Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Aristotelian Teapot

A little over a year ago, I created a post on Russell's teapot(Long may we drink!), and how the objections being offered to the analogy did not seem well-founded to me. However, I will fully admit that I did not understand a couple of beliefs regarding the Aristotelian version of God. For example, as occasional commentator Thomas pointed out, any concept of a God that moves or changes, like the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) will be vastly different from the Aristotelian concept.

However, Russell's Teapot doesn't actually move or change very much. Below the fold, I discuss whether it can be turned into a comparable God to the Aristotelian god. I'll do this by looking at the four arguments of Dr. Feser's that I discussed in part five of my review of his book and seeing if they can be applied to a suitable version of the Teapot (lmwd).

For the Teapot to be the Unmoved Mover, it needs to be something that is immune to change. The normal idea is that this means it is pure form, since in traditional Aristotelian metaphysics material changes, and form does not. However, I think these ideas are outdated. We now know that biological forms do change. For example, the form of a horse has changed from Hyracotherium some 52 million years ago to the modern horse. Since forms can change, the unchangability of the Unmoved Mover can not be a product of being pure form. Thus, the Unmoved Mover does not need to be pure form; it can be an unchanging combination of form and material. The Teapot, sitting as it does in the center of the universe, unchanging, never moving, uses its vast power to activate the chains of potential from all actualities. In addition, you can put water and tea leaves into it, heat the water, and pump the tea out, all without making any change to the Teapot (lmwd) itself. Truly the Teapot (lmwd) is the very embodiment of the Unmoved Mover, realizing every potential, plus making a great cup of tea.

Being the Teapot (lmwd) in no way interferes with taking on the role of the First Cause (who joins forms to material things), the Supreme Intelligence (who maintains final causes for substances so they can be approached), nor the Form Keeper (who keeps real the forms of things that don't exist, like unicorns). After all, whatever means are available to the pure-form God of classical Aristotelianism are also available to the Teapot (lmwd). So, the Teapot (lmwd) is not refuted by the adoption of Aristotelian metaphysics. I'm sure this will come as a surprise to everyone who thought that a metaphysical system rejected by religious people hundreds of years ago would hold the key to disproving a modern philosophical analogy.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

"We now know that biological forms do change."

Essentialism, at least if applied to such briefly existing entities as species, is false. This fact is conveniently ignored my Feser. But as a resolute axe-grinder, he is forced to ignore facts that make is position untenable.

Thomas said...

An unmoved teapot could not be Aristotle's unmoved mover for several reasons. The first has to do with the form of a teapot: because a teapot is an artifact (i.e., because it is not a product of nature but of human craft) it does not have a form in the strictest sense, whereas Aristotle's unmoved mover is pure form (this follows from the later part of the dialectic in the Metaphysics).

Second, even if the form of a teapot were a product of nature, the form itself implies the material; when you think of a teapot, you always think of a teapot made of material. Therefore, the form of a teapot is a "mixed" form, which is the case with all compound things. The form's actuality is always bound up with material.

Third, because the form of a teapot always involves material, it is always spatially extended. The prime mover, because it is pure form, has no extension (Aristotle argues for this at length in the earlier part of the Physics).

There's actually a few more reasons this doesn't work; which I will try to explain later if I have time.

thomas said...

It's important to remember that motion, for Aristotle, does not quite mean moving around in space. In fact, he suggests at some points that, in a way, motion belongs to the prime mover (though this is a highly refined sort of motion which only belongs to the heavens). When Aristotle says that the prime mover cannot move, he means that the prime mover lacks the structure of motion, which is the structural feature that guarantees that while a thing changes to something, it also changes from something. Because the prime mover is pure act, it is without motion in this sense.

A teapot, even if it were really is a form, always implies material. Material, for Aristotle, is just raw potential. Potentiality, therefore, is bound up with the form of a teapot.

This is why it doesn't make sense to talk about a divine anything that's a natural, compound thing. Anything that's composed of matter and form does not possess simple, purely formal existence that Aristotle identifies with the divine. This goes for the forms of these things too, because in nature, form and material are not entirely distinct.

One Brow said...

Thank you very much for commenting. I really hope to glean a better understanding of this.

An unmoved teapot could not be Aristotle's unmoved mover for several reasons. The first has to do with the form of a teapot: because a teapot is an artifact ... it does not have a form in the strictest sense, whereas Aristotle's unmoved mover is pure form ...

Perhaps this should be called an Aquinian teapot, or even a Feserian, then. I was still going off of Feser's concepts.

However, it occurs to me that a slight adustment could remove this objections. Replacing the Teapot with the an unmoved, unchanging spherical ball of iron, if you allow for non-lving forms or even with a non-moving version of the IPU, if forms must be living.

Second, even if the form of a teapot were a product of nature, the form itself implies the material; ... The form's actuality is always bound up with material.

Third, because the form of a teapot always involves material, it is always spatially extended. The prime mover, because it is pure form, has no extension (Aristotle argues for this at length in the earlier part of the Physics).


These points seem to be working on concert. My understanding is that the reason the Prime Mover has no material component (and therefore no extension) is that all material things are changeable, and therefore with potential, while forms are not changeable. However, one of my points above are that forms themselves are also changeable, and thus can have potential. So, any Unmoved Mover is not unchangable simply because it is a form, it's unchangeableness must have other origins. This removes the only barrier I know of to being partly material.

Now, if the argument is that the Prime Mover can have no spatial extension without regarding whether it has a material existence or not, and thus can not be material, that converse would certainly go against my example. Is that the nature of the argument? If so, could you summarize it or point me to a source for it?

It's important to remember that motion, for Aristotle, does not quite mean moving around in space. In fact, he suggests at some points that, in a way, motion belongs to the prime mover (though this is a highly refined sort of motion which only belongs to the heavens). When Aristotle says that the prime mover cannot move, he means that the prime mover lacks the structure of motion, which is the structural feature that guarantees that while a thing changes to something, it also changes from something. Because the prime mover is pure act, it is without motion in this sense.

I think I understand this.

A teapot, even if it were really is a form, always implies material. Material, for Aristotle, is just raw potential. Potentiality, therefore, is bound up with the form of a teapot.

My understanding is that forms did not possess this potential for Aristotle.

This is why it doesn't make sense to talk about a divine anything that's a natural, compound thing. Anything that's composed of matter and form does not possess simple, purely formal existence that Aristotle identifies with the divine. This goes for the forms of these things too, because in nature, form and material are not entirely distinct.

I know I am taking Aristotle's metaphysics to places Aristotle does not. I am pointing out that Aristotles apparent acceptance of forms as unchanging, which allowed the divine to exist in forms to be unchanging purely from the nature of existing as form, was in error from what we can tell. Forms do change. so, if the divine is unchanging, it is for a different reason than being pure form. Whatever reason that is could apply to the material of the divine just as easily as the form.

Of course, I could be horribly misinderstanding some things. I do understand that I am not taking a position Aristotle would recognize, though. :)

thomas said...

For Aristotle, not all forms are the same. He uses an intentionally silly example to get this across. The form of a bulbous nose differs from the form of an indented nose in that the form of the bulbous nose includes the material, while the form of the indented nose implies an absence of material (the concave, empty space).

Aristotle is trying to get across the point that certain forms relate to material differently. Some require material in order to be realized. We say that unicorns don't exist while horses do. The two are the same sort of form, but the latter is instantiated in material while the former is not.

Some forms don't require any material to be real, numbers being the immediate example. Whether there somewhere is a quantity of 900,000 things has no bearing on whether the number 900,000 is real or not. The form of numbers remains indifferent to material.

It should be clear that what we mean by the reality of numbers is distinct from the reality of horses, but that is the whole point. What it means for each to be real differs because the sort of form they have, and the way the form relates to material is different.

The absurdity of a divine teapot or iron ball (which is the whole point, as it is a reductio ad absurdem argument) lies in talking about something that has a compound existence (in other words, something whose form implies material) as though it were something that has simple existence. The very absurdity of the argument, which is supposed to show Aristotle's argument as absurd, turns on the very distinction Aristotle makes in order to talk about the prime mover.

I wasn't very clear in the last comment about what Aristotle means by "unmoved". It's a very difficult concept, and I often have trouble with it myself. Motion, for Aristotle, includes something like billiard balls rolling around on a table, but this is only a start to what motion means. If the billiard balls were absolutely still -- the impossibility of this at the atomic level notwithstanding -- they would still be in motion, though inactively. Motion, for Aristotle, includes anything that has potency, and so the very fact that the billiard balls could move if they were struck means that they have a participate in motion, even though they are not actively in motion.

A ball of iron lying motionless in the center of the universe would still be "in motion" for Aristotle in the deeper sense, for two reasons. If someone struck it with a harder substance, it would be marked, and therefore it would change. More importantly, it is made of material, and for Aristotle material is just a kind of potency; any being having potency belongs to motion, even if the thing's motion is inactive for the moment.

The only way around this would be to say that it is only the form of an iron ball that is the unmoved mover. However, the form of an iron ball implies material (namely iron), and so the form would not be real, because it lacks what makes it real. But what makes it real also puts it in the category of moved things.

Aristotle's arguments on the unmoved mover would exclude anything like a teapot or an iron ball from being the unmoved mover quite early in the argument. He doesn't do this in order to avoid absurd results; it's just the natural flow of the inquiry.

I'm not sure how much of this Feser covered since I haven't read the book, but these really are basic aspects of Aristotle's Metaphysics and if they weren't included, they should have been. But, then again, this is rather technical stuff, and his book would probably not have been as popular had he spent much time on it.

Rob said...

"Motion, for Aristotle, includes something like billiard balls rolling around on a table, but this is only a start to what motion means. If the billiard balls were absolutely still -- the impossibility of this at the atomic level notwithstanding -- they would still be in motion, though inactively."

So according to you, when Aristotle uses the words "move" or "motion", he is not using the words in the same way everyone else uses them. So then why not use a different word?

Also, as Aristotle is using the word, it does not correspond to any phenomenon that exists other than in his imagination.

If someone tells me an object is "in motion" whether or not the object is moving or is still, then he speaks gibberish.

thomas said...

Rob,

Aristotle lived and wrote quite a while before the Newtonian concept of motion, which is the way the word is used now. I would think it's more than a bit unfair to require Aristotle to adapt his terminology to the common parlance of a much later time.

Aristotle is not so concerned with words as he is with concepts, and he actually does deal extensively with locomotion as a kind of motion, with the structure of motion itself, and with its relation to change (all of which is found in the Physics). Aristotle actually does bring up something like Newtonian motion, and argues against it exhausting motion itself.

As to Aristotle's use of the word, a couple of points. If you've read Newton, you know that his method is highly a priori (that is, it doesn't begin from experience, but with abstract concepts). His concept of motion which the public tends to adopt today is basically change of position in abstract space. This concept of motion is highly removed from experience, as we simply don't perceive inert bodies move through abstract space, at least in ordinary experience. As the phenomenological movement of the last century has pointed out extensively, space, for us, is not immediately abstract, but immediately significant. The only way we get to abstract space is by taking the phenomenal space and "subtracting" what makes it significant. (If you want to see this argument in detail, Husserl's "The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology" is probably the best place to start if you have philosophical training. It should still be accessible so long as you're willing to put time into it.)

Aristotle actually begins from lived experience in a very phenomenological way, and step by step elucidates concepts, clearing away their ambiguities and developing a stronger philosophical foundation for them. This is the vaunted Socratic dialectic at work, and it begins with human experience and removes that which is unfounded and synthesizes that which is grounded in truth in order to reach a more solid position.

This is what is going on in Aristotle's concept of motion. He doesn't just throw it out there as though it were self-evident, it is the product of a lot of wrestling and reflection on how we experience motion commonly.

If you don't want to read the Physics, there are overviews of Aristotle's concept of motion on the internet (http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-mot/), but they tend to portray the concept without arguing for it.

Rob said...

Pre-Newtonian / Post-Newtonian is irrelevant. If someone says that a moving object is moving, and also says that a not-moving object is moving, then they are just making noises that don't mean anything.

I have no clue if that is in fact Aristotle's claim, but it seems to be your distillation.

What does it mean to say something is "inactively in motion" as you have? Suppose I told you I was a non-male male? I trust you would think I spoke non-sense.

thomas said...

Rob,

That's quite a pronouncement on a subject you clearly do not understand (which is especially evident where you equate activity with motion). You're simply assuming that locomotion is the only sort of motion.

I'll try to explain it briefly to help you understand. Motion is when a potential moves from being potentially to being actually. Think of how when you go to the beach you tan; before you go, your skin is potentially tanned, after you go it is actually tanned. For Aristotle, motion is just that, when a potentiality becomes actual. It could have to do with color, it could have to do with size, it could have to do with quality, or it could have to do with place. But it is not limited to movement with regard to place, that's just one species of motion.

Aristotle probes more deeply than this. He finds (through a series of arguments) that natural things have a structure which allows them to move. This structure maintains potentiality in a thing. Think of how, before you tan, the whiteness of your skin is actually, but as you tan, it slides into being potentially. This structure guarantees that when you change in some respect, there is potentiality left over so that you don't get "stuck".

But we can think of this more simply: that the structure of motion involves being made of actuality (which is what a thing currently is) and potentiality (which is what a thing might be). This is what Aristotle calls compound existence.

To bring the discussion around, a thing does not have to be actually moving to possess the structure of motion (i.e., have compound existence).

The reason this is important for this argument is that Aristotle's argument for the existence of God (often called the cosmological argument) excludes any composite being from being the prime mover. The prime mover by definition is pure act, with no potentiality. And since anything made of material has potentiality, nothing material can be the prime mover.

If you wish to deal with these issues more in depth, Aristotle's Physics or the link I provided would be a good place to start.

One Brow said...

Rob,

I agree with Thomas that is is not reasonable to expect Aristotle, speaking the Greek of 2300 years ago, should be expected to use words the same way we do. YOu cdan't even make precisxde translations from modern English to modern German most of the time.

Rob said...

"Motion is when a potential moves from being potentially to being actually."

I cannot follow your jargonized Patois. You and Aristotle are free to use your own private language as you wish. But you should realize that such language deviance subverts the purpose of language.

The Source of All Knowledge has a great quotation. ;) Wikipedia:

"Aristotle's principles are not correct in any approximation, and they do not accurately describe anything in our universe."

So Aristotle's argument for God proceeds from principles that exist only in his imagination. And so his god.

One Brow said...

Thomas,

I'd like to reboot this discussion, because I think we are not looking what I was trying to address. Let's start with a couple of questions Was Aritotle's notion of a form that the form itself is unchanging? Given how the forms of horses have changed over the years, can that be supported as a reasonable metaphysical proposition?

Rob said...

This will be my last comment. I will attempt to translate Thomas's last post into language I find more clear.

"Motion" for Aristotle is the same as "change". One example: skin tone. When something changes, it can change again. A thing does not have to be changing currently to have the potential for change.

The second to last paragraph I cannot make any sense of. Cheers.

Thomas said...

Onebrow,

As to whether biological forms change, I'm not really sure what Aristotle would say. He does seem to indicate that forms are eternal at times, but this usually is in regard to mathematical things. For me, if Aristotle's metaphysics did not allow for common descent then it would be disproven. I can think of two ways to approach this.

1. The forms are eternal, but this does not affect common descent. In this approach, bacteria would not have the form of a horse, but gradually the ancestors of a horse took on the form of a horse more and more. An animal could therefore be more or less of several forms. Remember too that form in the higher sense doesn't mean shape exactly, it means the look that is said in speech (so in some sense Aristotle would say that in order for a paleontologist to say "that looks like a saber tooth tiger" there must a recognizable form).

2. Perhaps Aristotle's approach does allow for forms of natural things to change. This has actually been argued by James Chastek at Just Thomism (http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/aristotle-essentialism-and-evolution/).

The gist of Chastek's post is that because the forms of natural things always involve material (in other words, when you think of a natural thing, say a tree, you can't even think of it without its material), and because material always involve changes, the forms of natural things would change over time.

I don't think Aristotle actually says this, but it's probably a logical extension of his philosophy.

This argument does turn on the distinction between forms that involve material and forms that don't; and although popular works on Aristotle wouldn't get into it because it's a technical, deep issue, you've identified the problem of not making that distinction in your argument.

thomas said...

Rob,

If you wish to think of "change" rather than "motion" that would be fine for the purpose of this argument, although keep in mind that Aristotle does distinguish the two concepts.

Words used in philosophy (and any specialized discipline) very often acquire much more technical meanings than they have in common parlance. Aristotle usually starts out with the common meaning and refines it over the course of his inquiry; since we're talking about his system as a whole, we have to skip those steps. If you wish to pursue philosophic discussion, you will have to learn to be comfortable with specialized terms... I can only imagine what you would think of Heidegger or Kripke if you don't make that adjustment.

One Brow said...

Thomas,

Is there more to being "the look that is said in speech" than being a description?

Going back to the Teapot, I'm not sure how much of the argument you understand, and how much you are getting from Russell's version. We don't call the Teapot by that name because it is an artifact, rather, we call the artifacts that resemble the Teapot teapots. The whole point of this variation on the Teapot argument is that whatever makes a substance lacking in potential is not inimical to that substance being form or material, but must be for some other reason relating to that object in particular. Thus, the Teapot can't be cracked, or heated, or in any other way changed, because it is pure actuality, without potential. Expecting it to have the potentials of other Teapots is missing the point.

thomas said...

"[W]hatever makes a substance lacking in potential is not inimical to that substance being form or material, but must be for some other reason relating to that object in particular."

I'm not sure I understand this. It sounds like you're saying whether or not a thing has potentiality is a question regarding particular objects rather than whether the thing is made of matter or form. The problem with this view is that for Aristotle, material is a sort of potentiality; anything that has material partakes in potentiality.

Since in reality the form and the material of a natural things are not entirely separate (though they can be distinguished) because the form of natural things includes the material, no real natural thing and no form of a natural thing could be the unmoved mover. By definition the unmoved mover is pure actuality, and by definition natural things and the forms of natural things are not.

Let me put it this way. If a natural thing does not have material, then we would think it not to be real because it's form is incomplete--it needs matter in order to be real. The form itself, in order to be real in any sense, needs material; since the prime mover would have to be real this wouldn't work. However, some forms do not require material to be real: numbers, equality, and so on.

The prime mover is more like these, but Aristotle is required to make further distinctions. In order to say that these have being, we must have some single meaning common to mathematical things that give them being. Yet physical things have being too, but in a different way. The reasoning gets especially complex here, but at this point Aristotle argues that being is meant analogously by all the different things that have being, and this is only possible if there is a primary sense of being that makes the analogy possible. This is the prime mover.

One Brow said...

Thomas,

Is there more to being "the look that is said in speech" than being a description?

I feel that until I get a better handle on that, our discussion is not likely to even lead to a fruitful agreement to disagree. YOu seem ot see non-material forms as granite, I see them as clay.

thomas said...

Form as the look that is said in speech is just one of Aristotle's way of indicating that the forms of natural things are not hidden, but are actually the most obvious aspect of a thing (so obvious, in fact, that one can easily miss it when reflecting, as Hume does). The form of a thing is that unity which holds it together, making it one thing. This is easily perceived; when you're turning a book over in your hand, you don't need reflection to immediately intuit that the back and front of the book belong to one book, even though you can't see them both at the same time. In other words, in the normal course of events you immediately perceive the unity of an object, and only then perceive its parts (extension, color, etc.). That immediate wholeness that one finds in experience even before reflection begins is what Aristotle means by form.

That holds mostly with natural things (where the form and matter are intermingled), but it also applies by analogy with immaterial forms. We perceive number by an immediate perceptive act, not by finding it in nature and abstracting the form of number out of things (as many modern philosophers, like Kant have realized). Intellectual perception perceives the immaterial form in a similar way that physical perception perceives the material form.

One Brow said...

When you use "that unity which holds it together, making it one thing", that certainly sounds like more than a description. However, when I read, "immediate wholeness that one finds in experience even before reflection begins", that says to me that it is our experience that creates the form, i.e., it is a description we have of the properties of the object. I have no problem saying the description is real (for example, on object being red represents an actual property of the object). But if that is all a form is, the whole Supreme Intelligence argument is completely vapid. Why would you need a Supreme Intelligence to remember a description?

J said...

The Form may be apparent: the form of oak trees, say. The Form-keeper isn't, whatever it is (DNA, in modern terms). Aristotelian I am not, but the existing object, or particular Oak Tree is supposedly separate from the essence (though at the same time, Aristotle says essences aren't universals, to confuse things...a distinction between natural objects and mathematics, left over from his mentor Plato, perhaps). Yet it's all part of Substance, which the Unmoved mover shapes, sets into motion, though any particular may be subject to change/motion/accidents, etc.; so there is process, even changes of form (a form of wind??oceans?/ etc.), but the Being behind the scenes does not Himself change... Whoa. nutty scholasticism in a nutshell.

Aristotelian ghosts don't phase Russell's teapot analogy (except maybe by assuming that a religious deity (deities?) exists, but is not detectable). Russell btw does not claim the analogy disproves the existence (or possible existence) of God, or gods, or FSMs. He's saying it's ridiculous to put the burden of proof on the naysayers, who take the far more reasonable view (even if a negative claim) that the teapot does not exist, though they are unable to completely verify it. Really what Russell says is somewhat remarkable...., logically speaking: he's saying within the domain of the universe (infinite? or close), one doesn't make existence claims, unless one knows everything about said universe. And a finite speed of light complicates matters further; what we see of distant space occurred millions if not billions of years ago. What if God did live... with some celestial space maidens.... in a small space ship in the andromeda galaxy though? We would not likely ever know....

The teapot's brings up similar issues to miracles. People who insist they see the Virgin Mary can't reproduce the vision/manifestation. Yet it's just not in line with normal shall we say newtonian reality, the uniformity of experience, which is really all the skeptic can say, apart from demanding evidence. It's possible Mary floats over the waves, or a teapot floats in outer space (a bit more unlikely, though), but the uniformity of experience weighs heavily against it.

(Hey OB_-did you note the little conservative philosophaster scandal brewing ?? MavP now appears to be questioning...the Trinity!, claiming it's an ad hoc reading of aristotle, or something. And Von Feiser's upset, as are other of the e-papists).

One Brow said...

Hey J.,

I'm starting to despair getting any answer at all over whether the Aristotelian form is more than a description. I realize that the answer is not *just* a yes or no, but it would be nice to have someone make that choice as a starting point. Instead, everyone seems to want to imbue form with effects while denying there are effects, or something similar.

I agree with you regarding the intention of the Russell analogy, but of course the arguments of Dr. Feser, et. al., is that there are positive reasons to accept the existence of God. For now, geting them to discuss these arguments is like getting any other sort of denialist to sdiscuss the details of their arguments; they shift and wriggle like gelatin.

I'm not a big fan of the unifomity of experience argument against miracles, personally. While I do assume the universe behaves uniformly for practical reasons, I think it is a poor argument to use against things that by their nature are supposed to violate uniformity. I see arguments about insufficient witnesses, confirmation bias, etc. as being much more convincing.

I don't think Dr. Vallicella is doubting the Trinity, rather some areguments that are use to explain/defend it. Of all the right-wing blogs I have seen, Dr. Vallicella strikes me as among the more serious and responsible. No doubt Dr. Feser would be upset with any comrade who did not strictly toe the party line, but they place uniformity and loyalty over carefulness, from what I can tell.

J said...

I'm not a big fan of the unifomity of experience argument against miracles, personally. While I do assume the universe behaves uniformly for practical reasons, I think it is a poor argument to use against things that by their nature are supposed to violate uniformity. I see arguments about insufficient witnesses, confirmation bias, etc. as being much more convincing.

I agree to an extent, but I don't think Hume says miracles are impossible because of the uniformity of experience, but that UoE should be a consideration, along with the possibility of mistaken testimony, exaggeration, ...hoaxes, etc. But the fact that we have not seen the dead coming back to life (or the rest of the supernatural events of the Old and New Testament) does count for something, I believe. Someone says he saw a chupacabra, most of us say we'll withhold assent to that claim until we see something which shows a break in the uniformity of experience, and still keep doubting (say a video, which has been nearly certainly doctored, etc). So we assume UoE--or at least sane people do--even it's not stricly a necessary argument, but cogent.

The biblical miracles and parables themselves might be read as metaphors as well (a point some literal-minded believers as well as overly reductionist atheists overlook). Or at least something like the Book of Revelation seems slightly more understandable when read as symbolic--or, wars between nations, races, etc--than a literal 7 headed beast with a Jezebel holdin' the reins....

One Brow said...

I agree that, to the extent you withhold consent for the unusual without proof thereof, acceptance of uniformity is a rational position. I was merely referring to it being used as an argument that miracles didn't occur.

I see a difference between the intended meaning of the resurrection of Lazarus versus that of having seven heads and ten horns. You can argue that something is intended as a metaphor, but subjectively it seems more natural to some stories than others.

J said...

Well, is the dead coming back to life that different than a seven headed beast? If pigs fly, then whales fly too!

That's another reason I respect Hume's writing contra-miracles; he's saying something like, given supernatural premises (the dead come back to life, virgin births, angels, demons, etc) anything goes.

And thus Hume denies the inerrancy of scripture--really the key point. Scripture might offer some interesting metaphors, and wisdom of a sort, but could not be used as the basis for politics, or law, or theocracy (whether xtian, muslim, or jewish)--something the fundamentalists (including the ones on the Supreme court) continue to forget.

One Brow said...

Yes, the dead coming back to life is different, at least in the clear (to me, anyhow) intent of the author to portray the event. The author of Revelations gives many clues that he is using symbols ("it is the number of a man", "this means the second death", etc.). YOu don['t have those clues in Matthew.

I agree with the anything-goes argument concerning miracles. However, I don't think that alters the intent of the authors.

J said...

Speaking of Aristotle, note that Doc Feiser rarely mentions miracles, the Resurrection, virgin birth and the rest of the spooky stuff from the bible (ie, the Book of Revelation funhouse). One could speculate...but I don't believe even the ancient Stagirite penned a tome on the dead coming back to life: On Zombies.

That said, Easter may have a symbolic meaning. Arrival of spring, equinox, the Nile flood in in ancient egypt. First church of Osiris, OB

One Brow said...

Dr. Feser likes to think his positions are based on reason rather than faith/wish, so naturally he winds up downplaying the miracles.

Easter has meant a lot of different things to different people. That is different from saying the resurrection narrative of Mark was intended to be symbolic.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Perhaps you've seen my points contra-Feser on Reppert's blog.

I don't really have time or energy to write dozens of eloquent, subtle paragraphs criticizing each of Feser's anachronistic views, but boil it down to one central criticism (related to the Teapot analogy, really): even a metaphysican who holds to immaterialism, or substance dualism makes an empirical claim of a sort. Feser's NOT offering axioms or necessary definitions, is he? So even if what he thinks exists can't be readily detected by our senses, he insists it exists nonetheless, and thus his claims of substance dualism are subject to verification of some sort (ESP! spoon bending! etc).

The arguments are hardly more sophisticated than that. IN other words, Feser asserts that since brain science can't apparently account for human thinking, language, Truth, logic/mathematics etc (according to his rather limited, layman's knowledge of neurology and cogsci), souls exist! (and the rest of the theological jargon follows)--

In fact, he commits the logical fallacy of ad ignorantium (as does the fundamentalist who claims that since Skeptic X cannot disprove the merely possible existence of a monotheistic God, therefore G*d exists....)

One Brow said...

Dr. Feser does make empirical claims, but I don't have a problem with the empirical claims that I saw in TLS. These claims are of the sort that the potential for an effect must be present in some fashion before the effect, that something has to activate that potential, and so on. I would say his major mistakes are infact those of axiom choice (some chains of essential caustaion have an end, and therefore must have a beginning), definition (I still can't get a good answer on what role form is supposed to play in existence), and even the deliberate use of logicval fallicies because sometimes they happen to be true.

As to whether substance dualism couldbe empirically verified, my guess would be that Feser would be disinclined to agree. He'd be more likely to compare that to trying to detect sound with a digital thermometer.

Yes, I agree Feser commits ad ignorantium (or perhaps personal incredulity), but he acknowledges he is not afraid to swallow fallacious thinking whole, so that is no surprise.