Friday, March 18, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 2: Final Causality

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 2 on final causality.

Final Causality

When it comes to final causality, if this goes, A-T metaphysics goes. On final causality SJ says:

Now, the final cause of a substance, as Aristotle articulates it, is the end or goal that it will reliably generate. For example, an acorn will reliably generate an oak tree, given certain favorable conditions. It will not generate a bicycle or a rock. Thus, the oak is the final cause of the acorn—note that a substance can have multiple final causes.

I maintained in the review that if final causality merely means causal regularity, then this is perfectly compatible with dysteleological physicalism. So even if it is true that I completely miss the mark that final causality must apply solely to substances and not events or process (which I don't) it doesn't mean all my arguments are therefore false. It is possible to not fully comprehend something in your criticism of it while your criticism is still valid.

Final causality, as Aristotle articulated it, is not predicated of events. That is, he didn’t say that events in life, like car accidents, have an end-goal, or purpose, in mind. Rather, Aristotle’s ontology of final causes was meant to apply to substances. So The Thinker’s comprehension here is simply confused, and since his argument is predicated on such confusion, it can likewise be dismissed.

When it comes to events, Feser did say that the "evolutionary process itself" would exhibit final causality if it were shown that everything in the biological realm could be explained in terms of natural selection, as a kind of fail safe that all the "followers of Aquinas" would take (p. 114). So if SJ is right here that final causality never applies to events or processes, then Feser is wrong on page 114 where he makes the point that final causality could apply to events or processes. Regardless of whether we're strictly talking about substances or substances + events, there is no teleological final causality Feser (or SJ) has demonstrated. They are simply asserting that the reliable effects of causes are the cause's "goal." This is a very weak argument to rest theism on. There is dysteleological "final causality" — if you even want to call it that, which I don't think we should. I think the term final causality is itself completely antiquated and full of misleading connotations, and the fact that Thomists have to keep explaining what it really means is evidence for that. We need to drop this kind of language altogether when talking about the world we live in.

Moreover, when this inadequate understanding was brought to The Thinker’s attention, yet again, in the comments section of his Chapter 2 post, he did not admit fault nor did he subsequently adjust his review so as to not argue against a caricature of Feser’s position. Rather, he simply stated that he had also addressed final causality of substances. But The Thinker seems oblivious to the fact that when you straw-man an individual’s position, this fallacy is not swept under the rug simply because you didn’t straw-man it in another instance.

We did debate that point about final causality applying to events and processes beforehand and I included it specifically in my review to prevent Feser's own attempt to claim processes would exhibit final causality, as he says in his book on p. 114. I wanted to include a rebuttal of final causality to processes and substances to cover both ends. So I'm not straw-maning Feser's position, although I admit I could have made it more clear what I was trying to do. He really did suggest evolution would exhibit final causality, and by that he meant teleological final causality—as distinct from dysteleological final causality, which is the crucial distinction SJ fails to fully acknowledge in his review of me. I find the notion of any kind of teleology in evolution absurd given the history of it. Nothing could be more dysteleological and more incompatible with omnibenevolence.

And what’s amusing about this is that this is the section where The Thinker claims to finally be faithfully applying final causality to substances and addressing Feser’s ontology, yet he simply reverts back to processes and thus fails to engage the material honestly.

I also mentioned that the human penis evolved its shape to plunge out other men's semen from the human vagina, in response to Feser's argument that it's sole final cause regarding its sexual uses is to get semen into the vagina. That final cause flies in the face of Feser's Catholic views on sex that he bases his natural law theory on, by showing how non-monogamy literally shaped our evolution. So SJ is incorrect that in "every" instance I apply final causality to events and not things. But the whole point I want to stress, is that even if I had done so, Feser's claim that things must have teleological final causes is totally illogical and mostly asserted. Mere causal regularity is perfectly compatible with dysteleological final causes, and given this, his case for teleological final causality falls apart since he claims it must require teleology.

First, Feser does deal with arguments against final causality. On page 180 Feser deals with the criticism that final causality is circular, tautological and meaningless.

Page 180 is in chapter 5, I was reviewing chapter 2 and 3! Why should I have to wait until chapter 5 to get to the arguments against final causality? (The chapters in Feser's book at very long, 60-70 pages sometimes.) And whatever criticism I made of chapter 2, chapter 5 doesn't apply since I had not read to that point when I wrote my review for chapter 2. And on p. 180 Feser doesn't really address the strong arguments against final causality. He does mention circularity, but I'm not sure that counts as a strong argument.

Second, Feser does provide a “killer” argument in favor of final causality in light of the fact that efficient causality—and also causal regularity—necessitates and is a sufficient condition for final causality. That is to say, Feser makes the argument that if causal regularity exists in nature, of which it surely does, then final causes cannot be avoided. So The Thinker, to put it bluntly, simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Au contraire. This can't possibly be the killer argument I was demanding for final causality because it's so easily refutable. SJ just assumes that final causality here must be teleological final causality. He completely ignores the fact that mere causal regularity does not necessitate teleology but is perfectly compatible with dysteleology. And mind you, there is only a necessity for "final causality" because causal regularity is simply being defined as final causality, and hence what SJ is really saying is that causal regularity necessitates and is a sufficient condition for causal regularity. A tautology. The idea requires no teleology whatsoever. That's why there is no logical necessity in this faux "killer" argument. 

Wow. This is again a straw-man of Feser’s position—and a bad one at that—because The Thinker cannot seem to comprehend that final causality is not predicated of events. This is now the third time The Thinker has done this so far—again, what makes this even worse is that The Thinker was warned about this mischaracterization of the Aristotelian position before he even began writing his review!

In the section SJ was responding to I was using the example of Mexican food—a substance—reliably bringing about farts—technically a substance too, but also an event. Change the word "event" there to "substance" and my point is exactly the same: SJ is simply just taking the effect of a natural substance and labeling that as its "goal." It's typical ass-backwards type thinking. See that? So claiming I'm lost on final causality solely applying to substances doesn't refute my argument at all. Additionally, substances without events do nothing. They'd exist frozen and changeless. All change is an event, and so as a substance changes from one state to another, events are required. Substances change because forces change them. An efficient cause, for example, is an event. It's something outside of a thing changing it to a potential that the thing had. The event (change) has to therefore exhibit final causality. In every example Feser gives of final causality he mentions an event that happens to a substance, like for example, the striking of a match to reliably produce fire. So I'm not convinced that events and processes cannot have final causes in the A-T conception, and Feser seems to think so himself. But SJ insists that this is not the case with what Feser was arguing. I'm arguing that language in which there is a teleological connotation, like saying the cause C was for the effect E, is misleading. It smuggles in conceptions that the effect is the main driver and in a sense retroactively determines the cause, just like how theistic evolution tries to claim all the substances and events in the past were for producing humans. And again, mere causal regularity does not logically entail teleological final causality. So SJ finally addresses this here:

First, The Thinker’s mention of “dysteleological laws” here is confused. Feser would actually agree that the laws of nature and physics are non-teleological, and he never claimed otherwise.

Great, so therefore we can forever jettison the silly fine tuning argument! If substances have teleology, and the laws of physics describe substances and show no hint of teleology, then it is illogical to say that substances have teleology. SJ to me makes no logical sense here.

What Feser has claimed is that the substances that the laws refer to do exhibit teleology. So the talk is not about whether or not the laws of physics are teleological, of course they’re not; laws are mere descriptions. The talk is about whether substances are teleological, and so far The Thinker has not addressed this question at all. So, The Thinker’s misnomer of “dysteleological laws” doesn’t even make sense, and even if it did make sense, it is completely peripheral to Feser’s arguments.

The substances are made of atoms — protons, neutrons, and electrons. They exhibit no teleology whatsoever, and if they did, their descriptions (i.e. the laws of physics) would exhibit that teleology. They are completely dysteleological. In fact, their interaction at the quantum level is time symmetric. And the focus here shouldn't be on the laws themselves, but what they describe. That's what I was referring to when I mentioned "dysteleological laws." The substances and forces they describe are not in any way teleological. It is just assumed or asserted without conclusive logic that causal regularity must entail teleology. It doesn't; and neither Feser nor SJ have made any case showing it does.

Second, The Thinker is correct that final causality qua causality is not directly incompatible with naturalism. One could be a naturalist and affirm the existence of final causes, though they would run into a great difficulty explaining why things have final causes in the first place—we’ll see why this is the case when we survey Aquinas’ Fifth Way below. But observe that this is still not an argument against final causes.

Well, at least he acknowledges they are compatible. There is no problem with Aqunas' Fifth Way argument, as we shall see. This is indeed an argument against teleology, which the Thomist is banking on. If that goes, Thomism's central claims go, and it thus falls apart. And as for why things have mere causal regularity in the first place on naturalism (which is all that final causality is), this question is made under the assumption that without a god and teleology we shouldn't expect causal regularity and so its existence must be explained. I see no a priori reason to assume that causal regularity is unlikely given naturalism and I don't think they can even objectively assess such a thing without psychological biases from our evolutionary past factoring in. This also assumes the principle of sufficient reason, which we'll get to later.

In this section on final causality we’ve seen that, quite honestly, The Thinker simply has little to no idea what he’s talking about. Every, yes every, objection he attempted to launch against Feser’s defense of final causality caricatured and straw-manned his position.

That's not true at all. I addressed substances and events, although it is true I focused on events more, and that's partly because I don't think it is even logical to claim events and processes cannot exhibit final causality and only substances do, given the concept. Plus Feser himself claims processes can. SJ has not at all fundamentally refuted all my criticism of final causality. The core of my arguments still stand that the concept must distinguish between the teleological and the dysteleological—which Feser of course didn't do, and SJ barely noted—and that this shows mere causal regularity doesn't logically entail teleology. SJ just asserted that they do while making a tautology in the process. On top of that, Feser's fail safe that the evolutionary processes itself exhibits final causality (in a way compatible with omnibenevolence) if it is the case that evolution can explain "everything in the biological realm" (which it can, at least in principle) is totally false. So it is not the case that I've completely straw-maned Feser's entire argument and failed to refute it. SJ is kidding himself. But I leave it up to you, the reader, to assess the situation. Has SJ really refuted the core of my claims?

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