William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 5 of 693

Summary Against Modern Thought: There Is Free Will

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

At last! An initial discussion of free will and what is meant by that. Recall last week we proved the existence of intellectual creatures.

Chapter 47 The intellectual substances are capable of willing (alternate translation)

1 Now these intellectual substances must needs be capable of willing.

2 For there is in all things a desire for good, since the good is what all desire, as philosophers teach. This desire, in things devoid of knowledge, is called natural appetite: thus a stone desires to be below. In those which have sensitive knowledge, it is called animal appetite, which is divided into concupiscible and irascible. In those which understand, it is called intellectual or rational appetite, which is the will. Therefore intellectual substances have a will.

Notes It’s almost tautological that that which we desire is the good. We decide what we think is small-g good. Small-g good is not necessarily the same as big-G Good, i.e. the Good. It might seem good in the moment to cheat at cards and so gain the pot, but cheating is not Good.

Of course, Thomas is not saying stones anthropomorphically desire to fall; he merely means the same thing any physicist does: a stone tossed upward can bean you. That natural falling is called—a technical term—natural appetite. We mean the word differently now, but it would be a crude fallacy to impose our current definitions on old words, would it not?

Worms and frogs have sensations and act on these sensations, i.e. their sensitive knowledge, and the direction of the acts is called animal appetite, just like the direction of the stone following physics was natural appetite. But worms and frogs don’t have the intellectual or rational appetite, which we do, which is also called the will.

3 Again. That which is by another is reduced to that which is by itself as preceding it; wherefore according to the Philosopher (8 Phys.), things moved by another are reduced to the first self-movers: also, in syllogisms, the conclusions which are known from other things, are reduced to first principles which are self-evident.

Now, in created substances, we find some which do not move themselves to act, but are moved by force of nature, for instance inanimate things, plants and dumb animals, for it is not in them to act or not to act. Therefore there must be a reduction to some first things which move themselves to action. But the first in created things are intellectual substances, as shown above [last week]. Therefore these substances move themselves to act. Now this is proper to the will, whereby a substance has the dominion of its action, because it is in it to act and not to act. Therefore created intellectual substances have a will.

Notes “That which is by another is reduced to that which is by itself as preceding it” and the analogy is syllogisms, such as this classic (premises) “No reptiles have fur, and all snakes are reptiles” gives (the conclusion) “no snakes have fur.” That conclusion was “contained” in the premises. If you move a rock, the rock moves, but the impetus is from you, etc. For a dumb animal that can be moved, think of a sponge. And, of course, we choose to act or not; the will points the way to the act.

4 Moreover. The principle of every operation is the form whereby a thing is actual, since every agent acts for as much as it is actual. Wherefore the mode of an operation consequent upon a form must be in accordance with that form. Hence a form that does not proceed from that which acts by that form, causes an operation over which the agent has no dominion: whereas if there be a form that proceeds from that which acts thereby, the agent will have dominion over the consequent operation.

Now natural forms, consequent upon which are natural movements and operations, do not proceed from those things whose forms they are, but wholly from extrinsic agents, since by a natural form a thing has being in its own nature, and nothing can be cause of its own being. Wherefore things that are moved naturally do not move themselves: for a heavy body does not move itself downwards, but its generator which gave it its form.

Again, in dumb animals, the forms, sensed or imagined, which result in movement, are not discovered by the dumb animals themselves, but are received by them from exterior sensibles which act on their senses, and judged of by their natural estimative faculty. Hence, though they are said after a fashion to move themselves, in so far as one part of them moves, and another is moved, yet the actual moving is not from themselves, but partly from external objects sensed, and partly from nature.

For in so far as their appetite moves their members, they are said to move themselves, wherein they surpass inanimate beings and plants; and in so far as the act of their appetite is in them a necessary sequel to the forms received through their senses and the judgment of their natural estimative power, they are not the cause of their own movement. Hence they have not dominion over their own action. But the form understood, whereby the intellectual substance acts, proceeds from the intellect itself, being conceived and, after a fashion, thought out by it: as may be seen in the form of art, which the craftsman conceives and thinks out, and whereby he works. Accordingly, intellectual substances move themselves to act, as having dominion over their actions. Therefore they have a will.

Notes Wee beasties move themselves only in a sense, yet, as Thomas says, the moving is from external stimuli and instinct (in the modern phrase, though “instinct” is a loaded and perhaps unfortunate term). But animals do not have “dominion over their action”. Why? Take care to understand what the next argument says about apprehension.

5 Again. The active force should be proportionate to the patient, and motive power to the movable. Now in things possessed of knowledge the apprehensive power is related to the appetitive, as the motive power to the movable: since that which is apprehended by the sense, imagination, or intellect, moves the intellectual or animal appetite. But intellective apprehension is not confined to certain objects, but is of all things: wherefore the Philosopher says of the passive intellect (3 De Anima) that it is that whereby we become all things. Hence the appetite of an intellectual substance has a habitude to all things. Now it is proper to the will to have a habitude to all things: wherefore the Philosopher says (3 Ethic.) that it is of both the possible and the impossible. Therefore intellectual substances have a will.

Notes The intellect can apprehend (understand, grasp, know) universals, for instance. There’s naturally much more to say on all this, which we shall come to.

The City Of Sodom Possibly Identified (On Evidence)


A team of archaeologists are making the case for Sodom. Not for buggery, mind, but for the historical location of the doomed city. And when you hear the evidence for the queer, fiery end of the proposed site, you might believe Sodom has finally been discovered.

On the other hand, other teams of researchers, as is not surprising, dispute the findings. Since I am not an archaeologist, nor do I possess special knowledge of ancient Middle East history, I am not well equipped to judge who is correct. But our interest here on this lazy Saturday morning is in evidence, what it means and how it is used. Hat tip to the Five Beasts for the pro-side and Lee Phillips for the anti side. Read this book for the philosophy of evidence.

Popular Archaeology has the article “Making the Case for Sodom“. Tells the story of Steven Collins of Trinity Southwest University and the evidence he has why a site called Tall el-Hammam is actually Sodom. I’ll assume you’ll read it.

“It all came from analyzing the Biblical text regarding the location of Sodom,” says Collins. “The quintessential passage holding the geographical key to Sodom’s location is Genesis 13:1-12.” As a Bible scholar and archaeologist, he, like many in his field, recognized the inescapable parallels between many of the archaeological sites and remains that dot the Levant with the place-names of cities and towns well known in the Bible—places like Jericho, Jerusalem, Capernaum, Megiddo and Hazor, to name a few.

This is followed by information on digs, locations, transitions of pottery types and the like.

And for Collins, this finding could provide another supporting clue to his suggestion that pederasty, a documented practice among the Cretan Minoans, may possibly also have been practiced among the ancient inhabitants of Tall el-Hammam, who may have been influenced by or had cultural connections to them…

But based on the excavated evidence, this Bronze Age heyday seems to have nevertheless come to a sudden end toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age—and the ancient city became a relative wasteland for 700 years, for the most part void of human habitation…

One possibility could have something to do with a Middle Bronze period ash layer discovered at various excavation areas of the Tall…Evidence of fiery destructions are commonplace among archaeological sites across the Levant, usually associated with conflict and military campaigns. Recovered pottery sherds evidencing exposure to very high temperature levels, much higher than what would be expected from heating from a kiln or oven, could be yet another clue. Collins has hypothesized that the latter could have resulted from an ancient ‘airburst’, a mid-air explosion caused by an object in the air above the ‘target’ area, such as that of an incoming meteor. A similar, earlier airburst was documented to have disrupted civilization in Mesopotamia around 2200 BCE.”

There is much more, including a video, all of which accords with the common view of Sodom’s fate (Collins explains Gomorrah in the video). Collins created a website devoted to Tall el-Hammam. On it he says these curious things:

As active members of the community of Levantine archaeologists, the TeHEP team is quite aware of the prevailing sentiment among many in the discipline who feel that archaeology should not be used to “prove” components of biblical narrative. We certainly agree that objective archaeology should take us where the evidence leads; but we also understand the importance of ancient texts like the Bible that often provide an historical framework for the identification of geographical locations…

If rigorous scholarship and responsible, objective archaeology confirm a link between Tall el-Hammam and Sodom (or between Tall Nimrin and Admah) or ?the other. As A. J. Ayer’s verification principle requires of any assertion, we must state clearly the criteria whereby any hypothesis can be verified and/or falsified, then follow the evidence wherever it leads. This is the strict method of science.

About the dispute between The Bible and reality and the wishes of archaeologists, more in a moment. First, it should be recalled Ayer eventually rejected his own verification principle, not the least because the principle itself cannot be falsified or proven by any measurement. Many propositions are impossible to verify, but which are true and believed. Any mathematical axiom, for instance.

Enter the detractors to the theory. Gent named Todd Bole isn’t buying the location, for a host of reasons which fall into two groups, incorrect inference of Biblical passages for the siting, and irreconcilable dating with Biblical texts not directly about Sodom. Bole points to one Bill Schlegel who dislikes Collins’s siting inferences, critiques which revolve around where Lot went when he ventured into the “Kikkar of the Jordan” (on his way to Sodom). Experts can weigh the differences; to my layman’s eye, both men have a point.

More tangible (to me, at any rate) is the evidence provided by Eugene H. Merrill, who makes a good case (his math works) that the dates do not to add up if we accept Collin’s theory. Merrill’s paper is interesting also for the time table of ancient events; Abraham’s birth date and so forth. He is also adamant. But then we recall knowledge of dates, even once-certain dates, for ancient events have changed to marked degree among historians, and so could here, too: Merrill and the archaeological community could be mistaken. Again, I don’t know enough to say.

Merrill opens his paper by saying, “Steven Collins is a committed Evangelical scholar with impressive experience in Near Eastern archaeology…” Now that is odd. You would not have expected another archaeologist to have written “Eugene H. Merrill is a wishy washy agnostic, and sometime atheist, with impressive experience etc.” (I have no idea of Merrill’s religious views.) Collins is an evangelical, and although Merrill calls his experience impressive, Collins’s education isn’t traditional (his degree was awarded by the school which employs him).

Christianity (and to a smaller extent Judaism), then, is strong filter, or anti-filter. More information from the dig has been coming out, prompting many popular stories, such as one in the Washington Post, which proves the filtering from a quote from Israel Finkelstein: “We are probably dealing here with an etiological story, that is, a legend that developed in order to explain a landmark.”

Or we could be dealing with a story describing actual events, a story told in an the ancient and not modern manner: people did not convey information as we do now (when there is too much of it). Finkelstein’s remarks remind us of those people who deny the Biblical flood took place since it was written about in many cultures besides Jewish culture, as if multiple witnesses made an event less likely (see this article for additional tidbits). At any rate, Hershel Shanks thinks Tall el-Hammam is a likely site, but he had to say, “Theological questions are not subject to scientific proof—or disproof.”

That’s false. Christianity is founded on a claim which can and must be subject to “scientific” proof.

Stream: AP’s LGBT ‘Rights’ Survey: Stacked, Biased, Bogus


Today’s post is at The Stream: AP’s LGBT ‘Rights’ Survey: Stacked, Biased, Bogus.

AP is reporting young Americans “overwhelmingly support LGBT rights”, a proposition deduced from a GenForward survey “of Americans ages 18-30”. Results?…

Everybody knows that question wording affects the outcome of surveys. In politics, adjusting phrasing to solicit a desired answer is called push-polling. Push-polls make use of ancient prosecutorial trick questions, such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” For example, asked of the same people, “Are you in favor of killing, chopping up, and selling for parts unwanted people?” will give vastly different results than “Are you in favor of a woman’s right to choose?”, even though both questions are about the same thing, abortion.

GenForward acknowledges this form of bias in their own survey. Half their panel were asked if they supported “Coverage of transgender health issues by health insurance”, of which 47% of blacks and 40% of whites strongly supported. But the other half were asked a much more specific question, whether they supported “Coverage of transgender health issues, such as hormone treatments and sexual reassignment surgery, by health insurance”. To this only 34% of blacks and 34% of whites strongly favored, a substantial reduction. The same drop was found for Asians (49-35%) and Hispanics (53-32%)….

The GenForward survey purports to be a representation across all Americans. Is it? A good chunk of its respondents were not employed, from 42% of blacks to 32% of whites. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports unemployment rates for people these ages at about 16% for 18-19-year-olds and 9% for 20-24-year-olds, with rates declining for older folks (until retirement, of course). Many more GenForward panelists were unemployed than average Americans.

Panelists also report anomalously large rates of deviant sexuality. Among blacks, 6% say they are “Gay/Lesbian”, 7% “Bisexual”, 1% “Transgender, transsexual, or gender non-conforming”, for a total of 14% or less across all LGBT categories (it’s “or less” because the survey allowed respondents to choose more than one identification)…

Did you go to The Stream and read the rest? Circle one: (Yes) (No).

There Is No Scientific Method


Title is lifted—swiped, stolen, nicked: a point to emphasize—from an essay in what Father Z rightfully calls Hell’s Bible by one James Blachowicz. Turns out old Willy S was right, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. There is no scientific method.

Which is to say, there is no method particular to Science to discover Truth. Unless you count the rituals and rites developed around the cult of government grants. Blachowicz doesn’t consider these, so neither shall we.

Our man should have known better than even hint at questioning Science, which is for many a religion. Well, Religion That Must Not Be Called A Religion. If you doubt this, search for Facebook or Twitter groups called things like “I F******* Love Science” which are devoted to pictures of colorful frogs, as if a thing’s mere existence makes it Scientific. There’s a good reason the Enlightened leaders of the French Revolution closed up Catholic churches and converted them to Temples of Reason (Rationalia nowadays). And that reason is religion, not Reason.

Point is, HB’s readers became a mite frazzled when Blachowicz pointed out, what is obvious, that even poets refine, hone, change, adapt, reformulate, and, in a word, self-correct. And if it’s true that poets build truth upon truth, with occasional forays into Error, even far-reaching sojourns into Error, even lifetimes in Error, then it’s true theologians build truth upon truth, and philosophers, etc.

And if to err is human, it also follows that if Poetry, Theology, and Philosophy can fail, Science too can slide into darkness. The danger is that if Science thinks itself uniquely privileged in the Way of Knowledge, once it arrives in Darkness it will say, “I can see just fine.”

Blachowicz was forced to issue an apology of sorts:

The importance and effectiveness of scientific inquiry is not in question here. Philosophers of science have spent centuries trying to better understand it. I have done so by studying both science and philosophy throughout my career, starting with a degree in physics. I should probably add that I strongly oppose creationist and other ideological bents that just don’t want certain scientific findings to be true (e.g., global warming).

Now since Blachowicz is a philosopher we wonder why he didn’t also say that he strongly opposes evolutionary psychology and other ideological bents that just don’t want certain scientific findings to be false (e.g., global warming)? (He does get points for calling global warming by its correct name.)

That is the point, n’est-ce pas? As I’ve said before, everybody believes in confirmation bias, they just think it always happens to the other guy. We’re all of us, poets and physicists, theologians and technologists, inclined to see what we want rather than What Is. Scientists increasingly as much or more than anybody. How many papers have we vivisected on this site that only found evidence for what they desired and that missed the mountain of contradiction in front of them?

Reminder: First Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award, Second Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award.

Problem with a lot of modern scientists is that they say to themselves, “But I made this finding using scientific methods! And I’m a respected, well-funded scientist” with the implication that therefore they are strangers to Error. Oh, they’ll admit to small indiscretions, minor flaws, rough edges. More research is needed. But own that their central thesis smells more than the books from the Clinton Foundation? Never.

Blachowicz is right about this:

Suggesting that the method science uses is its exclusive property is an inflationary claim that doesn’t serve science well. Science is a form of human knowledge. But there’s more to knowledge than science. The differences, of course, have to be preserved, but we won’t know what the defining differences are until we identify what it is that scientific and nonscientific inquiry have in common. This short article was a modest attempt to explore that question.

Every working scientist, including the most rabid empiricist, uses mathematics, and mathematics is not scientific in any common sense of that word. Mathematics is form of human knowledge, therefore it’s true there is more to knowledge than science, a truth scientists must acknowledge to do their job. Science is also silent (as I take much pain to show) on right and wrong. How to apply scientific results isn’t scientific. Why? That involves knowledge of the Good. Science is silent, eternally gagged, from adjudicating its foundations.

Let’s give Blachowicz the last word:

Many of those who have simply dismissed philosophy (and poetry and other nonscientific areas of inquiry and expression), including some prominent scientists, have done so without displaying any evidence that they’ve ever worked through what they’re criticizing. Scientists often react strongly when their work is criticized by those who know very little about science, often with good cause. This is a two-way street. It does not seem wise for those who are unwilling or unable to work through challenging philosophical theories (including theories of scientific method) to simply dismiss them all. Where’s the objectivity in that?

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑