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Cosmology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part IV

Where’s Waldo?
Part III

Remember, we’re doing summaries of summaries here; only bare sketches are possible. Buy his book for more detail.

Question IV is Cosmology. The most contentious scientific question is Article 10.

Article 1: Whether the order in the cosmos is teleological?

Yes. “[I]f objective teleology is an illusion, then eyes are not really ‘for’ seeing, ears ‘for’ hearing, legs ‘for’ walking, or stomachs ‘for’ digestion…”

We cannot confuse the[se] two questions, or reduce either one to the other: (1) What caused this effect? and (2) Why did it produce this effect rather than some other one? Efficient causality supplies the power, but final causality focuses it.

Teleology is not scientific in “the modern sense, since it cannot be detected, verified, or falsified empirically or quantitatively”. But this is nothing. Neither is mathematics scientific, though you don’t hear scientists railing against or rejecting it.

A direction in things might imply God, but a concept “is not refuted merely by claiming that it entails another concept”. We’re stuck with “Why?”

Article 2: Whether the cosmos exists for man?

Yes.

The idea of man’s centrality (in meaning, not in space) is confirmed by the authority of tradition in all cultures, by religion, and even by science (the “Anthropic principle”)…

Kreeft doesn’t distinguish between the weak and strong versions of the Anthropic principle, which we can leave for another day. But it seems the universe is delicately balanced. Pick a force or constant and tweak it even a tiny amount, and life as we know it (i.e. us) would not have been possible. There are so many coincidences like this, that it appears there’s been some designing going on. Designing implies designer, and the only designer outside of time, space, matter, and energy is God (the God of classical theism; one link, among many).

Common fallacies are to assert man’s small stature; but if size matters then bears and even Buicks are more important than us. Another fallacy to say that man evolved by “blind forces”, which assumes without proof that these “blind” forces could not themselves have been designed to do just what they did. A third is to say that because man is only a few hundred thousand years old, he is therefore insignificant. That would make ferns and alligators worthier than us.

The very fact of the universe’s vastness and independence of man gives man an opportunity for awe, wonder, and humility.

Kreeft also gives no word on Fermi’s paradox, which is other scientific evidence that we are alone. The universe is big and old enough to have allowed, like us, other space-faring races to have evolved. They should have been here by now; they are not; therefore the suspicion (not proof) is that they do not exist.

Article 3: Whether the uniformity of nature is a necessary philosophical presupposition of all physical science?

Yes. Uniformity is a metaphysical assumption not a physical measurement. Nobody knows whether gravity works everywhere, because nobody has or could check it everywhere (as in everywhere). In this sense, it and all the other physical “laws” which we believe are unprovable beliefs.

It has not been proved that science is more certain than philosophy. In fact, it is often the reverse, since philosophy investigates unchanging and necessary truths while science investigates the changing world, which is contingent.

Article 4: Whether science presupposes real causality?

Yes. It must, because it can’t be seen. If you think it can, fill a bucket full of it and bring it to me.

Article 5: Whether there are four causes (formal, material, efficient, final)?

Yes.

For a cause is either intrinsic or extrinsic to its effect [X]. If it is intrinsic, it is either (a) what X is, i.e. its essential nature or essence (e.g. a house)—and this is the “formal cause”—or (b) what X is made of or made from: the raw material that was formed, shaped, or determined to be X rather than Y (e.g. wood)—and this is the “material cause.” If it is extrinsic, it is either (c) the agent or origin that made or changed X (e.g. the carpenter)—and this is the “efficient cause”—or (d) the end or purpose of X, whether unconscious or conscious (e.g. to shelter a family)—and this is the “final cause.” Thus for every X, there is (a) that which, (b) that out of which, (c) that from which, and (d) that for which X is.

Article 6: Whether the cosmos is infinite in space?

No. “God alone is infinite, and the universe is not God, therefore the universe is not infinite.” Even if you don’t buy that, you certainly know about Einstein, so I can’t see you disagreeing.

Article 7: Whether time is infinite?

No. “[I]t is improper to speak of times’s past or future, for time is not a thing that continues or moves, but the measure of the continuing of moving of things.” Then this:

Just as there is an absolute beginning of all time which is not in time…so there can be an absolute end of all time. As the beginning term of the continuum of time has an “after” but not “before,” so the end term of the continuum of time can have a “before” but no “after.”

Again, I see few people objecting.

Article 8: Whether time travel is possible?

Yes. Perhaps not materially, only consciously. Sorry, no going back to stop your dad from dating your mom.

[W]e all experience a mild form of time travel (a) in memory, (b) in anticipation, and (c) in telling or hearing stories about other times. In all of these, our consciousness enters into other times, and occasionally does so with extreme vividness…There have been many well-documented cases of people (usually “primitives”) entering other times and places with their consciousness, e.g. “dream time” or “the dreaming” among the Australian aborigines.

Is that any kind of evidence? Chesterton:

All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is—that they see ghosts.

Kreeft, incidentally (elsewhere) does not argue for blanket credulity (do not subscribe to News of the World). To prove a man superstitious or credulous means you have proven his miracles mundane or his ghosts figments. No certain proof of that, means no certain proof of the other.

Article 9: Whether matter is only a projection of mind?

No. Idealism has been kicked to death long ago and it seems in bad taste to display its corpse once again. “If matter were merely mental projection, it could be changed merely by thinking, and no one would ever have to endure pain or death.”

Article 10: Whether mind is only a projection of matter?

No. You are not your brain, even though it’s a handy thing to have around. After my own heart, Kreeft says:

For all persons are immediately aware of their thinking, whenever they think, since ordinary thinking is simultaneously self-reflective or self-aware. This is data as immediate and indubitable as empirical data, and distinct from empirical data, since it does not depend on sensation and can be purely abstract (e.g. “I think, therefore I am.”).

Of course, all we need is “I think”—the rest is redundant. Only an I can think!

To claim that there are no minds, only material brains, which are like computers, is like claiming that there is no person behind a computer who designed or programmed it. No one would trust such a computer. So why does a materialist trust his brain?

What reason has a materialist to claim his reasoning reasonable? He can’t say evolution, for that either pushes the problem back one level, and we have to ask “Why trust evolution?” which assumes (in the word “trust”) what it sets out to prove (that believing evolution is reasonable), or else it ignores it. To say evolution created a brain is not to say that we are only our brains.

To produce an “explanation” of X in terms of [brain chemistry] X1, and Y in terms of [brain chemistry] Y1, is not yet not have proved that X1 and Y1 efficiently cause X and Y. If they occur simultaneously [say, thinking lights up an fMRI screen], it may be that X1 and Y1 are caused by X and Y. Or it may be that both are caused by a third thing…

(4) The fact a blow to the brain takes away thought does not prove that the brain is the sole cause of thought, any more than the fact that demolishing a microphone makes the speaker’s voice inaudible proves that the microphone was the sole cause, or even the cause at all, of the voice.

A lovely argument, that. Lastly,

If no one can think without a brain, this could be either because (a) the brain is the cause of thought, or because (b) the brain is the instrument of thought, or because (c) the brain is one of the necessary conditions for thought. A necessary condition is not the same as a sufficient condition.

Read Part V.


32 thoughts on “Cosmology: Peter Kreeft’s Summa Philosophica Part IV Leave a comment

  1. Briggs, Kreeft’s style reminds me of Lonergan’s “Insight”. If you haven’t touched that one yet, go for it; it’s hard work, but tremendously enjoyable.

  2. Maybe it is just me, but most of these arguments seem to be sophistry rather than logic. The defense of teleology is a good illustration of this. I think that the idea that the cosmos is delicately balanced is overrated and the significance of the exact value of physical constants may be no more antropic than the value of pi or the square root of two. I realize that I may be in a minority position on this one. After all, scientists in general relatively like to set all their constants to one (joke). Fermi’s paradox is based on the presumption that interstellar (intergalactic?) travel is possible (practicable). This may not be true. Whether the universe is finite or infinite is still an open question (let he who reads understand) with the present measurement of an accelerating expansion leaning towards the infinite. There is also the multiverse view to consider. Time and space are intertwined.

    Don’t get me wrong I sympathize with the attempt and I often wish it was all that simple.

  3. William Sears,

    To be fair, these are my shorthand, skimming over the less controversial aspects, like finite space (which I think none of us would dispute). As for teleology, that follows from the existence of the four causes.

    And to say “may be no more antropic than the value of pi or the square root of two” is to assume these are not designed. Why should there be transcendentals at all? Why should they take these values? We can’t just dismiss the question.

    Of course Fermi’s paradox has lots of possible solutions, but don’t forget it’s not just about travel. It’s about evidence. Why can’t we see EM evidence or other artifacts? Dysons spheres, maybe. Etc. It’s also not such an easy answer.

    You’re on better ground with the (purely theoretical, impossible-to-observe-and-therefore-verify-via-science) multiverse. But boy is it a huge assumption. Every moment—each Planck tick of the clock—and at each spacial location—each discrete unit of the universe—another entire universe peels off from this one, and so on in each of those? That, brother, is a lot of universes. Not so parsimonious.

  4. Briggs,

    You are conflating the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics with the more general multiverse view. The differences are summarized in the following link.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

    Many people dispute a finite space, which does not follow from Einstein’s general relativity. The open versus closed models are still an active area of debate. See the following.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_of_the_Universe

    If the concentration of advanced technological space alien species is thin (e.g. one per galaxy) the chances of detecting an e/m signal may be slim to none, at lease at our present level of technology. Space is vast and there is a lot of e/m noise. I find it difficult to take Dyson spheres seriously, and they would be no easier to detect at a distance, probably harder.

    Your comment about transcendentals reminds me of this quote.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Created_the_Integers

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_Kronecker

    You also have to be careful not to fall into this problem.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

    Cheers

  5. William S,

    Curiously, from your first link:

    For a start, how is the existence of the other universes to be tested? To be sure, all cosmologists accept that there are some regions of the universe that lie beyond the reach of our telescopes, but somewhere on the slippery slope between that and the idea that there are an infinite number of universes, credibility reaches a limit. As one slips down that slope, more and more must be accepted on faith, and less and less is open to scientific verification. Extreme multiverse explanations are therefore reminiscent of theological discussions. Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.

    Paul Davies, A Brief History of the Multiverse

    God-of-the-gaps is a danger only when using God to fill in missing scientific observations. Not the case here (is it?), even if there are disputes about finiteness of the universe. The argument of finiteness here is metaphysical, too.

  6. Briggs,

    Good quotation. I don’t dispute that at all. But, come on, admit that you were wrong about the finite part. After all, as in mathematics we can have different levels of infinity. You seem to be a very fast reader and writer. I’m impressed!

  7. William Sears,

    It’s easy to be fast when you don’t think!

    (my server is acting up; these words are to fool it.)

  8. W. Sears observation of sophistry, subsequent comments considered, still seems on point.

    Consider: “The universe is big and old enough to have allowed, like us, other space-faring races to have evolved. They should have been here by now; they are not; therefore the suspicion (not proof) is that they do not exist.”

    TO THAT: 1) How do you know they are not here??
    2) Is space travel over the distances possible? — THAT includes consideration of how highly inefficient government-managed societies invariably are; to assume that if they could they would presumes they would develop social systems considerably superior to ours to enable the trade-offs & investment the development of such space travel machines would require…and there’s no reason whatsoever to presume that.

    THEN CONSIDER THE VERY NEXT: Nobody knows whether gravity works everywhere, because nobody has or could check it everywhere (as in everywhere). In this sense, it and all the other physical “laws” which we believe are unprovable beliefs.

    IF NON-UNIFORMITY HOLDS TRUE–THEN space travel over great distances cannot be possible as the machines made to work in one realm will fail where physical laws change (assuming they could make the transition).

    THUS, in just two thought experiment points one sees a highly selective — arbitrary & capricious — discrimination process applied to ferret out only those particular interpretations & conclusions to support the particular end-result conclusions one desires.

    That’s the approach to take to fool oneself into being secure in a belief–not in trying to find objective truth.

  9. These are stupid–and I use the “s” word with all due respect:

    THIS: “The fact a blow to the brain takes away thought does not prove that the brain is the sole cause of thought…”
    AND
    THIS: “If no one can think without a brain, this could be either because [the brain is] (a) …the cause of thought, or … (b) the instrument of thought, or …(c) …one of the necessary conditions for thought. A necessary condition is not the same as a sufficient condition.”

    The choices are presented as discrete options — SOOooooo much research has demonstrated time & again* that the brain is: the instrument causing thought (i.e. per this “logic” “a” and “b” together, making “c” a superfluous model disconnected with reality. Period.

    * Experiments involving people with various types of brain damage; where particular parts of the brain are shown to, consistently/always, be associated with particular capabilities. Also, conscious brain surgery with parts of the brain stimulated with consistently observed responses. Etc.

    Philosophy is great–but no substitute for objective knowledge. At every step of the way in a philosophical argument such as this series presents one should be asking, “ok, given that premise, what does the science show SO FAR (recognizing scientific study is an ongoing process, with some dead ends wrong turns).” Ignoring objective facts is delusional.

    Trying to argue the dismissal of an entire set of findings when only part is flawed (e.g. the 15 April posting, “Scientists Claim Brain Scan Can ID Pre-Criminals”) is itself false — again, science proceeds in fits & starts with some dead ends, over-extrapolations, and so on.

    Its easy to criticize rather than analyze, which is a recurring pattern…as the saying goes, ‘Any fool can criticize, and that’s what most fools usually do.’

  10. Ken,

    “The choices are presented as discrete options — SOOooooo much research has demonstrated time & again* that the brain is: the instrument causing thought (i.e. per this “logic” “a” and “b” together, making “c” a superfluous model disconnected with reality. Period.

    * Experiments involving people with various types of brain damage; where particular parts of the brain are shown to, consistently/always, be associated with particular capabilities. Also, conscious brain surgery with parts of the brain stimulated with consistently observed responses. Etc. ”

    Sorry, but none of this proves that the brain is the cause of thought. The experiments mentioned as well as conscious brain surgery would all have the same results whether the observed brain phenomena caused thought or thoughts cause the relevant brain phenomena.

  11. Ken,

    You argue poorly. I’ll only do a couple.

    SOOooooo much research has demonstrated time & again* that the brain is: the instrument causing thought (i.e. per this “logic” “a” and “b” together, making “c” a superfluous model disconnected with reality. Period.

    This is not so. Research instead shows that the brain is needed for thought, but not that it causes the will and intellect.

    * Experiments involving people with various types of brain damage; where particular parts of the brain are shown to, consistently/always, be associated with particular capabilities. Also, conscious brain surgery with parts of the brain stimulated with consistently observed responses. Etc.

    This isn’t a disagreement. It directly agrees with what Kreeft said.

    Philosophy is great–but no substitute for objective knowledge.

    Philosophy is the source of objective knowledge. How else can you say an observation proves or disproves a theory? That’s a metaphysical statement.

    Its easy to criticize rather than analyze, which is a recurring pattern.

    Amen, brother, it is.

    THEN CONSIDER THE VERY NEXT: Nobody knows whether gravity works everywhere, because nobody has or could check it everywhere (as in everywhere). In this sense, it and all the other physical “laws” which we believe are unprovable beliefs.

    Tell me: does gravity work in my apartment? If so, how can you prove it?

  12. Tell me: does gravity work in my apartment?

    I’ve been trying to get gravity to work in my house but so far all it’s managed to do is collect dust on the top of every object and force toast to the floor jelly side down.

    Guess I’m going to need a maid.

  13. Given the size and contents of the Universe, believing that it is tailor made for humans to exist in is wishful thinking to the max. The central-earth universe was tailor made for humans. The one we live in now is way too big to think of it as being designed especially for us.

    Humans can live at the bottom of a small gravity well, and without some serious tinkering, nowhere else. The universe is mostly not consisting of small gravity wells, but of flat space, not really overflowing with dark matter and a bit of contamination, that quarky stuff. As designing this monstrosity goes, I might believe this is some hyperdimensial kindergarten project, which failed miserably but got the designers a C for trying.

  14. Of course, all we need is “I think”—the rest is redundant. Only an I can think!

    Unless what the brain does IS the thinking and the “I” part is tacked on consciousness.

    If no one can think without a brain, this could be either because (a) the brain is the cause of thought, or because (b) the brain is the instrument of thought, or because (c) the brain is one of the necessary conditions for thought. A necessary condition is not the same as a sufficient condition.

    Wouldn’t these imply that life after death, if it were true, would be thoughtless? Doesn’t sound inviting.

  15. Dav, Briggs;

    “If no one can think without a brain”

    I posit that this is unprovable. Considering the possibility that thinking doesn’t happen in the brain I will add to your list:

    (D) The brain is the interface between mind (thought) and body. The brain is not a necessary condition for thought per say, but without the brain though can not act on the body. I will posit it this way, the brain is a two way interface between mind and body.

    Outside stimulus acts on the body (senses), the body acts on the brain which then acts on the mind to alter thought and perception, thought acts on the brain which acts on the body causing physical action.

    Take the metaphor of a car and driver. The driver is the mind, the control systems (steering, accelerator, break pedal) are the brain and the rest of the car is the body. From the outside, all you can see is the car itself. If the control systems fail, you have no way to determine or detect the condition of the driver.

  16. JH,

    I’ll define reason instead, which is the capability to write sentences like “Do plants think?” which have implied meaning, for only creatures with reason can understand meaning.

  17. Briggs, is the fact that sunflowers turn towards the sun an indication of their reasoning ability?

  18. Briggs,

    No, Adam and Even both couldn’t write a sentence? Or

    No, only Adam could write a sentence (after all Eve was made from Adam’s rib, not brain)? Or

    No, it’s not an indication of sunflowers’ reasoning ability, albeit a very rudimentary one? Why not? Because sunflowers can’t write about it, even though they have shown it by action?

    Maybe I lack certain neural circuit required to accept all the imaginations (spoken with certainty by other people) about God’s love, evil, and the relationship between evil and free will. I don’t get it, and I can’t pretend to believe in those imaginations.

    Heck, I’ve read Tao Te Ching numerous times in Chinese; I still don’t totally understand it. BTW, Taoism clams that nothing is greater than “Dao (Tao),” which is not God, but I am sure some theist or atheist can always interpret it in support of their views.

  19. MattS,

    No one (that I know of) has ever recollected anything occurring during a time of unconsciousness. No dreams, no thoughts or at least no memories of such. It’s apparently not the same as sleep. It’s as if the the mind or perhaps just the conscious part has been shutoff. If thoughts are independent of the body (in the “mind”) why is the bodily brain necessary?

  20. Dav,

    There are plenty of stories out there of near death survivors having odd experiences, call them dreams or hallucinations from the time period that they were supposed to be clinically dead. I have also read stories of coma patients having memories of the time they were in the coma.

    http://www.waiting.com/rene.html

    If the physical brain is necessary for thought, explain this.

  21. JH,

    “Briggs, could Adam and Eve write a sentence?”

    In the Garden of Eden? Of course not, writing hadn’t been invented yet.

  22. There are plenty of stories out there of near death survivors having odd experiences

    But were they during the time of the unconsciousness or were they post or prior? NDE may be the result of blood loss in the brain. Ever been under anesthesia or cold-cocked? If so, remember much?

  23. There are plenty of stories out there of near death survivors having odd experiences

    But were they during the time of the unconsciousness or were they post or prior? NDE may be the result of blood loss in the brain. Ever been under anesthesia? If so, remember much?

    The previous try vanished.

  24. DAV,

    “NDE may be the result of blood loss in the brain. Ever been under anesthesia? If so, remember much?”

    Yes, No in that order. But then I tend not to remember dreams either and on a bad day have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast (I have the same thing almost every day :))

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