bookmark_borderReply to Prof. Feser’s Response, (Part III)

Ed, Russell’s argument is from Why I am not a Christian, which was a popular talk given to a general audience. As you say, almost certainly he was aiming at popular apologetics. He could, however, address the argument at a much more sophisticated level. I think his best response to cosmological arguments came in his classic debate with Frederick Copleston. Since I have written on this debate, I hope you will not mind if I quote myself at length:

“Copleston’s first argument was the “argument from contingency”:

…the world is simply the real or imagined totality or aggregate of individual objects, none of which contain in themselves alone the reason for their existence…Therefore, I should say, since objects or events exist, and since no object of experience contains within itself the reason of its existence…the totality of objects, must have a reason external to itself. That reason must be an existent being…So, I should say, in order to explain existence, we must come to a being which contains within itself the reason for its own existence, that is to say, which cannot not-exist (Seckel pp. 124-125).

Russell starts by focusing on the idea of being that cannot not-exist…:

The word “necessary,” I should maintain can only be applied significantly to propositions. And, in fact, only to such as are analytic—that is to say—such as it is self-contradictory to deny. I could only admit a necessary being if there were a being whose existence it is self-contradictory to deny (Seckel, p. 125).

…A necessarily true proposition is what logicians call an “analytic” or “tautological” proposition. But the proposition “God exists” does not appear to be analytic or tautological; it does not appear contradictory to assert that God does not exist…
Copleston says “If there is a contingent being then there is a necessary being” is necessarily true, but is not a tautology (Seckel, pp. 125-126). He seems to mean that this proposition is necessary because to deny it is to deny an allegedly self-evident metaphysical principle. Though Copleston does not mention it by name, he apparently means the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR)… According to the PSR, nothing exists unless there is a sufficient reason for its existence. Further, everything that exists either is contingent, that is, it is not a sufficient reason for its own existence, or it is a necessary being, that is, it is its own sufficient reason for being. A contingent being, one that is not its own sufficient reason, therefore owes its existence to something else–ultimately to a necessary being (an unending chain of contingent beings that did not terminate in a necessary being would leave the whole chain unexplained, so the argument goes). Therefore, if we accept the PSR, the world, the totality of all physical objects, must either contain its own sufficient reason, or the world owes its existence to something else, a necessary being that is the sufficient reason for the world’s existence.
But why accept the PSR? Why not regard the world itself—or perhaps whatever cosmologists postulate as its initial state or condition (initial singularity, quantum vacuum, or whatever)—as an ultimate brute fact, i.e., as a primordial reality not explicable in terms of anything prior, deeper, or more basic? The motivation behind the PSR seems to be the demand that everything be intelligible. But if our explanations ultimately end with brute facts, then those brute facts will remain unexplained. It follows from the PSR that no particular contingent thing is satisfactorily explained until all contingent things are explained, and that the total explanation must appeal to something that is not contingent, something that is its own sufficient reason. Russell, however, rejects the PSR’s demand for total explanation:

RUSSELL: But when is an explanation adequate? Suppose I am about to make a flame with a match. You may say that the adequate explanation of that is that I rub it on the box.

COPLESTON: Well, for practical purposes—but theoretically, that is only a partial explanation. An adequate explanation must ultimately be a total explanation, to which nothing further can be added.

RUSSELL: Then I can only say that you are looking for something that can’t be got, and which one ought not to expect to get (Seckel, p. 129).

Russell’s remarks prefigure philosopher J.L. Mackie’s later critique of the PSR:

The principle of sufficient reason expresses a demand that things should be intelligible through and through. The simplest reply to the argument that relies on it [the PSR] is that there is nothing that justifies this demand, and nothing that supports the belief that it is satisfiable even in principle…Any particular explanation starts with premises which state “brute facts,” and though the brutally factual starting-points of one explanation may themselves be further explained by another, the latter in turn will have to start with something that it does not explain, and so on however far we go. But there is no need to see this as unsatisfactory (Mackie, 1982, pp. 85-86; emphasis in original).

In short, there just is no basis for saying that nothing is adequately explained until everything is. As Mackie notes, explanation is always in terms of something, which, at least temporarily, remains unexplained, but this implies no inadequacy in our understanding. Further, it is doubtful that the demand for total explanation is even in principle satisfiable because it is not clear what it is for anything—including God—to be its own sufficient reason. Copleston says that God’s self-sufficiency means that he “cannot not-exist (Seckel, p. 125),” and that God is a “…being the essence of which is to exist (Seckel, p. 128),” but what do these cryptic comments mean? How is it that God’s existence could be uniquely self-sufficient in a way that no other putative ultimate reality could be? Further, isn’t saying that God’s essence is to exist really just asserting that, after all, God’s existence is logically necessary?”

I am quoting from my chapter “Bertrand Russell” in Icons of Unbelief, edited by S.T. Joshi, Greenwood Press. The “Seckel” references are to the Russell/Copleston debate printed in Bertrand Russell on God and Religion, Al Seckel, editor, Prometheus Books.
It seems, then, that Russell, in his debate with Copleston did clash with the claims of the argument from contingency and did not just talk past it. Russell rejects the PSR. He also denies that anything can be its own sufficient reason. I think that these are precisely the lines that have to be drawn in the sand in confronting arguments from contingency.
Ed, let me conclude by saying how much I have gained from our exchanges on these points. I also look forward to future discussions. I deeply regret that our initial encounters were tainted by ill-conceived and intemperate remarks I made some years ago. Let me state clearly that in the course of our conversation I have come to respect your views and your very considerable skill as a philosopher. However, because of your graciousness in being willing to set aside bad feelings and enjoy an enriching intellectual exchange, I have come to respect you even more deeply as a person.

bookmark_borderInductive Logic 101 (Updated 23-Apr-14)

Here is a very quick and very rough overview of inductive logic. Almost all of it is taken from sources other than me; I’ll try to identify where the material came from.

The Difference between Deductive and Inductive Arguments

Logic Type Unsuccessful Arguments Successful Arguments
Deductive Logic Invalid* Valid*
Inductive Logic Incorrect Correct

*I’m oversimplifying this somewhat by ignoring the question of whether the premises are true
The late philosopher Wesley Salmon, in his book Logic (third ed.), explained the difference between deductive and inductive arguments this way.

The premises of a logically correct inductive argument support or lend weight to the argument’s conclusion. If the premises of a correct inductive argument are true, the best we can say is that the conclusion is probably true.
“valid” and “invalid” apply only to deductive arguments; “correct” and “incorrect” should be used to describe inductive arguments. Errors that render inductive arguments either absolutely or practically worthless are inductive fallacies.
The premises of a correct inductive argument may render the conclusion extremely probable, moderately probable, or probable to some extent. Consequently, the premises of a correct inductive argument, if true, constitute reasons, of some degree of strength, for accepting the conclusion.

Types of Inductive Arguments

1. Induction by Enumeration.
Logical Form:

Z percent of the observed members of F are G.
Therefore, Z percent of F are G.

Notes:

  • If Z is is 100% or 0, then the conclusion is a universal generalization.
  • If Z is some percentage other than 0 or 100, the conclusion is a statistical generalization.

Standards for the Strength of Statistical Generalizations:
(a) Whether the sample is representative
(b) Background knowledge
2. Statistical Syllogism.
An inductive argument type that uses the conclusion of a previous statistical generalization as a premise in a quasi-syllogism.
Logical Form:

Z percent of F are G.
x is F.
Therefore, x is G.

Notes:
The first premise might be worded less precisely as “Almost all F are G”, “The vast majority of F are G,” “Most F are G,” “A high percentage of F are G,” and “There is a high probability that an F is a G.”
The class denoted by F is the reference class; the class denoted by G is called the attribute class.
A quasi-syllogism is a type of argument that is not, strictly speaking, a (categorical) syllogism. Nevertheless, it is very similar to the (categorical) syllogism and is often treated as such. Categorical syllogisms are arguments composed entirely of categorical statements. Categorical statements are statements that have one of four forms: (a) universal affirmative (All F are G); (b) universal negative (No F are G); (c) particular affirmative (Some F are G); (c) particular negative (Some F are not G).
Standards for Judging the Strength of Statistical Syllogisms (taken from Merrilee Salmon, Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking, p. 99):
(a) The value of Z. The closer Z is to 100%, the stronger the argument.
(b) Whether all available relevant evidence has been considered in selecting the reference class. This requirement, which is called the rule of total evidence, is designed to address problems that arise as a result of individuals belonging to an indefinite number of classes.
(c) In constructing a statistical syllogism, we must take into account every class that x belongs to that might affect that probability that x is a G. Background knowledge plays an all-important role in helping us to decide which classes are relevant.
Common Fallacy in Statistical Syllogisms:
The Fallacy of Incomplete Evidence. When the reference class in a statistical syllogism is not based on all available relevant evidence, the argument commits the fallacy of incomplete evidence.
2.1. Argument from Authority.
A special case of the statistical syllogism is the argument from authority.
Logical Form:

The vast majority of statements made by x concerning subject S are true.
p is a statement made by x concerning subject S.
Therefore, p is true.

Misuses of the argument from authority:

  1. The authority may be misquoted or misinterpreted.
  2. The authority may have only glamor, prestige, or popularity.
  3. Experts may make judgments about something outside their special fields of competence.
  4. Authorities may express opinions about matters concerning which they could not possibly have any evidence.
  5. Authorities who are equally competent, so far as we can tell, may disagree.

2.1.1. Argument from Consensus.
A special case of the argument from authority is the argument from consensus.
Logical Form:

The vast majority of statements by group M concerning subject S are true.
p is a statement made by M concerning subject S.
Therefore, p is true.

Misuses of the argument from consensus: see misuses of the argument from authority.
2.2. Argument Against the Person.
Another special case of the statistical syllogism is the argument against the person.
Logical Form:

The vast majority of statements made by x concerning subject S are false.
p is a statement made by X concerning subject S.
Therefore, Not-p.

2.2.1. Negative Argument from Consensus
A special case of the argument against the person is the negative argument from consensus.
Logical Form:

The vast majority of statements by group M concerning subject S are false.
p is a statement made by M concerning subject S.
Therefore, p is false.

3. Analogy.
Logical Form:

Objects of type X have properties G, H, etc.
Objects of type Y have properties G, H, etc.
Objects of type X have property F.
Therefore, objects of type Y have property F.

Standards for Judging the Strength of Analogical Arguments:
(a) If the presence of the first increases or decreasses the probability that the second feature will also be present.
(b) The number of relevant similarities in the premisses and the number of relevant dissimilarities between the two types of objects are also important in judging the strength of analogical arguments.
(c) The number and the variety of instances mentioned in the premisses.
Fallacies Associated with Analogical Arguments:
(a) The fallacy of false analogy.
4. Hypothetico-Deductive Method.
Logical Form:

The hypothesis has a nonnegligible prior probability.
If the hypothesis is true, then the observational prediction is true.
The observational prediction is true.
No other hypothesis is strongly confirmed by the truth of this observational prediction; that is, other hypotheses for which the same observational prediction is a confirming instance have lower prior probabilities.
Therefore, the hypothesis is true.

Notes (taken from Wesley Salmon):

A statement is functioning as a hypothesis if it is taken as a premise, in order that its logical consequences can be examined and compared with facts that can be ascertained by observation. When a consequence turns out to be true, it is a confirmatory instance of the hypothesis. When a consequence turns out to be false, it is a disconfirmatory instance of the hypothesis. A hypothesis is confirmed if it is adequately supported by inductive evidence. There are degrees of confirmation; a hypothesis may be highly confirmed, moderately confirmed, or slightly confirmed. Likewise, there are degrees to which a hypothesis is confirmed by a confirmatory instance. A given confirmatory instance may add considerable support or only slight support to a hypothesis.
The hypothetico-deductive method is a kind of argument that attempts to confirm a hypothesis in terms of its deductive consequences. The argument from the hypothesis to the observational prediction is supposed to be deductive; the argument from the truth of the observational prediction to the truth of the hypothesis is supposed to be inductive.

5. Explanatory Argument
Explanatory arguments are also known as “inferences to the best explanation” (IBE) or “abductive arguments.”
Logical Form:

Hypothesis H has the greatest overall balance of background probability and explanatory power of all its competitors, A1, A2, …, An.
[Probably] Hypothesis H is true.

Notes (taken from Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos A. Colombetti):

Background probability is a function of (1) simplicity; (2) conservativism; and (3) modesty. Explanatory power is a function of (4) testability; (5) fruitfulness; and (6) explanatory scope.
(1) Simplicity is (roughly) a measure of the number of independent postulates that comprise a hypothesis.
(2) Conservativism is the degree to which a hypothesis fit in with the background facts.
(3) Modesty is (again, roughly) a measure of the content of the hypothesis, i.e., how much it says.
(4) Testability is the degree to which the hypothesis has observational consequences other than those it was originally formulated to explain.
(5) Fruitfulness is the degree to which a hypothesis has novel and daring observational consquences–typically in the form of predictions–that its competitors do not have and that are verified to be true.
(6) Explanatory Scope is the number and variety of facts that a hypothesis explains, i.e., makes more or less likely, and the degree to which it makes them likely.

bookmark_borderSimplicity, Theism, and Naturalism

In a recent post on his blog, Alexander Pruss presents an interesting argument regarding simplicity, theism, and naturalism. He writes:

I have argued elsewhere, as my colleague Trent Dougherty also has and earlier, that when we understand simplicity rightly, theism makes for a simpler theory than naturalism. However, suppose I am wrong, and naturalism is the simpler theory. Is that a reason to think naturalism true? I suspect not. For it is theism that explains how simplicity can be a guide to truth (say, because of God’s beauty and God’s desire to produce an elegant universe), while on naturalism we should not think of simplicity as a guide to truth, but at most as a pragmatic benefit of a theory. Thus to accept naturalism for the sake of simplicity is to cut the branch one is sitting on.

 I shared Pruss’s post with Paul Draper. Draper sent me the following reply, which he has graciously allowed me to publish here.

Simplicity is, of necessity, a prima facie theoretical virtue.  If, however, theism is true, then simplicity is not an ultima facie theoretical virtue.  If theism is true, we should expect reality to be valuable (which often requires complexity), not simple.  So exactly the opposite of Pruss’s position seems correct.

In a follow-up email, Draper attributes this point to Robin Collins. I’m not sure if this is what Draper had in mind, but Collins seems to develop this point in the Secular Web’s Great Debate (see here, skip down to “Beauty and the Laws of Nature”).

bookmark_borderA Good F-Inductive Argument for Theism based on Consciousness

I was waiting for someone to bring this up in the combox on my recent post on Swinburne’s cosmological argument, but no one did. The argument from consciousness (to theism) is a parallel argument to the cosmological argument against theism.
In the cosmological argument against theism, I pointed out that naturalism entails a physical universe whereas theism does not. Since a physical universe exists, it follows that the universe is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.
The parallel argument based on consciousness goes like this. Theism entails that consciousness exists whereas naturalism does not. Since consciousness does exist, it follows that consciousness is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.
We formalize this as follows. Let B be our background information; E be the existence of human consciousness; T be theism; and N be naturalism. Here is the explanatory argument.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. N is not intrinsically much more probable than T, i.e., Pr(|N|) is not much greater than Pr(|T|).
3. Pr(E | T) =1 > Pr(E | N).
4. Other evidence held equal, N is probably false, i.e., Pr(N | B & E) < 1/2.
So far as I can tell, this is a good F-inductive argument. Just as everyone except eliminative idealists should admit that the universe is evidence favoring naturalism over theism, everyone except eliminative materialists should admit that consciousness is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.
Thoughts?
Related Posts:
The Best Argument for God’s Existence: The Argument from Moral Agency
The Evidential Argument from Moral Agency Revisited

bookmark_borderF-Inductive Arguments: A New Type of Inductive Argument

In his extensive writings, the prestigious philosopher Richard Swinburne makes a useful distinction between two types of inductive arguments. Let B be our background information or evidence; E be the evidence to be explained; and H be an explanatory hypothesis.
“C-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses confirm  or add to the probability of the conclusion, i.e., P(H | E & B) > P(H | B).
“P-inductive argument”: an argument in which the premisses make the conclusion probable, i.e., P(H | E & B) > 1/2.
It seems to me that there is a third type of inductive argument which should go between C-inductive and P-inductive arguments. I’m going to dub it the “F-inductive argument.”
“F-inductive argument”: an argument in which the evidence to be explained favors one explanatory hypothesis over one or more of its rivals, i.e., P(E | H1 & B) > P(E | H2 & B). Explanatory arguments are F-inductive arguments and have the following structure.
1. E is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.
2. H1 is not intrinsically much more probable than H2, i.e., Pr(|H1|) is not much greater than Pr(|H2|).
3. Pr(E | H2 & B) > Pr(E | H1 & B).
4. Other evidence held equal, H1 is probably false, i.e., Pr(H1 | B & E) < 0.5.
Good F-inductive arguments show that E is prima facie evidence — that is why (4) begins with the phrase, “Other evidence held equal.” They leave open the possibility that there may be other evidence which favors H1 over H2; indeed, they are compatible with the situation where the total evidence favors H1 over H2.
F-inductive arguments are “stronger” than C-inductive arguments insofar as they show E not only adds to the probability of H2, but that E is more probable on the assumption that H2 is true than on the assumption that H1 is true. They are weaker than P-inductive arguments, however, because they don’t show that E is ultima facie evidence — they don’t show that E makes H2 probable.
One final point. Although I believe I am the first to give F-inductive argument a name and place within Swinburne’s taxonomy of inductive arguments, the structure for such arguments is not mine. Paul Draper deserves the credit for that.

bookmark_borderTheistic Prejudice: A Case Study with Stan

Over at Randal Rauser’s blog, Stan wrote the following:

Free thinking does not mean disciplined logical thought; it means being free to think that whatever you might think at the moment is Truth, including that there is no truth. Free Thought is much like removing the timing from your engine’s combustion system to allow it “freedom”.
Logic demands discipline and guidance under the rules of deductive reasoning. Atheists have no concept of this, for the most part, and those who do, cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
Free Thinking is the act of rationalizing the emotional position which causes Atheism in the first place.

I posted the following response.

This is an expression of prejudice. It is just as prejudicial (and no better supported than) the statement, “Theists have no concept of this [discipline and guidance under the rules of deductive reasoning], for the most part, and those who do, cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.”
We have three claims.
1. Most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
2. Those atheists who do have such a concept cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
3. Atheism is the result of an emotional position.
What we don’t have is evidence for these claims.

If you were expecting Stan to admit that he got carried away with his rhetoric, you’d be disappointed. Instead, Stan decided to double down and defend the indefensible.

The first two claims are based solely on my experience in discussions with atheists over the past decade. None have studied logic 101, nor do they accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them. I accept that I have not spoken to every Atheist, but I have spoken to a great many.
The third claim is based on the demonstrable fact that there is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity), nor is there any disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity). Thus, lacking any actual supporting evidence or logic, the Atheist case cannot be based on those, despite claims to the contrary. In actuality atheism is based in rejectionism which is performed without any reasoning or evidence in its own support. Atheists redefine the content of Atheism in order to avoid having to give reasons or reasoning for rejecting theist claims and deductions. Their is no rational content to the new meaning of Atheism, which is merely “without theist beliefs”, despite having rejected theist positions with no evidence or deductive logic proving atheism to be valid. Hence, atheism is not based on material evidence nor on disciplined deductive logic, and therefore is an emotional position of rejectionism, only.
Feel free to refute that, if you have material evidence for atheism or a disciplined deductive argument leading incorrigibly to atheism at the expense of theism.
Addendum: I stand by my statement regarding “free thought”.

So let’s go through his claims one at a time.
Stan’s Claim #1: Most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
Well, that’s rich. Stan himself has failed to provide a valid (deductive) argument to support claim #1. Look at his justification again.

The first two claims are based solely on my experience in discussions with atheists over the past decade. None have studied logic 101, nor do they accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them. I accept that I have not spoken to every Atheist, but I have spoken to a great many.

Let’s try to identify his argument’s logical structure.
(1) Stan has spoken to a great many atheists.
(2) Stan claims that none of the atheists he has spoken with have studied logic 101.
(3) Stan claims that none of the atheists he has spoken with accept the outcome of deductions even though they cannot refute them.
(4) Therefore, most atheists have no concept of the discipline and guidance demanded by logic under the rules of deductive reasoning.
For someone who makes so many references to logic, deductions, rules of deductive reasoning, and the like, Stan seems to have missed the fact that this argument is invalid, i.e., it fails as a deductive argument. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. At best, Stan has spoken with a subset of atheists and made accurate observations about them. Even if that were the case, there is no rule of inference which would enable him to construct a deductively valid argument which moves from a statement about a sample to a universal generalization about an entire population. Furthermore, even if Stan tried to reformulate his argument as an inductive argument, it would still fail. (Stan provides no reason to believe that the atheists he has spoken with are representative of atheists. And we have no reason to believe Stan’s claims in premises (2) or (3).)
Stan’s Claim #2. Those atheists who do have such a concept cannot humble themselves to the rational outcome which they have not approved before-hand.
Stan’s justification for this claim fails for the same reason his justification for his first claim fails.
Stan’s Claim #3. Atheism is the result of an emotional position.
Let’s look again at his justification for this claim.

The third claim is based on the demonstrable fact that there is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity), nor is there any disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity). Thus, lacking any actual supporting evidence or logic, the Atheist case cannot be based on those, despite claims to the contrary. In actuality atheism is based in rejectionism which is performed without any reasoning or evidence in its own support. Atheists redefine the content of Atheism in order to avoid having to give reasons or reasoning for rejecting theist claims and deductions. Their is no rational content to the new meaning of Atheism, which is merely “without theist beliefs”, despite having rejected theist positions with no evidence or deductive logic proving atheism to be valid. Hence, atheism is not based on material evidence nor on disciplined deductive logic, and therefore is an emotional position of rejectionism, only.

Again, let’s analyze the logical structure of his supporting argument.
(4) There is no atheist evidence which proves the non-existence of a creating agent (deity).
(5) There is no disciplined deductive argument which demonstrates the non-existence of a creating agent (deity).
(6) Therefore, the Atheist case cannot be based on evidence or disciplined deductive argument.
(7) Some people who identify as atheists redefine “atheism” to mean “without theist beliefs.”
(8) Therefore, atheism is an emotional position of rejectionism.
As an argument for claim #3, however, it seems to me this argument is multiply flawed. First, it’s invalid. The conclusion, (8), does not follow from (4)-(7). Even if Stan were correct that atheists have no good arguments for believing that God does not exist, it doesn’t follow that atheism is the result of an emotional position. Think of all the people who have gotten the wrong answer on a multiple choice geometry test. Would anyone claim that the people who got wrong answers did so for emotional reasons? Of course not! Along the same lines, even if we assume that (4) and (5) are true, his conclusion still wouldn’t follow. It would still be possible that atheists simply made an error in reasoning, in which case they would be guilty of sloppy argumentation but not of rejecting theism for emotional reasons.
But in fact I think Stan’s premises are mistaken. For example, consider (4). I have written extensively about the nature and meaning of evidence in general, as well as how to formulate an inductively correct explanatory or evidential argument for metaphysical naturalism. (See here.) Based on that approach to evidence, it’s clear that the following is evidence which favors metaphysical naturalism over theism.

Since metaphysical naturalism entails atheism, it follows that evidence for metaphysical naturalism is necessarily evidence for atheism.

bookmark_borderStan on Materialism and Morality

A reader named Stan recently posted many comments on another page on this blog about materialism and morality. I’m going to copy and paste several of his comments together to provide a convenient summary of his argument.

Stan’s Definitions

Here is a summary of Stan’s definitions.

Materialism: functional materialism is the set of constraints on science; Philosophical Materialism claims that there is no possible existence which is not physical or derived straight from physical existence.
Naturalism, as I understand it, does not restrict natural existence to physical entities (mass/energy within space/time); but this is open ended as to determining what is “natural” – e.g. is God natural? Your definition might be different and if you provided it we can use that.
Subjective as is commonly used means derived internally by the individual, is not physical and is not available directly to the public for examination.
Objective as is commonly used means derived externally from any individual and is available for examination and replication experimentally because it is physical existence.
Moral theories are sets of constraints on behaviors, either positive “shoulds” or negative “should nots”.

Stan’s Claims

1. In his initial comment, Stan seems to make an argument about moral ontology. In his words, materialists “can have only personally made-up subjective moral theories.” When asked for clarification, he wrote this.

That comment does not refer to any objective moral theories at all. What the statement says, without repeating it I hope, is that there is only one possible source for materialist’s moral theories, and that is human creation, either by themselves or by other humans, and subsequently adopted by themselves. That is done, then, with no moral authority and is therefore not really morality; rather it is a volatile and temporary moral opinion which is subject to possible and actual abuse, based on situational usage. The reason for this is the rejection of all “objective” possibilities for anything whatsoever, when the Atheist accepts the Atheist, materialist rejectionist void of denying absolutes. This leaves the Atheist with only his own mind for reference.

2. In a later comment, Stan claims that Philosophical Materialism is “(a) internally non-coherent, and (b) incapable of generating grounded moral principles based on material analysis of any type of material grounding.” In his words:

First, my position is that Materialism cannot produce moral systems without there being an originating source for moral knowledge; what I press for here is this: if Philosophical Materialism is a valid view, then what is the material source for moral knowledge?
If there exists a material source for moral knowledge, then it must be capable of being examined as a material entity, if Materialism is true. If there is no material entity for me to examine, independently of the claimant, then either there is no material moral source (no moral source at all under PM), or there is a non-material moral source, and PM is not valid.
Therefore, if there is no material source for moral knowledge, AND if Philosophical Materialism is, in fact, true, THEN whatever moral claims Materialists make are not derived from any valid source. That being the case, then all moral claims by Materialists are not based on any moral grounding and are therefore ungrounded moral opinion, only, and nothing more.
This has no need from any input from theism; it is a logical necessity of the nature of Philosophical Materialism that it is (a) internally non-coherent, and (b) incapable of generating grounded moral principles based on material analysis of any type of material grounding.

My Reaction

In no particular order of importance, here is my reaction.
1. My overall reaction is that several key concepts in his argument are vaguely defined. When combined with his usage of non-standard terminology, this makes it difficult to evaluate his argument.  (For what it’s worth, I have the same complaint about a number of writers–both theists and nontheists–when they write about morality.)
2. The claim that “Philosophical Materialism” is incoherent is a pretty major claim. I do not find any arguments or reasons in support anywhere in his comments. In my opinion, materialism is coherent. I just see no reason to think that it’s true.
3. It’s unclear what Stan takes to be the problem with “Philosophical Materialism” and morality. Let’s start with moral ontology. Perhaps he wants to argue that materialism is logically incompatible with some thesis about the ontological status of moral properties. But that seems much too strong a claim. Materialism entails that if moral properties exist, then some version of ethical naturalism is true. Ethical naturalism is the hypothesis that moral properties are either identical with (or constituted by) material properties. In reply, Stan could claim that ethical naturalism is false and that either ethical non-naturalism or ethical supernaturalism is true. But he would then need to produce an argument for that claim.
4. Let’s turn to moral epistemology. Perhaps he wants to argue that there is some sort of tension between materialism and moral epistemology. But, again, it’s unclear what his argument is. Materialism as such tells us nothing about moral epistemology.

bookmark_borderHysterical Homophobe Fred Phelps Dies

I just got the message that the Rev. Fred Phelps has died:
http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/anti-gay-pastor-fred-phelps-sr-dies-84-22986518#.UysiKRZcHhI.email
Phelps and his congregation became infamous by picketing funerals for those killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan with signs reading “Thank God for IED’s (Improvised explosive devices that accounted for many casualties).” Their “reasoning” was that God permitted American soldiers to be killed as punishment for America’s tolerance of gays.
Theological question of the day: Did the Rev. Phelps go to heaven or hell?

bookmark_borderResponse to Prof. Feser’s Response to…etc (Part II)

Ed, this will be a rather truncated response to these points because I will address just the arguments you present here. A fair treatment of your arguments would need to address your article on these topics in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. However, two physical realities—time and space—limit me here.
The question I posed was why we should think that a presumptively fundamental physical reality (quarks and leptons, quantum fields, superstrings, or whatever) needs supernatural support in order to exist. Why isn’t the doctrine of continuous creation merely gratuitous? You reply:

“Now, this [my question] assumes that physical theory gives us an exhaustive description of electrons, quarks, and material reality in general, or at least something near enough to an exhaustive description for present purposes. For only if we make that assumption would the absence from physical theory of a reference to the need for a conserving cause give us any reason to think a material thing doesn’t require one. (Compare: The absence of legs from the Mona Lisa would give us reason to believe that the woman it pictures was legless only if we supposed that the portrait captures everything about her that there was to capture — which, of course, is not the case.)”

The Mona Lisa example is funny but misses the target. We know that women generally have legs, so viewing the Mona Lisa would never tempt us to believe that the woman in the picture had no legs. However, one of the salient issues between your view and mine is precisely whether we have any access at all to the nature of physical reality apart from the natural sciences. In my view physics gives us our only access to the nature of fundamental physical reality. If the “pictures” given by physics are the only representations we have, then, unlike Mona, we have no independent and reliable source of information about the properties of electrons. In that case, all we have to go on are the “pictures” of physics. By analogy, if I were to show you a picture of only one portion of one of those truly weird, unique creatures from the Cambrian-era Burgess Shale you would have no basis for judging whether the remaining portion had legs or not or, if so, how many. We can form no expectations at all on the basis of what we don’t know. Any attempt to do so would be a textbook instance of the argumentum ad ignorantiam.
A more fundamental point is that when I suggest that the notion of continuous creation is gratuitous, the argument is epistemic, not ontological. I take it for granted that it is not within the purview of physics to demonstrate metaphysical truth, e.g. about putative divine activities or the absence thereof. Rather, my point was that, since physical theory does not—cannot—indicate the need for the supernatural underwriting of the natural, why posit it? Why is such a supposition not episemically gratuitous? There may indeed be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our physics, but, without some adequate grounds for positing such things, it is those putative non-physical realities that remain dreams.
You argue however, that physics, in principle, cannot tell us the fundamental nature of things. You quote Bertrand Russell to the effect that fundamental physics can only reveal the “logical structure of events” while leaving us ignorant of the nature of the things that are changing. You continue:

“Now if physics gives us only the mathematical structure of material reality, then not only does it not tell us everything there is to know about material reality, but it implies that there must be more to material reality than what it tells us. For there can be no such thing as structure by itself; there must be something which has the structure.”

First of all, if physics cannot tell us the fundamental nature of things, what can? What other human cognitive enterprise has the impeccable credentials and track record of success that justify our confidence that it will triumph where physics supposedly must fail? Metaphysics? I am sure that I am not the only one to find such a suggestion deeply dubious. I would say that when it comes to knowing the nature of reality, it is physics or nothing.
Russell interpreted quantum mechanics as implying an ontology of events, not things. I think he failed to realize that when we are talking about ex hypothesi fundamental things like elementary particles, the commonsense distinction between things and what they do is blurred. What could an elementary particle be except a bundle of definitive and irreducible properties in virtue of which it has its characteristic powers and liabilities? Elementary particles have no parts, constituents, or internal structure, and such basic kinds have no identity apart from their defining properties. In other words, I think that to say that, e.g. an electron is something WITH a given mass, charge, and spin is less accurate than to say that it is something that IS a given mass, charge, and spin.
We define an electron as:

“One of the elementary particles…with a rest mass of 9.1093897 × 10 -31 Kg, an electric charge of -1.60218925 × 10-19 coulombs and a spin of ½ , which obeys Fermi-Dirac statistics (John Gribbin, Q is for Quantum, Free Press, 1998).”

And this is the exhaustive description of the natural kind “electron.” Therefore, Russell’s claim assumes a distinction between thing and what it does that is not clear when we are talking about ex hypothesi fundamental things, which just are the basic properties in virtue of which they interact the way that they do.
You continue:

“So, physics is of its very nature incomplete. It requires interpretation within a larger metaphysical framework, and absolutely every appeal to “what physics tells us” presupposes such a metaphysical framework, implicitly if not explicitly. This is as true of the appeals made by naturalists and atheists as it is true of the views of Scholastics.”

What metaphysical assumptions does physics make other than the ones necessary to do physics? Physics assumes the existence of an objective, external world that exhibits sufficient stability, regularity, and simplicity to be knowable. What else? Physics makes such minimal heuristic assumptions, and its very success justifies those assumptions. Does physics require—though physicists clearly seem oblivious to the purported fact—concepts like “prime matter” or “substantial form?” All I can say here is that I—and I imagine the vast majority of physicists—would find such a claim implausible in the extreme, and we would place a very heavy burden of proof on anyone claiming that physics does require such concepts. (Ed: when I—someday—get the time to review in detail your admirable book Scholastic Metaphysics I hope to say a great deal more).
To sum up (BTW, I am unabashedly fudging by not counting quoted material towards my 1000 word limit): Even if physics is incomplete, this does not show that physical reality is. Even if physics does not, or cannot, tell us the true nature of things, this conclusion does not establish that physical things need supernatural help to exist. To argue from the (alleged) incompetence of physics to discover the whole of reality to the probable or even plausible existence of non-physical realities (like continuous creation) is a clear argumentum ad ignorantiam. Such a claim rises and falls completely with the details of Scholastic metaphysics and is indeed gratuitous outside of that context.