Atheism is Not Strictly Conceivable

“God does not exist” turns out to make as much sense as “2 + 2 = 5.” You can string the symbols together, but you can’t get a concept out of that string.

As necessary, God is the logical forecondition of all contingent being. To see how this works, consider that for any x to happen at any time y, xy must have been possible before it came to pass. But because this is true for any x and any y, the possibility of every possible xy must be necessary. If there were no such possibility, there could never be any xy. None whatsoever: xy would in that case be simply impossible.

I.e.: if xy is possible, it is necessary that xy is possible.

Among other things, God is the possibility that xy. In his very essence, he furnishes all possibility. He is the forecondition of any and every being. It is in this sense that he is called the Ground of Being, or urgrund.

To say then that there is no Ground of Being is tantamount to saying that no being is possible, and that there is therefore no being of any sort. It is to say, “Nothing exists.” And the existence of that statement falsifies it.

It is hardly surprising then that no one can live as if it were true that God does not exist. We can say that he does not, and we can believe that we believe what we say, but we cannot live as if there were no such thing as being.

73 thoughts on “Atheism is Not Strictly Conceivable

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    • Pluck the beam out of your own eye. Rather than posing a new argument, you link to an old comment of your own, which as I then pointed out made my argument.

      If you believe there is an urgrund, then whatever you call it and no matter what you think it is like, you are a theist, willy nilly. There’s no way around it; you might as well get comfortable with the notion of God, and get to work figuring out what he must be like.

      If you don’t believe there’s an urgrund, you’re being sloppy, or foolish; and you are contradicting your belief in the very act of believing it.

      You’re a pretty smart guy, so I doubt you doubt there’s an urgrund. If I’m right about that, then you are implicitly a theist, whether you realize it or not.

      • If you want to define “theism” as “belief in an ultimate ground of being”, feel free. Richard Dawkins is thus a theist, so are Taoists. All you seem to be accomplishing is bloating a term, to the point of uselessness. In normal parlance, theism means something much more specific, namely that this ultimate ground of being is a *person* of some sort, engaging in person-like interactions such as loving, getting angry, laying down and enforcing moral laws. That’s where you lose Dawkins, Taoists, and most other sensible people.

        You make me want to be an antifoundationalist, not because I don’t believe in an urgrund, but because those who do always seem to want to deploy it to inimical political ends. Every damned army has god on their side; sign me up for the resistance.

        I could define “communism” as “any impulse towards sharing”, thus making everybody short of Ayn Rand a communist. The Revolution is thus accomplished. But, that would be stupid.

      • Well, as I said to Bruce, the urgrund is the beginning of natural theology. Without it, there is no such thing. But once you’ve concluded that there must be an urgrund, all sorts of other questions press in upon an inquiring mind, as both important and potentially tractable. You are right up against the project of natural theology that it behooves all them who believe in the urgrund to undertake: figuring out what the urgrund must be like. So far as you’ve yet been able to see, the urgrund is not personal, not an agent, not mindful, etc.; the characteristics of theistic notions about it.

        This is a respectable position, which many powerful minds have held. There are two problems with it.

        First, and less fundamentally, while a bare necessary actuality otherwise completely uncharacterized is competent to serve as a matrix for the mere possibility of the actuality of particular beings, that is the limit of its competence. It can explain how things might possibly exist, but nothing more. In particular, it cannot explain *actual* existence in all its details. I.e., it cannot explain how you get from the possible existence to the actual existence of any particular thing, cannot supply the “fire in the equations.” That’s a huge lacuna. It cannot furthermore explain order, causality, mind, agency, and a number of other fairly basic items that want explanation.

        Theism does explain those things.

        Second, the conclusion that the urgrund is *not* this or that – is not an agent, or personal, or mindful, etc. – requires every bit as much warrant as the conclusion that he is any one of those things. It requires positive arguments. Got any?

        The bottom line is that – while I have not covered this distance in the post above, or in this thread – the notion that the urgrund is nothing more than a bare necessary actuality of some sort by which the possibilities of all possible events are somehow furnished turns out by itself to be an incoherent concept. It’s an inherently insufficient specification of the minimal concept of the urgrund. It turns out that you can’t specify an urgrund that is competent to do what an urgrund must do in view of the existence of a world such as we inhabit unless that urgrund is theistic.

        This is why so many thinkers who for reasons such as Earl adduces would prefer to avoid any theistic commitments end by denying the reality of this or that essential feature of human experience per se, such as freedom, agency, mind, cosmos, personhood, intension, knowledge, etc. If you deny that there is such a thing really as, e.g., a person, why then your urgrund need not labor under any necessity of explaining the existence of persons – which, as Proph indicates, is to say that your urgrund need not be itself personal.

        That’s a relief to who would be atheist, but it’s also a failure of nerve, and of philosophy. The whole of the truth is implicit in each bit of it, so that the end of natural theology (wherein we see, e.g., that revelation must be possible and, what is more, necessary to a full account of things, and begin to explore how we could ascertain its disclosures) is logically implicit in its first principle, the urgrund. It behooves the true philosopher to do his best to comprehend and believe that whole. A hair of the quarry won’t do; one wants to meet the living Lion, or else the hunt is entirely bootless, and moot, and stupid.

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        By the way, there is a very good argument that Taoism is implicitly theist. It’s not just about the immense pantheon of popular Taoism. To sum up: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is equivalent to “I am the Tao.” The Orthodox and Jesuit missionaries to China – and for all we know, their Nestorian predecessors – all noticed this. So did the Taoists and Confucians. It does no violence to one’s Taoism to accept Christianity, or vice versa.

      • Well, if personhood is a meaningful thing, then it can be said “to be,” can’t it? And whatever can be said to be must have its roots in that ultimate ground of be-ing.

      • I want to believe in an ultimate ground of being, but I don’t want to consider that the thing which I believe in is anything like what religious people say it is, because then I wouldn’t get to cut and paste onto the Internet snappy little lines like “sign me up for the resistance.”

        I want to believe that the ground of my existence as a person has no personality, because I do not even know what a person is, or why persons should only marry the opposite sex, or why we can’t eat them after they’re dead.

        I want to believe there are fixed morals but then I wouldn’t be able to violate them without a guilty conscience, so I maintain that they are only transitory ideas which we can transition at any time for any reason, really.

        I just want to believe in enough fixedness to validate my emotions and my arguments against fixedness—this and no more, mkay? Thanks.

        I just want to stay amorphous.

      • “That’s where you lose Dawkins, Taoists, and most other sensible people.”

        Notice the arrogance of these individuals, it’s indicative of that classic ‘end of history’ thinking. “Oh, look at us… aren’t we the sensible ones… unlike those other backward people”.

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  3. @Kristor

    I think you are 100% correct – so long as ‘God’ (or god/s) remains quite loosely defined, and includes the abstract ‘philosopher’s god’ of (say) Platonism and other kinds of Deism.

    It seems to me that all the most intelligent people of history, *who are also thoughtful and reflective* and who actually possess a world-view, believe in an ordered universe – plus that this order constitutes some kind of moral imperative.

    (Very clever but unreflective people who are happy not to think/ worry about fundamentals can believe almost anything, including obvious incoherent nonsense!)

    This would include people like Einstein – who was a Deist; or Gödel – who was a Christian; or Roger Penrose – who is a Platonist.

    This much is ‘given’ among serious, intelligent reflective people.

    The big difference – I think – concerns people’s detailed, specific understanding of the nature of god/s and the universe, and Man’s relationship to Him/ it/ them. And here we come to the necessity for divine revelation (deity imparting knowledge to Man) – and people’s different evaluations of whether revelation is possible, whether it has happened in particular instances, constraints on revelation, and what genuine revelations actually mean.

    I don’t suppose there will ever be full convergence on this matter – at least not until (some time) after death when we will know that we know what we know!

      • On any occasion when anyone asserts anything, he has invoked, whether he knows it or not, the Primal Ground. Grammar is Revelation. “Is” means what it says.

      • “Just so. The urgrund is the bare beginning of natural theology.”

        Consider the reverse, that God’s self-revelation comes first or should come first and that theology is a retrospective analysis of the revelation. See Job 28:28, Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10, Psalms 111:10, and 1 Cor. 2 (whole chapter).

        “And here we come to the necessity for divine revelation…” to quote Bruce.

        Natural theology is a retrospective analysis without explicitly considering revelation. “Natural theology” defined as “theology or knowledge of God based on observed facts and experience apart from divine revelation” is by definition fundamentally different from “theology based on the experience of divine revelation.” Imagine, for example, a natural geography based on observed facts and experience apart from actual sightings of land by explorers.

        If urgrund is defined as the primal cause and if God is the primal cause, then a philosophy based on something other than God is fundamentally flawed. This argues against atheism, but it also argues against natural theology as defined above.

        Until relatively recently classical philosophy had a near monopoly on Western thought and was generally favorable towards classical Christianity. The two had grown up together. But the East (e.g. Taoism), modernity (e.g. Russell’s Theory of Descriptions), and much of the Third World (e.g. Animism) have different philosophical preferences, and those preferences might or might not be favorable to Christianity.

      • You’re making a few quite disparate points, and I’m not sure how any of them are at odds with anything I’ve said in this thread so far.

        I said that the urgrund is the first principle of natural theology, but I didn’t say that natural theology is or ought to be the only sort or the most important sort, or … anything of that sort. Revelation is clearly superior to whatever we can figure out under our own steam. But for many people, revelation is just incredible on account of intellectual commitments or confusions that natural theology, or philosophical theology, can clear up or lay to rest. So while we ought not to halt our progress toward the BV at the limits of natural theology, it can for many function as a footstool by which they may reach the bottom rung of Jacob’s Ladder.

        The curious thing to me – the rather lovely and satisfying thing – is the conformity of natural theology to revelation and to mystical experience. The fit among the findings of these domains is spooky; like the fit of the physical world disclosed by the sciences to the mathematical truths. It is almost as though there were a single Logos at work in all these domains …

        If urgrund is defined as the primal cause and if God is the primal cause, then a philosophy based on something other than God is fundamentally flawed. This argues against atheism, but it also argues against natural theology as defined above.

        Pretty sure you wrote that wrong. If the urgrund is the prime mover and God is the prime mover, then a philosophy – such as natural theology – that is based on the urgrund is based on God by definition.

        Taoism and animism are both amenable to reconciliation with classical Christianity, in the sense that a Taoist or an animist could come to see that his religion had been subsumed and perfected by Christianity. Modernity on the other hand essentially contravenes religion per se, and with it all sorts of theology.

      • I hope this gets placed properly in the thread.

        Yes, I brought up several different points.

        “I’m not sure how any of them are at odds with anything I’ve said in this thread so far.” Just so. We both agree that revelation is primary. See Luke 16:31.

        My objection is of a different kind: that this line of argument is unconvincing. It is unconvincing to many modern philosophers and is appealing mainly to classically trained philosophers, who are pretty much already in your camp. The man on the street is neither. Philosophy can easily lead into a frustrating maze. Moreover, this line of argument could just as easily be used to support belief in Marduk. It is not specifically a Christian argument except by accident of history.

        “Pretty sure you wrote that wrong. If the urgrund is the prime mover and God is the prime mover, then a philosophy – such as natural theology – that is based on the urgrund is based on God by definition.”

        I wrote what I wrote because such a system, however consistent and true, is not “natural theology” as defined in my comment. Natural theology is based on something other than God. It is based on empiricism (observations) apart from observing God. If God is in and through everything (Eph. 4:6) then natural theology (which observes things apart from God) may not, strictly speaking, be possible. It is like geology apart from observing rocks, a fundamentally flawed way to study rocks. More to the point, a study of rocks based on observing things other than rocks is impossible if rocks are over and in and through all things.

        You might say that we can learn about God by observing his creation, but such knowledge is fundamentally limited, and the arguments typically beg the question, i.e. that the creation is a creation and is his. They are convincing to people who are already inclined to see the conclusion. That doesn’t make the conclusion false. I am convinced it is true. it is just beyond philosophical proof. The evidence is more of a clue or a series of clues than a proof. C.S. Lewis did very well as an apologist by talking about clues rather than proofs.

        “Taoism and animism are both amenable to reconciliation with classical Christianity, in the sense that a Taoist or an animist could come to see that his religion had been subsumed and perfected by Christianity.”

        Agreed.

        “Modernity on the other hand essentially contravenes religion per se, and with it all sorts of theology.”

        It depends on how you define modernity or modern theology. Is the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) modern or not? And, more importantly, is it true? Consider this link:
        http://comp.uark.edu/~senor/ContraPSR.html
        The argument is rather fun to follow, but I am not sure it how would make either a theist or an atheist out of me.

      • Well, you may find it unconvincing, but I have corresponded with people who have converted to Christianity in part because of reading arguments in philosophical theology, some of them mine. I’ll rely on their witness.

        Philosophy can of course lead to a frustrating maze, but it can also lead to a wonderful dawn of insight, when things become suddenly clear and reasonable rather than dark and perplexing. I have experienced this many, many times. If it were not for such breakthroughs, philosophy would be ashes.

        Yes, of course an encounter with the argument from the inconceivability of atheism can be the first step on the way to religious error. This is true of encounters with anything but YHWH. As you pointed out, I said that the urgrund is a first step, and nothing more. As any theologian would agree, it is a category error to expect Natural Theology to do what only Revelation can do.

        If God is in and through everything (Ephesians 4:6) then natural theology (which observes things apart from God) may not, strictly speaking, be possible.

        It’s not that it might be impossible, but that it turns out even by its own lights to be a department of mystical theology, and that this is what makes it possible. Natural Theology is that department of Mystical Theology that studies the truths revealed by General Revelation. Everything is running on God, and so reveals him.

        Whether an argument in Natural Theology begs the question depends on the argument. I don’t think the argument of the post does so, e.g.

        … [that] the creation is a creation and is his … is beyond philosophical proof.

        Ah, but that’s the very question, isn’t it? Can you prove this assertion? If the world really is God’s, how likely is it that it could furnish no intelligible and reliable General Revelation amenable to our deliberation? Is it not much more likely rather that Natural Theology will turn out to be impracticable only in the event that there is no God – in which case, no other sort will be of any use either?

        The PSR is very ancient. It goes back at least to the pre-Socratics – which means that it most likely goes back to the beginnings of human thought. It is in mutual implication with ex nihilo nihil fit, and can be construed as an expression of the Law of Noncontradiction. So it is about as basic as you can get. If it is true, then we have some really horrible conundra to untangle (such as, e.g., how beings can be free, as they manifestly are – how they can act at all). If it is false, there can be no thing. So it pretty much has to be true, and our job is to figure out how. As you say: fun!

      • I agree that some people find philosophical argument a convincing route to God. I have no objection to that route for them. But is it a dangerous route. As I pointed out months ago, atheism is more likely to be found among professional academic philosophers than among the man on the street (who will react to the term urgrund with a blank stare). If one of my grandchildren decided to become an academic philosopher, he would be choosing a profession more dangerous to his faith than most others. It might work out, or it might not.

        I find all the arguments for theism appealing, just not reaching a level of proof that can’t be challenged by very clever people. Christianity provides or explains meaning, value, purpose, consciousness, etc. As Bruce points out, most thoughtful people have concluded there is something there other than strict naturalism. But there is a great danger that we mistake a good argument to be a proof that can’t be answered by the next clever guy who can counter that
        a lack of imagination or ingenuity to explain something is not a proof of necessity. A.morphous finds his atheism to be as intellectually satisfying as we find theism. When you convince him, please let me know.

        Rod Dreher (Eastern Orthodox, formerly Catholic) recently had a post on why in Europe in 1500 it was almost impossible not to believe in God and why in 2000 belief is for many a challenge. It has very little to do with Greek philosophers and a lot to do with something else.

        “Charles Taylor begins his magisterial book A Secular Age by asking why it was almost impossible not to believe in God in 1500, but in 2000, believing in God is seen as something you do with difficulty, if at all. Taylor says that it’s because the late medievals were heirs to a belief system that regarded the world as enchanted. God was everywhere, and ordered all things to Himself. All of Creation — and it was “Creation,” not yet “Nature” — was a sign pointing to its Creator.

        It is an anachronistic mistake to think that our late medieval ancestors regarded the world as we do, except with a belief in God added to it. They did not. God and things divine were far more present in the imaginations of the people, who looked around them and saw Him. They lived in a cosmos— a universe ordered by God, pregnant with meaning and divine purpose.”

        (see http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/tudor-farm-charles-taylor/)

        I think Bruce would appreciate the point.

      • My dear Leo, I find in my heart no deep disagreement with anything you here say; a quibble or two, that is all. Philosophy is at most a prolegomenon to spiritual life and work, and by comparison to its fulfillment therein it is dry, threadbare, pallid. Yet for those bedeviled by sophistry, there is no way out to the light but through the path illumined by philosophy, up and out of the cave and into broad bright day. To take the first step up and out, one must first recognize that one is immured in darkness; there could never otherwise be any reason to move, at all. This recognition can happen only if the bright light of Reason is shed upon the contradictions and absurdities of that pervasive dreadful alluring Night.

        Is it a dangerous undertaking, to reason philosophically toward Truth? Of course. How, pray, could it possibly be otherwise? Are there any other paths in the life of the mind that do not traverse a razor’s edge? No; of course there are not. Most lead directly off the precipice, and down some slippery vertiginous slope. That the ascent is dangerous by every route does not excuse us from the duty of assaying it.

        Is there safety in stupidity, then? Can we avoid intellection altogether and remain human? Is a rejection of reflection the best bet? These questions answer themselves. Only the perfected sage, who has completed his reflections and arrived at their proper terminus, can be rightly simple; or, of course, the perfectly, chthonically innocent, of whom there have been but three or four since the world began (St. Joseph of Cupertino, e.g.). No one of the rest of us is quite simple enough to take sure refuge in stupidity.

        In this day and age, as Dreher notes in the quote you provide, almost everyone is addled with sophistry. Almost no one can think clearly – all they have been taught is to think darkly – and few can recognize the consequent disaster of their intellectual and moral predicaments, although they cannot but feel it – so, more spectacle, scandal, sex, drugs, rock, roll, fashion, fat, fitness, food, famine! Anything to stave off despair; anything to stave off the tiresome necessity of thinking their way out of an ontological dead end – so boring, and onerous, and (worst of all) uncool!.

        That clever sophists can twist and wrend philosophy to their wicked ends is no defect special to philosophy. They do the same to everything. If they are clever enough to undermine the Five Ways or the Ontological Argument in some delicate mind, then are they clever enough to undermine anything at all.

        Nothing is safe. Not even scripture. Nor has it ever been. If YHWH himself could be tempted in the desert, so can anything else. Nothing is safe. Everything is always under attack.

        So then are we obliged to deploy all the weapons at our disposal: syllogism, rhetoric, liturgy, prayer, fasting and mortification of the flesh, charitable works, upright living, honesty, preaching, art, enterprise, courage, fair dealing, war – the lot. All are under constant challenge; all must respond.

        The philosophical proofs are in the last analysis open to the same sort of challenge as any other act of faith. Even the purest martyrdom – perhaps especially martyrdom – is open to that challenge. The Enemy can belittle anything, misconstrue it, lie about it, defame it, twist it, aye and then even insist upon the honest simple truth of that twisting, and the massive state funding thereof.

        I am not so sure, then, in the final analysis, what exactly your beef with philosophical theology might be.

  4. First, and less fundamentally, while a bare necessary actuality otherwise completely uncharacterized is competent to serve as a matrix for the mere possibility of the actuality of particular beings, that is the limit of its competence.

    I’m sure that means something to you, but I confess it’s completely opaque to me.

    It cannot furthermore explain order, causality, mind, agency, and a number of other fairly basic items that want explanation….Theism does explain those things.

    Theism explains absolutely nothing. It is definitionally the lack of explanation, an indication of failure to explain.

    In particular, theism can’t explain agency, it can only introduce it as a foundational concept. Whereas Darwinism *does* explain agency in terms of something that isn’t already agent-like, therefore it is an an explanation whereas theism is not.

    I hope the point is clear, which is not that Darwinism is true. Maybe theism is true, but it still doesn’t explain agency or mind, in any sense of “explain” with which I’m familiar.

    Second, the conclusion that the urgrund is *not* this or that – is not an agent, or personal, or mindful, etc. – requires every bit as much warrant as the conclusion that he is any one of those things. It requires positive arguments. Got any?

    This is a good point. But the combination of Darwin and Occam suffices for me.

    • Thanks, a.morphous, for a most constructive response. Taking your points in order:

      First, and less fundamentally, while a bare necessary actuality otherwise completely uncharacterized is competent to serve as a matrix for the mere possibility of the actuality of particular beings, that is the limit of its competence.

      I’m sure that means something to you, but I confess it’s completely opaque to me.

      Fair enough. That was indeed a dense sentence. What it means is that if you take the urgrund to be a featureless thing except for its necessity and its inclusion (somehow or other) of all possibilia, and nothing more, why then it is just sitting there doing nothing, and unless we take it to be something more – an act, an agent, or something like that – then it is difficult to see how the mere possibilities implicit in it might ever come to be actualized. To get actual things out of the urgrund, you need it to do something. It needs to be an exhaustively comprehensive necessary actuality *that acts.* And all sorts of additional features are needed for that.

      Whether one thinks that theism explains agency, for example, depends I suppose on what one thinks an explanation is. You seem to think that a good explanation of agency will account for how it came to pass from a congeries of factors that had themselves no agency. On that account of explanation, there is no possible good explanation of agency. Ex nihilo nihil fit. You can’t get something from nothing. By extension, you can’t get any x from a total nullity of x. From a state of affairs in which there is no agency at all, you cannot by rearranging things in it somehow get some agency to emerge. No matter how you rearrange a batch of dead pebbles, all you’ll end up with is an arrangement of dead pebbles.

      What about salt? Can’t you get salt from an utter nullity of salt, so long as you’ve got some sodium and chlorine on hand? No; in addition to the sodium and the chlorine, you need the possibility of their covalent interaction – i.e., the possibility of salt. A salt molecule is not just a sodium atom and a chlorine atom. It is a new being, different from the beings of its constituent atoms. Sodium has no saltiness, and nor does chlorine. The properties of salt that set it apart from both sodium and chlorine are not present in either sodium or chlorine. They had to come from somewhere else.

      That somewhere else is the urgrund, the Library of the Possibilia.

      This is not to suggest that the urgrund is itself salty. Salt is not salty because the urgrund lends it some of his own saltiness. It is salty in virtue of the saltiness of its possibilium in the urgrund.

      It’s a bit different with agency, mind, and the other properties that, unlike saltiness, are essential to the urgrund. The urgrund must itself act if it is to have any effects (such as the created order). And you can’t have an act without an agent, a mind, knowledge, power, and so on. Whereas you can have an act without saltiness.

      To sum up, agency and saltiness can be explained only by reference to a necessary being who can furnish to agents and salt molecules each their peculiar forms from its Library.

      You will perhaps ask the explanation for that necessary being. The question is inapt: he is necessary. He cannot fail to exist, because his nonexistence is a contradiction in terms.

      Now in a sense you are right that this account of agency does not explain where it comes from and how, but rather introduces it as a foundational concept. True! But notice that this is so likewise for all the metaphysical and mathematical truths. They are all basic, necessary, eternal. Their untruth is not possible, because it is or implies a contradiction. This is what makes them so apt as axioms for all systems of explanation. But that we cannot explain their origin does not make them false; they don’t have an origin to explain!

      We cannot explain where a necessity came from or how, for it never came in the first place, but rather is always. Necessities can have no causes, precisely because they are not contingent. Nevertheless, as Spinoza pointed out, God can have a perfectly sufficient reason for existing: his nonexistence, like the existence of the square circle, is necessarily impossible. As there is no possible form for the square circle, so there is no possible form for the nonexistence of God.

      … the combination of Darwin and Occam suffices for me.

      Darwin says things happen for no reason. Ockham says that things don’t truly relate to each other intelligibly, but that their intelligibility is rather only apparent, a merely private phenomenon, a phantasm and nothing more. How do these two suffice for you as explanations? They are the zero of explanation; they are the repudiation of explanation.

      • No matter how you rearrange a batch of dead pebbles, all you’ll end up with is an arrangement of dead pebbles.

        If you want to make an argument for the long-discredited theory of vitalism, you’ll have to do better than mere assertion.

        Darwin says things happen for no reason. Ockham says that things don’t truly relate to each other intelligibly, but that their intelligibility is rather only apparent…

        That is not what Darwin says. As for Occam, I was referring to his well-known razor.

        You seem to think that a good explanation of agency will account for how it came to pass from a congeries of factors that had themselves no agency. On that account of explanation, there is no possible good explanation of agency. Ex nihilo nihil fit. You can’t get something from nothing.

        You seem to have talked yourself out of the possibility of knowing anything at all. Nothing can be explained in terms of anything else, which is the only kind of explanation that counts. I am not sure what *you* mean by explanation, but it must be extremely impoverished.

      • If you want to make an argument for the long-discredited theory of vitalism, you’ll have to do better than mere assertion.

        Physician, heal thyself. All you’ve done here is assert that vitalism is discredited. It is, to be sure; but this is nothing more than an observation about intellectual fashion (which is fickle). If you want to make an argument against the long-discredited theory of vitalism, you’ll have to do better (you’ve a tough row to hoe, explaining how a dead and a living body are no different).

        Even if you do, you shan’t touch me, for I have no wish to argue in favor of vitalism, and have not discussed it in this thread. I’m an Aristotelian and a Whiteheadian (which means that I am also a Platonist). I argue, not that there is some physical élan vital – some physical force not yet discovered by physics – coordinating the constituents of living creatures, but rather that molecules, cells, organisms, etc., are substantial entities in their own right, disparate from the substantial entities of which they are constituted. Covalent bonds don’t explain molecules, but vice versa: the covalent bonds between atoms in a molecule are not properties of the constituent atoms, but of the molecule.

        That is not what Darwin says. As for Occam, I was referring to his well-known razor.

        “Survival of the fittest” is just a fancy way to say “survival of what survives,” or, “the happening of what happens.” Darwin and current neo-Darwinist biology propose that there is in nature no teleology: no formal or final causation at work. They do not notice that such a vacuity would if real empty the world of such biological phenomena as scientists and their scientific intentions, and of all other objects of biological study. All that would be left is adventitious aggregates of sub-atomic particles, clumped together because they happened to clump together. This result would be career disaster for biologists (you can’t do without intension if you want to write a paper or a grant application (or a sentence)), so they smuggle formality and finality in by the back door without admitting – or realizing – that this is what they have done.

        As for Ockham: OK. I thought you were referring to his nominalism.

        [You seem to think that nothing] can be explained in terms of anything else, which is the only kind of explanation that counts.

        On the contrary. Did you not notice how I explained the saltiness of salt – which is not present in sodium or chlorine – by reference to something other than saltiness in sodium and chlorine?

      • …I have no wish to argue in favor of vitalism, and have not discussed it in this thread.

        You said:

        No matter how you rearrange a batch of dead pebbles, all you’ll end up with is an arrangement of dead pebbles.

        That is precisely vitalism.

        “Survival of the fittest” is just a fancy way to say “survival of what survives,” or, “the happening of what happens.”

        I find it hard to believe that you are actually that ignorant about natural selection.

        Darwin and current neo-Darwinist biology propose that there is in nature no teleology: no formal or final causation at work. They do not notice that such a vacuity would if real empty the world of such biological phenomena as scientists and their scientific intentions,

        You are confused. Materialism precludes metaphysical teleology, it obviously does not have anything against the sort of emergent purposes that are actually found in nature.

        Did you not notice how I explained the saltiness of salt – which is not present in sodium or chlorine – by reference to something other than saltiness in sodium and chlorine?

        You explained it as “It is salty in virtue of the saltiness of its possibilium in the urgrund.”, which is a a good an example of non-explanation and obfuscation as you could hope to find. Molière was satirizing this sort of thing way back in the 17th century.

      • Bloody nonsense.

        Vitalism is a dispute about the nature of organic compounds, whether it was possible to synthesize organic compounds from chemicals, or whether there was some special magic ingredient that made organic compounds efficacious.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism

        The indisputable and obvious fact is that rearranging a stack of pebbles will never yield anything but a stack of pebbles is not the “theory” of vitalism, any more than claiming that it sometimes rains “proves” that Zeus pisses through a sieve to bring waters to the Earth.

        It is fine to be an atheist, but don’t deny obvious facts about pebbles, and don’t try to pin theories on people they don’t actually espouse. It is called “straw man” and it only works with people who are ignorant of the actual position of the person you are misrepresenting.

        There is a system of contemporary thought:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence

        which bears some similarities to vitalism, and is based on metaphysical holism. You can look at all the scientific applications coming out of this approach. Hardly discredited Wu.

      • Thanks, KD, you’ve saved me a bit of time. A.morphous, read up a bit on vitalism and you’ll learn that nothing I have said in this thread (or anywhere else) is vitalist. I do not believe that there is some extraneous physical force not yet discovered by physics – such as Bergson’s élan vital – that accounts for the life of living matter.

        I gather from your comments that you credit emergence, the theory that when dead items are combined in the right way their assemblages can manifest life, consciousness, agency, etc. I can respect that, because it gives evidence that you do recognize (unlike eliminative materialists) that there really are such things as life, as consciousness, and so forth, and that these real items of the natural world call for explanation.

        What emergence sees emerging from matter properly configured is the very thing that Bergson called the élan vital: the thing that makes living things alive. It differs from vitalism in taking the élan vital to be implicit in matter to begin with, and expressed in the causal forces that physics observes, rather than a mysterious extra physical force invisible to physics that appears in physical systems under certain circumstances.

        Emergence is generally treated as a contradiction of the other main alternative to vitalism, namely panpsychism. It is not. Emergence is just panpsychism that dares not speak its name. Panpsychism after all is precisely the doctrine that mind and life are implicit (at least a bit) in matter as such. It is more and more popular these days with physicists, neurobiologists, and philosophers of mind. Its most thoroughgoing expression is to be found in Integrated Information Theory [IIT], which proposes that all concrete entities manifest some degree of mindfulness, and that their degree of mindfulness can be measured. It expresses mindfulness by the variable Φ, chosen because it is a combination of the two possible states – 1 and 0 – of the smallest bit of information – the bit.

        I am a panpsychist.

        Neither the bashful emergent version of panpsychism nor its brash straightforward version – the one that admits to its panpsychism – is however quite adequate to explain composite entities. No matter how you rearrange a batch of living mindful pebbles, all you’ll end up with is an arrangement of living mindful pebbles. This is so even for IIT, which in linking Shannonian information theory and complexity theory measures the Φ of a system such as a cell or molecule in terms of the complexity of relations among its constituent entities (and of their Φ, likewise calculated). IIT is elegant, but it doesn’t explain how a heap of particles that each have some bit of Φ becomes a coherent system of ordered relations (NB: to invoke self-organization on this question is to beg it (what’s more, a system that does not yet actually exist cannot do anything at all, let alone organize itself)). Even when mediated by living mindful particles, material and efficient causation don’t suffice to bridge the gap that separates heaps from systems.

        If molecules or organisms – or, a fortiori, persons – are to be taken as real entities, as true systems rather than as adventitious heaps, something more is needed. That something more is Aristotle’s final and formal causation. These are smuggled in to IIT by the back door, and are expressed in the ordered complexity of relations it discovers in systems, and which it then employs, but without admitting where that order came from.

        That is why I am an Aristotelian and a Whiteheadian (and ipso facto a Platonist). It is why I derive the saltiness of salt, not from the properties of sodium and chlorine (mindful and lively as these atoms might be in their little ways), but from the form of salt. The reason that mind might possibly be amenable to mathematical formalization such as IIT proposes is that concrete minds exhibit the Form of mind.

        Platonism is not a dormitive virtue explanation of the sort that Molière rightly mocked. Such “explanations” merely restate the explanandum in different terms. “Opium induces sleep because of its dormitive virtue,” carries the same information as, “Opium induces sleep because opium induces sleep.” Dormitive virtue explanations beg the question: e.g., “The system self-organizes on account of its powers of self-organization.”

        Survival of the fittest is a dormitive virtue explanation. Traits survive because they are fitted to their environments; and the traits that are fitted to their environments can be discerned because they survive. So, traits survive because they are the traits that survive. Well, yeah; how could it possibly be otherwise?

        In precluding metaphysical teleology, materialism willy nilly precludes teleology per se. You can’t get a concrete example of something that is metaphysically impossible. The most you can get is something that looks like teleology, but really isn’t (this is why consistent materialists are eliminative materialists). If you want teloi to emerge in nature really, you must grant first that they are possible metaphysically.

        I have to say that your latest comment was disappointing. It was heavy with snark, sputtering and hand-waving, rife with inaccurate statements, and devoid of arguments.

      • Sorry, if this:

        No matter how you rearrange a batch of dead pebbles, all you’ll end up with is an arrangement of dead pebbles.

        is not vitalism, what is it? It seems to be specifically contradicting the possibility of emergent phenomena. I guess your panpsychism means that there are really no such thing as dead pebbles, which is another way to solve the problem I guess, but then why are you talking about them?

        I was not snarking, I am genuinely surprised to find that you don’t seem to have the understanding of natural selection I would expect of a high school student. Happy to explain it, but I suspect you understand it perfectly and are pretending ignorance for some reason.

      • From the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

        Vitalists hold that living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things.

        I think everything is governed by the same principles, and that when these principles are at work in corporeal entities, they may be abstracted – most of them anyway, if not all – in the terms of physics. This does not, NB, mean that I think everything is governed by the principles of matter as it was understood circa 1890 (which is the obsolescent notion of matter that most materialists employ). Nor does it mean that there is no difference between a living and a dead body. Living bodies implement a formal specification in configuration space that dead bodies do not (dead bodies implement a different formal specification in that same configuration space – that of a dead body). This formal specification in configuration space is what has always been called the soul of a body (whether plant, animal, or what have you). When a soul informs a body – i.e., when the arrangement of that body’s corporeal constituents conforms to the specifications of its soul – that body lives. The life of that living body is its spirit.

        I talked about dead pebbles because they have an even harder job to do in constituting a basis for the emergence of life than living pebbles. But even living pebbles aren’t enough.

        As I say in my last, a mere arrangement of pebbles that is not informed by the soul of a living body is not a living body, but is rather only an arrangement of pebbles. This is so whether the pebbles are dead or living. Panpsychism argues that the body of a man who has just died is still constituted entirely of somewhat mindful things – lots of still living cells, all his subatomic particles, etc. – but that the body as a whole is no longer an integral, coordinate system as it was a moment earlier, when he still lived. It is now a heap of living things, rather than a living thing in its own right that is constituted of living things.

        Panpsychism by itself then – as most panpsychists (among philosophers, anyway) clearly see – does not suffice to order the life of the man’s living body qua his body. An Aristotelico-Platonic formal cause – the soul, the form of the living body – fills the causal gap.

        I understand natural selection perfectly well. My discussion of it in this thread does not misrepresent it, but rather only brings into starker relief the vacuity of the notion of fitness under conditions of ateleology. Fitness is an inherently teleological concept. The fitness of an organism to its environment is for the production of a particular final end in respect to the system of the organism and its environment. Under the ateleology adamantly espoused by most orthodox neo-Darwinians, traits have no final ends. They are just stuff that happened that has not yet suffered the scythe of environmental selection.

        Add final ends into the neo-Darwinian mix, and environmental selection on stochastic variation begins to make sense. It’s not a change in the physics of biological processes, but in the metaphysics under which we interpret it.

      • I understand natural selection perfectly well. My discussion of it in this thread does not misrepresent it, but rather only brings into starker relief the vacuity of the notion of fitness under conditions of ateleology. Fitness is an inherently teleological concept.

        Sorry, if you think that then you don’t understand natural selection at all.

        The question of whether what you believe should or should not be called “vitalism” is really not that interesting. And, anticipating what comes next, neither is the exact definition of “teleology”. Those are mere words and like all abstract concepts are either useful as tools, or not.

        Natural selection, on the other hand, is a true revolution in thought when properly understood, with drastic implications for philosophy. I guess I’m not really surprised you have failed to grasp it, it’s not from any incapacity but from fear (or maybe just dislike) of the consequences, which are indeed dire for conservatives of all stripes. Unfortunately even if you manage to restore the old monarchy next week, intellectual revolutions are not so easy to undo.

      • This is amusing. What is it, exactly, about natural selection that you think I have failed to understand?

        It sounds to me rather as if you don’t quite understand teleology. As with the exact meaning of “vitalism,” it isn’t interesting to you. This is not the first time that you have reacted to arguments you don’t want to try to answer with, “that’s not interesting.” But if it is not timorous or lazy, is this not sloppy? Consider that you might be the one who is not in a position to determine whether my suggestion that fitness is an inherently teleological concept manifests a misunderstanding of “fitness.” If you don’t know what I mean in saying that it is inherently teleological, how could you tell?

        So far am I from being afraid of natural selection, or averse to its consequences, that I can show you – if you are interested – exactly how natural selection would have operated to shape … tradition.

      • You don՚t seem to grasp that teleology, purpose and function are consequences of natural selection, not inputs to it. And if you don՚t get that, you don՚t really get any of it.

        If you mean something different by “vitalism” than I do, then there isn՚t much point arguing about whether you are or are not a vitalist. But you don՚t seem to know what you believe. First you say that “dead pebbles” cannot a living thing make. That would seem to make you a vitalist in my book, but then you claim to not be one, and instead believe in panpsychism or something, in which case, there are no dead pebbles and your initial remark was nonsensical. Then you say “a mere arrangement of pebbles that is not informed by the soul of a living body is not a living body”, again, pure vitalism.

        Either your meaning is variant from mine (and I believe mine to be fairly standard) or you are confused or avoiding being straightforward. And yeah, I find such dancing around to be fairly tedious.

      • You don՚t seem to grasp that teleology, purpose and function are consequences of natural selection, not inputs to it.

        A.morphous, that’s exactly the question at issue. This latest statement of yours is tantamount to your saying, “You don’t seem to grasp that I’m right and you’re wrong.” That I disagree with you on this score does not mean that I fail to understand natural selection. It means that I don’t think it can do what you think it can do, namely, conjure teleology, purpose, function, finality, and so forth, out of a complete vacuity thereof.

        I agree that natural selection does reward and amplify fitness. But fitness has to be prior to selection, if selection is to operate on it in the first place.

        I can appreciate that all these fine distinctions I make between concepts can be bewildering, and a lot of work, and indeed somewhat tiresome. But there’s no substitute for due care in ratiocination. Without it, we would be all just careless, and to that extent probably wrong.

        As for your consternation about vitalism, it seems that you are using a private definition for it, without realizing that this is the case. Vitalism is the notion that living organisms are governed by physical principles foreign to non-living matter. I don’t think that they are.

        Be that as it may, I hope that you are able to overlook that difficulty – the whole discussion of vitalism was a tangent prompted by your suggestion that I was promoting it, and that it is discredited – and focus in on my suggestion that it doesn’t matter whether you arrange dead or live entities, an arrangement of disparate entities is not a thing, not a system in its own right absent the implementation in it of some superordinate coordinating form. A heap of any sort of things is still nothing more than a heap.

        That this is so should not worry you. I can’t quite see why it does. The form needed to inform a heap and make it a system is right there in the urgrund you have already suggested you believe exists. Why is that a difficulty for you?

      • Kristor:

        Please note that a.morphous when backed into a corner resorts to certain “gnostic illuminations” he has received about evolution, and you haven’t, and so you are wrong based on his authority as the true initiated hierophant of Evolution.

        This is the problem with arguments–they can’t compete with the gnostic light of Evolution or the unquestionable authority such illumination grants you.

        Good thing atheists are the rational ones, and we are the superstitious rubes clinging to the mythologies of the Middle Ages.

      • It sounds as if a.morphous has succeeded in making life emerge from the pebbles. He has gone beyond the gnostic light of Evolution and become a mage in his own right, granting life to the dead.

        I’m sure he has evidence for this claim–pray tell a.morphous, who has given life to the pebbles themselves? In what peer-reviewed journal can I find this nugget?

      • A.morphous, that’s exactly the question at issue. This latest statement of yours is tantamount to your saying, “You don’t seem to grasp that I’m right and you’re wrong.”

        Maybe so, but, you pull moves like this often enough, most glaringly declaring nihil ex nihilo with no support or justification whatsoever. This statement is (a) false and (b) equivalent to the question at issue. Sauce for the gander.

        But fitness has to be prior to selection, if selection is to operate on it in the first place.

        I think that word “prior” is indicative of brain-damage, maybe from prions. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, fitness or selection?

        I can appreciate that all these fine distinctions I make between concepts can be bewildering,

        They aren՚t bewildering, they are misleading.

        Vitalism is the notion that living organisms are governed by physical principles foreign to non-living matter. I don’t think that they are.

        Then you՚ll have to explain what that remark about dead pebbles was suppsoed to mean.

        it doesn’t matter whether you arrange dead or live entities, an arrangement of disparate entities is not a thing, not a system in its own right absent the implementation in it of some superordinate coordinating form

        So a heap of dead pebbles is dead, but a collection of particles arranged in the form of a penguin is alive? I guess I would not disagree.

        Perhaps where we differ is you believe that forms of penguins are baked into the urgrund eternally, and I believe that they emerge over time, so that there is actually a possibility of innovation.

      • A.morphous, you’ve left the quest for truth far behind and lapsed into a silly game of gotcha and puerile mockery. It’s pathetic, and embarrassing. You’re a smart guy. I know you can do better.

        Ex nihilo nihil fit is one of the oldest and most well-established principles of human thought. It goes back at least to Parmenides, and has been treated as axiomatic by atheist atomists as well as theists. There may be some thinkers who doubt it, but if so, I have not heard of them.

        If I have not proved it here, instead only referring to it, that is only because it is so obviously true, for it amounts to saying only that things do not happen in the absence of reasons sufficient to make them happen. The alternative is to argue that things happen for no reason – which, if true, would render reality unintelligible and understanding impossible.

        Nothing from nothing is also a corollary of the Law of Noncontradiction. If per impossibile you managed to make something from nothing, why then you’d have something that was entirely nothing.

        See how this works? Can you show that this basic principle of reasoning is false? Please explain how it is possible to get something out of nothing.

        Which came first, the chicken or the egg, fitness or selection?

        Fitness, of course. This is obvious. Selection operates on populations, the members of whom are each more or less well fitted to their environment given their objective of successful reproduction. If there is no population with differentials of fitness, there is nothing to select. Selection can’t improve the fitness of a population that does not exist, or that exhibits no differentials in fitness that can differentially affect reproductive success.

        I’m not misleading you with my careful distinctions, I’m showing you how your carelessness with them leads you into error and incoherence. You are the one who started talking about vitalism, and you still seem not to have bothered to look it up to see whether your notion of it is correct. It isn’t.

        … you՚ll have to explain what that remark about dead pebbles was supposed to mean.

        I’ve already done so, twice.

        So a heap of dead pebbles is dead, but a collection of particles arranged in the form of a penguin is alive? I guess I would not disagree.

        Not only is a heap (of anything) not alive, it isn’t a substantial thing at all, of any sort. A collection of particles arranged in the form of a living penguin is alive. A collection of particles arranged in the form of a dead penguin is a heap. There is no longer any principle that actively coordinates its constituents to the form of a penguin. So it dissolves.

        Perhaps where we differ is you believe that forms of penguins are baked into the urgrund eternally, and I believe that they emerge over time, so that there is actually a possibility of innovation.

        Yes, this is where we differ. I do believe that the forms of penguins are baked into the urgrund eternally; this is just another way of saying that penguins have always been possible. I don’t see how this position is at odds with your other commitments. Certainly it does not undermine your commitment to emergence; a thing obviously can’t emerge unless it is possible for it to emerge.

        Nor can I see how the fact that penguins have always been possible interferes with novelty. There is obviously a difference between things that can happen and have indeed happened, and things that can happen but have not yet happened. The difference lies not in whether the possibilities of these two sorts of things are or are not baked into the urgrund, for obviously they are, both, eternally there present. The difference lies in whether those possibilities are yet actualized. What we rightly call novelty in the world is a new fact or sort of fact, that has never before been actual. Novelty is the ingress into and emergence from the actual world of forms never before there manifest. That the forms are eternal does not mean that their first emergence from mere formality into full actuality is not true novelty.

      • Kristor:

        I disagree a bit with your discussion of emergence, which I see as primarily concerned with empirical study of emergent, higher order (and self-ordering) structures occurring in the natural world.

        I think this empirical pursuit is distinct from a conceptual exploration, e.g. what conceptually do we have to presuppose to be able to talk about emergence, which is properly philosophical, and necessarily ontological.

        Further, I wouldn’t see this some much from the standpoint of forms, but in terms of potency and act. We see the actual forms, and we postulate potencies or powers or principles which give rise to the forms. An animal is self-moving, and the potency of the animal is its soul, which really has no location. It must be all places at once so to speak, yet simple in that it unifies the entire organism, ergo no where. Like the magnetic field that organizes a pile of iron filings.

        I suspect that there are emergent processes at the cellular level and above which organize levels of structures within living things, presumably based on memory. But there are clearly parallels in crystals as well as “memory” in mechanical objects like springs.

        Of course this does relate to form, the potency gives the form actuality, but potencies are not themselves forms. I say this because potency and act gets at activity, or motion, physics, rather than configurations of matter (which is passive). Otherwise, it is all quite static, and there seems to be little point to having eternal forms baked in the universe somehow, because that has no real connection to the actual form in front of me.

      • Thanks, KD. I don’t think we truly disagree. It’s just that in my discussion so far I have not focused much on the dynamic aspect of the forms, that generates actual cosmogonies from them; on, that is to say, the acts that implement forms and make them actualities – i.e., facts. An empirical fact is the fossil of some act, in and by which the form of that fossil has been implemented. All such acts are motivated by the beauties that may be realized upon the implementation of the final form at which they are aimed, and which allure them. Acts all seek the fulfillment of their true natures in the production of their proper final ends. I’m not sure that it even makes sense to ask why things all suffer this urge to realize the forms of their final ends. All I can say – phenomenologically, empirically – is that they do. Everything moves toward rest in completion of its natural final form.

        We see this in the conservation laws, in least paths, in equilibria, in strange attractors, in satiety and satisfaction, in resolution of dissonance in harmony, in the delightful relaxation of understanding that arrives with an insight to truth, in solution of problems, in healing, and in entrainment.

        As the completion of the actual implementation of its own essential nature, the final forms proper to a thing are more beautiful, more satisfying to it than any alternatives. This leads to the supposition that things act all for the love of formal beauty, and toward its implementation: for to love a thing is to desire its complete fulfillment. That beauty is not in the eye of the beholder only (although it is indeed there), but is rather an objective feature of things (this being the reason that it finds its way into the eyes of beholders). Beauty is not necessarily a fuzzy concept. Aquinas thought it had three superordinate dimensions: integrity, clarity, and proportion. These are all quantifiable. We could add coherence, significance, and elegance, expressed as the ratio of the complexity of an occasion to the length of its specification string. IIT would add complexity as such, plus intensity, density of relations, and so forth. These could all be summed as follows: a thing is beautiful in proportion to the ratio of its implications – of the quantity of information it conveys, and to the significations of that information – to the ontological cost of its actualization.

        We can say all this, but it remains a thundering great mystery why things seek their final ends, and act to achieve them – why things are dynamic.

        … potencies are not themselves forms …

        Yes. Potencies are capacities to implement forms. They are proper, not to forms – ideas can’t have themselves – but to actual occasions. But forms, too, are proper to actual occasions.

        As ideas can’t have themselves, so nor can they subsist except as properties of some actuality.

        As to emergence: yes, to be sure. There is really emergence. But it is not from nothing. Proponents of emergence want things to emerge from nothing, because they are trying to dodge any admission of the reality of the urgrund, which after all would push them toward an uncomfortable – and what is worse, unfashionable – admission of religious belief, with all the costly changes to one’s way of life that such an admission entails. Thus they like to argue that, e.g., vortices are implicit in flux as such, so that water molecules in combination have the capacity to generate vortices. They fail to notice that this implication of vortices in molecules that *cannot* manifest it in themselves, but only in close coordination with trillions of other molecules, none of whom are regnant over the others, presupposes the urgrund.

      • A.morphous, you’ve left the quest for truth far behind and lapsed into a silly game of gotcha and puerile mockery.

        You quest for truth your way, and I՚ll do it in mine.

        Ex nihilo nihil fit is one of the oldest and most well-established principles of human thought

        Which I assume is your way of saying you have no actual justification for it.

        It seems to either wrong, or trivially true (which seems to how you are using it). That is, It is trivially true that anything that comes into being had to be possible from the standpoint of eternity, so in that sense has not come from “nothing” (it՚s not even clear what nothing could mean in this scenario). But so what?

        This ancient principle was introduced in this thread in the context of agency. Agency can՚t come from non-agency, you said. But of course it does, in more or less the exact same ways automobiles exist now, but did not two hundred years ago. They are built out of pre-existing materials and ideas. Did the form of car or agency exist in the urgrund before time itself existed? Maybe, but what an entirely useless mode of thought. In ten years maybe we will all be riding around on Airwheels, which also were conceived in the mind of god before the world began. In other words, saying that x has been a possibility in the urgrund makes no distinctions and conveys no information, so is an entirely useless thing to say.

        Whereas looking at the actual historical development of cars, airwheels, or agency, how they arose from other things, how they came into a world where they previously did not exist, can actually tell you something.

      • Ex nihilo nihil fit is one of the oldest and most well-established principles of human thought.

        Which I assume is your way of saying you have no actual justification for it.

        On the contrary. You’ve completely overlooked the justifications for it that followed that sentence you quote, namely that it is a restatement of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (upon which all our reasoning depends, and which all thought employs and presupposes) and a corollary of the Principle of Non-Contradiction (ditto). You’re in a tough position on this particular point, because you can’t make any arguments against ex nihilo nihil fit without presupposing both of these principles even as you vainly attempt to contradict them.

        It is trivially true that anything that comes into being had to be possible from the standpoint of eternity, so in that sense has not come from “nothing” (it’s not even clear what nothing could mean in this scenario). But so what?

        Here you concede the conclusion of the OP and ask why it should matter that you do so. The urgrund is what all men call God. You admit that it is trivially true that the urgrund must actually exist. So you admit that God exists. This matters to you because if God does exist, then as the source of all actualities he must by definition be the most important thing of all, and thus the most important thing to understand – or to try to understand. There are all sorts of questions that press in upon a careful, honest intellect that has discovered that the urgrund is actual: e.g., whether it is personal, active, free, simple, scient, good, etc.; and whether its actuality obliges us to act in certain ways, and so forth. So you have a job you ought to do, if you really are seeking the truth.

        Agency [and automobiles came] out of pre-existing materials and ideas.

        Exactly. They didn’t emerge from nothing. That’s just what I’ve been saying. “Idea” is Greek for the Latinate “form.” Where were those ideas, before they were first implemented in and by material things? Ideas can’t have themselves. Who first had them?

        Did the form of car or agency exist in the urgrund before time itself existed?

        Yeah. Had to. Except that, properly speaking, there is no “before” in eternity.

        … saying that x has been [an eternal] possibility in the urgrund makes no distinctions and conveys no information, so is an entirely useless thing to say.

        This is an accusation that could be hurled with equal force at any of the necessary truths. As necessary, they are true no matter what we do. In this sense, they can make no difference to how we live, one way or another. But see how far you get if you try to proceed in contravention to them. Try to calculate the area of a circle taking π = 3, and see what you come up with.

        What you’ll come up with is a failure, *every single time.* It turns out that in real life it is *totally impossible* to carry a contradiction of a necessary truth into practice. Like I say in the first lines of the OP, you can string together the symbols expressing such a contradiction, but they can’t actually mean anything – which is to say, they can’t mean anything in or to acts.

        The necessary truths, per contra, are all expressed in every act, implicitly (for they are an integral, coherent whole; any one of them delivers all of them). That they are necessarily true means that there can be no state of affairs in which they are not all manifest.

        Can a greater understanding of the necessary truths make a practical difference to our lives? Of course! This is like asking whether a greater understanding of mathematics can make a practical difference. The question answers itself.

      • the Principle of Sufficient Reason (upon which all our reasoning depends, and which all thought employs and presupposes)

        What? You have a habit of declaring things as universal and unquestionable axioms which manifestly aren՚t. It՚s tedious. That one is a particularly obsolete chestnut, which many thinkers have not accepted (Hume, Wittgenstein, and Russell, for instance).

        The urgrund is what all men call God. You admit that it is trivially true that the urgrund must actually exist. So you admit that God exists.

        Again, what? In your dreams.

        “God exists” is a quintesentially meaningless statement, given your own notion of god as some kind of absolute or urgrund. The etymology of exist suggests it means to stand outside, and the urgrund by definition cannot be outside anything. So it is a trick of language to talk about it existing. If it means anything at all it means something beyond existence or nonexistence.

        To put it another way: I՚m suspicious of the very idea of absolute or urgrund, but willing at least to entertain the concept for the purposes of this discussion. It doesn՚t seem like an entirely meaningless concept, although it is not clear exactly what it does mean. But if we are going to play that game, let՚s play it right, and not act as if we are talking about something like a chair, which is a bounded physical object which may or may not exist at any particular place or moment.

        if God does exist, then as the source of all actualities he must by definition be the most important thing of all

        This is another example of the same sort of mistake, of taking God as a thing among things to be ranked among things. It՚s actually kind of blasphemous, although I՚m sure that is not your intention.

        This is an accusation that could be hurled with equal force at any of the necessary truths…Try to calculate the area of a circle taking π = 3, and see what you come up with.

        It would be nice if metaphysics and theology were as precise and incontrovertible as mathematics, wouldn՚t it? That doesn՚t seem to be the case. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum of knowledge – mathematics can produce truths that everyone (with the proper background) can acknowledge as universal, whereas nobody can agree about religion.

        Yet you seem to think you have deduced a set of metaphysical and theological truths that nobody can contravene without contravening reason itself. No offense, but you are starting to sound delusional.

      • If the PSR is false, then things can happen for no reason, at least in part. Such things are unintelligible: they cannot be understood, because at least in part there is nothing to understand about them. But if one thing in a world happened in part for no reason, then that world would have happened in part for no reason, rendering that world incompletely intelligible. It could not be understood by anyone, even Omniscience: for part of its budget of causal factors would be missing. In that event, reality as a whole would be fundamentally unintelligible. No matter how much of it even God understood, part of it would be impossible to understand. Thus it would be impossible to understand that world, period full stop. In such a world, even our hunches that bore out would not amount to knowledge. They would be, precisely, hunches.

        Not to denigrate hunches.

        Believe me, I am familiar with the etymology of “exist,” and with the difficulties inherent in its use when speaking of God. As Professor Bertonneau likes to say, and is correct to say, “God does not exist, he *is.*”

        Notwithstanding that, the exigencies of English are such that it tortures speech less to speak of God’s existence with an implicit asterisk or scare quotes to indicate the customary caveats about religious language. And this is what philosophical theologians and philosophers of religion customarily do. There are some modern theologians who do think that God exists as one thing among many, but I am not one of them. On the other hand, that God *is* means that he can appear in history as a player, should he wish to. Existence does not rule out Being, or vice versa; all instances of the former *just are* instances of the latter.

        In short, this objection is not really an objection at all. Almost everyone who engages in philosophical theology avoids the error of thinking that the urgrund exists the way a chair does. As do I.

        Even if I didn’t, the arguments I have presented in the OP and this thread would not be at all touched thereby. This quibble of yours about religious language is a red herring.

        It would be nice if metaphysics and theology were as precise and incontrovertible as mathematics, wouldn’t it? That doesn’t seem to be the case. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum of knowledge – mathematics can produce truths that everyone (with the proper background) can acknowledge as universal, whereas nobody can agree about religion.

        The mathematical truths comprise a department of the metaphysical truths. If there be no such thing as the latter, then neither can there be any such as the former. There is such a thing as the former, ergo etc.

        So there is a set of metaphysical truths that includes on the one hand the truths of maths and on the other the truths of theology (and other sorts of truth, too, to be sure). That there is disagreement with respect to the latter does not mean that there is nothing out there to disagree about. It means only that theology is trickier in some ways than other sorts of metaphysical truths. Religious language is one of the reasons why this is so.

        Yet you seem to think you have deduced a set of metaphysical and theological truths that nobody can contravene without contravening reason itself. No offense, but you are starting to sound delusional.

        No deduction involved. These truths are axiomatic.

        Show us how you can reason in violation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, of the Law of Non-Contradiction, and ex nihilo nihil fit. It will be interesting to see you try.

        The slave boy in the Meno did not at first understand the truths that Socrates dragged out of him. Nevertheless they were true; and the density of the slave boy did not entail the madness of Socrates.

      • The PSR is not even wrong, it՚s just an extremely poor way to think about causality. As evidenced by your last comment, which is full of inappropriate binary thinking, eg the idea that the world is either completely comprehensible or completely incomprehensible, which is a standpoint so contrary to common sense that only a philospher could entertain it.

        I think you missed the point of my mentioning the etymology and meanign of “exist”. A few comments ago you were crowing about how I admitted God exists because I acknowledged the urgrund. But the urgrund is neither God (in my view) nor can it properly be said to exist. So basically all I am admitting is that there is some shared underlying reality that we can talk about. If you want to gloat about that, feel free.

        The mathematical truths comprise a department of the metaphysical truths.

        I suppose they do in the same sense that science is in some genetic sense a branch of philosophy. But despite its origins as natural philosophy, the child has long outgrown and left the home of its parent. Science and math contain intellectual and institutional frameworks capable of generating new knowledge, whereas philosophy in general does not.

        Similarly mathematics might have been a branch of metaphysics 2000 years ago but things have changed.

        These truths are axiomatic.

        Well if we have different and irreconcilable axioms, perhaps we should just end this conversation.

        Comparing yourself to Socrates also seems to indicate delusions of grandeur. Maybe grandeur is the wrong word, but consider that you might not be Socrates in this discussion.

        I note that in the very dialog you quote Socrates takes pains to deny that he is a fountain of timeless truths but rather a puncturer of them: “And as to this stingray – if it paralyzes itself, while paralyzing everyone else, then I resemble it; otherwise, not. For I myself don’t have the answer when I reduce others to perplexity. I’m more perplexed than anyone, when I make everyone perplexed.”

      • The PSR is not even wrong, it’s just an extremely poor way to think about causality.

        Why? Show us. Show us a better way, too. What’s your preferred alternative? What makes it better? How, exactly, does one think about things that are not thinkable? Thoughtlessly?

        … that the world is either completely comprehensible or completely incomprehensible … is a standpoint so contrary to common sense that only a philosopher could entertain it.

        The commonsense notions that we can never here below understand things fully, but rather only in part, and that our partial understandings can for the most part nevertheless be relied upon, both presuppose that the world is thoroughly intelligible in principle, even if never in mortal practice. You can’t have a part of a thing that is not a true whole. If exhaustive understanding of reality is not out there in principle, and achievable by some sufficiently powerful mind, then there just is no whole understanding of things – no comprehensive, adequate Theory of Everything – to which our understanding might approximate.

        This faith that the world is in principle completely intelligible to some sufficiently advanced understanding is the basis of all science.

        … you were crowing about how I admitted God exists because I acknowledged the urgrund. But the urgrund is neither God (in my view) nor can it properly be said to exist. So basically all I am admitting is that there is some shared underlying reality that we can talk about. If you want to gloat about that, feel free.

        I wasn’t gloating or crowing. I was just pointing out that what you say here about the “existence” (religious language scare quotes) of the urgrund is just what all Christian, Jewish and Muslim theologians have traditionally said about the “existence” of God (so have the Taoists and Hindus). Except for the bit about the urgrund not being God, you sound here like an Orthodox apophatic theologian. Just saying.

        It’s like you’re insisting, “I believe that there is an ultimate and absolute and eternal basis of reality, that makes possible all things that happen, and is therefore in some sense (to be figured out later) their source, but despite the fact that that is just what all men have always called God, it is *not God*!” This is just weird. Why hold back from admitting this rather trivial identification of the urgrund with God?

        The mathematical truths comprise a department of the metaphysical truths.

        I suppose they do in the same sense that science is in some genetic sense a branch of philosophy.

        I was speaking of the truths themselves, not of the disciplines that undertake to discover them. A proposition that is true necessarily is true metaphysically. All mathematical truths are true necessarily, ergo, etc.

        Well if we have different and irreconcilable axioms, perhaps we should just end this conversation.

        If we have irreconcilable axioms, we never started it. I repeat that I would be most interested to see how you go about reasoning without employing the Law of Noncontradiction, the PSR, and ex nihilo nihil fit. Can you give us a demonstration?

        Comparing yourself to Socrates also seems to indicate delusions of grandeur.

        All who stand in his tradition, as I do, cannot but compare themselves to the Master and find themselves wanting in the comparison. That’s what makes us his students. If like you I were to disregard or contradict the truths he discovered, that would indicate, not delusion perhaps, but certainly a profound intellectual confusion.

        … consider that you might not be Socrates in this discussion.

        If you were the Socrates in this discussion, would that mean that you, like Socrates, were a theist? Would it mean that, like him, you would reject moral relativism, nihilism, and democracy? I could go on in this vein, but suffice it to say that the positions you often espouse are those of the men who convinced the Athenians to kill Socrates: the Sophists.

        I adduced the Meno in response to your suggestion that I might be insane. Where did Socrates ever make that particular rhetorical move? Is it not rather the sort of thing that his adversaries the Sophists often did, resorting to ad hominem when their substantive case was weak?

        … in the very dialog you quote Socrates takes pains to deny that he is a fountain of timeless truths but rather a puncturer of them: “And as to this stingray – if it paralyzes itself, while paralyzing everyone else, then I resemble it; otherwise, not. For I myself don’t have the answer when I reduce others to perplexity. I’m more perplexed than anyone, when I make everyone perplexed.”

        How can a timeless truth be punctured?

        It is a commonplace of intellectual life that the more one understands, the more then is one conscious of one’s ignorance and perplexity. In like manner, no one is more convinced of his utter filthy sinfulness than the saint advanced in holiness.

        It is ignorant fools only who are cocksure.

  5. Metaphysical fatalism is the metaphysical position that denies existence of contingency and contingent things. All that exists was fated to exist and was necessary. There is no true contingency.
    Given this view, which is a tenable philosophic view, God doesnot exist.

    • I’m pretty sure Spinoza would disagree. He was a necessitarian who thought God necessary. Can you expand on your assertion that in the absence of contingency there is no God?

      • God is necessary, for it is superior to be necessary rather than contingent. This is the standard ontological argument for God. In His very nature as a concept, is evidence for His existence.

    • This view may be found in CS Lewis’s Miracles. Either there is a transcendental God as the ground or the entire material world itself as the ground i.e. self-existent brute fact.

      It is the hankering for intelligliblity that we have that causes us to postulate a transcendental God. The materialists have no such hankering and are quite content with Universe as a self-existent brute fact.

      • I agree that metaphysical fatalism, so defined, is a tenable philosophic view, and it disrupts the intended flow of Kristor’s argument, which draws heavily on the a division between contingency and necessity. However, I don’t see how atheism automatically or necessarily follows. To me it looks like it just puts everything, including God, on the necessary side of the ledger.

      • “the entire material world itself as the ground i.e. self-existent brute fact.”

        Revelation would indicate that God is a fact (Exodus 3:14). I don’t see the evidence that Moses went into the wilderness out of a hankering for intelligibility.

    • I agree that metaphysical fatalism, so defined, is a tenable philosophic view, and it disrupts the intended flow of Kristor’s argument, which draws heavily on the a division between contingency and necessity. However, I don’t see how atheism automatically or necessarily follows. To me it looks like it just puts everything, including God, on the necessary side of the ledger.

  6. If you were to state your argument in a more formal manner, it would be easier to discuss it. As of now, what you gave us is a loosely tied set of vague premises that could fit in a number of differently formulated arguments.

    For example, I can see how you could make this an argument from the PSR, which has the problem of pulling the ground from under its own feet.

    • How does the PSR vitiate itself? Do you refer to the argument that it too wants a sufficient reason? Or is it that you see the formal argument I might premise on the PSR as self-vitiating?

      And, which argument would you hope to see cast more formally? That of the post, or one of those I make in the comments?

      • The PSR basically states that for each being, there is a sufficient reason for his existence (that is a reason with which the explanation stops), which is either found in the being itself (that would be the case for necessary beings) or found in something else (in the case of contingent beings). Also, sufficient reasons require the existence of necessary truths, since every truth that isn’t necessary can’t be enough to explain the existence of a being.

        Now, how does the being follow from the necessary truth? Does it follow possibly or necessarily? Necessarily of course, it can’t really be any other way for if it was to follow just possibly, the sufficient reasons wouldn’t in fact be sufficient as something else would be required to completely explain the being. If it follows deductively from a necessary truth what we have in our hands is cleary a demonstration, that is a a deductive argument each premise of which is not just true but necessarily true.

        Here’s the issue though: the conclusion of a demonstration is necessary too, since it follows necessarily from a necessary truth. Which means that (since sufficient reasons are demonstrations) only things that are necessary can have sufficient reasons. However if everything has a sufficient reason as the argument from the PSR says, we can deduce from what I’ve just said that everything is necessary. But the argument from the PSR clearly states that some things are contingent, which means that the premises of the argument contradict each other. Therefore, the argument is wrong.

        You can find this objection better explained in Sobel’s “Logic and theism”, I’m just paraphrasing it.

        Before I forget, when I talked about rephrasing the argument more formally I was referring to the argument you made in the OP

  7. There are words and there are things. Words refer to things.

    We talk about “possibilities”–which is a noun. But if I say “Unicorns are a possibility” does this mean that this statement actually refers to anything in the real world? No, I think not, but “unicorn” and “possibility” are both nouns.

    Is the statement “I can draw a unicorn” much different from “unicorns are possible”, or, “because unicorns are possible, I can draw a unicorn”? Is an object depicting in an Escher print possible? If not, how can it be represented?

    You can’t reify a “possibility”, and it is silly to say “the sun is shining today, ergo the sun shining today is possible”. That is not how anyone actually talks. It is more like “Where do you want to go to dinner?” “I don’t know, what are the possibilities?” Here “possibility” refers to something like the local restaurants.

    We make systems of symbolic rules, like formal logic. Those systems can sometimes be given empirical referents, like restaurants or pictures of unicorns. We draw connections between a web of concepts and some kinds of shared experiences. What this “proves” is that a meaningful system of language must precede our descriptions of an empirical world, not the Urgrund must precede the existence of unicorns.

    The debate about God is confused by both atheists and theists. God cannot, of course, exist (what we call existence depends upon relationality, space and time), and so he can neither not exist (we can’t draw God the way we draw a unicorn). [Necessary existence? The nature, the essence of existence is its radical contingency. You might as well say “Virgin Birth”.] The question is not whether God exists, the question is whether the concept of “God” has a determinate use (e.g. meaning).

    Whatever our opinions on imaginary numbers, we can certainly use the concept of imaginary numbers to find the real solution to the problem we are looking for.

    • No urgrund, ergo no possibilities; no possibilities, ergo no actualities; no actualities, ergo no languages, or meanings, or intensions.

      Then if realism is false, there can be no such thing as names, or therefore as nominalism. Nominalism presupposes realism.

      None of this is to reify possibilities – i.e., to confuse them with actualities. Nevertheless there must be such inactual things as res possibilia, or there would be no way to indicate them at all; such indications would all be mere noise, and we would not be able to distinguish between what is possible and what is impossible.

      Indeed also then must there be such inactual things as res impossibilia. “There is no God” is a real concept; a really impossible concept.

      The urgrund *obviously* does not exist the way that my iPhone exists. The urgrund does not “stand away” from other things, as one thing among many, but rather, as Professor Bertonneau is wont to say, simply is. Nevertheless there is so far as I know in English no more precise way to ask the question than, “Does God exist?” As with so many other terms we must perforce use in talking about God, we must bear in mind that such usages are analogical at most. That does not empty them of information. An imprecise indication is more informative than no gesture at all.

      Your question about Escher is interesting. His prints are rather like incoherent statements such as “2 + 2 = 5” or “there is no God”: you can put them on paper, but you can’t put them into practice, and you’ll never encounter their referents, because when you get right down to it they are incoherent: they state contradictions. They can still be fun, or beautiful, of course, useful, or evocative.

      … it is silly to say “the sun is shining today, ergo the sun shining today is possible.”

      Maybe so. That doesn’t make it false. On the contrary, it is incontrovertibly true (provided the sun is indeed shining!).

      Re unicorns, I don’t see the difficulty. They are possible, but not actual. Ditto for my lunch tomorrow. Genetic tinkering might soon make unicorns real. Where’s the problem?

      • What I mean is, while you need a net to catch a fish, the existence of a fish does not entail the existence of a net.

        To talk about “possibilities” from the standpoint of modal logic, you must have a concept of necessity. That doesn’t mean that to refer to something in the empirical world as “possible”, you need something that you refer to as “necessary”, anymore than you need some physical (or even metaphysical) referent for the concept of imaginary numbers to be useful. “Yes, imaginary numbers exist, an imaginary number is defined as the square root of negative one multiplied by some real number.” What does this “existence” consist of here, other than the fact that the concept has a use within a system of related mathematical techniques? “God must exist, because God is possible and the mode of God’s existence is necessary.”

        Where is God? Everywhere? Nowhere? Both? Neither? I think it is clear God can have no “where” in the same sense you or I can, and cannot exist in any way like you or I can exist. What is the difference between something that exists within a mode of existence that is inconceivable, and something that does not exist? His mode of nonexistence must itself be inconceivable too, ergo, God neither exists nor does not exist, yet we must rely on him if we seek a solution to the problem.

      • Interesting stuff, KD. I have a quick nonargumentative response, and shall also mull what you say in your last paragraph, which sounds as if you are channeling Father Eckhart.

        I think what you meant to say in your first sentence was that the existence of a net does not entail the existence of a fish. That we have a word does not mean it truly refers. Or simply refers. True enough. But perhaps you meant something else.

        A thing that exists in a mode that is inconceivable cannot exist at all. By “inconceivable” I mean “logically incoherent.” E.g., “square circle.” You can think of the notion of the square circle, but it cannot be coherently conceived; a fortiori, then, it cannot actually come to pass.

        But the existence of God, while extremely difficult (if not impossible) for *us* to imagine, is not logically incoherent. It is coherently conceivable. Even if no other mind could imagine what it is like to exist the way God does, God certainly could. God can therefore possibly exist; and given that by definition God is necessary, he therefore necessarily exists.

        The necessary does not exist because we need it in order to think about possibilia. It exists because it is necessary.

        NB that here again throughout, we take “exist” analogically.

  8. Kristor:

    I think I am trying to say that God serves as a limit of thought, so there can be no ultimate proof of God, because then God would himself be “thinkable” and therefore not the limit. The “proofs” need to be understood as apophatic, as subtractions, not additions.

    We can’t know what it is to move at the speed of light, because as we approach the limit, our mass increases until we would need to consume all the energy in the universe to accelerate. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the speed of light, but you can’t take anyone there.

    If you merely consider the principal of non-contradiction, A or ~A, identity cannot be understood except in terms of difference. Yet everything, universally, has identity. Everything participates in the principal of identity, but that principal, itself, can have no identity itself as it cannot be differentiated. In this sense, the principal of identity cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist.

    Eckhart said God was distinctly indistinct from all things, and indistinctly distinct from all things, I think deriving this from the nature of identity. All things have identity in so much as they participate in God, yet God is unique in this unity, that is, distinctly indistinct. But all things, by virtue of identity, are distinct from God (who lacks identity) and is thereby indistinctly distinct. This is often interpreted as “mysticism” but it is really a comment on logic and intelligibility conditions.

    In other words, God gives rise to the intelligibility of all things, and is therefore not himself intelligible, and therefore, any proof fails, as it cannot disclose what is beyond the limits of intelligibility. Further, he is revealed not primarily through the world but through the Word, which itself makes the world intelligible.

    • Great stuff.

      Yeah: all arguments in religious language, however definite and reliable their conclusions – however cataphatic they be – must ultimately be taken as apophatic. As I said elsewhere on this thread, philosophical theology can at most furnish a footstool by means of which we may grasp at the bottom rung of Jacob’s Ladder. Once one has firmly grasped, and begun to climb, it may be kicked aside – or left for those who may follow.

      Thought is not the instrument of infused theoria. It is the heart that worships.

      None of this should surprise us. Theories of any sort necessarily terminate upon mystery, and all our understandings of even the most routine items of experience are but partial; for, there are an infinite number of true things that could be said about anything, and we are finite.

      Nevertheless, having said all that, I’m not so sure that a proof of God would render him thinkable. In fact, I’m pretty sure it would render him more certain on the one hand, and less thinkable on the other. The more you understand the concept of God, the clearer and more coherent your apprehension of the concept, the less “tractable” must it seem to you, and he the more aweful.

      • A “proof” of God is always really a definition. In modal logic, you define possible and this leads to necessity, and if a necessary being is possible, he is necessary, yes? God is the necessary Being, a definition.

        But when you scratch the meaning of “necessary being”, well, what is it, really? Like a contingent being without the contingency? Like a being, but being itself? It deconstructs itself, hopefully before it can become just another intellectual idol.

      • Well, down with intellectual idols, to be sure. NB though that when you scratch deeply enough at the meaning of *any* term, you end up with the same question: what is it, really? *All* terms are vexed. We are just more accustomed to some of them than to others.

  9. Natural theology must be conceived **not as logical proofs about God** but as the following:

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    We are not trying to prove the existence of God, we are talking about “natural revelation”, what God reveals about himself in the world, by analogy. The encounter with God’s self-revelation is the most obvious experience of human existence, giving rise to the myriads of human religions (and their similarities). I can no more convince someone through argument that God exists than I can convince them that the color red exists. In natural theology, we are simply trying to conceptualize, at a very basic primitive level, what God reveals to all the world.

    We become converts when we SEE THE LIGHT, not when we accept the validity of some philosophical argument. This is faith. Natural theology is the results of faith seeking understanding, not Christians trying to prove atheists are wrong. They aren’t wrong, they’re simply blind, and they are entitled, like Daniel Dennett, to believe that colors do not really exist.

    • But logical proofs too are natural aspects of the world. As much as the heavens, they tell the Glory of God.

      You might not think arguments can convince someone of the existence of God. But I have observed it happening.

      Bottom line: every act is an argument.

      • Oh dear. I make a distinction between sensibles and intelligibles. Logical proofs belong in the sphere of the intelligibles, “the world” belongs to the realm of the sensible. One we know through the mind/nous, the second we know through the sensible aspects of the soul.

        Clearly I am talking about the light of the mind, which can be apprehended through both sensible experience as well as ratiocination. Yes, the natural world and the works of the mind reveal the Glory of God, but I insist on differentiating them.

        I have no doubt that proofs can serve as a means of faith, but they do this not by their logical validity, but by their ability to point something out in our experience. It is more like helping a friend discern the old lady in the picture than establishing a theorem in mathematics.

      • It’s not possible to become a sensible in the first place except by participating the intelligibles. This is why there is General Revelation: the Logos throughly informs the world. And whether we apprehend him directly in the intelligibles or mediately by means of the sensibles, it is we who apprehend him, and our own partial participation in the intelligibles – in virtue of which we are in the first place furnished our own actuality, so as to apprehend, and to think – that thinks about him. So our acts of intellection are all alike worldly, are all features of Nature.

        To argue that we cannot fully comprehend him is to perform an act of cataphasis. “I don’t know” is a statement of knowledge. We see now clearly that we see now but through a glass darkly.

        Thus establishing theorems in math, too, is like helping a friend – oneself, usually – discern the old lady in the picture. Did the slave boy in the Meno fully comprehend what Socrates pulled out of him? Of course not. Did Socrates? I doubt that Socrates would have responded to the question other than by chuckling.

  10. Pingback: Freedom & Sufficient Reason – The Orthosphere

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