control the policy agenda by narrowing the scope of permitted problems and solutions in the debate. (Resolving Messy Policy Problems, 4)

            I did not remember that Ney used the phrase 'what works', so this meshes with my argument unexpectedly well. One way to understand the above is that a rather narrow set of possibilities of "what we are trying to do" is encoded in the taken-for-granted understanding of 'what works'. This narrow set of possibilities is based on the premise that "what really exists" is the impersonal/​mechanical; anything personal is subjective, idiosyncratic, and must not appreciably influence public policy. This also matches our epistemology which admits only instrumental facts: anything non-instrumental is not supposed to matter when it comes to politics. After all, nature exhibits no teleology.

            I get that a lot of popular discussion of 'scientism' differs from the above. What I don't know is if it differs mostly in the way that popular treatments differ from more academic treatments, or whether the popular discussion is woefully misguided. If anything, scientism is much more subtle than generally thought. But this is not a new thing: my survey indicates that most initial instances of objecting to something philosophically is predicated on a deeper understanding which generated the objectionable feature in the first place. In the situation here, it would be a taken-for-granted teleology which made it seem like there is nothing to debate about teleology, and thus all that matters is instrumental knowledge. But that which one does not tend ends up growing wild and fills with weeds.

          • It all depends on how one understands 'works' in "it works". So for example:

            In the 1960s, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, wrote that . . . .

            When I say science works, I’m not referring to anything that any politician ever said about it. My intended meaning is that it purports to get observationally verifiable answers to certain questions, and that it has a good historical track record of getting answers that actually have been observationally verified.

            Views like Nehru's were once quite widely held, and, along with professions of faith in the 'scientific' political economy of Marx, they were perhaps typical of the scientism of politicians in the 1950s and 1960s.

            If “scientism” is supposed to mean nothing more than “misuse or misapplication of science,” then I will stipulate that it is a common problem. But that does not often seem to be its intended meaning.

            What such thinking presupposes is that the element which current formulations of 'science' cannot study is not important, except in a sort of "problems we have to manage" sense:

            When anybody says “Science cannot study X,” I frequently disagree. Even when it’s true, it does nothing to discredit what science can do. When I’m in my woodshop, I don’t say my hammers don’t work because I cannot use them to drive screws.

            In the situation here, it would be a taken-for-granted teleology which made it seem like there is nothing to debate about teleology, and thus all that matters is instrumental knowledge.

            Teleology is purpose. When I say “science works,” I don’t mean “science works only for good purposes.” Science can be used to accomplish good purposes or bad purposes, but in either case, it works.

          • When I say science works, I’m not referring to anything that any politician ever said about it. My intended meaning is that it purports to get observationally verifiable answers to certain questions, and that it has a good historical track record of getting answers that actually have been observationally verified.

            Ahh, but if you frame it in exactly that fashion, how successful is science when matters get exceedingly political? Remember, my focus is on exploring the personal/​impersonal dichotomy; where 'impersonal' is a good model, I expect science to thrive. But where 'personal' aspects of existence start mattering, how does science do? Does it 'work' quite as well, there? I'm reminded of the following two things you said:

            DS: The answers produced by science, though, are testable, at least in principle, and I'm just not interested in any that aren't.

            DS: If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.

            Strictly speaking, this leaves a tremendous void: do you really make no decisions whatsoever when an issue of public policy comes up and the available science isn't [sufficiently] conclusive? I doubt it, but perhaps you don't want to expose the reasoning you use in those cases to scrutiny. Let's move on to something else you said:

            DS: The scientific progress we have achieved thus far has been mostly in fields of inquiry about which few people have strong feelings. It should surprise no one if a reliably scientific understanding of ourselves will be way harder to come by than a reliable scientific understanding of photosynthesis.

            Could this be because 'science', as currently understood and practiced, just isn't up to the task? Could it be that its fundamentally impersonal nature will never be a good fit for a personal domain? Yes, it can trudge along characterizing what people do, but people can much more quickly game the system. The ground can easily shift under its feet, an argument I can flesh out in detail from Kenneth Gergen's Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge if you'd like.

            What I will work against with all my might is that success in impersonal domains—including medicine—is imported to personal domains—such as how to deal with poverty. Science does not 'work' equally well in all domains. Where it does not work well, only scientism refuses to question whether 'science' as currently understood might not be up to the task. This doesn't mean some future version of 'science' which preserves all its current strengths while adding new ones is impossible. But that future version might not be 'naturalist', per any current mainstream understanding of 'naturalism'.

            If “scientism” is supposed to mean nothing more than “misuse or misapplication of science,” then I will stipulate that it is a common problem. But that does not often seem to be its intended meaning.

            That was an example of scientism, not a definition.

            BGA: It's not scientific! It's philosophy, it's Dr Bonnette who seems to assume some scientism on the part of naturalism.

            LB: If the justification for your position is, "Science works!", then it's scientism. If your justification is something else, what is it?

            ds: When anybody says “Science cannot study X,” I frequently disagree. Even when it’s true, it does nothing to discredit what science can do.

            That's not the point. Only if if the science that correlates with Brian's naturalism can 'work' in all domains, is it valid to use that science to generate and/or justify his naturalism. Alter what 'science' is and you alter what 'naturalism' is (if generated by what 'science' is) or undermine the justification for 'naturalism' (if justified by what 'science' is).

            LB: In the situation here, it would be a taken-for-granted teleology which made it seem like there is nothing to debate about teleology, and thus all that matters is instrumental knowledge.

            ds: Teleology is purpose. When I say “science works,” I don’t mean “science works only for good purposes.” Science can be used to accomplish good purposes or bad purposes, but in either case, it works.

            Erm, scientism's denial of teleology being part of the fundamental fabric of reality was my point; your construal of scientific knowledge here matches that perfectly. Here, 'knowledge' is essentially anchored to 'what works', which is science in the impersonal domain.

          • Ahh, but if you frame it in exactly that fashion, how successful is science when matters get exceedingly political?

            That depends on the politicians. The ones who are scientifically literate can do great things with it. The ones who aren’t, can’t.

            Let's move on to something else you said:

            DS: The scientific progress we have achieved thus far has been mostly in fields of inquiry about which few people have strong feelings. It should surprise no one if a reliably scientific understanding of ourselves will be way harder to come by than a reliable scientific understanding of photosynthesis.

            Could this be because 'science', as currently understood and practiced, just isn't up to the task?

            I think it’s because we human beings have not yet been up to the task. That doesn’t mean we never can be or never will be.

            Could it be that its fundamentally impersonal nature will never be a good fit for a personal domain?

            The impersonality of science is not about a pretense that science is anything other than a human enterprise. It is about a recognition of how easily we let our feelings distort our perception of reality and the quest for methods of minimizing that distortion, meanwhile recognizing that the distortion can never be entirely eliminated.

            What I will work against with all my might is that success in impersonal domains—including medicine—is imported to personal domains—such as how to deal with poverty.

            I’ve never thought of medicine as impersonal. I don’t want my doctor to be impersonal, but I damn sure want her to be scientific.

            And if you ever see someone actually using science to fight poverty, let me know. I’ll tell you what I think and why I think it. But please keep in mind that there is nothing scientific about virtue signalling.

            That's not the point. Only if if the science that correlates with Brian's naturalism can 'work' in all domains, is it valid to use that science to generate and/or justify his naturalism.

            Brian will have to handle his own defense. I saw you raise the specter of scientism and decided to just jump in with my own observations. If I’ve taken the conversation off on a tangent, sorry about that.

            Here, 'knowledge' is essentially anchored to 'what works', which is science in the impersonal domain.

            If it doesn’t work, how is it supposed to be knowledge of any kind? What is it supposed to be knowledge of?

          • LB: Ahh, but if you frame it in exactly that fashion, how successful is science when matters get exceedingly political?

            ds: That depends on the politicians. The ones who are scientifically literate can do great things with it. The ones who aren’t, can’t.

            Given your "If anybody tries to organize a science-based political party next week, I won’t be joining it.", this seems like quite the promissory note. One might say that you have a tremendous amount of faith. (Accomplishing some particular thing based on science is a far cry from a more general effectiveness of science in not just sorta-kinda helping with political affairs, but surpassing all other approaches in effectiveness.)

            LB: Could this be because 'science', as currently understood and practiced, just isn't up to the task?

            ds: I think it’s because we human beings have not yet been up to the task. That doesn’t mean we never can be or never will be.

            How would we go about figuring out which of these two possibilities best fits the evidence? History is filled with people who say that if only more people had done what they thought was the right thing with more vigor, things would have been much better. From whence do you draw the confidence that this is true of science in its current form—that it is up to the task of the various big issues humans face, today?

            By the way, did you intend to switch from "best estimate"-type thinking to "logical possibility"-type thinking? I never meant to entail logical impossibilities about what the current form of science cannot do; that would be far too strong of a claim. We almost never get to have certainty, so instead we have to work with probability and plausibility. It caught me off-guard for you to switch to mere logical possibility.

            LB: Could it be that its fundamentally impersonal nature will never be a good fit for a personal domain?

            ds: The impersonality of science is not about a pretense that science is anything other than a human enterprise. It is about a recognition of how easily we let our feelings distort our perception of reality and the quest for methods of minimizing that distortion, meanwhile recognizing that the distortion can never be entirely eliminated.

            I didn't mean to comment about any such 'pretense' at all. And I'm happy to submit that there is such a thing as deformed personhood. The question is rather whether there is non-deformed personhood that, were we to approach, would help us solve problems that the most intense application of impersonal science humans can muster (in this world, not some dream world) just cannot manage. Such non-deformed personhood would not be dysteleological—unlike current science. I make no claim to understand just what would qualify as 'non-deformed personhood' for any given individual and I surmise that a lot of terrible has been done in history by those who thought they could do such determining and imposing.

            Now, your words could be taken to entail that other than providing "strong motivation", emotions do nothing good for scientific inquiry. I'm not convinced this is true (e.g. in generating hypotheses to test and troubleshooting steps to try), but let us suppose that it is in the current form of science. Why suppose that { the form of science which would be potent in helping us address real problems that are exceedingly political } would lack any sort of properly-formed/​properly-disciplined emotion? Here, I'm using 'emotion' as one way to distinguish 'impersonal' from 'personal'; there are perhaps better ways.

            I’ve never thought of medicine as impersonal. I don’t want my doctor to be impersonal, but I damn sure want her to be scientific.

            What is it that you want your doctor to do which counts as 'personal', which isn't assuaging your emotions? Note, by the way, that I was talking about "success" in medicine. Would you count as more successful doctors who share the religion of their patients and thereby make their patients feel better?

            And if you ever see someone actually using science to fight poverty, let me know. I’ll tell you what I think and why I think it. But please keep in mind that there is nothing scientific about virtue signalling.

            I'm sorry, I'm going to need some help understanding why you included the later sentence; do you think for example that I am engaged in virtue signaling? As to the former, I worry the very problem is that science in its current form is not up to the task of fighting poverty; indeed it might actually make it worse in its current form. You can start with Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences. The very desire to be 'objective' may be the problem.

            LB: Here, 'knowledge' is essentially anchored to 'what works', which is science in the impersonal domain.

            ds: If it doesn’t work, how is it supposed to be knowledge of any kind? What is it supposed to be knowledge of?

            Let's contrast what I wrote here and how you responded to the following:

            LB: (There are plenty of studies which show that in certain circumstances, 'religion' really does 'work'. See for example Lim & Putnam 2010.)

            ds: Your scare quotes are noted.

            Somehow, you noted the scare quotes in the instance where you disagree with the connection between 'what works' and 'truth'†, while ignoring the scare quotes when you agree. I suggest seeing both instances of 'work' as merely being some kind of success, without value associated to one being 'true' while the other being … well, something that has no connection to 'truth'. Just 11 hours ago, I wrote to you that the very definition of 'what works' is tendentious philosophically while [in the West] taken-for-granted rhetorically. You've just provided a beautiful demonstration of that.

            † You said "observationally verifiable answers to certain questions"; feel free to substitute that for 'true' and 'truth', above.

          • >The Roman Catholic Church certainly thinks it has ways to discern true miracles from false miracles;

            From what I know of this process it is not credible, it infers a miracle when it lacks a natural explanation.

            >all you would really be justified in thinking, from within your metaphysic, is that there's either a new law of nature we didn't know was there before, or a new way the existing laws interact.

            True, and would that be wrong? What would make supernature a more likely explanation?

            >If the justification for your position is, "Science works!",

            It isn't. Its based on skeptical empiricism. Is there any doubt there is a natural world and consistent order? Is it not then up to the supernaturalist to show there is something more?

          • BGA: True, that's because this is metaphysics, not science. But I think it is rational when you have no positive definition of x, no observations (direct or indirect) of x, and no one can say how the existence of x can be demonstrated, that it is not justified to believe x exists.

            LB: The Roman Catholic Church certainly thinks it has ways to discern true miracles from false miracles;

            BGA: From what I know of this process it is not credible, it infers a miracle when it lacks a natural explanation.

            Yes, so you've presupposed naturalism and thus in practice, there is no phenomenon which cannot be explained via naturalism—or dismissed as a one-off[1]. My "in practice" is an attempt to combine both what you say here, and what you said above:

            BGA: But I can say this, I would accept something like a car exploding them reconfiguring is itself into a car again in lab conditions as an empirical example if the supernatural. I'd accept similar evidence of amputees growing limbs back in a nanosecond.

            After all, one can always say that no matter how weird the observed phenomenon, it has to be "repeated more" or "be less ambiguous" (= more clearly violate what we think are the laws of nature) in order to count as something super-natural. And yet, when one tries to talk about rigid standards of falsification[2], you will retort that we're talking metaphysics, not science. What that seems to mean, in this context, is that you get a wider buffer around what phenomena can still fit. Just how wide is that buffer? You can always throw a bone to theists, of things you're pretty sure will never happen. I personally think it would be good to throw an intense light on this buffer. I would suggest taking into account Raphael Lataster's retort to Trent Horn when the latter asked, "What would constitute evidence of God's existence?"

            BGA: But I can say this, I would accept something like a car exploding them reconfiguring is itself into a car again in lab conditions as an empirical example if the supernatural. I'd accept similar evidence of amputees growing limbs back in a nanosecond.

            LB: Ok. And the benefit to God or you of this is … what, exactly? I suggest some basic reflection and perhaps a read of Deut 12:32–13:5. As far as I can tell, all you would really be justified in thinking, from within your metaphysic, is that there's either a new law of nature we didn't know was there before, or a new way the existing laws interact.

            BGA: True, and would that be wrong? What would make supernature a more likely explanation?

            Well, first of all you're contradicting the bold. I suspected you would, as I have been around this 'evidence of God' block many a time before. The deepest question seems to be whether the ultimate nature of reality is personal or impersonal. This doesn't mean that one cannot understand the structure of reality (and ourselves) ever deeper. Some (most?) notions of 'the supernatural' construe it as operating according to a set of laws which are totally divorced from current scientific laws. But it is equally philosophically plausible that in fact 'the supernatural' is the limit of the sequence { Newtonian mechanics, general relativity, … }. I think the debate is really about what the limit-value looks like—personal, or impersonal. Those who opt for the latter will think that instead of an agent (with will, goals, thoughts, etc.) being the most fundamental, it is merely some theory of everything which is most fundamental.

            The rubber hits the road when it comes to matters of intention: is intention just a "transitory node of stability" in a system full of chaos and trending toward oblivion? This isn't a question only to be asked at cosmic scales; Americans are asking it on much smaller scales. Steven D. Smith asks it with regard to laws in his 1989 essay Law Without Mind. The tremendous amount of power currently vested in the Supreme Court of the United States is now showing up as a point of tremendous instability. Not to mention that when you tell people they can "create their own meaning", that means they can trample all over whatever intentions their forebears had. The result is a shredding of any sort of inter-generational weaving of intention. Progressives will perhaps say this is good, because previous generations were evil. But how different are they really, from their forebears? Philosophy is rife with those reacting against those who came before but actually presupposing in common the very thing that is the root problem. This idea that we can just disconnect ourselves from those who came before is just wrong, and it is a terrible, terrible curse that the Enlightenment bequeathed to us. There's no need to jump to talking about God's intentions—the damage happens on the purely human plain as well.

            Is there any doubt there is a natural world and consistent order?

            That entirely depends on your definition of terms. The Christian could talk about a created, orderly world which is consistent in the way that a morally perfect person is consistent. The naturalist could talk about randomness conditioned by evolution resulting in some sort of organized complexity where consistency is merely that of some theory of everything always describing the extant patterns. In plenty of domains (probably: exactly where science excels the most), these two views can be indistinguishable.

            Is it not then up to the supernaturalist to show there is something more?

            Need the supernaturalist do anything more than point to the existence of consciousness and how poorly the naturalist can explain it, and thus claim that probably reality is more complex than the naturalist is currently willing to admit, with all his/her "nothing-buttery"?

             
            [1] Karl Popper was quite willing to dismiss one-offs:

            Every experimental physicist knows those surprising and inexplicable apparent 'effects' which in his laboratory can perhaps even be reproduced for some time, but which finally disappear without trace. Of course, no physicist would say that in such a case that he had made a scientific discovery (though he might try to rearrange his experiments so as to make the effect reproducible). Indeed the scientifically significant physical effect may be defined as that which can be regularly reproduced by anyone who carries out the appropriate experiment in the way prescribed. No serious physicist would offer for publication, as a scientific discovery, any such 'occult effect', as I propose to call it – one for whose reproduction he could give no instructions. The 'discovery' would be only too soon rejected as chimerical, simply because attempts to test it would lead to negative results. (It follows that any controversy over the question whether events which are in principle unrepeatable and unique ever do occur cannot be decided by science: it would be a metaphysical controversy.) (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 23-24)

            [2] Karl Popper again:

                But I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest that it is not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a criterion of demarcation.*[3] In other words: I shall not require of a scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and for all, in a positive sense; but I shall require that its logical form shall be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.[3] (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 18)

          • >Yes, so you've presupposed naturalism and thus in practice, there is no phenomenon which cannot be explained via naturalism—or dismissed as a one-off[1]

            No, I haven't presumed naturalism. I don't think you can base belief on an argument from ignorance.

            >Some (most?) notions of 'the supernatural' construe it as operating according to a set of laws which are totally divorced from current scientific laws

            Oh, ok, what are these laws and how were they discovered. What distinguishes them from natural laws?

            >Need the supernaturalist do anything more than point to the existence of consciousness and how poorly the naturalist can explain it, and thus claim that probably reality is more complex than the naturalist is currently willing to admit, with all his/her "nothing-buttery"?

            Yes I would think so, if you want to establish the supernatural exists. I'm not aware of anything non-natural with my conscious experience .True I find consciousness mysterious, but I wouldn't assume based on my ignorance of what it is and how it works that it's supernatural. What laws or order if nature does it violate or transgress?

          • BGA: True, that's because this is metaphysics, not science. But I think it is rational when you have no positive definition of x, no observations (direct or indirect) of x, and no one can say how the existence of x can be demonstrated, that it is not justified to believe x exists.

            LB: The Roman Catholic Church certainly thinks it has ways to discern true miracles from false miracles;

            BGA: From what I know of this process it is not credible, it infers a miracle when it lacks a natural explanation.

            LB: Yes, so you've presupposed naturalism and thus in practice, there is no phenomenon which cannot be explained via naturalism—or dismissed as a one-off[1].

            BGA: No, I haven't presumed naturalism. I don't think you can base belief on an argument from ignorance.

            You based an argument on the following:

                 (1) no positive definition of x
                 (2) no observations (direct or indirect) of x
                 (3) no one can say how the existence of x can be demonstrated

            How is this not "an argument from ignorance"? (I expect you to answer by saying it is not just an argument from ignorance, but I will let you make the argument instead of guessing it.)

            LB: Some (most?) notions of 'the supernatural' construe it as operating according to a set of laws which are totally divorced from current scientific laws. But it is equally philosophically plausible that in fact 'the supernatural' is the limit of the sequence { Newtonian mechanics, general relativity, … }.

            BGA: Oh, ok, what are these laws and how were they discovered. What distinguishes them from natural laws?

            Why did you ignore the text I included (in strikethrough)? Was it not obvious that I was pushing for that alternative, instead of what you quoted? I am very suspicious of the "totally divorced" construction of 'supernatural'. I suspect it is generally used as a means of power by the religious and an easy target by atheists. When I read the Bible, I see a being (God) who wishes to be understood ever more deeply, not a mysterious figure who is forever above us and we must blindly obey lest we experience its wrath. The benefit of there being an insuperable barrier between the rules of the divine and the rules of the mortal is that this puts the mortal in a permanent, subservient relationship whereby they cannot ever really understand the divine. As far as I know this is an accurate description of the other religions in the ANE. In contrast, God wished to argue with mortals (e.g. Ezek 22:29–31).

            BGA: Is it not then up to the supernaturalist to show there is something more?

            LB: Need the supernaturalist do anything more than point to the existence of consciousness and how poorly the naturalist can explain it, and thus claim that probably reality is more complex than the naturalist is currently willing to admit, with all his/her "nothing-buttery"?

            BGA: Yes I would think so, if you want to establish the supernatural exists. I'm not aware of anything non-natural with my conscious experience .True I find consciousness mysterious, but I wouldn't assume based on my ignorance of what it is and how it works that it's supernatural. What laws or order if nature does it violate or transgress?

            I suspect you are predicating your response on the understanding of 'supernatural' which I reject. What I expect is that nature is infinitely complex, such that the progression { Newtonian mechanics, general relativity, … } has no end. The current understanding held by scientists is but an approximation. This means that 'the supernatural' is just super-natural: beyond what we currently consider 'natural'. It no more breaks the laws of nature than general relativity "broke" Newtonian mechanics. But at this point there remains the question of whether the limit of that sequence is personal or impersonal. So for example, is there true teleology in nature? The laws of nature as currently understood don't preclude teleology. And yet, how much thinking is based on the denial of teleology—including thinking which matters for e.g. public policy? That's where scientism starts really mattering. (see also my reply to @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus)

          • > This means that 'the supernatural' is just super-natural: beyond what we currently consider 'natural'.

            Oh, okay see that's my view too, but I'd call this naturalism. Actually a stronger form of Naturalism than my position as I'm open to the other kind of supernatural.

            It seems your issue is with a kind of scientism that asserts the current laws as understood are inviolable and cannot be updated.

            Of course, this doesn't mean that every event proposed as "supernatural" occured and is only explained by these undiscovered laws and not by our current understanding.

            We were right to question Peter Popoff, right? And when we don't have a natural explanation, say for an aging doctor's unexplained recovery from cancer, we don't just accept that there are unknown laws of nature at play that mean a prayer to a dead bishop caused it right?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            So many people (on both sides) get all in a huff about whether nature is all there is or whether there is something more, but so few people seem to be able to provide even an approximate definition of "nature". How can there be so many naturalists when no one knows what nature is?

            The only reasonable definitions of "nature" that I'm aware of amount to something like: "the aspect of reality that can in principle be interrogated by the scientific method". But many "naturalists" seem to allow for the possibility, if not the likelihood, that some questions may be forever beyond the reach of science. In particular, there seems to be not even a glimmer of hope that science, which inherently traffics in third-person accounts of reality, can probe first-person experience. That would mean that everything in the realm of first-person experience is inherently supernatural. Also, there seems to be not even a glimmer of hope that science, which must presupposes that there are laws that govern the creation and evolution of the universe, can probe the question of why there are such laws. That would mean that whatever the answer may be to the question, "why are there laws that govern the universe", that answer must not lie within nature itself.

            Can someone help me out? If "nature" is not to be defined as I defined it above, how is "nature" to be defined?

          • >: "the aspect of reality that can in principle be interrogated by the scientific method". But many "naturalists" seem to allow for the possibility, if not the likelihood, that some questions may be forever beyond the reach of science

            These are not mutually exclusive. Something can be in principle discoverable by science but practically impossible for humans to discover. E.g if we would need a particle accelerator the size of the galaxy.

            I would say it is phenomena which follow a consistent order.

            My own view is that everything that exists and will ever exist is nature and follows a consistent order.

            If there is something that exists and is not bound by any order but it's own intent can violate that order, perhaps by mental will that would be supernature.

            From my perspective what we observe is nature, I think it's more up to the supernaturalists to show there is some additional kind of entity or phenomena that is categorically different. Making this distinction would draw out what nature is and what is supernature.

            From a practical perspective natural is what we have when we conclude that a cause of a phenomena is ordered. When we don't, we don't know what it is, it could be because it is supernatural, or some natural phenomena we are ignorant of, and may always be .

            But since every time we reach a conclusion it is a natural one, there is no reason to presume some other category is responsible.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would say it is phenomena which follow a consistent order.

            That's reasonable and I like it, but let's clarify where idiosyncratic phenomena land within that system. The "consistent" in "consistent order" seems to imply some degree of replicability. Would "nature", so defined, include once-per-universe phenomena? For example, abiogenesis may or may not be a once-per-universe occurrence. As far as I'm aware, we just don't know enough to say either way at this point. But for the sake of argument, let's suppose the particular confluence of events that led to the origin of life on Earth was a once-in-a-universe type of confluence. Would you still consider that to be part of a consistent order? In other words: is there a definition of nature that allows for the idiosyncratic, or the idiosyncratic inherently "supernatural"?

            If there is something that exists and is not bound by any order but it's own intent can violate that order, perhaps by mental will that would be supernature.

            Why focus on Humean violation? When I counter-act gravity by intentionally lifting my arm, that is not a violation. My intent to lift my arm does produce a sort of exogenous (and not scientifically replicable!) intervention in a "natural" system, but it doesn't violate that system, it just provides an additional causal input that works with the system.

            From my perspective what we observe is nature, I think it's more up to the supernaturalists to show there is some additional kind of entity or phenomena that is categorically different.

            With that you have set up a game that you can only win. If "nature" is defined to refer to everything that we observe, then of course we can't observe anything supernatural. I think I am correct in saying that nature was traditionally defined more narrowly than that. It meant something more like "ordinary" (or, to adapt your own proposal above, "consistent with what usually happens"). The concept of "supernatural" only makes sense with reference to that classical understanding of "nature". "Supernatural" does indeed become an incoherent concept when one defines nature as you have.

          • >But for the sake of argument, let's suppose the particular confluence of events that led to the origin of life on Earth was a once-in-a-universe type of confluence. Would you still consider that to be part of a consistent order?

            Yes, if we are talking about chemical abiogenesis. It's actually the chemistry which is the order, not the event. For example, it may be that the precise shape of mouth Everest will occur once in the universe, but this unique result is not any violation on laws of nature .

            >When I counter-act gravity by intentionally lifting my arm, that is not a violation. My intent to lift my arm does produce a sort of exogenous (and not scientifically replicable!) intervention in a "natural" system, but it doesn't violate that system, it just provides an additional causal input that works with the system.

            No, you are not violating the law of gravity. When you lift your arm it and all other masses in the universe continue to attract. I should have said by mental will alone. But I really can't be too much help in defining supernature. I'm not sure it's even a coherent concept, if you accept it maybe you can help?

            Are you saying that the supernatural is just the really rare or unique? I believe that exists, but I don't think it's what people typically mean by the term .

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Are you saying that the supernatural is just the really rare or unique? I believe that exists, but I don't think it's what people typically mean by the term.

            I agree that it is not what most people mean by the term now, but my sense is that that is more or less what it used to mean in medieval and pre-medieval times.

            In the medieval lexicon, we seem to have nature contrasted with grace, where "nature" is used (consistent with the etymology) to refer to what a thing is "born with" or what is expected of a thing, and grace is used to refer to something "more than could have been expected".

            And then going all the way back to the Bible, I believe the closest things you have to "supernatural" are words like "dunamis" which, as far as I understand, mean something like explosive (like the cognates "dynamite" and to a less extent "dynamic") or completely surprising.

            These are just my non-scholarly impressions, but they are not completely uninformed or merely the figment of my imagination. Here is N.T. Wright talking about the supernatural:

            Most people, not least in the media, still think of ["miracle"] as meaning an action performed by a distant, remote deity reaching in to the world from outside—just as to many people, still, the word ‘God’ itself conjures up a basically deist image of that kind of a being. I know that in fact that word ‘supernatural’ has a longer history than this and that, for instance, mediaeval theologians were able to use it in such away that it did not carry the baggage of an implied deism or semi-deism (by which I mean the view which, while sharing deism’s gap between God and the world, holds that from time to time this ‘God’ can and does ‘intervene’). But I continue to find that this model dominates UK theological discourse, particularly among those of, or near, Robinson’s generation. Thus, for instance, when I have written about Jesus’ mighty acts, or about the resurrection, I have often been heard to be affirming one kind of post-Enlightenment supernaturalism (with an ‘interventionist’ God) over against one kind of post-Enlightenment naturalism (with a ‘non-interventionist’ God), even though I have frequently and explicitly renounced precisely this distinction and the framework which facilitates it (to the consternation of my ‘supernaturalist’ friends).

          • Ok, like superman is considered supernatural, but really he's just an alien.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Depends on one's perspective maybe. Knowing what I do about Superman, I would say that he usually just acts in the manner that we would expect of anyone from planet Krypton, i.e. in a manner consistent with his nature. If Superman were suddenly able to withstand the deleterious effects of kryptonite, that would be completely unexpected, and therefore supernatural. It doesn't mean that it would violate any laws, it just means that it would be something disorientingly new in the world.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Just for purposes of reference, "nature" has a definition posed by Aristotle in his Physics, which is the English form of the Greek work for "nature."

            As I had this drilled into my head by Professor Charles DeKoninck in grad school at Notre Dame nearly sixty years ago, "Nature is the principle of motion and rest in that in which it is." There, now does everyone understand it?

            Some things are so basic that they virtually defy definition, and "nature" is one of those terms. It basically means whatever is in something that makes it be what it is and do what it does.

            This might also help discussion: The Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy defines "supernatural" as "exceeding the powers, forces and laws, activities, course or order and end of nature or of any particular nature."

            Alternately, it defines "supernatural" as "caused by God alone in a natural being without the concurrent efficient causality of secondary causes (but not without the material causality of an existing subject).

            One must also distinguish between "supernatural" and "preternatural," since while God alone can act supernaturally, angels and demons can act preternaturally.

            Preternatural acts are those above the normal order of material beings. Both God and angels can act preternaturally, but God alone can do supernatural things.

            Preternatural agents can exceed the common order of nature, such as causing a table to rise in the air without normal physical causation, but a man could lift the same table in a perfectly natural way. God alone can create a table using no preexisting material.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            There, now does everyone understand it?

            LOL!

            I would love to see a post summarizing the intellectual history of the word "nature", going back to Aristotle and tracing some of the broad strokes of its evolution through the Scholastic period (especially with Aquinas) and the Enlightenment (perhaps especially with Spinoza, where the meaning of the word really seemed to shift underneath it). I realize that would be an audacious thing to attempt in a brief post, but it seems that something like that is necessary to move some of these conversations forward.

            It would be interesting to explore the cultural aspects of that trajectory too, like what exactly was in air the high Middle Ages that led to the Aquinas's special focus on nature at more or less the same time as Giotto's revolutionary quasi-naturalism?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's actually the chemistry which is the order, not the event.

            I get that the laws of chemistry stayed consistent before, during, and after the origin of life (at least, in all likelihood this is the case), and so it's true that that aspect of the order of the universe remained consistent. Nonetheless, with the appearance of life there is a whole new type of order that comes on the scene. The biological order doesn't violate the order of chemistry, but neither can it be reduced to the order of chemistry. In saying that, I'm not staking out an ontological claim but simply stating a methodological fact: chemistry is silent on whether "life" exists, whereas biology takes it as a starting point that "life" exists. In other words, there is a sort of order -- a "higher" order if you like -- that one can only refer to in the language of biology. I think it strains the meaning of words to say that THAT order -- the order that one can only refer to in the language of biology -- is merely consistent with the order of the universe that applied prior to the origin of life. There was BOTH continuity AND discontinuity in order of things when life came on the scene.

          • >Nonetheless, with the appearance of life there is a whole new type of order that comes on the scene.

            I.dont agree, I'd say it's the same order, that's what I mean by ordered in this context.

            >but neither can it be reduced to the order of chemistry

            Sure it can, though obviously there are other physics at play too, but none of this new with "life". This, I'd say, is why life is a fuzzy label, with some things like viruses being unclear if they are "life" or not.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            This, I'd say, is why life is a fuzzy label, with some things like viruses being unclear if they are "life" or not.

            That's true, but almost all categories in real life (i.e. not in mathematics) have fuzzy boundaries. The lack of clearly identifiable demarcation lines doesn't mean that real distinctions don't exist. Consider the words in your own proposal: is there a clearly identifiable demarcation between what is "ordered" versus "disordered"? Or between "consistent" and "inconsistent"?

          • >Consider the words in your own proposal: is there a clearly identifiable demarcation between what is "ordered" versus "disordered"? Or between "consistent" and "inconsistent"?

            Yes, in this context, we need perfect order and consistency. I'd suggest this is why there are so few "laws" of physics.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If the bar is set at perfect order and consistency, then I'm pretty sure we have precisely zero known laws of physics.

          • Which one has been violated?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, there is as yet not TOE, so what perfectly consistent law would you be referring to?

          • You are the one saying all these laws are violated, just name one and tell me why?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            No, I didn't say they were violated. You are the one who keeps bringing in the language of violation.

            I said we don't have any laws that even purport to be perfectly ordered and consistent. What we have instead are laws that are sufficiently good approximations to the truth within defined scopes. For example, Einstein's laws of gravitation are sufficiently good (excellent) approximations, as long as we stay outside the micro / quantum scope. We know they are approximations and not perfect descriptions precisely because they are silent with respect to the micro / quantum scale. We know that those approximations can't be consistently applied in any meaningful way across all scopes of inquiry.

            Moreover, even if we do discover a TOE (seems possible and worth hoping for), it will just be the best TOE we can come up with based on available data. Because measurement error is inescapable, we will never know if our TOE model is violated in non-identifiable ways. Identifiability is a function of the data that you have in hand, and that changes over time. In other words, there will always be multiple curves that you can fit through the available data, subject to revision with more data, better data, and new kinds of data. When one has a model that is consistent with the available data, that's a great thing, but that's never a sufficient reason for making an ontological claim of perfect order and consistency. As long as our measurements have error (and they always will), the claim of perfect [mathematical] order and consistency will be neither proven nor disproven, and so will remain a matter of metaphysical speculation.

          • Ok. Good point. But while this order, gravity for example doesn't apply in a quantum level, on larger levels it is in no way inconsistent. To the point that we act as if it is perfectly consistent, right? Like thinks fall to earth not at an approximate rate but as far as we can tell absolutely in a consistent way changing only with the mass.

            A supernatural event woukw be, for example someone thinking, today the earth will have the Moon's gravity, and it does. And there is absolutely no reason for this occurring other than this person intended it.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, I guess I interpreted "perfectly consistent" to mean consistent without any limits. Almost everything is consistent within some limited scope. I might consistently want the chocolate cake for 15 minutes and then change my mind and decide that I want the apple pie. The scope of gravity's consistency is obviously a heck of a lot broader than the scope of my consistent preference for chocolate cake, but both types of consistency have limits and so are imperfect.

            A supernatural event would be, for example someone thinking, today the earth will have the Moon's gravity, and it does. And there is absolutely no reason for this occurring other than this person intended it.

            I suppose, but that would be more than just supernatural. It would be both supernatural and capricious. The God proposed by the Biblical tradition doesn't just intend things like that for no reason. In the Biblical tradition, the root of all intentionality and the root of all reason are one and the same, and we name that root "God". God's subsidiary "intentions" don't arise for no reason; they are grounded in God's nature.

          • You've changed my mind on the perfectly consistent. I need to think a bit on whether naturalism depends on there being laws that are perfectly consistent and inviolable. I also need to think of whether it's reasonable to take the natiralist position without sufficient evidence of such laws. I'm not sure we don't have this evidence to ground belief in natiralism.

            I'd say gravity is limited in scope but not consistency.

            I don't suggest that God would be capricious. It's just a demo of what I would call clearly supernature, vs say the way pendulums swing in consistent ways .

            Thanks for your thoughts.

          • So no more "argument from ignorance" discussion, eh?

            LB: This means that 'the supernatural' is just super-natural: beyond what we currently consider 'natural'.

            BGA: Oh, okay see that's my view too, but I'd call this naturalism. Actually a stronger form of Naturalism than my position as I'm open to the other kind of supernatural.

            Ok, but you've ignored the key question, which follows on the text you quoted:

            LB: It no more breaks the laws of nature than general relativity "broke" Newtonian mechanics. But at this point there remains the question of whether the limit of that sequence is personal or impersonal. So for example, is there true teleology in nature?

            No naturalism I know of permits teleology. So I don't see how our views can possibly align like you claim.

            We were right to question Peter Popoff, right? And when we don't have a natural explanation, say for an aging doctor's unexplained recovery from cancer, we don't just accept that there are unknown laws of nature at play that mean a prayer to a dead bishop caused it right?

            Read John Calvin's brief "seed of religion". Shall I tell you stories of Christians pushing back in the witch craze? I can cite scholarly works in the process.

          • >But at this point there remains the question of whether the limit of that sequence is personal or impersonal. So for example, is there true teleology in nature?

            I don't understand this question. If what you mean by "supernatural" is just undiscovered nature, so quantum physics was supernatural until it was discovered, then it became natural, we're just arguing over labels, I would say your use of the term supernatural would be confusing.

            I don't know what you're on about with teleolog. I'm a determinist if that helps.

          • I don't understand this question.

            Do you know what teleology is? If so, you think it is compatible or incompatible with naturalism?

            If what you mean by "supernatural" is just undiscovered nature, so quantum physics was supernatural until it was discovered, then it became natural, we're just arguing over labels, I would say your use of the term supernatural would be confusing.

            You're shifting the burden of explanation to 'nature'. But what is 'nature'? What we thought it was before quantum physics is very different from what we think it is now. Well, what about the next paradigm shift? And the next? Where does that sequence point? Does it point to some final Theory of Everything which is in substance no different from the equations of GR and QFT? (diffeqs and ODEs) If so, then teleology has no place in the fundamental fabric of reality.

            I don't know what you're on about with teleolog. I'm a determinist if that helps.

            That label 'determinist' is useless outside of additional clarification, as demonstrated in my response to @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus:

            LB: There seems to be quite a lot of confusion/​​difference about what 'determinism' means, so I'd like to get some insight into what you mean by it. To do so, I'll ask you to respond to the following:

            GS: In a deterministic world, in Carroll's sense, everything can be said to have a "reason why" in the sense of what it is fundamentally made of and the forces that led to their current configuration. But some theists also posit an even immensely more deterministic world, one in which everything that exists was intended to be just so from the beginning, such that the world will eventually reach a certain state in the future.

            In this way, Vogt is actually positing a hyperdeterministic world.

            In your mind, is @Geena_Safire:disqus justified in using the word 'hyperdeterministic', or should she really use a modifier for Carroll's view, like 'LoN-deterministic', which would mean something like, "all time-evolution of state is perfectly characterized by the laws of nature, which are utterly impersonal"?

            Geena hijacked the term 'deterministic' to mean something rather more specific than any and all determinism. For example, some determinism could have causes impinging on reality from outside (making this an open system). Other determinism could be teleological instead of mechanical. But my general experience is that Geena's understanding is what is actually meant by the term. Perhaps we should call that "metaphysics via taken-for-grantedness". It's certainly not philosophically respectable, but it is all too human.

          • teleology is design? Yes humans design things.

            >What we thought it was before quantum physics is very different from what we think it is now.

            Sure. I'd say it's reality, reality that conforms to an inviolable order. I think that's all there is, if I'm mistaken, I'd like to know .

            >Well, what about the next paradigm shift? And the next? Where does that sequence point?

            Then paradigms shift, I can't say what the next would be or where this points, I wouldn't assume it points to anything.

            >That label 'determinist' is useless outside of additional clarification,

            Ok I don't think it helps, it's going down another rabbit hole.

          • teleology is design? Yes humans design things.

            Could God have designed reality, us included, for one or more purposes? Or is that definitively ruled out by what you understand 'naturalism' to be?

            I'd say it's reality, reality that conforms to an inviolable order.

            But one way to get an 'inviolable order' is for God to have ordered it and God to be omnipotent—no? Do you really need that 'inviolable order' to be something awfully like a mathematical equation?

            Then paradigms shift, I can't say what the next would be or where this points, I wouldn't assume it points to anything.

            But those who found naturalism upon current conceptions—e.g.

            physical entity: an entity which is either (1) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists today; or (2) the kind of entity studied by physicists or chemists in the future, which has some sort of nomological or historical connection to the kinds of entities studied by physicists or chemists today. (The Nature of Naturalism)

            —do think they know where it points. Because the more radically things are going to change from here, the less 'here' counts for talking about "what ultimately exists". If on the other hand the only use for 'naturalism' is to guide scientists to keep them from going too far off the rails, then I don't know why it's being discussed here.

          • >Could God have designed reality, us included, for one or more purposes?

            No idea, I don't know what you mean by God. If a god that can do this is possible, I guess it's possible. It serms a contradiction to say a god designed reality, this would mean the god is not part of reality, and I'd take it as axiomatic that non real entities do not exist.

            Yes metaphysical naturalism is distinct from theism, unless you define "god"as nature or natural. (And don't take my identification as a naturalist as dogmatic, it's just a label for what I believe, I'm open to being convinced otherwise).

            >But one way to get an 'inviolable order' is for God to have ordered it and God to be omnipotent—no?

            I'm not sure that's inviolable, but okay, no I don't see any contradiction there. E.g. a god who can make a stone it cannot lift.

            Now you have to be careful not to mix methodological and metaphysical naturalism. The former is a constraint on science, the latter is the label for those who don't believe anything non natural exists.

          • No idea, I don't know what you mean by God. If a god that can do this is possible, I guess it's possible. It serms a contradiction to say a god designed reality, this would mean the god is not part of reality, and I'd take it as axiomatic that non real entities do not exist.

            Humans have long distinguished between necessary parts of 'all that exists' and contingent parts of 'all that exists'. If the multiverse exists, that would be the necessary part while our universe would be the contingent part. We can think of God in the same way: he/she/it is the necessary part and our universe is the contingent part. The question here is whether the necessary part is personal—having thoughts, will, desires—or impersonal—being like a machine with none of the aforementioned. Since it's tripping you up, let's discard this term 'reality'. I think that term risks presupposing that everything that is 'real' is somehow alike, whereas our universe seems rather different from the multiverse in ways that make it very hard to make universal statements about 'reality'. Put another way, if we live in a simulated reality, then what we call 'reality' is but a small part of 'all that exists' and the rest could be arbitrarily different from what we understand. Since we cannot prove that we don't live in a simulated reality, we should not assume we can say much of anything about 'reality'.

            Yes metaphysical naturalism is distinct from theism, unless you define "god"as nature or natural.

            But why does naturalism rule out the idea that the most fundamental reality is personal? If it is consistent with naturalism for us to live in a simulated reality created by beings who exist in a rather different reality, why is it not consistent with naturalism that ultimately we were created by a being who is actually the most fundamental reality (rather than a machine or mathematical equation)?

            It's just not clear what your 'naturalism' rules out, Brian.

            Now you have to be careful not to mix methodological and metaphysical naturalism. The former is a constraint on science, the latter is the label for those who don't believe anything non natural exists.

            Aren't you a metaphysical naturalist?

          • >Since we cannot prove that we don't live in a simulated reality, we should not assume we can say much of anything about 'reality'.

            Yes I agree in this context. Unless we deal with this issue we can't say anything about reality. We can only say things about what for all we know may be a simulation, dream, illusion.

            >But why does naturalism rule out the idea that the most fundamental reality is personal?

            It doesn't. It rules out the supernatural. Humans are personal but not supernatural. I have no reason to think fundamental reality is one or the other, I don't know what fundamental reality is but only humans and animals show signs of being personal.

            >why is it not consistent with naturalism that ultimately we were created by a being who is actually the most fundamental reality (rather than a machine or mathematical equation)?

            It is, as long as this being is not supernatural. For example this is why Scientologists, some Bhuddists and Raelieans are not theistic religions.

            >It's just not clear what your 'naturalism' rules out, Brian

            The supernatural.

            >Aren't you a metaphysical naturalist?

            Yes.the following comment seemed to conflate the two.

            >If on the other hand the only use for 'naturalism' is to guide scientists to keep them from going too far off the rails, then I don't know why it's being discussed here.

            The use of metaphysical naturalism is to distinguish between those who believe there is some other way of existing one that can affect this world but is unbound by the rules of it, and which causes event s by will alone.

          • The use of metaphysical naturalism is to distinguish between those who believe there is some other way of existing one that can affect this world but is unbound by the rules of it, and which causes event s by will alone.

            You mean … like the creators and maintainers of a simulation of sentient, sapient beings? After all, you agreed this is possible:

            LB: Since we cannot prove that we don't live in a simulated reality, we should not assume we can say much of anything about 'reality'.

            BGA: Yes I agree in this context. Unless we deal with this issue we can't say anything about reality. We can only say things about what for all we know may be a simulation, dream, illusion.

            Why would it not appear, from the perspective of inhabitants of the simulation, that their creators are 'supernatural'? And yet, on your basis the creators would actually be 'natural'. So it's just not clear what you mean by 'natural', and therefore not clear what you mean by 'supernatural'. And yet, you really, really don't like the 'supernatural'—whatever it is.

          • >You mean … like the creators and maintainers of a simulation of sentient, sapient beings?

            Sure but it could be my neighbor Ted, or whatever. But if this is a simulation and the creators of it were still bound by the laws of nature in their universe, which would ultimately be our Cosmos too, I would not call them supernatural.

            Certainly the inhabitants of such a simulation would see such creators as something like gods, but they wouldn't be and nothing supernatural would be going on.

            >So it's just not clear what you mean by 'natural', and therefore not clear what you mean by 'supernatural'. And yet, you really, really don't like the 'supernatural'—whatever it is.

            I'm sorry it's not clear. I think you've jumped ahead of yourself a bit.

          • But if this is a simulation and the creators of it were still bound by the laws of nature in their universe …

            So in other words, you really do presuppose that the final order, the most fundamental order, is impersonal. What's not clear to me is how you can possibly justify that, especially given how terrible the social sciences are at understanding the personal when the personal cannot be well-approximated by the impersonal. (It certainly seems like you're implicitly arguing based on the successes of the other sciences, which do produce mathematical equations as their deepest order.)

          • >So in other words, you really do presuppose that the final order, the most fundamental order, is impersonal.

            You believe it based on experience and evidence. I don't assume it or presuppose it.

            Needless to say social interactions, human behavior is very difficult to predict given the complexity of human minds and the number of variables involved. I'm not sure we should expect to, any more than we could the precise shape of waves in the ocean.

            Sure sciences have found an encouraging amount of patterns and been able to do some incredible things based on these patterns like like landing a craft on a comet. We find so much that it is encouraging to think we will find such patterns everywhere, and it seems we do.

            What I'm not aware is that any, any material event has been caused by anything personal, that wasn't an animal. Do you think this is what underlies everything? Why?

          • Apologies for the length; things have only just started gelling. I'm very interested in your answer to my final question (last sentence).

            BGA: But if this is a simulation and the creators of it were still bound by the laws of nature in their universe …

            LB: So in other words, you really do presuppose that the final order, the most fundamental order, is impersonal.

            BGA: You believe it based on experience and evidence. I don't assume it or presuppose it.

            I'm willing to consider that you actually concluded it from an tiny subset of experience, but it sounds a lot more like a presupposition when you say in response to the possibility that we could be in a simulation, that the simulators would be bound by mechanical laws just like you think we are. Maybe that's a flaw in my analogy; there are key differences between reshaping matter which already exists and truly creating ex nihilo. I was hoping that there is a sense that one can still create ex nihilo via creating any system of laws one wants with computer code, but maybe not. So perhaps I'll just have to drop the simulation analogy for the time being.

            What I'm not aware is that any, any material event has been caused by anything personal, that wasn't an animal. Do you think this is what underlies everything? Why?

            I'm going to suppose that you mean to temporarily exclude Homo sapiens from the category 'animal'. Here's how I think one can act differently based on whether you believe people are ultimately just mechanistic or not. I suppose there is some 'I' which is not exhausted by some finite mechanistic description. Whether the infinite version exists now or will only exist after God and his creation finish making me who I am seems somewhat immaterial. I suppose the same of other people, as well. One result of this is that there is infinite potential beauty and goodness and excellence which can be built into/​drawn out of every single person. We each have a potential infinity to contribute, and we undoubtedly need others' help—including deep collaboration—to contribute it. I've never seen a secular humanist express anything like this idea and I surmise that they are philosophically prohibited from doing so.

            You, on the other hand, seem to require a miracle in order for there to be anything personal. Let's suppose that a miracle is actually consistent with an underlying order (where 'order' can be personal), but we don't yet know the mechanism. Well, it could be that some individual is the only one who can pull off that feat until [s]he figures out and explains how [s]he did it. But once the explanation is present, it is no longer a 'miracle'. You the naturalist would probably appeal to the post-explanation state and say, "See, everything is mechanical!" When you repeatedly find a way to conclude that the ultimate order is mechanical—when that conclusion doesn't seem to be the only one warranted by the evidence—I increasingly surmise that you are presupposing that the final order is mechanical, instead of concluding it. Presuppositions can accrue evidence in their favor.

            Needless to say social interactions, human behavior is very difficult to predict given the complexity of human minds and the number of variables involved.

            That does seem to be the case. And yet, how much of it can be traced to the attempts by humans to dominate other humans using the tools of science? Humans are pretty good at gaming the system and altering themselves when an attempt is made to dominate them. Sometimes this process takes multiple generations. But what if we were to trace the complexity you describe to the attempt to impose some finite order (e.g. an ideology) on humanity? Of course, one possibility is that we just haven't found the right ideology. But another is that there is no finite system which will work. It could be that humans just aren't mechanical at their core.

            Could it be the very assumption that people are mechanical (and thus controllable) that is responsible for the incredible amount of unpredictable complexity you observe? After all, if a scientific study is published that this segment of people is like X, that gives everyone else an immediate ability to gain a competitive advantage over that segment of people. Well, what stops that segment from doing their best to hide the X-ness and ultimately change so that they are no longer like X, thereby eliminating the competitive advantage? The mere fact of competition—which exists in academia just as much as in the free market—would seem to create an intentional muddying of the waters, an intentional complexifying to defeat prediction.

            What if instead, each of us had unique strengths (as well as weaknesses), such that there really is enough out there for all of us to do and be, if only we would cooperate (I'm not against all competition btw)? But this thought-form requires some sort of design, because evolution is happy to have most biological lines go extinct. What I'm supposing here is really the perfect antithesis to evolution. Nevertheless, if there is a way for there to be enough for all to not only exist in safety and health but continue to excel including friendly competition, then there would be a basis for cooperation. Cooperation requires predictability. How predictable humans are might be largely contingent on whether they trust those around them. I don't think it's a mistake that the best current translation of the words traditionally translated 'faith' and 'believe' (pistis and pisteuō) is actually 'trust'.

            But this scenario I just sketched probably goes against much of what you've been taught; some possibilities:

                 (1) it violates the formalism of liberalism (classical or progressive)
                 (2) it violates mechanistic naturalism
                 (3) it violates Hobbes' state of nature
                 (4) it violates the pattern of evolution
                 (5) it violates the "limited resources" belief
                 (6) it requires the existence of a Perfect Person
                 (7) reality is not best described by mechanical law + randomness

            What if the unpredictable (or not-very-predictable) element in that "complexity" you describe is due to disordered personhood? Now, I can only support 'disordered' by reference to something 'more ordered', and I would in no way want to use myself as an exemplar except along a few dimensions where I might possibly be doing a better job than most. But on this scenario, what would really count as evidence is a decrease in disorder—whether observed in others or yourself. Does that make sense?

          • I want to revisit the following, after seeing you use the phrase "phenomena which follow a consistent order" with @jimhillclimber:disqus.

            BGA: Is there any doubt there is a natural world and consistent order? Is it not then up to the supernaturalist to show there is something more?

            The term 'consistent order' seems exceedingly vague. There is self-consistency and there is consistency to some external standard. If some particular person is inconsistent, that can mean self-contradiction but it can also mean that his/her behavior was inconsistent with my model because my model was somehow wrong (including incomplete, in the sense that Newtonian mechanics is less complete than general relativity).

            I see no reason to not think that there can be consistent and inconsistent persons, where 'consistency' does not entail "can be described by some Turing machine", but does entail "the lack of self-contradiction". In terms of philosophy of time, we can have a growing block universe instead of a block universe. We can live in an open system instead of a closed system. We can be incomplete persons, such that God can add more to us, without that adding being the creation of inconsistency.

            Note that what we thought were "laws of nature" might just turn out to be approximations. And there may be ways to get around things we currently think are impossible. Take for example the Alcubierre drive, which is comparable to Star Trek's warp drive except that it runs on exotic matter (here: negative mass) rather than antimatter. It would allow for the equivalent of faster-than-light travel, except that technically one would be shrinking space ahead and expanding it behind, thus not actually breaking the light speed barrier. So it seems that aside perhaps for the law of non-contradiction, any other law can be "broken" via pivoting off of some deeper law.

            If 'naturalism' can account for all of the above, then it appears to be a rather abstract beast which ultimately asserts two things:

                 (1) there are no true contradictions
                 (2) disparate parts of reality will ultimately be connected via some kind of lawfulness

            But something this abstract can match seemingly 'supernatural' scriptures, such as:

            In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7–10)

            What is this other than (2) happening through/​within a person instead of an equation? Said "riches of his grace" would refer to an open system. Our "trespasses" are things that cause breakage instead of unity-in-diversity. One possible breakage could be insisting that reality is simpler than in fact it is, as if we've explored pretty much all of it rather than an infinitesimal sliver. But wait, I thought that 'naturalism' was supposed to prohibit such things!

          • >The term 'consistent order' seems exceedingly vague.

            It means the laws of nature do not change and always operate the same way.

            >Note that what we thought were "laws of nature" might just turn out to be approximations.

            Sure, natiralism says that there is some underlying order that things are not ultimately arbitrary or random.

            >If 'naturalism' can account for all of the above, then it appears to be a rather abstract beast which ultimately asserts two things:

            (1) there are no true contradictions
            (2) disparate parts of reality will ultimately be connected via some kind of lawfulness

            Yes it is very abstract, and I'd agree with those points as being assumptions consistent with naturalism.

            >But something this abstract can match seemingly 'supernatural' scriptures, such as

            Sure if the interpretation is that nothing supernatural is going on there. But "Christ" is usually thought of as being a supernatural god.

            >What is this other than (2) happening

            I don't know ,"to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" is very vague.

            >Said "riches of his grace" would refer to an open system. Our "trespasses" are things that cause breakage instead of unity-in-diversity.

            It's up to you how you interpret scripture.

            >But wait, I thought that 'naturalism' was supposed to prohibit such things!

            No, naturalism only prohibits the supernatural. You can redefine scripture to be natural, then we just move on to whether there is sufficient reason to believe it's true. You also can define god to be the cosmos, or the necessary part or true reality which is personal, and then yes, this is a naturalist perspective.

          • LB: The term 'consistent order' seems exceedingly vague.

            BGA: It means the laws of nature do not change and always operate the same way.

            The fundamental order might never change, but who is to say that our scientists are tracking the fundamental order, vs. some contingent order which could in fact change radically with the evolution of the universe? Is there a metaphysical guarantee that what we think is constant, actually is?

            Sure, natiralism says that there is some underlying order that things are not ultimately arbitrary or random.

            Plenty of Christians say that God doesn't change and that he keeps his promises. Why isn't that a valid version of "some underlying order"? Why couldn't miracles be to our scientific laws as general relativity and quantum field theory were to Newtonian mechanics? We can start with miraculous cures to cancer, which we know do happen. What's nice about those is that the miracle could be rather subtle (if indeed it is a miracle); it doesn't have to be something crazy like regrowing an amputated limb. (But in fact, a miraculously cured cancer almost surely adds more utility to reality than a restored limb.)

            But "Christ" is usually thought of as being a supernatural god.

            How is Jesus 'supernatural' if he's actually related to the fundamental order underlying nature? It's just that we Christians believe that said order is personal (with goals, will, ability to communicate) instead of some impersonal mathematical equation.

            BGA: You also can define god to be the cosmos, or the necessary part or true reality which is personal, and then yes, this is a naturalist perspective.

            That's pantheism/​panentheism. But you allowed for another options:

            LB: Since we cannot prove that we don't live in a simulated reality, we should not assume we can say much of anything about 'reality'.

            BGA: Yes I agree in this context. Unless we deal with this issue we can't say anything about reality. We can only say things about what for all we know may be a simulation, dream, illusion.

            The creators and maintainers of that simulation are not part of what the simulation inhabitants would call 'the cosmos'.

          • >scientists are tracking the fundamental order, vs. some contingent order which could in fact change radically with the evolution of the universe?

            I couldn't tell you.

            >Is there a metaphysical guarantee that what we think is constant, actually is?

            Not that I know of.

            >Why isn't that a valid version of "some underlying order"?

            It could be but this would make god a determined entity with no "free" will. God's thoughts and actions would be determined by this order. The label "God" would be confusing for such an entity

            >Why couldn't miracles be to our scientific laws as general relativity and quantum field theory were to Newtonian mechanics?

            If you mean by miracles, unexplained phenomena, I don't see why not. But then just note the phenomena is unexplained, calling it a miracle implies the explanation is known, for example that a prayer to a dead bishop caused cancer to go away.

            >We can start with miraculous cures to cancer, which we know do happen.

            I'm not aware of any. I am aware that cancer goes into remission sometimes without treatment, but that isn't a "cure". But I know little of how cancer works.

            >How is Jesus 'supernatural' if he's actually related to the fundamental order underlying nature?

            I don't know, I thought Christians thought at least some part of their deity was supernatural, but if you don't youre a Christian naturalist. Rising from the dead I would have thought was a supernatural phenomena.

            >It's just that we Christians believe that said order is personal (with goals, will, ability to communicate) instead of some impersonal mathematical equation.

            Ok, I don't see any good evidence of this, but that's another topic.

          • BGA: Sure, natiralism says that there is some underlying order that things are not ultimately arbitrary or random.

            LB: Plenty of Christians say that God doesn't change and that he keeps his promises. Why isn't that a valid version of "some underlying order"?

            BGA: It could be but this would make god a determined entity with no "free" will. God's thoughts and actions would be determined by this order. The label "God" would be confusing for such an entity

            Why are you supposing that there would be an order more fundamental than God? You seem to be sneakily presupposing that the final order is in fact impersonal, like a mathematical equation. If nothing controls God's actions but God, then it's not clear what it means to call him "determined".

            But then just note the phenomena is unexplained, calling it a miracle implies the explanation is known, for example that a prayer to a dead bishop caused cancer to go away.

            You seem to be confusing mechanistic explanations (which are absent for miracles to be miracles) and 'personal' explanations (which can be present). I suggest taking a gander at Kenny Pearce's blog post Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles. What really seems to be going on here is that you deeply believe that the final explanation will always be mechanistic, not personal. Despite the fact that persons can be orderly (they don't have to be unstable, chaotic, etc.).

            I don't know, I thought Christians thought at least some part of their deity was supernatural, but if you don't youre a Christian naturalist.

            The more we talk, the more I don't think I fit into your naturalism. I don't think your naturalism is sufficiently captured by what I wrote earlier—

            LB: If 'naturalism' can account for all of the above, then it appears to be a rather abstract beast which ultimately asserts two things:

                 (1) there are no true contradictions
                 (2) disparate parts of reality will ultimately be connected via some kind of lawfulness

            —it seems you need at least a (3). I'm trying to suss it out, but I am having difficulty.

            LB: It's just that we Christians believe that said order is personal (with goals, will, ability to communicate) instead of some impersonal mathematical equation.

            BGA: Ok, I don't see any good evidence of this, but that's another topic.

            My suspicion is that your deepest presuppositions mean you will not possibly see good evidence.

          • >Why are you supposing that there would be an order more fundamental than God?

            If God is consistent in a Naturalism way it would be because his thoughts and intentions follow some underlying order rather than being an exercise of free will. But if not it would be theism. I.e. the order is a result of God's freely willed intention.

            >What really seems to be going on here is that you deeply believe that the final explanation will always be mechanistic, not personal.

            I do believe that, it's part of my world view so yes I guess it's deeply held, but not necessarily strongly held. I try to have beliefs loosely held.

            I'd like to see any evidence for what you'd call a miracle, what you think is a miracle, and why ultimately you would call it's cause personal as opposed to natural, or mechanistic if you like .

          • If God is consistent in a Naturalism way it would be because his thoughts and intentions follow some underlying order rather than being an exercise of free will.

            Why can't the order be God? Why must there be something 'underlying'? You seem to be advancing an extremely tendentious understanding of 'order', as if it were obvious.

            LB: What really seems to be going on here is that you deeply believe that the final explanation will always be mechanistic, not personal.

            BGA: I do believe that, it's part of my world view so yes I guess it's deeply held, but not necessarily strongly held. I try to have beliefs loosely held.

            Why do you hold to it so deeply, when the scientific enterprise which has delivered us the equations of GR and QFT has failed to deliver nearly as much when it comes to persons? (I'm thinking of the social sciences.) I get that you probably think that ultimately, with enough equations, we'll make the same sort of progress in the social sciences as we have made in physics and chemistry. But is this actually a well-founded belief? Or … is it more of a wild hope?

            I'd like to see any evidence for what you'd call a miracle, what you think is a miracle, and why ultimately you would call it's cause personal as opposed to natural, or mechanistic if you like .

            I don't actually think miracles should have any convincing power over "Look here!"—Jesus said that powers not intending to further God's purposes will deploy them and I find that entirely consistent with Deut 12:32–13:5. If might ≠ right, then power does not automatically point to goodness.

            But I don't see why 'natural' has to be set over against 'personal'. What really seems to be going on here, if I may go out on a limb, is a deep presupposition that there exists nothing other than disordered personhood, which militates against God existing and favors mechanism as our last best hope for peace. After all, if there is no true Form of Personhood Perfect Person, then the only kind of 'better' available to us is to become more like some machine. It's not like we're randomly going to become much better and evolution selects for survival, not goodness.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I won't attempt to diagnose Brian, but speaking on behalf of my former self, I would say that the tension was not so much between order and personhood, but (relatedly) between order and surprise. Things surprise us when they shatter our preconceived notions of order and symmetry. Surprises appear to us first as disorder. But then very often we end up finding that the order-breaking surprise was in fact an intimation of a higher and more subtly beautiful order. Something shatters the cruder beauty of Newtonian mechanics, but then we end with the subtler and more encompassing beauty of Einstein's relativity, that sort of thing.

            OTOH, I think my read on this is closely related to your read, because surprise is closely related to personhood. A good indicator that you are talking to a real person is: they periodically surprise you. If he or she was a robot, you could (in principle) ascertain and anticipate all of his or her behaviors. But if he or she is the sort of bottomless mystery that we call a "person", you should expect to be surprised from time to time.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            And relatedly, surprise is closely related to "life" and "freedom". If everything snaps into a crystalline structure of static order, then there can be no surprises and there is no room for real freedom. Freedom therefore often presents as antithetical to order, when perhaps it is really just a subtler and more dynamic form of order.

          • I like applying the paradigm shift aspect of scientific progress to theology: what seem like problems in any given theological system might be real problems within that system, but can they be fixed by a better understanding? I have seen something like this in investigating theories of the atonement, for example. I know it can be extremely disconcerting to have so much chaotic change even if there's an underlying order that is becoming more articulate. And I also know that this very process will be called 'rationalizing' by many atheists. However, it's not clear they are doing anything different themselves, once one properly defines 'religion'. (See Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality; an article to get your feet wet is A New Philosophical Guide for the Sciences: Ontology without Reduction.)

            I completely agree with your analysis of 'surprise'; I remember thinking very similar thoughts a while ago when I was armchair-investigating whether emotion is necessarily anti-rational or at best non-rational. My conclusion was no, there can be non-disordered personhood, which relies on non-disordered emotions, such that they can be key elements to exploring more of reality than any formal system (= instantiated version of 'reason') permits. Now, is it surprising that you and I align so well on surprise? I can't decide. :-D

            What's obnoxious is a kind of ¿shell game?, whereby every time a better understanding of 'reason' is discovered, people say, "Oh, I meant that all along." I've heard that there are three stages that an upheaval-category scientific discovery goes through: neglect, vociferous rejection, and acceptance where those who used to vociferously object claim to have believed it all along—if not invented it. I know the term 'shell game' connotes intentional misleading instead of say the noetic effects of sin; my use of ¿? can be read to question whether intent was present. It's like we forget big swaths of the learning process and maturing process (maybe because they were too painful?) and then tell false narratives of how we got here. Descartes and his pretending to sunder himself from tradition is the archetypal example. Those false narratives will include a sense that we're at the final resting place—all the rest is "just detail". (In Descartes' example, human government could be made 'geometric' because hey, it works for the planets!)

            Now, this idea that there is a "bottomless mystery that we call a 'person'" seems awfully teleological and to have problems similar to the idea that aesthetics are objective instead of purely subjective. And yet, either there is something telos-like which is worth exploring/​building, or we are lawlessly pursuing random† subjective tastes with zero guaranteed synchronization with others and plenty of counter-indications from an evolutionary process which results in mostly dead ends. I have a sneaking suspicion that it is [largely or at least significantly] because the authorities (sadly, a lot of Christians) thought they knew too much about others' telea and thus tried to shape humans in the image of humans that the idea was discredited. "A place for everyone and everyone in his place." I am comforted that the Bible is harshest on human arrogance and the religious elite. :-|

             
            † Actually, humans are the most imitative creatures of all and so it's more like an interpretation of the Tower of Babel I came up with, whereby "nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them" is limited by a pathetic imagination. There's a fun pathological example of someone who is 'omnipotent' per the definition "can do whatever one wants": McEar, a being who only ever wants to scratch his ear. Well, those building the Tower could be a bunch of McEars, with God being frustrated that they won't explore the fantastic creation he's made for them (and not just them—humankind was meant to be priests and rulers, not mere exploiters).

          • >I'm not saying it can't be, but the question becomes is it ultimately an order, or arbitrary? If it is the result of will alone, I not contingent on any other natural cause, and the order can be changed with no reference to any law or standard, then that's theism, not naturalusm.

            >Why do you hold to it so deeply,

            I'm not exactly sure I do!

            >I get that you probably think that ultimately, with enough equations, we'll make the same sort of progress in the social sciences as we have made in physics and chemistry.

            No, I don't think that, I rather doubt social sciences will achieve much, like economics, for many issues I think it's too complex, too many variables, externalities.

            >But I don't see why 'natural' has to be set over against 'personal'.

            Ok, it's a way to distinguish between a theist worldview and an atheist world view. Naturalism really is the positive version of atheism, ie defined by what we believe not what we lack belief, and it also excludes non-theistic supernatural claims.

            It's to describe people who accept the cosmos as we generally observe it is all there is. That it operates following an order in predictable ways, rather than arbitrarily. Compared to what we generally observe being part, but there is another fundamentslly different reality or way of being or source of power or way to affect the world that is different and works on different or no rules.

          • LB: Why can't the order be God? Why must there be something 'underlying'? You seem to be advancing an extremely tendentious understanding of 'order', as if it were obvious.

            BGA: I'm not saying it can't be, but the question becomes is it ultimately an order, or arbitrary? If it is the result of will alone, I not contingent on any other natural cause, and the order can be changed with no reference to any law or standard, then that's theism, not naturalusm.

            If it is will alone, then you have voluntarism, which is a tendentious theology. I need to explore this more, but there has been a long debate between voluntarism and intellectualism in theology which came to an explosive head in Duns Scotus and incidentally, probably sowed crucial seeds for scientific inquiry[1]. (You're welcome.) My own stance is that any order we can point to doesn't have to be the final order—and you seem to have fully agreed. As @jimhillclimber:disqus put it, we can always be surprised by there being a deeper order. Well, what are we really doing if we assert that the most fundamental order must be expressed by a mathematical equation or a Turing machine? Why can't we say that most fundamentally, there are good reasons? (i.e. God is good)

            Permit me to make a car analogy. How much code will it take for driverless cars to be maximally safe? We can imagine code that works pretty well, but gets confused with a new situation such a pilot car. If there is some sense that humans can always do better than how much ever code there is, then we can point to some sort of additional kind of complexity that is adaptable to new situations in a way that no amount of computer code can accomplish (without, say, having a runaway problem with bugs). Now I know there are a number of possible objections here; the point is to try and draw out a possible empirical difference between ultimate reality being 'personal' vs. 'impersonal'. The former allows for infinite variety that is lawful in a different way than we currently understand mathematical equations and computer programs to be lawful. It's a teleological lawfulness instead of a mechanical lawfulness.

            In contrast, you seem to be presupposing that anything other than mechanical lawfulness is 'arbitrary'. Again, I think that is extraordinarily tendentious. I suspect the only way to really establish that is to have "a deep presupposition that there exists nothing other than disordered personhood". In that context, a will uncontrolled by mathematical equations cannot possibly have a different kind of order. It would just be arbitrary. I realize that there are a number of cooperating beliefs/​ideologies which function to deny that there could possibly be any sort of infinite order to personhood; see for example my (1)–(6). I would add:

                 (7) reality is not best described by mechanical law + randomness

            David Bohm claimed that this is actually a philosophical choice[2] and I agree wholeheartedly. You can always describe reality with some formalism as best you can, and assign any badness in fit to "noise". If you don't have the tools to find extant patterns in the noise, I'll bet you could easily get locked in to believing that is the best description of reality. But in fact, you'd be in danger of being trapped under a philosophical "canopy" of your own making, a prison with bars which cannot be touched, seen, tasted, heard, or smelled. We humans really can blind ourselves to reality being any different than we think it to be.

            Ok, let's see what you make of the above before I continue. We might just be making progress, and I find that exciting.

             
            [1] Amos Funkenstein:

                Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God's omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz's contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

            [2] David Bohm:

                The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

          • Martin Zeichner

            I don't want to make a laundry list of what I agree with here. I'll just start at the end.I agree with all of what you write unless I specifically say that I don't. It goes without saying that all this is my opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

            If the justification for your position is, "Science works!", then it's scientism. If your justification is something else, what is it?

            It's not a question of a bald assertion that "Science works!" Scientists, the humans that comprise the institution, are interested, for their own enlightened self interest, in finding things and Ideas that work for everyone all over the world. From Copernicus to Lawrence Krauss. This is why reproducibility is so important. If other scientists cannot, in principal at least, reproduce the claim of another then the claim remains a claim. Not even an hypothesis much less a theory. Maybe it's a speculation, an entertaining flight of fancy, but no more authoritative than that. Reproducibility has, of late, fallen into disfavor to the benefit of original research. This is due, I think, to the competition for grant money, either from the government, private foundations, or private industries. "Results! I demand results for what I'm paying you ."

            I might say that those people that believe that science is the only, or the best, way to know things are 'scientismists', to coin a word. But all that does is create yet another label that has to be explained. It ultimately gets us nowhere.

            I got your alternative metaphysic right here.

            That's my rant and I'm sticking to it.

          • //I think it is rational when you have no positive definition of x, no observations (direct or indirect) of x, and no one can say how the existence of x can be demonstrated, that it is not justified to believe x exists.//

            So, I am not conscious :-(

          • Reality is apparently described by regularities that we label "physical laws". If these regularities are indeed only apparent and they are sometimes broken, then this is a supernatural occurrence?

          • I really can't tell you much about what a supernatural phenomena is supposed to be, I find the concept poorly defined and seemingly contradictory.

            I don't think supernaturalists consider it a violation of these laws, so much as these laws are ignored and it happens anyway.

            It seems they mean phenomena that occur as a result of intention alone and make use of no material or immaterial mechanism, but just happen by force of will. They may us the term spiritual, but this also is undefined, at least in a positive way.

          • DB: Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural?
            ds: Why ask me?
            Were you asked?

            Nope. My bad. I wasn't paying close enough attention to the post's addressee.

          • Martin Zeichner

            Were you asked?...

            Well this is a public forum. You might say that dougshaver should have been more polite before joining the conversation. but that would be the worst thing that you might say about his comment.

            ...I don't think it's unreasonable to ask whether Brian Green Adams was making an empirical statement or outlining a metaphysical consequence of his belief system. It appears to be the latter:

            I agree.

            If Brian cannot articulate any empirical observations which would falsify his way of looking at things, then at least by Karl Popper's definition, he is not asserting anything empirical or scientific:

            Again I agree. But I think that the key word here is 'articulate' It seems that the criteria for making authoritative statements in theology or in philosophy is how articulate one is.

            There's nothing wrong with Brian advancing a contrary metaphysic to Dennis Bonnette. What's problematic if Brian won't admit that he is doing this, and not being 'scientific'. Or, if he thinks he is being 'scientific', I think the burden is on him to provide a compelling definition of that term.

            Again, I agree. (Getting a bit boring).

            If you are willing to grant that BGA is advancing an alternative metaphysic then I would have no problem if you were to grant the same to myself or anyone else in the world. Even if any of those people were to deny doing so.

            As far as I'm concerned to place the burden on BGA or anyone else to provide a definition is unnecessary. That person may never have thought about it in those terms before; which gets back to the issue of articulateness.

          • Certain people, like @disqus_fRI0oOZiFh:disqus, are especially sensitive to being asked to defend statements they have not explicitly made. (Sometimes I am as well!) I was merely pointing out in this case that he wasn't being so-asked.

            As to articulateness, I think one's strength of objection and confidence in alternative should be tempered by one's ability to be articulate. I also think that those on the other side have an intellectual duty to offer at least some help in the articulation process; I think I have shown that I regularly do this? (Actually, I'm pretty sure that on average, I do this more for atheists than they do for me.)

            If you're wondering why I might be especially hard on @briangreenadams:disqus, it is because he is a trial lawyer, so I expect him to be able to handle it.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"Nothing supernatural has ever been observed."
            Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural?

            "Why ask me?" I didn't ask you! Look up above. That was a reply to BGA!

            As to your observations about naturalism accepting the reality of things that cannot be directly observed, you are quite right. Simply put, my fingers typed something they ought not have!

            My quote: "This is merely another naturalistic assumption, namely, that only things directly observed can be real."

            You rightly pounced upon me for writing that! It is plain stupid. Of course, I know better as evinced by this from me: "just like we reason from observable phenomena in physics back to forces and particles too small to be directly observed."

            Naturalism demands empirical verification for scientific statements, but does not limit reality to what can be directly observed. In fact, the point I was making in that paragraph was that proofs for God work much the same way that scientists work from observable phenomena back to particles that cannot be directly observed.

            How do you serve humble pie? Mea culpa.

            I was just trying to point out that the proofs for God work the same way, by arguing from effect to cause.

            In defense of my sanity, I will claim that I was tripped up by BGA's claim: ""Nothing supernatural has ever been observed." I should have merely pointed out that the supernatural is not directly observed, but rather indirectly observed the same way we argue from the effects of particles to their existence.

            I realize you neither accept any proofs for God nor miraculous evidence of the supernatural. That is a story for another day.

          • I didn't ask you! Look up above. That was a reply to BGA!

            I apologize for my inattentiveness.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            It wasn't a mortal sin. Not even a venial one. :-)

          • Martin Zeichner

            Why ask me? I have never argued that whatever has not been observed cannot be real. No naturalist has ever observed a quark, but most of them feel pretty sure that quarks are real.

            Correct. You might even say the same thing about bacteria, or atoms. They were also unseen until the invention of the microscope and the electron microscope. However they help to provide explanations for observed phenomena. Same as quarks,

            I find it interesting how a given phenomenon can start out as metaphysics, become physics and then become metaphysics again.

            I don’t believe that is a fair representation of naturalism.

            The existence of those forces and particles must be assumed in order to explain what we do observe. Naturalists do not agree that we must also assume the existence of spiritual realities in order to explain anything that we observe. That looks to us like a multiplication of entities beyond necessity.

            Occam's razor

            Your philosophical proof of the non-natural, as best I can tell, assumes its conclusion.

            As I’ve said before, I am not attempting to prove that Aristotle or Aquinas is beyond the philosophical pale. The only position I’m trying to defend right now is: Neither is naturalism.

            There are undisputably thousands of reports of possible miraculous events. Some have been debated at considerable length in this forum.

            I'm with you so far.

            My understanding is that the Catholic Church has found it necessary to have a multi-level hierarchal review system for evaluating so called 'miracles' before passing judgment on whether a given phenomenon is a miracle. A naturalistic process that passes judgment on supernaturalistic claims. How can one then deny the existence of naturalistic phenomena?

          • "Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural?"

            You can't observe it, it doesn't exist. If you believe nlit exists say why. I see no way to detect it in any way.

            "This is merely another naturalistic assumption, namely, that only things directly observed can be real."

            No, of course not, who ever said direct observation?

            >by means of reasoning from effects back to causes,

            Then please just do this. Tell us what is supernatural and why it is more likely that the cause is not natural.

            >the existence of thousands of possibly miraculous events

            You first need to establish that it is possible. Everything I've ever heard advanced as supernatural sounds impossible to me.

            "each of which must be examined separately in accordance with the norms of natural science, philosophy, and theology."

            I'm not aware of these norms. Just present the evidence or argument for anything supernatural ever happening. I'm afraid I don't see why I should accept any norms of theology. What would these be?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, you did say one thing I agree with here:

            Quoting me: "This is merely another naturalistic assumption, namely, that only things directly observed can be real."
            Quoting you:
            No, of course not, who ever said direct observation?

            You are quite right. I should have said that your statement, ""Nothing supernatural has ever been observed," is correct if you mean by that that no supernatural entity is directly observable, but I would argue that such entities can be indirectly observed by arguing from effect to cause, just as scientists argue from observable phenomena to the existence of unobservable subatomic particles.

            I am fully aware that you do not accept any proofs for God's existence or for the supernatural implications of miraculous events. That is material for another day.

          • >but I would argue that such entities can be indirectly observed by arguing from effect to cause

            Then do it, this would defeat naturalism. But if the argument is from ignorance, that we are unaware of a natural explanation, yes i would not assume the cause was supernatural.

            Let us take dark energy. This is observed very indirectly, we have no idea what it is .who knows, it might be god, but we shouldn't assume it is should we? Wouldn't that be like assuming lighting was caused by Zeus, before we understood electricity?

            How does one determine a cause is likely supernatural?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Then do it, this would defeat naturalism."

            No need. Naturalism has already been defeated. Read my article above. Naturalism is a philosophical position based on a number of unfounded assumptions.

            "How does one determine a cause is likely supernatural?"

            That has already been explained in detail as well. See this:
            https://strangenotions.com/how-gods-nature-is-known-the-three-fold-way/

          • I have read both articles and it hasn't been defeated. You are arguing from ignorance.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Then offer to the readers of this thread the rational foundations for each of the assumptions of naturalism which I delineate in my article.

          • I have laid out where many of the assumptions you lay out are irrelevant to naturalism.

            In fact I don't think metaphysical naturalism requires any assumptions specific to it.

            That the he natural world exists and is ordered is not in dispute, is it? So it's rational to believe in nature, and there is no convincing reason to believe in anything non-natural.

            Unless you are willing to define and argue for the existence of something non-natural I don't see why I should assume it is real.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If you read the article carefully, you would realize that naturalism entails an epistemological inconsistency, because of its assumed physicalist account of sensation, which results in the very existence of the external universe being an assumption. So, yes, the very existence of the natural world IS in dispute -- given some of naturalism's presuppositions.

            The existence of order in the natural world also, needs to be explained, or else, is a disputable assumption.

            Again your assertion that "there is no convincing reason to believe in anything non-natural" is itself an unproven claim, which constitutes another assumption of naturalism.

            It is not my assumptions which need to be defended here, but those of naturalism -- which my article demonstrates has many in need of rational defense, and which naturalism does not offer.

          • >because of its assumed physicalist account of sensation,

            How is this assumed? We have massive observation of physical sensation, we understand the mechanism, we've even created artificial sensation that is much better than human.

            >the very existence of the external universe being an assumption

            This is not an assumption of naturalism, it is a necessary assumption of allstandpoints except sollopsism. Even if your a theist you need to assume this.

            >So, yes, the very existence of the natural world IS in dispute -- given some of naturalism's presuppositions.

            Well, wait, do you dispute the external world exists? That anything is natural? That everything is supernatural?

            >The existence of order in the natural world also, needs to be explained

            If I see a mountain and am clueless to what it is or what explains it's existence, do I need to assume it exists?

            >Again your assertion that "there is no convincing reason to believe in anything non-natural" is itself an unproven claim, which constitutes another assumption of naturalism.

            No sir, I don't think it is. It's my position, based on experience like this. You are the one who believes I the supernatural. And if it exists I'd really like to know. Honestly. Please tell me what it is and why is I ought to be convinced.

            Again, you haven't put foreward assumptions that are part of naturalism or are not warranted.

            Honestly Dr Bonnette I'm not being stubborn, but it really does seem that your position is that of the chorus in Clouds, laughing at Socrates for believing that rain comes from Clouds, not the gods because he can't explain the water cycle.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "We have massive observation of physical sensation, we understand the mechanism, we've even created artificial sensation that is much better than human."

            You honestly do not see how all this presupposes a realist epistemology? Your "massive observation" assumes that the physical world exists and that you know it directly.

            Yet, if you read carefully the section of my paper entitled, "Naturalism's Version of Extramental Realism," you should understand that your own science leads you to have to say what you first know is neural patterns inside your brain.

            So, what is it? Do you first know external physical reality? Or, solely neural patterns inside your brain? Either way leads to a peck of epistemic troubles -- as I explain in the article.

            If you assume you know first the extramental realities, then you are led -- by your own tracing of the mechanism of sensation from external object to internal neural patterns in the brain -- to deny that you do so. But if you assume you know first solely intracranial neural patterns, you will never get to the external physical world so as to develop the science that leads you to your assumed internal neural patterns.

            I have yet to see anyone on this site directly attempt to untangle this web of contradictions which flow -- as I point out in the article -- from your assumed physicalist explanation of sensation.

            And if you think I am making up the physicalist nature of your science of perception, look at your own words:

            "We have massive observation of physical sensation, we understand the mechanism, we've even created artificial sensation that is much better than human."

            Truth is that there are so many assumptions beneath naturalism in its various contending forms that I could not explain them all in just 2800 words.

            Is it not possible that the only reason you don't see all the assumptions is because you assume they are not there?

          • >You honestly do not see how all this presupposes a realist epistemology?

            Oh I absolutely see this, but this is a necessary assumption irrespective of if one is a theist or naturalist. What it is not is an assumption of supernatural phenomena. It simply assumes that what is observed is usually real and that the more often and consistent it is observed the more likely it is to be the case.

            I see no alternative but to make this assumption.

            >Yet, if you read carefully the section of my paper entitled,

            Thanks for the invitation, but I don't think I will have time to read your paper or blog anytime soon. You can just explain to me here.

            >Do you first know external physical reality? Or, solely neural patterns inside your brain?

            What thinking is, I believe, is the activity of the brain. So I don't know what my neural pathways are, I believe I have them and that is what my thoughts are. When I have an image from the external world it is because stimulus has affected my nervous system and caused me to have that mental image of it. These are my beliefs

            >If you assume you know first the extramental realities, then you are led -- by your own tracing of the mechanism of sensation from external object to internal neural patterns in the brain -- to deny that you do so.

            Afraid I don't follow, I don't see the contradictions in natural epistemology. Needless to say I don't have any solution to the problems of sollopsism or induction and I make assumptions about these, but so do theists.

            >Is it not possible that the only reason you don't see all the assumptions is because you assume they are not there?

            I'd agree with that. But I need to think it's at least probable that I'd made an assumption to be convinced. If you see more than I've acknowledged please point them out .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"Thanks for the invitation, but I don't think I will have time to read your paper or blog anytime soon. You can just explain to me here."

            Are you serious? You expect me to explain to you the logic of the arguments in my Strange Notions article -- and you won't even take the time to read the article?

            I have better things to do than waste my time doing that.

            Show signs that you have actually read my article, specifically the section to which I directed your attention, and then, perhaps, I shall attempt to respond to your specific questions or objections.

          • I thought this reply was from someone else .

            Yes I've read your SN post, no I won't have time to read papers right now.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, I won't comment on the many other assumptions of naturalism which are in the paper, but perhaps you would like to ponder one dilemma I pose which I have yet to see any naturalist directly even try to counter.

            >"When I have an image from the external world it is because stimulus has affected my nervous system and caused me to have that mental image of it."

            This is a central problem for naturalism when it accepts the standard scientific explanation of sensation combined with a physicalist understanding of nature.

            Basically, it is this: When you see a tree in front of you, do you see the tree itself, or, do you see an image of the tree somehow present in the internal neural patterns in your brain?

            The sentence I quote from you above seems to indicate that your answer would be that all you really know is the mental image of the tree. If that is so, where did you get the idea in the first place that there was an external tree from which the image is derived?

            If all you really know are internal images, then how can you even assume that there is an external physical world from which it is derived? You cannot rely on all the scientific theories and experiments that support your knowledge of how sensation works, since that presupposes that there is an external world in which all these measurements were being taken.

            But, if you say you know that external world directly in order to take all those scientific measurements and observations, why do you then conclude that all you really know are the images finally formed in your brain?

            Please do not simply point out that this is a problem for Aristotelians as well, since they, unlike naturalists, do NOT embrace a purely physicalist view of nature.

            This is a central problem for naturalism, which, as I said, has never been directly understood and confronted and answered by any naturalists on this site.

            And yes, the fuller explanation of all this is in the article you don't have time to read.

          • >When you see a tree in front of you, do you see the tree itself, or, do you see an image of the tree somehow present in the internal neural patterns in your brain?

            Seeing a tree itself IS light reflecting off a tree and the brain forming an image of it. That's what seeing is. No the image I see is not exactly what the tree "is" as I can tell from other senses and or by moving or touching the tree I can see what appears to be a rectangle is a cylinder.

            >that all you really know is the mental image of the tree.

            Yes. All I can know is what my brain thinks.

            >how can you even assume that there is an external physical world from which it is derived

            I assume it because there is no alternative. But true I don't really know. But we're back to the problem of sollopsism. I have no solution for this, do you?

            I assume the external world and induction. It's after these assumptions that we can begin to make conclusions about reality. But I fully grant you this is a house of cards. But I've yet to hear a way to resolve this with theism or anything else.

            >This is a central problem for naturalism

            I think it's a problem in any epistemology and all just make the necessary assumptions.

            I have read all of your articles and comments to me.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"that all you really know is the mental image of the tree." DB
            >"Yes. All I can know is what my brain thinks."
            BGA

            Aside from the philosophical imprecision of the statement itself, it is necessary to grasp the brutal logical implications of taking this conclusion as the literal truth.

            If true:

            1. How would you know that what we really know is a mental image?
            2. How would you know what an image is?
            3. How would you have any knowledge whatever of the referent of the image, that is, the external object?
            4. How would your science be of anything but the internal relationships of these "images?"
            5. How would you know that the real physical world exists and operates in such fashion as to make these images?
            6. How would you know of any causal connection between external things and this image?
            7. How would you know you even have a brain and not just an image of a brain?

            You say "I can tell from other senses and or by moving or touching the tree...."

            But all the other senses have exactly the same problem, that is, they do not attain the external thing itself, but only a mental image of it in your brain, according to your conclusion.

            >"how can you even assume that there is an external physical world from which it is derived" DB
            >"I assume it because there is no alternative." BGA

            How did you even come up with this alternative -- if you know nothing but mental images in your brain? If true, as I showed above, you would not even have a basis for forming a concept of an external world as an "alternative possibility."

            Naturalism involves itself in an epistemological nightmare by adding the physicalist explanation of sensation to its naturalistic worldview. You have to work through the full implications of all you really know once you accept its premises. I list a few of them above, but far greater detail is in the article itself. And you can reason it out for yourself.

            The solution which you seem to think does not exist entails a couple premises which naturalism does not hold. First, not everything is physical or physically dependent, and second, unlike naturalism, but like natural science itself, you really do have direct knowledge of external reality, not just of images in your brain.

            You may still be skeptical as to how how those two claims can be fulfilled. But, please notice that your naturalistic explanation is a non-starter for all the reasons stated above. Whatever the solution, it cannot be naturalism.

            And, if there IS no alternative solution, that does not render naturalism any better off. It still remains unintelligible and incoherent by reason of all the contradictions and dilemmas delineated above in this comment.

          • Hi, thanks for the thorough response, but I think answers to this have been covered in my remarks that I do not have any solution to the the problem of sollopsism.

            And, again, this is not an issue specific to naturalism, but any epistemology.

            My view is that, even before determining what is natural, is there some spiritual phenomena, or not, I need to take a position on the images which, intuitively, i feel to represent an external world. I'm aware of no way to place probabilities on this question. Either way I make assumptions. If I assume it is fake, it's still all I have to go on, if I require confirmation that it's real before acting I will never act, and I wouldn't be having this conversation. As there is no way to prefer one of these assumptions, but if I choose to assume it's fake and it isn't I die, but if I assume it's real and it is, great, I'll have a life, so this assumption it taken. Also needless to say it is extremely intuitive.

            That's where I'm at, as I understand it that's a pretty uncontroversial position in philosophy.

            However you seem to be convinced that if a deity, or something non-natural exists, we can be confident that our senses are providing a more or less accurate mental image of reality? If so, how do you get there?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            As you make rather clear yourself, your naturalism is based on a number of assumptions -- which was the main point of my article.

            >"I need to take a position on the images which, intuitively, I feel to represent an external world"

            My point would be to ask why you even consider that your "images" represent an "external world," if you did not somehow have a direct knowledge of an external world -- which your own position paradoxically denies, since you maintain that all you know are "images?"

            Images are not external things, as you well know. So, how do you even get the notion that they are mere images, and not the external things themselves? This position appears to me entirely incoherent, unless you have some direct knowledge of the external world. Otherwise, you would simply take the images as being the "real world."

            >"However you seem to be convinced that if a deity, or something non-natural exists, we can be confident that our senses are providing a more or less accurate mental image of reality? If so, how do you get there?"

            My epistemology in no way relies on God's existence, nor on trusting our senses to give us an "accurate mental image of [external] reality."

            My point is that you simply do not start with problems about "images" as representations of "external reality," unless you have already imbibed the "causal theory of perception," which presumes that all you know are internal images of external things.

            This theory (the causal theory of perception) was a mistaken result of Descartes thinking that all cognitive experience was the product of physical mechanisms -- so that "images" or "ideas" or "mental impressions" of the outside world are caused by the series of nerve impulses that originate from outside stimuli and proceed to the interior of the brain. This again is based on the same physicalist assumption made by most naturalists.

            A realist epistemology simply starts with what is immediately evident in sense experience, that is, that what we first know (unless we are doing the mental gymnastics of idealism) is external things, and from them we then form images which are available on recall. Thus, common sense and direct experience tells me that I first encounter a lion at my door, but only when I close the door, do I now recall an image of the lion and not the lion itself.

            The image is not the lion, but a recalled impressed sensible species of the lion which had been previously directly experienced. Descartes got the whole philosophical world mired in a false problem caused by mistakenly making cognition into a purely mechanical entity.

            Just try noticing your own experience. It is not of "images,
            but external things. In order to reduce them to just "images," you have to impose a mechanistic/physicalist theory of how external forces act on your external sense organs and thus produce in your brain neural "duplicates" of the external objects.

            That is a great theory, but it just is not what we actually experience. We experience external reality first, and form images from it second. This is all about getting one's epistemology freed from naturalism's physicalist metaphysical account of how it works -- and back to the common sense reality that mankind naturally experiences.

            Thomism is not naive about all this, but rather represents a sophisticated common sense explanation of how this works.

          • >As you make rather clear yourself, your naturalism is based on a number of assumptions -- which was the main point of my article.

            No I don't. My naturalism is not based on these assumptions. My epistemology is. My position as a naturalist is a conclusion of my epistemology.

            >My point would be to ask why you even consider that your "images" represent an "external world,"

            I didn't. I mean obviously as a child when I first became aware it was intuitive and reinforced by others, it's only when I read Descartes that I began to question this. And since that time I've not presumed this, I've considered idealism as well.

            >if you did not somehow have a direct knowledge of an external world

            What do you mean by "direct knowledge"?

            >So, how do you even get the notion that they are mere images, and not the external things themselves?

            By learning about biology, physics, optics, by comparing with others. For example learning that the lens of the eye flips the image and the brain flips it back.

            >This position appears to me entirely incoherent, unless you have some direct knowledge of the external world.

            What is the contradiction?

            >My point is that you simply do not start with problems about "images" as representations of "external reality," unless you have already imbibed the "causal theory of perception," which presumes that all you know are internal images of external things.

            I didn't start with that. I started with global skepticism. I then consider since I have no way of confirming whether everything is real or fake or a mixture, what should I do?

            >A realist epistemology simply starts with what is immediately evident in sense experience, that is, that what we first know (unless we are doing the mental gymnastics of idealism) is external things, and from them we then form images which are available on recall.

            But how do you know? Do you just assume because you sense something that it is real? How have you ruled out idealism? Sounds like we do the same thing, more or less.

            >We experience external reality first, and form images from it second.

            I don't think this is true. Notably, stimulus from the outside works at different speeds for different senses, and it's been shown that the brain then consolidates these so that we experience mentally about a half second after things occur.

            And natiralism is dependent on none of this, as you've noted, you get to a realist epistemology with no requirement for anything non natural, right?

          • DB: My point is that you simply do not start with problems about "images" as representations of "external reality," unless you have already imbibed the "causal theory of perception," which presumes that all you know are internal images of external things.

            BGA: I started with global skepticism.

            Can you cite any developmental psychology to support the idea that any human "starts" with "global skepticism"?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"By learning about biology, physics, optics, by comparing with others. For example learning that the lens of the eye flips the image and the brain flips it back."

            Why cannot you see that this already presupposes the validity of direct experience of the external world?

            You are trapped in the endless circular reasoning I described earlier.

            I do not start with any assumptions, since a proper description of experience must state that it is, in the first instance, experience of an external sensible world.

            Descartes made the astounding error of assuming that all we know are ideas of things. Yes, we DO know ideas of things, BUT we first and foremost directly experience the external world from which we, drinking in to the hilt the seductive "causal theory of perception," then form the self-annihilating conclusion that "all we know are images or ideas" of things.

            The "causal theory of perception" was explained by Nicholas Lossky as the theory that knowledge that starts with external reality and then posits that, through a causal chain of physical events, what is finally actually known is only the last end of that chain, some kind of image or neural event inside the brain.

            The absurdity of this theory is that you must first know the external starting point as such before you can trace the information content into the brain.

            Thus the theory's conclusion flatly contradicts its own starting point.

            A perfect example of falling into this logical trap is the citation from you I quote at the beginning of this comment.

          • >Why cannot you see that this already presupposes the validity of direct experience of the external world?

            Well yes these epistemic tools are premised on that assumption, and that assumption was made for the reasons I described.

            >You are trapped in the endless circular reasoning I described earlier.

            I don't think so, this reasoning is within the assumption of valid experience of the world, direct and indirect. But within that, the reasoning is not circular.

            >a proper description of experience must state that it is, in the first instance, experience of an external sensible world.

            I don't see why I should accept that, all you've said to justify this is that it's common sense. I disagree you can't invoke common sense with no experience upon which to base that "sense".

            >Yes, we DO know ideas of things, BUT we first and foremost directly experience the external world...

            Again, I haven't seen you offer anything more than an appeal to common sense. But let's say I follow you on this line of thinking.

            Instead of accepting the validaty of my experience based on my reasoning, I accept it on yours. Why can I no longer identify as a naturalist?

            I don't subscribe to Lossky's theory of perception, as you note it is no solution to the problem of sollopsism. I do wonder if he may have just taken that the external world is a given, in order to move on with some epistemology, as you and I seem to have done.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            ">a proper description of experience must state that it is, in the first instance, experience of an external sensible world." DB

            "I don't see why I should accept that, all you've said to justify this is that it's common sense. I disagree you can't invoke common sense with no experience upon which to base that "sense"" BGA

            I have said that common sense tells us that we first experience external reality. I did NOT say that solely common sense proves it. Do you not think that two thousand years of classical philosophers possess the sophistication to have a better explanation of knowledge than just "common sense?"

            I am referring you to the sole starting point any epistemology possesses: direct description of our actual experience. And I am pointing out that our initial experience always begins in sensation in which we directly encounter a physical world other than ourselves.

            The only way you wind up thinking otherwise is by imbibing what Lossky calls the "causal theory of perception," by which the external world is NOT directly known, but only internal neural patterns or images inside the brain which are ultimately caused by the impact of external objects on the external organs of the senses.

            My article clearly describes the dilemma naturalism causes by its attempt to impose physicalism on its epistemology: "All this entails an ongoing ambivalent epistemology, wherein the naturalist cannot decide whether he really knows the tree outside his window, or merely an image of it inside his head. If he follows the physiological/optical pathway from the external tree to the inside of his brain, he must deny direct knowledge of the tree, and thus, of the whole external world. But if he does not directly know the external world, how then does he develop the scientific model that leads him to deny his immediate knowledge of the external world?"

            I do not think you have yet come to grasp with the epistemological dilemma your approach entails.

            "Instead of accepting the validaty of my experience based on my reasoning, I accept it on yours. Why can I no longer identify as a naturalist?" BGA

            You don't seem to see that it is naturalism's materialist/physicalist ontology that forces it to embrace what Lossky calls the "causal theory of perception" -- as is explained in great detail in my article. Because you accept science, you start with external reality, but your physicalist analysis of sensation forces you logically to deny, in the last instance, that you know external reality, but rather only what winds up inside your brain.

            Now, in practice, you deny your own conclusion, by once again assuming that science is of external reality -- but the problem is that once you conclude that what you really know is only what is inside your brain, you no longer have any rational reason for believing your original perceptions of external things -- even though natural science presumes its starting point in such things.

            You really need to think through more deeply what your naturalism entails in terms of what we really do know directly in experience. Do you really know external things? If so, why does your scientific analysis lead you to the opposite conclusion, namely, that you know only internal neural patterns?

            You want it both ways, but logic does not permit that.

            How is Aristotelian-Thomism different? Simple. It never denies that we experience external reality directly, whereas the causal theory of perception which you actually must embrace -- admit it or not -- leads you to deny direct knowledge of external physical things.

            How can A-T philosophy avoid the logic that necessarily entraps naturalism? Again, simple. For classical realism, because knowledge is an immaterial act, therefore, it cannot be spatially located inside the head deep inside the brain -- or any place for that matter. But it is still real and really attains the external physical object as it presents itself to the end organs of sensation.

            This is not mere "common sense," but the only logical way out of the materialistic "causal theory of perception" trap. And yes, it helps to realize that we have an immaterial soul which is present throughout the entire body.

          • >I am referring you to the sole starting point any epistemology possesses: direct description of our actual experience. And I am pointing out that our initial experience always begins in sensation in which we directly encounter a physical world other than ourselves.

            I don't see how you can start there. I think you need to start with experience itself. How you get from an experience to knowing this is direct experience of an external world? How do you know it is an external world and that the exoerexper itself is not all there is? That you are not dreaming, in a simulation, that idealism is false?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I DO start with actual experience itself! See above: "direct description of our actual experience." Every epistemology has to do that.

            The question is why do you not know it is direct experience of an external world? That is the only way to accurately describe it. You could not even hypothesize that it might not be unless you make a distinction between external reality and the supposed dream or simulation you fear it might be. But to make such a distinction, you have to have a concept of external reality which you obtained only because that is the nature of your actual experience.

            More to the point is how did you get this notion that all you know might be a dream or simulation or "image" of reality? That is where Descartes' error and the impact of the causal theory of perception comes into play. This notion of an "internal world" arises only because we first know an external world and then, following physicalism, trace the sensory data from outside us to the inside of our brains via nerve pathways.

            But you keep forgetting that that process presupposes that we have "external world" knowledge of how cognition works so as to wind us up knowing solely what is inside the brain.

            No matter how you sort it out, if you do not first know external reality, all you dream or simulation or matrix or image hypotheses, would not arise and thus make no sense.

            Again, a PROPER description of actual experience is that of direct sensory knowledge of external physical reality. No one has another "starting point." And, if you do not trust your intellectual and sensory reflections on this starting point, how could you ever determine anything at all to be true about knowledge? You cannot doubt the workings of the very cognitive powers by which you examine your cognitive experience without concluding that you know nothing at all. But that itself is directly contradictory to the fact that you are having experience and that that experience has intelligible content.

            If you would but think about it more deeply, you would realize that idealism presupposes realism in the very process whereby the question of idealism is posed. It is only because people use the causal theory of perception that they wind up thinking that maybe all they know are internal brain states or, as Hume put it, "mental impressions."

            Once you realize that you had to first know external reality in order to build the "models of perception" which lead you to the false conclusion that all you know are internal impressions, you will realize that subjectivism and idealism are illogical conclusions derived from an objective and realistic actual cognitive experience.

          • >You could not even hypothesize that it might not be unless you make a distinction between external reality and the supposed dream or simulation you fear it might be.

            I don't see why not, a matrix situation, or total recall, a dream, a drug trip. At any moment if you ask yourself how you can know what you are sensing is real, or fake, and you're really asleep in a vat vat sonewhere, or sleeping. I don't see how your explanation tells me when a given reality is true.

            In the matrix, Neo is born with only awareness of the simulation, in which he dreams. He can hypothesize the possibility that it's all fake by this analogy, just as you and I can now.

            None of this presupposes an external world, we also have no way to rule out that this is all internal. That idealism is true.

            >No matter how you sort it out, if you do not first know external reality, all you dream or simulation or matrix or image hypotheses, would not arise and thus make no sense.

            Sure it makes sense. We know from the cogito, that there is self, the this self has experience we know immediately, what we don't know is the source of this experience, whether internal or not. We don't know that the content of the experience is not the same self. How do you claim to know this?

            >And, if you do not trust your intellectual and sensory reflections on this starting point, how could you ever determine anything at all to be true about knowledge?

            It's not that I don't trust them and you do, it's that I don't claim to have solved the problem of sollopsism. For me this is an assumption, you seem to insist we don't need to assume it, but have reasons to know you can trust these senses.

            >idealism presupposes realism

            How so?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            First, to begin with the last point, "idealism presupposes realism."

            I was referring there to the historical fact that Descartes' idealism flowed from the "causal theory of perception," which itself presupposes extramental physical reality -- since it is that scenario that gave rise to him mistakenly assuming that all we know are "ideas" inside the mind, his Cogito.

            No one starts as an idealist. It is an epistemological theory that arises by starting with extramental physical conditions being read as leading to belief that all we know are internal mental states, as described in earlier comments.

            Second, look at how far you have traveled to preserve your naturalistic position. You initially generally were talking about the real physical world, just like the rest of mankind, and how physical nature is all that there is -- no God. Now, to defend that position you are dragging out a subjective idealism that is about as far removed from a real physical world governed by scientific laws as one can possibly get!

            Third, if you want to go down that same road that Descartes started by saying that we could wind up in solipsism, recall that even Descartes used his Cogito, combined with basic metaphysical principles of sufficient reason and causality, to prove God's existence, and, from the goodness and veracity of God to show that He would not allow us to be universally deceived in our sensation of the real world -- despite any hypothesized malevolent demon or Matrix. I might "adjust" Descartes proof for God a bit by noticing change or motion in our thought, thus enabling the use of some variation on St. Thomas' First Way to God.

            Fourth, as I indicated in the comments about the man-eating tiger in the OP, we naturally and inevitably distinguish between objects which are known as intramental and extramental -- and we have no doubt about the reality of each kind of object in its own order. But when you take the undoubtably-extramental character of the real tiger and ask about the extramental reality of one's mere memory of the encountered tiger, then, of course, you can doubt the real tiger, since you now have as your undoubted object of thought only a sense memory of the real tiger.

            When we are not merely dreaming about possible worlds driven by Matrix rules, in our direct-experience situations, we spontaneously affirm with unquestioning certitude that real things exist outside ourselves and are perceived by us. That is why I gave the example of telling someone to sit on a large roofing nail, and then try to deny its extramental reality.

            As Karlo Broussard observes in his new book, Prepare the Way, p. 41, speaking in terms of plausibility, "What good reasons can you give me to think my current experience is only an illusion created by a malignant being?"

            Indeed, in the Matrix, it is presupposed that there is an external physical world which is the actual basis for all this deception -- which would bring us back to our starting point of a naturalistic world who's physicalism leads to epistemic self-contradiction, as described in the OP.

          • >Now, to defend that position you are dragging out a subjective idealism that is about as far removed from a real physical world governed by scientific laws as one can possibly get!

            Sorry, I thought I was just asking how you get from an experience that seems to be an external world to knowledge that the intuition is correct.

            >we naturally and inevitably distinguish between objects which are known as intramental and extramental -- and we have no doubt about the reality of each kind of object in its own order

            Well, needless to say not always. But the question here is not whether this happens but whether we can know this distinction is accurate.

            >When we are not merely dreaming about possible worlds driven by Matrix rules, in our direct-experience situations, we spontaneously affirm with unquestioning certitude that real things exist outside ourselves and are perceived by us.

            But when we are dreaming or if we were in the Matrix it would be exactly the same. So how do we distinguish.

            >That is why I gave the example of telling someone to sit on a large roofing nail, and then try to deny its extramental reality.

            And if this person were in the matrix they would be fooled into thinking this had happened, but really their ass is unaffected by any nail, how do you tell them apart?

            > "What good reasons can you give me to think my current experience is only an illusion created by a malignant being?

            None, I have no way of addicting evidence on this issue one way or the other. This is what the assumption that sollopsism is false is an assumption, not a conclusion.

            I think we are going in circles here. Thanks for your time with me, I think I have your views, but I still don't see the contradiction.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Just three more points:

            One, note again that solipsism is about as far as you can get from the usual claims of naturalism.

            Two, even in the case of dreams caused by a malevolent demon, Descartes argued to God's existence. I would not use his faulty argument, but still, even within this idealistic context, metaphysical principles do apply. (Even Kant applied some of them transcendentally in his Critique of Pure Reason!) Using them, plus the experiential content of phenomena such as being and movement, we can yet prove the existence of a transcendental God -- which contradicts the claims of naturalism.

            Three, we can explain how the idealistic, even solipsistic, hypothesis arises from a materialist/physicalist interpretation of experience -- which badly undermines idealism, even as an assumption -- since it does show how epistemological realism, combined with the false assumption of materialism, is what leads to idealism and solipsism.

            Fourth, there is no room to develop fully the content of a course on realist epistemology in this comment thread.

            So, if you wish to move on at this point, I thank you for your comments and questions.

          • >One, note again that solipsism is about as far as you can get from the usual claims of naturalism

            I agree, I wasn't suggesting it wasn't. You seemed to criticize Naturalism for failing to solve the problem of sollopsism. I agree but explained the problem needs to be addressed with any epistemology. I indicate it is not a relevant criticism as there is no solution to the problem,even on theism. I took your comments to indicate you thought you had a solution. I haven't seen you state whether or not you believe to have solved this problem. It seems that you take it as just obvious from your own experience that the external world is real. I point out that this is not a solution, as it would seem real if we were dreaming or in a simulation. You now seem to suggest I'm a sollopsist, and note it is incompatible with naturalism. I'm not a sollopsist, I make an initial assumption that my senses are generally accurate as any other position would be paralyzing and equally unjustified.

            Again, thank you for your time .

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Well, there IS at least one answer to solipsism that immediately comes to my mind -- unless the solipsist is himself God. That is, that the existence of God can still be proven even to a finite solipsist, since metaphysics can prove the existence of God from any finite being's very existence as well as from the motion the solipsist himself experiences. I won't give the proofs here, but clearly, if God exists in addition to the solipsist, then the solipsist is not the only being in existence, and hence, he ought to admit that solipsism is false.

            The other point I would make is based on the fact that you declare that you are not personally a solipsist, since you do make the initial assumption that the external world is real as your senses affirm.

            If so, then you have not escaped the epistemic contradiction that I have described repeatedly, namely, that you accept the existence of an external world, but then are driven by your assumed physicalism to affirm that such a world can never be directly known so as to assure us of the scientific basis for denying our ability to directly know it. And, if we can never directly know it, then we have no logical basis for saying, as you suggest, that all we know are "images."

            It isn't solipsism, but naturalism, that suffers this latter inconsistency. And still, I am not admitting that solipsism cannot be refuted -- merely that this thread is not long enough to thoroughly explain why it cannot be true.

            If anyone really insists on being a solipsist (unlike yourself), there is, by his own reckoning, no one else who can convince him he is wrong!

          • >And, if we can never directly know it, then we have no logical basis for saying, as you suggest, that all we know are "images."

            So you can call sensing "indirect", but I had thought you earlier agreed indirect knowledge is still knowledge?

            And so, we "indirectly" observe that our senses work only when our biological sensory organs and nervous system exist and are functioning normally. And this leads to the logical conclusion that what seeing is, for example, is light hitting the eyes and affecting the brain. We further know that the lens of the eye flips the light rays on the retina. But we don't see things upside down, therefore, and with other similar observations, we conclude that what we experience is an image the brain is compiling. I see no contradiction, what am I missing?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            What this reasoning misses is its own amazing circularity.

            You state clearly that what we know is the product of the brain "compiling" the data into the "internal image" that is directly known -- meaning that the external object is only indirectly known -- actually by a process of reasoning which really argues that the internal image is somehow an accurate representation of the external object.

            The "amazing circularity" is that you could never in a thousand years know all these "biological facts" about sensation to be correct unless you have some direct knowledge that the physiology/optics/physics involved IS as it actually exists in the external physical world.

            Let me try to make the circularity more clear:

            You start by making certain scientific observations about the external physical forces/energy/particles impacting the external organs, e.g., the eye in sight. You add certain other scientific observations about the anatomy and function of the various sense organs, e.g., the eye, and conclude with making direct observations of how the nerve pathways terminate inside the brain -- where, it is presumed, sensation/perception actually takes place -- forming the "sensory image," which is what we really know -- NOT THE EXTERNAL OBJECT.

            But you just used all these external judgments about the external nature of the entire forces/energies/anatomy involved to lead you to the conclusion that you do not actually know these external objects, but only the internal images you presume are caused by them.

            Now do you see how hopelessly circular all this reasoning truly is?

            You have used external direct observations to prove that you cannot have external direct observations.

            Does that begin to make any sense to you?

          • >Now do you see how hopelessly circular all this reasoning truly is?

            No, I'm sorry. I think the way to show argument is question-begging is to lay it out as a syllogism and note which premise is the same as the conclusion, isn't it?

            Perhaps you could do this?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Although I have a doctoral minor in symbolic logic, I must confess that I have had a lifelong dislike for formal logic itself.

            Strictly speaking, the problem I have been describing is not circular reasoning, except in the looser sense that the conclusion "circles back" to the initial premise by actually contradicting it! It does NOT assume what you are trying to prove, since the only thing it proves is something that contradicts the initial assumption. Namely, it proves that what we actually know (internal images) is not what we began by scientifically assuming (direct knowledge of physical phenomena).

            Here would be the form of the argument as I see it:

            We assume that we have direct scientific knowledge of the external world.

            Yet, such direct scientific knowledge (assuming materialism/physicalism) necessarily implies that we cannot have direct scientific knowledge of the external world, but rather that what we actually know is only internal neural patterns or images.

            Therefore, our conclusion contradicts the initial premise.

            It is something like the illicit self-referential statement: This statement is false. If it is true, it is false. But, if it is false, it is true.

            If what we assume about our direct scientific knowledge of the external world is true, then having direct scientific knowledge of the external world turns out to be impossible.

            That, strictly speaking, may not be circular reasoning, but it is just as deadly.

          • >We assume that we have direct scientific knowledge of the external world.

            I don't. I assume that the experience I have of experiencing is generally accurate, it's not scientific and I assume nothing about directness or indirectness.

            >Yet, such direct scientific knowledge (assuming materialism/physicalism)

            Materialism/physicalism is not assumed either.

            >necessarily implies that we cannot have direct scientific knowledge of the external world, but rather that what we actually know is only internal neural patterns or images.

            But since I haven't assumed direct or scientific knowledge I don't see any contradiction.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            That is funny. I could swear that this type of argument from you falls exactly into the kind of "logic" I am refuting:

            >"And so, we "indirectly" observe that our senses work only when our biological sensory organs and nervous system exist and are functioning normally. And this leads to the logical conclusion that what seeing is, for example, is light hitting the eyes and affecting the brain. We further know that the lens of the eye flips the light rays on the retina. But we don't see things upside down, therefore, and with other similar observations, we conclude that what we experience is an image the brain is compiling." BGA

            None of your statement here makes any definitive sense unless you are assuming precisely the sorts of things I was critiquing in my article and in your own statements, like this one.

            What in heavens name do you mean by "indirect" observation with respect to observation of the physical mechanisms of the body and the world? If you mean we are merely going from internal images to external things, then you are engaged in the very self-contradictory reasoning I described many times above.

            Are you now starting with internal images and using them to "indirectly" argue to the external world. But then, you use the physical nature of the external world to show that what we know is not the external world, but only internal images! Are you coming or going?

            This may not be circular reasoning, but it surely is amazingly confused thinking!

          • But that is to assume that nothing can be its own evidence, even though it is not proven through another (premise).

            Let’s discuss that.

            You are saying that there is at least one proposition P such that the evidence for P is P itself. No, I am not assuming that there is no such P, but I am not prepared to affirm it yet, either. That will depend on how you are defining the term “evidence.” How I define it is context-dependent, but in this context I would prefer the broadest possible definition, which after checking several dictionaries and other sources seems to be statable thus: Evidence for a given proposition P is some reason to believe P, i.e. to think that P is a true statement. Evidence is of varying quality. The best evidence warrants very strong belief, approaching complete certainty. The worst evidence warrants belief that is only somewhat stronger than would be warranted by no evidence at all. We can also speak of evidence against P, but that is the same as evidence for not-P. Before we proceed, do you have a problem with any of that?

          • Dennis Bonnette

            "Evidence for a given proposition P is some reason to believe P, i.e. to think that P is a true statement."

            I suspect that we have an immediate problem here in that the word, "evidence," is being interpreted to mean something that has a reason -- where is it presumed that the reason is other than the reality or truth or statement that is claimed to be immediately known.

            As long as you state the case in those terms, you will properly assume that there is no such thing as something that is immediately evident, since everything somehow depends on another something to warrant its acceptance as true.

            That is why what I am pointing to is the immediacy of things that are known as true in the very experience of them as objects of knowledge. Think of the experience of sitting on a long roofing nail. You can doubt what it is you are sitting on. You can doubt whether you are in fact sitting on it. You can doubt whether it is merely something being pushed into you while you are suspended upside down. But you cannot doubt the reality of the pain and, if it is something other than you that is being encountered in this lived experience, you cannot doubt that it is an encounter with something other.

            Such affirmation of the reality content is what I refer to as an immediately evident truth. We can play games with the meaning of the words we use, e.g., whether "evident" refers always to something else or not. But the immediacy of the content of the experience of some "painful other" is not a mere assumption, nor need it be "proved" by something else.

            It is something evident in itself, that is, an immediately evident certitude of reality with a certain formal content, which may then be used as a starting point for a possible chain of reasoning.

            Self-evident first metaphysical principles are a bit different, but entail a similar immediate intellectual affirmation of the meaning of being as encountered in lived experience.

          • But you cannot doubt the reality of the pain and, if it is something other than you that is being encountered in this lived experience, you cannot doubt that it is an encounter with something other.

            If I experience a physical sensation such as pain, it would be logically incoherent for me to doubt that I was having that experience. If the denial of a proposition would be logically incoherent, then I don't object much to calling that proposition a self-evident truth.

            I suspect that we have an immediate problem here in that the word, "evidence," is being interpreted to mean something that has a reason

            That isn't how I'm interpreting it. If I say that F is evidence for P, then I am offering F as a reason to believe P. I may or may not need to come up with a reason to believe F, but if I do, calling F evidence for P doesn't presuppose that F itself has a reason.

            where is it presumed that the reason is other than the reality or truth or statement that is claimed to be immediately known.

            If I say, "I believe P because P is true," I'm just begging the question. If I claim that I don't need evidence because I immediately know it, that just raises the question of how I justify claiming to immediately know it. It is trivially easy for anyone to say, about any proposition, "I immediately know it."

          • Dennis Bonnette

            >"If I experience a physical sensation such as pain, it would be logically incoherent for me to doubt that I was having that experience. If the denial of a proposition would be logically incoherent, then I don't object much to calling that proposition a self-evident truth."

            Okay. So you are granting that there can be an immediately evident truth based on sense experience. That is what I claimed.

            Two points here: First, if the experience were of motion, then that would give an immediately experienced truth to use as a starting point for the First Way of St. Thomas. Second, a proper description of at least some of our direct experience is that of extramental realities, such as that something other than myself is encountered in this painful experience. That gets me, at least, to direct evidence of the extramental world -- something merely assumed by naturalism if you read carefully the logic of my article.

            >"If I claim that I don't need evidence because I immediately know it, that just raises the question of how I justify claiming to immediately know it."

            You just admitted yourself above that immediate experience can give us something self-evidently true.

          • So you are granting that there can be an immediately evident truth based on sense experience. That is what I claimed.

            Just please remember that I granted it in a very specific situation. I did not grant that there could be any self-evident truth in any other situation.

            a proper description of at least some of our direct experience is that of extramental realities, such as that something other than myself is encountered in this painful experience. That gets me, at least, to direct evidence of the extramental world -- something merely assumed by naturalism if you read carefully the logic of my article.

            A blanket denial of extramental reality would constitute an acceptance of solipsism. I think we’re justified in assuming that solipsism is false. If you want to call that a self-evident truth, go ahead, but I’m going to call it an assumption. I cannot prove solipsism is false, and if I claim my sensory experience as evidence for extramental reality, then I’m begging the question.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            If you can see that a self-evident truth can exist in even a single instance, that is a milestone!

            You can see that you are still forced to describe your acceptance of extramental reality and rejection of solipsism as what you call "assumptions."

            I have a far more optimistic view of our existential situation. I would argue that we have immediate experience of the extramental world -- if you can only stop presupposing Cartesian descriptions of our basic cognitive situation.

            What is immediately given is the real physical world around us. You agree, but then reduce it to an assumption. I am saying it is not a mere assumption, but the immediate reality of what we experience. Just as real as that undeniable pain from the roofing nail.

            If we did not start by accepting the extramental physical world, we would never get trapped into the absurdity of thinking what we really know is just ideas or images or neural patterns. My difference from you is that what you call an assumption, I am describing as extramental reality which is the immediate object of our first acts of knowing.

            You are left with a worldview based only on assumptions, which really means you know nothing for sure at all. But if you can only stretch your thought a little, maybe you can see that that immediate certitude of the "nail pain" can be extended to cover a lot of human experience.

            Maybe even the concept of being that makes you so sure you have to use the PNC -- and yet, you want to suspend judgment on its objective basis and call it somehow just an "assumption."

            Reality does not have to be that "iffy," as I see it. We are plunged into reality at every moment of consciousness -- and what we know is not consciousness itself, but the objective realities that consciousness encounters.

            Try not to think out what you know like a subjective model, but describe it as it really is in your experience. I submit that, unless you play mental games with its contents, what is first known is objective things -- and only secondarily are we aware of the act of consciousness by which we know them, and finally, we notice ourselves doing the knowing.

          • I have a far more optimistic view of our existential situation.

            Perhaps your personal history has justified your optimism. In my life, reality has repeatedly and consistently shown an utter indifference to what I wish were true.

            What is immediately given is the real physical world around us. You agree, but then reduce it to an assumption.

            You call it reduction. I call it acceptance.

            You are left with a worldview based only on assumptions, which really means you know nothing for sure at all.

            Whether I know anything “for sure” is more about semantics than the facts of the situation. It’s true that I cannot claim to know anything infallibly. I wish I could, of course, but I cannot think that wishing will make it so. I spent the better part of my life searching for some things I could believe without possibility of error. Except for my own existence, that search proved futile.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            When I say, "optimistic," I do not mean that my epistemology is a product of my mood, but rather that it is the cause of it.

            If you accept your own existence without possibility of error, that itself must then be an immediately-know truth.

            Yet, I submit that you do not know your own existence as a primary object of knowledge, since it simply isn't known that way. We first know "something," and then become aware that that knowing is itself a way of acting (consciousness), and only lastly do we notice that there is a subject of consciousness, the self, whose existence is present.

            Thus, if you have apodictic certitude of your own existence, you must first have such certitude of something whose formal content specifies your act of knowledge: the object known.

            My point is also that, were it not for us bewitching ourselves with idealistic models of consciousness, we would recognize that the given content of our knowledge begins with sense awareness of physical objects in an extramentally-given world.

            Try just describing what you are experiencing right now, without the overlay of any preconceived philosophical theories. What I am immediately certain of is the reality of a room full of sensible objects, and only secondarily do I notice my act of knowing them, and reflexively, myself as the subject of that knowledge.

            This is not assumed knowledge, since it is not lacking in evidence. As with your own existence, it is immediately-given and undeniably real -- its own "evidence," in virtue of its being the content of my own lived experience. Nor is it proven through something else that is better and prior known, like a premise in a syllogism.

            I suspect a little reflection would show you that you have a lot more certitudes than merely your own existence.

          • When I say, "optimistic," I do not mean that my epistemology is a product of my mood, but rather that it is the cause of it.

            OK. I think my epistemologically-based optimism compares favorably with that of most Aristotelians I’ve encountered.

            Yet, I submit that you do not know your own existence as a primary object of knowledge, since it simply isn't known that way. We first know "something," and then become aware that that knowing is itself a way of acting (consciousness), and only lastly do we notice that there is a subject of consciousness, the self, whose existence is present.

            Sure, that is what Aristotle would say. But as a refutation of my epistemology, it’s a circular argument.

            My point is also that, were it not for us bewitching ourselves with idealistic models of consciousness, we would recognize that the given content of our knowledge begins with sense awareness of physical objects in an extramentally-given world.

            I do not dispute that my knowledge begins with sense awareness of physical objects in an extramentally-given world. What I dispute is Aristotle’s theory about how I acquired that knowledge.

            I suspect a little reflection would show you that you have a lot more certitudes than merely your own existence.

            I never said I didn’t. I do say that I will not equate certitude with infallibility.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            So, how do you differ from A-T epistemology in your understanding of how we acquire knowledge of the extramental world?

            If you use physicalist explanations, how do you avoid the self-contradictory or circular implications I outline in my article?

          • So, how do you differ from A-T epistemology in your understanding of how we acquire knowledge of the extramental world?

            I'm going to be busy for a while, possibly a few days, working on a response to some questions raised by Luke Breuer. I suspect that my response will include an answer to this and your other question. Please stay tuned.

          • Pray tell, how would one "observe" the supernatural?

            I don't know. How do I tell the difference between things that aren't detectable because they don't exist, and things that aren't detectable because they're supernatural? Without a reliable means to make that distinction I'm forced (from an epistemic point of view) to treat them as if they are the same.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            I thought you told me that you blocked me.

          • I did block you, but I do believe I indicated that the block wasn't meant to be permanent. I can always make it such if you prefer!? :)

          • OMG

            If you blocked him, would he not exist or would he be non-detectable a la supernaturale?

          • I dunno. Why don't you tell me!

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Your choice. Not mine. I had nothing to do with it.

      • Grimlock

        I'm a bit surprised that you're using that article from EB as a reliable source. It clearly doesn't pass the smell test. Particularly the following part:

        Only rarely do naturalists give attention to metaphysics (which they deride), and they make no philosophical attempts to establish their position. Naturalists simply assert that nature is reality, the whole of it.

        The part in bold happens to be simply false. As it's a rather general statement, in order to disprove it, it's sufficient to provide a counter-example of naturalists making philosophical attempts to establish their position. (Note that one is not required to accept these attempts as successful, but merely to acknowledge that at least one of these exist.) Consider, then, some such counter-examples:
        - The book Naturalism and Religion: A Contemporary Philosophical Investigation by Graham Oppy.
        - The book Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism by Richard Carrier.
        - The arguments for naturalism on The Secular Outpost.

        Additionally, I'd say that defending one's position is a necessary but not sufficient component of establishing one's position. As such, any defense of naturalism might be considered working at establishing naturalism. I don't think I need to provide examples of defenses against e.g. Plantinga's EAAN.

        I believe this is sufficient to demonstrate the falsity of the claim in Encyclopedia Britannica.

        As a couple of side notes. It's worth noting that 43 % of metaphysicians accept or lean towards naturalism according to the oft-cited PhilPapers survey. This is enough to make me suspicious of the claim quoted above about metaphysics. Note also that according to the same study, 49,8 % of philosophers accept or lean towards naturalism. (With the rest being fairly evenly split between non-naturalism and the "Other" category.) Is metaphysics really so unpopular that it is derided by at least half of western philosophers? That seems implausible.

        Another rather amusing observation is that when I read the article in EB, it made me wonder if I'd accidentally stumbled onto that most Poe of websites, Conservapedia. And what do you know, the text from EB is found pretty much verbatim on Conservapedias article on naturalism. This is most certainly not a sign of quality.

        Grim

    • //(1) there is an objective extramental universe shared by all rational observers

      This this is a necessary assumption of all metaphysical positions other than global skepticism, so yes, ok.//

      This is complete nonsense. I guess you've never heard of idealism.

      • No i don't think so, isn't it that idealismalso accepts that there is an external world to the individual mind, it just denies any of it is fundamentally material?

        I would say what you describe is global skepticism.

    • //(8) complex things, such as minds and living organisms, are composed of simpler constituents that are reducible to ultimate particles obeying physical laws

      This is not required to be a naturalist, it's a finding of science.//

      Minds or consciousness reside outside the purview of science as science is currently conceptualised. So it can scarcely be a finding of science.

      • Maybe for minds, but living organisms can be reduced to their ultimate particles. I think we are pretty much there with cognition too .He said nothing about consciousness.

        But the point is you don't need to hold the above belief to take the position that there is nothing supernatural .

        • Why isn't consciousness supernatural? No-one can detect my conscious experiences, they have to be inferred from my behaviour. So consciousness escapes science as it is currently conceptualised. Hence, by definition that makes consciousness not natural and hence supernatural?

          • >No-one can detect my conscious experiences, they have to be inferred from my behaviour

            Why would I call that supernatural? I don't use the term to mean subjective experience that science cannot detect. Rather I use it to describe phenomena that violates laws of nature or is not constricted by it.

            I don't think anyone knows what consciousness is, I see no reasor to think it is not a natural phenomena.

          • Consciousness violates "laws of nature" since it cannot be derived from them.

            You (and others) might be interested in a blog post I wrote:

            http://ian-wardell.blogspot.com/2018/06/why-existence-of-consciousness-rules.html

          • Consciousness violates "laws of nature" since it cannot be derived from them.

            That's a non sequitur.

          • Do you think it would be more accurate to say that since we don't currently know how to derive consciousness from the laws of nature, it is unknown whether consciousness is natural or super-natural?

          • >Consciousness violates "laws of nature" since it cannot be derived from them.

            I don't see how you can say that, we don't know what all the laws of nature are.

            Until we have a theory of what consciousness is, and what all the laws of nature are, I don't see how we can say it violates them.

            Which law do you mean?

          • If you were to read my blog post, then I explain there.

            Laws of nature deal with the quantitative/measurable. So long as that is the case then they will not encompass consciousness.

          • Sure, I'm not saying consciousness is a law of nature I'm asking which law it violates?

          • Like quantum phenomena or relativity violates the laws of classical physics. I don't know specifically which laws. The laws that operate within a living brain I suppsoe since consciousness is causally efficacious.

          • Ok, are you suggesting that quantum physics and relativity is supernatural?

            Are you under the impression that naturalism says anything that violates classical physics is supernatural?

            Isn't it the case that these discoveries updated and made physics more accurate? Or is it your position that Quantum strangeness is not explicable by natural phenomena?

          • Well what laws do the supernatural have to violate then? Just the one's that are currently the most accurate in describing the world? But that means what is supernatural changes according to current laws.

          • But that means what is supernatural changes according to current laws.

            Which is why a few of us who consider ourselves naturalists think it would be a good idea to update the definition, just to avoid that problem.

            Several years ago Richard Carrier made a suggestion that I really like: Naturalism is the denial that any disembodied mind can exist. Prove that one does exist, and you'll have my undivided attention, because I see no way the laws of nature could be tweaked to allow that.

          • Alexandra

            How are you defining "mind"?

          • How are you defining "mind"?

            It is that which our brains do when we are aware of it.

          • Alexandra

            Thank you Doug. Is this an ok way to rephrase it?:

            Naturalism is the affirmation
            that which our brains do when we are aware of it,
            cannot exist without the body.

            Edit: added "the affirmation"

          • That would be a specific application of naturalism. Naturalism affirms that no disembodied minds can exist. It would follow as a logical consequence that my mind cannot exist without my body.

          • The existence of disembodied minds would imply an afterlife. Surely naturalism involves more than a denial of an afterlife?

            I'm not sure how a disembodied mind could be proved to exist since, being non-material, it would be undetectable. Reports of OBE's, NDE's suggest that disembodied minds exist. I think you need to advance some reasons as to why you think disembodied minds are unlikely.

          • Surely naturalism involves more than a denial of an afterlife?

            Yes. It also involves a denial of ghosts, fairies, spirits, angels, gods, demons, and any other non-corporeal beings capable of any kind of thinking.

            I'm not sure how a disembodied mind could be proved to exist since, being non-material, it would be undetectable.

            If any entity is stipulated to be undetectable, that is a problem for people who say we should believe that the entity exists. It is not a problem for us who say that if it can't be detected, then we don't have a good reason to believe it exists.

            Reports of OBE's, NDE's suggest that disembodied minds exist. I think you need to advance some reasons as to why you think disembodied minds are unlikely.

            The actual existence of disembodied minds is one possible explanation for those reports. There are other possible explanations, and in my judgment, they are more parsimonious.

          • Ok, are you suggesting that quantum strangeness is supernatural? I guess not .

            You can pick the laws, you are the one who believes this is happening, just tell me why?

          • This is not a fruitful discussion. No-one is defining what "supernatural" means, and why consciousness is not supernatural.

  • Ficino

    It is rare that retorsion arguments establish the necessary truth of the contradictory position.

  • Grimlock

    Hey,

    You assert that a few claims is tied to naturalism. I do not accept all of those claims, but I still consider myself a naturalist. I wonder, do you consider me a naturalist? If not, why not?

    [ETA: What I'm trying to get at is whether or not you think that not accepting the claims you listed up is a sufficient grounds for someone to not be considered an adherent to naturalism.]

    Below is a quick commentary on the various claims if you find that relevant for my query.

    Grim

    Naturalism, a science-based take on reality, makes many related claims, including: (1) there is an objective extramental universe shared by all rational observers,

    I might agree with this, but that depends on what you mean by "objective", "universe", "shared by", and "all". For instance, what does it entail that a universe is "shared" by some entities? Is something shared if there is no hypothetical possible way for them to interact?

    (2) the universe is governed by uniform natural laws that make it orderly and comprehensible,

    I don't accept this. I don't tend to think of the universe as being governed, but rather as having regularities. These regularities need not be particularly uniform. As for being comprehensible, I see no particular reason to think that all of reality is comprehensible by us, or any sentient being for that matter.

    (3) such orderly reality can be discovered through scientific observation and experimentation,

    Some of reality certainly seems accessible to scientific methodology, yes. All of it? In principle? Maybe. But I certainly don't accept this claim as true.

    (4) nature is in principle rationally intelligible,

    I don't accept this, as noted earlier. It might be true, but then, it might be false.

    (5) mental entities, such as theories, mathematics, ethical values, and so forth, reduce to, or emerge from, neural activities in the brain,

    Or are supervenient on, or are dependent upon, or some such. I'm inclined to think that this or something like it is true.

    (6) the universe itself is its own ultimate explanation of its existence and operations,

    This depends a bit on what you mean by "universe", and "being its own explanation". But I suspect that I am not inclined to accept this.

    (7) nature operates as a blind force acting according to fixed laws with no purpose,

    This is a bit too vague for me to be sure of, though I've previously noted my disagreement with the term "law". Also not so sure about regularities of nature being fixed.

    (8) complex things, such as minds and living organisms, are composed of simpler constituents that are reducible to ultimate particles obeying physical laws,

    I'm a bit on the fence about the possibility of emergent phenomena, so I'll have to decline to accept this.

    (9) reason itself is the product of an undersigned process with no intrinsic relation to truth (yet, naturalism is claimed to be true),

    I'm not convinced that evolution doesn't have some relation to truth. We are shaped at least in part by selection based on our relation to external reality. Consider then an adherent to the correspondence theory of truth, which, to quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is "any view explicitly embracing the idea that truth consists in a relation to reality, i.e., that truth is a relational property involving a characteristic relation (to be specified) to some portion of reality (to be specified)."

    Such a person, who adheres to the correspondence theory of truth, would perhaps be open to there being some relation between truth and evolution.

    As I tend to favor the correspondence theory of truth for some areas of knowledge, I'm not willing to grant this without some further clarification. Not to mention that evolution isn't strictly speaking the only thing that shapes our reason. Cultural factors also seem relevant, for instance.

    (10) all things are either physical in nature, or else, depend upon or emerge from physical entities.

    I guess that depends a bit on how you define physical, but I'm inclined to accept this.

    • Dennis Bonnette

      Please see my reply to a similar comment by Brian Green Adams almost immediately beneath this comment on the thread.

      My reply to you would be largely the same one I gave to him. You can follow the discussion with him below which may further illuminate the issues you raise.

  • I do think there is some argument that can be made from consistentcy. That science has a good track record. That people making certain assumptions without even knowing it have ended up getting the right answer about the physical world. Doesn’t it matter then if they start with some assumptions? Does it even make sense to think their success shows they must be right?

    Well what precisely are they right about? The physical world is intelligible. Why? Never mind. It just is. That shows a lack of curiosity for sure.

    The other thing to understand is that if naturalism is true it is an awful truth. If nature is a bunch of laws with no meaning or purpose behind it and the human person is reducible to a mere object of nature then we lose all meaning and purpose from every human life. That could be the truth. Yet should we assume it is the truth without any proof?

    In fact, it seems clear to me that the world is way more complex and interest then it would be if blind forces had the final sway. The fact that life exists at all depends on a balance so delicate it boggles the mind. Then you have the strange desires of the human person. The fact that nihilism is so distasteful is curious. Why does our heart expect life to have meaning and hope?

    • If nature is a bunch of laws with no meaning or purpose behind it and the human person is reducible to a mere object of nature then we lose all meaning and purpose from every human life.

      Only if we assume the truth of Aristotelian metaphysics.

      • You will have to help me more than that. Is there some philosophy that you claim can cause naturalism to not lead to nihilism?

        • Is there some philosophy that you claim can cause naturalism to not lead to nihilism?

          It's not a matter of causation. It's a matter of reason applied to observation. The observation is: Most if not all of the naturalists whose beliefs I am familiar with are not nihilists. In particular, I am a naturalist, and my naturalistic beliefs do not entail nihilism. If it were just me, I could be an anomaly, but the aforementioned observation tells me that I'm not, that in that respect, I seem to be a typical naturalist.

          • I have observed this as well. There are other possibilities. Mostly it comes from people not thinking things through. People embrace things like human rights that flow from Christianity yet they deny Christianity. They don’t ask whether human rights still make sense with their new world view. They still believe in them but only because they are used to thinking that way. It could change a lot in a short time because there is no foundation.

            Nihilism does take even more reflection to arrive at. People will get there. It is where the logic naturally leads. A lot of people embrace naturalism not because they like it but because they are rebelling against Christianity or what they think is Christianity . People are interesting. Smart people can hold illogical positions.

          • Nihilism does take even more reflection to arrive at. People will get there.

            I've never met anyone who actually has gotten there.

            A lot of people embrace naturalism not because they like it but because they are rebelling against Christianity or what they think is Christianity.

            I guess some do, but I don't know anyone who did and I would not respect them. "Christianity is bad, therefore naturalism must be true" is about as illogical as any argument ever gets.

          • Ficino

            No, you are the one who is rebelling. You are rebelling against right reason because you want the feeling of being justified, of being better than other men. You are prideful in your religious security.

            Heh heh, I am snarking. But sort of, not. we can all accuse each other of rebelling. But then, we will be playing a different game from a philosophy game.

            Don't try the "you are in rebellion" gambit unless you are prepared for it to be thrown back in your face.

          • The observation is: Most if not all of the naturalists whose beliefs I am familiar with are not nihilists.

            That doesn't logically entail that said naturalists are being self-consistent in doing so. One of Nietzsche's central claims was that culture had yet to really, truly purge itself of Christianity. Do you know of a single compelling way for morality to be grounded, consistent with naturalism, such that it isn't ultimately arbitrary†?

            † Let's consider the laws of nature (≠ scientific laws) to be non-arbitrary, as well as any teleology in the fabric of reality (if it exists).

    • Ficino

      Randy, I am reminded of a line I read somewhere long ago - was it in Graham Greene? - "the heart wants what it wants."

      To balance what you wrote above are the thoughts of people like me, who found less grief in the conception of a purely natural universe, one that knows and cares not of or for me, than in the conception of an omni-God that abandons us time after time.

      I think you'll know all the ways we can spin these things. There are some, like me, who reached the first of the seventy-first times that NT promises of answered prayer were not fulfilled, and who finally underwent a reorientation of thought.

      We have each other, and we find meaning and create hope.

      • Sure we need to re-orient our thought. If you were being taught God simply gives you what you want then you need to change that thinking. Even the apostle Paul talked about having a thorn in the flesh and he prayed fervently to have it removed but God said No. He said My power is made perfect in weakness. An answer to prayer to be sure but not what someone in pain typically wants to hear. Still it is the truth and it does give us hope in our pain.

        Can you create find meaning and create hope? If you don't really believe in naturalism you can. Otherwise it is like a game. You can play and pretend that winning really matters. It makes the game fun. Yet we know the game does not really matter. Say we believe all of life, friends, family, career, etc. is like a game that we know really does not matter. How do we face hard times? Suicide? We see that already in euthanasia. Yet we all have days like that when life is hard and does not seem likely to easier.

        • Ficino

          "If you were being taught God simply gives you what you want then you need to change that thinking."

          No ex-Christian was taught the above.

          • So what precisely were you taught that you found so objectionable?

          • Ficino

            The NT makes many promises about answered prayer, and sets out conditions. There are so many cases that contravene the letter of those promises that I can't enumerate them. I will only state one: a young brother was found with cancer. Everyone prayed, even little children. Rod died anyway at 27. Why would God turn a deaf ear to the prayers of children praying that a young believer be healed? Everyone agreed in Jesus' name etc etc. I won't add more verbiage.

            There is no falsifying of claims that God just wanted another angel. But I got to the end of my rope. Life makes more sense now without the supposed supernaturalisms that have to be fudged.

            Come over to places like Roll To Disbelieve for many many many accounts more eloquent than mine. I don't claim that the above proves that Christian claims are false. I do think the above shows good reason why many of us have come to think that Christian claims don't hold up.

            Maybe if there is just the Unmoved Mover that does nothing but think its own thinking, the scandal of unanswered prayer disappears. But the God of the Christian scriptures is said to be intimately involved with even the number of hairs on our heads and the up and down motions of individual sparrows. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is involved with the singularities of human lives in a way that the UM seems not to be. Does not compute.

            The Holocaust.

          • Well you say it does not prove Christian claims are false yet you say it does show they don’t hold up. I am not sure what the difference is there. Yes, good people sometimes suffer and die. It is hard to understand. Is it impossible that there is a good God involved in all of it? Some days you do wonder. Then there are other days you see Him clear as day. That is what I would expect from a deity that was about a zillion times smarter than me. So I don’t count as a logical objection to God’s existence. It sure is an emotional objection. Especially when the pain is your pain the logic becomes hard to swallow.

            As hard as pain is to experience as a Christian I can’t see how it would be anything but harder as an atheist. You don’t struggle to hang on to hope. You simply have none. Life is horrible and then you die. No upside at all. Not that we should believe something because it makes life more pleasant but to believe you have zero chance to win at life can’t be fun.

          • Ficino

            Life is the upside. Count every day as gain. Despite horrors, I am glad for my little life, and I try to contribute to others'. I wouldn't go back to the old mindset for any reason I can fathom. Part of what makes an autumn morning so beautiful to us is the knowledge that winter is coming. To try to live a centered life every day is the best I can do.

          • Why is life better than death? We have a natural survival instinct. If that is merely a product of evolution then it is not an indicator that life is good.

            Still pain and pleasure have some infinitesimally small significance. They matter to us while we are alive and perhaps to a few other people who we are close to.

            Still even that can get strange. Is it better to kill someone than hurt them. Killing ends the pain and pleasure situation which might actually be good by some calculations. Now killing might be best done in groups. If you kill a whole family it is better because you don't have surviving family member suffering the grief. So if you don't value life itself you end up in some strange places. Peter Singer comes to mind.

          • David Nickol

            As I point out periodically, the Jews of the Old Testament had little or nothing to say about an afterlife. All of the great, faithful figures in Hebrew Scripture—Noah, Abraham, Solomon, David—loved and obeyed God without expecting eternal life and eternal reward. Clearly they didn't think life was meaningless.

            Not that we should believe something because it makes life more pleasant . . . .

            It sounds very much to me like you are saying we should.

          • I don't want to disagree with the vague statement of "no belief in the afterlife" before I read N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. But I'm not sure how to take what you say given stuff like the following:

            The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

            How could someone who merely ceases to exist at death look forward to or even care that "God will bring every deed into judgment"? It seems like there might be some tension between a belief that we simply cease to exist at death and a belief that God will render ultimate justice. I said "vague" in the beginning because I find that many approximations break down when you try to construct a completely consistent philosophy/​theology. I forget if it's N.T. Wright or someone else who claimed that the belief in final justice ended up overriding the lack of belief in an afterlife, but if that truly happened, it might be very important to distinguish between:

                 (1) belief in no afterlife
                 (2) lack of belief in an afterlife

          • David Nickol

            I don't want to disagree with the vague statement of "no belief in the afterlife" before . . . .

            Where did you find the words "no belief in the afterlife"? They are not in my comment, yet you put them in quotes.

          • My apologies; I was restating the bold in a way that was not clumsy given my sentence:

            DN: As I point out periodically, the Jews of the Old Testament had little or nothing to say about an afterlife. All of the great, faithful figures in Hebrew Scripture—Noah, Abraham, Solomon, David—loved and obeyed God without expecting eternal life and eternal reward. Clearly they didn't think life was meaningless.

            Do you disagree with that restatement?

          • David Nickol

            Yes, I agree. If I wanted to hedge I would say something like "The great figures of the Old Testament loved and obeyed God without expecting eternal life and eternal reward, or at least it seems so from the lack of information about such things in Hebrew Scripture." I really don't think that is necessary.

            Much as I admire N. T. Wright, I personally would stick to Jewish scholarship when it comes to the question of what Hebrew Scripture had to say (especially to Jews of the pre-Christian period or early Old Testament period) about an afterlife. Christians often read the Old Testament "in the light of" the New Testament, and even if that is perfectly legitimate, there is a danger of reading into Hebrew Scripture things that the Old Testament authors and their contemporaries would not have understood from the texts. The question at hand is what beliefs can be attributed to figures like Noah, Abraham, Solomon, and David based on what is written about them in Hebrew Scripture.

          • Well, I'm going to cue off N.T. Wright for the time being, because I think the ancient Israelites had an alternative reason to hope in God's action that wasn't personal afterlife: the continuation of the nation and the return to the Promised Land. The hope would be in part or maybe even in full for one's offspring—something we Enlightened autonomous individuals might find very hard to grasp, given our sub-replacement birth rates. But I think a pretty strong case can be made that the ancient Israelites did very much hope in God's action in the world, such that a slight alteration to @randygritter:disqus's argument works for them.

            Here's some NT Wright relating to the above:

            (vi) Resurrection and the Hope of Israel
                What place, within the wider context of Israel’s faith and life, can we give to these varied expressions of a hope for new life beyond ‘life after death’? Where did the idea come from, and how does it relate to the other types of hope (and the explicit statements of a lack of hope for post-mortem life) in the rest of the Old Testament? Here there are two related points to be made, the first about the relation of this hope to the mainstream Old Testament expectation, and the second to do with origin and derivation.
                It would be easy, and wrong, to see the hope for resurrection as a new and extraneous element, something which has come into ancient Israelite thinking by a backdoor or roundabout route. Each of the passages we have studied is set in the context of the continuing affiimation of the Jewish hope for restoration, for liberation from exile, persecution and suffering. Sometimes, as in the case of Ezekiel, this metaphorical character is clear throughout the passage. Sometimes, as in Daniel, actual bodily resurrection is likewise clearly intended. Elsewhere, as in the Isaiah passages, there is room for genuine uncertainty as to where the balance lies. But however concrete the reference in any of the passages, there is no doubt that even in such cases the overarching context is that of the hope of the nation for national restoration and resettlement in the land. In other words, this is not a move away from the hope which characterized all of ancient Israel, but a reaffirmation of it. It is a reaffirmation, indeed, in a way which the hope simply for a blessed but non-bodily personal life after death (as perhaps witnessed by Psalm 73 and one or two other passages) would not be. This resurrection hope is not like that of ancient Egypt, where life after death was thought of as a continuation of normal life by other means.159 Such an idea would have been seen by ancient Israel as a denial of the hope for nation, family and land to thrive and flourish.
                What we have, in fact, in these passages can best be seen in these terms: hope for bodily resurrection is what sometimes happens when the hope of ancient Israel meets a new challenge, which might include the threat of judgment, as in Hosea and Isaiah 24—7, and, more specifically, the fact of exile, as (in different ways) in Ezekiel 37 and Isaiah 53. Daniel 12 is best seen, in line with chapter 9, as reflecting an awareness of extended and continuing exile, focused now in suffering and martyrdom. (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 121–22)

          • David Nickol

            because I think the ancient Israelites had an alternative reason to hope in God's action that wasn't personal afterlife: the continuation of the nation and the return to the Promised Land. The hope would be in part or maybe even in full for one's offspring

            I have no problem with that. What I was responding to was this paragraph by Randy Gritter:

            As hard as pain is to experience as a Christian I can’t see how it would be anything but harder as an atheist. You don’t struggle to hang on to hope. You simply have none. Life is horrible and then you die. No upside at all. Not that we should believe something because it makes life more pleasant but to believe you have zero chance to win at life can’t be fun.

            What does "zero chance to win at life" mean to you? And does it make any sense to say that this didn't apply to Ancient Israelites because they had hopes for Israel that they would never see? I think many people (say, those who are concerned about climate change) have hopes and expectations for future generations that don't depend on either an afterlife or God. I don't think one has to believe in God to live in the hopes to make this a better world when one leaves it than it was when one entered it.

            And of course for the theists who talk about "winning at life," there is also "losing at life" (going to hell). Now, I sense it gives a lot of Christians a warm feeling inside that the people they argue with here are going to be tormented in eternal flames. But of course it is horrific to imagine that happening to even one person, let alone millions or billions (including, maybe, babies who die without baptism).

            Also, I think there are many people who, in their suffering, would prefer to believe there was not a God sitting back and letting it happen.

            In any case, Randy Gritter did not even express faith in his own argument. He said:

            Not that we should believe something because it makes life more pleasant but to believe you have zero chance to win at life can’t be fun.

            What one wants to believe to make life more pleasant is no indicator of what is true and not true.

          • What does "zero chance to win at life" mean to you?

            Having no chance to contribute to shalom. Think Game of Thrones where it sometimes seems like it will always be a game of intrigue at the highest levels with the little guy getting squashed time and time again. No respite. No justice.

            And does it make any sense to say that this didn't apply to Ancient Israelites because they had hopes for Israel that they would never see?

            I suspect the ancient Israelites were a lot more connected, inter-generationally, than we [Westerners] are/​tend to be. That is, if parents did something which vastly improved things for their children—even if there was no other direct benefit for the parents—it they would "win". We see this in immigrants even today. In contrast, Westerners seem on average to feel this inter-generational connection a lot less, especially in the "having kids and ensuring they have an excellent future"-direction.

            I think many people (say, those who are concerned about climate change) have hopes and expectations for future generations that don't depend on either an afterlife or God. I don't think one has to believe in God to live in the hopes to make this a better world when one leaves it than it was when one entered it.

            The question would be whether the hope is rationally founded or more like a wish or dream. For example, whatever caused Francis Fukuyama to declare "the end of history" (that is, we've reached the final politics and final economics) appears now to be wrong, and whoever hoped in it set his/her hope in something false. For another example, some New Atheists seem to think that if only religion were eradicated, things would be profoundly better. Well, is that a rationally grounded hope or is it not? Stepping back, the question is whether humankind can really hold things together all on its own, without any sort of divine assistance. (Divine assistance could also help us move toward better states of being. Maybe the problem is languishing at any given state, no matter how far advanced.)

            Also, I think there are many people who, in their suffering, would prefer to believe there was not a God sitting back and letting it happen.

            Sure; @Ficino:disqus appears to be an example. There are a number of responses to such arguments prompted by the Bible; one might be how God should treat a nation which is doing some pretty wicked things with no apparent will to repent. Should he still miraculously cure/​prevent cancer of the 'good' people? The Bible's stance on such things is very uncomfortable for 21st century Westerners; maybe the average Westerner wishes to distance himself/​herself from the full consequences of his/her action/​inaction.

            What one wants to believe to make life more pleasant is no indicator of what is true and not true.

            And yet, there's the placebo effect. What it illustrates is not that we can wish anything into existence, but instead that our desires and hopes have some empirically observable effect. Perhaps there are discoverable rules? But barring that, if in fact the hopes are false, oughtn't we stop thusly hoping? What happens when we really grind away every last unjustified belief? I do enjoy taking atheists fully seriously—I seem to do it a lot more than they do. (Just like atheists often take Christian theology more seriously than Christians do—using it to then critique Christianity.)

          • It is not just a question of an afterlife. It is a question of some solid reference point for your current life.

            The Jews did not all believe in the resurrection. The Pharisees did the Sadducees did not. Still resurrection is very different from some sort of eternal reward. An actual bodily resurrection is only one way you might be rewarded or punished for your life on earth. Not believing in any afterlife is actually quite rare in human history.

          • David Nickol

            The Jews did not all believe in the resurrection. The Pharisees did the Sadducees did not.

            In speaking of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Solomon, David (and so on), I am talking about a period in Jewish History different from Second Temple Judaism, which was when Pharisees and Sadducees came into existence (c. 515 BCE through 70 CE).

            Not believing in any afterlife is actually quite rare in human history.

            Does that mean the Old Testament figures (and authors) believed in an afterlife and just didn't mention it? That seems highly unlikely to me. Also, when the Israelites believe in one and only one God, that was quite rare. That doesn't mean they didn't believe it.

          • Rob Abney

            How about Job?

            But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,
            and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust;
            Whom I myself shall see:
            my own eyes, not another's, shall behold him,
            And from my flesh I shall see God;

          • OMG

            There 's Ecclesiastes 12:17 - “The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”

          • David Nickol

            See my message to Rob about both Job and Ecclesiastes. This is a footnote to Ecclesiastes 12:7 (there is no 12:17) from the NAB:

            * [12:7] Death is portrayed in terms of the description of creation in Gn 2:7; the body corrupts in the grave, and the life breath (lit., “spirit”), or gift of life, returns to God who had breathed upon what he had formed.

            As N. T. Wright explains, the idea is not that the body and "soul" separate and the "soul" goes to God. It is that the breath of life God breathed into the physical body returns to God.

          • OMG

            The idea is that the soul is synonymous with God's gift of spirit. It is the form of the body, the animating principle, the life-giving principle. The spiritual soul, therefore, as a gift of God's spiritual 'substance', does not experience mortality.

          • David Nickol

            The spiritual soul, therefore, as a gift of God's spiritual 'substance', does not experience mortality.

            The discussion, I repeat, is not what is believed today, or what Aristotle believed, or what Thomas Aquinas believed. It is about what the Old Testament authors and their contemporary readers believed. As I noted, N. T. Wright explicates quotes from both Job and Ecclesiastes showing that the authors of both believed that death was final. The Old Testament figures I have been referring to most certainly did not believe in a soul that was "the form of the body," that was immortal, and that would go to "heaven" when the individual died. Such ideas did develop, but they developed much later, and for the most part, the Old Testament has a very different view.

            It is simply unacceptable to attribute to biblical authors concepts that did not develop until well after they were dead, even if as a Christian you believe you see the seeds of later developments in the Old Testament.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            FWIW, I think you are basically correct in your assessment of OT attitudes toward any sort of personal "afterlife".

            But, between the fairly specific Christian hope for resurrection life / new creation, and the seeming implication of naturalism (and Ecclesiastes!) that "there is no new thing under the sun", I would say there is a middle ground.

            This middle ground would consist of a vague and only poetically specified vision for some sort of ultimate peace and justice, as for example in Isaiah chapter 11. Isaiah 11 may be speaking of a hope for something that is still this-worldly, but it is nonetheless a hope for something NEW in this world, not just the same-old same-old cycles birth and death that Ecclesiastes, and naturalism, and many so-called "world religions".

            And here I would side with Randy in his remark that started this whole thing off: if Ecclesiastes has it right, then we have cause for despair, cause for just throwing up our hands and giving up on the struggles of this life. But, the Bible isn't just Ecclesiastes. It is -- on one simplistic reading, at least -- a progression from a world of original blessing in Genesis to a world of despair (typified by Ecclesiastes) and back again (with the "back again" part especially suggested by texts like Isaiah 11) and maybe even all the way back again (if we believe the NT).

          • OMG

            I don't think one can approach a solid statement about the fervency or prevalence of the afterlife as a component of belief on the part of the Jewish people prior to Christianity. Simply because there are a paucity of OT books or original sources devoted to the subject does not prove its non-existence as a belief.

            I have only one resource available - Backgrounds of Early Christianity by E. Ferguson (Eerdmans. 1993). On the afterlife of the Jewish people (pp. 520), he states:

            "Sirach repeats the view found in most of the OT that at death the person, whether good or bad, enters the underworld (Sheol; cf the Greek Hades) and has a shadowy existence....The Wisdom of Solomon,...alludes to the Greek philosophical teaching of immortality, with death as the penalty for the wicked....The notion of resurrection, found occasionally in the OT (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2) finds expression in 2 Maccabees 7:9, 11, 14, 23; 12:43-45 (reserved for the godly only). Resurrection is denied to the wicked in Psalms of Solomon 3:13-16; 13:10; 14:6; 15:15; 1 Enoch 22:13; Baruch 30; Sanhedrin 10.3. Second Esdras 7:75ff contains an extended description of the torments of the spirits of the ungodly and the lbessings of the godly in the period between death and the day of judgment that brings the world to an end.

            The doctrine of the resurrection became one of the essential dogmas of rabbinic orthodoxy, denial of which excluded one from a share in the world to come."

            Ferguson's scholarly work contains an extensive bibliography. He seems to refute the claim that afterlife and resurrection was not part of the OT or belief systems of the Jewish people prior to Christianity.

          • David Nickol

            I don't think one can approach a solid statement about the fervency or prevalence of the afterlife as a component of belief on the part of the Jewish people prior to Christianity.

            The issue was not Jewish belief prior to Christianity. It was Jewish belief in the Old Testament period, prior to Second Temple Judaism (i.e, prior to about 515 BC). Your own source says,

            "Sirach repeats the view found in most of the OT that at death the person, whether good or bad, enters the underworld (Sheol; cf the Greek Hades) and has a shadowy existence...

            You say,

            Simply because there are a paucity of OT books or original sources devoted to the subject does not prove its non-existence as a belief.

            See your own source above. It is not that there is a shortage of texts. It is that the texts we do have in general speak of death as final, or at best as a descent to sheol, which is nothing like heaven or hell.

            All the books cited in your quote except for Isaiah date from Second Temple Judaism, after the period is Jewish history that I am talking about, and none of them except Daniel are in the Tanakh (i.e., the Jewish "Old Testament").

            The doctrine of the resurrection became one of the essential dogmas of rabbinic orthodoxy, denial of which excluded one from a share in the world to come.

            Rabbinic Judaism developed for several hundred years after the destruction of the Second Temple. "Rabbinic Orthodoxy" is far removed from the time period I have been discussing. Your entire quote from E. Ferguson, insofar as it touches on what I have been contending, confirms what I have said.

          • David Nickol

            @OMG
            @LukeBreuer:disqus

            I said to Luke earlier that I was wary of Christians—including even the great N. T. Wright—interpreting Old Testament passages about life after death, but even Wright does not accept this passage from Job as evidence for the afterlife. He says:

            'The undiscovered country, from whose bourn/ No traveler return.' Thus Shakespeare's Hamlet, musing on death—all the more remarkably in a play written from within Christendom. But the sentiment is an accurate description of the regular Old Testament belief about the fate of the dead: death is a one-way street, on which those behind can follow but those ahead cannot turn back. Humans are here today, gone tomorrow, and seen no more. The book of Job contains the most emphatic statements on the subject . . . .

            He then quotes passages from Job, the first of which I am substituting from the NAB so I can cut and paste:

            Remember that my life is like the wind;
            my eye will not see happiness again.
            The eye that now sees me shall no more behold me;
            when your eye is on me, I shall be gone.
            As a cloud dissolves and vanishes,
            so whoever goes down to Sheol shall not come up.
            They shall not return home again;
            their place shall know them no more.

            He then turns to the passage you quote. If you have a copy of The Resurrection of the Son of God, you can look up the discussion, which is too long for me to type here, but he notes the difficulty of translating the Hebrew ("the marginal notes in most modern translations admit that nobody quite knows exactly what the critical passages mean") and says the following:

            Most scholars agree that, difficult though the passage is to translate, it is still more difficult to suppose that, in the teeth of the other passages explored above, it suddenly holds out a hope for a bodily life beyond the grave . . . . But even if this were to shift the balance back a small way towards the traditional understanding, if would hardly be enough to force us, through all the translation problems and against the run of the rest of the book, to insist the this passage forms an exception to the otherwise complete view of death offered by Job.

            Interestingly, while in another message OMG offers a quote from Ecclesiastes as evidence of OT belief in an afterlife, Wright says the following:

            Ecclesiastes, too, insists that death is the end, and there is no return. Though nobody can be sure what precisely happens at death, as far as we can tell humans are in this respect no different from beasts:

            The fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to oe place; all are from the dust, and all return to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit [or 'breath', rauch] goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?

            No: to die is to be forgotten for good. Death means that the body returns to dust, and the breath to God who gave it; meaning not that an immortal part of the person goes to live with God, but that the God who breathed life's breath into human nostrils in the first place will simply withdraw it into his own possession.

          • PeterA

            Old Testament had little or nothing to say about an afterlife.

            The ancient Jewish viewpoint toward the afterlife reflects a complex developing relationship among individuals and families. In his book the Jewish Scholar Alan Segal Life After Death, in Chapter 6 "Second Temple Judaism - The Rise of a Beatific Afterlife in the Bible” he writes

            “A beatific afterlife is so powerful an incentive in life that once it has entered Christian life, it is hard to imagine that it was not always present in the Hebrew text. But it was not. Furthermore, life after death did not enter Jewish thought immediately after the Jews met the Persians and the Greeks. The right social and historical situation had to arise before a beatific afterlife was expressed in Jewish thought.

            Usually, people can speculate about how the Pharisees viewed the possibility of life after death, whereas Sadducees held “that the soul perishes with the body.” Possibly, because all ancient sources concerning the Sadducees are unsympathetic to them and do not attempt to understand their perspective on death. Meanwhile, in the Book of Enoch we read how the kingdom God would create never-ending and eternal the life span of the resurrected would be limited to 500 years -

            “the resurrected would live “five hundred years” or as “long life on earth as [their] fathers lived.”

            But at the same time, if we were to track all the occurrences of the word “Sheol” in the OT in set1, set2 and set3 and their corresponding translation in the ESV. Would you say, one can see a blissful afterlife, eternal punishment or no afterlife at all?

            Similarly, locating every place in the OT where (meṯîm) occurs (or the singular form, met) where מְתִים is spirit of the dead (in (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) ) list of verses.

            It would be a hard press to say that the OT did not address afterlife.

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for this very helpful addition to the discussion. I think the term "beatific afterlife" helps clarify things. In my understanding, the term would rarely if ever be used in reference to people going to Sheol. In some places (e.g., Job), to die is simply to cease to exist, forever (despite, even there, a few references to Sheol). Elsewhere going to Sheol may imply some shadowy existence, but certainly not (as I understand it) anything like a "beatific afterlife" for all who are saved and some kind of punishment for all who are saved.

            Elsewhere, I have been harping on what is suggested by the Chapter title from Segal you mention, "Second Temple Judaism - The Rise of a Beatific Afterlife in the Bible." The viewpoint I have been arguing is succinctly summed up in that title. The idea of an afterlife for all, in either heaven or hell, developed in Second Temple Judaism, or from about 515 BC onwards, and Christianity took up, and elaborated on, ideas that had developed during the years before the birth of Jesus.

            So figures like Abraham, Moses, Noah, and others in the parts of the Bible that predate Second Temple Judaism are certainly not depicted as being motivated by a desire to "get to heaven" or to avoid hell. It seems to me that to hypothesize they were so motivated but the OT texts simply don't talk about it is to engage in fantasy.

            Please stick around if you find it bearable here!

          • PeterA

            David, I agree with you, there are no clear indications that Moses, Noah, and Abraham envisaged a personal afterlife. At the same time, I believe it is worth mentioning though, in Pentateuch we see how they walked, talked, and even wrestled with God. Because they all considered life in its full sense meant a life lived under Yahweh's blessing and be "friend of God". In case of the “wandering Aramean” Abram (Dt 26:5) whom God called from the city of Ur to become the patriarch of God’s own people and later called Abraham, referred to as the “friend of God” (2 Chr 20:7; Jas 2:23). Subsequently, these people were more concerned to be blessed by Yahweh and be the blessings to other nations than to inherit immortality (my own take). On this part though, an interesting case can be made in case of Enoch, his story is more notable in that he alone, of all the members of his genealogy, has no death notice. Instead, the text twice says that Enoch "walked with God," (Gen 5:22; 5:24) and, at the end of the second, the text states "he was not, for God took him." These two passages can give us the ability to talk about his heavenly journey and also about his final disposition or “afterlife”

      • OMG

        Ficino,
        I'm wondering how/what led you to conclude "...in the conception of an omni-God that abandons us [?sic?] time after time." How have we [you?] been abandoned?

    • The other thing to understand is that if naturalism is true it is an awful truth. If nature is a bunch of laws with no meaning or purpose behind it and the human person is reducible to a mere object of nature then we lose all meaning and purpose from every human life. That could be the truth. Yet should we assume it is the truth without any proof?

      I'm not sure this is quite true. Or at least, things are muddied by the fact that the West has been living off of a Christian inheritance which made its way into our … cultural bone marrow. The Idea of Progress, for example, is a transparent adaptation of Christian eschatology of the redemption of the world. If you really eviscerate all teleology from fundamental reality, the Idea of Progress becomes some contingent phenomenon that humans must uphold with their own power. That contingent phenomenon can fail, leading to the following:

      The Yale University Press series Politics and Culture begins with the premise that self-government, the hallmark and glory of the United States, the West, and an expanding number of countries around the world, is ailing. Those who sense the ailment cannot agree on what it is, much less how it is to be treated; and that disagreement, only deepening as time passes, is in fact part of the ailment. In the young twenty-first century, liberal democracy, that system that marries majority rule with individual rights, has entered a crisis of legitimacy. As practiced in recent decades, and as an international ordering principle, it has failed to deliver on its promises to growing, and increasingly mobilized and vocal, numbers of people. (Why Liberalism Failed, Foreword)

      Now, there is disagreement on this matter, e.g. from Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature, Enlightenment Now). But if we are to be empirical, we must admit that perhaps humans cannot continue to build or even maintain the kind of social/​cultural order which was dreamed up in the Enlightenment and which many thought was on the verge of victory (e.g. Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man).

      Anyhow, I think without a slightly nuanced reading like the above, you're going to get seemingly valid responses from atheists along the lines of, "We can find/​create our own meaning!" One of the consistent lessons I see in the Bible is that people can convince themselves of falsehoods which appear true for multiple generations before catastrophically failing—to the shock of those who held to the falsehoods. There are prophets (public intellectuals) who would preach "Peace, Peace!" when there was no peace. See this smattering of verses for a taste. How can we test whether "We can find/​create our own meaning!" is empirically true or not, given the long timescales?

      • I don't doubt people can imagine their own meaning. It may even feel right based on the cultural values Christianity has left behind. In fact, I would go further and say Christian values feel true because they ARE true. Still a real naturalist would have to assert that meaning is an illusion. Perhaps a very satisfying illusion but not something that exists outside the imaginations of the people involved.

        Yet you are right. Anyone who claims to be a naturalist and still talks about progress has not really thought things through.

        • I think a real naturalist can redefine the term 'meaning', just like the term 'temple of the LORD' had been redefined by those Jeremiah describes in chapter 7. There is reason to be suspicious of the term, as Gerhard Sauter writes:

          Some years ago the German railroad had an advertisement that read: “Everybody speaks about the weather, we do not.” An advertisement for theology and the church today, but also for many trends in philosophy, sociology, and psychology, might well read: “Everybody speaks about meaning, we do too.” The question of meaning was for a time the main topic of a radio program discussing practical philosophy and ethics. It ranks as the decisive religious question in Christian education and in the care of the sick and suffering and dying. But the longer this goes on the more I become convinced that not by a long way does this question bring new life to the question of God, as for many years it was expected to do. I have been forced to conclude that it is really a seeking of idols. I hope that in the process I have not overlooked what is justifiable about it, the way in which it helps our age with the difficulties of orientation. I hope that I have taken adequate account of this contribution. The dubious feature, however, is that the question of meaning usually ends up today being an all-inclusive question. That is the real question which it poses. As in the case of many other questions that by repeated invocation find a niche in our consciousness, we need to ask what the question of meaning itself means. (The Question of Meaning, viii)

          In the first chapter, Sauter goes on to say that there is massive equivocation of 'meaning' across generations. He writes that "the term meaning then becomes a chameleon that changes its colors according to the manner of the approach" (1). The battle for that word, I would argue, is lost.

          • I agree that the definition of meaning is often changed. Especially when they talk about finding meaning in things. People change it from an objective thing to a subjective thing. Of course people can and often do think love is meaningful or beauty is meaningful. The question is whether they are right. Naturalism says they are wrong.

          • People change it from an objective thing to a subjective thing.

            They don't change anything. They deny that meaning was ever an objective thing. Aristotle said it was, but his saying so never made it so.

        • OMG

          You make some good points. Your statement of Christian values feeling true because they are true reminded me of T.N. White saying the same in a Gifford Lecture I listened to last night. Somewhere in this forum 'arose' discussion on his book on the resurrection. Because of his rhetorical presentation, he may easily be taken out of context and used to argue illusory positions in opposition to Christianity. For instance, relative to 'progress,' he argues that the Resurrection teaches:

          "Sabbath-keeping is now theologically irrelevant if I daresay that in the North of Scotland! As in Romans 14. This has nothing to do with Jewish legalism.... it’s about inaugurated eschatology....Jesus’ followers are fulfilled creation people - sabbath people.... Hence the early Christians talk of joy and peace. What Jews celebrate every Sabbath was to be the constant life of Jesus’ followers...;"

          On rebuilding the temple:

          "That temple is you. Jesus himself is the new temple but Jesus’ followers are also, indwelt by the spirit also constitute the temple. The holy city coming down from heaven is a giant cube, a massive holy of holies at the heart of the new temple which is the city because the microcosm and the macrocosm are now one and the same thing."
          ntwrightpage.com/2018/02/28/gifford-lectures/

          Christianity is true progress, a supernatural naturalism, so to speak. I hope you get a chance to listen. He's a gifted and learned speaker.

          • I have heard a few clips from him. Especially on how modern western morality is rooted in Christianity rather than Greco-Roman culture or anything else. So much of what we take for granted as obviously moral has its roots St Paul reflecting on Jesus.

          • David Nickol

            Thirtee days ago, when I said that Christians did not keep the sabbath, you objected and wrote the following:

            Sabbath for the Hebrew people = Sunday Mass for Catholics. The Commandment to Honor the Sabbath applies to Catholics attending Mass. Catholics interpret Sabbath as the day when the Lord rested; as God is our model, we rest and honor him on the Sabbath, Sunday.

            Now you quote "T. N. White" (known to the rest of us as N.T. Wright) saying

            "Sabbath-keeping is now theologically irrelevant if I daresay that in the North of Scotland! As in Romans 14. This has nothing to do with Jewish legalism....

            I suggest that you were simply wrong in claiming, "Sabbath for the Hebrew people = Sunday Mass for Catholics. The Commandment to Honor the Sabbath applies to Catholics attending Mass." Or wrong as far as N. T. Wright is concerned. Chapter 9 of Wright's Scripture and the Authority of God is devoted to interpreting the Fourth Commandment in the light of Jesus and the Resurrection. It is not easy reading, and it is difficult to pull quotes from, but he does say,

            So is there no "Christian equivalent" to the Old Testament sabbath? Well, yes, I suggest there is. But it works quote differently. Now that heaven and earth have come together inn Jesus Christ, and now that the new day has dawned, we live (from that point of view) in a perpetual sabbath. . . .

            In other words, Christianity did not change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Going to mass on Sunday is not done in obedience to the Fourth Commandment.

            Somewhere in this forum 'arose' discussion on his book on the resurrection. Because of his rhetorical presentation, he may easily be taken out of context and used to argue illusory positions in opposition to Christianity.

            I find this quite offensive and wrongheaded. Just as you misunderstood the contention that Christians do not observe the Sabbath on Sundays, you misunderstand as "opposition to Christianity" the argument that Jews in Old Testament times (before Second Temple Judaism, i.e. prior to about 515 BC) did not believe in life after death, at least in terms of reward and punishment or heaven and hell. Concept of the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead developed during the time of Second Temple Judaism (and prior to the time of Jesus).

            N. T. Wright's quotations about death being final in Job and Ecclesiastes were not distorted or taken out of context. They were also not reproduced in my messages on the afterlife "in opposition to Christianity." The idea that concepts developed throughout Judaism and underwent dramatic change as a result of Christianity is not "in opposition to Christianity."

            This whole discussion started when I asserted that Noah, Abraham, Solomon, and David loved and obeyed God not in anticipation of eternal reward, but just because he was Creator and God, and that was enough. That idea is not "in opposition to Christianity." Indeed, it seems to me to be the essence of both Judaism and Christianity. Love and obey God because he is God, not out of hope for reward or fear of punishment.

          • OMG

            David - I believe that I miss your point or perhaps you've missed mine. I don't believe there is much point in my discussing further since it seems to me that some sort of illusory wall prevents my intent from reaching any sort of comprehension. Perhaps someone else could help you understand my point better than I have been able to do. If you find my words offensive, please accept that they have certainly not been intended for that effect.

            For I see that you fail to see that Sabbath-keeping (setting aside a day to worship) has become a people keeping Sabbath within themselves as Christ their God lives within their hearts, minds, souls. One day of the week has transformed into perpetual life in Christ as he is the vine and Christians his branches. If you fail to understand this symbolism, this belief, I can only conclude that you failed English lit 101.

          • David Nickol

            If you fail to understand this symbolism, this belief, I can only conclude that you failed English lit 101.

            I got an A, majored in English, graduated with honors, and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa. However, that was so long ago that English documents from that era must be translated into modern English. So perhaps that explains why I am such a dunce.

            But I hope you will concede that your comments on the Sabbath above are somewhat different from your initial statement:

            Sabbath for the Hebrew people = Sunday Mass for Catholics. The Commandment to Honor the Sabbath applies to Catholics attending Mass. Catholics interpret Sabbath as the day when the Lord rested; as God is our model, we rest and honor him on the Sabbath, Sunday.

            I would be very interested to know which of the Gifford Lectures you quoted from above. I would like to listen to it also. And I would be interested in hearing what your understanding is of the passage your quoted:

            Sabbath-keeping is now theologically irrelevant if I daresay that in the North of Scotland! As in Romans 14. This has nothing to do with Jewish legalism.... it’s about inaugurated eschatology....Jesus’ followers are fulfilled creation people - sabbath people.... Hence the early Christians talk of joy and peace. What Jews celebrate every Sabbath was to be the constant life of Jesus’ followers...;

            I am attempting to discern the meaning out of context, but it seems to me to imply that it no longer makes sense for Christians to keep the Sabbath. Elsewhere (and I don't pretend to understand this well) I interpret Wright to say that Jews observed the Sabbath in anticipation of something that, for Christians, has already occurred, and hence the Sabbath is irrelevant for Christians (or the Sabbath is to be lived 24/7, not on one day of the week).

          • OMG

            You may find Tom White's Gifford lecture on the resurrection at:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkppQvBtiuc.

            Here is a cleaned-up and expanded transcription of my earlier post:

            Fourth, in consequence, the great Sabbath. The Jubilee has been inaugurated. "How many times should you forgive?" asks Peter in Matthew 18. "Seventy times seven," replies Jesus - resonating with Leviticus 25 and Daniel 9. A mutual forgiveness is built into the Lord’s Prayer itself which is the kingdom prayer designed to function as a little temple.

            Sabbath-keeping is now theologically irrelevant if I daresay that in the North of Scotland. As in the Gospels and Romans 14. This has nothing to do with Jewish legalism versus Christian libertarianism. It’s about inaugurated eschatology. For John, Jesus’ followers are [?ex-deus?]people, fulfilled creation people, Sabbath people every day of every week. We share the rest which Jesus promises in Matthew 11. Hence the early Christians talk of joy and peace. What Jews celebrate every Sabbath was to be the constant life of Jesus’ followers.

            Fifth, then, the new temple has been built, and as Paul says, That temple is you. Jesus himself is the new temple but Jesus’ followers - indwelt by the spirit - also constitute the temple. In Revelation, with its sabbatically echoing sevens, the holy city coming down from heaven is a giant cube, a massive holy of holies at the heart of the new temple which is the new heaven and earth reality. There is no temple in the city because the microcosm and the macrocosm are now one and the same thing.

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for the link. I have watched this lecture and hope to find the time to watch the others. I am always impressed by N. T. Wright. For someone who is allegedly opposed to Christianity, I have an awful lot of N. T. Wright books in my personal library:

            Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today

            Evil and the Justice of God

            Paul: A Biography

            The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion

            Who Was Jesus?

            Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God

            I am actually surprised that you seem to feel the Gifford Lecture supports your positions on the afterlife and the Sabbath. For example, Wright makes it quite clear that the only way the Apostles could possibly have understood the resurrection was for Jesus to be bodily resurrected. The idea that souls left bodies and went to heaven (in which case Jesus could have had a "spiritual" resurrection) was alien to first-century Jews. And yet it seems to me that all the attempts to find afterlife in the OT were based on the idea of a soul being something that could leave a body and be rejoined at some later time. Those are ideas (from Greek thought) that developed later in Christianity. Much of what Wright said in the lecture was above my head, but I think I got that right.

          • David Nickol

            If you find my words offensive, please accept that they have certainly not been intended for that effect.

            I will quote your words yet again:

            Somewhere in this forum 'arose' discussion on his [that is, N. T. Wright's] book on the resurrection. Because of his rhetorical presentation, he may easily be taken out of context and used to argue illusory positions in opposition to Christianity.

            Since I have been the one quoting from N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, I find it difficult to interpret your words in any way other than an accusation that I have taken N. T. Wright's words "out of context" and "used [them] to argue illusory positions in opposition to Christianity."

            There are three aspects to that accusation that I find offensive. First, that I have taken words "out of context." It is true that I have not quoted the whole book, but I took pains to include enough from the book so I felt the meaning was not distorted. Second, that I have argued "illusive positions" (unclear as that characterization is, it seems to imply deception). Third, that I have argued in "opposition to Christianity," which is not true, since my arguments have been entirely about the development of concepts in Second Temple Judaism and have in no way been in "opposition to Christianity."

            It is one thing to disagree with others in the forum or to say they are misinformed or downright wrong. I do that all the time. It is quite another thing to accuse someone of deliberate deception and of arguing "in opposition to Christianity" when the topic is Judaism!

          • OMG

            Yes, David, I see you arguing in opposition to Christianity in taking such ludicrous positions as being 'wary' of Christian appropriation of elements from Judiaism. And then refusing to acknowledge or to see the 'fullness' of the symbolism with which Christianity has imbued those same symbols. That seems willful blindness or opposition. There is no such thing as trademark or copyright on OT concepts such as the commandments, sabbath, law, or the temple!

            I've not accused you of deception, so why do you claim that I have? This is not the first time you've accused me and others of showing personal animus against you, and yet no one that I know has ever found it necessary to apologize (except perhaps myself in the interest of keeping peace, not in recognition of any personal failing in my words directed against you). Of course if you find my comments to have been offensive, please feel free to submit them to the moderator.

            Perhaps you're angry with me because I represent something else. There is probably some book out there which talks about misdirected rage or why one has rage in the first place.

          • David Nickol

            I see you arguing in opposition to Christianity in taking such ludicrous positions as being 'wary' of Christian appropriation of elements from Judiaism.

            I find it difficult to believe that I have been so unclear as to give cause for that criticism, but then, I know very well what I think, and perhaps I see it in my own writing when it is not evident to others. It would indeed be ludicrous to be wary of Christian appropriation of elements from Judaism. What I believe you may be referring to is my expression of wariness about Christians reading Christian ideas back into the Hebrew Scriptures. Or perhaps you may consider my position that observing Sunday as the Lord's Day is not tinkering with the Fourth Commandment by changing the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first. In any case, I am not at all wary (or opposed to) Christian appropriation of elements from Judaism.

            I've not accused you of deception, so why do you claim that I have?

            I say that because you said, obviously with me in mind as the one quoting N. T. Wright,

            Because of his [Wright's] rhetorical presentation, he may easily be taken out of context and used to argue illusory positions in opposition to Christianity.

            Quoting out of context is deceptive, as is arguing "illusory" positions in opposition to Christianity. My Unabridged dictionary defines "illusory" as follows:

            : of, relating to, or marked by illusion : based on or producing illusion : deceptive, unreal

            "Mistaken," or "misguided," or "incorrect" would have indicated that you thought I was wrong, but as I read your comment, "illusory" (a strange choice of words, in any case) implies something more sinister on my part. Or perhaps I am a trifle paranoid.

            Perhaps you're angry with me because I represent something else. There is probably some book out there which talks about misdirected rage or why one has rage in the first place.

            Who has rage? I know the following is out of fashion, but really . . . LOL! I have long been aware that sometimes my comments seem stronger than I intend them to be, but if you see rage rather than annoyance or frustration, you are seeing something that is not there. You have gotten more personal in making accusations against me than I think is appropriate, and I confess I have done the same to you, for which I apologize. I hope if we continue to interact, we can stick to the issues and leave personal motivations out of it.

  • David Nickol

    With no new comments in two days, it's beginning to look like solipsism may be true.

  • SpokenMind

    In my opinion, near death experiences give pause to the position that everything is naturally explainable. For those who've had one, it seems like there is a dimension beyond our physical reality.

  • WCB

    Starting with Plotinus, we had the concept of the One. God that is self contained. This lead to the claims God is simple. That God's substance and his essences are one. That dodged the issue of where these essences came from and how they came to be God. Which existence would have to be explained. Possibly leading to an infinite chain of metaphysical explanations. Therefore all is God except that which God creates. God's attributes are there fore necessary, his omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence et al.

    Descartes in his letters to Mesenne takes this concept to it's logical conclusion. God creates the material world, and thus creates not just nature and it's secondary cause, (as stated by William of Okham) but the metaphysics and logic, the laws and rules of the Universe. God could have made 2 + 2 = 5 had God so desired.

    But if God's goodness is a necessary attribute of a simple God without parts, where does moral evil come from? A good God could have create mankind with a good moral nature, such as God enjoys, a free will as God enjoys and man would never do moral evil. Any possible objection that could be made by theologians as to why this cannot be so is not viable, because God makes the rules and can have any state of affairs God wishes. A good God would want perfect moral goodness.

    Thus this simple, perfect being God concept goes down in flames. Either God:
    A. Does not exist. Naturalism rules
    B. Does not make the rules and laws of the Universe. Naturalism sneaks in through the back door
    C. God Is not good which makes Christianity et al false and the Bible not true, trustworthy revelation.
    D. God does not care about us, again, not consistent with revelations from God.

    The idea that naturalism is impossible is not true. The best the anti-naturalist can do is abandon the idea that the Bible etc are true revelations and abandon C. and D.

    The idea that God is the underlying cause of all, is simple, and has necessary essences in the end collapses and cannot be true. We see no supernatural realm, but see a material one all around us.

    • Ficino

      I think you may overstate in your last paragraph, but some good points.

      Do you think that some apologists try to rebut C and D by fallaciously exploiting non-univocal senses of terms? Or do you think they avoid equivocations or other fallacies in so doing? E.g. can they consistently affirm what the Bible teaches and deny that God is good in the sense of His having moral duties?

      • WCB

        Many theists do that. Somehow the concept of Good becomes some mysterious quality we mere humans cannot understand. A good example is Martin Luther. His book "Bondage of the Will" tells us that reading the Bible carefully demonstrates there is no free will. But if there is no free will where does moral evil come from? God. Luther whines he wishes he had not been born a man who had to face this dilemma of God creating all moral evil. And then abandons reason and rationality. God is inscrutable, incomprehensible. The problem is that the Bible tells us that God IS just, God IS fair, God IS compassionate, God IS merciful.

        I call this the sub-goodness of God argument. The supposed trustworthy revelations of the Bible make many such claims God has these sort of sub-goodnesses. The rhetorical games people have been playing ever since Paul does not work. See Romans 11:33.

        It is hard to square the claim that God is simple and necessarily good and God creates all the metaphysical necessities and laws of the Universe.
        Trying to undermine C. and D. by denying God is good as we think of good, runs afoul of my little sub-goodness argument. The idea of a simple God with necessary attributes including perfect goodness is not a good one. Naturalism has thus not been eliminated as a viable state of affairs.