I’ll say it: I’m very pleased by this lineup of posts. Here, we have posts addressing metaphysics and cosmology, the Bible and poverty, Muslim Apologetics, Creationism, and Aquinas. How’s that for a diverse lineup? Let me know what you thought of the posts in the comments here.
Cosmology and Causation- Why Metaphysics Matters by Edward Feser– Edward Feser is one of the most brilliant philosophical minds I have encountered. He’s a Thomistic philosopher and whether or not I agree with what he writes, he always challenges me to think on the points he raises. Here, he writes on the importance of metaphysics in the realms of cosmology and causation. Check this out!
Wayne Grudem Debates Richard Glover on the Bible, Poverty, and Foreign Aid– What might the Bible say about foreign aid and poverty? Here, Wintery Knight offers an analysis of a recent debate between Christians on the topic. I have reviewed Wayne Grudem’s book “The Poverty of Nations” which will provide some background to the issues discussed here.
Creationist Influence on Biblical Study Tools– Always be aware that when we’re using any sort of study tool for reading the Bible, there will be interpretation happening. Here, one of my favorite sites takes a look at some ways young earth creationism has influenced some biblical study tools.
The Gospel of Barnabas– Unfortunately, the alleged Gospel of Barnabas is often trotted out in Muslim Apologetics as proof that various aspects of Christianity are false while Islam has them correct. Here’s a great analysis of the dating of this book and whether it should impact us at all in our interfaith discussions.
Did Thomas Aquinas Believe that Sin Affected the Intellect?– Yep. Okay, there is more to it! Check out this post on the topic of Aquinas and the noetic effects of sin.
Fesser continues to make the same mistake over and over: he conflates the idea of Aristotelian metaphysical ‘natures’ with physical ‘properties’. The former – natures – necessarily include the idea of formal, efficient, material, and final causes. This model does not produce practical and reliable knowledge. The later – properties – necessarily include a mathematical understanding of energy, matter, space, and time. This model works to produce practical and reliable knowledge. The two are not synonyms to any reasonable person (and ignore Matthew 7:16) But they are to Fesser.
Fesser’s game is to pretend they are equivalent philosophies in order to make wiggle room for the existence of his Thomistic god as a necessary causal agent whose nature we can ‘know’ is to produce metaphysical properties! Voila. God can then be demonstrated inside the boundaries of the philosophical bubble Fesser creates.
The failure, of course, is that we can only ‘know’ god philosophically but abused if presented as if we can know anything about such a causal agency by effect on properties! That’s the evidence that should be widely available if true but seems to be missing in action. Fesser won’t admit this, of course. That’s why Carroll points out the obvious: that any notion of God as a causal agent that can’t be judged on the basis of empirical evidence isn’t much of a notion at all. He’s right, of course, in matters of knowledge applicable to the real world but Fesser claims this is either a philosophical assertion OR it’s scientism… both of which are equivalent to Fesser’s notion of equivalency! Working cells phones be damned…. it’s all metaphysics in the ‘Fesser’s world, you see. And around the Mulberry bush we go again.
What/who is the causal agent for meaning? Earlier, you said:
Would you say that the closer our genes and experiences, the closer the meaning is we would assign? Where I’m going with this is whether meaning actually originates in matter–energy (nature, or perhaps Nature). If you have a causal gap, then it would appear that Carroll’s point would present a problem on this very important issue as well—on pain of special pleading.
It’s our physical brain that establishes what we call ‘meaning’ – a growth of neural connections here (and a paring back of neural connections there) and increased neuro-chemical activity using the new ‘furrows’. Don’t be fooled by the words we use to describe aggregate effects we call ‘making meaning’ as if the word meant one ‘thing’. It doesn’t; it’s a process. The word is a shortcut to describe a veritable host of activities. Making meaning – learning – is an encoding process that increases the number of connections related to specific inputs. Those inputs can be of many kinds (environmental, interactive, sensory, dream, etc.) but the response is a material one. That’s why the language of different kinds of ’causes’ using Aristotelian terminology is not very helpful when dealing with cascade phenomena (like chemical cascades in the brain) and complex interactive processes. ‘Meaning’ in this sense is a product of ‘meaning-making’ that is subject to manipulation and change not just within a single brain but between brains. ‘Meaning’ is just a word we use to describe all that is related to this process.
Meaning is made by every brain that encodes. It is not helpful to better understanding this process to assume a single agency causes the process any more than assume a single agency causes a weather event. Meaning is not an object. It possesses no properties. It is simply a word, and so it’s not helpful to hold up the term as if it were and then ask the question who causes it. Because we share very similar anatomy, it is expected we share similar processes and produce similar meanings. But don’t be fooled into thinking these similarities reveal evidence for some external agency. That’s the kind of assumption that allows magicians, priests, and snake oil salesmen to make their living: our misplaced credulity buttressed by a posteriori rationalizations.
Carroll’s specialty is field interactions. What appears as a gap (in physics) is usually an indication of a poorly understood field interaction of the very small or the very large. Classical physics does very well explaining much of the remainder. When it comes to the brain, however, always remember that we are still in very early days in our understanding of these interactive processes; all we’ve had to work with up until now is the emergent phenomena. But attributing agency to the emergent cellular behaviour is like assuming a flock of birds has a single agency. Let’s not forget that complex behaviour in biology – like murmurations – emerges from local units obeying local rules. Our brains are not exempt from this rule of thumb and progress in understanding how these local cellular units behave are revealing the local rules that make up the processes that produce what appears to be properties we usually attribute to agencies. And in biology, like in physics, appearance can be and often are quite deceiving…
Thanks for that extended explanation; it’s going to take some processing to work through it all. For now, a clarifying question:
As best I can tell, meaning involves the philosophical concept of intentionality. Do you agree? If so, there is the standard problem of how intentionality arises. The choices seem to be:
(1) intentionality doesn’t exist
(2) matter–energy has intentionality
(3) intentionality can be made out of nothing
Do you adhere to any one of those, or another I did not conceive of? I have read a little bit about Dennett’s intentional stance via R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (138–141). On reflection, there does seem to be another option:
(4) intentionality is fictional
However, you seemed to rule out this possibility, given that there are clear causal chains from nature to what is being called ‘meaning’ in this discussion. While ‘we’ make meaning, nature (Nature?) is no less making meaning, given that we are continuously connected to nature. So I would rephrase what you said earlier:
This appears to present problems for (4), driving us back to (1)–(3). However, I’m still a noob with this intentionality stuff.
Are you aware of nonlocality in physics and the problems this may cause for your “local units”? If you haven’t heard of Bernard d’Espagnat’s On Physics and Philosophy, I highly suggest checking him out. His contention is that our philosophy has, in general, not been modified by the physics results of the 20th century, and that it should be. Certain classical concepts suffer as a result: “local units” is one of them. It turns out to merely be an approximation. There is no such thing as a point particle existing at a specific point in spacetime: the wavefunction of every single particle is spread out across the entire universe.
One way to get at the above is that Bell’s theorem rules out local hidden variables, but not nonlocal hidden variables. Furthermore, the de Broglie-Bohm pilot wave would also seem to screw with your “local units obeying local rules”, and it happens to be 100% consistent with the best scientific theory, given that it is an interpretation of QM.
Going over to check out the article on Thomas Aquinas!