William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Things Which Block Truth

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.

Chapter 4

(1) WHILE then the truth of the intelligible things of God is twofold, one to which the inquiry of reason can attain, the other which surpasses the whole range of human reason, both are fittingly proposed by God to man as an object of belief.i

We must first show this with regard to that truth which is attainable by the inquiry of reason, lest it appears to some, that since it can be attained by reason, it was useless to make it an object of faith by supernatural inspiration.ii

(2) Now three disadvantages would result if this truth were left solely to the inquiry of reason.

(3) One is that few men would have knowledge of God: because very many are hindered from gathering the fruit of diligent inquiry, which is the discovery of truth, for three reasons.

Some indeed on account of an indisposition of temperament, by reason of which many are naturally indisposed to knowledge: so that no efforts of theirs would enable them to reach to the attainment of the highest degree of human knowledge, which consists in knowing God.

Some are hindered by the needs of household affairs. For there must needs be among men some that devote themselves to the conduct of temporal affairs, who would be unable to devote so much time to the leisure of contemplative research as to reach the summit of human inquiry, namely the knowledge of God.

And some are hindered by laziness. For in order to acquire the knowledge of God in those things which reason is able to investigate, it is necessary to have a previous knowledge of many things: since almost the entire consideration of philosophy is directed to the knowledge of God: for which reason metaphysics, which is about divine things, is the last of the parts of philosophy to be studied.iii

Wherefore it is not possible to arrive at the inquiry about the aforesaid truth except after a most laborious study: and few are willing to take upon themselves this labour for the love of a knowledge, the natural desire for which has nevertheless been instilled into the mind of man by God.iv

(4) The second disadvantage is that those who would arrive at the discovery of the aforesaid truth would scarcely succeed in doing so after a long time. First, because this truth is so profound, that it is only after long practice that the human intellect is enabled to grasp it by means of reason. Secondly, because many things are required beforehand, as stated above. Thirdly, because at the time of youth, the mind, when tossed about by the various movements of the passions, is not fit for the knowledge of so sublime a truth, whereas calm gives prudence and knowledge, as stated in 7 Phys.[1] Hence mankind would remain in the deepest darkness of ignorance, if the path of reason were the only available way to the knowledge of God: because the knowledge of God which especially makes men perfect and good, would be acquired only by the few, and by these only after a long time.v

(5) The third disadvantage is that much falsehood is mingled with the investigations of human reason, on account of the weakness of our intellect in forming its judgments, and by reason of the admixture of phantasms. Consequently many would remain in doubt about those things even which are most truly demonstrated, through ignoring the force of the demonstration: especially when they perceive that different things are taught by the various men who are called wise. Moreover among the many demonstrated truths, there is sometimes a mixture of falsehood that is not demonstrated, but assumed for some probable or sophistical reason which at times is mistaken for a demonstration. Therefore it was necessary that definite certainty and pure truth about divine things should be offered to man by the way of faith.vi

(6) Accordingly the divine clemency has made this salutary commandment, that even some things which reason is able to investigate must be held by faith: so that all may share in the knowledge of God easily, and without doubt or error.vii

(7) Hence it is written (Eph. iv. 17, 18): That henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened: and (Isa. liv. 13): All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.

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iFrom last time, there are some things we can work out for ourselves, but others which we must take on revelation, i.e. on faith.

iiDon’t panic. We’re starting with that which we can prove by reason. The juiciest arguments will be concrete, scientific, and oh so rational.

iiiTo his great shame, Yours Truly fits into category three. How about you, dear reader? I’ll flatter both of us that, because you regularly stop by here, that you at most suffer as I do, but that you’ll be capable of and have the time to understand the arguments to come.

ivDavid Stove, one of my favorite anti-modern modern philosophers said learning requires two things, libraries and leisure. The library of the internet is practically free, but leisure is harder to come by, particularly as we invent more and more labor-saving devices. Most Westerners now on purpose carry with them everywhere Thinking Suppression Devices so that not even by accident will they philosophize.

vIt is shocking that so many would try to figure out the greatest questions we could possibly ask on their own, without study. Would you try to figure quantum mechanics, the calculus, grammar from scratch on your own without consulting the relevant authorities? No, sir, you would not. So why are you so keen on consulting only your untutored thoughts on, say, whether God exists?

viOnce you are presented with an argument with true premises, a valid conclusion, and which is sound, you have no choice, if you are rational, other than to accept it. Likewise, if an argument you cherish is shown to have false premises, an invalid conclusion, or is shown unsound, you must, if you are rational, you must reject it. Thirdly, many of the arguments on which we rely are not well considered, but carried along habitually or because they are deeply pleasing to us. I used to be an atheist, too, so I know what it’s like. Time for some intense scrutiny.

Update Apropos quotation from Peter Kreeft (start 10:30) on why academics have turned traditionally Catholic colleges and universities away from the Truth. “Smart people are very good at just about everything intellectual, including fooling themselves. Ordinary people aren’t smart enough to fool themselves. They have no place to hide. But academics can create all sorts of excuses and places to hide from themselves.”

viiLike I said, this won’t be our path. We’re going to prove everything.

[1] iii. 7.

23 Comments

  1. Sander van der Wal

    May 25, 2014 at 11:22 am

    I found this post by Feser: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.nl/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html quite relevant to these posts.

  2. Thanks again Matt…keep up the good work. I too am a member of the third category.

  3. Brandon Gates

    May 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    It is shocking that so many would try to figure out the greatest questions we could possibly ask on their own, without study. Would you try to figure quantum mechanics, the calculus, grammar from scratch on your own without consulting the relevant authorities? No, sir, you would not. So why are you so keen on consulting only your untutored thoughts on, say, whether God exists?

    Two reasons.

    1) I reject the notion that God chooses to communicate directly only to relevant authorities. If He exists, He would communicate to me if he chose, for I have surely attempted to make contact. Either He doesn’t exist, or it is not His purpose for me to find Him that way.

    2) Which are the “relevant” authorities? I’ve read at least a third of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. Also bits and pieces Qur’an, Torah, Bhagavad Gita. Snippets of other Eastern religions. Countless commentaries on the same. I’m quite comfortable with taking wisdom from all those books. They contain much beauty and much horror … they tell the story of what it is to be human. How many rocks must I turn over? Is it not sufficient that I have looked at what God possibly might be like?

    I used to be an atheist, too, so I know what it’s like.

    Me too. Looking back, it stunk on ice. I wish you well on your continued search.

  4. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    “…on account of an indisposition of temperament, by reason of which many are naturally indisposed to knowledge…
    Some are hindered by the needs of household affairs… to the conduct of temporal affairs…
    And some are hindered by laziness… “

    Which is to say, “by lack of skill, by lack of time, by lack of inclination.”

    much falsehood is mingled with the investigations of human reason, on account of the weakness of our intellect in forming its judgments, and by reason of the admixture of phantasms.

    Translated into modern terms: our reason is mixed up with our imagination. “Phantasm” was back then a term of art referring to the combination of what we see, hear, smell, etc. into a single common image. This is stored (and recalled) in the memory and manipulated in the imagination. The whole process of theseinner senses is sometimes called collectively “the imagination.” Since every act of the intellect is accompanied by an act of the imagination, it is easy to confuse the two.

    among the many demonstrated truths, there is sometimes a mixture of falsehood that is not demonstrated, but assumed for some probable or sophistical reason which at times is mistaken for a demonstration.

    A good example is the sometime claim that “science” has demonstrated that evolution is “by chance.” But the chanciness is only an assumption that has been annexed to the facts of evolution.

  5. Brandon Gates

    May 25, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    A good example is the sometime claim that “science” has demonstrated that evolution is “by chance.” But the chanciness is only an assumption that has been annexed to the facts of evolution.

    It’s more than a sometime claim, it’s a foundational principle of the theory. It’s an annoyingly constant claim when used in conjunction with, ” … therefore there cannot be a Creator.”

    Perhaps I read too much into “annexed to the facts of evolution”, but I question whether you are properly separating anecdotal personal experiences of faith from inductive reasoning based on empirical evidence. One of these is independently verifiable, the other is not.

  6. “Once you are presented with an argument with true premises, a valid conclusion, and which is sound, you have no choice, if you are rational, other than to accept it.”

    There’s the rub.

    The premises which you base your argument upon can never be proven to be false.

  7. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 25, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    I question whether you are properly separating anecdotal personal experiences of faith from inductive reasoning based on empirical evidence.

    At least according to current science, evolution works through natural selection. This is not random, but directed (as all causes must be) toward an end; to wit: adaptation to a niche. Maladaptations are ruthlessly destroyed, thus inching a species toward perfection of its kind.

    The premises which you base your argument upon can never be proven to be false.

    So then they are true, and the conclusions follow. What’s the problem?

  8. Sander van der Wal

    May 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    ““Once you are presented with an argument with true premises, a valid conclusion, and which is sound, you have no choice, if you are rational, other than to accept it.””

    And there weren’t true premises?

    Anyway, what you would accept is that the conclusion is consistent with the premises. Which leaves you free to accept that a different conclusion based on different premises is also consistent with these different premises. Even when both arguments are about the same situation.

  9. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 2:10 am

    YOS:

    At least according to current science, evolution works through natural selection. This is not random, but directed (as all causes must be) toward an end; to wit: adaptation to a niche. Maladaptations are ruthlessly destroyed, thus inching a species toward perfection of its kind.

    Natural selection is the process of some genetic traits (alleles) becoming either more or less frequent in a given population over time. Deleterious alleles become less frequent and vice-versa based on which population individuals are, on average, better able to pass on their particular alleles to offspring.

    Since even relatively fit individuals can still be killed prematurely by simple chance (natural disasters are one example), or because of some factor for which they are otherwise not well adapated, this is one source of randomization — akin to a weighted die.

    The process by which different alleles form is due to various mechanisms of mutation, an almost purely random mechanism.

    In species that reproduce sexually, offspring receive “shuffled” genetic material from each parent. This random shuffling process occurs during the formation of germ cells before fertilization occurs. For all practical purposes, no two germ cells for a given parent are composed of the exact same alleles.

    Were it not so, human children from the same two parents but different matings would look essentially the same. The same effect is observed in litters of puppies, kittens, piglets, etc.

    Not all causes need be directed, else there would be no free will.

    No species has an ideal, perfect form according to the theory of natural selection. In fact, the entire concept of species is rather arbitrary — there is no exact point at which one species has become another, or several other, species over the course of their evolution. There is only the gradual process of changing allele frequencies in populations due to (very slow and marginal) adaptations to local conditions.

    Nothing above confirms or falisfies the existence of a Creator. However, if Creator, it may give some insights into to the creative process.

    Or the evidence could have been planted as a test of faith, which seems a less likely explanation.

  10. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 5:26 am

    PS YOS, carried forward from the Spurious Correlations thread:

    Science says we evolved by chance

    First of all, science does not answer questions like that; second that evolution is by natural selection [and likely by other means as well], not by chance. “Chance” is not and cannot be causal.

    Hopefully what I wrote above fleshed out my understanding of natural selection theory more suitably. My use of chance and random as causal may be sloppy. I’m not sure now whether or not you believe in any form of non-deterministic causality.

    If “other means as well” refers to any metaphysical process, it cannot be evaluated by objective independent observation. To me, that’s just definitional. So I take it we agree: science does not answer questions like that.

    I think we’d agree that there’s no such thing as purely objective knowledge. Empirical evidence is always subject to uncertainty via biases and/or errors in sampling, measurement, interpretation, hypothesis formation and theoretical foundation.

  11. Sander van der Wal

    May 26, 2014 at 6:11 am

    @Brandon Gates

    Brownian motion? Alleles are pushed around by other molecules in the neighbourhood? Then every push is caused by some other molecule, but it is way to hard to predict where the allele ends up.

  12. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Natural selection is the process of some genetic traits (alleles) becoming either more or less frequent in a given population over time.

    Actually, that is the result of natural selection.

    As for the rest, I think we are too likely to demand specific effects for generic causes, which violates proportionality of causation. Either that, or we confuse “caused” with “predictable.” Take the familiar example of the man brained by a hammer on his way to lunch.

    Everything in the man’s unlucky location is caused. He left his cubicle because it was time for his lunch; he walked in that direction because he chose to eat at his favorite diner down that block; he passed beneath the roofers at the wrong time because he walked at a particular pace.
    Everything in the fall from the roof is caused. The workman rose to go because it was his lunch break; his foot nudged the hammer because of the geometry of the placement of his tools; the hammer slid because of the pitch of the roof and the friction of the roofing; it fell because of gravity and gained kinetic energy as it fell; it killed the poor unfortunate fellow beneath because the energy exceeded the protective capacity of his skull and stylish fedora.

    There was nothing random about either world-line. Everything was caused either by natural causes or by volition. It only seems random because of a superstitious belief in the meaningfulness of coincidence. The intersection of two world-lines does not have a cause, since it is not a thing. The natural catastrophe that wipes out the little species has causes, even if they are not known at the moment. Hurricanes and earthquakes and eruptions don’t happen for no reason.

  13. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Sander van der Wal:

    Brownian motion? Alleles are pushed around by other molecules in the neighbourhood? Then every push is caused by some other molecule, but it is way to hard to predict where the allele ends up.

    Perhaps, but I don’t recall it being emphasized when I learned it. The mixing happens at the chromosomal level during the first phase of meiosis. Chromosomes “cross over” and swap bits with each other, thereby changing the allele composition of each. I don’t know how well the mechanisms are understood, it’s one of those things where it’s sufficient for me to know that it happens.

  14. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    YOS:

    Actually, that is the result of natural selection.

    I really need to be precise around you, don’t I? 🙂

    Everything was caused either by natural causes or by volition. It only seems random because of a superstitious belief in the meaningfulness of coincidence. The intersection of two world-lines does not have a cause, since it is not a thing.

    I understand chains of causality and that “random” events like big rocks falling out of the sky are only superstitiously random. The rock didn’t “come out of nowhere”.

    Are you a determinist or not?

  15. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    PS YOS:

    By way of answering for myself the last question I asked of you above, I’ve been re-reading the comment thread on the Free Will Cannot Be an Illusion post from 23 April: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=12186

    I take it that you’re not a determinist. Further it seems that free will on the part of organisms partially explains the observed results of natural selection and evolution. Am I understanding correctly?

  16. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 26, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Most folks misunderstand the whole “free” will thingie. It only means that the will is not determined to one thing or another in the presence of imperfect information. Since we call things “random” only because we are ignorant, there seems a superficial resemblance between will and quantum theory. But since the will is no more a material object than the intellect, the will does not depend upon the quanta for its freedom. The confusion of “determined toward” with “predictable” is more a problem. As the poor guy struck by “thor’s” hammer illustrates, determined events need not be predictable.

  17. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    YOS:

    Most folks misunderstand the whole “free” will thingie. It only means that the will is not determined to one thing or another in the presence of imperfect information.

    I hesitate to accept that definiton. The more obvious statement is that knowledge is imperfect in the presense of imperfect information.

    Which is to say all knowledge is always imperfect to some degree. Caveat: I am not a sceptical nihilist, though that’s sometimes educational to flirt with.

    Since we call things “random” only because we are ignorant, there seems a superficial resemblance between will and quantum theory.

    It doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises of this post that the relationship between QM theory and will must be superficial coincidence. Otherwise I agree that we tend to inappropriately describe as random those events with unknown/unknowable causality.

    But since the will is no more a material object than the intellect, the will does not depend upon the quanta for its freedom.

    The mind body problem hasn’t been solved to my complete satisfaction so far as I am aware. Metaphysical explanations to me are the same as not knowing. As I see it, the only choice is to stop asking questions or look for empirical explanations.

    Which empirical evidence, if and as discovered, shall always remain silent on metaphysical propositions.

    The confusion of “determined toward” with “predictable” is more a problem. As the poor guy struck by “thor’s” hammer illustrates, determined events need not be predictable.

    The first question is indeed confusing, but that I consider important to untie.

    Thor’s hammer is a good illustration of macro-level physical interactions. It severely breaks down for me at a microscopic level where quantum effects become significant.

  18. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 26, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Most folks misunderstand the whole “free” will thingie. It only means that the will is not determined to one thing or another in the presence of imperfect information.

    I hesitate to accept that definiton.

    Well, it was the understanding of the folks who came up with the whole free-will thingie in the first place. I suppose the easiest way to undermine any theory is to use a different definition than the theorist did.

    The mind body problem hasn’t been solved to my complete satisfaction

    What about the sphere-basketball problem?

  19. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    YOS:

    I suppose the easiest way to undermine any theory is to use a different definition than the theorist did.

    Men of straw are notoriously ineffective at doing anything but inhibiting the abililty to discover truth. The one who suffers most is the one who erects them.

    I don’t see any problem with hesitating to accept a definition from some authority and then proffering my own opinion. To me that’s straight up critical thinking and sceptical debate which should nominally indicate that I’m open to considering additional supporting arguments.

    What about the sphere-basketball problem?

    I’m hopeless. At this point I doubt I could make a layup half the time. 🙂

    And yes, I get the reference and am reading that thread.

  20. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    YOS: I’m up to speed on the sphere-basketball problem, which you stated as:

    Descartes has a lot to answer for. That whole res cogitans thingie has created a host of non-problems. There is no more a “mind-body problem” than there is a “sphere-basketball problem.” Form and matter are separable as mental objects, but inseparable in physics.

    The will is simply the intellective appetite: a hunger for (or against) the products of the intellect (i.e., concepts). Since you cannot desire what you do not know, the will is free to the extent the object is incompletely known. When something is completely known, such as “1+1=2″ in the normal usage, the will cannot withhold consent. When something is incompletely known, such as “world peace” (what does it look like, how do we get there) the will has “play” or “freedom.” It’s really fairly simple.

    Here’s where it begins to fall apart for me: “Since you cannot desire what you do not know, the will is free to the extent the object is incompletely known.”

    Now I accept it would take an improbable act of will to deny that 1+1 != 2. So much so that I’d wager that anyone who actually thinks otherwise is suffering from some sort of psychosis. There’s always the issue of knowing what someone really thinks vs. what they actually say is often impossible.

    Consider you and I enter a different wager. You’ll flip a quarter you retrieved from your own pocket and if it comes up heads, I’ll give you a dollar.

    The coin flip comes up heads.

    Your argument implies that I am compelled by the laws of the known universe to fork over a greenback.

    If not, the only other argument I see you being able to make is that it’s a metaphysical quarter and neither of us can independently verify the outcome of the flip.

  21. Brandon Gates

    May 26, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    PS Errata: Now I accept it would take an improbable act of will to deny that 1+1 != 2.

    Should be “assert”. Some mistakes are not willful, but they sure can be funny.

  22. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 27, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I don’t see any problem with hesitating to accept a definition from some authority and then proffering my own opinion.

    But then you wind up refuting yourself and not the original proposition.

  23. Brandon Gates

    May 28, 2014 at 1:59 am

    What were we talking about again?

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