None Confirmed: The End Of Christianity, I

Tonight I had the opportunity to preview Vic Stenger’s contribution [PDF 220KB] to the upcoming Prometheus title, The End of Christianity, edited by John W. Loftus. After reading, I felt compelled to respond, so I figured I’d go ahead and kick off my review now. Amazon lists July 26 of this year as the expected release date.

Though Stenger’s contribution is titled, Life After Death: Examining the Evidence, over half the article clashed with Dinesh D’Souza’s philosophical arguments for God’s existence. For those expecting in an in-depth discussion of NDE’s as I was, you will probably be disappointed. Since I’m working on a series of posts addressing NDE’s, rather than reply to anything Stenger said about them, tonight I’d like to focus on a single claim:

None of the claimed prophetic revelations of the Bible have been confirmed and many have been disconfirmed. [Stenger]

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly a fan of precision with language and firmly cemented goalposts. Fortunately, Vic gave us both in his two-pronged claim: he wrote that none of the Bible’s prophetic revelations have been confirmed. It doesn’t take an English major to realize that “none” means zip, zero, zilch, and it doesn’t take a professional logician to realize that a single instance of a confirmed revelation falsifies Stenger’s claim. While it would be easy to provide one and call it a day, why be lazy? I’ll give you four: two from science, and two from history.

Before we begin, I’d like to preemptively address those who would cry “cherrypicking” with a tacit confession: I fully acknowledge the fact that some biblical revelations are at odds with today’s conventional wisdom. For anyone who’s interested, we can talk about that in the thread. For now, I simply wish to address the first prong of Stenger’s claim.

1) Truth be told, we need look no further than the first verse of the Bible to falsify Stenger’s claim:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. [Genesis 1:1, ESV]

That there was a “beginning” is currently confirmed by science. Of course, one could simply maintain that Genesis should be read metaphorically and not literally. That’s fine, but if that’s your reply, be consistent: don’t let me catch you saying evolution falsifies the rest of the chapter.

2) How about a revelation that cannot be relegated to metaphor? In the specific context of the creation of the universe, the writer of Hebrews tells us:

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. [Hebrews 11:3, ESV]

Here we find another revelation that is currently confirmed by science: everything that we see is apparently made out of things that are not visible, i.e., atoms, and further down that that, quantum vacuum fluctuations.

3) At the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege on Jerusalem, the prophet Ezekiel wrote:

And when your people say to you, ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. [Ezekiel 37:18-23, ESV]

This revelation was officially confirmed May 14th, 1948, with Israel’s recognition as a single, sovereign nation.

4) In the post-exilic period, expanding on Ezekiel’s prophecy with more precision, Zechariah wrote:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: If it is marvelous in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in my sight, declares the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness. [Zechariah 8:1-8, ESV]

This prophecy–that the Jews would reoccupy Jerusalem–was confirmed on the third day of the Six-Day War: June 7, 1967.

The uniqueness of the Jewish state is a well-known fact. In The Weekly Standard, May 11, 1998, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote:

Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba, and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store.

So there you have it: four confirmed biblical revelations, when Stenger told us there were none.

Shooting fish in a barrel? Perhaps, but unfortunately, this is exactly what I would expect in a book edited by John W. Loftus. It is the editor’s duty to scrutinize his project for factual errors, and Loftus is arguably as biased an editor as a publisher could possibly find. I am not joking when I say that Loftus editing a book titled The End of Christianity is tantamount to Fred Phelps editing The End of Homosexuality. What critical thinker would take the latter seriously? Personally, I’d be impressed if Loftus delegated the editing to a committee of atheists and Christians, but I have a nagging feeling that this false claim and others like it are going to make their way to press unchallenged.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not hating on Stenger. Sure, he makes a few patently false claims in his article, but he also makes others I endorse, and on more than one occasion I’m inclined to side with him over D’Souza. For example, I agree with Vic regarding the “existence” [evidence?] for free will [p.21], and I commend him for being open to the possibility of the noumenal [p.30]. Still, neither of those departures from hardline atheism justify the sort of nonsense we just easily debunked.

Impressionable minds are going to read this book, and we ought to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God–or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, if you prefer–and in my honest opinion, John W. Loftus is the wrong man for the job.

112 Comments

  1. apologianick says:

    CL. I think it would be better to focus on prophecies fulfilled in Christ specifically. Some of us would want to question some fulfillments being future. I’m still sticking here of course however for the objection that I expect to come up.

  2. Not Loftus again. How in the world is it possible for a person to study religion for SO LONG and STILL know next to nothing about it?

  3. dguller says:

    Let us look at these predictions.

    Now, if I predict that A & B & C & D will occur, but only A & B occurred, then is my prediction true or false? It is false, because C & D did not also occur, and my prediction was based upon the aggregate of A & B & C &D.

    That is what I observe happening with all these predictions that are cited.

    P1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.
    The prediction involves (A) a beginning and (B) that God created the heavens and the earth. A has been found to be true, but B is an open question at this point. So, prediction = A & B. Actual result = A. Prediction = false.

    P2. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

    The prediction involves (A) “the universe was created by the word of God”, and (B) “that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible”. (A) is not necessarily true, and (B) is true, but one would have to know what invisible things the author of the text was referring to. Were they referring to atoms, or to divine entities that were sustaining the visible world? So, prediction = A & B. Actual result = maybe (B), depending on what “invisible things” means. Prediction = false.

    P3. “And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

    This prediction involves a number of conjoined claims. (A) there will be a king ruling over the Jews, (B) there will no longer be any defilement or transgressions committed by the Jews. I’m pretty sure that there is no King of the state of Israel today, so (A) is false. And (B) is open to debate. I am pretty sure that Jews have transgressed Jewish Law since the birth of the state of Israel. After all, there are Israeli atheists! So, prediction = A & B. Actual result = none. Prediction = false.

    P4. I’ll give you the fourth one, because this actually did happen as described.

    So, Stenger is wrong that NOTHING that the Bible said would come to pass has actually happened. However, he is probably right that MOST of what it predicted to come to pass has not occurred. What would actually be useful would be to put together a list of all the predictions made, rate them based upon their degree of specificity, and see how many were accurate. Then perform a statistical analysis that weighs the specific predictions more heavily than the non-specific predictions, and see if the results are better than chance occurrences.

    Anyone done this?

  4. Christopher says:

    Nope. But as a high school math teacher it would be awesome to be able to do this with my students. Unfortunately, the parents would probably have heart attacks just hearing that I would be having their kids analyze the bible’s prophecies.

  5. dguller says:

    I mean, even astrologers sometimes make correct predictions, but does that mean that astrologers are reliable and are able to read the stars to determine the future?

    When studies are done, they far no better, and sometimes worse, than random chance, which means that their correct predictions are as accurate as a coin toss, which is to say, unreliable.

  6. therealadaam says:

    Regarding your 4th point cl,
    If the Jews have been hearing for 3,000 years that “You will one day reoccupy Jerusalem” isn’t that what is called a self-fulfilling prophesy?
    Now, hold your horses. Yes it is AMAZING that the Jewish people still have their culture after everything that has happened to them, but might that be a result of their education and immersion in the culture?
    If you were told “This will happen, it’s God’s will” would you look for that to happen? Wait for it? Or try to make it happen?

  7. jayman777 says:

    cl:

    Of course, one could simply maintain that Genesis should be read metaphorically and not literally.

    I would avoid the issue of interpreting Genesis. We merely need to note that the Bible claims that God is the Creator of the universe and that this implies a moment of creation, a beginning.

    Here we find another revelation that is currently confirmed by science: everything that we see is apparently made out of things that are not visible, i.e., atoms, and further down that that, quantum vacuum fluctuations.

    I don’t see how you can draw this conclusion from Hebrews 11:3. As far as I know, no Christian read Hebrews 11:3 and hypothesized the existence of microscopic particles that were later discovered by modern scientists. You are guilty of reading things into the text like Muslim apologists do when searching for so-called scientific miracles in the Koran.

    This revelation was officially confirmed May 14th, 1948, with Israel’s recognition as a single, sovereign nation.

    This prophecy–that the Jews would reoccupy Jerusalem–was confirmed on the third day of the Six-Day War: June 7, 1967.

    But these are only partial fulfillments.

  8. jayman777 says:

    dguller:

    The prediction involves (A) a beginning and (B) that God created the heavens and the earth. A has been found to be true, but B is an open question at this point. So, prediction = A & B. Actual result = A. Prediction = false.

    The only reason B (God being the Creator) is an open question appears to be because atheists reject the universality of cause-and-effect. More precisely, they appear to reject the universality of cause-and-effect when presented with various cosmological arguments but appear to accept it at all other moments in their lives.

    Anyone done this?

    I have done a few rough estimates of prophecy accuracy from individual, smaller books of the Bible (Hosea, Daniel). However, I merely divided the prophecies up into a few categories: testable and confirmed, testable and disconfirmed, and untestable (e.g., not enough historical data to say one way or the other, end-times prophecy, etc.).

    The most specific prophecies in the Bible are probably in Daniel 11 and they are largely confirmed. Partially for this reason, most scholars think Daniel 11 was written after the facts it describes. I don’t find the position of such scholars persuasive but you should at least be aware of it.

  9. dguller says:

    jayman777:

    >> The only reason B (God being the Creator) is an open question appears to be because atheists reject the universality of cause-and-effect. More precisely, they appear to reject the universality of cause-and-effect when presented with various cosmological arguments but appear to accept it at all other moments in their lives.

    If a believer can say that God necessarily exists, then I can say that the universe necessarily exists. Either everything that exists has a cause, which means so does God, or you can admit of an exception, and why not just stop at the universe, or even some other impersonal infinite substrate, like Spinoza postulated?

  10. jayman777 says:

    dguller:

    If a believer can say that God necessarily exists, then I can say that the universe necessarily exists.

    Not without contradicting yourself. You’ve already stated that you believe the universe has a beginning. If the universe has a beginning then its existence is contingent.

    But even if I were to grant, for the sake of argument, that the universe necessarily exists it would still not be the First Cause mentioned below. The universe’s necessity would have to have been caused by another necessary entity whose essence is existence.

    Either everything that exists has a cause, which means so does God, or you can admit of an exception, why not just stop at the universe

    Because the First Cause must be of a specific kind and the universe does not fit that kind. In his First Way, Aquinas demonstrates that the First Cause must be an Unmoved Mover. In his Second and Third Ways he demonstrates that the First Cause must be an entity whose essence is existence (which matches Exodus 3:14). The universe is in motion/change and its essence is not existence so it cannot be the First Cause.

    or even some other impersonal infinite substrate, like Spinoza postulated?

    In his Fifth Way, Aquinas argues that the First Cause must have a mind. But, whatever else God is supposed to be, he is supposed to be the cause of all that exists. Thus, the First Cause I’ve outlined above can rightfully be called God. If Aquinas is on the right track in at least one of his arguments for God’s existence then the Bible has been vindicated on the matter of a divine Creator.

  11. Ana says:

    cl,

    I don’t see the the opening verse of Genesis as falling under the cateogry of prophecy. We can call it a revelation, but not prophetic. (However, your main point is still sustained, the science of the Big Bang is consistent with the Genesis account of space-time having an origin).

    dguller,

    Using the term “prediction” would be appropriate when assessing a prophecy, but for Genesis 1:1, that is not a prediction. That is a statement that is being conveyed as a set [historical] truth. So assessing it with words like “true” or “false” or “undetermined” are fine, but not the word “prediction”, I think that would be a category mistake.

  12. dguller says:

    Jayman777:

    >> Not without contradicting yourself. You’ve already stated that you believe the universe has a beginning. If the universe has a beginning then its existence is contingent.

    This universe has a beginning in the Big Bang, but it is also possible that there have been an infinite series of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, and thus the universe, taken to be the totality of BB’s and BC’s, would be infinite.

    >> But even if I were to grant, for the sake of argument, that the universe necessarily exists it would still not be the First Cause mentioned below. The universe’s necessity would have to have been caused by another necessary entity whose essence is existence.

    Why? If the universe is necessary, then it necessarily exists. Why not just say that its essence is existence?

    >> Because the First Cause must be of a specific kind and the universe does not fit that kind. In his First Way, Aquinas demonstrates that the First Cause must be an Unmoved Mover. In his Second and Third Ways he demonstrates that the First Cause must be an entity whose essence is existence (which matches Exodus 3:14). The universe is in motion/change and its essence is not existence so it cannot be the First Cause.

    The universe is the totality of what exists, whether necessary or contingent. It is possible that the contingent changes that we see are secondary to an underlying necessarily existing substrate from which matter/energy and space-time emerge in all their contingency.

    >> In his Fifth Way, Aquinas argues that the First Cause must have a mind. But, whatever else God is supposed to be, he is supposed to be the cause of all that exists. Thus, the First Cause I’ve outlined above can rightfully be called God. If Aquinas is on the right track in at least one of his arguments for God’s existence then the Bible has been vindicated on the matter of a divine Creator.

    First, I can grant that contingent entities probably require an underlying necessary entity to generate the change, but whether that necessary entity is God is a whole other story. I have no problem with Spinoza’s solution in this matter.

    Second, biological organisms have minds by virtue of having brains, which are sufficiently complex neural networks to process information and generate conscious awareness. To speak of a mind without a brain is just science fiction and fantasy.

  13. apologianick says:

    well said Jayman. A fellow Thomist?

    Dguller. The universe can’t be its own existence because the universe is constantly changing. Change means moving from one way of being to another way of being. One is moving in existence.

    Thus, I change the Kalam to be the following:

    All things that have potential depend on something else for their existing.
    The universe has potential. (It can change after all)
    The universe depends on something else for its existing.

    (Also, I see your post in the other thread. My time is limited this morning. If not tonight, then Monday. I try to avoid debate on Sunday.)

    Now you also say theists need to drop the first cause argument of saying everything needs a cause.

    Can you please find me in the scholarly literature one theist who argues that everything needs a cause?

  14. I’m having a problem understanding what all this “first cause”, “divine Creator, “Tommy Aquinas” folderol has to do with why human beings, most of them anyway, need religion.
    Thirty-thousand years ago our ancestors were creating admirable artwork on cave walls and burying their dead with ceremony and gifts to be employed in some imaginary afterlife. It isn’t a coincidence that paranormal beliefs, supernaturalism and “religion” are ubiquitous. There is no place on earth, now or ever in the past, where man didn’t construct supernatural beliefs to buffer the inherent existential angst that comes with being life in matter. This is a given. Sentient beings, as a rule, have big problems imagining the universe without “them” in it. Religion, supernaturalism and paranormal beliefs are ALL, in the end, denial of death schemes. At least this seems to be the rule for all I can think of.
    “First Causes… Last Causes, brains & beans”… have utterly nothing to do with the fact that humans, once they crossed the neurological Rubicon into sentience, found themselves incapable, in one way or another, of coming to grips and accepting the reality that THAY are meat… like the rest of the meat that crawls, walks, swims or burrows beneath the surface of this spinning ball of rock. That’s why we have culture! Culture dictates the avenues along which madness can freely roam. It is the list of lies we agree to pretend are true for “our own good”. The problem, of course, shows itself when one culture [read: set of lies] bumps into another.
    But by no stretch of the imagination should we assume that man was ever capable of existing in a cold and “objective” reality. Not for long anyway.

  15. dguller says:

    apologianick:

    >> The universe can’t be its own existence because the universe is constantly changing. Change means moving from one way of being to another way of being. One is moving in existence.

    The universe just is the totality of what exists, which can include what necessarily exists, as well as what contingently exists. I see no reason why the universe cannot have a necessarily existing substrate that generates the change that we see by being the foundation of matter/energy and space-time, which manifest contingency. You call this substrate “God”, and I call it “Nature”.

    >> All things that have potential depend on something else for their existing.
The universe has potential. (It can change after all)
The universe depends on something else for its existing.

    First, the contingent universe depends upon something necessary to exist, sure, but whether this necessary substrate is a separate entity is another question.

    Second, if this necessary entity is separate from the universe, then how exactly does it cause the contingent universe to exist? I mean, if the totality of matter/energy and space-time is constant, and the contingency that we experience is secondary to modifications in these things, then it actually makes sense. Once you include a separate entity, then not only is it incomprehensible, but we also have no idea how it does what it does, and it becomes a “god of the gaps”.

    >> Can you please find me in the scholarly literature one theist who argues that everything needs a cause?

    It is all connected: cause, effect, potential, actual. An actual cause changes the potential in another entity into an actual effect. They all relate to one another, and so you cannot argue from potentiality and actuality and not necessarily involve the concept of causation. They go together, a priori.

  16. cl says:

    FWIW, here’s my 2 cents on Aristotle’s argument from kinesis.

    apologianick,

    I think it would be better to focus on prophecies fulfilled in Christ specifically.

    In my experience, those are much easier for atheists and skeptics to deny. For that reason, I specifically chose a few that–in my opinion–were more difficult to deny. Of the prophecies which focus on Christ, which do you find the most persuasive?

    dguller,

    Now, if I predict that A & B & C & D will occur, but only A & B occurred, then is my prediction true or false? It is false, because C & D did not also occur, and my prediction was based upon the aggregate of A & B & C &D.

    False. This depends on whether or not C & D are disconfirmed as opposed to not yet confirmed.

    That is what I observe happening with all these predictions that are cited.

    False. This is what you observed with three of them. You accepted the fourth “as described,” which is enough in itself to refute Stenger’s claim.

    P1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.
    The prediction involves (A) a beginning and (B) that God created the heavens and the earth. A has been found to be true, but B is an open question at this point. So, prediction = A & B. Actual result = A. Prediction = false.

    Your approach–subdivision into constituent claims–actually strengthens my argument against Stenger. Regardless, I don’t accept your logic there. That B is still open does not entail false.

    The prediction involves (A) “the universe was created by the word of God”, and (B) “that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible”. (A) is not necessarily true, and (B) is true, but one would have to know what invisible things the author of the text was referring to. Were they referring to atoms, or to divine entities that were sustaining the visible world?

    It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that “things which are visible” appear to be created from things which are not visible. This is confirmed.

    This prediction involves a number of conjoined claims. (A) there will be a king ruling over the Jews, (B) there will no longer be any defilement or transgressions committed by the Jews. I’m pretty sure that there is no King of the state of Israel today, so (A) is false. And (B) is open to debate. I am pretty sure that Jews have transgressed Jewish Law since the birth of the state of Israel.

    As far as A, Israel has had one king, as opposed to the two it used to have, but I suspect the prophecy also alludes to Christ’s physical reign on earth. As far as B, the prophecy speaks first of the “idols,” i.e., the abhorrent practices Israel had leeched from surrounding cultures of that time. Also, this prophecy isn’t limited to the political climate. I believe the author is speaking of a time yet to come when he writes that God will cleanse the Israelites. Again, open does not entail false.

    However, he is probably right that MOST of what it predicted to come to pass has not occurred.

    That is not what Stenger claimed. He claimed that “none” have been confirmed–which we agree is false–and he claimed that “many” have been disconfirmed–without any further specificity.

    …it is also possible that there have been an infinite series of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, and thus the universe, taken to be the totality of BB’s and BC’s, would be infinite. [to Jayman]

    Elsewhere, you state–unequivocally–that truth claims about the real world ought to be sustained with “methodologically sound” studies and empirical evidence. In this case, the empirical evidence contradicts your implied possibility. WMAP research confirms flat geometry which entails indefinite expansion, and the oscillatory universe seems at odds with the second law of thermodynamics. No offense, but you can’t just “pull stuff out of your arse” when it suits you, especially given your prior statements about the necessity of “methodologically sound” studies and empirical evidence. Unless of course you’ll allow the same for me :)

    An actual cause changes the potential in another entity into an actual effect. They all relate to one another, and so you cannot argue from potentiality and actuality and not necessarily involve the concept of causation. They go together, a priori. [to apologianick]

    I agree. It seems to me that you’ve answered your own question–though, I imagine you’ll disagree.

    therealadaam,

    If the Jews have been hearing for 3,000 years that “You will one day reoccupy Jerusalem” isn’t that what is called a self-fulfilling prophesy?

    I don’t know; is it? How could we tell? Even if it was, would that mean it wasn’t confirmed? My point was to show that Stenger’s claim is false. As far as I can see, I’ve shown that.

    Jayman,

    We merely need to note that the Bible claims that God is the Creator of the universe and that this implies a moment of creation, a beginning.

    I agree. That was the extent of my claim.

    You are guilty of reading things into the text…

    I would agree if I had said or even implied that the writer of Hebrews had atoms or quantum vacuum fluctuations specifically in mind. In actuality, it seems that the writer had “the Word of God” in mind, but this is beside the point. The point is, Hebrews 11:3 states that what is visible is made from things that are not visible, and this is confirmed. That’s the extent of my claim.

    But these are only partial fulfillments.

    It doesn’t matter. Stenger’s claim is still false.

    Ana,

    I don’t see the the opening verse of Genesis as falling under the cateogry of prophecy.

    Nor do I. However, I do see it as “revelation,” in the sense that this was revealed to the writer. For that reason, I included it under the general rubric of “prophetic revelation” Stenger alluded to.

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    Religion, supernaturalism and paranormal beliefs are ALL, in the end, denial of death schemes. At least this seems to be the rule for all I can think of.

    Though it should go without saying that I disagree, I can see why people arrive at this conclusion. However, the plain fact remains that many people have embraced said beliefs for reasons that do not reduce to “denial of death schemes.” There are people who simply believe that logic and evidence point to said beliefs. There are also people who have experienced things that–thus far–can only be explained by said beliefs.

    Culture dictates the avenues along which madness can freely roam.

    Great one-liner. I love stuff like that.

  17. With all do respect cl… nonsense!

    No religion, least of all Christianity, would EVER have stood even the slightest chance surviving without denying both that we are but meat and that death is the end.
    Without both….. you got nuttin.

  18. jayman777 says:

    dguller:

    Why not just say that its essence is existence?

    Because, as a matter of fact, the universe’s essence is not existence.

    To speak of a mind without a brain is just science fiction and fantasy.

    That’s a debate for another day (although cl has posts addressing this topic).

    Once you include a separate entity, then not only is it incomprehensible, but we also have no idea how it does what it does, and it becomes a “god of the gaps”

    Aquinas’ arguments are deductive and thus not god-of-the-gap arguments.

    apologianick:

    A fellow Thomist?

    I find Thomism very intriguing although I’m hesitant to say I am a full-blown, convinced Thomist.

  19. apologianick says:

    @CL

    I would point to a prophecy like Isaiah 53. Overall, if I was using any prophecy in the Bible, as an orthodox Preterist, I would use Matthew 24.

    @jayman.

    I recommend you get your hands on Edward Feser’s “Aquinas” if you have not yet.

    @dguller: The universe just is the totality of what exists,

    Reply: I would love to see this demonstrated.

    Dguller: which can include what necessarily exists, as well as what contingently exists. I see no reason why the universe cannot have a necessarily existing substrate that generates the change that we see by being the foundation of matter/energy and space-time, which manifest contingency. You call this substrate “God”, and I call it “Nature”.

    Reply: It’d be good for this something to have some evidence for it. As it is, this thing would have to be immaterial because whatever is material has potentiality to it as matter is in a constant state of flux. If it has any potential, it cannot be the unmoved mover.

    Dguller: First, the contingent universe depends upon something necessary to exist, sure, but whether this necessary substrate is a separate entity is another question.

    Reply: That which we have no evidence for but would have to be eternal and immaterial and based on the fifth way I would also say have a mind.

    Couldn’t be something like God could it?

    Dguller: Second, if this necessary entity is separate from the universe, then how exactly does it cause the contingent universe to exist? I mean, if the totality of matter/energy and space-time is constant, and the contingency that we experience is secondary to modifications in these things, then it actually makes sense. Once you include a separate entity, then not only is it incomprehensible, but we also have no idea how it does what it does, and it becomes a “god of the gaps”.

    Reply: Knowing how it does is not the same as not knowing that it does. For instance, I am typing right now. I have no idea how I am telling my body to type though I do it everyday. Should I say I am arguing a “free-will of the gaps?” It’s not a god-of-the-gaps argument because those arguments are used just to fill in a lack without any other evidence. This is something based on evidence. The evidence is that that which is material is not the cause of its own existence. Therefore, there must be something immaterial.

    Dguller: It is all connected: cause, effect, potential, actual. An actual cause changes the potential in another entity into an actual effect. They all relate to one another, and so you cannot argue from potentiality and actuality and not necessarily involve the concept of causation. They go together, a priori

    REply: I’ll repeat the question since you didn’t answer it. Can you find ONE theist in the scholarly literature who makes the following proposition. “Everything that exists needs a cause.”

    All you have to do is name one.

    I’ve read several and I have NEVER read such a statement. I have read that misstatement however in several atheist books.

  20. dguller says:

    Jayman:

    >> Because, as a matter of fact, the universe’s essence is not existence

    Why not? Was there a time when mass-energy did not exist? Even the Big Bang began with a singularity, and not nothing. Perhaps the singularity always existed, or was preceded by something else that we have no knowledge about. My point is that it is not a logical contradiction to say that mass-energy has always existed in one form or another.

    >> Aquinas’ arguments are deductive and thus not god-of-the-gap arguments.

    Yes, but the deduction results in something that makes no sense. An Unmoved Mover that is Pure Actuality without any Potential? How does it move anything at all? How does it relate to matter? I mean, the deduction may solve one problem, but it results in a host of others that you have no good answer for, I think.

  21. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> False. This depends on whether or not C & D are disconfirmed as opposed to not yet confirmed.

    No, if something has not yet happened, then the prediction is false. What does it mean to say that I predict X will happen, and when it doesn’t, then I say, “Well, it just hasn’t happened yet!” We need some kind of time frame here, because an indefinite one lacks sufficient specificity to be a good prediction, especially because (as you mentioned) it can never be disconfirmed.

    >> False. This is what you observed with three of them. You accepted the fourth “as described,” which is enough in itself to refute Stenger’s claim.

    You’re right. I exaggerated there.

    >> It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that “things which are visible” appear to be created from things which are not visible. This is confirmed.

    Well, it does matter. If I made a prediction that “a black man will be president of the U.S.” several years ago, but by “black man”, I meant a man darkened by melanoma, then my prediction is false, even though there is a sense in which it is true. It is always important to know what the individual making the prediction meant, because otherwise you open the prediction to vagueness that makes it difficult to falsify.

    >> Elsewhere, you state–unequivocally–that truth claims about the real world ought to be sustained with “methodologically sound” studies and empirical evidence. In this case, the empirical evidence contradicts your implied possibility. WMAP research confirms flat geometry which entails indefinite expansion, and the oscillatory universe seems at odds with the second law of thermodynamics. No offense, but you can’t just “pull stuff out of your arse” when it suits you, especially given your prior statements about the necessity of “methodologically sound” studies and empirical evidence. Unless of course you’ll allow the same for me :)

    I am not a physicist, and so will not even begin to comment on this, but I will say that some physicists do believe in an infinite cyclical process. So, I didn’t just pull it out of my ass, but mentioned it as a possibility that is being considered by physicists. That is why I said, “it is also possible”. I never said that this was the solid confirmed truth.

    Truth be told, no-one really knows what happened before 10^43 seconds after the Big Bang, because it is hypothesized that the four fundamental forces were unified, but we have no idea what this means. So, all of this is just speculation at this point, but the point is that those who believe that the universe began out of nothing do not hold the monopoly on what is possible. But yes, the matter is an open question at this point.

  22. cl says:

    dguller,

    No, if something has not yet happened, then the prediction is false.

    Not true. If something has not yet happened, then, the prediction remains open. Of course, if the prediction is that Jesus will return on May 9th, 2011–come May 10th–then we can say “false,” but not until then.

    If I made a prediction that “a black man will be president of the U.S.” several years ago, but by “black man”, I meant a man darkened by melanoma, then my prediction is false, even though there is a sense in which it is true.

    I agree. Perhaps you and Jayman have a point, and I’ll definitely think about it some more, but either way, even if I agreed with you, this lack of certainty about what the writer meant wouldn’t make the claim false. At worst, we would have to reclassify it as “untestable” and “open.”

    …some physicists do believe in an infinite cyclical process.

    Such as? Even if they do, they do so against the consensus of empirical evidence and an established law of physics. If they’re going to do that, they ought to have good reason.

    Besides, this is irrelevant. Some physicists believe in God, too. My point is that you can’t be selective with your standards. That’s what was meant by the “arse” comment. Sure, all sorts of things are possible, but if methodologically sound studies and empirical evidence are going to be the standard for truth claims about the real world, then this should also hold to your claims–provisional or not.

    To speak of a mind without a brain is just science fiction and fantasy. [to Jayman]

    Bare assertion, and honestly, I find these types of claims frustrating. Elsewhere, you told me that much of the literature on the paranormal was new to you, and you rated your exposure to the literature on NDE’s to be low. No offense, but comments like this suggest that you are partial to science that seems to confirm your views, and prejudiced against science that seems to confront them.

    In the concluding chapter of his book, The Mystery of the Mind, Penfield writes:

    I worked as a scientist trying to prove that the brain accounted for the mind and demonstrating as many brain-mechanisms as possible hoping to show how the brain did so. In presenting this monograph I do not begin with a conclusion and I do not end by making a final and unalterable one. Instead, I reconsider the present-day neuro-physiological evidence on the basis of two hypotheses: (a) that man’s being consists of one fundamental element, and (b) that it consists of two. In the end I conclude that there is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, such as the employment of stimulating electrodes, the study of conscious patients and the analysis of epileptic attacks, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does. I conclude that it is easier to rationalize man’s being on the basis of two elements than on the basis of one.

    John Eccles is another prominent neuroscientist who considers a dualistic hypothesis by which spatio-temporal patterns from the mind actually inform the brain:

    In this discussion of the functioning of the brain, it has initially been regarded as a “machine” operating according to the laws of physics and chemistry. In conscious states it has been shown that it could be in a state of extreme sensitivity as a detector of minute spatio-temporal fields of influence are exerted by the mind on the brain in willed action. If one uses the expressive terminology of Ryle, the “ghost” operates a “machine,” not of ropes and pulleys, valves and pipes, but of microscopic spatio-temporal patterns of activity in the neuronal net woven by the synaptic connections of ten thousand million neurons, and even then only by operating on neurons that are momentarily poised close to a just threshold level of excitability. It would appear that it is the sort of machine a “ghost” could operate, if by ghost we mean in the first place an “agent” whose action has escaped detection even by the most delicate physical instruments. [Facing Reality: The Philosophical Adventures of a Brain Scientist, pp. 126-127]

    Eccles, like Penfield, apparently felt that the empirical evidence confronts the “one element” hypothesis.

    Speaking of physicists, consider the following remarks from Sir James Hopwood Jeans [OM FRS MA DSc ScD LLD]:

    …the Universe shows evidence of a designing or controlling Power that has something in common with our own minds. [Rede Lecture at Cambridge, reported in the Times, London, November 5, 1930]

    The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. [The Mysterious Universe, p. 137]

    A scientific study of the universe has suggested a conclusion which may be summed up… In the statement that the universe appears to have been designed by a pure mathematician. [Ibid, p. 140]

    In his interview with The Observer, Jeans was asked, “Do you believe that life on this planet is the result of some sort of accident, or do you believe that it is a part of some great scheme?” He replied:

    I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe…

    Now, make no mistake: Jeans, as far as I know, cannot be classified as a traditional Cartesian dualist, or a Christian. The point is that, especially regarding the creation of the universe and the nature of consciousness, his remarks place him squarely in our camp, yet here you are, acting like we’re a bunch of fools indulging “science fiction” and “fantasy.”

    Anyways… sorry for the rant, and again, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t think it’s reasonable to make these types of claims [science fiction, fantasy, no evidence, etc.], especially having studied only perfunctorily, and especially when so many of those who’ve studied rigorously disagree. I mean, on what grounds can you call disembodied mind “science fiction” and “fantasy” when there are credible scientists who take the concepts seriously enough to both study and endorse them?

    We’re not talking about internet apologists here. You saw the alphabet soup after Jeans’ name; these men are decorated scientists, neurosurgeons, physicists, and Nobel laureates. Are they indulging “science fiction” and “fantasy?” Sure, they haven’t proven dualism to *your* liking, but if we are to be honest, don’t you think we ought to conclude that exaggerated, overconfident claims are without merit, especially when made on the tail of admittedly small amounts of research? If there was really “no evidence” for dualism or mental causation for the universe, don’t you think the ones doing the research would be letting us know?

  23. cl says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    With all do respect cl… nonsense!

    Which part?

    I agree with you that appeals to the afterlife make religion attractive to many, and that this is a factor in the success of their promulgation. I disagree that all religious / paranormal beliefs reduce to denial of death schemes.

  24. This WHOLE part cl. [..”However, the plain fact remains that many people have embraced said beliefs for reasons that do not reduce to “denial of death schemes.” There are people who simply believe that logic and evidence point to said beliefs. There are also people who have experienced things that–thus far–can only be explained by said beliefs.”..]

    Saying, “there are people this” and “there are people that” really has little to do with the fact that long before there was anything called physics, logic or the Big Bang, let alone any concept of what consciousness is or isn’t, religious beliefs were as ubiquitous as they are today.
    I read the well thought out posts here representing all sides of the topic under consideration and, please pardon me, I have to laugh. What do Eccles, Penfield and Acquinas have to do with the fact that humans, apparently as long as we have had even the most tenuous claim on sentience, have been religious… have denied the finality of death and constructed a paranormal belief system in an attempt to make sense of something, life in matter, that, in and of itself… doesn’t make any sense.
    Religion and the culture that transmits it are the “invention” of a creature in need of something to absorb the chaos and overwhelming mystery of the universe it finds itself imprisoned within. It is the Central Bank, if you will, of “suggestion” that we draw from to transform chaos and terrifying truths into order and soothing untruths. Culture manufactures the stupidity we desperately need and crave to function in this world. It has nothing what so ever to do with “first causes” or “decorated scientists, neurosurgeons, physicists, and Nobel laureates”. It has EVERYTHING to do with what it means to be human. It existed, full blown, as both a denial of death scheme and a way to reduce anxiety when our ancestors were covering themselves with animal skins and chasing their dinner with pointed sticks.
    I assure you all that fifty-thousand years ago Jesus and Shiva and Apollo and physics and Cartesian dualism were not being discussed around the fire. Yet, our ancestors STILL denied their death and saw themselves differently than they saw every other living thing in their world.
    How we construct the umbrella to protect ourselves from the existential angst of being sentient meat may have changed and our arguments have certainly grown fat with fancy terms and theories, but, in the end nothing has really changed. The imperative is still served as it always has been. We, as sentient organisms, cannot picture the universe without “us” in it and there is simply no length we will not go to to construct a reality that fills that prescription.
    We are the ape with the built in ability to “construct” a reality that best suits our needs at the time… Homo-Suggestibilis if you will.
    If I’m wrong… help me out. Give me a list of successful religions that don’t deny death.

  25. You know, I got to laughing a little bit about this question today as I was cleaning out my perennial beds.
    God..no God. Creation.. Evolution.

    Who the hell would care? What would make it any more important than a discussion over coffee? Drip.. press.. percolator? Certainly no one would go to war over such a question. No one would martyr themselves. Civilizations wouldn’t clash and millions wouldn’t die over such an academic affair. Who gives a crap how the universe (what ever that is) came into existence? What’s it to me? I still have to lay bricks tomorrow, or drive a truck, or fill some poor bastards tooth with amalgam. The whole idea is absurd.
    The ONLY thing that makes or gives religion any import at all is the fact that it “makes” a life and death difference! If it’s baloney we are meat. If it’s not life never really ends. … Now THAT’S powerful stuff!…

    The fly in the ointment here on this planet isn’t the fact that some people are not believers, or believers in a different religion than me. The rub is that NOT believing EXACTLY what I believe trashes, denies and makes a mockery of my denial of death scheme. They take away my psychic existential insurance policy. They collapse my reality, push me out in the cold and leave me shivering in the absolute zero of naked objective reality.
    It is precisely the denial of death aspect that makes religion something to argue about… something to war about… something that gives man meaning… or takes it all away.

  26. Ronin says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    It is precisely the denial of death aspect that makes religion something to argue about… something to war about… something that gives man meaning… or takes it all away.

    Um, no. If there is God and there is no afterlife, God could simply have made us for this life. And, from such possibilities you gather we would have no meaning and/or nothing to “argue/war” about? That’s news to me…

  27. jayman777 says:

    dguller, regardless of how long mass-energy has existed, its essence is not existence. This is really a matter of definitions.

    By the way, Aquinas’ arguments work even if the universe is eternal. He has in mind simultaneous cause and effect not cause and effect through time.

    God changes other things without undergoing change Himself. The mere fact that I can’t answer every question is no more of a problem than in countless other domains. You can keep asking why or how and you will eventually stump even the experts.

  28. Ronin, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

    ..”If there is God and there is no afterlife, God could simply have made us for this life.”..

    Yes and he could have been dressed in pink pajamas and riding a unicycle when he did, but, what on earth does that have to do with anything? You have made up a religion, essentially pulled it out of your behind, and are attempting to use it as an excuse not to answer my question.

    Beyond that you cut and pasted… “It is precisely the denial of death aspect that makes religion something to argue about…” and then went on to erroneously claim that I”m contending that the ONLY thing to argue about is religion.

    Back to my original argument… If I’m wrong… help me out. Give me a list of successful religions that don’t deny death, one way or another.

  29. Ronin says:

    Who gives a flying fig noodle if “all” religions claim there is an afterlife? I doubt the religion itself can process the meaning of life you are talking about. Hence, I am telling you I am a believer, but I can see myself as not having an afterlife and still think I have meaning because there is a God. But, while we are on the subject, why don’t you tell me why you have any sense of telos? Because you imagined it so? How does this make your “point”? Assuming that you have a point, that is.

  30. dguller says:

    cl:

    I think it is fair to say that the majority of neuroscientists studying the brain today believe that the brain generates the mind, and not vice versa. There will always be exceptions to any consensus though, and that is important, because there may be consensual beliefs that turn out to be false, and so it is good for others to work on alternative theories, just in case.

    I think that there is overwhelming evidence that the mind is generated by the brain, from brain lesions, psychotropic drugs, neuroimaging, and so on. They show that by changing the brain results in predictable changes in the mind. What is the evidence for an immaterial mind? Occasional case reports of NDE’s, OBE’s, and … what exactly? It is not just about citing studies that support your conclusion, but to look at the totality of the evidence, and I think that there is a mountain and molehill. If you want to side with the molehill, then that is certainly your choice, but I will go with the mountain.

    I apologize for speaking hyperbolically, though. I will try to be more careful in the future.

  31. dguller says:

    Jayman:

    >> dguller, regardless of how long mass-energy has existed, its essence is not existence. This is really a matter of definitions.

    Why not? If it necessarily exists, then doesn’t that mean its essence is existence? What else does it mean?

    >> By the way, Aquinas’ arguments work even if the universe is eternal. He has in mind simultaneous cause and effect not cause and effect through time.

    What is simultaneous cause and effect? A cause has to precede an effect in time. If you change that, then the terms become meaningless. Unless he was referring to quantum entanglement, what is he talking about?

  32. Ronin asks… “Who gives a flying fig noodle if “all” religions claim there is an afterlife?”…

    I DO! That was the entire point of my post back to cl.

    Your beliefs are of no concern to me. They are none of my business and have nothing to do with the topic cl and I were discussing. I made a statement, he questioned me on it and I replied. Why your panties got all knotted I don’t know.
    I do have a suggestion. If you intend to market “your” private religion give some thought to throwing in a denial of death scheme and some supernatural/paranormal folderol. Nothing succeeds like success old boy.

    Apparently you missed my point (how I don’t know)… religions are denial of death schemes, to one extent or another.

  33. Excuse me Ronin… I neglected to answer your question.

    …”But, while we are on the subject, why don’t you tell me why you have any sense of telos?”…

    I don’t think we were on that subject, but, I will indulge you to the best of my ability. It’s a side effect of sentience. Like you… I pull it out of my ass to accomplish what I psychologically need to accomplish to remain reasonably sane and functional…. As do we all.
    Currently I tend to agree with the late Kurt Vonnegut. We are here to fart around and help each other get through this… what ever it is.

  34. Ronin says:

    You wrote:

    …and then went on to erroneously claim that I”m contending that the ONLY thing to argue about is religion.

    Not sure how you got that impression, but perhaps you can show me where I said such a thing.

    You had written:

    It is precisely the denial of death aspect that makes religion something to argue about… something to war about… something that gives man meaning… or takes it all away.

    Which was my point of contention, because you seem to be implying that unless there is an afterlife man has no meaning and that is why religion is so appealing. However, if there is no God, then, man has NO meaning. There need not be an afterlife to have meaning. Sure, there is a positive psychological advantage to the thought of an afterlife, but that is something I am not contesting.

  35. I “got that impression” Ronin from this…

    … “If there is God and there is no afterlife, God could simply have made us for this life. And, from such possibilities you gather we would have no meaning and/or nothing to “argue/war” about? That’s news to me”…

    Of course there would be things to argue or war about, the allocation of scarce resources and the like… BUT, religion wouldn’t be one of them. Without a denial of death scheme who would care, really, what would it matter? If we are meat like the rest of the meat and not “special” I doubt if people would be willing to die over differences of opinion in the numbers they have. We have Country, Bluegrass and Rock music… but no wars or martyrs because nothing really hangs in the balance.

    I’m a bit confused over your statement… ” However, if there is no God, then, man has NO meaning. There need not be an afterlife to have meaning…”

    I think history shows that most people need both a God and some kind of a way to deny the finality of death. I think it’s more of a “psychological necessity” than a psychological advantage. Calling it merely an advantage is like saying it’s an advantage for a boat to be capable of floating when, by definition, all boats float in one way or another.

    But to your main statement: …[“Which was my point of contention, because you seem to be implying that unless there is an afterlife man has no meaning and that is why religion is so appealing.”]

    Yes. I’m saying that does seem to be “what it’s all about”. That is not to say that individually we can’t concoct some “individual”, private meaning for ourselves and find some shelter form the existential angst of life in matter, but, it wouldn’t make us “special” and, historically, that DOES seem to be the point. After all eagles have better eyes and beagles better noses.
    Regardless of what your individual point of view is, the fact remains that whenever and where ever you find man you find a denial of death scheme that is culturally disseminated, or, if you like… orthodox. I know of no exceptions. It is my belief that this phenomena goes hand in hand with sentience. That sentient beings can’t imagine the universe without them in it. If they could the phenomena wouldn’t be ubiquitous and if it wasn’t of paramount importance man’s history simply wouldn’t be, with little exception, one religious war after another. I’m saying that with sentience comes the need to be special. From that need paranormal beliefs, supernatural beliefs and religions arise. Our ability to dissociate ourselves from unpleasant truths, neurologically, “Auto-hypnotically”, permits us to believe ourselves into reality shelters and states of psychic anesthesia. Paranormal beliefs were born out of the collision of amplified consciousness and reality.
    The problem with reality is… it makes no sense unless we make it.

  36. Ronin says:

    Well, your off regarding what I said and what I wrote does not support what you extracted from it; I am not sure how to clarify something that is not present in my statements. Further, I am not sure what you are confused about. If there is a “Maker” whatever it makes has a purpose for the reasons it was designed to do or be. Does it matter if eagles have better eyes? Humans would still have something to talk and live about, because they were made by a Creator.

  37. Ronin… I don’t wish to extract anything from what you wrote… I just want to understand it.

    You need what most people need and that is to make “sense” out of reality. How you do it is none of my concern. You are free as a bird until your beliefs conflict with my liberty.
    What I see is that you are no different from the rest of us, except in the “details” of what you find necessary to shelter yourself. Certainly nothing unusual about that.
    My point began and ended with the fact that religions are, essentially, schemes to deny the finality of death and paint us as “special meat”… that’s all.

  38. Ronin says:

    You don’t seem to get what I am trying to say, but I suppose it could be due to my inability to communicate clearly. Thanks for the discussion and sorry if I seemed abrasive. I hope you have a great week…

  39. Thank you Ronin. I too enjoyed our conversation. I agree with your statement… “Humans would still have something to talk and live about, because they were made by a Creator.”…
    I think the opposite is true also, that they would (could) have something to talk and live about if they were not created and were of no more cosmic import than a bug. It works for me.
    The older I become, I find, the less I need answers to the so called “big questions”. Perhaps I’m just lucky. I wish you a good week also.

  40. apologianick says:

    Dguller: Why not? If it necessarily exists, then doesn’t that mean its essence is existence? What else does it mean?

    Reply: The essence of something is what it is. The existence of something is that it is. Something can have an essence without having an existence. For instance, I can tell you what a unicorn is but that does not mean that a unicorn is.

    We believe that the unicorn is, but what is it? It is changing, because it is tied to matter. It is in a state of flux. Also, if the universe is capable of coming into or going out of existence, then its existence is not its essence for what it is is combined with that it is.

    In God, the two are one and the same. There is no distinction in God with what He is and that He is. He is not existence + essence but his existence = essence.

    Dguller: What is simultaneous cause and effect? A cause has to precede an effect in time. If you change that, then the terms become meaningless. Unless he was referring to quantum entanglement, what is he talking about?

    Reply: My computer being held up is sustained by the computer desk. If the desk disappears, the computer suddenly falls. The effect of the computer standing is continually dependent on the cause of the desk existing.

    A necessary universe is not a problem for Aquinas. I suggest reading some real scholarly work on him like Edward Feser’s “Aquinas.” If all you have of Thomistic arguments is Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” then you’re not going to understand. As a Thomist, I can tell you I laugh at Dawkins’s treatment of them. It’s abysmal.

  41. I suggest no one light a match.

  42. dguller says:

    Apologianick:

    >> The essence of something is what it is. The existence of something is that it is. Something can have an essence without having an existence. For instance, I can tell you what a unicorn is but that does not mean that a unicorn is.

    Right.

    >> We believe that the unicorn is, but what is it? It is changing, because it is tied to matter. It is in a state of flux. Also, if the universe is capable of coming into or going out of existence, then its existence is not its essence for what it is is combined with that it is.

    Why does necessary existence have to involve immutability? What cannot something necessarily exist that actually changes over time? I mean, as long as its identity remains stable over its development, then its essence remains intact, right?

    >> In God, the two are one and the same. There is no distinction in God with what He is and that He is. He is not existence + essence but his existence = essence.

    Which just means that he necessarily exists. I still do not understand why I cannot just say that about matter-energy and the laws that govern their behavior?

    >> My computer being held up is sustained by the computer desk. If the desk disappears, the computer suddenly falls. The effect of the computer standing is continually dependent on the cause of the desk existing.

    That is actually quite helpful. Thank you.

    But could your computer be held up before the desk existed? The desk had to exist first before it could be considered a cause of the computer’s being held up. So, it does not change what I am proposing. And the fact that they now both exist does not change the desk’s priority in time to cause the computer to stay up, because when the computer tries to go closer to the ground, it meets resistance from an already existing desk.

    The fact is causes must be temporally prior to effects. Otherwise, they lose all meaning.

    >> A necessary universe is not a problem for Aquinas. I suggest reading some real scholarly work on him like Edward Feser’s “Aquinas.” If all you have of Thomistic arguments is Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” then you’re not going to understand. As a Thomist, I can tell you I laugh at Dawkins’s treatment of them. It’s abysmal.

    Interestingly enough, I have ordered Feser’s Aquinas, Last Superstition, and Philosophy of Mind. I fear that I have been fed straw men, and am ready to engage in the real ideas themselves. I was told that Feser actually presents scholastic arguments well, and am looking forward to reading his works.

  43. Al Moritz says:

    >>What is simultaneous cause and effect? A cause has to precede an effect in time. If you change that, then the terms become meaningless. Unless he was referring to quantum entanglement, what is he talking about?

    False. Once you read Feser’s Aquinas it will be clear to you. He uses a good example for this, the smashing of a window (effect) by a flying brick (cause). For me as a biochemist it is also clear from my field of research. When biomolecule A signals to biomolecule B, cause (signaling of A) and effect (activation of B) are both parts of a single simultaneous event. How could A act on B at all if the effect on B came *after* the signaling of A, instead of occcrring simultaneously? This does not make sense.

  44. jayman777 says:

    dguller:

    Why does necessary existence have to involve immutability? What cannot something necessarily exist that actually changes over time? I mean, as long as its identity remains stable over its development, then its essence remains intact, right?

    You need to distinguish between God and entities with necessary existence. We are trying to say that even if the universe’s existence is necessary its essence is not existence. Only God’s essence is existence. So, for the sake of argument, the universe could be a necessarily existing entity that undergoes change and keeps its essence.

    Which just means that he necessarily exists. I still do not understand why I cannot just say that about matter-energy and the laws that govern their behavior?

    God is pure actuality. The universe has potentiality and thus is not pure actuality.

    And the fact that they now both exist does not change the desk’s priority in time to cause the computer to stay up, because when the computer tries to go closer to the ground, it meets resistance from an already existing desk.

    The simultaneous cause and effect we are speaking of is that very moment when the computer rests on the desk.

  45. dguller says:

    Al:

    >> False. Once you read Feser’s Aquinas it will be clear to you. He uses a good example for this, the smashing of a window (effect) by a flying brick (cause). For me as a biochemist it is also clear from my field of research. When biomolecule A signals to biomolecule B, cause (signaling of A) and effect (activation of B) are both parts of a single simultaneous event. How could A act on B at all if the effect on B came *after* the signaling of A, instead of occcrring simultaneously? This does not make sense.

    Let us take your example, and flesh it out.

    Let us call (A) an agonist that can bind to a cellular receptor (R) and result in an intracellular signal cascade (ISC). The cause of (ISC) is (A) binding to (R). Does (ISC) happen immediately and simultaneously once (A) is bound to (R)? No, there is a tiny gap in time while (R)’s protein structure changes to initiate (ISC). Since there is a gap in which a variety of intermediary steps occur, then (A) binding to (R) happens before (ISC).

    Even look at the brick breaking the window example. The brick striking the window is the cause of the window’s breaking. I think it is pretty clear that the very moment the brick strikes the window, it is still intact. It may take very little time for the kinetic energy of the brick to cause the window to shatter, but the fact remains that it is not simultaneous or instantaneous. There is a gap, no matter how small, and since there is a gap, there is a before and an after, or cause and effect.

    The book just arrived in the mail. I probably won’t be able to start it for a few months, because of other presentations, but I definitely plan on reading it since it comes so highly recommended.

  46. dguller says:

    Jayman:

    >> You need to distinguish between God and entities with necessary existence. We are trying to say that even if the universe’s existence is necessary its essence is not existence. Only God’s essence is existence. So, for the sake of argument, the universe could be a necessarily existing entity that undergoes change and keeps its essence.

    But why? Why can’t the universe’s essence be existence? It does not help to just assert that God is the only being that can do this. And what does it mean for something’s essence to be existence other than it must necessarily exist by virtue of its own nature? Can’t we say the same thing about matter-energy?

    >> God is pure actuality. The universe has potentiality and thus is not pure actuality.

    Again, this just assumes that in order for something to necessarily exist of its own nature, then it must be immutable, unchangeable, and purely actual. As long as it can preserve its identity over the changes, then it can still necessarily exist, no?

    >> The simultaneous cause and effect we are speaking of is that very moment when the computer rests on the desk.

    That does not change the fact that the desk had to be there earlier in time before it could allow the computer to rest on it. You are basically forgetting the whole event, and just focusing on a sliver of it, and then calling that sliver representative of the entire event. I suppose you could do this, but it leads to some paradoxes. For example, if cause and effect are simultaneous, then how can you piece together a causal sequence of events over time? There must be a before and after for the sequence to happen at all.

  47. Al Moritz says:

    >>Let us call (A) an agonist that can bind to a cellular receptor (R) and result in an intracellular signal cascade (ISC). The cause of (ISC) is (A) binding to (R). Does (ISC) happen immediately and simultaneously once (A) is bound to (R)? No, there is a tiny gap in time while (R)’s protein structure changes to initiate (ISC). Since there is a gap in which a variety of intermediary steps occur, then (A) binding to (R) happens before (ISC).

    You have a point. However, while the ISC may fully unfold only after is triggered by the activated R, activated R must *interact* with some component that then fully activates ISC. And that interaction must be simultaneous. In fact, an interaction is by definition simultaneous, otherwise it is not an interaction! Another example that Feser cites is the potter shaping the pottery. The pottery is shaped *while* the potter works on it, not “after”. So yes, there is an after in cause and effect (otherwise there would be no flow of time at all), but there are simultaneous components in the cause-effect relation too. I don’t think this can be denied without unduly simplifying reality.

  48. Al Moritz says:

    dguller,

    as others have observed, if you demand that people stick with the empirical evidence, you need to go by the same standard. For example, by your standards then a statement like “some physicists think that the universe is cyclical” is to be discarded as irrelevant in exploring reality. Yet a naturalist makes assumptions — has to make them — that go beyond observable space-time just like the theist. I have written about naturalistic scenarios in chapter 2 “The origin of the universe: eternal God, eternal matter or eternal fields”of my article:

    http://home.earthlink.net/~almoritz/cosmological-arguments-god.htm

    My conclusion there is that:
    “In fact, in order to be able to believe in a naturalistic origin of the universe, the atheist must *negate data* on what observational science tells us about actual matter, energy and fields, and instead believe in miraculous properties of such entities that science has not shown to exist.”

    Ironically, the problem with eternal matter that I describe there throws us right back to the argument of the Unmoved Mover.

  49. apologianick says:

    Dguller: Why does necessary existence have to involve immutability? What cannot something necessarily exist that actually changes over time? I mean, as long as its identity remains stable over its development, then its essence remains intact, right?

    Reply: It can change over time and its essence can remain intact. However, I as a human being have human essence, but my essence is made distinct by the matter that I possess and that matter is in a state of flux. Thus, I can have an unchanging essence, but still a changing existence.

    However, if one’s essence is existence, it cannot change, for what would it change by? Something outside of oneself? That would mean something existing outside of existence. By itself? Then it moves from one way of existence to another and has its changed caused by something else.

    Aquinas does deal with this in “Immutability” in the Summa Theologica.

    Dguller: Which just means that he necessarily exists. I still do not understand why I cannot just say that about matter-energy and the laws that govern their behavior?

    Reply: Actually, no. It says a lot more. It says in God there is no distinction between this and that. There is no distinction between that He is and what He is. There is in the universe for even if the universe necessarily existed, it would always be a changing existence. Its mode of existing changes.

    Dguller: That is actually quite helpful. Thank you.

    But could your computer be held up before the desk existed? The desk had to exist first before it could be considered a cause of the computer’s being held up. So, it does not change what I am proposing. And the fact that they now both exist does not change the desk’s priority in time to cause the computer to stay up, because when the computer tries to go closer to the ground, it meets resistance from an already existing desk.

    Reply: The priority in time is irrelevant. If they both popped into existence at the same time, the effect would still be continuous with the cause.

    Dguller: The fact is causes must be temporally prior to effects. Otherwise, they lose all meaning.

    Reply: Not at all. An effect continually depending on a cause is not a problem. Another example is your image in a mirror. As long as you are present, so is the image.

    Dguller: Interestingly enough, I have ordered Feser’s Aquinas, Last Superstition, and Philosophy of Mind. I fear that I have been fed straw men, and am ready to engage in the real ideas themselves. I was told that Feser actually presents scholastic arguments well, and am looking forward to reading his works.

    Reply: Excellent. You can also go to his blog at edwardfeser.blogspot.com.

  50. dguller says:

    Al:

    >> an interaction is by definition simultaneous, otherwise it is not an interaction!

    You are absolutely right that there must be a point of contact, and that that point will be vanishingly and infinitesimally small. I think that you are focusing upon that point of contact, and saying THAT is causation, which is instantaneous.

    However, in any causal sequence, there are innumerable infinitesimally small micro-events, each of which causes the next, and that when we say that X causes Y, then we are abstracting in a somewhat arbitrary fashion from that sequence to a set of micro-events and calling them the “cause”, which is followed by another sequence of micro-events, and calling them the “effect”. Yes, the “cause” and “effect” are connected by an intermediate micro-event, which can appear instantaneous, but actually occurs in a sequence that unfolds in time.

    >> Another example that Feser cites is the potter shaping the pottery. The pottery is shaped *while* the potter works on it, not “after”. So yes, there is an after in cause and effect (otherwise there would be no flow of time at all), but there are simultaneous components in the cause-effect relation too. I don’t think this can be denied without unduly simplifying reality.

    Right, but remember that each point of contact that you describe as instantaneous is part of a sequence of events that follows the flow of time. To just pick out one point of contact, say it is instantaneous and call it a day, ignores the context altogether, and it is within that causal sequential context that “cause” and “effect” get their sense.

    Getting back to Feser’s brick smashing the window. You find a sequence of events that begins with the brick flying through the air, edging ever closer to the window, making contact with it, transmitting its kinetic energy into the glass, and then the window shatters. Yes, you can say that the cause of the smashed window was the moment of impact and transmission of kinetic energy into the glass by the flying brick, but that is a total abstraction from the actual context, which involves the sequence that I mentioned above.

    Why is this important? Because all the examples that you gave were within a sequence of events that unfolds within space and over time. Yes, you can pick a sliver of space-time to focus upon, but that sliver is STILL within space-time, and thus is ultimately temporal. And this is a more general point that terms derive their meaning from contextual factors, and ignoring the context will distort the meaning.

  51. dguller says:

    Apologianick:

    >> However, if one’s essence is existence, it cannot change, for what would it change by? Something outside of oneself? That would mean something existing outside of existence. By itself? Then it moves from one way of existence to another and has its changed caused by something else.

    Why does change have to occur by “something outside of oneself”? What about self-generated change? What if there was some inherent tendency within something’s nature to change and develop, despite necessarily existing?

    >> Actually, no. It says a lot more. It says in God there is no distinction between this and that. There is no distinction between that He is and what He is. There is in the universe for even if the universe necessarily existed, it would always be a changing existence. Its mode of existing changes.

    Again, why does necessary existence preclude self-generated change within that which necessarily exists?

    >> The priority in time is irrelevant. If they both popped into existence at the same time, the effect would still be continuous with the cause.

    No, they wouldn’t. Your thought experiment would strip the meaning of cause and effect altogether, because our experience of cause and effect occurs within space-time, and thus they are saturated by spatial and temporal qualities. You can artificially isolate a single space-time event, and pretend that it does not exist in a causal sequence unfolding over space and time, but pretending it does not happen does not nullify that it does, in fact, occur.

    >> Not at all. An effect continually depending on a cause is not a problem. Another example is your image in a mirror. As long as you are present, so is the image.

    Right, but the image in the mirror only occurs, because photons initially bounce off of me, then off the mirror, and then into my retina where the photon’s energy is converted to electrical energy through my neurons, then a neural impulse is sent to my occiptal lobe where it is initially processed, and then passed to the parietal lobe where it is further processed, and so on, until it becomes my image. And my image is only sustained by the ongoing sequence of photons bouncing off of me, to the mirror, to my retina, to my brain. And all of these events are unfolding over space and time.

    >> Excellent. You can also go to his blog at edwardfeser.blogspot.com.

    Already there. :)

  52. I need some help understanding this.

    [Attention posters]… Is this just an academic discussion of no more importance than, lest say, discussing what kind of a spring it’s going to be? Or, is there something resting on the outcome more pressing?
    Understanding that all humans desire their lives to have value in a world that has meaning… am I correct or incorrect in assuming that you all have a “need” to be correct in your views to, for your individual selves, make that value and meaning real?
    If I’m correct, would any of you care to speculate as to why that is?

    I am deeply interested in just what you all think would be missing from your ability to lead and enjoy happy and fulfilling lives “should” you not be bothered at all with the question of… “What’s up with this universe?”

    I grant you that speculation is an amusing pastime, but, it’s not like any of the speculation, debate or philosophizing going on with regard to this particular subject will ever lead to, lets say, a cure for cancer, world hunger or cheep and renewable energy.
    I’m interested in what you gain assuming that none of you would bother with this question if you didn’t feel you were gaining “something”.
    Can any of you articulate what that is and how it, perhaps, gives your life (more) value, or the world (more) meaning?
    Thank you
    Mrs. N

  53. Nick says:

    dguller: Why does change have to occur by “something outside of oneself”? What about self-generated change? What if there was some inherent tendency within something’s nature to change and develop, despite necessarily existing?

    Reply: As in the case of the universe? Notice that for the universe, one part acts on another part which acts on another part, etc. The whole does not act on the whole nor does one part act on itself automatically.

    You’re also confusing necessary existence with the type of existence God has. God necessarily exists but He does not just necessarily exist.

    Dguller: Again, why does necessary existence preclude self-generated change within that which necessarily exists?

    Reply: See above. Also, for God to change would mean that he had potential and if He has potential, He is not purely actual.

    Dguller: No, they wouldn’t. Your thought experiment would strip the meaning of cause and effect altogether, because our experience of cause and effect occurs within space-time, and thus they are saturated by spatial and temporal qualities.

    Reply: The computer on the desk is not saturated by space-time qualities. They could eternally exist in that relationship and if eternally existing, there is no point in saying one happened before the other.

    Dguller: You can artificially isolate a single space-time event, and pretend that it does not exist in a causal sequence unfolding over space and time, but pretending it does not happen does not nullify that it does, in fact, occur.

    Reply: Good thing I’m not doing that. What I see happening right now is going on and the effect is continuous with the cause.

    Dguller: Right, but the image in the mirror only occurs, because photons initially bounce off of me, then off the mirror, and then into my retina where the photon’s energy is converted to electrical energy through my neurons, then a neural impulse is sent to my occiptal lobe where it is initially processed, and then passed to the parietal lobe where it is further processed, and so on, until it becomes my image. And my image is only sustained by the ongoing sequence of photons bouncing off of me, to the mirror, to my retina, to my brain. And all of these events are unfolding over space and time.

    Reply: Actually, the last part has nothing to do with the image being there. A blind man’s image would appear in a mirror after all. The effect is still dependent on the cause and can only be there as long as the cause is there.

    Dguller: Already there. :)

    Rest assured also, people hit hard over there. I prefer it that way anyway.

  54. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> As in the case of the universe? Notice that for the universe, one part acts on another part which acts on another part, etc. The whole does not act on the whole nor does one part act on itself automatically.

    What about radioactive decay? What are the parts that act on one another to cause a radioactive isotope to decay? My actually point is about matter-energy, which is what the universe is ultimately composed of. Perhaps matter-energy has an inherent tendency towards action? I mean, it IS “energy”. And if energy does have such an inherent tendency, and it necessarily exists, then there is no problem, as far as I can see.

    >> You’re also confusing necessary existence with the type of existence God has. God necessarily exists but He does not just necessarily exist.

    Okay. I can accept that. So, when you say that his essence is existence, then you are saying that his essence contains, as one of its qualities, existence, but that it also contains other qualities? That seems reasonable.

    >> Also, for God to change would mean that he had potential and if He has potential, He is not purely actual.

    If pure actuality even exists, sure. I’m more interested in self-activating necessary existence whose necessarily existing substrate can change over space-time, as long as it preserves its underlying identity in the process.

    >> The computer on the desk is not saturated by space-time qualities. They could eternally exist in that relationship and if eternally existing, there is no point in saying one happened before the other.

    So now we are talking about eternal computers and desks outside of space-time? I think that you have just abstracted yourself into senselessness. And if you think that just because you can imagine something, then it actually exists, then perhaps you can introduce me to Harry Potter?

    >> Good thing I’m not doing that. What I see happening right now is going on and the effect is continuous with the cause.

    Except that it’s not. There is a lag in time that you may not experience, but it is there, and can be measured and demonstrated.

    >> Actually, the last part has nothing to do with the image being there. A blind man’s image would appear in a mirror after all. The effect is still dependent on the cause and can only be there as long as the cause is there.

    There is no image without its being seen. That is what an “image” is. However, what does remain whether or not someone visually experiences the image in question is the space-time sequence of photons bouncing off the man and then bouncing off the mirror, and then … continuing to travel until they bounce off something else or just head off into outer space. Again, the image in the mirror only exists as long as there is a steady stream of photons bouncing off of it in a space-time sequence. I mean, do you think that the photons just sit inside the mirror, waiting, in a state of immutability?

    I can see your point if you only confine your evidence to what we happen to experience in the macroscopic world. Yes, I am here, and my mirror image is there, and they appear to occur simultaneously, but in fact both the mirror image and my perception of that image are unfolding in space-time, but are unified by my brain into a single, seamless experience.

    >> Rest assured also, people hit hard over there. I prefer it that way anyway.

    So far, they have been very nice to me.

  55. Nick says:

    dguller: What about radioactive decay? What are the parts that act on one another to cause a radioactive isotope to decay? My actually point is about matter-energy, which is what the universe is ultimately composed of. Perhaps matter-energy has an inherent tendency towards action? I mean, it IS “energy”. And if energy does have such an inherent tendency, and it necessarily exists, then there is no problem, as far as I can see.

    Reply: Except a tendency to action is still potential. For the finer points, someone like Al can explain those better than I can. I really just don’t think you realize what is being said by potential and actuality.

    dguller: Okay. I can accept that. So, when you say that his essence is existence, then you are saying that his essence contains, as one of its qualities, existence, but that it also contains other qualities? That seems reasonable.

    Reply: Nope. I’m saying his quality is existence and the other aspects we see such as goodness, truth, beauty, etc. are all characteristics of existence. With God, they’re infinite.

    dguller: If pure actuality even exists, sure. I’m more interested in self-activating necessary existence whose necessarily existing substrate can change over space-time, as long as it preserves its underlying identity in the process.

    reply: If pure actuality doesn’t exist, then there is an infinite regress per se. There are a bunch of movers with nothing behind them moving them.

    dguller: So now we are talking about eternal computers and desks outside of space-time? I think that you have just abstracted yourself into senselessness. And if you think that just because you can imagine something, then it actually exists, then perhaps you can introduce me to Harry Potter?

    Reply: Nope. All within space-time. No more a problem should it be than an eternal universe.

    dguller: Except that it’s not. There is a lag in time that you may not experience, but it is there, and can be measured and demonstrated.

    Reply: Not if both were eternal.

    dguller: There is no image without its being seen. That is what an “image” is. However, what does remain whether or not someone visually experiences the image in question is the space-time sequence of photons bouncing off the man and then bouncing off the mirror, and then … continuing to travel until they bounce off something else or just head off into outer space. Again, the image in the mirror only exists as long as there is a steady stream of photons bouncing off of it in a space-time sequence. I mean, do you think that the photons just sit inside the mirror, waiting, in a state of immutability?

    REply: No. However, an image does not have to be seen in order to be there, unless you think images in a mirror disappear when you look away.

    dguller: I can see your point if you only confine your evidence to what we happen to experience in the macroscopic world. Yes, I am here, and my mirror image is there, and they appear to occur simultaneously, but in fact both the mirror image and my perception of that image are unfolding in space-time, but are unified by my brain into a single, seamless experience.

    Reply: Correct, but the image is still dependent on the cause of the image giver. All that needs to be done is postulate that eternally.

  56. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> Except a tendency to action is still potential. For the finer points, someone like Al can explain those better than I can. I really just don’t think you realize what is being said by potential and actuality.

    Again, I would like to know why necessary existence precludes the presence of potential and actuality. I think that as long as the underlying identity of what necessarily exists persists even during the changes from potentiality to actuality of some of its manifestations, then there should be no contradiction.

    >> Nope. I’m saying his quality is existence and the other aspects we see such as goodness, truth, beauty, etc. are all characteristics of existence. With God, they’re infinite.

    So, the concept of existence automatically includes “goodness, truth, beauty, etc”? How does one conclude that?

    >> If pure actuality doesn’t exist, then there is an infinite regress per se. There are a bunch of movers with nothing behind them moving them.

    You are assuming that there what exists doesn’t inherently move itself. That is what Spinoza argued, and that seems more plausible to me.

    >> Nope. All within space-time. No more a problem should it be than an eternal universe.

    Great. So, if they exist within space-time, then causes occur before effects, whether the cause is eternal or not. Take the computer on the table example. Let us say that the computer and the table are both eternal, as you say. The table is being pulled downwards by gravity at all moments. When it gets pulled downwards it meets the resistance of the table, which is what prevents the computer from falling onto the floor. If the table was not already there when the computer started to fall, then the computer would fall. It is only because the table was there first that the computer meets its resistance as it is pulled downwards by gravity. None of this changes the fact that the cause of the computer’s not falling on the ground is the previous presence of the table underneath it. The temporal sequence is preserved.

    >> No. However, an image does not have to be seen in order to be there, unless you think images in a mirror disappear when you look away.

    But in order for an image to even be present in the mirror, there must be a causal sequence of photons moving in space-time to sustain that image. In fact, the image is nothing but the photons moving in space-time in a spatio-temporal sequence.

    I’m afraid that you just cannot escape temporality when you talk about causality. None of your examples show that they are atemporal in any way unless you willfully ignore important aspects of the surrounding context.

  57. Nick says:

    dguller: Again, I would like to know why necessary existence precludes the presence of potential and actuality.

    It doesn’t. Something can have necessary existence and still have potential and actuality. In fact, for it to have existence it HAS to have actuality.

    Dguller: I think that as long as the underlying identity of what necessarily exists persists even during the changes from potentiality to actuality of some of its manifestations, then there should be no contradiction.

    Reply: There isn’t. The problem is what is the cause of the existence of the underlying form? Hence, angels are simple in their essence, but not absolutely simple as they are essence + existence. Only God is absolutely simple.

    Dguller: So, the concept of existence automatically includes “goodness, truth, beauty, etc”? How does one conclude that?

    Reply: Some philosophers include beauty under goodness. Pure actuality is pure perfection. It cannot be improved. Its being is most knowable (true) and seeing as it is perfect, it is most desirable. (good)

    Dguller: You are assuming that there what exists doesn’t inherently move itself. That is what Spinoza argued, and that seems more plausible to me.

    Reply: Because changing in a way of existence is still potential being actualized. Either a form is changing or matter is changing.

    Dguller: Great. So, if they exist within space-time, then causes occur before effects, whether the cause is eternal or not. Take the computer on the table example. Let us say that the computer and the table are both eternal, as you say. The table is being pulled downwards by gravity at all moments. When it gets pulled downwards it meets the resistance of the table, which is what prevents the computer from falling onto the floor. If the table was not already there when the computer started to fall, then the computer would fall. It is only because the table was there first that the computer meets its resistance as it is pulled downwards by gravity. None of this changes the fact that the cause of the computer’s not falling on the ground is the previous presence of the table underneath it. The temporal sequence is preserved.

    Reply: And the problem is?

    dguller:But in order for an image to even be present in the mirror, there must be a causal sequence of photons moving in space-time to sustain that image. In fact, the image is nothing but the photons moving in space-time in a spatio-temporal sequence.

    Reply: Correct. I realize that. However, the cause must be there for the effect.

    dguller:I’m afraid that you just cannot escape temporality when you talk about causality. None of your examples show that they are atemporal in any way unless you willfully ignore important aspects of the surrounding context.

    The one I have shown I have not shown to be false. It is not escaping causality but escaping it in a temporal sense.

  58. Well, thanks for clearing that up for me boys. Goes to show, you can’t find anything out if you don’t ask.

    The title of this post is… “The End of Christianity”…

    How was I to know what it REALLY was was an announcement of a contest in relentless verbal masturbation the likes of which the world has not seen since Monty Python went off the air?

  59. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> It doesn’t. Something can have necessary existence and still have potential and actuality. In fact, for it to have existence it HAS to have actuality.

    Do you agree that matter-energy can be conceived as a substance that necessarily exists, and that its various permutations and transformations generates the universe and its contingency? If not, then why not?

    >> There isn’t. The problem is what is the cause of the existence of the underlying form? Hence, angels are simple in their essence, but not absolutely simple as they are essence + existence. Only God is absolutely simple.

    The underlying form is part of the essence of matter-energy, which necessarily exists as part of its essence.

    >> Some philosophers include beauty under goodness. Pure actuality is pure perfection. It cannot be improved. Its being is most knowable (true) and seeing as it is perfect, it is most desirable. (good)

    Why would its being be more knowable? Maybe its nature is hidden from us? And why should beauty always be good? What if a girl’s beauty ends up with her getting raped? Is the beauty still an unconditional good? And why is actual existence better than non-existence? What about Hitler’s actual existence? Is it an inherent good?

    >> Because changing in a way of existence is still potential being actualized. Either a form is changing or matter is changing.

    First, why can’t both form and matter change? Why is it an either-or situation?

    Second, why does any of this preclude the possibility of a necessarily existing universe whose contingency is derived from the transformations of the matter-energy that composes it? You STILL have not told me why this is impossible.

    >> And the problem is?

    The problem is that I am arguing that causation inherently requires temporality, and you are arguing the opposite. Every example that you have cited actually require the cause to precede the effect in time, whether to initiate the causal sequence, or while it is being sustained. If I am right about this, then the very concept of the cause of the universe is incoherent, because the universe is where temporality exists, and thus one cannot have a cause without temporality.

    >> Correct. I realize that. However, the cause must be there for the effect.

    Not only that, but the cause must temporally precede the effect. So, the cause must be there FIRST for the effect.

    >> The one I have shown I have not shown to be false. It is not escaping causality but escaping it in a temporal sense.

    What does that even mean? “The circle is escaping shape in a metaphysical sense”. Does that make sense to you?

  60. apologianick says:

    Dguller: Do you agree that matter-energy can be conceived as a substance that necessarily exists, and that its various permutations and transformations generates the universe and its contingency? If not, then why not?

    Reply: I agree that hypothetically it could, but scientifically, I don’t think it does. However, I don’t think anything material can be the first cause or cause its own existence. Matter is always in a state of flux and is not capable of acting on its own and is thus always acted on by another, thus I have to ask what got the ball rolling in the first place.

    Djindra: The underlying form is part of the essence of matter-energy, which necessarily exists as part of its essence.

    Reply: Matter has no form in itself. Matter only takes on properties based on the form its attached to. The matter in your body was the matter of several other objects beforehand. The matter changed with regards to the form it was attached to.

    Dguller: Why would its being be more knowable? Maybe its nature is hidden from us?

    Reply: You can only know something insofar as it is. You cannot know that which is not. That which IS the most is the most knowable.

    Of course its nature will always be beyond us. Most knowable does not mean we will know the most about it.

    Dguller: And why should beauty always be good? What if a girl’s beauty ends up with her getting raped? Is the beauty still an unconditional good?

    Reply: Absolutely. You’re confusing what the thing is with how the thing is used. A girl’s beauty is good. It’s just abused. Tell me, do you think it would make sense to not value a child once it started being abused?

    Dguller: And why is actual existence better than non-existence? What about Hitler’s actual existence? Is it an inherent good?

    Reply: Yep. Even the devil’s existence is a good. It’s just the misuse of that existence. The devil in Christian thinking has will, intellect, and existence. These are all good things. They’re just misused.

    And why is actual existence better? When you can tell me the properties of non-existence so that they can be compared, we can discuss it.

    Dguller: First, why can’t both form and matter change? Why is it an either-or situation?

    Reply: Because the form is what shapes the matter. The form is the nature of the thing and not material. Human nature does not change when new humans show up. We just have different instantiations of the same thing.

    Dguller: Second, why does any of this preclude the possibility of a necessarily existing universe whose contingency is derived from the transformations of the matter-energy that composes it? You STILL have not told me why this is impossible.

    Reply: I have not said I have a problem with that either. I’ve just said the necessary universe can’t be ultimate.

    Dguller: The problem is that I am arguing that causation inherently requires temporality, and you are arguing the opposite. Every example that you have cited actually require the cause to precede the effect in time, whether to initiate the causal sequence, or while it is being sustained. If I am right about this, then the very concept of the cause of the universe is incoherent, because the universe is where temporality exists, and thus one cannot have a cause without temporality.

    Reply: I’m not convinced with the desk and computer example yet if those were eternal realities that always existed. The desk would be prior in a foundational sense but not in a chronological sense.

    Now if you want to say that there can be no eternal causes, then do tell me the cause of existence itself.

    Dguller: Not only that, but the cause must temporally precede the effect. So, the cause must be there FIRST for the effect.

    Reply: see above.

    Dguller: What does that even mean? “The circle is escaping shape in a metaphysical sense”. Does that make sense to you?

    Reply: No because a circle by definition is defined by shape. Causality however I do not see limited to only temporal effects. It includes it but goes beyond it as well.

  61. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> I agree that hypothetically it could, but scientifically, I don’t think it does. However, I don’t think anything material can be the first cause or cause its own existence. Matter is always in a state of flux and is not capable of acting on its own and is thus always acted on by another, thus I have to ask what got the ball rolling in the first place.

    But remember that matter is also energy (E = mc^2), and so it contains within itself an impulse to motion and change. So, it is possible that it intrinsically is capable of self-generated change, which would be part of its form, if you want to use this language.

    >> Matter has no form in itself. Matter only takes on properties based on the form its attached to. The matter in your body was the matter of several other objects beforehand. The matter changed with regards to the form it was attached to.

    Again, this forgets that matter is also energy, which is inherently capable of initiating change. And yes, the matter that composes my body has changed, but its underlying form has remained the same, i.e. matter-energy as self-generated change.

    >> You can only know something insofar as it is. You cannot know that which is not. That which IS the most is the most knowable.

    First, can I know about Harry Potter? Does that mean that Harry Potter exists?

    Second, what is the most knowable is that which provides us with the most evidence. Does it follow that it has the most being? And how do you measure being anyway?

    >> Absolutely. You’re confusing what the thing is with how the thing is used. A girl’s beauty is good. It’s just abused. Tell me, do you think it would make sense to not value a child once it started being abused?

    How do you know that beauty is good? Maybe ugliness is good? After all, ugly girls get raped less than beautiful women. So, what is your criteria for goodness that decides if some quality is good or not?

    >> Because the form is what shapes the matter. The form is the nature of the thing and not material. Human nature does not change when new humans show up. We just have different instantiations of the same thing.

    Exactly. If matter is also inherently energy by virtue of Einstein’s famous equation, then it also inherently has the potential to change by virtue of also being energy, which is the real driver of change in the world anyway. But it is still the same matter-energy substance despite its numerous permutations and combinations.

    >> I have not said I have a problem with that either. I’ve just said the necessary universe can’t be ultimate.

    I think it can if its substance involves matter-energy, which would generate itself without needing anything outside of itself.

    >> I’m not convinced with the desk and computer example yet if those were eternal realities that always existed. The desk would be prior in a foundational sense but not in a chronological sense.

    You do understand that the computer is being pulled down by gravity, and that it does not fall to the floor, because the desk is already there to prevent this from happening. It is temporally prior, because if it was not already there, then the computer would hit the ground. I’m afraid that you just cannot get away from this fact.

    >> No because a circle by definition is defined by shape. Causality however I do not see limited to only temporal effects. It includes it but goes beyond it as well.

    None of your examples has shown that causality is independent of temporality. If the cause is not already there before the effect, then there is no effect.

  62. Sw says:

    A few passing comments.

    On energy: “is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount. It is not that way. However, there are formulas for calculating some numerical quantity, and that when we add it all together it gives “28” – always the same number. It is an abstract thing in that it does not tells us the mechanism or the reasons for the various forces.”

    If Feynman is correct about energy, and I think he is, then appealing to it as a possible candidate for being “ultimate” is as, or more, problematic than appealing to God. Energy also is not typically defined as “the thing with the ability to initiate change / do work”, but as “the ability to do work”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuUupE6_PQQ is a good overview of simultaneous causation in the context of the Kalam argument. Even the “weight on a support” example is referenced. The take away is “it’s controversial”, not presented as known false or true (and certainly not incoherent.) As for why it’s controversial in both philosophy and physics, I’d suggest checking out the video. The answer is amusing.

  63. I think more in the spirit of the argument so far…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crIJvcWkVcs

  64. dguller says:

    sw:

    I see your points, but I disagree that postulating matter-energy as foundational for our universe is identical to postulating God. We can measure matter-energy, it is predictable and repeatable, it is objective, its effects can be measured consistently. Can you say the same about God? So, we do not know everything (or maybe even very much) about energy, but we know a hell of a lot more about it than about God.

  65. Sw says:

    We don’t know what it is, but we know a lot about it? Do you see any problem, any problem at all, with reasoning like that?

    And if this world is, at every instant, part of God’s creation, it would seem we do know a substantial something about God after all. Any critique of God’s existence and nature requires that we do know something substantial about God.

  66. dguller says:

    Sw:

    >> We don’t know what it is, but we know a lot about it? Do you see any problem, any problem at all, with reasoning like that?

    No problem at all. We do not understand the type of subatomic world that quantum mechanics describes, but we can use quantum mechanics to predict with amazing accuracy the behavior of subatomic particles. The fact that we can do so must mean that we have discovered something about the subatomic realm despite the fact that we are currently unable to understand it fully.

    Same thing with energy. We can harness it, use it, predict it, measure and calculate it, and so on, despite not knowing exactly what its essence is, except that it drives the capacity for anything to do work.

    >> And if this world is, at every instant, part of God’s creation, it would seem we do know a substantial something about God after all. Any critique of God’s existence and nature requires that we do know something substantial about God.

    Sure. And if this world is the consequence of subatomic and invisible unicorns singing their magical songs, then we know something about subatomic and invisible unicorns who sing magical songs that generate reality. In other words, you have to first show that God is the creator of this world before you can know much about him. Otherwise, it is not knowledge, but speculation that you have.

  67. Sw says:

    “The fact that we can do so must mean that we have discovered something about the subatomic realm despite the fact that we are currently unable to understand it fully.”

    Or we hardly understand it at all, and are resorting to pragmatic abstractions that serve our ends. For all we know, we are interacting with God or the will of God whenever we ‘harness’ the quantum mechanical realm. For us, as Feynman says, matter is a convenient ‘thing’ on paper we can make some predictions with.

    “In other words, you have to first show that God is the creator of this world before you can know much about him.”

    Or we can reasonably infer it. We don’t need to know with utter certainty, since science itself isn’t in that ‘utterly certain truth’ game. And science likewise isn’t out of the speculation game, unless some wide swaths of scientific knowledge and claims aren’t science after all.

    Inferences can be justified and reasonable.

  68. dguller says:

    Sw:

    >> Or we hardly understand it at all, and are resorting to pragmatic abstractions that serve our ends. For all we know, we are interacting with God or the will of God whenever we ‘harness’ the quantum mechanical realm. For us, as Feynman says, matter is a convenient ‘thing’ on paper we can make some predictions with.

    Are you comparing our understanding of physics to our understanding of God? Do you really think we understand the latter better than the former? And for all we know, God is not a supernatural personal being at all, but only another word for the universe and its laws. Hell, God may be nothing but a bunch of microscopic invisible fairies those magic wands generate the universe. There really is no point in engaging in speculation of this kind because there is no limit.

    >> Or we can reasonably infer it. We don’t need to know with utter certainty, since science itself isn’t in that ‘utterly certain truth’ game. And science likewise isn’t out of the speculation game, unless some wide swaths of scientific knowledge and claims aren’t science after all.

    Sure. And what “wide swaths of scientific knowledge” are you talking about?

  69. Sw says:

    “Are you comparing our understanding of physics to our understanding of God? Do you really think we understand the latter better than the former? ”

    By knowing the former we come to know about the latter. “Better” isn’t required.

    “Hell, God may be nothing but a bunch of microscopic invisible fairies those magic wands generate the universe. There really is no point in engaging in speculation of this kind because there is no limit.”

    There are plenty of limits: “What can we assign to a mind? What kind of minds could there be?” Evidence, inference, and limits in abundance.

    Naturalism is where “no limits” are.

    “Sure. And what “wide swaths of scientific knowledge” are you talking about?”

    That depends on whether you consider informed inference and speculation to be knowledge.

  70. jim says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage:

    Not sure if you’re following this thread anymore, but just in case, I thought you might enjoy this comment which I’ve re-posted on my blog. If you’re interested in the broader context of the conversation, here’s the original link:

    “Chuck G. said…
    Regarding the book of Job: I’ve been in three separate classes now wherein the professor or TA mentioned that there was once an alternate version of Job floating around in which the eponymous main character gets nothing at the end save for being left alone with his festering boils and ruined estate. God doesn’t even give him a pat on the back for trying to figure things out – he just leaves. Of course, that kind of honesty doesn’t sell, so the *real* book of Job didn’t make it into the final cut.

    It’s too bad that this alternate version of Job, the one that didn’t make it into the Tanakh, is probably the only honest take on monotheism that there ever was. If anyone dives deeply enough down the spiritual rabbit hole, the only thing they get in the end is crushing surrender, the absolute and final end of all hope, period. Disillusionment is the only gift one should ever expect from God. Thus I think it’s interesting that, at the end of the alternate version, Job still retains his faith. Why, aside from the faith of the author sneaking in, should he still believe in God?

    Absent a translated reading copy of the text, I can only speculate as to what exactly Job’s retention of faith in the alternate version looks like – it seems wholly implausible that it would be the kind of faith one sees being sold like a drug at the tax-exempt megachurches that hawk drive-thru salvation. I imagine Job would feel something like the Zen master who finally woke up one day and burned all his scriptures and cursed the day he heard the Buddha’s name, after wasting decades trying to square the spiritual circle. Your enlightenment may come, that is for sure, but it won’t be the cheap dopamine perma-fix you thought it would be. Happiness is a high, but Truth is Truth. And the handmaidens of Truth are disenchantment, disillusionment, and death-awareness.

    I say that for the truly faithful, God must be seen as nothing other than a yawning void in place of an answer, an untouchable mystery which for no reason at all churns out gasping life, then drowns it in final eternity. This is not the God that anyone would ever go looking for, but the ones who look, who *actually* look instead of just trying to trap their cognitive dissonance in yet another layer of spiritual nonsense, will find this one. Only seek this God if, like Job, you have absolutely no other choice – if you’re not ready to throw your entire terror management apparatus out the window, with all the suffering and despair that entails, you’re better off at the megachurch.”

    From the things you’ve said, I assume you’ve read Ernest Becker?

  71. jim says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage:

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, I LOVE Monty Python.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vuW6tQ0218

  72. Greetings Jim. At last a comment that doesn’t sound like a Monty Python sketch taking itself WAY too seriously.
    Of course I have read Becker. Have you read John Schumaker by any chance? I find the human ability to dissociate the key to the box myself. In the end it always comes down to “know thyself” and I think, as it has been said, “the consolation of imaginary things is not all together imaginary consolation”. Homo Sapiens… or Homo Sugestibilis?
    Thank you for your comments.
    Respectfully
    Mrs. N

  73. jim says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage:

    “the consolation of imaginary things is not all together imaginary consolation”.

    I’m forced to agree. However, even as we speak I’m working on what I hope to be an alternate solution both psychologically appealing, as well as (hopefully) more grounded in reality.

    Fairy dust? We don’t need no stinkin’ fairy dust!

  74. Jim, I checked out your blog and I will join you there soon. Try to hold on till I arrive.
    Mrs. N

  75. jim says:

    The more the merrier! Um, so to speak :)

    Sister Y’s blog is a dandy, as well. She’s one of the shining stars in the little stable of writer’s I’ve somehow and fortuitously managed to back into. Pardon the preposition :) You’ll be a welcome addition to the threads at both places. Welcome in advance.

    I’d also like to say that I’ve enjoyed the running debate happening in this thread. It’s just that I’ve had that conversation too many times, and am sort of worn out by it. At the dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin shake and bake, I’m afraid I spend most of my time wallflowering these days.

  76. jim says:

    Since this is the first time I’ve commented on this blog in ages, I thought I might take a shot at cl’s question ‘Can a theist be rational?’ (I couldn’t find the place where you asked that question, cl, but I think that was the gist of it. If not, you can make the correction).

    First of all, I can’t really say that any of us are rational all the time, nor can I state that rationality always leads us to the right answers. We all work within our limits, and do the best we can. That said, if by ‘theist’ you mean someone who more or less believes all or most of the stories handed down to us through traditional cultural conduits, then I’d have to answer ‘no’. I find theistic thinking to be a very poor parsing of the information available to most folks, both in the specific arenas having to do with literary, historical and general social investigation, as well as in the narrower region of understanding gained via personal human affairs. In my opinion, the kind of religious belief I think you’re talking about does an end-around viable critical thinking for the sake of appeasing certain less-than-critical motivations such as fear, longing and the like.

    Hope that answers your question.

  77. jim says:

    To sharpen my point somewhat, I’d say yes, theists can be rational, but not with respect to theism.

  78. But be fair Jim. It’s not just theists. Part of being human is the need to construct a reality we are capable of inhabiting. There is a good reason paranormal beliefs are ubiquitous.

  79. dguller says:

    Sw:

    >> By knowing the former we come to know about the latter. “Better” isn’t required.

    How does understanding physics help us to understand God? And what about understanding biology? Can we understand just how cruel God is when we look at the natural world and all the pain and suffering that exists there?

    >> There are plenty of limits: “What can we assign to a mind? What kind of minds could there be?” Evidence, inference, and limits in abundance.

    Depends on what you mean by “mind”. If you mean a conscious awareness similar to ours, then right now, only human beings have that. However, since other animals, especially other primates, share similar brain structures and behaviors, perhaps they have minds, too, but definitely different from our own.

    And so what? What is your point with this? I am saying that there are limits to our understanding, and that it would be best if we stayed within those limits. Your example deals with something in the natural world, and thus we can make inferences, because we have experience of natural entities. I am talking about the supernatural and that which exists beyond space-time, which we have no experience of, and thus any inferences would be sheer speculation.

    >> That depends on whether you consider informed inference and speculation to be knowledge.

    Still waiting for the abundance of examples that you have.

  80. …”By making the pancakes we come to know the batter.”…

    How long are you characters going to continue to throw this hogwash around? It would be so much better if instead of reading it we could hear you recite it in a high-pitched kind of silly voice. And one of you could stutter very badly.

    Give it some thought.

  81. apologianick says:

    Dguller: But remember that matter is also energy (E = mc^2), and so it contains within itself an impulse to motion and change. So, it is possible that it intrinsically is capable of self-generated change, which would be part of its form, if you want to use this language.

    Reply: And this change takes place because of what? Can matter and/or energy act of their own accord?

    Dguller: Again, this forgets that matter is also energy, which is inherently capable of initiating change. And yes, the matter that composes my body has changed, but its underlying form has remained the same, i.e. matter-energy as self-generated change.

    Reply: I really do not see how this addresses the situation. I have no problem with matter as energy. You show me how energy can act of its own accord freely and you might have something.

    Dguller: First, can I know about Harry Potter? Does that mean that Harry Potter exists?

    Reply: Yes. He exists conceptually and in the fictional world. You can have knowledge of fictional characters. You’re assuming the only way something can exist is in the world as we experience it everyday. It includes that, but something can exist as an idea.

    Dguller: Second, what is the most knowable is that which provides us with the most evidence. Does it follow that it has the most being? And how do you measure being anyway?

    Reply: It does not follow. Why think most knowable means most evident, although I do think God is quite evident. How do I get at it having the most being? I get there because it is pure actuality and has no potential based on the five ways. It cannot improve in any way and is infinite.

    Dguller: How do you know that beauty is good? Maybe ugliness is good? After all, ugly girls get raped less than beautiful women. So, what is your criteria for goodness that decides if some quality is good or not?

    Reply: Beauty is included under goodness as the experience of that which is desirable. What is desirable is that at which all things aim and that is perfection and that which is the most perfect is the most good.

    Really, many of these could be addressed by reading through the Summa some and by reading Aristotle.

    Dguller: Exactly. If matter is also inherently energy by virtue of Einstein’s famous equation, then it also inherently has the potential to change by virtue of also being energy, which is the real driver of change in the world anyway. But it is still the same matter-energy substance despite its numerous permutations and combinations.

    Reply: And again, the cause of the change is….?

    Dguller: I think it can if its substance involves matter-energy, which would generate itself without needing anything outside of itself.

    Reply: So the universe was eternal and self-generated both? You don’t see a problem with that?

    Also, the universe is still changing as it has potency and whatever has potency cannot be ultimate since it is going through different modes of existence.

    Dguller: You do understand that the computer is being pulled down by gravity, and that it does not fall to the floor, because the desk is already there to prevent this from happening. It is temporally prior, because if it was not already there, then the computer would hit the ground. I’m afraid that you just cannot get away from this fact.

    Reply: I can by saying that if they are eternal, one is not temporally prior.

    Do you realize that? No one denies that the computer being held up depends on the desk. No one.

    Dguller: None of your examples has shown that causality is independent of temporality. If the cause is not already there before the effect, then there is no effect.

    Reply: This would be valid if someone had actually denied that.

  82. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> And this change takes place because of what? Can matter and/or energy act of their own accord?

    That is my claim. If the nature of energy is the capacity to do work, which is fundamentally about change, then its nature will result in change. Can you think of any reason why this would not be the case?

    >> I really do not see how this addresses the situation. I have no problem with matter as energy. You show me how energy can act of its own accord freely and you might have something.

    You are claiming that change cannot be self-initiated, but always requires something external to cause the change. I am saying that if everything is fundamentally made of matter-energy within space-time, and energy is essentially the driving force behind change, then matter-energy could cause self-generated change to occur.

    >> Yes. He exists conceptually and in the fictional world. You can have knowledge of fictional characters. You’re assuming the only way something can exist is in the world as we experience it everyday. It includes that, but something can exist as an idea.

    So we agree that Harry Potter is not an independently existent entity, but an imaginary character that only exists in our minds. So, we can have knowledge of non-existent entities.

    >> It does not follow. Why think most knowable means most evident, although I do think God is quite evident. How do I get at it having the most being? I get there because it is pure actuality and has no potential based on the five ways. It cannot improve in any way and is infinite.

    First, can you know something that lacks any evidence? You might turn out to be right, but what you had was not knowledge. Say I say that I know that you will get into a car accident on Friday, but I have no idea why I believe this, and you do, in fact, get into a car accident on Friday. Would you really say that I had knowledge? Maybe I just had a lucky guess? Are lucky guesses also knowledge?

    Second, you still have not explained how we measure being. Just because you use the language of “more” and “less” does not mean anything until you have some standardized unit of measurement that you are referring to. What is the unit of measurement for being?

    >> Beauty is included under goodness as the experience of that which is desirable. What is desirable is that at which all things aim and that is perfection and that which is the most perfect is the most good.

    You are now introducing desire, and not just desire, but what “all things” desire. I wonder if that includes only sentient beings, or even rocks and stones, too. And even if you just leave it to conscious beings, then how do you know that they ALL agree on what their goals and aims are? Did you take a survey? What about if just a majority of people agreed on what is good? Is that sufficient for you, or does it truly have to be universal? And what about those on the margins of society, such as murderers, rapists, perverts, sociopaths, and so on? Would you call their desires beautiful and good and perfect?

    >> So the universe was eternal and self-generated both? You don’t see a problem with that?

    No problem. Matter-energy could be eternal, but undergo a variety of permutations and changes that ultimately result in the universe, which would be self-generated by the intrinsic activity of matter-energy. Can you tell me the contradiction here?

    >> Also, the universe is still changing as it has potency and whatever has potency cannot be ultimate since it is going through different modes of existence.

    I never said anything about “ultimate”.

    >> I can by saying that if they are eternal, one is not temporally prior.

    First, you are assuming that in eternity, there is causality. And even if that were true, then the fact still remains that when the computer gets pulled down by gravity, then the table must ALREADY BE THERE to prevent its fall to the floor. What does “already be there” mean if not temporally prior? I mean, pull the table away, and the computer will fall. Why? Because the computer no longer has the resistance of the table to block its fall. It is not there anymore.

    Second, the thought experiment occurs within space-time, or are you seriously talking about tables and computers outside space-time?

    >> Do you realize that? No one denies that the computer being held up depends on the desk. No one.

    But you deny that the table has to be there first in order to provide the necessary resistance to prevent the computer from falling. You are saying that it is possible for a table to prevent a computer from falling even if it is not already there to provide resistance to the pull of gravity. Remember, the pull of gravity is what is causing the computer to fall to the ground. Either there is something to resist its fall already there, or there isn’t. If the former, then it does not fall, and if the latter, then it falls. What else could be going on?

  83. dguller says:

    Nick:

    And one more thing.

    You may deride Sam Harris, but you actually share at least one of his ideas. You relate goodness with desire, and thus realize that there is a connection between our concept of what is good with our psychology of desires and needs. That is a good thing, because they are, in fact, related, which has been known since Plato, at least. We desire X = We believe X to be good. The difference is that you think that we somehow tap into a metaphysical principle of goodness and then strive to attain it. Harris believes that there is no such metaphysical principle, but only our underlying psychological needs and wants, which direct us towards what we value and believe to be good. You approach the matter from a top-down fashion, and he approaches it from a bottom-up fashion (except that there is no metaphysical up).

  84. apologianick says:

    Dguller: That is my claim. If the nature of energy is the capacity to do work, which is fundamentally about change, then its nature will result in change. Can you think of any reason why this would not be the case?

    Reply: It’s nature will result in change. In what way? Does it lose its properties? Does it act of its own accord? Can it move about freely?

    Dguller: You are claiming that change cannot be self-initiated, but always requires something external to cause the change. I am saying that if everything is fundamentally made of matter-energy within space-time, and energy is essentially the driving force behind change, then matter-energy could cause self-generated change to occur.

    Reply: Saying it and showing it are two different things. Again, what is the cause of the change in energy? Is energy a free agent that can act on its own or is it bound by certain aspects?

    Dguller: So we agree that Harry Potter is not an independently existent entity, but an imaginary character that only exists in our minds. So, we can have knowledge of non-existent entities.

    Reply: Correct. A Thomist would not deny this. Is it true that in Harry Potter’s stories that he is a student of Hogwart’s? You can think the books are complete trash but would still have to say “Yes. This is true.” If you said “Harry Potter learned the patronus charm in Narnia” it would be false.

    Dguller: First, can you know something that lacks any evidence? You might turn out to be right, but what you had was not knowledge.

    Reply: All or nothing thinking. I’m just asking for the connection between the two.

    Dguller: Say I say that I know that you will get into a car accident on Friday, but I have no idea why I believe this, and you do, in fact, get into a car accident on Friday. Would you really say that I had knowledge? Maybe I just had a lucky guess? Are lucky guesses also knowledge?

    Reply: No. Knowledge is justified true belief despite what Gettier says.

    Dguller: Second, you still have not explained how we measure being. Just because you use the language of “more” and “less” does not mean anything until you have some standardized unit of measurement that you are referring to. What is the unit of measurement for being?

    REply: Actually, this is false. Nicholas Rescher has a whole chapter in “The Limits of Science” on this topic. The idea is that if something is to be meaningful, it mus be quantifiable. Why should I believe that?

    Dguller: You are now introducing desire, and not just desire, but what “all things” desire. I wonder if that includes only sentient beings, or even rocks and stones, too. And even if you just leave it to conscious beings, then how do you know that they ALL agree on what their goals and aims are?

    Reply: I am not limiting it to conscious beings. I am making a statement of teleology. However, to say that not all beings know their end does not mean that they do not have an end. I would say you do not know your end but you have one.

    Dguller: Did you take a survey? What about if just a majority of people agreed on what is good? Is that sufficient for you, or does it truly have to be universal?

    Reply: I don’t discover reality by opinion polls. I discover reality by studying reality. For instance, I think a majority of people would say that theism is true. Are you ready to convert?

    dguller: And what about those on the margins of society, such as murderers, rapists, perverts, sociopaths, and so on? Would you call their desires beautiful and good and perfect?

    Reply: As a whole? No. However, I will say they all desire good things. Some desire pleasure. That’s good. Some desire justice. That’s good. They have good ends but wrong means to get there and they are mistaking lesser goods, like pleasure, for greater goods. The only way you can desire anything is if you perceive some good in the thing.

    Dguller: No problem. Matter-energy could be eternal, but undergo a variety of permutations and changes that ultimately result in the universe, which would be self-generated by the intrinsic activity of matter-energy. Can you tell me the contradiction here?

    Reply: The problem is something cannot create itself and be eternal both.

    Dguller: I never said anything about “ultimate”.

    Reply: I did and you said the universe could fit the bill.

    Dguller: First, you are assuming that in eternity, there is causality. And even if that were true, then the fact still remains that when the computer gets pulled down by gravity, then the table must ALREADY BE THERE to prevent its fall to the floor.

    Reply: Um. Yeah. It must be there. What’s the problem?

    Dguller: What does “already be there” mean if not temporally prior? I mean, pull the table away, and the computer will fall. Why? Because the computer no longer has the resistance of the table to block its fall. It is not there anymore.

    REply: It’s not temporal if they’re eternal. If the computer and table have always been there, how can one be temporally prior?

    Dguller: Second, the thought experiment occurs within space-time, or are you seriously talking about tables and computers outside space-time?

    Reply: Are you talking about an eternal universe outside of space-time?

    Dguller: But you deny that the table has to be there first in order to provide the necessary resistance to prevent the computer from falling.

    Reply: No I don’t.

    Dguller: You are saying that it is possible for a table to prevent a computer from falling even if it is not already there to provide resistance to the pull of gravity.

    Reply: False.

    Dguller: Remember, the pull of gravity is what is causing the computer to fall to the ground. Either there is something to resist its fall already there, or there isn’t. If the former, then it does not fall, and if the latter, then it falls. What else could be going on?

    Reply: If they are eternal, there is no problem.

    As for Harris, yes. I will deride him in fact because he has no clue what he’s talking about. In the Deeper Waters section of theologyweb.com, which unfortunately seems to be down now, I have put up a letter I wrote to Religion Dispatches on Harris’s latest book.

    The problem for Harris is that he thinks he can get from an idea in the mind to an external reality. (Then he should accept the ontological argument) I say that the only way something can be good is if, well, it is good. Our needs and wants do not determine what the outside world is. If everyone in the world wanted to commit murder, murder would still be wrong.

  85. cl says:

    I need to jump back in here and catch up at some point, so… I suppose now’s as good a time as any!

    First off I’d say that a pretty good thread seems to have poofed itself into existence. I, too, chuckle at Monty Python skits–only, not in the same way I imagine atheists do!

    Al Moritz,

    Glad to have you stop by, and I must say I found some confirmation here:

    …as others have observed, if you demand that people stick with the empirical evidence, you need to go by the same standard. For example, by your standards then a statement like “some physicists think that the universe is cyclical” is to be discarded as irrelevant in exploring reality. Yet a naturalist makes assumptions — has to make them — that go beyond observable space-time just like the theist.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to “roast” dguller here. After all, how many atheists even entertain the idea that they might have allowed themselves to accept common strawman versions of Feser’s or Aristotle’s arguments? That said, as much as I say bravo dguller there, I say bravo Al Moritz here, because you’re absolutely correct: atheists and skeptics routinely skewer believers in religion, the paranormal etc. for “hypothetical postulations” as even partial justification for positions held. When we offer the “possibility” of God, we are lambasted with the “possibility” of pink unicorns, flying teapots or Santa Clause, yet, of the many atheists who make those types of remarks, many seem 100% willing to proffer the “possibility” of oscillating universes or the multiverse. Of course, the justification many atheists would offer is that those things–oscillating universes and the multiverse–are the result of legitimate induction. The theist could easily agree and counter that similarly, a prime mover is the result of legitimate deduction.

    jim,

    Since this is the first time I’ve commented on this blog in ages,

    To be precise, I think it’s been since November 29, 2009 at 5:13 PM, so… yeah, it’s been a little while!

    …cl’s question ‘Can a theist be rational?’ (I couldn’t find the place where you asked that question, cl, but I think that was the gist of it. If not, you can make the correction).

    Are you referring to the time I asked TaiChi, Are you implying that critical thinking necessarily entails atheism/agnosticism?

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    Lots to say, but I’ll start by taking a stab at what Ronin might have been trying to say. A few comments back up the thread, you said,

    Ronin, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

    ”If there is God and there is no afterlife, God could simply have made us for this life.” -Ronin

    Yes and he could have been dressed in pink pajamas and riding a unicycle when he did, but, what on earth does that have to do with anything?

    I think at least part of Ronin’s point was that religions–or at least the types of religious discussions we’re having right now, about first causes and prime movers and such–retain relevance even without an afterlife. Even if there’s no afterlife, the questions remain of how the universe came to be, and all of this “logic” would still apply. I put logic in square quotes because of your stated opinion that our ideas are the equivalent of a Monty Python skit taking itself too seriously. :)

    At any rate, your point that Ronin was responding to: you claimed “It isn’t a coincidence that paranormal beliefs, supernaturalism and “religion” are ubiquitous,” then went on to make the argument that “denial of death schemes” were responsible for the ubiquitous nature thereof. Right? You asked me to present you with one example of a “successful religion”” that lacked practicing belief in the afterlife. While I could easily respond “the Saduccees” or “certain forms of Buddhism” and call it a day, I’m more interested in contemplating what might be inferred from your question. Is the apparent ubiquitousness of the afterlife the sole evidence for your argument that all paranormal, supernatural and religious beliefs reduce to “denial of death schemes?” If so, I think that’s at least as silly as our pontifications on the nature of the universe are to you! It just seems all-too-fitting for an atheist to say.

    I don’t accept your hypothesis because it’s far too ad hoc, too broad and too prone to bias. In no way, shape, or form do I believe that the “success” or proliferation of paranormal, supernatural and religious beliefs is entirely attributable to “denial of death scheme.” After all, some religions–though certainly the minority, it seems–lack afterlife belief. Paranormal events don’t necessarily hinge on the afterlife. Many religions posit afterlife scenarios that are much worse than the current life. Why invent a fate worse than death to deny death? Your point might be better taken if–among other things–all paranormal, supernatural and religious afterlife scenarios reduced to rosy, pie-in-the-sky philosophy.

    Much more to say but I gotta run…

  86. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> It’s nature will result in change. In what way? Does it lose its properties? Does it act of its own accord? Can it move about freely?

    No, it does not lose its properties, because its properties are to result in change. That is what ENERGY is. You add energy to something, and CHANGE happens. It is the capacity to do work (i.e. initiate change). However, it can take a variety of forms, e.g. kinetic energy, rotational energy, potential energy, and so on, but it is all still energy.

    >> Saying it and showing it are two different things. Again, what is the cause of the change in energy? Is energy a free agent that can act on its own or is it bound by certain aspects?

    Free agent? It is not a conscious intelligence that wills to act, and it does not have to be. Energy just is the capacity to initiate change, and since its alternative form is matter, then the change initiated can be in matter, which continues to change from matter to energy, and vice versa, since the universe began. Why did it begin? I do not know, but I wonder how it could not when the essence of energy is change.

    >> No. Knowledge is justified true belief despite what Gettier says.

    I agree.

    >> Actually, this is false. Nicholas Rescher has a whole chapter in “The Limits of Science” on this topic. The idea is that if something is to be meaningful, it mus be quantifiable. Why should I believe that?

    No, A-T utilizes quantitative terminology when describing being. The most perfect being has the most being, for example. If you use quantitative terms, then there must be a standard of measurement, or else they are radically imprecise, and probably meaningless.

    >> I am not limiting it to conscious beings. I am making a statement of teleology. However, to say that not all beings know their end does not mean that they do not have an end. I would say you do not know your end but you have one.

    How does one determine what the end of a being is?

    >> I don’t discover reality by opinion polls. I discover reality by studying reality. For instance, I think a majority of people would say that theism is true. Are you ready to convert?

    You say that all beings desire X. This is a factual claim that can be empirically verified by conducting a survey. How else would you know what people desire? To just sit in a room, introspectively check your own desires, and infer that everyone was like you?

    >> As a whole? No. However, I will say they all desire good things. Some desire pleasure. That’s good. Some desire justice. That’s good. They have good ends but wrong means to get there and they are mistaking lesser goods, like pleasure, for greater goods. The only way you can desire anything is if you perceive some good in the thing.

    Agreed.

    >> The problem is something cannot create itself and be eternal both

    Energy did not create itself. It was always there. However, energy can take a number of forms, such as matter, and is inherently dynamic with a tendency towards action and change. So, the universe with its properties is a the result of the underlying dynamic activity of matter-energy within space-time.

    >> It’s not temporal if they’re eternal. If the computer and table have always been there, how can one be temporally prior?

    First, because the table must have been there first to block the computer from falling to the floor.

    Second, even if God existed and the universe was co-eternal with God, then God would have to exist prior to the universe to cause it.

    >> Are you talking about an eternal universe outside of space-time?

    No, I am not. However, if we are talking about entities within space-time, then my argument is done. If X is in space-time, then X exists within a spatio-temporal nexus of causality, because all our experience of causality is of causes spatio-temporally preceding their effects. You will have to offer a counter-example, which you have failed to do.

    >> The problem for Harris is that he thinks he can get from an idea in the mind to an external reality. (Then he should accept the ontological argument) I say that the only way something can be good is if, well, it is good. Our needs and wants do not determine what the outside world is. If everyone in the world wanted to commit murder, murder would still be wrong.

    First, you are wrong. You are assuming that goodness is an entity that exists independently of us akin to a mountain, for example. I will agree that mountains exist independently of our preferences or wants, but goodness is not analogous to that. Goodness is intrinsically related to our conscious states, because we perceive something to be good if it maximizes the conscious state of happiness and minimizes the conscious state of suffering. If our psychology was different, then what we consider to be good would be different. In other words, if we were different, then our morality would be different, which is unlike mountains, which would exist regardless of our psychology.

    Second, if everyone in the world wanted to commit murder, then we would all be dead and wouldn’t have to worry about morality anymore. And murder is not necessarily wrong, because there are times when it is justified. However, if murder was an acceptable and common rule in a community, then we could compare the well-being of that community compared to a neighboring community that valued life and solidarity. That is a scientific question.

  87. Sw says:

    “How does understanding physics help us to understand God? And what about understanding biology? Can we understand just how cruel God is when we look at the natural world and all the pain and suffering that exists there?”

    You tell me, man. Can we? If not, you and others have been blowing smoke all this time about the problem of evil and natural evil, and what this would say about any creator. If so, there’s an example of knowledge.

    You can make some inferences about a creator based on his artifacts.

    “And so what? What is your point with this? I am saying that there are limits to our understanding, and that it would be best if we stayed within those limits. Your example deals with something in the natural world, and thus we can make inferences, because we have experience of natural entities. I am talking about the supernatural and that which exists beyond space-time, which we have no experience of, and thus any inferences would be sheer speculation.”

    So you’re making the inference that we can’t make inferences about creators of universes, of nature, etc? That’s some interesting logic.

    It’s not “sheer speculation” when we’re calling on data to make our inferences, whether from the natural world, the mathematical world, or the logical world.

    How do you make the inference that God, even the God of the bible, is not natural? Or is outside of nature as opposed to occupying a different part of it? Arbitrary definition?

    “Still waiting for the abundance of examples that you have.”

    Still waiting for you to give a reply to my simple question which I said determines the question. Is informed inference and speculation knowledge?

  88. Wrong cl…

    What I said was… “My point began and ended with the fact that religions are, essentially, schemes to deny the finality of death and paint us as “special meat”… that’s all”…

    Nothing AT ALL about afterlives and an emphasis on the “special”.

  89. dguller says:

    Sw:

    >> You tell me, man. Can we? If not, you and others have been blowing smoke all this time about the problem of evil and natural evil, and what this would say about any creator. If so, there’s an example of knowledge.

    I think that if you have supernatural claims that impact the empirical world, then we can evaluate the world to see if your predictions have occurred. That is assuming that the supernatural claims are coherent to begin with.

    >> So you’re making the inference that we can’t make inferences about creators of universes, of nature, etc? That’s some interesting logic.

    Are you really saying that I cannot infer that conclusions about some things are impossible? Why not? What about square circles? Can I conclude that talk about them is meaningless? Does that assume the existence of square circles in the first place?

    >> It’s not “sheer speculation” when we’re calling on data to make our inferences, whether from the natural world, the mathematical world, or the logical world.

    It is when your starting premises must be “If the supernatural realm is X, then the natural realm must be Y”. How on earth do you know about the supernatural realm, except by natural experiences? I find a hard time understanding how one can bootstrap oneself from knowledge about the empirical world to knowledge of a supernatural realm above and beyond the empirical world. That is what I mean by speculation.

    >> How do you make the inference that God, even the God of the bible, is not natural? Or is outside of nature as opposed to occupying a different part of it? Arbitrary definition?

    Something is natural if it is ultimately reducible to non-mental substances and processes. If God can be reduced to non-mental substances and processes, then he is natural, but I doubt that you will admit this.

    >> Is informed inference and speculation knowledge?

    Depends on what information is involved in the inference. The less quantity and quality of information, the more the inference is speculative.

    The examples, please?

  90. Sw says:

    “I think that if you have supernatural claims that impact the empirical world, then we can evaluate the world to see if your predictions have occurred. That is assuming that the supernatural claims are coherent to begin with.”

    Who said anything about ‘supernatural’?

    Like I said, you tell me: Can we tell anything about God based on our observations of the natural world? That’s what you’re doing when you talk about God’s character based on the natural world. Or is that just utter nonsense you’re trying to pass off?

    “Are you really saying that I cannot infer that conclusions about some things are impossible? Why not? What about square circles? Can I conclude that talk about them is meaningless? Does that assume the existence of square circles in the first place?”

    What is it about a designer of the universe that makes it a square circle? Is discovering that talking about something is “meaningless” or incoherent an advance of knowledge?

    “How on earth do you know about the supernatural realm, except by natural experiences? I find a hard time understanding how one can bootstrap oneself from knowledge about the empirical world to knowledge of a supernatural realm above and beyond the empirical world. That is what I mean by speculation.”

    Are inferences knowledge? And given how you draw the line about nature alone, insofar as mental properties are arguably or even self-evidently irreducible to the non-mental, it seems like I have empirical experience of the supernatural here and now. Looks like naturalism is dead in the water by your metric. “Natural experiences” aren’t natural under that regimen.

    “Something is natural if it is ultimately reducible to non-mental substances and processes. If God can be reduced to non-mental substances and processes, then he is natural, but I doubt that you will admit this.”

    So non-reductive materialists are supernaturalists? Panpsychists are supernaturalists? Neutral monists are supernaturalists? Many of the founders of quantum physics were supernaturalists?

    And let’s put that aside. Would a creator of our universe have to be say.. immaterial? Simulation theorists disagree. John Gribbin disagrees. Mormons disagree.

    “The examples, please?”

    Not until I get a straight answer. You’re playing it close to the vest because you want to have it both ways, and I’m not interested in the arbitrary.

    You said: “The less quantity and quality of information, the more the inference is speculative.”

    Fine: What’s the tipping point? What’s the magical method for determining whether you have enough of a quantity and quality of information to call your inferences knowledge as oppose to non-knowledge? Or do you just decide that on a whim?

  91. dguller says:

    Sw:

    >> Like I said, you tell me: Can we tell anything about God based on our observations of the natural world? That’s what you’re doing when you talk about God’s character based on the natural world. Or is that just utter nonsense you’re trying to pass off?

    Provide a definition for “God”, and then I’ll tell you.

    >> What is it about a designer of the universe that makes it a square circle? Is discovering that talking about something is “meaningless” or incoherent an advance of knowledge?

    Because talk of causality outside of space-time is incoherent. The only type of causality that we know occurs inside space-time. To talk about causality outside of space-time would require assuming that what occurs outside of space-time has the same properties as what occurs inside of space-time. And how on earth could anyone possibly know that?

    >> Are inferences knowledge?

    Yes, if the premises are true and the rules of logic are followed.

    >> And given how you draw the line about nature alone, insofar as mental properties are arguably or even self-evidently irreducible to the non-mental, it seems like I have empirical experience of the supernatural here and now. Looks like naturalism is dead in the water by your metric. “Natural experiences” aren’t natural under that regimen.

    What is your empirical evidence of the supernatural?

    >> So non-reductive materialists are supernaturalists?

    No, because they say that the mind is the result of physical processes, but that they are multiply realizable. In other words, the mind cannot be reduced to the brain, but it does emerge from the functional interconnections of a physical system, which does not necessarily have to be neurobiological.

    Panpsychists are supernaturalists?

    Yes, if they believe in a mind that exists independent of non-mental processes.

    Neutral monists are supernaturalists?

    No, because neutral monism states that ultimate reality is one kind, which is neither mental nor physical. It is entirely consistent within that system to believe that the mental emerges from this ultimate reality, which would fit my criteria of natural, i.e. mental emerging from non-mental.

    Many of the founders of quantum physics were supernaturalists?

    I don’t know.

    >> And let’s put that aside. Would a creator of our universe have to be say.. immaterial?

    It depends. The basic idea is that if the creator of the universe had a mind, then his mind must be the result of underlying non-mental processes, whether they are physical or non-physical. However, it would be prudent to be able to detect the non-physical components that generate the mind of the creator in some falsifiable fashion. Otherwise, we are just speculating without any solid ground under our feet.

    >> Not until I get a straight answer. You’re playing it close to the vest because you want to have it both ways, and I’m not interested in the arbitrary.

    Seriously? You wrote that “science likewise isn’t out of the speculation game, unless some wide swaths of scientific knowledge and claims aren’t science after all”. I asked what these “wide swaths” are, and you keep asking me about whether “informed inference and speculation” are knowledge. As I told you, “informed inference” could be knowledge, but it depends upon how “informed” the premises of the inference are. The less informed they are, the more one is engaging in speculation.

    To me, what informs premises is whether their claims can be empirically verified in some way, especially when one is making claims about how the world works. If one cannot achieve this level of empirical experience, then one is engaging in speculation. For example, take superstring theory. It is a beautiful, elegant, symmetrical and mathematically brilliant theory. However, since it lacks any empirical confirmation, it is just speculation, and even physicists will admit to this. As another example, look at Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It was not treated as valid until its experimental predictions were confirmed.

    I hope this clarifies things for you.

    >> Fine: What’s the tipping point? What’s the magical method for determining whether you have enough of a quantity and quality of information to call your inferences knowledge as oppose to non-knowledge? Or do you just decide that on a whim?

    One immediate tipping point is whether there is ANY empirical confirmation at all. If there is NONE, then the matter is sheer speculation. If there is some empirical evidence, then one has to consider whether the evidence is the result of chance, observer bias, confounding factors, or anything else that might give the illusion of a causal pattern. Once these are ruled out, as much as possible, then one can have stronger faith in the conclusion, but always know that the matter is tentative, because of the possibility of error, however unlikely. Naturally, the more confirmatory evidence, the better, and if falsification is actively sought, but has failed, then this is even better.

  92. apologianick says:

    Dguller: No, it does not lose its properties, because its properties are to result in change. That is what ENERGY is. You add energy to something, and CHANGE happens. It is the capacity to do work (i.e. initiate change). However, it can take a variety of forms, e.g. kinetic energy, rotational energy, potential energy, and so on, but it is all still energy.

    Reply: And what are these properties that it has? How is it acting?

    dguller: Free agent? It is not a conscious intelligence that wills to act, and it does not have to be. Energy just is the capacity to initiate change, and since its alternative form is matter, then the change initiated can be in matter, which continues to change from matter to energy, and vice versa, since the universe began. Why did it begin? I do not know, but I wonder how it could not when the essence of energy is change.

    Reply: But change from one thing to another is potency into act, which is the very thing seeking to be explained. You explain potency into act by having another potency into act. You’re giving turtles all the way down.

    Dguller: No, A-T utilizes quantitative terminology when describing being. The most perfect being has the most being, for example. If you use quantitative terms, then there must be a standard of measurement, or else they are radically imprecise, and probably meaningless.

    Reply: False. The terms refer to quality instead of quantity. Furthermore, God is infinite and so cannot really be quantified.

    Dguller: How does one determine what the end of a being is?

    Reply: By studying the being itself. One can also study the other causes of the being in an effort to find the final cause, which Aristotle considered the most important. He also had no explanation for how final causes existed.

    Dguller: You say that all beings desire X. This is a factual claim that can be empirically verified by conducting a survey. How else would you know what people desire? To just sit in a room, introspectively check your own desires, and infer that everyone was like you?

    Reply: I do affirm that all desire X because I see it in their actions. They differ in the kinds of X that they desire, but all desire to be happy, even the suicide. He is committing suicide not because he is happy but because he is not. What happiness includes however is not done by an opinion poll.

    Dguller: Agreed.

    Reply: Then why did you ask how I know that all desire X if you agree the only reason we desire something is we perceive it to be good?

    dguller: Energy did not create itself. It was always there. However, energy can take a number of forms, such as matter, and is inherently dynamic with a tendency towards action and change. So, the universe with its properties is a the result of the underlying dynamic activity of matter-energy within space-time.

    Reply: And if this energy is not free, it was forced to act according to something else moving it. The turtles keep going.

    Dguller: First, because the table must have been there first to block the computer from falling to the floor.

    Reply: Remove the second “first” from this sentence because it’s changing the view.

    dguller: Second, even if God existed and the universe was co-eternal with God, then God would have to exist prior to the universe to cause it.

    Reply: You do realize you cannot exist prior to eternality don’t you?

    dguller: No, I am not. However, if we are talking about entities within space-time, then my argument is done. If X is in space-time, then X exists within a spatio-temporal nexus of causality, because all our experience of causality is of causes spatio-temporally preceding their effects. You will have to offer a counter-example, which you have failed to do.

    Reply: So then your universe could not really be eternal since it is bound by time. I point to something eternal since that solves the dilemma of act and potency and whatever it is must be outside of time or else it is changing just as much.

    I’ve posited that which is eternal. That you haven’t accepted it is not the same as showing it is false.

    Dguller: First, you are wrong. You are assuming that goodness is an entity that exists independently of us akin to a mountain, for example. I will agree that mountains exist independently of our preferences or wants, but goodness is not analogous to that. Goodness is intrinsically related to our conscious states, because we perceive something to be good if it maximizes the conscious state of happiness and minimizes the conscious state of suffering. If our psychology was different, then what we consider to be good would be different. In other words, if we were different, then our morality would be different, which is unlike mountains, which would exist regardless of our psychology.

    Reply: Which is pretty much just stating your position again without saying why mine is wrong. Why should I say that happiness has this attribute that we call good. If good is that at which all things aim, then I have some statement by which to determine if something is good. Suppose I think X is good. How can I be told something about the property of X in the thing by studying the brain? Could you tell what color something is I’m looking at by studying my brain? Could you tell how big it is?

    Dguller: Second, if everyone in the world wanted to commit murder, then we would all be dead and wouldn’t have to worry about morality anymore. And murder is not necessarily wrong, because there are times when it is justified. However, if murder was an acceptable and common rule in a community, then we could compare the well-being of that community compared to a neighboring community that valued life and solidarity. That is a scientific question.

    Reply: No. That’s a philosophical question because science cannot tell us what goodness and well-being is. However, murder is never justified. Killing can be and killing and murder are not the same.

    Again, I see no reason to think an idea in my mind of X can get me to an external reality of X. Maybe you should become a follower of Berkeley if you think so.

  93. Ronin says:

    cl,

    Yep, agreed.

    Let us consider what the mrs. wrote:

    It is precisely the denial of death aspect that makes religion something to argue about… something to war about…something that gives man meaning…or takes it all away.

    (emphasis mine)

    I take the above to mean the following: since death is NOT final [i.e. afterlife] it (the concept of afterlife) gives mankind meaning. Thus, we accept the concept because it eases our minds as well as gives us the illusion of meaning. Else, why even imply the denial of death offers “something that gives man meaning”?

    Such assumptions just seem plainly FALSE to me. [If] there is a Creator and we are part of creation we would have meaning at face value. We can certainly debate what sort of meaning that is or would be, but, dare I say there is some sort of meaning even if no afterlife is to be had? Indeed…

  94. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> And what are these properties that it has? How is it acting?

    I don’t know. All I can say is that it is predictable and measurable, and that should be sufficient as an explanation for now.

    >> But change from one thing to another is potency into act, which is the very thing seeking to be explained. You explain potency into act by having another potency into act. You’re giving turtles all the way down.

    Nope. I’m saying that energy is the rock bottom. It IS the driving force behind change. There is no need to postulate something else to explain why energy changes matter. I think that you’re getting too tangled into Thomist metaphysics to see that the world does not have to fit into its categories.

    >> False. The terms refer to quality instead of quantity. Furthermore, God is infinite and so cannot really be quantified.

    Okay, so when Aquinas talks about the degree of being in X, then he is not speaking quantitatively. That’s fine.

    >> By studying the being itself. One can also study the other causes of the being in an effort to find the final cause, which Aristotle considered the most important. He also had no explanation for how final causes existed.

    Yes, but the being does not just stop. It keeps on existing and changing over time. I think that what you are doing is taking a complex and infinite chain of events and just picking one event in the chain and calling it “the end”. Why did you pick that one event and not the one after it? Take an acorn becoming an oak. Yes, that is part of the sequence of events, but there is more afterwards. The oak then becomes detritus. Why can’t the final cause of an acorn be to become detritus for other living organisms? Why can’t the final cause of an acorn be to become additional acorns via the medium of an oak?

    >> I do affirm that all desire X because I see it in their actions. They differ in the kinds of X that they desire, but all desire to be happy, even the suicide. He is committing suicide not because he is happy but because he is not. What happiness includes however is not done by an opinion poll.

    But have you actually studied human beings in a scientific way to see if they do, in fact, value happiness? Cognitive psychology has uncovered many things about how human beings actual think and feel that go against our common intuitions. We have a number of irrational and odd quirks in our psychology that only came to light, because human beings began systematically studying other human beings. You cannot just sit in your home, think about a few examples of people that you met, and derive metaphysical conclusions from that. There are a number of cognitive distortions that may be involved that must be controlled for, or your conclusions will be specious.

    >> You do realize you cannot exist prior to eternality don’t you?

    I am not claiming this. I am saying that if there are two eternal entities that exist in time, say X and Y, and X causes Y, then X must be temporally prior to Y, even though they both are eternal. You forget that there are different types of infinity. The set of natural numbers is infinite, and so is the set of primes, but there are more natural numbers than primes, despite their both being infinite. At least, that is what Cantor thought.

    >> So then your universe could not really be eternal since it is bound by time. I point to something eternal since that solves the dilemma of act and potency and whatever it is must be outside of time or else it is changing just as much.

    You are correct, because time did not exist before space-time, and prior to the singularity, for example, there was no space-time. What does that have to do with anything that I said? I do not care whether the universe is eternal or finite. The fact is that once you are talking about entities within space-time, which is all we have any understanding of, then you are talking about spatio-temporal causality, which is inapplicable outside of space-time.

    >> I’ve posited that which is eternal. That you haven’t accepted it is not the same as showing it is false.

    Right, but you are saying that this eternal being, which is outside space-time, CAUSED space-time, which is a spatio-temporal concept. In other words, it makes no sense to speak of something causing space-time. It would be like talking about a circle without invoking the concept of shape. You just can’t do it. Maybe you are speaking analogously, but analogies miserably fail in logical arguments, which is what Thomism is supposed to be based upon.

    >> Which is pretty much just stating your position again without saying why mine is wrong. Why should I say that happiness has this attribute that we call good.

    Because we are drawn towards it as satisfying a need or desire, which are psychological concepts, not metaphysical ones.

    >> If good is that at which all things aim, then I have some statement by which to determine if something is good.

    Right, but then you are limited to just observing the behavior of entities. In other words, if an entity approaches X, then X is good for the entity. However, that does not imply that X is a metaphysical truth that exists independently of the entity itself.

    >> Suppose I think X is good. How can I be told something about the property of X in the thing by studying the brain? Could you tell what color something is I’m looking at by studying my brain? Could you tell how big it is?

    It is not just the brain. It is the total system involved. It is the brain-body-environment interaction that is important here, not just one part. It is the fact that X is in the environment, which is communicated to the body, and then to the brain, which identifies it as something good and desirable, and this results in changes in the body to approach X in the environment. It is the APPRAISAL of X by the brain that results in the movement towards it, and thus the concept of goodness is in the brain. It does not exist independently of human beings.

    >> No. That’s a philosophical question because science cannot tell us what goodness and well-being is. However, murder is never justified. Killing can be and killing and murder are not the same.

    No, it is an empirical fact that human beings desire a number of things that they identify as “good” on the basis of the fact that they choose to approach them in the environment. This is just a fact. Science can then study these goods and see how living according to them affects the happiness and well-being of individuals.

    And don’t forget, the Bible says “thou shalt not kill”. Kill, not murder. Sure, you can explain this away by saying that it meant your particular definition of murder, but I promise you that I can imagine a scenario in which murder is a good thing. Take the opportunity to murder a dictator who is on the verge of massacring his people. That is murder, but it can also be a good thing.

    >> Again, I see no reason to think an idea in my mind of X can get me to an external reality of X. Maybe you should become a follower of Berkeley if you think so.

    You need to learn to forget the sense-datum theory. That is where the problems lie.

  95. cl says:

    Hey all. I thought I should tell the story of how mrs. neutron’s garage and I met. It’s short, don’t worry. You see, while Googling around for information on John W. Loftus’ The End of Christianity, I can across John’s “Amazon author” page, where I noticed that a commenter going by “Health Care Anthropologist” had left a flurry of appropriate comments regarding the Loftus, and there was a link to mrs. neutron’s garage therein. I assumed that mrs. neutron’s garage and Health Care Anthropologist were the same person, so I left a comment on MRN’s blog having a chuckle, and here we are!

    I’ve also been enjoying the conversation between dguller and Sw.

    Sw,

    If Feynman is correct about energy, and I think he is, then appealing to it as a possible candidate for being “ultimate” is as, or more, problematic than appealing to God. Energy also is not typically defined as “the thing with the ability to initiate change / do work”, but as “the ability to do work”.

    …if this world is, at every instant, part of God’s creation, it would seem we do know a substantial something about God after all. Any critique of God’s existence and nature requires that we do know something substantial about God.

    These are great points. It seems to me that naturalists and atheists “simply assume” that “natural” means “godless.” You can see this in pretty much any argument a “naturalist” makes. Watch and you will see: “natural” is synonymous with “godless” in the atheist’s mind. Watch and you will see that the atheist’s case relies on the assumption that reality is somehow split into “natural” and “supernatural” components. Watch, and you will also see that most atheists completely neglect even rudimentary definitions for those terms, let alone proffering a way to make meaningful distinctions between them.

    There are plenty of limits: “What can we assign to a mind? What kind of minds could there be?” Evidence, inference, and limits in abundance.

    Yes, I agree. It seems to me that atheists who break out the ol’ “pink unicorns” and “fairies with wands” crap aren’t taking the theist seriously. To me, this shows a complete lack of respect for valid and/or sound arguments. The thinking that sustains the theist here is of the same caliber as the thinking that sustains the cosmologist: inference drawn from fact.

    “How does understanding physics help us to understand God? And what about understanding biology? Can we understand just how cruel God is when we look at the natural world and all the pain and suffering that exists there?” [dguller]

    You tell me, man. Can we? If not, you and others have been blowing smoke all this time about the problem of evil and natural evil, and what this would say about any creator. If so, there’s an example of knowledge. You can make some inferences about a creator based on his artifacts. [Sw]

    Yes, another excellent point, and yes, dguller just made an inference about God based on God’s artifacts. It’s funny, because the same atheists who complain about the difficulty of making inferences from God’s artifacts show no difficulty at all come time to use inferences from those artifacts to make arguments against God. It seems to me that dguller needs to either A) explain why his inference should be taken more seriously than ours, or; B) take our inferences seriously and grant equal weight.

    It’s not “sheer speculation” when we’re calling on data to make our inferences, whether from the natural world, the mathematical world, or the logical world.

    Again, wholly true, and I agree with you that dguller is “playing it close to the vest.” So much of what dguller has said to you actually kills his own arguments dead in the water! As just one example:

    To me, what informs premises is whether their claims can be empirically verified in some way, especially when one is making claims about how the world works. [dguller]

    Yet, just a few days ago, when pressed on the nature of the universe, dguller was oh-so-quick to trot out–not only an inference that lacked sufficient empirical verification–but an inference that empiricism seems to have sufficiently disconfirmed! [oscillating universe theory] It seems to me that Al Moritz caught onto this apparent double-standard, too, which leads me to ask…

    dguller,

    While I’ve got lots of questions, I’ll start here: if “what informs premises” is “whether their claims can be empirically verified in some way,” then why are you asking us to take seriously your inferences that are 1) not empirically verified, and 2) apparently empirically disconfirmed? Surely you have to see at least a small problem there, no?

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    Wrong cl… What I said was… “My point began and ended with the fact that religions are, essentially, schemes to deny the finality of death and paint us as “special meat”… that’s all”… Nothing AT ALL about afterlives and an emphasis on the “special”.

    Well… you did say you were a gardener, so… send me some of that kind bud you must be smokin’ !!!! :) Seriously though, I think you need to rethink: you most certainly did say something about an afterlife, used in support of your claim:

    We are the ape with the built in ability to “construct” a reality that best suits our needs at the time… Homo-Suggestibilis if you will. If I’m wrong… help me out. Give me a list of successful religions that don’t deny death.

    So, if you actually *DID NOT* mean to imply that the “afterlife features” of religions are the “denial of death schemes” which make them successful–and somehow paranormal beliefs, too–then, now would be the time to clarify. Else, I’m pretty sure I understand your argument, and would say that my objections stand.

  96. apologianick says:

    dguller: I don’t know. All I can say is that it is predictable and measurable, and that should be sufficient as an explanation for now.

    Reply: So you can’t tell me its properties, but you can tell me it started it all. By the way, if it’s predictable, it’s predictable within a system, same with it being measurable. That doesn’t explain the system itself. Energy is moving according to something else since we can predict its movement.

    All you’ve done is give another turtle.

    dguller: Nope. I’m saying that energy is the rock bottom. It IS the driving force behind change. There is no need to postulate something else to explain why energy changes matter. I think that you’re getting too tangled into Thomist metaphysics to see that the world does not have to fit into its categories.

    Reply: Or rather you’re getting too entangled into scientism. Energy is that which is used to bring about change and if you know about energy, you know that it can only be used once. There is a limited amount and since energy is limited, it can’t be that which is ultimate.

    Dguller: Okay, so when Aquinas talks about the degree of being in X, then he is not speaking quantitatively. That’s fine.

    Reply: The medievals would make a distinction between a fire being hot and the sun being superhot. It would mean that while fire can be hot, the sun itself was seen as hotness more or less. It had hotness to it, but not in the same way. It’s the same with God. God and I both are good, but I am not good the same way He is.

    Dguller Yes, but the being does not just stop. It keeps on existing and changing over time. I think that what you are doing is taking a complex and infinite chain of events and just picking one event in the chain and calling it “the end”. Why did you pick that one event and not the one after it? Take an acorn becoming an oak. Yes, that is part of the sequence of events, but there is more afterwards. The oak then becomes detritus. Why can’t the final cause of an acorn be to become detritus for other living organisms? Why can’t the final cause of an acorn be to become additional acorns via the medium of an oak?

    Reply: For final causality, the question is why is there consistently a connection between A and B? It doesn’t even have to be living matter. An iceberg drifts through the ocean. As it goes along, it imparts coldness to the water. This is final causality that needs to be explained. Why do acorns consistently produce oak trees rather than weeping willows or sycamores or pine trees?

    Yes. We realize the being changes. This was how Aristotle answered both Heraclitus and Parmenides. What is unchanging? It is the form. What is changing? It is the matter.

    Dguller But have you actually studied human beings in a scientific way to see if they do, in fact, value happiness? Cognitive psychology has uncovered many things about how human beings actual think and feel that go against our common intuitions. We have a number of irrational and odd quirks in our psychology that only came to light, because human beings began systematically studying other human beings. You cannot just sit in your home, think about a few examples of people that you met, and derive metaphysical conclusions from that. There are a number of cognitive distortions that may be involved that must be controlled for, or your conclusions will be specious.

    Reply: Good thing I’m not doing that. Also, by your standards, we could never know any such thing since science in this case would rely on inductive reasoning. All men are mortal. Science cannot prove that. However, there is no reason to doubt it. In the same way, Aristotle and several after him argued that all seek happiness. Now you can be skeptical of that all you want and try to find someone who you think doesn’t want happiness. (Note even the masochist does as he seeks pain to bring pleasure.)

    Dguller: I am not claiming this. I am saying that if there are two eternal entities that exist in time, say X and Y, and X causes Y, then X must be temporally prior to Y, even though they both are eternal.

    Reply: This makes no sense….

    Dguller: You forget that there are different types of infinity. The set of natural numbers is infinite, and so is the set of primes, but there are more natural numbers than primes, despite their both being infinite. At least, that is what Cantor thought.

    Reply: We’re talking about something being eternal, not infinite. Furthermore, numbers are not infinite. They are potentially infinite. An infinite of quantity can’t exist.

    dguller: You are correct, because time did not exist before space-time, and prior to the singularity, for example, there was no space-time. What does that have to do with anything that I said? I do not care whether the universe is eternal or finite. The fact is that once you are talking about entities within space-time, which is all we have any understanding of, then you are talking about spatio-temporal causality, which is inapplicable outside of space-time.

    Reply: So that which is outside of space and time is not bound to act according to its principles. I don’t see where I’ve disagreed with that.

    Dguller: Right, but you are saying that this eternal being, which is outside space-time, CAUSED space-time, which is a spatio-temporal concept. In other words, it makes no sense to speak of something causing space-time. It would be like talking about a circle without invoking the concept of shape. You just can’t do it. Maybe you are speaking analogously, but analogies miserably fail in logical arguments, which is what Thomism is supposed to be based upon.

    Reply: No. For Aquinas, God did not “cause” the universe. God is causing the universe. All His actions are done eternally and unchangingly. He is right now creating the universe and giving out the final judgment.

    Dguller: Because we are drawn towards it as satisfying a need or desire, which are psychological concepts, not metaphysical ones.

    Reply: Psychological for us perhaps, but why say the satisfaction of desire is good? If you’re going to use the word good, it has to mean something. Note the problem with saying this.

    “Well-being is good.”

    Does that mean well-being is goodness itself or does that mean that well-being is something considered good? If the first, then if I say “This pizza is good” am I saying “This pizza is well-being?” If the latter, then what is the definition of good by which you realize well-being meets.

    Dguller: Right, but then you are limited to just observing the behavior of entities. In other words, if an entity approaches X, then X is good for the entity.

    Reply: No. Something can be good even if no one recognizes its goodness. I determine its goodness by studying the object itself.

    dguller: However, that does not imply that X is a metaphysical truth that exists independently of the entity itself.

    Reply: It does entirely. Now if you have another basis for ontological goodness, go ahead. If there is no ontological goodness, then why see well-being as good?

    Dguller: It is not just the brain. It is the total system involved. It is the brain-body-environment interaction that is important here, not just one part. It is the fact that X is in the environment, which is communicated to the body, and then to the brain, which identifies it as something good and desirable, and this results in changes in the body to approach X in the environment. It is the APPRAISAL of X by the brain that results in the movement towards it, and thus the concept of goodness is in the brain. It does not exist independently of human beings.

    Reply: Good is merely a judgment then but cannot be said truly of anything, which would include well-being. Thus, Harris’s argument fails. (Not a shock. His book is some of the worst “reasoning” I have ever seen.) Why should someone move towards something? Well they desire it. Why? It’s good. Why is it good? Well they desire it. There’s a problem there.

    Note that Harris is begging the question. There’s no goodness out there. That’s an idea in the brain. Why not think the same about color and size? Why not think you’re a brain in a vat or go with Berkeley and say matter itself is not real? (Note he got there as an empiricist.)

    dguller: No, it is an empirical fact that human beings desire a number of things that they identify as “good” on the basis of the fact that they choose to approach them in the environment. This is just a fact. Science can then study these goods and see how living according to them affects the happiness and well-being of individuals.

    Reply: But science cannot tell us if well-being is good or even what happiness is. Science can inform morality but not determine it.

    dguller: And don’t forget, the Bible says “thou shalt not kill”. Kill, not murder. Sure, you can explain this away by saying that it meant your particular definition of murder, but I promise you that I can imagine a scenario in which murder is a good thing. Take the opportunity to murder a dictator who is on the verge of massacring his people. That is murder, but it can also be a good thing.

    Reply: Nope. That’s killing. That’s an act of defense for the sake of the innocent who cannot defend themselves. It’s a pre-emptive strike against evil. How do you know what the commandment says? It’s really simple. You study the commandment itself.

    dguller: You need to learn to forget the sense-datum theory. That is where the problems lie.

    Reply: Wow. And this is supposedly what a believer in science is saying?

  97. Well, cl, I’m sure you can come up with exceptions to the rule, but, I can’t think of any religion I can call “successful” without some form of a denial of death scheme…. and something included that makes man special meat. Could there be, or, would there be a Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism or any of a thousand other religions without a promise included that death isn’t the end?

    Paranormal beliefs are how people construct more comfortable realities. Are they not ubiquitous? Will there be no 4 leaf clovers this St. Pat’s Day?

  98. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> Yet, just a few days ago, when pressed on the nature of the universe, dguller was oh-so-quick to trot out–not only an inference that lacked sufficient empirical verification–but an inference that empiricism seems to have sufficiently disconfirmed! [oscillating universe theory] It seems to me that Al Moritz caught onto this apparent double-standard, too, which leads me to ask…

    Roger Penrose has a new book about a cyclical universe. It is not a dead issue, but an open question. My only point was that there is a discussion within the scientific community, and that one of the possibilities is a cyclical universe. I do not understand all the details of this issue, and will not pretend to. All I can say is that reputable scientists are claiming that this is a possibility. I leave it to the scientific community to sort through it over time.

  99. dguller says:

    Nick:

    >> So you can’t tell me its properties, but you can tell me it started it all. By the way, if it’s predictable, it’s predictable within a system, same with it being measurable. That doesn’t explain the system itself. Energy is moving according to something else since we can predict its movement

    You have not given me any reason to suppose that energy cannot be self-initiated change. You would have to show that this is impossible. All I can tell you is that our experience of energy is that it is the driving force behind all the change that we experience. There is no evidence that there is anything behind energy that is driving it, and so it is possible that it is self-initiated. No, I do not fully understand how energy works or what it is, but I am much more satisfied with energy as an explanation of the change in the universe than I am with God, which is even more unknown and mysterious.

    >> Or rather you’re getting too entangled into scientism. Energy is that which is used to bring about change and if you know about energy, you know that it can only be used once. There is a limited amount and since energy is limited, it can’t be that which is ultimate.

    First, who says that energy can only be used once?

    Second, who says that energy is limited?

    >> For final causality, the question is why is there consistently a connection between A and B? It doesn’t even have to be living matter. An iceberg drifts through the ocean. As it goes along, it imparts coldness to the water. This is final causality that needs to be explained. Why do acorns consistently produce oak trees rather than weeping willows or sycamores or pine trees?

    This is a red herring that does not address my point at all. I am not asking why an acorn does not become a pine. I am asking how you know that the acorn’s final cause is to become an oak, and not detritus or more acorns. In other words, how do you pick out which event in the sequence of events following the onset of the acorn is the final one? What is your criteria?

    >> Good thing I’m not doing that.

    Then what are you doing? How did you come across this knowledge of the deepest structure of conscious human beings?

    >> Also, by your standards, we could never know any such thing since science in this case would rely on inductive reasoning. All men are mortal. Science cannot prove that. However, there is no reason to doubt it.
    Science can say that the statement “all men are mortal” has never been falsified and always confirmed. That is enough to believe in its truth, I think.

    >> In the same way, Aristotle and several after him argued that all seek happiness. Now you can be skeptical of that all you want and try to find someone who you think doesn’t want happiness. (Note even the masochist does as he seeks pain to bring pleasure.)

    And this is the armchair philosophy that scientists deride.

    >> So that which is outside of space and time is not bound to act according to its principles. I don’t see where I’ve disagreed with that.

    Then where do you derive the principles for how that which is outside space-time operates? From reason alone?

    >> No. For Aquinas, God did not “cause” the universe. God is causing the universe. All His actions are done eternally and unchangingly. He is right now creating the universe and giving out the final judgment.

    But if God is outside space-time, then he cannot cause anything, because causality gets its sense from within space-time.

    >> Psychological for us perhaps, but why say the satisfaction of desire is good? If you’re going to use the word good, it has to mean something. Note the problem with saying this.

    Good is that which we approach. You seem to think that goodness must exist before our approach to it. I say that goodness exists only by virtue of the fact that we approach certain things, and then we call them “good”.

    >> Does that mean well-being is goodness itself or does that mean that well-being is something considered good? If the first, then if I say “This pizza is good” am I saying “This pizza is well-being?” If the latter, then what is the definition of good by which you realize well-being meets.

    It means that we approach well-being as something desirable. You seem to think that there is some foundational concept that all the other concepts subsequently derive from. In fact, there is a circle of concepts – good, desire, want, well-being, happiness – that are all interconnected without a primary one.

    >> No. Something can be good even if no one recognizes its goodness. I determine its goodness by studying the object itself.

    What object?

    >> It does entirely. Now if you have another basis for ontological goodness, go ahead. If there is no ontological goodness, then why see well-being as good?

    Because we are drawn towards it as something desirable. And why do we do that? Because of our psychology. If we had a different psychology, then we would be drawn towards something else. Maybe we would avoid things that we thought were good?

    >> Good is merely a judgment then but cannot be said truly of anything, which would include well-being. Thus, Harris’s argument fails. (Not a shock. His book is some of the worst “reasoning” I have ever seen.) Why should someone move towards something? Well they desire it. Why? It’s good. Why is it good? Well they desire it. There’s a problem there.

    No, there isn’t. It’s the same thing as epistemic concepts – justify, evidence, verify, prove – because there is no primary concept that the others derive from. They are all interconnected in a circular fashion.

    >> Note that Harris is begging the question. There’s no goodness out there. That’s an idea in the brain. Why not think the same about color and size? Why not think you’re a brain in a vat or go with Berkeley and say matter itself is not real? (Note he got there as an empiricist.)

    No, he isn’t. He says that there is goodness by virtue of our psychology. It does not exist “out there” independent of us.

    >> But science cannot tell us if well-being is good or even what happiness is. Science can inform morality but not determine it.

    It can tell us that human beings value well-being as a fact. It can do this by studying human beings’ speech and behavior, and determining that human beings value well-being. Then it can study the different behaviors that can affect well-being, and identify those that maximize well-being and those that minimize it. It could tell us why human beings value well-being, as well, by identifying neurobiological pathways of valuing and well-being, and showing that they are ultimately the same in the brain, or by coming up with an evolutionary explanation for why this value was conducive to survival.

    >> Nope. That’s killing. That’s an act of defense for the sake of the innocent who cannot defend themselves. It’s a pre-emptive strike against evil. How do you know what the commandment says? It’s really simple. You study the commandment itself.

    Yes, but murderers can come up with all kinds of justifications and rationalizations for their killing. I killed my wife, because she was going to leave me, which would destroy the family and devastate my children. I killed my child, because they were terminally ill and were going to suffer. I killed my drug dealer competitor, because he was taking money away from me, and I need money to support myself.

    >> Wow. And this is supposedly what a believer in science is saying?

    You got it.

  100. cl says:

    dguller,

    First, something I’ve been wanting to say for a few days now:

    Interestingly enough, I have ordered Feser’s Aquinas, Last Superstition, and Philosophy of Mind. I fear that I have been fed straw men, and am ready to engage in the real ideas themselves. I was told that Feser actually presents scholastic arguments well, and am looking forward to reading his works. [February 28, 2011 at 9:20 AM]

    While I suspect you might find the praise odd–because you probably just assume that it’s your duty as a critical thinker to check out the arguments for the other side–I say right on to that. Believe me, straw men are huge obstructions to clarity. As a believer, I’ve had to spot and burn countless straw men, and I’d say I’m near-100% certain there are a few others I haven’t spotted yet that still need to be burned. Especially in the blogosphere where anyone can say whatever they want, it’s all-too-easy to let certain positions “creep in” just because they’re popular or rhetorically successful. All I ask is that you would at least consider the same possibility for mind without brain. On more than one ocassion, I’ve tried to politely point out that one of your major lines of “rebuttal” is actually pointed at a straw man dualism [i.e., that damaging the bulb changes expression of light is to be expected]. I simply didn’t want to force the issue and lead to either one of us “burning out,” if you know what I mean.

    Roger Penrose has a new book about a cyclical universe. It is not a dead issue, but an open question. My only point was that there is a discussion within the scientific community, and that one of the possibilities is a cyclical universe.

    This is another example of what I meant when I said that many of your responses actually undermine your own arguments. There are also “new books” about the mind/brain problem, as well as a discussion within the scientific community, yet, you act as if mind without a brain is a “dead issue,” or at least dead enough to deride as “science fiction” and “fantasy,” while you grant the hypothetical “cyclical universe” it’s due respect as a valid scientific question.

    I do not understand all the details of this issue, and will not pretend to. All I can say is that reputable scientists are claiming that this is a possibility. I leave it to the scientific community to sort through it over time.

    Similarly, reputable scientists and neuroscientists also claim that “mind without brain” is a possibility, yet, you apparently believe you understand the details enough to scoff at the very notion while admitting that your own exposure to the literature was between 1 and 2 on a scale of 10! No offense intended–whatsoever–but try to imagine how that looks to someone who’s been keeping up with this thread. Why do you take the “possibility” of a cyclical universe seriously while denigrating the “possibility” of mind without brain? You stated that humans fall prey easily to confirmation bias, and I can’t help but ask: could this be because the “possibility” of a cyclical universe dovetails nicely into the atheist / naturalist / materialist paradigm, whereas the “possibility” of mind without brain directly challenges said paradigm?

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    Well, cl, I’m sure you can come up with exceptions to the rule, but, I can’t think of any religion I can call “successful” without some form of a denial of death scheme….

    Besides the fact that that response is basically an argument from incredulity, that’s exactly why I didn’t really take the bait: all you have to do is say, “Oh no, that religion isn’t successful…” Okay, the Sadduccess weren’t successful enough. Well, I don’t want to debate that. I simply assumed you didn’t want our discussion to devolve into an argument over definitions of words–as I don’t.

    Could there be, or, would there be a Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism or any of a thousand other religions without a promise included that death isn’t the end?

    I already gave one: the Sadduccees. Others exist, I assure you that you can find them if you look. Either way, the answer to that question is irrelevant to your claim that ALL paranormal, supernatural and religious beliefs distill to “denial of death schemes.” THAT is the claim I’m objecting to, and I’ve already explained why:

    I don’t accept your hypothesis because it’s far too ad hoc, too broad and too prone to bias. In no way, shape, or form do I believe that the “success” or proliferation of paranormal, supernatural and religious beliefs is entirely attributable to “denial of death scheme.” After all, some religions–though certainly the minority, it seems–lack afterlife belief. Paranormal events don’t necessarily hinge on the afterlife. Many religions posit afterlife scenarios that are much worse than the current life. Why invent a fate worse than death to deny death? Your point might be better taken if–among other things–all paranormal, supernatural and religious afterlife scenarios reduced to rosy, pie-in-the-sky philosophy. [cl]

    If you have legit responses to those objections, I’m game, else… I’d like to shift focus to some other comments you’ve made. In particular, this one is relevant to one of my recent experiences:

    You know, I got to laughing a little bit about this question today as I was cleaning out my perennial beds. God..no God. Creation.. Evolution. Who the hell would care? What would make it any more important than a discussion over coffee? … Who gives a crap how the universe (what ever that is) came into existence? What’s it to me? I still have to lay bricks tomorrow, or drive a truck, or fill some poor bastards tooth with amalgam.

    One of my good friends is essentially a “lifelong atheist” as you are, and, ironically enough, last time we had a discussion over coffee, this is exactly how it went! As you might imagine, my friend saw no point whatsoever to all this “involved thinking” about God, the universe, the afterlife, etc. Like you, he seems to dismiss it as irrelevant, or, at least not important enough to warrant sufficient contemplation. In a sense, I share your pragmatic attitude; that is to say, I’m aware that I still have “everyday things” to do each day, regardless of the answers to life’s greater questions. However, I think there is a certain element of folly involved for any adult to not reason through these questions honestly. There are two ways to die: prepared and at peace with God and/or oneself, or unprepared. I’d rather feel more prepared than not, and reasoning through life’s greater questions seems to accomplish that. In fact, for me at least, preparation and pragmatism go hand-in-hand.

    BTW, I’m not implying that you’re unprepared, or haven’t reasoned through these questions honestly, so don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t know you enough, and even when one knows another, such judgment can be unreliable.

  101. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Similarly, reputable scientists and neuroscientists also claim that “mind without brain” is a possibility, yet, you apparently believe you understand the details enough to scoff at the very notion while admitting that your own exposure to the literature was between 1 and 2 on a scale of 10!

    First, I am much better versed in neuroscience and psychology, and so I feel that I can make a more informed opinion on the matter. With regards to cosmology, I do not have the requisite expertise, and all I can say is that what you present to be an obvious truth is still disputed and discussed. That’s the best I can do, because of my ignorance. However, you are correct that it is not the best way to argue, because there are always people who hold ridiculous beliefs that are out of the mainstream and consensus positions of experts. Certainly, Penrose’s belief in the cyclical universe may eventually turn out to be ridiculous, as well. So, point taken.

    Second, you presented some empirical evidence for “mind without brain”, and I did look at them, and offered my critiques. I remain unconvinced, because there are other explanations and confounding factors that have to be ruled out, and have not been, as far as I can say. I find it odd that you complain that I lack knowledge in a particular area, provide me with what you feel are compelling anecdotes and observations, which I read, ponder and then critique, and then continue to explain about my lack of expertise. Perhaps it would be better if you answered my criticisms instead?

    >> No offense intended–whatsoever–but try to imagine how that looks to someone who’s been keeping up with this thread. Why do you take the “possibility” of a cyclical universe seriously while denigrating the “possibility” of mind without brain? You stated that humans fall prey easily to confirmation bias, and I can’t help but ask: could this be because the “possibility” of a cyclical universe dovetails nicely into the atheist / naturalist / materialist paradigm, whereas the “possibility” of mind without brain directly challenges said paradigm?

    Sure, it’s possible. But like I said, cosmology is not my thing, neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry are my things, and I honestly feel that the examples that you cited just don’t carry the weight that you think that they do. However, we will debate this issue when you respond to my comments on those studies on previous threads.

  102. cl says:

    dguller,

    With regards to cosmology, I do not have the requisite expertise, and all I can say is that what you present to be an obvious truth is still disputed and discussed.

    I didn’t present the falsity of the cyclical universe as “obvious truth.” I simply stated that the idea appears to be refuted by the consensus of modern cosmologists. The reason I pointed this out was to contrast it with your stated position that we lean towards empirical evidence. No offense, but it seemed to me that you might be letting something “slip by” that needed to be strained out. You can’t say we ought to lean towards empirical evidence, then embrace an idea that seems to be refuted by current empirical evidence as a handy response to the first cause argument.

    Certainly, Penrose’s belief in the cyclical universe may eventually turn out to be ridiculous, as well. So, point taken.

    As might dualism, or quantum theory, or anything else.

    Second, you presented some empirical evidence for “mind without brain”, and I did look at them, and offered my critiques.

    You did, but I responded then–as I will now–that those critiques are insufficient, and one or more of them are geared towards a straw man dualism I do not subscribe to. Also, your dismissal of Marianne’s dreaming experience was weakly substantiated at best. You appealed to the probability by chance argument, yet with no math or anything, just the assertion that such was more likely. I’ve been meaning to get back to that thread, because I have a few probability equations I’ve been playing around with–but I think you need empirical evidence to justify your claim!

    I find it odd that you complain that I lack knowledge in a particular area, provide me with what you feel are compelling anecdotes and observations, which I read, ponder and then critique, and then continue to explain about my lack of expertise.

    Please be aware that I am not complaining. To complain is to whine about something one finds unfavorable. I mention your concession only because I think it should serve as a sort of “disclaimer” to those reading your dismissal of the claims. IOW, I bring it up because I think it warrants valid skepticism regarding one or more of your responses to the arguments here. Elsewhere, you define “radical skeptical arguments” as “parlor tricks that trade on the sheer possibility of being true as evidence that they should be taken seriously.” Okay, well… when considering first cause arguments, should we take the “sheer possibility” of your proffered cyclical universe seriously, or is it a philosophical parlor trick? Without a good explanation, this strikes me as problematic.

    Also, regarding the “compelling anecdotes and observations” part of your comment, two questions:

    1) Do you think the Lancet study can rightfully be relegated to “compelling anecdotes” status?

    2) Aren’t observations valid in science?

    However, we will debate this issue when you respond to my comments on those studies on previous threads.

    I’m willing to pick it up again, and of course either way we’ll get to it when the NDE pieces are ready [sorry for the lag this is a busy time of year for me]. However, I think the ball is in your court, to realize why I’m saying you critiqued a straw man dualism [i.e., that damaging the bulb changes expression of light is to be expected, and that the burden of production re Marianne has not been met]. If nothing else, at least we can meet on the common ground of understanding how brain physiology is not a problem for dualism. IOW, that damaging the brain alters expression of the personality is not an a priori successful argument against dualism [property or substance].

  103. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> You did, but I responded then–as I will now–that those critiques are insufficient, and one or more of them are geared towards a straw man dualism I do not subscribe to. Also, your dismissal of Marianne’s dreaming experience was weakly substantiated at best. You appealed to the probability by chance argument, yet with no math or anything, just the assertion that such was more likely. I’ve been meaning to get back to that thread, because I have a few probability equations I’ve been playing around with–but I think you need empirical evidence to justify your claim!

    First, establishing a claim often involves ruling out confounding factors. For example, whenever you read a controlled trial, there is always a table that describes the demographics of the two groups in the study, and they have to be as identical possible. Why? Because maybe gender, or age, or marital status, or employment history, or weight, or height, or whatever, may be affecting the results and so the researchers must be painstaking in their attention to details that may confound the result of the study. There was no such control in the studies that you cited, and thus it is possible that other factors were involved. I do not have to know that these other factors were, in fact, distorting the evidence, but only that they could be. The onus would then be on you to do another study that controls for these additional factors, if possible. That is how facts are established scientifically.

    Second, perhaps you need to clarify what kind of dualism you subscribe to. It was my understanding that you believe that the mind can exist independently of the brain and body, which was the whole point of your citation of NDE’s and OBE’s. They are examples of individuals experiencing conscious awareness apart from their bodies. Or am I wrong?

    Third, you always have to take chance into account. Why? Because you may think that you are observing a genuine causal pattern in nature, but it could be just a random event without any inherent pattern whatsoever. There are those who claim to be able to see patterns in the stock market, but when their good picks are examined, it turns out that they are just chance and not skill. Same thing with your NDE and OBE evidence. Just because someone with an NDE or OBE can describe a veridical event does not mean that they were actually outside their body and observing something. People have true dreams all the time, but no-one believes that dreams provide secret information about the world, especially when you consider the billions of human beings dreaming, it is inevitable that someone somewhere will have a dream that accurately describes something in the world, but it will be due to pure chance.

    >> Do you think the Lancet study can rightfully be relegated to “compelling anecdotes” status?

    No, the Lancet study is not an anecdote at all. It is a prospective cohort study, which is far better than an anecdote. However, it is not compelling, for the reasons that I outlined on that thread.

    Recall what I wrote would be a compelling study: “the studies that you cite have to show that individuals with NDE and OBE have acquired information during a time of brain death that they could not have possibly acquired while their brains were still active, either before their brains ceased to function or after they returned to functionality.” I would add that this would have to happen more often than chance when NDE and OBE cases are compiled and compared to predictions made by non-NDE and non-OBE subjects, for example.

    >> Aren’t observations valid in science?

    Of course they are, but not all observations are created equally. The observations in a case report cannot trump the observations in a controlled study. The latter has much less chance of chance, bias, distortion, or confounding factors affecting the observations, and thus must be prioritized.

    >> If nothing else, at least we can meet on the common ground of understanding how brain physiology is not a problem for dualism. IOW, that damaging the brain alters expression of the personality is not an a priori successful argument against dualism [property or substance].

    Sorry, but I disagree. Neuroscience is damaging for dualism, and devastatingly so. However, it is not damaging for Aristotelian hylomorphism, for example, but that is technically not dualism, and especially not the type of dualism that would support your conclusions derived from NDE’s and OBE’s. In fact, the form of the mind is inseparable from the arrangement and behavior of the matter (brain-body). It is impossible for the mind to exist apart from the body, according to this account.

  104. Matt says:

    This is in regards to religions without an afterlife.

    In addition to the Sadducees the rest of Judaism, to my understanding, is very iffy about the afterlife. The concept of salvation pre-conquest had to do with descendants living in Israel while individual life ends in the grave (sheol), maybe that can be seen as some sort of denial of death but I think that’s stretching. Without stats to back it up I’m going to guess most Jews today have a belief in the afterlife but that’s still 100s of years holding a nation together without a promise of a hereafter.

    Also I think that Confuscianism has no afterlife.

  105. cl says:

    Matt,

    Thanks for the input. I was going to add Confucianism to the list, but I didn’t think it will make a difference to mrs. neutrons garage, who seems to be pretty convinced.

    dguller,

    That is how facts are established scientifically.

    Thanks, but that was an unnecessary lecture that makes me question the extent to which you extend the benefit of the doubt.

    …you need to clarify what kind of dualism you subscribe to.

    I have: consciousness can exist without a material body.

    Third, you always have to take chance into account.

    I’m not denying that. I’m objecting to you pulling the chance card with no math whatsoever to back your assertion. As I said above and at least one other commenter agreed, you can’t be all about science one minute, then shoot from the hip the next.

    Just because someone with an NDE or OBE can describe a veridical event does not mean that they were actually outside their body and observing something.

    I’ve alluded to my disdain for broad generalizations elsewhere. We need to look at this on a case-by-case basis.

    People have true dreams all the time…

    Really? All the time? I think you’re exaggerating, and, once again, not a single equation accompanies your claim. Zero confirmatory evidence, whatsoever. According to your own standard, I ought to ascribe your claim a low chance of being true. Moreover, Marianne’s experiences are far above and beyond a simple dream that came true. If you want to persuade me, you need to reread them and provide a substantial rebuttal.

    …no-one believes that dreams provide secret information about the world…

    False, and even if that was true, you’ve got outstretched arms to the argument from incredulity there. There was a time when nobody believed in evolution, either.

    No, the Lancet study is not an anecdote at all. It is a prospective cohort study, which is far better than an anecdote.

    There, we agree.

    Neuroscience is damaging for dualism, and devastatingly so.

    I get that this is your opinion, but can you make your case instead of asserting it? You haven’t provided a lick of evidence or argument that supports this claim.

  106. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> I have: consciousness can exist without a material body.

    Okay. Then how did my critiques of your dualism end up treating your dualism as “straw man”? As far as I know, all of them operated under the assumption of exactly the dualism that you just mentioned.

    >> I’m not denying that. I’m objecting to you pulling the chance card with no math whatsoever to back your assertion. As I said above and at least one other commenter agreed, you can’t be all about science one minute, then shoot from the hip the next.

    Wow. All I said was that one always has to take chance into account. I never said that OBE’s and NDE’s WERE the result of chance, but only that they COULD be the result of chance, and thus this possibility has to be addressed in what empirical studies that you cite as supporting your hypothesis. I don’t think that this is particularly controversial, especially since you are “not denying that”. So, why do you object to something that you yourself agree with?

    >> I’ve alluded to my disdain for broad generalizations elsewhere. We need to look at this on a case-by-case basis.

    Agreed.

    >> Really? All the time? I think you’re exaggerating, and, once again, not a single equation accompanies your claim. Zero confirmatory evidence, whatsoever. According to your own standard, I ought to ascribe your claim a low chance of being true.

    Okay, fine. I exaggerated. I should have written “often” instead of all the time. And even if they were rare, then the fact that dreams themselves occur billions of times daily would mean that rare events would happen regularly, but because people tend to be unable to take base rates into consideration when evaluating probability, they would conclude that something miraculous happened. That’s all I meant. Again, other than my hyperbole, this is not controversial.

    >> Moreover, Marianne’s experiences are far above and beyond a simple dream that came true. If you want to persuade me, you need to reread them and provide a substantial rebuttal.

    I have explained why I do not find such anecdotes compelling in multiple posts. They fail to control for a number of factors that could result in an alternative explanation of what is happening. She did not record all the other times that Kalerian had said that she came to Marianne’s dreams, but actually had not. She did not record all the other times that Kalerian had claimed to go to someone’s dreams, but that person denied it. She did not control for the possibility that she misremembered the dream on the basis of compelling suggestion from Alek. After all, we know a great deal about false memories by now. There is so much going on that must be addressed, and it just has not been at this time. Note that I am not saying that any of this DID happen, but only that it COULD have happened, and the information that you provided makes it impossible to know the truth of the matter. Some follow-up study that controls for these factors would be necessary to get to the truth of the matter. I would be very interested to see the results of such a rigorously controlled study, because it has the potential to radically alter our current scientific paradigm.

    >> False, and even if that was true, you’ve got outstretched arms to the argument from incredulity there. There was a time when nobody believed in evolution, either.

    Okay, more hyperbole from me. Certainly there are people who do believe that dreams do communicate truths about the world. I was speaking rhetorically, not literally.

    >> I get that this is your opinion, but can you make your case instead of asserting it? You haven’t provided a lick of evidence or argument that supports this claim.

    I have provided evidence. I have provided examples of conscious experiences being exclusively the result of brain processes. I have provided the fact that our conscious experience is rooted in our bodies. I mean, there is a reason that our perception is from the perspective of where our eyes take information into our heads. I have provided information about brain dysfunction resulting in aberrations in our conscious experience.

    The only way to overturn this paradigm is to demonstrate that there is consciousness without the brain-body. That is why you spend so much time on these OBE’s and NDE’s. That is where the money is for you, but so far, there just isn’t enough evidence there to support prioritizing it over and above the mountains of neuroscientific studies out there.

  107. cl says:

    dguller,

    Then how did my critiques of your dualism end up treating your dualism as “straw man”?

    As I explained here, neural correlates to conscious experience are not problematic for my claim that consciousness can exist outside a body.

    So, why do you object to something that you yourself agree with?

    That should be your first sign that you’re reading me wrong: I wouldn’t object to something I agree with. It seemed to me you were implying that chance can account for Marianne’s experience, yet, no math, i.e., no science accompanied your claim. That’s why I was getting frustrated. It seemed you were using the same strategy Ayer used to rationalize away his own NDE: resorting to “X was probably true” without any sort of math or probability statement. If that’s not what you were saying, I jumped the gun and I apologize.

    Agreed [that we need to look at this on a case-by-case basis].

    Then by all means, I’m begging you to cease and desist with these blanket rebuttals, and I see that you’ve done so in Marianne’s case. Cheers to that. Let’s actually get somewhere!

    I have explained why I do not find such anecdotes compelling in multiple posts. They fail to control for a number of factors that could result in an alternative explanation of what is happening. She did not record all the other times that Kalerian had said that she came to Marianne’s dreams, but actually had not. She did not record all the other times that Kalerian had claimed to go to someone’s dreams, but that person denied it. She did not control for the possibility that she misremembered the dream on the basis of compelling suggestion from Alek. After all, we know a great deal about false memories by now. There is so much going on that must be addressed, and it just has not been at this time. Note that I am not saying that any of this DID happen, but only that it COULD have happened, and the information that you provided makes it impossible to know the truth of the matter. Some follow-up study that controls for these factors would be necessary to get to the truth of the matter. I would be very interested to see the results of such a rigorously controlled study, because it has the potential to radically alter our current scientific paradigm.

    Fair enough, but I still find your approach discouraging. It’s akin to exploiting any possible out you can find, whether it happened or not, and we all know confirmation bias often fuels that strategy. The whole, “beyond a reasonable doubt” approach maximizes error, but this is something I’ll address in a future post. OTOH, I understand and respect that you’re just trying to be rigorous, so… on we go, I suppose.

    Okay, more hyperbole from me. Certainly there are people who do believe that dreams do communicate truths about the world. I was speaking rhetorically, not literally.

    Fair enough.

    I have provided evidence. I have provided examples of conscious experiences being exclusively the result of brain processes. I have provided the fact that our conscious experience is rooted in our bodies. … I have provided information about brain dysfunction resulting in aberrations in our conscious experience.

    Let me repeat myself, again, perhaps a little more forcefully: NO, YOU HAVEN’T. You have provided evidence of neural correlates to conscious / physiological experience, and, again, this was never being denied, nor is it problematic for my claim that consciousness can exist outside a body. You simply assume the answer to the pertinent question.

    …just isn’t enough evidence there to support prioritizing it over and above the mountains of neuroscientific studies out there.

    False dichotomy. These studies prove one thing: neural correlates to consciousness. You continue to act as though this somehow “refutes” my claim, but it does not.

    So, can we consider the straw burnt, and can I have my lighter back? :)

  108. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> As I explained here, neural correlates to conscious experience are not problematic for my claim that consciousness can exist outside a body.

    How so? If there was no brain at all, then would there be consciousness? Even using your light bulb analogy, without the light bulb, there would be no light. And if consciousness was independent of the brain, then why is it that changing the brain can affect consciousness in radical ways? Why is it that as the brain develops, our conscious awareness also develops, and when the brain’s development is compromised, then our conscious awareness is compromised?

    >> Fair enough, but I still find your approach discouraging. It’s akin to exploiting any possible out you can find, whether it happened or not, and we all know confirmation bias often fuels that strategy. The whole, “beyond a reasonable doubt” approach maximizes error, but this is something I’ll address in a future post. OTOH, I understand and respect that you’re just trying to be rigorous, so… on we go, I suppose.

    This is how you engage with scientific inquiry. Read any research paper. This is what is done. Could a result have been due to there being more women than men? To control for this, there should be equal men and women. Could a result have been caused by socioeconomic status? To control for this, the socioeconomic status of the subjects should be roughly average.

    I mean, this is science, my friend. If there are alternative explanations for an observation, then they have to be explicitly addressed and controlled for, especially if methods like randomization is not possible, otherwise you just do not know whether the causal pattern that you observed is really there or just an artifact of confounders. You can be discouraged by this and feel that it is unfair somehow by putting onerous demands upon your claims, but (again) this is how science rolls, because truth is important enough to make sure that you have it right, and lazily resting on an observation without addressing possible distorting factors is just not good enough.

    >> Let me repeat myself, again, perhaps a little more forcefully: NO, YOU HAVEN’T. You have provided evidence of neural correlates to conscious / physiological experience, and, again, this was never being denied, nor is it problematic for my claim that consciousness can exist outside a body. You simply assume the answer to the pertinent question.

    I have presented multiple examples of conscious states being the result of changing brain states (e.g. phantom limbs, religious experiences secondary to temporal lobe seizures, the blind spot in our vision, psychotropic drugs, radical personality changes after frontal lobe injury, and so on). Unless there are counter-examples of conscious states not being the result of brain states, then I feel comfortable inferring that consciousness is a byproduct of the brain-body-world interaction. I mean, unless you can show that your NDE’s, OBE’s and so on provide compelling evidence for consciousness without a body that is more secure than the mountain of evidence that consciousness depends on upon the brain, then the case is shut.

    Here is another way to look at it. Some people use homeopathy as a treatment for various illnesses. They use a homeopathic remedy, and they feel better afterwards. Do the homeopathic remedies really work? Well, it turns out that rigorous randomized controlled trials have been performed, and homeopathy performs no better than placebo, and thus can be concluded to not work at all.

    Your style of arguing is akin to responding to the above paragraph by saying, “But when I use homeopathy, it works! I recall using homeopathy on a few occasions, and I felt better afterwards!” And all I can say is that, “All you experienced was that you took the homeopathic remedy, and then felt better. However, this feeling better afterwards could have been due to a number of factors that you are unable to appreciate, such as regression to the mean, the Hawthorne effect, the natural course of your illness, the placebo effect, and so on.” In other words, there are a number of other possibilities that could explain your experience, and that quality studies have looked at them, controlled for them, and found that the treatment is no better than placebo.

    The point is that quality of evidence matters, and higher quality evidence trumps lower quality evidence. I have a mountain of neuroscientific studies of both healthy and unwell subjects that show that without the brain, there is no mind, and you have anecdotes and one prospective study. I’m afraid it just isn’t any contest, no matter how logically possible your hypothesis is. It is also logically possible that homeopathy works despite all the controlled trials. The problem is that it is highly unlikely, and it is more likely that it is just placebo. Again, this is just probability, and not absolute certainty, and it just isn’t good enough to say that something is logically possible, because if that is your sole criteria, then the numbers of possible hypotheses are endless.

  109. cl says:

    dguller,

    Even using your light bulb analogy, without the light bulb, there would be no light.

    Without the bulb, there would be no expression of light. We would still have electricity coming to the physical interface [the bulb] and trying to express itself correctly. Besides, the analogy is not meant to prove the claim, but rather to assist it’s conceptualization.

    …if consciousness was independent of the brain, then why is it that changing the brain can affect consciousness in radical ways?

    Really man? Again? I’ve already answered this. It’s as if you’re not even trying to understand what I’m saying. Still, I’ll try another wording: changing the brain can affect consciousness because the brain is the physical interface between consciousness–which I allege is immaterial–and the human body, which is material. Therefore, one would expect perturbations in either part to affect the synchronous expression of the whole. As I said in the AGITM series, you can disrupt the expression of light by either damaging the bulb, or interrupting the circuit.

    This is how you engage with scientific inquiry. …

    Your entire bit after that missed my point entirely, aside from coming across as unnecessarily condescending. As if I haven’t read research papers, or familiarized myself with accepted protocol. The nerve! This is what I’m talking about by not paying charity.

    Well, it turns out that rigorous randomized controlled trials have been performed, and homeopathy performs no better than placebo, and thus can be concluded to not work at all.

    Yeah? How do I know that this is one of the true conclusions supported by “rigorous randomized controlled trials,” as opposed to one of the false conclusions supported by “rigorous randomized controlled trials?” Doubt that false conclusions have been supported by rigorous randomized controlled trials, do you? Then, more research is needed on your part.

    Your style of arguing is akin to responding to the above paragraph by saying, “But when I use homeopathy, it works! I recall using homeopathy on a few occasions, and I felt better afterwards!”

    False, and now you’re being so disingenuous and paying such short thrift to what I’ve actually said that I give up, at least for awhile. Honestly, dguller, you’re off your rocker here, this analogy is so Godforsakingly horrible. Your homeopathy example is purely subjective and contains no appeal to veridical experiences or controlled studies, to cite just one major flaw.

    I have presented multiple examples of conscious states being the result of changing brain states (e.g. phantom limbs, religious experiences secondary to temporal lobe seizures, the blind spot in our vision, psychotropic drugs, radical personality changes after frontal lobe injury, and so on).

    Good for you. Keep repeating yourself. I won’t.

    …unless you can show that your NDE’s, OBE’s and so on provide compelling evidence for consciousness without a body that is more secure than the mountain of evidence that consciousness depends on upon the brain, then the case is shut.

    The case for neural correlates to consciousness *IS* shut. Don’t you get that yet?

    …it just isn’t good enough to say that something is logically possible, because if that is your sole criteria, then the numbers of possible hypotheses are endless.

    Yes, exactly, yet here you are doing just that, aren’t you? I roll my eyes every time you appeal to the mere possibility of alternative explanations accounting for the data, yet fail to make your case. You have to explain why your alternative explanation is more likely, not simply assert the possibility that some other explanation might be able to account for the results. In short, you need to take your own advice and apply it to specific cases instead of drawing a line in the sand and challenging me to drag you over it.

    Like I said, break time for me. I suspect I’m up against bias too strong to overcome. Hopefully when / if we continue, you can pay my statements the same charity I’ve paid yours. Oh, don’t hold your breath for my NDE posts, either [not that I thought you were]. Even if Parnia’s rigorous, randomized, controlled AWARE study comes back overwhelmingly positive, it would take years for even one research team to replicate the results even one time, so… I don’t really see the point at this point. The standard of proof you are looking for will not be available for many years, if at all, and I certainly won’t be able to convince you in a series of blog posts. You’re going to have to wait a long time for the men and women in white coats to grant you permission to believe here.

    I welcome your input on the other issues around here, but, you’ve burnt me out, and a big part of that is the lack of charity, which I honestly suspect is a subconscious defense mechanism. Either that or you’re just rushing some of these responses.

    No hard feelings, whatsoever. Tip your next beverage of choice towards me, and I’ll do the same. If anything positive came of my experiences at Debunking Christianity, it’s you.

  110. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Really man? Again? I’ve already answered this. It’s as if you’re not even trying to understand what I’m saying.

    Sorry. I’m having a number of conversations on your website, and it’s hard to keep everyone’s positions in order.

    >> Still, I’ll try another wording: changing the brain can affect consciousness because the brain is the physical interface between consciousness–which I allege is immaterial–and the human body, which is material. Therefore, one would expect perturbations in either part to affect the synchronous expression of the whole. As I said in the AGITM series, you can disrupt the expression of light by either damaging the bulb, or interrupting the circuit

    But you are not a dualist, right? You have an immaterial conscious mind that interacts with the brain in order to affect the body. I think that you are stuck with all the paradoxes of dualism in that case, the most important being the inexplicability for how the conscious mind actually interacts with the brain and body.

    >> Your entire bit after that missed my point entirely, aside from coming across as unnecessarily condescending. As if I haven’t read research papers, or familiarized myself with accepted protocol. The nerve! This is what I’m talking about by not paying charity.

    Okay. Then explain to me what you meant by saying “I still find your approach discouraging. It’s akin to exploiting any possible out you can find, whether it happened or not, and we all know confirmation bias often fuels that strategy.” You cannot say that you are discouraged by my approach, dismissing it as just finding weasel room via possibility, and then say that you have an understanding of scientific research. Science IS all about finding confounding factors that may possibly be distorting the observations. Either you accept that this is necessary to uncover truth, or you do not.

    >> Yeah? How do I know that this is one of the true conclusions supported by “rigorous randomized controlled trials,” as opposed to one of the false conclusions supported by “rigorous randomized controlled trials?” Doubt that false conclusions have been supported by rigorous randomized controlled trials, do you? Then, more research is needed on your part.

    First, what is the alternative that you propose to better understand the empirical world? Again, the scientific method does not infallibly and invariably uncover true causal relationships in the world. It is fallible and is often erroneous in its conclusions, but it is the best method we have to understand the world. If you disagree with its use, then please provide a viable alternative. We have been over this before. I guess I’m not the only one who forgets some of our previous conversations, eh? ;)

    Second, this is what it means to follow epistemic standards. You follow the best evidence that you currently have when you have to make a decision about something, even though it is not ideal or perfect. If you want to wait to have perfect knowledge before you make a decision about whether to take an antibiotic, for example, then go for it. Again, I would like to know what your epistemic standards are when you must make a decision on the basis of evidence. Should we ignore evidence altogether? Should we follow the best evidence we have, knowing that it falls short of certainty? Should we follow the worst evidence we have? Help me out.

    >> False, and now you’re being so disingenuous and paying such short thrift to what I’ve actually said that I give up, at least for awhile. Honestly, dguller, you’re off your rocker here, this analogy is so Godforsakingly horrible. Your homeopathy example is purely subjective and contains no appeal to veridical experiences or controlled studies, to cite just one major flaw.

    I am not off my rocker. We are discussing the possibility of consciousness being independent of the brain. I am providing evidence that changing the brain changes consciousness in the form of mountains of empirical evidence and experiments. You are providing evidence that consciousness exists independently of the brain with anecdotal case reports and a prospective study.

    If you buy into the principle that one should follow the best evidence available, then you have to admit that my evidence is superior to yours. To prefer your evidence to mine is akin to a believer in homeopathy rejecting controlled trials for their anecdotal observations. That was the point I was trying to make. I hope this clears things up.

    Oh, and my homeopathy example is veridical. The believer will say that they DID get better after the homeopathic remedy. That is all the veridical experience they need, they will say.

    >> Yes, exactly, yet here you are doing just that, aren’t you? I roll my eyes every time you appeal to the mere possibility of alternative explanations accounting for the data, yet fail to make your case. You have to explain why your alternative explanation is more likely, not simply assert the possibility that some other explanation might be able to account for the results. In short, you need to take your own advice and apply it to specific cases instead of drawing a line in the sand and challenging me to drag you over it.

    Oh Lord. You really do not understand science at all. I am not coming up with just logically possible hypotheses, but real empirical possibilities.

    It is an empirical fact that people have shoddy memories, which can be influenced by subtle changes to their environment. It is an empirical fact that people confuse chance events with deeper meaning because they do not understand probability. It is an empirical fact that people tend to ignore negative evidence as part of their confirmation bias. It is an empirical fact that the brain continues to gather information even when we are unconscious. It is an empirical fact that people can misperceive what is right in front of them, and have no idea what they missed.

    None of this is just logical possibility, but these are empirical facts that must be ruled out in your studies. If they do not rule them out by virtue of their methodology, then they cannot be taken to have established what you claim. You claim to understand and agree with this method, but then complain endlessly that it is rigged or unfair. Either you accept that your studies have to rule out alternative possible explanations – not just philosophical fairy tales or logical possibilities – or reject this as necessary, and then good luck to you with your use of anecdotes. You might as well not buy a car that statistically is of high quality and safety, because your friend bought the car and it was a lemon.

    >> Oh, don’t hold your breath for my NDE posts, either [not that I thought you were]. Even if Parnia’s rigorous, randomized, controlled AWARE study comes back overwhelmingly positive, it would take years for even one research team to replicate the results even one time, so… I don’t really see the point at this point. The standard of proof you are looking for will not be available for many years, if at all, and I certainly won’t be able to convince you in a series of blog posts. You’re going to have to wait a long time for the men and women in white coats to grant you permission to believe here.

    Fine, I’ll wait. That’s part of science, too. No immediate gratification, just long painstaking study with uncertain outcomes. God, I love it.

    >> I welcome your input on the other issues around here, but, you’ve burnt me out, and a big part of that is the lack of charity, which I honestly suspect is a subconscious defense mechanism. Either that or you’re just rushing some of these responses.

    So now you’re psychoanalyzing me? Wow. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, y’know? ;)

  111. cl says:

    I suppose I should answer your last comment, lest I be accused.

    You cannot say that you are discouraged by my approach, dismissing it as just finding weasel room via possibility, and then say that you have an understanding of scientific research. Science IS all about finding confounding factors that may possibly be distorting the observations. Either you accept that this is necessary to uncover truth, or you do not.

    Confounding Factors: “Epidemiological studies search for the causes of diseases, based on associations with various risk factors that are measured in the study. In addition to the exposures that the study is investigating, there may be other factors that is associated with the exposure and independently affects the risk of developing the disease. If the prevalence of these other factors differ between groups being compared, they will distort the observed association between the disease and exposure under study. These distorting factors are called confounding factors or variables. A hypothetical example would be a study of coffee drinking and lung cancer. If coffee drinkers were also more likely to be cigarette smokers, and the study measured coffee drinking but not smoking, the results may seem to show that coffee drinking increases the risk of lung cancer, which may not be true. However, if a confounding factor (in this example, smoking) is recognized, adjustments can be made in the study design or data analysis so that the factor does not confound the study results.”

    I am providing evidence that changing the brain changes consciousness in the form of mountains of empirical evidence and experiments. You are providing evidence that consciousness exists independently of the brain with anecdotal case reports and a prospective study. … If you buy into the principle that one should follow the best evidence available, then you have to admit that my evidence is superior to yours.

    You’re usurping the evidence again. You are completely ignoring everything you write about confounders in order to score points for your preferred worldview of materialism. The evidence that you claim is “yours” also happens to be “mine,” which is why we both need something more if we wish to make our case. I’ve at least made attempts at this “something more.” You’ve done nothing but draw lines in the sand, express doubt, and denigrate. If that passes for “superior epistemic standards” in your book, well… I guess we shop at different bookstores.

    Second, this is what it means to follow epistemic standards. You follow the best evidence that you currently have when you have to make a decision about something, even though it is not ideal or perfect.

    That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve looked at all the evidence I currently have available to me, and I’ve decided that materialism cannot account for the totality of evidence.

    You might as well not buy a car that statistically is of high quality and safety, because your friend bought the car and it was a lemon.

    In such a case, I would trust my friend’s experience over so-called “statistics.” I guess I’m an unscientific dummy.

    Fine, I’ll wait.

    Please, do, because this endless series of needless, condescending lectures was old in February. It’s April!

  112. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> You’re usurping the evidence again. You are completely ignoring everything you write about confounders in order to score points for your preferred worldview of materialism. The evidence that you claim is “yours” also happens to be “mine,” which is why we both need something more if we wish to make our case. I’ve at least made attempts at this “something more.” You’ve done nothing but draw lines in the sand, express doubt, and denigrate. If that passes for “superior epistemic standards” in your book, well… I guess we shop at different bookstores.

    No, I have done what any scientist does when they read a study. They CRITICALLY APPRAISE it. They look closely for any potential flaws that could compromise the ultimate findings. You are the one who is ignoring the obvious flaws in the evidence that you cite, and are casting aspersions upon those who do basic diligence upon reading a research study. If we both have theories that account for certain phenomena, but you claim something above and beyond the phenomena, i.e. disembodied cognition, then you need something more than case reports and a single prospective study, because they are INCONCLUSIVE. You cannot CONCLUDE anything from INCONCLUSIVE evidence. Is that really something hard to understand? Is this really me DENIGRATING anything?

    >> That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’ve looked at all the evidence I currently have available to me, and I’ve decided that materialism cannot account for the totality of evidence.

    Yes, you have looked at all the evidence, but you have failed to stratify the evidence according to quality. As such, you have elevated poor quality studies and treat them as quality when they should be treated as interesting in terms of planning future studies, but not conclusive or definitive in their own right.

    >> In such a case, I would trust my friend’s experience over so-called “statistics.” I guess I’m an unscientific dummy.

    Then you should also believe that treatment X was effective for medical condition M because a few people got better after taking X. However, you yourself stated that you would NOT do this, because you know that one must look to controlled studies to determine whether X is effective for M, and that there are multiple CONFOUNDING FACTORS that could explain some people getting better after taking X that have nothing to do with X at all. And yes, if you believe that anecdotal data trumps controlled studies, then you are “an unscientific dummy”, because you have taken away from yourself the best tool for determining causal patterns in the world, and the fact that you can even say such things just proves my point that you fundamentally do not understand science at all. Despite your numerous protestations, this fact remains true.

    >> Please, do, because this endless series of needless, condescending lectures was old in February. It’s April!

    Oh, so now there’s an expiring date on truth? And if definitive and conclusive studies have not been done on the existence of disembodied minds, then why do you argue so passionately for their existence when the evidence is inconclusive?

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