William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: How Through Reason We’ll Prove God’s Existence

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

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles.

This is the last of the necessary but, it must be admitted, less-than-riveting introductory posts. It must be kept in mind that Summa Contra Gentiles is primarily a Teacher’s Guide and not per se a text for students. We’re adapting it as we go. Next week we launch into the good stuff, the first proofs for the existence of God. We’ve sped up to get here, but next week we reduce pace dramatically since to progress we need material Aquinas assumes but which we Moderns have largely forgotten.

Chapter 8: In what relation human reason stands to the truth of faith

(1) IT would also seem well to observe that sensible things from which human reason derives the source of its knowledge, retain a certain trace of likeness to God, but so imperfect that it proves altogether inadequate to manifest the substance itself of God. For effects resemble their causes according to their own mode, since like action proceeds from like agent; and yet the effect does not always reach to a perfect likeness to the agent…i

Chapter 9: Of the order and mode of procedure in this work

(2) Wherefore in order to deduce the first kind of truth we must proceed by demonstrative arguments whereby we can convince our adversaries. But since such arguments are not available in support of the second kind of truth, our intention must be not to convince our opponent by our arguments, but to solve the arguments which he brings against the truth, because, as shown above,[1] natural reason cannot be opposed to the truth of faith.ii

In a special way may the opponent of this kind of truth be convinced by the authority of Scripture confirmed by God with miracles: since we believe not what is above human reason save because God has revealed it. In support, however, of this kind of truth, certain probable arguments must be adduced for the practice and help of the faithful, but not for the conviction of our opponents, because the very insufficiency of these arguments would rather confirm them in their error, if they thought that we assented to the truth of faith on account of such weak reasonings.iii

(3) …we shall first of all endeavour to declare that truth which is the object of faith’s confession and of reason’s researches, by adducing arguments both demonstrative and probable, some of which we have gathered from the writings of the philosophers and of holy men, so as thereby to confirm the truth and convince our opponents…

(4) Seeing then that we intend by the way of reason to pursue those things about God which human reason is able to investigate, the first object that offers itself to our consideration consists in those things which pertain to God in Himself…Of those things which we need to consider about God in Himself, we must give the first place (this being the necessary foundation of the whole of this work), to the question of demonstrating that there is a God: for unless this be established, all questions about divine things are out of court.iv

Chapter 10: Of the opinion of those who aver that it cannot be demonstrated that there is a God, since this is self-evident

(1) POSSIBLY it will seem to some that it is useless to endeavour to show that there is a God: they say that it is self-evident that God is, so that it is impossible to think the contrary, and thus it cannot be demonstrated that there is a Godv

(2) Those things are said to be self-evident which are known as soon as the terms are known: thus as soon as it is known what is a whole, and what is a part, it is known that the whole is greater than its part…

Chapter 11: Refutation of the foregoing opinion and solution of the aforesaid arguments

(5)…For just as it is self-evident to us that a whole is greater than its part, so is it most evident to those who see the very essence of God that God exists, since His essence is His existence. But because we are unable to see His essence, we come to know His existence not in Himself but in His effectsvi

Chapter 12: Of the opinion of those who say that the existence of God cannot be proved, and that it is held by faith alone

(1) THE position that we have taken is also assailed by the opinion of certain others, whereby the efforts of those who endeavour to prove that there is a God would again be rendered futile. For they say that it is impossible by means of the reason to discover that God exists, and that this knowledge is acquired solely by means of faith and revelationvii

(5) [Another potential counterargument.] If the principles of demonstration become known to us originally through the senses, as is proved in the Posterior Analytics,[3] those things which transcend all sense and sensible objects are seemingly indemonstrable. Now such is the existence of God. Therefore [opponents say] it cannot be demonstrated…

(9) It is also evident from the fact that, although God transcends all sensibles and senses, His effects from which we take the proof that God exists, are sensible objects. Hence our knowledge, even of things which transcend the senses, originates from the senses.viii

————————————————————

iWe made this point before, but you watching a man crush an aluminum can would not allow you to infer his complete strength, neither would following him solve “2 + 7” allow you to plumb his intellectual depths. Neither can we look out into the world and learn all about God. However, that you see a man crush a man indicates that there is a man crushing the can, and that you see a man solve an equation proves there is an existing intellect.

iiAs promised, nothing but logical proof for our fundamental claims. No revelations drawn upon. All unbelievers can play. But if somebody makes a claim against Scripture, Aquinas is ready to defend.

iiiWe wouldn’t want our adversaries thinking we believe in flying spaghetti monsters simply because we wanted to believe. Indeed, the pasta sauce will soon be on the other foot. Opponents are going to have to work very hard indeed to counter the arguments which are coming. Be warned that they stood for roughly two-and-a-half millennia. Your task won’t be easy; in fact, it will be impossible.

ivWe are all in agreement here, I hope and pray.

vWhat follows here and in Chapter 11 is St Anselm’s so-called ontological argument and a refutation of the same and two other similar arguments. That God is self-evident and not in need of proof is not a problem for moderns in the least. Consequently, as interesting as Thomas’s arguments are on this matter, we pass on quickly.

viWe cannot know God as He is in himself. Most of us can barely remember what we had for lunch last Tuesday, let alone grasp the Infinite. Aquinas is not trying to slip in an Intelligent Design (as moderns know the term) argument. And he was most certainly not a Creationist in any sense beyond believing that God was—and is, even at this moment—the cause of the universe (for the universe had to and must currently have a cause, as we’ll see).

viiThis has become a slur in our time. Only fools believe by faith. The intelligent know by science. Of course, this sad formula ignores that many things must be taken on faith or reason goes nowhere. We have discussed axioms as a primary instance. But never mind all that. This is our last warning, one I predict which will be forgotten in the weeks to come, that our proofs are fundamental and require the exact same amount of faith that any mathematician or physicist brings to his tasks.

viiiJust as in mathematics we know of infinity, and its various flavors and sizes, but cannot savor these flavors nor comprehend these sizes, so can we prove (and will) certain things about God’s nature. For instance, we can say He is Omnipotent, and even define the broad outlines of this quality, but moving from that to knowing just what’s on God’s mind? You can’t get there from here, not using unaided the weak powers of the human mind.

But enough! We are at this point in the position of children rankling under the forced repetition of scales, anxious to move to our first melody. It is a sweet tune, our starting one. Aristotle started humming it a long time ago and it hasn’t lost any of its vigor or shine by repetition. To continue this silly metaphor, it’s a song that once you hear it you can’t get out of your head. Nor will you want to.

[1] Ch. vii.
[3] 2 Poster. ix. i., xviii. [Aristotle]

Next Installment

68 Comments

  1. According to Genesis, man obtained the knowledge of good and evil equal to God and that was also the reason why man was evicted from Eden.

    Reasoning:
    1 An infinite punishment for a finite life is fundamentally unjust.
    2 The above knowledge of evil is at odds with a fundamentally just God.
    3 Therefore, the Apocalypse -which teaches this final judgement and eternal punishment – is not insprired by God and must therefore be rejected, (Well according to modernist scripture science it is apocryphal anyway, so there you have it).

  2. Briggs

    June 8, 2014 at 9:09 am

    And so we have our first amateur, off-the-cuff interpretation of a Biblical passage. No need to study what the Church Fathers or any other theologians thought of the subject. What matters is that we have an opinion, which must be truth in virtue that we thought of it.

    A poor showing, Hans.

    Plus, none of this is relevant to today’s discussion. Let’s stick to the topics at hand or we’ll get nowhere and learn nothing because we’ll exhaust ourselves in random distractions.

    Update Apologies, got distracted. To answer the peripheral point that we can know as much about “good and evil” that God does, Genesis 3:4-5.

    “But the snake said to the woman…God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (USCCB link). Now it is an immense stretch to move from that to saying the woman’s knowledge would be “equal to God.” And anyway, don’t forget the “snake” was lying or that his intent was not to “raise Eve’s awareness.”

  3. Briggs, we share the certainty the we will never meet in the afterlife.
    Hell only exists for Christians and Muslims.

  4. Briggs

    June 8, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Hans,

    I’d hate to think your first statement will be true.

    Your second is another unfounded assumption, I’m afraid, backed by no evidence or argument. However, the contrary shall be shown in time. Stick around. Useful information to have.

  5. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Briggs,

    vii This has become a slur in our time. Only fools believe by faith. The intelligent know by science. Of course, this sad formula ignores that many things must be taken on faith or reason goes nowhere.

    I’m with you up to the very last bit. I’d sub “reason” for “belief”. Now, the age-old question, what is “knowledge”?

  6. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Sub belief for reason I meant. Argh.

  7. Oh my, I didn’t know you were into reasoned arguments for the existence of God.

    I’m not sure why religious people engage in this endeavor. One would first think it must be personal doubt or discomfort. Or maybe just fun with philosophy – which is always fun. Or maybe they really believe these “reasons” and that’s where things get a little off-kilter.

    As it stands, there is no evidence for the existence of God. There’s hearsay, speculation, all sorts of “reasons,” but no evidence. That’s why “God made me do it” only stands up in court if you are found mentally incompetent.

    Even a few thousand years ago, there was plenty of doubt and discomfort, even among those earliest religious. And so, we see the teleological arguments and so forth, but we also see a sort of frank admonition – you have to have “faith” to receive the “word” to “know.” It is with that particular order people come to accept religion as something they deem “real.” One can not come to religion via reason. It makes no sense.

    JMJ

  8. Jersey, I’m a very rational person who came to believe in the Resurrection and thus the Divinity of Jesus by a rational process… see “Top down to Jesus” (http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/2013/10/top-down-to-jesus-on-bypassing-road-to.html). I have also come to believe in the real existence of electrons, protons and (possibly) quarks by a rational process. I should add that I have had direct evidence for the existence of electrons (having repeated Millikan’s experiment on the charge of the electron in the Caltech freshman physics lab). Have you yourself direct evidence for any of the entities or theories postulated in physics, or do you believe what the textbooks tell you?

  9. Sander van der Wal

    June 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    “IT would also seem well to observe that sensible things from which human reason derives the source of its knowledge, retain a certain trace of likeness to God, but so imperfect that it proves altogether inadequate to manifest the substance itself of God. ”

    Men know things because they construct theories and see them corroborated. If you’re perfect then you would always pick the right theory straight away. There’s nothing left then to improve upon regarding knowledge (faster computations, but that is boring and not fundamental), but when things are not possible according to the true theory, which a perfect being would have choosen by definition, then there are no Omnipotence Beings capable of reasonable acts, like moving with 10 times the speed of light.

    “This has become a slur in our time. Only fools believe by faith. The intelligent know by science. Of course, this sad formula ignores that many things must be taken on faith or reason goes nowhere. We have discussed axioms as a primary instance. ”

    Isn’t the technical term here “belief” instead of “faith”? Apart from that, no objections.

    “Just as in mathematics we know of infinity, and its various flavors and sizes, but cannot savor these flavors nor comprehend these sizes, so can we prove (and will) certain things about God’s nature. For instance, we can say He is Omnipotent, and even define the broad outlines of this quality, but moving from that to knowing just what’s on God’s mind? You can’t get there from here, not using unaided the weak powers of the human mind.”

    I know what Omnipotence is: you can answer YES to all question of the form “Can You do x”? And in O(1) time too.

  10. If you’re such a rational guy, Mr. Kurland, you wouldn’t assume what other people know, or ask such silly “top down” condescending questions. You’re just projecting insecurity. I’m educated, and familiar with these subjects, and there is no scientific evidence that would back up any theory of God. Period. You’re fooling yourself.

    JMJ

  11. And so we have our first amateur, off-the-cuff interpretation of a Biblical passage. No need to study what the Church Fathers or any other theologians thought of the subject. What matters is that we have an opinion, which must be truth in virtue that we thought of it.

    Sounds like an appeal to authority to me. Why then don’t you accept the findings of the IPCC?

    “Only professionals are allowed to study climate science”
    “2500 scientists cannot be wrong”

    Truth in virtue:
    No earthly sin warrants eternal punishment, that is the achilles’heel of christian ethics.

  12. Jersey, your comment is really rather nasty and personal, but I’ll ignore that. You say there is “no scientific evidence for God”…I’ll agree, in the sense that there is no quantifiable, repeatable experiments to prove that God exists. And I should add that there is no scientific evidence to show that God doesn’t exist. There is a nice hypothesis that fits with data–the Anthropic Principle in its various versions–that an intelligence may have designed the Universe, but it is certainly not verifiable in a scientific sense. I do contend, and you will probably disagree, that science is indeed limited in what it can establish. I also assert that it is not the only vehicle for rational discourse.

    My point in the previous comment was to show that there are many people who take science on faith, as many as those who take a belief in God on faith. These are people who have not worked in science, have not directed research, refereed papers or grant applications, or read in the philosophy of science. Perhaps you are not one of these (and being “educated” doesn’t qualify one as knowing what science is all about–and if that’s being condescending, I’m sorry but that’s the way it is.)

    You might broaden your horizons and perhaps get more perspective on what I sense is a faith in “scientism” by reading Fr. Stanley Jaki’s “The Limits of a Limitless Science”, Nancy Cartwright’s “How the Laws of Physics Lie”, or Bas van Fraassen’s “The Scientific Image”.. . That is, if you are willing to broaden your horizons.

  13. A procedural point: may I humbly suggest linking to the previous installment in each post? Or one big place holding links to all installments? Or some other way to make navigation easier? I am kind of worrying I may have missed a post in the series…

    (But I love the idea, and as a fellow statistician who has been working his way through the Summa Theologiae one quaestio a day for a few months now, I feel like great minds think alike 😉

  14. Briggs

    June 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    JMJ,

    Thanks. AAA example of a classic non sequitur, with a little base circularity thrown in for good measure.

    Premise: There are no rational arguments for God’s existence. Conclusion: Therefore there are no rational arguments for God’s existence.

    Hans,

    Appeal to authority is it. Very well. Show me, precisely, how your version was correct and mine fallacious (about Gen 3:4-5, which is where your own argument originated).

    Sander,

    You know what Omnipotence is, do you? Here’s a very well to you, too. (1) A non-ambiguous, not-subject-to-quibble definition, please. (2) Tell us of all the qualities that come with this definition.

  15. Something for the “proud, witty, and wise”:

    Ignus fatui – Errors disguised as the light of truth.

    A Satire Against Reason and Mankind
    By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
    (1 April 1647 – 26 July 1680), English poet and satirist)

    Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind,
    Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
    Pathless and dangerous wand’ring ways it takes
    Through error’s fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
    Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
    Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
    Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
    Into doubt’s boundless sea where, like to drown,
    Books bear him up awhile, and make him try
    To swim with bladders of philosophy;
    In hopes still to o’ertake th’ escaping light;
    The vapour dances in his dazzling sight
    Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
    Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
    Lead him to death, and make him understand,
    After a search so painful and so long,
    That all his life he has been in the wrong.
    Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
    Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.

  16. Briggs

    June 8, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Gorgasal,

    Good idea. But as a temporary measure, the series has its own Category, SAMT, which can be accessed at the bottom of the site, and a listing on the Classic Posts page.

    Later I’ll go through and add the links to each post.

  17. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Jersey: I’ve seen your arguments before, hell, I’ve made them myself. And at much higher volume and wrathful intensity.

    A question: were you raised in religion as was I, or were you raised outside of it as I am now?

    An observation: the arguments are age old, but every generation must have them anew. Best if the arguments are as genteel and free of mockery as humanly possible given the range of oft intense emotions in play.

  18. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Hans:
    Briggs, we share the certainty the we will never meet in the afterlife.
    Hell only exists for Christians and Muslims.

    Briggs:
    I’d hate to think your first statement will be true.

    Your second is another unfounded assumption, I’m afraid, backed by no evidence or argument.

    Long ago in a different life I heard the following story. A good honest man dies and is granted entrance into Heaven. St. Peter himself provided the nickel tour. After strolling for some long time along the gilded paths and admiring beautiful open gardens full of flowers and fountains, they happened upon a large area whose interior was concealed from view by tall thick hedges.

    “What’s in there!” exclaimed the man.

    “Shhhh!” scolded St. Pete, “That’s where the Mormons live, and they think they’re the only ones here.”

    As to your second point, I see much evidence suggesting that this place is Hell. I also hope to meet you one day in a much better place living what I hope is a far better existence. Until then, I find there is yet much joy to be had.

  19. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 8, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    there is no scientific evidence that would back up any theory of God. Period.

    There are no scientific measurements you can make on a jet engine that will reveal the existence of Bill Whittle, either; because the existence of Bill Whittle is simply not an engineering or scientific question.

  20. Thank you YOS for making my point clearly. Science is a limited domain, and there is much more to knowledge and knowing than what science can tell us. Nor can Science disprove the existence of God. And I say again: more people put a faith in science, without foundations for such a faith, than put a faith in God, with good foundation.

  21. Briggs, all interpretations of the bible are correct as long as they don’t violate physics, logic , math or justice.

    Personally I don’t do bible as I am currently out of JHWH’s jurisdiction.
    Don’t confuse JHWH with God.

  22. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Hans: my pet hypothesis is: if God, then the Bible is corrupt on purpose. And not necessarily for malevolent purpose.

  23. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    YOS:

    There are no scientific measurements you can make on a jet engine that will reveal the existence of Bill Whittle, either; because the existence of Bill Whittle is simply not an engineering or scientific question.

    Yet you support the notion that your personal beliefs re: God are objectively verifiable by a neutral observer. It doesn’t add up.

  24. Brandon, all logical proofs depend on belief in the premises. If I give you this syllogism:
    1) Major Premise: all cows are purple;
    2) Minor Premise: Elsie is a cow;
    3) Conclusion: Elsie is purple.

    That is a true statement, if you believe the premises…need I go on?
    So those who find fault with Aquinas, rather than contending that “there is no scientific proof for the existence of God”, should indicate which of Aquinas’s premises they don’t believe and why.

  25. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Yet you support the notion that your personal beliefs re: God are objectively verifiable by a neutral observer. It doesn’t add up.

    I think you are confusing a rational argument with scientific evidence. The existence of God is not a scientific question, so all appeals to scientism are moot. But that does not mean it is not a rational question. It’s more like mathematics than science.

    So far, Briggs has only reached the part where Aquinas rejects the notion that reason has no role to play; i.e., that the existence of God is either obvious on the face of it or must be taken utterly on faith. Some of the proofs are yet to come.

  26. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    YOS,

    I think you are confusing a rational argument with scientific evidence.

    Given that so many godless seem to confuse them, I’m not surprised by that. Quite ok. I do not confuse them when the questions is (not)existence of God(s).

    The existence of God is not a scientific question, so all appeals to scientism are moot. But that does not mean it is not a rational question.

    We are in exact agreement, except I’d replace “scientism” with “empiricism”, and call attempts to do so, “scientism”. (I permit myself one semantic niggle per day. Usually.)

    It’s more like mathematics than science.

    Welllll …. yes. I’ve been down that road, and it’s not totally settled for me yet. Per your observation that we’ve not gotten to ontology yet, I’ll hold for now.

    After I answer Mr. Kurland, that is. 🙂

  27. Brandon Gates

    June 8, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    Bob,

    That is a true statement, if you believe the premises…need I go on?

    Of course not ……. but there’s a big IF there.

    So those who find fault with Aquinas, rather than contending that “there is no scientific proof for the existence of God”, should indicate which of Aquinas’s premises they don’t believe and why.

    The quest of empiricists to falsify God(s) on that basis is a goose chase.

    My argument is that there are many more logicians than Aquinas. How is one to know which to choose?

  28. So those who find fault with Aquinas, rather than contending that “there is no scientific proof for the existence of God”, should indicate which of Aquinas’s premises they don’t believe and why.

    How about those believing them show why they believe them? The problem with basic premises are they are taken on faith as true because they seem “reasonable” yet you can’t arrive at them by reason.

    My idea of Hell: spending eternity in an environment where there is no time and nothing happens. Think of the boredom.

  29. Briggs and Kurland (Sounds like a law firm!),

    I’m sorry. I got a little tongue in cheek there. Let me be more formal.

    I did not say there weren’t rational arguments for the existence of God. There are countless such arguments. What I said, or at least meant to say (I think I said it!), is that there is no evidence of the existence of God. All you have are arguments.

    Evidence.

    JMJ

  30. @YOS, There is plenty of scientific evidence for the existence of Bill Whittle, but despite his penchant for aeronautical-sounding blog titles I wouldn’t expect to find any such evidence in a jet engine. For Frank Whittle, on the other hand, I suppose there is the remote possibility of finding some kind of commemorative engraving on some such engine which might be substantiated by further scientific investigation of the historical record – but I really wouldn’t ever study the workings of any invention in order to identify the name of it’s inventor.

    Bob Kurland seems, from his blog, to have been impressed by the historical record of claims re the existence of God but to me they seem less well confirmed than those for either of the Whittles.

  31. @JMJ There’s actually lots of evidence for the existence of God (and for the resurrection of Jesus). It just happens to be rather less convincing than that for the guilt of OJ Simpson. In the latter case, if I were a Scot I might be tempted to say “not proven”, but on the charge of existence against God even a Scot should say “not guilty”.

  32. Fletcher Christian

    June 9, 2014 at 3:23 am

    The existence of a jet engine does not lead in any way to the conclusion that Mr. Whittle existed. On the other hand, it does lead to the conclusion that someone (or a number of someones) existed to design it.

    Note that this comment does not apply to the existence of humans or any other living organisms (the “watchmaker” proof of God). There are many differences between jet engines and living organisms; the most significant here, probably, being that living organisms reproduce themselves and contain their own blueprints which are subject once in a great while to copying errors – neither of which is true of jet engines.

  33. Sander van der Wal

    June 9, 2014 at 3:41 am

    @Briggs

    I have given you my definition.

    In this particular context, Catholics trying to prove their version of Christianity to rational beings who have never heard of Christianity, or the Abrahamistic religions, or the Greek philosopher’s God, it is reasonable to define these terms.

    But it is not reasonable to expect me to immediately start using your concept of Omnipotence. It is part of the task to prove to me that your version is better than mine.

    @YOS

    People have been inventing stuff all the time, a process that is clearly visible. It is even possible to invent stuff yourself. The is therefore no quarrel about stuff being invented by people.

    There is the possibility however of people claiming to have invented stuff that they did not actually invent. This is also a process that is clearly visible. Worse, everybody is capable of claiming to be the inventor of stuff, and everybody is also capable of claiming that somebody else invented stuff they did not actually invent.

    So in this case settling the identity of the inventor of the Jet Engine is a matter of establishing which person has invented it, regardless of the claims made by people.

    Then there is this: lots of people are claiming that their god or gods have created the universe, or are the universe. As we have seen above, making the claims is easy.

  34. Fletcher Christian

    June 9, 2014 at 4:22 am

    @Sander – Yup. At various times, people have claimed that Brahman, or the Great Spirit, or Ymir, or Ptah, or Mbombo, or Coatlicue, or Unkulunkulu, or Waheguru, or Pangu, or of course Yahweh created the world. The amount of evidence for the existence of any or all of these is precisely equal.

  35. It is impossible to prove an invented pantheon. Any pantheon.
    That’s where Aquinas errs.

  36. “My argument is that there are many more logicians than Aquinas. How is one to know which to choose?”
    I don’t quite understand what you’re saying here, Brandon. Do you mean there are many more sets of logical premises to choose from than those which Aquinas uses?
    If that’s the intent, I’d answer, one chooses the set that seems most reasonable, applicable to what you know of the world, and that fits with one’s moral compass.

  37. JMJ,
    Here’s a description of the most compelling evidence (to me):
    “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
    Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
    There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
    Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”
    Psalm 19a, KJV…otherwise known as the Anthropic Principle.
    There is also Revelation (Scripture), Miracles (attested to), and the inner convictions that speak to me and to others. But as Stuart Chase put it so well,
    “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”

  38. Alan,
    I’ll repeat the quote from Stuart Chase:
    “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”

  39. DAV,
    All premises are taken on faith–those in science as well as those of religion…so ???

  40. Well, there you have it, Mr. Kurland. You have to have faith to know. There is no evidence unless you have faith that something is evidence.

    In the Abrahamic religions, faith is the key that unlocks all the other doors to knowledge. All the reasoning, the rationales, the explanations, all of it comes down to faith. Either you have it or you don’t. I don’t, someone else does. I don’t begrudge them their faith, but I’m not going to pretend there’s more to it than that, and the religious would be wise to do the same.

    JMJ

  41. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

    How about those believing them [the premises] show why they believe them?

    Glancing ahead, we see Aquinas using such initial premises as:
    1. Some things in the world are in motion/are changing.
    2. There is an ordering of efficient causes in the world.
    3. Some things in the world (like clouds and mountains) come into being and pass out of being.
    4. Some things in the world are better or worse.
    5. Things in the world work toward an end; i.e., there are laws of nature.

    We would have to appeal to empiricism to support those premises.

    My idea of Hell: spending eternity in an environment where there is no time and nothing happens. Think of the boredom.

    But there would be no time to get bored. You are trying to imagine timelessness when you should try to conceive of it. It’s not easy, given that all empirical experience is with timeliness; but a study of general relativity should help.

    there is no evidence of the existence of God. All you have are arguments.

    Well, if the God Hypothesis were in fact an hypothesis rather than a conclusion, it would entail these consequences:
    1. An empirical universe exists.
    2. It is rationally ordered.
    3. The rational order is consistent.
    4. The rational order is discoverable at least in large measure by human reason.

    People have been inventing stuff all the time, a process that is clearly visible.

    Not when you restrict yourself to the jet engine, which in the analogy is the “universe.”

    I really wouldn’t ever study the workings of any invention in order to identify the name of it’s inventor.

    Precisely. So why would a scientific study of the universe be expected to yield other results?

    There are many differences between jet engines and living organisms; the most significant here, probably, being that living organisms reproduce themselves and contain their own blueprints which are subject once in a great while to copying errors – neither of which is true of jet engines.

    Which means, what? That replicating computer codes are not invented? But of course if nature is an art, then it is an art in which the artificer has simply given to the parts an ability to self-assemble.

    There is no evidence unless you have faith that something is evidence.

    Precisely. There is no empirical evidence that an empirical universe exists. In order to accept evidence as empirical you must first have faith that there is such a thing.

  42. Sander van der Wal

    June 9, 2014 at 11:22 am

    I have two choices. The universe exists, or it is all in my mind.

    You do not have that choice, unless the universe exists, and it has other people besides me in it, and you are people.

    If it is all in my mind, I have to inform you with no regret that I cannot see in your mind-analogue. Whether the universe exists or is imagined by me, it doesn’t make a difference.

    So, there’s either a bunch of of theories which describe the real univese, or a bunch of theories that descibe my imagined universe. These theories have to be the same. If I believed that I imagined the universe, I would still need a theory that tells me why I did not imagine something else, but that theory would stand apart from the ones that described the exact workings of either my imagination, or of the real universe.

  43. Don’t be so quick to be so dismissive of Hans Erren’s abbreviated remarks about the inconsistencies in dogma as constituting evidence the dogma itself is contrived, as his general concept was what led to the compilation of the formal Bible/New Testament and which has been around for a long time. As you don’t note, the Catholic Church has spent centuries getting the story straight while simultaneously doing a rather superb, but still incomplete, job of destroying unpleasant evidence. To pick just a few:

    Marcionism (early/mid-2nd Century) began with the observation that the New & Old Testament Gods could not be the same…and with that came the first structured Bible, with Paul’s works being heavily included (this is regarded as the primary motive to produce the New Testament as it has been carried forward to today). The early Gnostics, similar to Marcion’s views, considered Paul one of them. Interestingly, much of Paul’s surviving writings are accepted as combinations of multiple letters—someone either collected fragments & compiled them, or, redacted & recombined existing letters to tell a particular story. The redacting/recombination thing is what we know the early Church did.

    In the late 3rd & well into the 4th century Arianism, which struck at the heart of the Trinity by asserting Jesus was a newer god/was not co-eternally existent with the other two, prompted the council(s) of Nicea and led to the creation of the Apostles Creed around 390 AD. The Councils of Nicea continued well into the 8th century where doctrine & core beliefs were further refined/adjusted.

    Justin Martyr cites in his First Apology (around 150 AD; see Chaps XXI & XXII in particular) that the Christian’s beliefs were fundamentally no different than those of the Pagans; he cited explicitly how various beliefs (virgin birth, resurrection, etc.) were no different than plot elements of other pagan religions – noting the similarities were so thorough that he went so far as to assert that the devils, knowing of the true Savior to come pre-emptively came up with the false religions to deceive humanity!

    Those are some examples of many many incompatible versions of “Christianity” that competed at the outset–the existence of which is hard to explain if one guy, God incarnate no less, came to set things straight in person. The historical record is more like a number of similar theologies being concocted about the same time in response to social/religious upheaval, with one version ultimately prevailing. The historical record (not just the selected excerpts the Church will discuss, and some it does) looks exactly like a bunch of authors took turns trying to work out the kinks in the story’s plot over some 400 years or so (consider [better, read] Origen, considered a profound authority in the early 3rd century, was considered a heretic in the 5th, and is [again] considered a “Church Father”). This pedigree sure doesn’t look like the handiwork an Almighty Divinity would be expected to divinely inspire & work out over almost as many centuries as the mere days He took to make Heaven & Earth, all that is seen & unseen.

    Six days to make the whole universe (physical & spiritual), then over 600 years to get the kinks in His ‘story’ sorted out–a story a still-highly regarded early Church Father conceded consists of the plot elements of prior pagan myths—and all that after He came, in person, to set it straight Himself…does that really look more like the handiwork of an Almighty creator than humans cooking up a new religion via which they could exert tremendous power & influence [& a comfy lifestyle] over society?

  44. Brandon Gates

    June 9, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Bob:

    Do you mean there are many more sets of logical premises to choose from than those which Aquinas uses?

    You’re on it.

    If that’s the intent, I’d answer, one chooses the set that seems most reasonable, applicable to what you know of the world, and that fits with one’s moral compass.

    Which fits with my personal observations of how religion works in the world. Hence my oft-repeated sentiment that belief in (not)God(s) can only ever be personal. With the qualifier: until we find out otherwise.

    Aside: atheists are the only ones who will never find out for sure if they’re correct. For me as an agnostic, Bayes might say that my chance of getting a definitive answer some day is 50%. 🙂

  45. Brandon Gates

    June 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    YOS:

    I really wouldn’t ever study the workings of any invention in order to identify the name of it’s inventor.

    Precisely. So why would a scientific study of the universe be expected to yield other results?

    He walked into that one, didn’t he.

    My stipulation that empiricism is silent on (not)God(s) propositions is only strictly limited to those propositions. To the extent that any religious commentary makes empirically testable claims, those claims can be tested “scientifically”.

  46. Brandon Gates

    June 9, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Sander:

    I have two choices. The universe exists, or it is all in my mind.

    There should be a universal rule in ontological discussions that slipping into solipsism is verboten. In a scenario where all bets are already off to begin with, it makes little sense to double the trouble by questioning whether our fellow beings are really there, or just figments of our own imaginations.

  47. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    To the extent that any religious commentary makes empirically testable claims, those claims can be tested “scientifically”.

    So if a religion claims that our space-time continuum began with an infinitesimal point that took on the form of expanding light, then we should look for some sort of “big bang” in which all mass energy was an undifferentiated “soup.”

    Or if a religion claimed that all presently-living human beings share a common descent, we should look for some sort of “genetic code” shared by all human beings.

    Or if a religion claimed that God had given natures to matter that enabled them to act directly upon one another, we ought to look for evidence of “natural causes” and “laws of nature.”

    Someone should get on this, toot sweet.

  48. YOS, “Someone should get on this, toot sweet.”

    I’d love to, but to help me in this endeavour could you please, using your in depth knowledge of all things religious, tell me where the next scientific breakthrough will occur.

  49. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    tell me where the next scientific breakthrough will occur.

    Alas, that will depend on what the government chooses to fund; i.e., on what research will advance a government agenda. I am no longer involved in government Stuff.

  50. YOS, “Alas, that will depend on what the government chooses to fund”.

    Now it is government with divine wisdom. What happened to the religious insight? Personally I don’t believe either one is causative except in a 20-20 hindsight sort of way and under those conditions we are all seers.

  51. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Now it is government with divine wisdom.

    ??? No, the government holds the purse strings. Slight difference.

    What happened to the religious insight?

    Most religions are only incidentally concerned with scientific matters; but the point was raised earlier that IF a religion made a “scientific” assertion, it should be subject to empirical verification. I recollected a few such assertions and proposed that they be verified. I made no claim that religion had some special insight with respect to the metrical qualities of material bodies.

  52. Ken,
    Church history indeed is very convincing evidence of the absence of almighty guidance.

  53. YOS, “No, the government holds the purse strings.” Not all of them which is a very good thing given its poor record in picking winners.

    “I recollected a few such assertions and proposed that they be verified.” I beg to differ since when you strip off the modern insights all you are left with is (a) there was a beginning, (b) two common human ancestors, and (c) reproducible cause and effect. There is even less than this when you consider that not all religions claim these. There is also the problem that (b) is not correct as stated which is why you had to rephrase it.

  54. Brandon Gates

    June 9, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    YOS:

    Numbering added.

    1) So if a religion claims that our space-time continuum began with an infinitesimal point that took on the form of expanding light, then we should look for some sort of “big bang” in which all mass energy was an undifferentiated “soup.”

    2) Or if a religion claimed that all presently-living human beings share a common descent, we should look for some sort of “genetic code” shared by all human beings.

    3) Or if a religion claimed that God had given natures to matter that enabled them to act directly upon one another, we ought to look for evidence of “natural causes” and “laws of nature.”

    4) Someone should get on this, toot sweet.

    1) There is no should, at least that you could ever possibly determine from literature. There is however “found”, subject to human limitations of perception.

    2) It me reasonable pause to postulate that Genesis 1 is meant to be taken allegorically. And seriously question what our YEC brothers are on about.

    3) In absence of religion, what other option would there be?

    4) I’m doing my best to not be dismissive. Agnostic here, undecided about many things, others not so much. I value honest inquiry, wherever it lies. Even if it later turns out to be a goose chase, or comes to obviously incorrect conclusions. It’s the progression of knowledge that fuels me, not just what’s already in the books.

    (2) is about the only one where some overlap between empirical evidence and religious texts might bear fruitful inquiry. Pun intended.

    The rest, not so much. God very much could lie behind all of these, but especially the first and third due to both of their highly theoretical and uncertainly observed qualities.

  55. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    (b) two common human ancestors…. There is also the problem that (b) is not correct as stated which is why you had to rephrase it.

    Actually, it is only needful that one common ancestor existed, though being a bisexual species, two would seem to fall out by necessity. About 1-in-200 can claim descent from one man, Genghis Khan, who lived only in the 12th century. All Europeans can trace back over the past 30,000 years to no more than seven ancestral mothers. Add a bunch more centuries and common descent is likely even broader.

    The interesting thing is that the religion in question teaches that there is one man from whom all presently living men are descended. It does not teach that there was only one man alive at the time.

  56. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    The rest, not so much. God very much could lie behind all of these, but especially the first and third due to both of their highly theoretical and uncertainly observed qualities.

    The third is one of the chief reasons why natural science arose in only one civilization on earth. Other cultures either denied secondary causation or denied the ability of man’s reason to winkle things out.

  57. Brandon Gates

    June 9, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    YOS, if you are arguing that Christianity provided that necessary key, I am hard-pressed to disagree with you.

  58. YOS,
    “The interesting thing is that the religion in question teaches that there is one man from whom all presently living men are descended. It does not teach that there was only one man alive at the time.” Your view would seem to be heretical although I agree that the bible is less than clear on this point. There is also the problem of Noah and what would Thomas Aquinas think?

  59. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Your view would seem to be heretical although I agree that the bible is less than clear on this point.

    Bible? That’s only one input, albeit a valuable one. For the official teaching of the Church consult the catechism. Heck, even the anathemas of the Council of Trent emphasize that the required belief is that all living men are descended from one man, not the details of the story within which this truth is embedded.

    One is always taken by surprise by the “sola scriptura” approach of the skeptics.

  60. YOS,
    You mean this “1. If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise …”. This seems closer to my statement than yours.

    “One is always taken by surprise by the “sola scriptura” approach of the skeptics.” You are surprised that not everyone is Roman Catholic?

  61. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    “One is always taken by surprise by the “sola scriptura” approach of the skeptics.” You are surprised that not everyone is Roman Catholic?

    Or Eastern Orthodox. Between them, the Catholic and Orthodox churches account for about two-thirds of all Christians. If one is looking for an “average” teaching, the appeal to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Bible Shack is contraindicated.

    I saw no problem in your reference; but perhaps that can be deferred until Dr. Briggs reaches that point in his perusal of Summa gentiles.

    He is only up to the point at which Aquinas says the existence of God is neither so obvious as to require no proof nor so obscure as to defy all proof. Instead, he takes the reasonable position that while the matter cannot be grasped in its entirety, it can be grasped in some measure.

  62. Brandon Gates

    June 9, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    YOS:

    One is always taken by surprise by the “sola scriptura” approach of the skeptics.

    Here’s the story arc answering sceptical (and wildly inaccurate) questions about my past faith:

    1) Surpise
    2) Anger
    3) Tedium
    4) Weariness
    5) Resignation

    I’d put you at (4) not (1) if I were a punter.

    The real truth is that the 0th item on my list was my own scepticism, which persisted the entire time and eventually lead to:

    6) Freedom

    Since my agnosticism is still rather new and shiny, I’m often a little surprised when my own arguments don’t seem to make sense. Especially when I’m talking to devout atheists. But mostly I’m still in the number six bucket, depending on the topic. This thread is definitely #6 for me.

  63. Sander van der Wal

    June 11, 2014 at 12:43 am

    @YOS

    If the skeptic was brought up as a Calvinist Protestant, not so much. Calvinist Protestants see the Bible as the Word of God. And the teachings of the Roman-Catholic Church as the Work of the Devil. The Eastern Churches don’t exist, or they are at most spare Roman-Catholics, and their only redeeming quality is that they do not listen to the Pope.

  64. Fletcher Christian

    June 11, 2014 at 5:16 am

    I suppose I ought to bring this up now. One of the worst problems with religionists (and it applies to all the Abrahamic ones, at the very least) is the reliance on appeals to authority.

    No, “it says so in this book” is NOT a valid argument.

  65. Sander van der Wal

    June 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

    @Fletcher Christian

    People are referring to the Book because that is where the details of the Religion are written down. Which is a convenience.

    And the statement that it is written down is a valid argument in a situation where the dispute is about a commandment or whatnot. In such cases there ‘s no difference between “Energy equals mass times speed-of-light squared” and “thou shalt not kill”. It is written down, so that is what the religion is saying what must be done.

  66. Ye Olde Statisician

    June 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    @Fletcher: Perhaps the Calvinists — and their modern descendents among the progressive types — do give more attention to “it’s in the book!” But one should keep in mind that the Catholics and Orthodox between them account for just around two-thirds of all Christians and have an unbroken institutional continuity with the early church. Thus, while they give considerable weight to what is in the book, they give equal weight to how the original Christians read and interpreted that book and acknowledge the fact that there were Christians and a Church before there was a Bible. That is why Calvinist types get all bent out of shape over ancient practices of the Orthodox and Catholic, shouting (like Coyne a while back) “it’s NOT in the book!” Even though one finds them in the Church Fathers.

  67. Sander van der Wal

    June 11, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    @YOS

    Funny that it doesn’t work that way in science. Astronomy can and does trace its origins straight back to the people living in modern day Irak. But the only thing left of the ancient practices are some constellation and star names.

  68. Sander van der Wal

    June 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    That is, the ancient people living 3000 years or more ago in what is now Irak.

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