A question for Nick

I’m glad to see that Nick shows no signs of being a hit-and-run commenter, nor is he here to harass us with mere thoughtless trollery. He is engaging in real issues, he’s giving forthright answers, and when he speaks he does so with care and thoughtfulness. His tone may strike some as, shall we say, disrespectful, but in my opinion he is absolutely and 100% entitled to it, and he is welcome to continue. We will gain his respect only when and if we earn it.

In the interests of focusing on the heart of the issue rather than on tangents, let me begin by conceding that Nick has read more books on the subject of the ontology of good, Thomist philosophy, and so on, than I have. He has recommended Budziszewski, so I will give him a go. (Nick, would Written on the Heart be a reasonable starting place? When you have kids in college, the $10 book has certain attractions over the $70 hard cover, which is what Amazon is charging for The Line Through the Heart.)

Meanwhile, I do have an on-topic question for Nick, which might open up some common ground for fruitful discussion.

My question concerns the validation of academic inquiry, with a special emphasis on the needs of the layman. Academia, the land of intellectuals and scholars, is a rather diverse landscape. It gives us cosmology and particle physics, and it also gives us postmodernism. It has its triumphs and its failures, its breakthroughs and its fads, its wisdom and its foolishness. For many people, it’s almost a cabal—we don’t know what they’re doing, and if we try to get involved, we find the discussion wrapped in an almost impenetrable layer of technical jargon, inside references, and non-obvious assumptions. Are they giving us the next big Answer, or is this just another postmodernism in the making?

That’s not my question for Nick, but I’m leading up to it. The point is that having a lot of publications and citations and academic popularity is no guarantee that your conclusions have meaning and value outside the ivory tower. If there were a major academic discipline dealing with, say, the philosophy of aerodynamics, then we could get some idea if the leading figures in the movement were correct by having them design a flying machine. If it just sits on the runway waggling “perfect” appendages until it finally tips over and bursts into flame, then it’s probably safe to conclude that the philosophers behind it had fallen into the uniquely academic trap of being brilliantly persuasive rather than brilliantly accurate.

That only works for disciplines that have a tangible output, however. Where a discipline is concerned entirely with intangibles and metaphysics, there’s a substantially increased risk of proceeding on the basis of conclusions that have been verified only by consensus rather than by objective measurement against a real-world standard of truth. The popularity of a given philosophy, and the eloquence with which it is defended and explained, are not in themselves any guarantee of real-world accuracy. Indeed, in the absence of an “experimental metaphysics” branch of philosophy, there is a substantially increased risk that one’s conclusions will owe more to rhetorical strengths than to actual fact—that the silver tongue will outweigh the gold standard.

Nevertheless, there are criteria that can be used to at least weed out those conclusions which are flawed by logical fallacies, self-contradictions, or substantial inconsistencies relative to real-world facts. And this, finally, is where I arrive at my point.

My question is this. If Thomistic philosophy is successfully representing real-world truth, I would expect it’s “tangible,” flying-machine-on-the-runway product to be a description of real-world morality that was coherent, consistent, and logically valid. In Mere Christianity, however, C. S. Lewis did not present a logically valid description. For example, in Chapter 1, he writes,

The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the laws of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law — with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Nature or to disobey it.

Wherever there is talk of disobedience, you are necessarily assuming the existence of two Observer/Participants, each of whom has intentions about how the principal Participant “ought” to behave. The disobedience consists of a difference between the behavior as practiced by the principal Participant, and the behavior as intended by the second Participant. This is in Chapter 1, mind you—the starting point of his argument for Moral Law.

In the absence of intention, there can be no “disobeyable” laws, because there is no intent that you should behave in any particular way. The only laws that exist apart from intention are laws that describe real constraints on what can and cannot occur. Such laws cannot be disobeyed, because they describe what can and cannot happen, and if anything happens contrary to such a law, it merely proves that the law is not an accurate description of what can and cannot happen, and thus is not a genuine law.

By asserting the existence of a disobeyable Law, therefore, Lewis is implicitly assuming, in his premise, the existence of the intentional law-giver that is the goal of his conclusion. In fact, we might even accuse him of naive animism—accounting for observed real-world phenomena by arbitrarily attributing them to invisible intelligent agents. By incorporating the assumption of an independent Observer/Participant into his definition of “law,” he biases the fundamental vocabulary of the discussion, and makes it difficult or impossible to argue the case, using his terms, without being led inevitably to the predetermined conclusion.

Granted, I don’t think that’s entirely Lewis’ fault. It’s easy to accidentally incorporate an assumed Observer into your basic terminology. Take the concept of “imperfection” for instance. Everything is a “perfect” instance of itself; things are “imperfect” only to the extent that they differ from what some Observer thinks they ought to be. To define “perfection” is to assume the existence of a Person with intentions regarding which characteristics and behaviors are “right” for some particular thing.

But I digress. My main question is about Mere Christianity, and about Lewis’ apparent failure to produce a logically valid introduction to Thomistic thought. A sound and correct philosophical foundation should have made it easier for Lewis to produce a coherent and non-fallacious summary, albeit a potentially incomplete one. How then do you account for this discrepancy, and given this problem why should we, as laymen, conclude that Lewis’ Thomistic philosophies are anything more than just another fad, like postmodernism?

Thanks.

 
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Posted in Atheistic Morality, Realism. 29 Comments »

29 Responses to “A question for Nick”

  1. g Says:

    A couple of quibbles (I largely agree with what you say, not that there’s any reason why you should care). (1) Being brilliantly persuasive rather than brilliantly accurate is hardly a uniquely academic trap! Leaving aside the brilliance, it’s standard operating procedure for politicians, and extremely common in just about every walk of life. (2) You have “principle Participant” twice where you presumably mean “principal Participant”.

  2. Hunt Says:

    I read MC several years ago, before I knew much about any of this stuff (or, let us say, less than I do now) and even then I had the feeling that something was wrong, even though I didn’t know the formal name of what I was sensing. It was “Question Begging.”

    I also appreciate Nick’s participation. As you say, he’s a little snarky, but no more than usual, and he gives good answer, from his point of view.

  3. pboyfloyd Says:

    I, for one, would love to hear Nick’s reply to this. But I think that Nick, and recently Sarah, are hit-and-run artistes, Sarah with her, “..you have your conclusion and fit what Lewis says to that.”(not an actual quote), and Nick’s, “You’re not doing Lewis ‘real’ worldview justice!”(again, not necessarilly word-for-word-Nick)

    I hate to even think that I’m giving the impression that I’m defending you DD, because I know that there is absolutely no need for me to do that.

    I just honestly thought that Nick is wrong to ‘trash’ your criticism of Mere Christianity for the reason he gave. i.e. that you are ‘debunking’ a ‘shadow’ of C.S.Lewis’ entire worldview.

    I’m sure that you’d say yourself, “If Lewis’ has(had) anything better, “Bring it!”

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    @g:

    You have “principle Participant” twice where you presumably mean “principal Participant”.

    Doh, I had a different adjective there and made a last minute edit just before posting. Thanks for catching that.

  5. Nick Says:

    I believe the question, if I’m understanding it rightly, concerns if Lewis is contradicting himself about a law of nature that cannot be broken supposedly and a law of morality that can.

    Also, it concerns why we should believe if it cannot be measured or is not tangible in some way.

    To begin with, note that Lewis says what the idea was. He does not mean that he agrees with it necessarily. In fact, I myself still question whether there really are such things as laws of nature per se. Since I believe in essences, I still think it could just be the way essences act based on what they are, not as if there are laws outside of them that they are conforming to.

    I believe Lewis does this in one of the last chapters of his book where he points to evolution. His mind changed position on this throughout his lifetime, so he could say you do not need to believe it, but you can use it to illustrate a point.

    Lewis is going with the common understanding people have who already believe in goodness and saying “Why do you believe in this thing? Do you not realize you need a basis for it?”

    Also, to ask if it can be measured in a tangible way is to follow the old logical positivism route. No philosopher today defends such a route. The only reason it’s popular now is because of the internet. The internet enables ideas that died long ago to be resurrected to new life to the average layman who is not aware that such ideas have been discarded years ago. (Take the idea that Jesus never existed. It may be treated seriously on the internet, but nowhere in NT scholarship or ancient history is it. It’s laughed at in both places)

    To begin with, Nicholas Rescher deals with the idea that everything needs to be quantified well in his work “The Limits of Science.” While I do believe in degrees of goodness and being and any transcendental, I also realize that it can be difficult to place a number on such things. Rescher gives the example of I.Q. tests. Intelligence is not something that should be quantified in such a way.

    My stance is that I look to see if something is true and that does not mean that which can be quantified. “It is good to love your neighbor.” Can I quantify that? No. That does not mean I cease to believe it. What is being assumed is more of a Cartesian route of looking at the world, something a Thomist like myself despises.

    Realizing we could go on here over and over over the same issues, perhaps we should put the argument of goodness, as I prefer to call it, to the test. I have a place where I do online debates and I would be willing to argue from that perspective. I do not need Lewis’s material to do such, although I could reference. I would be arguing from a Thomistic position. I would contend the existence of objective goodness can be shown and points to a deity of some sort. If DD thinks it does not, then he is free to come and accept my challenge.

    As for the book, yes. That would be a good one, although one could also just go to a library and get a copy.

  6. pboyfloyd Says:

    “The idea was that…a man could choose either to obey the Law of Nature or to disobey it.” – C.S.Lewis

    What do you mean by implying that just ‘cos a person writes that in his book, that he really means that?? Obviously he’s saying that if that’s what floats your boat, that’ cool. Right?

  7. Nick Says:

    pboyfloyd: What do you mean by implying that just ‘cos a person writes that in his book, that he really means that?? Obviously he’s saying that if that’s what floats your boat, that’ cool. Right?

    Reply: Note he’s saying what the idea was. Now it could be Lewis did believe in laws of nature but these are a different type of law however if they are real. These guide objects that have no free-will of their own. For those who do, we have laws that we are to willingly submit to.

  8. pboyfloyd Says:

    Nick, I think you’re reading too much into Lewis’ ‘manner of speaking’ English. That’s just how they phrase things, and this is made more obvious by the fact that he goes on to defend the idea this ‘the Law of Nature'(his term for morality) is guiding us.

    You seem to want to confuse “laws of nature'(gravity, entropy and such) with Lewis’ Law of Nature, here, much like Lewis himself wants to confuse ‘his idea’ with the standard natural laws.

    I was quite happy to make my sarcastic remark summarizing your ‘position’ since I’m not trying to steal DD’s thunder here.

    You seem to be unwilling to accept DD’s criticism that Lewis’ Law of Nature ‘idea’, linking morality to gravity(etc.) just isn’t working.

    You yourself seem to be trying to confuse Lewis’ ‘Law of Nature'(a prescriptive law) with natural laws(descriptive laws) and you are even implying that Lewis didn’t really believe his own basis(as he describes in this book) for morality!

    I summarized the one and only point in your first comment which was on topic. Lewis certainly expects his readers to believe that his ‘Law of Nature'(and his comparison of it to natual laws) is valid, because he goes on to defend it.

  9. Nick Says:

    pboy: Nick, I think you’re reading too much into Lewis’ ‘manner of speaking’ English. That’s just how they phrase things, and this is made more obvious by the fact that he goes on to defend the idea this ‘the Law of Nature’(his term for morality) is guiding us.

    Reply: In other words, no response to trying to put words into my mouth that I never said.

    pboy: You seem to want to confuse “laws of nature’(gravity, entropy and such) with Lewis’ Law of Nature, here, much like Lewis himself wants to confuse ‘his idea’ with the standard natural laws.

    Reply: On the contrary, I made a contrast between the two so there’s no way I could be confusing them. Another fail for reading comprehension.

    Pboy: I was quite happy to make my sarcastic remark summarizing your ‘position’ since I’m not trying to steal DD’s thunder here.

    Reply: Except sarcasm is supposed to be funny and accurate both. Fail on both counts.

    Pboy: You seem to be unwilling to accept DD’s criticism that Lewis’ Law of Nature ‘idea’, linking morality to gravity(etc.) just isn’t working.

    Reply: Yeah. Silly me. I like to believe things based on sound argumentation. Well I’ve laid down the gauntlet for DD to challenge me on this and I haven’t seen a reply.

    pboy: You yourself seem to be trying to confuse Lewis’ ‘Law of Nature’(a prescriptive law) with natural laws(descriptive laws) and you are even implying that Lewis didn’t really believe his own basis(as he describes in this book) for morality!

    Reply: No. I have stated that it could be laws of nature really don’t exist. Lewis is stating what the idea is and he is making a comparison to say “We say nature has these laws. Suppose we have a law above us as well.”

    Pboy: I summarized the one and only point in your first comment which was on topic. Lewis certainly expects his readers to believe that his ‘Law of Nature’(and his comparison of it to natual laws) is valid, because he goes on to defend it.

    Reply: Yes. Lewis wants us to believe there is objective morality. You got that right. Well a stopped watch….

  10. pboyfloyd Says:

    “On the contrary, I made a contrast between the two so there’s no way I could be confusing them. Another fail for reading comprehension.”

    No Nick, I read you fine. I was pointing out that although you know the difference, you confuse the issue by saying that Lewis doesn’t really mean it.

    “He does not mean that he agrees with it necessarily..”

    Yes he does. He goes on to defend his idea and expand on it.

  11. pboyfloyd Says:

    I imagined that we were well past deliberately misunderstanding here, but I’m thinking it’s best to continue as if you mean what you say. Not sure where your notion that people espouse ideas and develop them while not really believing them leaves you. You might just as well say next that your rebuttal of DDs criticism of Lewis’ book is not ‘really’ what YOU ‘really’ think at all, right?

  12. Eneasz Says:

    You know, I started out annoyed by his silly notions, but I’ve come to have a lot of hope for Nick. He’s obviously intelligent and interested. As long as his desire to believe what is true outweighs his desire to believe in a god he will undoubtedly abandon theism. It’ll just be a matter of time. Yay Nick! Let me be the first to welcome you to Reality, even if it’s a bit premature. :)

  13. Hunt Says:

    OT:
    Hey DD, Changing Religions seems to have gone into hiatus. Having second thoughts?

  14. Nick Says:

    Pboy: Yes he does. He goes on to defend his idea and expand on it.

    Reply: Morality? Yes. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s called an analogical argument.

    Pboy: I imagined that we were well past deliberately misunderstanding here, but I’m thinking it’s best to continue as if you mean what you say. Not sure where your notion that people espouse ideas and develop them while not really believing them leaves you. You might just as well say next that your rebuttal of DDs criticism of Lewis’ book is not ‘really’ what YOU ‘really’ think at all, right?

    Reply: No. Lewis is using an idea his readers understand, the laws of nature, and using that to give another idea, a law of morality. He does the same with evolution at the end.

    Is it really that hard to grasp?

  15. Nick Says:

    Eneasz: You know, I started out annoyed by his silly notions, but I’ve come to have a lot of hope for Nick. He’s obviously intelligent and interested. As long as his desire to believe what is true outweighs his desire to believe in a god he will undoubtedly abandon theism. It’ll just be a matter of time. Yay Nick! Let me be the first to welcome you to Reality, even if it’s a bit premature.

    Reply: Translation: I have nothing to answer here so I’ll try to use an emotional tactic.

    Doesn’t work with me. Before I accept a view as reality, it’ll need to answer the question of existence. What is it and how is it explained?

  16. pboyfloyd Says:

    Well, Nick, I believe that we are closer to agreement than I previously thought. Lewis, calling morality, “The Law of Nature”, and likening it to the laws of nature, like gravitation, is tricking his audience.

    If Lewis is making the simple analogy that morality is like a natural law then that is just a bad analogy, natural laws being descriptive, and morality supposedly being a prescriptive law.

    I say ‘supposedly’ because that is what Lewis intends to show us, isn’t it?

    This is bad enough, since Lewis, the great thinker that he is, isn’t likening these two completely different things by accident, no. Lewis goes so far as to call morality, “The Law of Nature.”, further ‘cementing’ these totally different notions in readers’ minds.

    I suppose you’re right in asmuchas many Christians already believe that God has prescribed morality, but it then hardly goes anywhere towards showing what Lewis seems to want to show, which is that that ‘feeling’ is a ‘law’ which, of course needs a ‘lawgiver’.

    Wait a second though, I think that this was Deacon Duncan’s point, the one you are refuting, wasn’t it?

  17. Tony Hoffman Says:

    “My question is this. If Thomistic philosophy is successfully representing real-world truth, I would expect it’s “tangible,” flying-machine-on-the-runway product to be a description of real-world morality that was coherent, consistent, and logically valid.”

    I agree wholeheartedly; I think you are asking the most basic and correct question that a Thomist must face.

    I also think you are having a similar conversation with the same Nick I recently commented with over on “Dangerous Idea.” On that post, Victor Reppert had used the analogy that looking for the supernatural with science was like looking for a $100 bill lost on a beach with a metal detector. In those comments, I tried to get the theists to engage with the question, “If not with a metal detector, then how does one detect the supernatural?” The Nick on that blog and I had a fairly lengthy back and forth, but I could not get him to engage with the question of how one should detect the supernatural.

    I think his positions over there broke down to these:

    – There is no distinction between the supernatural and natural. (I agree with this, but that’s because I don’t believe there is any good evidence for the supernatural, whereas I think a good Thomist first defines something into existence and proceeds from there. I think this approach can be consistent and coherent, but at the expense of being meaningless; it concocts a reality that explains nothing, does not predict, and provides us with nothing to investigate. Anytime I agree, I repeatedly find myself saying, “So what?”)

    – God exists via Aquinas’s five ways, because there are no valid objections to at least one of the 5 ways. (I disagree with this in two parts; one is, I think there are valid objections to each of the 5 ways. Secondly, I think that disagreements about objections are unresolvable – I do not find the pronouncements of my objections as being invalid to be any more convincing than my objections themselves, and I don’t believe there’s any way to break these ties.)

    – One detects things like gods, angels, and demons the same way one detects triangularity. (I think this is a kind of sophistry, but I have to admit that it’s fun to think about.)

    I ultimately found Nick, like the other earnest Thomists I’ve encountered, to be stimulating (partly because the mindset is so oddly different than my own). Unfortunately, I also concluded that he was either dishonest, lazy, or insincere in his comments, and terminated that discussion. I’m curious now if he can prove me wrong in my prior assessment.

    (If anyone’s curious about some of his earlier statements (and the validity of my assessment of his character) and how he approached the issue of the problem of detecting things like gods, demons, and angels, you can see his comments on this thread: http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/10/god-science-and-metal-detectors.html )

  18. Nick Says:

    pboyfloyd: Well, Nick, I believe that we are closer to agreement than I previously thought. Lewis, calling morality, “The Law of Nature”, and likening it to the laws of nature, like gravitation, is tricking his audience.

    Reply: No. It’s called an analogy. No trick.

    pboy: If Lewis is making the simple analogy that morality is like a natural law then that is just a bad analogy, natural laws being descriptive, and morality supposedly being a prescriptive law.

    Reply: You do know analogies are not perfect by nature. Right?

    pboy: I say ‘supposedly’ because that is what Lewis intends to show us, isn’t it?

    Reply: As soon as you say something is like another thing, which is what an analogy does, you also say there are differences.

    Pboy: This is bad enough, since Lewis, the great thinker that he is, isn’t likening these two completely different things by accident, no. Lewis goes so far as to call morality, “The Law of Nature.”, further ‘cementing’ these totally different notions in readers’ minds.

    Reply: An analogy is not saying identical. All it takes is a simple grasp of the English language.

    pboy: I suppose you’re right in asmuchas many Christians already believe that God has prescribed morality, but it then hardly goes anywhere towards showing what Lewis seems to want to show, which is that that ‘feeling’ is a ‘law’ which, of course needs a ‘lawgiver’.

    Reply: Depends on what you mean by prescribed. If you mean divine command theory, I don’t agree. I base morality on the ontology of goodness. Also, I do not think the feeling is an adequate basis, though Lewis points to that since that is where most people start. Feelings are a terrible basis for morality.

    Pboy:Wait a second though, I think that this was Deacon Duncan’s point, the one you are refuting, wasn’t it?

    Reply: No, but I notice DD isn’t replying to my challenge that he can face me on TheologyWeb.

  19. Nick Says:

    Tony: “My question is this. If Thomistic philosophy is successfully representing real-world truth, I would expect it’s “tangible,” flying-machine-on-the-runway product to be a description of real-world morality that was coherent, consistent, and logically valid.”

    Reply: It wouldn’t be tangible in the sense that you can immediately see it with the five senses, but it would be such that it would have internal consistentency, based on solid metaphysics, and is able to be lived out.

    Tony: I agree wholeheartedly; I think you are asking the most basic and correct question that a Thomist must face.

    Reply: I might take this more seriously if you show me you have a clue on Thomism.

    Tony: I also think you are having a similar conversation with the same Nick I recently commented with over on “Dangerous Idea.” On that post, Victor Reppert had used the analogy that looking for the supernatural with science was like looking for a $100 bill lost on a beach with a metal detector. In those comments, I tried to get the theists to engage with the question, “If not with a metal detector, then how does one detect the supernatural?” The Nick on that blog and I had a fairly lengthy back and forth, but I could not get him to engage with the question of how one should detect the supernatural.

    I think his positions over there broke down to these:

    – There is no distinction between the supernatural and natural. (I agree with this, but that’s because I don’t believe there is any good evidence for the supernatural, whereas I think a good Thomist first defines something into existence and proceeds from there.

    Reply: More at the end, but a good Thomist does NOT do this. That is the ontological argument. We infer from what we can immediately detect to what we cannot. That is how science also operates with speaking of particles no one has ever seen.

    Tony: I think this approach can be consistent and coherent, but at the expense of being meaningless; it concocts a reality that explains nothing, does not predict, and provides us with nothing to investigate. Anytime I agree, I repeatedly find myself saying, “So what?”)

    Reply: You have shown me no evidence you have any clue on a Thomistic epistemology.

    Tony: – God exists via Aquinas’s five ways, because there are no valid objections to at least one of the 5 ways. (I disagree with this in two parts; one is, I think there are valid objections to each of the 5 ways.

    Reply: Your ones to the first way were quite simply wrong and based on a misunderstanding. I offered to go over them with you more, but you weren’t interested.

    Tony: Secondly, I think that disagreements about objections are unresolvable – I do not find the pronouncements of my objections as being invalid to be any more convincing than my objections themselves, and I don’t believe there’s any way to break these ties.)

    Reply: Sure there is. You study the argument. You hadn’t done so. In fact, the mistakes you made were the ones that are made the most often as they’re based on a Cartesian understanding of the world which goes against A-T metaphysics.

    Tony: – One detects things like gods, angels, and demons the same way one detects triangularity. (I think this is a kind of sophistry, but I have to admit that it’s fun to think about.)

    Reply: You can say it is, but you need to show it.

    Tony: I ultimately found Nick, like the other earnest Thomists I’ve encountered, to be stimulating (partly because the mindset is so oddly different than my own). Unfortunately, I also concluded that he was either dishonest, lazy, or insincere in his comments, and terminated that discussion. I’m curious now if he can prove me wrong in my prior assessment.

    (If anyone’s curious about some of his earlier statements (and the validity of my assessment of his character) and how he approached the issue of the problem of detecting things like gods, demons, and angels, you can see his comments on this thread: http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/10/god-science-and-metal-detectors.html )

    Let me start with the first comment I made:

    I said the following:

    As for natural/supernatural, I don’t really buy the distinction. There is simply existence and some existence is material in nature and some is not.

    Now you construe that to fit into your worldview. That’s a wrong way to approach it. You need to approach it as how I see it from my worldview as that is the one you are arguing against. You need to see the world as a Thomist does and then if you think we’re wrong, show we are. I believe in beings you call supernatural, but I don’t accept the terminology.

    You asked again and I said the following:

    First off, I don’t accept the natural/supernatural distinction and so I have no reason to answer a question where I consider the premises to be invalid. I just say there are different degrees of existence and how one exists.

    This is entirely valid from my point of view. If I do not accept the distinction, why should I be forced to answer a question with a premise I don’t accept? By saying “This is how I detect the supernatural” I automatically accept your categories of thought which I don’t.

    You state the following:

    It’s going to be even harder if you continue to refuse to offer your definition of the supernatural. You can’t criticize one side of an argument for a failing yours shares.

    But I didn’t state a definition because such a concept I do not accept. Not all Thomists would be the same however. I know some who would and I consider that a category error.

    You asked if by not accepting the distinction if I was a naturalist. I said no because I accept the existence of beings that are not purely material in nature.

    You want to make references from natural to non-natural. This doesn’t make sense to me. What am I to consider of triangularity for instance? Is that natural or non-natural? By what criteria? The same method I use to detect triangularity is ultimately the one I use to detect God and angels eventually. The arguments however are a lot more sophisticated and go into the five ways.

    This is in fact what I said later on:

    They are different as to the kind of existence they have, but they do have existence, although God has it in a far different way. How do I get to them? The same way I get to triangularity and catness and other forms. It’s just a longer road. Aquinas does it in each of the five ways, though if you want to discuss one, I’d do it one at a time and actually start with the first.

    When you later say we’re discussing the supernatural I reply:

    Remember, when you say “supernatural” and “natural” I say “I don’t accept the dichotomy.” As far as I’m concerned, we’re discussing existence and how we know the world and all existent things.

    Then we come to the question about the dollar bill. Note I am very careful about how I process things. When I say you never asked about the dollar bill, it’s because I never saw you ask. I do not see the analogy in fact anyway. It’s based on a faulty statement by Loftus. My stance has never been to assume that it exists. The same with God. I do not assume. I argue. I pointed out your misunderstanding of the first way. (I’m about to go after “The Amazing Atheist” for his hideous misunderstanding. I think yours was bad, but his is so bad it’s not even worthy of being called wrong.”) I was ready to go into it further. I can understand how some make such mistakes who are not familiar with A-T thought. Your only reply then was to call me a liar. That is a serious charge.

    If you want to go on, fine. If it’s easier, you can come see me on TheologyWeb under the Deeper Waters section. Let me know and I will create a thread just for you to discuss the First Way.

  20. Tony Hoffman Says:

    “You need to approach it as how I see it from my worldview as that is the one you are arguing against. You need to see the world as a Thomist does and then if you think we’re wrong, show we are. I believe in beings you call supernatural, but I don’t accept the terminology.”

    Yeah, I think you misunderstand my most basic objection.

    In fact, I find your position to be coherent. But I think it is also practically meaningless. I don’t think it’s possible to show your position to be wrong, per se. Just ad hoc, and meaningless. Your position fails to interest me not because it is obviously wrong, but because it appears obviously irrelevant.

    You accept that gods and angels and demons exist. But this makes me yawn, in the same way that crazy people saying they know aliens exist makes me yawn. So my question to you is the same as it is to them – so what? How is your claim meaningful?

    I am not interested in Thomism until you show me how it is the things you assert exist are meaningful, in the same way that you should not be not interested in my argument that invisible unicorns exist who control all human events so as to disguise their existence.

    So, please, how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

  21. pboyfloyd Says:

    Nick, I said, “…many Christians already believe that God has prescribed morality,”

    To which you replied, “Depends on what you mean by prescribed.”

    No it doesn’t.

    Lewis:- “The idea was that, ..the creature called man also had his law — but a man could choose either to obey the Law of Nature or to disobey it.”

    The objection is that this prescriptive law implies a law-maker, like all prescriptive laws.

    Your rebuttal to this objection is that Lewis himself didn’t believe it, but that is neither here nor there. Lewis himself is USING this analogy to point us to a mysterious law maker which is already implied IN a ‘morality-as-law’ analogy.

    Lewis takes the trouble to hide THAT the analogy is ‘morality-as-law'(prescriptive law needing law-giver) by claiming that morality is a natural law like gravitation(not as you would have it that morality is LIKE as natural law), as goes even further by claiming that it is ‘The Natural Law’ for mankind.

    You saying that Lewis doesn’t really believe it doesn’t somehow count against Deacon Duncan calling Lewis on it.

  22. Nick Says:

    Tony: Yeah, I think you misunderstand my most basic objection.

    In fact, I find your position to be coherent. But I think it is also practically meaningless. I don’t think it’s possible to show your position to be wrong, per se. Just ad hoc, and meaningless. Your position fails to interest me not because it is obviously wrong, but because it appears obviously irrelevant.

    Reply: Actually, it’s possible to be shown by philosophical argumentation. You can show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God for instance.

    Tony: You accept that gods and angels and demons exist. But this makes me yawn, in the same way that crazy people saying they know aliens exist makes me yawn. So my question to you is the same as it is to them – so what? How is your claim meaningful?

    Reply: The existence of God gives an ontological basis for reality. I find this odd for someone who seems to come from a more scientific mindset. Isn’t it all about knowing truth for the sake of truth?

    Tony: I am not interested in Thomism until you show me how it is the things you assert exist are meaningful, in the same way that you should not be not interested in my argument that invisible unicorns exist who control all human events so as to disguise their existence.

    Reply: Why not? If it’s truth, I would want to know it.

    Tony: So, please, how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Reply: So it doesn’t matter if they exist or not first off. Interesting.

  23. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Nick: Actually, [incoherence is] possible to be shown by philosophical argumentation. You can show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God for instance.

    I know. But what with Thomism being a fairly well-developed philosophy, and my not caring much for philosophical debates that are meaningless, that seems like a fool’s errand.

    You have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Nick: “Reply: The existence of God gives an ontological basis for reality. I find this odd for someone who seems to come from a more scientific mindset. Isn’t it all about knowing truth for the sake of truth?”

    I believe a scientific mindset includes the pursuit of explanations.
    A scientific mindset asks that explanations be meaningful.

    You have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Nick: “Why not [be interested in the theory that invisible unicorns control all human events so as to disguise their existence]? If it’s truth, I would want to know it.

    Because as I define the theory of invisible unicorns that control all human events so as to disguise their existence the theory is ad hoc and meaningless.

    You have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Nick: “Reply: So it doesn’t matter if they exist or not first off. Interesting.”

    I would say that this conversation is the opposite of interesting.
    And do you want to know why? You still have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

  24. Nick Says:

    Tony: I know. But what with Thomism being a fairly well-developed philosophy, and my not caring much for philosophical debates that are meaningless, that seems like a fool’s errand.

    Reply: Sure, if what you are interested in is not truth but rather a pragmatic approach to reality. As for me, I simply prefer to live in reality as it is.

    Tony: You have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Reply: And meaningful meaning what? Is it what difference it makes? If so, that is a secondary question and it is always best to answer primary questions before secondary questions. You could tell me what you might want to do if you find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I find it more important to know if there really is one first.

    Tony: I believe a scientific mindset includes the pursuit of explanations.
    A scientific mindset asks that explanations be meaningful.

    Reply: No. It asks that they be true. Also, science pursues explanations in relation to its own body of knowledge. Physics seeks explanations for matter in motion and how it interacts. For final causality questions, you need philosophy.

    Tony: You have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Reply: See above.

    Tony: Because as I define the theory of invisible unicorns that control all human events so as to disguise their existence the theory is ad hoc and meaningless.

    Reply: I see you like to change what I say. You should surely know an invisible unicorn makes no sense in a Thomistic understanding as being the supreme being.

    Tony: I would say that this conversation is the opposite of interesting.
    And do you want to know why? You still have not answered my question: how is your claim that gods and angels and demons exist meaningful?

    Reply: I agree. It is uninteresting when one person is interested in truth and one person doesn’t care about truth.

  25. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Nick: “And meaningful meaning what? Is it what difference it makes? If so, that is a secondary question and it is always best to answer primary questions before secondary questions. You could tell me what you might want to do if you find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I find it more important to know if there really is one first.”

    Wow, that seems like an incredibly faulty epistemology you are asserting, and one that you could not possibly practice. There are an infinite number of questions that could be true. We pursue not every possible question that could be true, but ones that could also be meaningful.

    And still worse, you have avoided, for the umpteenth time, the question I have been asking for two threads now. At this point I think that dodging is not too strong a term.

    Me: “I believe a scientific mindset includes the pursuit of explanations.?A scientific mindset asks that explanations be meaningful.”
    Nick: “No.”

    So, a scientific mindset doesn’t include the pursuit of meaningful explanations? That assertion needs some kind of demonstration, I think.

    Nick: “[A scientific mindset] asks that [explanations] be true. Also, science pursues explanations in relation to its own body of knowledge. Physics seeks explanations for matter in motion and how it interacts.”

    Yup. That’s really not correcting what I said prior, though, is it?

    Nick: “For final causality questions, you need philosophy.”

    And this is another way of repeating yourself while avoiding my central question.

    Me: “Because as I define the theory of invisible unicorns that control all human events so as to disguise their existence the theory is ad hoc and meaningless.”
    Nick: “I see you like to change what I say.”

    How have I changed what you say when I am speaking on my behalf?

    Nick: “You should surely know an invisible unicorn makes no sense in a Thomistic understanding as being the supreme being.”

    Ironically, you then go on to straw man my position immediately after accusing me of changing what you say. Have you heard of psychological projection?

    Among other things, I didn’t say that invisible unicorns are the supreme being. Show me where I did.

    But please don’t use a supreme being as an excuse. You also assert that angels exist, and they are not the supreme being either. I don’t think my analogy, and its relation to my central question, should be this hard for you to follow.

    Nick: “I agree [that this conversation is uninteresting]. It is uninteresting when one person is interested in truth and one person doesn’t care about truth.”

    You seem to be making excuses (and transplanting blame) for your inability to answer my central question.

    I must now construe your inability to answer my central question to mean that you have no answer to it. I truly wish you could demonstrate to me otherwise, as then I might actually learn something I don’t already know. As it stands now, though, you are one more brick in the wall for my prediction that I will be in for a long, dull, and fruitless discourse with someone when they proudly assert that my beliefs are wrong because they are Thomists.

  26. Nick Says:

    Tony: Wow, that seems like an incredibly faulty epistemology you are asserting, and one that you could not possibly practice. There are an infinite number of questions that could be true. We pursue not every possible question that could be true, but ones that could also be meaningful.

    Reply: No. It’s not a faulty epistemology. My epistemology begins with finding something I know to be true and then asking how I know it to be true. As for the question being meaningful, I want to ask if the claim is true first before asking if it’s meaningful.

    Tony: And still worse, you have avoided, for the umpteenth time, the question I have been asking for two threads now. At this point I think that dodging is not too strong a term.

    Reply: No. I just prefer answering the question of truth before that of application.

    Tony: So, a scientific mindset doesn’t include the pursuit of meaningful explanations? That assertion needs some kind of demonstration, I think.

    Reply: Do an experiment to determine if water freezes at 32 F. Then say “Well is it meaningful?” The matter doesn’t care if it’s meaningful. It just is. Science tells you the truth of whether matter performs in this way. Philosophy tells you the final cause of why it does.

    Tony: Yup. That’s really not correcting what I said prior, though, is it?

    Reply: I’m still wondering what you’re even thinking. To me, the claim of asking that science be meaningful is nonsensical.

    Tony: And this is another way of repeating yourself while avoiding my central question.

    Reply: See above. Truth first. Application second. I see the question of meaning as a way of avoiding the question of truth.

    Tony: How have I changed what you say when I am speaking on my behalf?

    Reply: Because you attributed it to me.

    Tony: Ironically, you then go on to straw man my position immediately after accusing me of changing what you say. Have you heard of psychological projection?

    Reply: No. You made a straw man comparing God to an invisible unicorn. I pointed out that this is fallacious in a Thomistic understanding.

    Tony: Among other things, I didn’t say that invisible unicorns are the supreme being. Show me where I did.

    Reply: Yes. You only were making an analogy. The analogy was surely in no way to refer to God. Wow. Talk about back-pedaling.

    Tony: But please don’t use a supreme being as an excuse. You also assert that angels exist, and they are not the supreme being either. I don’t think my analogy, and its relation to my central question, should be this hard for you to follow.

    Reply: Not at all hard to follow. My only claim at this point is about God and not about angels. Angels are secondary. I don’t base my worldview on angels.

    Tony: You seem to be making excuses (and transplanting blame) for your inability to answer my central question.

    Nick: Nope. You give a challenge. I answer that challenge in order of priorities. Right now, I don’t give a darn about what difference God’s existence makes to you. I care about if it’s true.

    Tony: I must now construe your inability to answer my central question to mean that you have no answer to it. I truly wish you could demonstrate to me otherwise, as then I might actually learn something I don’t already know. As it stands now, though, you are one more brick in the wall for my prediction that I will be in for a long, dull, and fruitless discourse with someone when they proudly assert that my beliefs are wrong because they are Thomists.

    Reply: I say your position on God’s existence is the problem and again, I settle that first.

  27. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Nick: “No. It’s not a faulty epistemology. My epistemology begins with finding something I know to be true and then asking how I know it to be true. As for the question being meaningful, I want to ask if the claim is true first before asking if it’s meaningful.”
    Right-o. Got that one. Do you understand that, arguendo, I am accepting the existence of your things? Your turn – how is their existence meaningful?
    Me: “And still worse, you have avoided, for the umpteenth time, the question I have been asking for two threads now. At this point I think that dodging is not too strong a term.”
    Nick: No [I am not dodging your question of how it is that the existence of God and angels is meaningful]. I just prefer answering the question of truth before that of application.
    You are daft, then. It appears that you do not understand a simple question.
    Me: “So, a scientific mindset doesn’t include the pursuit of meaningful explanations? That assertion needs some kind of demonstration, I think.”
    Nick: “Do an experiment to determine if water freezes at 32 F. Then say “Well is it meaningful?” The matter doesn’t care if it’s meaningful. It just is. Science tells you the truth of whether matter performs in this way. Philosophy tells you the final cause of why it does.”
    No. You have asserted that science does not include the pursuit of meaningful explanations. Stand by your assertions, don’t flee them with some diversionary trope about philosophy.
    Me: “Yup. That’s really not correcting what I said prior, though, is it?”
    Nick: “I’m still wondering what you’re even thinking. To me, the claim of asking that science be meaningful is nonsensical.”
    Like I have been saying, you are either lazy, insincere, or a liar. I have linked previously to a set of criteria of what I think constitutes a good explanation. If you won’t bother to read or engage, I can’t make you.
    Me: “And this is another way of repeating yourself while avoiding my central question.”
    Nick: “See above. Truth first. Application second. I see the question of meaning as a way of avoiding the question of truth.”
    Okay. I see your line of responses as a way of avoiding a simple question. I don’t’ think this speaks well of you, or your philosophy. What kind of philosopher dodges the simplest question?
    Me: “How have I changed what you say when I am speaking on my behalf?”
    Nick: “Because you attributed it to me.”
    WTF? I wrote, ““Because as I define the theory of invisible unicorns that control all human events so as to disguise their existence the theory is ad hoc and meaningless.” HOW DID I ATTRIBUTE THAT TO YOU? Answer this question. And I don’t mean write a response – I mean, explain yourself.
    Me: “Ironically, you then go on to straw man my position immediately after accusing me of changing what you say. Have you heard of psychological projection?”
    Reply: “No. You made a straw man comparing God to an invisible unicorn. I pointed out that this is fallacious in a Thomistic understanding.”
    How is it a straw man to compare something that does not show up in real life with something that does not show up in real life? I agree that one has a beard and stuff, and the other has a horn and whinnies, but no analogy is perfect.
    Me: “Among other things, I didn’t say that invisible unicorns are the supreme being. Show me where I did.”
    Reply: “Yes. You only were making an analogy. The analogy was surely in no way to refer to God. Wow. Talk about back-pedaling.”
    Hysterical. You can’t show me any reference where I say that invisible unicorns are the supreme being, so you accuse me of back-pedaling. You’ve really got nothing?
    Me: “But please don’t use a supreme being as an excuse. You also assert that angels exist, and they are not the supreme being either. I don’t think my analogy, and its relation to my central question, should be this hard for you to follow.”
    Nick: “Not at all hard to follow. My only claim at this point is about God and not about angels. Angels are secondary. I don’t base my worldview on angels.”
    That’s such a relief, seeing as how you’ve said nothing. I should be writing all this done, what you say, I know.
    Me: “You seem to be making excuses (and transplanting blame) for your inability to answer my central question.”
    Nick: “Nope. You give a challenge. I answer that challenge in order of priorities. Right now, I don’t give a darn about what difference God’s existence makes to you. I care about if it’s true.”
    And how have you answered the challenge of explaining how it is that God and angels existence is meaningful? Really, I’ve been paying some attention (although I think I’m going to be paying WAY less pretty soon), and I missed this resounding answer you speak of.
    Me: “I must now construe your inability to answer my central question to mean that you have no answer to it. I truly wish you could demonstrate to me otherwise, as then I might actually learn something I don’t already know. As it stands now, though, you are one more brick in the wall for my prediction that I will be in for a long, dull, and fruitless discourse with someone when they proudly assert that my beliefs are wrong because they are Thomists.”
    Reply: “I say your position on God’s existence is the problem and again, I settle that first.”
    Oh, yeah. You’ve put that one to rest, for s

  28. Tony Hoffman Says:

    Nick (Earlier): “Then there are immaterial realities that can be known through matter eventually but are not dependent on matter in any way for their being actualized, like angels and God.”

    Nick: (Later): “My only claim at this point is about God and not about angels. Angels are secondary.”

    Nick: “Yes. You only were making an analogy. The analogy was surely in no way to refer to God. Wow. Talk about back-pedaling.”

    Yes. Talk about back-pedaling, indeed.

  29. Arthur Says:

    At least we all agree that Mere Christianity does not provide a compelling argument for the faith. We might even all agree that the book is really intended for people who are already Christians of one sort or another.