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12/16/2017 11:16 am  #21


Re: How to speak with atheists

I agree arguing with gnus and other adversial discussions online are usually pointless so far as convincing people is concerned. The best you will get out of it is sorting out your own ideas better and practice in informal reasoning.

 

12/16/2017 11:24 am  #22


Re: How to speak with atheists

joewaked wrote:

@Miguel
@Seigneur
@FrenchySkepticalCatholic

This is so helpful.  Thanks again fellas. 
Let me digest this, particularly PSR.   Need to revisit Dr. Feser on this.   I’d like to take you up on the offer to return here and share the arguments/counters.   I can definitely use all the help I can get.

I do have a question in the meantime on the First Cause and/or Unmoved Mover topic.  I know I’m conflating the two, so please correct me after you read my question.

As I was walking through the observation that everything in our current experience at this moment is being sustained in existence by something, my friend and I used an object sitting on my kitchen counter as an example.   I did that because he commented that “it’s just there and doesn’t need to be sustained.”  I’ll skip the argument I made that something that comes into existence by an outside agent, can’t merely keep itself in existence, etc.

Anyway, we went down the road of chemical compounds, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and so on.  We reached the point in our “hierarchy” of causes where we faced a “dead end”:   my friend stopped at the Four Fundamental Forces of nature (i.e., gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong forces).  I asked “so tell me, what is causing the forces to act?”  Here is where I also refer to movement and the 4 forces are moving, but something is obviously “moving” them.  That’s why I say I’m conflating the 2 arguments.

He said he didn’t know but that science may one day discover that answer.   So I responded that assume they do discover forces even “more fundamental.”   I would still ask the same question because I want to know what is causing them?   And then, we talked about infinite regress and how that fails.

For me, whatever the near-ultimate fundamental forces end up being, behind them we find the Finger of God.  Am I arguing incorrectly?

 
Let me begin by giving you two links:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.br/2014/10/della-rocca-on-psr.html This is a brief exposition of Della Rocca's argument for PSR (the second argument I presented). Feser also defends it in the "rationalist proof" chapter of Five Proofs.

http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/LCA.html This is Alexander Pruss's excelent article on leibnizian cosmological arguments, which was published in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. In it, Pruss gives multiple arguments in favor of PSR and also Causal Principles, responds to different objections, defends some versions of leibnizian cosmological arguments, and briefly argues for why the necessary being/first cause is God. Mind you, the article is written for a specialized audience and can feature logical notation and also some very heavy discussions; you don't have to understand all of it, it's fine if you don't. Just try to read and understand what you can, especially on some justifications for PSR, some replies to certain objections, and how the leibnizian cosmological argument reaches the existence of a necessary being and some different ways to deal with the "gap problem".

That being said, I think the best way to present those arguments is, indeed, to become quite familiarized with them, to study them as much as you can and memorize their different steps. You don't have to be a specialist, of course, but it'd be good for you to memorize them to the best of your ability and have responses ready.

Since you are discussing cosmological arguments now (the first and second ways are both cosmological arguments), it'd be good to understand how they basically "work". They basically seek the cause or explanation for the universe or a specific feature of the universe that can only be explained by a transcendental, divine being. They unfold in three steps: 1) what Pruss calls the "Glendower problem", which is to establish a Principle of Causality or a Principle of Sufficient Reason for the feature in question; 2) the "regress problem", which is to rule out an infinite regress of causes or explanations and reach a First Cause; 3) the "gap problem", which is to identify the First Cause or necessary being with God. As Pruss notes, there are 3 main "types" of cosmological arguments: Kalam, Thomistic, and Leibnizian. The Kalam seeks a cause for the beginning of the universe; it uses a very basic causal principle "whatever begins to exist has a cause" and deals with the infinite regress by arguing that there could be no such infinite regress since the universe is not eternal, it began to exist a finite time ago. The Thomistic cosmological arguments (for instance, the first, second and third ways of Aquinas) use basic causal principles ("whatever is changed is changed by another"; "whatever has an essence distinct from its existence has a cause for its existence", etc) and do not depend on the universe's having a beginning; it rules out an infinite regress by pointing out that such a regress would be an essentially-ordered series of causes (or "hierarchical" series of causes) in which cause 1 is dependent on cause 2 for its existence and operation, cause 2 is dependent on cause 3, etc., and such a series cannot go back to infinity and even if it did, it would not take away the need of a first cause (consider a helpful illustration: an infinite series of traincarts cannot move by itself, somewhere along the series there has to be an engine in order for the traincarts to actually move). The Leibnizian cosmological arguments skip the regress problem by using the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is more robust than other causal principles; it asks why there is something rather than nothing, why are there contingent beings, etc.; even if there is an infinite series of contingent beings, why do any contingent beings exist in the first place, and why does such an infinite series exist? An infinity of contingent beings does not explain the existence of contingent beings, and if anything it makes the whole issue even more mysterious.

You are trying to present some thomistic arguments, namely the first and the second ways. They can get mixed up a little sometimes, so that's normal; the second way deals with the essence/existence distinction, the first way with potency/act; in practice however existence is to essence what act is to potency. You are correct in saying that there must be a stopping point. Basically, the two of you were looking for an explanation of the existence of things, going all the way down into the chemical compounds and such. What is going on here? Well, you were pointing out that all things we know from our experience seem to have their existence conditioned by something else; their existence is not inconditional, it is conditioned by certain things. Your existence is only possible right now because of the oxygen around you, for instance; the oxygen only exists because it is conditioned by certain molecules, etc. etc. Everything we see and discover through science seems to have its existence conditioned by something else. This is because all these things do not have existence by themselves; their essence is distinct from their act of existence, and likewise they are not purely actual, they are a mixture of potentiality and actuality and can only be actual because they are actualized by something else. So you arrived at the fundamental forces, and of course they cannot be the first cause.

1) Everything we experience and know, and in particular every material thing, is conditioned. its existence depends on something else. It is not pure actuality. Why should the fundamental forces be any different? How could another material thing, which is ontologically not too different from us (still material) somehow be purely actual, unconditioned, and exist all by itself?

2) The essence of fundamental forces or whatever they describe is still different from its existence, we can conceive of it failing to exist, etc. Even quarks, which are taken to be the most elementary particles, cannot exist alone and must always be joined by two or three others; it's not unconditioned. The only real "stop" would be a being whose essence just *is* existence, something that exists completely unconditioned, something that necessarily exists and could never have failed to exist, something that is purely actual with no potency, something whose essence is not distinct from existence. Every material thing changes, is not purely actual; every material thing could have failed to exist or could have been different, etc.

3) Also, if such a material being were a necessary being, then it would follow that everything would have to be *necessitated* by it, since the existence of everything would ultimately be explained by an impersonal and necessary material thing (though that is an oxymoron, but whatever), which is simply bizarre. It seems that necessitarianism would follow and the fact that you're wearing a red shirt instead of a blue one (for instance) would be a *necessary fact* instead of a contingent one, which is bizarre.

4) Finally, it is also counter-intuitive. I don't think it would make any sense to think there is a necessary physical force, as if we could not ask why it exists or why it operates the way it does. A necessary being, a purely actual being, would have to be wholly different from the type of things physics tells us, though that is also pretty much what 1 and 2 say.

So you must reach a purely actual, or a being whose essence just is existence, that is perfectly inconditional, or a necessary being, that explains the whole causal chain. The alternative would be for the atheist to deny PSR or PC, but as I stated in my previous post, that would be extremely problematic.

For the Gap problem, I recommend you to read Feser's book, and also the relevant section on Pruss's article. I've written enough for now. Again, feel free to ask any questions.

 

12/16/2017 1:12 pm  #23


Re: How to speak with atheists

Miguel wrote:

joewaked wrote:

@Miguel
@Seigneur
@FrenchySkepticalCatholic

This is so helpful.  Thanks again fellas. 
Let me digest this, particularly PSR.   Need to revisit Dr. Feser on this.   I’d like to take you up on the offer to return here and share the arguments/counters.   I can definitely use all the help I can get.

 
Let me begin by giving you two links:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.br/2014/10/della-rocca-on-psr.html This is a brief exposition of Della Rocca's argument for PSR (the second argument I presented). Feser also defends it in the "rationalist proof" chapter of Five Proofs.

 
I’m sending you a PM for now.

     Thread Starter
 

12/16/2017 3:46 pm  #24


Re: How to speak with atheists

@Miguel 

Miguel wrote:

You are trying to present some thomistic arguments, namely the first and the second ways. They can get mixed up a little sometimes, so that's normal; the second way deals with the essence/existence distinction, the first way with potency/act; in practice however existence is to essence what act is to potency. You are correct in saying that there must be a stopping point. Basically, the two of you were looking for an explanation of the existence of things, going all the way down into the chemical compounds and such. What is going on here? Well, you were pointing out that all things we know from our experience seem to have their existence conditioned by something else; their existence is not inconditional, it is conditioned by certain things. Your existence is only possible right now because of the oxygen around you, for instance; the oxygen only exists because it is conditioned by certain molecules, etc. etc. Everything we see and discover through science seems to have its existence conditioned by something else. This is because all these things do not have existence by themselves; their essence is distinct from their act of existence, and likewise they are not purely actual, they are a mixture of potentiality and actuality and can only be actual because they are actualized by something else. So you arrived at the fundamental forces, and of course they cannot be the first cause.
.

Forgive me for vague and dusty understanding of Aquinas.I have read TLS a few years ago.
I'm puzzled that you consider this as Aquinas' first way. It seemed to that Aquinas was trying to account for a change. However, if I for example say that Mass causes gravity and that is how the movement of the planets are governed, what remains to be explained? I have explained the change we see. However, it seems to me that you are rather arguing based on contingency. Why mass exists? Why should mass cause gravity ? Why mass/energy is conserved and so on (because once mass /energy exists, by laws of physics we know they wll remain conserved)?

Last edited by nojoum (12/16/2017 3:49 pm)

 

12/16/2017 7:19 pm  #25


Re: How to speak with atheists

nojoum wrote:

@Miguel 

Miguel wrote:

You are trying to present some thomistic arguments, namely the first and the second ways. They can get mixed up a little sometimes, so that's normal; the second way deals with the essence/existence distinction, the first way with potency/act; in practice however existence is to essence what act is to potency. You are correct in saying that there must be a stopping point. Basically, the two of you were looking for an explanation of the existence of things, going all the way down into the chemical compounds and such. What is going on here? Well, you were pointing out that all things we know from our experience seem to have their existence conditioned by something else; their existence is not inconditional, it is conditioned by certain things. Your existence is only possible right now because of the oxygen around you, for instance; the oxygen only exists because it is conditioned by certain molecules, etc. etc. Everything we see and discover through science seems to have its existence conditioned by something else. This is because all these things do not have existence by themselves; their essence is distinct from their act of existence, and likewise they are not purely actual, they are a mixture of potentiality and actuality and can only be actual because they are actualized by something else. So you arrived at the fundamental forces, and of course they cannot be the first cause.
.

Forgive me for vague and dusty understanding of Aquinas.I have read TLS a few years ago.
I'm puzzled that you consider this as Aquinas' first way. It seemed to that Aquinas was trying to account for a change. However, if I for example say that Mass causes gravity and that is how the movement of the planets are governed, what remains to be explained? I have explained the change we see. However, it seems to me that you are rather arguing based on contingency. Why mass exists? Why should mass cause gravity ? Why mass/energy is conserved and so on (because once mass /energy exists, by laws of physics we know they wll remain conserved)?

 
I didn't say it was the first way, I said it was a thomistic argument, though it can be somewhat reframed in terms of the first way. The crux of the first way is the actualization of potentiality. When you say that mass actualizes what we call gravity, we're just talking of one specific actualization of potency. The issue is that mass will itself be a mixture of potency and act (call that MPA), and as such it needs to be actualized by something else in order for it to actualize anything at all.

To be clear, the first way is actually quite an abstract argument. The point is that things change, and change is just the reduction of potentiality into actuality. Anything that is not pure act does not have act all by itself (since it is not pure act) and thus has to be actualized by something else. If that something else is also a MPA, then it will have to once again be actualized by something else. Since an MPA is actualized, it has no act by itself, it has no tendency to be in actuality and rule out potentiality, therefore it needs to always be actualized.

But what would act and potency refer to? As I stated in my previous post, existence is to essence what act is to potency. So the first way can be framed like the second way. It can also be reframed like the neoplatonist argument in which things have a potential to be one, but must have this potency actualized by what is actually one. Or it can be the form/matter dichotomy. Or something similar. The point is, whatever the metaphysical feature ends up being the case, it will involve a reduction of potency to act. The first way is an abstract argument based on this very basic framework of potency and actuality.

So, is "mass" pure act? If not, then it is being changed by something else, and you haven't really fully explained the motion of the planets because so-called "mass" is just as much a MPA as the planets are.

The second way follows the same idea, but applied specifically to the essence and existence distinction, which is also quite close to the notion of contingency, We can observe that certain things are caused; this means that certain things are given existence to their essences, their essence is conjoined with an act of existence. But precisely because in such things essence is distinct from existence ("what they are" is not the same as "that they are", and we can know what they are without knowing whether or not they exist), these things do not have, by themselves, any tendency to remain in existence. Existence must be continuously conjoined to their essence, this essence that by itself has no tendency to exist. So whatever causes this thing to exist will also have to be caused by another, unless its essence is not distinct from its existence, that is, unless it has all by itself a manner of existing and a tendency to remain in existence.

When you say "by the laws of physics we know they will remain conserved", you are already explaining the existence of mass/energy by appealing to something else, which you call "the laws of physics". The laws of physics are just descriptions of objective patterns and tendencies of things, and it does not explain the deeper metaphysical question of why "mass" exists at all. In fact it still would remain unintelligible why a being whose essence is distinct from existence would be able to continue to exist all by itself.

The argument I gave was based on Norris Clarke's argument from conditioned existence in The One and the Many. It is thomistic in spirit, and it points out how everything we come to know through experience and science has its existence dependent on certain specific conditions. This forms a hierarchical series of causes: our existence is conditioned by the atmosphere around us, for example, and so on. Mass is also dependent on specific conditions. Even quarks, as I said, which are taken to be the most fundamental particles, only have a conditioned existence. This cannot proceed to infinity, however, otherwise we would not actually have the conditions that we have for anything existing at all. There must exist a First Cause whose existence is perfectly independent of anything else, not conditioned by anything else. And matter, as I argued, cannot fulfill such a role.

 

12/16/2017 7:32 pm  #26


Re: How to speak with atheists

I chose to present the argument like that because, like Clarke, I believe it is simpler that way. It avoids certain discussions of causal theories and the like, and just uses the much more common notion of "conditioned existent", which is readily understood by most philosophers, scientists, and common people. And so you can immediately explain why it involves a hierarchical series of causes (or essentially ordered series), since hierarchical series just are series involving instrumental causation; cause 1's existence is conditioned by cause 2 which is dependent on cause 3 etc.

An atheist can only 1) deny PSR or 2) accept the conclusion, but insist that the self-sufficient cause is not "God" and can be a material being. 1 is highly problematic because it denies PSR and must face the costs involved with that. 2 is also highly problematic for the reasons I pointed out; besides, any self-sufficient being must also be infinite in perfection (a further step in the argument I had not yet presented, as that would be dealing with the "Gap problem" and I was mainly focusing on the "Regress problem" in my post). I would also say that option 2 would actually be pantheistic, not atheistic, since it seems like it would imply some form of spinozistic necessitarianism...

Last edited by Miguel (12/16/2017 7:37 pm)

 

12/17/2017 5:08 pm  #27


Re: How to speak with atheists

Thank you very much for taking the time and making the effort to write such comprehensive explanation.
I hope I am not guity of being dismissive, but to me it seems that you are basically saying why should something remain in existence.
If this is the case, then I think the first way is wholly irrelvant to the discussion.

I think a materialist can just resort to brute fact and says that the universe as a whole essentially exists (its pure act in the sense of existence)

Last edited by nojoum (12/18/2017 9:15 am)

 

12/17/2017 5:16 pm  #28


Re: How to speak with atheists

I'm not sure a couple of dismissive sentences are a fair response to what he wrote.

 

12/17/2017 5:33 pm  #29


Re: How to speak with atheists

Jeremy, I understand your concern but I did not  intentionally and unreasonably dismiss his argument. To me that is the core of his entire reasoning.

Last edited by nojoum (12/17/2017 5:34 pm)

 

12/19/2017 3:26 am  #30


Re: How to speak with atheists

Interesting thread so far.

As a new Christian, I talk to my atheist parents and sister on a regularly basis, so I need some help with this as well.

One thing I was talking about with my dad the other day was scientism. I was trying to show him how disastrously self-refuting it is, that science itself can’t really establish the position. His response was that scientism is simply axiomatic.

I found that rather bizarre, and didn’t know quite how to object to it.

 

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