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The less Rey knows, the less he knows it

Apropos my post on straw man arguments in the philosophy of religion, reader Bobcat calls my attention to this article by philosopher of mind Georges Rey, which purports to show that theism, when held to by anyone with at least “a standard Anglo-European high school education,” necessarily involves self-deception. And for Rey, that includes – indeed, maybe especially includes – highly intelligent theists who happen to be philosophers. Rey starts out by acknowledging that he is “not a professional philosopher of religion and has no special knowledge of theology.” With that much, anyway, the reader can agree, for Rey’s article proves it conclusively. Why Rey thought himself nevertheless qualified to open his mouth on this subject is another question entirely, and the answer is by no means clear. I’ll leave it to those interested in plumbing the psychological depths of academic blowhards to consider whether self-deception might be a factor.

Now, my longtime readers know that I am loath ever to indulge in polemics, but I’m afraid in this one case the temptation is simply too great to bear. For Rey’s article is not merely mistaken on this or that point. It is not merely bad. As the kids would say, it totally sucks. Indeed, although it is of course better written than the average freshman term paper, it is even less well-informed. I apologize to those whose tender ears find it hard to bear such un-collegial harshness (not that Rey himself gives a hang about that vis-à-vis his theistic colleagues). All I can say in my defense is: Read the thing yourself and see.

Rey is not an unintelligent man. Indeed, he is a very intelligent man, and anyone who wants to understand the clever ways in which contemporary materialists attempt to surmount the many difficulties facing their position would do well to read his work in the philosophy of mind. It’s mostly wrong, of course, but still intelligent and worth reading. The article in question is another story. It is an object lesson in how ignorance coupled with arrogance can lead an intelligent man to make a fool of himself. (Not that another one is needed in this Age of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens.)

If any reader out there wants to evaluate Rey’s efforts at amateur psychoanalysis, knock yourself out. I’m more interested in the excuse Rey thinks he has for indulging in psychoanalysis in the first place. Why accuse even educated theists of being, not merely mistaken, but self-deceived? The reason, Rey repeats ad nauseam, is that the traditional arguments for God’s existence are obviously fallacious, are so bad that he simply can’t believe anyone takes them seriously, commit “blatant sophistries,” etc. Yet surprisingly, he says very little about exactly what the problems with them are supposed to be. As the impatient reader sifts through the trash talk and psychobabble in search of substance, he soon finds, first, that what Rey actually has to say about the arguments probably wouldn’t fill one side of an index card; and second, that it’s all wrong anyway.

One problem with Rey’s discussion of the arguments (such as it is) is the extremely crude, anthropomorphic conception of God he is working with. Like many atheists, he supposes that God is, like us, a “mental being” (as Rey awkwardly puts it) only “not subject to ordinary physical limitations.” Start with a human being, and abstract away the body parts. Then abstract away the limits on knowledge, and expand the range of sensory experience to include immediate perception of every corner of physical reality. Imagine that every experience of willing something is followed by the realization of that which is willed – for example, wanting the Red Sea to part is followed by the parting of the Red Sea, wanting a leper healed is followed by skin returning to normal, and so on. Throw in as well the tendency always to want to do what is right. Etc. The result is something like a super-duper Cartesian immaterial substance with a cosmic Boy Scout’s merit badge, far grander than any of the objects (material or immaterial) familiar from our experience, but differing from them in degree rather than kind.

It is no surprise that, with this “working model” of God, Rey and other atheists think Him comparable to Zeus, gremlins, ghosts, etc. To be sure, something like this conception – a conception Brian Davies has labeled “theistic personalism” and others have called “neo-theism” – has (unfortunately) featured, at least implicitly, in some recent work in philosophy of religion. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the God of classical theism – of Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Maimonides, Avicenna, Leibniz, and countless others. It has absolutely nothing to do with the God of the great Christian creeds or the great Church Councils. That God is not “a being” among others, not even a really grand one, but Being Itself or Pure Act. Concepts like power, knowledge, goodness, intellect, will, etc. do apply to Him, but not (as in theistic personalism) in a univocal sense but rather in an analogous sense (where “analogy” is to be understood not on the model of Paley-style “arguments from analogy” – which in fact apply terms to God and to us in univocal senses – but rather in terms of Aquinas’s famous doctrine of analogy). And attributions of power, knowledge, will etc. to God are all necessarily informed by the doctrine of divine simplicity. Our philosophical conception of Him is not modeled on human beings or on any other created thing; rather, it is arrived at via reflection on what is entailed by something’s being that which accounts for the existence of anything at all.

Rey, it is evident, knows absolutely nothing of all this, nothing of the radical distinction between the classical theistic conception of God and every other conception. But this is not some mere family dispute between theists, something that can be ignored for purposes of making general claims about religion. If you don’t know how classical theism differs from everything else, and in particular from the anthropomorphic conceptions of God underlying tiresome pop atheist comparisons to Zeus and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, then you simply do not and cannot understand the arguments of Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al., and cannot understand the claims of Christianity as it has historically understood itself. It will not do to pretend that what your Uncle Bob or some TV evangelist has said about God can serve well enough as research for an argument against religion, any more than Uncle Bob’s or the evangelist’s conception of quantum mechanics would suffice as a “backgrounder” for an assault on modern physics.

So, Rey simply doesn’t know the first thing about what the people he dismisses as in thrall to self-deception even mean when they talk about God. That’s one problem. The other problem is that he evidently has no idea either of how the main traditional arguments for God’s existence are supposed to work. He is, for example, obviously beholden to the tiresome canard that defenders of the Cosmological Argument never explain why a First Cause would have to have the various divine attributes (unity, intellect, omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, etc.). This, I dare say, is an infallible sign of incompetence vis-à-vis the subject at hand; whenever you are reading an atheist writer who makes this common but preposterous claim, you can safely let out a contemptuous chuckle, close the book, and waste no further time with him, because you can be morally certain that he does not know what he is talking about.

As anyone who has actually cracked either the Summa Theologiae or Summa Contra Gentiles knows, Aquinas (to take just one example) actually devotes literally hundreds of pages of rigorous and painstaking argumentation to deriving the various divine attributes. (He does so in several other works as well.) Similarly detailed argumentation for the divine attributes can be found throughout the Scholastic tradition, in Leibniz and in Clarke, in more recent writers like Garrigou-Lagrange, and indeed throughout the 2,300-year old literature on the traditional theistic arguments beginning with Plato and Aristotle. The allegation that “Even if there’s a First Cause, no one’s ever shown why it would have to be all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.” is simply an urban legend. It persists only because hack atheists like Rey tend to read only other hack atheists, or read serious theistic writers only in tiny snippets ripped from context. (To judge Aquinas’s case for God’s existence by reading only the Five Ways – which were never meant to be anything more than an “executive summary” of arguments whose details are developed elsewhere – is like judging the arguments presented in Rey’s book Contemporary Philosophy of Mind by reading only the analytical table of contents.)

Rey confidently tells us that “the one argument” that tries to show that God “has a mind” – the correct way to put it would be to say that there is in God something analogous to intellect – is, “of course,” Paley’s design argument. But Aquinas’s Fifth Way is another – rather well-known – argument that takes the divine intellect as its focus. Like Richard Dawkins and most other atheists, Rey probably assumes that the Fifth Way is a mere riff on the basic design argument idea, but if so then he is once again just manifesting his ignorance, since the arguments could not be more different. Design arguments take for granted a mechanistic conception of nature, while the Fifth Way appeals to final causes; design arguments are probabilistic, while the Fifth Way is a strict demonstration; design arguments don’t claim to prove the existence of the God of classical theism, while the Fifth Way does just that; design arguments focus on complexity and especially the complexity manifest in living things, while the Fifth Way is not especially interested in either; design arguments have to deal somehow with objections based on evolutionary theory, while the truth or falsity of evolution is utterly irrelevant to the Fifth Way; and so forth. (See The Last Superstition and my forthcoming book Aquinas for the details.)

And then, as I have already indicated, the historically most important versions of the other main theistic arguments (e.g. Aquinas’s, Leibniz’s, or Clarke’s cosmological arguments, Anselm’s ontological argument), when fully worked out, all also claim to show that there cannot fail to be something analogous to intellect in God (alongside the other divine attributes). The thing is, you have to actually read them to know this. Pretty tough break for Uncurious Georges, I know, but believe it or not, philosophy of religion is a little like philosophy of mind in requiring actual research now and again.

As always with these things, it just gets worse the more ink is spilt. “Again, I’m not a scholar of theology,” Rey reminds us, before opining on theology; “however, I’m willing to wager that few of the details [theologians] discuss are of the evidential sort that we ordinarily expect of ordinary claims about the world.” And then – hold on to your hats – he actually gives “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” as an example.

[Cue Don Martin sound effect.]

One wonders whether Rey was the sort of high school geek who desperately tried to prove his athletic bona fides to his locker room tormenters by bragging about all the “touchdowns” he used to make in Little League.

Whatever the answer to that, the all-grown-up Rey can’t resist one more self-inflicted wedgie. On the heels of his learned allusion to medieval angelology, he earnestly considers the question of whether theologians might be guilty of “intellectual sloth.”

Self-awareness, thy name is not Georges Rey.

Well, I’ve wasted enough time on this, so let me close with the following thought. Suppose someone started out an article on why all materialists are necessarily engaged in self-deception by saying “I’m not a professional philosopher of mind and have no special knowledge of the materialist literature. But here goes anyway…” Now, how do you think Rey would…

Ah, never mind.

Comments (25)

Hi again Ed,

After reading your TLS, I started reading Davies's book, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. In that work, Davies describes Swinburne's view of God in a way that you seem to describe the super-duper Cartesian mind with a merit badge. I was wondering, first, whether you agree that Swinburne falls into this category, and second, whether, if Swinburne does, he should be characterized as self-deceived in believing his arguments. I'm guessing your answers are "yes" and "no", but I'd be curious as to what you think of Swinburne's arguments.

Hi Bobcat, yes, my answers would be "Yes" and "No." I think Swinburne's approach to philosophical theology is (because of its "theistic personalism") dangerously wrongheaded, theologically speaking. But Swinburne is obviously extremely smart and learned, and his system is impressively worked out over the course of a great many volumes densely packed with carefully developed arguments. Anyone who would dismiss his work as somehow either deep-down insincere, or intellectually sub-par, is just silly. So, the remarks I made about theistic personalism were not meant to imply that everyone who takes that approach is comparable to a believer in Zeus. The point was rather that (a) theistic personalism is at least vulnerable to that sort of caricature in a way that classical theism is not (though it's still just a caricature), and (b) classical theism, and not the caricature-prone theistic personalism, is the view that represents the historical Christianity for which people like Rey have such contempt.

Dear Dr Feser,

You say:

"Concepts like power, knowledge, goodness, intellect, will, etc. do apply to Him, but not (as in theistic personalism) in a univocal sense but rather in an analogous sense (where “analogy” is to be understood not on the model of Paley-style “arguments from analogy” – which in fact apply terms to God and to us in univocal senses – but rather in terms of Aquinas’s famous doctrine of analogy). And attributions of power, knowledge, will etc. to God are all necessarily informed by the doctrine of divine simplicity."

But what about the Scotists? They combine univocity and classical divine simplicity. And their metaphysics is at least as sophisticated as the Thomistic one.

By the way, IMHO the most rigorous period of scholastic is the so called 2nd (i.e., early modern) scholastic, not the 1st (Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, etc.) or the 3rd (mainly Neo-Thomistic) scholastic. As for resources on the 2nd period, which, however, has been much neglected, see esp. http://www.scholasticon.fr/index_fr.php And some people like to say that with you, Oderberg or Sommers the 4th scholastic emerges.

The best survey of metaphysical differences between typical scholastic theism and the typical theism of contemporary philosophy of religion is Klima's http://www.fordham.edu/gsas/phil/klima/FILES/DZP-GK.pdf , esp. sections 7 and 8.

A long addendum

You said in the post: "... design arguments are probabilistic, while the Fifth Way is a strict demonstration ..."

Yes. But at the Maverick Philosopher, you had added: Also "... Wittgensteinians ... are hostile to any metaphysical conception of God that makes Him out to be a kind of super-object among the other objects that make up the world. The sort of theology-as-quasi-scientific-theorizing that one finds e.g. in Richard Swinburne is a favorite whipping boy. God just isn't a kind of theoretical posit a la fundamental particles, and to represent religion in this way just badly distorts it and opens it up to all sorts of objections that don't apply to it when it is rightly understood. The right alternative to seeing it as quasi-science, though, is seeing it as (in part) old-fashioned metaphysics of the classical Plato-Aristotle-Augustine-Aquinas sort. I would say that, ever since Paley and Co., the (mis)interpretation of theological claims as quasi-scientific ones has had a catastrophic effect, transforming what were traditionally understood to be metaphysical demonstrations into empirical probabilistic hypotheses (e.g. transforming the Fifth Way into the "Design Argument") and thereby giving the false impression that philosophical theology is a futile exercise in God-of-the-gaps speculation." http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1174434398.shtml#8949

I. I suppose you don't mean to say that deductive and inductive theistic projects are, in principle, incompatible, do you? So what, exactly, is the problem with Swinburne and Co.?

II. That his conclusions do not include all divine attributes of classical theism? That does not make them worthless.

III. That the arguments are not deductive or proceeding only from self-evident and certain premises? That does not make them epistemically bad or weak. Probable background with a conclusion which is probable on that background can constitute a good argument.

IV. Anyway, are all the crucial premises you employ in your favourite arguments self-evident and certain and are all the inferences you make deductive? Don't you, at least once, rely on merely plausible premises or inferential moves? You know best.

V. Or do you mind that many contemporary theists have problems with some classical divine attributes (simplicity, atemporality, necessity, immutability, omniscience)? If so, are these problems essential for their (inductive) methods?

VI. Or is it annoying that some important arguments or classical divine attributes have been typically and too often omitted from contemporary treatises? Again, that does not seem inevitable or entailed by the methodological nub of much of contemporary philosophy of religion.

VII. In fact, I suspect that even a great deal of scholastic metaphysics is non-deductive. Consider, for an illustration, the following argument, employed by some scholastics. 1. All observed Fs (say, people) are Gs (say, capable of laugh, mortal, and the like). So, 2. All Fs are Gs. 3. (2) has an explanation. 4. The explanation of (2) is that Fs are Gs solely in virtue of the essences of Fs.
The inference to (2) is inductive. Further, it seems that the inference to (4) is inductive, too. Once I asked a prominent contemporary Thomistic metaphysician how would he justify (4); he suggested that if pressed, he would try to use the method of inference to the best explanation (IBE). So, here we another inductive move in general scholastic metaphysics, at least as conceived by that scholastic methaphysician.

VIII. In addition, isn't inductive method indispensable in apologetics and fundamental theology? Wouldn't you argue, if pressed, for the resurrection of Jesus, the truth of Christianity, or for Catholicism, using IBE (like W. L. Craig) or probability calculus (like Swinburne or the McGrews)? If so, why, exactly, do you mind inductive method in other places?

IX. To be more specific and to relate (VIII) to your talk about "God-of-the-gaps speculations", let's consider the following. How does the Christian apologist typically know (or believe to know) that Jesus rose form the dead? Presumably this way: the apologist addresses in detail a disjunction of chosen and well-known alternatives (i.e., hallucinations, conspiracy, wrong tomb, and few others). Then he correctly proclaims that none of them is even remotely viable. And then he infers that the resurrection is probable. In short, highly probably, either Jesus rose from the dead or for 2000 years people have been missing a viable alternative not yet considered; the second disjunct is improbable; so probably Jesus rose from the dead.

That is a standard form of an apologetic argument for the resurrection. Would you embrace it? If yes, then note that the opponent of Christianity could reply that the form is also of an explanatory gap strategy. Let me explain. The implicit rationale is that all non-assessed alternatives which have been already formulated are far-fetched and scarcely worth mentioning, AND that all possible non-assessed but viable alternatives which haven't been formulated yet would be after two thousand years of Christian and anti-Christian reflection already known -- which they aren't. But then the argument is a type of the explanatory gap argument. And the issue which needs to be addressed is whether the premise is vulnerable to a common kind of inductive counterargument: "what was regarded as an impossibility, or at least improbability, proved to be instead a lack of imagination or knowledge" (John Post).

To sum up my point (IX), either you embrace standard apologetics -- and then you embrace explanatory gap arguments in some area but reject them in another without reasons known to me; or you reject explanatory gap arguments altogether -- and then you reject standard apologetics, too.

X. I wonder what Lydia McGrew would say about the point (IX) and Post's remark about explanatory gap strategy for they are pertinent to her work in apologetics.

Sorry for being garrulous. And thank your for your stimulative posts!

Hi Vlastimil,

I can tell you that I'm almost positive, based on reading TLS, that Feser would endorse something like Craig's or the McGrew's strategy for why we ought to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Personally, I have a big worry about that strategy, which is that I just don't feel we have enough information about the events surrounding Jesus' death to say anything much. That is, I'm willing to grant that Jesus' rising from the dead is the best explanation of the data we have, but given that we don't have much data, I don't know whether it's a good explanation.

And I think your post is a good one, but I imagine that Feser endorses strict demonstrative proofs in areas like proving that God exists, and proving certain things about his nature (his immutability, power, knowledge, etc.), but not, of course, that God is triune (for that's revealed), and not the reliability of the Gospels, or the truth of the claim that the Catholic Church is the church Jesus founded. That'd be my guess. Though you probably want to hear it from the horse's mouth.

Bobcat, it is my opinion that you can't say that about "not enough data" without, in consistency, endorsing full-blown historical skepticism. Roman historians would give their eyeteeth for the amount of info. that we have about Jesus Christ.

But that could lead to a very real threadjack. I just wanted to throw it in rather than letting the comment lie entirely.

Ed, I very much appreciate your clarification above re. Swinburne.

Hello Vlastimil,

You're right about Scotus, and my statement about analogy should have been qualified; I was thinking of (what I take to be) the paradigmatic Scholastic view, though there are (what I take to be) deviations like the one you mention. Still, divine simplicity is arguably enough to entail a classical theist conception of God, though like other Thomists I think the Scotist move is dangerous and marked a decline in the Scholastic tradition, thus paving the way for the dreaded moderns. (Obviously we disagree about the relative merits of the three -- or four [from your lips to God's ears!] -- periods of Scholasticism!)

I also agree wholeheartedly that people who want to understand these things should read Klima -- the article in question, but more generally too.

Re: your other points, please don't read too much into my remarks on Swinburne, of whose work I was not giving any sort of general evaluation. I was just answering Bobcat's specific question. Hence, for example (and as Bobcat has since noted), I was by no means dismissing inductive arguments in general (who would?). My complaint about Swinburne concerns rather (a) his "theistic personalist" conception of God, and (b) his approach of treating God as, in effect, an empirical-scientific posit rather than the unavoidable result of a metaphysical analysis of the possibility of there being a world at all. And the serious problem with (b) is not its probabilistic character but rather that it tends to lead to (a), since our conception of theoretical entities begins with univocally-interpreted analogies with the objects of our experience.

Hi Lydia, my pleasure. As in our dispute over ID, my aim is NOT to throw any of my fellow theists under the bus for PR reasons (or any other reason). Even though I think ID theorists, Swinburne, et al. are in their various ways seriously mistaken, they are typically light years superior (morally and intellectually) to their more shrill naturalist opponents.

Thanks, Ed. I almost hate to say it, but the more clearly you explain your opposition to "modern" (I guess one would call them) arguments/approaches to natural theology, such as, e.g., Swinburne's, the more I realize what a cheerful modern I truly am. :-)

Dr Feser,

Granted he deserves it, but isn't it too easy to go after Rey for not addressing the classical theistic arguments when the overwhelming aspect atheists see and hear of religion simply is theistic personalism. Rey was wrong to go after a caricature of it, but it will not do to say that God is Being Itself yet the worship of God is somehow different. Adding to that are disputes about this very concept among contemporary scholars that muddy the whole subject to someone on the outside looking in.

As I am sure you know, part of Plantinga's main argument against scientific naturalism is that it depersonifies Nature. So his default position embraces some type of theistic personalism, which he has generally described as an atonement process in debates.

An example from Albert Borgmann contrasting a wood stove to an electric furnace gives a good sketch of the anti-modern view. The wood stove has a richer context that engages each family member at a different level, the father cut the wood, the mother built the fire, the children doing lesser tasks. It provides a focal point of necessary interaction for daily routines and a deeper awareness of the harshness of winter. An electric furnace conceals all of its context, the main part of it is hidden from view, the energy source is usually unknown, the thermostat is all we need to command its activity.

Step2, I [heart] my furnace. :-)

Tried burning real wood once. Stupid stuff wouldn't light most of the time. When we have a fire for atmosphere, we buy those pressed-wood-shaving easy-lite logs that make pretty colors...And I still have trouble remembering how to open the flue.

I won't threadjack, Lydia, but I'd love to talk to you about the historicity of Jesus further, as I think yours and Tim's paper, along with N.T. Wright's book, is the best stuff on it so far (or, at least of recent vintage). Maybe through email, or maybe you'll post about it?

"Design arguments take for granted a mechanistic conception of nature, while the Fifth Way appeals to final causes..."

Is it correct to say that Paley adheres to the design argument and not the discussion of final causes?

And if so, how did Paley's position end up being labeled the "teleological" argument if it is mechanistic and not concerned with telos?

Even as an undergrad, I sensed my Phil 101 books were mislabeling Paley's position and excluding the classic Fifth Way. I'd like to read an essay tracing this error.

Better yet, I'd like to see the error become extinct.

Hi Step2,

I'd say three things in response:

(a) Even if some laymen say things that sound anthropomorphic, that doesn't necessarily mean they're committed to a crude conception of God. It just means they are laymen, and thus aren't used to speaking in precise terms, making fine distinction, thinking through implications, etc. There's nothing wrong with that; no one can do everything. And the same thing is true vis-a-vis science: The layman says all sorts of crude, oversimplified, or just plain wrong things when he tries to explain evolution, or plate tectonics, or relativity. But no one would say that that either casts any doubt whatsoever on physical science, or justifies us in treating the layman's descriptions as a useful starting point for evaluating it. Similarly, what laymen do and say vis-a-vis religion gives Rey and people of his ilk no justification whatsoever for proceeding as they do.

(b) Rey does not simply criticize recent philosophers of religion who happen to be theistic personalists (indeed, it's obvious he doesn't even know that there is an issue here at all). He criticizes theologians and religious philosophers per se, and specifially names e.g. Aquinas. So if he's going to say (as he does) that all their arguments are not just mistaken but obviously fallacious, sophistical, too bad to be worth taking seriously, etc., then he has a duty to know exactly what he's talking about. Someone who makes such absurdly sweeping claims has no business saying "Well, I'm just going on what I read in some recent journal article on the subway one day..."

(c) Even if he were just attacking theistic personalists, his characterizations are still ridiculous and uninformed caricatures. It's not like what he says would be good against some philosophical views but not against others. What he says has no value at all except perhaps against what some 8-year old might have said to him.

So, I think he deserves to be cut no slack at all. And the reason he should be called on it rather than ignored is precisely because he is an intelligent man and a prominent and influential philosopher, and thus should not be allowed to get away with saying such stupid things.

Re: Plantinga, yes, he too has (unfortunately) evinced theistic personalist views.

Hi Kevin,

Teleology can be either inherent in the nature of a thing (as an acorn has an inherent tendency to become an oak) or imposed from outside (as the materials that make up a coffee machine have no inherent tendency at all to make coffee, but must be forced to do so by an artisan). The former, immanent sort of teleology is what Aristotelians mean by final cause, and what Aquinas is interested in in the Fifth Way. When one denies final causes, the only sort of teleology left is the latter, extrinsic sort, which is what Paley is interested in. Hence the design argument's tendency to characterize the world as a machine or artifact.

For Aquinas, by contrast, final causality is evident in nature precisely insofar as it is not like an artifact. This is also why complexity matters so much to design argument defenders but not to Aquinas: Artifact-like objects can seem impossible to account for in terms of impersonal processes only to the extent that they are so intricate that their resulting from such processes is improbable. For Aquinas, by contrast, even something extremely simple like a match's tendency always to generate heat and flame specifically, unless impeded from outside, is an unmistakable mark of final causality. And for this reason, finality exists wherever regular causal patterns do (which is of course everywhere in nature, down to the level of basic physics); complex biological phenomena are not particularly important for the argument, being just one, fairly uncommon instance of final causality among others.

(Contrary to a common misconception, final cause is NOT equivalent to "function" in the biological sense; such functions are just one special case of a more general phenomenon. What is essential to final causes is just directedness towards an end, something evident in every regular causal relation, however simple. For Thomists, the main reason to believe in final causality is that without it efficient causality of any sort becomes unintelligible, thus opening the way to e.g. the standard Humean puzzles. All of this is explained in detail in The Last Superstition.)

Mr. Feser,

Re. the analogy problem in Scotus and St. Thomas:

It's better to see St. Thoams and Scotus using different senses of the words "univocal" and "analogous". For the Thomist, univocity means most of all a single genus for the members. Scotus never says that there is a single genus for God and creatures, and in fact he denies this altogether, which is enough to preserve (most of) the sense of what we Thomists mean by analogy. Lee Faber at the Smithy could give you the pertinent texts.

When Scotus affirms univocity between God and creatures he is taking "univocal" in a logical sense where it means "the term, when used in a syllogism maintains sufficient unity to make conclusions possible." To use an example: both St. Thomas and Scotus agree that this argument structure works:

A exists
A is being caused by B
so B exists

(A is something given in sensation, B is something "all call God")

For Scotus, however, univocity is nothing other than the unity in the term "exists" that allows you to have it meaningfully in the premises and the conclusion. So stipulated, no thomist needs to deny the univocity of being and "to exist". We thomists simply deny that this is what "univocal" means. Cajetan at one point describes Scotus's argument that God and creatures are univocal, but not homogeneous by saying something like "Scotus gives an argument for this, but it is beneath his dignity".

Calling Lee Faber...

Dear Dr Feser,

Thank you very much for the clarification. Esp. this is useful:

"My complaint about Swinburne concerns rather (a) his "theistic personalist" conception of God, and (b) his approach of treating God as, in effect, an empirical-scientific posit rather than the unavoidable result of a metaphysical analysis of the possibility of there being a world at all. And the serious problem with (b) is not its probabilistic character but rather that it tends to lead to (a), since our conception of theoretical entities begins with univocally-interpreted analogies with the objects of our experience."

Have you, or someone else, expanded this suggestion in a greater detail somewhere?


Dear Lydia,

I am curious what would you say to my point IX above.


Does apologetics always and crucially employ the explanatory gap strategy of the following form?: a premise or a conclusion P is probable for it is a viable explanatory hypothesis wrt some evidence E and there is (so far or to our informed knowledge) not any known viable not-P-explanatory hypothesis wrt E.

Is not the gap strategy employed by you, Tim and R. Swinburne?

As I have said above, in the context of the debates about design arguments philosophers like John Post often claim that the gap strategy is vulnerable to the metainductive counterargument of the optimistic naturalist: many times, "what was regarded [from the naturalist standpoint] as an impossibility, or at least improbability, proved to be instead a lack of imagination or knowledge."

I suppose you would reply that at least in the case of the specific evidence pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus, it is not reasonable to hope for a viable naturalist explanation. But why, exactly, is this case special? Because the issue of the resurrection has been explored SO LONG (2000 years!) and/or with such a VIM and such stakes on both sides of the debate?

Thank you!

A follow up:

Just to say something positive: what we call the univocal idea of being is better seen Kant. Kant who will insist that all that can be meaningfully thought must be given in the single, univocal genus (Kant calls them "categories") of homogeneous spacio-temporal existence (this is a basic presupposition of any most naturalism or physicalism, though not all).

In my experience, people don't advance the "univocity of being" as a doctrine, but simply as a side effect of their own forgetfulness of being. I'm reminded of Aristotle's observation at the beginning of the Metaphysics that the first man to the reality of existence beyond natural existence (Anaxagoras) spoke "like a sober man among drunkards".

Just to say something positive: what we call the univocal idea of being is better seen Kant. Kant insists that all that can be meaningfully thought must be given in the single, univocal genus of homogeneous spacio-temporal existence (this is a basic presupposition of many naturalisms and physicalisms, though not all).

In my experience, people don't advance the "univocity of being" as a doctrine, but simply as a side effect of the forgetfulness of being. It arises from a sort of "dream" of metaphysics. I'm reminded of Aristotle's observation at the beginning of the Metaphysics that the first man to the reality of existence beyond natural existence (Anaxagoras) spoke "like a sober man among drunkards".

Vlastimil, I'm not sure that it wd. be fair for me to get into too much of that on Ed's thread. I will therefore reply only briefly: First, inference to the best explanation is rational and, as a form of argument, can be overwhelmingly rationally compelling. Labeling it as a "gap strategy" is entirely pointless. I am no more employing some invidious "gap strategy" in explanatory theistic arguments than in my reasoning for believing in your existence or the existence of the computer in front of me, etc., etc. This is just IBE; IBE is great; IBE is indispensible. There's nothing specially questionable about it in a theistic context. Second, _nobody_ on the naturalist side claims that Jesus really rose from the dead by some naturalistic means, so the "optimistic naturalist" thing isn't even relevant there. Moreover, the tale of the vindication of the optimistic naturalist is pretty much historical baloney anyway. Once you say that people once thought a few now-identifiable diseases were caused by demons, you're done. There isn't really some sort of Grand March of Progress whereby putative Christian miracles have been gradually whittled away by scientific explanation.

Fair enough, James. I was not trying to settle that issue, but merely to note that it does not affect the point I was making in the post.

Anyway, I need to add your blog and Faber's to the blogroll on my personal blog ASAP...

I'm not sure about this business of the forgetfulness of being, but the rest is a fair characterization. I'm a bit queasy about 'exists', as Scotus probably doesn't think its much distinct from essence. He generally says that the various grades of the transcendentals down to the pure perfections are 'univocally common', with the qualifications that the perfections exist extramentally under their respective intrinsic modes (infinity and finitude) and that there is no corresponding extramental reality for univocal concepts. I only bring this up as people posted a link to this thread on my blog. cheers.

Mr Feser,
Modern Science does not deny Final Causes in the sense of inherent tendency-- massive particles attract each other; charged particles either attract or repel each other. Surely these can be called under Final Causes.

However, the Modern Science reserves Final Causes to these elementary interactions only. There is no Final Cause in acorn but only in electrons, protons etc.

Now what exactly is wrong/misleading in this picture?. Why must we insist on Final Cause in acorn
when it is explainable in terms of Final Cause in protons etc?

In his vehement dismissal of the classical arguments over God, there is a dialectical suggestion more seriousness than he overtly suggests. (Or an Irony which, though hidden, perhaps more serious than he realizes)

I am interested because Rey's are many of the reasons I proclaimed myself an atheist. Above all, he says "the quite general discrepancies that seem to me and others to arise between the things people sincerely say – or, as I shall say, “avow”" - or, shall I say, he Avers that in their heart they do not?

He argues that the *beliefs* people hold - not the *truth* of those beliefs - are the central reference point of his "meta-atheism". Yet it is consistent with statements about believers "..they manage to get themselves to “believe”, avow, defend and even die for them on the surface." I find his extension of empiricism to this proposition, on the face of it, "utterly bizarre and unbelievable.... schizophrenic".

I don't want 'to speculate here on the psychology of people not so exposed[to western rationalism].' nor defend any substantial position, but attack unsubstantial atheology and the politically dubious consequences thereof.

Now he psychologizes about the core content of Christian belief as though this corresponded to a sociological "fact", but all other religious beliefs are not common to the scope and terms of his discussion. But the level of abstraction that he operates on seem to make them very pertinent indeed.

"Of course" he acknowledges humbly, "Much depends upon far more detailed empirical research than I am in a position to do." He is happy to do battle with the sophistry of religious arguments among Sophists. He operates in a state of texual and philosophical fluidity where one things is quite easily substituted by another. The pathos of Wagner will substitute for the Bible.

"Elsa is accused of having murdered her brother. Instead of demanding some evidence for such an awful charge, she falls to her knees and prays that a knight in shining armor should come and vanquish her accuser! And when he shows up –on a swan!– he agrees to do so and marry her on the spot –but only on condition she never asks who he is! Were I to witness an event like this in real life, and the people were serious, I would regard them as completely out of their minds. But in the opera I am deeply moved –just as I am by the Passion story of the sacrifice of Christ"

In this sort of winking blasphemy, we see the flag his neutrality: He sees Christian spirit at best as neutral with respect to survival. Does he really believe himself innocent with respect to his conclusions?

"In any case, judging from, e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition, the wars of the Reformation and present days conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, it would appear that" his memory of the middle east stems from the errors of Christian belief.

I confess that I don't know what theists or Christians mean when they talk about god. Georges Rey also doesn't know. Even the theists don't know. Thats one of the reasons why it makes a lot more sense to assume that they don't really believe.

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