I’m too sexy for contemporary Aristotleanism

February 5, 2015 § 185 Comments

I’ve mentioned before that, as unfashionable as it may seem, I think I am probably some sort of metaphysical Platonist.  I’m not really a philosopher, but as I understand it in order to be an Aristotlean I would have to believe that universals or forms don’t exist except as abstractions from actually existent particulars. (I could easily have that wrong – actual Aristotleans should feel free to correct me, as I am just responding to what I’ve read from my own perspective).  So airplane-ness doesn’t exist unless particular airplanes really exist, and airplane-ness ceases to be once all airplanes no longer exist. The species or category ceases to exist once all instances of it are gone, and presumably reappears if new instances appear.  Furthermore, if we postulate some unique kind of vehicle which never actually is invented at some point between the Big Bang and the Gnab Gib, never actually occurs in our universe, or perhaps even is not comprehensible to limited human intellect – call this conveyance a grook – then grook-ness just doesn’t exist at all, even in the mind of God.

(As an aside, it seems to me that the endless war between philosophical idealism and realism might be a consequence of the fact that we are Imago Dei and thus live in world which is external and real to us but which is subordinate to the mind and ideas of God. Somewhere in there is an argument for theism, for silly people who need such a thing).

Another problem I have with Aristotleanism (or at least with my own understanding of it) is that I don’t think it is essentialist enough about reality.  I’ve mentioned before that Aristotleanism appears to me to be too reductionist when it comes to certain – I’ll use what I hope is the neutral term ‘attributes’ – of certain things, especially attributes of artifacts made by human beings.  Said differently I believe that artifacts do have objective essences independent of human purposes, and are not merely collections of accidents cobbled together and possessing only human-subjective meaning: mousetraps in my view have a mousetrappishness to them even in a forest when no man is around to hear them snap shut on a mouse.  (Once again the fact that we are Imago Dei may come into play here).

Beyond that I think that Aristotleanism, at least as expressed by present-day Aristotleans, has positivist tendencies.  Positivists make a kind of argument from incredulity to the effect that if formal completeness is not possible then definite meaning must be impossible: if it is impossible in principle to specify the essence of a thing formally and completely, it is impossible in principle to say anything definite about the essence of that thing. Therefore, it is suggested, objections to completeness claims are irrational: definitions just are complete specifications of essence a.k.a. species, else definition is not possible.  If we have to abandon our completeness claims we have to abandon reason altogether.  So “if we accept argument A it implies that we will always necessarily have an incomplete definition of the essence of thing X” is employed, fallaciously in my understanding, as a reductio ad absurdam of argument A.

The postmodern, with just slightly more insight than the positivist, understands that completeness claims – claims that (say) a definition can completely specify the kind of thing that a real object essentially is ontologically – are incoherent.  Unhappy with the fact that he is not God even in a limited sense, the postmodern simply embraces this putative incoherence and descends into madness.

By way of further background, genus, for the Aristotlean, refers to mutually exclusive categories like ‘bacteria’ and ‘cat’. The existence-in-principle of a formal hierarchical structure defining mutually exclusive categories from the highest level of generic Being to a bottom layer of species is (I am led to understand) central to the Aristotlean project. No cross-classification of genus is permitted: attributes shared across genera are properties or accidents.  Properties are essential inasmuch as they flow from a thing’s essence, and are otherwise accidental. The color of a leaf is a property of leaves, since it is the essential nature of a leaf to have a color; but that the color of that leaf happens to be green or red is accidental.

What fully constitutes a thing’s essence on this account is its species, that is, its formally specific terminal position in the taxonomic tree of an in-principle formally definable reality:

The Porphyrian Tree forms an upper semi-lattice, as attributed by Thomason (1969) to all taxonomic systems (without reference to the Tree).  Hence any two kinds K1 and K2 have a least upper bound (LUB), that is, a lowest higher kind that contains them both … hence there can be no cross-classification …

The reason why there must be a summum genus and an infima species within a [taxonomical Porphryian] tree is that otherwise there could be no definition at all.  If an entity could fall, in principle, under even higher genera, or be a member of a species that contained ever lower species, it would be impossible to give its definition.  In the former case, the proximate genus would be undefinable since there would be no final answer to the question ‘What is it?’  Whatever answer one gave to the question of the proximate genus, it would be incomplete. … Similarly, if species could forever be broken up into smaller species, we could never reach a specific difference. For every time we thought we had reached it, it would turn out that what we had reached was either an accident, and so no part of the definition, or else just another part of the genus of the object being classified, with differentia yet to be found. – David Oderberg, Real Essentialism (emphasis mine)

But answers to questions about Being – for example questions which ask “what, essentially, is this real thing right here-now as ontologically distinct from other things” – are always, necessarily incomplete. That is the nature of the world as we actually find it in conjunction with the nature of the language we use to describe that world. The essences of real things – what makes it that kind of thing and not something else – cannot ever be completely specified by formal definitions, formal models like taxonomic trees, and formal expressions like language; not even in principle.

Men and women are human beings, but maleness and femaleness is in my view a manifest specific difference between them.  Other animals are also differentiated by sex, so it seems to me that either the real word actually does exhibit cross-classification at the level of genera or that we have to treat maleness and femaleness as a kind of mere accident.  If I were an Aristotlean of the sort committed to the existence-in-principle of an upper-lattice porphyrian tree formally partitioning reality, it seems to me that I would have to believe maleness and femaleness to be accidental.  Sex may be an essential property – a property which follows from man’s essence in the normative case – but like the color of a leaf, whether differentiated into male or female in particular is merely accidental — like being left handed, right handed, or ambidextrous. Maleness and femaleness, then, are not part of the essence of a particular person– they do not specify anything essential about that person, only something accidental. Sexedness is essential to man generically speaking but, simultaneously, maleness and femaleness in particular are as accidental as eye color.

It is possible and even likely that I don’t understand the Aristotlean arguments I have read, or that there is something wrong with my own thoughts.  It is also possible that the contemporary Aristotlean framework is not internally consistent, in which case there would be no unequivocal way to understand it at all.  To the extent that it is characterized by positivist incredulity at rejection of completeness claims about formal definitions – incredulity at rejection of the claim that completeness is possible in principle (even if no particular definition of a particular species is asserted to be complete) – then the latter must be the case.

But whatever else does obtain, I suspect that there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

§ 185 Responses to I’m too sexy for contemporary Aristotleanism

  • jf12 says:

    As a working scientist, I am familiar enough with various taxonomic systems to confidently state that they are “merely* descriptive bug collecting. All of them, have to be. Moreover, they are operationally defined. As new technologies come online the classification systems. Since we cannot coherently depict an ideal Taxonomy Of Everything much less the Final Solution of everything the greatest superhuman brain can conceive, we must deal with real taxonomies as actually employed for categorizations of reality.

    There is a lot more cross-classification possible than the binary-nomenclature definers would like. Besides the continual discovery of new in-betweenish species (I speak mainly of bacterial taxonomy), there are vast fluid reclassifications happening all the time. Nothing is really settled forever.

  • jf12 says:

    “As new technologies come online the classification systems” themselves change, often quite drastically and/or abruptly.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    I think the essence-accident distinction is one of those everyday mysteries which we cannot do without but can never fully explain.

    In practice of course taxonomical systems are designed around whatever purposes the particular system serves. As a matter of ritual this tends to encourage nominalism: taxonomy is probably an inherently reductionist exercise.

  • John K. says:

    Zippy, heaven knows I’m no expert on the subject, and you’ve probably read more Aristotelian philosophy than I have, but I think it’s quite possible to combine Aristotelianism and Platonism. Not sure if you’ve seen this yet, or how useful this will be to you, but there’s a discussion of this concept on pages 5-7 of this paper: http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/irv.pdf

  • Zippy says:

    Thanks John K, I’ll have a look.

  • Ita Scripta Est says:

    I think it’s quite possible to combine Aristotelianism and Platonism

    Isn’t that what St. Thomas’s project was all about?

  • Well, I’m a Thomist if I had to define myself, but then I’m not a philosopher.

  • williamluse says:

    …as I understand it in order to be an Aristotlean I would have to believe that universals or forms don’t exist except as abstractions from actually existent particulars. (I could easily have that wrong…

    And I suspect you do (emphasis on ‘suspect’). If we take the thing of most interest, a human being, its form is in no way an abstraction, but a substantial reality from which biological matter takes its expression. This is not to say I understand the Aristotelian doctrine of forms. Even Anscombe said she didn’t understand it, although she thought she finally ‘got’ it in the case of humans. When you say ‘Aristotelianism,’ I assume you mean Aristotelian-Thomism, in the tradition of an Ed Feser?

    Would like to talk more but have some things to take care of. Anyway, if you’re a Platonist, I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. I agree with your closing sentiment about the complexity of heaven and earth, and feel some sympathy with your sense that Aristotelianism is in some ways reductive.

  • Lydia says:

    I completely agree about the mousetrap. Now here’s a fun thought experiment. Suppose, per impossible, that a mousetrap-like entity were to come into existence by accident–a quantum glitch or something. It looks like a mousetrap and catches mice like a mousetrap, but it was not deliberately made to be a mousetrap. Does it have the essence of a mousetrap? I’m inclined to say no, that it is of the essence of a mousetrap to have been _intended_ by some mind to embody the Idea of a mousetrap and made to that end. So the accidental entity is merely a pseudo-mousetrap, an apparent mousetrap. By the same token, if what goes on in some biological entity looks like a code and acts like a code–e.g., it successfully produces signals that bring about something necessary to the creature’s growth, life, or reproduction–but was not intended by anybody to be a code, then it is merely an apparent code. However, the fact that there are so many things in biological entities that do appear to be real codes is a clue that they _are_ real codes and really were intended by a mind to act as such and to embody the Ideas in the mind for the pattern of the entity.

    This is true even if they were made in the proximate sense in some indirect way, just as a human being could build a robot that made mousetraps, but the mousetraps would still be real mousetraps, deliberately made to embody the Idea of mousetrap in the mind of the (indirect) human maker.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    If we take the thing of most interest, a human being, its form is in no way an abstraction, but a substantial reality from which biological matter takes its expression.

    That’s always true of particulars. Even nominalists believe in particulars. The issue is always one of categories or species — as jf12 suggests we can pretty much always arbitrarily label collections of things for our own purposes (that’s what makes nominalism so intuitively appealing). But clearly there are ‘attributes’ (or thisness if you will) which are essential to whole species of things (e.g. human beings) not merely to bare particulars.

    And that is where things get rather mysterious: I can point at Bob as a particular person; I can’t point at humanity in general in the same way that I can point at Bob; and yet humanity is not merely a collection of accidents separating one bare particular object from another. There is something essential about being a human being as opposed to being something else. One of the things I object to in the OP is the notion that (e.g.) maleness/femaleness is a mere accident, which I think (though again it is very possible that I am just confused) it has to be if sex is a “property” as opposed to a “genus”. But if sex is a genus (meaning that a person’s maleness/femaleness is essential rather than accidental) then a porphyrian tree won’t work.

    More generally, I claim that real things can never be completely captured or specified by a formalism, so if I were to accept that definitions can completely capture species – if I read him correctly, Oderberg contends that if this were not the case then rationality would fall apart – then I would be accepting that species are not real. Said differently I would be accepting, more alarmingly, that essences are not real: the Aristotlean attempt to ‘save’ metaphysical realism actually opens the door to nominalism and kills realism.

    When you say ‘Aristotelianism,’ I assume you mean Aristotelian-Thomism, in the tradition of an Ed Feser?

    To the extent I understand it, yes. All of Ed’s books are superbly well written, and anyone even slightly interested in the subject should read them. His book on philosophy of mind is great too. I just wish Scholastic Metaphysics was available on Kindle – I’ve got a hard copy somewhere but I haven’t read it yet, partly because of the ‘somewhere’ factor.

    This particular post was prompted by the David Oderberg book I actually cite in the OP though. I actually wrote most of the post a month or two ago, and just tweaked/edited it a bit before posting.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:

    I’m inclined to say no, that it is of the essence of a mousetrap to have been _intended_ by some mind to embody the Idea of a mousetrap and made to that end.

    I agree, and I think more generally that the tendency to try to completely divorce essence from origins is problematic. (That isn’t to suggest that everything about the origin of a thing is essential to that thing; just that attempting to completely divorce things from their origins sometimes cuts away something essential, not always and merely accidents).

  • jf12 says:

    On found objects, specifically found mousetraps. Do we really have to flip a thing over and look for its “Made in China” label to finally decide that it is real?

  • jf12 says:

    “Ye shall know them by their fruits” seems incompatible with “ye shall know them by their pedigrees”.

  • jf12 says:

    Apparently a directed category is the ultimate generalization of an upper semi-lattice.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filtered_category

    A far-less-than-ultimate generalization is a product lattice. It seems to me the multiple essential properties are best represented in multiple dimensions.

  • williamluse says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out what your essential difficulty is – I thought it might be the Aristotelian distinction between substantial and accidental forms – but I’m just not sure. If Oderberg is saying what you claim (I found the passage hard to follow), I don’t know why he would say it. I’ve never understood A-T as requiring that our definitions “completely capture” what things are in their essence. I don’t know how that could be done.

    But I will say that I don’t think an A-Ter like Ed would claim that maleness and femaleness are anything other than of the essence of what it means to be human. That is, the man Zippy is a particular instantiation of a male human being whose masculinity is of the essence of his identity (and a good thing, too, since I’m having trouble picturing you as a girl), in a way that skin, hair and eye color are not. (No, I don’t care if those things made your wife fall in love with you. She cared about them only in so far as they were attached to a man).

    The kind of thinking you feel Aristotelianism might compel us toward – male and female as accidentals – already reigns. It is the fuel for the LGBT fire. But I don’t think it pushes us in that direction, or else Feser himself would not have written: “… Where real human beings (as opposed to angels…) are concerned, to be a person just is to be either a man and thus male, or a woman and thus female. It just is to be of one sex or the other. And to desire someone sexually just is a way of desiring a kind of person, namely the human kind. Your sex is not contingent and extrinsic to you but rather intrinsic and essential to you. (That is why, for Aquinas, though sexual intercourse will not exist in the hereafter, sex — being a man or being a woman — will exist forever.)”

    Just curious: if you do not agree with the Aristotelian claim that objects are composites of matter and form, what alternative do you entertain? Or are you not disputing that?

    (I’d like to talk about mousetraps, but I don’t have time right now).

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    Just curious: if you do not agree with the Aristotelian claim that objects are composites of matter and form, what alternative do you entertain? Or are you not disputing that?

    I’m not disputing that. The part I cannot make coherent sense of is definition (or classification) of species (and the definition of definition, for that matter) and the determination of what is essential and what is accidental to species of things.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “to be a person just is to be either a [blonde] and thus [yaller-haired], or …”

    I’m not making particular fun of the presentation. It already accidently does.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    We don’t have to have a theory of our own though in order to know that certain things must be wrong. And antiessentialism – which is equivalent to denying the essence-accident distinction – is just nonsense. We can recognize that certain positions are nonsense without providing some sort of comprehensive explanation of our own. We all know that maleness/femaleness is more essential to what-it-is-to-be-jf12 than hair color. Dying your hair or shaving it off is not an attack on your Being in the same way that lopping off your genitals and pretending that you are a different sex than you actually are is an attack on your Being. We may not know why we know this, but to deny that we do know it is a first step on the descent into lunacy.

    Even if essence-accident turns out to have gradiations – to have more structure than a merely binary dichotomy – it is not something we can do without. I can and do doubt (or fail to find coherence in) certain essentialist theories without calling into question ontological realism.

  • Dystopia Max says:

    “So airplane-ness doesn’t exist unless particular airplanes really exist, and airplane-ness ceases to be once all airplanes no longer exist.”

    If I can make the statement true by changing “unless” to “until”, and “no longer exists” to “are forgotten”, I may, in fact, reconsider the pastime of criticizing Aristotelianism as such, instead of, say, seeking to build bridges with people of good will and interest in the truth as it is. You stated in a comment on your link about wrong thoughts that:

    “People who are just recovering from delusion about racial differences should be struck by that obviousness, and should immediately start tending their own garden to try to find some actually subtle errors; because plenty of subtle errors do exist.”

    Or perhaps they should start apologizing profusely and looking again at people they had previously dismissed as racists, especially if the anti-racist delusion was promulgated by those wishing to rule via that fallacy and other lies.

    And I’m not saying that virulent public anti-racism maps completely onto pro-userers, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume as a general rule that those who preach (not practice, of course) the former tend to practice the latter most assiduously. And the Bible, of course, shows the naturally anti-usurious nature of racial/tribal solidarity quite simply and forthrightly:

    “5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”

    6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

    9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”

    12 “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.”

    Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”

    Or you could cavalierly call HBDers Hitlerites whenever you feel like it, and then write a zillion-page treatise on what exactly is and isn’t usury based on an incompletely essentialist view of mankind that ignores race entirely. That’ll convince ’em.

  • Dystopia Max,

    You don’t actually read Zippy, do you? Just the straw Zippy that exists in your head.

  • Zippy says:

    Dystopia Max:

    If I can make the statement true by changing “unless” to “until”, and “no longer exists” to “are forgotten” …

    But that begs the question, because precisely what is at issue is whether (e.g.) mousetrappishness exists independent of the human mind and is discovered, or is something created ex nihilo in the human mind and ‘exists’ only so long as some particular human mind (minds) holds (hold) it in ‘existence’.

    One way to express in everyday language the difference between a Platonic (or at least my own) view of artifacts versus the Aristotlean view of artifacts is that in my view (at least some, if not all) artifacts are at least in part discovered by the artisan who makes them.

    The reason mathematicians tend to be Platonists rather than Aristotleans is precisely because of this strong sense of discovery, not just of particulars but of universals or categories. Is a theorem or proof “invented” by a mathematician a creation ex nihilo, or a discovery? How about a computer algorithm? How about a rack and pinion? How about the Mona Lisa?

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, re: “Even if essence-accident turns out to have gradiations – to have more structure than a merely binary dichotomy – it is not something we can do without.”

    The discipline of operations research is intimately concerned with this very question. In that context the preference is for classifier or decision thresholds to be based on monotonic sigmoidal measures. But the set of thresholds is defined *entirely* pragmatically. The fact that some aspects of a classification are more important than other aspects is already taken into account through weightings and so forth.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receiver_operating_characteristic

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    But the set of thresholds is defined *entirely* pragmatically.

    Sure: that is, it is defined based on the purposes of the classification and the objective realities which bound it. Man cannot avoid essence and telos no matter how hard he tries; he often wants to do so because essence and telos imply objective norms independent of what he wants or wills.

    But if wishes were horses, and all that.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “he often wants to do so because essence and telos imply objective norms independent of what he wants or wills.”

    The mind recoils from the notion of a fractional human, not least because of the actual abusiveness inherent in considering someone subhuman. And that’s without getting into the weirdnesses like golem concept (‘if it walks like a human”) and Turing test (“if it talks like a human”) and other rules-based human-classifiers (many fielded! intruder detectors etc). All of which devolve into infantile versions of the sorites paradox if one presumptuously insists on binary-as-fundamental.

    In Christianity we do have doctrine permitting, yea urging, growth into becoming more human, more fully conforming to the express Image, the Human Form.

  • williamluse says:

    Let’s say that “mousetrappishness exists independent of the human mind and is discovered.” How would this be a problem for the Aristotelian?

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:
    An Aristotlean would deny that there is any intrinsic mousetrappishness to the mousetrap. He would say that

    Unlike natural objects, which have their significance “built in” … artifacts have their significance only from without.

  • jf12 says:

    re: intrinsic -ishness

    I think it is correct that the very idea of an essential attribute is fundamentally binary: categorical. And it is this binary-ishness that prevents essences from (myself being characteristically incautious in language) actually corresponding to actual physical properties, as you say:

    “That is the nature of the world as we actually find it in conjunction with the nature of the language we use to describe that world. The essences of real things – what makes it that kind of thing and not something else – cannot ever be completely specified by formal definitions, formal models like taxonomic trees, and formal expressions like language; not even in principle.”

    For if the mousetrappishness inhered in the physical artifact then because those physical aspects can always be altered, always be deleted, added, subsituted, then every such -ishness-as-physical *always* runs afoul of the sorites paradox.

    But I wonder why it seems axiomatic to you that cobbling together a sufficient number of accidents would not, er, suffice to uniquely identify something. Is it bigger than a bread box? Is he blonder than me?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    I wonder why it seems axiomatic to you that cobbling together a sufficient number of accidents would not, er, suffice to uniquely identify something.

    It isn’t a matter of identifying particulars. “The black thing on the lawn” and “the dog on the lawn” might both identify (definitely designate) Roscoe. And ‘all the black things on the lawn’ and ‘all the dogs on the lawn’ might both be categorical designations. But Roscoe’s dogginess is essential – is what makes him the kind of thing that he is, that is, a dog. The blackness of his fur is not — it is accidental.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “But Roscoe’s dogginess is essential – is what makes him the kind of thing that he is, that is, a dog.”

    To Roscoe? To you? To God? For Whom, precisely, is it essential? If God, are we qualified to determine what is and what is not essential for Him? Are we qualified to say that “That particular black thing on the lawn” is merely accidental for God?

  • jf12 says:

    More definitely, who is qualified to tell me that dogginess cannot be decomposed into an intersectionality of multidimensional accidents?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    You must not know Roscoe, if you think he is nothing but an arbitrary collection of accidental properties.

  • jf12 says:

    I think Roscoe’s particular collection is not arbitrary.

  • jf12 says:

    Is an objective essence necessarily other than (I was going to say “more than”) a particular collection of accidents? I’m not speaking only of human-observable accidents. I’m with you in so far as God alone knows our essences fully.

    1 Cor 13:12 implies that incomplete knowledge is part of the essence of our existence in this present world.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Platonists I know of, including Sir. Charles Coulombe, who believe that universals are ideas in God’s mind. Their belief is hard for me to interpret, too, because it seems incompatible with the Catholic doctrine about divine simplicity. St. Thomas Aquinas would tell you that we’re describing God analogically by talking about His parts, since His ideas would be parts of Him. If God is simple, He has no parts.

    Zippy, please explain your Platonism in more detail. Do you believe there are forms in Plato’s sense of that word? Are there perfect patterns in hi realm of being? For me, Plato’s theory about forms is easy to doubt when I remember his third-man argument (TMA). The TMA implies a vicious infinite regress because each time an object participates in a form, you need another form to explain that example of participation.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:
    I have a hard time understanding simplicity at all, let alone divine simplicity as analogous to the ordinary sort that I already don’t understand. I can understand simpler as a tendency, gradiant, or relation between things: this mathematical expression is simpler than that. But simplicity ‘proper’ is like trying to think about one of the infinite ends of the number line.

    Don’t give me too much credit for having a worked out philosophy. But as my language suggests (‘mousetrappishness’) I don’t think of species-forms as self-predicating — triangularity is not itself a triangle. So I probably dodge the bullet on infinite regress of Platonism-lite-expressed-as-propositions.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, though I’ve earned a philosophy degree, you philosophize much better than I do. In fact, Lumosity’s server tells me that I think like a lawyer. Were I going to be a philosopher, I probably would be a logician or a philosopher of mathematics.

    For me, the Church’s doctrine about divine simplicity is VERY hard to understand. So if you want to learn more about it you, might read what St. Thomas writes about it in his “Compendium of Theology” or Fr. Brian Davies’s chapter(s) about it in his book “The Thought of Thomas Aquinas.”

    It’s been too long since I’ve read Plato’s dialogues, and I can hardly make sense of the “Parmenides,” the one where he writes the most about the forms. But I’m sure that even he would deny that triangularity is a triangle.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Oops! Maybe Plato does believe triangularity is a triangle.

  • William Luse says:

    re your 8:46 am comment: Unlike natural objects, which have their significance “built in” … artifacts have their significance only from without.

    But isn’t it true that all objects, whether natural or manmade, have their significance (their telos) from without, in that they are the effect of some cause other than themselves?

    Nevertheless, you would agree that there is a difference between a mousetrap and a venus fly-trap, right? What is that essential difference?

    What I’m thinking is that mousetrappishness disappears when I decide to cut the trap into several pieces and rearrange the parts so that it now serves as a tiny chair in my daughter’s dollhouse. But I can’t do this with the venus fly-trap, or with Roscoe the dog, who can never be anything other than what they are for as long as they are in existence. So there must be some difference we can appeal to when asked to describe their “significance.”

  • Zippy says:

    Bill (Luse):

    But isn’t it true that all objects, whether natural or manmade, have their significance (their telos) from without, in that they are the effect of some cause other than themselves?

    That’s probably a better question for the guy who wrote those words than for me.

    Nevertheless, you would agree that there is a difference between a mousetrap and a venus fly-trap, right? What is that essential difference?

    One is alive and the other isn’t, naturally, and that is obviously an essential difference. A dead dog isn’t really a dog; a piece of plywood isn’t a tree.

    But I can cut down a tree and turn it into a mousetrap. Things can be destroyed and the accidents or remnants of destroyed things can be transformed into other things, in general.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Since the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that Plato believes in self-predication, I did make a mistake two posts ago when I said I was sure he didn’t.

  • jf12 says:

    re: pieces and partness

    Theseus’ paradox applies to venus fly-traps as well as mousetraps. I’m not personally limited to the ancient technology of self-grafting, but even that suffices.

    Fortuitously for this argument, venus fly-traps are extremely amenable to explanting for tissue cultures, rapidly forming bizarre clumps of cells that are easily further engineered. Understandably, even for mammalian cell cultures, in recent years under chemical manipulation (and, as has been in the news, sometimes with artificial scaffolding) tissue cultures can be urged to reform into original organism shapes and almost as easily into new shapes. Yes, it is almost child’s play to rearrange venus fly-traps into many other things, even without bothering to rearrange DNA.

    So forgive me if I am dismissive of the argument from personal disability, or the argument from “I’d need a bigger hammer than the one I have”.

  • jf12 says:

    ” … and work of human hands”. Just sayin’.

  • Zippy says:

    Part of my old argument/discussion with Ed Feser (the OP links to one of the posts, but it was a conversation over several weeks at a couple of different blogs) was about the possibility-in-principle of building living things in a laboratory ‘from scratch’, from non-living components. This had already been done with viruses at the time (I believe I checked, and the ones in question IIRC were not manufactured by altered bacteria but were built using other methods). And while cells are many orders of magnitude more complex than viruses I certainly cannot rule out the possibility in principle of making them from non-living materials in the lab. I’m not really up to date on the latest biotech, but this really wouldn’t surprise me at all, knowing what I do know, as something possible as long as civilization keeps ticking along.

    What I found curious at the time was the AT claim that life cannot, as a matter of metaphysical principle, be constructed in a laboratory from non-life. That actually implies that (this form of) AT metaphysics is empirically falsifiable — which does not comport with claims elsewhere that it is not empirically falsifiable. So either I remain confused about the view, or the view is incoherent.

    My own views – and I am a metaphysical realist / essentialist / deontologist in the strongest sense, wherever that places me in the porphyrian tree of philosophies – would probably, and this strikes me as more than a little ironic, be characterized dismissively as mysticism by folks who think of themselves as more hard-nosed-realist than myself. ‘Intuitionist’ might be a better term for it, if that term didn’t carry its own baggage: I don’t think that formal theories of everything are possible in any sufficiently interesting discipline, and that includes philosophy and theology. But I don’t doubt our capacity to really know the things we really know.

  • jf12 says:

    Ever since TaqMan probes got cheap more than twenty years ago, I’ve been seeing synthetic biology science projects from highschoolers and younger.
    http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/9061#t=aboutBook

  • That actually implies that (this form of) AT metaphysics is empirically falsifiable — which does not comport with claims elsewhere that it is not empirically falsifiable.

    IF viruses are alive. As far as I know the current prevailing opinion is that they are not.

    Dr. Feser on this subject: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html

    I would be surprised indeed if it was this easy.

  • Dr. Feser’s most direct answer:

    Might at least some inorganic natural processes nevertheless have the power to generate life? As Torley notes, Aquinas thought so, believing as he did that spontaneous generation often occurs in nature. But Aquinas believed this because he thought there was empirical evidence for it, and we now know that that evidence (e.g. maggots arising from decaying flesh) was misinterpreted. Moreover, he also thought that the causal powers existing in the relevant forms of inorganic matter were only a necessary condition for spontaneous generation, not a sufficient one; the spiritual substances the ancients took to be guiding the heavenly bodies were also involved in the process, he thought, so that even where spontaneous generation was concerned, the total cause of life was not merely material.

    No contemporary A-T theorist accepts the mistaken scientific assumptions that informed Aquinas’s views about spontaneous generation. But might a contemporary A-T theorist hold that there could be some other natural processes (understood non-mechanistically, of course) that have within them the power to generate life, at least as part of an overall natural order that we must in any event regard as divinely conserved in existence? He might, and some do. But the actual empirical evidence for the existence of such processes seems (to say the least) far weaker now than it did in Aquinas’s own day, precisely because no one any longer believes that spontaneous generation is an ongoing natural process; and the confidence that naturalists have that purely natural processes can generate life rests, I would submit, on their commitment to metaphysical naturalism rather than on actual empirical evidence.

    So it seems to me to be along on the lines of “This wouldn’t be a death knell, but I wouldn’t hold your breath anyway.”

  • No, wait, I missed an even MORE direct section:

    [A side note: Could scientists, then, generate life in a laboratory using purely inorganic materials? If a mechanistic account of the natural world were true, the answer would be: Absolutely not. But what if instead there is some final causality already built into nature, and the scientists use non-living materials that nevertheless have immanent causation definitive of life within them, “virtually” or “eminently” though not “formally”? Could they generate life in that case? That depends. If what they are doing is merely facilitating processes that could occur entirely in the absence of intelligence, the answer would again be: Absolutely not. For these materials would have to be brought together in such a way that they come to form an organic whole directed towards a new end or final cause – namely the end or final cause characteristic of the particular kind of living thing they are to generate – that none of them has individually. And since a cause cannot give what it does not have, they could not impart such an end to it. Imparting such an end would necessarily require intelligence, which is why Aquinas thought “spontaneous generation” to be possible only under the influence of the spiritual substances he assumed were guiding the heavenly bodies. But what if the scientists did something to the raw materials that could not have happened in the absence of an intelligence like their own? Could they generate life in that case? In theory it seems they could, though obviously this scenario is of no help to the naturalist, who holds that life can originate in the absence of any intelligence. I think even this scenario is highly unlikely, because the absence of any evidence for spontaneous generation seems to me to be strong evidence that there simply are no inorganic materials having life “virtually.”

  • Zippy says:

    Malcolm:
    You’ve misread the situation (I haven’t followed up on the link to see if I’ve read it already; I’m just addressing your virus comment).

    It isn’t that the production of viruses in the lab actually falsifies the theory. It is that the conditions for falsifying the theory have been specified: if life is constructed from non-life in the lab, that falsifies the theory. Therefore the theory is falsifiable — even though it isn’t supposed to be a falsifiable theory.

  • Sorry for clogging up your thread – Dr. Feser has some fun addressing this, apparently.

  • Zippy says:

    One thing that would not surprise me at this point is finding out that St. Thomas himself was right, and that particular errors were introduced by later commentators.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Not to nitpick, but my microbiology professor taught us that even active viruses are nonliving things. Some are made up of RNA wrapped in protein.

  • jf12 says:

    “If you build it then we will come to define it as nonliving” is awfully selfserving.

  • jf12 says:

    Stepping back a bit for a bigger view, colloquially a “difference in degree” becomes a “difference in kind” only when the difference is big enough. In other words, in that situation the fundamental difference is difference in degree and hence that difference in kind is NOT a different kind of difference.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    a “difference in degree” becomes a “difference in kind” only when the difference is big enough

    If differences in kind are just differences in degree shouted into a microphone, then twas brillig in the slithy toves.

  • jf12 says:

    re: microphone.

    Yes, I think almost all of the unimaginative definitional handwaving is due to technology surpassing prior benchmarks.

    “You might be able to shout loud, but not enough to deafen me” is falsifiable with technology.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Everyone, here’s a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article about Plato’s dialogue called “Parmenides.” It may go into too much detail, but Zippy may be able to use the article to defend his Platonism.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-parmenides/

  • William Luse says:

    But I can cut down a tree and turn it into a mousetrap.

    But you can’t turn a mousetrap into a tree. Thus, that “Things can be destroyed and the accidents or remnants of destroyed things can be transformed into other things, in general,” is not universally, but only occasionally, true.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    …is not universally, but only occasionally, true

    Sure, but … what were we talking about?

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:
    Thanks for all the reading pointers. I don’t have enough unread stuff on my list already, heh!

  • jf12 says:

    “Nobody could transform dead things into live things” if we ignore processes like eating, growth and reproduction.

  • jf12 says:

    Maybe just because I’m such an unreflective boor, but it seems that too many of these definitional disagreements involve hypotheticals of ignorance “What If we didn’t know …?” and appeals to fallacies of excluded solutions “yeah, well, besides that.”

  • “Nobody could transform dead things into live things” if we ignore processes like eating, growth and reproduction.

    I’m sure Aristotle didn’t think of that.

  • Zippy says:

    Eating, growth, and reproduction are not the same kind of thing as (e.g.) deriving a mathematical theorem or building a mousetrap.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    You’re welcome, Zippy, I’m an erudite philosopher-wannabe and a walking bibliography. You and Bonald are talented philosophers. I’m a human library catalog in a wheelchair.

    Strangely, an article about the melancholic temperament says that my ideal professions would be writer, artist, theologian, and contemplative religious. But I’ve already ruled out the artistic and contemplative lives. My ninth-grade art teacher asked, “Bill, what are you doing here? You know you can’t draw.” Contemplative monastic life would drive me crazy because I’d spend too little time alone.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Anyone who doubts that you can reanimate dead tissue needs to zap a frog corpse with a 50-amp arc welder. My brother tried it when we were kids. 🙂

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:
    When it comes to temperament for doing philosophy, I am as doubtful of your self-assessment as I am confident in jf12’s.

  • Zippy says:

    Malcolm:
    You might be interested in this comment and the discussion surrounding it.

    One of the things that I find curious is that, even though the trouble I have absorbing Aristotlean philosophy as coherent is not about the ‘life from non-life’ problem at all (you won’t see that in the OP or the earlier stages of this comment thread), it always seems to come up.

  • Zippy says:

    In reviewing that old thread, I think I probably correctly assessed the life-from-non-life thing here; in which case, all the AT polemic against ID from Ed and others is a swing and a miss. Because either AT is empirically falsifiable and mechanistic itself, or the AT criticism of ID is a non sequitur.

    I am inclined toward the latter, especially given subsequent backtracking on the ‘life from non life’ question: when ID concludes that it has found ‘design’ an AT philosopher can interpret that as meaning that ‘spontaneous’ generation (of the biological structures under consideration, e.g. the bacterial flagellum) is improbable to the point of impossibility and requires an intelligent cultivator to make it actually happen. Rice can grow on the moon, but only with the help of an intelligent farmer.

    Interestingly enough none of that has much of anything much to do with the issues I talk about in the OP.

  • […] subject came up again in the comments my recent post the other […]

  • jf12 says:

    @Bill McEnaney, re: “reanimate dead tissue”

    Yes, it is true that “seemingly” mechanistic processes can definitely provide the spark of life. I think that the argument via ignorance to one-sidedly promote “difference in kind” has two completely contradictory aspects.
    1. On the one side of their mouth they claim that the non-living organism had enough potential life such that your little zap was such a miniscule contribution that the “difference in degree” wasn’t so much of a degree after all. It’s entirely possible that if you stood there with your hands in your pockets whistling tunelessly that the frog would have reanimated all by itself, or maybe the little tiny zap could have zapped all by itself.
    2. On the other side of their mouth, they claim that it was your being living that caused the other thing to live.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “I’m sure Aristotle didn’t think of that.”

    What DOES Aristotle say about eating dead things making more life? Hmm? Care to elucidate?

  • Zippy says:

    What did Aristotle say about trolling?

  • jf12 says:

    re: “Eating, growth, and reproduction are not the same kind of thing as (e.g.) deriving a mathematical theorem or building a mousetrap.”

    Because the work of human digestive and reproductive systems to you has NO degree in common with the work of human hands and the work of human brainz?

    Who, precisely, is qualified to tell me that human workness cannot be decomposed into an intersectionality of multidimensional accidents that differ ONLY in multidimensional degrees?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    Here is a hint, just to be indulgent: “difference in kind” does not mean “nothing in common”. A human being is different in kind from bacteria; but it is not the case that a human being has nothing in common with bacteria.

    But really you should take your own self-assessment into consideration.

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, re: Aristotle eating meat.

    I’m sorry you consider this (b)eating of a dead horse to be trolling. Assuming Aristotle was clueless about the actual mechanisms of catabolism and metabolism etc, why would HIS argument via ignorance be of relevance today?

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, so, are you conceding that “difference in kind” may in fact be nothing more than major differences in degrees? Or not? It’s a simple question.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    The person on the attack from a point of view of ignorance here isn’t Aristotle.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    …are you conceding that “difference in kind” may in fact be nothing more than major differences in degrees…

    Asking that question demonstrates that you don’t read what others actually say very carefully, if at all.

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, re: carefully

    I think I understand your position to be unabashedly vague. You concede it is mysterious to you that often, but not always, there is something as-yet-unmeasurable behind a “difference in kind” that makes it different in kind than “merely” major “differences in degrees”. And yet I’m not smelling a whole lot of your certainty that these as-yet-unmeasurable things have an inherent essential unmeasurablishness. I think this is the key point of your falsifiableness concerns.

    But I could be mistaken. Maybe you are in fact abashed.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    I think I understand your position to be unabashedly vague.

    I’m not even slightly unsure that there is a difference in kind, not merely degree, between Roscoe, a rock, and the pythagorean theorem.

    By “unabashedly vague” you seem to be referring to the fact that not only do I not proffer a ‘theory of everything’ about differences in kind vs differences in degree, but I assert unabashedly that such formal theories of everything are necessarily incoherent. And indeed I do.

    Don’t get me wrong. The sort of reductionism you propose – that there are no differences in kind at all – is manifestly ludicrous. It isn’t even possible to have a conversation with someone who refuses to concede differences in kind at all – that the pythagorean theorem is different in kind from a dog. Heck, such a person can’t tell the difference in kind between having a conversation and being beaten with a rock.

    Other reductionisms and positivisms may be less manifestly ludicrous, and actually somewhat interesting to discuss.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “The sort of reductionism you propose – that there are no differences in kind at all – is manifestly ludicrous.”

    Which is good because that isn’t my position. My position is that in actuality differences in kind tend not to be of a different type than differences in degree. And almost always it is merely ignorance or lack of imagination that prevents someone from admitting that a binary “yes-no” decision process is merely a simplification of, and not more fundamental than, a dialable degree of uncertainty.

    A cat-dog hybrid is eminently possible, much more than merely imaginable nowadays. I could do it myself even if you can’t. Because cats and dogs already share many dimensions of accidents, it wouldn’t necessarily be the monstrosity that sewing a cat’s head on a dog’s body would be.

    Is there a procedure for determining whether any particular difference in kind CANNOT be promoted (or demoted if that’s how you feel about it) to a difference in degree? Is such a procedure falsifiable? Does it ever comprise ANYTHING but an appeal to ignorance? “I cannot imagine the hybrid form.”

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    My position is that in actuality differences in kind tend not to be of a different type than differences in degree.

    I got that the first time you said it: equivalently, there ‘tend not to be’ differences in kind, only degree.

    Is there a procedure for determining …

    The question itself is a hint at where your problem lies.

  • jf12 says:

    Are you certain that the posited unmeasurable differences that are so essential for there to be differences in kind can never ever be measured by any One? Yes, no, some hybrid of yes-no?

  • jf12 says:

    re: “equivalently, there ‘tend not to be’ differences in kind, only degree.”

    I actually consider 0.999999 to be a different number than 1.000000 (but not very different …).

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    Are you certain that the posited unmeasurable differences that are so essential for there to be differences in kind …

    I am certain that dogs are different in kind from rocks and from the pythagorean theorem. I am also certain that you are begging all sorts of questions (ontological, metaphysical, and epistemic) from inside the philosophical box in which you have locked yourself.

  • jf12 says:

    The procedure for determining whether which of two guys is in a box is to see which guy has more space, more dimensions.

  • jf12 says:

    The following is an example of the fallacy of ignorance: “I can’t imagine such a hybrid, therefore it is an Essential property of the Universe and Trvth Itself that there can be no such hybrid.” In point of fact, almost all such arguments via ignorance are crude admissions of not keeping up with advances in technology.

  • Zippy says:

    I can’t wait until they start cross breeding dogs with mathematical theorems.

  • jf12 says:

    “I can’t wait until they start cross breeding dogs with mathematical theorems.”

    That’s the spirit!

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, I don’t understand your point about my self-assessment. Other people tell me that I underestimate my abilities, maybe even my philosophical ones. My MA thesis adviser said that I needed to stop showing my self-doubt, since it might convince others that I was as slightly talented as I thought. In college, a professor of English worried that my prose would be lousy when I told her how much I disliked it. Surprised, she then gave me an “A” on the first paper I wrote for her and asked me to read it to the class.

    I’m definitely melancholic, and I love to sit alone in a silent room.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:

    Zippy, I don’t understand your point about my self-assessment.

    Just that I suspect (based on nothing more than our occasional interaction here and there) that beneath the self deprecation lies a true philosopher.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Jf12, since I believe uncaused events are logically possible, I don’t see the contradiction you point out in your post about people who talk out both sides of their mouths. Naturally, if Dumbo the elephant appears in my living room when I’m going to wonder who or what put him there, how he managed to squeeze through a doorway . . . I’ll look for a cause.

  • jf12 says:

    @Bill McEnaney, re:”I’ll look for a cause.”

    Right, but since in the frog reanimation the cause appears to be physical (electromagnetism, e.g.) instead of metaphysical “Give my creation … well, not Life per se but something that sort of closely resembles life without actually being what someone else might classify as Life with a capital L.”, what I am claiming to be a contradiction is that the cause MUST be metaphysical anyway because, they wail, “Life per se is defined by us to be caused by metaphysics, since that the way God would do it, because we said so.”

  • jf12 says:

    “Life comes from life” is merely a useful simplification of empirical observations, and is therefore not some unfalsifiable law of nature much less any sort of logical necessity, although it tends to be used in a backformed way by the ignorant exactly for that purpose.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Thanks for the reassuring note, Zippy. Maybe there is a true philosopher in me. I would love to spend the rest of my life living like a scholarly monk who writes professionally about pure philosophy, especially metaphysics and pure logic. Meanwhile, I’m planning to write a book about why Catholics need to reject the Enlightenment.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Jf12, I think every physical cause presupposes a metaphysical one. You may already know what it is St. Thomas Aquinas believes about creation. For him, it’s not a change. God needs to sustain everything, including change in itself. That’s partly why I think young earth creationists are mistaken when they insist that fossil record gaps disprove the theory of evolution. If God sustains each thing in the universe, He sustains the gaps, too. YECS seem to assume that He needs to intervene to create anything and that there aren’t any secondary causes.

    In his book about the problem of evil, Fr. Brian Davies shows that strictly, God doesn’t intervene. To see why, say I’m beating someone up when you run up to us and break up the fight. You’re intervening and putting yourself into a situation you weren’t in before you saw us. God didn’t want me to hurt the other man. But if He hadn’t kept me alive, enabled me to throw a punch, etc., the fight wouldn’t have begun.

  • jf12 says:

    @Bill McEnaney, re: “I think every physical cause presupposes a metaphysical one.”

    Yes, but what I’m saying is that that process doesn’t necessarily proceed as defined by others.

  • Lydia says:

    “That’s partly why I think young earth creationists are mistaken when they insist that fossil record gaps disprove the theory of evolution. If God sustains each thing in the universe, He sustains the gaps, too. YECS seem to assume that He needs to intervene to create anything and that there aren’t any secondary causes.”

    I’m an old-earth progressive creationist, not a YEC, but I don’t see that this follows from even the silliest things the YECs say. They simply think that *in fact* secondary causes are not good explanations of the things they are talking about. How does this imply that “there aren’t any secondary causes”? Presumably even YECs believe that, e.g., a flower grows by secondary causes. But they (and I, for that matter) don’t think that birds eventually evolve from single-celled organisms by way of secondary causal processes that are at all like the processes by which a flower grows.

    I have never understood how creationists of any sort, whether old or young earth, get saddled with such sweeping metaphysical views.

    As a purely scientific matter, gaps in the fossil record _do_ call for a satisfactory explanation, and that explanation *may well be* acts of special creation by God. The idea that either there are no secondary causes or else God must have brought about the origin of species by way of secondary causes is a pretty classic example of a false dilemma.

  • Zippy says:

    Lydia:
    Reading Darwin’s Black Box and thinking that Behe scores some points commits you to a highly specific metaphysics, apparently.

  • Lydia says:

    Well, Bill McEnaney did refer to YECs specifically, and they do take on a lot more contentful baggage than Behe does. For that matter, he’s pretty dancey even about committing to special creation as opposed to front-loading, so I suppose even a progressive creationist like me takes on a lot more contentful commitments than he does. But *even so*, the most committed YEC who believes in six literal days of creation no more than 10,000 years ago, a worldwide flood, etc., doesn’t believe that there “aren’t any secondary causes.”

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, maybe I was wrong about YECs and secondary causes. But I’m sure St. Thomas doubts that God needs to intervene each time, say, a lioness and her mate procreate. A Catholic theologian friend of mine is a theistic evolutionist who believes that God does a “special act of creation” to create each human soul, since human souls are immortal. I don’t know what to believe about the creation/evolution question, though I do know that Thomas denies that creation is a change. In fact, that denial may help explain why many Thomists doubt ID theory.

  • Lydia says:

    Bill, I doubt very much that any creationist believes that God personally intervenes each time a lioness and her mate procreate. Why would anyone think that they do?

    Human souls may well be another matter, and the creationist view concerning human souls is an entirely different matter from “creationism” in the creation-evolution debate.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Thomas denies that creation is a change.” I’m no Thomist but have been told (cum references, which I don’t have at my fingertips) that Thomas literally believed that God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground. The idea that Thomas was some sort of proto-Darwinist from his theological armchair is, I’m guessing, a modern reinterpretation.

  • jf12 says:

    re: human procreation needing Divine intervention

    It always seems a miracle to me.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia,

    I’m a Thomist only beginning to learn what St. Thomas teaches about creation. He believes that, although no philosophical argument can prove that the universe began to exist, we know that it did, since Holy Scripture reveals that it did. The Catholic Church teaches that Adam and Eve are our first parents, the first two people. In fact, his encyclical Humani generis, Pope Pius XII seems to think it’s okay for scientists to study whether the human body evolved. If it did, though, each particular one would need a unique soul that belongs only to the person made up of that body-soul composite. After I die, my body will decay. But the day Our Lord resurrects our bodies, my body will be the one my soul enters. Since my body and my soul are parts of me, I’m neither of them. Even if I’m silly enough to think that, in another life, I was Verdi, my favorite composer, I’m mistaken. Verdi got his soul and his body, and I got mine. No one reincarnates.

    For St. Thomas, even if the universe has always existed, it still needs a creator, someone to keep it in existence. If God stopped sustaining anything, it would stop existing. The idea behind creation out of nothing is that to create, all God needs is His infinite power. He didn’t think, “Aha, there’s a pile of nothing. I’ll put pieces of it together to build the universe, people, animals, plants, and other neat stuff.”

    After I read Thomas’s book about creation, I’ll try to tell you and my other friends here what he believes about the nature of creation.

  • Lydia says:

    I think perhaps you need to distinguish creation of the whole universe from creation of some of the entities within the universe. For example, if God specially created Adam and Eve (as I’m told Thomas believed and as all of Christian tradition believed for umpteen hundred years), then there isn’t just one “creation of the universe.” There is a separate “creation of Adam and Eve,” and potentially other creatures as well.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    I agree with you, Lydia. But if I understand St. Thomas, God is still creating by sustaining what already exists.

  • Lydia says:

    Which (sustaining creation) is a different thing, yet again, from forming Adam from the dust of the ground or creating any of the other creatures. I think, if I may say so, that there is a tendency (I do not want to attribute it to you unfairly) to blur these distinctions, and perhaps to attribute that blurring to someone like Aquinas, because of a discomfort with special creation and with the stand-out nature of special creation. I think that this discomfort would astonish our Christian forebears, and I think it should be seen as odd by us. It is really a distinctly post-Darwinian sensibility.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, maybe I don’t know what it means to say that God created Adam and Eve.

  • Lydia says:

    Gosh, I’ve never found that difficult. Do you also not know what it means to say that God parted the Red Sea or raised Jesus from the dead? I understand that we don’t have _mechanisms_ for direct divine action int he world. We don’t for that matter have a _mechanism_ for the connection between my own will and raising my arm. But so what? God is capable of acting directly upon nature, and the Bible tells us he often does. I believe that a lot of the obscurity here, again, arises from a post-Darwinian sensibility that makes people feel that origins of all creature types must be different somehow or that God “would do it” in some invisible or apparently secondary or natural way.

  • Zippy says:

    “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.” – Niels Bohr.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, I’m thinking about Thomistic metaphysics and creation out of nothing.

    You may tell me that your favorite sculptor created a gorgeous statue of Christ or painted the most realistic portrait you’ve ever seen. During Young Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein yells, “Give my creation life.” What’s common to these examples is that the so-called creators are manipulating already-existing materials. They’re not creating in the theological sense of the word. They’re not causing those things to exist by merely choosing that they’ll do that. In Genesis, when God says, “Let there be light,” that sentence signifies an act of His will rather than a spoken command. For anything to exist in the universe, including change in itself, it needs God to will it into existence. Without God, there would be nothing and no one. Here, my friend, the word “nothing” means “not anything.”

  • Lydia says:

    You seem to be implying that, for God to create species, including mankind, He would have needed to create them ex nihilo, and that this produces some kind of a problem.

    First of all, even if it were true, it produces no problem. Believe it or not, we are not required by anything–neither theology nor the undeniable evidence of science–to believe that Adam was *not* created ex nihilo. Or the first amoeba, or the first wolf, for that matter. Again, neo-Darwinism stinks as science, so let’s not tie ourselves up in knots trying to accomplish it. Maybe God *did* create man (and amoebae and wolves) ex nihilo.

    Second of all, it simply is not true that we are theologically required to believe that God would always make any animal species, *even by special creation* ex nihilo. Indeed, Scripture’s reference to God’s forming man from the dust of the ground runs against any such requirement. He may have created light ex nihilo. He may have created the cosmos ex nihilo. But he may have created man *by special creation*, by miracle, while nonetheless using pre-existing material. If your metaphysics says that this is unseemly for God or impossible or not the way God “would do it,” then I submit that your metaphysics is overly restrictive. For that matter, when Jesus made water into wine, presumably we are supposed to believe that the wine contained some of the same water. Why not? So, yeah, looks like God sometimes _does_ make stuff out of other stuff.

    It is very important to avoid false dilemmas here. We are not required to believe that *either* God caused species to come into existence by some super-subtle process involving entirely secondary causes that looks just like evolution *or* that God caused species to come into existence by ex nihilo creation.

    Oh, one other thing: There seems possibly to be some assumption buried here that God either created everything “all at once” or that something like evolution must be true. I question that entirely.

    Jesus made wine long after the origin of the universe. God made manna in the wilderness long after the first moment of the Big Bang.

    There is *nothing* in biblical theology that says that God can only make new stuff appear suddenly at the beginning or not at all. Nothing whatsoever. Again, it’s really important to shake these strange and arbitrary restrictions on how God would or must do things.

    Apologies if I have misconstrued you, but I literally cannot see any objection or problem here to special creation. I should add that most ID theorists themselves aren’t very wedded to special creation, though I think many of their arguments fit best with a progressive special creation model.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, Since St. Thomas’s theory about creation out of nothing is very new to me, maybe I’m misinterpreting it or part of it. But here’s an article by an expert saying much I’m trying to tell you.

    http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/faculty/calhoun/socratic/Tkacz_AquinasvsID.html

  • Lydia says:

    I dn’t have time to read that entire article, but I think I’ve read parts of it before. I think he’s just wrong. Take this line, for example: “Creation, on the other hand, is the radical causing of the whole existence of whatever exists.” Notice how he restricts the concept of “creation.” He’s doing an a priori approach to how God could or would create. The implication then is that “creation” refers to God’s total causal relationship to the thing rather than to the more ordinary sense of making it be there when it wasn’t there before. On this view, for example, we couldn’t say that Jesus “created” wine from water or that God “created” the manna in the wilderness *at a particular time*. If that’s indeed what Thomas thought, then Thomas was wrong too, but I doubt that it was.

    Notice, too, his assumption that we *should*, as Christians, be looking and hoping for some apparently natural explanation for the entities Behe has pointed to.

    Why the heck should we be looking for that as Christians?? That’s nuts. There is *nothing* in Christian theology that says that biological entities “should” look like God caused them to come into existence only in some slow, subtle, natural way. Nothing at all. And I find it frankly ludicrous for someone to be postulating that St. Thomas Aquinas thought that–a Darwinist before Darwin. Look at this statement: “Hippopotamuses give live birth because that is the sort of thing they are. Why are there such things as Hippopotamuses? Well, nature produced them in some way. What way did nature produce them and why does nature produce things in this way? It is because God made the whole of nature to operate in this way and produce by her own agency what she produces. ”

    What he’s saying there is that Thomists are *bound* to believe that hippopotamuses came into existence in the first place by the operation of apparently natural processes. I’m sorry, but so much the worse for Thomists if that’s what they have to think. But I suspect that St. Thomas is rolling in his grave at having such a view attributed to him–that God *could not* and *would not* have created hippos by special creation!

    The idea of excluding miracles from creation is unbiblical on its face. Presumably Tkacz thinks that God made manna, made wine, made Jesus come back to life. Some miracles he has to allow to be a Christian at all. But when it comes to creation, he wants to tell us it all had to happen in a way that appeared natural. I call foul. This way of locking oneself into a kind of methodological naturalism with regard to an entire area of divine action and scientific inquiry is bad in every possible respect–it’s bad scientifically, theologically. It’s bad for clarity of thought. It causes closed-mindedness to evidence. It has no support in Scripture or in philosophy or in theology. (Notice that what he’s really doing is an “evolution of the gaps” at the end–giving out promissory notes for finding natural processes to produce a blood-clotting cascade.) I sincerely hope that he’s taking the name of Thomas in vain in advocating it, and I’d be astonished if he were right in attributing these stultifying views to Thomas, but if that’s what Thomas thought, that’s just a darned shame.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, I mean to reply in detail. Meanwhile, please remember that in the strict sense of the word “creation,” Christ didn’t create wine when He changed water into it. Creation out of nothing, Creation out of nothing differs from the way natural processes work. I’m not suggesting that the miracle at Cana was a natural change. It’s not.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:
    I don’t think what is at issue is understanding creation ex nihilo and its difference from “other acts”. I think what is at issue is whether creation ex nihilo is the only way that God “acts”.

  • Lydia says:

    Exactly, Zippy.

    Creation out of nothing should not be the only thing that can be called “creation” in the usual way that the word is used–for example, to describe God’s bringing into existence some type of creature, including mankind. Tkacz implies that hippos had to arise in the first instance by natural processes, apparently because of his concept of creation. Something is really wrong with that concept of creation if it leads to such a rigid conclusion regarding the way that hippos must have come into being!

    Moreover, even if creation ex nihilo *were* the only non-natural way that God would bring a new species into existence, who is to say (on purely theological grounds) that God didn’t create the first pair of hippos ex nihilo? Or Adam? Again, we just cannot do this kind of thing a priori, and no theologian should be implying that Christian theology requires us to do so.

  • Lydia says:

    I can’t find any statement about hippos in Aquinas, but concerning the creation of man, anyway, he is pretty unequivocal. Man was made by the immediate power of God from the slime of the earth, which is beyond the power of nature. Summa Theologica I, question 91, article 2:

    Article 2. Whether the human body was immediately produced by God?

    I answer that, The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God. Some, indeed, supposed that the forms which are in corporeal matter are derived from some immaterial forms; but the Philosopher refutes this opinion (Metaph. vii), for the reason that forms cannot be made in themselves, but only in the composite, as we have explained (65, 4); and because the agent must be like its effect, it is not fitting that a pure form, not existing inmatter, should produce a form which is in matter, and which form is only made by the fact that the composite is made. So a form which is in matter can only be the cause of another form that is in matter, according as composite is made by composite. Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form. For this reason the angels cannot transform a body except by making use of something in the nature of a seed, as Augustinesays (De Trin. iii, 19). Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God.

    [snip]

    Reply to Objection 3. The movement of the heavens causes natural changes; but not changes that surpass the order of nature, and are caused by the Divine Power alone, as for the dead to be raised to life, or the blind to see: like to which also is the making of man from the slime of the earth.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, I’m not even hinting that creatio ex nihilo is the only way God acts. But I am presupposing divine simplicity because the doctrine about it is a dogma. That’s why Ludwig Ott writes, “The 4th Lateran Council and the Vatican Council teach that God is an absolutely simple substance or nature (substantia seu natura simplex omnino). The expression simplex omnino asserts that with regard to God any kind of composition, whether physical or metaphysical, is out of the question (Ott 31). So Thomists say that God is purely actual. He can’t go from potentially doing something to actually doing it, since a potential would be metaphysical part of Him. Composites are made up of parts, and God isn’t a composite. He has no parts. That’s why creation is not a change. For God to begin to create something, He would need to go from creating it potentially to creating it actually. If He could do anything potentially, the potential to do it would be a metaphysical part of Him.

    Remember, for St. Thomas, potentially and actuality exclude each. An actually hot burner is potentially cold, and a cold burner is potentially hot. But nothing is both potentially and actually in the same state at the same time.

    Here’s another document supporting some points I tried to make when I last answered Lydia.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04470a.htm

    Ott, Ludwig. “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.” Rockford: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974.

  • Lydia says:

    Bill, I find it difficult to believe that you are suggesting that Tkacz is right that the first hippos had to come into existence by natural processes because of the doctrine of divine simplicity!! You aren’t really saying that, are you??

    Besides, I just quoted Thomas Aquinas *explicitly asserting* that God made man’s body in a straightforwardly miraculous fashion, so this should lay to rest the thought that any of this other theology (such as the Thomistic doctrine of simplicity) is contrary to God’s making a new species subsequent to the appearance of the cosmos as a whole.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, a point I’m making is that, since God is simple, He doesn’t intervene. As the article I’ve posted a link to tells me, people who believe that fossil record gaps, say, imply divine intervention need to remember the difference between change and God’s being the first, most fundamental cause of everything except Him. He’s the uncaused cause, the cause who makes every other kind of cause possible. “First cause” doesn’t mean, “the cause that precedes the second one.”

    Anyone who believes that God intervenes literally when He creates seems to believe that during the six creation days we read about in Genesis, God began to create and then stopped creating, as though it began on day one and ended on day six, maybe with pauses between days. But Tkacz thinks that creation out of nothing is always happening. That’s partly the Catholic Encyclopedia article says that “conservation” is another word for “creation.”

    St. Thomas teaches that, though no philosophical argument can prove that the universe began to exist, Holy Scripture reveals that it did, and I have no problem. I do have a problem with the idea that that creation out of nothing is a process that started and ended. If the universe began to exist, it did that because God knew eternally that it would.

    What kind of possibility do you mean when you use the word “could” in the post I’m replying to, logical possibility, physical possibility, nomological possibility . . . I do a agree with Tkacz. The question is what you mean by “had to.”

  • Lydia says:

    Here is an absolutely glorious take-down of Tkacz, showing that he contradicts Aquinas again and again and again.

    http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas1.html#section2

    I can scarcely believe that any Catholic actually takes Tkacz seriously. He literally goes so far (the quotes are right there at the link) as to say that if some organism is a part of nature is *must* have a natural cause, otherwise it could not be intelligible. For him to argue that this sort of functional deism concerning the origin of biological entities is required by Christian theology is just…whacked.

  • Lydia says:

    “Lydia, a point I’m making is that, since God is simple, He doesn’t intervene.”

    Number one: Prima facie, the Bible implies that you are wrong about that. Over and over and over again. God intervenes _constantly_ in Scripture.

    Number two: Perhaps you are going to say that the umpety miralces *explicitly* asserted in Scripture, which I presume you accept the occurrence of as a Christian, are “not intervention.” The water from the rock wasn’t intervention. The manna in the wilderness wasn’t intervention. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t intervention. The raising of Lazrus wasn’t intervention. The fire from heaven when Elijah contested with the priests of Baal wasn’t intervention.

    Fine and dandy, I guess, though that’s a really weird way to define “not intervention.” But if that’s how you *insist* on using terms, and if you *insist* that your non-interventionist philosophy can accommodate all of those things and the many, many more in Scripture and call them something else, then your philosophy can also accommodate God’s making Adam specially and miraculously. Like Aquinas said God did. And also hippos. And the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade. And your philosophy can also accommodate God’s leaving *evidence* of his having done so in the complexity of those organisms.

    Which means that Tkacz is totally wrong, and we are not theologically obligated to believe that all that stuff had natural origins.

    So take your pick: Either your “God does not intervene” principle can accommodate miracles, or it’s deism, plain and simple. If it can, then it can accommodate every ID argument in the book, and a whole lot more.

  • Zippy says:

    Even if we take Divine Simplicity to imply that God doesn’t “intervene” strictly speaking, it isn’t clear what implications that has on how things look to us. After all, God “reveals”, which may not strictly speaking be “intervention”; but it sure looks like what we call “intervention” in everyday language to us.

    I conclude then not that Divine Simplicity is not true, but that the folks telling us how that makes things necessarily appear to us are wrong.

  • Lydia says:

    Exactly, Zippy, though I myself have precisely zero problem with the i-word (“intervention”). But if they insist on defining it in such a way that it is incompatible with divine simplicity, then they’re just going to have to push the bump on the carpet somewhere else–to, for example, the way it appears to us.

    Bill McEnaney, I feel that you did not answer my question concerning simplicity very clearly, so I’ll try wording it a different way, perhaps more clearly myself:

    Are you literally stating that we can reason deductively from the doctrine of divine simplicity to the conclusion that the first hippos had an origin entirely in natural causes?

    If so, would you apply this to everything else? E.g. Does this also mean that all the miracles in the Bible actually occurred, unbeknownst to everyone, by natural causes?

    Does this same argument mean that the body of man had its origin in natural causes (because of the doctrine of divine simplicity)? If so, then did Aquinas not understand the doctrine of divine simplicity, since, as I have pointed out, he explicitly taught that the body of man was necessarily made immediately by God?

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, since the doctrine about divine simplicity is de fide, its denial is heretical.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    I should have pasted this link a post ago. Ott explains the degrees of theological certainty on page 9 of Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. But the document I’m linking to includes their Latin description, “de fide,” say.

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/DOCTRINE/TRIGINFL.HTM

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:
    You are missing the point if you think anyone is denying the doctrine of divine simplicity. Denying ludicrous interpretations of supposed implications of a doctrine is not denial of the doctrine itself.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    I misread your post where your last sentence begins with “I conclude then not.” I know of some Protestants, Plantinga, say, who reject divine simplicity. Every theistic personalist I know of at least doubts it, and Swinburne rejects divine timelessness in his book “The Existence of God.” For him to say that God is eternal is to say that He always has an always will exist. He denies that God’s existence is metaphysically necessary.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, you ask, “Are you literally stating that we can reason deductively from the doctrine of divine simplicity to the conclusion that the first hippos had an origin entirely in natural causes?”

    No, I’m not, since I think that causation in itself depends on God. If there’s a God, even natural causes, even they need him to make them possible in any sense of the word “possible.” Dawkins would say that the first rhino had its origin in entirely natural cause, since he’s a metaphysical naturalist. Metaphysical naturalists believe that no one and nothing is supernatural.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, you might say that from our perspective here on Earth, God does intervene, But if the dogma about divine simplicity is true, He doesn’t go from intervening potentially to intervening actually. Like Feser, I believe that change consists in causing a potential to become actual. Although God causes changes, He’s unchanging and unchangeable. In St. Thomas’s jargon, “God is pure act with no admixture of potency.”

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    I should have pasted this link a post ago.

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1009.htm

  • Lydia says:

    Bill McEnaney, you are being cagey. I’m sorry, but I really cannot think of anything else to call it. Interestingly, Tkacz, whom you say you agree with (unless that was a typo), is _not_ cagey on this. He is explicit. He says, “Why are there such things as Hippopotamuses? Well, nature produced them in some way. What way did nature produce them and why does nature produce things in this way? It is because God made the whole of nature to operate in this way and produce by her own agency what she produces.”

    So do you think that, from the doctrine of divine simplicity as you understand it, you can deduce *that*? Can you deduce taht hippopotamuses came into being in the first place because they were produced “by nature’s own agency” as opposed to by the immediate and miraculous action of God?

    I’m also a tad frustrated by your not even *acknowledging* the *explicit* quotation from Aquinas above that God *immediately* produced the body of man, which was “beyond the power of nature” to produce, especially since the origin of man rather than hippos was our original topic here. So pretty much all of my previous questions to you still stand.

  • Lydia says:

    I could try wording it this way, Bill M.:

    1) Does your concept of the doctrine of simplicity allow you to affirm the occurrence of miracles? Since you are concerned with not being heretical (!), I assume the answer is yes.

    2) If yes, then, how can you conclude from the doctrine of divine simplicity that the first appearance or of hippos was not the result of a miracle?

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Of course I believe miracles happen, Lydia. I think one happens at each Mass I attend, i.e., transubstantiation.

    Only God can create hippos, since only God can create, period. But if I understand what St. Thomas and Tkacz and believe about creation, creation doesn’t require God to go from potency to act, and literal divine intervention implies that does that.

    Forgive the long quotation, since Tkcaz writes:

    ” Into this medieval debate comes Thomas Aquinas. He pointed out that the Christian conception of God as the author of all truth and the notion that the aim of scientific research is the truth indicates that there can be no fundamental incompatibility between the two. Provided we understand Christian doctrine properly and do our science well, we will find the truth—not a religious truth and another scientific truth—but the truth, the way things actually exist and function. Yet, what about the apparent conflict between notion of creation from nothing and the scientific principle that for every natural motion or state there is an antecedent motion or state?
    Thomas points out that the judgment that there is a conflict here results from confusion regarding the nature of creation and natural change. It is an error that I call the “Cosmogonical Fallacy.” Those who are worried about conflict between faith and reason on this issue fail to distinguish between cause in the sense of a natural change of some kind and cause in the sense of an ultimate bringing into being of something from no antecedent state whatsoever. “Creatio non est mutatio,” says Thomas, affirming that the act of creation is not some species of change. So, the Greek natural philosophers were quite correct: from nothing, nothing comes. By “comes” here is meant a change from one state to another and this requires some underlying material reality, some potentiality for the new state to come into being. This is because all change arises out of a pre-existing possibility for that change residing in something. Creation, on the other hand, is the radical causing of the whole existence of whatever exists. To be the complete cause of something’s existence is not the same as producing a change in something. It is not a taking of something and making it into something else, as if there were some primordial matter which God had to use to create the universe. Rather, creation is the result of the divine agency being totally responsible for the production, all at once and completely, of the whole of the universe, with all it entities and all its operations, from absolutely nothing pre-existing.
    Strictly speaking, points out Thomas, the Creator does not create something out of nothing in the sense of taking some nothing and making something out of it. This is a conceptual mistake, for it treats nothing as a something. On the contrary, the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo claims that God made the universe without making it out of anything. In other words, anything left entirely to itself, completely separated from the cause of its existence, would not exist—it would be absolutely nothing. The ultimate cause of the existence of anything and everything is God who creates, not out of some nothing, but from nothing at all.
    In this way, one can see that the new science of the thirteenth century, out of which our modern science developed, was not a threat to the traditional Christian doctrine of creation. To come to know the natural causes of natural beings is a different matter from knowing that all natural beings and operations radically depend on the ultimate cause for the existence of everything: God the Creator. Creation is not a change. Creation is a cause, but of a very different, indeed unique, kind. Only if one avoids the Cosmogonical Fallacy, is one able to correctly understand the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo.”

  • Lydia says:

    Bill M., I have to ask:

    Are you _consciously refusing_ to address the _explicit_ statement by Thomas, which I quoted above, that God _immediately_ made the body of man?

    Are you _unaware_ of the fact that this settles the question as to whether Thomas believed (based on divine simplicity or anything else) that God does _not_ make creatures by miracle? (Hint: It shows that Thomas thought nothing of the kind.)

    Are you _consciously refusing_ to address directly the _clear argument_ I have made? Viz., that if your theological principles countenance miracles, then your theological principles _should not_ lead deductively to the conclusion that the body of the first man or the first hippos or any other type of creature _definitely did come into existence_ by way of “nature’s own agency,” as Tkacz states.

    I believe my argument has been quite clear and indeed fairly simple. Yet you post comment after comment in which you simply do not address that argument.

    Whether or not you wish to call God’s making the body of man (as Aquinas said that God did) by his immediate action “creation,” you have no argument that God did not make Adam in that way. And indeed, if you assert that God did not, you are contradicting Aquinas, which seems to matter to you.

    The fact is that neither you nor Tkacz has given *any theological reason whatsoever* to believe that the body of man, or the first hippos, came into existence by “nature’s own agency.” None. And any putative theological principle strong enough to do so would also block Biblical and other miracles, which you (for obvious reasons) believe do occur.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    No, I’m not consciously refusing to admit anything you may think I’m consciously refusing to admit, Lydia.

    What does the phrase “body of man” signify in your post, the body that belongs to a particular human person or the human body in general? As I told you, Pope Pius XII seems to think it’s okay for scientists to study whether the human body evolved. In Humani Generis, he writes, “36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

    Think of it this way, Lydia. A body without a human soul wouldn’t be a human body, since an immortal human soul is what distinguishes a human person from everyone else and everything else. I suggest that when Genesis says that God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils, it means that He ensouled Adam’s body. Each human person is a body-soul composite,

    I say that a miracle is something that only God can do, and that only God can create ex nihilo. If I’m right, God did a miracle by creating man, everyone, and everything else He created. He’s still creating now.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    No, I’m not consciously refusing to admit anything you may think I’m consciously refusing to admit, Lydia.

    What does the phrase “body of man” signify in your post, the body that belongs to a particular human person or the human body in general? As I told you, Pope Pius XII seems to think it’s okay for scientists to study whether the human body evolved. In Humani Generis, he writes, “36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis.html

    Think of it this way, Lydia. A body without a human soul wouldn’t be a human body, since an immortal human soul is what distinguishes a human person from everyone else and everything else. I suggest that when Genesis says that God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils, it means that He ensouled Adam’s body. Each human person is a body-soul composite,

    I say that a miracle is something that only God can do. Supposing I’m right, creatio ex nihilo is a miracle, since only God can create that way. Nature’s own agency presuppose creatio ex nihilo.

  • Lydia says:

    “What does the phrase “body of man” signify in your post, the body that belongs to a particular human person or the human body in general?”

    This is a very surprising question. I have said “Adam” over and over again. So did St. Thomas Aquinas. Presumably he meant Adam! Adam’s body. The body of the first man. The actual, literal body. How much more explicit does the issue need to be?

    I’m not surprised at all that you think that God’s interaction with Adam’s origin was ensoulment rather than the miraculous making of the physical body. Fine and dandy, that’s a very familiar view. But saying that was how it was for *theological reasons*, rather than that you just think that because you are convinced of Darwinism or something, is a different matter. Nor does the _denial_ that God specially made man’s body agree with Aquinas. In fact, it contradicts him. (A point you have not yet acknowledged.)

    You have seemed to be saying, along with Tkacz, that you can tell theologically that God *did not* immediately bring into existence the bodies of new creatures (such as Adam or the first hippos), but that they actually came into existence by “nature’s own agency” rather than by miracle. You keep dancing (I’m sorry, but you really do), but this is the thesis, as far as I can tell.

    And it has not been defended satisfactorily at all. You have utterly failed to show that divine simplicity or any other doctrine requires such a conclusion.

    “I say that a miracle is something that only God can do. Supposing I’m right, creatio ex nihilo is a miracle, since only God can create that way.”

    But you yourself have said that God’s acts are not restricted to creation ex nihilo. So this statement is pointless as regards any argument concerning any point at issue between us.

    ” Nature’s own agency presuppose creatio ex nihilo.”

    Fine. And true. And correct. And this does not support in any way, shape, or form Tkacz’s conclusion that hippos (or anything else) came into existence at the first *by nature’s own agency*. Not at all. I don’t quite know why you cannot see that.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia,

    In Hebrew, the word for “Adam” is ambiguous, since it signify Eve’s husband, mankind, or both.

    No, I’m not limiting God’s action to creatio ex nihilo. God knows, He loves, He chooses, He wills, and so forth. But as the divine simplicity doctrine tells me, since God has no parts. His will His knowledge, His power, and so forth aren’t parts of Him. The phrases “God’s power,” “God’s knowledge,” “God’s will,” “God’s creative action,” and so forth each stand for the same object, for God. We talk about Him as though He has parts, because we need to think analogically about Him. He’s simple, but we’re not that way.

    I don’t think that God interacted with Adam’s origin by only ensouling his body. He created Adam’s body, too. But creation out of nothing differs from natural processes that may have formed the human body. As the Tkacz article says, St. Thomas distinguishes between the existence of a thing and what that thing does. Whatever you, I, the first rhino, anyone else, or anything else does, God causes its existence and ours. To sustain your life, you eat, sleep drink exercise, breathe . . . .But those things presuppose existence, and God is the source of it.

    There’s a difference between a body and a corpse. A body is a living thing. A corpse is nonliving. In fact, death changes a body into a corpse. A body becomes an object of another kind. So here’s a question, Lydia. Did God ensoul a body, or did a material object become a body when God ensouled it? Since Adam was the first man, the material object we call “Adams’s body” probably wasn’t a corpse.

    Ott writes, “In philosophical and theological parlance, by Creation is understood: The production of a thing out of nothing (productio rei ex nihilo, i.e., non ex aliquo), and indeed ex nihilo sui et subjecti (not ex nihilo cause), that is, before the act of creation, neither the thing as such, nor any material substratum, from which it was produced, existed . . . From Creation in the proper sense and strict sense (creatio prima) is to be distinguished the so-called creatio secunda, by which is understood the modeling of formless material and the bestowal of life upon it” (Ott 29).

    It’s hard to tell what Ott means by “formless” matter.” But I think he probably means “contour,” shape,” or something like that, since every object, material on non-material, has an essence, and “form” can mean “essence.”

    No, I’m not denying that God created Adam directly. I’m trying to tell whether He did that by creatio ex nihilo, creatio secunda, or both.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:

    No, I’m not limiting God’s action to creatio ex nihilo.

    That pretty much ends the grounds for substantive controversy though, and raises the question of just what the heck Tkcaz thinks he is talking about — why he is talking about ID versus evolution at all.

    If all he is saying is that a world in which Michael Behe is wrong would be a more comfortable place for AT philosophers, well, then big deal. It isn’t reality’s job to fashion the perfect comfy for everyone’s presuppositions.

    If he is disputing Behe’s factual claims he should come out and say that – and say on what grounds he disputes those factual claims – instead of building a mountain of off-topic bluster and then adopting a pose as if it were actually on topic.

  • Lydia says:

    If I understand your use of the phrase “creatio secunda,” Bill M. (and I’m not sure that I do, so I fear its introduction may only cause more difficulties), then Tkacz is insisting that God *did not* form biological creatures by creatio secunda but rather that they arose by “nature’s own agency.” And he is insisting that he knows this on theological grounds.

    I’ve done a little googling concerning this phrase, as it is new to me, and it appears that “creatio secunda” is often used for what I would normally call “special creation,” which would involve actual miracle by God to make something which appears at some later point in the history of the world–not the first moment of the cosmos.

    Now, if this is *not* what you mean by the phrase, and if the phrase includes *both* what is usually called “special creation” (or making by miracle, or whatever phrase you find clearest for that meaning) and also the unfolding of natural processes/secondary causes, then the phrase is not helpful. Because distinguishing those is important for the discussion.

    My own inclination, in answer to your question, is to think that Adam’s soul (and yes, I mean Adam-Adam, a particular guy at a particular time, the father of the race, so let’s not feign confusion because “Adam” can mean “man”) came to be at the same moment that his body was formed. Bam, pow. Crude, like that. Because I am extremely dubious of all gradualistic scientific claims (dubious for scientific reasons) for the origin of the human race, I don’t think there was some human-shaped entity (or preexisting, living humanoid, or anything at all) that *needed* to be ensouled. In fact, I wouldn’t use the word “ensoulment” at all, because I think God specially made man’s body and soul at the same time.

    “But creation out of nothing differs from natural processes that may have formed the human body.”

    Notice, please, that here you are using the phrase “may have formed,” when the question is not about what “may have” happened. Rather, the question is whether we can _deduce_ from some theological doctrine that natural processes *did form* the human body. That is what I think is obviously false.

    If you agree with Tkacz, then, as far as I can tell, you think it is true–that we can deduce from theology that natural processes not just “may have formed” all the biological entities after the beginning of the universe, but that they *did* do so.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, if I understand the Latin, “creatio secunda” means “second creation.” Ott seems to believe that to create that way, God changes already-existing building materials before He gives it life.

    To me, He seems to do “second creation” during conception. The sperm fertilizes the egg, God puts in the soul, and voila, a new human person with his or her particular essence, which St. Thomas calls a “substantial form.”

    We can say that God creates the baby’s body and her soul at the same time, I think. But “at the same time” is vague when it’s about the time of day. Your clock strikes one. The a trillionth of a second later, it’s after 1:00 when the clock still says 1:00.

    To me, creation out of nothing and evolution by natural selection seem compatible with each other if creatio ex nihilo is what Tkcaz defines it as, my friend. That’s partly why I said that even the fossil record gaps depend on God to conserve them.

    Since I don’t know whether to be a theistic evolutionist, I’m not one. But a Thomistic orthodox Catholic theologian friend of mine is a theistic evolutionist who would reject evolution theory if he thought it conflicted with Catholicism. If populations evolve by natural selection, they do that because God invented it. Since God is all-good, He’s hardly going to scatter fossils around the world to fool us and order us to reject genuine scientific knowledge.

    Too many Bible readers, especially some who believe sola scriptura, treat Holy Scripture like a 21st-century book while they ignore ancient Hebrew culture, biblical literary genres, biblical figures of speech, cultural anthropology, and many other theology related disciplines.

    Years ago, I discussed soul sleep with a Seventh-Day Adventist acquaintance of mine. The idea behind soul sleep is that our disembodied souls remain unconscious until Christ resurrects our bodies. That’s why I quoted St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology to prove that he believed that after we die, our souls stay conscious. The SDA, replied, “That doesn’t matter. We have the Bible.”

    Imagine what biologists may think of our scholarly biological papers 2,000 years from now. To them, 21st-century may seem as primitive as ancient Greek science seems to us. To understand our scientific publications, they’ll need cultural information to help them understand those writings and our society. I’m no relativist of any kind. I’m only trying to remind everyone that background information is essential when he interpret ancient writings.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:

    …a Thomistic orthodox Catholic theologian friend of mine is a theistic evolutionist who would reject evolution theory if he thought it conflicted with Catholicism…

    I don’t think (and have never thought) that Darwinian evolution is intrinsically in conflict with Catholicism.

    My own objections to evolutionary “theory” have never been theological. They have always been based on how consistently wrong evolutionary fairy tales have been about the facts, in those comparatively rare cases in which they manage to make any non question-begging assertions at all.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, in college, where I took biology, marine biology, microbiology, geology, and paleontology, I didn’t find any question begging there. Maybe because I wasn’t looking for it. Today I suspect there’s something circular about metaphysical naturalism, arguments for it, or both. Even if there’s no circularity there, how would any scientist notice any when he assumed that to do science properly, he needed to be a methodological naturalist?

    During a TV program I’ve watched, a reporter interviewed a neurologist about whether there’s evidence for an afterlife. The doctor replied, “I don’t know. But if there is one, we’ll need to change too many of our scientific assumptions about neurology.” Maybe they’d say the same sort of thing about whether there’s evidence for theism. Methodological naturalism is reasonable. But how objective are scientists who ignore evidence for or against something merely because its truth would require them to revise their scientific beliefs?

    Ah, I’ve just remembered a funny part of Daniel Dennett’s book “Consciousness Explained,” where he writes about sea squirts in a paragraph that sounded something like this. “Sea squirts wander on the ocean floor until they choose a rock where they’ll live the rest of their lives. After they attach to them, the squirts eat their brains because they don’t need them anymore. It’s rather like getting tenure.”

  • Zippy says:

    Bill McEnaney:

    Scientific objectivity requires us to be careful not to project our presuppositions onto the data.

    “Methodological naturalism” is the opposite of scientific objectivity. It requires us to project metaphysically naturalist presuppositions onto the data.

    Zippy, in college, where I took biology, marine biology, microbiology, geology, and paleontology, I didn’t find any question begging there. Maybe because I wasn’t looking for it.

    It may also be because evolution is irrelevant, as a practical matter, to almost all of what biologists actually do in practice. For example the assumption that phenotypical or functional similarity implies common descent is completely irrelevant to applying statistical methods to guesstimate protein structures from databases of known structures.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Here’s another example of circularity, Zippy. Ask a scientist what justifies induction. He probably will tell you about how well it works for science, how often scientists predict accurately with it. I’ll bet he won’t notice that he’s reasoning circularly by assuming that induction is reliable while he argues inductively for it.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    What would Aristotle and St. Thomas say now if you asked them whether there are merely possible airplanes they can conceive of? Maybe that we can have an intelligible species in our minds, even when there’s nothing for it to be an intelligible species of.

  • Lydia says:

    Okay, so Bill M., as you understand the phrase “creatio secunda,” it does include _both_ development by secondary causes _and_ some kind of miraculous making, such as God’s making manna in the wilderness.

    I feared that it might be ambiguous at precisely that point (as you are using it) and hence unhelpful for our current discussion.

    In fact, the strangest thing about our current discussion is that, forgive me, but it almost seems to me that you are *literally incapable* of discussing, even as a _category_, God’s literally, miraculously making a biological entity. It’s almost as though that category does not exist in your vocabulary, so you are not able to discuss its possibility. That’s rather odd, because I’ve tried to give other examples–God’s making manna in the wilderness and Jesus’ making water from wine are two–and yet for some reason you don’t even seem able to acknowledge what it would mean to think or hypothesize that God made the first biological entities of some kind in that way.

    Tkacz, at least, doesn’t seem to suffer from that lack. He seems to know what that category is. He just says that, for some theological reasons, he knows that that category doesn’t apply to hippos or presumably to Adam, either. Because God wouldn’t do it that way. He’s clear. He’s just wrong.

    I find it pretty much head-shakingly impossible even to discuss this with you, though you think you agree with Tkacz, because you don’t seem to have a clear concept of what the point at issue is between us.

    For example, in your latest note you go on at some length about whether or not evolution by natural selection is “compatible” with creation ex nihilo or compatible with Catholic doctrine.

    But not a single person here has argued for such an incompatibility. What we are arguing against is Tkacz’s a priori attempt to rule out special creation (or making by miracle) on purely theological grounds. It’s almost like you cannot understand what it means to object to Tkacz on those grounds or like you cannot understand the argument against his position on that subject.

    For that reason, I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel here, because it’s like debating with mist.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Thank you, Lydia. You’re fun to “talk” with, but If you want to throw in the towel, that’s all right. The best ways to discuss anything with me are in person, by Skype, or by phone, since I learn best by hearing.

    Since I believe that God does miracles, I take the Bible’s miracle passages literally. What I deny is that, to do any of them, He needs to go from doing them possibly to doing them actually. He’s purely actual without any potential. So He only seems to intervene when He does one. St. Thomas believes that, although no one can change God’s mind, He can arrange from eternity that you’ll get something by asking for it. He’s timeless. We’re in time. Christ, God the Son, can go from potency to act, though, because He took a human nature.

    It seems to me that God knows His creatures, including the universe, in something like the way a playwright knows scripts. They already know the stories, the lines, and so forth before anyone performs their plays. Here on Earth, we watch things happen one by one, say, because we’re in time. He sees the whole play at the same time, since He’s purely actual and without any potential.

    I know that only I said anything about whether evolution theory is compatible with Catholic doctrine. Sadly, I suspect I jumped to a false conclusion or two when you told us that you were a creationist. To often, while I help my publisher friend John, I answer technical questions in too, too much detail. Maybe I’m doing something like that here when I bring up an subject that no one else has mentioned.

    I want you to keep your towel. But if you need to launch it, let it fly. My apologies.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Though I don’t mean to give anyone too much to read, this article supports when I’ve been saying about divine simplicity.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06612a.htm#IC

  • Lydia says:

    I just last year published an extremely long article defending divine timelessness.

    Since divine timelessness *can* accommodate literal miracles (and you and I both agree that it can), why can it not accommodate a literal miracle to make the first hippo? By miracle? Not by “nature’s own agency”? In the way that Tkacz says God didn’t do it and wouldn’t do it?

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    If divine timelessness can’t accommodate a literal miracle to make the first hippo, I don’t know why it can’t do that.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, after I read the post where you ask why Tkacz denies that God would do a miracle to create the first hippo, I wondered what purpose that miracle would serve when no one was there to watch it, hear about it or both. So I looked up Fr. John Hardon’s definition of the word “miracle.” Say that definition is accurate, and that plants and animals were the only creatures living on our planet when the first hippo came to be. Then the animals wouldn’t be smart enough to know that God created that one to prove that someone was holy.

    http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34896

  • Lydia says:

    “If divine timelessness can’t accommodate a literal miracle to make the first hippo, I don’t know why it can’t do that.”

    Okay, good, that’s progress. Then perhaps we can agree that both divine timelessness and divine simplicity (which you seem to connect with each other, understandably enough) _can_ accommodate such a miracle?

    In that case, Tkacz cannot base his conclusion on either of those doctrines.

  • Lydia says:

    You seem to be asking why God would perform a miracle to make the first hippo. Your question appears to be: To whom would such a miracle be a sign?

    Well, now, that gives rise to this very interesting answer: Michael Behe shows us evidence that, I believe (though Behe does not state this) _does_ support actual, deliberate agency, of the sort that would be, in my opinion, best explained by a miraculous act of God, in the making of the blood-clotting cascade and several other biological entities.

    Hence, I reply: The making of a complex biological entity serves as a sign to us. To you and me and others living later and able to comprehend the evidence. The truth to which these wondrous biological contrivances attest is the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God.

    And the same with man: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvellous are all thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.”

    In the case of man, the miracle also serves the purpose of fitting man with a body that no animal had that was perfectly attuned to the emotional and spiritual nature which God gave man at the same time. Man is in the imago dei in his body *as well as* in his soul and mind. Hence, the miracle in that case was necessary because man is set apart from all of the animals *not* merely by his soul but also by his body.

    I think your definition of “miracle” needs to be able to accommodate that as a sufficiently important purpose, by the way. Because it is sufficiently important.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, that’s a good point about the blood-clotting cascade, though I’m wondering whether it proves less than I would hope it would. A philosopher I know of, probably Richard Swinburne, believes that God would need only enough power to create the universe in some sense of the verb “to create.” That belief suggests that the God he envisions may be only finitely powerful. Then again, I don’t know of anything we can perceive would need an all-powerful cause. Even my favorite evidence for a miracle doesn’t show me, maybe because there’s something wrong with my thinking, that it, the potential miracle, needed one.

    http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/english_pdf/Lanciano1.pdf
    http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/english_pdf/Lanciano2.pdf

  • Lydia says:

    I’m having a little trouble following your point, Bill M.

    If your point is that we should not believe in a particular miracle unless we are convinced that “it needed an all-powerful cause” (correct me if that is a misinterpretation of your point), then I do disagree, and I think there are a number of Biblical miracles that are counterexamples. An alien could (in theory) have caused the voice to come from heaven that ratified Jesus at his baptism and at the Transfiguration, for example. I could give plenty of other examples from miracles that, nonetheless, Christians are supposed to believe.

    For whatever it’s worth (though I’m not sure why it is relevant), I disagree with several aspects of Swinburne’s theology. For example, as I recall he believes that God is in time, and as I just said I have argued at length for divine timelessness.

  • jf12 says:

    God is not limited by time, nor for that matter is He limited by timelessness. It’s sometimes fun to imagine that we can imagine (I think I said that right, double the imagination) things from God’s pov, but such imaginings never constrain Him.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, for me, an essential question is, “What’s the essence of any miracle? What is any miracle in itself?” Creation out of nothing is a miracle, in my opinion. But if I understand Swinburne’s natural theology and that kind of creation, Swinburne’e limited, personalist God can’t create anything out of nothing. His God is contingent, too. If Swinburne’s God exists, He only happens to exist, and His nature doesn’t imply that He does. To my theologically amateur mind, Swinburne’s God isn’t the biblical one.

    In his definition of the word “miracle,” Fr. Hardon says that a miracle is at least beyond “visible nature.” Something we can’t perceive with our senses, perhaps? If visible nature includes what we can hear, what the alien did wouldn’t be beyond visible nature.

  • Lydia says:

    I guess I’m still not following you. The voice from heaven *was* a miracle, and it *did* happen, and Christians are supposed to believe both that it happened and that it was a miracle. I assume you do believe both of those things. But making a voice come from heaven doesn’t actually require absolute omnipotence and transcendent power. Sometimes God does miracles by doing things that in theory *could* also be done by lesser beings. That is just a fact. I could give you quite a few examples from Scripture. That doesn’t make them non-miracles. They were in fact an operation of power other than that of the natural order.

    And I have no idea why you keep talking about Swinburne. Didn’t I just tell you I disagree with his theology?

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    I’ll stop talking about Swinburne. You said you disagreed with several aspects of his theology. So for all I knew, you may have agreed with some aspects of it.

    I agree with you, too. So I guess my point about aliens shows that I’m confused about miracles and about what Fr. Hardon means by the phrase “beyond visible nature.”

  • Lydia says:

    Does this mean that you now have your doubts about Tkacz’s confident pronouncement, allegedly on theological grounds, that the creatures definitely came into being through “nature’s own agency”?

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    No, Lydia, I’m not doubting what Tkacz tells in his article. I’m doubting that there’s much for me to add to this conversation. But since I still mean to read St. Thomas’s book about creation to tell you about what he believes, I’ll try to read it. For now, I’m too tired to read any book.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, I doubted that I would write more about Zippy’s post. But I thought you would want to know that, in an article I had read a day or two ago, where the author defends ID against Tkacz’s arguments, I discovered that St. Thomas thought that God had created Adam and Eve specially, not by merely natural causes. It seems to me that, in St. Thomas’s sense of the word “creation,” creation by merely natural causes isn’t creation at all.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Here’s the article I mentioned a post ago.

    http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/thomas4.html

  • Lydia says:

    I myself linked that very material by Torley, above, to make the very same point! I emphasized it again and again. I don’t know what it means that you are linking it now. Are you convinced by it that Tkacz’s position does not represent St. Thomas’s position and that Tkacz is confused about Thomas’s position? But that is the very point I was making. Perhaps that means that we now agree.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Lydia, we do agree. Maybe I’m misinterpreting what St. Thomas believes about creation, since his beliefs about it are new to me. They must have confused me when I wondered whether God created Adam and Eve specially. To me, special creation suggested divine intervention seemingly incompatible with divine simplicity.

  • Lydia says:

    Don’t worry: I blame Tkacz entirely. Take care!

    🙂

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Thanks for scapegoating Tkacz. 🙂 Sometimes I’m dense, even now when my Thomist theologian friend, a theistic evolutionist, told me that God did create our first parents specially.

  • Lydia says:

    This is a personal friend? Hmmm, maybe I should scapegoat him (whoever he may be) instead of Tkacz! 🙂

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    He has an excuse. 🙂 Before he earned his STL, he was a biologist. Someone needs to coin a new acronym for “doctor of sacred theology,” since I almost typed, “He was a biologist before he earned his STD.” “STD” is ambiguous. 🙂

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    By the way, Lydia, I’m not an evolutionist, since I don’t know what to be.

  • jf12 says:

    In accord with instructions, this is an uninteresting comment. I’m sort of a cafeteria scientist. I don’t mind compartmentalizing and treating worldy objects as if The Scientisty Worldview were correct, keeping in mind always that “things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

  • Lydia says:

    I don’t know if this is a sufficiently uninteresting comment, but…

    There isn’t just one scientist-y worldview. Scientists disagree and can be wrong. For example, they can be wrong as to how things got here. And their metaphysical assumptions (which may well be false) can mess up their science. So it isn’t a question of whether one _minds_ compartmentalizing. I think in the context of the origins debate the bigger problem is that if one is too quick to compartmentalize, one ends up accepting !@$-y science as if it were good science, simply because it happens to be the currently popular or mainstream science, and one accepts that as “the scientific way to look at this question.”

    I sometimes imagine a race of aliens discovering an abandoned space probe from earth and having a similar debate: The aliens who say that it was made by an intelligent race are said to be “bringing in a religious point of view” while the aliens who insist that it developed accidentally by colliding pieces of metal are said to represent “the scientific point of view.”

    And how stupid that would be.

  • jf12 says:

    re: “if one is too quick to compartmentalize, one ends up accepting !@$-y science as if it were good science”

    Maybe. I’ve seen a lot of 6th grade science fair projects that were better science than some of the (e.g. DOE) funded sows’ ears from which professional scientists have tried to make silk purses. But it’s not usually from compartmentalization.

  • jf12 says:

    re: bad science

    I think one of the first uninteresting comments I made here revolved around the actual empirical solution to the demarcation problem: there is a lot of science with varying degrees of badness.

  • Bill McEnaney says:

    Zippy, I pray you’re right when you say, “Just that I suspect (based on nothing more than our occasional interaction here and there) that beneath the self deprecation lies a true philosopher.” Your judgment is better than mine, I’m sure, especially now. I wish we could correspond privately because I’d love to know what convinced you of that.

  • Zippy says:

    Hello Bill,

    You can feel free to email me. My email address is on the About page.

  • buckyinky says:

    I think this question falls under the subject of this post:

    Just how many bullet points does it take to make an antipope?

  • […] into distinct elements of Being by our conceptual reductions.  It is a mistake to think that the male and the human can be dis-integrated from each other and treated as separate ontological objects in […]

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