Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 5: Aquinas' Fifth Way

Steven Jake over on the Christian Agnostic blog wrote a review of my review of Feser's book The Last Superstition. So let me now review his review of my review. This is part 5 on Aquinas' Fifth Way.

Aquinas' Fifth Way

The existence of teleological final causes is paramount on the Fifth Way argument. SJ reiterates Feser's example of an acorn turning into a tree, whereby the tree is the final cause of the acorn but there's immediately a problem:

For how, then, can a final cause actually be a cause if it doesn’t actually exist yet? For example, an acorn has an oak as (one of) its final causes. But the oak doesn’t yet exist, only the acorn. So how can the oak actually be a genuine cause if it doesn’t exist? Well we actually do have examples where a final cause doesn’t exist in a substance, but exists in an intellect. An example that Feser gives is that of a builder. See, before a builder builds a house, the form of the house is contained in his intellect. So here the final cause does exist as a form in the intellect of a builder.

SJ doesn't define the "intellect" here and neither does Feser, at least up to chapter 4. If the "intellect" is the mind, then the mind is caused by the brain. Every thought, idea, and concept that you consciously entertain reduces down into a brain state that causes it. And you don't have to except complete physical reductionism in order to accept this. Thomists like SJ and Feser have to deny that this is true, because if they concede that the brain causes the mind, their metaphysic basically comes crumbling down. Feser says the intellect causes the will on p. 127. That sounds to me like the mind. So if the Thomist is going to claim that the form of the house is contained in the intellect and that this is somehow immaterial and that this somehow has causal power over the builder in any respect, he needs to show scientific evidence for that because that basically would violate everything physics says is true. The burden would be on the Thomist because he'd be saying that there is something in addition to the four fundamental forces at work here. And if he says that formal causes would not be verifiable in any scientific way of having causal power on the physical, then he needs to explain why a mere materialistic ontology is not enough. And lastly, we're talking about causes that affect the physical world here, so this is a question in the domain of physics. So one cannot say that I'm assuming scientism.

But, what about final causes that are not similar to artifacts like buildings, like the oak we mentioned earlier? Well there are only a few possibilities: (1) it might exist in the natural object itself; (2) it exists in a human intellect; (3) it exists in an intellect outside the natural world altogether; (4) or final causes don’t exist at all. We have already explained why (1) doesn’t work—the form of the oak doesn’t already exist in the acorn. We know that (4) cannot be true since causal regularity necessitates final causality (see above). (2) cannot be true since we are not the ones that make acorns turn into oaks. Therefore, (4) is our only option, and thus we are led to an intellect which exists outside of the natural order.

SJ made a mistake here, I think he was referring to (3) as the answer, not (4). We have no good reason for granting teleological final causes. None of Feser's arguments for it logically prove its necessity. So granting (4) above is no problem, because once again, mere causal regularity is perfectly compatible with naturalism, and SJ acknowledges this himself. Final causes are when substances generate a range of effects reliably, which is causal regularity. Hence, to get final causes all you need is causal regularity. In this sense, final causes are being defined as causal regularity. But SJ claims the naturalists have "great difficulty" explaining why causal regularity exists in the first place. Three responses. (A) This presupposes the principle of sufficient reason and SJ has not shown brute facts are impossible, (B) this presumes that causal regularity on naturalism is unexpected and no prior is given why it should be unexpected, and (C) if I grant that we have difficulty explaining this, if this is a problem for me, then explaining non-physical causes and why god eternally coexists with our universe and not no universe or another universe is a problem for SJ. If he can appeal to mystery to absolve him of his problem, then I can do the same. I can say that there is a naturalistic answer to why causal regularity exists but that we can't know it because our brains aren't capable of knowing everything. I can do the same thing SJ does.

If a substance did not have a final cause then no effect would obtain any more than another, and if this happened then there would be no causal regularity—since causal regularity necessitates that effects regularly and reliably obtain. Therefore if causal regularity exists, then final causes exist, and if final causes did not exist, then causal regularity would not exist. That is how we distinguish between final causes obtaining and not obtaining—and it also demonstrates how final causality is, in principle, falsifiable.

This doesn't really answer what my question was trying to get at which is how teleological final causality is falsifiable when a variation of final causes is compatible with dysteleological naturalism. All SJ did here was claim that mere causal regularity necessitates final causality, completely ignoring the last part of my question which he himself acknowledges is compatible with naturalism. Of course causal regularity necessitates final causality, that's because final causality is being defined as causal regularity. This is circular. I perhaps should have worded my question better. I am more focused on the distinction between the teleology of final causes. How can we falsify the teleological claims of final causes, when SJ acknowledges causal regularity is compatible with naturalism?

There’s a big problem with this objection. First, the laws of physics don’t determine anything, and certainly don’t determine the behavior of any substance in the natural world. The Thinker simply has his philosophy backwards. It is the behavior of substances that determines the laws of physics, and not the other way around, as The Thinker argues. The laws of physics merely describe the way that matter already tends to behave, and a mere description of X cannot itself determine the behavior of X, especially since a description is not anything concrete or actual that can determine anything. So The Thinker just doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and certainly has his philosophy of science all mixed up.

I agree that it is the behavior of substances (and forces) that determines the laws of physics and that's what I meant. I think the laws of physics are descriptive like SJ and not prescriptive and I think we've had conversations on this in the past. I was not really referring to the laws themselves but the things they describe. I think SJ could have been a bit more charitable here but I also could have worded this better. Colloquially we talk of the laws of physics as rules to be obeyed, even those of us who think they're descriptive. Secondly, there are philosophers of science who think the laws of physics are prescriptive, and not descriptive, although, I'd assume they're the minority. So although I agree with SJ that the laws of physics are descriptive, I don't think that thinking they're prescriptive makes one have their "philosophy of science all mixed up." And lastly, the same way in which the laws of physics merely describe the things they are about, is they way I see how essences and forms relate to their subjects. Essences and forms are just descriptions we give to things (or ideas). They do not have ontological status of their own or the power to cause things.

Wow, this is complete and total irony. The Thinker is accusing Feser’s arguments of being the result of garbage piled upon more garbage when it in fact it is this turn of phrase that so eloquently describes The Thinker’s own position, as well as his review. He hasn’t understood the basic metaphysics underlying Feser’s arguments and thus The Thinker’s arguments, which are predicated on this poor comprehension, are simply laughable because they’re not wrong, they’re not even wrong. The Thinker’s not even having the same discussion with Feser, because the former simply does not understand the foundation of the discussion itself. So, garbage piled on top of garbage? Yes, this sounds about right.

No, it isn't total irony. Feser's arguments are indeed garbage piled on top of garbage. Any rational person with decent knowledge of science and philosophy can see that. It's self-refuting and makes ontological claims that are in conflict with known science. His god is one that's internally incoherent and all that SJ can try to do is shield this with a firewall of vagueness. I did make some mistakes in my review, sure, but none that's fatal to my entire critique. I think this review of SJ's review demonstrates that. Nothing about SJ's critique of me shows that I have completely failed to refute any or all of Feser's position, or any of the ones that are essential for supporting Thomistic theism.

Second, recall that The Thinker has given absolutely no substance to the claim that there are no final causes in nature. Has he asserted this? Yes. But has he given any substantive argument for this assertion that doesn’t beg the question or erect a straw-man? No, he hasn’t. This claim, then, can simply be dismissed.

It seems to be a recurring mistake that SJ fails to acknowledge the important distinction between teleological final causes and dysteleological final causes. He still seems to be failing to distinguish the two as there only being teleological final causes. This is I think a fatal mistake. Recall that final causes are when substances generate a range of effects reliably, which is causal regularity. Hence to get final causes all you need is causal regularity. Of course I don't deny causal regularity. I argue that this is not enough to logically establish teleology, as it's perfectly compatible with naturalism and I've addressed his objections to this. I'd like to know whether SJ believes that it's possible that something can appear teleological when it isn't.

Third, The Thinker claims that there are no final causes, only “things that happen by way of the laws of physics.” We saw above that this is false. Things don’t happen by the laws of physics, the laws of physics “happen” because of the behavior of things. Laws of nature presuppose a nature that behaves, and thus The Thinker again has his philosophy backwards. Moreover, if these “things that happen” happen with regularity and reliability, as they surely do, then this means that effects reliably obtain. Now if effects reliably obtain, then substances have a tendency to generate those effects, and this means that these substances have an inherent disposition towards those effects. And this, ladies and gentlemen, means that substances have final causes. The Thinker can try all he wants to deny them, but his arguments are vacuous, and only lead back to the very thing he is trying to deny.

None of this refutes my view because if you recall above, what I meant in what I wrote was that things happen by the way of the forces and substances described in the laws of physics, not that the laws of physics are prescriptive. I will likely update my review to prevent this misunderstanding. And second, as I just mentioned, mere causal regularity is perfectly compatible with naturalism, and SJ agrees, and I've addressed all his objections to this as they don't hold water. So SJ must know that when I say there are no final causes, I'm talking about final causes in the Aristotelian sense—meaning—the teleological kind, because that's exactly what I wrote in my review! So SJ is kidding himself if he thinks I must deny causal regularity in order to deny final causality. I don't. I just have to deny teleology, because mere causal regularity doesn't logically necessitate that. So this here is complete bunk.

Fourth, we have seen that Feser does in fact give a knock down argument in favor of final causality. That argument being that since final causality is a necessary condition for causal regularity, then in order for the latter to be efficacious, the former must be as well. 

As I've already written above, this argument is far from a knock down argument, since once again, final causality is simply being defined as causal regularity, no matter how much SJ denies that, so of course one necessitates the other. And causal regularity is compatible with dysteleological physicalism, so it doesn't logically entail teleology, which again, the Thomist needs to be true. Interestingly, it also seems to me that the "logic" behind final causality must include the fact that the causal regularity of substances is based on induction. It is always logically possible that their behavior can break free from the regularity. That seems to make it the logic behind it at best less than certain and perhaps probabilistic.

This wraps up The Thinker’s attempted arguments against Aquinas’ Fifth Way. The attentive reader may have noticed something quite peculiar, namely that The Thinker didn’t even touch (let alone refute) Aquinas’ argument that final causality necessitates an intellect that exists outside the natural world. That is, The Thinker didn’t argue against the Fifth Way at all! Rather, The Thinker simply launched more (and really the same) objections against the notion of final causality, leaving the argument itself unscathed. Now obviously since the Fifth Way rests on the efficacy of final causality, it is not illogical or unreasonable to argue against said causality.

did address the claim that final causality necessitates an intellect that exists outside the natural world by stating over and over that mere causal regularity (which is all final causes really are) are perfectly compatible with naturalism and SJ agreed. It is conceptually possible that there be "final causes" without a sustaining intellect by simply denying teleology is required for causal regularity—which it isn't. SJ won't agree with that of course but I did address the claim. Nothing about the reliable effect of a substance (or event) determines or has any causal power over the cause or substance and the evolution of substances from particles to people a perfect example of this. Organs, which Feser mentioned numerous times as an example of teleology, evolved in a completely dysteleological manner with no "goal" in site. The function of the heart or liver is not its teleological final cause. To claim otherwise is bordering on creationist nonsense. The word that perhaps best describes the appearance of teleological final causes to things like organs is teleonomy, a word I should have used in my review. If you undermine teleology in final causes you undermine the Fifth Way, since "Aquinas’ Fifth Way of proving God’s existence is based on the reality of [teleological] final causes." So SJ here is again just kidding himself.

However, The Thinker had already devoted a section in his review to final causality and could have left his criticisms of final causality in that section alone. The fact that he needed to promulgate these objections again without actually dealing with the meat of the argument demonstrates that The Thinker doesn’t actually have any substantive arguments against Aquinas’ Fifth Way. And, again, the arguments that he did launch, against final causality, were wrought with the exact same fallacies as his section on the same topic. The Thinker has an extremely poor understanding regarding what Feser actually expounds about final causality, and this leads to innumerable straw-men that get erected, as well as question-begging here and there. And where The Thinker seemingly gives a coherent objection, we instead find that this objection has already been answered in the text by Feser himself.

Bullshit. I decided to review Feser's book in the same order he wrote it in, as anyone could see. I go page by page in chronological order. I have plenty of substantive arguments against Aquinas’ Fifth Way and the fact that SJ fails to fully deal with my numerously stated distinctions of final causes is evidence he didn't really read my review closely. Over and over again he fallaciously claims that mere causal regularity invokes teleological final causes, failing to note that he agrees causal regularity and naturalism are compatible. This is dishonest if he intended to do this. So me failing to fully grasp all notions of A-T metaphysics does not in any way entail that all of my arguments against Feser fall flat. And no, Feser doesn't address my objections SJ thinks are coherent; he certainly doesn't refute them.

What makes this even more amusing, especially given The Thinker’s protruding arrogance throughout this review, are the questions he asks at the end of this section of his review: “But can refuting Feser really be this easy? Am I totally missing something here?” I’ll leave you, the reader, to answer The Thinker’s questions for yourself.

Sure, read for yourself, and read SJ's review of my review, and read and consider my review of his review. I fully stand by my central arguments and that Feser has not at all made a logically necessary case for god's existence. Far from it. To recap, (a) Feser didn't demonstrate forms and essences exist, nor did he deal with the conceptual problems with it, (b) he didn't show that causal regularity (substances generating a range of effects reliably) is logically impossible on naturalism, (c) he didn't address the conceptual problems with god, and all SJ did was appeal to mystery, (d) Thomistic logic runs into conceptual problems with eternalism where the Thomist has to resort to brute facts, and (e) given (b) the Fifth Way has no way to show the necessity of teleology. This is not even to mention the additional problems with how his views are self-refuting and contradictory to known science, which is a big reason why I cannot get on board.

Refuting Feser really is relatively easy, once you understand where his views go wrong. SJ's review of me is not at all a refutation of me, or of naturalism. I'm glad he did it though, as I think it is very important for our views to be "peer reviewed" and SJ is very knowledgeable of A-T metaphysics. That being said, if this is the best critique SJ can do, I don't think my naturalism or my central critique of Feser's views were deeply challenged at all, but they were sharpened. Feser's the one with protruding arrogance, seen all throughout his book, meanwhile he fails so miserably to demonstrate his point.

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