Friday, March 18, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 3: The Existence of God

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 3 on existence of god.

The existence of God

The analogy of being and conceptions of God

SJ starts out saying:

Thomists claim that because God must be metaphysically simple—that is, he is not composed of parts either physically or metaphysically—then the characteristics that we attribute to Him must, in God, be identical.

Then how the hell can Jesus be god, along with the rest of the trinity? That was one of the central criticisms I launched against the Thomistic notion of god and SJ doesn't even mention it once. Furthermore, saying god is identical to the characteristics that we attribute to him means that if we attribute jealousy, anger, malevolence, and things like homophobia to him, then god must be identical to those things. There are several things to address here. First, it would mean god is almost anything we say he is, and there is no way to objectively determine what attributes god has and doesn't have. This is likely because god is just an idea in our minds. Second, there is a presumption of Thomism here in the idea that attributes can have ontological status of their own. As someone who rejects Thomism, I see no reason to think attributes are anything more than the mere descriptions we give to physical things or ideas.

This is an extremely confused statement by The Thinker. First of all, the doctrine of analogy is precisely predicated on the fact that we don’t know “how [G]od really is.”

No it isn't confused at all. It's right on the money in fact. Theists don't know how god really is because it's a made up concept that's kept so vague and mysterious that this shields them from any prying criticism or analysis. It's similar to how some Buddhists conceive of Zen. If god were a vague, made up concept, we wouldn't expect to be able to pin god down in detail. So Thomists like SJ need to keep that in mind when arguing the veracity of their deity: if it were false, we'd expect the same problems that we have. And claiming I made a categorical mistake doesn't get you out of this. The Thomistic god is laced with vagueness. That seems to be part of its essence. And this is a god who supposedly wants us to "know" him and created the whole universe for this very purpose. Totally absurd.

Second, an analogous attribution itself necessitates a vague (though not necessarily so mysterious) application—again, that’s what an analogy is. But this should not at all present any problem for the conception of God, unless one simply states that analogies are invalid forms of attribution, which would be an extreme and, I maintain, an indefensible position to espouse. So The Thinker simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on here. His objection is only efficacious if we assume that predicating something by analogy is wrong-headed, and he has demonstrated that this is the case.

No, analogous attributions do not require vagueness. Some analogies are right on the money for describing how another thing is. So this is just false. And this definitely is a problem for the Thomistic conception of god—which is indeed incoherent. If the analogies must always fail to describe how god really is when there is a problem with the very conception of god, then there is no reason to accept the conception of god as coherent and the existence of god as plausible. The coherency of god is literally resting on a faith based position, since it cannot, perhaps even in principle, be demonstrated, if SJ is right. I'm not against analogies—we use them everyday. I'm against incoherent concepts like the Thomistic god being believed as true and organizing one's life around. So SJ's criticism has no leg to stand on here.

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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 1: Form and Essence, Act and Potency

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.

Let me first say that in his review he claims over and over I don't understand Thomistic metaphysics. Let's say this is true and I reject god because of it and I turn out to be wrong. What's god going to say to me when I die? "Well, you didn't get Thomistic metaphysics right. It logically proved my existence. So I'm sorry, but I have to send you to hell now." Is that not absurd? Why should "knowing" god depend so much on complex esoteric metaphysics? God exists and created the world for the purpose of us knowing him, according to almost every theist. Feser even claims this on p. 122 in his book. And yet, god's sure made that very difficult for us. Even if we reject the sadistic notion of hell altogether—as many theists do nowadays, how could it be any less absurd? Given that the Abrahamic god has desires—he wants us to live a certain way—surely us knowing that he exists and knowing how he wants us to live would help that, you'd think. But no. God instead prefers to act like a teenage girl who runs away from her crush instead of getting to know him. The god of Abrahamic monotheism makes no sense given this.

Now off to the review of the review. SJ breaks his review up into sections, not chapters, so I will follow his format.


Form and Essence

SJ starts out saying:

[F]orm or essence of a substance is the intrinsic principle whereby a thing is what it is. To put it another way, when we ask “what is X?” regarding a specific substance, we’re asking for its essence. That is to say, we’re asking what is it about X that renders it X and not Y.

Saying a thing is what it is says nothing particularly special. It's basically the law of identity. A is = to A. B is = to B. And substance wise, every thing is made of fermions and bosons. There has never been anything else demonstrated to be made of anything else. What different things are are just different combinations of atoms. And no, I'm not begging the question when saying this. The burden of proof is on the person who claims that some thing "exists" that isn't ultimately fermions or bosons, or emerged from it, in the sense of weak emergence. When I think of the essence of something, I'm thinking of essential properties: properties a thing has that it cannot not have. Fire for example has the property of being hot. Fire cannot be cold. So being hot is an essential property of fire. Being yellow isn't. Fire can be yellow, orange, red, and even green and blue. But this is a completely secular and materialistic concept; no Thomism required. When it comes to the form of a thing, Thomists have a lot of trouble defining this, as they do with essence. If there is a "Form of Triangle" that individual triangles participate in and can be measured against, then the form of triangle is the shape of triangularity. SJ doesn't offer the definition of form in this section, but merely states that mine is wrong. That's a bit shady. And Feser himself does not define and explain form and formal causes all that strongly in his book and has even noted so on his blog. This is because I think forms and formal causes are probably the hardest concepts for Thomists to define and a big reason why I think this is is because the concepts don't really map onto anything in reality; they're made up.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 6) New Yawk Tawk


THERE'S A WEIRD WAY WE NEW YORKERS TALK that some outsiders may not fully understand. The cities of the Northeast each have their distinct slang and dialects. There’s the Boston accent, which just about everyone considers annoying. The Philadelphia accent, which is similar to the New York accent, but with a bit more Pennsylvanian-Southern Jersey in it. They each have their local slang and ways of pronouncing words. And then there’s the New York accent. Some of the slang terms we use in New York have become national over the years, and some of them derive from the hip hop culture, which of course started in New York. Growing up as a kid in the nineties I remember we used to use words like “wack” which meant bad or lame. “Mad,” which meant a lot, as in “I made mad money last week.” “Foul,” which was similar to wack, but was usually used when somebody wronged another person. And then there was “yo” which could begin or end just about any sentence, as in “Yo that shit was crazy.” It could also serve as a universal greeting, similar to “hi” or “hey.” We’d almost always answer the phone with a “yo.” Perhaps most controversial of all was the N-word. In the hip hop subculture in New York City, everybody used the N-word, regardless of what race you were, but it was always “nigga” and not “nigger.” This might take some people by surprise to see an Asian kid or a white kid drop the N-word, but it wasn’t about racism. It was just a slang term we used it to refer to anyone—regardless of their race. You could be talking about the whitest kid in the world and you might say, “John, that nigga’s mad crazy yo.” I don’t remember a single black person ever getting offended by this in all my years growing up.
     But this was all back when I was a little hood rat. I had since matured greatly and slang terminology fell out of my vocabulary. But some of it still remained, and being around native New Yorkers—especially when drunk—brought it out. I’d like to think that one can be educated and intellectual and still keep some of the slang of one’s youth, or of one’s city. Slang allows you to personalize language. It allows you to create an in-group code. Sure, if used too much it can make someone look like too much of a hood rat or like someone who needs to grow up a little. So I made a conscious effort over the years to minimize my slang and upgrade my vocabulary. I also upgraded my social circle. I stopped hanging out with almost everyone from my old high school clique, most of whom were losers doing nothing with their lives. In college I made new friends. I sought out people I thought were bright and who had a decent head on their shoulders but who still knew how to have a good time. I wasn’t about to stop drinking and partying. I tried to learn new words and sound sophisticated. I even managed to fool a few people in the early years that I actually was a lot smarter than I really was. I even tried to get rid of my accent so that no one would know that I’m from New York. Perhaps in my new persona, that of the sophisticated intellectual, I felt the need to extricate myself from my working class Queens roots. I didn’t want to be judged as a simpleton because of it. The working class New York accent carries with it many connotations. Many of them negative.
    This was all part of crafting my new image. I remember one of my teachers in high school telling me right before graduation that college would be a wonderful experience where you could reinvent yourself. That was exactly what I intended to do, although it didn’t happen immediately. I had no idea who I wanted to reinvent myself into upon high school graduation but I did know I didn’t want to be the person I was in high school.
    And so when you read me and some of my friends using slang when communicating just remember that it’s due to us growing up in our environment as New Yorkers, not because we’re all a bunch of unsophisticated hood rats. (Although clearly not all of my friends are sophisticated intellectuals.)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Consider The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair Speech

Madelyn Murray O'Hair was the founder of American Atheists and one of America's most well known atheist activists during the 20th century. I had barely heard of her. But this is mostly because I was still a kid when she died I got on board with atheist activism after the New Atheist phenomena in the mid 2000s. She died in 1995. This is her speech at the American Atheists convention in 1972 where she goes over the many different kinds of atheists. I think I'm more of a "philosophical atheist."

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 5) Cocaine and The Meaning of Life


WE FINISHED OUR CANCER STICKS, closed out our tab and made it out just as the bar was starting to fill with annoying yuppies. Alex’s apartment was on the Upper East Side just off of Third Avenue. He was a Manhattan kid, growing up right in the heart of one of New York’s most sought after addresses. His parents were well off and gave him a nice upper middle class upbringing, although they weren’t “rich” by New York standards. He was the product of a Jewish father and an African American mother. In Facebook pictures his family looked like the stereotypical liberal cosmopolitan Manhattan family, the kind that wouldn’t be all that hard imagining in a sitcom. He had a younger brother that I had never met.
     I decided to lock my bike up on the street and take the subway with Steve to get to Alex’s apartment since bringing my bike on the train during rush hour would be impossible. I still had time on my monthly Metrocard that if I didn’t use would all go to waste. So we hopped on the subway for the short ride from Midtown to the Upper East Side, stopping to get some orange juice on the way to mix with Alex's vodka. We made the trip up the three flights of rickety old stairs to Alex’s apartment in his prewar brownstone. I knocked on Alex’s door and he opened a second later.
     “Yo what’s good?” Alex said with a big smile. We palmed and patted each other’s backs in typical New York fashion. Alex always showed mad love to his friends. He did the same with Steve, even though they weren’t as good of friends and Alex and I were.
     “We got a bottle of OJ,” I announced. “I thought we’d make some screwdrivers.” I then realized Alex had a lady over.
     “This is Daniella,” Alex said. She was a Dominicana, New York style, sitting on the couch with her legs crossed watching the TV on low. She had glasses, big tits, and some extra fat around her midriff. I knew Alex liked his girls generally on the bigger side. It must have been the black in him.
     “How do you do Daniella?” I asked being cocky and purposely animated.
     “We met at work,” Alex said.
     “Oh nice,” I replied.
     We all got situated on the two couches in his tiny living room and I started making drinks. Steve and I were already sufficiently wasted, and everything Steve said was at maximum volume. I was actually worried in the back of my mind that Steve would get a little out of control since he was such a lightweight with his alcohol. The last thing he needed was vodka. Alex and Steve got reacquainted since it had been some months since hanging out. I got reacquainted with some vodka.
     “Steve! Take it easy on the drinking tonight, alright?” I yelled from the kitchen. “I don’t want you getting crazy on us.” Although Steve was a little guy, only about 5 foot 8, he was often quick to start a fight when drunk.
     “Dude, I’m fine man. I can handle myself,” Steve shouted back.
     “You can’t handle your liquor, that’s what I’m worried about.” I served us all drinks, making note to water Steve’s down a lot and we all sat on the couch.
     “Alex. What’s going on man?” I said in a slightly drunken stupor, “You still working in sales?”
     “Yeah, although I just got into a fight with my boss last week,” he said. “Check this out. They wanted me to work both Saturday and Sunday and I said I couldn’t do it. Then they told me that if I didn’t work both those days they’d fire me. So I told my boss, who’s a total bitch, I was like, ‘Listen, I can’t work seven days a week. I need a life. I’m not working Saturday and Sunday. You can fire me if you want to but I’m not working seven days a week.’ So I didn’t work, I didn’t show up. And you know what? They didn’t fire me. They were bullshiting. They can’t fire me and they know that. But now I’m on their shit-list at work because unlike everyone else, I spoke out. So I still might have to look for another job soon.”
     “Holy shit that’s fucked up,” I said. “You know what? I just got fired from my job earlier this week.” Alex and Daniella’s eyes grew twice their sizes.
     “Your serious?” Alex asked.
     “Yeah, I have no job now.”
     “What happened?” Daniella asked.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Caught Up In Politics

What's the worst thing about having a full time job and a social life? Not being able to blog. It's really tough, let me tell you.

I've got so many blog ideas brewing but I just can't find the time to commit myself to writing them. I've been a lot more social this winter than I expected. It's partly because it's been warmer than in recent years. Last two winters were below average; this winter is above. I've been out more as a result of that and so I haven't been writing what I want to write about.

I just watched the Fox News Republican debate and boy, it was a doozy. It's entertaining and yet scary that this is mainstream American politics. I should be writing a whole lot more about politics.

I'm still doing the Free Will, Science, and Religion podcast. I might be doing an atheism podcast soon with a somewhat known atheist. That should be exciting.

I'm going to see Sean Carroll speak soon here in New York. He's going to be doing public speaking events for his book tour for The Big Picture. I'm really looking forward to this book. It's supposed to make a case for naturalism from a scientist's perspective with a focus on life and meaning in a naturalistic world. I really looking forward to reading the book which I've preordered from Amazon. It's exactly the kind of book I wanted Carroll to write. I bugged him at the World Science Festival a few years ago about being more active in the atheist community and he said he wanted to stick to his day job as a scientist. I can understand that. But maybe it worked or at least he got the message that there is demand for him out there. His book tour will put him at atheist and skeptic events and help make him a stronger figure in the community.


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