The God of the Naturalist Philosophers

Like theism, naturalism has a doctrine of the ultimate: of the outermost limit of being and of thought, of the source and end and matrix of everything that is. The differences between the theist and naturalist notions of the ultimate lie, not in its operations upon the world – worlds can’t do without some environing context or other – but in its character. The ultimate of the theists is intelligent, rational, omniscient, good, supremely real, and so forth; whereas the ultimate of the naturalists is stupid, chaotic, unintelligible, blind, mindless, and unreal.

How could blind vacuous chaos give rise to an ordered, rational, sentient, intelligible world? In no possible way. It takes value to make value. Naturalists are therefore driven, willy nilly, to the conclusion that despite appearances, the world is in fact not at all ordered, rational, sentient, or intelligible. Thus it – and everything in it – cannot possibly be explained, there being in the first place nothing to explain (for under the naturalist presupposition, just everything is a brute fact), and in the second place no such thing as explanation. Naturalism elides smoothly into nominalism, and skepticism; and so, to nihilism; for, one’s vision of the ultimate is one’s vision of the essential character of existence as such. What’s to keep the nothingness back, after all, if in the final analysis everything is nothing anyway?

87 thoughts on “The God of the Naturalist Philosophers

  1. Pingback: The God of the Naturalist Philosophers | Reaction Times

  2. “Naturalism elides smoothly into nominalism, and skepticism; and so, to nihilism.”

    That is the genealogy of modernity, whose tendency is to become actively, rather than merely theoretically, nihilistic.

  3. Short and to the point, its hard to disagree with the sentiment expressed. Scientism eats itself, for if chance be the father of all matter, then any law or theory we might conceive to predict the world is merely a useful fiction. Anything is possible, even in a world that appears to suggest otherwise. Chaos rules supreme in the naturalist view.

  4. Like theism, naturalism has a doctrine of the ultimate: of the outermost limit of being and of thought, of the source and end and matrix of everything that is.

    Not really. Or at least, there is no specific doctrine of the ultimate required by naturalism, and naturalists don՚t agree on what it is. The things they do agree on definitionally, what sets them apart from theists, is that they don՚t believe in the supernatural and they don՚t believe that ultimate being has the form of a person.

    The differences between the theist and naturalist notions of the ultimate lie…in its character. The ultimate of the theists is intelligent, rational, omniscient, good, supremely real, and so forth; whereas the ultimate of the naturalists is stupid, chaotic, unintelligible, blind, mindless, and unreal.

    As I said above, there is no one “ultimate of the naturalists”, but obviously they all hold it is at least in part intelligible (given that they are talking about it), and also obviously “real”, although I honestly am not sure what work that term is supposed to be doing. What would it even mean to believe in something that was both ultimate and unreal? Or are you saying that it is unreal to you?

    What’s to keep the nothingness back, after all, if in the final analysis everything is nothing anyway?

    Back from what?

    I’m starting to get the sense that you believe what you do out of fear: of nothingness or non-existence or something like that. I suppose the fear is completely natural, but that doesn’t make an argument. “The world is like x because not-x scares me or makes me feel awful” is not a valid inference where I come from.

    I suppose you are going to get indignant and say it isn’t fear, but reason — it just doesn’t make sense to you that (eg) values could emerge from a material universe. That’s an improvement, but equally invalid. Just because you can’t imagine how x could happen doesn’t mean x couldn’t happen. The universe is deeply counterintuitive in many ways, you can’t trust your gut-level feelings about how things work.

    And yes, that means that naturalist/materialst worldviews, which are also at some level based on intuitions about what seems reasonable, are also not grounded in certainty. At some level it comes down to aesthetic preference for what kind of story you prefer to hear. Or what tribes you want to be loyal to.

    • I’m starting to get the sense that you believe what you do out of fear: of nothingness or non-existence or something like that.

      Is recognizing the obvious being “afraid” of the absolutely nonsensical? We clearly exist. If you don’t believe that, then you are beyond reasonable help or discourse. If we don’t exist, then my fear of not-existing wouldn’t exist any more than I do anyway, so why should I even care if such a fear leads me to embrace false conclusions? I don’t exist anyway, so my irrationality and fears don’t exist, and people who object to that don’t exist either.

      I suppose you are going to get indignant and say it isn’t fear, but reason — it just doesn’t make sense to you that (eg) values could emerge from a material universe.

      This is not the argument, and is simply a strawman. The claim is that it is absurd (as in, subject to a formal reductio ad absurdum) to claim that there are values in a naturalist universe. It is the claim that the idea of a naturalist universe is itself fundamentally impossible because its existence involves the embrace of irrationality: The denial of basic laws of reason like the law of non-contradiction. This is why naturalist worldviews are faster and more quickly moving towards the lowest common denominator nihilism. Cynicism, moral relativism, and nihilism are the characteristics of our modern era. It’s not that we don’t understand how values can come from naturalist universes, it’s that the idea is logically nonsensical.

    • Hi a.morphous. I had a hunch you would want to respond to this post.

      … there is no specific [naturalist] doctrine of the ultimate … The things [naturalists] do agree on definitionally … is that they don’t believe in the supernatural and they don’t believe that ultimate being has the form of a person. … they all hold it is at least in part intelligible (given that they are talking about it), and also obviously “real”,

      “The ultimate is real and intelligible, but neither supernatural nor personal” is a doctrine of the ultimate. It isn’t a coherent doctrine, but it’s a doctrine.

      What would it even mean to believe in something that was both ultimate and unreal?

      Indeed! An ultimate that wasn’t real wouldn’t really be ultimate, would it? It wouldn’t be anything at all. “Unreal ultimate” is therefore an incoherent concept.

      Likewise, what could it even mean to believe in something that was both ultimate and unintelligible? A thing that cannot be understood even in principle, by any mind – this being what we must mean by calling it unintelligible – would be incoherent, and could not therefore be actual. It turns out that to be actual is eo ipso to be intelligible.

      Notice that you here make Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

      But then, consider that as between a thing that is both mindless – this being what we mean by “impersonal” – and is also just like any other thing in this world (or these worlds), on the one hand, and another thing that is both mindful and categorically superior to any and all things of this and all other worlds, the former is clearly not ultimate, while the latter, because it far surpasses the former, may just be a viable candidate for the ultimate. So “impersonal ultimate” and “merely natural ultimate” are incoherent, and cannot come to pass.

      Back from what?

      I meant, “what’s to keep back a conviction of absolute nihilism, if everything’s nothing anyway?”

      It’s curious that you think theism somehow less terrifying than nihilism. It’s quite the contrary. If nihilism were true, nothing would matter, and I could then just relax and do whatever I wanted, without worry. But since nihilism is false, I must pay close moral attention to everything I do, and the stakes are infinitely great. That would be horrible, if it weren’t for the fact that the real importance of my acts means that my life is a great and thrilling adventure. It is in fact – for all of us, whether or not we realize it, or like it – the Grail Quest.

      … it just doesn’t make sense to you that (e.g.) values could emerge from a material universe. That’s an improvement, but equally invalid.

      No; sorry, this move is foreclosed to you. It is logically impossible to get something from nothing. Operate on zero howsoever you please: all you’ll get is zero.

      If the world is ultimately valueless, then it is just valueless through and through, period full stop. Our feelings of value then are strictly illusory: feelings of something that is not in fact out there to be felt.

      • Hi yourself, yes, my kind of topic. I will apologize in advance for any brusque language.

        “The ultimate is real and intelligible, but neither supernatural nor personal” is a doctrine of the ultimate. It isn’t a coherent doctrine, but it’s a doctrine.

        Well, not exactly. It is a constraint on what doctrines are acceptable, but it doesn՚t make any definitive positive statement about its nature.

        Notice that you here make Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

        Oh please, not that hoary old chestnut.

        It all turns on what might be charitably called a grammatical trick; of assuming that because there is something ultimate, it is thus some kind of object that can have predicates applied to it and be reasoned about just like you would a chair or your neighbor, that is, as an individuated being among other beings. But – and I՚m fairly confident here – whatever the Ultimate Ground of Being is, it is not a mere individual being but something on a quite different level.

        If the UGB was an individuated being, then yes, you would probably have to think of it as something like a person, but more so. But that begs the original question about the nature of UGB.

        It’s curious that you think theism somehow less terrifying than nihilism. It’s quite the contrary. If nihilism were true, nothing would matter, and I could then just relax and do whatever I wanted, without worry: the real importance of my acts means that my life is a great and thrilling adventure.

        How nice for you. However, “great and thrilling adventure” doesn՚t sound like “terrifying” to me. It sounds like play-acting compared to confronting the actual terror of the void. Not that theists can՚t feel it too – the book of Job is essentially about terror at the moral void at the center of Yahweh and his creation and the inadequacy of available human reactions to it.

        It is logically impossible to get something from nothing. Operate on zero howsoever you please: all you’ll get is zero.

        I don՚t accept this axiom, and neither does modern physics.

        If the world is ultimately valueless, then it is just valueless through and through, period full stop. Our feelings of value then are strictly illusory: feelings of something that is not in fact out there to be felt.

        That՚s another highly questionable axiom. The naturalist position is that while there may not be ultimate values, the local values we inherit from biology and create as part of our culture are perfectly real.

        I don՚t really get why this is hard to understand. Obviously it is possible to disagree with this point of view, but it seems perfectly coherent.

      • [“The ultimate is real and intelligible, but neither supernatural nor personal” is not a doctrine.] It is a constraint on what doctrines are acceptable, but it doesn’t make any definitive positive statement about its nature.

        Of course it does. It says that the ultimate is real, intelligible, impersonal, and natural! Those are all definitive positive statements about its nature. They don’t completely define the ultimate, to be sure. But they needn’t.

        You’re confusing “definition” with “doctrine.” Your delimitation of the naturalist doctrine of the ultimate – as real, intelligible, impersonal, natural – is not completely definitive, but definitive completion is not necessary for a doctrine. To get a doctrine, you don’t need to nail down every specific of its terms. All you must do is say *something or other* that is definite. Any proposition then can function as a doctrine; all that’s needed to turn a proposition into a doctrine is for someone to assert that it is true (i.e., to teach it: docere). E.g., “God exists” is a doctrine, despite the fact that neither “God” nor “existence” are as yet defined incontrovertibly.

        The definitions you have provided for the naturalist doctrine of the ultimate are enough to show that any naturalist doctrine that includes them all is incoherent.

        Notice that you here make Saint Anselm’s Ontological Argument.

        Oh please, not that hoary old chestnut.

        Hey, I can’t help it that you’re making the argument you are in fact making. If you think you disagree with Anselm, you haven’t understood his argument yet.

        It all turns on what might be charitably called a grammatical trick; of assuming that because there is something ultimate, it is thus some kind of object that can have predicates applied to it and be reasoned about just like you would a chair or your neighbor, that is, as an individuated being among other beings. But – and I’m fairly confident here – whatever the Ultimate Ground of Being is, it is not a mere individual being but something on a quite different level.

        That the UGB is not a mere individual being does not mean that it is not an individual being at all; there is no conflict in logic between ultimacy and particularity, for being per se and a se may be what it will – a Galilean, for example, or an angel, or both. Nor does it mean that we may not assign predicates to it. Even if the UGB were nowise an individual being, that would not mean we could not assign predicates to it.

        We cannot, obviously, reason about God as if he were just the same sort of thing as a chair or a man. But predicating certain things about him is the only way we can know that this is the case! If it were correct that we can’t properly assign predicates to the UGB at all, that would mean it was utterly unintelligible.

        Is the UGB something definite, and therefore amenable to predication, and thus implicitly intelligible? Or is it indefinite – i.e., neither fully intelligible, nor completely real?

        You said that the naturalist UGB is both real and intelligible. Now you are contradicting yourself, saying that you don’t think any predicates (such as reality or intelligibility) are apposite to it at all. Which is it?

        … “great and thrilling adventure” doesn’t sound like “terrifying” to me. It sounds like play-acting compared to confronting the actual terror of the void.

        I have a lot of concrete experience of great and thrilling adventure – the kind that can get you killed. You don’t get great adventure without danger, and thus fear. With difficulty, beauty and importance, terror is integral to great adventure.

        Confronting the void is indeed terrific, but far more dreadful is confronting the possibility that one might be in conflict with God. Indeed, for the theist, the latter sort of confrontation *just is* the former sort of confrontation. The void – non-being – is what you get when you disagree with God. Or rather, disagreement with God is just the same thing as the void. Another term for it is evil; or pain; or privation of Good.

        But this particular subject is a tangent. Suffice it to say that I don’t find the notion of God’s existence less terrifying than the notion of his nonexistence. On the contrary; take my word for it. You may lay your mind to rest on that score.

        I don’t accept [the axiom that you can’t get something from nothing], and neither does modern physics.

        I take it that you refer to the fecundity of the quantum vacuum. But the quantum vacuum is not nothing. Physicists who have conflated nothingness with the quantum vacuum, such as Lawrence Krauss, have committed a category error, and embarrassed themselves.

        The naturalist position is that while there may not be ultimate values, the local values we inherit from biology and create as part of our culture are perfectly real.

        It is hard for me to see how you can miss the immaculate contradiction between “values as such are not ultimately real” and “our values are perfectly real.” To say that values are not ultimately real *just is* to say that “values” is an empty category – that the set of values, of any sort, is an empty set. You are saying something like, “murder is not *really* wrong, but it is indeed wrong.”

        You would do better to argue that values are built into nature from the ground up. This is a much, much stronger version of naturalism, and it is far more robust than the emergence for which you have argued. I don’t think it quite works – for that, I think it is necessary to start from the very strongest form of naturalism, which is supernaturalism – but at least it saves you from contradicting yourself.

        Now, all the foregoing having been said, and pleasant as I have found it to respond to your comments, I should like to return to the main point that is at issue between us. In the original post, I averred that the naturalist ultimate is unreal and unintelligible. By this I meant only that the naturalist ultimate is not something other than nature herself – that, for the naturalist, there is nothing “outside” of nature, or “above” it, or “before” it, and so forth. I meant, i.e., that for the naturalist there isn’t really any environing context for nature, there is just nature, and nothing else – taking “nature” in the broadest possible sense, as indicating not just our own natural world, but any and all others as may be in the multiverse. This notion of nature as self-sufficient, and unenvironed, amounts to a denial of the reality of any ultimate in the first place; for, the things of the natural worlds are none of them ultimate, and nor therefore is the lot of them ultimate. So, then, for the naturalist there is not really such a thing as an ultimate, properly speaking.

        And what does not exist at all cannot be interpreted; as not at all being, it cannot be so as to have any properties. Nothing may therefore be predicated of it – there is no way that we can characterize nothingness, or therefore understand it, except to say that it has no character, or therefore anything to understand – so, it is unintelligible. The naturalist ultimate is therefore unintelligible. It is the zero of order and rationality.

        It is to this that naturalists obliquely refer when they say of nature that she is a “brute fact.”

        The fact that the naturalist ultimate is unreal and unintelligible means that it isn’t ultimate at all, properly speaking. It means that, for the naturalist, there is no such thing as an ultimate.

        It is interesting to me that you disagree, saying that the naturalist ultimate is indeed real and intelligible. So saying, you agree with theism.

      • a. morphous,
        If you’re actually interested in learning the philosophical grounding for (some of) our particular brand of theism, don’t just read and nit-pick Kristor’s posts. He is really a bit too poetic to be a careful philosopher. I don’t mean that to be a put-down.
        Edward Feser’s “Scholastic Metaphysics” is a good introduction to how Thomists, at the very least, see the world and why. Feser knows his analytic philosophy and the book is mostly an attempt to show how largely abandoned scholastic metaphysics solves problems of analytic metaphysics (and of course to argue for the truth of Thomistic metaphysical precepts). Note that this book does not include arguments for the existence of God or for Theistic personalism or anything like that. It does, however, implicitly argue against naturalism. Anyway, I think you will find it more carefully argued and fair to those it is arguing against, at least a fair as is possible in book form without an opponent available to offer a response.
        Big deal metaphysician Stephen Mumford tweeted:
        DW ‏@HeyzeusJD Aug 16
        @SDMumford Curious if it has at the very least increased the plausibility of Scholastic metaphysics for you?
        Stephen Mumford ‏@SDMumford Aug 16
        @HeyzeusJD More than that! I can see how my own metaphysics is closer to the Scholastic than any other!

        Loving my #holidayreading pic.twitter.com/vkLx2dAtZt
        — Stephen Mumford (@SDMumford) August 7, 2014

      • “The naturalist position is that while there may not be ultimate values, the local values we inherit from biology and create as part of our culture are perfectly real.”

        Not entirely sure how you would explain this. On naturalism, these values are just figments made up by men. You seem to almost be endorsing a kind of ill-informed cultural relativism, which is indefensible as a theory on existing morals.

      • To get a doctrine, you don’t need to nail down every specific of its terms. All you must do is say something or other that is definite.

        Fine, have it your way.

        We cannot, obviously, reason about God as if he were just the same sort of thing as a chair or a man. But predicating certain things about him is the only way we can know that this is the case!

        Mmm. There՚s old and vast schools of theology who think differently; that God cannot be described in positive terms but only in terms of what he is not.

        If it were correct that we can’t properly assign predicates to the UGB at all, that would mean it was utterly unintelligible.

        That may well be the case. (I realize I՚m changing my tune a bit here). That is, while the universe is at least partly intelligable, which is why we can have science and other forms of knowledge, there is no particular reason to believe that the ultimate nature of the universe is wholly intelligeable to human cognition.

        I՚m beginning to think I have a deeper religious sensibility than you (not to brag). If religion has any worth at all it is in helping us to acknowledge that which is beyond the limits of reason. So, I am somewhat in sympathy with mystics and apophatic theology, and not at all with the kind of theist who thinks they can use logic to prove their particular brand of God is the right one.

        Confronting the void is indeed terrific, but far more dreadful is confronting the possibility that one might be in conflict with God. Indeed, for the theist, the latter sort of confrontation just is the former sort of confrontation. The void – non-being – is what you get when you disagree with God. Or rather, disagreement with God is just the same thing as the void. Another term for it is evil; or pain; or privation of Good.

        God sounds like the ultimate totalitarian, in that any disagreement with him equates to non-being. Not a lot of room for freedom in your cosmology.

        To say that values are not ultimately real just is to say that “values” is an empty category – that the set of values, of any sort, is an empty set.

        Why on earth would you believe that? There are many things that are contingent (that is, not “ultimate”) but are perfectly real. I think fish-head soup is disgusting, but my Chinese neighbor thinks it՚s great. We haved different values based on our contingent histories; neither his nor my values are baked into the deep structure of the universe. (And yes, morality may be different and not a mere matter of taste – but the idea that it is in part a matter of “taste” is not incoherent).

        You would do better to argue that values are built into nature from the ground up.

        I thought I alluded to the idea that some of our local values are dictated by our biollogical histories. Or do you mean something else?

        for the naturalist, there is nothing “outside” of nature, or “above” it, or “before” it, and so forth.

        Yes this is more or less the defintiion of naturalism.

        This notion of nature as self-sufficient, and unenvironed, amounts to a denial of the reality of any ultimate in the first place; for, the things of the natural worlds are none of them ultimate, and nor therefore is the lot of them ultimate.

        Say whut? You keep making these leaps of deduction that seem obvious to you and make no sense whatsoever to me.

        Obviously, whatever is ultimate is not a thing of nature, but is Nature itself.

        It is to this that naturalists obliquely refer when they say of nature that she is a “brute fact.”

        I՚ve never heard a naturalist throw that particular silly phrase around; I՚ve only seen it on religious blogs like this one.

      • There’s old and vast schools of theology who think … that God cannot be described in positive terms but only in terms of what he is not.

        Yes. In the first place, they are correct, and cataphatic theologians would be the first to agree with their apophatic brethren that predications of God are at most analogical to similar predications of creatures. As we have both said in this thread, it’s not quite apt to talk about God as if he were the same sort of thing as a chair or a neighbour. In the second, to say that God is not this or that is still to say something definitive about him. Apophasy is effectual cataphasy, willy nilly. The only escape from the conundrum is to say nothing. This, too, is an ancient Christian tradition: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and … ponder nothing earthly minded.”

        There is no contradiction between silence, apophasy and cataphasy. Nor is there really any way to avoid any of the three, if you are going to do justice to ultimacy. To wit, one has no alternative but to agree with the cataphasists that God is Good; nor is there an alternative to agreement with the apophasists that God is immense; nor can one disagree with the mystics that all speech or thought about God must at the last be seen to fall short of its object.

        … there is no particular reason to believe that the ultimate nature of the universe is wholly intelligible to human cognition.

        Quite so. Indeed, there are good reasons in logic to think that the ultimate nature of things is not wholly intelligible to any creaturely mind (Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem comes to mind in this connection). But then, I didn’t suggest that it is.

        On the other hand, if things – all things – are not intelligible in principle to some mind or other, such as the divine mind, then no thing can be intelligible even in part to any mind at all. Things are either systematically and exhaustively linked together in rational fashion, so that God at least finds them all intelligible; or else in the end they just aren’t, so that no one can find them intelligible.

        I’m beginning to think I have a deeper religious sensibility than you (not to brag). If religion has any worth at all it is in helping us to acknowledge that which is beyond the limits of reason. So, I am somewhat in sympathy with mystics and apophatic theology …

        I have long harbored a similar hunch about you, a.morphous. I think lots and lots of atheists and naturalists are in the same boat. Many of them are nature mystics, and only the thinnest of membranes separates them from conversion. Often what puts them off of theology is the impression that theologians are too free with their positive assertions. Such men often come to the faith through such as Pascal, or Eckhart, rather than through the great systematic theologians like Aquinas or Origen. Yet all four of these men are profound mystics; and their works agree. The confidence of theologians, so often off-putting to the outsider who has no experience of Christian contemplation, arises in all four from many years of quiet, humble waiting upon the Lord, for revelations that eventually came, somehow or other.

        God sounds like the ultimate totalitarian, in that any disagreement with him equates to non-being.

        Not quite. God is the ultimate fact. You are free to disagree with a mountain if you want. You can forge ahead against the mountain as if it wasn’t in your way. But if you do, all that will happen is you’ll hurt yourself. Same with God. You want to argue with him? Knock yourself out.

        There are many things that are contingent (that is, not “ultimate”) but are perfectly real. I think fish-head soup is disgusting, but my Chinese neighbor thinks it’s great. We have different values based on our contingent histories; neither his nor my values are baked into the deep structure of the universe.

        If the values that make the fish head what it is are not really present in it, so as to furnish grist for the sensory mills of you and your Chinese neighbour, then neither you nor your neighbour are going to be able to have the peculiar reactions to the fish head that you do each in fact have. The disparate evaluations of you and your neighbour are both evaluations of really existing values present in the object of those evaluations.

        It is not surprising that you and your neighbour evaluate the same thing differently; things are different from each other, after all, and this difference between you and your neighbour about the value of the fishy parts of the world is no more surprising than the fact that two different particles at different loci in Earth’s gravitational field will experience different vectors of gravitational force arising from the same values of mass and acceleration of our planet. If the values characteristic of the fish head and the planet were not ultimately real, then there would be no basis for the different evaluations of you, your neighbour, or the two disparate particles. In that case, it would be very difficult to see how you, your neighbour, or the particles could even entertain an illusion about such values.

        I thought I alluded to the idea that some of our local values are dictated by our biological histories. Or do you mean something else?

        You’re close; so very close. A thing’s impressions of its past do indeed arise from that past as the matrix of data for those impressions. But the data must be valuable in and of themselves, else they could not function as data in the first place. You can’t evaluate what is not at all valuable. The values in things that make them amenable to our evaluations, then, are really out there. And this is so all the way back to before the beginning of biological history, or for that matter of cosmic history.

        If values are not integral with creaturely actuality ab initio, then either they got imported from outside the created order at some point, or else they are totally illusory. NB that there is no conflict between the notion that values are integral with creaturely actuality ab initio and the notion that they are imported to creaturely actuality at some point, or rather at every point, via creation.

        … whatever is ultimate is not a thing of nature, but is Nature itself.

        But Nature could have been otherwise than she is. Indeed, with our every act, we subtly change what she is. How then is she ultimate, when we can deform the arc of her history?

      • God sounds like the ultimate totalitarian, in that any disagreement with him equates to non-being. Not a lot of room for freedom in your cosmology.

        And who could embody totalitarianism better than an entity incapable of being factually wrong or morally evil? Totalitarianism embodied in God doesn’t seem like something undesirable at all unless of course you have a modernist predisposition against absolute truth.

        Alas, God does not embody totalitarianism in the usual sense of the word. If He did, you wouldn’t be able to make any decisions at all, He would have crafted a puppet world. We have libertarian freedom in our moral lives and thus are allowed to make our own decisions as to what to do.

        The ‘ought’ is non-negotiable and determined by God’s nature.
        The ‘is’ is totally negotiable and determined by man.

        You’re free to disagree with God, and thus shoulder any consequences that brings. Personally, I don’t feel like I am qualified to disagree with an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and ultimately just and merciful deity.

      • BTW, I am enjoying the fact that despite our vast differences, the fact that we are both honestly trying to point to the ultimate aligns us in a certain way. It makes for a good conversation, if not a conversion.

        On the other hand, if things – all things – are not intelligible in principle to some mind or other, such as the divine mind, then no thing can be intelligible even in part to any mind at all. Things are either systematically and exhaustively linked together in rational fashion, so that God at least finds them all intelligible; or else in the end they just aren’t, so that no one can find them intelligible.

        You seem to take that as axiomatic but I don՚t buy it. And it is obviously question-begging wrt to this particular argument.

        I think lots and lots of atheists and naturalists are in the same boat. Many of them are nature mystics, and only the thinnest of membranes separates them from conversion…. Often what puts them off of theology is the impression that theologians are too free with their positive assertions. Such men often come to the faith through such as Pascal, or Eckhart, rather than through the great systematic theologians like Aquinas or Origen. Yet all four of these men are profound mystics; and their works agree. The confidence of theologians, so often off-putting to the outsider who has no experience of Christian contemplation, arises in all four from many years of quiet, humble waiting upon the Lord, for revelations that eventually came, somehow or other.

        I՚m perfectly aware that Christianity (and other religions as well) have variant strains, some of which are more appealing to me personally than others.

        God is the ultimate fact. You are free to disagree with a mountain if you want…. You want to argue with him?

        As long as by “God” you mean existence, well, yes, we are here, nobody wants to argue with that. As to what that means, or what the ultimate ground of being wants from us, there is ample room for disagreement.

        If the values that make the fish head what it is are not really present in it, so as to furnish grist for the sensory mills of you and your Chinese neighbour, then neither you nor your neighbour are going to be able to have the peculiar reactions to the fish head that you do each in fact have.

        Again you seem to be employing rather crude linguistic tricks (or something) to hide the fact that there is possible disagreement. Surely we can agree that the fish head is what it is, and our differing reactions are a function of that plus the nature of the perceiver? And that these are three different things?

        But the data must be valuable in and of themselves, else they could not function as data in the first place.

        You՚re doing it again.

        If values are not integral with creaturely actuality ab initio, then either they got imported from outside the created order at some point, or else they are totally illusory.

        I do not know what “with creaturely actuality ab initio” means. But I՚m perfectly happy with values that are contingent on our evolutionary and cultural nature, in other words those that evolved with us and are still evolving. You don՚t have to like that viewpoint, but I wish you՚d come up with a better argument rather than a flat statement that such values must be illusory.

        But Nature could have been otherwise than she is. Indeed, with our every act, we subtly change what she is. How then is she ultimate, when we can deform the arc of her history?

        (a) Nature as a whole exists in spacetime, so while it seems to be changing to us who are within it it is actually timeless
        (b) The contingency that we see is a product of our history. All possible natures exist; but we find ourselves in the one that produced us.
        (c) We are part of nature so we do not deform it, we participate in it like anything else

        These maybe be rather counterintuitive and unsatisfactory propositions. However, they are less so (to me, YMMV) than the idea that there is a benevolvent person-like entity that sits outside the universe who creates and manages it.

      • I, too, am enjoying this unexpected alignment of our orientations toward the ultimate, a.morphous.

        Things are either systematically and exhaustively linked together in rational fashion, so that God at least finds them all intelligible; or else in the end they just aren’t, so that no one can find them intelligible.

        You seem to take that as axiomatic but I don’t buy it. And it is obviously question-begging with respect to this particular argument.

        I can see why the exclusive disjunction between exhaustive coherence and chaos might not be obvious at first. After all, we go through life without understanding everything, and yet we seem to be able to understand a few things here and there. But it is indeed axiomatic.

        The complete specification of a thing involves an account of all its causal factors and effects – i.e., of all other things (even if we find that x is nowise a causal factor of y, x is still on the list of things we must account for in our specification of y, even if only to note that the value of x for y is zero). If that specification is not completable formally, then it is certainly not completable actually; for unless the form of a thing be completely definite, the thing itself cannot be actually definite. A thing cannot exist without exhibiting the form that it has. So either all actualities are fully definite, and therefore mutually and exhaustively implicate, or nothing is definite, or therefore actual. It’s either complete causal cohesion, and with it complete intelligibility (to some mind or other) – or else a failure to actualize anything at all.

        Now, while it is true that we humans cannot complete a formal specification of any actuality, such a specification must be possible in principle, to some mind or other; for, as we cannot but admit with every datum of our experience, things do actually exist, so they must be formalizable. If they are formalizable, then they can actually exist, and then we can possibly understand them a bit. If not, then not, and not.

        God is the ultimate fact. You are free to disagree with a mountain if you want…. You want to argue with him?

        As long as by “God” you mean existence, well, yes, we are here, nobody wants to argue with that.

        I was responding only to your tangential protest that God seemed to you like the ultimate totalitarian, whose all-governing power ruled out any creaturely freedom. The point of the analogy is twofold: first, that it makes no more sense to complain about how bossy God is than it does to complain about how bossy the mountain is; second, that both God and the mountain are inarguable facts does not mean we are not free, but rather only that we are not free to argue with God or the mountain, except to lose. Resenting God or the mountain for their bossiness is therefore inapposite, like getting mad at gravity for sucking.

        Surely we can agree that the fish head is what it is, and our differing reactions are a function of that plus the nature of the perceiver? And that these are three different things?

        Sure. That was my point. There are values objectively present in the world, that make things just what and how they are; only if things really are just what and how they are can we evaluate them differently from our different perspectives. You had argued that “values are [not] baked into the deep structure of the universe.” I argue that they are.
        We got started on this tangent with the following:

        The naturalist position is that while there may not be ultimate values, the local values we inherit from biology and create as part of our culture are perfectly real.

        It is hard for me to see how you can miss the immaculate contradiction between “values as such are not ultimately real” and “our values are perfectly real.” To say that values are not ultimately real *just is* to say that “values” is an empty category – that the set of values, of any sort, is an empty set. You are saying something like, “murder is not *really* wrong, but it is indeed wrong.”

        If there are no ultimate values – if, e.g., there is really no such thing as viscosity or nourishment – then there are no values really out there in the fish head, to which you and your neighbour may react with different evaluations. You can’t take account of something – can’t reckon its value, so far as you yourself are concerned – if it is not amenable to valuation. A thing that has no values – no character, no properties, no form – cannot be evaluated. Indeed, it cannot even exist.

        If values are not integral with creaturely actuality ab initio, then either they got imported from outside the created order at some point, or else they are totally illusory.

        I do not know what “with creaturely actuality ab initio” means. But I’m perfectly happy with values that are contingent on our evolutionary and cultural nature, in other words those that evolved with us and are still evolving.

        It means that if values are not inherent in things from the get go, objectively and prior to our evaluations of them, then either our evaluations are based on something that doesn’t actually exist, and are therefore illusory, or else somewhere along the way the values got injected into the world from outside. As I indicated just supra, the notion that there could be actual things that didn’t actualize any values at all is incoherent. So it can’t be the case that the world was cooking along for a while without actualizing any values, and then bam, God threw some values into the mix. The only coherent alternatives are that values are basic to actuality – that, i.e., actualization *just is* the enactment of values – or that our evaluations are illusory.

        But Nature could have been otherwise than she is. Indeed, with our every act, we subtly change what she is. How then is she ultimate, when we can deform the arc of her history?

        a) Nature as a whole exists in spacetime, so while it seems to be changing to us who are within it is actually timeless
        b) The contingency that we see is a product of our history. All possible natures exist; but we find ourselves in the one that produced us.
        c) We are part of nature so we do not deform it, we participate in it like anything else
        These may be rather counterintuitive and unsatisfactory propositions. However, they are less so (to me, YMMV) than the idea that there is a benevolent person-like entity that sits outside the universe who creates and manages it.

        Gosh. Echoes of Spinoza. But also of Boethius – an orthodox Christian, whose doctrine of divine timelessness is standard issue Christian theology. Item a is a nod toward the Boethian and Dionysian doctrine of divine eternity, b toward the Aristotelian and Thomist doctrine of the distinction between potential and act, and c toward the notion I was adducing above, of the perfect integral cohesion of what is. So, yes, these notions are counterintuitive, but are nowise unsatisfactory to the classical theist. Nor does classical theism treat God as outside the universe, simpliciter; as utterly transcendent to any and all particular things, he is ipso facto immanent to them; so that their creation and management is not something that he imposes upon them, which they could otherwise do without, but rather the gift to them of their being and nature, that enables them to be and do what they are.

        Note however that none of the three alternatives you propose has the effect of making nature ultimate. She is contingent; she might have been otherwise than we find that she is, under each one of those alternatives, or under all three. It is possible – i.e., it is coherently conceivable – that you or I might not have existed, for example, or that we might not have gone to the grocery store last Wednesday, or whatever. Under any or all of your three alternatives, then, nature needs an environing context, an ultimate, that she cannot herself supply. That ultimate must at least be of the Spinozan sort. But to accommodate our ineluctable experience of our own actual existence, and by implication of our freedom, it must be more than Spinozan; it must be Boethian. I.e., if our notion of the ultimate is not to rule out our own existence, it must be theist.

      • I can see why the exclusive disjunction between exhaustive coherence and chaos might not be obvious at first….But it is indeed axiomatic.

        You know what axiomatic means, right? Something assumed because it can՚t be proved. But I don՚t accept that axiom, so basically you are saying that you are giving up trying to make an argument. We have chosen different axioms and so reach different conclusions.

        Then you do go on to make an argument, but it might as well be word salad for all the sense it makes to me. Sorry.

        Resenting God or the mountain for their bossiness is therefore inapposite, like getting mad at gravity for sucking.

        I՚m not resenting God; I don՚t believe in him, remember? I was only describing how your conception of him sounds to me. “disagreement with God is just the same thing as the void. “ you said. This is the dream of all dictators, to make any opposition tantamount to death.

        That was my point. There are values objectively present in the world,

        Oh come on, you trying to argue by clumsy redefinition. Values, as I am using the word, are not “objectively present in the world”. The world may have objective properties, that is, the fishhead is what it is regardless who is watching it (facts), but whether it is disgusting or delicious (values) is not obviously not objective, since it differs in different people.

        If there are no ultimate values – if, e.g., there is really no such thing as viscosity or nourishment

        Viscosity is a physical property of a substance, and nourishment is a relationship between an organism and a substance. I have no clue what either of them have to do with “ultimate values”. As properties go, neither is very fundamental to the basic structure of reality, although of course they must be rooted in it like everything else, by definition.

        A thing that has no values – no character, no properties, no form – cannot be evaluated. Indeed, it cannot even exist.

        Weirdly idealist. I think you are as bad as the postmodernists in being unable to separate reality from the perception of reality. I guess the difference is that you have a Master Watcher holding things together, whereas they live in a world of pure subjectivity. Both equally confused as far as I can see.

        It does not surpise me much to find that some of the conceptualizations used by modern physics can be found in Boethius or other early philosophers. Interesting as intellectual history, to be sure.

        However, being timeless is obviously incompatible with personhood. It seems to me that theists of this stripe are trying to have everything both ways. Well, obviously to me anyway, but it looks like theologians are on the case for squaring this particular circle.

      • I can see why the exclusive disjunction between exhaustive coherence and chaos might not be obvious at first….But it is indeed axiomatic.

        You know what axiomatic means, right? Something assumed because it can’t be proved.

        Right you are; poor diction on my part. I should have said, “But it is indeed one of those concepts that cannot be coherently contradicted, despite first appearances.” Let me see if I can connect the dots for you, so that you understand what I’ve been getting at with my various arguments on this score.

        First, echoing a statement from early in this exchange: An incoherent set of properties cannot be actualized. E.g., there’s no way to get an actual thing that is both spherical and cubical. Put another way: all the properties of an actual thing must be mutually consistent. In other words, the Law of Non-contradiction holds, not just for systems of propositions, but for such systems as actually implemented. Things must be self-consistent.

        Second, actualities must be completely definite along all dimensions in order to be fully actual. To be just what it is and not possibly some other as well, each actuality must be fully formed. Actualities must be fully specifiable, down to the last detail (even if not necessarily by us, at least by some mind, and at the very least by omniscience). There are two ways of looking at and expressing this requirement: the formal specification of each actuality must be exhaustively complete; and each actuality must completely actualize its complete formal specification.

        Third, among the set of properties that must be specified and implemented in the actualization of any thing are included its relations to other things. E.g., among the properties of Isaac are that he is Abraham’s son, Jacob’s father and Ishmael’s half-brother, and so forth. These relations stretch forth to the farthest reaches of the actual, and their set includes Isaac’s relations to every other actuality whatsoever. Indeed, they extend also to every potentiality whatsoever: implicit in the fact that Isaac is 5’10”, for example, is the fact that he is not 6’5”, although he might have been. Likewise, the values of his implementations of the forms of the human female and of the carburetor are 0.

        Thus Whitehead’s famous statement that “each atom is a system of all things.” This systemic and exhaustive account of everything that each thing implicitly provides both in its formal specification and in the actualization of that specification is a reflection of the mutual logical implication of all ideas, and thus of the integrity of truth which guarantees that all truths agree with each other.

        If any of the properties of a thing are inconsistent – including its relations with all other things – it cannot be coherently conceived, nor therefore can it be implemented in actuality. Each thing then must coordinate coherently with every other.

        If there were a bit of chaos in an entity – i.e., a bit of inconsistency within itself, or between itself and any part of its world – it would fail actually to exist. Chaos, then, is not something that can be implemented in actuality. There’s not some chaotic stuff out there, as Leo might have hoped, that can be added to good stuff in order to net stuff that is not so good. There is no chaos; there are rather only things that are perfect, and things that, while good, are less than perfect.

        I note in passing that a thing may disagree with its world and yet cohere with it. Disharmony can indeed be implemented, but only as a defect of a really attainable harmony. E.g., there is nothing incoherent or inconsistent about the sounding of a chord that is out of tune, the way that there is with the drawing of a spherical cube. You can sing out of tune the same way that you can draw a sloppy cube; but what you can’t do is draw a spherical cube, or sing a tune that is not a tune at all.

        So, “things are a little bit chaotic” is not strictly conceivable, or therefore true: you can say the words, but it turns out that they don’t signify. All that we can truly say of things in this respect is that they are less perfectly ordered than they might be.

        I’m not resenting God; I don’t believe in him, remember? I was only describing how your conception of him sounds to me. “Disagreement with God is just the same thing as the void,“ you said. This is the dream of all dictators, to make any opposition tantamount to death.

        OK, sorry; I got the impression you didn’t like the idea of a totalitarian dictator. Forgot you are a leftist! [Joke! Joke!] Still, the point holds: drawing an analogy between a human dictator and God, or a mountain, or the laws of gravity, is inapposite. The dream of dictators – the evil ones, anyway – is to be like God. Can’t work, obviously: sin of Babel, sin of Eden, biggest category error of all. Opposition to God really is (sooner or later) death; opposition to a dictator, maybe not.

        Values, as I am using the word, are not “objectively present in the world”. The world may have objective properties, that is, the fish head is what it is regardless who is watching it (facts), but whether it is disgusting or delicious (values) is not obviously not objective, since it differs in different people.

        The fish head is what it is in virtue of its implementation of the values of its formal specification. Facts are actualized values. And once you evaluate the fish head as disgusting and your neighbour evaluates it as delicious, your evaluations are thenceforth likewise factual as actualized values of properties in each of you. The values in you and your neighbour and the fish head are all thenceforth objectively present in the world as data for the subsequent evaluations of other entities.

        Values that are never objectively present in the world don’t actually exist, ever. If your evaluations were merely subjective, and never graduated to objectivity for other subsequent subjects, they would be *totally inactual.* I.e., illusory: not truly about the fish head, indeed not even yours, because not actual so as to be anything at all.

        Thus the proposition that our valuations are merely subjective is tantamount to the proposition that they don’t exist. But since propositions are themselves evaluations of the relations of values, if they are merely subjective, they are not real, and thus cannot even be wrong.

        I should also at this point take note of what I think is a bit of confusion in our discussion, arising from the ease of elision between the notion that values are ultimately real and the notion that there are ultimate values. I don’t mean to suggest that the sliminess of the fish head is an ultimate value, in the sense that sliminess is somehow a fundamental value, a First Thing. I do however mean to say that the sliminess is ultimately – i.e., when it comes down to brass tacks – real. Ditto for your evaluations of the fish head. In that sense, of being in the final analysis really actual properties of the world, yes, the sliminess and your feelings about it are ultimately real. They are rooted in, and baked into, the structure of reality (growing from the roots and baking are types of becoming). But they are derivative things, that might not have come to pass. So, they are not themselves ultimate things.

        But they are expressions of things – namely, forms – that, albeit derivative, are nevertheless eternal. Sliminess of fish heads, disgust and delectation thereat, and the presence of these properties in actualities such as you, your neighbour and the fish head he is now devouring with great relish, are indeed all values that are baked into the structure of things ab initio – i.e., from before all worlds – as pure potentialities of actualization, things that might possibly come to pass. If they were not, then none of them could ever have come to pass.

        A thing that has no values – no character, no properties, no form – cannot be evaluated. Indeed, it cannot even exist.

        Weirdly idealist.

        On the contrary. To be actual, a thing must instantiate some value or other, must have a form – must, i.e., be just what it is, and not something quite different. Show me a concrete thing that has no form. Can’t think of one, right? Prime matter, which is actuality stripped of all values of all properties, is an abstraction that cannot be implemented. To implement being, you have to implement something or other, so whatever it is you implement has to have the form of the thing that it is. I don’t see how this is weird, or idealist. It’s Aristotle.

        … being timeless is obviously incompatible with personhood.

        If that were so, there could be no such thing as persons, for eternity is prior to all temporality, conditions it pervasively, and by definition cannot fail to exist. Any incompatibility with eternity then is an incompatibility with being.

        Harking back through all the fog of our point and counterpoint in this thread, a.morphous, your first assertions were that there is no naturalist doctrine of the ultimate, and that values could emerge from a valueless universe. With respect to the first, you have agreed that there is indeed a naturalist doctrine of the ultimate, albeit somewhat sketchy (I doubt there is any other way for a human doctrine of the ultimate to be, than somewhat sketchy). With respect to the second, I hope I have shown with adequate clarity that actuality is not compossible with the utter absence of value, so that the only way that values could emerge from a material universe is if they were already present in it to begin with.

      • Second, actualities must be completely definite along all dimensions in order to be fully actual.

        You must have been asleep during quantum physics class. The universe doesn՚t seem very convinced by your airtight logic.

        Actualities must be fully specifiable, down to the last detail (even if not necessarily by us, at least by some mind, and at the very least by omniscience)

        This is more question-begging.

        Facts are actualized values.

        I have no clue what that is supposed to mean, and I sense if I did, I would disagree very strongly. Or again, maybe we are just using “values” in completely different ways, which seems like a boring thing to base an argument around. My use of values is much closer to common usage, so I՚d say I have a better right to it, and we should use another term for whatever it is you seem to trying to indicate.

        Sliminess of fish heads, disgust and delectation thereat, and the presence of these properties in actualities such as you, your neighbour and the fish head he is now devouring with great relish, are indeed all values that are baked into the structure of things ab initio – i.e., from before all worlds.

        Really, what an odd notion. I honestly cannot imagine what it is like to believe something like that. It means there is no such thing as novelty, innovation, or creativity, for one thing. The notion that “disgust” is something that existed prior to the universe, and is something inherent to all worlds rather than a locally evolved behavioral mechanism…well, I won՚t say it՚s disgusting, but it is quite indigestible to my intellectual metabolism.

        as pure potentialities of actualization,

        OK, I have had about enough of this kind of jargon as I can take. It seems worse than meaningless.

        If that were so, there could be no such thing as persons, for eternity is prior to all temporality, conditions it pervasively, and by definition cannot fail to exist. Any incompatibility with eternity then is an incompatibility with being.

        Oh come on, you understand perfectly well the argument I am making. Whether or not eternity exists and is “prior” to anything, persons exist in time. For them, the past is very different from the future, they have memories of the former and can be surprised by the latter, etc. If God is eternal, then he can՚t have any of those experiences and is not a person in any meaningful sense.

        And the personhood of the ultimate is the crucial difference between theists and naturalists.

        your first assertions were that there is no naturalist doctrine of the ultimate, and that values could emerge from a valueless universe. With respect to the first, you have agreed that there is indeed a naturalist doctrine of the ultimate,

        No, I let the point slide because it didn՚t seem very important. In fact, I՚m right, and there is no such doctrine, there is no universally agreed upon naturalist position on the nature of the ultimate, except to rule out certain things.

        I hope I have shown with adequate clarity that actuality is not compossible with the utter absence of value,

        See above. You are just using value in a different sense than I am.

        I think at this point we are talking past each other, which is just not very interesting.

      • You’re not reading carefully enough, a.morphous. Nor are you thinking deliberately enough. Just have some patience and read with an intention to understand, rather than to scoff, and to argue for the sake of argument. You do want to understand, right? You do want to find out if you’ve been wrong?

        Second, actualities must be completely definite along all dimensions in order to be fully actual.

        You must have been asleep during quantum physics class. The universe doesn’t seem very convinced by your airtight logic.

        You completely bollix up the implications of QM; you’ve got them immaculately ass-backward.

        Until the wave function collapses, it describes only a probability distribution: a set of *possible* actualities. At the collapse of the wave function, only one of them is selected, and becomes actual. Except under the MWI, of course, wherein there is never any collapse, but rather everything happens, and nothing can therefore be understood.

        NB however that even prior to the collapse of the wave function, each of the possible actualities it describes is perfectly, completely definite, as a form that might or might not be actualized at the point of collapse.

        Actualities must be fully specifiable, down to the last detail (even if not necessarily by us, at least by some mind, and at the very least by omniscience)

        This is more question-begging.

        Show your work. Can you point to a completed actuality that is sort of not what it is?

        Facts are actualized values.

        I have no clue what that is supposed to mean.

        I’m surprised; a smart guy like you? Take a fact: a beer bottle. It has an actual weight; the weight is a value, which we can measure. Same for its color, volume, constituents, location, etc. Simple. To say that facts – i.e., completed acts of becoming, also called actualities – are actualized values is just to say that they are congeries of properties. Nothing tricky; basic stuff, well understood for 2,300 years. Surely you get this.

        Sliminess of fish heads, disgust and delectation thereat, and the presence of these properties in actualities such as you, your neighbour and the fish head he is now devouring with great relish, are indeed all values that are baked into the structure of things ab initio – i.e., from before all worlds.

        Really, what an odd notion. I honestly cannot imagine what it is like to believe something like that. It means there is no such thing as novelty, innovation, or creativity, for one thing.

        Philosophy is even harder than QM, sometimes. You’ll have to just get over that, if you want to think rigorously. You might try ruminating a while on the chewy bits, rather than spewing them forth the instant that you find them difficult to digest. I find that it helps.

        The idea that there are possibilities may be an odd notion to you, but it has seemed obvious to most philosophers for thousands of years. For a thing to happen – anything at all, sliminess, sublimity, iron, iPads, Othello, the St. John Passion, you name it – it had to be first possible for that thing to happen. Do you not see this, as plain as the nose on your face? You’ll get nowhere until you do. It is *basic.*

        Does the fact that it is possible to carve the Pietà before it has been carved mean that it is impossible to carve the Pietà? Of course it doesn’t. Does it mean that the Pietà has always been around, so that when Michelangelo carved it, it was not new? No: that’s just silly.

        Did Michelangelo create the possibility of the Pietà? No; as he said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” And as he also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” And, “Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come.” Michelangelo did not create the possibility of the Pietà; but he did provide the occasion of her actualization, of her revelation in the world. And that was a work of genius; after all, he might have provided the occasion for Piss Christ, the work of an idiot.

        … as pure potentialities of actualization,

        OK, I have had about enough of this kind of jargon as I can take. It seems worse than meaningless.

        It’s really simple. Just think about it for half a sec. Honestly, you are so impatient. What, do you think, would a potentiality be, hm? Something that could possibly come to pass?

        Whether or not eternity exists and is “prior” to anything, persons exist in time.

        And time exists in eternity, as do persons. Like I said, philosophy can be a challenge. Surely a sophisticate like you is not so parochial as to think that the only sort of person there might be is your own, right? Surely you don’t think that your own experience is the only sort there might be.

        If God is eternal, then he can’t have any of those experiences and is not a person in any meaningful sense.

        You are clear on what “eternity” means, right? If God is eternal, then he can have *every* experience that is ever had, by anyone, all at one fell swoop. That would not make him our sort of person, exactly. But it would be more accurate to say that, as compared to his splendid power of cognizing everything at once, our sort of person is not a person in any meaningful sense. Compared to him, our sort of person is a pale shadow, that can see only a few things at once, and darkly, as in a silvered glass.

        … there is no universally agreed upon naturalist position on the nature of the ultimate, except to rule out certain things.

        Whatever it is that naturalists agree the ultimate is or is not, that is the universally agreed upon naturalist position on the nature of the ultimate.

        Naturalists sound like apophatic Christians on steroids, or Hindus, or Neo-Platonist mystics like Dionysius the Areopagite (totally orthodox): “not this, not that.” I.e., hyper-strong theists.

        You are just using value in a different sense than I am.

        Right. You seem to think that “value” means nothing more than “causally inert subjective opinion.” But it goes a bit deeper than that. The amount of rain that fell in Cedar Rapids yesterday is a value; π is a value; c is a value; GDP is a value; the price of GM common is a value; the wind velocity at the top of Mount Washington is a value; the Ides of March is a value; the entropy of the universe right now is a value; and so forth. A value is a measure of some property of things – an evaluation – from a certain perspective. The value of the frequency of a locomotive’s whistle is different for the engineer than it is for the farmer to whom he waves as he passes, because of their different inertial frames; meanwhile, the value of c is the same for both men, but they evaluate time differently.

        If you want to see farther, you shall have to climb some. The going will be stiff, now and then.

      • You do want to find out if you’ve been wrong?

        Do you? Doesn՚t seem that way to me. You seem to believe you have an ironclad proof of your own correctness, and the rest of us just have to be educated in our errors. This is annoying, and also makes for a poor discussion.

        I՚m just going to ignore anything with the word “actualities” in it, because it gives me hives, it makes me feel stupid just to even try to dig into what it is supposed to mean.

        The idea that there are possibilities may be an odd notion to you, but it has seemed obvious to most philosophers for thousands of years

        I truly don՚t care, in general, what philosophers have thought for thousands of years. Mostly, they have been wrong or confused.

        For a thing to happen – anything at all, sliminess, sublimity, iron, iPads, Othello, the St. John Passion, you name it – it had to be first possible for that thing to happen. Do you not see this, as plain as the nose on your face? You’ll get nowhere until you do. It is basic.

        It is pretty basic, but what does it have to do with anything?

        Possibility is a function of our partial knowledge of the future. I presume that for our eternal God there is no such thing as possibility, since his knowledge of the future is perfect, and events either occur or don՚t.

        And that was a work of genius; after all, he might have provided the occasion for Piss Christ, the work of an idiot.

        Surely a Christian (that is, one whose religion revolves around the bodily incarnation of God, presumably including all bodily fluids) who is not a mere political tool should have some appreciation for what Serrano was trying to do.

        It՚s odd to me that this discussion hasn՚t even touched on the Chrisitain notion of incarnation, which would seem pretty basic (to you at least). It՚s not something I have any deep knowledge of though.

        Surely a sophisticate like you is not so parochial as to think that the only sort of person there might be is your own, right? Surely you don’t think that your own experience is the only sort there might be.

        No, I do not, but I do not think that you can have experiences without being a temporal being, it՚s just basic to the concept. Aliens from Tau Ceti might have entirely different senses from mine and vastly different kinds of experiences, but I imagine they still experience time basically the same way we do.

        If God is eternal, then he can have every experience that is ever had,

        Uh, no. God might have access to every experience, like he has access to everything else, but you can՚t have experiences without being a temporal being.

        But it would be more accurate to say that, as compared to his splendid power of cognizing everything at once, our sort of person is not a person in any meaningful sense.

        It would not be accurate, it would be humptydumptyism at its finest.

        You seem to think that “value” means nothing more than “causally inert subjective opinion.”

        Not sure where “causally inert” came from. Or opinion, for that matter – values are more than mere opinion (that is, one can readily change one՚s opinion, one՚s values are more or less fixed). So no, you don՚t understand me even a little bit.

        You go on to list a bunch of numerical quantities as “values”, which seems to be yet another not very subtle attempts to redefine what we are talking about. Objective physical properties, personal reactions to them, and numerical constants are all completely different kinds of things and the only reason to refer to them all by the same word is to preserve some confusion that you seem to be attached to.

        If you want to see farther, you shall have to climb some. The going will be stiff, now and then.

        A patronizing tone will get you nowhere.

        I՚m not sure there is any point continuing this since neither one of us is likely to have their minds changed.

      • You seem to believe you have an ironclad proof of your own correctness, and the rest of us just have to be educated in our errors.

        I do feel comfortable with this stuff, having studied and thought about it for many years. But every time I dig into it again – a daily occurrence – I am open to the alluring possibility that I have missed something important, and eager to discover it if I can. And I do often find, to my great delight, that I have indeed missed something important. With such discoveries, new depths open themselves to me. I *love* it when that happens.

        My impression is that you by contrast are woefully unclear on many basic concepts, and stubbornly determined to stay that way. Actuality, possibility, time, eternity, person, God, fact, value: all seem opaque to you, indeed in some cases maddeningly; so, therefore, are their relations. I try to explain these things, but you seem determined to misunderstand what I say, reading me antagonistically, and indeed scornfully, rather than with an attitude of open inquiry.

        I truly don’t care, in general, what philosophers have thought for thousands of years. Mostly, they have been wrong or confused.

        Listen to yourself say this, a.morphous, and try to comprehend the inane puerile arrogance of the statement. You think you are better at thinking things through than Aristotle, Plato, Augustine and Aquinas? How can you even respond to their arguments if, as is evident, as indeed you have insisted, you *don’t even know, or care to learn, what they are talking about*?

        [The concept of possibility] is pretty basic, but what does it have to do with anything?

        You were the one who expressed incredulity at the idea: “Really, what an odd notion,” you said. I was responding to you.

        Possibility is a function of our partial knowledge of the future.

        No. Possibilities are nowise contingent upon human knowledge. Humans and their knowledge, for example, had to be possible before they came to pass.

        I presume that for our eternal God there is no such thing as possibility, since his knowledge of the future is perfect, and events either occur or don’t.

        No. God knows that he might have done otherwise than he has done, and so likewise might his creatures.

        I do not think that you can have experiences without being a temporal being, it’s just basic to the concept. Aliens from Tau Ceti might have entirely different senses from mine and vastly different kinds of experiences, but I imagine they still experience time basically the same way we do.

        That’s a respectable position, but consider the phenomenal world of a being who is five dimensional. To such a being, time might seem the way space does to us: all present at once. Consider then also a being of ten or ten thousand dimensions; or a being, such as God, who is of infinite dimensions. Are you really comfortable suggesting that such beings just could not have experiences? Might it not be possible that our merely four-dimensional experience is rather flat by comparison with theirs? Considering the possibility of such beings, can you be sure that your own notion of “person” is not humpty-dumptyism?

        You seem to think that “value” means nothing more than “causally inert subjective opinion.”

        Not sure where “causally inert” came from. Or opinion, for that matter – values are more than mere opinion (that is, one can readily change one’s opinion, one’s values are more or less fixed). So no, you don’t understand me even a little bit.

        Granted!

        But notice that if our moral and aesthetic evaluations of experience are nowise apprehensions of the objective character of reality, then “I don’t much like eggplant,” and “murder is evil,” must carry the same intersubjective weight: none (that’s where the “causally inert” comes from). Under the moral nominalism you espouse, *all* values are mere subjective opinions, neither true nor false (because not related one way or another to objective values, there being no such thing), and nor therefore any more persuasive than your opinions about eggplant.

        I recognize of course that you do not feel this way about your moral and aesthetic opinions. You feel that your opinion that murder is wrong is just true. But unless murder is wrong no matter what you or any other man thinks, then your feeling that your opinion that murder is wrong is true is, in fact, false. Your opinion is in that case an illusion; and, if so, then murder is not, after all, wrong. Rather, it is what it is, and your feelings about it, or mine, are neither here nor there.

        Objective physical properties, personal reactions to them, and numerical constants are all completely different kinds of things, and the only reason to refer to them all by the same word is to preserve some confusion that you seem to be attached to.

        Granite, wood and steel are all quite different kinds of things, but they are all solids. Gasses, solids and liquids are all quite different, but they are all material. Stars, nebulae and black holes are all different, but they are all celestial. Do you see the analogies?

        Physical properties, personal reactions to them, and numerical constants are all expressed in reality as aspects of corporeal things. They are all characteristics of bodies, or of assemblages of bodies. Your personal reactions to the fish head are manifest in you corporeally, as an aspect of the state of your nervous system. Values all attach to concrete reals, or else they are nothing but ideas, floating free of any real expression.

        A patronizing tone will get you nowhere.

        Knowing this, why then do you so often employ it? Really, a.morphous, you are in no position to complain about tone. Who lives by the sword dies by it. Consider yourself lucky that I don’t level the sort of contempt at your positions that you so often level at mine.

      • Actuality, possibility, time, eternity, person, God, fact, value: all seem opaque to you

        What do you mean, “opaque”? Are these “transparent” concepts to you, do you see right through them?

        I certainly have my ideas about them, and I dare say they have at least as much validity as yours. From my perspective you haven՚t thought them through and are unwilling to face even quite obvious consequences of your ideas – that՚s what I would call opaque. So once again we find ourselves at an impasse.

        You think you are better at thinking things through than Aristotle, Plato, Augustine and Aquinas?

        No, but I have the benefit of some millennia of more cultural progress than they do. I don՚t feel superior to them, but I also don՚t feel I need to pay much attention to them.

        Possibilities are nowise contingent upon human knowledge. Humans and their knowledge, for example, had to be possible before they came to pass.

        Oh well we are as usual talking past each other. You mean something vague and metaphysical, I am referring to the very normal meaning of possibility. If you are about to flip a coin, it has the possibility of landing heads or tails. After the flip, it is one or the other, so possibility no longer applies. Thus possibility is a function of our place in time. But if you are the Eternal and Atemporal God, who holds all moments together in his vast mind, there is no room for possibility, just as there is no room for experience.

        I wish you would acknowledge that you understand this argument, although you are of course free to disagree with it.

        God knows that he might have done otherwise than he has done, and so likewise might his creatures.

        I hope you can see what a peculiar notion that is. Again, look at the commonsense meaning of “might”. We are temporal creatures, we are always envisioning a variety of future and past states of being, even as we live in the unitary now. And we are faced with choices, another temporal phenomenon, so we can compare our actual choice to the ones we didn՚t take and think about what might have been.

        But an eternal god does not make choices, because he doesn՚t experience time. An eternal god can՚t even act, since that too is a purely temporal concept. So to talk of god mulling over his past choices really makes no sense whatsoever. To the extent he can be said to “do” anything, he՚s always already done it.

        but consider the phenomenal world of a being who is five dimensional. To such a being, time might seem the way space does to us: all present at once.

        It might, but presumably this “being” is in a universe of five dimensions, and either (a) at least one of the dimensions of this universe is timelike like ours, and it experiences time somewhat like we do or (b) it isn՚t, and there is no time at all. What other choices are there? And anyway, the God we are talking about is (I presume) not a dimensional being at all, since he exists outside of and contiguous to every point in whatever manifold the universe under question is instantiating.

        Are you really comfortable suggesting that such beings just could not have experiences?

        Weren՚t you the one who was scoffing at square circles awhile back? The point is that the very notion of experience definitionally requires temporality. Whatever kind of existence timeless beings have, it isn՚t “experience” in any sense, unless of course you want to strain the concept to the breaking point, which maybe you do.

        Considering the possibility of such beings, can you be sure that your own notion of “person” is not humpty-dumptyism?

        Yes, I am pretty sure, thanks for asking.

        But notice that if our moral and aesthetic evaluations of experience are nowise apprehensions of the objective character of reality, then “I don’t much like eggplant,” and “murder is evil,” must carry the same intersubjective weight: none (that’s where the “causally inert” comes from).

        I don՚t understand. My mere opinion that I don՚t like eggplant is hardly causally inert; it causes me to avoid eggplant and other people not to serve it to me. I suppose you mean that there is nothing about my opinion that is causal with regard to someone else՚s opinion. That is also obviously not true; my opinions carry causal weight for anyone who has any respect for me.

      • But if you are the Eternal and Atemporal God, who holds all moments together in his vast mind, there is no room for possibility, just as there is no room for experience.

        If I may enter your discussion I would say it doesn’t follow. There might be no room for *surprise* but there is room for possibility and He surely experience everything, just not in temporal sense as we do. Say an event in time is a motion picture on DVD. Human watcher can replay DVD with higher speed but God can watch it with infinite speed i.e. all at once and still make sense of it. He can also see every frame as if it was “frozen” because He still watches the first while He watches the last.

        But an eternal god does not make choices, because he doesn՚t experience time. An eternal god can՚t even act, since that too is a purely temporal concept. … To the extent he can be said to “do” anything, he՚s always already done it.

        If I were Taoist I could say He acts by His non-acting. He is unchanging and yet He acts. So perhaps acting is not purely temporal concept. We can hardly imagine that but it doesn’t mean it’s incoherent. We see His (and our) actions in temporal succession but He could experience the same actions as something else, for example as logical order i.e. someone has to be born first before he grows old and dies. Again the idea of infinite speed might be a helpful analogy. If I travel from A to B with infinite speed time is not an issue for me anymore but I still can be said I got from A to B. The question here is what becomes of our temporary succesing experiences when we could somehow reduce the time span to zero? My answer is: they are the same, just outsider could see us as being in two places at the same time. Perhaps God keeps arriving at all places all the time and yet He never makes a move because they happen right where He is and when He is there which is everywhere and all the time.

        This analogy might be flawed in many ways but it should not be completely foreign to us. We also experience time differently under different circumstances like age or stress. I believe many people experienced something like *time compression*. Roger Federer once said that when he is really present he perceives the tennis ball objectively approaching with high speed as *huge and slow object* so he has *time* to react with precision.

      • A human watcher can replay DVD with higher speed but God can watch it with infinite speed i.e. all at once and still make sense of it.

        Well, God can have access to it all at once, and I guess make sense of it (in some sense), but he can՚t “watch” it, because that is a verb that implies evolution in time. If I watch something, there is time t when I haven՚t seen it and a time t+d where I have. God doesn՚t do that and can՚t do that, ignorance is not an option for him.

        If I were Taoist I could say He acts by His non-acting. He is unchanging and yet He acts.

        Well, I have some respect for Taoism. In its favor (over the western theism under discussion):

        it is radically apophatic:

        The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

        The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
        The unnamable is the eternally real.

        I do not know its name; I call it Tao. If forced to define it, I shall call it supreme.

        and it does not really personify the ultimate, it does not envision it as a person who gives commands and gets angry and the other actions we attribute to God.

        You aren՚t the first person to compare Roger Federer՚s play to a religious experience.

      • Possibilities are nowise contingent upon human knowledge. Humans and their knowledge, for example, had to be possible before they came to pass.

        Oh well we are as usual talking past each other. You mean something vague and metaphysical, I am referring to the very normal meaning of possibility. If you are about to flip a coin, it has the possibility of landing heads or tails. After the flip, it is one or the other, so possibility no longer applies. Thus possibility is a function of our place in time.

        We are indeed talking about different sorts of possibility. You are using the word to refer only to temporal possibility, while I am using it to refer also to logical and metaphysical possibility. But I don’t see what’s so vague about the latter two sorts. Obviously if something is logically or metaphysically impossible, it can’t ever be temporally possible. Obviously also if a thing is ever temporally possible, it must be logically, metaphysically and nomologically possible as well.

        It just isn’t the case that once something has happened the other things that might have happened instead are thenceforth just impossible, simpliciter. Such counterfactuals may from that point be temporally impossible (in our world, at least), but they remain logically, metaphysically and nomologically possible. Thus of the four sorts of possibility, only temporal possibility is contingent upon temporal locus. But temporal possibility is the most derivative sort, because it supervenes upon logical, metaphysical and nomological possibility.

        Whatever happens at time t, it had to be possible in all four ways from before all time – and so did all the other things that might have happened at t, but did not. Your argument – which I do indeed understand – does not touch this fact. That two outcomes of a coin toss are possible beforehand and only one after does not change the fact that humans and their knowledge had to be possible in order for us to be, or to know. Indeed, the two cases have exactly the same structure: what comes to pass – heads or tails, humans or something different – has to be possible in order to come to pass. If our knowledge were not possible before it came to pass, we would never have been knowledgeable about anything.

        I can’t see why any of this is difficult for you, or objectionable. It seems quite straightforward to me: a thing can’t happen unless it can. If it does, it could. Where’s the problem? What could be gained by objecting to it?

        … the very notion of experience definitionally requires temporality.

        You’ll have to show your work here. I can understand how difficult it is to surmount this impression that you have about experience, but it just does not hold up. I thought RT’s example was pretty good. But let me try to get at it from the other end of the spectrum. RT suggested that God might see all of time as if he were running it at infinite speed – i.e., all at once. But now think about your apprehension of your own most recent moment of existence. That moment is an assemblage of feelings of all sorts of inputs, that all arrived at the anterior “surface” of that moment contemporaneously. They arrived from different directions and distances, and so from different loci, at different times. Some arrived from millions of years in the past. Some arrived from prior moments of your experience, in direct line of inheritance from other moments in your life. All of them were bound together in one moment of experience, which you have now inherited from your own immediate past as a single vision (together, of course, with all sorts of other, novel inputs that weren’t around in the world of your prior moment of experience).

        How is this assembly of so many disparate inputs achieved? How are they integrated into a single moment of your life? It’s a mystery: how can things arrive from disparate parts of the universe and come together in a new thing? Now, granted, this marvelous integration seems quite humdrum to us, because we accomplish it at every instant of our lives. But really, it is quite improbable on its face. E.g., what does a red basketball have to do with Sally, or the ice cream, or Martha’s Vinyard, or the sadness?

        There’s no explaining it, perhaps; if that’s so, maybe the reason it is so is that such togathering of disparates is the basis and forecondition of explanation as such; for, after all, an explanation is just a specification of the form of a sort of togetherness in experience.

        At any rate, experience just is a togathering of things, each one having the phenomenal character of a feeling. Some such feelings are sensual, some are not – e.g., some are intuitive, or intellectual, such as feelings of mathematical ideas that have as yet no corporeal implementation, so far as we yet know. A thing that has no corporeal implementation, such as certain mathematical objects, obviously has no temporal address. It isn’t located anywhere, or at any when, in the history of our world. So objects of feeling don’t seem to need to be located at some particular point in time in order for us to feel them. Experience, that is to say, is not necessarily of things that are at particular temporal loci.

        And this is borne out by modern physics, which has largely abandoned the notion of simple location, even for temporal objects. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle put paid to it. Nothing is located in any perfectly delimitable locus in space or time.

        My mere opinion that I don’t like eggplant is hardly causally inert; it causes me to avoid eggplant and other people not to serve it to me. I suppose you mean that there is nothing about my opinion that is causal with regard to someone else’s opinion. That is also obviously not true; my opinions carry causal weight for anyone who has any respect for me.

        You make my argument. Yes, your opinions are not, in fact, causally inert. But if they were only yours, and only subjective, and never anything more, then they would be. A feeling that is *only* subjective can never make it out into the world to be objective for some other being. It cannot ever be a fact, that the rest of the world must reckon in its causal arrangements. But as you have noticed, your subjective feelings are not stillborn in this way. They have causal effects. And this means that they are not merely subjective: they are objective facts. Indeed, they are facts that are *about other facts.* And so, likewise, those other facts must also be *about yet other facts.*

        There is nothing outré about this suggestion that facts are all about other facts. It’s just a way of saying that the world is causally knit together. And this, notice, is just to say that the world is a togathering.

        Recall now what it was that I said, to which you rightly objected in insisting that your opinions are not causally inert:

        But notice that if our moral and aesthetic evaluations of experience are nowise apprehensions of the objective character of reality, then “I don’t much like eggplant,” and “murder is evil,” must carry the same intersubjective weight: none (that’s where the “causally inert” comes from).

        To say of your aesthetic evaluation of eggplant that it is nowise an apprehension of the objective character of reality, but rather *only* your opinion, is to say that it is not causally linked to reality. But if it is not thus causally linked to reality, it is not affected by reality, and cannot in turn affect reality. It is causally inert.

        But as I was trying to point out, this is a crazy notion; and as you insist, you don’t actually believe it. You believe that your feelings about eggplant are feelings about the way eggplant actually is, and so discloses itself to you; and you believe that your feelings are in turn objectively real features of the world, that other people can take into account. You believe evaluations are not causally inert. And this entails believing that evaluations are factual. That entails believing that evaluations are real. And that entails believing that what the evaluations are about is real. Now, if values are not real, it is very hard to see how evaluations could be – for, by the very etymology of the word “evaluation,” they come from values. Evaluations are *of* values. If values are unreal, so are evaluations. In which case, your opinions of eggplant would be causally inert.

        So, either values are objectively real so that your opinions can be causally efficacious, as you rightly insist they are, or values are not objectively real, as you assert, so that your opinions are causally inert. You can’t have it both ways.

        But an eternal god does not make choices, because he doesn’t experience time. An eternal god can’t even act, since that too is a purely temporal concept.

        All of time takes place in eternity. So there is no contradiction between eternity and time. If there were, then there would be no such thing as time; for eternity is necessary, while temporal events are not. Acts take place in eternity; only once an act is completed can it actually exist so as to have temporal relations with other acts. Incomplete acts have no causal relations to anything, because they don’t yet actually exist; so, they are not happening in time. Their temporal locus is ascertainable, and thus factual, only ex post. So, action is not purely temporal. Rather, it is temporal only derivatively.

        Acts are choices.

        So, an eternal being can indeed choose, and act.

        Nevertheless you are indeed onto something important here, which is that God is always fully in act: no matter what your temporal locus, you will find in looking to him that he has always been just himself, which is to say that his choice is always already made; it is made eternally. And this makes sense, for his choice is the very forecondition of all other, creaturely choices; so that it is the forecondition of time.

        Time cannot fall under the Category of the Ultimate, you know. Think about it for half a second, and you will see that it must be so. Contingency of any sort cannot be ultimate; and time is a set of contingent relations among contingent events.

        I’m not sure we are getting anywhere with this, a.morphous, but I can see that you are trying. I am glad of that. You admire Taoism; so do I. When the Jesuit missionaries in Beijing translated the Bible into Mandarin about 400 years ago, they translated “Logos” as “Tao.” The Chinese knew exactly what they meant. If you read Dionysius the Areopagite, or Meister Eckhart, you will find God talk very like what one reads in Lao Tse or Chuang Tse. All you need to do, in order to see that all these guys are talking about the same One, is read them each with a knowledge of the others. It’s all right there.

        You might want to check out Christ the Eternal Tao, by Hieromonk Damascene.

      • @ a.morphous

        I think Federer’s (and other’s) experiences are quite natural and not particularly religious.

        @ Kristor

        I am curious about the book Christ and the eternal Tao. I am qoing to buy it so perhaps I find the answer there but for now I would say that the standard interpretation of Tao is quite different from Logos (as far as I know), the main difference being Tao’s apparent lack of personhood.

        Lao-tse’s understanding of Logos could have been incomplete and corrupted but important is it finally led to entirely *impersonal* view of the Universe which is now prevalent in the West as well and which probably is the reason why Taoism or Buddhism are so popular today. So we get Tao of physics, Tao of this and that.

        Now, what if the idea of *person* is not a positive feature but a negative one? Privatio boni as you call it. Shenpen as a buddhist might agree because for him egoism is the greatest enemy. If this could be proved somehow it would add new weight to the idea of impersonal ultimate. Even the Original sin could be reinterpreted as sin of self-consciousness that inevitably leads to egoism.

        If the person doesn’t really exist and we are mere conglomerate of thoughts, memories, emotions and feelings then egoism really is the worst sin against our true “nature”, a sort of idolatry because we worship something that doesn’t exist. Moreover it prevents us from being moderate and minimalist. Morality has no other purpose than to confine our egoism and to keep us away from the worst excesses because there is no law-giver, just impersonal law of action and reaction.

        We need to free us from ourselves. We need to be conscious and swim with the current of Tao – like animals do – in order to be efficient and succesful but not self-conscious because that just gets in the way of the flow of Tao. So focus more on your experience and less on your reason. Our minds work in certain patterns that are not as rational as we thought so reason is often misleading. Esp. when comes to philosophical questions like that of eternal forms.

        This view doesn’t have problem with liberalism because, you know, anything goes if it’s not an extreme and there are no other commandments. The best ruler is the one of whom people think he doesn’t rule which means Emperor is the same impersonal power as Heaven and Earth. Society is just conglomerate of individuals after all… One is not surprised that Mao could consider himself taoist and Dalajlama thinks Marxism makes better living for people.

        All this rests on idea that person doesn’t exist which more or less rests on some naturalist explanation. Well, it’s obvious that person exists (there is something in human experience that doesn’t change and makes us unique) but how can we defend it beyond pointing out weaknesses of naturalism (naturalism might be wrong but it doesn’t mean person exists)? Is the Platonist-Aristotelian defence of existence of soul enough? Soul – body – person – what relationships are there?

      • Thanks, RT. There is indeed a venerable tradition in Christian mysticism which argues that our fallen self is false, and that our true self lives in Christ. It does not argue that there is no human person at all – this would fly in the face of all our experience of what being is like – but that human personhood subsists properly, and in true fact, in God, and is not self-subsistent. The fancy that we are self-subsistent is the fruit of the sin of Adam, and its persistence in us is our inheritance from our first parents of the deadly illusion into which they fell.

        The core of this tradition is captured in Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20 that, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Christ is the true life of all life; he is the way that Paul can be Paul.

        I will be interested to hear what you think of Christ the Eternal Tao.

      • Well, I think I must thank you for your time and incredible effort to explain everything in detail and depth. I do appreciate it.

      • You are most welcome, RT.

        By the way, several related things occurred to me on the train this morning. First, Paul’s Body of Death is the body of the sinful man, still subject to the sin of Adam, who imagines that he is self-subsistent. Meanwhile the Resurrection Body is the body of the redeemed man, who has turned from his wickedness to the source of his true and full life.

        Second, Christ is the way that Paul can be Paul in either body. Neither body is truly self-subsistent, not even the least little bit. Rather, they both subsist completely in Christ. The difference between the Resurrection Body and the Body of Death is that the latter is suffering a privation of the good it might otherwise have implemented and enjoyed even in this life here below, due to the noise, chaos, falsehood, disorder that the deluded mind of fallen man has introduced thereto. That we are made in the imago dei means that we have already begun – or, that is, not yet fully abandoned – the project of theosis. Even as fallen, man is but little lower than the angels. The Body of Death is what’s left of the Resurrection Body, and of the body we were originally meant to start with, after our sins and those of our forefathers have worked their effects upon it.

        Third is the tricky bit. As the fall was into alienation from God and the truth of our being, so resurrection is an ascent into communion with him. The first effect of that alienation is disparaty with God. In the ascent, this rupture is healed, and we see again that we have been at union with him the whole time. This is where we get into what I have called Advaita Christianity, or non-dual Christianity. In the ascent, we realize that our being and action partake of his, and that this participation is the reason we have being or power in the first place. The participation may be understood first as analogous to what we mean when we say that we partake of a meal with friends: we take, and eat, we prehend and take in to ourselves. But it may then be understood more deeply as analogous to what we mean when we say that the cell partakes of the nature and being of the person: our participation in God is the basis of our parate actuality, and we exist at all, ever, fallen or not, only insofar as we are parts of his whole.

        Our life, then, is his life, living in us as ours.

        At the fall, our paraty is poisoned, and becomes disparaty and separaty: rupture, solitude, wounding. At the resurrection, it is purified, and becomes euparaty and comparaty: conjunction, communion, intimacy, healing. Disparaty is disease, evil, death; euparaty is ease, joy, life.

      • Dear Kristor, one thing confuses me.

        In the ascent, this rupture is healed, and we see again that we have been at union with him the whole time. This is where we get into what I have called Advaita Christianity, or non-dual Christianity.

        I noticed the term Advaita Christianity in your comments before and even after reading your comment above it seems to be too strong a term for our unity with God. I think and, please, correct me if I am wrong that Advaita means more than unity – ther are no you and me, there is only the One and everything else is mere illusion. That’s why the Hinduists say about eating: I take the food which is god from the nature which is god and put it to my mouth which is also god i.e. something like god takes god and eats god.

        In Christianity God creates world *ex nihilo*. I understand it as “not out of Himself” i.e. the world is separate but totally dependend on God who sustains it in every moment. I think this is slightly different picture than that of Advaita.

        I believe you are right when you say this:

        First, Paul’s Body of Death is the body of the sinful man, still subject to the sin of Adam, who imagines that he is self-subsistent. Meanwhile the Resurrection Body is the body of the redeemed man, who has turned from his wickedness to the source of his true and full life.

        and this:

        …the cell partakes of the nature and being of the person: our participation in God is the basis of our parate actuality, and we exist at all, ever, fallen or not, only insofar as we are parts of his whole.

        But cells are not an illusion and neither are we. The unity means Him and us in relationship even when He acts through us and not total dissolution of us in Himas I read the Advaita story. I admit my understanding of Advaita might be wrong. Also I do not say that all Hinduism is just this kind of monism as I do not claim that Tao-te-ching and other pieces of taoist canon can’t be read more in accordance with Christianity.

        However, taoists do interpret it differently and we should consider their interpretation as basic and correct. Therefore, I would hesitate to use terms like Tao or Advaita in the context of Christianity even if Christian mystics seem to refer to something similar.

        As far as I know mystical experiences were looked upon with a priori suspicion by Church. First, because God is not the only source of such experiences and, second, they offer themselves to various wild interpretations. I think it’s wise attitude. The interpretation is what matters and without scrutiny it can only mess the Church’s teachings and confuse believers.

        For the same reasons I look with suspicion upon, for example, so called alternative medicine or oriental martial arts, esp. traditional ones with fixed lineage of teachers and those claiming to work with “energy”. Usually they require more than they offer.

      • No properly Christian metaphysics could suggest that creatures are not real, and nor does Advaita Christianity. It says rather that creatures obtain all the factors of their being first from God – that they have every bit of their being only in him.

        Creatio ex nihilo means that creatures are assembled, not out of some pre-existing stuff that did not originate in God, but rather of nothing at all *other than God* – there being in the first place nothing at all other than God, that did not originate in him. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” (Psalm 33:6) It follows that the Heavens and all under them consist entirely of the Living Word – there is nothing else other than the Word in which we might consist.

        But we do indeed consist.

        As for the notion that all entities other than the One are illusory, it is indeed found in one school of Advaita Hinduism, the Kevala Advaita of Shankaracharya. But the school of Ramanuja, called Vishista Advaita, does not deny the reality of the “ten thousand things,” but rather – as with Advaita Christianity – treats them as related to Brahman in rather the same way that the part is related to the whole.

    • @ Kristor November 10, 2014 at 11:50 pm
      Jumping into your thread with a.morphous… not sure this comment will appear in the proper sequence. Sorry if it does not. You write, “There’s not some chaotic stuff out there, as Leo might have hoped…” Hoped is not the right word here. Observed would be the term I would use. Again you write, “There is no chaos…” I, of course, disagree. You are missing both the Biblical perspective (see http://www.amazon.com/The-Return-Chaos-Monsters-Backstories/dp/0802837468) and an appreciation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which follows from statistical mechanics as well as from observation. See the H-theorem of Ludwig Boltzmann. The concept of chaos is very basic. Consider the possibility that chaos is real and can return.

      • Gosh, Leo, how many times do I have to say that evil is real? It is really, factually the case that a defect is evil. There can be real evil beings, like Satan and Leviathan. And there can be a potentiality to evil implicit in creaturity per se, so that it is an eternal fact that creatures may fall, and the creation be disordered thereby. None of that is contradicted by privatio boni.

        All that is contradicted by privatio boni is Manicheism: the notion that there is a principal of evil who is coeternal with God, the principal of good. If Manicheism is true, then evil is just as primordial and prior as good, and has therefore an equal claim to being considered good. But this empties “good” and “evil” of the distinction between them which makes the whole difference between them, and between choosing them. Manicheism is moral nominalism; it is moral relativism on steroids.

        Privatio boni lets you keep all the evil beings of scripture and classical theology, lets you assert that evil is in fact abhorrent, lets you keep morality properly so called. It does no violence to any of our moral intuitions.

        I don’t understand therefore why it is so important to you to keep Manicheism.

      • One thing about Taoists, I don՚t think you would find one trying to show with ironclad logic that the Tao must have this character or that. Think I will take a cue from them and be silent for awhile (in this thread).

        I am using it to refer also to logical and metaphysical possibility. But I don’t see what’s so vague about the latter two sorts.

        Well, refering to all those different forms of possibility at once is inherently vague, since they seem to me to be quite different sorts of things. And metaphysical possibility is entirely meaningless to me, while logical possibility only has meaning within a given system of inference, not otherwise, so doesn՚t apply to discussions about reality.

        Such counterfactuals may from that point be temporally impossible (in our world, at least), but they remain logically, metaphysically and nomologically possible.

        In other words, impossible.

        That two outcomes of a coin toss are possible beforehand and only one after does not change the fact that humans and their knowledge had to be possible in order for us to be, or to know.

        I have absolutely no idea what point you are trying to make, other than continuing to try to fudge the meaning of “possible”. Who is arguing that “humans and their knowledge” are impossible?

        … the very notion of experience definitionally requires temporality.

        You’ll have to show your work here.

        Sorry, but that is axiomatic (or rather definitional), in that the very notion of experience is dependent upon temporality. Consider it a limitation of my imagination if you like. You may be able to imagine a being that has equal access to all points of spacetime and yet has something you call “experience”, but it՚s beyond me.

        You didn՚t answer my query in the last comment about the rule of Christ in all of this, a pity, because it seems like it be the one area where I actually might learn something from this conversation.

        How is this assembly of so many disparate inputs achieved? How are they integrated into a single moment of your life?

        Good question, if entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. That is to say, however the brain integrates all of its inputs into something like a unitary consciousness (or the illusion of one), it is definitely a temporal process and the integration is over the limited set of things available to the temporally-bound senses. You seem to be trying to use this as an analogy for how God suposedly manages to integrate literally everything that happens throughout all of time, which is just a very different proposition (and also, btw, is definitionally impossible because integration is also a temporal process).

        To say of your aesthetic evaluation of eggplant that it is nowise an apprehension of the objective character of reality, but rather only your opinion, is to say that it is not causally linked to reality.

        I just explained how it is in fact linked causally linked to reality, which in no way requires my aesthetics to be objective. If you disagree with my explanation you՚ll have to say why.

        You believe that your feelings about eggplant are feelings about the way eggplant actually is,

        I said nothing even remotely like that, so you can stop putting words in my mouth and try responding to my actual ones.

        You believe evaluations are not causally inert. And this entails believing that evaluations are factual.

        No, it does not. Surely you admit the existence of causally efficacious falsehoods.

        Acts take place in eternity; only once an act is completed can it actually exist so as to have temporal relations with other acts.

        Once again, you are talking about some vague metaphysical moosh and I am talking about the real, everyday, commonsensical world that we can actually observe and experience.

        Time cannot fall under the Category of the Ultimate, you know. Think about it for half a second, and you will see that it must be so.

        I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, so I can՚t think about it at all. Inasmuch as I understand it, it would appear to support my general point: that God, as you concieve him, is outside of time and therefore cannot act or experience or really do anything, but rather just sits there in his Ultimacy, although even that metaphor is attributing too much agency.

        In other words, the more you embrace the Greek idea of God as some kind of eternal and pure Absolute, the less he looks like the more primitive tribal deity of the scriptures, who is always acting and thundering and getting angry or jealous, and wants to make sure that his people don՚t cheat on him with other gods. These concepts simply don՚t fit together despite the thousands of years of Christian philosophy attempting to square the circle.

        Contingency of any sort cannot be ultimate; time is a set of contingent relations among contingent events.

        That is an interesting definition of time, but hardly the normal one, in which space is a dimension of the physical universe and events take place within it. Time may contain contingencies but is not thereby itself contingent – I՚m not even sure what it would mean to say it is.

      • One thing about Taoists, I don’t think you would find one trying to show with ironclad logic that the Tao must have this character or that.

        You’d be surprised, perhaps. There are many extremely sophisticated Taoist philosophical texts. The literature is vast.

        Lao Tse’s statement that, “I call it Tao. If forced to define it, I shall call it supreme,” is exactly equivalent to Saint Anselm’s characterization of God as “that than which no greater can be conceived” – i.e., supreme. It would be well for you to understand that the logic of the Christian philosophical tradition has invariably concluded that the supremacy of God along all dimensions of perfection so far surpasses sublunary powers of creaturely intellection as to make him comprehensible to us only under the terms of approximate – and, at the last, inadequate – analogies. The Christian and Taoist philosophical traditions reach the same ultimate conclusions about the character of God, and our capacity to know him. On the one hand, he far outpasses all human telling. On the other, men are by nature both morally and intellectually capax dei: as made by God, in God, for God, and so in his image, we are able to fit ourselves to him and his Way of Heaven, and ought therefore to do so.

        I am using [“possibility”] to refer also to logical and metaphysical possibility. But I don’t see what’s so vague about the latter two sorts.

        Well, referring to all those different forms of possibility at once is inherently vague, since they seem to me to be quite different sorts of things.

        They are nested categories of the same thing. The set of logical possibilities includes the set of metaphysical possibilities, which includes the set of nomological possibilities, which includes the set of temporal possibilities. If and only if [IFF] x is logically possible can it be metaphysically possible; IFF x is metaphysically possible can it be nomologically possible; and IFF x is nomologically possible can it be temporally possible. Thus if something happens in a world characterized by temporal relations, we know it is possible temporally, nomologically, metaphysically, and logically.

        It’s very simple, really. I can’t imagine why you are having such difficulty with it.

        Who is arguing that “humans and their knowledge” are impossible?

        No one. We got started on this whole question of possibility because you expressed incredulity at the notion that your disgust at a slimy fish head had to have been possible from before all worlds – i.e., logically, metaphysically, nomologically, and temporally – in order for you ever to find yourself disgusted at the fish head. But there’s no way around it: if your disgust had not been possible, it could never have happened. These are just two ways of saying the same thing.

        You have also more than once expressed incredulity at the notion that works of art, such as the Pietà, had likewise to have been eternally possible in order for artists to bring them into actual existence. But again, to say that the Pietà had to be possible or it could not have been carved is tautologous.

        I repeat, I see no reason why you should object to the idea that things have to be possible if they are ever to happen. Your push back on this notion is a mystery to me. None of your important philosophical commitments are threatened by it, so far as I can tell; and if you reject it, you fall into utter incoherence. I don’t understand your resistance.

        … the very notion of experience definitionally requires temporality.

        You’ll have to show your work here.

        Sorry, but that is axiomatic (or rather definitional), in that the very notion of experience is dependent upon temporality. Consider it a limitation of my imagination if you like. You may be able to imagine a being that has equal access to all points of spacetime and yet has something you call “experience”, but it’s beyond me.

        Well, then it’s just beyond you, I suppose; which would explain how you could feel comfortable with your otherwise quite arbitrary definition of experience as inherently time bound. But that it has not been beyond such great minds as those of Anselm, Aquinas, Aristotle, and Boethius ought at least to give you pause; ought to make you stop and consider that maybe time is not so basic as you have so far been able to see, and motivate you to try to see farther.

        I’m not sure what I might say that would help you understand what I’ve been getting at. I suppose I might simply suggest that God experiences the whole of time the way that we in each of our moments experience our past, and the past of our world. It was that idea that I was trying to describe in some detail in my last comment to you. We feel a huge assemblage of different inputs from the fixed and static past, all at once; we feel those inputs as somehow lively and active, rather than dead and mute; and we integrate them into a moment of present experience. This is the same sort of thing that would be happening for God, except that instead of the relatively paltry array of inputs we are able to assemble from our past, he would feel and assemble *all the inputs from all moments of existence whatsoever, wheresoever and whensoever,* period full stop.

        [NB however that this is not to say that for God all time is in his past. As eternal, he has no past. If events were in his past, he’d be in time. But time is in him.]

        Now, it might be objected that while we can make some sense of the fact that we can experience the past, we can’t begin to see what it would mean (in those same terms, under which we can only experience the past) to experience the whole of time in that way. But the objection fails, because when push comes to shove we really *can’t* make sense of the fact that we can experience the past. We are extremely *accustomed* to retrospection, and to our orderly relation to the past (these boil down to the same thing), but we *don’t understand it.* Causation is a thundering great mystery: we don’t know how it works, at all. Indeed, it probably doesn’t make sense even to ask how causation works – for that, after all, would be to ask what causes causation.

        You believe that your feelings about eggplant are feelings about the way eggplant actually is,

        I said nothing even remotely like that, so you can stop putting words in my mouth and try responding to my actual ones.

        Notice that I said that you believe your feelings about the eggplant are *about* the way it actually is, and not that you believe your feelings about the eggplant are *of* the way it actually is. You do indeed believe that your feelings about the eggplant are feelings about the eggplant, right? I.e., you don’t believe that your feelings about the eggplant are actually feelings about something *other* than the eggplant? {Tace for the nonce on the myriad associations that arise in your mind between the idea of eggplant and all sorts of other ideas, such as that of the horrid lady who served it to you when you were a boy, so that you hate eggplant forever. Such feelings would be about the horrid lady, not about the poor helpless eggplant she served you, nor about the innocent eggplant now set before you.]

        You believe evaluations are not causally inert. And this entails believing that evaluations are factual.

        No, it does not. Surely you admit the existence of causally efficacious falsehoods.

        Think, now. A false statement can be a fact. But a falsehood that is not factual is a falsehood *that never happened,* and *cannot therefore do anything.* Things that don’t happen can’t be efficacious, because they *just don’t exist.* The only sort of falsehood that can be causally efficacious is a falsehood that actually happens.

        Acts take place in eternity; only once an act is completed can it actually exist so as to have temporal relations with other acts.

        Once again, you are talking about some vague metaphysical mush and I am talking about the real, everyday, commonsensical world that we can actually observe and experience.

        Our quotidian world cooks out of eternity. Until an event is complete, and has finished the process of becoming, it is not yet fully actual; it does not yet exist, and so it does not yet have any causal or spatio-temporal relations with other things – or any other properties or characteristics, for that matter. We cannot, e.g., say that I have hit the ball over the net until the ball is actually over the net, right? Until a thing has finished happening, and is completely actual, we can’t tell anything about it, including where or when it is, because it doesn’t yet exist for us to know anything about it. We can’t tell where or when it is *until it is.*
        So, the temporal address of an event – where it lies, causally, in relation to other events – can’t be ascertained until it exists. This tells us that becoming must take place pretertemporally. First a thing comes to be; then and only then can its causal and spatio-temporal relations to other things be ascertained.
        And this is not just a question of some epistemological limitation on our apprehension of those causal relations. No: the limitation is ontological. The causal relations just don’t exist to be apprehended in the first place, until the event has finished becoming and has fully come to be. Only then, as a fully actual, concrete, definite thing, can it have properties such as causal relations to other events.

        Time cannot fall under the Category of the Ultimate, you know. Think about it for half a second, and you will see that it must be so.

        I have no idea what that is supposed to mean …

        Only reason I brought it up is that you seemed to think that there’s no way to get being without time. As I hope the foregoing has shown, it goes the other way: there’s no way to get time without being. So, time is not basic, but derivative.

        … the more you embrace the Greek idea of God as some kind of eternal and pure Absolute, the less he looks like the more primitive tribal deity of the scriptures, who is always acting and thundering and getting angry or jealous, and wants to make sure that his people don’t cheat on him with other gods. These concepts simply don’t fit together despite the thousands of years of Christian philosophy attempting to square the circle.

        Well, all I can say is that, as you have yourself said, you have not read, or a fortiori understood, enough either of Christian philosophy or of Greek philosophy to be able to opine on this question authoritatively. The concepts of the Greek Absolute and YHWH the Thunder God, Angel and Shepherd of Israel and head of the Church his Body do indeed fit together surpassingly, sublimely well. I grant that it can take a great deal of work to see how, but it is there to be seen, for those who trouble themselves to look.

      • Brownian motion is neither evil not Manichaean. It is a chaotic observable, unlike Platonic forms. Chaos is a basic as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which likewise is neither evil nor Manichaean, nor a privation. I don’t recall privations coming up in my thermodynamics and statistical mechanics classes at all. Josiah Willard Gibbs didn’t need to rely on Neoplatonism and the Scholastics. Chaos is also a very Biblical concept. See Mobley’s book. So why maintain, “there is no chaos?” Or did you not mean that?

      • No, Leo, I don’t mean to maintain that there is no such thing as chaos. Like I just said to you:

        Gosh, Leo, how many times do I have to say that evil is real? It is really, factually the case that a defect is evil.

        Likewise with chaos. Chaos is a real defect of order. It’s not some extra added chaotic stuff that gets added to regular orderly stuff and messes it up. It’s just and only a loss of order. Thermodynamically, that order is lost as heat. This should have been covered in your class on thermodynamics.

      • Dear Kristor,

        On November 10, 2014 at 11:50 pm you wrote: “There is no chaos; there are rather only things that are perfect, and things that, while good, are less than perfect.”

        On November 24, 2014 at 5:55 am you write: “No, Leo, I don’t mean to maintain that there is no such thing as chaos.”

        You’ve succeeded in confusing me.

        My thermodynamics class didn’t start with the assumption of the universe as existing in perfect order. Come to think of it, none of my science classes did. If anything, the physical universe displays an underlying randomness as observed in Brownian motion, and a preference for randomness as shown in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. I don’t say that I prefer that, merely that I observe it in the world in which we now live. Chaos theory explains why we can’t forecast the weather very well. Even financial markets display randomness.

        I think the root of the problem is that you think like a medieval schoolman, and I, as a modern, don’t. My objective isn’t so much to prove that Scholasticism is wrong. I am not sure that is possible. It all rests on certain axioms and assumptions. My intention isn’t to prove that the Schoolmen weren’t smart. They demonstrably were very smart. Nor do I disparage those who lived hundreds of year ago. I have a fond spot in my heart for William of Ockham, whose thought I see as leading towards modern thought. My object is to show that classical scholastic thinking is not necessary to describe things as they really are, nor does it necessarily reflect the original Biblical thinking. Obviously it doesn’t particularly reflect modern scientific thinking. It is a way of thinking that I don’t find very useful except for Catholic apologetics or philosophy class.

        If Moses had been a medieval schoolman, he would presumably have written Gen. 2:17 as referring to “the tree of the knowledge of good and privatio boni.” But why mess up Genesis to conform to Augustine? See http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/12_goodbad.html Also http://astore.amazon.com/ancienthebrew-20/detail/0393005348/102-5817615-4687316 Not that I submit these links as definitive, but rather they are suggestive that Greek philosophy and the Bible represent two distinct and different ways of thinking, and that mixing the two can lead to an unfortunate syncretism. The Greek religion, for example, knew no anti-god as the embodiment of evil comparable to Satan. Other than to capture the prestige of Greek thought, why mix the two religions?

        Moving to modern thought, surfing the Internet I found an interesting argument against the adequacy of privatio boni thinking by a blogger who goes by the name Theophage. His argument runs thus:

        Consider two possible worlds: one is totally chaotic or totally vacuous, if you prefer. The other is filled with devils or villains, if you prefer. Both exhibit a total absence of good. Are they equally evil? I think not.

        Consider two people. In one situation two people are totally isolated with no interaction between them. In a second situation the two people interact and one person does evil to the other, e.g. murders the other. In the first situation there is no good happening between the two people, zero, zip, zilch, nada. In the second situation there is also no good happening between the two people. In both cases there is a total privatio boni, but would anyone say the cases are equal?

      • On November 10, 2014 at 11:50 pm you wrote: “There is no chaos; there are rather only things that are perfect, and things that, while good, are less than perfect.”
        On November 24, 2014 at 5:55 am you write: “No, Leo, I don’t mean to maintain that there is no such thing as chaos.”
        You’ve succeeded in confusing me.

        The first statement was shorthand for “there is no actual stuff that is perfectly chaotic, but rather only things that are less than perfectly ordered.” As I’ve just reiterated again for the umpteenth time, chaos and evil are real enough, but they are not some sort of evil “stuff” that gets mixed in with the good “stuff” and ruins it.

        My thermodynamics class didn’t start with the assumption of the universe as existing in perfect order.

        You’d have been more likely to hear about that in cosmology class: the order of the cosmos has been steadily decreasing since the Big Bang, when it was at its cosmogonic maximum, and potent to perform *all the work that will ever be performed in this universe* – but not, NB, at perfection. At the Big Bang, Lucifer had already fallen, so that the point of departure for our physics is a fallen world.

        I note for the record that you have here dodged my point that thermodynamic chaos is the privation of order.

        If Moses had been a medieval schoolman, he would presumably have written Gen. 2:17 as referring to “the tree of the knowledge of good and privatio boni.”

        Again, for the 88th time, that evil is a privation of good does not mean that it is not real. Please write this sentence 88 times: “The privation of good is really evil.”

        Or, no, let me ask you this: would you say that it is not true that the privation of good is really evil? Would you say, in other words, that the privation of good is just fine, unless some of that evil stuff of yours is added into the mix?

        Do you honestly mean to suggest that there is some sort of evil “stuff” out there?

        Other than to capture the prestige of Greek thought, why mix the two religions?

        Who’s mixing two religions? They’ve been mixed from the beginning. Christianity arose in a Greek milieu. The Gospels and Epistles were written in Greek; the Scripture Jesus and the Apostles quoted was the Greek Septuagint; Greek was the lingua franca and ambient culture of Israel and Judea. John didn’t open his Gospel by calling Jesus the Memra, but the Logos. If he had written in the Aramaic, and used Memra, he would have been referring to exactly the same concept, which had been prevalent in the Ancient Near East for a thousand years before Alexander took Jerusalem, an event that predated the life of Jesus by many generations. The same goes for the Platonic Forms, which Pythagoras said he had learned in the temple schools of Syria: it is familiar to us today as expressed in the tradition of Biblical typology – and angelology. Both Old and New Testaments are suffused with it.

        The Greeks learnt their philosophy from the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the vassals and clients of those two cultures in Syria, Israel, and Judea. These cultures, and their cults, and those of the Greeks and Italians, had been trading ideas for thousands of years before Rome took Jerusalem.

        Consider two possible worlds: one is totally chaotic or totally vacuous, if you prefer. The other is filled with devils or villains, if you prefer. Both exhibit a total absence of good.

        No, they don’t. The latter world exhibits the presence of the good of concretely existing persons. If they were totally evil, they wouldn’t exist at all, and then the two worlds would both exhibit a total absence of good.

        Consider two people. In one situation two people are totally isolated with no interaction between them. In a second situation the two people interact and one person does evil to the other, e.g., murders the other. In the first situation there is no good happening between the two people, zero, zip, zilch, nada. In the second situation there is also no good happening between the two people. In both cases there is a total privatio boni, but would anyone say the cases are equal?

        Wrong again. This Theophage guy needs to read up a bit. In neither case is there a total privatio boni, for in both cases there exist concrete persons, that exhibit the good of existence.

        ______________________________

        PS It should have occurred to me long ago in this thread to recommend to your attention the ancient analogy between goodness and light. Darkness is not a thing in its own right, but the absence of light. You can’t get a “source” of darkness; there’s no such thing as a dark bulb, only light bulbs. When you create a shadow by blocking the sun, you aren’t adding darkness to the area of shadow, but removing light. A black hole is dark, not because it emits darkness, but because it sucks in light.

        “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Likewise God is good, and in him is no evil at all:

        The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. … The judgements of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. – Psalm 19: 7-9

      • Lao Tse’s statement that, “I call it Tao. If forced to define it, I shall call it supreme,”

        Eh, very few translations of that passage use the word “supreme”. and I personally wouldn՚t, with its connotations of hierarchy and authority. This may be quibbling but I sense that it reflects a fundamental difference between us.

        God… so far surpasses sublunary powers of creaturely intellection as to make him comprehensible to us only under the terms of approximate – and, at the last, inadequate – analogies.

        OK, I՚ll buy that. But that supports my original statement that you were replying to. Analogies are very important, but they don՚t produce ironclad proofs.

        They [three different meanings of “possibility”] are nested categories of the same thing.

        Why should I accept that? They don՚t seem at all related categories to me despite being described with the same word, any more than river banks and money banks are the related things.

        It’s very simple, really. I can’t imagine why you are having such difficulty with it.

        I՚m not, I am disagreeing with you and your assumptions. You ought to learn to tell the difference.

        if your disgust had not been possible, it could never have happened.

        This is only true in a trivial and tautological way so I fail to see why it is interesting.

        You have also more than once expressed incredulity at the notion that works of art, such as the Pietà, had likewise to have been eternally possible in order for artists to bring them into actual existence…. I see no reason why you should object to the idea that things have to be possible if they are ever to happen. Your push back on this notion is a mystery to me.

        Don՚t know which writing of mine you are referring to but it sound like you misunderstood what I was saying.

        But that it has not been beyond such great minds as those of Anselm, Aquinas, Aristotle, and Boethius ought at least to give you pause;

        Argument from authority will get you nowhere; but if you want to quote relevant passages that you think support your argument that would at least further the conversation.

        NB however that this is not to say that for God all time is in his past. As eternal, he has no past. If events were in his past, he’d be in time. But time is in him.

        So he has no past, but he has experiences. Right.

        we really can’t make sense of the fact that we can experience the past.

        Speak for yourself.

        That is, while the ultimate nature of our experience and time may be unknowable, we make practical sense both of the past and our relationship to it all the time.

        Notice that I said that you believe your feelings about the eggplant are about the way it actually is, and not that you believe your feelings about the eggplant are of the way it actually is.

        Whut?

        Think, now. A false statement can be a fact. But a falsehood that is not factual is a falsehood that never happened,* and *cannot therefore do anything.

        Oh, by “factual”, you mean that the statement itself has some kind of real existence, not that it is true. Well OK, then I՚m not sure what we are arguing about here. My brain can contain true statements, false statements, opinions, and fragments of poetry, any of which may have a causal connection to the external world. What was your point again? You started this subthread by saying {{ You seem to think that “value” means nothing more than “causally inert subjective opinion.” }} Which is unsupported by anything I՚ve ever said, so you are lost in your own misconstruals as usual.

        The concepts of the Greek Absolute and YHWH the Thunder God, Angel and Shepherd of Israel and head of the Church his Body do indeed fit together surpassingly, sublimely well. I grant that it can take a great deal of work to see how,

        With enough work I could probably bring myself to believe in the teachings of Scientology, but I՚m not sure why I would want to make the effort.

      • Lao Tse’s statement that, “I call it Tao. If forced to define it, I shall call it supreme,” …

        Eh, very few translations of that passage use the word “supreme.” And I personally wouldn’t, with its connotations of hierarchy and authority. This may be quibbling but I sense that it reflects a fundamental difference between us.

        Wow, thanks for that link. It was fascinating to read through the different translations, and see that they all in different ways expressed the same view of the ultimate reality as Christian theology. Their general gist is that the Tao is a greater thing than can be conceived by the human intellect: exactly what Anselm indicated in calling it that than which no greater can be conceived.

        The biggest difference with Christian theology is that the Tao is feminine, the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things. This it turns out is not contradicted by Christianity, but subsumed: Israel the House of the LORD is his feminine Body; and since all concrete reals are causally integral, the material substrate of the Church is the whole created order, which likewise is feminine. So the Tao is feminine as implemented concretely in creation.

        “Supreme” does naturally connote authority over a hierarchy. The Supreme being knows better than we do, and so is more authoritative and powerful than we. It would be odd if we were to object to that fact; sort of like objecting to the fact that the mountain is taller and heavier than we are. Any reasonable man would object to an assertion of authority that was not genuine – that was not founded in the truth of the situation. But the authority of God, like the size of the mountain, is genuine. It’s quite pointless to argue with reality, or to resist it. No good Taoist or Confucian would dispute the Way of Heaven.

        Yet you do recur repeatedly to an expression of resentment of true authority that is grounded in fact. I find it odd. All too human; but odd nonetheless. I should think that recognizing true authority for what it is, and comporting yourself to it, even pledging it your fealty, would be rather a wonderful and joyous thing. How nice it would be, to be sure, if we could all find and follow a True King! But we are stiff-necked, and proud.

        I don’t exempt myself from this evaluation. Indeed, I’m in a far worse condition than you, for while you do not yet recognize God’s authority, I do, and yet I *still* disagree with him. You are like a man who has not heard the Gospel, and cannot therefore be culpable for his failure to admit its truth. I am like a man – no, wait I *just am* a man – who has heard the Gospel, accepted its truth, and then disregarded it. My sin is far, far worse. Compared to me, you are innocent.

        Analogies are very important, but they don’t produce ironclad proofs.

        Yes. But NB that the analogies help us only to understand the terms of the syllogisms. That we understand the terms of our proofs only analogically has no effect on their formal validity, which does not depend on the definition of those terms. We can show that God is good, e.g., while admitting that our understanding of “good” is partial, and that his goodness far surpasses it.

        They [three different meanings of “possibility”] are nested categories of the same thing.

        Why should I accept that?

        Because it’s *obviously* true! Sheesh. As “animal” is different from “mammal,” and “polygon” is different from “octagon,” so “nomological possibility” is different from “temporal possibility.”

        You can I suppose go ahead and disagree with these categories, and insist that just because something is temporally possible, that doesn’t mean it is logically possible. But you’ll be talking nonsense; as if you were to insist that not all octagons are necessarily polygons, or that beavers are not necessarily animals.

        If you can’t see why such a move would be nonsensical, then you are *definitely* having difficulty with the concept of possibility.

        … if your disgust had not been possible, it could never have happened.

        This is only true in a trivial and tautological way so I fail to see why it is interesting.

        It isn’t interesting at all. The fact that it is trivially, tautologically true is why I was astonished at your objection to the notion.

        You have also more than once expressed incredulity at the notion that works of art, such as the Pietà, had likewise to have been eternally possible in order for artists to bring them into actual existence.

        Don’t know which writing of mine you are referring to but it sounds like you misunderstood what I was saying.

        Could be. It would take a great deal of effort to find the places where it seemed to me you were expressing the incredulity I noticed, so I’d rather not try. You were objecting to the idea that only God creates, so that the artistic work of humans is not creation, properly speaking, but rather discovery and implementation of eternal forms.

        Argument from authority will get you nowhere …

        I wasn’t arguing that because Anselm et alia believe p is true, p is therefore true. That’s an argument from authority. I was only suggesting that you consider that the disagreement of these mighty and erudite minds with your own might indicate the prudence of some further research on your part.

        NB however that this is not to say that for God all time is in his past. As eternal, he has no past. If events were in his past, he’d be in time. But time is in him.

        So he has no past, but he has experiences. Right.

        You’re impervious on this, so I’m going to drop it. Just, again, consider the possibility that you might not yet have thought of everything there is to think on this tricky subject, and that other, greater minds, who disagree with your beliefs, might have thought of more of them than you yet have.

        … we really can’t make sense of the fact that we can experience the past.

        Speak for yourself. … while the ultimate nature of our experience and time may be unknowable, we make practical sense both of the past and our relationship to it all the time.

        Speaking for yourself, you reach the same conclusion I did. If the ultimate nature of our experience and time is unknowable, it follows trivially that we can’t make sense of it. Sure, we can muddle along through daily life, trusting that causation will keep working as usual. But we can’t say we understand that working.

        My brain can contain true statements, false statements, opinions, and fragments of poetry, any of which may have a causal connection to the external world. What was your point again? You started this sub-thread by saying {{ You seem to think that “value” means nothing more than “causally inert subjective opinion.” }} Which is unsupported by anything I’ve ever said, so you are lost in your own misconstruals as usual.

        My point – to repeat (do please try to read with more focus and attention) – was that if your opinions are *merely* subjective, they cannot ever achieve the objective facticity and causal efficacy that you agree they do have. Indeed, if they are *merely* subjective, then it is quite inapposite to characterize them as either true or false.

        If on the other hand your opinions have an objective aspect as well as a subjective aspect, then not only can they be facts, and so causally efficacious for succeeding events, but also they can be causally tied to preceding events.

        None of this is controversial, from a commonsense perspective. We commonly feel that our apprehensions are about real things. We feel further that our feelings about our apprehensions relate to them in some way that makes sense. This is the only way that, e.g., we can *understand* that our hatred of eggplant is not so much due to the poor eggplant as to the horror of that time it was served to us. We feel that the horrible serving and the eggplant are both really factual events that we apprehend, and they are related within us in a comprehensible way. Finally, we feel that our feelings are themselves real things, that other entities can take into account as factors of their own experiences, that might influence them in one way or another. We feel, in sum, that there is an unbroken causal chain from the object of our apprehensions, through our evaluations of those apprehensions, and on into future apprehensions of successive occasions.

        What we feel, then, is that there are values really present in the world of our experience, that we evaluate those values, forming our own opinions and reactions to them, and then pass them on to our successors as facts about us. And none of this makes sense unless at every step of the process the values present in the prior step are real.

        So, your conviction that your opinions can be causally efficacious contradicts your assertion that their raw materials in your phenomenal field are not ultimately real: that values are not present in the objective world we all experience. If values are not really present in the world of my experience right now, then your values have no causal efficacy for me, because ultimately they just aren’t out there for me to apprehend. But your values do have causal efficacy for me: I’m typing now because of them. So, values are objectively real.

        The concepts of the Greek Absolute and YHWH the Thunder God, Angel and Shepherd of Israel and head of the Church his Body do indeed fit together surpassingly, sublimely well. I grant that it can take a great deal of work to see how …

        With enough work I could probably bring myself to believe in the teachings of Scientology, but I’m not sure why I would want to make the effort.

        Scientology has more going for it than atheism. Only a bit, but definitely more.

        Understanding is difficult to attain, a.morphous. But it’s worth the investment, because it offers us the only chance we have of conforming our acts to reality as she truly is. Learning is good, and valuable, and advantageous. That’s why you would want to make the effort.

  5. Chance and necessity.

    The blind watchmaker.

    We are moral animals because we are killer apes – those killer apes that could cooperate more effectively killed the other killer apes, and if species difference was not too great, abducted their females. We are cooperative and kind because we are competitive and fierce.

      • Even for natural lawyers, this reaction seems pretty common. Nevertheless, it’s hard to understand. When we inquire about the law written in the human heart, is it moronic to think about the pen God used to write it there? I certainly don’t hold myself out an expert at natural law, but that seems really hard to believe.

      • Sure. If you believe in evolution, then you believe that God crafted humans at least in large part using natural selection. If you believe in natural law, then you believe that there is a discoverable, objective moral code for human beings which follows from the kind of creatures we are (colorfully, which is “written in the human heart”). Wikipedia says in its article on natural law “Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature — both social and personal — and deduce binding rules of moral behavior from it.”

        It seems to me very hard to believe that the kind of creatures we are (i.e. human nature) and, thus, the moral code appropriate for us, is somehow wholly independent from the method God used to construct us, to make us what we are. If you told me, say, that the important properties of my house were wholly independent of the construction techniques and materials used to build it, I would conclude that you were a bit off.

        As I said, I am not an expert, but I find it odd that (online) natural lawyers seem to react so negatively to any evolution talk concerning natural law. They don’t react like this to other bits of biology. When they talk about the immorality of condomistic coitus, they are all over the details of how the penis works.

        Of course, this kind of thinking is going to be entirely beside the point if you are either a creationist or a fan of divine command theory.

      • Put more simply, evolution seems (to me) to be a logical consequence of the basic natural law principle that things tend to seek their own perfection.

      • The problem with evolutionary theory isn’t that it is bad theology, or bad morality. The problem with it is that it is atrociously bad science, or at least it was the last time I did any due diligence on the field; and I have no particular reason to think things have improved significantly since I was taking grad school courses in bioinformatics and molecular biology a few years ago.

        Evolutionary theory is like string (or M) theory, except that the latter is a much younger religion and doesn’t have the pervasive power to purge heretics of the former.

      • Sorry, this reply is actually to Zippy’s comment (Nov 13th 2014 10:00pm)

        That’s an interesting take on evolution, Zippy. Not bad theology/morality, but bad science.

        In all honesty, the only people I’ve ever seen make that argument were either rubes or contrarian skeptics, not really anyone in between**. But you’re a rather intelligent, thoughtful fellow. You have me intrigued! What is it you subscribe to in regards to creation? Anything specific, like say the intelligent design theory? Etc. If you have written any of your own critques on the theory of evolution, or on what you believe was the method the Almighty used to create us, I’d like to read them. Could you point me out to them?

        **I’m just a layman, no expert on these matters, and my take on this whole affair has only been informed by casual observation. I could be very wrong about how many or what kind of people believe this or that. My apologies to anyone I may have glossed over.

        As for myself, I was not raised to believe in evolution, but casually believed it by the time I was in high school. But now…I’m not really sure what I believe was the method used in creation. I think very differently on a wide range of subjects then I did just a few years ago. I’m a traditionalist now, so, ironically enough, I’m more open minded on these matters.

      • Manwe:
        I never really had a problem with ‘theistic evolution’ properly understood. God goes about getting things done in all sorts of ways, He is God of both the epistemic gaps and non-gaps alike, and far be it from me to dictate what his methods simply must be in order to fit into my prejudices.

        But evolution is a typical modern ideology engaged in weaponized nihilism, equivocally defending ludicrous and consistently falsified claims (e.g. “new tissues, organs and species develop through random mutation and natural selection”) by propping up unobjectionable claims (e.g. “there were dinosaurs but no humans millions of years ago”) whenever the ludicrous claims are criticized.

        String/M-theorist faith in a “multiverse” reflects a similar unscientific blind faith (as opposed to the rational faith of authentic Christianity, which made the scientific revolution possible in the first place):

        Actually, I would not even be prepared to call string theory a “theory” rather a “model” or not even that: just a hunch. … Imagine that I gave you a chair, while explaining that the legs are still missing, and the seat, back, and armrest will perhaps be delivered soon; whatever I did give you, can I still call it a chair? – Gerard ‘t Hooft

        I don’t like that they’re not calculating anything. I don’t like that they don’t check their ideas. I don’t like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation — a fix-up to say “well, it still might be true.” – Richard Feynman

        —-

        What is it you subscribe to in regards to creation? Anything specific, like say the intelligent design theory?

        I don’t think we have any idea, in terms of scientifically described biological efficient causes, how the world of prokaryotes (single celled organisms) actually became the world we see today or how the first prokaryotes developed, as matters of historical biological/microbiological fact. Nobody knows precisely how new tissues, organs, or species develop biologically or have developed historically. Our “explanations” haven’t risen to the level of the toddler’s understanding that swiping the icons on the iPad causes the pretty pictures to move. And if we actually do gain a better understanding tomorrow, you will never hear the truth: instead you’ll get the “that’s what we meant all along, creationism and God are stupid and Darwin rules” strawman treatment.

        There are all sorts of objections and arguments, and I’m too old and tired to argue evolution with The Positivist Faithful anymore. They are just too cussedly stupid and blind to even have the conversation. Evolutionary theory is a kind of question-begging lunacy that infects weak minds with Big Important Letters after their names and Invitations to All The Important Parties in their in-boxes. Those weak minds are in turn treated as respected gurus by society, which spreads the faith to people who do not have the combined scientific and philosophical education required to do due diligence on the claims themselves. The religion then purges unbelievers and hunts down heretics; something that their string theorist multiverse coreligionists would do too if they had the centuries of social indoctrination behind their faith which evolution has built up.

      • Manwe:
        As for this:

        If you have written any of your own critques on the theory of evolution, or on what you believe was the method the Almighty used to create us, I’d like to read them. Could you point me out to them?

        Unfortunately I have no organized canon, and much of what I’ve written has been at other sites, in email threads, etc much of which no longer exists.

        But you can get a flavor for my views (in addition to my above comment) here and here.

      • Here is an old W4 thread wherein Ed Feser, Lydia McGrew, myself, and others debate the intersection of Darwinian evolution, AT philosophy, and ID. Good times.

    • From James’ account we may infer that the Order of Being – the Logos, to use the term favored by Saint John – prefers kindness and cooperation to other strategies. If such a preference were not implicit in material being, James’ just so story could not have panned out as it did.

      Almost no one ever notices this implication of Dawkinsian speculations, which all presuppose the Logos. I suppose it’s because the moral and aesthetic order of the universe is so pervasive that it is taken as axiomatic. The universe *wants* to generate cameral eyes, winged flight, traditional marriage, and sacrifice.

      • A minor quibble. It isn’t really a just so story. There are lots of species. The vast majority don’t have altruism the way we do. They have, at most, some care for close relatives. Similarly, most species don’t form smallish groups which go around genociding each other the way we did while we were hunter-gatherers. The theory Jim is gesturing at is a real scientific theory which makes real predictions about the world. It might be false, of course, but it doesn’t fail to be a theory by virtue of being a just so story.

      • To be sure. All theories start out as just so stories. The Greek for “just so story” is “hypothesis.”

        As a father, I have nothing against just so stories; indeed, I don’t know what I would have done without them. Fathers are famous for their just so stories. E.g., the just so story Calvin’s father (in Calvin & Hobbes) told him about why old photographs are black and white: because back in those days the *world* was black and white.

        And, to reiterate the main point of my comment: that there is a utilitarian or mechanical logic to a phenomenon does not mean that there is not an ultimately supernatural logic to it, upon which its other logics supervene, and of which they are departments. Altruism is not good because it works, but vice versa.

  6. ‘The ultimate of the theists is intelligent, rational, omniscient, good, supremely real, and so forth; whereas the ultimate of the naturalists is stupid, chaotic, unintelligible, blind, mindless, and unreal.”

    The God of the Natural Philosophers is not the God of the Genesis, and the oft-asserted doctrines of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence leave no convincing explanation for the existence and persistence of evil or chaos. The God of the Natural Philosophers is rather like the God of Christian Science, who denies obvious reality to defend of Platonic ideals.

    As Jon Levenson, Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at the Harvard Divinity School, notes in his book Creation and the Persistence of Evil: “Creation becomes self-referential, a tautology, a truism: no serious alternative can be entertained, since chaos or cosmic evil has been identified with non-being and unreality.” The thesis of his book is that that view is unfaithful to the Hebrew Bible.

    • Did you read the original post? It’s not about the Natural Philosophers – most of whom are theists – but about the naturalist philosophers and the nature of the ultimate that is implicit in their naturalism.

      … the oft-asserted doctrines of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence leave no convincing explanation for the existence and persistence of evil or chaos.

      Not so, provided one is careful to notice that “omnipotent” does not properly mean “potent to do anything whatsoever,” and that “omnipotent being” does not properly mean “being who exhaustively causes all events.” This has all been worked out. It is unconvincing only to those who have not connected the dots of the theodicy that works.

      “Creation becomes self-referential, a tautology, a truism: no serious alternative can be entertained, since chaos or cosmic evil has been identified with non-being and unreality.”

      I’m a big fan of Levenson, but he’s wrong about this. From the notion that evil is the privation of good it does not begin to follow that creation is tautological. Furthermore, privatio boni is perfectly compatible with the OT. It’s even compatible with Manicheism and Zoroastrianism. Indeed, I can’t think of a single theological system that contradicts privatio boni.

      • “This has all been worked out” is not to me a convincing argument for your position. If evil or chaos are non-realities, then there is no need to explain them away. They don’t exist. Suffering from them is thus an illusion. Cf. Christian Science. Such a system is self-consistent, beautiful in its way, and appealing to many, but it doesn’t comport with reality as it is experienced.

        I, too, am a big fan of Levenson, and he is right about this, and he does an admirable job of showing that his view reflects the original Biblical worldview and the underlying strata as well. This view has relevance to a modern world that produced Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Privatio boni is too cool and philosophical a label. The current Pope seems to believe in the reality of the Devil, as well he might.

      • I don’t know of any Christian thinker who has suggested that evil or chaos are not real. That is a flat misprision of privatio boni, and thus a straw man. The idea is rather that evil is a defect of actualization of the form proper to a being. Thus a three legged squirrel can be quite real, and also less “squirrelly” than he might have been with a full complement of legs. The defect in his actualization of the form proper to squirrels (whether or not that defect is his fault) is ipso facto a privation of the good he might otherwise have enjoyed and done, and a failure to achieve the fullness of being, power, beauty, goodness, etc. that he might otherwise have actualized. The missing leg does not exist, to be sure; but that does not mean that the defect in the squirrel due to its absence is unreal. The evil suffered by the squirrel on account of the missing leg is real precisely because of the unreality of the leg.

        So, evil and chaotic things are real, they are just less real than they might have been had they been better. Satan is real, and terribly powerful, and (still) terribly beautiful. But he’s less real than he used to be before he fell, and less powerful, beautiful, good, etc.

        It’s been ten years since I read Creation and the Persistence of Evil, so I don’t remember Levenson’s argument that privatio boni entails that creation is tautological. But that’s OK: it just doesn’t. Privatio boni does not mean “evil is inactual,” simpliciter, as the passage you quote would seem to indicate he thinks. It means “evil is the want of the good proper to an actual creature.”

        Perhaps the simplest way to make clear the doctrine of privatio boni is just to point out that for the three-legged squirrel the evil of his condition is not the result of an addition to him of some positively evil stuff, but of the subtraction of a positive good.

        I’m not impressed with the fact that the modern world produced Auschwitz, whereas the ancient Israelites did not. In the first place, the ancient Israelites produced the massacre of the Amalekites, every bit as revolting as Auschwitz, although on a smaller scale of course. Is there a culture anywhere that has not done some horrific evil? In the second, a culture’s evil acts do not reflect its virtues – that is to say, the moral truths it has successfully carried into practice – but rather its vices, its failures to carry moral truths into practice. In the third, trying to pin Auschwitz on the doctrine of privatio boni is simply ridiculous. It makes more sense – but only slightly more – to pin horror at Auschwitz on privatio boni. In the fourth, the modern era is a repudiation of Christian civilization, and ergo of Christian theology, including privatio boni. Auschwitz is a product of post-Christian, indeed anti-Christian culture. If anything, we should take it as a sign that we would do well to return as fast as we can and with all our might to Christian culture, privatio boni included.

        “This has all been worked out” here, here, and here. And that’s just my own explanations of the theodicy here at the Orthosphere. Once you get your terms straight, there is no logical problem of evil.

      • If real means “actually existing,” then things are either real or not. Your term “less real” serves to obscure rather than to clarify.

        Augustine can be read as denying the reality of evil. See Eugene TeSelle and Daniel Patte, Engaging Augustine on Romans: Self, Context, and Theology in Interpretation. Of course, Augustine can be read differently because he isn’t coherent or consistent on the questions of the Devil and his origin. See J.B. Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, p. 218.

        Bishop Berkeley the held view that reality consists exclusively of minds and their ideas, which makes not only specific instances of evil but the universe itself unreal in my estimation. Boswell wrote of this in his Life of Johnson:

        “We stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I shall never forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’ ”

      • Leo, the only bit of your last comment that is responsive is the first paragraph, so I shall respond to that, and leave others to argue over what Augustine and Berkeley meant, and whether or not they were right.

        Although I would quibble with the notion that “real” means “actual” – possibilities, e.g., are real enough things, even though they may not yet have been concretely actualized – it does seem clear that things are either real or not. But then it is crucial that we get clear on what it is exactly that we are talking about that is real, or not. In the case of the three-legged squirrel, the missing leg is really unreal. Meanwhile the three-legged squirrel is also real. But as suffering the quite real defect of the really missing leg, he is less completely a squirrel than he might have been with the four legs proper to his kind. The privation of goodness he suffers is real because the leg is really missing.

        To repeat what I said in an earlier comment, the three-legged squirrel is not suffering evil because a perfectly normal four-legged squirrel has had some stuff that is evil mixed in with his four-legged self. It is not that he has four good legs plus some sort of evil leg that cancels out one of his good ones, adding up to a total of three good legs. He is suffering, not because an evil has been added to his life, but because a good has been deleted from it.

        In short, then, privatio boni is not the doctrine that evil is unreal. It is the doctrine that evil is the real privation of a good. You may set your mind at ease on that score. Not only are you barking up the wrong tree, you are barking up a tree that isn’t there in the first place.

      • While I admire the attempts, your arguments about three-legged squirrels being less squirrely don’t provide a satisfying solution to the problem of the pain of animals, which, while we don’t think about it a lot, is a vast ocean of pain that has been extant for a very, very long time. C.S. Lewis made a good attempt to address the problem, which he admitted is a problem, but the best that could be said about his argument is that he admitted we don’t have enough information to understand fully the matter.

      • Leo, you are changing the subject. In talking of the three-legged squirrel, we weren’t discussing theodicy. We were discussing what evil is: whether it is some extra stuff added in to otherwise perfectly good things that ruins them – four good legs plus one evil leg equals three good legs, and such – or whether evil is just the lack of good. All I’ve been doing is explaining to you what the doctrine of privatio boni is, and what it isn’t. Privatio boni is not a solution to pain, but an analysis of what it is.

        The cause of pain is creaturely defection from the Good Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Rule and Ruler of all the worlds. The solution to pain is the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.

      • I have been watching your dispute with a.morphus, which is happening on your home court so to speak. The two of you seem to be arguing from different premises and using words in different senses. Neither has convinced the other. Why am I not surprised?

        I have spent a day contemplating how a very foxy fox (well conforming to the Platonic Form of foxiness presumably existing outside of and before all time) might bite off one the legs of a very squirrely squirrel leaving a very pained three-legged squirrel conforming to the Platonic Form of three-leggedness. This hasn’t helped me with the problem of theodicy or assigning meaning, value, or purpose to anything or in forming a theory of truth, benevolence, or beauty. I realize that placing these ideas somewhere else gives them a different mental situation, but I don’t see that it gives them more meaning or confers on them a greater reality.

        The question of Platonic ideals eternally existing does bring up the theodicy problem (at least from the squirrel’s perspective) because foxes conforming to the ideal form of a fox don’t eat grass. See Blake’s poem about the tiger. The tiger in the poem is not a privation of lambness.

        I have also thought about pink squirrels, which suffer from a privation of proper squirrel pigmentation, if we take just one of the several meanings of the term pink squirrel, each with their own Platonic form standing behind them. This meditation didn’t help me either.

        Bishop Berkeley’s system looks potentially for more fruitful, but then again is was Milton’s Satan who said, “The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n,” in proud denial of his situation.

        The problem with the Orthosphere’s intellectual approach is that it echoes a position taken by Abd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad (935 – 1025), an Islamic theologian who lived about 1000 years ago who said, “Reason first needs to establish the existence of God before undertaking the question as to whether God has spoken to man. Natural theology must be antecedent to theology.” This might have been a good apologetic strategy when the intellectual climate was overwhelmingly favorable to a belief in God. It is not so effective in our day, when the prevailing intellectual climate is hostile to that idea. Moreover, I find it theologically problematic because it puts reason prior to and gives it greater weight than revelation, faith, and experience. Some people prefer pragmatic worldviews to neo-platonic ones. It is like a bunch of scaffolding put up in front of a cathedral, which serves to obscure view of the really important structure. Who is the Orthosphere to say those who don’t subscribe to neo-platonism can’t find meaning, value, and purpose, beauty, or truth?

      • Who is the Orthosphere to say those who don’t subscribe to neo-platonism can’t find meaning, value, and purpose, beauty, or truth?

        When has anyone at the Orthosphere ever said such a thing? I certainly don’t believe it.

        The schtick about Abd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad is a red herring. In the first place, what he says is uncontroversial: if God doesn’t exist, he can’t have spoken to man, so that *in reasoning* about God, his existence must be established before his revelation can be considered possible. In the second, no classical Christian theologian I have ever read believes that reason is prior to experience, revelation or faith. Indeed, quite the contrary: without revelation, faith or experience, reason has no material to work on, and can’t even get started.

        Again, the definition of evil as the privation of good is not intended to assuage your concerns about evil. It is not a theodicy, at all. Nor does it disagree with Bishop Berkeley. Nor, for that matter, do the Platonic Forms necessarily disagree with Berkeley.

        Indeed, *any* philosophical system that hopes for coherence must agree that the Forms somehow exist. There is no way to do without them. A Form is just a way that a thing might possibly be, a state of affairs that might possibly come to pass. If the Forms don’t exist qua possibilities, then nothing is possible, and nothing can happen. But lo, things have indeed happened: three-legged squirrels, foxes, Berkeleyan idealists, and so forth. So things have to be possible. So there have to be possibilities; and for a thing ever to be possible, it must always have been possible. So one way or another, the Forms must exist, eternally.

    • “Creation becomes self-referential, a tautology, a truism: no serious alternative can be entertained, since chaos or cosmic evil has been identified with non-being and unreality.”

      I don’t know how did they come to such conclusion but it seems incorrect to me. Creation doesn’t refer to itself, nor it is supposed to refer to evil as the above seems to suggest. Instead it refers to its Creator. The alternative is no creation which means Creator has not yet created anything. Chaos is lack of order, something not yet formed but it’s not entirely nothing or unreality. I wouldn’t identify it with evil though. I am not sure what the cosmic evil means – I don’t see evil as cosmic principle. Lack of some perfection is source of evil but it doesn’t mean non-being.

  7. Dear Kristor,

    Your entry reveals some basic misunderstandings on what nominalism actually is. The same misunderstandings are apparent in your post ‘Nominalism Contra Everything’, and so what follows is meant as a friendly clarification.

    First, a terminological distinction is in order. The word ‘nominalism’ has two distinct usages. The first is in the long-standing debate over universals, nominalism being the position that universals don’t exist. The second is the contemporary usage of the word in analytic philosophy, nominalism being the position that abstract objects don’t exist. in both cases nominalism is a metaphysical thesis. However, the two usages are not coextensive. It depends on whether you believe universals exist ‘in’ that which that instantiates them, so-called in re realism about universals, or whether they exist ‘outside’ them, co-called ante rem realism about universals. In the second case, universals are abstract objects, and so on that view nominalism in the first sense is evidently equivalent to nominalism in the second sense, namely the position that abstract objects don’t exist. I take it that it is this usage of nominalism (that is: ‘abstract objects don’t exist’) that you find objectionable. If that is not your position, I haven’t a clue what you’re arguing for.

    Nominalism has a long and venerable tradition in Christian thought, going as far back as the scholastics. The scholastic rejection of platonism (the position that abstract objects exist), and subsequent embrace of nominalism was, primarily, theologically motivated. Their reasoning was that abstract objects, if such there be, exist as uncreated, necessary beings. However, if that is correct, abstract objects exist independently of God’s creative and sustaining power. The scholastics found this to be an unacceptable compromise on divine aseity (the doctrine of God’s necessary self-existence). It is clear that far from being at odds with the Christian theism, nominalism has long been the default position for theists desiring a strong notion of divine aseity.

    You seem to be under the impression that nominalism leads to skepticism and, ultimately, nihilism: this is just a category mistake. Skepticism is an epistemological thesis, not a metaphysical one; indeed, it has nothing to do with nominalism. Maybe, judging by what you wrote in ‘Nominalism Contra Everything’, what you meant by ‘skepticism’ was in fact ‘moral skepticism’, and by ‘nihilism’, ‘moral nihilism’ (that is, that nothing is morally wrong). The argument you seem to have in mind is something like this: If nominalism is true, then the Good doesn’t exist, for Good is an abstract object. If the Good doesn’t exist, then we cannot know the Good, for there is no such thing to be known. If we cannot know the Good, then we cannot say of any particular thing that it is either good or bad. Hence, if nominalism is true, nothing is good or bad.

    However, if this is indeed your argument, it’s simply wrong. The nominalist position is this: carrots are orange, pumpkins are orange, but there is nothing over and above that called orangeness. And, similarly, giving to the poor is good, helping a person in need is good, but there is nothing over and above that called goodness. The nominalist does not object to your using the word in ordinary speech, to avoid otherwise cumbersome locutions, but she insists that it’s merely a façon de parler. Hence, it simply does not follow on nominalism that just because the Good does not exist, nothing is good or bad. What makes something good or bad, then, you ask? I think some kind of divine command theory is in order. (But that is a comment for another day.) Note, however, that platonism does not, by itself, get you off the hook either. For suppose platonism were true, but that God did not exist. Then, just as there would be the Good, so too, presumably, there would be the Bad. And if God did not exist, what reason would a person have for aligning herself with the Good rather than the Bad? It would seem to come down to a matter of personal preference. I conclude, therefore, that the platonist needs to supplement her story with some kind of divine command theory as well.

    • Thanks, JL. I find it charming that you have here come to argue, tace nominalism, that there is an essence to nominalism that I had missed!

      I did in fact however already understand all that stuff about nominalism, and it has long informed my arguments. I might not have spelled out all their steps at their every invocation in such a way as to make them clear to you, to be sure. But then, I was writing for the orthosphereans, who would I fear have found it extremely tiresome for me to belabor the arguments every time I invoked them.

      It depends on whether you believe universals exist ‘in’ that which that instantiates them, so-called in re realism about universals, or whether they exist ‘outside’ them, co-called ante rem realism about universals. In the second case, universals are abstract objects, and so on that view nominalism in the first sense is evidently equivalent to nominalism in the second sense, namely the position that abstract objects don’t exist. I take it that it is this usage of nominalism (that is: ‘abstract objects don’t exist’) that you find objectionable.

      That is indeed the notion of nominalism to which I object. Not that I think that universals don’t exist in re, for I do; but that I see no way they might have got into things in the first place if they weren’t already there so as to do the getting in. You can’t get universals in re unless they are first ante rem. To suggest that such a thing might happen is rather like suggesting that x was not possible before x came to pass.

      What’s more, a property that was in re but not ante rem wouldn’t be a universal in the first place; it would be a particular. But then, neither do I see any way to get a particular property into a thing unless it is first present somehow beforehand. Say that there is a form x that is ever instantiated in only one actuality anywhere, so that it is nowise a universal. As actual, x is therefore obviously also possible, and eternally so; x had to be possible from all eternity to come to pass whenever it actually did.

      So, whether the form in question is a unique particular or a universal, you need it to exist somehow as a possibility before it can come to pass in any actuality. The in re doctrine then is wholly subsumed by that of ante rem, so that of the alternative sorts of nominalism you notice there ends up being only one, namely that abstract objects don’t exist. But now notice that since unactualized possibilities are by definition not concrete, they too fall under the category of abstract objects (bending the etymology of “abstract” a bit, there being as yet no concretes from which they have been abstracted). If abstract objects don’t exist, then neither do possibilities, and then … well, you see the problem.

      … abstract objects, if such there be, exist as uncreated, necessary beings. However, if that is correct, abstract objects exist independently of God’s creative and sustaining power. The scholastics found this to be an unacceptable compromise on divine [aseity] … nominalism has long been the default position for theists desiring a strong notion of divine aseity.

      Actually Thomism or Augustinism – wherein the forms have their eternal necessary existence in God, and in virtue of his eternal necessary existence (of which there can be but one instance), as his ideas – have stronger claims to being the default position for advocates of divine aseity than nominalism. Certainly there have been many more Christian Thomists and Augustinians – not that these two categories don’t overlap, for they do – than nominalists. And Thomism is after all the officially sanctioned metaphysics of the Church.

      You seem to be under the impression that nominalism leads to skepticism and, ultimately, nihilism: this is just a category mistake. Skepticism is an epistemological thesis, not a metaphysical one; indeed, it has nothing to do with nominalism.

      If you think metaphysics has no bearing on epistemology, or vice versa, you need to think a bit longer, or harder, or both. If, e.g., our ontology requires us to conclude that there can be no such thing as x, then all we can know about any phenomenal x is that it must be illusory.

      Hence, it simply does not follow on nominalism that just because the Good does not exist, nothing is good or bad.

      So when we call something ‘good,’ that’s just a façon de parler, a figure of speech, signifying nothing real about the thing. I.e., when we attribute ‘goodness’ to things, we aren’t really attributing anything to them; there is no such thing to attribute. So they aren’t *really* good; that’s just what we call them.

      For suppose platonism were true, but that God did not exist.

      Let’s not. If Platonism is true, then the Good exists; and the Good is what all men have called God.

      And if God did not exist, what reason would a person have for aligning herself with the Good rather than the Bad? It would seem to come down to a matter of personal preference.

      Well, no; not at all. If Platonism is true, and the Good does exist, then what’s good is really, absolutely, objectively Better than the Bad, or what’s bad. Even if, per impossibile, Platonism were true and God did not exist, the absolute goodness of what’s good would serve, not just to justify and rationalize the choice of the good over the bad, but to motivate it.

      • As best I understand nominalism, I believe LJ writes his comment with great clarity. I am not convinced that the denial of orangeness as an existing object leads inexorably to the conclusion that nothing can be explained or that the universe must therefore be stupid, chaotic, unintelligible, blind, mindless, and unreal. I am not convinced that iPadness existed as an object before the iPad was invented and named.

        As Thomas Cahill styles it in Heretics and Heroes, such arguments are an on-going tennis match between Plato and Aristotle, neither of whom were Christians, but both of whom have been influential in Christian philosophy. Were it only a matter of watching a tennis match, I would view this as entertainment as each side makes a skillful play and otherwise not pay it any mind.

        But the argument is presented on the Orthosphere as our shield against the evils of modernity, an infallible proof of the existence of God, and a central pillar of orthodoxy. While these may be noble aspirations, and while I wouldn’t want to convince anyone to convert to atheism, the effort appears dubious. Only a tiny portion of the populace still follows the tennis match, and 62% of academic philosophers, whom one might think would be the most learned on the subject, consider themselves atheists, compared to ca. 2% of the general populace. No wonder the “nones” and not the nuns are growing in number. The whole of the argument would seem quite familiar to medieval scholars, but it is hard to imagine those words in the mouths of Moses, Jesus, or St. Paul. Speaking of barking up the wrong tree, to paraphrase the current Pope, if a nominalist is searching for the Lord and has good will, who is the Orthosphere to judge?

      • LJ’s comment was indeed admirably clear and well-written. And I think I agree with you, Leo, that the denial that orangeness is an eternal object need not lead ineluctably to all those horrible things. But then, that it did was not the argument of the post. The post focused on the problematic nature of the conception of the ultimate that is implicit in naturalism.

        IPads had to be possible to be actual. If they had not been possible, there could now be no such thing as an iPad, let alone millions of them. So from all eternity it had to be possible to form matter into iPads; the form of iPads had to be there, ready to be actualized. Where? The same place the idea of Leo was, before there was Leo.

        Leo, you keep complaining that philosophy cuts no ice with you, even as you engage with the arguments at length. If you are indeed not really interested in this stuff, why do you bother to participate in its discussion? You spill a lot of ink insisting that philosophy is beside the point, and mounting arguments of your own, and citing all sorts of authorities to the effect that Tertullian was right, and Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem. If all that is true, then shouldn’t it seem fairly ridiculous to you to spend the sap of your life on disputations over the subject? If this stuff really does seem irrelevant to you, why not go read something else?

        It seems to me that your evident fascination belies your disdain. You would not spend your hours on philosophical disputations – or even on disputing with the notion of philosophical disputations – if you thought such disputations inconsequential, at least for you. Yet you seem like a man obsessed.

        Is there something you are interested to defend against the classical Christian theology I so often discuss here at the Orthosphere, and which has been the common heritage of the faith for three thousand years? Could it perhaps be some set of doctrines that are, not ante-Nicene, but anti-Nicene? Does all my talk of the Ultimate Ground of Being, of the Supra-Personal Godhead, of the Trinity, the Eternal One, the Ancient of Days, and so forth, somehow discomfit you? Why? If you find it irksome, why not just cover your eyes and ears and walk away toward smoother things, leaving theology and philosophy to those who find it edifying, and indeed even a portal to infused contemplation?

  8. In my opinion, Kristor needs to explain the kinds of possibility, e.g., logical possibility, metaphysical possibility, and physical possibility.

    • Wikipedia does an excellent job of explaining the different sorts of subjunctive possibility:

      Logical possibility is usually considered the broadest sort of possibility; a proposition is said to be logically possible if there is no logical contradiction involved in its being true. “Dick Cheney is a bachelor” is logically possible, though in fact false; most philosophers have thought that statements like “If I flap my arms very hard, I will fly” are logically possible, although they are nomologically impossible. “Dick Cheney is a married bachelor,” on the other hand, is logically impossible; anyone who is a bachelor is therefore not married, so this proposition is logically self-contradictory (though the sentence isn’t, because it is logically possible for “batchelor” to mean “married man”).

      Metaphysical possibility is either equivalent to logical possibility or narrower than it (what a philosopher thinks the relationship between the two is depends, in part, on the philosopher’s view of logic). Some philosophers have held that discovered identities such as Kripke’s “Water is H2O” are metaphysically necessary but not logically necessary (they would claim that there is no formal contradiction involved in “Water is not H2O” even though it turns out to be metaphysically impossible).

      Nomological possibility is possibility under the actual laws of nature. Most philosophers since David Hume have held that the laws of nature are metaphysically contingent—that there could have been different natural laws than the ones that actually obtain. If so, then it would not be logically or metaphysically impossible, for example, for you to travel to Alpha Centauri in one day; it would just have to be the case that you could travel faster than the speed of light. But of course there is an important sense in which this is not possible; given that the laws of nature are what they are, there is no way that you could do it. (Some philosophers, such as Sydney Shoemaker[citation needed], have argued that natural laws are in fact necessary, not contingent; if so, then nomological possibility is equivalent to metaphysical possibility.)

      Temporal possibility is possibility given the actual history of the world. David Lewis could have chosen to take his degree in Accounting rather than Philosophy; but there is an important sense in which he cannot now. The “could have” expresses the fact that there is no logical, metaphysical, or even nomological impossibility involved in Lewis’s having a degree in Economics instead of Philosophy; the “cannot now” expresses the fact that that possibility is no longer open to becoming actual, given that the past is as it actually is.

      It seems clear that a.morphous is treating “possibility” as referring only to temporal possibility, while the other sorts seem vague to him. I take it, Bill, that the physical possibility you mention is what the Wikipedia article calls nomological possibility.

      I won’t have time for a reply to his latest comment until tomorrow at the earliest.

  9. Who is she? Well, I’ll I’m betting that “she” merely substitutes for supposedly sexist uses of the word “he.” Years ago, a male feminist acquaintance of mine used the phrase “straw person” because he thought the phrase “demolishing a straw man” was sexist. Hmm, I wonder what expression fans of political correctness will invent to talk about intersexed people, i.e., hermaphrodites. Maybe they’lll need to redefine “bisexual?” : )

    • Yes, I’m certain that was it. I was trying to point out, in my own way, how unnatural and distracting it is to write using “non-sexist” language.

      For some reason, I have less of a problem with they (etc.) following singular antecedents than with feminine pronouns following same. I’m not sure if he or she (etc.) and similar monstrosities are worse than feminine pronouns alone.

  10. A.morphous, my Oxford American Dictionary defines “axiomatic” as “self-evident or unquestionable.” And a proposition is self-evident when its truth is obvious to anyone who understands that proposition. Some self-evident propositions are provable, too. At least Russell and Whitehead thought they were when those brilliant logicians filled many pages of Principia Mathematica to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. Maybe although some axioms are provable, there’s no need to prove them in, say, an axiom system. Did you mean to type “axiom” instead of “axiomatic?”

    Just for fun, while we’re talking about logic and provability? What do I need to do to preserve logical consistency when I deny the consequent in this modus tolens argument? Hint: You need modal logic.

    If I were a dog, I would bark.
    I wouldn’t bark.
    ______________________
    So I’m a dog.

    Here’s a fun fact. In Aristotelian sentential logic, there’s no way to deduce the next argument’s conclusion from its premise. But maybe you’ll still agree that the premise and the conclusion are self-evident when we’re talking about horses in general.

    All horses have tails. So every horse’s tail is an animal’s tail.

    • Unfortunately things that were thought to be axiomatic in your sense often turn out to be not so unquestionable after all, which is why we have (eg) non-Euclidean geometry, which is formed when you modify one of Euclid’s axioms.

      And if different people have different axioms, they are ipso facto not unquestionable. Few things are.

      • This article supports your point, a.morphous. So maybe Oxford University should revise its definition of “axiom” in the Oxford American Dictionary, since “my” sense of that word is the only one there. Years ago, when I took the University of Wisconsin Extension’s course about philosophy of religion, which it discontinued, the textbook’s author, Dr. Keith Yandell, defined a proof as a sound deductive argument. But I don’t want to hijack this discussion.

        http://www.mrc.uidaho.edu/~rwells/Critical%20Philosophy%20and%20Mind/Chapter%2023.pdf

  11. I have always maintained that the only defensible atheism (i.e. mine 🙂 ) must be built upon heavy skepticism towards the intelligibility of the world.

    This is not exactly new. Today a lot of people can be avid “fans” of science and yet believe science does not provide us truths as such but merely models that can be used to manipulate the world, in other words, it just lays the groundwork for engineering and technology, not much more. 95% of sci-fi novels and movies are based on this technology-oriented attitude. It could be called “the better mousetrap theory of science”. It is true only so far that it works – that it could not work without fulfilling at least some definitions of truth (“the models correspond to observations”).

    It is not hard to see a generous helping of anti-intellectualism behind this. This is not simply Anti-Christian, I think ultimately it is a rebellion against the whole Socratic tradition that defined Western civ. The question is merely where do you take this then? It seems this profound skepticism can turn you into a hedonistic liberal (pleasure is after all something you can clearly feel without much thinking), a Burkean-Oakeshottian skeptical conservative who values habit over thinking or even a Buddhist (after all you can be skeptical about pleasure, pain and desires, too, at any rate about your reactions to them).

    Some more mystical Christians also grokked this anti-intellectualism, especially Simone Weil. Credo quia absurdum est etc. revealed to the children, not the scholars etc.

    It also seems that science itself is moving towards computer modeling (see climate science) which cannot ever be called rational anymore. A climate model is not true or false: it predicts or does not. Therefore the whole cognitive process of understanding (intelligo) is only possible in its parts, not its whole. More and more these models become autonomous prediction-generating machines without the matter of truth, understanding or rationality being raised as such. They are more like model worlds that we build to predict the real world. Is a model railroad layout true or false or does it involve the rational understanding of railroads? I think it is simply a little world that imitates parts of the real world.

    • >Some more mystical Christians also grokked this anti-intellectualism, especially Simone Weil. Credo quia absurdum est etc. revealed to the children, not the scholars etc.

      OK I need to qualify this part. Luther style anti-intellectualism (“faith must trample underfoot reason”) is still intellectual: it still says it is super important whether you think certain not-immediately-practical statements, strings of words, like that there is a God and He has three persons, are true or false. However it is pretty much self-contradictory to think true-or-false thinking within the realm of the string of words or statements is important even when lacking clear practical predictions, yet to take away the problem from reason and give it to faith only.

      What I had in mind is rather those Christian mystics who value experience and way of living over the truth content of strings of words. Simone Weil was one, I have heard claims Orthodox monks are close too: I have heard their word for faith, pistei, actually means more of a lived experience and not this narrowly intellectual “yes this string of words about God are true” kind of faith.

      Well, maybe I do misunderstand what traditional Catholicism teaches about faith. Maybe you can tell me: why is information super important? Why does it matter so much for you to take a string of words and stick true or false to them? When it has practical relevance like “there is a pit” it is useful, for not stepping into it but when not?

      Or, do you mean it is simply a prerequisite for the actual, lived, experience and activity of not falling into various pits dug by the original sin? So religion does not end but merely begin with assenting to those string of words?

      • Thanks, Shenpen. I’ll try to answer your questions.

        Why does it matter so much for you to take a string of words and stick true or false to them?

        It’s not the words, but the ideas they convey, that are important. If “God exists” is false, then the whole of Christianity is nonsense – not just the theology, but all the praxis. If “Jesus is God” is false, you get the same result. So likewise for all the propositions the Credo affirms. And this has consequences for such as Simone Weil. If, e.g., “God exists” is false, then her lived experience of God is not in fact an experience of God, but rather something quite different: a hallucination, or something.

        Weil and Luther are not saying that reason is simply inapposite to our true existential situation, but that we must not let our models of reality blind us to what is actually happening. They are saying that our first epistemological loyalty must be, not to the products of our reason, but to the raw data thereof – i.e., to our experience: to revelation, intuition, sensation. The fact of what has happened must shape our notions of what might possibly happen, and not vice versa.

        A climate model is not true or false: it predicts or does not. Therefore the whole cognitive process of understanding (intelligo) is only possible in its parts, not its whole. More and more these models become autonomous prediction-generating machines without the matter of truth, understanding or rationality being raised as such. They are more like model worlds that we build to predict the real world. Is a model railroad layout true or false or does it involve the rational understanding of railroads? I think it is simply a little world that imitates parts of the real world.

        A model that generates falsified predictions is not an accurate representation of reality. If we take the model as a system of interacting propositions – and this we must do, in order to get it into the code of the machine (or any other physical representation, such as a model railway) in the first place – then the fact that it is not generating true predictions means that one or more of its constituent propositions is false. This falsity of one or more of its propositional elements means that the set as a whole is false – “false to fact,” as they say. Its falsity lies in its failure to imitate the real world faithfully.

        To work at all, a model railroad *must* reflect a rational understanding of railroads – and of reality in general, including everything from Newton’s Laws of Motion to the Law of Noncontradiction (a model that has more than one car occupying the same stretch of track at once just will not work!). Furthermore, if the model is to work even as a model, that rational understanding *must be true.* E.g., you can’t build a working model of a railroad that operates under the idea that railroads need no rails, or engines, or sources of power for those engines. The model can be useful in research – into, say, the workability of various switching systems or route planning algorithms – only to the extent that, apart from the variables under consideration, it is a faithful and true representation of reality.

      • I have heard their word for faith, pistei, actually means more of a lived experience and not this narrowly intellectual “yes this string of words about God are true” kind of faith.

        It sounds like how one would apply the concept of faith(fulness) in marriage. One is not a faithful husband by merely believing one is married, but by living as if once believes one is married (no adultery, paying the marriage debt, leading or obeying whether one is the husband or wife respectively). Would you call a man faithful to his wife if he protested that he really and truly was a faithful husband yet kept a mistress and refused to leave her? The marriage vows are no “blanket” to cover future sins against the marriage and keep the appearance of faithfulness on the outside.

      • Exactly. I have parsed faith into two phases or aspects. First is the act of faith by which we assent to a truth. Second is the work of faith, wherein we carry that truth into practice. A truth to which we assent with a mere intellectual agreement and do not carry into practice has not yet really been properly understood, or therefore believed.

        Take math for example. You cannot properly understand a mathematical truth without agreeing to it, not just intellectually, but with your whole heart. That movement of the heart to agree with a truth newly understood is felt as a sort of ecstasy at its beauty, a relaxation into a more veridical, thus harmonious, right and good way of being, and a fuller communion and participation with things. Once having understood a truth of math, you cannot thenceforth ever do anything in contravention of it; you can’t behave as if it is untrue, cannot perform acts that are formed as if it were untrue, and cannot fail to perform acts that are formed by its truth.

        Thus in your example of marriage, it is clear that a philandering husband has utterly failed to understand what marriage is – literally, he has not understood, for he has failed to place himself under the jurisdiction of marriage and its vows and allow his life and acts to be formed thereby. Even a husband who has a good intellectual understanding of marriage, and who does not disagree with the idea philosophically, but strays nonetheless, has for some reason failed to perform a wholehearted act of belief in the concept of marriage as concretely implemented in his life with his wife (perhaps because he did not really want to get married to her in the first place, so that his vows were somewhat defective – an occurrence that could not have come to pass if he had by then truly understood what he was getting himself into).

        If I sin, then, or fail to perform the works of faith, it is because I have failed to convert my heart. My act of faith has not been completed. It is not quite yet fully actual. As St. James says, it is “dead.” It is a dead intellectual assent, lying there flaccid, cold and inert. It is not active and living, and urging me about in the world. It is tantamount to a lie about my faith; for, our fruits tell who we are, and a testimony of faith that is not carried into practice is causally equivalent – is, i.e., soteriologically equivalent – to a straightforward lie about my faith. Better not to believe at all, than to be a hypocrite.

        We are indeed saved by faith, but only if both phases are completed: the inner metanoia, the outer new man. New wine; so, new skin; or else, death.

      • Faith does not mean assigning the value true to a string of words or even to the ideas they point to. That is called “mere intellectual assent.” James chapter 2 says “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” So, intellectual assent actually is not the thing.

        What is the thing, faith? The thing is the decision to align your will with God’s. The thing is the decision to obey. The thing is the decision to trust in God’s will. “I’ll do what You say is right.” Faith.

        If you tell me you understand the Trinity: I laugh. If you tell me you trust that the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity is true: I agree.

        Before widespread literacy, concerns about heresy and whatnot were mostly confined to priests and theologians—to the guys whose job it was to think in an abstract, theoretical way about God. These guys are useful, for the same reason that theorists in science are useful. But regular people were just supposed to do what their pastor said.

        Chemists are cool. On the other hand, the way I bake a cake is by following the recipe.

      • I don’t think that my mind is great, so I can’t say that the fact that Dr. Bill’s contemporaneously composed remarks say some of the same things as mine, and in some of the same words, quite supports the notion that great minds think alike, although they do. But what I think I can safely say is that it sure seems that Dr. Bill and I have been reading some of the same great minds, and coming to the same conclusions about what they agree on.

        Larry Auster would have been pleased at this lovely bit of synchronicity, God Bless him.

        Bill: I’m an amateur at chemistry, and feel as though I’m beginning to learn the ropes. But I’m a terrible cook.

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