Monday, August 13, 2012

Comparing the old and new atheists: My interview with Dr. Kevin Vost, Part II

Hooray! Back to more with Dr. Kevin Vost, as he explains some of the differences between the old atheists and the new atheists. Catch up with Dr. Vost's first question and answer, here, at Part I.


"Superman" (Nietzsche) and "The Angelic Doctor" (Aquinas)
Art by Theodore Schluenderfritz

My second question:


Q.  So, did you understand those philosophical principles back when you were a practicing atheist, or are you classifying your beliefs in retrospect, looking back as a Catholic? I ask because one of the things that struck me in your book (which squares with something I've heard Fr. Barron say) is that although the older atheists, i.e., the existentialists, had some real intellectual depth, the new atheists don't have knowledge of the great philosophers, have no real understanding of the depth of wisdom and thought throughout the ages. It's like the new atheists are not connected to anything, or somehow do not work in reason and logic in the same way the old atheists did. Do I have that right?


A. I believe you (and Fr. Barron) hit the nail on the head. I sometimes tell people I couldn't have been pulled away from the faith by the "new atheists" because 1.), I'm too old, and 2.), I knew a little philosophy. It was the older atheists who had some sense of intellectual history who lured me away from the faith. Bertrand Russell was an eminent philosopher himself. Ayn Rand, who rarely gave credit to predecessors, wrote that her philosophy was the natural development and fulfillment of Aristotle's. (Because of that influence, unlike almost all other prominent atheists who are relativists, Rand believed in objective truth. Hence, she called her system "Objectivism.")  Psychologist Albert Ellis acknowledged that his vastly successful system of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy found its origins, not in modern psychological theory and research, but in the philosophy of the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics. So, the folks who pulled me toward atheism saw their connection with the great ideas of the past, but saw their role as developing them further. They also led me to read the great ancient thinkers themselves. It did not hit me fully until decades later that those great foundational pagan thinkers (e.g., Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius) were not  atheists. Though they did not know Christ, their reasoning led them toward belief in God.

So, when I left the Church, I did come to believe those four key ideas I laid out and I thought I grasped their principles. Still, it did not occur to me until the last year or so, to lay them out that way in how they relate to four key areas of philosophy.

As for the "new atheists" who are popular today, when I've read their books I've been stunned by their lack of awareness or acknowledgement of the wisdom of the past. They seem to think reason came into the world when they attained their own reasoning capacity in their own teenage years. I remember in 2010 when an atheistic group put up an anti- Christmas billboard in New York, their message included a phrase about their group being "reasonable since 1963." I thought I'd like to see a billboard from the Catholic Church stating "reasonable since 33."

I find a huge intellectual hubris or overweening arrogance among some of the new atheists.  They dismiss religion despite the slimmest acquaintance with religious history and its philosophical and theological underpinnings that have the deepest roots in human intellectual history. Ironically, at the same time, they promote the idea that truly smart and well-educated people do not believe in God. Forgive me for quoting myself, but I summed it up this way in From Atheism to Catholicism: "How grand it must be to so confidently declare that the profound questions which so taxed the greatest minds in human history are mere child's play for one's own."

This is not to say that there are not some philosophers among the new atheists, or that their ideas are not influenced by philosophy (whether or not they are aware of it.) Their ideas, however, are influenced by modern philosophy, the philosophy of the last several hundred years that neglected or misunderstood the perennial truths of Aristotle and St. Thomas. These ideas led to materialistic, mechanistic views of the universe with so many inconsistencies and problems that modern-day philosophers are rarely heard in the public square. They embrace what Blessed Pope John Paul II described as a scientism -- an impoverished view of reason that seeks truths in the material realm, ignoring the spiritual and ethical dimensions of reality. (For those who would care to look any deeper into the problems of modern philosophy, I recommend Mortimer Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes, and Edward Feser's Aquinas, as well as JPII's Fides et Ratio - Faith and Reason.)

Interestingly, as for as this intellectual pride or hubris among the new atheists, the greatest thinkers in the history of humanity took an opposite approach and arrived at the opposite conclusion. Pick up the writings of Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas, and without fail, you will see that whenever they address an important issue, they begin with a careful and accurate survey of what others before them believed, before they apply their reason (and Scripture for St. Thomas), weigh the pros and cons, and arrive at their conclusions. Neither believed that reason entered the world the day that he was born!


Dr. Vost's words remind me of a post that I have had in draft form for months, from an exchange I had with some "new atheists" on another blog. I think I might finally dust it off and publish it next, as it really is an illustration of what he just said.

Stay tuned!



89 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting these interviews. I frequently have to deal with a certain modern young lady who fancies herself an agnostic. I know that is different from atheism, but at the practical level they seem the same to me. I need this kind of information to help me communicate with her.

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  2. Dismissive and insulting to certain famous atheists and (apparently) ignorant of the last decade or two of science.

    Also makes a leap that the ancient thinkers were tending towards [his] God when they had dozens of their own to choose from but *cough* stoicly refused to. (sorry... I do puns)

    But I look forward to Leila's post on her thinking.

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  3. Ruth Ann, you're welcome! March Hare, I'm interested in your background in philosophy if you don't mind giving us a rundown? Also, what is the science the doctor is missing? Thanks!

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  4. If our God isn't the one, true God, the only God of the universe, then was our God lying when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the light"? It's not that Catholics chose this particular God to believe in. Rather, it is that we have reasoned that Jesus IS the only God and He is the only way to complete happiness, joy, and fulfillment. Anything outside of God is false and the things of this world can only offer us partial happiness.

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  5. How can you be certain that he said "I am the way, the truth, and the light"?

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  6. I have a smorgasbord of readings of famous philosophers, but I think it would be wrong to say I followed any of them, or found any of their arguments compelling. A more accurate statement would be that I see the world with an almost child like simplicity and seek the simplest explanations that fit all the facts. i.e. I use the same reasoning for avoiding solipsism that I do for avoiding virtue ethics, I give the same reasons for not being a Catholic that I give for not being a Scientologist.

    The Doctor seems to be ignorant of:
    Actually, let's start with non-science:
    "They seem to think reason came into the world when they attained their own reasoning capacity in their own teenage years."
    This is just plain false. There is a great reverence by Hitchens for Jefferson and Paine. Dawkins is a fan of many Greek thinkers, he uses the Euthypro dilemma as one argument. There is a general gratefulness towards the Enlightenment thinkers for dragging Europe out of a religious and intellectual quagmire.
    "I remember in 2010 when an atheistic group put up an anti- Christmas billboard in New York, their message included a phrase about their group being "reasonable since 1963.""
    Just the tiniest bit of research would have shown that they were promoting their own group, American Atheists, who have been in existence since 1963.
    "they promote the idea that truly smart and well-educated people do not believe in God"
    Well, studies do show that scientists have much, much lower rates of belief than the general population. Also, religiosity is inversely proportional with education level.
    "They embrace what Blessed Pope John Paul II described as a scientism -- an impoverished view of reason that seeks truths in the material realm, ignoring the spiritual and ethical dimensions of reality."
    We await the advances of non-scientism.... Where were these for 1700 years? What can you bring to the table now, oh non-science based Mars project?

    Did Aquinas, or St. Thomas, really have it so correct that we have to revere their thinking and stop our own critical faculties? It is possible that the greatest thinker in the history of humanity was Da Vinci, but we recognise his genius as simply being so far ahead of his time and not in actually getting things (practically) right.

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  7. Margo, your god couldn't have been lying because he couldn't have said anything because he doesn't exist.

    If you wonder whether Jesus was lying when he said what he may have said then we have to work out why we think he said it, (let's just assume for now he existed), who reported he said it, whether they had an agenda, if there are independent reports that he said it, what he meant by it, whether there was anything to gain by people propagating the story (true or not) that he said it, etc. etc.

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  8. Thanks for the stimulating comments Mr. Hare et al.

    I will respond to the challenge of my ignorance by agreeing that my ignorance is vast, but I do what I can to remedy it. For example, I too was (and in some ways still am) a great admirer of Jefferson, Paine (and Dawkins!)over the years, but I also came to find, for example, how Jefferson and Paine, in their writing on human rights, were vastly indebted not only to John Locke, but to the long philosophical development of natural law associated with the ancient Greek tragic poets, those stoic Stoic philosophers, Sts. Augustine and Aquinas, and others long before them -- all theists.

    Also, yes, I was aware that the billboard was listing 1963 because that is the year their group was founded. That is why I also used the year of 33, indicating when Jesus founded the Catholic Church upon Peter.

    As for the inversely proportional intelligence, I address this issue in my book, in a chapter dealing with Prof. Dawkins's atheism. In social science research, one of the very first things we teach our students is the fact that "correlation does not prove causation". When two things vary together it does not necessarily prove that one causes the other. During childhood, for example, shoe size correlates highly with intellectual capacity. I was on the Research Review Committee for American Mensa for years, awarding grants for the best research on human intelligence and I know that the high IQ society itself has members who are across the board in terms of their religious belief or lack thereof.

    Also, if more college educated people tend to be atheists, this could well reflect what they are taught in college. This was probably different, for example, in the Middle Ages when the Catholic Church was creating the university system in places like Paris, Padua, and Bologna. Also, you specifically mentioned scientists and atheism. If their starting paradigm admits of what JPII called "scientism," their worldview will likely rule out from the start any realm beyond the material, and God along with it. Many scientists do hold that view, and some do not.

    As for the advances of non-scientism, if you will, (a view that respects the value of science, but in addition to and not as a replacement for philosophy and theology), I offer things like the development of the university systems, the advancement and promotion of science and the arts, the formal education of countless individuals throughout the ages, and the establishment of the hospital system as some of the contributions of the Catholic Church to the world, not to mention the countless individuals inspired to care for and serve others by their faith.

    Surely, the 20th century marked an explosion in scientific advances and a decline in religious belief. Though science and technology have brought countless goods to all of us (we wouldn't be conversing here if it hadn't happened), they also brought other explosions too, in the bloodiest century of our history.

    I pretty much agree with March's last paragraph. Neither St. Thomas, nor Da Vinci, nor any human being, has gotten everything right. I believe,for example, that Aristotle, got a vast amount right about the nature of the universe, of man and virtue, of the workings of the mind, but he did not know it all and he did make factual mistakes. It was for those who came after to select the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false.

    I want to point out too, that part of my premise in dialogue with atheists, old and new, is to recognize when they get things right. I do not mean to blatantly dismiss all the current atheists. Some have made great contributions to their fields of specialty. I have learned many things I consider valuable from some prominent atheists from the last century like Rand, Russell, and Ellis, for example. I agree that we all do need to keep our thinking and critical faculties going strong, seeking the truth regardless of its source.

    Again, thanks much all.

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  9. Many thanks for responding Dr. Vost, but I cannot let this little sidestep go without comment:
    "As for the inversely proportional intelligence..."
    I did not state this, nor did I imply this was the case (although, if pushed, I would!!! I just may not have evidence handy to back it up, hence I didn't say it), I simply said that there was an inverse correlation between education level and religiosity. education =/= intelligence. education ~= knowledge.

    Natural law, as proposed, stinks of the genetic fallacy and the naturalistic fallacy. It also ignores the fact that much we consider 'bad' is natural. (fyi. moral error theorist)

    Dr. Vost, your advances of non-science are, at best, incidental. I have no doubt Christianity helped many people form universities, hospitals, orphanages etc. but it is not a coincidence that these facilities grew out of a prosperous Europe (esp. UK) who were leaving the shackles of religion behind and questioning accepted knowledge and the universe at large. I'm not saying free-thinking led to these things, I'm saying that free thinking led to economic growth which led to the possibility that religious and non-religious people could do these generous things.

    "the bloodiest century of our history"
    Yip, technolgy's a bitch. It enables the worst of us to be worse to more people than at any time in our history. It also enables more of us to live, learn and have fun.

    Dr Vost, the general point is that as we progress in knowledge, we can throw away the incompatible explanations and work towards a knowledge base that will benefit us in this life. You may have bowed out of this discussion and decided that the next life is all that counts, but the rest of us can't bank on that being as you, somehow, have decided it will be, we have to make the most of this life, ideally for everyone.

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  10. I remember that atheist slogan and remember thinking, "Reasoning since 1963, eh? Not terrible impressive." :-D They did seem quite pleased with themselves, and the insinuation was that religious people don't reason. If they had done their homework, perhaps they'd realize that word has been exhaustively treated in Catholic theology long, long before our lifetimes. Anyway...


    March Hare,

    You use that popular atheist word, "free-thinking." Dr. Victor Stenger particle physicist and best-selling author of God and the Folly of Faith has written an essay at Huffington Post "Free Will is an Illusion." I realize this question may not seem relevant to the point you are making, but to be honest, I'm not really following you. You seem to be saying "free-thinking" is what brought humanity good things in this current life.

    So, I wonder, do you agree Dr. Stenger's position? Is free will an illusion? And if so, how does one conduct free-thinking if he has no free will to chose what to think? This is the kind of contradiction I find perplexing in atheist thought. They readily use words inconsistently.

    In Catholic theology I've found the opposite the opposite to be true. There is a mathematical precision and consistency in the use of terminology, an exhaustive defining of words with words that are exhaustively defined.

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  11. *strike the second "the opposite" woops

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  12. Stacy,

    To your first point, free-thinking means simply challenging the orthodoxy. It could have been religion, or communism, or naturalism. But there was a freedom to make bold statements and challenge ideas and see what held up to scrutiny. It was this 'enlightenment' that gave rise to medicine, economics, democracy (a we know it), freedom, industrial revolution etc. etc.

    Secondly, 'free will' is a term used rather broadly. I would have to know exactly what you mean by it. In general terms, I disagree with libertarian free will (as oer Sam Harris), I am somewhat confused by what Dennett means by compatibalism (as it seems to be simply determinism with a convoluted path), but am convinced by a determinism that incorporates quantum unpredictability (hence no fate).

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    1. Not that QM allows free will a back door in. Just to be clear.

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  13. In Catholic theology it is recognized that the human person has two faculties of the soul, an intellect (for thinking and learning) and a will (for choosing and desiring). All humans have this in common. We have an inclination to sin, but we can overcome that by grace and by choosing that which is good and acting intelligently to pursue it. These were the scholastic foundations that gave rise to universities, the recognition that people have free will and free thought, and because of this freedom people are also responsible for their choices (eternally so).

    Dr. Stenger, on the other hand, says that humans are Newtonian machines comprised of matter that calculates the data in the brain according to decision making algorithms.

    So, what I'd like to know, is how do atheists explain "free-thought"? Even in the narrow context you gave (challenging orthodoxy) it requires a freedom to choose to challenge. Newtonian physics doesn't tell us anything about matter making *choices*.

    Just on its face, doesn't it sound contradictory to say, "I'm a free-thinker, but I have no free will"?

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  14. Stacy, sorry to say it so bluntly, but Catholic theology is woefully out of date (and wrong!) on this. The brain has been repeatedly (along with hormones and chemicals in the blood) been shown to be the decision making center where everything we do is decided. The brain has also been shown to work on a (complex) biochemical basis. Neurons can be simulated, albeit slowly, and small regions replicated. While we are nowhere near being able to replicate or simulate a person, there is work ongoing that can simulate invertibrates (slower than nature) and, outside of religion, there is no reason to think we are materially different from the other animals.

    I would love any evidence that we are not mechanistic automatons, it's not a picture of myself I like, but nature is a funny old bird. Please give any evidence, logical or physical, that this is not the case.

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  15. "Margo, your god couldn't have been lying because he couldn't have said anything because he doesn't exist."

    Correction MH, you don't believe God exists. God exists regardless of whether humans believe in Him or not. You are choosing to not believe in God, which is most unfortunate because He loves you more than any human ever could.

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  16. March Hare,

    No, that's not true. Progress has been made in understanding the brain, but the intellect is not the brain. Neuroscience is completely unable to predict what anyone's next thought will be.

    I'm borrowing this from a good friend of mine, Jeff McLeod, a doctor of quantitative psychology and psychometrician and research statistician in the standardized testing industry (i.e. he advises the people who write standardized tests for college and professional entrance exams). He also has focused in his career on working with people who suffer from profound intellectual and developmental disabilities, particularly children.

    He reads his Aquinas in Latin, and I consult with him on these matters quite a bit.

    [Paraphrasing him...]

    He explains that there is no “thing” inside the brain that we call intellect, just as there is no thing inside the stomach called a digestion. Physical systems like the cerebral cortex, or the stomach, facilitate these processes, but they are not "coextensive with the physical."

    It is a category mistake to claim otherwise. If someone goes on a tour of a university, and then notes that he saw a library, a bookstore, a laboratory, a stadium, but still doesn't know where the university is, he's missed the integrated whole. The university isn't another something among the buildings. It is the rule that binds them, the thing that they all are together. As Jeff says, "Catholics get this. Some highly educated people don’t, as when they search for the gene that makes us believe in God or makes us altruistic. God is the author of the whole genome; it is thus irrational to conceptualize him as a part of the genome."

    So, MH, it sounds like you concur with Dr. Stenger that you are basically a determinate blob of tissue. Tell me then, if you don't even think you can argue of your own free will and free thought, then why should I consider anything you say to be sincere or genuine, or even real. Wouldn't that mean you are just yacking meaninglessly? :-D

    I doubt that you believe that. I don't know about you, but I've never had an intelligent chat with a rock.

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  17. Indeed Stacy, but you'd not be able to tell if I was a computer...

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  18. And I totally agree the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But it's still, ya know, made up of the parts and those parts obey physical laws...

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  19. It always amazes me how people can be so determined to deny God that they will even deny their own minds...

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  20. It's sweet that you think that, but honestly, the existence of a supernatural overseer doesn't concern my thinking, not even your special true one, at least not since I was 9 and realised there was no evidence for it.

    So what concerns me is other people's thinking. And if they're right, it'd be nice to know, it might save my immortal soul. If they're wrong then perhaps I can let some doubt into their religious certainty when it comes to matters that impact people.

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  21. We're on the way out to pick blackberries, but may I propose that if you are much older than 9 now, you could probably handle some heavier proofs. (Oh slap me, I'm being snarky, but seriously...)

    I mean this in a friendly way, but I've never met an atheist who actually know what he rejected, and could articulate Catholic doctrine or the logical proofs of God's existence. If you have no empirical evidence of your own, how can you judge whether something is true or not? It seems kind of silly to assert that something is false on the grounds that you do not understand it.

    Can you articulate, for instance, St. Thomas' proofs of God's existence?

    Here's something I wrote yesterday. http://www.acceptingabundance.com/are-atheists-searching-for-truth/

    I'll check back tomorrow. Have a nice day!

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  22. March Hare said, "I would love any evidence that we are not mechanistic automatons, it's not a picture of myself I like, but nature is a funny old bird. Please give any evidence, logical or physical, that this is not the case."

    Materialism dictates that altruism directed at non-kin would be harshly selected against. Indeed, William Hamilton carefully constructed the ratios of relatedness needed to predict the development of kin selection. How does one explain extreme acts of heroism for people totally unrelated to us, or for example, someone donating bone marrow to an unknown? It seems to fly directly in the face of all known selective mechanisms. When it occurs is it just a mistake or a fluke?

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  23. Mary, great question!

    And Stacy, I love your article! You summed it up so nicely:

    Atheists generally revere scientific and technological achievement, and would balk if some unlearned person tossed aside the truths learned from Modern Science just so he can write a New Science according to his own worldview. Yet they willingly remain ignorant about the highest science, the science whose object is God, Catholic doctrine. Someone who refuses to experience faith has no empirical evidence of his own to judge its veracity. That leads me to wonder: Are atheists searching for truth, or something else?

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  24. Leila
    I don't really understand the comparison of Catholic doctrine to science. And I thought the definition of faith was believing things for which there is no proof. Otherwise it wouldn't be faith--it would be knowledge. Isn't that right?

    I'm not an atheist so I'm not asking from that vantage point. I just don't understand your premises. THanks.

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  25. Great interview! Glad to read what's been here (especially as a member of the philosophical world myself). The "new atheism" as a philosophical movement interests me although, frankly, I think it'll burn itself out within the next generation or so. Relatively few philosophers I've met have been impressed by their arguments and it's quite clear that Dawkins, Hitchens, et al have less than a freshman level understanding of the classical proofs for God's existence. Ed Feser's "The Last Superstition" does a great job of blowing their positions apart. Regardless, looking forward to what comes next (there's more of the interview, one assumes?) :)

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  26. Johanne, this might be more than what you are asking, but I think your question is answered within this part of the Catechism:

    http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s1c3a1.htm

    I would love to hear Dr. Stacy's and Dr. Vost's response as well.

    Benjamin, welcome! I'm glad you're here and yes, there will be more! :)

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  27. So much to say, so little time, (and I don’t intend to rewrite my book here!) I also must say I enjoyed your article Stacy (especially as one who has spent a good year with the SG on a Kindle!)

    In brief, yes, in my haste I did read intelligence into the reference to religiosity belief and education. The two are usually presented together in attempts to show believers are not thinkers. (At least I was on target in assuming that Mr. Hare would also concur with that idea.)

    As for a prosperous Europe, (esp. UK), breaking free of religion to provide the economic growth to allow for widespread charitable works, we can also look at times long before that when Britain was a Roman Province. The Roman Emperor Julian in the 4th Century A.D., for example, when trying to oust Christianity and re-establish pagan beliefs, had to advise his followers to imitate the “Galileans” in their hospitable and charitable works.

    Oh, and believe me, I have not personally backed out of this discussion or abandoned this life on earth! In fact, I’m having a marvelous and an incredibly busy time, so these replies do not come quick or easy. Those virtue ethics Mr. Hare dismissed are directed toward human happiness. (Check out Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and the Second Part of the Summa Theologica.) As for modern science, I'll mention as well the recent research and writings of Martin Seligman, PhD, former President of the American Psychological Association, about the neglected, but vital role of the virtues in human happiness and fulfillment.

    Further, that “personal relationship with Jesus” mentioned earlier, is also a source of great joy on this earth. It is a false dichotomy to imply that Christians forsake this life for the next. We were all created for happiness in both (though life on earth, can also at times, of course, entail suffering.)

    I will now tackily repeat myself from an earlier post: “How grand it must be to so confidently declare that the profound questions that so taxed the greatest mind in human history are mere child’s play for ones’ own.”

    I think that if Mr. Hare was able to see through the fallaciousness of religious belief at age 9, and to come to know that Catholic theology is woefully out of date and wrong, then the request to explain and expose the fallacies in St. Thomas’s five proofs of the existence of God is a reasonable one, as would be the request to explain what St. Thomas had to say about the relationship between the brain and the intellect, how human intellectual capacities differ in kind from the mental capacities of all other species, why a modern mechanistic explanation of the relationship between body and mind provides more explanatory power than the classical hylomorphic one (and how to escape the "mind-body" problem produced by the mechanistic view), exactly what a Thomist means by will and free will, and how that view is in error.

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  28. Erratum. That quotation should read greatest "minds" (plural). Mea culpa.

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  29. Stacy, you want that I should start with Aristotle's claim that the sun moves across the sky? Or perhaps move straight on to the Catholic version of the Kalam Cosmological argument? The one with the special pleading and basic falsehoods in it...

    "Everything that moves was moved by another (or begins to exist, or whatever flavour you want)..."
    Which is just flat out wrong*. So we're off to a good start. Let's see what they can build of this shaky foundation.

    "we must posit some unmoved mover. This we call God."
    Well, actually, we have seen that we do not need posit anything, but now that you have, why call it God, especially why capitalise it? Do you already have your answer and you're actually reasoning backwards? Naughty...

    Okay, got bored with the nonsense science, not to mention philosophy, of people from 1200 and 2400 years ago. If you have any argument that even remotely stands up to modern scrutiny please state it and stop sending me back to antiquity.

    *Radiation, virtual particles, etc.

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  30. mary, it is difficult to apply general evolutionary concepts to human psychology or actions. We are very different now to how we were 1000 or 10,000 years ago. Humans have expanded their notion of 'kin'. Humans have taken sex outside of its reproductive origins and harnessed the pleasure (as have various apes, monkeys and dolphins). We have recently misused the fat storing mechanism to become obese, something virtually unknown in prehistory. Perhaps more importantly for your 'just-so' story, we have social incentives that make us do things that are not in our biological or genetic best interests (e.g. medals for bravery etc.)

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  31. "Humans have taken sex outside of its reproductive origins and harnessed the pleasure ... We have recently misused the fat storing mechanism to become obese"

    Sorry, but this made me laugh. Right, because there had never been lust or gluttony before. Even though they've been talked about and have had names for thousands of years of written history. But I guess such things never existed before that time, is what you are saying? Oh, my.

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  32. "Stacy, you want that I should start with Aristotle's claim that the sun moves across the sky?"

    Wait, MH, did you think we were talking about science? All this time I thought you understood that we are not talking about knowledge of science, since we've said that incessantly.

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  33. Leila, I have no idea if you're wilfully misrepresenting my point or if my writing is unclear. I'll try to be clearer:

    Humans have fairly recently (both in human history and over the longer biological timescale) used effective contraception which enables us to have sex with virtually no chance of reproducing if we don't want to. We get to enjoy the rewards of sex which evolution has provided while avoiding the consequence that evolution actually selected for (offspring).

    It is only in modern times that there has been an abundance of food. Even in olden times those (rich/nobles) with plentiful supplies of food tended not to be quite as obese as many people are today. In part this is because of changes to what we eat, we are altering/negating our basic negative feedback systems. It should also be noted that I mentioned pre-history when talking about obesity, yet you talk about thousands of years of written history.

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  34. Leila, Aristotle's ignorance of some really basic things makes his later proclamations about how things have to be somewhat dubious.

    But I think you'll find I proceeded to challenge some of his basic assertions anyway.

    Let me put it back to you, are there any parts of his argument that you find convincing? Are there parts you think fail due to modern knowledge?

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  35. @MH: "'Everything that moves was moved by another (or begins to exist, or whatever flavour you want)...'"

    You enclose that in quotation marks like that's a direct quote; if so, please provide the source. No serious thinker proposed that version of the cosmological argument because it is, demonstrably, retarded. (In fact, Aquinas, Leibniz, and Plato are the sources which immediately come to mind which clearly say otherwise). If you've read any literature on the topic you'll note that the cosmological argument *doesn't* begin by asserting that "Everything" moves, changes, etc, but only that *some things* move, change, etc. This difference is significant and thus your summary bespeaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of the position you're rejecting.

    If I may make a recommendation (short of advising you to take my Intro to Philosophy class which starts next week), ;-) consider giving this blogpost a read-through: Feser's "So you think you understand the cosmological argument". It can be found here: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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  36. @Benjamin

    It is the principle claim of Aquinas from his 5 Ways!

    "Omne autem quod movetur, ab alio movetur."
    "Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act."

    I can't recall exactly where I took the quote from, but a simple google search brings up a good few places:
    http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/aquinas.shtml
    http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Thomas-Aquinas/823656
    http://religionethicsphilosophy.pbworks.com/w/page/22800154/Aquinas'%20Cosmological%20Argument-%20First%20Way

    Those are the first three on a basic google search.

    I agree, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas are serious thinkers given our current knowledge. But I don't think that's the point you were making...

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  37. MH, I will let the Dr. Vost and Dr. Stacy discuss the particulars of Aquinas with you, but please, again, let me clarify that we are talking about philosophy and human nature not food supplies or the effectiveness of contraception. Our food is more likely to make us obese now (processed foods, ugh) but gluttony and intemperance has always existed! If you think contraception is new, it's not. Neither is abortion, nor the desire to separate sex and procreation (again, human nature does not change). Those things have been around since the dawn of humanity. You are confusing issues.

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  38. Okay, got bored with the nonsense science, not to mention philosophy, of people from 1200 and 2400 years ago.

    One night of flipping through some Aquinas and you are bored, convinced that you are far above his thoughts? This is proof, dear readers, of the impoverished nature of modern atheistic thought, and its shocking arrogance. March Hare, you have proven Dr. Vost's point, and quite quickly!

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  39. Leila, I was responding to mary who said, "Materialism dictates that altruism directed at non-kin would be harshly selected against."

    I think it is fair to point out the limits of kin selection (and various other just-so stories in evolution) as it applies to humans since intelligent animals have a much more complicated relationship with evolution than less intelligent ones.

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    1. Just to piggyback on from someone who is a biologist--materialism doesn't dictate that! At all. And humans certainly are unique--perhaps the only species that includes individuals that participate in spite (harming others at a harm to one's self).

      I'm so glad you're keeping up with comments. How exhausting. You win all the internets.

      Delete
    2. Hey, March Hare is a single young guy! What about an award for Stacy or some of the others, with husbands and wives and many young children? ;) Ah, to be single and childless and blog! What I wouldn't do! :)

      Delete
    3. Totally should have added JoAnna, full time working mom with four little ones; Nubby, several littles at home; and Bethany, with many littles, etc. Kudos to you ladies! It is exhausting, and you keep up the discussion. Group hugs for all!

      Delete
  40. "I agree, neither Aristotle nor Aquinas are serious thinkers given our current knowledge."

    Just, wow. If this is what comes from the mouths and pens of modern atheists, I think we are going to be okay, guys.

    But I'm trying to be sure that this is for real. March Hare, you are joking, right?

    Could you give me a little bit of your educational background? Because, in fact, no serious academics dismiss Aristotle or Aquinas as "not serious thinkers". Seriously, I think you're kidding, right?

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  41. Leila, reading the Comsological argument, as framed by a 13th century Catholic, does not fill me with glee. It is an argument refuted several times over and having it based on a 13th century understanding of people, god and science does not make it any better.

    So, yes, on many issues I think I am way above his thoughts - on others way below. My criticism of his thinking is pretty much just on this subject as he presupposes a God, and a Catholic one at that, and then reasons backwards. His arguments don't work forward (Nubby and I had a similar discussion, but at least she had an understanding of why Aquinas argument is bogus, as Benjamin showed above).

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  42. Johanne,

    I'll try to take this and keep it brief.

    "I don't really understand the comparison of Catholic doctrine to science. And I thought the definition of faith was believing things for which there is no proof. Otherwise it wouldn't be faith--it would be knowledge. Isn't that right?"

    The word "science" comes from the Latin scientia which means knowledge. A science is an ordered body of knowledge about an object, and there is an order to the sciences - an order to what we know.

    Some sciences are abstract and proceed from our intelligence, such as math and geometry. Some sciences proceed from principles known from a higher science, economics proceeds from principles established by math.

    Long ago before the Protestant world convinced people that science and religion were at odds, all these sciences were considered along with sacred doctrine, the science (the body of knowledge) of God and what He has revealed. "Just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God." (St. Thomas)

    St. Thomas, and his contemporaries, considered doctrine the highest science, and everything else we learned about the world and ourselves to proceed from those truths.

    It was really quite beautiful. Science and faith cannot be opposed to each other because God is the Author of all Truth.

    Faith is to believe in things unseen, not that have no proof.

    If you are interested in a fascinating read, start at the very beginning of the Summa Theologica. St. Thomas starts out explaining how sacred doctrine is the noblest, the highest, science.

    Reading through the first 10 questions will tell you more than you ever imagined you wanted to know about it. If you've never read St. Thomas before, I suggest only reading the "On the contrary" and "I answer that..." parts first to get the overview of where he's going.

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1001.htm

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  43. March Hare,

    Hold it right there sister, or brother, or whatever you are. Not so fast. Trying to pull a fast one are we? :-)

    "Stacy, you want that I should start with Aristotle's claim that the sun moves across the sky?"

    In his day, that's what they thought because that's how it looked. His point was that everything that moves is caused to move by something else. Surely you are not suggesting that the sun and all that makes it up is at an absolute stand still, completely motionless.

    It is..."the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it." Dear St. Thomas, who understood Aristotle's proofs

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  44. I said: "MH, I will let the Dr. Vost and Dr. Stacy discuss the particulars of Aquinas with you" and I should have added Benjamin! Benjamin, could you tell us a bit about your background? And, I hope you will become a regular commenter!

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  45. Stacy, Aristotle's (or Aquinas') view of nature is important because he then goes on to use his understanding of the natural world to form a logical proof for the existence of God.

    His point may still be arguable because all movement is relative, but is certainly casts doubts on all that follows. Some of which I mentioned and you haven't gotten on to yet...

    But more generally (for all), don't just point to Aquinas and say his I have to defeat all his arguments, say what you believe, even if it's a rewording of Aquinas, and try to think what makes it persuasive to you and why it could persuade someone who doesn't already believe in an unmoved mover.

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  46. @MH:

    I think I misread your earlier point - my bad. For Aquinas (who apparently you're drawing on), "movement" doesn't mean the same thing to him as it does to us. Movement, in his usage, doesn't mean physical movement but refers more generally to *change* (Many translations of the "First Way" translate "ex parte motus" as "change" rather than "motion" since he's clearly not talking about physical things moving in the same way that "movement" or "motion" connote for us). Where you're reading "motion", then, think "change".

    (Thomistic/Aristotelian metaphysics inbound, forward ho!) Change, for Aquinas, is a shift from potentiality to actuality (a block of marble is potentially a statue, potentially a doorstop, potentially a paperweight, etc. When the sculptor takes the block of marble and makes it a doorstop or a paperweight, etc, she is actualizing it. Aquinas believes that some things change and, by definition, a thing's changing (its going from potentiality to actuality) requires something else *already* being actual. (The block of marble cannot actualize itself as a doorstop; the already actual sculptor must actualize it for the marble). Let me try another example too: You are actually a human, but you are potentially a sculptor, say. To go from the potential sculptor that you are now to an actual sculptor, you'll need help (you can't actualize yourself, no more than the block of marble can carve itself). So you'll read books (books written by an already actualized sculptors) or apprentice with an already actualized sculptor who will actualize your potential. So that's an Aristotelian/Thomistic understanding of change: actualizing potentials.

    So far hopefully this is making sense. Now, Aquinas differentiates between two types of change: essentially ordered changes and accidentally ordered changes. It's more complicated than this but the short definition is that for accidentally ordered changes, if one single member of the causal chain is gone the chain itself can still continue. As an example, think of Abraham giving birth to Issac giving birth to Jacob; once Abraham dies, Issac can still give birth to Jacob, who can still give birth to Joseph, etc. So removing one "link" in the causal chain doesn't cause the whole series of changes to disintegrate. Essentially ordered changes, however, aren't like that - if one link of an essentially ordered change is removed, the whole series of changes will cease. A standard example of an essentially ordered change is of a hand swinging a golf club which hits a ball - if you remove the hand, the whole causal process stops. Likewise if you remove the golf club, the whole process of changing (going from potentiality to actuality) stops, etc.

    Aquinas' big point is to note that accidentally ordered changes *can* go back to infinity, at least in principle. Essentially ordered changes, however, *cannot* go back in an infinitely long chain - there must be something which *starts* the change *and is still involved* in the whole process to keep the changes happening - "and this everyone understands to be God". :-p Anyway, sorry for the long explanation but I think you've gone wrong by putting way too much weight on a modern understanding of "motion" (hence your examples of radiation and virtual particles) rather than an Aristotelian/Thomist understanding of change as moving from potentiality to actuality. If you want to deal seriously with this topic, I'd recommend reading through a copy of Ed Feser's "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" (Amazon has it for ten bucks; frankly it's not that much $ to seriously deal with one of the greatest minds in Western philosophy).

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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  47. @Leila,

    Well, background...let's see. Professionally, I'm a graduate student in the Philosophy Department at the University of Kansas. I teach different classes but most recently I've been teaching 2 sections of PHIL140 (Intro to Philosophy). I've been married to my wife Elizabeth for 3 years and we have 2 children (James, 2 years old, and Joy, 4 months old). I'll try to comment as time allows but since the semester is getting started I'm not sure how much free time I'll have (I'm trying to go ABD this semester which entails...many headaches). :-) But I'll definitely lurk around and comment whenever I can. :)

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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  48. Just a general question:

    I've come here a few times, and I know that everytime I comment, I always end up typing something along the lines of "Please don't generalize the [gay population, atheist population]".

    Like, do Catholics realize that non-Catholics are not like Catholics? We are not a homogenous group. We do not all hold the same opinions. There are no books filled with dogma, or appointed leaders.

    For example, Leila, you said: "One night of flipping through some Aquinas and you are bored, convinced that you are far above his thoughts? This is proof, dear readers, of the impoverished nature of modern atheistic thought, and its shocking arrogance. March Hare, you have proven Dr. Vost's point, and quite quickly!"

    Aquinas is tedious and frankly, not that great. I'm sure most Catholics are not well-versed in much philosophy, so you can't point at an atheist and say, "Well, you don't know philosophy as well as me!". Aquinas' proofs, very simply, suck, and if I recall, are not really directed at proving Christianity as they are at proving deism, at best.

    Don't assume all atheists are behind Nietzche, or Rand. Don't go off about how Rand is "logical atheist philosophy", because it's not. But see, I would never accuse a Christian of being blithely ignorant and presumptively arrogant because they had not read philosophy that advocates atheism or agnosticism. THAT is arrogant.

    I started reading this interview, but once I noticed he accuses all atheists of "scientism", it was easy for me to conclude that the Dr. probably doesn't have a respect for the depth of thought in atheist circles. So I guess it goes both ways.

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  49. But Zach, you have said exactly what MH is saying: Anything that came before modern atheistic thinking sucks. If I have you wrong, tell me what depth of thought, which ancient thinkers, which intellectual giants of the past, you admire?

    Thanks!

    By the way, Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, etc… they transcend the categories of "philosophies that advocate" a particular point of view (atheism/agnosticism/Christianity/deism, etc.)

    Dr. Vost may be back next week, but he has had family issues that are taking precedent right now. I am so grateful for the time he's taken so far!

    And Zach, I have meant to tell you that I absolutely am thrilled (in all honesty) that you think the whole surrogacy, sperm donor, manufacture of children for adults to raise (child as commodity) is selfish. I fear you are firmly in the minority.

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    1. Zach...I agree that we cannot lump all atheists or agnostics in one camp at all. Thinking all atheists are like PZ is like thinking all Christians are like Rush...totally get that.

      I also want to commend you on thinking that sperm donor/egg donor is bad news....I am FIRMLY against this...it is the most heinous form of prostitution. Essentially taking a person's child in exchange for money. The companies go to good universities and prey on the young, vulnerable people there who need some cash...the rich ones don't have the "need" to donate.
      I do feel compassion for the couples that want a child and wanting a child with at least half of the dna of the couple is not unnatural....but in this case, purposefully creating one that will not know its parent, and separating the parent from the child...intentionally...is horrid.

      I think it is a slightly different case when a sister or a close friend (no money involved) acts as a surrogate. Against Catholic teaching, but not as gravely evil in my book.

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  50. I still can't get over this part, though. A twenty-something American college kid, barely still out of his teens, can say of one of the acknowledged greatest minds of all history (acknowledged by waaaaaaay more than Catholics!) that "Aquinas' proofs suck and he's not that great." Oy, vey!

    Something has gone very wrong with the educational system in America.

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  51. I'm not saying Aquinas, or anyone else, isn't a great thinker. My opinion is that his proofs aren't persuasive or very good. Aristotle was a great thinker, and he came up with a lot of garbage. Garbage, that is, in light of what we know. I understand that if you take an appropriate historical perspective, Aristotle's science isn't that bad. He did what he could, and his body of work is highly respectable.

    I've always enjoyed losing myself in any work of Greek philosopher. The style is unique and easy to sink into to. I have great respect for Spinoza. Love Darwin. Albert Camus is my absolute favorite philosopher of the 20th Century (I'll not quickly that Camus refused to be identified as an existentialist! A strong Absurdist). As far as alive philosophers--I've dabbled in some theology (william lane craig and piper...yikes...) and enjoy Sam Harris. I don't read much philosophy anymore--I enjoy fiction much more.

    But I still don't think we can judge the validity of someone's opinion only on their depth of knowledge with philosophy.

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  52. @TPOTS,

    Howdy. I'm new here, so my mileage may vary. :p

    "[D]o Catholics realize that non-Catholics are not like Catholics?"

    Probably so. Examples abound. But to your larger point, yup, atheists come in all (philosophical/theological) shapes and sizes too. Sheesh, the world I work in involves ~80% atheists, but beyond that there tends to be lots of disagreement about what *is* true (as opposed to what's not true, namely, God's existence).

    "Aquinas is tedious"

    Maybe so, but what's at issue isn't whether or not he's tedious as whether or not his arguments are sound (valid + true premises).

    "[Aquinas is] frankly, not that great."

    What data leads you to that conclusion? That lots of people think he's wrong? (Well, big whoop. I'm a philosopher; I don't give much of a care for what people *think* about an argument as whether or not the argument is sound). Is there a particular premise of his that seems implausible to you? If so, what?

    "I'm sure most Catholics are not well-versed in much philosophy"

    Oh brother, you have no idea. Seriously, it's infuriating. Catholic (Aristotelian) philosophy is such a treasure but most people know squat about it and, what's worse, don't want to learn. Ugh.

    "Aquinas' proofs, very simply, suck"

    How's about you pick one of the 5 ways, explain what you think his argument is, and tell us what you think is wrong with it. Talk is cheap and I want to see your argument(s).

    "[I]f I recall, [Aquinas' proofs] are not really directed at proving Christianity as they are at proving deism, at best."

    Eh, I'd say that's partially right and partially wrong. Aquinas does not think that key elements of Christianity can be known by unaided natural reason (he specifically says that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be known without divine revelation, fr'instance). So it's accurate to say that Aquinas' 5 ways don't prove *Christianity* as such (he proves, if successful, something more like the existence of the unchanged changer [the unmoved mover], etc, that Plato and Aristotle also thought could be proved by unaided reason [and who weren't Christians either, it's worth noting). However, Aquinas' proofs will not sustain belief in a deistic universe (for reasons I alluded to above; essentially ordered changes, if they exist [and Aquinas argues that they do], can take place only if the unmoved mover/unchanged changer *is still causally involved* in the processes happening here and now). That conclusion (that the unmoved mover is still causally involved in present day things) is not something a traditional deist could accept.

    That's actually kind of a key point to understand: Aquinas' point *isn't* that we must hypothesize a kind of God to explain who set up the universe. Rather Aquinas' view of God is that he is still involved in the kind of essentially ordered changes we observe everyday. For Aquinas, then, God isn't absent from creation but transcendently still present within it keeping atoms orbiting, keeping planets orbiting, keeping cells functional, etc.

    Relatedly, I don't see Dr. Vost arguing that all *atheists* are believers in scientism, but rather that all *new atheists" accept scientism (assuming you're talking about the 3rd full paragraph from the end?) And I'm pretty sure it's accurate to say that all *new atheists* accept scientism/naturalism/physicalism/whatever you crazy kids are calling it these days. At least all the main new atheist thinkers I've read would say so. My $.02 :)

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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  53. Benjamin, thanks! I am learning a lot from you!

    Zach, with this -- "Aristotle's science isn't that bad" -- are you still talking about physical science here? I thought we were talking philosophy? Are we talking about the same things? Admittedly, I could be confusing terminology.

    Also, which ancient thinkers do you admire? I'm seeing a lot of moderns in your list. Did anyone understand human nature or have higher thoughts or deep wisdom in ancient days, do you think? Can we learn from them? Or do you really think we are so much smarter than they were (meaning that we have more wisdom)? I'm really having trouble coming to grips with this disconnect you all have with those who came before. Again, I see you making Dr. Vost's point.

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  54. March Hare

    I am trying to understand the point you were making with: "... it is difficult to apply general evolutionary concepts to human psychology or actions. We are very different now to how we were 1000 or 10,000 years ago. Humans have expanded their notion of 'kin'. Humans have taken sex outside of its reproductive origins and harnessed the pleasure... "

    So we evolved for certain behaviors ( having lots of sex and wanting to eat a lot) that are now not central to our immediate survival...and now we are having a devil of a time to change our behavior (using contraception and trying to eat less or dieting) because it goes against the product of millions of years of evolution. So are you arguing that we are NOT automatons because we do not have to slavishly follow our biology or are you arguing that we are automatons but not all of our actions follow evolved biology? If your stance is the latter, again I ask, are these behaviors just flukes?

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  55. My criticism of his thinking is pretty much just on this subject as he presupposes a God, and a Catholic one at that, and then reasons backwards. His arguments don't work forward (Nubby and I had a similar discussion, but at least she had an understanding of why Aquinas argument is bogus, as Benjamin showed above).

    False. I never called Aquinas's arguments bogus.

    Let's table this discussion at a remedial level, and stop kicking logic in the man parts:

    Philosophy-
    MH, do you deny that you exist?

    Oh, and...
    Physically-
    How did time evolve from nothing?

    Thanks and thanks again.

    If you've read any literature on the topic you'll note that the cosmological argument *doesn't* begin by asserting that "Everything" moves, changes, etc, but only that *some things* move, change, etc. This difference is significant and thus your summary bespeaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of the position you're rejecting.

    Thank you, professor Benjamin. I'd like to reiterate that it is March Hare's understanding that is bogus, not the arguments themselves.

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  56. mary, your phrasing makes it seem like you think biology, or evolution, has a narrative or a personality ("we evolved for"). It my just be my reading of it or you may have a very common misunderstanding of evolution, goodness knows American schools seem to be doing all they can to avoid teaching it properly - and when viewed through a Catholic lens it gets even more distorted because you start to bring in guided evolution...

    Anyway, 'wanting to eat a lot' is actually something that is self-regulate in most mammals when there is a varied food supply. Fat creatures produce more insulin which both decreases appetite and causes cells to become insulin tolerant and so stop storing excess energy as fat as well as allowing the body burn fat as fuel (insulin stops this). We have altered our diet to such an extent that this doesn't happen properly anymore. by any more I really mean since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, but we have certainly turbo charged it recently with fast food and massive increases in sugars and short carbohydrates (pasta, rice etc.)

    In evolutionary terms fat animal would be selected against as they are slower and more energy rich as prey. Whether they would be selected against for reproduction is hard to say because we don't know if the evidence of success at finding food would be outweighed by their risk of becoming prey. Natural selection would tend to work something sustainable out or the species would go extinct. The problem is that when it comes to humans we have transcended evolution, or the more cruel aspects of natural selection at least. We keep alive those that would otherwise die, we spend resources helping those who cannot reproduce to reproduce, we help total strangers and we have social concepts in place that reward non-beneficial (in a reproductive sense) behaviours such as diving into a cold river to save a drowning stranger.

    To try to understand the intracacies and contradictions of human society, even older cultures, in terms of kin selection is a fools errand. We have cultural norms that are so much more advanced than any other species (alive today) and ways to allow what should be damaging concepts to survive and thrive because we are not subject to natural selection in the same way other animals are. e.g. The runts of our litter (and our pets' litter for that matter) are often protected the most by us, in most of the natural world this is far from the case.

    We are automatons, we don't slavishly follow biology in the way you mean because we have inputs much greater than our genes, but we do follow the basic biological rules, just not so much the higher ones. i.e. Our cells work just the same as other animals, our respiratory and circulatory systems are the same, but when it comes to behaviours we have various cultures that make us all behave in different ways, and much different to animals. We have also been able to understand many of the higher rules and actually see their blind outcomes and decide for ourselves if those are outcomes worth seeking. e.g. If peacocks knew that their sexual selection for larger, more ornate, more expensive plumes would lead to them becoming easy prey and potentially extinct (human protections aside) they could have individually and/or collectively made the decision to select for less ornate plumage, preserving the species. This is something that I think is unique to humans, whether we actually engage in it or not is a different discussion.

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  57. I dare say my understanding of Aquinas could do with some work. I will endeavor to read Feser's article, but what I have read doesn't fill me with much hope: he state WLC never said X when I have a youtube clip of him saying almost exactly X...

    In terms of the cosmological argument, the one I am most familiar with, Kalam by Maimonides by way of WLC states, broadly "everything that begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; the universe had a cause; that cause must be an uncaused cause (i.e. God)". Is Aquinas' formulation much better than that? Does evolution not pretty much rule out Aquinas' version with motion (change)? I'll have more when I finish Feser.

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  58. Nubby,

    I don't deny I exist, I deny I can prove I exist, or that you do. But I don't go down the path of solipsism because it gains you nothing and cuts off all avenues for progress. So I accept as a pretty decent working hypothesis that I exist and that you exist in a very similar mental form to me (i.e. no p-zombies).

    Time didn't evolve. Evolve is a very particular word, as is time. Time in this universe is simply(?!?) a dimension in space time that began when the universe very likely began in the Big Bang. It's like you're asking where did up begin.

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  59. I don't deny I exist,

    Good. So we agree that at least one thing (you) exists. We agree that, though you can deny other things existing, you, at least, know that you exist. You are an entity. An actual, existing thing. Agreed.

    Next two question:
    Do you agree that, since you actually exist as an entity, that you partake in an "act of being"?
    And can we agree that that act itself must exist - that it must be another, separate entity by the very definition affirmed in the word "existence"?

    Time didn't evolve. Evolve is a very particular word, as is time. Time in this universe is simply(?!?) a dimension in space time that began when the universe very likely began in the Big Bang.

    From the standpoint of physics, MH, time as a dimension didn't evolve; you stated, and I agree. It began. That implies creation. It didn't spin off of some other realm. It's not some new and improved form of "time dimension". It is its own reality. It began.

    Time, as we know it, not as we don't know it in some far off unattainable way, or can't know it in the modern physical sense , began at the Big Bang and has been constant ever since. There was no dimension for it to evolve from, nor in.

    Incredible, that it just "began", no? Time, as a dimension in which we live and have our reality, just inexplicably started ticking.

    Time cannot be manipulated or stopped. And yet, it didn't evolve. We can't manipulate its evolution in theory or in practice. What do you posit as the reason for time just beginning? Just one direct answer, please. From science, if you will.

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  60. Stacy,

    I would be interested in seeing your logical proofs of God's existence. I am skeptical though, because I have always taken God's existence as a matter of faith, not logic. I actually pretty much presume that logic is an inadequate tool for defining or understanding the nature of God, which is why it is so often used by Atheists.

    Nicholas

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  61. The fact that there is no scientific answer for how the Universe came into being is not in and of itself scientific proof of anything except the lack of an answer :-)

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  62. Nicholas, Stacy can correct me, but I don't think we are talking about proofs for the nature of God, but proofs for his existence. The nature of God is Trinitarian, and that is divinely revealed.

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  63. This is a slight aside, but it talks about how many atheists might be closer to the "truth" in some ways, as some are quite authentic, and it is the seeking or craving for God that is desirable perhaps more so than the actual believing.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/08/15/jeff-cook-could-believing-in-god-harm-your-soul/

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  64. I find this quote from the article (from Blaise Pascal) particularly revealing:
    The Hidden God

    “If there were no obscurity man would not feel his corruption: if there were no light man could not hope for a cure. Thus it is not only right but useful for us that God should be partly concealed and partly revealed, since it is equally dangerous for a man to know God without knowing his wretchedness as to know his wretchedness without knowing God … What can be seen on earth indicates neither the total absence, nor the manifest presence of divinity, but the presence of a hidden God. Everything bears this stamp…Man must not see nothing at all, nor must he see enough to think he possesses God, but he must see enough to know that he has lost him. For, to know that one has lost something one must see and not see: such is precisely the state of nature” (449).

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  65. @MH,

    Now you've got the advantage on me; I've never read anything about the Kalam cosmological argument (my wife's got a book on it that I keep meaning to read but, as a grad student, my backlog of books is pretty substantial). Anyways, all of that is to say I don't feel competent to compare it to Aquinas' proofs at all since I know nothing about it.

    One thing did stand out to me, though, given your brief description of the Kalam CA. Aquinas didn't think it could be proven (via natural reason) that the universe had a beginning in time. This is because he was familiar with the *many* Greek philosophers and scientists who thought that the universe was eternal. That's not to say that Aquinas rejected "creation ex nihilo" (out of nothing), but he didn't think that *philosophical* arguments alone could suffice to show that the universe had a temporal beginning. So it sounds like Aquinas would disagree with the second premise you've got listed in the description of the Kalam argument ("the universe began to exist").

    (Apologies; I can't lay my hand on the Aquinas citation for that belief of his at the moment; if you're super curious I'll dig around but otherwise take my word for it that it's in there...somewhere). :p

    One of the "tricks" to Aquinas is realizing that his whole system hangs together in one giant package - thus, for the most part, either everything works or nothing works. But that also means that coming into Aquinas with *modern* ethics and *modern* metaphysics as a background assumption makes him sound downright odd (if not silly). Once one understands the Aristotelian metaphysics underpinning his beliefs then his positions at least make sense (even if one ultimately rejects them). That's (part of) why I like Feser's Aquinas book so much - it starts out by giving you the background necessary to *understand* his ethics, proofs for God's existence, etc. Good stuff.

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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  66. @Nubby,

    You wrote: "Thank you, professor Benjamin."

    Just a minor correction. Not that I reject pretentious titles (*everyone* in academia is pretentious to some degree or other), but I'm actually not a professor. I'm just a graduate student. Once I get my PhD I'll be Dr. Keil and once/if a school hires me to teach *then* I'll be a professor. (Unless you mean "professor" as "anyone who professes", which is its more archaic meaning. But at least as a professional title, I'm not a professor).

    I have my students call me Mr. Keil, but anyone round here can feel free to call me Benjamin. It would be inaccurate, however, to call me Professor Keil (at least for a few more years!) :)

    Sincerely,
    ~Benjamin

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  67. I'm not going to jump into the philosophy discussion because one of my old philosophy professors credited me with turning his hair gray.

    I hope Leila doesn't mind this. Dr. Vost, I am a huge fan. I have several of your books and enjoyed them. I'm very grateful for you and several other Catholic writers who have taken the time to write about our faith. My priest is probably pretty grateful too because I'm not standing around as asking "But why, Father?"....at least not much. :-)

    Ok, back to the philosophy debate. *munches on popcorn*

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  68. StarFireKK, I don't mind at all! Jump in with anything, anytime! And you know what is so funny? I never realized that I had another of Dr. Vost's books on my shelf for many years, Memorize the Faith. :)

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  69. It's funny that on a Catholic blog the line of argument is actually at the incredibly esoteric level where metaphysics and high energy physics seem to meet.

    Wouldn't it be more fun to ask the questions that people don't want asked (like some journalist actually asking Mitt Romney if he thinks he's getting a planet when he dies or if his underwear is magic)? Things like:
    Do you believe evil spirits inhabit bodies and can only be expelled through exorcism?
    Do you believe the devil plays an active part in the world today?
    Do you think prayer works, and if so, why hasn't any study ever showed an effect beyond placebo?
    Are angels watching over us an what do they actually do?
    Are stigmata real and do they exhibit the same wounds Christ had?
    Does Mary reveal herself to people, mainly children?
    Do miracles occur, is there proof?
    Is self-flagellation a reasonable form of penance?
    Are relics non-sinful and do they have magic properties?
    Is there a noticeable difference between the Eucharist and non-consecrated bread - i.e. if a double blind study was set up would the believers know which was which, or would their actions afterwards show a difference between those who had the Eucharist and those who didn't?
    Did/does God intervene in evolution?
    Did Adam and Eve exist and were they the only two humans on the planet at one time?

    I do think questions like these should be answered before Dr. Vost tries to make a proclamation like "reasonable since 33".

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  70. MH, you read my mind! I was thinking yesterday how yucky it is to constantly debate atheists, and it's time to get back to teaching Catholicism. I will definitely be doing that after the next month or so. And to answer just one of your questions, yes, the devil is very real, and very active. Without any doubt.

    Now, off to take my littles to their first day of school!

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  71. MH, asking the questions you do is fine if you want to know what someone believes. I imagine that Romney would answer your planet question according to his Mormon beliefs. I understand they have such a belief but I don't know the details. Asking your questions for the purpose of mocking the answers is hardly appropriate, of course. Your use of the word "magic" gives the impression that you might have a mocking attitude, although I could be reading you wrong. As for Catholic beliefs, stay tuned for Leila's future post. It ought to be good.

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  72. MH, asking the questions you do is fine if you want to know what someone believes. I imagine that Romney would answer your planet question according to his Mormon beliefs. I understand they have such a belief but I don't know the details. Asking your questions for the purpose of mocking the answers is hardly appropriate, of course. Your use of the word "magic" gives the impression that you might have a mocking attitude, although I could be reading you wrong. As for Catholic beliefs, stay tuned for Leila's future post. It ought to be good.

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  73. magic: The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

    If it is a deity using magic we tend to refer to it as a miracle, if non-deity based I would suggest magic is as good a term as any. Plus, there's magic in the Bible aside from the miracles, even the New Testament.

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  74. Magic is used to deceive, trick, or fool. Miracles are employed by God to reveal a Truth about supernatural life. Huge difference. God is against all forms of magic, as surely you know.

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  75. Nubby, that's not the definition in my dictionary.

    Either way, I don't believe in supernatural forces so miracles or magic are the same to me. If you wish to make the distinction then that's fair enough, but I would say that the onus is on you to show any magic exists before saying God is against it.

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    1. But I will try to keep from conflating the two if it offends.

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  76. Are we entering into another flaky discussion on the meanings of words; ie, what "exists" really means?

    Cuz you've never contemplated my previous two questions on your own "existence". I was leading you down the path by the hand through one of Aquinas's proofs, but you haven't answered.

    Better question is, why can't you tell me, physically, why a higher dimension cannot interact with, or have a relationship with or within, a lower dimension, as in a plane within a cube?

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  77. MH, if you are implying that the Church's teachings on the supernatural are embarrassing to me or to an intellectual Catholic, you are wrong.

    Wouldn't it be more fun to ask the questions that people don't want asked (like some journalist actually asking Mitt Romney if he thinks he's getting a planet when he dies or if his underwear is magic)?

    Like Sharon said, you'd have to ask that (mocking) question of a Mormon.


    Do you believe evil spirits inhabit bodies and can only be expelled through exorcism?

    Absolutely they can; for full-on demonic possession, exorcism is certainly the primary way one would expel them.

    Do you believe the devil plays an active part in the world today?

    HELL yes.

    Do you think prayer works, and if so, why hasn't any study ever showed an effect beyond placebo?

    Yes, I do believe so, but you misunderstand the purpose and effect of prayer in the life of the world and in the soul.

    Are angels watching over us an what do they actually do?

    Yes, and even you have a guardian angel, MH. And that one is working overtime. ;) Angels are messengers of God, and they also serve to illuminate minds and souls, communicate between men and God, and generally help out all of mankind.

    Are stigmata real and do they exhibit the same wounds Christ had?

    Yes, and not always exactly.

    Does Mary reveal herself to people, mainly children?

    Yes, and sometimes children, but mostly simple folks, to confound the prideful and mighty.

    Do miracles occur, is there proof?

    Yes they do, and not the kind of "proof" that you require. ;)

    Is self-flagellation a reasonable form of penance?

    Generally not advisable! But under the proper direction of a holy and experienced spiritual director, some saints have undertaken it legitimately.

    Are relics non-sinful and do they have magic properties?

    Again, the "magic" thing is way off, but yes, relics are legit and wonderful and have much supernatural power.

    Is there a noticeable difference between the Eucharist and non-consecrated bread - i.e. if a double blind study was set up would the believers know which was which, or would their actions afterwards show a difference between those who had the Eucharist and those who didn't?

    No measurably physical difference, and Aquinas famously discussed this issue, making the distinction between an object's "substance" vs. its "accidents". Easily accessible if you care to look.

    Did/does God intervene in evolution?

    I'm not an expert on evolution, so I defer to those Catholics who are.

    Did Adam and Eve exist and were they the only two humans on the planet at one time?

    Yes, they did, and the Church doesn't answer the second part, but leaves that to the discipline of science. Unless you are using the term "human" to mean, "made in the image of God, with a soul and with an intellect and a will", then yes, they were the first two with ensoulment.

    Hope that helps!

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  78. Nubby said:

    I was leading you down the path by the hand through one of Aquinas's proofs, but you haven't answered.

    No atheist here has yet demonstrated that they even know what those proofs are, much less refuted them. I'm as frustrated as you, Nubby.

    Better question is, why can't you tell me, physically, why a higher dimension cannot interact with, or have a relationship with or within, a lower dimension, as in a plane within a cube?

    Great question. Simple, to the point. MH?

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  79. Yes.

    Yes.

    Yes. I haven't read the studies so I can't tell you why they have the results they do. My opinion has always been God doesn't like it when we get cheeky like that. :-) Our desire to prove God does or doesn't exist is linked to our pride.

    Yes, whatever God commands them to do.

    Yes, they are similar wounds but not exact to what our Lord suffered.

    Yes.

    Yes, by proof I am assuming you mean scientific proof. Scientific proof requires repeatable results in order to establish proof- since miracles are, by their nature, not repeatable...how can we prove. But that doesn't mean miracles don't exist.

    It can be but not without proper direction. For most people it would be unreasonable.

    Relics are very powerful and no they are not sinful.

    No- Leila explained this better than I could so I'll go with "Yeah, what she said!"

    What in the world do you mean by intervene? You can argue God intervenes in everything.

    Yes, and I have no idea.

    I disagree these are questions we don't want asked. I would love it if more people asked questions about our faith rather than just argued against it.

    I'm not embarrassed by any of those questions or my answers. I'm not troubled by the fact I cannot prove God exists or prayers work.

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  80. StarFireKK, great answers! Thanks! It just boggles the mind that someone would think us embarrassed by our Faith. Don't they get that we love our Faith and want the whole world to come to the Truth? This is not something we faithful Catholics keep hidden, so I find the implication by MH to be a bit bizarre.

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  81. It could be pointed out, too, that the Church requires miracles in order to determine that someone is a saint. The miracles have to occur in answer to prayers asking for that saint's intercession, and the miracle is subject to vigorous medical review. The doctors who review the cases aren't necessarily Catholic. A person has to be at a point where all medical interventions have been tried and doctors have essentially given up on the patient or at least on being able to cure the illness. The healing usually has to be instantaneous. The same is true for miracles to be accepted by the Church at places like Lourdes and Fatima. Many, many people believe they have been cured at Lourdes, but only a handful of those healings have been accepted by the Church as official Lourdes miracles. If you think the Church is made up of yahoos who think every little thing is a miracle, well, every little things really is a miracle but the Church itself is extremely careful in examining these claims.

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