If the Aristotelian argument for a purely actual Being (which I critiqued in my previous post) is the backbone of Feser’s five proofs of God’s existence, the Thomistic proof is the beating heart, as it gets to the very core of what God is: Pure Existence itself, according to philosophy Professor Edward Feser. Today, I’m going to argue that this notion of God is utterly nonsensical. But it is not merely the argument’s conclusion which is flawed: the Thomistic proof also rests on shaky foundations, as the real distinction it posits between a finite thing’s essence and its existence is a highly dubious one: the main argument cited in support of it actually points to a matter-form distinction, instead. The second argument for a real distinction between a thing’s essence and its existence establishes nothing of the sort: all it shows is that whatever causes a thing to have existence also causes the nature or essence of that thing. A third argument for the essence-existence distinction illicitly assumes that the term “existence” names a single perfection, which is inherently simple and unlimited.
In addition, Feser’s Thomistic proof trades on an equivocation between the notion of a Being whose essence is identical to its own existence and that of a Being whose essence is Pure Existence – an equivocation which is grounded in the background metaphysical assumption that the concept of “existence” is a simple and unlimited one. In reality, as I shall explain below, the concept of “existence” is neither simple nor complex, neither limited nor unlimited, but rather, indefinite – which is one reason why the attempt to characterize God as Pure Existence, or Being itself, is doomed at the outset. Finally, any attempt to construe God as some sort of activity – whether it be Pure Existence, Pure Actuality, or Thought thinking Itself, or Love loving Himself – is radically mistaken, either because it reifies an abstraction (Existence exists, Actuality acts) or because it generates an infinite regress (Love loves love loves love…). In plain English: We need to think of God first and foremost as a noun, and not merely as a verb – in other words, as an Agent, rather than simply as an unlimited act of thought or love or “be-ing.”
Despite its flawed conception of God, Feser’s Thomistic proof is not without its merits:Continue reading →
In today’s post, I’m going to chop down two of Professor Feser’s proofs for God’s existence at the roots: namely, his first proof (in which Feser argues for the existence of a purely actual Being) and his second proof (in which he endeavors to show that an absolutely simple Being exists). Among Feser’s five proofs, his first proof has a special preeminence, as Feser uses it to deduce other attributes of the purely actual Being – its unity, immutability, eternity, immateriality, incorporeality, perfection, goodness, omnipotence and omniscience – which, taken together, warrant it being called “God.” Feser’s second, third, fourth and fifth proofs borrow from the arguments developed in Feser’s first proof, when deducing these same attributes, so if it turns out that the arguments Feser puts forward for these attributes rest on flawed assumptions (as I’ll show they do), then all five of Feser’s proofs of God will be flawed, in their conclusions at least.
In this post, I’ll be looking at chapter 6 of Dr. Edward Feser’s book, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, which deals with the nature of God, and I’ll be evaluating his arguments which purport to show that God is omnipotent, omniscient, good, capable of free choice and loving. I decided to begin by examining these “personal” attributes, because they’re the ones that really interest most people. Without these Divine attributes, any argument establishing that there exists an uncaused, fully actualized, necessary being, devoid of parts, whose essence is identical with its own act of existence could not be fairly called an argument for the existence of God, as such: it’s merely an argument for an Uncaused Cause.
My aim here is to evaluate Dr. Feser’s arguments in chapter 6, critically but fairly, in order to establish what they can tell us about God’s personal attributes, assuming that there exists an Uncaused Cause of the sort argued for by Feser in chapters 1 to 5 of his book. As we’ll see, Feser’s arguments for a personal Deity don’t prove much. All they establish is the following: (a) that everything depends on the Uncaused Cause, but not that it is capable of doing absolutely anything (or even anything which is consistent with its nature); (b) that universals exist in the Mind of the Uncaused Cause (a conclusion Feser argues for in chapter 3), but not that it actually knows any true propositions, let alone all true propositions; (c) that the Uncaused Cause is one-of-a-kind and free from defects, but not that it is benevolently disposed towards us; (d) that the Uncaused Cause is self-fulfilled and complete as a Being, but not that it is capable of free choice; and (e) that the Uncaused Cause brings about whatever is necessary for things to exist – whether it does so intentionally is another matter, however – but not that it cares about what happens to those things in the future, let alone that it cares about our future. After reviewing each section, I’ll discuss how Feser’s arguments could be strengthened, to make them more powerful. In addition, I’m going to throw in a bonus gift: I intend to show that Feser’s strong doctrine of the Purely Actual Actualizer (which he argues for in chapter 1) is false and untenable, before arguing that there is no need for classical theists to hold it: all they need to maintain is that God’s existence involves no actualization of potential (even if His activities do).
Today, I’m going to start looking at chapter 5 of Dr. Edward Feser’s Five Proofs of the Existence of God. I thought I’d begin with Feser’s take on Divine foreknowledge and free will. To cut a long story short: Feser is a predestinationist who professes at the same time to believe that humans possess genuine free will. In order to reconcile these beliefs, he proposes an analogy which at first seems plausible, but which ultimately collapses because it completely ignores our personal relationship with our Creator. To make matters worse, Feser holds that God knows everything that happens in this world, non-propositionally. He proposes another analogy to explain how this might be, but at most, it merely explains how God might know creatures; it fails to explain how He knows what they get up to. I conclude that not only is Feser’s account of God’s foreknowledge incoherent, but his account of how God knows any fact whatsoever about the world is also unintelligible.
This will be a much shorter post than my last one, so there’s no need to crack open a beer (at least, not yet). I’ll explain the picture of Mia Farrow shortly.
On Thursday, I received two books which I had previously ordered from Amazon: Five Proofs of the Existence of God by philosopher Edward Feser, and The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry by Michael Alter, a Jewish author who claims to have discovered no less than 120 contradictions in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection. I’ve also ordered Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?: A Surgeon-Scientist Examines the Evidence by Dr. Thomas Miller (a surgeon who is also the author of more than 200 scientific papers and the editor of three textbooks on surgical physiology), but that book hasn’t arrived yet. I’m going to blog about all of these books, but today, I’d like to begin by discussing Dr. Edward Feser’s book. Just to be clear: Feser’s five proofs are not the same as St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways. They are taken from the writings of five different philosophers: Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas and Leibniz. Feser refers to the arguments put forward by Aristotle and Plotinus, in particular, as cosmological or “First Cause” arguments, although Aquinas also advances a First Cause argument of his own. Leibniz argues to the existence of an ultimate explanation for the existence of contingent beings, using the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Augustine’s argument is the odd one out: it seeks to establish the existence of a necessarily existing intellect which grasps all abstract objects.
Feser’s book has received glowing reviews from four professors of philosophy, one of whom (J.P. Moreland) described it as “a must-read for anyone interested in natural theology.” Over at Secular Outpost, Bradley Bowen seems to agree. He concludes Part 1 of his ongoing review of Feser’s book as follows:
I don’t know at this point whether any of Feser’s arguments are good or bad, valid or invalid, sound or unsound, but even if they are all weak and defective arguments, I am still very grateful to Feser for providing a case for God that meets some basic intellectual requirements for making a reasonable case for God. Unlike the cases for God by Geisler and Kreeft, Feser’s case is NOT a Steaming Pile of Crap, and it is a great pleasure to consider a case that at least has the potential to be a reasonable and intelligent case for God.
Instead of reviewing Feser’s book from start to finish, I’m going to begin with the final chapter, where Feser refutes eighteen common objections to the arguments he presents for the existence of God. Philosopher Stephen T. Davis described this chapter as a gem, adding that “it alone is worth the price of this excellent work.” I’m going to enumerate these objections and quote some very brief excerpts from Feser’s replies. As we’ll see, most of these objections are puerile and idiotic, but a couple of them are not so ridiculous, and warrant further examination. Continue reading →
This is not intended as a post about President Trump’s recently reported remarks about “s**thole countries,” but about what a Catholic cardinal, Timothy Dolan, said in response to those remarks. The Cardinal tweeted that Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would remind people that “no country is a ‘hole,’ no person unworthy of respect.” In this post, I’d like to explain why I think the Cardinal is perfectly right on the second point and absolutely wrong on the first. I’m also going to try to define a “hole,” and make a tentative list of countries which I think would qualify, at the present time. Readers are welcome to disagree, of course.
NOTE: Some readers have asked me for a transcript of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar. Good news: I have now completed the transcript (see below). Additionally, the points Dr. McGrew raised in her talk can be found here. In her talk, Dr. McGrew was responding to an e-interview given by Dr. Michael Licona, a leading Christian apologist for the Resurrection, who is an Associate Professor of theology at Houston Baptist University, and who is also the author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017). In his book, Dr. Licona defended the historicity of the Gospels but endorsed the view, common among New Testament scholars, that the authors of the Gospels would have considered it perfectly legitimate to deliberately alter historical details of events, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, because back in those days, writers of biographies were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. Dr. McGrew is a conservative Christian writer, but not a Biblical inerrantist. Nevertheless, she felt that by acknowledging the existence of what she terms “fictionalizing compositional devices” in the Gospels, Dr. Licona had conceded too much to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman (whom Licona debated on the reliability of the New Testament back in 2016), and that such a concession undermined his whole case for the historicity of the Resurrection. For this reason, Dr. Grew decided to respond to Dr. Licona by presenting the webinar shown below.
Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar is titled, “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them.” Her host for the webinar was Jonathan McLatchie, an Intelligent Design proponent who is currently a Ph.D. student in cell biology and a contributor to various apologetics websites, as well as being the founder of the Apologetics Academy. I’m happy to report that Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Webinar is now available on Youtube. I commend it to viewers, and I can promise you it’s a very thought-provoking presentation, whatever your theological perspective may be. Comments are welcome from people of all faiths and none.
For the benefit of those readers who don’t know her, Dr. Lydia McGrew has a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University (1995), but nearly all of her published work has been in analytic philosophy, with specialties in epistemology and probability theory. Her curriculum vitae is here. Dr. McGrew is also a home schooling mother living in the Midwest, who is married to the philosopher, Dr. Timothy McGrew, Chair and Professor of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University (C.V. here).
UPDATE: I’ve now transcribed the whole of Dr. McGrew’s talk, which can be viewed below. I invite readers to peruse it at their leisure. Comments are welcome.
Professor Michael Egnor has kindly responded to my post, The craniopagus twins from British Columbia: A test case for Thomistic dualism (TSZ, November 25, 2017), in a new post, titled, The Craniopagus Twins and Thomistic Dualism (ENV, December 10, 2017). In my earlier post, I had argued that “the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation.” In his response, Professor Michael Egnor gets to the heart of our disagreement and explains why he does not think that the experiment I proposed would serve to test whether dualism or materialism is true. Egnor proposes another test of his own, relating to mathematical abilities. In this post, I’d like to explain why I object to Professor Egnor’s test, before putting forward another one, very similar to it, which I believe could experimentally resolve whether dualism or materialism is true. Finally, I offer a few reflections on the philosophical argument which, Egnor contends, makes materialism logically untenable.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a short post titled, Adam and Eve still a possibility?, in which I drew readers’ attention to the work of geneticist Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, who thinks it’s still theoretically possible that the human race once passed through a short, sharp population bottleneck of just two individuals, followed by exponential population growth. Biologist Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, has recently written a two-part reply to Buggs, titled, Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1) and A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 2). But in a comment in response to a query of mine, Professor Venema conceded that at the present time, science cannot rule out Dr. Ann Gauger’s hypothesis that there was a severe bottleneck around two million years ago, with the emergence of Homo erectus, whom she identifies as the first true human being. When I pressed Professor Venema, saying, “In plain English, what you’re saying is that science can’t rule out an original couple, if they lived more than 1 million years ago,” he replied:
I guess it depends on how reliable you think PSMC methods are as they approach this time frame. The data looks smooth to me out to around 1.5 MYA or so, plus or minus, but the method loses its power as you go back further and further.
The story of Krista and Tatiana Hogan, 11-year-old twin girls born in Vancouver, British Columbia, who are joined at the top, back, and sides of their heads, will doubtless be familiar to most readers. Here’s a documentary that was made about the twins:
Over at Uncommon Descent and Evolution News and Views, Denyse O’Leary, David Klinghoffer and Michael Egnor (who is a Professor of Neurosurgery at State University of New York, Stony Brook), have argued that the Hogan twins constitute a living refutation of the materialistic notion that mind and brain are one and the same thing. Each twin has her own distinct mind and personality, despite the fact that they share parts of their brains.
In this post, I’m going to argue that while these three authors are perfectly correct in insisting that each twin does indeed possess a mind of her own, their claim that this fact refutes materialism is profoundly mistaken. On the contrary, I will argue that the twins’ ability to share thoughts without speaking weakens the case for Thomistic dualism, and lends support to a subtle variety of materialism which incorporates top-down causation. And on this point, the mother of the Hogan twins would probably agree with me: she sends her children to a school run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which teaches that the human brain is the seat of thought, language, creativity, morality and even our consciousness of God. Could this Christian version of materialism be correct, after all?
Over at Biologos, an evangelical theologian named Robin Parry has written a hit piece titled, God is More Than an Intelligent Designer. Now, I have no problem with someone criticizing Intelligent Design. But I do have a problem when someone criticizes it without getting out of his armchair and taking a look at the evidence for and against it. My own position is that Intelligent Design theory should be evaluated on strictly scientific grounds. Parry, unfortunately, criticizes it for all the wrong reasons, which can be summed up in a single, dismissive phrase: “Your God is too small.”
Is Parry right? Let’s have a look at his arguments.
If you were going to argue that any species on Earth is the product of intelligent design, then humans would be a pretty logical choice – after all, we’re the only species that’s capable of knowing whether we’re designed, and if so, of inquiring as to who our Designer might be. That makes us a pretty remarkable species. In a recent unsigned post, Evolution News and Views attempts to summarize the evidence for humans as products of intelligent design. Unfortunately, it does such a poor job that it ends up shooting itself in the foot. In this post, I’d like to highlight the questions which any halfway-decent case for humans being design products needs to address, and suggest a few answers.
Briefly, the questions which any theory positing that humans were designed needs to answer are as follows:
(1) What exactly are human beings?
(2) Which physical and mental attributes of human beings can we confidently say were designed?
(3) Did these attributes all appear at once? And if not, what are the implications for human equality?
(4) Which hominins in the fossil record qualify as human?
(5) Can we identify the point in the fossil record at which human beings appear, as products of intelligent design? If not, why not?
Geneticist Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, has just written an intriguing article in Nature: Ecology and Evolution (28 October 2017), titled, Adam and Eve: a tested hypothesis? Comments on a recent book chapter. It appears that Buggs is unpersuaded that science has ruled out Adam and Eve. He thinks it’s still theoretically possible that the human race once passed through a short, sharp population bottleneck of just two individuals, followed by exponential population growth. Buggs disagrees with the assessment of Christian biologist Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, who forthrightly declared in chapter 3 of his 2017 book Adam and the Genome that it is scientifically impossible that the human lineage ever passed through a bottleneck of two, and we can be as certain about this fact as we are about the truth of heliocentrism.
Here’s Buggs’ take-down of the three methods employed by Venema to discredit the possibility of a single primal couple. As a layperson, I have to say it looks as if Buggs has done his homework:
A 35-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years has shown signs of consciousness after receiving a pioneering therapy involving nerve stimulation.
The treatment challenges a widely-accepted view that there is no prospect of a patient recovering consciousness if they have been in a vegetative state for longer than 12 months.
Since sustaining severe brain injuries in a car accident, the man had been completely unaware of the world around him. But when fitted with an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve, which travels into the brain stem, the man appeared to flicker back into a state of consciousness.
He started to track objects with his eyes, began to stay awake while being read a story and his eyes opened wide in surprise when the examiner suddenly moved her face close to the patient’s. He could even respond to some simple requests, such as turning his head when asked – although this took about a minute…
SPECIAL UPDATE: The priest has answered my queries by email, and the story is even more horrifying than I had imagined. Readers can find out the latest news by scrolling to the end of my OP.
STOP PRESS: I have just been sent a copy (which I won’t be publishing, for privacy-related reasons) of the complaint filed by the wife. The priest’s story is true. Readers can find out more in the comments section.
People have various opinions about end-of-life decisions. The issues are complex, and reasonable-sounding arguments can be marshaled on both sides. However, few people would deny that a doctor who not only refuses to treat a patient with a life-threatening condition, despite his and his family’s explicit request for treatment, but administers a lethal dose of a drug to the patient, with the intention of hastening the patient’s death, is morally guilty of murder. Recently, I read of a case in Canada which might fit this description, if the account given is accurate. In this case, the account comes from the blog of a Catholic priest, Fr. X, a parish priest in Quebec. Catholic writer and social activist George Weigel, author of a best-selling biography of Pope John Paul II who also happens to be a member of Fr. X’s congregation during the summer months, has written an article in the religious journal First Things which discusses the case (It’s a Culture War, Stupid, August 22, 2017). Here’s an excerpt from Fr. X’s blog entry. I would invite readers to weigh in with their opinions on whether this case is morally equivalent to murder:
I’m not going to write about the tragic events in Charlottesville in this post. I think the VICE News video says it all. It should be obvious that in this particular march, the violence that occurred came overwhelmingly from the alt-right, many of whom came to the march armed with pepper spray and hidden assault weapons (see the end of the video), although I note for the record that a few protesters on the Left did as well. I am frankly mystified by President Trump’s reluctance to condemn the white nationalist marchers en masse and by his bizarre assertion that there were some people “protesting very quietly” at the torchlight march on the night before the rally (which has been debunked by Paul Blake of the BBC), but I doubt whether racism is his underlying motivation: after all, the marchers shouted Nazi slogans against the Jews, and the President’s own daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. Perhaps the man is morally timid, and reluctant to condemn even bad people who might vote for him. Or perhaps the President views racism as self-evidently absurd, requiring no further comment in the 21st century. Or perhaps he fears that by demonizing the 500 or so marchers who took part in the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, he will only succeed in making them look more appealing to alienated juvenile delinquents, thereby consolidating their base of support. I don’t know. In any case, this is not a post about Trump, whose White House seems to be facing a meltdown of its own making.
Instead, what I’d like to write about in this post is the question of what Americans should do with the 718 monuments and statues (709, according to the BBC) situated on public property throughout the country, mostly in the South, although there are also a few in former Union States, including Iowa, Kansas and Pennyslvania, and there’s even one in Massachusetts. The Southern Poverty Law Center has published a paper calling for their removal, and a summary of their responses to counter-arguments can be found on pages 38 to 39.
I’d like to begin by asking viewers how they feel about this video, showing a statue of a Confederate soldier being pulled down in Durham, North Carolina, on Monday (courtesy of World Viral Videos):
Over at Evolution News, mathematician Granville Sewell has written an article titled, From Barren Planet to Civilization — Four Simple Steps (July 27, 2017). My intention in writing this post is not to critique Dr. Sewell’s latest argument, but to clarify its premises. Sewell’s own comments reveal that it is ultimately a philosophical argument, rather than a scientific one. Although I agree with Dr. Sewell’s key intuition, I contend that his argument hinges on two assumptions: that unguided processes have a snowball’s chance in hell of giving rise to factories, and that mental states do not supervene upon physical states.
The bulk of this post will be devoted to what Dr. Sewell has written in his latest Evolution Newsarticle. At the end of my post, I will briefly comment on the thermodynamic arguments in his accompanying video, which I see as peripheral to Sewell’s main point.
Recently, Evolution News and Views published an article titled, The Human-Ape Missing Link — Still Missing (July 18, 2017), which attempts to cast doubt on human evolution by quoting from a recent BBC article which highlighted the massive uncertainties that still remain over the identity, appearance and date of the last common ancestor (LCA) of human beings and chimpanzees, and which even questions whether the chimpanzee is our closest relative, after all. The Evolution News and Views (ENV) article also revives the myth of an unbridgeable gap between Australopithecus and Homo.
Here’s my two-sentence rebuttal: uncertainty as to who the last common ancestor of humans and chimps was, what it looked like, and when it lived, in no way diminishes scientists’ certainty that it existed. And while the fossil record of human ancestors is very meager and patchy until about 4.4 million years ago, from that time onward, we have a veritable hodgepodge of hominins – and no unbridgeable gaps.
Well, that was quick, wasn’t it? Now for a more detailed rebuttal.
During the past few days, there has been much discussion of philosophy professor Gary Comstock’s spirited defense of infanticide, in the case of a severely handicapped newborn baby who is likely to die (New York Times, July 12, 2017). Such an infant, argues Comstock, lacks “the things that make a life: thoughts, wants, desires, interests, memories, a future.” And if did have thoughts, its dominant thought about being kept alive on a respirator would surely be: “This hurts. Can’t someone help it stop?”
Bioethicist Wesley Smith has pointed out that the case described by Comstock (who is not a doctor), of an infant suffering excruciating pain as its life is needlessly prolonged, is totally fictitious: “When life support is removed, doctors do not just let patients twist choking in the wind. They palliate — as necessary to alleviate pain and agitation.” The testimony of palliative care physician Ira Byock (whom Smith mentions in his article) is well worth citing: “In more than 35 years of practice I have never once had to kill a patient to alleviate the person’s suffering. When other measures fail, palliative sedation for alleviation of physical suffering is reliably effective. Alleviating suffering is different than eliminating the sufferer.” (Maryland Medicine vol. 17, no. 4; January 2017.) And Dr. Michael Egnor, commenting on Comstock’s article for Evolution News and Views, writes: “The notion that handicapped children intractably suffer is a lie. I’ve treated thousands of these kids. Most of the conditions that cause severe neurological impairment aren’t painful and don’t inherently cause physical suffering. Spina bifida, holoprosencephaly, various trisomies and anencephaly don’t ‘hurt,’ and in fact the children afflicted are often quite content babies. They are loved by their families, and they can enjoy life in accordance with their physical limitations.”
Wesley Smith and Michael Egnor point out that infanticide is a crime against humanity, for which doctors were hanged at Nuremberg. Some of these doctors had euthanized handicapped children. Both authors make a telling point; nevertheless, the question needs to be addressed: exactly why is infanticide wrong?