On Chains & Links, Caused & Uncaused

We have heard on occasion from atheists who argue that the system of what is and has been – our cosmic history – is uncaused (so that it stands in no need of a Creator). It’s an old argument. Each of the bits of our cosmos are indeed contingent, so it goes; but the system as a whole is not: there had necessarily to have been something or other, and this particular series of contingent events is just what we happen to have inherited on that account.

It won’t do.

Say that I had a chain composed entirely of steel links. Would you believe me if I said it was a golden chain? Would you buy it from me at the present price of gold?

74 thoughts on “On Chains & Links, Caused & Uncaused

    • So the universe as a whole is contingent, and not necessary. It stands in need of some exogenous cause. Cosmological arguments for God’s existence all proceed from this fact.

      I hadn’t planned to say that stuff because it seems so obvious.

  1. I am not exactly sure what do you mean by contingency of the bits of universe. Do you mean to say that the present could be something other than what it is. Or a presently existing thing might not have existed. Perhaps I might not have existed.

    This contingency, is it a primary uncontested truth? Might not I deny it?
    The contingency of things or universe is not an observation but a philosophical thesis. It can be opposed by the thesis of fatalism. That all things exist by necessity. There is no contingency.

    • Yes, that’s what I mean by contingency.

      On fatalism, things don’t continge upon each other. They are not causally related. There are no causes. There is no causal order. There is no order. Nothing happens. There are no experiences. And so forth. It ends – as so many basic philosophical errors do – by denying everything of what we know life to be. On fatalism, there’s no such thing as the notion of fatalism. So it can’t be true.

      • I take it that you would gladly buy my steel chain at the price/ounce of gold.

        It’s obviously not an empirical argument. It’s a logical argument, that turns on the meaning of “contingent.” This or that bit of evidence is simply inapposite, if the logic is not to you transparently compelling. I could present reams of evidence, and if the logic of the argument had not compelled you, nor would that evidence in support of it. Surely you see this?

        If the cause of the contingent world is itself contingent, then it is an aspect of the entire system of contingent things – just another link in the chain. I.e., another item among the explananda, rather than the explanans. If you want to avoid an absurd infinite regress, you need that noncontingent – i.e., that *necessary* – explanans.

      • It is not special pleading, it is a fundamental logical necessity. No different than the law of non-contradiction is a fundamental necessity for logic itself to exist. It is impossible for logic/reason/argument to exist absent this law. Just as it would be impossible for contingent things to exist without a non-contingent thing to support it all – the one necessary thing.

      • Yes. It follows by implication from the Law of Noncontradiction (and the definitions of a few mathematical terms) that 4 ≠ 2 + 2 is false. Likewise it follows from the definitions of “contingent” and “necessary” that there is necessarily a necessary being.

    • God, they don’t make atheists like in the good old times. Now they are “Made in China”. They don’t know the basics of the theism they want to attack. Their ignorance is only matched by their arrogance. Dunning-Kruger effect

      • But he was talking about atheists in general, not in person. If you are not an atheist, what made you think it was directed at you?

      • Grabaspine, please. Don’t hide your lousy arguments behind my comment. If you want to engage in a debate about the contingency argument for the existence of God (which is one of the most basic arguments and one of the oldest ones) and want to be taken seriously, the less you can do is to read a bit about it.

        You come here repeating like a parrot “If God caused the Universe, who caused God?”. This is an inept argument and has been answered thousands of times. You may have read it in a popular atheist book or website when they say that this argument is impossible to refute. Serious atheists don’t use that. They use a tool called “Google” to find out that this is not a valid argument.

        Then, when you are answered that only contingent entities need a cause, you confuse a deductive proof with an inductive proof (which is the basic of the basic in philosophy) saying that there is not evidence at all. And then you want to be taken seriously and get hurt when I say that they don’t make atheists like they used to make.

        Imagine I go to a blog about the theory of evolution and say “you don’t have any evidence about evolution because my granddad was not a monkey”. Then, after my inept argument, you are so kind to answer me: “But the theory of evolution does not claim that recent ancestors were monkeys. It only claims that mankind and primates have a remote common ancestor”. And then I answer: “Special pleading with no evidence at all. Have a wonderful day”. This is how you look to me.

      • Who’s debating? I’m not trying “Win” anything. I asked an honest question. And got personal attacks and insinuation for my trouble. Have a great day.

      • Just for the record, here is the basic answer to the question “If God made the cosmos, what made God?”

        It is logically necessary that there be something eternal, that is, not caused, that is, non contingent. For otherwise, everything that exists had an origin a finite time in the past, which means there was a time (so to speak) when nothing was. But if there were ever a time when nothing was, nothing would be now, because nothing is not capable of causing anything to come into being.

        Since it is necessary that there be something which is eternal, there must be a God. Nothing made God.

        I don’t expect that Mr. G will be satisfied, but that’s the correct answer to his question.

      • Thanks, Alan.

        As time goes on, I am more and more amazed that we keep having to explain this basic stuff. It seems so *obvious.* I have a really hard time seeing how anyone could find it hard to understand.

      • “since it’s necessary…” Why does the eternal have to be a god? Couldn’t the uncaused be just the universe? And if not, why would it ‘have’ to be a god that we have to define into existence?
        Honest question.

      • The Uncaused can’t be the universe because, as I explained in the post, the universe is composed of contingent events, and is therefore itself contingent – i.e., not necessary – and so, not uncaused.

        Nor could the Uncaused be a God that we defined into existence. As necessary, he can’t come into existence, at our hands or in any other way.

        The character of God – his eternity, actuality, omnipotence, omniscience, and so forth – is not something we make up for ourselves because we like the notion. On the contrary, that character is all logically implicit in his necessity. And his necessity is a logical requirement of the contingency of all other events.

        The bottom line is that the only way that God can be necessary is if he is also eternal, omniscient, actual, and so forth. These aspects of God’s character all logically entail each other.

      • Yes. All contingent events are evidence of a necessary and therefore itself Uncaused Cause of such contingent events. Were there no such Uncaused Cause, there could be no such contingent events.

        That’s not scientific evidence, NB. But it is empirical, in the sense that it is given in experience as such.

      • How is it that the evidence of all your experience fails to suffice? Like I said: what other evidence do you want?

        Be specific, or we won’t be able to answer the question. We won’t even know what it is.

      • It’s not up to me to tell you what evidence to present. If you had any, you would present it for discussion and examination. The fact that you don’t, but instead try to turn the burden to do so on those who question you tells me at least that you may not have any and are trying either stall or deflect. Sorry. Not up for word games tonight. Have a great evening.

      • I’ve already presented dispositive evidence. You have not discussed it, but just repeated your request for evidence.

        That’s a stupid response. I’m not saying you are stupid, mind. I’m saying the response you have given is rather stupid.

        It smells of intellectual – ergo spiritual – cowardice. I’m not saying you are an intellectual coward, mind; I’m just saying you are writing like one.

        It’s up to you to specify what else you want to hear about. I have no idea why the evidence I have presented is not compelling to you. Tell me how it fails to compel you, and I’ll have some notion of what you are looking for.

        Unless you do that, I will just be shooting in the dark. Which is to say, wasting my time.

        Show me that you are not a waste of my time.

        And, have a *great* evening.

      • I’m not attacking you. I’m attacking what you have written.

        You are not stupid. You know the difference.

        You seem to be pretending to stupidity, but that’s not the sort of thing that truly stupid people can do.

        God bless you, Grab a Spine.

      • The fact that you don’t even realize how you’ve attacked and insulted me personally in what you’ve said and how you’ve said it is amazing. Again, have a Great day and I hope the best for you as well.

      • Or, as that old song said “nothing from nothing leaves nothing.” Who knew how deeply philosophical Billy Preston was.

  2. The assertion that the universe answers to no cause is a non-explanation. An insistent non-explanation amounts to a prohibition on certain questions — precisely because those questions might lead to explanatory answers. The claim of an uncaused cosmos corresponds to Eric Voegelin’s basic definition of Gnosticism: A selective ban on cognition in order to protect a fantastic notion about the state of things from assessment; and therefore also a voluntary and perverse diminution of consciousness.

    Joseph de Maistre poses the following thought-experiment: Suppose we send the printer to the top of the tower with a big tray of movable type; suppose that he then tosses the metal characters into the air and that when the mass of them reaches the ground they have formed Racine’s Phaedra. — What would our hypothesis be, Maistre asks. It would be that intelligence has intervened. I take it that the cosmos is more complicated, even, than Racine’s Phaedra, partly because it includes Racine’s Phaedra.

    • Indeed, a number of famous philosophers–Kant and Wittgenstein come to mind–solve a number of such questions by saying that we are forbidden to ask them (that they are meaningless, beyond the bounds of reason or language, etc). Of course, it’s difficult to disprove this, since the rules of proof are themselves being called into question, but I don’t think the arguments for it are as strong as often supposed.

      • Jesus speaks in parables. The point of a parable is that we should ask questions; and that no definitive answers will result, leaving us to improvise our lives on faith. Logic is an adjunct of life, not a premise of life. Improvisation, on a parabolic basis , is the guidance to life. That and the Ten Commandments…

  3. I’m inclined to say that one of the strongest objections to God as uncaused cause is the problem of His immutability. Simply put , how can a timeless and changeless Reality do anything? It can be stated like this….

    1) It is logically impossible to do something without doing something.
    2) It is logically impossible to do something without change (even if everything is immaterial).
    3) It is logically impossible for change to exist without time.
    4) As such, a timeless changeless being cannot do anything.

    Thoughts?

    • A most constructive comment, Cassiodorus; I thank you.

      The solution lies in an examination of the second premise. It is logically impossible to do something without changing things; it does not follow that it is logically impossible to do something without changing *oneself.* No thing can do anything at all – can have any sort of effect upon other things – until it is itself a thing – until, that is, it is fully actual and definite, “wholly in act” as the Scholastics put it; i.e., wholly enacted, over and done with, and thenceforth immutable. So everything that does something does so as an immutable fact.

      It is normal for us to think of what we do as having effects upon us, as the effects of our acts upon the world redound to us personally. But what is really happening in such cases is that what one moment of our life does affects *future* moments of our lives.

      There is also something to be said about the third premise. It is logically impossible for change between temporally related states of affairs to occur atemporally; i.e., it is impossible that temporal events should transpire atemporally. But it is not necessary that eternal events should transpire temporally. Eternal events don’t change, for there is in eternity no before or after, no sort of difference; so the fact that they can’t change because they are not temporal poses no difficulty.

      I hope that helps. But my bet is that it is just terribly confusing.

  4. Following on your reply to Cassiodorus, i’d like to check my understanding in light of our previous dialogue about ‘occasions of being’.

    In your explanation of the second premise: Temporal entities (i.e. entities subject to causality) cannot be changed without some outside force acting upon them. That sentence would then be tautological: A temporal entity just is something that changes when acted upon. However, it is not true that an entity cannot act upon some thing without changing itself first. An occasion of being is only changed after the act is fully realized, and not before. To use accounting parlance with which I am most familiar, you cannot recognize the effects of an event before it is realized, even intrinsically speaking. So the premise (“It is logically impossible to do something without change”) is faulty because the thing acting is acting prior to being intrinsically changed, while the thing acted upon is changing. Regarding God, then, an act of creation is not predicated on intrinsic change, but in this case is an act of will, so God can remain unchanged and atemporal and still do the thing, that is, create.

    The third premise makes more sense to me, but restating just to be sure: Temporal events can be changed temporally, but atemporal things, by definition, must not change, and so time is only necessary for the temporal things.

    If i’m regressing just say, i’ll go back to the earlier comments and re-read!

    • You are not regressing, but rather progressing.

      The only respect in which I would clarify what you wrote in your second paragraph is that on Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism, the thing B that is affected by its causal input A *is not yet actual* when A has finished becoming and has begun to act and have effects on its eventual successors. So, it is not as though A pushes on B. Rather, A simply is itself, and then as B gets its own process of becoming under way, B reaches out and takes account of A (and all other entities that are already actual). The term Whitehead used for this process of reaching out and taking is “prehension.” Literally, “grasping,” “seizing,” “taking.” Whitehead emphasizes that prehension is not however a grabbing or devouring or anything of that sort, but rather a feeling and a sharing: B feels what A is like, and then chooses whether to appropriate for its own constitution any aspects of A that seem fit to its own internal purpose of self-constitution – of autopoiesis.

      It is then true, as you say, that an entity can act upon some other only by first changing itself; i.e., by changing itself from what it is only potentially into what it is actually, definitely, completely, and without possibility of further alteration.

      The key to all this is to think of entities not as things that act and then are acted upon and then act in a continuous cycle, but rather as the basic acts themselves, of which the continuous cycle is constituted. By analogy to Newton, the atomic and basic reality is the infinitesimals; the extensive continuum – our temporally and spatially extended world – is the integration of the infinitesimals. Extension in time and space, then, is a function of the relations of the infinitesimal occasions; and these relations are determined first by each such infinitesimal occasion’s decision about what aspects of which inputs it will emphasize in its own autopoiesis. Such decisions of emphasis then determine the occasion’s own final (and thenceforth immutable) character and properties – including its location in the causal nexus. These its character and properties then form the raw material for the prehension of other subsequent occasions of becoming.

      The basic entity is the act of becoming.

      You are on the right track.

      Hope that helps.

      • It does help! Something clicked: The reason we refer to it as ‘occasions of being’ or simply ‘being’ itself is a progressive verb: it is a continuation of acts. There is no such thing as an inert entity that can be called “Scoot” but cease to act in any way. “Scoot” is a continuous series of acts, those acts which compose being. Pausing reality and looking at any one slice of reality, any one occasion of being, it will have certain attributes which will be changed in the exact next occasion of being, when certain potentialities are realized into actualities.

        I do not understand how “A pushing on B” can be described as B ‘prehension-ing’ A? It seems to me that causality is backwards. Are you saying that entity A exists, and as part of its existence it extends it’s arms and leans against B. B, as part of its existence, is leaned upon, and the ‘effect’ of being leaned upon is to be half an inch leftward; thus it ‘prehenses’ into it’s being the being of A. A and B both reconcile unto themselves the potentiality of applying force against the object, since it goes both ways. is that what you mean by prehension?

        Thank you, as always!

      • There is no such thing as an inert entity that can be called “Scoot” but cease to act in any way.

        Exactly. Once an act – say, act A or B in the series of acts that together compose the life of Scoot – is done coming into act, it is thenceforth permanently actual, and so active, forever. It continues to have effects – however small – on all subsequent acts.

        E.g.: all subsequent acts in the life of Scoot will be acts that take into account your act at that time you went to the store for vanilla ice cream, found that it was closed, so you went to the bar next door instead and had a whisky. The consequences of that whisky are still with us, all; cannot ever fail to be with us.

        Once an act is done acting, it is an everlasting fact. As such it will forever form an object for the prehension of other new acts of becoming. One of Whitehead’s terms for actual entities is “immortal objects.”

        Excursus: Whitehead called the Platonic Forms “Eternal Objects.” Capitalized.

        I do not understand how “A pushing on B” can be described as B ‘[prehending]’ A?

        A does not push B. A just is. B then feels what A is like, and so doing feels something of what it is like to be A. B then chooses how much B wants to be like A.

        If A and B are both actual events in the life of Scoot, then B (usually) decides to be a *lot* like A, plus some new stuff.

        Now, once B has finished becoming, we can look at it and analyze its inputs, and see that A was among those inputs. A’s influence on B can look to us like A pushing B. But really it was B pulling from A.

        The net effect of B pulling A into itself is captured in the word “influence.” Also in the word “information.” A flows into and informs B, not because it pushes B, but because B chooses to be influenced and informed by A. If it were really the case that A pushes itself into B, then we would not say that A influences and informs B, but rather that A enfluences and enforms B.

        So Whitehead turns efficient causation inside out. In his hands, it is ifficient causation.

        Are you saying that entity A exists, and as part of its existence it extends its arms and leans against B. B, as part of its existence, is leaned upon, and the ‘effect’ of being leaned upon is to be half an inch leftward; thus it ‘[prehends]’ into its being the being of A?

        Very close to that, yes. Except that A doesn’t lean against B. When A finishes its act of becoming, and thenceforth simply and immutably is what it is, B has not yet finished becoming, and so is not yet actual: it is not actually there yet for A to lean on. All the effect of A upon B is mediated then by the act of B.

        As in QM, effects are all mediated by the observer – by the prehension of the observer, the observation of the observer, *and its registration of that observation* in its own autopoietic act by which it constitutes itself as itself, and so defines its own character. In fact, until some B prehends A, the character of A is not yet known by any other. A could be dead or alive, so far as the rest of reality is concerned, then, until some B prehends A. Until some B discerns its character, A is – in effect – *both* dead and alive.

        A and B both reconcile unto themselves the potentiality of applying force against the object, since it goes both ways. Is that what you mean by prehension?

        Again, close, except that A can’t be affected by B. The only way that A can have an effect on B is for A to be itself fully definite as to its own character and properties. And this it cannot achieve until it has completed its own process of becoming, and is finished, and thus thenceforth immutable.

        Nevertheless you touch upon an important aspect of the causal procedure: namely, that it is part of the immutable character of A that it should have the potential to affect other entities such as B in the ways that it might. It’s just that such potentials in completed actualities are abstracted from them and actualized only by other, discrete actualities.

        The character of A that it should have the potential to affect others in a certain way is its final causation; its meaning, its intension, its “aboutness,” its telos. As an instant of aesthetic feeling and evaluation, an occasion of becoming is a subject of experience of its actual environment – of the entities already actual as it begins its own process of becoming actual. But in its final composition of its own properties and character, there is for every novel concrescence an aspect of desire – of yearning, of sehnsucht – for beauties implicit in and proper to its own logic, but not possible to it, given its inputs. Every occasion is an instance of the general urge, felt by all things, toward the Good that it cannot itself, for exigent reasons, quite attain, or therefore obtain, or enjoy. That will toward the Good – that love, i.e. – is a beauty in any actual thing, and an allure for the prehensions of other occasions of becoming.

        This “superjective” aspect of completed actualities, as Whitehead called it – the face or persona that they present to all others who apprehend them as objects – is what is indicated by, “the Heavens are telling the Glory of God,” and by “one day tells its tale to another.”

      • E.g.: all subsequent acts in the life of Scoot will be acts that take into account your act at that time you went to the store for vanilla ice cream, found that it was closed, so you went to the bar next door instead and had a whisky. The consequences of that whisky are still with us, all; cannot ever fail to be with us

        This fits well with notions of sin and penance. The deed is with you, always. Reconciliation removes the guilt; purgatorial restoration is required to remove the wound. This is fascinating.

        A flows into and informs B, not because it pushes B, but because B chooses to be influenced and informed by A.

        Lets say A is Scoot and B is a heavy box. B doesn’t really get to choose, does it? That’s how I’m envisioning things. Unless an inert box does not qualify as an occasion of being? But even if B were my good friend, Billy—well, hold on here. If we are looking at intellect and will, then the fact pattern follows what my instinct tells me. Our intellects cannot but respond to the world around us, and if Scoot pushes Billy, then Billy will identify the cause of his being on the ground to a push from Scoot. But we are not looking at intellects and wills. We are looking at metaphysical objects; immortal objects, because my occasion of being at the bar next to the ice cream store is a decision which affects all subsequent occasions of being for everyone, forever. The completion of the act of drinking a whiskey, the fullness of that act, is marked on eternity. Colloquially speaking, it is “a part of history”.

        So we are dealing with the immortal objects of Scoot and Billy. More than that, Scoot and Billy are only immortal objects insofar as they are fully realized at a specific point, having completed the realization of all other potentialities up to the point, T=0, where Scoot’s arm is extended and in contact with B. That is not to say there are not other potentialities “in process” at T+0. at T+1, a potentiality that imparts physical force upon Billy (or even the heavy box) is realized. Scoot at T+1 is a different immortal object from Scoot at T+0, joined to it by a causal chain. So Billy, as a fully realized entity at T+0, is in contact with Scoot, and the potentialities “in process” for Billy must accept the information that is added at T+1. In regular physics, in the world perceived by our intellects, Scoot is pushing Billy. But in metaphysics, Scoot is adding information and Billy is accepting it. Billy falls over BECAUSE causality is a thing, that same causal chain that, if followed backwards to T-infinity, leads to the first cause, the eternal cause which holds us in existence moment to moment, in the space between T+0 and T+1.

        it is part of the immutable character of A that it should have the potential to affect other entities such as B in the ways that it might. It’s just that such potentials in completed actualities are abstracted from them and actualized only by other, discrete actualities.

        A, when fully realized at T+n, is potentially affecting other entities, but those entities must accept that. A cannot realize B for itself. A can only realize itself, and B can only realize itself, and sometimes the full realization of A adds data which affects the full realization of B.

        —Is a soul a metaphysical entity distinct from a body? is a body acted upon by the soul? I guess body and soul act upon each other. the one is infused with divine grace which lets us share in the theological virtues; the other can wound the soul with sin or strengthen it with virtue. Does this metaphysics treat spirits differently?

      • I’m a little lost in your third paragraph, but I think you’ve basically got it.

        Boxes are not actual entities, but assemblages of such entities. Some assemblages of entities are also entities in their own right; these are assemblages that are societies, that can move coordinately in ways that mere assemblages like boxes cannot. The human being is one such. So perhaps is a flock or herd or school or hive. Likewise a human society like a family or a village might be an entity in its own right.

        So when you press upon a box, the entities you are pressing upon are those that constitute the box.

        A, when fully realized at T+n, is potentially affecting other entities, but those entities must accept that. A cannot realize B for itself. A can only realize itself, and B can only realize itself, and sometimes the full realization of A adds data which affects the full realization of B.

        Yes. To be integral with a given world, a novel occasion of becoming must somehow take account of all the other entities therein. What this almost always means in practice is that it ends up pretty much ignoring most of them – i.e., it prehends them but does not include their inputs in its own constitution, a so-called “negative prehension” – and “positively prehending” only the nearby entities, or those in its world line or light cone.

        Is a soul a metaphysical entity distinct from a body? Is a body acted upon by the soul? I guess body and soul act upon each other. The one is infused with divine grace which lets us share in the theological virtues; the other can wound the soul with sin or strengthen it with virtue. Does this metaphysics treat spirits differently?

        The soul is the form of the living organism. Forms are not themselves actual entities; they are the forms of actual entities. So, yes, the soul is not the same thing as the corporeal organism; and, yes, that organism takes the form specified by the soul. The soul of Scoot is as it were the recipe for instances that qualify for membership in the series that is the life of Scoot.
        The spirit is the life of an entity; is the subject of its experience. Your soul is what it is that you are being; your spirit is what it is like to be what you are being.

        Colloquial English conflates soul and spirit. Not unreasonably, for you never encounter a soul in the real world other than as the form of a living spirit. But comprehension of spiritual and philosophical literature – especially that of the ancient world – is enormously eased by bearing in mind the distinction between them.

  5. I guess if words exist so that we can tell things from each other, if we call things blue so that we can tell them apart from the non-blue things, then “everything” and “nothing” are not particularly useful nor meaningful words. I mean, I think, that is the argument here. Why does the universe (everything) exist rather than nothing? But the idea of nothing is an entirely artificial construct. When we tell blue things apart from non-blue things we put them into two sets. Then we take the non-blue set and put some of them into the green set. Continuing long enough we expect to get an empty set. And we call that “nothing”. An entirely artificial construct of the mind: nobody ever saw “nothing”. Similarly, “everything” is a word that adds nothing to understanding to the world, it does not help us discern, discriminate, to tell this from that, which is the whole point of understanding. If we would ever use that word seriously, it would lead to meaningless sentences like “Everything is blue.” That would mean we cannot tell things apart by their blueness, we simply cannot perceive that difference, so blue becomes a useless word. That word “everything” exists mostly because we use it figuratively. “Everything I ever saw was” -> “The things I saw, as opposed to the things I didn’t was”

  6. I guess another question I might ask is… are these philosophical and First Cause arguments the reason you believed in Christ and accepted Christianity in the first place? Are they what convinced you that it was true before you already believed? Another honest question.

    • Perhaps, nobody wishes to reply lest you somehow take offence?

      For my own part, I believed before delving into these arguments, although I have always believed such faith to be perfectly reasonable.

      You might say I believe, because it is what I want to believe. Because something is wishful thinking does not mean it is untrue.

      • Thanks, Mickvet. I myself believed in Christ for empirical reasons, long before I understood any of the arguments one way or the other. It wasn’t that I wanted to believe, but that I could not but believe, given what I experienced. It was a Damascus Road incident. I was literally knocked down; crushed and uplifted all at once; and radically transformed.

        I was already at that time interested in the philosophy of religion, but had not begun my studies, and had not yet tested the arguments for theism. My Damascus Road experience convinced me of two things: first, that the philosophy of religion is critically important, if only because its subject is that subject than which no greater could possibly be conceived; second, that, even as perfectly realized, it would be by definition completely inadequate to the reality it sought to comprehend, which, while it does not disagree with that philosophy (properly so called; provided, that is to say, that it is indeed the true love of true wisdom), so utterly transcends it as to render it almost bootless, and stupid, if not even wrong-headed.

        In following this path of empiricism first, I was following in the footsteps of Pascal, who came first to faith as a result of an honest empirical experiment with Christian praxis. Having been struck down as he was, I have felt ever thereafter as though I have had no alternative but to try to figure out the logic of what I had experienced, *even though I had learned from the experience that I could never succeed at that project.*

        The arguments for theism such as we here have been discussing do not of course at all suffice to Christian faith – or even theist faith. They are not about faith; are not about the motions of the heart, or of the will. They are about reason, and the motions of the intellect. All they do, at most, is clear away the barriers to an openness to faith of the heart posed by philosophical doubt or confusion of the intellect – which is to say, by the errors of finite reason. The arguments – and the whole of natural theology – are straw that one may pile against the wall of the prison cell, so that, climbing that pile, one may then peek out the window of the cell to see the clear blue sky stretching forth and endlessly outward to some immense and portent beyond, that redeems and justifies and warrants all – including our imprisonment.

        The arguments, I feel now educated and equipped to say, are dispositive. To think otherwise is to fail to comprehend them. Once having properly comprehended them, there is thenceforth no honest barrier to theist faith. And once you credit theism, it’s really no big deal to credit miracles, and with them the whole of revelation. At that point, one simply must grapple with Christianity (and, of course, its millions of alternatives).

      • Mick.. a wish for it to be true, and an inability to prove it Not true doesn’t mean it’s true either.
        The burden is on the person who believes to demonstrate that it is in fact true. One must always care if what they believe to be true is actually true or face the possibility of being self deluded. I assume you care about truth in most if not all your other beliefs. Why is God or Christianity somehow a different case?

      • What’s interesting to me is that theists are so usually asked by skeptics to demonstrate that theism is true, whereas skeptics do not seem to feel that they themselves labor under any such requirement. In logic, atheism should face the same hurdle as theism. “The burden is on the person who believes atheism is true to demonstrate that it is in fact true.”

        Atheists often seem to feel that theism is an extraordinary hypothesis. But, *any* hypothesis about the ultimate source of reality and its character is equally far-reaching. The assertion that God does not exist is just as sweeping as the assertion that he does.

        Indeed, given the weight of demonstration on either side of the question of theism, atheism would seem to be by far the more extraordinary, the more unsupported, the wilder claim of the two alternatives.

        For, there are numerous demonstrations of the truth of theism; one of them is indicated in the Original Post. They don’t turn on evidence, to be sure. But then, theism being an hypothesis in metaphysics, any attempt at a strictly evidential *demonstration* of its truth – as opposed to an evidential *warrant* – would be harebrained, an idiotic inapposition, founded upon grotesque category errors; like searching for the Titanic in the works of music in the Western canon and, not having found it therein, concluded to the irreality of that great ship.

        *Are* there any demonstrations of atheism, of any sort? I have been studying metaphysics for decades, and have not encountered a single one. Is it even *possible* to demonstrate that God does not exist? Can that project even be assayed? I confess I don’t see how.

        I would be interested to hear of a demonstration that God does not exist. I would be interested to hear even of a *warrant* for the belief that God does not exist. Hell, I’d be interested to hear of even a *reason* for the belief that God does not exist, that is founded upon principle rather than upon mere wishful thinking.

        O, sure, Ockham’s Razor. Props to that. But in the end the Razor is nothing more than an aesthetic preference, nowise ultimately dispositive. If a theory is true, it is true, and whether it stipulates to many entities or to few is neither here nor there, in the final analysis, as compared to whether it is adequate to reality as we find it.

      • Once again, not an atheist. But atheism isn’t making a claim. Atheism just doesn’t believe on bad or no evidence. Atheism isn’t saying “there is no God” that’s why they don’t have the same burden.

      • You say that atheism isn’t making a claim, and you also say that you are not an atheist. So, since you are not yourself an atheist, and thus *do* make a claim about the truth of theism, what *is* the claim that you make about it?

        If you find yourself so incompetent on the matter as not to be able to make a claim one way or the other, what then is your warrant for discoursing on the topic in the first place? Why should anyone pay attention to what you say on a topic that you do not feel able to opine upon? How in that case does anything that you say on the matter amount to anything more than an indication of your ignorance, and thus irrelevance?

        Do you have *any* response to the argument that, as a metaphysical proposition, theism is not amenable to evidential demonstration? Do you have *any* response to the many metaphysical and logical demonstrations of theism? Or are you dumb on those matters?

        Do you know of *any* argument – empirical, logical, or metaphysical – that demonstrates that God does not exist? It sure would be nice to hear of one.

        Grab a Spine, do please grab a spine and give us an argument. Any argument. Show us what you’ve got. Show that an argument here made is invalid or ill founded, or – Hell, show us anything at all. Otherwise, please stop wasting your time.

      • Once again, you *totally misconstrue* a critique of what you have written as a critique of you as a person. That’s just silly. It begins to smell of cowardice, frankly; and that *is* a critique of your person, or at least of what your person appears to be like, given the fact that you run and hide from strictly *philosophical* challenges to the propositions you espouse on the basis of the fact that they are ad hominem attacks, when they *just are not any such thing.*

        Show us the courage of your convictions. Don’t scamper away from argumentation because the weakness of your arguments might reflect badly upon your own strength as a person. Be a strong man and endure the vicissitudes of dialectic, like the rest of us do.

        Come on, Grab a Spine. Get a spine.

      • Another nonresponsive response. Rather than responding to the substantive question at issue, you respond to a nonexistent personal attack.

        Why do you avoid the main question so assiduously, Grab a Spine? Do you have any answer?

      • I’ve pointed out many times here that the concept of God is self-contradictory in many respects, and self-contradictory things can’t exist. Eg God is eternal and unchanging yet somehow can perform actions; he is omniscient yet still capable of being surprised. The response to this is usually some fancy doubletalk, which may make sense to a believer but is very unconvincing for someone not already inclined in that direction.

        I don’t know if that constitutes a demonstration of the truth of atheism, but it certainly makes me think that theism is incoherent and not a plausible model of reality.

        It’s also a bit disingenuous to pretend you’ve never seen an argument for atheism; they are very commonplace and easy to find and the same issues have been debated for hundreds of years. You obviously are not convinced by these arguments, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      • A.morphous! Welcome, old friend.

        You have indeed pointed out many times that there are contradictions involved in certain misconceptions of what is properly denoted by “God,” some of which are quite popular. We have responded by clarifying the concept of “God” for you, in such a way as to resolve those apparent contradictions. If you construe “God” properly, the concept it denotes is free of logical contradiction and of incoherence.

        Our clarifications might have seemed like double talk to you precisely because you are not open to understanding them, on account of your own prior philosophical commitments. In other words, it might not be the case that the clarifications can seem credible only to determined believers, as you suggest, but rather that – once they are properly understood – they can seem incredible only to determined unbelievers.

        That you have found our clarifications of the concept properly denoted by “God” difficult to understand definitely does not constitute anything like a demonstration of atheism. Nor does it indicate that theism is either incoherent or inaccurate.

        Whatever may be the case regarding your state of belief, I can assure you that you have not yet shown that any of the clarifications we have offered are logically contradictory or incoherent.

        I’ve seen lots of arguments against the Flying Spaghetti Monster and other things that theists do not mean to denote by “God.” I’ve not seen any arguments against God, properly so called – i.e., against what theists mean by “God.” I’d be grateful – honest, I would – if you would be so good as to cite one for us.

        Any argument that demonstrates logically that there can be no such thing as what theists mean by “God” will do.

        I suppose I shall have to define “God.” OK: “God” means an ultimate, necessary, eternal, perfect, simple, singular, immutable, uncreate, a priori being, who as such is the forecondition and cause of all other beings. “Perfect” subsumes omniscience, omnipotence, benevolence, and so forth.

        One thing I know we can count on from you, a.morphous: you will do your best earnestly to understand and engage with the arguments we present. It is an admirable quality in you.

  7. I should not have said “doubletalk”, which sounds more hostile than I intended. Rather let՚s say your theories seem to me to be convoluted, unintuitive, and difficult to comprehend. This does not make them wrong, of course, but it means that they will have a tough time convincing someone who doesn՚t want to be convinced.

    I agree that much of the talk between atheists and theists seems as if the two parties were talking past each other, and thus a waste of time and energy. Or more accurately, they are tribal signaling displays rather than attempts to discover universal truth.

    “God” means an ultimate, necessary, eternal, perfect, simple, singular, immutable, uncreate, a priori being, who as such is the forecondition and cause of all other beings. “Perfect” subsumes omniscience, omnipotence, benevolence, and so forth.

    If you substitute somewhat different words for “God”, and get rid “being” and “perfect” and maybe “necessary”, you get something that even Richard Dawkins wouldn՚t object to. “The laws of nature are ultimate, eternal, simple, singular, immutable, uncreated, and are the forecondition and cause of all other things”. Indeed they are!

    So the problem is only when you grant this ultimate the status of “being”. I՚m not sure exactly what that means, but in practice it seems to mean granting it elevated versions of human attributes such as knowledge (omniscience) and power (omnipotence) and goodness (perfection). There Richard Dawkins would probably balk, and so would I.

    • a. morphous, if you’ll pardon the interruption (i am a frequent and enthusiastic sideline reader of your dialogues with Kristor, so please consider this an aside not to distract from the topic at hand):

      Are you familiar with what Thomas Aquinas called “Univocal”, “Equivocal”, and “Analogical” descriptions of God? Speaking about God univocally means using divine terms to describe human things, thereby totally misconstruing the human things. Speaking Equivocally means using human terms to describe something that transcends humanity, and cannot possibly be encompassed by those terms. Said another way: The Univocal fallacy incorrectly elevates human things to the level of the Divine; Equivocal fallacy incorrectly condescends Divine things to the Human. That is why Thomas Aquinas says we should describe god Analogically, through analogy, because it avoids making a false comparison.

      As it pertains to your discussion: When you say:

      “(…) in practice it seems to mean granting it elevated versions of human attributes”

      …what you describe is the Equivocal fallacy. I described it this way in a different article:

      If we were speaking univocally, we would say the Perfection cannot be used except when describing God, because meals and children are not like God. If we were speaking equivocally, we would say that perfection cannot be used to describe God because God is not like meals and children. So Thomas Aquinas says we can speak about God only analogically, through analogy, because we cannot understand Him, but we can understand things that are like Him.

      God is unfathomable because He is divine, and no human term can describe Him with any accuracy. God knows, but in a way that is unlike our human knowing, because our human knowing implies learning. God is like perfect knowledge, which needs no teaching. The key is to divest ourselves from human pretense. I hope this makes sense and/or helps.

    • A.morphous: No worries, I didn’t take “doubletalk” as insulting. Lots of metaphysics seems that way at first (and second and third, for that matter …). It is not uncommon for me to read a paragraph that is discussing a metaphysical topic new to me and come away with the impression that it is mostly gobbledygook. It can take a lot of work to understand these concepts.

      … your theories seem to me to be convoluted, unintuitive, and difficult to comprehend.

      Like I said, I know the feeling. I had the same reaction to quantum mechanics and string theory. They, too, are convoluted, counterintuitive, and difficult to comprehend. The hardest doctrinal sets I ever had to pick apart were QM, Whiteheadian metaphysics, and orthodox Christian theology (of the Incarnation, the Trinity, ecclesiology, and the Eucharist). Aristotle was hard, too, but Whitehead had already given me something to which I could map it, so that helped.

      Reality is just tough to understand, that’s all. There is I think a reciprocal to Ockham’s Razor; call it the Gordian Knot: if a theory of general scope is easy to understand, it is almost certainly wrong. Take Ockham’s Razor to a Gordian Knot, as Alexander famously took his sword to it, and you ruin the whole thing. You don’t parse and come to understand the Knot; you just stultify yourself, more or less permanently, by forever preventing the Knot from again appearing to your intellectual inspection.

      “The laws of nature are ultimate, eternal, simple, singular, immutable, uncreated, and are the forecondition and cause of all other things.” Indeed they are!

      So the problem is only when you grant this ultimate the status of “being.”

      There are a couple difficulties with that strategy. The first is that the Greek for the Laws of Nature – the Order of Being – is Lógos. If you don’t grant being to the Lógos, you are withholding being from the Laws of Nature. If the Laws of Nature simply don’t exist, period full stop, then there is no way they can do anything such as influence or order our world. So you have to grant the Lógos existence of some sort. And that’s when you run into a mare’s nest, postulating a Platonic Realm or the like, wherein the Laws somehow subsist in their own right. How then does that Platonic Realm exist? Where is it? How does it interact with our world? And so forth.

      It gets very messy, very fast.

      Then there is the problem that if the Lógos is not actual, it cannot confer actuality on the cosmos. So, it cannot explain the cosmos. Even when we overlook that problem, it can’t influence the cosmos, because while the cosmos is actual, the Lógos is not; and, by definition, what is not actual does not act.

      Then there is the problem that if you get rid of “perfect” and “necessary,” you are also getting rid of “ultimate.” Your Lógos then is contingent, and stands itself therefore in need of some explanation.

      Explanation must terminate upon ontological necessity, or it does not terminate at all, anywhere, and is not in the last analysis an explanation.

      Even granting necessity, there is a crucial difference between a Primordial Being and a Primordial State of Affairs such as Dawkins might find amenable. The latter is what moderns who like to believe in Brahman or Tao or GNON want those terms to denote. Not a Person, in other words, whom we might by our misdeeds possibly displease, provoking his wrath; O good Heavens, no.

      But a mere state of affairs that is not a being won’t quite do, for it is a state of utter inactuality. To get actuality of any sort, you need to start with actuality. So the Primordial State of Affairs must be a Primordial Being.

      I reiterate that it would be really neat to hear of an argument that God as I have defined him is impossible.

      • I didn՚t mean to imply that the laws of nature aren՚t actual, but they aren՚t *A* being. They aren՚t an agent, and thus it doesn՚t make sense to say they are omniscient or omnipotent, although they undergird everything.

        Explanation must terminate upon ontological necessity, or it does not terminate at all, anywhere, and is not in the last analysis an explanation.

        Interesting position, but I՚m afraid I must disagree. There is no guarantee that explantion terminates. That is not the nature of explanation, I՚m afraid. Even mathematics has failed to find a stable ultimate explanatory foundation for itself, and there՚s not the slightest hope of doing it in any other area.

        …there is a crucial difference between a Primordial Being and a Primordial State of Affairs such as Dawkins might find amenable. The latter is what moderns who like to believe in Brahman or Tao or GNON want those terms to denote. Not a Person, in other words, whom we might by our misdeeds possibly displease…But a mere state of affairs that is not a being won’t quite do, for it is a state of utter inactuality. To get actuality of any sort, you need to start with actuality. So the Primordial State of Affairs must be a Primordial Being.

        I don՚t know what “actuality” means or what work it is doing here, but your argument seems to rest on the equation of Actuality, Being, and Personhood. I don՚t accept this, and its the crux of my argument. The Primordial Whatever is certainly real, but it is not a person, and to think of it in person-like terms is misleading (at best). I՚ve already spent a lot of energy explaining this position.

      • There is no guarantee that explanation terminates. That is not the nature of explanation, I’m afraid. Even mathematics has failed to find a stable ultimate explanatory foundation for itself, and there’s not the slightest hope of doing it in any other area.

        A big topic, that is tangent to this one. So, while I could proffer a lengthy response, let’s not go down that particular rabbit hole right now. Sorry; I should not have tossed off the comment that got you started on it.

        I didn’t mean to imply that the laws of nature aren’t actual, but they aren’t *A* being. They aren’t an ‘agent,’ and thus it doesn’t make sense to say they are omniscient or omnipotent … I don’t know what “actuality” means or what work it is doing here, but your argument seems to rest on the equation of Actuality, Being, and Personhood. I don’t accept this, and its the crux of my argument. The Primordial Whatever is certainly real, but it is not a person,

        It would indeed help for me to clarify what I mean by “actual.” An actuality has effects. It causes. Thus a hammer, while it is certainly concrete, is not an actuality. It does not cause things itself, but rather only as an instrument of entirely prior and exogenous causes.

        Excursus: The particular events of which the hammer is composed are a different matter; they *do* seem to be actualities, because they *do* seem to do things on their own, and not as themselves wholly determined by antecedent actualities.

        Put another way, an actuality is at least partly causa sui, and thus itself originates endogenously some of its causal effects upon others. It is, in other words, an agent: it acts.

        I hope that the foregoing suffices to make clear that only an actuality can be a true being. The hammer exists concretely, to be sure, but it is not itself what Koestler called a holon. The hammer does not itself do anything; the hammer therefore is not itself a substantial being.

        By the same token, only an actuality can have causal effects. The causal effects of the hammer are really the causal effects of the workman who wields it.

        So, yeah, I did mean to identify actuality with being. But not with personality. That’s a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax. In the meantime: in order for a thing to act, and thus to have an effect upon other things, it must itself be a thing: an actuality, a being. Things that are not things – that are not actualities, substantial beings – are inactual. To be actual *just is* to be a being.

        OK, then: are the Laws of Nature – let’s call them by their traditional name (conferred upon them by the Stoics), the Lógos – an actuality, or not? Well, if not, then how does something that does not itself act exert any effects? Notice that this is to ask, precisely: how does something that does not exert effects upon events exert effects upon events?

        This is a difficulty that must be overcome by the notion that the Lógos is not a being. And it’s a bear. If the Lógos is not a being, then what the heck sort of thing is it? Of what special sort of existence is it an instance? And, how does that special sort of existence interact with our own, actual sort, so as to influence our own sort pervasively, but without, you know, actually interacting with it (for, any such interaction would of course render the Lógos an actual being after all, willy nilly)?

        It seems much simpler just to suppose that the Lógos is indeed actual; that, i.e., it is a substantial being. That way, we don’t have to suppose that there are other sorts of being than the actual sort. Ockham smiles.

        The Primordial Whatever is certainly real, but it is not a person, and to think of it in person-like terms is misleading (at best). I’ve already spent a lot of energy explaining this position.

        Yeah; but I don’t believe you’ve given an argument for the position. What makes it impossible for the Lógos to be a person?

      • It would indeed help for me to clarify what I mean by “actual.” An actuality has effects. It causes. Thus a hammer, while it is certainly concrete, is not an actuality. It does not cause things itself, but rather only as an instrument of entirely prior and exogenous causes.

        I՚m a materialist so that category is not very real to me.

        Also, isn՚t a hammer a good a final cause as any? Did it not serve as the cause (in a temporally retrograde manner) the hammer factory and the hardware store and all the human activity involved in such institutions?

        an actuality is at least partly causa sui, and thus itself originates endogenously some of its causal effects upon others. It is, in other words, an agent: it acts.

        Ah well this is getting somewhere. Agency is an idea I՚ve thought about quite a bit. But of course I am a relativist about it. Agency is not a property of the physical universe, it՚s part of a story we tell ourselves about certain systems with certain kinds of causal connection. (Or to be precise, it՚s a function of our causal knowledge almost always being radically incomplete).

        how does something that does not itself act exert any effects?

        The moon and the earth exert gravitational pull on each other – but neither is really an agent, that՚s just a function of our metaphorical language in which we view these lumps of mass as muscular dudes in a tug-of-war. But the laws of gravitation that this metaphor describes are not really an agent either. Contrary to your metaphysics, agency is not a primitive property, its a story we tell about a seamless web of forces and events, to make it partially understandable.

        What makes it impossible for the Lógos to be a person?

        I՚ve gone over this many times. A real person is finite, embedded in time, and changes over time. Learning and taking action under uncertainty is fundamental to the nature of personhood. Projecting the idea of a person on to something infinite, atemporal, omniscient, and unchanging just doesn՚t make conceptual sense, no matter how many theologians over the centuries have tried to square the circle.

      • I’m a materialist so that category is not very real to me.

        I’m not sure what category you mean. Regardless, that statement is like the statement that, “I’m a geocentrist, so heliocentrism is not very real to me.” The whole point of discussion – and of science in general, of learning, of research, of inquiry – is to discover the defects in our understandings – in our philosophical commitments – *so that we can correct them.*

        What *is* the category that is not real to you? I infer that it is the category of the actual. And, if the definition of the category of the actual as I have been using the term – which is the definition you asked for – somehow does not work for you, what definition does work for you? In particular, what exactly did you mean to ascribe to the Laws of Nature when you wrote that, “I didn’t mean to imply that the laws of nature aren’t actual …”? If the Laws are not inactual, then what would you mean if you were to say that they are indeed actual? What does it mean to you, if anything, to say that a thing is actual?

        Also, isn’t a hammer a good a final cause as any?

        Certainly. Hammer factories generally result in hammers, and would not exist in their present configurations if not for hammers. But not all final causes are themselves actualities, as I (and most of the Western philosophical tradition) have defined them. E.g., a state of a system in which it has no potential energy is a final cause of prior states of the system that did have potential energy, but does not itself have the potential to generate a new state of the system. It can’t do anything; nevertheless it is a final cause of the prior states of the system.

        Causes are to be distinguished from acts. An act is a motion of a substantial being. It may cause other events in several ways – efficiently, formally, essentially, accidentally, finally, materially, and so forth – that may or may not be themselves factors of subsequent acts. E.g., I swing the axe, and my act causes the axe to strike the log, which causes the log to split. My act of swinging is a cause that originated in a substantial being – me – but the causal effect of the axe on the log did not originate in the axe – which is not a substantial being, not itself an actuality – but in me. I acted so as to cause effects in the axe, but the axe is not itself an actor; is not itself an actual entity.

        To continue the story, the splitting of the log exerts causal effects upon a substantial being – me – in that I see the splitting, and that motivates me to act so as to stack the firewood it generates for me, and also engenders pleasure at the beauty of the swing and at its accomplishment of the desired effects. But, while the splitting of the log is certainly a real event in its history, that splitting is not an act of the log itself.

        All acts are motions; but not all motions are acts.

        Agency is not a property of the physical universe, it’s part of a story we tell ourselves about certain systems with certain kinds of causal connection. … Contrary to your metaphysics, agency is not a primitive property, it’s a story we tell about a seamless web of forces and events, to make it partially understandable.

        I.e., agency is not real. It is not a thing. There is no such thing, really, as agency; it’s really only an idea that we make up for ourselves, as a heuristic. In reality, there is no agency. Thus there are no acts. E.g., there are in particular no acts of telling stories, nor any acts of making up stories. There are no stories, then; no metaphors; no theories. There are no acts of cognition or understanding. That’s all illusory. Our inner life, our phenomenal life, is illusory. So, the story that a.morphous tells himself about reality is not even false; in reality, his story doesn’t exist, at all. It has no truth value because there is no story there to have any values of any sort in the first place.

        You see the problem.

        … how does something that does not itself act exert any effects?

        The moon and the earth exert gravitational pull on each other – but neither is really an agent …

        The moon and the Earth are like the axe. They are not actual entities. They are not substantial beings. As you say, neither of them actually does anything to the other. They do not act; they do not exert any causal effects that are peculiarly their own. All they do is transmit effects of other substantial beings – such as, e.g., the acts of the particles of which they are heaps. They themselves add no causal inputs of their own to the physical systems of which they are aspects. So, they are inapposite to the question. The particles of which they are composed have causal effects of their own, and thus are true substantial beings; not so for the moon and the Earth.

        A real person is finite, embedded in time, and changes over time. Learning and taking action under uncertainty is fundamental to the nature of personhood. Projecting the idea of a person on to something infinite, atemporal, omniscient, and unchanging just doesn’t make conceptual sense …

        If you define personhood in this way, then yes, certainly, it is impossible to construe an infinite being as a person. But that begs the question whether your definition of personhood is quite adequate to reality. It may be adequate to human personhood, or to mundane creaturely personhood. But there may be other sorts of personhood, to which it is inadequate.

        Analogously, if you define quantity as finite, then infinity can’t be construed as a quantity. But infinity *is* a quantity. That begs the question whether your definition of quantity is adequate.

        Whether or not there can be an infinite person, and if so, what that might mean for our concept of personhood, are exactly the questions at issue. We ask: why is an infinite person impossible? It won’t do to answer by saying, “well, I’ve defined personhood as finite.”

        And on your metaphysics, there is a basic problem with your definition of personhood: you can’t act under uncertainty if there is no such thing as acting.

        What is more, I find that I act under certainty all the time, and yet I am a person. E.g., I am certain that if I go to Safeway, I shall then find myself at Safeway.

        I’ll close now, because … I need to get over to Safeway.

      • What does it mean to you, if anything, to say that a thing is actual?

        Nothing fancy: real, stable, has observable effects. The undeniable facticity of the world.

        Causes are to be distinguished from acts….My act of swinging is a cause that originated in a substantial being – me – but the causal effect of the axe on the log did not originate in the axe – which is not a substantial being, not itself an actuality.

        For you, “actual” seems to mean something like “agent”. OK, but that is very different from the everyday meaning of the word, hence confusing.

        agency is not real. It is not a thing. There is no such thing, really, as agency; it’s really only an idea that we make up for ourselves, as a heuristic. In reality, there is no agency. Thus there are no acts.

        No, it՚s real enough, even through we make it up. Most things are like that.

        There is a common confusion that the notion that “socially constructed” means “not real”, as if only God was allowed to make things. But look at (eg) the United States – obviously a social construction, we have ample documents about how it was constructed and by whom. But it certainly is real enough. Like many things, is a fiction we agree upon, and act to make real, until it is real, and even appears to have independent agency.

        We make things up, but we don՚t make them up just as we please, so the made-up story of “agency” is a useful story because it is a useful model of real phenomena. And it applies more to some things than others.

        Note that I՚m willing to grant God as much reality as I do the United States – that is, it՚s a useful fiction we make up, and imbue with so much power it takes on a reality of its own.

        If you define personhood in this way, then yes, certainly, it is impossible to construe an infinite being as a person. But that begs the question whether your definition of personhood is quite adequate to reality.

        We went through this argument before. My notion of personhood is very commonsensical; you are asking me to adopt one that violates my very ordinary intuitions, but haven՚t presented any reasons why I should.

        Analogously, if you define quantity as finite, then infinity can’t be construed as a quantity. But infinity *is* a quantity.

        Not really. It depends on what exactly you mean by “quantity”. Certainly it is radically different from an everyday finite quantity.

        Whether or not there can be an infinite person, and if so, what that might mean for our concept of personhood, are exactly the questions at issue.

        One problem is that, the concept of infinite number is very clearly defined (despite the conceptual issues), because numbers have a well-defined ordering relationship and it is not much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of a number bigger than any finite number. But “persons” do not have an ordering relationship, there is no sequence of people going from small to great that would eventually get you to god if you could somehow keep it going forever.

        In other words, your analogy doesn՚t work very well.

        What is more, I find that I act under certainty all the time, and yet I am a person. E.g., I am certain that if I go to Safeway, I shall then find myself at Safeway.

        Well, I hope you got there, but you were not certain you would get there since a hundred different accidents could have prevented it. We՚re fortunate to live in a highly predictable world, but it doesn՚t provide certainty about anything.

      • For you, “actual” seems to mean something like “agent.” OK, but that is very different from the everyday meaning of the word, hence confusing.

        Sure. But then, just as “right” is right there for everyone to see (but for few perhaps to notice) in “righteous,“ “warm” in “warmth,” and “deep” in “depth,” and indeed as “re,” thing, is right there in “real,” so “act” is right there in “actual.” What is actual is an act. What does not act is not actual. That seems pretty commonsense and straightforward to me. I grant that not many people think about this stuff much, so they generally and casually take hammers and axes to be actual. It makes sense: it’s right there, bruising my thumb: why dig at the reality of the hammer? But once you do start thinking about such things carefully, you quickly discover that there is a reason why we have these two different terms, “actual” and “real.”

        All actuals are reals, but not all reals are actual.

        Once you get that reason for the distinction, it becomes *less* confusing to construe “actual” as I do.

        So, then: the Laws of Nature are somehow or other real. To that I would certainly agree! Are they actual, to boot, as I have defined actual? If they have effects, are those effects their own, or are the Laws merely instruments of some prior causes, mere media of transmission for causal effects, as it were? Again, granting that the Laws are real, and that they constrain all events in our cosmos, what is the nature of that constraint? How does it work? How do the Laws force all exchanges of momentum to conserve it, for example?

        Now, I can see that there is an answer to such questions that might be quite appealing to a thinker of an Ockhamian bent (it certainly appeals to me, in my Ockhamian moods). It is, not that the Laws of Nature *force* things to happen a certain way, as the woodsman forces the axe, but rather that, as so many thinkers have remarked, the Laws of Nature are simply and inherently beautiful, so that events that conform to them and express them are likewise beautiful; and that all events in some way enjoy beauty and are attracted thereto, enjoy the beauty they apprehend in their actual worlds – in their causal factors – and then *want,* urgently, themselves to be beautiful; and so, therefore, act so as to constitute themselves beautifully.

        That is itself a beautiful notion, and wonderfully parsimonious. But it brings us back to the question of actuality – to the question of acts of becoming, and so of being – does it not?

        And it brings us back then furthermore and utmostly to the question of the First Beauty, to which all acts of being are by its beauty more or less successfully allured, and so tend. It makes Beauty basic, a primitive, as you call such things. What then is Beauty? She’s real, to be sure. Is she actual? Or is she a property of some actual? Or, perhaps, is she both?

        Is Beauty in us, and working in us, because she is real, or because we are basically mad, delusional? If the latter, then are not our feelings that we are mad themselves mad? If we are mad, are not our apprehensions about our madness themselves quite insane?

        Madness, delusion, making things up for ourselves: these are no good way to go about making our way in the world.

        No, [agency is] real enough, even though we make it up. Most things are like that.

        Most things are real *and* not real. OK. Wow. If you are comfortable with that degree of cognitive dissonance, I don’t think there is going to be any way I can get through to you with my appeals to a transcendent and far more comfortable cognitive consonance.

        There is a common confusion that the notion that “socially constructed” means “not real,” as if only God was allowed to make things. But look at (e.g.) the United States – obviously a social construction, we have ample documents about how it was constructed and by whom. But it certainly is real enough. Like many things, is a fiction we agree upon, and act to make real, until it is real, and even appears to have independent agency.

        Except that, being nothing but a fiction, it doesn’t exist in its own right, and thus it can have no properties such as it appears to have. It isn’t real; it is only “real.”

        A.morphous, you really must see that there is a crucial and categorical difference between real and “real.” I’m sure you do. If you can’t reckon and accept that difference, well then, you can’t reckon much.

        If you can’t reckon that, then the ravings of a schizophrenic are just as “real” as anything else, including the eggs you had for breakfast and your shoelaces.

        We make things up, but we don’t make them up just as we please, so the made-up story of “agency” is a useful story because it is a useful model of real phenomena.

        I.e.: there is something out there, which is real, and to which our fictive story of agency corresponds well enough that the model works for us usefully. Yay, American Pragmatism! Hurrah! A.morphous arrives back at reality!

        Notice that there could be no such usefulness in our model of real phenomena corresponding to agency if there were in reality no such thing as agency. There would in that case be nothing in the world to which our fiction of agency might correspond. Our notions of agency would in that case have been utterly impractical. They would not have worked from the get go, and we would no longer entertain them, in just the way that we no longer entertain the notion of the phlogiston.

        My notion of personhood is very commonsensical; you are asking me to adopt one that violates my very ordinary intuitions, but haven’t presented any reasons why I should.

        Well, if your concept of personhood prevents you from understanding the concept of God, and therefore from believing he exists, and therefore from believing in him, why then you are going to have a much harder time getting into everlasting bliss. That counts for me as a pretty good reason to try to understand whether your notion of personhood suffices to reality.

        Then there is the more general notion that it is better to understand reality than not, and that it therefore behooves us to do our best to make sure that our notions are adequate to reality.

        It is ever the extraordinary case that forces us to confront the possibility that the notions we have so far held, and that have worked OK for us – so that we had not before felt any reason or urge to question or change them – are simply inadequate. I am suggesting that using your every day, intuitive understanding of personality to rule out the possibility of an eternal omniscient person ab initio is like using your every day, intuitive understanding of geocentrism to rule out the possibility of heliocentrism ab initio.

        What I have definitely given you, ad nauseam, is ways to understand how an eternal omniscient simple and immutable person can be said accurately to act, and thus to know, to love, and so forth.

        Whether or not there can be an infinite person, and if so, what that might mean for our concept of personhood, are exactly the questions at issue.

        One problem is that, the concept of infinite number is very clearly defined (despite the conceptual issues), because numbers have a well-defined ordering relationship and it is not much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of a number bigger than any finite number. But “persons” do not have an ordering relationship, there is no sequence of people going from small to great that would eventually get you to god if you could somehow keep it going forever.

        And you know this … how? It seems to me quite straightforward to postulate an ordered sequence of persons going from small to great that would eventually terminate upon God, in rather the way that the number line terminates upon infinity. It’s easy. And you can do it on any number of dimensions of perfection. Take knowledge: I know more than my dog, who knows more than his flea, who knows more than his cell, who knows more than his mitochondrion … and likewise, in the other direction; I know less than Saints who have been granted a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, who know less than angels, who know less than archangels, and so forth. Or again, I know more than I did yesterday, and when I was 20 I knew more than I had as a baby … and I shall keep learning.

        Well, I hope you got [to Safeway], but you were not certain you would get there since a hundred different accidents could have prevented it. We’re fortunate to live in a highly predictable world, but it doesn’t provide certainty about anything.

        Notice that I said that if I do indeed go to Safeway – i.e., if I make it there – why then I shall find myself at Safeway. So I was taking all those potential accidents that might have prevented my arrival into account. Let me give you nevertheless another example of how we operate under certainty and yet remain persons, contra your definition of personhood: I operate under the certainty that 2 + 2 = 4. I am not the least uncertain of that fact, and my certainty is entirely warranted, for 2 + 2 = 4 is necessarily true. Yet I remain a person.

        There is at least that one problem with your definition of personhood. And there is another, already mentioned: if there is as you say no such thing really as agency, but really only “agency” – then there are no real actions, but rather only “actions.” It is then impossible for the human person to act, either under certainty or under uncertainty. On your definition of personhood, there are no human persons, then, but rather only human “persons.”

      • *I* am a materialist is a self-contradiction. Also, for a materialist, you spend a lot of time worrying about the truth value of propositions. 😉

      • The etymology analysis of “actual” is interesting, but not really relevant to the discussion. I՚ve been using it as a synonym for “real”, but I will refrain since you have a more specific usage in mind.

        me: No, [agency is] real enough, even though we make it up. Most things are like that.

        you: Most things are real *and* not real. OK. Wow. If you are comfortable with that degree of cognitive dissonance, I don’t think there is going to be any way I can get through to you

        Your clumsy attempt to reframe what I was saying shows that you don՚t understand it. But it՚s not so complicated. You seem to have a rather simplistic binary notion of what “real” means; something is either real or not. I have a richer notion. A chair and the number 23 and the United States are all real, but in very different ways. This indicates that either “real” is a useless concept, or else it’s a complex concept that needs to be teased apart into its specific usages.

        A.morphous, you really must see that there is a crucial and categorical difference between real and “real.”

        That՚s your terminology, not mine.

        Well, if your concept of personhood prevents you from understanding the concept of God, and therefore from believing he exists, and therefore from believing in him, why then you are going to have a much harder time getting into everlasting bliss.

        I have not the slightest interest in everlasting bliss. I want to live, and life is inherently finite, transient, and changeable. I՚m glad of momentary human bliss when I can get it, but everlasting bliss sounds like death to me (and I presume death is how you plan to get there yourself).

        It is ever the extraordinary case that forces us to confront the possibility that the notions we have so far held, and that have worked OK for us…are simply inadequate. I am suggesting that using your every day, intuitive understanding of personality to rule out the possibility of an eternal omniscient person ab initio is like using your every day, intuitive understanding of geocentrism to rule out the possibility of heliocentrism ab initio.

        Well I have to admit that is an interesting analogy, but it usually reads the other way. The naive notion of agency (geocentrism in your analogy) is that some things are agents and others aren՚t, agents are acausal sources of action, and everything happens because of the action of some agent. Like geocentrism, agent-centrism is just common sense and works well enough for everyday life, but fails when applied to larger-scale thinking. It՚s tough for some people to let go of their intuitions and accept that the universe doesn’t work the way they thought.

        And you know this (that there is no ordering relationship on the set of people) … how? It seems to me quite straightforward to postulate an ordered sequence of persons going from small to great that would eventually terminate upon God, in rather the way that the number line terminates upon infinity.

        It՚s an inherently asinine notion, sorry. It makes me think of China’s Social Credit Score, which is creepy and totalitarian, but at least they don’t claim to be ranking people on their divinity.

        And the number line does not “terminate upon infinity”, to say so misses the whole point of infinity.

        Notice that I said that if I do indeed go to Safeway – i.e., if I make it there – why then I shall find myself at Safeway.

        Your discussion about certainty seems like a distraction from my main point, which is not that certainty is impossible but that it is part of being human to be forced to take action under uncertainty – in general, not in every case.

        if there is as you say no such thing really as agency, but really only “agency”

        Your habit of rewording of my points into this form is tedious, and an indication of a refusal to engage honestly. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.

      • You seem to have a rather simplistic binary notion of what “real” means; something is either real or not. I have a richer notion. A chair and the number 23 and the United States are all real, but in very different ways. This indicates that either “real” is a useless concept, or else it’s a complex concept that needs to be teased apart into its specific usages.

        Did you not notice that in my last comment I distinguished between the sort of reality that hammers have, and the sort that agents have? I accept – of course! – that 23 and the USA are real, and that they are – of course! – real in different ways than either the hammer or a.morphous. The interesting stuff happens when we try to figure out exactly how they are differently real, and in what their reality consists.

        When I make up a story, for whatever reason, I take the story to be real qua story – there is in fact, really, a story there – but I do not take what the story says is real to be in fact real (unless, of course, the story appears to be *true*). It seems that you do. I can’t tease any other meaning out of your saying that most real things are stories we make up. So, I’m not recasting what you say, I’m just echoing it, honestly.

        If you mean that the stories we make up about agency are veridical, then you should say that. In that case, the story of agency that we make up so as to understand reality refers to something real. And in that case, it makes sense to understand the differences between reals that are agents, and those that are not.

        If you mean that stories we make up about agency are *merely* fiction, and are *not* veridical, then you should say that – as you seem to have done, in saying that agency is just made up. If our story about agency is not veridical, then there is in reality no such thing as agency. That is what you seem to be saying. If there is no such thing as agency, then it makes no sense to try to understand it, and acts of understanding are anyway illusory.

        The naïve notion of agency (geocentrism in your analogy) is that some things are agents and others aren’t, agents are acausal sources of action, and everything happens because of the action of some agent.

        Like geocentrism, agent-centrism is just common sense and works well enough for everyday life, but fails when applied to larger-scale thinking. It’s tough for some people to let go of their intuitions and accept that the universe doesn’t work the way they thought.

        That analogy as you use it breaks down. As I use it, it holds up.

        When you say that when we look at the universe in the correct way, we can see that agency is a mistaken notion, practically useful but fundamentally wrong, you seem to be suggesting that agency is a fiction that is not veridical, so that there is no such thing in reality as agents. If that is so, there is no such thing as us.

        You see the problem.

        Heliocentrism does not suggest that there is no such thing as Earth.

        Likewise, expanding the notion of personhood so that it accommodates an eternal person does not suggest that there are no such things as human persons.

        If a notion has the absurd consequence that some basic and inherent character of human experience is illusory, it is certainly wrong.

        [The Great Chain of Being is] an inherently asinine notion, sorry.

        “I don’t like that idea” is not an argument. Marxism is asinine. That doesn’t make it wrong. It is indeed wrong; but not because I don’t like it. I can demonstrate that Marxism is wrong. Can you demonstrate that the Great Chain of Being is a false notion? Like I said: you know this … how?

        And the number line does not “terminate upon infinity,” to say so misses the whole point of infinity.

        To say that the number line terminates upon infinity is not to say that it *ends* at infinity, so that infinity is the greatest of the numbers. It is to say that the numbers are themselves numberless. That’s what I meant, anyway; that the concept of number reaches its limit at infinity. Lots of concepts do.

        Your discussion about certainty seems like a distraction from my main point, which is not that certainty is impossible but that it is part of being human to be forced to take action under uncertainty – in general, not in every case.

        OK. I took you to be *defining* personhood per se as characterized by action under uncertainty; so that no uncertainty → no personhood. I took it that way because you were arguing that because personhood entails action under uncertainty, such as we ourselves endure, God can’t be a person. If instead you were defining only *human* personhood as characterized by occasional action under uncertainty, then never mind; who could argue with that characterization of our lives?

        But then, notice that we were not discussing human personhood. We were discussing whether there might be divine omniscient personhood, that was *not* characterized by action under uncertainty.

        … if there is as you say no such thing really as agency, but really only “agency” …

        Your habit of rewording of my points into this form is tedious, and an indication of a refusal to engage honestly. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but it makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.

        Come now, a.morphous, just say what you mean. Are there such things as agents, or not? If not, you don’t exist. Choose.

        Hmm. Your moniker begins to take on some veridical weight … 😉

      • I can’t tease any other meaning out of your saying that most real things are stories we make up. So, I’m not recasting what you say, I’m just echoing it, honestly.

        Let me try to say it a different way. All we have to understand the world are our representations of it, because there is really no such thing as direct access (even sense impressions are mediated by the computational processing of the nervous system). Some of those representations are useful and/or true, although exactly what either of those mean are nontrivial questions. In general we select for those representations, for obvious reasons, but we also have a great deal of freedom in the representations we construct. Humans, being complex social creatures, can make up completely fictional representations that nevertheless take on a certain reality of their own (eg, Batman, despite fictional, has definite properties and representations of him that deviate too much won՚t be accepted). States and governments are particularly interesting kinds of fictional entities (in the sense that somebody had to make them up) that end up having very real power.

        If you mean that stories we make up about agency are *merely* fiction, and are *not* veridical, then you should say that – as you seem to have done, in saying that agency is just made up. If our story about agency is not veridical, then there is in reality no such thing as agency.

        See above. Agency in particular is both made up and “veridical”, obviously so in the case of governments, corporations, and other socially-constructed agents, but in other cases as well.

        Can you demonstrate that the Great Chain of Being is a false notion?

        By “asinine”, I mean that it՚s so dumb its not worth discussion.

        Rather than try to prove this, let me see if I understand how it works. Under Platonism, all actual existing entities are mere imperfect versions of some Ideal, and according to the Great Chain of Being, can be ranked on how imperfect they are. So every chair is an image of the ideal chair, and some are closer that others – maybe Chippendale chairs are close to the ideal, and office chairs and Eames chairs and others are further away, and beanbag chairs are very far away indeed, having strayed so far from their source. Somewhere on Earth is the *best* chair, the one that comes closest to the ideal.

        As for people, God is the Ideal so people get ranked by how close or far they are from that ideal. Not clear to me who you think is closer, the classic Great Chain of Being idea would have that kings and nobility are closer to the divine than the common people. I find this questionable, to say the least.

        This all seems like something between nonsense and blasphemy to me, but again, I՚m not very interested in debating it. Since you are advancing this idea, maybe you can tell me how you go about determining the relative ranking of two people in the US, given that we don՚t have fixed social ranks to fulfill that function for us

        To say that the number line terminates upon infinity is not to say that it *ends* at infinity.

        That is exactly what “terminates upon” means, in English. If you mean to say that the limit of the natural numbers is infinity, well you can say that but it is not the same thing.

      • Thanks, a.morphous. I think I can understand how frustrating this must be for you. I appreciate your keeping at what must seem to you a hopeless task. God bless you for your patience, my old friend.

        Humans, being complex social creatures, can make up completely fictional representations that nevertheless take on a certain reality of their own (e.g., Batman, despite fictional, has definite properties and representations of him that deviate too much won’t be accepted).

        OK. I get that, of course. But then: when push comes to shove, *Batman is *not real.** Right? I mean, he is a real fictional character – someone did really make him up out of whole cloth. But that is to say, precisely, that he is really something that we make up, *that has no referent in reality.* Qua fiction, he can surely function for us in our symbolic calculi. But there is nothing out there in reality that is him. He is real at all only in the DC Comics “universe:” which is *not real.* At the very most Batman is a heuristic, a symbol, that *stands for* things that are real, but that is not itself a real.

        None of this is to impugn Batman. He’s cool. He may actually exist in some universe or other. Just not in ours – except as a fiction that, when push comes to shove, is *not veridical.*

        Thus when you say that certain fictions of ours “take on a certain reality of their own,” what you must mean is that they have a certain internal logic that we cannot gainsay, and that we can understand.

        This, in a weakened version of the way that we can understand and cannot gainsay the truths of mathematics. We can’t gainsay the truths of the characters of Batman or Gandalf, because they have been limned for us by our bards in such a way as to manifest to us their inner logic. But that they are ideas that have a certain inner logic *does not mean they are real in our world.*

        I’m rather surprised to find myself explaining this. It seems so obvious. Oh, well.

        Agency in particular is both made up and “veridical,” obviously so in the case of governments, corporations, and other socially-constructed agents, but in other cases as well.

        OK, cool. So agency is real. Got it. Agency is *not* merely a story that we make up, that has no referent in reality. It refers to a real aspect of things. So glad to have cleared that up, if for no other reason than that it has the consequence that you are real. Or might be, anyway.

        Agency being real, it behooves us to inquire what has it, and what does not. Hammers clearly don’t have agency. A.morphous clearly does. Right? What distinguishes inanimate things like hammers from living things? *Agency.*

        [The Great Chain of Being] seems like something between nonsense and blasphemy to me …

        I don’t mean to be brutal about this, but: so what? Again, we’ve already established that you don’t like the idea. You still have not shown that it is wrong. All you’ve done is reiterate your distaste for it.

        *Obviously* some men are better than others. Would you really deny this? Are you not better along the dimension of intelligence than an idiot? Of course you are. Why quibble at that? Are not some men more virtuous than you, along some dimensions? Of course they are. What is the problem with that idea? How, indeed, could it be otherwise, unless you were yourself the human acme along all dimensions?

        Really, a.morphous: what *exactly* is the difficulty with this notion?

        To say that the number line terminates upon infinity is not to say that it *ends* at infinity.

        That is exactly what “terminates upon” means, in English. If you mean to say that the limit of the natural numbers is infinity, well you can say that but it is not the same thing.

        This is a tangent, but yeah, I meant to say that infinity is the limit of the natural numbers, *which are arrayed along the number line.* It’s a bit of an archaic usage, I grant, but that’s what “terminus” originally meant: terminus ad quem, the limit – the term – toward which a given sort of thing tended. As applied to a bus line, it meant the last stop of the line. As applied to velocity under gravitational attraction to Earth, it meant the terminal velocity toward which gravitational acceleration tended (given local atmospheric viscosity). As applied to the number line, it meant infinity. As applied to a.morphous, it meant the true Self of a.morphous, which God had intended for him to express from before all worlds, and to the realization of which his guardian angel is sent to attend. As applied to minds, it meant God.

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