William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Faith, Proof, & The A Priori

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 5: That those things which cannot be investigated by reason are fittingly proposed to man as an object of faith

(4) There results also another advantage from this, namely, the checking of presumption which is the mother of error. For some there are who presume so far on their wits that they think themselves capable of measuring the whole nature of things by their intellect, in that they esteem all things true which they see, and false which they see not. Accordingly, in order that man’s mind might be freed from this presumption, and seek the truth humbly, it was necessary that certain things far surpassing his intellect should be proposed to man by God.i

(5) Yet another advantage is made apparent by the words of the Philosopher (10 Ethic.).[3] For when a certain Simonides maintained that man should neglect the knowledge of God, and apply his mind to human affairs, and declared that a man ought to relish human things, and a mortal, mortal things: the Philosopher contradicted him, saying that a man ought to devote himself to immortal and divine things as much as he can. Hence he says (11 De Animal.)[4] that though it is but little that we perceive of higher substances, yet that little is more loved and desired than all the knowledge we have of lower substances. He says also (2 De Coelo et Mundo)[5] that when questions about the heavenly bodies can be answered by a short and probable solution, it happens that the hearer is very much rejoiced. All this shows that however imperfect the knowledge of the highest things may be, it bestows very great perfection on the soul: and consequently, although human reason is unable to grasp fully things that are above reason, it nevertheless acquires much perfection, if at least it hold things, in any way whatever, by faith…ii

Chapter 6: That it is not a mark of levity to assent to the things that are of faith, although they are above reason

(4) On the other hand those who introduced the errors of the sects proceeded in contrary fashion, as instanced by Mohammed, who enticed peoples with the promise of carnal pleasures, to the desire of which the concupiscence of the flesh instigates. He also delivered commandments in keeping with his promises, by giving the reins to carnal pleasure, wherein it is easy for carnal men to obey: and the lessons of truth which he inculcated were only such as can be easily known to any man of average wisdom by his natural powers: yea rather the truths which he taught were mingled by him with many fables and most false doctrines. Nor did he add any signs of supernatural agency, which alone are a fitting witness to divine inspiration, since a visible work that can be from God alone, proves the teacher of truth to be invisibly inspired: but he asserted that he was sent in the power of arms, a sign that is not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. Again, those who believed in him from the outset were not wise men practised in things divine and human, but beastlike men who dwelt in the wilds, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching; and it was by a multitude of such men and the force of arms that he compelled others to submit to his law…iii

Chapter 7: That the truth of reason is not in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith

(1) NOW though the aforesaid truth of the Christian faith surpasses the ability of human reason, nevertheless those things which are naturally instilled in human reason cannot be opposed to this truth. For it is clear that those things which are implanted in reason by nature, are most true, so much so that it is impossible to think them to be false.iv

Nor is it lawful to deem false that which is held by faith, since it is so evidently confirmed by God. Seeing then that the false alone is opposed to the true, as evidently appears if we examine their definitions, it is impossible for the aforesaid truth of faith to be contrary to those principles which reason knows naturally.v

(2) Again. The same thing which the disciple’s mind receives from its teacher is contained in the knowledge of the teacher, unless he teach insincerely, which it were wicked to say of God. Now the knowledge of naturally known principles is instilled into us by God, since God Himself is the author of our nature. Therefore the divine Wisdom also contains these principles. Consequently whatever is contrary to these principles, is contrary to the divine Wisdom; wherefore it cannot be from God. Therefore those things which are received by faith from divine revelation cannot be contrary to our natural knowledge.vi

(3) Moreover. Our intellect is stayed by contrary arguments, so that it cannot advance to the knowledge of truth. Wherefore if conflicting knowledges were instilled into us by God, our intellect would thereby be hindered from knowing the truth. And this cannot be ascribed to God.vii

(4) Furthermore. Things that are natural are unchangeable so long as nature remains. Now contrary opinions cannot be together in the same subject. Therefore God does not instill into man any opinion or belief contrary to natural Knowledge…

(7) From this we may evidently conclude that whatever arguments are alleged against the teachings of faith, they do not rightly proceed from the first self-evident principles instilled by nature. Wherefore they lack the force of demonstration, and are either probable or sophistical arguments, and consequently it is possible to solve them.viii

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iModern intellectuals particularly avoid learning about or discussing God. The subject embarrasses them. At best, they might eagerly accept a weak counter-argument for God’s existence, glad to be shot of the obligation to investigate further, shoot opinions off the cuff, or quote a supposed witticism by some untutored New Atheist. Shameful behavior, really, on such an important question. Why not let’s examine the best arguments, as we should in all areas? Though St Thomas is right to emphasize that there are some things above us that we must take on faith, just as the common do when confronting most technical claims of Science—not everybody can understand all things. I repeat that we won’t be taking anything on faith, except for those bits of knowledge that come in-built (i.e. a priori knowledge).

ii[I]t happens that the hearer is very much rejoiced“. Isn’t this what the materialist rightly says about the higher truths in Science? That knowing it depths brings joy? Knowledge is good for its own sake. It us why mathematicians call their theorems beautiful. It is why once you hear St Thomas’s arguments in Chapter 13 and beyond, you will be happy.

iiiOf course, nowadays most come to Islam via other paths, but the promised carnality doesn’t hurt. Seventy-two virgins, is it? Not that all Muslims take that belief literally, of course. However, what Thomas says applies, I think, to the current rage for materialism. I can call myself any gender I want? Sign me up. What matters is what I desire and not what is? I’m right there with you. We are running from physics and metaphysics as fast as we can, straight into the arms of ourselves.

Mark Twain thought that the lack of a carnal nature in the afterlife of Christians was an argument against belief. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven bothered him greatly. Yet Plato in his Republic taught us that with age comes the diminishing of carnal thoughts and distractions, he showed us the great freedoms which accompanies this release.

ivNotice that this does work for propositions implanted by evolution. Suppose we were born with the innate knowledge that fire is hot because the unfit among our ancestors were burnt, much in the same way many animals are born with an innate fear of man. In this case, evolution would be creating a built-in belief which was true. But then suppose we were born with the innate idea that that we believe ideas because they make us happy and allow group cohesion, i.e. our ancestors who had happy notions bred more copiously than our ancestors who demanded proof and evidence. How would you ever know if you were a member of the former group? You could be fooling yourself that was actually false you think true because it is comforting. For example, we could be born with a gene for atheism (it can’t be that believing you are of variable “gender” or “sexuality” will help your reproductive chances). There is no reason to trust evolution leads to truth. We’re stuck with metaphysics and the grueling task of proving difficult claims.

On the other hand, there are some truths implanted in us, though not be evolution, that are true and impossible to think other than true. That a thing cannot exist and not exist simultaneously is one. That nothing which is not already actual can be a cause. That if x and y are integers and if x = y, then y = x. I don’t know if anybody has collected these truths. Would make a fascinating monograph.

vBe careful to understand Thomas is claiming a conditional true. If God told you to believe X because it is true, then X cannot be false. You needed yet believe in God to believe, which you must, that statement. See paragraph (3) for clarification.

viAnd now we see the candidate source for our a priori knowledge.

viiGod cannot lie to us (another conditional statement). But we sure can lie to ourselves (true by multiple overwhelming observation).

viiiI skipped over the (conditional) arguments about the veracity of scripture, which you won’t yet believe, and are at this point distracting. Thomas is talking to the teacher in the excised paragraphs, not the student. But here he repeats that we shall test and prove all things. I emphasize that you will not be asked to swallow anything, that all will be given ample demonstration.

Note We’re just getting past the introductory material and into the good stuff! Like I said, the juiciest bits start in Chapter 13, which I think we’ll reach in two or three weeks. Stick around.

[3] vii. 8
[4] De Part. Animal. i. 5.
[5] xii. 1.

61 Comments

  1. St. Thomas keeps saying that some things are beyond human reason and must be accepted by faith but never gives any examples. Will this be done later?

    In the notes “I skipped over the (conditional) arguments about the veracity of scripture, which you won’t yet believe” and in the text “it is impossible for the aforesaid truth of faith to be contrary to those principles which reason knows naturally”. Will you be showing that there was a world wide flood and that the early patriarchs lived for hundreds of years?

    Also “If God told you to believe X because it is true, then X cannot be false”. This is the rub as who speaks for God? What if my personal revelation differs from yours?

  2. Sander van der Wal

    June 1, 2014 at 11:19 am

    “iModern intellectuals particularly avoid learning about or discussing God. The subject embarrasses them. ”

    The embarrassement probably being that they have forgotten the arguments that were used in the past against the existence of God.

    “…(4) There results also another advantage from this, namely, the checking of presumption which is the mother of error. For some there are who presume so far on their wits that they think themselves capable of measuring the whole nature of things by their intellect, in that they esteem all things true which they see, and false which they see not. ”

    What a curious argument. A couple of posts ago St. Thomas states that men’s intellect is capable of such feats. But now it is not. And since when is a bumble atgument more true? Being humble is a rhetorical way of disarming the opponents, making it easier for them to accept an argument on merits, as the person making the argument isn’t seen as a threat.

    And this is an argument against Science, although it is not formulated properly. Science after Popper would say that they esteem all things false which they see being false.

  3. “If God told you to believe X because it is true, then X cannot be false”.

    Corrolary:
    If X is proven tho be false, then God doesn’t exist.

  4. Scotian:
    Wouldn’t the Trinity be such an example? We could never come to know such a doctrine through reason alone, even though we can use reason to show that it’s not contradictory.

  5. Daniel,
    What about alternative pantheons (Greek, Nordic, Indian) ?

  6. @Hans
    What about them? Without divine special revelation (as is what I guess St. Thomas is talking about as “accepted by faith”) from The One/Pure Act/God/Allah/Subsistent Being Itself/Existence Itself, we can deny them through reason alone.

  7. Why do you reject Muhammad’s “divine special revelation”.

  8. @Hans
    Well, St. Thomas propose some reasons above, such as the lack of miracles to establish authority. Good thing is – we can explore these things, including the resurrection – historically. But the arguments for the historicity of Islam, the claims of Mohammed and the resurrection would probably take us too far off-topic?

    The point made here was to state that we could never establish the truth about the Trinity, or that God necessarily had to incarnate as Jesus Christ, through reason alone, even with prior knowledge of God’s existence. Anyhow, we would still build our faith from a foundation of reason. Feser recently wrote a good post about these things:
    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.no/2014/05/pre-christian-apologetics.html

  9. “For some there are who presume so far on their wits that they think themselves capable of measuring the whole nature of things by their intellect, in that they esteem all things true which they see, and false which they see not. Accordingly, in order that man’s mind might be freed from this presumption, and seek the truth humbly, it was necessary that certain things far surpassing his intellect should be proposed to man by God.”
    This is the nub of our contemporary problem. Those who have faith in scientism (I won’t dignify that as faith in science) have, for the most part, very little experience in doing science. They take their science from new reports, fromTV accounts, all of which are formed by those who have done no science, published no papers, reviewed no grants, supervised no graduate research groups.
    I recommend Nancy Cartwright’s “How the Laws of Physics Lie”, Fr. Stanley Jaki’s “The Limits of Limitless Science”, and Bas Van Fraassen’s “The Scientific Image” to those who might want to get a better balance perspective of intellect (as manifested in scientific endeavors) vs faith. The first is available online:
    http://joelvelasco.net/teaching/120/cartwright-How_the_Laws_of_Physics_Lie.pdf
    I don’t agree with all the arguments by the above authors, but they make a good case that using science as the only optics to view the world amounts to tunnel vision.

  10. Brandon Gates

    June 1, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Briggs, renumbering these for reference in my comments further below:

    1) That those things which cannot be investigated by reason are fittingly proposed to man as an object of faith.

    2) There results also another advantage from this, namely, the checking of presumption which is the mother of error.

    3) For some there are who presume so far on their wits that they think themselves capable of measuring the whole nature of things by their intellect, in that they esteem all things true which they see, and false which they see not.

    4) Accordingly, in order that man’s mind might be freed from this presumption, and seek the truth humbly, it was necessary that certain things far surpassing his intellect should be proposed to man by God.

    The argument rests on accepting the assertion that (1) is true. This is problematic because faith in this context refers to something that is definitionally unseeable.

    I note that the argument in (3) is entirely valid, but I find it incomplete:

    3a) Perception of a thing does not necessarily guarantee that we will correctly gain truthful knowledge from having observed it.

    3b) The default rational statement with respect to a non-observation is to disclaim any knowledge of either true or false. Unobserved is unknown.

    Both (1) and (2) allude to an inherent human ability to reason even in the absence of faith. There is much scriptural support for this as well.

    (4) again rests upon an assertion only supportable by faith, by definition a belief resting upon the substance of things unseen.

    Since the argument leaves out (3b) it is asking us to accept any claim of unseen evidence for God as True based on faith.

    Also since the argument leaves out (3a) it creates an uncomfortable ambiguity which might lead one to believe it is in their own best interest to suspend (3b) and make the irrational decision to believe in an unseen God.

    A notably ill-reasoned argument was set forth by Blaise Pascal along those lines.

    I repeat that we won’t be taking anything on faith, except for those bits of knowledge that come in-built (i.e. a priori knowledge).

    Ok, but I guess I missed the bit that was supposed to be self-evident.

    Modern intellectuals particularly avoid learning about or discussing God. The subject embarrasses them. At best, they might eagerly accept a weak counter-argument for God’s existence, glad to be shot of the obligation to investigate further, shoot opinions off the cuff, or quote a supposed witticism by some untutored New Atheist. Shameful behavior, really, on such an important question.

    Perhaps. Whether it is more or less shameful than purporting to know the mind of another, and thence disparaging and mocking them for failing to explore your own beliefs, reasoning, or wisdom to your own arbitrary satisfaction — I would not presume to judge for you. It’s for you to evaluate on your own with your own God-given ability to reason. I do not feel unjustified asking that of you.

    Why not let’s examine the best arguments, as we should in all areas?

    Best according to whom? That’s an easy answer for me: it’s completely up to me based on my own intellectual interests, ability to understand, and limitations in the time that I have to do all that. I think Romans 8 lays it out best:

    5 For they that are according to the flesh, mind the things that are of the flesh; but they that are according to the spirit, mind the things that are of the spirit.

    The choice is implicit, but it is there. Otherwise the injunctions that follow would be redundant:

    6 For the wisdom of the flesh is death; but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace.
    7 Because the wisdom of the flesh is an enemy to God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be.
    8 And they who are in the flesh, cannot please God.

    Which is fine. Clearly, making poor, unwise choices often results in negative consequences. I need no faith at all to understand this, it’s been entirely empirical by my own perceptions.

    I could be wrong of course. However, I’m quite willing to stand without faith and face God today if He exists, being proud and unashamed of how I have lived my life thus far.

  11. Brandon: Isn’t there a quote somewhere in the Bible that pride cometh before a fall? That was the first thing that popped into my head reading your final statement.

  12. Brandon, something you said touched me:
    ” Whether it is more or less shameful than purporting to know the mind of another, and thence disparaging and mocking them for failing to explore your own beliefs, reasoning, or wisdom to your own arbitrary satisfaction — I would not presume to judge for you. It’s for you to evaluate on your own with your own God-given ability to reason. I do not feel unjustified asking that of you.”
    I think I’m too hard and disparaging of those who put too much faith in science and not enough in God.
    I’ve been investigating the spirituality of the Spiritans lately (founded by Fr. Francis Libermann, a French Jewish convert) and he said
    “It is difficult to appreciate how important this tolerance is…There is no way in which people will always agree…If….we allow each person to see things in their own way and according to their own character and mentality, then great good will come from it.”
    OK, time to be tolerant and accepting.

  13. Brandon Gates

    June 1, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Sheri: yes, Proverbs 16:18, this time KJV because that’s what I’m most familiar with: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

  14. Brandon Gates

    June 1, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Bob Kurland:

    I started composing this before I read your response my previous post. So this will be a two-fer.

    This is the nub of our contemporary problem. Those who have faith in scientism (I won’t dignify that as faith in science) have, for the most part, very little experience in doing science. They take their science from new reports, fromTV accounts, all of which are formed by those who have done no science, published no papers, reviewed no grants, supervised no graduate research groups.

    It’s a trixy definition, this scientism. Here’s how I’ve untied it:

    1) Science is the humble and respectful pursuit of knowledge through the self-recognized limits of our limited capability to observe and reason. In this sense, empirical inquiry does not exclude other forms of gaining knowledge which do not and/or cannot rely on quantifiable observable phenomena. As not all of us could ever hope to do all such research ourselves, we choose to trust others who have done it on our behalf. That trust need not, and should not, be totally blind. A minimum of personal investigation and independent study is required for our trust to be well-founded, and therefore our opinions and beliefs be rationally and logically defensible.

    2) Scientism is the irrational belief that empirical inquiry can answer most, if not all, truth propositions. I think questions of morality best answered by logic and reason along philosophical lines. I think conflicts of morality are best answered by the practice of ethics, and given binding force through the codification and enforcement of laws. Empiricism is silent on metaphysical truth propositions and should be left out of it in most cases I have seen it used. When used in this way, science becomes the most extreme and destructive form of scientism I can presently conceive.

    I think I’m too hard and disparaging of those who put too much faith in science and not enough in God.

    I’ve been investigating the spirituality of the Spiritans lately (founded by Fr. Francis Libermann, a French Jewish convert) and he said

    “It is difficult to appreciate how important this tolerance is…There is no way in which people will always agree…If….we allow each person to see things in their own way and according to their own character and mentality, then great good will come from it.”
    OK, time to be tolerant and accepting.

    A wonderfully wise quote. We could all stand to read Matt. 7:3-4 a little more often:

    3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

    4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

    I so very much call myself guilty of crossing this principle at times. I disagree with verse 5 though. It’s up to us, always, to remove our own motes … or so says this agnostic.

    Your words touch me as well and you have my thanks.

  15. So I accept the teachings of the Buddah, and reject the teachings of Paul and Muhammad. Because I am convinced that eternal punishment is fundamentally unjust.

  16. Sander van der Wal

    June 2, 2014 at 1:59 am

    @Brandon Gates

    Science is the method by which one chooses the best theories from the multitude of competing theories. Best being the theories which are not being contradicted by observations.

    The crucial bit is “choosing between competing theories”. There is never a single theory to explain a number of facts, whether the theories are physical or meta-physical.

    And the choosing bit is what Briggs et al appear to misunderstand, what Feser is not referring to in his may post on his blog, and what is going to result in this series of posts not going to convert anybody. Who cares that St. Thomas created a consistent meta-physical theory about the Christian God? Something which is very hard given the Trinity, Evil and a Loving God, and all other logival problems that plague Christianity.

    Consistent meta-physical theories are a dime a dozen. People create them all the time. Most are trivially simple, some are unbelievably complicated (pun intended).

    And they are very bad at predicting real-world events. Even then, most people happily ignored that. The great advances in understanding and predicting the world came when some people abandoned the idea that for a theory to be true being consistent was enough. The first advance was that for a theory to be true it has to predict events in the real world. And the second advance was that a false theory fails to predict events.

  17. Brandon Gates

    June 2, 2014 at 3:11 am

    Sander:

    The crucial bit is “choosing between competing theories”. There is never a single theory to explain a number of facts, whether the theories are physical or meta-physical.

    Perhaps I’m being sloppy in substituting science for empiricism. I think I can conceive of the scientific method being used to evaluate metaphysical propositions, but my view is that it would only apply to personal beliefs. IOW, no metaphysical theory would ever be independently falsifiable by a neutral and objective observer.

    To me, that distinction is very very key, for thus, empiricism can never falsify any metaphysical proposition. Therefore the only appropriate answer for our hypothetical (impossible) neutral observer is, “I cannot decide from the available (non) evidence, therefore I disclaim any knowledge of whether the given proposition is true or false.”

    Who cares that St. Thomas created a consistent meta-physical theory about the Christian God? Something which is very hard given the Trinity, Evil and a Loving God, and all other logival problems that plague Christianity.

    I’m quite interested in what Christians believe and how they think. (As a non-practising Christian/devout agnostic, I have a head start.) There are many who are my neighbours, so some of this is being neighbourly. I find wisdom and beauty in various places in the Bible, and cautionary tales of how not to be horrible to one another. It doesn’t hang together as a complete system of belief (not by a long shot) but I cannot deny that it has had a significant influence on my life.

    Much more self-serving, Christianity is a large politial force in the US. The atheist/theist animosity is expensive in terms of emotional toll, legislative and judicial costs. A little more mutual understanding and trust would go a long way.

    Consistent meta-physical theories are a dime a dozen. People create them all the time. Most are trivially simple, some are unbelievably complicated (pun intended).

    I’ve come up with several of my own. I’m most inclined to believe the one I call the Bored Diety Hypothesis. I’m sure something like it has been done, but I like my take on it, and I think I could hold my own defending it in a debate. Not that doing so would actually make it true because. It is unbelievably simple however. 🙂

    And they are very bad at predicting real-world events.

    I’m down on partisanship and groupthink in general, not just — well especially not — with religions. Zealous fanatics in politics, religion, what have you, tend to make poor decisions. Being a fanatic about rational and logical thinking, I sometimes wonder if I’m any better off. Cheers.

  18. Sander van der Wal

    June 2, 2014 at 6:38 am

    @Brandon

    Dying and ending up in Heaven, or Hell, is veryfying the physics of Christianity. It is only metaphysics while younare alive on Earth, according to Christianity.

    Regarding the political fall-out, it is the result of a program by some Christian factions in the USA itself. The New Atheist movement is a reaction on that political program. As far as I can see from Europe, where this discussion is much less heated, and clearly being stoked by all involved parties in the USA .

  19. That the truth of reason is not in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith

    This one is very interesting. And tricky. And purposefully ill defined.

    The proposal can be described by an extremely simple logical proposition :
    X(R) AND X(C) where X is some proposal and R/C are rational respectively christian truth values of X.
    X(R) and X(C) can only take 0 or 1 values.
    Key is that the proposal X must be identical for X(R) and X(C) in order to make sense for the proposal.
    Another key is that, by the definition, the number of X is infinite and the quoted sentence is saying that for any X such as X(C)=1, we have necessarily X(R)=1 ( or X(R) undefined what is implicitely allowed by the proposal).

    An even more difficult problem is the ill defined (euphemism) also potentially infinite set of X such as X(C)=1.
    So to start, let’s take an assumption that X(C)=1 is a finite set explicitely formulated in a book B.
    We assume also that there is only 1 such book to avoid the contradictions of diferent books leading to differents sets with X(C)=1.
    Some could note that the second assumption is already proven wrong but then we can reduce the argument to a B(i) which is the Ith book of N books that each define a finite set of X such as X(C)=1.

    Now everybody familiar with basic logics which must be valid both for X(C) and X(R) will agree that a counterexample is enough to invalidate the proposal quoted.
    Then let us take the following example where X = “It is possible to transform 1 kg of bread in 100 kg of bread”.
    We have X(C)=1 because this is one of the X formulated in the book.
    But X(R)= 0 because this proposal violates the mass energy conservation and probably the second principle of thermodynamics too. In principle one could transform energy to mass (according to E=mc²) but the energy necessary for such a massive transformation is on a scale that is far beyond any energy available on the Earth about 2000 years ago.

    It would be possible to find several other couples of X such as X(C) = 1 and X(R)=0 so that the proposal quoted is safely falsified.
    Of particular note is that we did not need anywhere the assumption that X(R) is well defined for any X such as X(C)=1 because indeed it is not.
    All we can say is that the set of X such as X(R)=1 (rational truths) is not included in the set of X such as X(C)=1 (christian truths) but the intersection of both sets is not empty.

    Does it say anything about Xs such as X(C)=1 while X(R) is ill defined or undecidable (Gödel theorem) ?
    No.
    And that is precisely what allows to conditionnaly keep such Xs with the caveat that there is and will probably never be a rational procedure allowing to find X(R).
    These are typically statements where people using only rational arguments say that they don’t care about the truth value of such statements.

  20. Hans: If eternal punishment is unjust, so is eternal reward. That leaves pretty much the atheist position available.

  21. Briggs

    June 2, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Brandon,

    Metaphysics is that which comes before or is “above” physics. This is what Sander and others do not understand. You must have a metaphysics before you can even have physics. The idea of causality, for instance, is not physical but metaphysical. The idea that a thing can not exist and not-exist simultaneously is metaphysical and not physical. All of mathematics (including statistics) is metaphysical and not physical, except when it is applied. The false idea that all that we can or should know is science is called scientism. It is a form of scidolatry.

    We are deciding the metaphysics here. Consistent metaphysical schemes are not only not a dime a dozen, they are exceedingly rare and come at a great price. People do not even create them all the time. How many, for instance, do you know? Sander is speaking out of his hat here in an attempt to bully. Notice that he hasn’t engaged the arguments written above, but instead points to what he sees as “logical difficulties” we haven’t even begun to discuss.

    This reminds me. I have to do a post on the So’s Your Brother fallacy, which Sander invoked. This is when you say to a person, “X is false and here is why.” And he retorts, “Oh yeah, well Y is false, too.” Utterly irrelevant, but quite effective as a debating tactic.

  22. Sheri, enlightenment is not a reward, it’s a state.
    And there is no final judgement, so everybody can get enlightened.
    God is immanent, not transcendent.

  23. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 2, 2014 at 11:56 am

    What about alternative pantheons (Greek, Nordic, Indian) ?

    They do not fall into the same category of thought as God. All of them are clearly themselves creatures. All of them have beginnings (Zeus is born of Chronos) and some of them have ends (Thor is killed by the world-serpent). All of them are imperfect. Thus, none of them are the same kind of thing and are no more “alternatives” than a short-wave radio is an alternative to a souffle.

    (We make a partial exception for certain kinds of Hinduism, as at the old temple grounds south of Chennai where Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are presented as three manifestations of a single Godhead: creator, savior, dismantler. A Trinity, if you will.)

    using science as the only optics to view the world amounts to tunnel vision.

    As Heisenberg put it in Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science:
    “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
    IOW, what we see through the means of science are only those aspects of reality that the means of science are equipped to see. If science is a hammer, it will tell us that the world looks like a nail.

    The argument rests on accepting the assertion that [“those things which cannot be investigated by reason are fittingly proposed to man as an object of faith”] is true.

    But this is trivially true. Every science rests on unproven axioms that are simply accepted on faith. Physics must accept a priori that a physical world exists. Euclidean geometry accepts the Euclidean axioms. Any mathematics that incorporates a first-order arithmetic assumes that its methods are coherent. None of these things can be proven within the context of those sciences. This is why extreme skepticism, which demands “proof” of everything is ultimately subversive of science and liberalism. In the end, they eat their young.

    This is problematic because faith in this context refers to something that is definitionally unseeable.

    Granted, the axioms of general topology are unseeable; but in the use of reason we do not depend on what is merely impressed on the sense of vision. Restricted to that, we can never proceed beyond the imagination — and not everything imaginable is conceivable.

    “Faith” (fides) of course means “trust” or “truth” (triewð (W.Saxon), or treowð (Mercian)). One is Latinate, the other Anglo-Saxon. “Believe” is cognate to “beloved” and is the instensive form of “lief” (“love”). So to have faith in something means to find it trustworthy or reliable. That may come from the evidence of one’s own senses or from the testimony of those who have proven trust-worthy.

    given the Trinity…and all other logival problems that plague Christianity.

    We might not have come up with that without hints, but that the Hindus, the Christians, and the Neoplatonists did so is instructive. The latter two could lay out logical arguments for the concept.

  24. Brandon Gates

    June 2, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Briggs,

    I had not seen metaphysics extended outside of religious context before. I now have something else to Google, which is good. I’ll ruminate on this.

    Re: consistent metaphysics. Not to offend, please don’t take it as such: the Bible is terribly inconsistent. Three major religions use parts of it, and they have countless factions and branches. I know you know that, just want to emphasise that even if I could accept the Bible, I would be lost as to which church to join. This is what I speak of when I talk about metaphysical propositions being impossible for a neutral dispassionate objective observer (which is not me, however hard I try) to falsify. Logically, they cannot all be 100% correct. That does not mean that they’re all 100% wrong. In practice though, that’s how I live. Intellectually, I know better.

    I meant what I said about being willing to stand before God at the bar of judgement without shame or guile and give a proud accounting of my good faith (in a moral, not spiritual sense) efforts to lead an ethical life. My somewhat irreverently named “Bored Deity Hypothesis” is to me a dead-serious effort on my part to explain the inconsistent views of all religions and not rule out any or all religions as potentially factual. This is how I don’t fall into the trap of faux safety of placing the wager suggested by Pascal.

    I look forward to your post on the So’s your brother fallacy. I predict I’ll have more fun discussing it than I’m going to have trying to hack you to bits on today’s trans-gender post.

    Be well.

  25. Briggs

    June 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Brandon,

    You too are invoking the So’s-Your-Brother fallacy. We haven’t even got to the Bible yet (except parenthetically). Let’s stick to the arguments at hand. Focus is key.

  26. Sander van der Wal

    June 2, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    @Briggs

    I’m using a different definition of metaphysics, the Popper one.

    @YOS

    We haven’t yet agreed on the logical necessity of your God, so proposing Thor et al as competitors is fine at this stage. I agree these gods are all different, but at this stage agreeing to not let them enter is at the very least a rethorical mistake.

  27. Briggs

    June 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Sander,

    Popper was flat out wrong about metaphysics—and self-contradictory, as we have seen many times (use the Search feature on the left to look for instances).

    YOS is right about excluding other created creatures. God, as we shall see, is not created. To get a quick preview, look up under Classic Posts my review of D.B. Hart’s new book.

  28. Hans: So there is no God except within us. When we die, that God dies too? I don’t really understand. A Unification Church minister told me something similar and I didn’t understand then either. If enlightenment is not a reward, then why try to achieve it? What happens if you don’t. It just seemed like word play to me. I’m just being honest–I don’t understand any of this. I’ll see what I can learn about the idea and go from there. You don’t have to answer—just letting you know that I am totally lost on this and still think that all religions have eternal rewards or are pointless. Perhaps I can learn more and re-evaluate.

  29. Brandon Gates

    June 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    YOS:

    But this is trivially true. Every science rests on unproven axioms that are simply accepted on faith. Physics must accept a priori that a physical world exists. Euclidean geometry accepts the Euclidean axioms. Any mathematics that incorporates a first-order arithmetic assumes that its methods are coherent. None of these things can be proven within the context of those sciences. This is why extreme skepticism, which demands “proof” of everything is ultimately subversive of science and liberalism. In the end, they eat their young.

    I’ll accept I state a trivial truth here. One has to start somewhere. As much as I loathe binary shallow arguments, I find utility taking both sides of the dichotomy in their pure, non-nuanced forms and then fleshing in the details to see if I can get them to meet. There are not always, maybe hardly ever, happy mediums. The concept of the Tao helps me even though I know next to nothing of the whole of Taoism.

    When atheist empiricists demand “proof” for the unprovable, it provokes some of my most intense ire imaginable. I have not been doing it over the past week, but I often wade into their online territory and take those arguments to task. If you think I’ve spoken harshly here at times, you ain’t seen nothing like me gnawing on a hard atheists crap arguments.

    The story of Euclid’s axioms is central to my personal philosphy, untutored and rough as they are. I well understand that I would go insane demanding proof for each and every existential assertion. Solipsism and/or epistemological nihilism is not the kind of perpetual navel-gazing I wish to engage in; such would surely render me catatonic, in a fetal position on my couch, sucking my thumb and drooling all day. Blech.

    My one anchor is the a priori knowledge of my own existence. All other assumptions about the rest of you out there follow, and I’m comfortable there. (I went through nearly a week of intense discomfort reaching that point. This was, oh, six years ago.)

    Granted, the axioms of general topology are unseeable; but in the use of reason we do not depend on what is merely impressed on the sense of vision. Restricted to that, we can never proceed beyond the imagination — and not everything imaginable is conceivable.

    That is well-argued and actually fits my own thinking quite well. The last sentence especially; it is a major part of my deliberate and difficult effort to adhere as closely as I can to strict agnosticism on existential assertions of (not)god(s).

    Re: faith. I believe I’ve stated my definitions elsewhere, but they bear repeating. Empirical faith is different from religious faith. The major difference is that empirical evidence has at least a chance for independent falsification, whereas religious faith must, by (my) definition, forever be limited to self falsification.

    I think it is very dangerous to equate the two. Wherever I have seen it attempted it has resulted in conflict more often than not. I cannot, will not, ever take someone else’s word for it that their religion is true, much less “most” true or “the only” true. No matter how much I otherwise trust them. And here, I am speaking of my own family as the personification of my ultimate trust in others.

    I don’t expect you, or anyone else reading to be swayed in your own beliefs by any of the above, and I am very ok with that.

  30. Brandon Gates

    June 2, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Briggs: it’s not intentional, and I do not see where I am doing it. Please point it out specifically if you have the time to do so. In the meantime I’ll read up on my own and review my own arguments.

    Focus: FWIW, diagnosed ADD here. Non-hyperactive type. I either hyperfocus or wander. I’ll attempt to do the former on this series.

    Ah wait, roping the Bible into this is so’s your brother. Got it, message rec’d. Out.

    Sheri:

    So there is no God except within us. When we die, that God dies too? I don’t really understand.

    Not to speak for Hans, but no. The existence of God is a reasonable proposition. You may meet God when you die, but in all likelihood (S)He will not be anything like what you expect. It’s only your beliefs that are your own. If God, God is what God is.

  31. Brandon Gates

    June 2, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Sander:

    I’m using a different definition of metaphysics, the Popper one.

    I find it essential to make definitions my own. YOS cuts me to ribbons when I do that, so YMMV just as much as mine. Hard to answer appeals to authority with out doing the same. ‘Tis annoying, but human.

  32. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 2, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I meant what I said about being willing to stand before God at the bar of judgement without shame or guile and give a proud accounting of my good faith (in a moral, not spiritual sense) efforts to lead an ethical life.

    You are simply parroting Orthodox/Catholic doctrine. Cf. Romans 2:11-16:

    “There is no partiality with God. All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified. For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.
    + + +

    Not to offend, please don’t take it as such: the Bible is terribly inconsistent.

    Gosh, no one has ever noticed this before. But heck, the Orthodox Church does not even have a “Bible.” (They have a book of gospels, a lectionary, etc.; but do not put it all into one volume.) They base their religion on the “Holy Traditions” handed down from the Apostles. The Catholic Church is the same, except they use the formula “The Bible and the Traditions.” Who ever heard of relying on a text without having a context? Oh, wait. Atheists and fundamentalists.

    For details, see: Augustine: On Christian doctrine

    So far, Aquinas/Briggs has made no reference to the Bible.

  33. Sheri, consider yourself as part of a hologram, removal of a single part doesn”t remove the hologram, just the intensity. The only way to kill god is to kill the universe, but that by dfefinition is ebverlasting as it encompasses everyting we know and don’t know.

    There is no “Guy in the sky”, who listens to prayers: that i ssimply an anthropomorphic projection. God doesn’t care, he is. He is not immoral, he is amoral. That is the only possible explanation of the theodicy.

    Consider what eternity means: then understand that eternal punishment for a final life of say, a mere hundred years, is the gravest imaginable trangression of justice . Buddhism, on the other, hand teaches second chances until you have learned.

    No sin justifies eternal punishment.

  34. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 2, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Consider what eternity means

    Yes: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1010.htm#article1

  35. Hans—thank you. I’m going to have to think about that one.

  36. YOD
    comes close to Nirwana, doesn’t it?

    Pity Aquinas didn’t know buddhism.

  37. Brandon Gates

    June 3, 2014 at 12:49 am

    YOS:

    I meant what I said about being willing to stand before God at the bar of judgement without shame or guile and give a proud accounting of my good faith (in a moral, not spiritual sense) efforts to lead an ethical life.

    You are simply parroting Orthodox/Catholic doctrine. Cf. Romans 2:11-16:

    “There is no partiality with God. All who sin outside the law will also perish without reference to it, and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified. For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature observe the prescriptions of the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.

    I don’t recall reading that specific passage, but I must have: I’ve read every word of the NT (KJV). Except maybe some snoozing through Acts and Revelations. But I like Paul’s epistles, so I was probably awake for that one.

    My memory does work in funny ways at times, but in the present, my thoughts as you quoted above feel to me like a synthesis of my own thinking plus various foundational beliefs derived from both Biblical and secular thought learned in my youth and young adulthood.

    As much as possible, I try to not parrot anything before having given it a good working over from as many angles as I have time or imagination to do so.

    Not to offend, please don’t take it as such: the Bible is terribly inconsistent.

    Gosh, no one has ever noticed this before.

    Surely not YOS. I first noticed during my own in indivudal study. Then the Internet happened and I found I was not alone. There are websites devoted to picking the inconsistencies out.

    I bring it up to illustrate my personal difficulty accepting any form of Christianity because: how in the heck would I choose? And why would I want to? If the canon is inconsistent and the organizations, plural, cannot even agree how to resolve them consistently, where in the heck am I supposed to go?

    Which brings us to ….

    But heck, the Orthodox Church does not even have a “Bible.”

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like trying to play pin the tail on the donkey, triple blindfolded, and hung upside down from my feet in the middle of a 9.2 magnitude earthquake.

    Who ever heard of relying on a text without having a context? Oh, wait. Atheists and fundamentalists.

    ROFL. Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that my foray into rabid hard atheism damaged my brain. The other half of it was already damaged by being raised in a rather fundamentalist Christian religion.

    But I’ve unscrewed myself enough from both of those things to realize that I simply do not have the time to investigate every single commentary anyone has ever written about every single extant religion on the planet.

    For the love of all that is holy YOS, put yourself in my shoes and try to understand the difficulty of the task you are asking me to undertake. And then ask yourself why a benevolent loving God would put me in such a difficult spot if He didn’t want me to excercise my own intellect and pick my way through it on my own to the best of the abilities He endowed me with.

    That’s the only thing that makes any sense to me if there is a Creator. And I’ll double-down on what Hans wrote because it’s exactly what I have been thinking for at least the past 2.5 decades:

    Consider what eternity means: then understand that eternal punishment for a final life of say, a mere hundred years, is the gravest imaginable trangression of justice . Buddhism, on the other, hand teaches second chances until you have learned.

    No sin justifies eternal punishment.

    I’m really beginning to like that guy. I still like you too, but I don’t like many of your beliefs. It’s a fine line I walk with everyone that I agree or disagree with.

    By the way, I read the link you provided to him in response: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1010.htm#article1

    I got to about here: “Thus eternity is known from two sources: first, because what is eternal is interminable–that is, has no beginning nor end (that is, no term either way); secondly, because eternity has no succession, being simultaneously whole.”

    So, eternity isn’t known. Well, what am I supposed to do with that? To me, eternity means “forever”, and that sounds like a long time to me. If plain English isn’t enough to unravel this mystery, I’m really firmly in the cammp of “I’m just going to muddle through one day at a time and try to make every choice as well as I can. And hope for the best.”

    I’m not seeing how the Golden Rule doesn’t get it for most decisions in life. Or how my defintion of Evil: “Causing intentional harm to someone against their will”, and therefore NOT doing that, in conjuction with treating others how they ask to be treated is going to somehow result in me missing the mark and landing me in Hell forever.

    If following those two really simple and obvious rules as best I can isn’t enough to get me into Heaven, I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to go there.

    For details, see: Augustine: On Christian doctrine

    I have somewhere in my pile of computer stuff, CD-ROMS full of Aquinas. Read a bunch of it, not a majority, but still a lot, and it didn’t help. I’ll poke around for Augustine if I have a moment. And that’s the point. How much commentary do I have to read to get it? How much more prayer and scripture study and searching does God need me to do before I gain a personal witness that He’s there?

    At this point in my life, I can only conclude that He’s not there, or that His mission for me in this life is to go it solo. If I’m wrong about either of those, I have no qualms about telling him, “Oh wow, I see that I have gone very wrong here. I’m sorry. I did my best, and lived as closely to everything good that I learned from wherever it is that I learned it. Please have mercy on my soul for my shortcomings.”

    What patient, infinitely loving eternal Parent wouldn’t be moved by that contrite and sincere recognition of fault, and plea for forgiveness?

    So far, Aquinas/Briggs has made no reference to the Bible.

    Yes, Briggs rapped my knuckles for that already and I now stand twice chastened and rightfully so. Howzabout in return you leave atheists and fundamentalist Christians out of it when you’re talking to me, this agnostic truth-seeker, speaking his very own principles and asking his own questions. Agreed? [extends hand]

  38. Sander van der Wal

    June 3, 2014 at 1:02 am

    @Brandon

    I’m using the Popper concepts because I think that they work. Not because they were invented by Popper. As of that, the important one is the notion that it is possible to prove a theory wrong. Next to thay one obviously needs to be able to reason about theories and propositions, otherwise the entiere concept makes no sense. If theories, logic and propositions are traditionally part of metaphysics, at least in some tradition, fine.

  39. Brandon Gates

    June 3, 2014 at 2:48 am

    Sander: Fair enough. I note that Briggs swatted it down though … where’s the quote …. ah:

    Popper was flat out wrong about metaphysics—and self-contradictory, as we have seen many times (use the Search feature on the left to look for instances).

    Which is why I normally don’t engage in these sorts of discussions with appeals to authority outside canon. Of course, that backfires too:

    Not to offend, please don’t take it as such: the Bible is terribly inconsistent.

    Gosh, no one has ever noticed this before.

    [grrrrrr]

  40. After having proven above that the statement :
    That the truth of reason is not in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith
    was false by presenting a proposition X which was true in christian faith and false in rational science, let us look at the statement :

    That those things which cannot be investigated by reason are fittingly proposed to man as an object of faith

    This proposal really shows its age (e.g an age where nothing was known about brain functions).
    The gist of the statement is that reason and faith are different procedures where the latter is “fitter” than the former for “some things”.
    I think there is consensus that we know today that reason is determined by conscient brain processes.
    Faith being just a very particular conscient brain process, it depends on the same conditions and dynamics like reason does.
    If we define mathematics like a particular brain process, then there is (almost) no difference between faith and mathematics.
    Indeed both only need brain and no perceptions and external reality are necessary.
    Both present self consistent structures (here I assume that faith axiomatized by some religion is self consistent what is far from obvious) and both are able to formulate proposals.
    And most importantly both demand to accept as true some set of proposals known as axioms.

    Starting from there the right question is then “Are there really any differences between mathematics and faith ?”
    Well considered in themselves there are none – both are self consistent and self contained brain processes.
    However as both are able to formulate proposals obeying the same formal logics, they can also make proposals about the external world which objectively exists for the huge majority of us.
    And because they use the same tool (formal logics) these proposals can be compared when they come to different conclusions.
    Mathematical proposals about observable (only) reality are called science.
    Faith proposals about reality (observable + non observable) are called religion in the meaning of the statement quoted.
    (Remark : I am using the word religion but could have used metaphysics with minor modifications.)

    The constraint of (any) religion when it makes a statement about observable reality is to always be consistent with science. If it is not, like I showed in the first post, then it is trivially falsified.
    Therefore the only difference between religion and science could be statements about non observable reality.
    However as non observable reality is not object of science, it is a monopoly domain of mathematics and religion.
    There can be no conflict between science and religion in these domains because science doesn’t make any statements there.
    Indeed science can and will say nothing about the reality of a measurable manifold or of a god.

    Conclusion
    The statement discussed is isomorphe to the following statement :
    That some of those mental structures which cannot be investigated by science (yet !) are fittingly proposed to man as an object of mathematics.

    As the latter is (today !) tautologically true, the former is today also true .
    It is likely that the progress of neurosciences will allow in (some) future a theory of the brain dynamics which will explain and interpret among others brain states independent of external stimuli like mathematics, faith etc.
    When that happens,the discussed statement will be falsified too.

  41. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 3, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    I’m using the Popper concepts because I think that they work.

    You realize that Popper’s conscious purpose was to undermine the status of physical science. Some thoughts on that here:
    http://ontology.buffalo.edu/stove/500-600.htm

    the important one is the notion that it is possible to prove a theory wrong. Next to thay one obviously needs to be able to reason about theories and propositions, otherwise the entiere concept makes no sense.

    Modus tollens has been known since antiquity, as have the other syllogisms. Popper was not original to this.

    If theories, logic and propositions are traditionally part of metaphysics, at least in some tradition, fine.

    They are, and it is. The tradition is called “Western Philosophy.” See Aristotle for details. Nothing of the sort existed elsewhere save in those societies that were heir to this tradition. In China, for example, the logical structure of Euclid hit them like a thunderbolt. They had rules of thumb, but no such system of construction and deduction. The word for logic in Chinese is luójí, a borrow-word from Western language. So theories, logic and propositions were not part of metaphysics in China because they did not possess theories, logic, propositions, or metaphysics

  42. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    The gist of the statement is that reason and faith are different procedures where the latter is “fitter” than the former for “some things”.

    Yes, the one for axioms; the other for reasoning from the axioms.

    I think there is consensus that we know today that reason is determined by conscient brain processes.

    Conscient?

    Science does not deal in consensuses. What you describe is an a priori assumption, not a conclusion.

  43. Brandon, you are enlightened.

  44. Brandon Gates

    June 3, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    I was beginning to wonder.

  45. Sander van der Wal

    June 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    @YOS

    I’m having a problem understanding the issues, because of the examples. Flames are hot because they are produced by a very specifical physical process, and no amount of reasoning will change that.

    Theories about the world are “just pulled out of thin air”. But because of experience, having seen only black ravens, and not white ones, and only having felt hot flames, and not cold ones, nobody is going pull out of the thin air a theory that all ravens are purple with yellow spots, or that all flames are cold, and some of them lukewarm. As such theories would obviously be refuted by the first experiment designed to test them.

    The interesting bit however are the theories that explain why flames are hot, and why ravens are black. No amount of deductive nor inductive reasoning is going to tell me *why* that is so. And that makes the entiere discussion about inductive versus deductive reasoning a bit sterile. Because theories about the world are not true because they are inductive or deductive. Theories about the world are true because they explain everything they need to do and they predict all events they must explain perfectly.

  46. Brandon Gates

    June 4, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Sander, I lost this one in the fray:

    Regarding the political fall-out, it is the result of a program by some Christian factions in the USA itself. The New Atheist movement is a reaction on that political program. As far as I can see from Europe, where this discussion is much less heated, and clearly being stoked by all involved parties in the USA .

    Playground analogy. The teacher doesn’t care who started it, the rule is no fighting and everyone gets detention until it stops. If only it were that easy.

    I’m having a problem understanding the issues, because of the examples.

    There were examples?

    The interesting bit however are the theories that explain why flames are hot, and why ravens are black. No amount of deductive nor inductive reasoning is going to tell me *why* that is so.

    Bingo.

    And that makes the entiere discussion about inductive versus deductive reasoning a bit sterile.

    Are you sure you didn’t mean stale? Or am I just being cranky ….

    Because theories about the world are not true because they are inductive or deductive. Theories about the world are true because they explain everything they need to do and they predict all events they must explain perfectly.

    You had it and lost it. First sentence is true, second sentence is false. Reality is not a theory.

  47. Sander van der Wal

    June 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    @Brandon

    A true theory about the world doesn’t become reality. You need to know what a true theory about the world is before you can start looking for the false ones.

  48. Brandon Gates

    June 4, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Sander,

    True and False in their purest forms exist only in logic and math. When leaked into empirical approximations of reality having such binary form, they become the seeds of hubris. If not constantly checked by the ruthlessly liberal application of a machete, such seeds often grow into the nastiest tangle of weed-choked and thorny shrubbery imaginable.

    “What we think we know about X is … ” is a far more trustworthy construction when it falls on the ears or eyes of an intellectually honest sceptical investigator.

  49. Sander van der Wal

    June 5, 2014 at 5:24 am

    @Brandon

    ““What we think we know about X is … ” is a far more trustworthy construction when it falls on the ears or eyes of an intellectually honest sceptical investigator.”

    No it isn’t. Because the actual proposition is that it is true that you think certain things. That proposition is true when you do indeed think those things, and the proposition is false when you do not think those things :D.

    You must be able to tell whether a certain event falsifies a theory. So if your solar eclipse prediction theory predicts an eclipse for tomorrow, and it happens the day after tomorrow, and you made no mistake in the calculation, then your solar eclipses prediction theory is false. Plain and simple, as logical as can be.

  50. Brandon Gates

    June 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Sander:

    No it isn’t.

    My personal anecdotal experiences suggest otherwise. YMMV, and it must be your own mileage, not mine.

    You must be able to tell whether a certain event falsifies a theory. Plain and simple, as logical as can be.

    I am not arguing against the plain simplicity of the argument. It is elegant; one that I learned at a young age and still firmly abide. Orbital mechanics are based on all but unimpeachable theory and observation. But again, my strong caution to you is against general statements like this:

    Theories about the world are true because they explain everything they need to do and they predict all events they must explain perfectly.

    Empiricism does not explain “everything”. It does not predict “all” events. It is only as good as our finite perceptions and limited capability to understand.

    My argument here rests on my own personal intellectual discipline and rigour as applied to human limitations. It’s especially important to me when discussions fall outside the direct purview of empiricism. Especially since empirical observations only lead to approximations of reality, even with something as simple as falling rocks.

  51. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    You must be able to tell whether a certain event falsifies a theory.

    That’s not easy. Heliocentrism was decisively falsified for a couple thousand years by the lack of parallax or Coriolis effects. Darwinian evolution was falsified by the then-current theory of inheritance. Maxwell’s electromagnetism was falsified by the existence of permanent magnets.

    Heliocentrism was empirically verified only when better measurements discovered the minute effects in the mid 1700s (stellar aberration), 1790s (Coriolis effects), and 1803 (stellar parallax).

    Darwinian theory was salvaged in the 1920s when the genetic theory of inheritance replaced the “blended bloodlines” theory. Inheritance is discrete, not continuous.

    Electromagnetism was saved by the entirely arbitrary invention of the electron (so that permanent magnets could also have electric charges in motion). Millikan discovered the electron in 1909. (Or else he discovered that electrical charges increased by discrete intervals.)

    As Einstein once said: “When theory does not agree with the facts, change the facts!”

  52. Brandon Gates

    June 5, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    YOS:

    As Einstein once said: “When theory does not agree with the facts, change the facts!”

    Could be viewed two different ways:

    1) Support for my arguments above that arrogant overcertainty may tend to hubris and thence error; only this time based on theory, not observation.

    2) An argument for supposing that observations are erroneous because they do not match robust theory.

    An objective investigator does best to give each due consideration. My general perception of Einstein is that he did both. And also that he was somewhat of a delightful wag.

  53. Brandon Gates

    June 5, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Sander:

    Because the actual proposition is that it is true that you think certain things. That proposition is true when you do indeed think those things, and the proposition is false when you do not think those things :D.

    Ohhh, you devil. I missed that earlier. Well played. 😀

  54. Sander van der Wal

    June 6, 2014 at 2:33 am

    @Brandon

    “Empiricism does not explain “everything”. It does not predict “all” events. It is only as good as our finite perceptions and limited capability to understand. ”

    It has to be good enough to differentiate between the things that happen in the real world and the things that do not. I personally do not care whether this is called ’empirisism’.

    @YOS

    “That’s not easy. Heliocentrism was decisively falsified for a couple thousand years by the lack of parallax or Coriolis effects. ”

    For the Coriolis forces on Earth the Earth has to revolve around its axis. It can be at the center of the Universe or revolve around the Sun.

    As long as you have no reason to believe geocentric theory is false there’s no need to create a different one. But people did create them, and suddenly there are two competing theories. And the heliocentric theory was also a good model, given the crudeness of the measurements. Because in the geocentric model, you need all kinds of weird epicycles to make it good enough to predict the things people were actually seeing. Things were not just moving around the earth, they were moving around the earth on a very complicated interlocking bunch of invisible things that became more complicated when the measurements got better.

    At that point you have two competing theories, and the measurements available were not good enough to differentiate between them. The Geocentric theory stated after all that the effects had to be exactly zero. Which is measurable too.

    “Darwinian evolution was falsified by the then-current theory of inheritance.”
    Theories do not falsify each other. Theories compete.

    “Maxwell’s electromagnetism was falsified by the existence of permanent magnets.”
    Maxwell got a working theory by assuming that charge came in discrete packages? In that case, he was able to predict all effects known at the time, and he added a way of testing the theory against competitors that did not predict such beasts.

    So, no, Maxwell was not falsified by magnets. Maxwell predicted the existence of the electron, and its discovery was corroboration of Maxwell.

  55. Brandon Gates

    June 6, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Sander,

    It has to be good enough to differentiate between the things that happen in the real world and the things that do not. I personally do not care whether this is called ‘empirisism’.

    I do not care for semantic pedantry. Not one whit. The wrangling over whose definition of metaphysics on this thread is a case in point. Which entirely misses the point.

    I also believe you speak to an irony that is not at all lost on me; and it’s a problem.

    My comments about empiricism aren’t semantic. For discovering truths about physical reality there is no better way of going about it. Nevertheless, I strictly remind myself that observations only yield approximations of physical reality. At the very least, that keeps my own hubris at bay.

  56. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    For the Coriolis forces on Earth the Earth has to revolve around its axis. It can be at the center of the Universe or revolve around the Sun. … But people did create [other theories] and suddenly there are two competing theories.

    Shorthand, sorry. The real conviction was that the earth was stationary, given that no empirical motion could be detected. A stationary earth more or less requires that it be in the center. That is why the scientists of the time held that the revolution of the earth was “false in philosophy” while the rotating earth was merely “suspect.”

    All three basic models were postulated in antiquity. By the early 17th century there were no fewer than seven competing models: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html
    + + +

    “Darwinian evolution was falsified by the then-current theory of inheritance.”
    Theories do not falsify each other. Theories compete.

    But the bloodline theory of inheritance was not known to be a theory. It was thought to be an incontrovertible fact. Any new mutation would be “diluted out” of the bloodline long before it could prevail. (Unless the mutation happened simultaneously in thousands of individuals!) This was a serious objection, as Darwin himself noted. Eventually Gregor Mendel’s rediscovered work presented a “digital model” for inheritance and showed how a trait could lie dormant in a population until a sufficient number of individuals carried it. Not only that, but Mendel being a physicist by training, he developed mathematical laws that described the process.
    + + +

    “Maxwell’s electromagnetism was falsified by the existence of permanent magnets.”
    Maxwell got a working theory by assuming that charge came in discrete packages? … Maxwell predicted the existence of the electron

    IIRC, it was Herz and Boltzmann who postulated the electron. But it was noted by other physicists at the time that permanent magnets did not seem to have an electrical basis and therefore Maxwell’s theory seemed to be falsified. Unlike Ampere, who had done yeoman’s work on experiments that developed a theory of conducting bodies, Maxwell developed a theory of dielectric bodies “from the top down” and waited for facts to catch up.
    https://archive.org/details/lesthoriesle00duheuoft
    http://books.google.com/books?id=0jQBcEnsDv0C&pg=PA88&lpg=PA88&dq=duhem+%22maxwell+had+achieved+his+electromagnetic+theory%22&source=bl&ots=fJWtaA5QCW&sig=4TZY58ZNWCCV-Srgh81wKYQH3jo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fiuSU-HuA8iqsQTU2oG4Cg&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=duhem%20%22maxwell%20had%20achieved%20his%20electromagnetic%20theory%22&f=false

    In all three cases, those who clung to the new theory in the face of the refuting facts were ultimately vindicated (at least to some extent) by the discovery of new facts or new ways of looking at old facts. There was parallax and Coriolis; inheritence was digital rather than analog; and (so far) Maxwell’s theory has worked for more than a century at least as well as the Ptolemaic model worked for twenty centuries.

    Which goes back to the point that Popperian falsification is not nearly as easy as might be supposed. Sometimes the falsifications get falsified.

  57. Sander van der Wal

    June 7, 2014 at 10:52 am

    @YOS

    Afaics, there is no logical objection then for Poppers falsification scheme. Everybody agrees that it will work, if one does not mistake theories for observations?

  58. Briggs

    June 7, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Sander,

    I object, and have done so many times, over Popper’s scheme. Search his name on this blog for many articles on the subject.

  59. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Afaics, there is no logical objection then for Poppers falsification scheme.

    My comment was that it was not as simple as often supposed. But the use of modus tollens to demonstrate a proposition false dates back at least to Aristotle, and is the least controversial part of Popper’s efforts to undermine science.

  60. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 12:24 am

    YOS: what is the relevance of the following to the subject at hand?

    1) modus tollens dates back to Aristotle
    2) least controversial
    3) Popper’s efforts to undermine science

    If a logical argument works, it works, irrespective of any of the above three points in your post. If the logic fails, it fails irrespective of the same.

  61. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Briggs, re: Popper;

    I found that this post spoke to me: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=9705

    The below comment gave me a laugh:

    Bye, Gareth!

    I will type this slowly: some theories are falsifiable, others are not. Simple as that. I delineated how you can tell, and how, if falsifiable, a theory will be falsified in fact. I have therefore improved on your thinking of the past.

    A deserved sendoff for a pompous git. Snark aside:

    What you say is intuitively obvious to me. Without showing all my work (it isn’t written all in one place), here’s the gist:

    Argument 1
    1) A creator is nessessary for creation
    2) Creation
    3) Therefore creator

    Question: what created the creator?

    Argument 2
    1) No creator is necessary for creation
    2) Creation
    3) Therefore no creator

    Question: what if the creator is hiding?

    As I see it, in theist/atheist debates neither side appears to recognize the circularity of their argument. And both suffer from the problem of infinite regress. They’re also men of straw, and I hope someone will set them afire.

    The only a priori I see here is creation. The opposite proposition, not-creation is logically possible, but can you imagine it? I think the implications are fascinating, but for brevity’s sake I halt.

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