The Scandal of Theism

Compared to the proposition that God exists, all other propositions pale to insignificance. If God does not exist, then contingent things have no ultimate cause, and cannot therefore be either ultimately rational, or thus amenable to reason; so that no questions whatever can really be finally answered. If atheism is true, there is no truth (so that nothing truly matters, and we may do as we like).

Which means that, as self-refuting, atheism is necessarily false.

If on the other hand God does exist, then in the first place reason has a shot at understanding, and in the second – and, to my point, far more importantly – almost anything can happen, without violating the ultimate rationality of events. Once admit that nothing can make sense unless God exists, and agree that he must then exist, and you open the door to the entire panoply of phenomena to which religious people have always attested, and that seem so very unlike life as we live it from one day to the next: miracles, Virgin Birth, resurrection of the dead, you name it. If God exists, all that stuff is totally credible, because – duh! – he’s *God.* The Laws of Nature are his, and not vice versa.

Now this can be a thrilling realization, for it can open the door to a complete enchantment of one’s life.

But it comes at a great cost.

Once admit that God exists, and you are going to be forced to deal with all the questions of religious belief, now or later. Once you have admitted the existence of God, you are thereafter, like it or not, a fundamentally religious person, and shall have to decide how you will respond to all the religious questions. You shall have to take the claims of Christ and his followers seriously, if only to reject them.

It’s a big hassle, really. Easier to punt on all that. So atheists are never, ever going to admit defeat on the question of God’s existence. Once they lose that argument, all their other arguments shall fall apart, and they shall then have to decide about going to Church this Sunday, what they think about abortion and extramarital sex, observing Lent, all the whole tiresome moral rigmarole (as it seems to their veiled sight) of serious religious life. They won’t want that door to open, not even a crack. So, they’ll fight the notion of God’s existence with all their might.

The question of God’s existence is at the very hinge of the battle. Everything depends upon it.

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76 thoughts on “The Scandal of Theism

  1. Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

    The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.
    — Richard Lewontin

  2. So if God does not exist, then the world is irrational, because of a lack of an ultimate cause. But if God does exist, then irrational things can happen, because God follows no rules, or changes them as he pleases.

    Therefore, appealing to a rational world is rather meaningless, because by your logic, such a world cannot exist.

    • Not quite. If God exists, everything is rational, even miracles, whether or not it is easy for us to understand them. If he doesn’t exist, nothing is really rational, even though we might feel we understand some things a bit.

      • Ok, so if God exists, then there is no need for us to be rational, because miracles are, by definition, what you should not rationally expect. Either that, or they are not miracles, in which case, there’s no need to assume a god.

        On the other hand, if he doesn’t exist, then our ignorance concerning origins implies that all that we think we know is unsubstantiated. And it’s best that we stop looking now, and instead postulate a personal, literal first mover. Preferably yours.

        It seems like this is all just an unstated desire to not have to learn anything.

      • You’re underthinking it. That because God exists, therefore everything – including miraculous departures of events from what seem to us their normal courses – is somehow rational (whether we find it easy to see how, or not) nowise entails that we needn’t be rational. If everything is rational, then it makes great sense to be rational; it is, precisely, irrational to be irrational.

        If on the other hand nothing is rational, our rationality is an illusion.

        Keep working at this. You’ll learn something.

      • If God does not exist, then contingent things have no ultimate cause

        Here’s your problem: you define God to be the source of all things, and then use that definition to (try to) refute atheism. This is begging the question. Later on you use equivocation, varying the definition from god, the first mover, to god, the guy who bequeaths humanity with morality and interferes with his creation.

        Also, you see no issue whatsoever with postulating a being who can do anything in order to explain all that which you are ignorant of?

        Keep working at this, you’ll learn something.

      • You’ve got it backward. I reason that there must be an ultimate, necessary and eternal source of all contingent things – there’s no other way, in the final analysis, to satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason when it comes to the existence of contingent things – and suppose that he is what people have always meant by “God.”

        I don’t then use this supposition to refute atheism. Theism doesn’t refute atheism. The two doctrines are the options that lie before us, and they are mutually exclusive. It’s not that they refute each other, but that if one is true, the other is not. Even if I could use theism to refute atheism, I wouldn’t need to. Atheism refutes itself.

        Atheism says that that there is no ultimate, uncaused, necessary source of contingent things. This is to say that contingent things exist *for no reason;* that they are *fundamentally irrational;* that they are in the final analysis *totally chaotic.*

        It’s not that theism refutes atheism. It’s that atheism, under its own irrationalist account of reality, can’t be true, can’t even make sense, can’t even be wrong. Atheism is tantamount to the statement that “all statements are meaningless, including this one.”

        There is no contradiction between being an Uncaused Cause and influencing contingent events – i.e., interfering with them. Influencing other things is what causes *do,* by definition. A cause that didn’t cause anything wouldn’t be a cause at all.

        Finally, I am not postulating God in order to explain any particular thing. I am postulating God as the foreconditon of explanation per se. If God exists, explanation is possible. If not, not.

        If God does indeed exist, then miracles are rational, *even if we can’t understand how.*

      • You’re making a false dichotomy, with God the first mover on one side, and no god on the other side. Just because atheists don’t believe there is a god, does not mean it is impossible for rationality to exist. For example, impersonal mathematics could have existed for eternity, a much simpler explanation than a god who is deeply concerned with, of all the things in the universe, your sex partners. The, “We don’t know, therefore God,” solution has been proven wrong time and again.

        But this has gone on long enough. I encourage you to study a bit on logical fallacies. Ciao.

      • You’re being sloppy, thinking it is a false dichotomy to suggest that either there is a first mover, God, or there is not. Either there is a first mover, or there is not. How could there be a clearer dichotomy? What are the other alternatives, pray?

        You are wanting to say that mathematics or such could take the place of a first mover. But mathematics is a formal language. It doesn’t itself move anything. Only actualities move anything. To influence things, forms must subsist in some actuality, some actual thing that is capable of acting, of causing.

        If you want to assert that the formal language of mathematics can itself act so as to cause events, then you are asserting that mathematics is an actuality: a being that can act. I.e., you are asserting theism.

      • Kristor,

        I agree that everyone believes in at least a sort of God: Omnipresent, lawful, transcendent, omnipotent, inasmuch as the universal laws display these features.

        But the atheists disagree regarding creative and intelligent. I think they are wrong, but that is their position.

      • > and we may do as we like.

        Dear Kristor,

        This is actually the scandal of Western thinking – that if there are neither fully rational reasons nor a divine command to do otherwise, then we should just basically surrender to our ego and let our vanity and desire and pride grow infinitely. How comes Westerners – unlike, for example Buddhists – don’t realize this is simply psychologically, psycho-spiritually unhealthy? Simply on an empirical basis – people who do this are obviously unhappy?

        I mean even if “everything is allowed”, why should we want to do everything? If I don’t consider chopping of my left arm a sin, would I want to do it? Why couldn’t we realize that the desire-driven life is simply harmful to the psyche, without needing any cosmic reasons?

        Is Western culture unusally strongly ego-driven, this is why it has taken over the world?

        Wait – actually the history of Western philosophy shows some recognition of this. Seneca is perhaps the best example.

  3. It’s that atheism, under its own irrationalist account of reality, can’t be true, can’t even make sense, can’t even be wrong. Atheism is tantamount to the statement that “all statements are meaningless, including this one.”

    I think your argument has the fatal flaw that it is based entirely on your own lack of imagination (sorry if that sounds insulting; I don’t know how else to put it). You can’t see how a godless universe makes sense, therefore it is impossible for it to make sense.

    Yet many people disbelieve in god and still persist in trying to make sense of the universe, and have been doing so for quite some time. There are whole schools of philosophy working on this (and while I’m sure you disagree with them, the point here is just that they exist). Are they all too stupid to see the futility of this effort, or are they sinners desperately trying to avoid the truth, or what? Or could it be that their idea of what makes sense is just different from yours?

    • The mere existence of people trying to reconcile atheism with reason does not mean that it is possible or even that they are trying very hard. Thus Sam Harris being unable to define what human well-being is, yet thinking it obvious that human well-being should be the basis of ethical thought. So too are most atheist philosophies that I have come across, they make a series of groundless assumptions and then insult others for not making the same assumptions while still not being able to defend them. For instance arguing that science has disproved the principle of sufficient reason by showing that something can come from nothing. Even if this were true, since science is concerned with answering the hows of the cosmos’ operation, it proving that there is no how, no reason for anything to have a cause, science would have disproved itself and thus not be worth listening to, and yet they will still declare that science is the only means of knowledge. Also there are the Alex Rosenbergs who have bitten the bullet and declared that humans cannot actually think, which would also mean they cannot reason. Also to declare that it is just a lack of imagination that leads people like Kristor to claim that an atheistic universe would be fundamentally irrational is just to ignore all the arguments proving that God is a logical necessity. For if God is logically necessary and there is no God that means that logic is false and thus the universe is irrational.

    • A.Morphous, that’s like saying that a failure to see the truth of 2 + 2 = 5 is due to a lack of imagination. You can say that a philosophy that doesn’t satisfy the Principle of Sufficient Reason is coherent, but you can’t make it so. If you can’t see how such a philosophy is incoherent, your problem is you’ve got altogether too much imagination, and not enough plain common sense. Those schools of philosophy that are trying to make sense of a godless universe? They are badly mistaken, that’s all; for, there’s no way to make “there is ultimately – i.e., as things truly are – no reason why anything happens” agree with “it is possible to understand the reasons why things happen, so as to have a philosophy.” Anyone who thinks in his heart that he can cobble together such an agreement is a fool, no matter how extensive his vocabulary.

      You can certainly try to make sense of the universe even though your metaphysics says that it is impossible to do so. Indeed, you had better, if you want to survive. Trying to make sense of reality when you believe in a doctrine that rules out any such thing is called “making an unprincipled exception” (Thanks be to God for Lawrence Auster, to whom we owe the discovery and naming of this phenomenon).

      But nominalists, liberals, atheists and nihilists do make such unprincipled exceptions all the time, because acting as if things have essences, that matter and impose themselves upon us, and that they are intelligible and valuable, is the only way to live.

      Thus I think you are getting at something important, and I thank you for raising it. Namely, that the universe undeniably does make tremendous sense, to a truly spooky degree, and down to the tiniest detail. Only a fool – or a man quite deranged in spirits – would deny it. So, people all do try to make sense of it, from one moment to the next, and with the matters that lie close to hand, whether or not they ever concern themselves with the big picture.

      That they do, and that they are generally pretty good at it, does not prevent them from erring, in big things or small. This goes as much for philosophers as ordinary folks. Indeed, more; for because they live their lives at a greater average remove from the manipulation of corporeal objects, philosophers generally have less common sense than ordinary folks, so that their powerful imaginations, unschooled by the ineluctable essences of things, can and do run often a bit too wild.

      Thus they propose all sorts of idiotic, self-refuting ideas, such as that they themselves don’t actually exist, or know, or think, or act, or mean anything. Such are the absurd resorts to which the godless philosophers are forced by the logic of their crazed presuppositions. It’s risible.

      • “Yet many people disbelieve in god and still persist in trying to make sense…”

        You mean– they’re still trying to make sense? Dang, I thought they had it all figured out from the way they talk. How much time do they need? Are they close? Do they really feel satisfied with how far they’ve come? Do they go to sleep at night, knowing the vastness of the universe, the insignificance of their existence, and sleep soundly? Or are they famously depressed, childless, medicated, violent, impotent, angsty? I have heard that many secretly desire a faith in God, ‘n all that. Did you know that?

      • that’s like saying that a failure to see the truth of 2 + 2 = 5 is due to a lack of imagination.

        Well, there are great many people who are atheists, and roughly none who believe 2 + 2 = 5, so the cases are not really comparable. You want your argument to have the force of a mathematical proof, but it clearly doesn’t.

        I think there is a bit of bait-and-switch going on. If you want to argue that there is a fundamental underpinning of reality that makes it comprehensible, most people would accept that argument. Richard Dawkins would, because he’s an old-fashioned thinker (the postmodernist sort of atheist might not, but let’s leave them aside). Where they differ is whether you should call that fundamental infrastructure of the cosmos God and treat it as a person. That is where atheist scientists and theists differ, and I don’t see your proof addressing that one way or the other.

      • It doesn’t. All it addresses is whether there is a fundamental underpinning of reality that makes it comprehensible. I would argue that any satisfactory underpinning – any underpinning that doesn’t need an underpinning of its own – has to have quite a few of the characteristics classically applied to God: actuality, eternality, necessity, rationality, and creative activity. You can call such a being by any term you like, but intellectual honesty compels an admission that it is none other than what most people have always called “God,” so that if you believe there is such an underpinning, you are effectually a theist.

        Now, you are absolutely correct that the argument as so far sketched does not tell us whether God is a person. For that, other arguments are needed. My point in the post was that, once you admit that there is a fundamental underpinning to reality that makes it comprehensible – i.e., once you admit that God exists – then it behooves you sooner or later to take some account of the other important assertions of theology, such as the assertion that God is a person.

        As to the fact that there are lots of people who are atheists, but few who disbelieve in the truths of arithmetic, granted. But this does not mean that no proofs of God are dispositive. E.g., if “God” properly terminates on “the fundamental underpinning of reality that makes it intelligible,” then I think the argument given in the first paragraph, properly understood, is unanswerable: for, “reality is ultimately unintelligible” is ultimately unintelligible. The alternative to theism refutes itself.

        That there are so many intelligent atheists means only that most people – even philosophers – don’t understand the arguments very well.

        A case in point: Anthony Flew was the most prominent atheist philosopher of the 20th century. In his 80’s, he became a theist. Why? By his own account, he took up Aristotle and for the first time in his career really studied Aristotle’s arguments for the existence of God, *and they convinced him.* This was an eminent professional philosopher, whom other philosophers – atheists and theists both – respected and admired. The arguments for and against theism were his professional specialty. And he didn’t grapple with the arguments Aristotle advanced over 2,000 years ago until he was in his 80’s.

      • All it addresses is whether there is a fundamental underpinning of reality that makes it comprehensible. … if you believe there is such an underpinning, you are effectually a theist.

        If you want to redefine “theist” so that hardcore atheists now count as theists, well, feel free, but I don’t see how that advances anyone’s understanding.

        The arguments for and against theism were his professional specialty. And he didn’t grapple with the arguments Aristotle advanced over 2,000 years ago until he was in his 80’s.

        Not that I really care what Flew thinks (based on some fairly stupid remarks of his I’ve encountered), but that story really doesn’t pass the smell test. Really? A professional philosopher of religion doesn’t read Aristotle until his 80s? I’m guessing his intellect was weakened and so weak arguments were finally able to overtake him.

      • Whether or not he has worked out all the implications of his beliefs, a man who supposes that there is an ultimate underpinning of reality, in virtue of which reality is intelligible, implicitly believes that underpinning to be an eternal, necessary, rational, and creative actuality.

        We can’t live except by presupposing that reality is intelligible. So, whatever our explicit avowals, we can’t live except by an implicit presupposition that God exists. If you believe reality is intelligible, you are implicitly theist, even if you believe yourself to be, and shrilly declare that you are, an atheist.

        It is of course perfectly possible to believe a truth without understanding its implications. E.g., a man can believe that 2 + 2 = 4 without any conscious awareness of number theory.

        So, I’m not saying Richard Dawkins is not an atheist. I’m saying that his atheism is contradicted by his presupposition that reality is intelligible. He just hasn’t yet figured this out, as Flew eventually did.

        Flew is just an example of a more general phenomenon. You can dodge the salience of his case by supposing that his faculties weakened with age, but even if that were so – there is no evidence that it was – it would not change the fact that a diligent and skillful professional thinker can misconstrue arguments basic to his discipline. There are lots and lots of prominent public intellectuals out there whose arguments for atheism are just pathetic (e.g., “Who created God?”). These are serious, honest men – at least, so they take themselves to be. And they utterly fail, quite obviously, even to understand the terms of the arguments of Aquinas, Anselm or Aristotle. It’s embarrassing.

      • If you believe reality is intelligible, you are implicitly theist,

        To me this just sounds like attempting to win an argument by redefining the terms, which is uninteresting. Theism, to everybody but you, does not mean “having an intelligible reality”, it means “having a person-like intelligent agent who is responsible for reality and is prior to it”, which is a completely different proposition.

        That there are so many intelligent atheists means only that most people – even philosophers – don’t understand the arguments very well.

        And this is ridiculously presumptuous. Granted that there are a lot of intelligent idiots out there. What makes you so special that you have a handle on the truth that has escaped the professionals?

        a diligent and skillful professional thinker can misconstrue arguments basic to his discipline.

        So he changed his mind. That is a big deal, but there is no particular reason to believe he is right now and was wrong in the past, rather than the reverse.

        This conversation seems to be repeating; I won’t reply again unless there is something new to say.

      • It is common for atheists to respond to theists who point out that they are falling prey to all sorts of category errors by saying that the theists are just trying to redefine terms. Now, not only is this response uninteresting, not only does it constitute a total retreat from argument – the charge is generally leveled only from positions of rhetorical defeat – it isn’t even apposite.

        I’m not redefining terms, I’m just explaining what they mean, properly speaking. Getting clear on terms is the necessary prolegomenon to any careful thought.

        If you aren’t clear on your terms, you can’t think straight, or talk straight. If you aren’t clear on your terms, the *whole discourse* will take place over your head, if not altogether outside your ken, and while you might then feel that you are participating in it fruitfully, it will be clear to those who really are clear on their terms that you have *no idea what they are talking about.* They will see that you aren’t even in the game.

        The really interesting thing about getting clear on the terms is that doing so generally reveals the logic that relates them (this logic being what enables their definition), and that logic can then generate propositions from those terms.

        This procedure doesn’t turn out well for atheism; tough for atheists, but that’s just the way it is.

        It is not true that theism necessarily involves the notion that God is personal. Quite a few Eastern theisms dispense with that idea. The same goes for the notions that God is omnipotent, omniscient, just, loving, merciful, named YHWH, and so forth. I do of course agree that God is personal (and all those other things), but the arguments advanced in the post and this thread simply don’t address that aspect of God. That doesn’t make them non-theistic arguments.

        I don’t know what makes me so special, that I can see truths which are evidently totally opaque to so many public intellectuals, such as Richard Dawkins. I certainly don’t feel special. Those truths seem just obvious to me. I can’t understand how he and his ilk can be so blind. Certainly most such men are more intelligent and educated than I. I conclude therefore that their blindness is tendentious; that, as Nagel somewhere said of them, they just don’t want this to be the sort of reality that features a God.

        A.morphous, with your charge that I am presumptuous you are verging on a recourse to ad hominem tactics, which are always a sign of rhetorical bankruptcy. I don’t mean to suggest that you actually are out of ammo, but if you have any you aren’t using it, and have given notice of your disposition to quit the field. You have not yet addressed my substantive argument, that the only sort of ultimate underpinning of reality that can satisfactorily account for its intelligibility must be actual, eternal, rational, and creative – must, i.e., be just like what theists (whether or not they think that ultimate is personal as well) have always called “God.”

        It seems to me that this is where men who want to be atheists, and who also want to believe in such an underpinning (so as to be able to continue to think or to live), skate as quickly as they can over the implicit necessity that it be just like what other men have always called “God.” Such atheists want to be able to say that the ultimate underpinning is a principle, or a tendency, or a law, or something of that sort, without pushing too hard on the question of what that sort of thing might truly be. They want the principle of intelligibility without the Principal of intelligibility. My argument is that you can’t get a principle without some concrete entity, of which it is the principle. Have you anything to say about that? How would you bridge the gap between an inert, inactual principle and its pervasive information of reality?

    • As Ignostic Atheist proves, it all boils down to basically one argument:

      I want to have sex with my girlfriend;
      The Church says I can’t;
      Therefore, God does not exist.

      The fact it takes thousands of writings, schools and long periods of time doesn’t change this. To answer you more directly: Yes, they are sinners desperately trying to avoid the truth. ‘Twas ever thus, and ever shall be.

      • I think you have the story backwards. Try this version:

        – you don’t want me to have sex with my girlfriend (for whatever reason this should be a concern of yours)
        – but I have no special reason to listen to you
        – so the Church and God are invented to try to bully me into obedience.

        God (this aspect anyway) is truly just the projection into heaven of people’s inordinate concern with the private behavior of others, particularly sexual behavior. It’s kind of comic that the same entity who Laid the Foundations of the Cosmos is also very much concerned that nobody schtup without a license from his anointed bureaucrats.

      • Mr. Morphous, in at least one respect, you are not very intelligent. At least you don’t post intelligent comments about God.

        Nobody is bullying you. Maybe five hundred years ago churches would have been bullying you, but not these days. Any pressure you feel is self-generated.

        But there is a bigger point here. You are assuming that there is no God, and that therefore the idea was made up. But since you are not omniscient, you could be mistaken.

        We have good reasons to know that God exists. Unless you can invalidate this evidence without assuming in advance that there is no God (which is the way virtually all atheists operate), then you cannot smugly assume that God-talk is just a scam.

        There is also the fact that you are tone-deaf to the great importance of sex, of properly managing one’s sexual desires, and of society’s guiding men and women into not becoming the type of dissipated, deracinated people who inhabit so much of Western Civilization these days. Laughing at traditional sexual ethics just proves that you are not very aware of things.

      • Please note that I was responding to a cartoon argument with a similar cartoon.

        I do not feel personally bullied. If I was a gay in Kansas I might feel differently though, even in 2014.

        I am not “tone-deaf to the great importance of sex”. Far from it, sex is important to everyone. That does not imply that it needs to be regulated by god, church, or the state. Sex has always been a key battleground between the freedom of the individual and busybody authoritarians. The latter do seem to be losing of late, but they sure aren’t going to go down without a fight.

        I still have a hard time reconciling the cosmic-architect God with the alpha-male-baboon God who obsesses over who is mating with whom. Except that they are both projections of different aspects of human nature.

      • Have you ever worked with an architect? They obsess over the tiniest details …

        Lloyd-Wright designed houses *down to the flatware.* And he wasn’t even omniscient.

      • Mr. Morphous,

        About sex: You sure sound like a mindless “keep the government out of my bedroom!” liberal. But man must control himself in order to be virtuous, and if nobody is “regulating the bedroom” then society decays. Would you approve of sexual restraint with an atheistic origin?

        About your word “projection.” You’re just assuming they’re projections. How do you know there is no reality behind the concepts? Other than assuming it, that is?

      • You sure sound like a mindless “keep the government out of my bedroom!” liberal.

        Guilty, I guess. So you are a mindful “invite the government into my bedroom” conservative I take it. Big of you to admit it so straightforwardly at least.

        But man must control himself in order to be virtuous, and if nobody is “regulating the bedroom” then society decays.

        Your language betrays you. If man controls himself, then he doesn’t need church and state to do it for him.

        I don’t believe that social decay is caused by lack of bedroom regulation, so you’ll have to provide some evidence for that one.

        Would you approve of sexual restraint with an atheistic origin?

        Sounds kinky, but not really my thing.

      • Mr. Morphous,

        This discussion concerns the fundamental nature and purpose of morality, which cannot adequately be discussed in brief, combox soundbites.

        But the main point is this: if man will not control himself, then he often does wrong until such time as either a superior force makes him stop, or he changes his mind.

        In your liberal worldview, sex is whatever a man makes of it, and any statement otherwise is a type of tyranny. And what can be said about sex applies equally to many other spheres of human life.

        But even you liberals would use government to control us. You would use it to force us to accept mass immigration even though it is dissolving our nation, to force us to hire more women and minorities even if they are incompetent or disruptive, to force us to behave as if we do not actually believe Christianity, etc.

        The only significant difference between you and I is what things we want to be forced.

        In days of old, “government was in our bedroom” in the sense that there was a general consensus of sexual morality that individuals enforced among themselves, and the government recognized this fact. It did not, as it does now, aggressively attempt to makes us act as if we all approve of sexual sin.

        So your government is, if not in our bedrooms, in the other rooms of our house, seeking to root out our sexism and homophobia. Our position is that the government should withdraw, and let us establish a proper social order, instead of, as it does now, enforce the societal decay.

        P.S. You still haven’t answered my most important question: Since you are not omniscient, how do you know, without invalidly assuming it ahead of examining the evidence, that there is no God?

      • If Frank Lloyd Wright decreed that everybody had to live in the same house that he designed and empowered goon squads to enforce his flatware dictates, then I might buy that analogy.

      • A.morphous, it was a *joke.*

        That said, what would be odd about an omniscient cosmic architect worrying about flatware, sparrows and the hairs on our heads?

      • This discussion concerns the fundamental nature and purpose of morality, which cannot adequately be discussed in brief, combox soundbites.

        Well, we agree on that much (and we both seem to ignore our own insight and discuss it nonetheless).

        in your liberal worldview, sex is whatever a man makes of it, and any statement otherwise is a type of tyranny.

        Maybe you’d better not put words in my mouth.

        In my liberal worldview, anybody can make all the statements they like. Using force to compel people to behave in a certain way is coercive, and should be avoided (I reserve “tyranny” for actual tyranny). Using some state coercion to avoid worse forms of coercion is what liberal governments do.

        But even you liberals would use government to control us.

        Well duh. Anarchists are those who believe there should be no gov coercion at all; liberals are not anarchists.

        .S. You still haven’t answered my most important question: Since you are not omniscient, how do you know, without invalidly assuming it ahead of examining the evidence, that there is no God?

        I don’t know that for sure; it is my best inference given the evidence at hand. But (a) you are right in a way, there is some pre-existing bias. I have a bias against explanations that require invisible superintelligent beings, you have a bias in favor. And (b) according to Kristor, I do believe in God because I believe there is order to the cosmos, so your question is moot.

  4. I agree with Kristor that in the absence of God, the universe would either not exist or would exist in a state of such primal chaos as to be devoid of meaning, value, function, purpose, and significance.

    Nevertheless, if theism could be proven by purely philosophical means, one would think that by now all the reputable schools of philosophy and all educated, thoughtful, and philosophically inclined people in the world or at least in the West would be in general if not perfect agreement on the question. They aren’t. They aren’t close. They aren’t even getting closer. There is no little book of proofs on the subject in the library that has proven convincing. The overwhelming consensus in the West that was in place a thousand years ago, even five hundred years ago, is no longer so overwhelming.

    But the case for atheism isn’t that appealing. The average man on the street both in the West and elsewhere in the world still believes in God. What about the elites? The battle is far from being lost there. Only about a quarter of American college and university faculty are atheist or agnostic. Only a tenth claim to be atheists. Even at elite institutions the atheist/agnostic camp is only slightly more than a third of the faculty. See http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/Gross_Simmons.pdf The atheist case doesn’t seem to be convincing even to the university elites.

    • Leo, they stopped caring about the question, and then they stopped thinking about it. This actually happens all the time.

      A commentator above finds it incredible that a modern philosopher had not really encountered Aristotle’s arguments until his old age. That is not surprising to me. The analytics are extraordinarily intelligent folks, but they are shockingly ignorant about the history of ideas. They are forever proposing clever thought experiments and arguing about them, though their entire conservations took place and were settled a millennium ago by some schoolmen. If these chaps ever opened a book predating Frege, they might learn something, but their hybris and chauvinism blind them.

    • … if theism could be proven by purely philosophical means, one would think that by now all the reputable schools of philosophy and all educated, thoughtful, and philosophically inclined people in the world or at least in the West would be in general if not perfect agreement on the question. They aren’t.

      With complete sympathy for your remarks, my dear Leo: If the world were not fallen, they would be.

      I quite agree that most men are not susceptible to suasion by purely philosophical arguments for theism. Either that means that philosophy is impossible in principle, or it means that men are defective. We *know* that men are defective, so philosophy is probably OK.

      If theism is true, but it absolutely *cannot* be proven by philosophical means, then the incoherence of truth, and therefore of reality, follows inescapably. Either all truths are integral, and agree; or, there just aren’t any such things as truths. If truths are integral, then we ought to be able to argue from almost any few premises to the conclusion that God exists. If they are not, then argument as such breaks down, and we are totally at sea.

      • “If the world were not fallen, they would be.”

        But then the philosophers are fallen, too. Aristotle was wrong on physics, wrong on astronomy, wrong on chemistry, wrong on biology, wrong on optics, wrong on slavery, wrong on women, etc. Not a very promising track record. Some of his errors, particularly on women, could easily be checked by simple observation. It leads one to suspect a systematic bias in his thinking. If there is a little black book with all the necessary proofs elegantly made (and I am not denying that possibility), Aristotle didn’t have it, and it’s probably not in the Widener Library either.

        God’s answer to Job didn’t follow along particularly philosophical lines, but it did satisfy Job.

      • Philosophers are fallen, to be sure, but – unless there be no truth at all – not philosophy. There is a Logos, so the proofs must all be there. The only difficulty is in apprehending them. We are images of the Word, so we must in principle be able to see them. But as of yet we see only through a glass, and darkly.

        “God’s answer to Job didn’t follow along particularly philosophical lines …”

        I dunno. It seems pretty philosophical to me.

  5. Kristor,
    regarding ‘contingent things':
    What do you mean by ‘things? ordinay macroscopic objects and/or atoms?
    And what do you mean by ‘contingent things’/
    Perhaps macroscopic things are contingent but atoms/quarks are not?
    This would what physicists might say-that fundamental building blocks of matter are not contingent.
    CS lewis also referred to this view in Miracles that Nature as a whole is not contingent (this is the thesis of naturalism).

    • Contingent things might not have happened. So, not being necessary, they came into being from a state of affairs in which they did not exist. A non-existent thing cannot do anything, including bring itself into existence. So contingent things depend entirely on some other thing to bring them about.

      All actualities other than God are contingent.

      • But perhaps the ultimate building blocks of nature have perpetual existence.
        Do you accept quantum mechanics?
        Then do you accept that some quantum phenomena occur for no cause?
        Do that not lead to problems with your argument?

      • Bedarz,

        Quantum events do not occur “for no cause”.

        Quantum mechanics is a description of the universe, *not* an explanation!

  6. But perhaps the ultimate building blocks of nature have perpetual existence

    But “perpetual existence” and “contingent” are not two mutually exclusive categories. Something could have existed perpetually, but still be contingent – that is not sufficient to create itself – i.e., not absolutely necessary.

    • Exactly, thanks C. Matt. That a thing is perpetual does not mean it is not contingent. Aquinas points out that even if a causal chain of contingent events were without beginning or end, the chain as a whole – being in all of its parts contingent, and thus contingent as a whole – would still require a cause.

      Bedarz, I do indeed accept quantum mechanics. But I don’t accept that quantum events happen without a cause. QM does not entail acausality, but rather only indeterminacy ex ante. That we cannot predict quantum events does not mean that when they do happen they happen for no reason. It means only that we cannot predict them. Likewise, the fact that we cannot exactly specify the location of an object in motion does not mean that the object is not fully definite.

      • So you agree with Fr Stanley Jaki against the consensus of physicists.
        But what is precisely your basis for disagreeing with the consensus of physicists?

      • So far as I can tell, the notion that indeterminacy ex ante does not entail either acausality ex post or ontological indefiniteness is in complete agreement with every interpretation of QM. Unless I’m forgetting something.

      • Are electrons, quarks, photons etc things in the same sense as tables and trees?

        Tables and trees may not be doubted. But electrons are merely entities postulated within a physical theory. Thus, electrons have a different conceptual and I suggest ontological status than trees and tables.
        We may call trees and tables as corporeal objects and electrons and quark as physical objects.

        Now does your argument applies to physical objects or only to corporeal objects?

      • “that indeterminacy ex ante does not entail either acausality ex post or ontological indefiniteness is in complete agreement with every interpretation of QM”

        It is not in agreement with Copenhagen interpretation at least. There it is strongly proclaimed that quantum events are causeless. See writings of Fr Jaki. Otherwise he would have no quarrel with Copenhagen.

      • Actually I’m pretty sure that Bohr would have insisted, not that quantum events are *absolutely* uncaused, but rather that we *absolutely can’t know* the exact causes of quantum events. The Copenhagen Interpretation is strongly epistemological, rather than ontological. If quantum events were *absolutely uncaused,* then the quantum formalism couldn’t have any success in describing them.

        There is a huge difference between, “I don’t know exactly what causes x to happen,” on the one hand, and, “nothing causes x to happen,” on the other. For one thing, when we say, “nothing causes x to happen,” we assert absolutely perfect knowledge of reality – we assert perfect knowledge of the causal factors of x – and it is our claim to just such knowledge that Bohr was so concerned to repudiate.

        To answer your question about the physical versus the corporeal, the former is to the latter as potential is to act. The set of potentia arising from a given corporeal state of affairs are causal effects thereof. Despite its infinity, that set of potentia is quite definite, and amenable to formalization. That it does not specify by itself exactly what will happen next, or where, or when, does not mean that it is not a definite property of that corporeal state of affairs.

        So: act → potentia → act → potentia … Every step in that process is caused, and is definite. It’s just that a complete causal account of completed acts – i.e., corporeal events – cannot be achieved before those events are actually completed!

      • QM is a theory in physics. A description and an understanding of reality and not reality itself.
        Thus, if QM says that certain QM events have unknowable causes, isn’t it much like saying that these QM events are causeless?

        You see, I insist upon making making distinction between reality and theory. I do not say that certain physical events are causeless but rather certain QM events are causeless i.e. these QM events have no cause within QM. And in fact, since QM is a theory and not reality, the QM events are events only within QM.

      • Thing is, I’ve never heard of a physicist arguing that events of any sort are *absolutely causeless.* That would be like saying, “Science is absolutely impossible.”

        … if QM says that certain QM events have unknowable causes, isn’t it much like saying that these QM events are causeless?

        Nope.

      • The decay of a radioactive isotope, for example, is held to be causeless in the sense that the precise instant of when a particular atom would decay is unknowable within QM.

        That is, out of an ensemble of identical atoms of a radioactive isotope, there is held to be nothing that determines the decay of any particular atom.

        Physicists make a definite claim here. They do not say that any particular decay has causes that are unknowable within QM but the particular decay event has no cause. This statement is, I believe, definitively made.

        That modern physics has this notion of uncaused events is also noted by CS Lewis in Miracles. He calls it “subnature” and he can hardly believe that the physicists are being serious in this notion.

        One way to rescue the principle of causality is to say that the physical objects i.e. entities postulated in theories of physics, the causality need not apply there. It applies only to the corporeal objects.

      • “We can’t know all the causes of x,” just doesn’t mean the same thing as “there are absolutely no causes of x.” If there are physicists who say that these two statements are equivalent, they are just deeply confused, that’s all.

        Anyone who says, “x is causeless,” is saying, “I have performed a perfect audit of *absolutely all* the causal inputs of x, and there aren’t any.” It’s a claim of omniscience. The epistemological assertions of QM are claims of insuperable *nescience.*

        Agreed that causation is determinable only with respect to corporeal objects. You can’t tell the causes of what has happened until it has happened.

      • Matthew: Thanks for your recommendation of this book over at Charlton’s the other day. I checked it out and ordered it right away; it just arrived on Friday, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

      • Kristor,
        You are not realizing the weirdness of QM. Feynmann called QM incomprehensible. Einstein had issues with QM. Jaki railed against QM
        Do you think they were all mistaken?
        Epistemic probability is what you get in classical statistical mechanics. Nobody has issues with it.

      • The assertion of acausality presupposes epistemic certainty. Only omniscience has that.

        QM is indeed weird under a Cartesian metaphysic. Under an Aristotelian metaphysic, not so much. Whitehead is basically Aristotle restated in terms of QM.

        QM simply does not need to entail acausality. Which is good, because acausality is the zero of thought.

        You seem to want me to reject QM on the basis of an argument from authority. Can’t see doing that.

      • “Feynman called QM incomprehensible. Einstein had issues with QM.”

        That’s because, like most great names in science, they’re not philosophers. They’re just doing the grunt work for the philosophers. That’s why science was invented by philosophers. Those grunts need to be told to shut up and get back to the lab most of the time.

      • “The assertion of acausality presupposes epistemic certainty. Only omniscience has that. ”

        QM asserts acausality within the QM framework. That it can do, being a formal theory.

        I am hardly goading you to reject QM. rather, the point is do you appreciate why physicists have issues with QM and indeed why QM was and is still held to be revolutionary break from classical mechanics. Epistemic probability is old thing and nobody is bothered by it.

        PS Argument from authority is AN argument. It is a weak argument, even the weakest one but still AN argument.

      • QM asserts acausality within the QM framework.

        QM asserts an incomplete ex ante causal *account* of events within the QM framwork. It does not assert acausality. An assertion that an event is *absolutely uncaused* – which is what “acausality” means – is precisely an assertion of a complete causal account; it is an assertion of omniscience. I have never read a physicist who asserted that he was God.

    • Mohrhoff claims for ontological acausality, right at page 2.–Subjective probabilities vs objective probabilities.

      He does not even argue for it. He flatly says QM probabilities are neither subjective nor epistemic.

      • Bedarz, I think that your difficulty stems from your focus on the undoubted fact that prior to the completion of a quantum event we can have but little knowledge of its precise character. The quantum event is not wholly determinate ex ante as a straight function of its antecedents. Rather, only the wave function deriving from those antecedents is wholly determined thereby. And the wave function is a probability distribution. I grant all this.

        But, efficient causes in the actual past of an event are not the only sorts of causes that affect it. There are also final and formal causes, and these are not found only in the actual past. That an event is not completely determinate ex ante does not mean that it is at all uncaused (if a completed event were the least bit uncaused, it would to that extent be indeterminate – which is to say, inactual). It means only that not all its causes lie in its past. Some of its causes might, for example, lie in its relations to ideas nowhere yet instantiated in history, that arrive in history from transcendent or supernatural entities – from the Logos, for example. There would seem to be no other way for novelties to make their appearances in history, than this.

      • There may well be causes but they are certainly not within the QM framework. This is what bothers physicists.

        Physics is the study of formal aspects of things. That is, aspects that can be computed. So, something that is undetermined in the framework of physics means that there are certain non-formal aspects to things. Your final cause, if it exists here, would be a non-formal aspect that is mysteriously (to physicists) affecting the formal properties. Your bringing in “transcendent or supernatural entities – from the Logos, for example.” makes a move outside physics and can not be appealing to physicists. It is giving up on physics and taking the weirdness of QM for granted.

      • Bedarz, I have no idea what positive argument you would like to make in saying all that you have said. Do you want to argue that there can’t really be such a thing as quantum indeterminacy? Or that because QM insists that it can’t provide a complete causal account of events ex ante, therefore it must be inadequate? Or what?

        Why don’t you just make the argument that you want to make?

      • The argument is that the argument from motion has trouble with quantum mechanics. And this rejoinder is frequently made by atheists. And I know of no adequate rejoinder to this objection.

      • Ah, I see. Their rejoinder being, “Well, quantum events are causeless, so why can’t existence in general be causeless?”

        The response to this rejoinder is simple, and is present in the original post above. If existence is causeless, then it is thoroughly unintelligible, science is impossible, and – together with everything we think, whatsoever – QM is meaningless nonsense. If you want to keep your beautiful QM, you must therefore infer that QM implies only that we cannot complete a causal account of any event ex ante; so that, i.e., it’s not that quantum events are strictly causeless, but rather merely that a full causal account of them can be assembled only ex post.

      • It depends on what principle of causality one wants to defend. If you’re committed to the proposition that every event must have a pre-existing reason for exactly when and how it is–pretty close to Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason–then quantum mechanics without hidden variables being even a *conceivably true* representation of the world would be a problem for you. As would the libertarian version of free will. I don’t see any reason why this principle metaphysically must be true, and I don’t think we’ve got a motive to defend it.

        Cosmological arguments for the existence of God do demand that beings must have causes, rather than popping up from nothing. Radioactive decay is not a problem in this case, because the nuclei and nucleons after manifestly come from the ones before. That they can come into existence is grounded in the potencies of the radioactive nucleus.

        A more serious objection is that quantum mechanics (or at least quantum field theory) does allow particles to “pop” into being, and it’s a plausible model of the world. I’ve addressed this claim here:
        http://orthosphere.org/2012/12/31/something-from-nothing-i-the-relevance-of-science-to-philosophy/
        where I argue that “creation from nothing” is not a sensible interpretation of these events.

      • Kristor, Bonald,
        Thanks for the linked articles.
        Physicists may not be afraid of some ultimate unintelligibility. After all, all explanations must come to an end somewhere. So they can treat physical world as just a brute fact.

      • Ach, Bedarz: you speak the truth. There is in the end only one question: will our explanations come to an end at nothingness, or at glory? At death, or at fullness of joy?

  7. If radioactive atomic decay is an event in physical space (i.e. space of a physical theory) and not in the corporeal space, then the physical theory is the final word on the event.
    So if QM says that decay of a particular atom is not predetermined, and there is nothing in QM to cause it to decay at a particular instant, rather than some other instant, then this event is, in fact, causeless.
    The reason is that the event itself has existence only within the theory. We do not perceive the event directly through our senses but we infer it via a theory, QM in this case.

    However, I am not sure if radioactive decay is not an event in corporeal space.

  8. I believe in QM in the sense that it is the ruling paradigm, one that has been widely validated and that explains a number of otherwise inexplicable phenomena rather well. QM describes a probabilistic world that is quite foreign to our everyday experience.

    “A more serious objection is that quantum mechanics (or at least quantum field theory) does allow particles to “pop” into being…” Of course, the probability of all the particles constituting a whole elephant popping into being in front of me is extremely low, so low it need not concern me. But suppose that quantum field theory as described is correct on on this question, that particles can “pop” into being, that there is a chaotic randomness inherent in the physical universe. Why would that disallow the existence of God?

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