Why Am I Not Agnostic About Gods?

The comment thread on the entry about the shroud of Turin grows daily and is (perhaps not surprisingly) mainly not about the shroud but about Christianity and atheism. Some people are praying for me and my family, others are calling me names, just because I identify as an atheist and offer the scientific consensus view of that piece of Medieval linen along with some hypotheses about its context of manufacture.

Henrik commented that anybody who is not agnostic about gods has an unscientific attitude to the question. Owlmirror simply and wisely replied “Parsimony”. This is in my opinion worth a few extra words of explanation.

To my mind, atheism, defined as “not believing in any gods”, is the standard scientific attitude. The reason that I am not agnostic about gods, invisible pink unicorns etc. is a central scientific principle known as Ockham’s razor. It states that when attempting to explain observations, a person should be parsimonious, frugal, economic in their hypotheses. Do not hypothesise more things than necessary. No observation of the world demands the existence of gods or invisible unicorns in order to be explained. Science is doing fine without those hypotheses. Thus there is no reason to believe that they exist.

But note also that being a secularised Swede, I am not emotionally invested in the issue of gods. I believe equally little in gods, invisible unicorns, Santa Claus, Bilbo Baggins and Bigfoot. And I see no reason to treat the question of gods separately from other scientific issues. (I mean, if there were immensely powerful incorporeal consciousnesses out there, they would be a hot research topic in any number of scientific disciplines.) The reason that I identify as an atheist in my byline top left isn’t that I spend lots of time thinking about my unbelief. It’s that most Sb readers are in the US. And I know that in the religiously crazed United States, atheists are a beleaguered, even hated, minority. But they’re my peeps, and I support them as best I can. The right to freedom of religion is a fine thing. And so is the right to freedom from religion.

Melliferax has recently treated the same question at greater length and given a somewhat different reply.

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147 thoughts on “Why Am I Not Agnostic About Gods?

  1. Don’t you have that backwards? Math and logic use deductive reasoning while science uses inductive reasoning.

    No, your formulation is backwards.

    Or rather, both induction and deduction are using in logic, math, and science, but the scientific method itself is a deductive methodology.

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  2. Andrew G @99, pretty much all the argument are ultimately trying to show that an actual infinite amount of time is impossible. Perhaps it would help if you tell me what you think you have an infinite amount of between your fingers. Mathematical points?

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  3. Owlmirror @100-101,

    No, “one” is not convertible with “T-thing”. “One” is a quantity. Existence isn’t a quantity, and arguing that they are the same thing is a category mistake; an example of the fallacy of equivocation.

    The term “one” is used to denote one thing distinct from others. For example, if I was purchasing a car, I might tell the salesman that, “I want that one.” I am telling him that I want one specific car and not just any car on the lot. The car is a specific “thing,” a specific “something,” and a specific “one.”

    And if you have “thing” and “something”, you don’t need “being”, and using that word leads to confusion with the sense of “being” as a “thing” that is alive and aware.

    By “being” we mean something that actually exists (as opposed to a non-being). A “being” need to be alive or aware. Any “thing” or “something” that actually exists is thus a “being.”

    So use “thing”, or “something”, or best of all, “T-thing”, to avoid confusion with things that are not transcendent.

    The transcendentals are so named because “being” is above every genus, common to all beings and thus not restricted to any category or individual.

    “True” isn’t something that a thing is; it’s something about the thing. Just as “one” is a quantity, “true” is a truth value; a Boolean.

    By “true” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence. The essence of a triangle is triangularity (an essence is that which makes something the kind of thing it is). Thus a sloppily drawn triangle is less true than a carefully drawn triangle because it less perfectly instantiates the essence of triangularity. A thing has being as the kind of thing it is to the extent that it is a true instance of its essence, and is in that sense convertible with truth.

    What does “conform to its essence” mean? It means that it is what it is, yes?

    No, things conform to their essences in varying degrees. The sloppily drawn triangle conforms to its essence less perfectly than a carefully drawn triangle.

    And “good” is an even worse equivocation.

    By “good” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence. It is convertible in a fashion similar to “true.” The sloppily drawn triangle is less good than the carefully drawn triangle.

    Or rather: Thus a T-thing whose essence is existence and conforms to its essence is only itself, and is not validly or meaningfully defined as being either “true” nor “good”.

    Wrong, it is “true” and “good” because it perfectly conforms to its essence. The sloppily drawn triangle is itself, but it does not perfectly conform to its essence.

    It most certainly is not irrelevant: sneaking in the concept of choice begs the question of something that remains undemonstrated.

    I’m not sure why you think I’m sneaking in the concept of choice. Do you believe that something has to have a choice to have power? I do not.

    So by your own argument… the absence of potency means that things cannot possibly be directed toward any putative ends. There isn’t anything that actually directs them!

    I think you’re misunderstanding the A-T sense of “potency.” But I’ll put that off along with final causes.

    It is nothing of the sort. Really, this is like saying that since the sun has existed as it has for as long as we have observed it, it will therefore always exist as it is. No. We have additional empirical evidence against this claim — and believing that the claim is definitely true before the observations of thermodynamics and the formation and eventual nova-explosion of stars was an understandable logical fallacy, but still a logical fallacy.

    If you take your objection to its logical conclusion, should you not also object to the man who says the sun will rise tomorrow? If not, why not?

    And as you continue to ignore, we have no evidence or confirmation prior to the big bang itself, which is exactly the point of contention. Arguing from ignorance is a logical fallacy…

    I’m arguing from what we know about efficient causes. Nowhere does my argument rest on our scientific ignorance regarding what happened before the Big Bang. Your objection is nothing more than pointing out I might be wrong. It is like young earth creationists who say scientists might be wrong about the age of the universe because the laws of nature could have been different in the past or because the light from supposedly old stars was actually created in transit. Sure, you and the YECs might be right but you haven’t show why your opponent is wrong or explained why it is illogical to rest our beliefs on mounds of evidence.

    No, your formulation is backwards. See the hypothetico-deductive model of the scientific method.

    The article includes this sentence: “Corroboration is related to the problem of induction, which arises because a general case (a hypothesis) cannot be logically deduced from any series of specific observations.” Anyway, couldn’t the premise you are disputing be supported using the hypothetico-deductive model? We can gather data, hypothesize explanations, make predictions, and try to falsify it, can we not? Again, this seems like the YEC noting that the Big Bang theory relies on inductive reasoning and therefore might be wrong.

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  4. Do you understand the mathematical nature of continuity?

    If a quantity (such as physical position in space) is continuous, then the number of possible values it can take, and therefore the number of conceptually distinguishable points, has the value 2^(aleph-null), also called C or beth-one, which is an infinite cardinal number known to be strictly larger than aleph-null, which is the size of any countable infinite set such as the integers.

    (Whether spacetime is actually continuous or discrete is a matter for observation – but all current physics, even quantum mechanics, treats it as continuous, even when dealing with uncertainty.)

    If continuity exists in any form, then sets of cardinality beth-one have some form of “existence”. You can choose a subset of such a set, such as the rational numbers, which has cardinality aleph-null (note that we don’t even need the axiom of choice for this); therefore if continuity exists, then so do countably infinite sets.

    Furthermore, if there exists an infinitely extended continuous quantity, such as time, then it can be mapped one-to-one onto any arbitrarily short line segment.

    Or (which is the same thing put another way), there is no structural difference between an infinite and open past and a finite but open past. i.e. the open sets (-1,0) and (-infinity,0) have the same topology.

    Another problem that traditional philosophical arguments against infinity fall into is the confusion between ordinals, cardinals and reals. For example, a premise like “the series of past events has been completed by successive addition” contains the implicit assumption that the sequence of past events is represented by an ordinal, not a real number. (The concept of “successor” is essentially what defines an ordinal number.) A problem here is that if time is ordinal (and finite), then it is not continuous. A worse problem is that the argument just became circular; representing time as an ordinal inherently assumes that there is a distinguished “first moment”: ordinals are by definition well-ordered, and all well-orderings have a least element.

    (If time can be represented by a real number, then there is no concept of “successive addition” that applies, and the question of whether there is a “first moment” boils down to whether the past direction is topologically open or closed, not on whether it is finite or infinite – open/closed is a topological property whereas finite/infinite is a property of the metric used for measurement.)

    It’s only in the past 150 years or so that we’ve had the mathematical tools to talk meaningfully about these kinds of concepts, so it’s not really surprising that earlier philosophers don’t manage the arguments well.

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  5. By “true” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence.

    By “good” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence.

    No, “we” don’t.

    If you look up “true” or “good” in a dictionary, you will find a number of definitions, none of which include the above. Redefining words according to your own private definitions is at best a serious impediment to communication, and at worst a deliberate attempt to equivocate between the nonstandard definitions and the standard ones.

    Arguing that your definition is the “real” one and that the dictionary definitions are merely instances of it also doesn’t fly; it bears no relationship to the way that people actually use language to communicate.

    For example:

    1) The essence of the nematode worm Onchocerca volvulus is, like all lower animals, to reproduce.

    2) It does a reasonable job of this in practice, therefore it is conforming to its essence.

    3) If you call it “good”, the millions of people who were painfully blinded as as result (the worm reproduces only in humans) will have something rather pithy to say to you in response, I suspect.

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  6. Andrew G @104:

    Do you understand the mathematical nature of continuity?

    I think I get your point that there are an infinite number of positions along a continuum.

    If continuity exists in any form, then sets of cardinality beth-one have some form of “existence”.

    But is that form of existence relevant to our discussion? Certainly the time that elapsed between my post and your post was a finite period of time, was it not? And the distance between your fingers is finite too, right?

    For example, a premise like “the series of past events has been completed by successive addition” contains the implicit assumption that the sequence of past events is represented by an ordinal, not a real number.

    How would you describe the “movement” from time t1 to time t2? Although there are an infinite number of “positions” between t1 and t2 we still manage to “move” from one second to the next.

    the question of whether there is a “first moment” boils down to whether the past direction is topologically open or closed, not on whether it is finite or infinite – open/closed is a topological property whereas finite/infinite is a property of the metric used for measurement.

    I think when people speak of a finite past they mean that there was a first moment. It is finite in the sense that you can traverse from the first moment to the present moment.

    William Lane Craig and James D. Sinclair include a discussion of mathematics in their chapter on the kalam cosmological argument in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. They address your concerns directly starting on page 112. Here’s the first paragraph:

    “Sometimes it is said that we can find concrete counterexamples to the claim that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist, so that Premise (2.11) must be false. For example, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong asserts that the continuity of space and time entails the existence of an actually infinite number of points and instants (Craig & Sinnott-Armstrong 2003, p. 43). This familiar objection gratuitously assumes that space and time are composed of real points and instants, which has never been proven. Mathematically, the objection can be met by distinguishing a potential infinite from an actual infinite. While one can continue indefinitely to divide conceptually any distance, the series of subintervals thereby generated is merely potentially infinite, in that infinity serves as a limit that one endlessly approaches but never reaches. This is the thoroughgoing Aristotelian position on the infinite: only the potential infinite exists. This position does not imply that minimal time atoms, or chronons, exist. Rather time, like space, is infinitely divisible in the sense that division can proceed indefinitely, but time is never actually infinitely divided, neither does one arrive at an instantaneous point. If one thinks of a geometrical line as logically prior to any points which one may care to specify on it rather than as a construction built up out of points (itself a paradoxical notion13), then one’s ability to specify certain points, like the halfway point along a certain distance, does not imply that such points actually exist independently of our specification of them. As Grünbaum emphasizes, it is not infinite divisibility as such which gives rise to Zeno’s paradoxes; the paradoxes presuppose the postulation of an actual infinity of points ab initio. “. . . [A]ny attribution of (infinite) ‘divisibility’ to a Cantorian line must be based on the fact that ab initio that line and the intervals are already ‘divided’ into an actual dense infinity of point-elements of which the line (interval) is the aggregate. Accordingly, the Cantorian line can be said to be already actually infinitely divided” (Grünbaum 1973, p. 169). By contrast, if we think of the line as logically prior to any points designated on it, then it is not an ordered aggregate of points nor actually infinitely divided. Time as duration is then logically prior to the (potentially infinite) divisions we make of it. Specified instants are not temporal intervals but merely the boundary points of intervals, which are always nonzero in duration. If one simply assumes that any distance is already composed out of an actually infinite number of points, then one is begging the question. The objector is assuming what he is supposed to prove, namely that there is a clear counterexample to the claim that an actually infinite number of things cannot exist.”

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  7. Andrew G @105:

    No, “we” don’t.

    The we in question at least includes Aquinas, Feser, and myself. As I said to Owlmirror, if you’re going to discuss A-T metaphysics it helps if you know the definitions of important terms.

    If you look up “true” or “good” in a dictionary, you will find a number of definitions, none of which include the above.

    I would hardly expect the dictionary to give the definitions of terms as used in A-T metaphysics. Nonetheless, I could find some definitions of the terms that are similar to the ones I have provided. The adjective “true” can mean “ideal.” The adjective “good” can mean “conforming to a standard.”

    Redefining words according to your own private definitions is at best a serious impediment to communication, and at worst a deliberate attempt to equivocate between the nonstandard definitions and the standard ones.

    I’m using the definitions that Aristotle and Aquinas used and I’ve made it clear that I’m arguing from that perspective. In no way can they be said to be private. The impediment to communication is that Owlmirror feels the need to attack a position that he does not understand and that he does not want to learn about.

    Arguing that your definition is the “real” one and that the dictionary definitions are merely instances of it also doesn’t fly

    I realize that words can have multiple definitions which is why I made it clear I was arguing from an A-T perspective.

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  8. Certainly the time that elapsed between my post and your post was a finite period of time, was it not? And the distance between your fingers is finite too, right?

    The distance between my fingers is finite according to the usual metric, but it contains as many distinguishable points as the entire universe does, even if the universe were infinite in space and time.

    Furthermore, there are metrics in which the distance between my fingers is not finite. They may not be particularly useful metrics, but they exist and they preserve the same topology as the usual metric.

    For example, a premise like “the series of past events has been completed by successive addition” contains the implicit assumption that the sequence of past events is represented by an ordinal, not a real number.

    How would you describe the “movement” from time t1 to time t2? Although there are an infinite number of “positions” between t1 and t2 we still manage to “move” from one second to the next.

    Continuous movement can’t be reduced to a succession of states (because “succession” is an ordinal concept and not continuous). So at some time t between t1 and t2, I can look back or forward by some arbitrary distance, but I can’t identify a “previous” instant or a “next” instant, because there are infinitely many positions between any candidate for either of those and the current time.

    The fact that we manage to traverse spacetime intervals in an apparently continuous fashion is exactly my point: any such movement constitutes a completed actual infinite in exactly the same sense that an infinite past would.

    The arguments over potential vs. actual infinite don’t really have any mathematical basis (Aristotle lacked the mathematical tools to understand infinity). Furthermore, contra Craig, we do not assume a priori the existence of infinitely many points on a continuum; we can prove that it is a necessary consequence of continuity. Indeed, we prove not only that we require an infinite number of points, but which order of infinity (i.e. beth-one rather than, say, aleph-null). The only way out for the finitist is to reject the concept of continuity completely, which has its own problems.

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  9. The term “one” is used to denote one thing distinct from others.

    This is a matter of English idiom. Other languages do not necessarily do this.

    And I thought that your entire point was that there are no “others” of this essence of existence?

    And for that matter, if you’re using “one” to denote a distinction, you’re still not using the term as something “convertible” with what you’re denoting — it indicates a referent; not something identical with the thing. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon, to borrow a Buddhist maxim.

    Any “thing” or “something” that actually exists is thus a “being.”

    Is your computer a being? Is a car a being? Is a rock a being? Would you refer to them like that?

    If being means only some thing that exists, it’s a useless and redundant term. Drop it. Use “something” or “thing”.

    The transcendentals are so named because “being” is above every genus, common to all beings and thus not restricted to any category or individual.

    And “being” has more than one meaning in English. It’s a T-thing.

    By “true” we mean how well a thing conforms to its essence.

    Which is still a useless definition, in this case; this is the same problem with “good”. Your entire point is that the essence of existence cannot not conform to being the essence of existence. To re-use the example for “good”, calling an electron “true” is useless. It is what it is.

    Thus a sloppily drawn triangle is less true than a carefully drawn triangle because it less perfectly instantiates the essence of triangularity.

    Again, using the word is only meaningful if there is an actual range of possibilities that approximate the thing. If there isn’t, the word is meaningless. A true photon is just a photon; calling it “true” isn’t useful. It tells you nothing you didn’t already know about the thing being described, and leads to semantic confusion and equivocation.

    And you’re still using “true” to indicate something about the thing. It’s an adjective, not something “convertible” with the thing itself.

    No, things conform to their essences in varying degrees. The sloppily drawn triangle conforms to its essence less perfectly than a carefully drawn triangle.

    No, the sloppily drawn triangle conforms to the essence of a sloppily drawn triangle. It is what it is, not what you want it to be or think it should be. The essential perfect triangle that you’re trying to draw may be a true geometrical concept, but the sloppy triangle that you actually draw has its own essential truth.

    Wrong, it is “true” and “good” because it perfectly conforms to its essence.

    So an electron is “true” and “good”? So is a photon? So is a vacuum? So is the number 0? And the number 32767? And the number π? So is anything that cannot be anything other than what it is?

    If so, then there are an infinite number of “true” and “good” things by the way you want to use the terms, and your use of them only for the essence of existence is falsely trying to distinguish it from that infinite set of things that are also “good” and “true”.

    I think you’re misunderstanding the A-T sense of “potency.”

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/modality-medieval/

    Another Aristotelian modal paradigm was that of possibility as potency. In Met. V.12 and IX.1 potency is said to be the principle of motion or change either as the activator or as the receptor of a relevant influence. (For agent and patient in Aristotle’s natural philosophy in general, see Waterlow 1982b.) The types of potency-based possibilities belonging to a species are recognized as possibilities because of their actualization – no natural potency type remains eternally frustrated. Aristotle says that when the agent and the patient come together as being capable, the one must act and the other must be acted on (Met. IX.5).

    So no direction is taking place; to “direct” something means that there is a possibility of the thing being directed doing something other than what it does.

    But I’ll put that off along with final causes.

    Which don’t actually exist except as human ideas.

    If you take your objection to its logical conclusion, should you not also object to the man who says the sun will rise tomorrow? If not, why not?

    That’s not the logical conclusion. The logical conclusion is that the sun will change over a billion-year span of time, not tomorrow.

    My point is that you’re trying to come to absolute conclusions outside of the range of where your ability to gather empirical data ends. If you find a way to look past the beginning of the universe and see that cause and effect still work the same way, you will have much greater support for your thesis.

    I’m arguing from what we know about efficient causes. Nowhere does my argument rest on our scientific ignorance regarding what happened before the Big Bang.

    Actually, it does. Consider the current cosmological thesis about the Big Bang that time itself began with the inflation of the universe. Given that cause and effect require time to work the way it has since that beginning, how can you say anything coherent about before time began?

    Your objection is nothing more than pointing out I might be wrong.

    My objection is that your reasoning is incorrect — you’re assuming correctness without having any data at all. You have to show that alternative hypotheses that you’re ignoring or unaware of now are actually false before you can come to a certain conclusion.

    It is like young earth creationists who say scientists might be wrong about the age of the universe because the laws of nature could have been different in the past or because the light from supposedly old stars was actually created in transit.

    The first case is falsified (different laws of nature would alter what we observe in the cosmos — looking further away is looking into the past, after all); the second is non-falsifiable and can be discarded via parsimony.

    Anyway, couldn’t the premise you are disputing be supported using the hypothetico-deductive model? We can gather data, hypothesize explanations, make predictions, and try to falsify it, can we not?

    Sure. Let me know when you gather data from before the beginning of the existence of time.

    Currently, those who are gathering data from after the big bang are hypothesizing explanations as publications in journals for theoretical (really should be called hypothetical) physics and cosmology. And some of the hypotheses involve looped causation (cause and effect looping around) and spontaneous effects with no cause as the result of different space-time conditions outside of the universe, or various types of multiverse ideas or metaverse ideas.

    I don’t claim to know them all, or know which ones are valid or are not valid. But neither do you, and certainly neither did Aristotle or Aquinas when they first optimistically and fallaciously argued from their tiny slice of experience and knowledge about the universe, and whatever caused the universe, as it actually is.

    Again, this seems like the YEC noting that the Big Bang theory relies on inductive reasoning and therefore might be wrong.

    And the YEC would be wrong because the Big Bang is a deduction from empirical evidence.

    ———–

    The we in question at least includes Aquinas, Feser, and myself. As I said to Owlmirror, if you’re going to discuss A-T metaphysics it helps if you know the definitions of important terms.

    You keep trying to mix standard English and medieval philosophese. Since we’re communicating in English, define your terms, or use English equivalents, or link to the definitions and arguments you want to use.

    The impediment to communication is that Owlmirror feels the need to attack a position that he does not understand and that he does not want to learn about.

    Or rather, that you’re too lazy to link to. Leaving me to go and search out medieval philosophical jargon on my own, feh.

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  10. Returning to an earlier question again…

    If the ultimate cause is good, powerful, and has an intellect what would you call it other than God?

    So what this actually means is :

      If the ultimate cause conforms to its essence, has the power to be the ultimate cause, and cannot possibly have an intellect because everything it’s doing is actually that which it has no possibility of doing differently, what would you call it other than God?

    And my answer remains:

      The result of a massive logical-cognitive category error on the part of the Aristotelian-Thomist apologist, of course.

    I’m certainly not going to pray to the silly word-game.

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  11. Owlmirror:

    And I thought that your entire point was that there are no “others” of this essence of existence?

    You’re confusing yourself with the phrase “essence of existence.” I am stating that God’s essence is existence. There are things other than God but none of those things have an essence that is solely existence.

    I’ve defined how I am using certain terms and see no point in quibbling over them further.

    No, the sloppily drawn triangle conforms to the essence of a sloppily drawn triangle. It is what it is, not what you want it to be or think it should be.

    If it’s a sloppily drawn triangle then it is a triangle. The important point is that you understand what I mean when I say a specific triangle is a perfectly true triangle.

    If so, then there are an infinite number of “true” and “good” things by the way you want to use the terms, and your use of them only for the essence of existence is falsely trying to distinguish it from that infinite set of things that are also “good” and “true”.

    In which comment did I claim that only God is true or good? His trueness or goodness does not prevent anything else from conforming to its essence.

    Actually, it does. Consider the current cosmological thesis about the Big Bang that time itself began with the inflation of the universe. Given that cause and effect require time to work the way it has since that beginning, how can you say anything coherent about before time began?

    The beauty of Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is that it works regardless of whether the universe has a beginning or not. Aquinas is speaking of a series of efficient causes ordered per se, not per accidens (point 3 in comment 75). In other words, his argument relies solely on efficient causes that are happening in the present.

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  12. Andrew G, there’s no way I can summarize Craig and Sinclair’s arguments here so I leave it to you to read if you want. You may be able to find an online paper of theirs on the KCA even if it is not identical to their chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

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  13. You’re confusing yourself with the phrase “essence of existence.”

    I think you’re confused about just who is confusing who and with what…

    I am stating that God’s essence is existence.

    You haven’t demonstrated that a putative first cause is God, so I’ll thank you not to call it that until after you have completed any such demonstration.

    Do I have to remind you yet again that begging the question is a logical fallacy?

    There are things other than God but none of those things have an essence that is solely existence.

    You mean, there are things other than a first cause, but none of those things have an essence that is solely existence?

    You are begging the question again, which remains a logical fallacy.

    I’ve defined how I am using certain terms

    And it’s been like nailing jelly to a tree so far…

    and see no point in quibbling over them further.

    You seem to have no problem with quibbling over or even changing the definitions when it suits you, so I see no reason not to call you on it when you do that.

    If it’s a sloppily drawn triangle then it is a triangle.

    Then what exactly does “sloppily” mean, anyway?

    The important point is that you understand what I mean when I say a specific triangle is a perfectly true triangle.

    Something that isn’t not a triangle?

    In which comment did I claim that only God is true or good?

    Granted, you did not do so… but would you do me an enormous favor and use the explicit phrase “conforms to its essence” instead of “good and true”?

    I know, it’s a huge favor to ask, but it makes things so much clearer.

    His

    Remind me again when you demonstrated that the first cause necessarily has a penis and testicles?

    trueness or goodness does not prevent anything else from conforming to its essence.

    Or rather, the first cause conforming to its essence does not prevent anything else from conforming to its essence.

    Terminological consistency, please.

    The beauty of Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is that it works regardless of whether the universe has a beginning or not. Aquinas is speaking of a series of efficient causes ordered per se, not per accidens (point 3 in comment 75). In other words, his argument relies solely on efficient causes that are happening in the present.

    Which brings us down again to the quantum level, and the fact that Aquinas made his argument in the ignorance of the physical nature of time, space and energy. Cause and effect as he understood them (and as we understand them in general, since we are entities that live as the result of chemical reactions above the quantum level) may well be the side effect of some other aspect of the universe.

    If a quantum mechanical experiment demonstrates reversed effect and cause, would you agree that Aquinas is falsified?

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  14. Craig’s arguments don’t really count for much since at this point we have actual evidence in hand and a reasonable chance of obtaining more. My point was primarily to illustrate that metaphysical reasoning does not lead to actual knowledge about the real world; on a question where even a random guess has a 50-50 chance of being right, philosophers cannot come up with an argument that is persuasive even to somebody who already has convincing evidence for the conclusion.

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  15. If it’s a sloppily drawn triangle then it is a triangle.

    Then what exactly does “sloppily” mean, anyway?

    i’d like to see an answer to that also, if only because the notion of an “essence of sloppiness” seems inherently hilarious to me.

    or maybe that’s just the essence of hilarity tripping me up. say, i think i bought some of the latter recently, it came in sixpacks…

    (i never have been able to take metaphysics very seriously, no. least sensible, as well as least useful and least meaningful, branch of philosophy if you ask me.)

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  16. Owlmirror, I’m not sure what you mean by “reversed effect and cause.” I would admit that Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is wrong if you could demonstrate that there are things that come into existence that do not have an efficient cause.

    Andrew G, I still find the evidence of an actual infinite as you’ve defined it to have little bearing on what Craig means by an infinite past. To borrow your words, the “metric” you are using is not the “metric” Craig is talking about.

    Nomen Nescio, the problem is that you can’t avoid metaphysics (see the quote from E.A. Burtt in comment 63). I believe Real Essentialism by David S. Oderberg has a detailed discussion of essences. A sloppily drawn triangle is a triangle that does not conform well to its essence.

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  17. A sloppily drawn triangle is a triangle that does not conform well to its essence.

    which essence? that of triangularity, or that of sloppily-drawnness? a sloppy triangle would seem to have both.

    more to the point, a particular, given sloppily-drawn-triangle — let’s call it Fred, for now — conforms exactly and perfectly to the essence of Fredness, that is, of being exactly that sloppily-drawn-triangle which we were given (and called Fred). why should that nature which makes Fred into a unique, specific entity not in itself be counted as an “essence”? where do these essences come from, that we can’t just simply say that any specific thing-that-is has its very own essence, to which it conforms perfectly by definition?

    but i’m playing with words and semantics here; these supposed “essences” are dream-stuff, until somebody provides some evidence of their being — in any given sense of the word — real.

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  18. Andrew G, I still find the evidence of an actual infinite as you’ve defined it to have little bearing on what Craig means by an infinite past. To borrow your words, the “metric” you are using is not the “metric” Craig is talking about.

    I’m being precise (or at least trying to) in terminology here precisely because concepts like “cardinality”, “metric” and “measure” have distinct meanings in topology and related fields.

    For example: every continuous open line segment has the same number of points (cardinality) regardless of how “long” it is (even the “long line”, which is longer than the usual infinitely long line, still has the same number of points).

    Topology is founded on studying those properties of a space (with a very broad definition of “space”) that do not depend on the specific way in which we choose to measure it. (And we discover that there are spaces that cannot even possess a metric.) If two spaces can be continuously transformed into each other, then there are a large number of topological properties that must hold equivalently in both: for example, there is no bicontinuous map between an open line segment and a closed one, because the closed segment has the topological property of compactness while the open one does not; likewise there is no bicontinuous map between the circle and any line segment because the line segment is simply connected and the circle is not.

    (Much of topology does not require arithmetic at all; concepts like continuity, connectedness, limits, etc. are defined using set theory.)

    If a space has a metric (i.e. a “distance” between any two points) then it is a certain type of topological space, in that it must satisfy a certain set of topological properties, but other properties may vary. However, if we apply any bicontinuous function to the metric, then (by definition) the topological properties are preserved; so we have the concept that spaces with different metrics may have the same topological structure. So we have to distinguish between properties that rely on the metric from ones which do not.

    For example, the closed line segments [0,1] and [0,2] are both “bounded” (a metric property) but with different bounds (diameters 1 and 2 respectively). However they are topologically equivalent, since the map y = 2x is continuous. Another example is that the open line segments (0,1) and (1,infinity) are equivalent under the map y = 1/x; both have the same topology, but one is bounded and the other is not.

    In contrast, the open segment (0,1) and the closed segment [0,1] are both bounded with diameter 1, but they don’t have the same topology since one is compact and the other is not.

    This is why the question of whether, for example, time has a “first point” is a question about the topology rather than the metric, and the question of whether the past is “infinite” (in the sense of “unbounded”) is a question about the metric rather than the topology. A bounded past (i.e. the statement “no time exists that is more than 14 billion years ago”) is a logically independent concept from a closed past (i.e. “there exists a first point in time”). Furthermore, even if the past is bounded and closed, we can still have infinitely long causal chains in it as long as it is continuous (which we have no a priori reason to deny).

    Incidentally, another flawed argument I’ve seen used is the idea that an infinite collection can’t be added to. This conflicts with the idea of time as a succession of events (which implies an ordered collection and not just a set); if there is a successor relation, then you’re talking about ordinals and not cardinals, and every ordinal, even infinite ones, has a distinct successor. If we call the first infinite ordinal w (should be a lowercase omega but I won’t venture to use actual greek fonts here), then w, w+1, w+2, w+3, … w+w, … w*w, … w^w, … w^(w^w), … etc. are all distinct ordinals, though they all have the same cardinality (aleph-null). (This is distinct from cardinal arithmetic, where (aleph-null)+1 is equal to aleph-null, while 2^(aleph-null) = (aleph-null)^(aleph-null) = beth-one > aleph-null.)

    A similar argument applies to metric spaces: if you imagine the real number line, the fact that the line extends infinitely to the left doesn’t prevent you from moving along it to the right, or from measuring the distance between any two points.

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  19. I’m not sure what you mean by “reversed effect and cause.”

    Pretty much what it sounds like: reversed with respect to the passage of time as we perceive it. First the effect occurs, then the cause.

    To the best of my knowledge nothing like this has been definitively demonstrated (yet), but would you agree that such a thing would refute Aquinas’ argument?

    I would admit that Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is wrong if you could demonstrate that there are things that come into existence that do not have an efficient cause.

    Would you agree that if the Copenhagen Interpretation is correct, and quantum mechanics is indeterminate (the essence of the counterargument you linked to being that QM being determinate or not depends on which interpretation is in fact correct), that virtual particle pair production would indeed be something that comes into existence without efficient cause?

    A sloppily drawn triangle is a triangle that does not conform well to its essence.

    It certainly sounds like you’re confused about what this supposed essence of the triangle is. It’s something inside your own head; a concept involving one-dimensional straight lines that connect. You’re whining about how the sloppily-drawn triangle doesn’t match that concept exactly, which I am sure is tragic and all, but not really relevant. You’re turning the mismatch between the concept and the reality into a problem with what you have in reality, as though it’s somehow the drawn triangle’s fault for not matching your perfect Platonic triangle concept.

    Are we having another definitional problem with the word “essence”? Let’s see what the etymology is….

    (etymonline.com)

    late 14c., from L. essentia “being, essence,” abstract n. formed in imitation of Gk. ousia “being, essence” (from on, gen. ontos, prp. of einai “to be”), from prp. stem of esse “to be,”

    Your internal concept of the triangle is what it is. And the sloppily-drawn triangle is what it is.

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  20. Nomen Nescio:

    which essence? that of triangularity, or that of sloppily-drawnness? a sloppy triangle would seem to have both.

    I was speaking of triangularity. That is not to say that an individual triangle is only of one kind of thing. The sloppily drawn triangle is both a triangle and a shape, for example.

    more to the point, a particular, given sloppily-drawn-triangle — let’s call it Fred, for now — conforms exactly and perfectly to the essence of Fredness, that is, of being exactly that sloppily-drawn-triangle which we were given (and called Fred). why should that nature which makes Fred into a unique, specific entity not in itself be counted as an “essence”? where do these essences come from, that we can’t just simply say that any specific thing-that-is has its very own essence, to which it conforms perfectly by definition?

    For the sake of argument let’s say that Fredness is the essence of Fred the triangle. That still does not change the fact that Fred shares a number of features in common with other individual triangles. We can still build a classification system where Fred is inserted among the triangles. Essences “come from” the similarities between different individuals.

    but i’m playing with words and semantics here; these supposed “essences” are dream-stuff, until somebody provides some evidence of their being — in any given sense of the word — real.

    Essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world. We can see, for example, that there are many different individual dogs (e.g., Fido, Rover, etc.) but we can also understand the essence of dogs; that which makes Fido a dog and not a cat.

    I don’t expect you to fully accept such things from a combox discussion. Oderberg’s book Real Essentialism provides a more robust defense if you are interested. At the very least we need some way of explaining the common features between different individual things.

    Owlmirror:

    Pretty much what it sounds like: reversed with respect to the passage of time as we perceive it. First the effect occurs, then the cause. To the best of my knowledge nothing like this has been definitively demonstrated (yet), but would you agree that such a thing would refute Aquinas’ argument?

    Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is based on a causal series where the effect is simultaneous with the cause. The example you seem to have in mind envisions the effect preceding the cause and therefore is inapplicable.

    Would you agree that if the Copenhagen Interpretation is correct, and quantum mechanics is indeterminate (the essence of the counterargument you linked to being that QM being determinate or not depends on which interpretation is in fact correct), that virtual particle pair production would indeed be something that comes into existence without efficient cause?

    I’m no expert on quantum mechanics so I will say that, based on my imperfect understanding of the matter, that would seem to be an example of something coming into existence without an efficient cause. The main point is that observation can overthrow A-T metaphysics. If that occurred, then a new, better metaphysical system would have to be found.

    It’s something inside your own head; a concept involving one-dimensional straight lines that connect.

    The concept of triangularity is in my mind, but that concept describes the objective similarities between different individual triangles.

    You’re turning the mismatch between the concept and the reality into a problem with what you have in reality, as though it’s somehow the drawn triangle’s fault for not matching your perfect Platonic triangle concept.

    First, the concept of triagularity is in our minds and not a Platonic realm of forms. Second, I am not saying that the triangle is at fault.

    Your internal concept of the triangle is what it is. And the sloppily-drawn triangle is what it is.

    We agree on that. But can we agree that individual triangles (or any other kind of thing) have certain objective similarities to each other?

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  21. The sloppily drawn triangle is both a triangle and a shape, for example.

    I’m still not sure what you mean by “sloppily drawn”, though. From the most severe perspective, every triangle drawn is done so “sloppily”; we cannot construct actual one-dimensional lines that meet at zero-dimensional points — there’s a small but real width (and even smaller depth) in anything humans can draw or construct.

    Essences “come from” the similarities between different individuals.

    If this were the case, there wouldn’t be an essential triangle, since there are an infinite number of possible triangles.

    How does an essence differ from a definition?

    Essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world.

    It’s starting to look like an “essence” in this sense is a pattern matched in the brain. Something broad and fuzzy that matches lots of things like some general thing, not something exact like a (very) specific triangle.

    We can see, for example, that there are many different individual dogs (e.g., Fido, Rover, etc.) but we can also understand the essence of dogs; that which makes Fido a dog and not a cat.

    I would phrase this as the general mental pattern gained from many experiences of what a dog looks like from seeing one or more dogs from different angles, in motion and still — and of different breeds and at different ages, and so on. The more experience you have of dogs, and not just visually (what they sound like, both vocalizing and in their gaits on different surfaces, and when shaking their bodies, what their fur smells like and feels like), the more you have in your mind as a pattern that matches “dog”.

    A biologist would have lots more detail in the pattern to match — things like dental formula, bone shapes and proportions and positions, and other aspects of anatomy like organ appearance, structure and position. There’s also the reproductive cycle, general metabolism, genetics, and so on.

    An evolutionary biologist might generalize dogs as being canid caniform carnivoran mammalian chordate animals.

    And the general mental pattern gained from many experiences of cats and what they look like and act like, would, of course, be distinct from that gained of dogs.

    Is an essence a mental pattern? Is a mental pattern an essence?

    ==========

    Aquinas’ argument from efficient causes is based on a causal series where the effect is simultaneous with the cause.

    Right, he assumes that it is always the case as part of his argument. Remember? He’s trying to make a metaphysical deduction from what he thinks he knows about cause and effect.

    The example you seem to have in mind envisions the effect preceding the cause and therefore is inapplicable.

    In what sense? You mean that it would indeed refute Aquinas?

    =========

    Second, I am not saying that the triangle is at fault.

    Not exactly as such.

    But you’re saying there is a problem with the sloppy triangle. You have a certain triangle in mind; the sloppy triangle does not conform to that.

    And the way you’re saying it is that the sloppy triangle does not conform to “its” essence — the sloppy triangle isn’t what it itself “should” be. Logically, it cannot be other than what it is, but you’re saying that it could be and is not.

    It certainly looks like you’re taking the simple fact that there is a mismatch between sloppy triangle and conceptual ideal triangle, and saying that there is a problem with the sloppy triangle. Oh, noes! Well, there is a problem — but it’s a matter of not having in reality what you might have as a concept in your head.

    It’s not a “true” triangle, so it’s a “false” one? It’s not a “good” triangle, so it’s an “evil” one?

    But can we agree that individual triangles (or any other kind of thing) have certain objective similarities to each other?

    Of course.

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  22. Owlmirror:

    I’m still not sure what you mean by “sloppily drawn”, though. From the most severe perspective, every triangle drawn is done so “sloppily”; we cannot construct actual one-dimensional lines that meet at zero-dimensional points — there’s a small but real width (and even smaller depth) in anything humans can draw or construct.

    I am using the term “sloppy” in a relative sense. A triangle drawn free hand would (probably) be sloppy relative to a triangle drawn with a ruler. The triangle drawn with a ruler conforms to the essence of triangularity more than the triangle drawn free hand.

    If this were the case, there wouldn’t be an essential triangle, since there are an infinite number of possible triangles.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. If you are saying that there could be an infinite number of triangles that perfectly conform to the essence of triangularity then I agree (assuming we could actually draw a perfect triangle).

    How does an essence differ from a definition?

    A definition of a word is how the word is used by speakers of a language. It is a human convention. The essence of something is what makes it the kind of thing it is. Whatever makes a thing the kind of thing it is actually exists in individuals of that kind and is not merely a human convention.

    Suppose we lived in a society that had very little knowledge of the sea and so the term “fish” was used to describe any sea creature that had a backbone. Using this definition it would be linguistically correct to call a whale a fish. But it would not be true that the essence of whales was equivalent to the essence of fish (of course we would be ignorant of this truth).

    If we lived in a world where we knew everything, the description of a thing’s essence and a definition of that thing would probably be identical. But in this world it is possible that we do not have a full understanding of a thing’s essence and thus our definitions may not tell us what the essence of that thing truly is.

    It’s starting to look like an “essence” in this sense is a pattern matched in the brain. Something broad and fuzzy that matches lots of things like some general thing, not something exact like a (very) specific triangle.

    The essence of a thing is what makes it the kind of thing it is. The term “kind” means we are not dealing with, say, Fido the dog, but rather with “dogness.” Many individuals are dogs but “dogness” is not so broad a kind that just anything can be called a dog.

    Is an essence a mental pattern? Is a mental pattern an essence?

    You can think of it as an abstract object. Our minds can grasp abstract objects but our minds are not the abstract objects themselves (I’m not sure what you mean by “mental pattern”).

    Right, he assumes that it is always the case as part of his argument. Remember? He’s trying to make a metaphysical deduction from what he thinks he knows about cause and effect.

    The third point on my outline is not saying that a series of efficient causes ordered per se is the only kind of cause and effect that exists. It is merely saying that it is a kind of causal series that exists. You would not have been able to type out your response this point was wrong.

    In what sense? You mean that it would indeed refute Aquinas?

    Your hypothetical example envisioned an effect and a cause taking place with some interval of time elapsing between the effect and the cause. The third point in my outline envisions a cause and effect occurring at the exact same time. Your hypothetical example is not a true reversal of that point. Now perhaps you were trying to provide an example that would show that something could come into existence without an efficient cause. However, the very use of the term “cause” suggests that it did not truly come into existence without an efficient cause.

    And the way you’re saying it is that the sloppy triangle does not conform to “its” essence — the sloppy triangle isn’t what it itself “should” be. Logically, it cannot be other than what it is, but you’re saying that it could be and is not.

    Why must “should” and “could” enter the equation? Can we not just note the degree to which an individual conforms an essence?

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  23. Suppose we lived in a society that had very little knowledge of the sea and so the term “fish” was used to describe any sea creature that had a backbone. Using this definition it would be linguistically correct to call a whale a fish. But it would not be true that the essence of whales was equivalent to the essence of fish (of course we would be ignorant of this truth).

    but you just said essences are abstractions we hold in our minds. if we were truly ignorant of any difference between whales and fishes, how would the abstractions concerning aquatic animals which we hold in our minds be “wrong” to call whales fishes? i could have sworn you also, earlier still, claimed essences are not Platonic forms — not entities with any tangible existence outside the human mind. so where do they come from, then, that we can be “wrong” about an assumption like “essence of whale == essence of fish” in the absence of evidence to the contrary? we made up the essence, after all, did we not?

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  24. Note that essentialism is in at least one respect a natural psychological process – it is very helpful for learning, and naïve reasoning, about the natural world and therefore is a survival skill at least potentially subject to natural selection.

    That makes it highly questionable from a philosophical point of view; our brains aren’t evolved for completely accurate reasoning, only for reasoning that is usually accurate enough. Methods of thought that are “natural” to us are actually our biggest source of cognitive error – consider pareidolia, vitalism, etc.

    So even though we have a strong tendency to perceive the existence of essences and make use of them for general living, we should not assume they are real any more than we assume that the pattern on a banana peel really is the image of a face.

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  25. Nomen Nescio, I said “essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world.” We are wrong when we believe that whales and fish have something in common that they do not, in fact, have in common. Whales and fish may both share in the essence of animals, but, at some lower level of classification, they do not share the same essence. Our abstractions are derived from concrete objective facts.

    Andrew G, if one is going to reject essences then I imagine something quite similar will have to be replace them.

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  26. “essences are abstractions that we hold in our minds but they describe the objective unity among things in the real world.

    it seems to me that the sentence needs an additional qualifier: “…as we understand the world and the things within it”. we can surely be wrong about the world, and we equally surely are wrong — routinely — but until we know we’re wrong about something, our abstractions can hardly be expected to reflect that.

    ergo, up until we learned that cetaceans were not in fact fish, our abstractions about sea life almost certainly classified whales and fish under the same “essence”. that would have been the best essence we could have constructed at that time. in what sense would it have been “wrong”? only by comparing that abstraction to the empirically real world could we have found it wrong, and we hadn’t done that yet.

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  27. The triangle drawn with a ruler conforms to the essence of triangularity more than the triangle drawn free hand.

    The essence of trinagularity being distinct from any drawn triangle, now… are you sure you’re not getting into Platonism?

    If you are saying that there could be an infinite number of triangles that perfectly conform to the essence of triangularity then I agree (assuming we could actually draw a perfect triangle).

    Well… I was thinking of potential conceptual triangles, not drawn ones — as I wrote above, all physically drawn triangles are necessarily “sloppy”.

    Do straight angles conform to this essence of triangularity of yours? Geometrically, they have two angles of zero degrees and one angle of 180 degrees. But it might be argued that an angle of zero degrees is not an angle.

    What’s the essence of an angle?

    (And how many can dance on the head of a pin?)

    A definition of a word is how the word is used by speakers of a language. It is a human convention. The essence of something is what makes it the kind of thing it is.

    I didn’t intend “definition” as being “of a word”, but “of the thing defined”. Words themselves can be slippery, but a definition of what the word refers to (in a given sense) is at least an attempt to approximate what the thing is. Which might be what you mean by “essence”.

    Or in this case — a “triangle” [word] is three points connected by straight lines [definition].

    Alternatively … consider: “three points define a triangle”.

    Suppose we lived in a society that had very little knowledge of the sea and so the term “fish” was used to describe any sea creature that had a backbone.

    Actually, ocean fishermen (who presumably know a lot about the sea) will often use the term “fish” for anything they catch or wish to catch by the act of fishing in the sea, which can include any sea creature so caught, backbone or no. Which is annoying to marine biologists and others who prefer terminological rigor, perhaps, but there you go.

    Using this definition it would be linguistically correct to call a whale a fish. But it would not be true that the essence of whales was equivalent to the essence of fish

    You might want to be careful about applying this essentialism of yours to biology, since I don’t think it’s applicable. You’ll certainly get arguments from actual biologists.

    Is the “essence” of fish just the characters that you think distinguish it from everything you don’t think of as a fish? Note this is again dependent on your internal concepts, not on what the actual organisms are.

    Note that by at least one evolutionary biological definition, a fish is anything that is descended from a fish, which would make whales (and also humans, and all other vertebrates) “fish”.

    The point of division between one species and another can be difficult to define, and is sometimes arbitrary, and done using different ideas of what a species is by different biologists.

    If we lived in a world where we knew everything, the description of a thing’s essence and a definition of that thing would probably be identical. But in this world it is possible that we do not have a full understanding of a thing’s essence and thus our definitions may not tell us what the essence of that thing truly is.

    Hm. That looks sort of like what I was trying to say above. But would it be fair to say that for basic mathematical and logical concepts, like the triangle, we do have complete knowledge? What would be a confounding factor that makes the definition of a triangle differ from what a triangle truly is?

    Another point that I had in mind with definitions is that the empirical process of science is an approach towards the true definition — every experiment done with electrons that tells us something new about electrons tells us more about electrons, and thus makes the scientific “definition” clearer and more complete.

    The essence of a thing is what makes it the kind of thing it is. The term “kind” means we are not dealing with, say, Fido the dog, but rather with “dogness.” Many individuals are dogs but “dogness” is not so broad a kind that just anything can be called a dog.

    Recent genetic studies have show that dogs are (unsurprisingly) a subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus familiaris).

    Does the “essence of dogness” mean that wolves are dogs? How about other canids?

    Here, check out the Canidae:

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

    Does the “essence of dogness” corrolate to what the biologists have denoted (“True dogs”, Tribe Canini), or do you think it should be higher or lower in the taxonomic rank? (All of the Canidae, or only the genus Canis, or only Canis lupus, or only Canis lupus familiaris? Something else?)

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    Is an essence a mental pattern? Is a mental pattern an essence?

    You can think of it as an abstract object.

    I suppose that “dogness” or “triangularity” might be an abstraction, but I am not sure that “object” would be appropriate, unless you mean “object” in the sense of “concept”.

    Hm. When I said that the “first cause” was abstract, above, you didn’t like that at all, and eventually responded with “the first efficient cause in a causal series ordered per se is acting right now and thus, by definition, is not a mere abstract object”.

    So the first cause is not an essence?

    Our minds can grasp abstract objects but our minds are not the abstract objects themselves.

    I would say that our minds make abstractions.

    (I’m not sure what you mean by “mental pattern”)

    I thought I made it clear before — everything in our minds that results from experiencing all of the real-world instances of something. I think it would be fair to call it the abstraction of the things that results from experience with the things and their variants. Calling it a mental pattern just emphasizes that it’s something that our brains build up.

    In the case of dogs, it’s the abstraction that matches every dog and dog-like animal that we perceive that adds to the abstraction.

    In the case of triangles, it’s the abstraction that matches every triangle that we perceive (or visualize) that meets the definition of three points connected by straight lines.

    But I would distinguish the two as being of different types — the abstraction of dogs (or “dogness”, if you will) is the result of empirical experience; the abstraction of triangles (or “triangularity”) is empirical, but also mathematical/logical.

    Does “essence” distinguish between the empirically real, and mathematical/logical?

    ==========

    However, the very use of the term “cause” suggests that it did not truly come into existence without an efficient cause.

    I don’t see how it could possibly be described as being “efficient” if it occurred after the effect. Perhaps it would be an inefficient cause?

    Anyway. Just to make sure that we’re clear…

    Virtual particle pair is a potential refutation of Aquinas, per your response @ 121?

    And just to clarify further: If it were discovered that empty space resulted in particles coming into existence, without cause — not just virtual particle pairs, but real particles like protons and neutrons and electrons that combined to form atoms — this would convince you that Aquinas was refuted, and that there was no first cause, and thus no possibility of a God?

    ==========

    And the way you’re saying it is that the sloppy triangle does not conform to “its” essence — the sloppy triangle isn’t what it itself “should” be. Logically, it cannot be other than what it is, but you’re saying that it could be and is not.

    Why must “should” and “could” enter the equation? Can we not just note the degree to which an individual conforms an essence?

    If we’re discussing the difference between a mathematical/logical concept and a necessarily imperfect real-world instance of that concept, I don’t see how that “should” can be avoided. The lines and points of an essential triangle — or a triangle that conforms to the essence of triangularity, or whatever you want to call the abstraction — should be straight, and should have no width or depth. True?

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  28. Nomen, I’m not sure we have any real disagreement. I grant that we could be wrong about the essence of a thing and that we wouldn’t know we were wrong until we came across new evidence.

    Owlmirror:

    The essence of trinagularity being distinct from any drawn triangle, now… are you sure you’re not getting into Platonism?

    Platonism would be believing that triangularity exists in some realm of forms. I believe triangularity exists in minds. Of course both positions think there is a connection to the real world.

    So the first cause is not an essence?

    The first cause is a being/thing who conforms perfectly to his essence. As another example, Fido the dog conforms to the essence of dogness but he is not himself dogness.

    Does “essence” distinguish between the empirically real, and mathematical/logical?

    A-T does not state that every thing is an empirical/material thing.

    Virtual particle pair is a potential refutation of Aquinas, per your response @ 121?

    Yes.

    And just to clarify further: If it were discovered that empty space resulted in particles coming into existence, without cause — not just virtual particle pairs, but real particles like protons and neutrons and electrons that combined to form atoms — this would convince you that Aquinas was refuted, and that there was no first cause, and thus no possibility of a God?

    It would convince me that Aquinas was wrong. I don’t see how it would lead to the belief that God does not possibly exist (especially since he could apparently pop into existence at any moment).

    The lines and points of an essential triangle — or a triangle that conforms to the essence of triangularity, or whatever you want to call the abstraction — should be straight, and should have no width or depth. True?

    A perfectly true and perfectly good triangle would have straight lines with no width or depth.

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  29. I’m not sure we have any real disagreement. I grant that we could be wrong about the essence of a thing and that we wouldn’t know we were wrong until we came across new evidence.

    i think we have a disagreement, but it’s pretty subtle. i’d agree tat we can be wrong about the things themselves (i’d be pretty silly to argue otherwise), but these essences are just mental abstractions we create and reshape at will. i don’t think they have a sufficiently empirical kind of existence for us to be wrong “about” them, not even as we might be wrong about a mathemathical proof.

    i think these “essences” are part of our attempts to abstractly describe our understanding of the world we live in. i don’t think they have any independent existence of their own that we might misunderstand in such a way as to be wrong “about” them. they’re part of how we might be wrong “about” the real world which they attempt to help describe, but they’re much too abstract for anything much else.

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  30. The first cause is a being/thing who conforms perfectly to his essence.

    You mean, the [putative] first cause is a thing which conforms perfectly to its essence.

    Personal pronouns beg the question of personality, and have not yet been justified by any demonstration that the first cause is a person (nor that it has a penis and testicles).

    As another example, Fido the dog conforms to the essence of dogness but he is not himself dogness.

    Does Lobo the wolf conform to the essence of dogness?

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    =====

    A-T does not state that every thing is an empirical/material thing.

    That is not an answer to the question that I asked. But I’ll rephrase it for better clarity:

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of empirically real things, and the essence of mathematical/logical things?

    =====

    I don’t see how it would lead to the belief that God does not possibly exist

    Well, yes, you’re right — that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow.

    Is there anything that would convince you that God can not possibly exist?

    Is there anything that would convince you that the most logical inference is that God probably does not exist?

    (especially since he could apparently pop into existence at any moment).

    I don’t understand this, though — God might be a subatomic particle? A subatomic particle might be God? What?

    =====

    A perfectly true and perfectly good triangle would have straight lines with no width or depth.

    How does this differ from what I wrote? If you’re implicitly referring to a real-world sloppy triangle here, you’re still expressing what you think the sloppy triangle ought to be. If you’re not referring to a real-world sloppy triangle here, you’re just talking about the abstraction itself. So what does the abstraction mean when discussing sloppy real-world triangles?

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  31. Owlmirror:

    Does Lobo the wolf conform to the essence of dogness?

    I’m not sure because I, personally, don’t know the exact differences between wolves and dogs. But my opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is what is similar between wolves and dogs.

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    It has definite boundaries. “Fuzziness” only comes into the equation because of lack of knowledge or partial knowledge.

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of empirically real things, and the essence of mathematical/logical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    Is there anything that would convince you that God can not possibly exist?

    Yes, a metaphysical argument.

    Is there anything that would convince you that the most logical inference is that God probably does not exist?

    Yes, basically you would have to address my reasons for believing in God and provide reasons for believing God does not exist. It would be a long process.

    I don’t understand this, though — God might be a subatomic particle? A subatomic particle might be God? What?

    It’s not important. If you’re going to believe that sub-atomic particles can pop into existence uncaused then you open the door for other things to pop into existence uncaused.

    How does this differ from what I wrote?

    I didn’t include the words “should” and “could.”

    So what does the abstraction mean when discussing sloppy real-world triangles?

    The abstraction is a means of measuring the real-world triangle’s conformity to triangularity. As I said to Nomen, I am not denying that the real-world triangle has its own essence. This is a simple example to explain what is meant by “true” and “good.”

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  32. I’m not sure because I, personally, don’t know the exact differences between wolves and dogs. But my opinion doesn’t matter.

    Then whose opinion would matter?

    What matters is what is similar between wolves and dogs.

    I don’t quite understand this. Clearly, dogs and wolves are similar enough to mate and produce fertile young; like I wrote, dogs are similar enough genetically to be considered a subspecies of wolf. So what are you trying to say about those similarities?

    Does a dog-wolf hybrid conform to the essence of dogness?

    Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?

    It has definite boundaries. “Fuzziness” only comes into the equation because of lack of knowledge or partial knowledge.

    Lack of knowledge of what, exactly? Which characters are important to “dogness”, and which are not?

    Are you sure that there is not something fuzzy and arbitrary about some of those characters, and the degree in which they exist, such that it is to some extent a matter of indefinite opinion?

    Did you look at the page on the Canidae? Are there any species (or subgroupings of species, or genera) on there that you would definitely say absolutely do not conform to the essence of dogness at all?

    Does a fox (Vulpes vulpes) conform to the essence of dogness?

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of empirically real things, and the essence of mathematical/logical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    Hm.

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of complex empirical things, and the essence of simple empirical things?

    ====

    Yes, basically you would have to address my reasons for believing in God

    Are there reasons besides those argued in A-T metaphysics?

    and provide reasons for believing God does not exist.

    What’s wrong with the principle of parsimony in this matter?

    It would be a long process.

    Yeah, I can see that. Well, as long as Martin R isn’t too annoyed by the process, let’s see how long we can both put up with it.

    If you’re going to believe that sub-atomic particles can pop into existence uncaused then you open the door for other things to pop into existence uncaused.

    Not really — the putative evidence only argues for subatomic particles.

    But even if we posit some even more putative “other things” — why would you call one of those things “God”? What characters does God have such that something that putatively pops into existence would match those characters?

    =====

    I didn’t include the words “should” and “could.”

    Sigh. You’re being disingenuous.

    The abstraction is a means of measuring the real-world triangle’s conformity to triangularity.

    In other words, how the real-world triangle differs from the essence.

    Or in other other words, those characters that it should, could, or would have (or lack) so as to actually conform to the essence.

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  33. Owlmirror:

    Then whose opinion would matter?

    It’s a matter of the actual similarities, not any one person’s opinion. I would lean towards thinking that wolves and dogs share in dogness, but I am no expert on either animal so I could be wrong. Real Essentialism has a chapter on essences and animals.

    Lack of knowledge of what, exactly? Which characters are important to “dogness”, and which are not?

    Knowledge in general, really. Consider a different example, gold. Only relatively recently have we learned the atomic weight of gold. Someone from the distant past could not define the essence of gold as well as we can because they lacked information about the atomic structure of gold.

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of complex empirical things, and the essence of simple empirical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    Are there reasons besides those argued in A-T metaphysics?

    Yes.

    What’s wrong with the principle of parsimony in this matter?

    Parsimony might work against you.

    Or in other other words, those characters that it should, could, or would have (or lack) so as to actually conform to the essence.

    I used the term “would” so that you would not believe that I thought the triangle is at fault.

    Like

  34. It’s a matter of the actual similarities, not any one person’s opinion.

    I don’t see how that can work for animals, where the differences and similarities between two given animals can be very slight. Especially since you did agree that an essence was an abstraction; something that exists in the mind as an idea.

    I would lean towards thinking that wolves and dogs share in dogness, but I am no expert on either animal so I could be wrong.

    And if the experts disagree as well?

    Do you think that there was some absolute dividing line in the evolutionary history of wolves or dogs, where one single animal, and all of its descendants, conformed to the essence of dogness, and its parents [and putative siblings] did not so conform?

    Lack of knowledge of what, exactly? Which characters are important to “dogness”, and which are not?

    Knowledge in general, really. Consider a different example, gold. Only relatively recently have we learned the atomic weight of gold. Someone from the distant past could not define the essence of gold as well as we can because they lacked information about the atomic structure of gold.

    That’s not quite the same as for animals, though. Animals are complex, and reproduce, and are made up of quadrillions of atoms in an enormous number of combinations as molecules. Many die and leave no trace behind. How can we know enough about them to say something definite about some general essence of what they are that they may or may not conform to?

    Gold is more narrowly defined as an element with atoms made up of a specific proton count. An atom either has that number of protons, or it doesn’t. Very binary, in a sense.

    (Although… Does an isotope of gold conform to the essence of goldness?)

    Basically, I think my point is that the simpler the thing under discussion is, the fewer characters is has, and the easier it is to know what those characters are, and discuss how the characters define the thing, and thus at least potentially what its essence is, or might be. That’s why I offered my examples of the essences of electrons and photons — fairly simple (well, sort of simple) empirical things.

    Although, come to think of it, you never did answer my question about whether straight triangles (“triangles” of 0, 0, and 180 degrees) conform to the essence of triangularity. What knowledge would you need in order to answer that with a definite yes or no?

    Does A-T metaphysics, in its conceptualization of essentialism, distinguish between the essence of complex empirical things, and the essence of simple empirical things?

    Yes (if I’m understanding you correctly).

    But in your examples, you’re offering the essence of animals (complex empirical), the essence of elements (simpler empirical), and the essence of triangles (logical/mathematical), when you’re trying to discuss the essence of a putative first cause (putative simplest empirical).

    I’d suggest sticking with something more like what you actually want to argue for than running off into the weeds with things that arguably might not apply.

    Are there reasons besides those argued in A-T metaphysics?

    Yes.

    …And?

    Do you think that those reasons are better than A-T metaphysics? I would hope that you would offer your best arguments, not your worst ones.

    Parsimony might work against you.

    How?

    =======

    Moving on a bit, do you want to tackle final causes? Do you still think that they are real, or are you willing to concede that they are fallacious concepts?

    I’ve had a great quote about that in mind from the last time Aquinas’ argument about final causes came up. This is by Sastra, not me, but I think it’s very insightful:

    You’re missing the critical step: Because matter has no goals or intentions of its own, the logical explanation for the fact that matter seems to behave “as if” it is being driven to an end, is that this apparent teleology is an artifact of the human mind which is doing the interpreting. This is the simplest solution to the disconnnect. The goals and intentions are being read into a situation. What you are seeing at work is not the Mind of God — it’s the mind of man. Your own mind. Both you, and Aquinas, are anthropomorphizing nature, and have mistaken yourselves, for God.

    If you’d rather not continue arguing at all because you want some time to think about the questions and answers we’ve exchanged, just say so. To be honest, you sound like you’re losing enthusiasm.

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  35. Owlmirror, I admit that categorizing animals can be quite difficult. There is no guarantee that the answers will be easy to come by.

    Although, come to think of it, you never did answer my question about whether straight triangles (“triangles” of 0, 0, and 180 degrees) conform to the essence of triangularity. What knowledge would you need in order to answer that with a definite yes or no?

    I don’t think your example would qualify as a triangle because it would not have three actual sides. The mathematical definition is all you need to know.

    But in your examples, you’re offering the essence of animals (complex empirical), the essence of elements (simpler empirical), and the essence of triangles (logical/mathematical), when you’re trying to discuss the essence of a putative first cause (putative simplest empirical).

    I was merely trying to explain what an essence is.

    Do you think that those reasons are better than A-T metaphysics? I would hope that you would offer your best arguments, not your worst ones.

    I entered this discussion to point out the incoherence of scientism and it has evolved into a discussion about God’s existence. In comment 66 I said I would take the A-T approach because that’s the perspective Feser was coming from. With that said, even if Aquinas’ Five Ways are not the best arguments for God’s existence, I find them convincing.

    Moving on a bit, do you want to tackle final causes? Do you still think that they are real, or are you willing to concede that they are fallacious concepts?

    I don’t really want to tackle final causes because you (or Sastra) don’t seem to understand what Aquinas meant by final causes. If you believe that there are anything like laws of nature or that there are regularities in nature, then you’ve already conceded the existence of final causes. The weakest point (IMO) of Aquinas’ Fifth Way is the argument from the existence of final causes to the conclusion that the things must be directed by an intellect (God).

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  36. I admit that categorizing animals can be quite difficult. There is no guarantee that the answers will be easy to come by.

    This looks like a very diffident and equivocating “no” to my question about whether there is an absolute dividing line such that one ancestral animal had the essence of dogness and its parents and siblings did not. Is that in fact the case?

    I’m not asking you to categorize dogs and/or wolves; I’m asking you to clarify the essence of the essence of dogness.

    I don’t think your example would qualify as a triangle because it would not have three actual sides. The mathematical definition is all you need to know.

    Technically, a triangle with one straight angle and two zero angles does have three sides — but two of them are co-linear with the third.

    And as for the mathematical definition

    http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Triangle.html

    Every triangle has three sides and three angles, some of which may be the same.

    That certainly looks like it supports the triangle in question, although I admit the wording is a bit unclear.

    The concept that is applicable here is “degenerate”, which in the mathematical sense means: “pertaining to a limiting case of a mathematical system that is more symmetrical or simpler in form than the general case”.

    If A, B, C are three distinct points the three segments AB, BC, CA are said to form a triangle with sides AB, BC, CA and vertices A, B, C. If A, B and C are collinear then triangle ABC is said to be degenerate.

    (From: userpages.umbc.edu/~rcampbel/Math306/Axioms/Birkhoff.html )(I’m not including the “http” part because excessive links lead to comments being dumped into moderation.)

    Do you still think that a degenerate triangle is not a triangle?

    I was merely trying to explain what an essence is.

    Strangely, you haven’t convinced me that you know what an essence is. You don’t seem to have consistent answers to questions about the purported essences of pretty much anything.

    Do you think Feser could give consistent answers to my questions?

    I entered this discussion to point out the incoherence of scientism and it has evolved into a discussion about God’s existence.

    And all the arguments advanced for God’s existence are, strangely enough, completely and utterly incoherent.

    With that said, even if Aquinas’ Five Ways are not the best arguments for God’s existence, I find them convincing.

    I’ve pointed out the logical fallacies and the potential empirical problems with one set of his arguments, so on what do you base this conviction? Do you think that logic and evidence don’t matter? Do you think that coherence doesn’t matter?

    I don’t really want to tackle final causes because you (or Sastra) don’t seem to understand what Aquinas meant by final causes.

    Or perhaps we understand better than you or Feser or Aquinas himself that his argument made no sense at all.

    If you believe that there are anything like laws of nature or that there are regularities in nature, then you’ve already conceded the existence of final causes.

    (Presuppositionalism sends me into a screaming rage, so you may see me getting snarky again. Just so you’re warned.)

    On what do you base your utterly deranged and incoherent claim?

    NB:

    Aristotle is not committed to the view that everything has all four causes, let alone that everything has a final/formal cause. In the Metaphysics, for example, Aristotle says that an eclipse of the moon does not have a final cause

    (From: plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/ )

    The weakest point (IMO) of Aquinas’ Fifth Way is the argument from the existence of final causes to the conclusion that the things must be directed by an intellect (God).

    Aquinas argues from a contradiction, which is a pathetic logical fallacy, and assumes his conclusion, which is another pathetic logical fallacy.

    And if you agree that it’s weak, why do you find it convincing?

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  37. Owlmirror:

    This looks like a very diffident and equivocating “no” to my question about whether there is an absolute dividing line such that one ancestral animal had the essence of dogness and its parents and siblings did not. Is that in fact the case?

    If (1) I knew exactly what made a dog a dog and (2) I knew everything there is to know about a specific animal, then I could classify that specific animal. Since I know neither (1) nor (2) I can only give vague answers.

    Do you still think that a degenerate triangle is not a triangle?

    No.

    Do you think Feser could give consistent answers to my questions?

    Yes, but realize you won’t be convinced that essences are real in a few paragraphs. I would recommend reading Real Essentialism and going from there. If you do comment on Feser’s blog I would appreciate a link so I could follow the discussion.

    I’ve pointed out the logical fallacies and the potential empirical problems with one set of his arguments, so on what do you base this conviction? Do you think that logic and evidence don’t matter? Do you think that coherence doesn’t matter?

    You’ve tried to point out problems in the argument but none of your comments have been convincing. Using the outline from comment 75, here is how I would summarize our discussion. (1) We both seem to believe there is an order of efficient causes. (2) You pointed out that we may one day learn that something can come into being without an efficient cause. But, based on current knowledge, Aquinas still appears to be correct. (3) We both seem to believe that there cannot be an infinite order of efficient causes ordered per se. (4) I’ve tried to get you to understand essences. You never disproved their existence. Moreover, the argument could probably be reworked (in terms of necessary and contingent things) to work without referring to essences.

    Or perhaps we understand better than you or Feser or Aquinas himself that his argument made no sense at all.

    If the Fifth Way is nonsensical then it is nonsensical for reasons that have nothing to do with your misunderstanding of final causes.

    On what do you base your utterly deranged and incoherent claim?

    Aquinas’ definition of final causes. The fact that not everything has a final cause is not important. The argument works as long as there are some final causes.

    Aquinas argues from a contradiction, which is a pathetic logical fallacy, and assumes his conclusion, which is another pathetic logical fallacy.

    Perhaps, but you’ll need to point out the premises you think employ logical fallacies and explain why the logical fallacy applies to those premises.

    And if you agree that it’s weak, why do you find it convincing?

    I said it was the weakest point. I did not claim to be able to refute the argument.

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  38. If (1) I knew exactly what made a dog a dog and (2) I knew everything there is to know about a specific animal, then I could classify that specific animal. Since I know neither (1) nor (2) I can only give vague answers.

    You don’t seem to realize what I’ve been asking you.

    Above, I asked: “Does the “essence of dogness” have definite boundaries, or fuzzy ones?” You said that it has definite boundaries. Yet if that were really the case, the answer to my question about the dividing line, where one animal has the essence of dogness, and that animal’s parents and siblings do not, would be an absolute “yes”: You don’t have to know which specific animal is on the ‘dogness’ side of the putative dividing line in order to infer that the dividing line must be there from your own prior claim.

    So you’re waffling on the matter — going from “yes” to “dunno” when I rephrase the question. Which I think clearly demonstrates that you don’t really know what essences are — or maybe you realize at some level that you were wrong about them being definite, at least when it comes to complex biological organisms.

    Yes, but realize you won’t be convinced that essences are real in a few paragraphs.

    I would recommend reading Real Essentialism and going from there.

    You know, I went and looked up David Oderberg, and I found the most fascinating paper:

      The publication in 1969 of Anthony Kenny’s The Five Ways¹ was an important moment in contemporary philosophy of religion. In it, Kenny presented a detailed and systematic critique of the famous Five Ways of St Thomas Aquinas by which the existence of God could be proved using philosophical reasoning without any appeal to faith or revelation. The critical reception was somewhat mixed, provoking, unsurprisingly, a less sympathetic response from Peter Geach than from Antony Flew.² Speaking anecdotally, however, after many years of discussing philosophy of religion with both philosophers and theologians, and perusing some of the numerous standard undergraduate (and graduate) reading lists on proofs for the existence of God, I have formed the impression that Kenny’s book has had a major and lasting influence on the consensus concerning the cogency of the Five Ways.   That consensus is assuredly negative. Aquinas’s arguments are sometimes praised for their depth and ingenuity, but in general they are esteemed a failure, whether glorious or not. And Kenny’s critique is one of the first works to which any philosopher of religion would point his students or colleagues for a (probably the) locus classicus in which the debunking exercise is successfully carried out. Kenny accuses Aquinas of numerous logical fallacies, equivocations, irrelevancies, and—perhaps the most memorable accusation—of tying his arguments, especially the First and Second Ways, to an outdated and discredited Aristotelian/medieval cosmology.³ There are those who treat the arguments more sympathetically, but they are in a decided minority and the conclusion, almost always, is that the arguments still fail.

    The rest of Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way appears to be a defense of at least that one little part of Aquinas, but it’s interesting that Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    Are you going to claim that Oderberg, or Kenny, does not understand what Aquinas meant?

    Does Feser discuss Kenny’s work at all?

    You pointed out that we may one day learn that something can come into being without an efficient cause.

    No, I pointed out that something is in fact coming into being all the time. Going by the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, you conceded that this is indeed without efficient cause; the only counter-argument is that the Copenhagen Interpretation may not be correct.

    Or more succinctly: We may one day learn that something that in fact does come into being, does so without an efficient cause.

    But, based on current knowledge, Aquinas still appears to be correct.

    Based on current knowledge, Aquinas is quite possibly wrong.

    Based on Kenny, Aquinas is almost certainly wrong. I think I’ll have to read Kenny.

    I’ve tried to get you to understand essences. You never disproved their existence.

    You haven’t proved you know what they are to get me to understand them. I don’t need to disprove them if you can’t even present them coherently.

    If the Fifth Way is nonsensical then it is nonsensical for reasons that have nothing to do with your misunderstanding of final causes.

    Well, I am glad that you agree that the fifth way is nonsense, regardless of whether or not you understand it.

    The fact that not everything has a final cause is not important. The argument works as long as there are some final causes.

    And thus Aquinas fails because there are no final causes. Got it.

    Perhaps, but you’ll need to point out the premises you think employ logical fallacies and explain why the logical fallacy applies to those premises.

      1) We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result.

    This premise begs the question, and argues in a circle. Two fallacies in one.

      2) Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end.

    Hence it is plain that he continues to beg the question. This is still a fallacy.

    This and (1) also contradicts the premise (3) that follows — he argues that things lacking intelligence act for an end AND that whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end. More fallacy.

      3) Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer.

      4) Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end.

    And this conclusion derives from the contradicting and question-begging premises above, and further contradicts the basis of his own premise (3), since he is concluding that there isn’t anything that moves without intelligence.

    The argument is invalid.

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  39. Hi Martin, first-time commenter here..

    The reason that I identify as an atheist in my byline top left isn’t that I spend lots of time thinking about my unbelief. It’s that most Sb readers are in the US. And I know that in the religiously crazed United States, atheists are a beleaguered, even hated, minority. But they’re my peeps, and I support them as best I can. The right to freedom of religion is a fine thing. And so is the right to freedom from religion. (Martin)

    As a theist who lives in the US, this is understandable. I believe it’s fair to say the average US believer has been corralled into an abandonment of critical thinking, although it’s not just a religious problem but arguably a pop-culture one. Point is, if more theists understood that atheists aren’t “anti-theists” by default, life would be much better in the US.

    Like

  40. Owlmirror:

    So you’re waffling on the matter — going from “yes” to “dunno” when I rephrase the question.

    I’m trying to make it clear that, in theory, there is a definite boundary while, in practice, it is difficult to always see the boundary.

    but it’s interesting that Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    He does no such thing. The phrase you placed in bold was an opinion held by others. Oderberg, on p. 3 of the article you cite, says that “with some unpacking and an attempt at a sympathetic reading, we can see that the arguments are in fact strong ones.”

    Does Feser discuss Kenny’s work at all?

    He discusses it quite a lot.

    Going by the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, you conceded that this is indeed without efficient cause; the only counter-argument is that the Copenhagen Interpretation may not be correct.

    From my admittedly non-expert viewpoint I am confident that the Copenhagen interpretation is incorrect.

    Based on Kenny, Aquinas is almost certainly wrong. I think I’ll have to read Kenny.

    At least do yourself the favor of reading both sides of the argument.

    Regarding the Fifth Way, you’re commenting on an outline of the argument and then complaining that it does not go into as much detail as you think is necessary. I don’t feel like trying to unpack every premise in another argument so I’ll leave it be.

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  41. I’m trying to make it clear that, in theory, there is a definite boundary

    So in theory, you should have answered “yes, there was one animal that had the essence of dogness, and that animal’s parents and putative siblings did not have that essence”.

    while, in practice, it is difficult to always see the boundary.

    If there’s a boundary that is difficult to always see, that is the the same as saying that in practice — for more complex things like living animal species and genera — that boundary is indeterminate and fuzzy. Which is certainly my understanding of the nature of animal classification, definition, and abstraction, regardless of whether this is the same as an “essence” or not.

    You pretty much just waffled in a single sentence…

    it’s interesting that Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    He does no such thing.

    He does exactly that. Too bad you misread him.

    The phrase you placed in bold was an opinion held by others. Oderberg, on p. 3 of the article you cite, says that “with some unpacking and an attempt at a sympathetic reading, we can see that the arguments are in fact strong ones.”

    Which only refers to the first and second ways, which means that he concedes that ways three through five are failures. Can you do basic math? Do you realize that three is larger than two?

    Hence: Oderberg concedes that Aquinas is largely a failure.

    Of course, I remain unconvinced that Oderberg is necessarily correct about the first and second ways, either. I’m working my way through the paper now, and there’s something very silly about defending archaic arguments with a flawed archaic understanding of reality. I may have a more complete analysis of it when I finish the paper…

    [Feser] discusses [Kenny’s work] quite a lot.

    Does he now. Funny that you took this long to mention it. Well, I will have to take your word for it. I have no intention of approaching Feser before I read what Kenny has to say, and I have no idea how long it will take me to get to that.

    From my admittedly non-expert viewpoint I am confident that the Copenhagen interpretation is incorrect.

    If you’re not an expert, then what are you basing your confidence on? Presuppositionalism?

    And I’m not sure that the correct interpretation — whatever it is — will necessarily help you. But I acknowledge that I am not an expert myself.

    At least do yourself the favor of reading both sides of the argument.

    Have you done yourself the favor of reading Kenny, to make sure that Feser presents all of Kenny’s arguments, and addresses them comprehensively?

    Regarding the Fifth Way, you’re commenting on an outline of the argument and then complaining that it does not go into as much detail as you think is necessary.

    I’m complaining that it fails on its face, no matter how much “detail” there is. Aquinas is wrong about “final causes” existing as something real, and he’s wrong about what can be deduced about his presupposition of the real existence of final causes. Either way, his logic fails.

    The “intellect” that he “deduces” is his own, but he fails to understand that it is his own, as Sastra notes.

    I don’t feel like trying to unpack every premise in another argument so I’ll leave it be.

    Right, you can’t defend Aquinas’ flawed logic, so you’re going to quit. I understand completely that you don’t want to examine that flawed logic because doing so would mean conceding that he, and you, are completely wrong.

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  42. Owlmirror, since Oderberg defends A-T concepts it is hard to believe that he sees Aquinas as a failure. And I have not seen him explicitly say the Third, Fourth, and Fifth ways are poor arguments. The quote you provided can be taken as a summary of the opinion of other philosophers.

    In a book review he writes: “Having written many years ago, however, a book debunking Aquinas’s celebrated Five Ways to prove the existence of God, it is no surprise to see Kenny giving these only a cursory and ill-served treatment (302-4). The arguments, in the view of a number of serious philosophers, still have plenty going for them and cannot be shrugged off in the way they are by Kenny.” Here, he seems to be referring to all five arguments.

    If you want more Oderberg, here’s an article on teleology.

    I’m willing to see the flawed logic in Aquinas (I don’t claim to be a committed Thomist), but, since you attack positions you don’t understand, our discussion will inevitably be more about what the Fifth Way is than over whether it is correct or not. My time can be better spent, say, reading Kenny’s book, than trying to explain final causes to you and then moving on to the next part of the argument you don’t understand and so on.

    Take care.

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  43. Owlmirror, since Oderberg defends A-T concepts it is hard to believe that he sees Aquinas as a failure. And I have not seen him explicitly say the Third, Fourth, and Fifth ways are poor arguments. The quote you provided can be taken as a summary of the opinion of other philosophers.

    In a book review he writes: “Having written many years ago, however, a book debunking Aquinas’s celebrated Five Ways to prove the existence of God, it is no surprise to see Kenny giving these only a cursory and ill-served treatment (302-4). The arguments, in the view of a number of serious philosophers, still have plenty going for them and cannot be shrugged off in the way they are by Kenny” (http://www.reading.ac.uk/Acadepts/ln/Medieval/reviews/KennyPhilosophy.htm). Here, he seems to be referring to all five arguments.

    I’m willing to see the flawed logic in Aquinas (you’ve had two weeks to attack the Second Way), but, since you attack positions you don’t understand, our discussion will inevitably be more about what the Fifth Way is than over whether it is correct or not. My time can be better spent, say, reading Kenny’s book, than trying to explain final causes to you and then moving on to the next part of the argument you don’t understand and so on.

    Take care.

    Like

  44. since Oderberg defends A-T concepts it is hard to believe that he sees Aquinas as a failure.

    I did write “largely”, not “entirely”.

    If Oderberg thinks that Aquinas is not largely a failure, then he himself failed to communicate that.

    And I have not seen him explicitly say the Third, Fourth, and Fifth ways are poor arguments.

    Which only means that the concession is implicit rather than explicit.

    The quote you provided can be taken as a summary of the opinion of other philosophers.

    Not just the opinion, but the consensus of the majority.

    If he opposes the majority — other than regarding the first two ways — he does not say so.

    In a book review he writes “[…] The arguments, in the view of a number of serious philosophers, still have plenty going for them and cannot be shrugged off in the way they are by Kenny”

    So he contradicts himself, then.

    I note that the book review is from 2007, while the paper being referred to was published in 2010. Perhaps he changed his mind.

    Or perhaps the “number of serious philosophers” turned out to be a much smaller number, when investigated, than he originally thought.

    I’m willing to see the flawed logic in Aquinas

    Obviously false. You’ve had the fallacies pointed out to you, and ignored them.

    since you attack positions you don’t understand,

    Or rather, that you don’t understand, and that you then project your failure onto me. We spent a huge chunk of those two weeks discussing essence, and you have utterly failed to demonstrate any coherent understanding of the topic whatsoever.

    Of course, there may be no coherent understanding of the topic to be had.

    our discussion will inevitably be more about what the Fifth Way is than over whether it is correct or not.

    The essence of an argument cannot be separated from its correctness. Why do you not understand this?

    My time can be better spent, say, reading Kenny’s book,

    At long last.

    than trying to explain final causes to you and then moving on to the next part of the argument you don’t understand and so on.

    In other words, you implicitly concede that you are unable to defend Aquinas’ argument.

    I’ll be checking back for a few days in case you have any further thoughts, and I will also post any comments I have about Oderberg’s paper here — just for the sake of closure.

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  45. Some notes on David Oderberg’s “‘Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way”:

    As the title itself proclaims, he only focuses on the first premise. Twenty-five pages, pretty much just on the one line.

    I don’t intend to analyze every line on every page. Most of his metaphysics is uninteresting to me, and only supports his arguments if one already accepts that metaphysics — the essence of circularity.

    Still, a few points I think worth noting:

    On page 8 of the PDF (or page 147 by the numbers on the page):

    In a human the soul is immaterial; in a non-human animal it is material, that is, wholly dependent for its operation on the animal’s material constitution.

    This is the logical fallacy of special pleading. Looking at his “Hylemorphic Dualism”, I see that he commits several logical fallacies in asserting and arguing his premises, especially when arguing the alleged “immateriality” of the soul of humans, which is a pathetic question-begging argument from ignorance and special pleading.

    Very disappointing.

    On page 19 of the PDF (or page 158 by the numbers on the page), he offers a convoluted argument:

    Kenny offers no argument for thinking that premise 1 can be undermined by positing relatively basic laws; he simply tells us that such laws might exist and so require no further explanation at all—in other words, that the relatively basic laws might also be absolutely basic.

    Which implies that they are, or might as well be, the immaterial uncaused cause(s) of all further caused things. Premise 1 isn’t exactly undermined by these fundamental laws, but is rather fulfilled by them. The point is simply that there is no reason to call absolutely basic laws “God”.

    He goes on to say that the First Way does not seek to explain why the relatively basic laws hold. The argument is not to an Author of Nature, he points out, but to ‘the efficient cause of the actual motions of substances in the world’. This claim is misleading, however, because of the intimate connection between being the Author of Nature and being the Author of Natures.

    This response to Kenny is a non-sequitur, and special pleading, and an assumed conclusion. Not to mention being utterly incoherent.

    Even more disappointing.

    On page 24 of the PDF (or page 163 by the numbers on the page):

    Thus the chain of causes must be traced through distinct substances, not just distinct qualities and not just qualities within a single substance. And if premise 2 is correct, the chain cannot be infinite. If the conclusion follows from the premises, there must be a wholly immovable mover, a final terminus and cause of all change in the universe, yet not itself part of the universe.

    First of all, the final clause begs the question — he nowhere provides any logic for the “cause” not being part of the universe.

    Secondly, his argument is potentially falsified by basic physics: all atoms, and all subatomic particles, are constantly in motion; they are not moved by anything except their own natures. I suppose that it could be argued that the causes of the motion are identical to the absolutely basic laws of nature already posited above — the laws themselves certainly are “unmoved”.

    And there’s still no reason to call those laws of nature “God”.

    Meh. So, those are his arguments for the first premise of the first way, eh?

    Not compelling at all.

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