Home » Intelligent Design » Frank Beckwith finally disowns ID

Frank Beckwith finally disowns ID

I’ve seen this a long time coming:

www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/11/…

Two quotes in particular stand out for me:

My reasons have to do with my philosophical opposition to the ID movement’s acquiescence to the modern idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge. [Comment from WmAD: Showing that the Enlightenment view of science fails on its own terms is hardly the same as acquiescing to it.]

My point is to provide my reader with an intellectually respectable way to reject Dawkinian [sic] atheism without having to embrace ID. [Comment from WmAD: Why not simply present an intellectually respectable way to reject Dawkinsian--period? Why does he have to put his own preferred method of combating Dawkins explicitly in opposition to ID? Let's see if Dawkins is shaking in his boots at Beckwith's latest salvo.]

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

47 Responses to Frank Beckwith finally disowns ID

  1. Beckwith offers no real reason for his rejection of ID except a philosophical preference. I think we who hold to ID are looking at physical evidence, not at either an attractive philosophy or a way to secretly promote religious agendas.

    “I have doubts about whether ID’s answers can offer an attractive alternative to the inadequacies of the Enlightenment for the rationality of religious belief.

  2. Too bad. I used to greatly respect Beckwith.

    No longer. The only conclusion I can reach is that he is insufficiently knowledgeable concerning engineering, mathematics, and the hard sciences in general, in order to appreciate the ID thesis.

  3. Beckwith seems to have a fundamental disagreement with the ID perspective. But that doesn’t make him into some kind of enemy – he’s admitting that ID raises important questions. He agrees with the larger project of opposing materialism, certainly atheism, and such presuppositions in the sciences. He does, however, feel that ID by its nature makes a strategic concession (or at least a strategic decision to, for arguing purposes, take a certain naturalist presumption as a given) that he can’t square with his own philosophical perspective/approach. And he seems to be spelling this out graciously.

    Edward Feser is making statements along the same lines. I’d also respectfully point out that neither of them are basing their disagreements with ID on engineering, mathematics, or the hard sciences. Their problem is rooted in philosophy, at least by what they’re saying here.

    This sort of thing always breaks my heart, as I find myself with strong ID sympathies, but still in the TE corner. Considering that Beckwith, Feser, and others are manifestly in agreement with many ID proponents on a wide range of questions, and that their differences don’t have nearly the hostility so often seen with others, I hope their decision can be respected – and cooperation/dialogue maintained on the bigger picture.

    One thing that I do think would have Dawkins ‘shaking in his boots’ is a cessation of hostility between differing intellectual factions on this point. If the day comes where Ken Miller is willing to disagree with ID on science, yet find common ground to support other issues (non-materialistic neuroscience comes to mind as a good example), the playing field will be shaken up in a major way – and to the increased disadvantage of Dawkins and company.

    Anyway, just my two cents.

  4. 4

    Modern writings on intelligent design seem to follow Payley, in the sense that they are sharply focused on living organisms and their adaptations. Despite his brilliance, Payley’s neglect (a result of Anglican attitudes) of the prior art in natual theology from Cicero to Aquinas led to a narrow view. One need only dispense with Payley, and one can dispense with God, the Church of England, etc. Which was the whole point of Darwin’s work.

    There is very little exploration of stronger forms of natural theology in the writings of intelligent design proponents. Post-enlightenment natural theology was in some ways a doorstep to atheism. Witness some of the work that appeared in the Bridgewater Treatises. Brilliant as they were, they are theologically shot full of holes. One wonders if some (not all) of these works were supposed to bolster faith or poison it. Some natural theology books of that time were truly execrable.

    There is much more to natural theology than arguments about complexity and adaptation of organisms. Alas, the trend is to ignore all that, as Payley and the post-enlightenment British intelligent design writiers did.

    We should take what is good from Payley and also take what is good from classic natural theology. In some ways though, modern ID is hard to reconcile with the classics and the scholastics. For example, natural forces and things like atoms are considered to be designed in classic natural theology, along with beauty in nature, etc, yet some IDers seem to say that, while life is designed, the other things are not. They make a distinction which introduces a weakness similar to post-enlightenment British writers on natural theology.

    Try this natural theology book (in the classic vein) and see what the similarities and differences are from modern ID:

    Principles of Natural Theology

  5. I don’t understand why people who are supposedly smart insist that ID is somehow a “proof” of God.

    ID is simply a case for design.

    I also don’t understand why people who supposedly believe life to be self-evidently designed feel it is unbecomingly lowbrow be present evidence for this design.

    Now, I accept that ID is falsifiable. If Beckworth wants to say ID is wrong because he can falsify, go for it man!

    Or if he wants to say that he thinks ID may one day be falsified, and feels uncomfortable about signing on, fine, but with this he would have to concede it is a pretty good idea for the time being.

    Beckworth appears to be simply dismissing it because he thinks it’s uncool.

  6. 6

    Beckwith puts it much clearer (in my view) in a subsequent post…

    “What my footnote was suggesting is that the attempt to isolate a portion of nature to detect design empirically (ala Behe) is not where the action is. It is in the overarching assumption that its all a matter of empirical detection. If Behe’s argument works, then more power to him. But what I want to argue is that the degree to which the mind is able to extract patterns, know universals, and make judgments about normative ends is itself “evidence” of design. But it is not empirically detectable, i.e., scientific, but rather, a philosophical claim on which the entire scientific enterprise depends. In my judgment, that’s a much stronger way to go. ” – Beckwith.

    It seems then, that he is not really a dissenter against ID, but rather against weak forms of it. Think of it this way. You can argue all day about the design of molecular nano-machinery in the cell, or about the information in DNA, or countless other biological contrivances, and you can use all sorts of arguments about probability and information to make your point.

    But all that would seem rather strange to me… I mean, look at the obvious for a change. Look at your hands and what they can do… play piano and write and so on. Isn’t it blitheringly obvious they were given to you for a purpose, and hence that is proof of intelligent intention? Is it not clear that the usual Darwinian fairytale — that we aquired hands somehow in the distant past which just happened to be so accidentally providential that we could we put them to future use writing and playing piano… well, isn’t that story absurd on the face of it?

    Or better yet one need only observe a beautiful landscape, and note that beauty implies purposive intention…

    It seems odd to always argue about probabilities and molecules and so on when design in nature is perfectly obvious and irrefutable even to a child.

  7. Vladimir Krondan:

    It seems that Beckwith cannot understand, or appreciate, the difference between a scientific theory and a philosophy.

    Now, I am not saying that one or the other is better, or that both are not necessary. Beckwith is saying that. I am just saying that they are two different things.

    ID is a scientific theory, not a philosophy. What Beckwith is speaking of, instead, is design philosophies. Both are necessary.

    But we have always had design philosophies. A scientific theory of design, instead, with strong and detailed arguments, is rather new.

    So, I think Beckwith is a little bit confused. He is dismissing a solid and fundamental scientific theory, just because he prefers philosophy. It is as though I dismissed Einstein’s relativity just because I think that Schopenauer is cooler.

    Or is Beckwith suggesting that science is useless, or frivolous?

  8. Isn’t it blitheringly obvious they were given to you for a purpose, and hence that is proof of intelligent intention?

    Well, that sort of gets to the point as to the necessity of ID and why Beckworth is probably on the wrong path. Those who control the scientific and cultural establishments demand that it be dogmatically accepted that it is blitheringly obvious that hands etc. are not designed.

    BTW, the Beckworth footnote you provided is reasonable.

  9. 9

    tribune7: “Those who control the scientific and cultural establishments demand that it be dogmatically accepted that it is blitheringly obvious that hands etc. are not designed.”

    Certainly such people have some kind of deep problem, though I am not sure it is a scientific one.

  10. Certainly such people have some kind of deep problem, though I am not sure it is a scientific one.

    But they are running the show.

    You raise a point though. Their motives are not scientific despite their claims. What Dembski’s ID does is attempt to bring science back to the center and end the quasi-religious cult-like philosophy that now takes its name.

  11. Beckwith isn’t getting much support by the commenters in the linked article.

    I think Beckwith fears ID is too entangled with religion and because it is formally an empiric, materialist study of matter in motion and probabilistic outcomes it is thus rendered falsifiable by empiric, materialist study of matter in motion and probabilistic outcomes. He doesn’t want falsifiable tenets of faith getting mixed into Christian theology.

  12. Beckwith’s analysis does not capture the reality of the situation. Darwinian ideology is passed forth as science because science is worshipped and because philosophy has fallen into disfavor. It hasn’t always been that way, and it shouldn’t be that way. In happier times, sound philosophy was the order of the day, and it understood its proper role, which is to inform science with reason’s first principles and provide a solid metaphysical foundation. In fact, Aquinas made the point a long time ago that philosophy can prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) the presence of a designer, and that should had been enough. But the intellectual skepticism of the late middle ages led to the anti-intellectual skepticism of Hume and Kant, who successfully peddled the idea that we can’t really know anything about the real world except that which our senses tell us.

    Soon afterward, the Darwinists came along and aggravated this perversion by suggesting that only naturalistic science can give us the truth about design, which in their small minds, was that it was only an illusion. Science, in their judgment refuted the evidence of God’s handiwork and that was that. Philosophy, which should have come to the rescue, was already too corrupt to do its job. (Bad philosophy is even more destructive than bad science [“the corruption of the best is the worst”]. As a result, only science mattered, and the Darwinists were its gatekeepers. Since science is worshipped, therefore, and since good philosophy (Aristotelian/Thomism) has been taken off the table, only good science can rescue bad science.

    The way back to intellectual sanity is twofold: [A] ID science must refute Darwinist pseudo science on its own terms, and [B] Sound philosophy must be restored in parallel fashion and its reputation must be restored. Without good philosophy, (the belief that we have rational minds, that there is a rational universe, and there is a “correspondence” between the two), ID science will never have the foundation that it needs. Without ID science (empirical evidence that design is real), good philosophy will never again be accepted as valid. This is a dual problem that requires a dual solution. To retire into philosophy as Beckwith proposes is the equivalent of trying to survive on good food without maintaining the requisite input of oxygen.

  13. That’s a well-written post, Stephen.

    However I’m puzzled by one thing: You say that “Without good philosophy, (the belief that we have rational minds, that there is a rational universe, and there is a “correspondence” between the two), ID science will never have the foundation that it needs.”

    I’m an atheist and I believe we live in a rational universe and that our rational minds can comprehend significant parts of that universe, so I don’t see why what you describe as good philosophy is especially useful for ID. Many people who don’t accept ID and don’t believe there is a God who has designed the universe and various parts of it would agree with you and me that we live in a rational universe etc.

  14. StephenB (#12):

    Well said!

  15. Thanks, GP:

    Hazel: I allude to the unfortunate problem that Kant foisted upon the world when he began his inquiry about how can we know truth? Kant saw both the “dogmatism” of Rationalism and the skepticism of Empiricism as unacceptable, and tried to find a new way. As it turns out, there was such a third theory already available, discovered by Aristotle and developed by Aquinas. It was the common sense philosophy of Realism. Realism holds that we can know truth through both the intellect and the senses when they work together. (At one extreme, Rationalism accepts only the role of the intellect; at the other extreme, Empiricism accepts only the role of the senses).

    Rather than return to realism, Kant invented a whole new theory of knowledge. In effect, he reduced objective truth to the realm of the subjective. All previous philosophers had understood that truth was objective. That is what common-sense philosophy is all about. That is what knowing is all about—conforming the mind to objective reality. It is the “correspondence” between the mind and the rational universe that supports the life of the mind. Nevertheless, Kant denied that correspondence and claimed that all knowledge is subjective. In the process, he split the union of faith and reason which had built up western civilization and provided the metaphysical foundations for science and law. In effect, he compromised reason itself.

    Both modern philosophy and science have been fatally corrupted as a result of his error. One of Kant’s best friends had to stop reading “The Critique of Pure Reason” out of fear of going insane. Kant’s destructive epistemology was refuted by Thomas Reid in his own day and has been exposed by Mortimer Adler in the twentieth century. See Adler’s essay, “Little Errors In The Beginning,” which can be easily Googled. For most academics, though, the truth doesn’t matter. They prefer hyper-skepticism because it allows them to revel in their own fantasies rather than submit their intellect and will to objective truth. Many of their unfortunate students contracted the atheism by osmosis without even knowing what hit them.

  16. Thanks for the Philosophy 101 review, Stephen, but I’m not arguing for a Kantian position. I think we live in a rational universe and are able to develop rational knowledge of it, and have done so. I don’t believe that the existence of God is an obvious or necessary conclusion about that universe based on the evidence before us.

    I’m not arguing with Kant. I’m discussing your proposition that “good philosophy” inevitably leads to a belief in a God of some sort.

    To summarize: why is “the belief that we have rational minds, that there is a rational universe, and there is a “correspondence” between the two” particularly friendly to ID? One can rationally look at the universe, and accept its rational order, and draw other equally valid conclusions about the source and nature of that order and our ability to comprehend it. God is not a necessary hypothesis.

  17. So here’s where we’re at (in my slightly demented opinion).

    Descartes was the antithesis (of Scholasticism, as he himself said); Kant represented an attempt at a new kind of synthesis; Nietzsche smashed this synthesis into oblivion with nihilism or nothingness.

    If the question is quo vadis, then the only way to go beyond the antithesis that is nihilism—the only way for philosophy to move forward—is to describe a new synthesis of nothingness and sense. Philosophy has only two ways of moving forward: synthesis and antithesis. Nihilism was the antithesis of philosophy itself and its pursuit of “the good.” By annihilating objective reality, it produced a highly theory-centered age. The antidote to pure theory and its nothingness, as we know from Aristotle and Kant, is to describe a way to overthrow its tyrannical resistance through a coming-together of itself and sense. A post-Modernist synthesis might, for example, attempt to make value judgments by regrounding the nothingness of nihilism in the fact that sense is undeniably something.

    But nothingness now presents perhaps insurmountable difficulties to the would-be synthesizer. The objective approach of Aristotle and “subjective” approach of Kant (to use Stephen’s terminology) both failed in the end. It is not possible to invoke “the good” as intellect and then describe a true coming-together of intellect and sense—nor is it possible to set aside “the good” and then describe a synthesis of our concepts of being and our consciousness of their potential nothingness without being overwhelmed by nothingness itself (which is just what happened).

    ID overthrows nothingness with the self-evident inference of design; but for that very reason it seems unlikely to be useful in the development of a new synthesis. The same self-evident quality that makes it a potent antidote to materialism also deprives it of possibility, which is necessary in order to make any new philosophical undertaking seem attractive (i.e., the possibility of the happiness of a new way of thinking and being). A modern Kant, looking for a way to describe a new synthesis, would probably say to himself, “ID says ‘this is designed’ and ends there.” It is fully self-realized.

    But although ID probably cannot become the basis of a movement as grandiose as Transcendental Idealism, it can certainly foster useful philosophical dialogue. Actually, ID makes philosophy possible again simply by overthrowing nothingness. Philosophy began with the pursuit of the good of happiness. Nihilism annihilated “the good,” but ID reinstates it. God exists. His fingerprint is everywhere in nature, and nature itself is “very good,” remarkably well-made.

    ID makes it possible, then, to begin to rethink some of our modernist assumptions and tropes. Goodness is real, and this has profound implications for how we think about value and happiness. Such labors may not produce a cultural revolution in the way that Transcendental Idealism produced Romanticism, but it may provide a means of restoring culture itself and of the arts.

  18. hazel –One can rationally look at the universe, and accept its rational order, and draw other equally valid conclusions about the source and nature of that order and our ability to comprehend it. God is not a necessary hypothesis.

    One cannot rationally look at the universe and accept than known physical forces account for it. Now, one can claim some unknown natural force explains it, but that would be a statement of faith.

    If a materialist holds this view and claims not to have a faith, then that materialist is irrational, and cannot look at the universe in any rational way.

  19. —–hazel: “To summarize: why is “the belief that we have rational minds, that there is a rational universe, and there is a “correspondence” between the two” particularly friendly to ID? One can rationally look at the universe, and accept its rational order, and draw other equally valid conclusions about the source and nature of that order and our ability to comprehend it. God is not a necessary hypothesis.”

    To the first question: The Darwinist (and atheist) objection to ID is that the apparent design in cosmology and biology is not real. In other words, what appears to be the effects of a rational, intelligent agent is no such thing. Rather it is an accumulation of mindless, purposeless, random events that somehow resulted in a well-ordered universe that needed no rational guidance. If the universe if rational, it has a purpose, or an end in mind. There is no rationality without purpose. If it is irrational (Darwinism, existentialism, atheism etc) it simply doesn’t know where it is going. Also, there is this rather elephant size problem that atheists apparently think that something can come from nothing, which violates the first law of logic. ID is consistent with the idea that the universe is the product of a rational, intelligent agent, and that science is, as Newton and co. once suggested, “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” That’s the idea that got the whole thing started in the first place.

    To the second question: Other than God, how does one explain the compatibility of the rational mind with the rational universe? Those two things had to be coordinated did they not? Random variation and natural selection can hardly explain the synergistic fit between the investigator and the object of his/her investigation. Indeed, materialist Darwinism does not even distinguish between the non-material mind of the investigator and the physical material reality that it investigates. For Darwinists, or materialist atheists, only material brains exist, there are no minds. So, for them, matter investigates matter. This is logical?

  20. —–allanius: “The objective approach of Aristotle and “subjective” approach of Kant (to use Stephen’s terminology) both failed in the end.”

    How can Aristotelian/Thomistic epistemology fail when it happens to be correct? The failure lies with those who fail to apply it.

  21. I appreciate the continuing dialog (although I’m wondering how long my comments will continue to be held up for moderation – is there a rule or time limit or something?)

    Tribune, you wrote that “One cannot rationally look at the universe and accept than known physical forces account for it. Now, one can claim some unknown natural force explains it, but that would be a statement of faith. If a materialist holds this view and claims not to have a faith, then that materialist is irrational, and cannot look at the universe in any rational way.”

    I agree that known physical forces can’t account for the universe – neither it’s properties or even its mere existence. Speaking for myself, what I am offering is the claim that we don’t know from whence came the universe; more specifically I claim that there is no more reason to believe that a God – a divine being – is responsible than there is to claim that our universe arose out of some other, “larger” type of “world”. Any claim that either is right is a “statement of faith”, or more accurately, a speculation that one has chosen to believe.

    Stephen: in another post (perhaps on another thread) I replied to you that I think you are making statements that you think are logically necessary but are in fact assumptions that contain within them the conclusions that you are claiming are true by pure logic. (On the other thread the assumption was that the source of the universe had to be a being.)

    Here you write, “If the universe if rational, it has a purpose, or an end in mind. There is no rationality without purpose. If it is irrational (Darwinism, existentialism, atheism etc) it simply doesn’t know where it is going.” This statement also embodies the same assumption – that the source or ground of the universe must be a being with properties analogous to us: consciousness, purpose, will, etc. This is not logically necessary. There is no reason why the universe and whatever ground from where it comes need have a purpose, nor embue the universe with a purpose, and there is no reason why the universe has to “know where it is going.” The ground of the universe may simply be a set of principles which set up a universe, so to speak, that then “happens” as those principles play out.

    Let me make it clear that I am not claiming that that’s necessarily the way it is. I am just trying to make it clear that the feeling that the only possibility is that God is the source of the universe is not the only logically valid possibility, and that I, as an atheist, have reasonable alternatives to consider when I think about the nature of our universe.

    You also write, ” Also, there is this rather elephant size problem that atheists apparently think that something can come from nothing, which violates the first law of logic.”

    Speaking at least for this atheist, me, I don’t think that “something comes from nothing.” As I have been explaining, I can imagine a scenario of a larger dimension of existence which produces universe.

    Two quick disclaimers: I purposely used the word “imagine.” My imagining such a “larger dimension” is no different than the theist imagining the existence of God: they are both concepts that we can imagine but which are beyond proof. They play a useful role in helping us metaphorically structure our understanding of the big philosophical questions, but they are not, neither one of them, capable of being labeled “true” in any literal sense. Second, as also discussed somewhere else here, I’m aware of the infinite regress problem, and claim that it is subject to the same point as above: there is no reason to believe that the uncaused cause is a being as opposed to an impersonal state of some kind.

    You also write, “To the second question: Other than God, how does one explain the compatibility of the rational mind with the rational universe? Those two things had to be coordinated did they not? Random variation and natural selection can hardly explain the synergistic fit between the investigator and the object of his/her investigation. Indeed, materialist Darwinism does not even distinguish between the non-material mind of the investigator and the physical material reality that it investigates. For Darwinists, or materialist atheists, only material brains exist, there are no minds. So, for them, matter investigates matter. This is logical?”

    I don’t see a problem with matter investigating matter. We human beings are part of the universe, and from the whole process that got us here, from the chemical interactions and structure that started after the Big Bang to the history of life on earth, we partake of the universe’s rationality. It would be surprising, it seems to me, if our internal outward-looking rationality DIDN’T have a strong correlation with the orderly structure of the universe. For one thing, if we didn’t have the capability to learn some level of objective truth about the world we, human beings as well as life forms in general, wouldn’t have survived to exist now.

    As I said in the remark that started this particular strand of this thread, believing that we live in a rational universe and have the ability to rationally know it is not dependent on believing in God or in a dualistic mind/body existence.

  22. P.S. Stephen, I read the first page of Adler’s “Little Errors” essay at http://radicalacademy.com/adler_little_errors.htm. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Perhaps needless to say, I think Adler is wrong about some major issues, but I see why you would like him, as he is saying some of the same types of things that you say that I think are wrong. However I always prefer discussing the ideas themselves rather than dissecting what the various philosophers have said.

  23. Stephen: sounds like you are keeping the faith. In that case, by all means, apply the method. See if you can produce a new description of the synthetic method that can take us beyond the nothingness of nihilism. That’s just the sort of thing we’re looking for.

    One caveat, however: it cannot be the old descriptions you mentioned. It cannot be Atistotle’s description because we now know that it is impossible to overcome the difference between intellect and sense. It cannot be Thomas’s vision because we now know that the notion of the free and wholly regenerate man is too hard for the human spirit to bear. It cannnot be Kant because it is impossible to set aside the transcendent without making the synthesis vulnerable to nothingness.

    So go ahead and propose your own solution. That’s what philosophy needs to get out of its rut.

  24. —–allanius: “One caveat, however: it cannot be the old descriptions you mentioned. It cannot be Atistotle’s description because we now know that it is impossible to overcome the difference between intellect and sense.”

    allanius: There is nothing to “overcome.” Knowledge entails an intellectual component and a sense component. To accept the former and dismiss the latter is to fall into rationalism; to accept the latter and dismiss the former is to embrace radical empiricism.

    Example: If I converse with you one on one, I see, hear, touch etc. your features and your individual personality, that is, the individual instance of humanity (I perceive the particular which is yours only) with my senses, but I extract your humanity (I perceive that universal which we all have in common) with my intellect. You are an individual, but you also possess a universal humanity. Knowledge requires perceiving both. Only the Aristotelian/Thomistic formulation reflects that fact. If we use any other epistemology, serious error follows. If I experience your individuality without acknowledging your humanity, or, if I acknowledge your humanity without admitting your individuality, I will tend to dehumanize you. That is why both rationalism and empiricism, though they are opposites, both lead to the same kind of intellectual deprivation and moral difficulty.

    One reason, by the way, that many folks have trouble accepting intelligent design is that they are caught up in radical empiricism, which renders them incapable of recognizing the intellectual component involved in the design inference. In effect, they reduce all knowledge to sense impressions, which means that they can’t conceive of an intellectual design behind the material patterns. Also, they are vulnerable to radical Darwinism because they can’t conceive an intellect outside of matter. Radical materialism (metaphysics) and radical empiricism (epistemology) work very well together to create an environment of anti-intellectualism, which is our current cultural malaise. Its victims cannot reason in the abstract. Their metaphysics contaminate their epistemology, and their epistemology contaminates their metaphysics. Needless to say, their science, though it may be admirably informed by a truckload full of facts, cannot see beyond itself.

  25. —-hazel: “My imagining such a “larger dimension” is no different than the theist imagining the existence of God: they are both concepts that we can imagine but which are beyond proof. They play a useful role in helping us metaphorically structure our understanding of the big philosophical questions, but they are not, neither one of them, capable of being labeled “true” in any literal sense. Second, as also discussed somewhere else here, I’m aware of the infinite regress problem, and claim that it is subject to the same point as above: there is no reason to believe that the uncaused cause is a being as opposed to an impersonal state of some kind.?

    If anything exists something must have the power of being within it because if nothing has self-existent being, nothing could possibly be. Out of nothing, nothing comes. The creative “principle” that you describe does not have the power of being within itself and, therefore, cannot be the explanation of our existence or the existence of the universe.
    If there is something that has the power of being in and of itself, then it cannot NOT be. In other words, once you acknowledge existence, you must acknowledge the presence of an eternal, self-existent, necessary being. (Given infinite regress, which you obviously understand). It cannot be reduced to an impersonal principle because principle is dependent on being. All aspects of being depend on a self existent being in the same way that a painting depends on a painter. The creative act cannot logically be reduced to a “process” or a “principle”, or a “state.”

  26. You assert that, but give no reasons why. Why is principle dependent on a being? I know this is what you believe, but, as I explained to Barb in the multiverse thread, the argument that a design must have a designer is flawed.

    How do you know that the “creative “principle” that you describe does not have the power of being within itself”? Brute logic can’t possibly determine that the only kind of creative force capable of existing and producing other things is a God or something that comes from a God. I know that is your chosen belief that indeed a God is the cause of all – what I am arguing is that that belief is not a logical necessity.

    But I gather, especially after reading Adler, that you will remain convinced that logic has the power to validate and certify your beliefs, and it is that that I think you are wrong about.

  27. —–hazel: “You assert that, but give no reasons why. Why is principle dependent on a being? I know this is what you believe, but, as I explained to Barb in the multiverse thread, the argument that a design must have a designer is flawed.”

    “Principles,” “processes,” or “states” cannot create or cause, only a being can create or cause. A creator may use a principle to create, but the principle itself has no causative power nor does it have any ontological standing. That is why it is dependent on being. A principle can be a formula, psychological construct, or even a kind of theorem, but it doesn’t do anything. To say that a “principle” can create is like saying that that Euclidian Geometry created the pyramids.

    Let me break it down in a more concise manner:

    If something exists, then one of the following must be true:

    [A] It created itself, meaning that it must be before it is. (Logically impossible)

    [B] It was caused or created by something else or by something self existent. (It is dependent, temporary, and contingent)

    [C] It is self existent, (It is independent, eternal, necessary, and uncaused)

    My “beliefs” have nothing to do with it. We are talking about logic.

  28. Nope. How in the world do you know that “only a being can create”? This is not fact that follows inevitably from logic – it is merely a product of your beliefs about “being” and “creation”.

    However, as I said earlier, I think I see now how firmly you believe in how right you are, so I think there is not much point in continuing to say the same things back and forth. We’ll just let the record stand that I think you are wrong about a lot of things, including the role and power of logic.

  29. Hazel writes:

    How in the world do you know that “only a being can create”? This is not fact that follows inevitably from logic – it is merely a product of your beliefs about “being” and “creation”.

    Consider the other options. If no creating being is in a causal chain then either there is an unknown physical mechanism which brought our universe into existence or we simply assert eternal existence and no cause. Yet we know the universe is of finite age so a physical generating mechanism would require a causal explantion. This could go on forever with each cause demanding an antecedent cause. All options have properties that are difficult for us finite beings to grasp. We are not accustomed to infinite causal chains or things that just exist without benefit of causes. An eternal being is also hard to wrap our intellects around. There are no conceptually easy options.

  30. —–”Nope. How in the world do you know that “only a being can create”? This is not fact that follows inevitably from logic – it is merely a product of your beliefs about “being” and “creation””

    It is not my belief that subjective psychological constructs cannot create, it is a fact. “Principles” cannot exist in causal chains any more that products of our imagination can exist in causal chains, much less can they begin causal chains.

    Here are all ten steps in logical order. Do you know anything about symbolic logic? If so, just do a test on them. The argument is unassailable.

    1. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, that come into being and go out of being i.e., contingent beings.

    2. Assume that every being is a contingent being.

    3. For each contingent being, there is a time it does not exist.

    4. Therefore it is impossible for these always to exist.

    5. Therefore there could have been a time when no things existed.

    6. Therefore at that time there would have been nothing to bring the currently existing contingent beings into existence.

    7. Therefore, nothing would be in existence now.

    8. We have reached an absurd result from assuming that every being is a contingent being.

    9. Therefore not every being is a contingent being.

    10. Therefore some being exists of its own necessity, and does not receive its existence from another being, but rather causes them. This all men speak of as God.

  31. Hi pk4.

    I agree that these are not easy conceptual options. I would go further and say that it is likely that whatever is beyond this universe, and the source of it, is not something we can conceive of. Both the idea that the source might be a being or it might be a something “physical” presupposes that that source is like something in our universe, and that is an unfounded, and perhaps unlikely, supposition.

    I believe the most honest conclusion to reach is that we don’t know and can’t know why our universe is as it is. We can contemplate the scope of possible explanations, as best we can conceive them, as an exercise in broadening our mind, but to believe that we know that one of those explanations is right and all other wrong is a mistake.

  32. Hi Stephen.

    I have taught symbolic logic. I therefore know that symbolic logic is an abstract tool for manipulating propositions. Whether those propositions themselves are true or not is a different matter than the logic itself. Logic is critical, but if the premises are false impeccable reasoning from those premises will yield results which are logically valid, given the premises, and yet false because the premises are false.

    This is part of logic 101.

  33. Hazel. you are correct on all counts @32. My ten steps at 30 were a bit unwieldy, so let’s reduce it to five:

    1. Some limited, changing beings(s) exist(s).

    2. The present existence of every limited, changing being is caused by another.

    3. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes of being.

    4. Therefore, there is a first Cause of the present existence of these beings.

    5. The first Cause must be infinite, necessary, eternal, simple, unchangeable, and one.

    Do you accept the propositions as logically consistent and compelling or do you have an intellectual objection to the series. The premise, all the steps, and the conclusions are clear.

  34. Thanks, Stephen.

    I understand the argument for an uncaused cause based on the infinite regress problem. In this discussion, that has never been the issue.

    The issue for me has been the claim that the uncaused cause has to have the properties of a being – conscious, willful, capable of foresight, acting with intent, and so on. In this current five step argument you offer, you have dropped the word “being” from the conclusion but not from the entire chain. What would you think if it went like this:

    1. Some limited, changing things exist.

    2. The present existence of every limited, changing thing is caused by another.

    3. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes of existence.

    4. Therefore, there is a first uncaused Cause of the present existence of these things.

    And stop there.

    Now we are right back where we started: why would this first cause of things have to be a BEING?

    Note also, even in your original version, your step 5, “5. The first Cause must be infinite, necessary, eternal, simple, unchangeable, and one”, includes many additional hypotheses that do not follow necessarily from the first four steps.

  35. Hazel–Now we are right back where we started: why would this first cause of things have to be a BEING?

    Because our existence is overwhelmingly unlikely if all were left to chance. Planning is required for us to be.

    Anyway, why would you object to the first cause being a Being?

  36. Hi Tribune.

    I disagree with your statement, “Because our existence is overwhelmingly unlikely if all were left to chance. Planning is required for us to be,” for two related reasons.

    Your statement implies that there are just two possibilities, chance and planning by a being. This is not true. Even in our world we recognize the existence of laws which, as they operate, create things. There is no reason to exclude the idea that the uncaused cause is a set of laws or principles which create universes whose nature is such that things happen. Stating that chance or design are the only two possibilities is a false dichotomy.

    You also ask, “Anyway, why would you object to the first cause being a Being?”

    I don’t object to the idea of the first cause being a Being, although that is not my personal belief. What I object to, and am arguing against, is the claim that there are logical or evidentiary reasons for believing that a Being is the best, or even necessary, conclusion.

  37. —–hazel: “Now we are right back where we started: why would this first cause of things have to be a BEING?”

    Because only in the ontologial realm can a causal chain occur. Your “principle” is a psychological construct and cannot be part of a causal chain any more than the products of your imagination could be part of a causal chain. Much less could they originate a causal chain. Only “being” can do that. That is why there is such a thing as cause and effect in the first place.

    Note also, even in your original version, your step 5, “5. The first Cause must be infinite, necessary, eternal, simple, unchangeable, and one”, includes many additional hypotheses that do not follow necessarily from the first four steps.

    All are inevitable. Indeed, the list in not complete. However, I will focus on one or two at a time.

    [A] Eternal (do you uncerstand why it must be eternal)

    [B] Self Existent (do you understand why it must be self existent and do you appreciate all that self existence entails)

  38. —-hazel: “Now we are right back where we started: why would this first cause of things have to be a BEING?”

    I guess I should also state what I thought was obvious. Being cannot come from non-being.

  39. Hi Stephen

    You write, “Because only in the ontologial realm can a causal chain occur. Your “principle” is a psychological construct and cannot be part of a causal chain any more than the products of your imagination could be part of a causal chain. Much less could they originate a causal chain. Only “being” can do that. That is why there is such a thing as cause and effect in the first place.”

    No, my “principle” is not a psychological construct – you’ve said this before and I don’t know why. Consider the laws of nature that cause things to happen in our universe, such as the law of universal gravitational attraction. This is not a psychological construct. It’s a law that affects every bit of mass in the universe irrespective of whether there are any psyches around to understand and formalize it or not.

    My idea of the source and ground our universe being a set of principles is similar – laws that within the domain of their existence, whatever it may be, cause universes to happen. These are neither psychological constructs nor a being any more than the laws which cause raindrops to form and fall are.

    You can think of this in a Platonic sense if you wish. The laws exist as pure potentiality which inform the world as they manifest themselves into actuality.

    So when you say that only a being can initiate a causal chain – “That is why there is such a thing as cause and effect in the first place” – you are merely re-asserting as true the claim I am disputing. How do you know that only a being can initiate a causal chain. Why does the course and ground of the universe have to be a personal being rather than an impersonal set of laws?

    Also, you write that all the other qualities of the uncaused cause that you mention are inevitable. You write, “First you write, “[A] Eternal (do you uncerstand why it must be eternal), and [B] Self Existent (do you understand why it must be self existent and do you appreciate all that self existence entails).”

    Of course I understand the arguments for these things, and I can agree with those two for the sake of this discussion. However I will say that “eternal” may not be a quality that even pertains: we know that time is a property of our universe and is inextricable bound up with the notions of motion and chance. It may be that time is not a feature of the ground and source of the universe, and that it is not particularly meaningful to say it is eternal. Calling it “eternal” could be thought of as implying that the world of time is something the ground of the universe is in, and that would contradict the idea that the ground of the universe was the ultimately cause and source of everything.

    My bigger point here is one that has been made by many people from many religious and philosophical backgrounds: that any attempt to describe qualities of the ultimate one will be wrong, because qualities only come into existence after the one differentiates into the many. As someone has said, you can’t eff the ineffable. :-)

  40. I just saw this addendum:

    “I guess I should also state what I thought was obvious. Being cannot come from non-being.”

    You are using two different forms of the word “being.” If you use “being” as meaning existing, then I’m willing to grant what you say for the sake of discussion.

    But I have made it clear that I am arguing against the source of the universe being “a Being: a conscious, willful, intentional entity, capable of foresight, etc. That is a different meaning. Just because existing things can’t come from something that doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that the source of existence has to be a BEING.

    You are conflating two uses of the word being and it is confusing the discussion. Perhaps we should use “existence” for the first meaning of being and “Being” for the second.

  41. A very interesting debate here between Hazel, Stephen and others. It is “logical”, erudite, and significant, because it demonstrates and typifies the essential problem in all this debating. I had to laugh when the debate came to the beginning of itself. Yes, the evolutionist atheist can doubt everything, including science, philosophy and even logic and “truth” itself when it comes to it. So how do we cut through the Gordian knot and convince atheists like Hazel?

    We could, and perhaps should go all the way back to Scholasticism and Aquinas, and revisit what these “logicians extraordinaire” had to say about philosophy, logic and about the basic terms and definitions that constitute “valid” and “correct” human reasoning. Teachers of logic like Hazel ought to be able to follow it. But there is an easier and more elegant way to approach this. Here is Chesterton’s answer from his Orthodoxy, one that cuts through all this, and goes to bottom of the problem:

    “All descriptions of the creating or sustaining principle in things must be metaphorical, because they must be verbal. Thus the pantheist is forced to speak of God in all things as if he were in a box. Thus the evolutionist has, in his very name, the idea of being unrolled like a carpet. All terms, religious and irreligious, are open to this charge. The only question is whether all terms are useless, or whether one can, with such a phrase, cover a distinct IDEA about the origin of things. I think one can, and so evidently does the evolutionist, or he would not talk about evolution. And the root phrase for all Christian theism was this, that God was a creator, as an artist is a creator. A poet is so separate from his poem that he himself speaks of it as a little thing he has “thrown off.” Even in giving it forth he has flung it away. This principle that all creation and procreation is a breaking off is at least as consistent through the cosmos as the evolutionary principle that all growth is a branching out. A woman loses a child even in having a child. All creation is separation. Birth is as solemn a parting as death.

    It was the prime philosophic principle of Christianity that this divorce in the divine act of making (such as severs the poet from the poem or the mother from the new-born child) was the true description of the act whereby the absolute energy made the world. According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it. …”

    Hazel, if you are really honest and interested in this argument, read the rest of Orthodoxy, and follow it up with Chesterton’s “Thomas Aquinas” to get a better picture.

  42. Hi rockyr

    Hmmm. You write, “So how do we cut through the Gordian knot and convince atheists like Hazel?” In general, one way to have a chance to convince someone of something is to properly represent their position when you respond back them. You write, “Yes, the evolutionist atheist can doubt everything, including science, philosophy and even logic and “truth” itself when it comes to it.” Where exactly am I doubting “science, philosophy and even logic and ‘truth’” (and the subject of evolution hasn’t been part of this discussion at all.)? Yes, I believe that there are limits to what we can know, and limits to what logic unaided by empirically verified premises can provide, but just because I doubt the existence of God doesn’t mean I doubt all those things that you mention.

    Leaving that aside, you quote Chesterton as saying, ““All descriptions of the creating or sustaining principle in things must be metaphorical, because they must be verbal.” I agree with this. Our metaphysical ideas are ways of trying to structure our understanding of things that are not directly observable or empirically verifiable. We uses metaphors to help capture the sense and meaning of that which we can not truly or literally describe.

    I think it is relevant that you then quote Chesterton about the fundamental Christian idea that God the creator is separate from his creation. This is related to the fundamental idea that I am arguing against: that the presence of a universe requires a willful Being who created that universe. This is a powerful metaphor that comes naturally from our experience as human beings (especially in our Western culture in which this idea has been embedded for centuries), but I don’t believe it is a logically necessary belief. There are other metaphors, more common in other cultures or in non-Christian philosophies, that structure metaphysically understanding differently. I am not trying to convince anyone that yo not believe in God: I am trying to establish that belief in God is not necessarily, either logically or via evidence, the best inference about the creating or sustaining principle.

  43. Hazel said,

    “I am trying to establish that belief in God is not necessarily, either logically or via evidence, the best inference about the creating or sustaining principle.”

    Absolute nonsense. Deal with the fine tuning in a way that is not gobbledegook wishful thinking. You postulate some unknown process for which you do not have a clue or an incredibly large number of universes from some speculative process and each will have “logical” problems.

    You are entitled to believe in whatever fable you can concoct but don’t self righteously call the belief that an intelligence created the universe illogical when first, existence defies imagination and then this existence is incredibly so narrowly appropriate for life or anything meaningful that some unknown force/power/law etc could cause it to just happen makes belief in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus seem almost a sure thing.

    And if you postulate an almost infinitely large number of universes, then deal with the problem on how in our universe life came about and then evolved complex novel functional systems over time. As of now there is no mechanism to explain either so your so called logical approach is head in the sand speculation. You may be under the impression that evolutionary biology has established both of these but as of the moment they are clueless. All they have is “faith” that is not dissimilar to a religious person.

    So you have to deal with the trio of the fine tuned universe, the origin of life and the evolution of complex novel coordinated systems in life. Have at it and when you have any decent answer you can criticize those who believe the evidence points to an intelligence who created all three.

    People dealt with this problem for thousands of years and the only logical conclusion is a creator. It is still the only logical conclusion. Other conclusions are truth impaired or logic impaired. Face the truth and deal with it. We will all have a better conversation.

  44. Pardon your anger, Jerry, but speculations about an impersonal law-like source of fine-tuning is no more or less gobbledegook than speculating about a divine being who can create universes.

    You write, “People dealt with this problem for thousands of years and the only logical conclusion is a creator. It is still the only logical conclusion. Other conclusions are truth impaired or logic impaired. Face the truth and deal with it. We will all have a better conversation.”

    Your idea of a better conversation is for me to admit that your view is the truth and the only logical conclusion, and that my thoughts on the matter are illogical nonsense. Since I don’t think that it looks to me that we won’t be having a conversation.

  45. hazel: Science, with its inductive logic (if it has not been corrupted with materialistic ideology), and philosophy, with its deductive logic (if it has not been corrupted with Kantian subjectivism), point to the same evident fact: the universe was created. This is, or should be, just as obvious as the fact that painters design paintings. As I have stated over and over again, “something” cannot come from nothing. You agree with the proposition that “something” must be the ultimate cause, but you reduce that something to a “principle.” But a principle cannot be a part of a causal chain; much less can it be its origin.

    It’s really ironic when you think about it. Consider the way humans use their creative faculty to deny the first creation, or the way they use their design faculty to fashion scientific paradigms and philosophical world views to deny the first design. Isn’t that what we are talking about here?

    In effect, the multi-verse fantasy (especially the positing of “infinite multiple universes”) renders science irrational. To explain the “apparent design” of the universe that way is also to explain the “apparent design” of the Mona Lisa in the same way. In effect, it rules out explanations forever, because it proposes a permanent suspension of reason. One might as well use it to explain the dynamic of a sound wave or the reason that one person looks both ways before crossing the street while another person doesn’t.

    In the same way, Kant’s idealism renders philosophy irrational. By denying the correspondence between the images in the mind and the corresponding reality of universals outside the mind, Kant reduced everyday observations to the realm of the subjective. Those who have been bamboozled by his convoluted way of thinking always end up ignoring reality and analyzing their own mind as if was the whole of reality. That is why I pointed you to the essay on Adler. Your response was to ignore the substance of his message and suggest that its contents were suspect because its theme supported my theme. That is not exactly what I would call a refutation.

    In any case, my main point still stands. Because of the problem of infinite regress, the argument from contingency to necessity always leaves us with the uncaused cause, which, as it turns out must consist in a self-existent being. To be self-existent is to depend on nothing and to be the cause of everything else. Either you dispute the fact that an uncaused cause must be a self-existent being, or else you question the fact that a self-existent being must be the cause of all other being, or you think that a self existent being can be a “principle.” It should be evident that none of these objections are valid.

  46. Stephen, the self-existence could be a law, not a conscious being. Among other things, you have failed to address my very reasonable point that you are conflated two different meanings of being.

    However, I am tired of the fact that my posts take hours to get past moderation – I don’t know whether that is because I hold a minority view here or what – but this doesn’t make dialog very user friendly, so I’m going to quit trying.

  47. Hi Hazel, I hope you agree that trying to establish someone’s exact position on a difficult topic like this is very difficult, unless there is a convenient label denoting such a strong and unshifting position, such as “Catholic”. Unforunately, atheists come in all sorts of flavors and varieties, such as agnosticism, weak, implicit, negative, practical atheism, theosophy, or even Buddhism or varieties of spiritualism. (See wiki “Atheism”.) I have tried this with people I have been arguing for years, and they still come back that I don’t understand or misrepresent their position. Yet, a part of the problem, is to “nail down” such often shifting position of your opponent, as they happen to “evolve” over time, just to show their illogicality and inconsistency.

    Anyway, I wrote not that they or you “do”, but “can doubt” any of those thing, including logic and truth. (Basically any possible doubt has been tried in history.) So, for this discussion to be shorter, you let us know what you doubt and what you take as “true”, or “on faith”. If you “believe” in logic, that’s a good start.

    Notice that Chesterton gave you the free choice of believing in whatever you want, proving it makes some sense when expressing the central idea of your belief. Having this belief, and professing to being logical, you can then proceed to evaluate and defend your idea. This, in essence, is what theology (“theo-logic”) is all about. Just saying that “I believe this or that” is meaningless in itself, unless your “idea” has some relevance and jives with logic & math, with the natural phenonema (science), with the spiritual experience of mankind, and with the expression of this in what we call social sciences, and in wider context with economy, politics, art, etc. You use some of these as the basis of your belief — you mentioned some “metaphors in other cultures or in non-Christian philosophies”. Neither Chesterton or I are trying to convince you about the invalidity or ridiculousness of your position, as long as it is your private belief.

    Your belief depends on your conscience, but as soon as you take in into public, it legitimately becomes the subject of public’s or our criticism, because ideas have consequences and they affect the well-being of others. You have chosen to argue your belief here, and if you care, you can continue. There are many angles or positions from which we can tackle this, and I will let you choose your “battlefields”. But since you have professed to be logical, let me suggest Aquinas’ very first article in his Summa, whether the existence of God ought to be self-evident:

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm

Leave a Reply