Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Medieval SF

This was a post originally appearing on the Auld Blogge lo! these many years ago. I had thought it reposted here, but I cannot find it and so I am doing so now. 

ET in the Middle Ages

It has long been held that the medievals would have been terrified of aliens, regarded them as "demons," and otherwise persecuted them in their religious ignorance and fanaticism, while we wise moderns would recognize them as intelligent and equivalent to humans, deserving of the same consideration as humans. The latter is a self-flattering mythos, but likely no more true than the former.

For illumination, we might turn to the well-known SF novel, Eifelheim, but this too may be regarded as self-flattering. Besides, I have it on good authority that the author made it all up; so it can be seen as begging the question.

So let us turn to the story of Ratramus and the Dog-Heads (h/t James Hannam)

In his Encyclopedia, Pliny quotes from Megasthenes’ Indica regarding alien creatures living in India:
Megasthenes writes that on different mountains in India there are tribes of men with dog shaped heads, armed with claws, clothed with skins, who speak not in the accents of human language, but only bark and have fierce grinning jaws.....Those who live near the source of the Ganges, requiring nothing in the shape of food, subsist on the odour of wild apples, and when they go on a long journey, they carry these with them for safety of their life by inhaling their perfume..Should they inhale air, death is inevitable
The Dog-Heads were not the only aliens the medievals believed in. There were also the Monopods, the cyclops, the centaurs, men with eyes in their torsos, full hermpaphrodites, and so on.

A Greek physician named Ctesias wrote:
‘In the mountains dwell men who have the head of a dog; they wear skins of wild beasts as clothing, and they speak no language, but bark like dogs, and in this way understand one another’s speech. They have teeth bigger than a dog’s...they understand the speech of the Indians, but cannot respond to them; instead they bark and signal with their hands and fingers, as do mutes’.

‘All of them, men and women, have a tail above their hips, like a dog’s except bigger and smoother. They have intercourse with their wives on all fours like dogs, and consider any other form of intercourse to be shameful. They are just, and the longest lived of any human race; for they get to be 160, sometimes 200 years of age’.
The existence of alien beings became popular in the medieval period. Sometimes they were used to frighten people (a la The Blob or Earth Versus the Flying Saucers) and sometimes they were used to illustrate virtues (ET: The Extraterrestrial) or vices (the Ferengi in ST:The Next Generation). According to a Welsh poem, King Arthur fought with the creatures:
‘On the mountain of Edinburgh; He fought with dog-heads; By the Hundred they fell’
The story of St Christopher from Ireland describes him thusly::
St. Christopher the Dog-head
‘Now this Christopher was one of the Dogheads, a race that had the heads of dogs and ate human flesh. He meditated much on God, but at that time he could speak only the language of the Dogheads. When he saw how much the Christians suffered he was indignant and left the city. He began to adore God and prayed. "Almighty God," he said, "give me the gift of speech, open my mouth, and make plain thy might that those who persecute thy people may be converted". An angel of God came to him and said: "God has heard your prayer."The angel raised Christopher from the ground, and struck and blew upon his mouth, and the grace of eloquence was given him as he had desired.’
St Christopher was baptized and abjured his erstwhile human-eating. As a result he gained human appearance before getting martyred.  Pay attention to that last: As a result of baptism, he "gained human appearance."

A 9th century churchman called Rimbert - later archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen – was planning to leave on a missionary journey to the northern reaches of Scandinavia. To prepare for his journey he wrote to Ratramnus, a monk of Corbie in Picardy, asking for information regarding the dog-heads, whom he thought he might encounter. According to a dossier Rimbert had put together, the dog-heads lived in villages, practised agriculture and domesticated animals. In response Ratramnus wrote his Epistola de Cynocephalis addressing the question of whether the dog-heads were "worthy of evangelism." The issue hinged on whether the mysterious creatures could be considered rational. (You may recall that in Eifelheim, Dietrich has a similar conversation with his old teacher Willi, a canon of Freiburg. If you don't recall this, that means you have not read the book, and you should rectify this error immediately and without hesitation.)

Ratramnus begins by describing the Dog-Heads' manner of speaking:
the form of their heads and their canine barking shows that they are similar not to humans but to animals. In fact, the heads of humans are on top and round in order for them to see the heavens, while those of dogs are long and drawn out in a snout so that they can look at the ground. And humans speak, while dogs bark.
And yet, "despite their appearance," Rimbert's information clearly depicts them as capable of domesticating animals.

‘I do not see’ wrote Ratramnus, ‘how this could be so if they had an animal and not a rational soul’ since the living things of the earth were subjected to men by heaven, as we know from having read Genesis. But it has never been heard or believed that animals of one kind can by themselves take care of other animals, especially those of a domestic kind, keep them, compel them to submit to their rule, and follow regular routines.

Ratramnus pointed to the way in which the dog-heads ‘keep the rules of society and recognised the rule of law. ‘There cannot be any law, which common assent has not decreed. But such cannot be established or kept without the discipline of morality’. Unlike Ctesias’s dog-heads, Rimbert’s report stated that they covered their genitalia. Ratramnus interpreted this as a sign of decency and these and others attributes convinced him they were human; in any case, St Christopher had once been one and converted. Hence, Ratramnus concluded that the dog-heads were degenerated descendants of Adam, although the Church generally classed them with beasts. They may even receive baptism by being rained upon. Here Ratramnus was following in the footsteps of Augustine of Hippo, who had written that if the monstrous races did exist, they were created according to God’s will and, if they are human and descended from Adam, they must be capable of salvation. This would extend the Church's missionary obligation to the farthest flung parts of the earth and make ‘monstrous missionizing’ a necessary fulfillment of Christ’s charge.

Before we chuckle too much at medieval beliefs, keep in mind that their cosmology impeded their ability to think of these aliens as living on other planets, where we sophisticated moderns imagine our own "dog-heads" to dwell. At least the medievals had "travelers' tales" to fall back on. They could reasonably believe that someone had been "out there" and brought back reports. And they never suffered from the defect of thinking that allowed moderns to seriously debate whether Africans or Amerinds had souls or even (after Darwinism had informed the discourse) whether they were of the same species.
Which brings us back to "St Christopher the Dog-Head." Why was it that no one seemed to be any more outraged that a Dog-Head could be baptized and become a saint than that, say, a Krenk in Eifelheim could be so? The key is that: As a result of baptism, he gained human appearance. Church doctrine was that the soul was the substantive form of the human body. And the soul of a human was defined as a "rational soul," one possessing intellect [abstract reasoning] and will [appetite/desire for abstract concepts]. This is the "human form" or appearance, the "image" in which humans were said to have been made.  Thus, while there was a clear distinction between humans and other animals, this was based on rationality.  Any race of creatures which displayed rationality -- as the Dog-Heads did in keeping a code of laws, showing dominion over other animals, etc. -- would be regarded as the equivalent of human beings.  In consequence, Church teaching has not changed in this regard, as Brother Guy, the Vatican astronomer, points out in this article: Would You Baptize An Extraterrestrial?

The Franciscan friar, John de Marignollis traveled to the Far East in the 1330s and, in the spirit of true medieval empiricism, looked for "the monstrous races the ancients had spoken of." He asked the Indians about the existence of the dog-heads. They answered, ‘we thought they lived where you came from’. (p. 106) books.google.com/books

Alas, like today's aliens from other planets, the Dog-Heads always seem to live "somewhere else."  I did not know the story of "St. Christopher the Dog-Head" or Ratramnus' reply to Rimbert when I wrote the original "Eifelheim," but there is a certain uncanny similarity in the stories. 

Augustine and the Dog-Heads

Augustine discusses the dog-heads, as well as other monstrous races, in The City of God, Book. 16, Chap. 8.  And he writes just as you would expect one of those religious nuts to write:

Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah's Sons.

Medieval Aliens
It is also asked whether we are to believe that certain monstrous races of men, spoken of in secular history, have sprung from Noah's sons, or rather, I should say, from that one man from whom they themselves were descended. For it is reported that some have one eye in the middle of the forehead; some, feet turned backwards from the heel; some, a double sex, the right breast like a man, the left like a woman, and that they alternately beget and bring forth: others are said to have no mouth, and to breathe only through the nostrils; others are but a cubit high, and are therefore called by the Greeks Pigmies: they say that in some places the woman conceive in their fifth year, and do not live beyond their eighth. So, too, they tell of a race who have two feet but only one leg, and are of marvelous swiftness, though they do not bend the knee: they are called Skiopodes, because in the hot weather they lie down on their backs and shade themselves with their feet. Others are said to have no head, and their eyes in their shoulders; and other human or quasi-human races are depicted in mosaic in the harbor esplanade of Carthage, on the faith of histories of rarities. What shall I say of the Cynocephali, whose dog-like head and barking proclaim them beasts rather than men?  But we are not bound to believe all we hear of these monstrosities.  But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.

Too bad the Cartesians began by denying there was such a thing as a single human nature.  We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble wooling over things like skin color. 

Augustine then goes on to give reasons for his statement; viz., that of monstrous births among the known races, including one remarkable fellow that he remembered from his youth: "Some years ago, quite within my own memory, a man was born in the East, double in his upper, but single in his lower half — having two heads, two chests, four hands, but one body and two feet like an ordinary man; and he lived so long that many had an opportunity of seeing him."
The same account which is given of monstrous births in individual cases can be given of monstrous races. For God, the Creator of all, knows where and when each thing ought to be, or to have been created, because He sees the similarities and diversities which can contribute to the beauty of the whole. But He who cannot see the whole is offended by the deformity of the part, because he is blind to that which balances it, and to which it belongs. We know that men are born with more than four fingers on their hands or toes on their feet: this is a smaller matter; but far from us be the folly of supposing that the Creator mistook the number of a man's fingers, though we cannot account for the difference. And so in cases where the divergence from the rule is greater. He whose works no man justly finds fault with, knows what He has done. At Hippo-Diarrhytus there is a man whose hands are crescent-shaped, and have only two fingers each, and his feet similarly formed. If there were a race like him, it would be added to the history of the curious and wonderful. Shall we therefore deny that this man is descended from that one man who was first created? As for the Androgyni, or Hermaphrodites, as they are called, though they are rare, yet from time to time there appears persons of sex so doubtful, that it remains uncertain from which sex they take their name; though it is customary to give them a masculine name, as the more worthy. For no one ever called them Hermaphroditesses. Some years ago, quite within my own memory, a man was born in the East, double in his upper, but single in his lower half — having two heads, two chests, four hands, but one body and two feet like an ordinary man; and he lived so long that many had an opportunity of seeing him. But who could enumerate all the human births that have differed widely from their ascertained parents? As, therefore, no one will deny that these are all descended from that one man, so all the races which are reported to have diverged in bodily appearance from the usual course which nature generally or almost universally preserves, if they are embraced in that definition of man as rational and mortal animals, unquestionably trace their pedigree to that one first father of all. We are supposing these stories about various races who differ from one another and from us to be true; but possibly they are not: for if we were not aware that apes, and monkeys, and sphinxes are not men, but beasts, those historians would possibly describe them as races of men, and flaunt with impunity their false and vainglorious discoveries. But supposing they are men of whom these marvels are recorded, what if God has seen fit to create some races in this way, that we might not suppose that the monstrous births which appear among ourselves are the failures of that wisdom whereby He fashions the human nature, as we speak of the failure of a less perfect workman? Accordingly, it ought not to seem absurd to us, that as in individual races there are monstrous births, so in the whole race there are monstrous races. Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Book 16, Ch. 8
Guy Consolmagno, "Would you baptize an extraterrestrial?
Humphrey Clarke, "Ratramnus and the Dog Heads," (Quodlibeta, August 04, 2009)

62 comments:

  1. TOF: "Pay attention to that last: As a result of baptism, he "gained human appearance." "

    TOF, quoting quotes of the ancients: "They [the Dog-heads] are just, and the longest lived of any human race; for they get to be 160, sometimes 200 years of age’."

    Let me emphasize this: "... of any human race"

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is fun and fascinating! It brings to mind the Irish stories about ships sailing above in the air from the Annals of Ulster, which I became familiar with through a poem by Seamus Heaney (Lightenings viii).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Another story about Medieval Science Fiction would probably be the Green Children of Woolpit.


    This topic also just brings up so many other questions, such as:

    Does rationality mean everyone is a human, or is a non-human rational animal a possibility?

    I also remember Pope Zachary condemning the proposition that there were humans living on the moon because that implied there were human beings that weren't direct descendents of Adam & Eve.

    Which would imply that extraterrestrials do not exist, or at least that there are no parallel universes with humans seperate from our own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or, that there could be rational extra-terrestrials who are not members of a fallen race (as C. S. Lewis imagines in Out of the Silent Planet).

      Delete
    2. Metaphysically, all rational animals are "man". They might not look like us, though.

      Personally I see no need for them to be physical descendants from Adam and Eve; they could "inherit" original sin the way William of Orange "inherited" the kingship of England from people he wasn't related to. "Man" is a title, and original sin is inherited by any creature that succeeds to that title

      Delete
    3. Quote: Metaphysically, all rational animals are "man". They might not look like us, though.


      Doesn't then this imply that pope Zachary's condemnation of the idea that there are other humans out there not directly descendent from Adam also works for aliens?

      That is, are some traditionalists correct in assuming that Pope Zachary's condemnation basically means that there are no aliens?


      Personally I see no need for them to be physical descendants from Adam and Eve; they could "inherit" original sin the way William of Orange "inherited" the kingship of England from people he wasn't related to.


      So this means that Lewisian unfallen aliens (if there are any) don't exist? And that the original sin of one pair of creatures is instantly inherited by all other rational creatures?

      But wasn't original sin a consequence of the first parents disobeying God after being personally given an opportunity for the Beatific Vision? If so, this doesn't seem something that can be forwarded to other creatures, especially considering that it (as far as we know) was offered specifically to one pair of beings rather than all rational creatures at once.

      Or are you instead refering to hypothetical human beings that aren't from descendant from Adam and Eve instead here?


      Delete
    4. The first holder of the title changed what the title meant. Adam altered the nature of "man", that is "rational animal"; after him any animal that became rational would be the fallen, not the unfallen, type. Altering human nature, what it means to be "human" (i.e. to be a rational animal) is the only way Original Sin doesn't mean that we're being punished for sins we didn't commit; and at that point there's no need for physical descent.

      For all we know the first holder of the nature "rational animal"—the First Man—could've been a self-aware chain of silicon molecules on the other side of the universe.

      Delete
    5. My version also doesn't require that the current understanding of human evolution be correct. It actually did look like there was polygenesis of human populations, at one point; it was a severe blow to the traditional understanding of the Fall. In my version it doesn't matter whether all humans share biological descent or not.

      Delete
    6. Original Sin is passed on by propagation."Adam's sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation but by descent.
      Original sin is transmitted by natural generation." That is de fide.

      Delete
    7. But as by formal causation rather than by efficient causation:

      http://www.dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FS/FS081.html#FSQ81A1THEP1

      Delete
    8. One acquires the nature of man by natural generation—because that is how one acquires the species "rational animal", by being conceived and born as a member of a particular physical species of animal (which animal is rational). Nevertheless the marred quality of the nature of that species is not something inherited physically; Original Sin is not a genetic disorder. So it is not impossible, and poses no challenge for the Faith, if there are other rational animals whose last common ancestor with us was the accretion-disk of the Milky Way or the Primal Monobloc of the Big Bang; by virtue of being rational animals, they would partake of the same "human" nature that we do.

      Delete
    9. So it is not impossible, and poses no challenge for the Faith, if there are other rational animals whose last common ancestor with us was the accretion-disk of the Milky Way or the Primal Monobloc of the Big Bang; by virtue of being rational animals, they would partake of the same "human" nature that we do.


      Huh, so unfallen aliens of the Perelandra type are ruled out. Or is there some way we could accomodate both the nature of all rational animals being corrupted and yet there being some rational creatures out there that for whatever reason happen to not be corrupted?


      My version also doesn't require that the current understanding of human evolution be correct. It actually did look like there was polygenesis of human populations, at one point; it was a severe blow to the traditional understanding of the Fall.


      But isn't there another way one could preserve a literal human Adam and Eve ala David Bentley Hart?


      I remember him saying in Doors of the Sea how the Fall of our ancestors, because it also made all of creation including time corrupt, occured in another dimension or another timeline that lies above and beyond our own, or used to be before it became corrupt, so nothing in physical nature could overturn the doctrine of the Fall.


      Delete
    10. All of creation including time is corrupted not only by the Fall of the First Man, but also by the Fall of the First (in dignity) of the Angels.

      The Marring of Arda began long before the Children of Ilúvatar ever awoke.

      Delete
    11. @JoeD
      The Green Children of Woolpit is the subject of an essay in Medieval Science Fiction (ed. Kearns and Paz) https://boydellandbrewer.com/medieval-science-fiction-hb.html
      They are the archetype for all the little green men and childlike aliens ever since.

      Delete
    12. Pope Zachary didn't condemn the idea of people living on the Moon.

      What happened was that St. Boniface (he was English) didn't like St. Ferghal aka Virgilius (he was Irish). They were working in the same mission fields, and Virgilius had set up a little Irish university school in Salzburg. Boniface wrote Pope Zachary, claiming that Virgilius said that there were people living in other worlds, so make him stop it, mom!

      We don't have Pope Zachary's reply, but Virgilius kept teaching and was made Bishop of Salzburg. So it couldn't have been a condemnation.

      So scholars argue about what he was teaching. Was it people in the Antipodes? Fairy folk under the hills? Aliens on other planets?

      Nobody knows!

      Delete
    13. St. Virgilius's nickname was "Solivagus." I guess it would be wrong to translate that as Lone Ranger... but I wanna!

      I was wrong about the sequence of events and some of the issues. Virg was already bishop. And the two saints had had a previous dispute, when a priest was going around baptizing "In nomine patria et filia et spiritu sancta." (Which translates as "In the name of the Fatherland, and the Daughter, and the Female Holy Spirit." Why didn't the feminists dig this one out?!) Boniface wanted everybody rebaptized, whereas Virg said that the priest clearly meant to baptize as the Church baptizes, and just made an oral typo; so it was a case of "Ecclesia supplet." Pope Zack ruled that Virg was right.

      The actual terms of the dispute were that Boniface said Virg said that "under the earth there was another world with another sun and another moon", which was clearly a bit weird for a Christian philosopher to be teaching. Pope Zack said that if this was true they'd have to hold a council and punish him (again, it's not clear why), but Virg sent Zack a letter to explain whatever he was teaching, and Zack said it was okay. Whatever it was. Which we don't know.

      I've never seen the actual text of the document. I should look it up at documentacatholicaomnia.eu.

      Delete
    14. Oops. Still wrong about the sequence. Initially, Duke Odilo of Bavaria brought in Virg to be abbot of St. Peter's monastery, which was a bishop-level job (a local ordinary), but he wasn't a bishop yet. This probably didn't bother Virg, as in Ireland it was almost all abbots in charge; bishops were sort of like monsignors and there were often six or ten living in one of the great monasteries, under the abbot's rule. That's when the Baptism dispute showed up. Virg did not become Bishop of Salzburg until 766/767, which was after both Pope St. Zachary's death and St. Boniface's martyrdom.

      So I looked up the actual text of Pope Zachary's Letter 11. (Migne, Patrologia Latina, tome 89, columns 943-948, or something close to that.) It is interesting.

      Letter 11, and many of the previous letters from Zack to Boniface, are full of reports of heretical ideas and liturgical abuses happening among the Franks et al. We hear in Letter 11 about an Irish priest named Samson who is going around claiming that Baptism, like Confirmation and Holy Orders, can be conferred by the touch of a bishop's hand. Irish! Like Virg! What kind of weird hippie Peace Corps missionary monks are those Irish monastery schools unleashing upon the world?!

      So it's not surprising that Pope Zack would think the worst, and that his main concern would be how to remove an abbot from office.

      Archbishop Boniface doesn't seem to have liked Virg's attitude much. In the same letter we don't have, where he complained to the Pope about the "other world" teaching, he first said that Virg was creating discord between Boniface and Duke Odilo, and that Virg had been saying that the Pope was going to free him up from Boniface and his four bishops when he got his own diocese. Pope Zack's reply in the letter we have is very wrathful; he says that was never going to happen, and that Virg's iniquity had lied to him. He also calls for Duke Odilo to be investigated for whatever is going on.

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mr Flynn, what is your take on Stardusty's recent comments over at Feser's blog post on Daniel Dennett's new book. How exactly would you rebut them? Because I'm struggling to find a good rebuttal and I would like to hear from someone informed on the subject at hand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know nothing of his comments and stopped paying attention to them some while back when he began invoking quantum theory without any evident understanding of the articles he was citing.

      Delete
    2. Well he's making some interesting comments about Feser's review of Dennett. I just wondering what you have to say about them because I just don't know how they can how they can be refuted.

      Delete
    3. You cannot refute a troll.
      https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-the-american-philosophical-association/article/aristotle-on-trolling/540BB557C82186C33BFFB61E35A0B5B6/core-reader

      Delete
    4. That was my take on it: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. TOF: "You cannot refute a troll."

    Or, as I would put it, you can'r argue/reason with an intellectually dishonest man. And that fellow is an ace at intellectual dishonesty.

    Will Worrock: "I just wondering what you have to say about them because I just don't know how they can how they can be refuted."

    If you really want to spend your time slamming your head against a brick wall, start by looking for and exposing the logical flaws -- the "arguments" of God-deniers *always* are dependent upon faulty logic and frequently downright illogic and anti-logic. Here are some easy and common ones upon which many atheistic "arguments" rely --
    * hidden assumptions (which frequently merge into question-begging)
    * question-begging (this one is especially popular)
    * non sequitur
    * self-refutation

    The first and last I mentioned generally work in conjunction -- this is because the most important hidden assumption of *all* atheistic "argumentation" is the proposition that "God is", which renders the attempted argument self-refuting.

    Consider this --

    * IF atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, THEN at the logical-and-ontological "ground of all being" there is no person, no mind, no agent, no self, no free-will (the preceeding terms are just different ways of speaking of the same thing). This statement is essentially a tautology, for the "then" portion is but a logical re-statement of the "if" portion.

    * Now, IF there is no person/mind/self/agent who is the logical-and-ontological "ground of all being", THEN at its root reality is wholly deterministic. This is inescapable, both for Eastern-style and Western-style God-denial. The important difference between the two is that Western-style atheism affirms the reality of the material/physical world, whereas Eastern-style atheism denies that also.

    * Now, IF at its root reality is wholly deterministic, THEN *all* events are wholly-and-mechanically determined by some logically prior state of affairs.

    * So, IF there is no Creator-God, AND IF there really is a material/physical world -- that is, IF Western-style atheism is the truth about the nature of reality -- THEN the mechanical determinant of all events is some logically (and temporally) prior material/physical state of affairs. This is frequently characterized as "matter in motion".

    * All events includes the "argument" that the so-called atheist is making. That is, IF Western-style is the truth about the nature of reality, THEN the noises coming out of the God-denier's mouth are not a logical argument that he has freely and rationally constructed so as to defend the proposition that "There is no God", and to convince others to the truth of it, but rather, these noises are *just* noises, void of meaning and intent and purpose.

    It turns out that one of the inescapable logical entailments of God-denial is that human beings do not engage in reason ... for we cannot do so (as can nothing else).



    When 'atheists' and 'agnostics' (*) attempt to argue that "God is not", they are like small children climbing onto their father's lap so that they can slap his face: the wayward child can't even *reach* the father's face unless he first allows the child onto his lap.

    (*) I almost always put the terms 'atheists' and 'agnostics' in quote-marks, and frequently refer to them collectively as 'God-deniers', because precious few of them actually believe what they assert, to say nothing of understanding (or *caring* to understand) the logically inescapable entailments and implications of the proposition "The is no God\Creator".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My problem is that I'm very impotent when it comes to philosophy so when someone like Dusty makes comments like his over at Feser's blog and nno one responds to them, I'm unable to see the flaws in his reasoning.

      Delete
    2. Now, IF there is no person/mind/self/agent who is the logical-and-ontological "ground of all being", THEN at its root reality is wholly deterministic. This is inescapable, both for Eastern-style and Western-style God-denial.


      Care to elaborate on that please?

      As far as I know, the only thing that follows from God denial is either that the universe exists for no reason (which is absurdity basically) or that the necessary being that is the explanation for why the universe exists isn't actually God (good luck with trying to refute the arguments that clearly show that the necessary being is personal), but I don't think something like an over-arching determinism follows, or the idea that our reasoning thereby looses it's inherent reliability, though I would gladly welcome such a reductio ad absurdum if this conclusion can be demonstrated.

      Delete
    3. There is no "Eastern-style God-denial". Neo-Confucians are pantheists or deists. Buddhists are apophatic monists—they teach that the only thing that's ultimately real, is (what Christians call) God. Yes, most of them dispute this; that's because Christian missionaries messed up trying to convey our ideas.

      Also, Buddhism doesn't exactly deny the reality of the physical world, except insofar as it denies the reality of everything except Ultimate Reality. Did you actually trust popularizations for a Western audience? Buddhism says that any particular physical object is just an epiphenomenal collection of properties—but so does materialism, because all Buddhist cosmology is a deduction from materialism.

      Buddhism is basically a species of pre-Socratic atomist-nominalism (called anatman, "no soul", in Sanskrit) that falls back on apophatic monism—again, actually the opposite of "God denial", it denies everything else—in order to escape the infinite regress that denial of formal parts always leads to.

      Delete
    4. Wait, doesn't Buddhism deny the existence of a personal creator God who controls nature, and instead asserts that the fundamental reality is impersonal?


      Or are you trying to be ecumenical and point out that Christianity and Buddhism have similarities, which would leave open the question of what uniqueness Christianity has that clearly and concisely sets it apart from Buddhism and others?

      Delete
    5. An impersonal God is still God.

      Christianity's uniqueness would be that it is correct—since we don't live in an atomistic cosmos where all selves and identities except that of the Ground of Being are unreal. But Buddhism gets remarkably close—and without divine revelation, by the way.

      Acknowledging that people have reasoned to largely correct conclusions, especially given their questionable premises and that they had no revelation, is not "trying to be ecumenical". It's being honest. (Besides, "ecumenical" can by definition only apply to other branches of Christianity; the Buddhist world is not part of the oekumene.)

      Delete
    6. An impersonal God is still God.


      In a certain sense, yes. But this does mean that it's fundamental to Buddhism that reality is impersonal.

      Which also seems to eliminate the idea that God freely & constantly conserves all of reality in being (unless, of course, Buddhism holds that the impersonal reality which they believe in also still has creative power and conserves reality, throughout which it is still impersonal)

      This would make Christianity unique in that it posits the God is personal, and thus, that fundamental reality is also personal, which gives it a stark contrast when compared to Buddhism, even though it starts off with the not-so-big differentiation that it asserts that God is personal rather than impersonal.


      Christianity's uniqueness would be that it is correct—since we don't live in an atomistic cosmos where all selves and identities except that of the Ground of Being are unreal.


      Ignoring pure-land Buddhism (which is localised in Japan) which does have a few eerie similarities to certain parts of Christianity, one of the things that does make Chrisitanity unique is it's teaching that God came down in the flesh to sacrifice Himself for all of humanity in the form of Christ, along with the associated claims of deity that do not have a parallel in Buddhism (again, ignoring the localised pure-land variety found in Japan), since Buddha never claimed to be God in any absolute sense.

      Here is a relevant article by Gary Habermas which mentions this: http://garyhabermas.com/Evidence2/Habermas-Uniqueness-of-Jesus-Christ-2016.pdf


      Another uniqueness of Christianity would clearly be, as you yourself admitted in one of your blog posts, that science as a systematic institutional enterprise was first started and preserved, for one thing, because of Christianity's incarnational nature and it's belief in a God who is rational, which Buddhism lacked and failed to develop for a reason.




      Delete
    7. Pure Land, "localized in Japan"? Most Chinese Buddhists are also Pure Land. And that is only the most prominent of the Mahayana sects, which make up over 60% of Buddhists (at least if you also include the Vajrayan sects, who accept 100% of the Mahayana teachings but have some extra ones of their own). They all share those "eerie similarities to certain parts of Christianity". What, did you assume the Theravada were the most "authentic" Buddhists because they accept the fewest texts? They're a minority. The only reason anyone mistook them for the most authentic is the Protestant assumption that accepting the fewest scriptures (generally with an arbitrary linguistic standard) means you must be the most correct.

      And I most certainly never said Christianity was unique in believing God is rational (or rather rationally intelligible, since omniscience has no need of reason). I explicitly denied that, since it happens to be a lie; all indigenous Chinese philosophy also assumes reality, including God, is intelligible. Christianity is unique in assuming that, because of the incarnation, knowledge about this world, fallen and full of suffering as it is, is worthwhile (I described
      the Buddhist objection to this as "checking the tire-pressure on the Wheel of Suffering", if you'll recall). It's also unique from Chinese thought in forbidding divination and thus looking for non-"occult" properties in natural phenomena (which is why they didn't develop science, despite having as much theorizing and fact-collecting as Europe).

      Buddhism also thinks that reason can know the Absolute—until the point where reason, being composed of subject and predicate, breaks down in attempting to describe an absolute unity. (You know, the point where Aquinas said all his writing was as straw?) The reason Buddhism didn't develop science is the same as the reason Buddhism, which precisely mirrors Christian ethics in all their particulars, never achieved the human-rights improvements Christianity did: Buddhism is a religion for monks. It doesn't interfere with the quotidian world, much less investigate it. The same is largely true of Eastern Christianity, and they have almost the exact same theology we do.

      Delete
    8. all indigenous Chinese philosophy also assumes reality, including God, is intelligible.


      That's not what I meant by rational. What I meant, rather, was that Chrisitanity believes that God is rational in the sense of having Intellect and creating things according to His Nature, which thereby also works according to rational principles which are intelligible to us.

      Also, it is certainly true that philosophies like Taoism did not believe that God was personal, though they viewed the ultimate reality as being benevolent and providential.


      It's also unique from Chinese thought in forbidding divination and thus looking for non-"occult" properties in natural phenomena (which is why they didn't develop science, despite having as much theorizing and fact-collecting as Europe).


      That might be one of the reasons, but it is certainly not the only one. A cyclical view of the course of nature, as well as an overly great emphasis on rhetoric and literature, and a confused view of causality certainly contributed to the this as well.

      Buddhism also thinks that reason can know the Absolute—until the point where reason, being composed of subject and predicate, breaks down in attempting to describe an absolute unity. (You know, the point where Aquinas said all his writing was as straw?)


      Ignoring your attempt to compare Aquinas's insight into the unknowability of God with Buddhism for some reason (it should be fairly obvious that Buddhism would think the Absolute is unknowable to a certain degree, and to compare this with Aquinas's insight, which was achieved through a mystical experience rumored to have been the Beatific Vision itself (!), is to point out something rather superflous, in the same vein of comparing Catholic liturgical use of incense with Zoroastrian liturgy because they both happen to use it), what I was pointing out, again, was that Christians hold that God is personal and rational / has intellect, which Buddhists deny, which means that emphasis was never placed on the human intellect because they bear the image of God who also happens to be personal and rational.



      which precisely mirrors Christian ethics in all their particulars


      You mentioned in one of your blog posts that Buddhists believe in a version of charity, which is derived from the idea that all human beings are imbued with the nature of Buddha and is thus similar to the Christian idea of being created in the image of God.

      Setting aside the fact that Buddha was not the God from whom image bearing can come from and did not claim to be deity, the impersonal view of God that Buddhism inherently has certainly stops it from having all of the consequences that Christianity has, namely that human beings are also rational and personal and can study nature which is also governed by rationality because God is personal and rational, which , again, is certainly one of the reasons Buddhism never developed systematic institutional science, but also other things that are the consequence of this specific type of view of God and humanity.




      never achieved the human-rights improvements Christianity did: Buddhism is a religion for monks.It doesn't interfere with the quotidian world

      And the Buddhist teaching that we should strive to extinguish desire or even loathe the body is basically the reason for this hermitic isolationism.



      Delete
    9. Do Buddhists deny that the Absolute has intellect? Or do they merely deny that its intellect is more like ours than it is different (which, we, in fact, also deny)? A great deal of trouble for the two religions has been their habit of talking past each other; Christians generally manage to convince Buddhists that our God is just a really powerful deva, and Buddhists generally let Liberal Protestants misinterpret their religion for them. The Mahavairocana Sutra and related Mahayana/Vajrayana texts certainly seem to imply that intellect can, if only by analogy (just like in our thought) be predicated of Ultimate Reality.

      "Taoism" (into which we lump a lot of Chinese thought that's actually distinct) doesn't have a cyclical view of the course of nature, except when it syncretizes with Buddhism—or when it points to cycles in nature that are trivially obvious to all of thought. If you can point to any actual Chinese texts to the contrary I'd like to see them.

      And no, the "Buddha-nature" is not "the nature of Buddha". It is a translation of Tathagatagarbha, "matrix of Enlightenment"—the Buddhist term for Ultimate Reality as such, in itself. It is the participation in that by "sentient beings" which underpins Buddhist "compassion". Please explain how "participation in Ultimate Reality" is different from "image of God", apart from the latter not being apophatic monism?

      Delete
    10. The Mahavairocana Sutra and related Mahayana/Vajrayana texts certainly seem to imply that intellect can, if only by analogy (just like in our thought) be predicated of Ultimate Reality.


      So what you are saying is that Buddhism really does in fact believe that God has intellect and is personal to some degree?

      But this stands against your previous admission that An impersonal God is still God.

      So which is it?

      Are scholars of comparative religion such as S.A.Nigosian and Geoffrey Parrinder generally correct in their analysis of Buddhism's ultimate reality as essentially impersonal, or what?

      It is the participation in that by "sentient beings" which underpins Buddhist "compassion". Please explain how "participation in Ultimate Reality" is different from "image of God", apart from the latter not being apophatic monism?

      Well, for one thing, Buddhism teaches that the self is in the end an illusion, which should qualify the aspect about participating in Ultimate Reality as if we are made in it's image, and yet another qualifier would be if Buddhism actually taught that this Ultimate Reality was impersonal.

      If the latter is correct, then the participation in Ultimate Reality, which does indeed lead to cordialities and kindness towards human beings becoming a thing of importance, in the end is simply not on the same level as that of Christianity; rationality is de-emphasised or completely ignored, thus explaining a lack of science and other specifically Christian novelties.

      "Taoism" (into which we lump a lot of Chinese thought that's actually distinct) doesn't have a cyclical view of the course of nature, except when it syncretizes with Buddhism


      For one, this shows one additional strength of Christianity, namely it's rejection of a cyclical view of nature over-and-against that of Buddhism, which helped the European countries of Christendom flourish.


      For another, as regards Chinese philosophy, as M.Granet points out, the conviction that the All and everything composing it have a cyclic nature was indeed largely present in Chinese culture and thus impeded scientific advancement. So unless this cyclicalism was purely the result of Buddhist influences in Chinese culture, this seems to imply a problem with other Chinese philosophies more generally.

      Nor was my mentioning of the Chinese being stiffled a direct reference to Taoism either, as the comment I was responding was your mentioning of Chinese philosophy in general, and my response talked about the general conditions of Chinese culture, not a specific philosophy.






      Delete
    11. The point is that even if, as is tenable but debatable, Buddhists deny personality to God, they don't deny God. They may well not deny personality to him (I think they don't, they just phrase their denial of anthropomorphism in an ambiguous manner), but it doesn't actually matter, as I was concerned to address the laughable claim that they deny God as such, which they don't.

      Scholars of comparative religion are generally wrong when it comes to Buddhism (they're generally wrong most of the time); I don't know if those two are but I'm guessing so. I've found art-historians to be, oddly, a better guide.

      As for the illusoriness of the self in Buddhism, it's not that simple, not in Mahayana thought at least; if it was, what the hell would be the point of the Bodhisattva being preferable to the Arahant? Again we're coming up against your utterly arbitrary assumption that the minority position that accepts fewer scriptures is the correct one.

      As for Taoism, yes, I see now that your mention of Taoism was in response to a previous part of my comment. In any event no, there isn't any particularly prominent cyclical element in Chinese thought that I can think of. I don't know who this Granet person is but if he has some sources to cite to the contrary I'd love to hear about them. Chinese cosmology certainly isn't cyclical.

      Incidentally, your objection to my comparing the Buddhist conception of the ineffability of Ultimate Reality to Aquinas's "all my work is as straw", is particularly odd, given the long history of Christians comparing our God to The One in Neo-Platonism. The One is also Ultimate Reality, and just as debatably personal as the Buddhist conception; Neo-Platonists reported interactions with it that precisely parallel both Aquinas's account and some Buddhist thinking. Apparently you're going to advance the novel position that all claims to have achieved mystical, ecstatic union with The One must be, a priori, assumed false when not made by Christians? We here in the Christian tradition of reason call that "the genetic fallacy"...

      Delete
    12. At the very least, any cyclical element to Chinese cosmology is de-emphasized to the point of total unobtrusiveness. Since I've never come across it in any of my reading on the subject, whether Western or Chinese.

      Delete
    13. The One is also Ultimate Reality, and just as debatably personal as the Buddhist conception;


      I would have to disagree with that. The Neoplatonic conception of the Ultimate Reality clearly includes the emanation of Intellect from the One, and both Plato and Aristotle considered this primal intellect to be a universal Intellect.


      Apparently you're going to advance the novel position that all claims to have achieved mystical, ecstatic union with The One must be, a priori, assumed false when not made by Christians?


      And you apparently have completely misunderstood my intentions.

      I mentioned Aquinas having this realisation you mention when he had a mystical encounter with God precisely as to distinguish the obvious Buddhist claim that God is in a sense unknowable, which doesn't need, or at least seemingly doesn't need the context or any you mention, any mystical encounter to be acknowledged.

      Aquinas made the famous straw quote after he had his mystical experience; the way you are laying out Buddhism's claims clearly imply one doesn't even need to have a mystical experience to acknowledge the utter unknowableness of God; that can be shown through reason alone, or rather through the failure of reason alone.


      I don't know who this Granet person is but if he has some sources to cite to the contrary I'd love to hear about them. Chinese cosmology certainly isn't cyclical.


      Oh, he just so happens to be a scholar of sociology, ethnology and sinology, who was one of the first to bring sociological methods of study to China, and is considered a significant figure in French sinology.


      Scholars of comparative religion are generally wrong when it comes to Buddhism (they're generally wrong most of the time);


      That's quite a claim to make against an entire profession.

      It sounds a bit presumptuous, don't you think?

      Delete
    14. Aquinas made the famous straw quote after he had his mystical experience; the way you are laying out Buddhism's claims clearly imply one doesn't even need to have a mystical experience to acknowledge the utter unknowableness of God; that can be shown through reason alone, or rather through the failure of reason alone.

      That God is ultimately unknowable, in himself—that all our statements about him are more false than they are true, because all our knowledge is composed of subject and predicate and he is an absolute unity with no composition at all—is an absolute commonplace of Western philosophy. Maimonides goes a little overboard on the subject, even IIRC saying that God can't even be said to exist, only that he's "not nonexistent". Buddhists would like that phrasing.

      So far as I can tell you're still trying to claim that the same statement is false when made by a Buddhist but true when made by a Christian. That, again, is the genetic fallacy.

      Oh, he just so happens to be a scholar of sociology, ethnology and sinology, who was one of the first to bring sociological methods of study to China, and is considered a significant figure in French sinology.

      Mazel tov. Again, what's his source for claiming that Chinese cosmology is cyclical? That's not the impression you get from reading their mythology, nor from any Taoist work not obviously influenced by Buddhism, that I've ever read. Apart from the cycles observed in nature that all philosophies sometimes discuss, because they're, y' know, there.

      That's quite a claim to make against an entire profession. It sounds a bit presumptuous, don't you think?

      Not really. Comparative religion is widely derided, much as sociology is. Surely you've heard the joke that many of the things it studies are "only comparatively religions"? (A category in which the ignorant include Buddhism, which actually is one, but which certainly does apply to Stoicism, Confucianism and especially Neo-Confucianism, on the one hand—all of which, as Chesterton said of Confucianism, "may be a civilization but it is not a religion"—and something like "Zoroastrianism" and "Taoism", which are actually, as those terms are used in the West, several distinct religions that happen to come under an overarching framework.)

      Delete
    15. "Hinduism", also, is even more "multiple different religions sharing a particular cultural milieu" than "Zoroastrianism" and "Taoism" are. And without lumping in Sikhism, Jainism, or Buddhism, either. (There are "Hindu" schools almost as different from each other in epistemology as Christianity and Buddhism are.)

      Delete
    16. The "cyclical" part of Chinese thought is less of an Indian or Aztec concept of worlds showing up and getting destroyed, and more a psychohistory or seasonal type of concept that patterns will repeat themselves in every Chinese kingdom and society... on a schedule... dictated by Heaven's bureaucrats.

      Confucius was big into this idea that growth and decay of states happened on a schedule, and Mencius was so big into it that he complained that the growth schedule was running a few hundred years late. This concept played into a lot of Chinese concepts of good government; a king should know where his kingdom is on the schedule, and he should make sure his court is run accordingly -- right down to the proper color of the court robes.

      Even the gods were on a schedule of this sort. It just took longer to see the ages go by.

      Delete
    17. By that standard Judeo-Christian cosmology is cyclical too, see Augustine's six ages, or certain passages in Aquinas (or Ecclesiastes). People keep trying to point to things as evidence of differences that are actually present in both. There might be a bit more emphasis on the ebb and flow in Chinese cosmology; "ebb and flow" is a yin-yang pair, same as "male and female", "muddy and clear", or "static and dynamic".

      But still, I think the fact that the Chinese cosmology as a whole wasn't cyclical, not in the sense that Greek or Indian thought were, is why Chinese history has always had Western-style millenarian movements. E.g. the Yellow Turban (or Scarf) Rebellion, which promised a disruption of normal cycles nearly as radical as the resurrection of the dead.

      Delete
  9. And that's understandable; it takes practice along with understanding what makes a logical error an error.

    At the same time, once you understand the reasoning I've laid out above -- once you understand that the logical absurdities that atheism invariably generates are implicit in the premise that "God is not" -- you won't need to be too worried. What I mean is that even if you can't precisely identify the (fatal) flaw (or flaws) in a particular atheistic (ahem) argument, you already *know* that it is logically flawed, and indeed self-refuting, for the flaw is in the key premise: "God is not".

    "so when someone like Dusty makes comments like his over at Feser's blog and nno one responds to them ..."

    That's his shtick -- use Important Sounding Words in wall-of-text posts; refuse to acknowledge/admit and correct errors that are pointed out; repeat. It's impossible to reason with him ... because he isn't *trying* to reason. And so people who might be able to point out the logical flaws in what he posts tend to totally ignore his posts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Illion, may I ask what's your take on Dusty's recent comments on Feser's blog because I have struggling with finding an adequate refutation to them.

      Delete
    2. (psst: it's one "L" -- ILION; but don't worry, at least you saw that it starts with a capital "I", rather than with a double lowercase "l", as so many read it)

      I don't think you realize just what you're asking of me. I makes me almost physically ill to deal with illogic and irrationality.

      What, *precisely* are you struggling with? So far, your request both of Mr Flynn and of myself is too broad, too open-ended.

      Look, I'll be blunt. There is a non-zero possibility that you are a sock-puppet of Psychotic Dust -- and if it offends you that I consider that a possibility, that that fact justify my reticence to spend (which is to say, waste) any of my time trying to wade through the intellectually dishonest things he posts.

      I’ve shown you above that irrespective of any particular assertions he happens to be making (I phrase it that way because he does not argue), the thing he wants you to believe is false. So, that isn’t enough to satisfy you.

      So, what, *precisely* is your question? Tell me(us) in your own words what he has asserted that you would like to understand how and why it is false.

      Delete
    3. Here's his quote I'm having a problem refuting. "OP "natural science, in the name of which Dennett puts forward his various theories, ultimately rests on the empirical evidence provided by conscious experience."
      --True. That's why a scientific truth is necessarily a provisional truth. A scientific proof is necessarily a provisional proof.

      " Hence if conscious experience really were a “user-illusion,” it would follow that the foundations of empirical science are illusory. "
      --Feser simply does not understand what is meant by "illusory" in this context.

      Plot a swath of dots representing some set of measurements. Now plot a trend line through the dots. The trend line is "illusory" in this sense. It is an approximation. It is a simplification. It is an analogy.

      We say the trend line is a valid approximation when we have reason to think it tracks reality. If we plot a different set of dots but use the same method of calculating the trend line we see that our approximation method tracks reality.

      That's what scientific models do. A physics statics diagram is "illusory" because in reality there are no such things as weightless chains and frictionless wheels and the materials themselves while seeming static are actually dynamic systems of vast complexity.

      We can't do a lever force calculation by modeling the characteristics of every atom in the lever, the pivot, and the weight, even though that would be closer to the truth if we could somehow do that.

      Our physics statics model provided a useful "illusion", where "illusion" does not mean a fantasy wholly divorced from reality, rather, a simplification that converges on reality when applied consistently over a wide variety of circumstances.

      A rock sitting on the table seems to be sitting still. That is a user-illusion, or simply "illusory". In truth that rock is a mad beehive of activity with every molecule jiggling to and fro.

      For thousands of years nobody knew the truth about molecular motion in solids, but we could sense an approximation of it, an aggregate indication of it, we call "temperature". Motions of vast numbers of molecules in the rock are transformed to a single sensation of temperature such as hot or warm or cold.

      The "illusion" of temperature is not a baseless fantasy, even though nearly all humans have had no idea what was really going on, rather, our sense of temperature tracks reality. There is a fairly consistent functional relationship between molecular motion and our user-illusion of temperature.

      I have a mild color blindness to certain dull shades of green, which look gray to me. A clever arrangement of colored dots seems to have a "9" in it for me, but it seems to have a "4" in it for somebody else.

      Which of us is suffering from an illusion? Both. Reality is photons streaming onto the ink and being selectively reflected in certain wavelengths, which are focused on the retina, which sends signals to the brain, which are processed in networks distributed in space and time.

      One of us has the user-illusion of "9", the other of us has the user-illusion of "4".

      There is nothing self defeating about understanding the mind as brain function in these terms."

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    5. Who said anything about being annoyed? Also, are you 'Unknown' or are you 'Will Worrock'?

      OK, you've copied his post. But you haven't told us *where* you're having difficulty.

      Delete
    6. I'm Will Worrock and the problem lies in his description of illusions and what reality really is.

      Delete
    7. Oh, and sorry about the 'Unknown' issue. I was trying to write these comments on my laptop instead of my phone and I had some issues.

      Delete
    8. @Worrock
      The trend line is "illusory" in this sense. It is an approximation. It is a simplification. It is an analogy.

      Approximations, simplifications, and analogies are not illusions in the sense in which Dennett holds that consciousness is an illusion. For that matter, they are not illusions in the strict sense at all. An approximation is still an approximation of something.

      Delete
  10. There is a *reason* that prominent atheists will periodically say such absurdities as "Consciousness is an illusion/delusion", or "There is no such thing as personal responsibility", or "There is no such thing as right/moral and wrong/immoral", or "There is no such thing as free-will", or "The mind is a function of (or generated by) the brain", and so on. They say these patently absurd things because they are implicit in the proposition that "God is not".

    ReplyDelete
  11. Sophie's Favotite: "An impersonal God is still God."

    JoeD: "In a certain sense, yes."

    And, in the same certain sense, 'true' equals 'false'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Neo-Platonists were not atheists. Neither are Buddhists.

      It is interesting that you would like to declare all erroneous conceptions of something as being the denial of its existence, but your preference is both illogical and disingenuous.

      Delete
    2. It's also interesting how you are able to read what isn't there.

      Delete
    3. You mean like your interpretation of pantheism and apophatic monism as being atheism? Pot, kettle, spurious assertions as to coloration.

      Delete
  12. JoeD: "As far as I know, the only thing that follows from God denial is either that the universe exists for no reason (which is absurdity basically) ..."

    You used the word 'reason', but I suspect that you mean *mere* 'cause'. When the word 'reason' is used in the sense of denoting a causal factor, one is saying that there is an aspect of intentionality and deliberateness to the cause; one is saying that a person/agent intended an effect and deliberately acted so as to bring the effect into being.

    So, if God is not, then the world does indeed "exist for no reason"; but that is not to say that it thereby exists without cause. To say that the world exists without cause is absurd, and easily seen to be so. It's also absurd to say that the world "exists for no reason" (as I've shown above) ... it's just that this absurdity isn't so blatantly obvious as the other.

    ReplyDelete
  13. JoeD: "... but I don't think something like an over-arching determinism follows, or the idea that our reasoning thereby looses it's inherent reliability ..."

    To say that God is, or to say that God is not -- or to take the 'agnostic' dodge and dogmatically assert that the question cannot even be investigated, much less answered -- is not *merely* to make a theological claim. It is to make a fundamental claim about the very nature of reality, and of ourselves. I call it the First Question (and I have small post on my blog with that title), because all subsequent questions that one may rationally ask about the world are constrained by the answer one gives to the First Question.

    If one answers that God is not, then one may not rationally then ask, "For what reason does the world exist?" Given propostion (that God is not), the question is an oxymoron.

    If one answers that God is, then one may rationally then ask, "For what reason does the world exist?" The answer may not be forthcoming, but the question is not absurd given the proposition.

    If, as the 'agnostics', one answers that it is impossible to investigate the question or to know the answer, then what one has actually said is that it is impossible to ask any further questions about the world. To put it bluntly, the Latin for 'agnostic' is ignoramus.


    The world is a web of causal chains. 'A' causes 'B' causes 'C'; that's the "chain". But, as we can also see, individual effects frequently have multiple causes, and individual causes frequently affect multiple causal chains; that's the "web".

    Now, every effect is wholly determined by its cause or causes -- to deny this is either:
    1) to assert the absurdity that something can happen without cause; or,
    2) to assert the absurdity that an effect can cause itself; or,
    3) to equivocate on the terms 'cause', 'effect' and 'determined', and to conflate our ignorance of the full set of causes of the event for some ill-defined indeterminacy.

    Generally, an effect is also a cause of further effects; but it is logically possible for any individual causal chain to end, that is, for some effect of the chain to be the cause of no further effects.

    So, so far we have the world as a web of causal chains, extending to the present from an indefinate past and extending indefinately into the future, yet wholly deterministic. So far, every possible future effect is *already* "baked in" as it were. So far, every effect that may in time come to be is already fully determined by the present state of the system. Of course, we know that this isn't a complete picture of the world -- for it doesn't include *us*.

    So, what about us? What is it about the reality of us that shows the above picture to be incomplete? It is that being agents, we are free to initiate novel causal chains; we can introduce new causes into the world. Bear in mind, once brought into being, the effects of these novel causes are as wholly deterministic as any already-existing cause-and-effect chain.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ilíon: "Now, IF there is no person/mind/self/agent who is the logical-and-ontological "ground of all being", THEN at its root reality is wholly deterministic."

    JoeD: "... but I don't think something like an over-arching determinism follows... "

    As I've explained above, the causal chains comprising the world are themselves wholly deterministic. That is, whether God is or is not, "over-arching determinism follows..." from the reality of the world itself. The issue is whether this "over-arching determinism" is the whole picture.

    Let us back-track to the hypothetical time before there were any agents in reality. For after all, if one says that God is not, then one is saying that there was a time (of indeterminate duration) during the existence of world when there were no agents able to introduce novel causes into the world.

    If one says that God is not, then one is saying that "ground of all being" is *not* an agent. Thus, because the causal chains (and thus the causal web) are themselves wholly deterministic, when one denies the reality of God, one is asserting that at its root reality is wholly deterministic, that the picture is complete, that the deterministic web of cause-and-effect is *all* there is to reality.

    On the other hand, if one says that God is, then one is saying that "ground of all being" is an agent ... who is able and free to introduce novel causes into the causal web of the world. That is, when one affirms that God is, one is asserting that at the root of reality is agency and freedom, one is saying that reality is *not* wholly deterministic.


    So, given atheism, the question arises as to how it is that *we* are agents. There are two atheistic answers:
    1) We are not actually agents. This is false, and we all -- including the 'atheists' who assert it -- know it to be false, and indeed, absurd. But it does have the virtue of being logically consistent with atheism.
    2) It's Magick! Of course, they don't say it that directly, but that's what *all* their "explanations" for how it is that persons "arise" from non-personal entities mean.

    ReplyDelete
  15. It's much simpler than that.

    Tenured academics really, REALLY, want to bang co-eds. Which isn't all that illogical, even if it is unreasonable.

    ReplyDelete

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology Aquinas argument from motion Aristotelianism art atheism autumn of the modern ages books brains breaking news captive dreams cartoon charts chieftain clannafhloinn comix commentary counterattack crusades culcha dogheads easton stuff economics eifelheim evolution factoids on parade fake news fallen angels Feeders fir trees in lungs firestar flicks floods flynncestry flynnstuff forecasts forest of time fun facts gandersauce gimlet eye global warming glvwg headlines henchmen high frontier history home front how to lie with statistics humor hush-hush hypatia in the house of submission irish Iron Shirts irrationalism january dancer jihad journeyman kabuki kool letter lion's mouth lunacon maps mayerling medieval metrology miscellany modern mythology moose zombies music new years nexus odds odds and ends paleofuture passing of the modern age philosophy philosophy math poetry politics psyched out! public service quality quiet sun quote of the day razor's edge redefinition of marriage religio reviews river of stars scandal science science marches on scientism scrivening shipwrecks of time shroud skiffy skiffy in the news skools slipping masks some people will believe anything stats stories stranger things the auld curmudgeon the madness continues the new fascism the spiral arm the writing life thomism thread o' years tofspot topology untergang des abendlandes untergang des morgenlandes up jim river video clips vignettes war on science we get letters we're all gonna die whimsy words at play xmas you can't make this stuff up