Says the Madman: “Humanity Is Dead, and We Are Its Murderers”

Nietzsche's Madman Today: Humanity Is Dead“Whither is humanity? cried the Madman. I will tell you. We have killed it. We are its murderers! But how could we do this? Are we not plunging continually? How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”

When Friedrich Nietzsche’s Madman told the world, “God is dead, and we are his murderers,” it was as if he alone understood the enormity of the crime. This deicide was never anything but a fiction: Nietzsche never thought there was a real God who could really be killed, rather he saw the idea of God dying in the European mind. (Others knew God was alive, laughing at the Madman.)

It took a Nietzsche to fathom the depths of what this “death of God” would mean:

How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him….”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.

And what if the Madman were to survey the world today? Would he not would cry out, “Humanity is dead!” Yes! And he would ask, “Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying humanity? Do we smell nothing as yet of the human decomposition?” And he might again conclude that his time is not yet.

How have we killed humanity? you ask. Is this not more clearly a fiction than Nietzsche’s “God is dead” ever was? Are there not 7 billion persons who can witness to humanity’s vitality?

Yes, humanity still lives, just as God still lived in Nietzsche’s day. Humanity lives in spite of the universal mass murder that philosophical naturalism would inflict upon it: the attempted strangulation of the idea of the human. Its quest is the murder not of persons but of personhood, not of humans but of humanness itself.

Naturalism will not succeed in this. That does not mean it is not trying.

I do not lay this charge directly at the naturalist’s feet: it is naturalism that is culpable, not you who are naturalists. Instead I call you to account, you who are naturalists, for your blithe and foolish ignorance of the magnitude of the atrocities you endorse. You bring carnage, and you speak of it lovingly, as if it brings hope to your breast. Who gave you the sponge to wipe away your concern for the heart of humanness?

Here is the deathliness of your naturalism:

Your naturalism seeks to kill humanness—and thus all the dignity of humanity—when it makes us machines, lacking all freedom of will.

It seeks to kill humanness—and thus all the realized experience of humanity—when it tries to persuade us human consciousness is but an illusion.

It seeks to kill humanity—all the glory of being human—when it places us on a plane with the animals and charges us with “speciesism” for considering ourselves otherwise.

It seeks to kill humanity—all the integral wholeness of the human—when it claims we are but machines crafted and co-opted by genes to reproduce themselves.

It seeks to kill humanity—all of humanity, all of humanness—when it tells us that physics and chemistry provide the most real, the most true explanation for who and what we are.

And all of this is to say nothing of the death of humanity in relation to the living God, who imparted humanity to us as beings in his own image.

Naturalism’s success would mean the destruction of all humanness everywhere. The universal murder would be accomplished. The genocide would be complete.

This is preposterous! you say. Where is this death of which you speak?

Do you not see it, though it is right before your eyes? (“I have come too early,” said the Madman; “my time is not yet.”)

And again you say Call me not a murderer! I too am human. I will not kill; I will not accept such a charge upon me!

Yes, naturalist, you are human. It is your humanness that may save you in the end. You say consciousness is an illusion, yet you say so consciously. You choose to say that choice is impossible. Your doctrine of fragmented reductionism issues not from your genes and neurotransmitters but from yourself: a person; a real person; a whole person. Your abstract naturalism unleashes its philosophical weapons of mass destruction upon humanness everywhere; still, your own very real humanness survives. So while you claim the murderous doctrine with your words, with your life you deny it; and how good it is that you do, for that very denial means your survival as a human person.

Nietzsche gloried in the horror of God’s “death.” Would he regard humanity’s death the same way? I can hardly think he would, even though today’s deadly naturalism is a tree nourished in the earth piled on God’s fictional grave. Nietzsche proclaimed God’s death as the liberation of humanity, but there finally comes a point when no so great a horror can no longer hide under such a mask.

For though naturalism is an abstraction, its weapons have real effects that inflict real damage, just as the fiction of God’s death has had real effects. The more the naturalist insists that we are but meat computers, puppets of our chemistry and environment, laboring under an illusion of human glory, meaning, and uniqueness, when we ought to reject our speciesism and bow to the knowledge of our bland sameness—the more the naturalist and the rest of us believe such things, and the more we will act as if they were real. We will treat ourselves and each other according to the degraded view we assign ourselves and others.

Has it not happened already in the wasteland of the TV sitcom? You say that is a trivial example. Is that not the point? We have trivialized our days and our evenings. We have trivialized our economic lives: our highest goal is not to serve but to survive until one day we can walk out of our work with the right gadgets, onto the right golf course. We have degraded romance and intimacy into the virtually anonymous “hook-up.” We have degraded marriage into a come-and-go-as-you-please convenience. We have trivialized all our human experience: because we have taught ourselves humanness itself is trivial.

Therefore to the naturalist I say this: you have strapped your deadly weapons upon your own body, for there is no escape, no exception: this is your suicide, by which you also murder all humanity. Would you die for this? Would you deny your entire humanness for this?

Nietzsche’s Madman understood better than others (though not well enough) what the God-killers were clamoring to destroy. He would know today (though not well enough) what it means that so many seek to strangle all humanness out of all human beings.

God survived the Madman. The Madman is, in the end, quite mad. Humanity will survive his re-visitation.

 


Postscript

It bears repeating: Naturalism has grown up out of the fictional grave of God. Ironically some naturalists call themselves “humanists.” I speak again to you who consider yourself a naturalist: perhaps you do not care about God. Maybe you find the thought of God loathsome to you. I do not know what might have led you there. I would dearly love to call you to the place where you could understand that God is really good, loving, and great; to help you see that whatever you find ugly in God is founded in some distortion or misconception, rather than in reality. If you could answer that call I would be happy to greet you in the company of those who, by God’s grace, have come to experience his truth and goodness.

That may be too long and difficult a step for you to take. It might involve a change of mind that for you at this stage is beyond even imagining. Then I ask you to consider taking this smaller step. It’s in the right direction. I ask you to consider a step back toward affirming your own humanness, and that of all the people you know and love. Give up telling yourself with words what your real self knows to be false. Affirm—do not deny as “illusion”—your own freedom, your own awareness, your own worth beyond that of the animals. You are human, and you know it.

The genocide of which I have been speaking here is abstract, not real. In the end our humanness will prevail. Let your own humanness prevail in you—even if it leads you one frightening step back toward God.

Comments

  1. SteveK

    I have to commend you, Tom. This is a very powerful and convincing post. Very well written. I particularly liked this part.

    For though naturalism is an abstraction, its weapons have real effects on the world, just as the fiction of God’s death had real effects. Naturalism’s abstract weapons produce real collateral damage. The more the naturalist insists that we are but meat computers, puppets of our chemistry and environment, laboring under an illusion of human glory, meaning, uniqueness when we ought to reject our speciesism and recognize the truth of our bland sameness, the more the naturalist and the rest of us will believe such things, and the more we will act as if they were real.We will treat ourselves and each other according to the degraded view we assign to ourselves and others.

    Some will cry foul and say that naturalism is nothing like what you have described. It is a slippery term so there is some truth to that. To those people I would say that it’s not the label of naturalism that is deadly per se, it’s the underlying ideas that form the “-ism” currently best categorized and referred to as naturalism.

  2. Victoria

    Very profound and hard-hitting, Tom.
    I especially liked what you said in the post-script.
    Given what we have seen of the ‘naturalists’ who post on this blog, though, I can imagine that their response will be a variation of “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”, don’t you think?

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    One of the expectations on a blog is that when you respond to what’s written, you respond to what’s written. There have been comments here today from someone who imagined I had written something other than what I had. He thought this blog post was about methodological naturalism, in spite of my specifying “philosophical” the first time I mentioned naturalism.

    Usually when I speak of philosophical naturalism I define my terms (roughly, the doctrine that nothing exists but matter and energy and their interactions according to physical necessity and random chance, and perhaps some abstract objects). This post was different. It relied heavily on allusions to Friedrich Nietzsche. Not Nietzsche at his hardest, and certainly not an obscure location in Nietzsche, but Nietzsche nevertheless. I decided that if I was going to write on that level I would write on that level, and assume more from my readers this time. So I did not include the definition.

    The commenter of whom I speak did not need that definition. We have discussed this topic with him here frequently, and he knows the terminology. Still he took my post to mean something other than I wrote. If he had responded with a comment on Sunday’s NFC championship game I would have deleted it as irrelevant. His responding to this as if it were about methodological relativism was equally irrelevant.

    I am now deleting all of his irrelevant comments, which means of necessity that I delete all others’ responses to him, except for this word of explanation. My apologies to you whose answers I must send away along with this commenter’s.

    The discussion is now free to proceed on topic.

  4. NickMatzke

    Your screed doesn’t even work if you really mean just philosophical naturalism and declare you meant just and only that with every single repeated use of the much more general term “naturalism”.

    Philosophical naturalism does not commit one to the idea that free will is nonexistent, the idea that consciousness is an illusion, the idea that humans are no different from animals, morality doesn’t exist, etc. What might lead there is a kind of crude early-20th-century nature-is-all-billiard-ball-particle-matter-in-motion worldview, i.e. absolute physical determinism + reductionism and the dubious assertion that anything at a higher level of organization than the molecular is “unreal” or an “illusion”. But anyone who accepts quantum mechanics, chaos theory, emergent processes, etc. — which is most people in the circle of even philosophical naturalists — is not committed to this. Even the commentators that Jerry Coyne likes point out these problems to him regularly when he does one of his free-will-ain’t-real posts.

    So, anyway, if you used the word “Coyne-ism”, your post might make some sense, but as it reads, you’re blasting at things that even most philosophical naturalists don’t defend.

    (And, I’m pretty sure it’s quite a long walk from Nietzsche to Jerry Coyne, as Coyne is pretty much an old-fashioned unreconstructed logical positivist. And what did a typical early-20th-century logical positivist think of Nietzsche?

    ==========
    It is obvious that in his day-dreams he is a warrior, not a professor; all of the men he admires were military. His opinion of women, like every man’s, is an objectification of his own emotion towards them, which is obviously one of fear. “Forget not thy whip”– but nine women out of ten would get the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women, and soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks. […] [H]e is so full of fear and hatred that spontaneous love of mankind seems to him impossible. He has never conceived of the man who, with all the fearlessness and stubborn pride of the superman, nevertheless does not inflict pain because he has no wish to do so. Does any one suppose that Lincoln acted as he did from fear of hell? Yet to Nietzsche, Lincoln is abject, Napoleon magnificent. […] I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die. But I think the ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant but internally self-conscious ethic, lies not in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to the emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world. His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it is coming rapidly to an end.

    Russell, History of Western Philosophy
    ==========

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    There was no need for me to “declare [I] meant just and only that with every single repeated use of the much more general term “naturalism”. I never brought up anything in the context to suggest anything else.

    But anyone who accepts quantum mechanics, chaos theory, emergent processes, etc. — which is most people in the circle of even philosophical naturalists — is not committed to this. Even the commentators that Jerry Coyne likes point out these problems to him regularly when he does one of his free-will-ain’t-real posts.

    I think what you see in those cases is people following their humanity instead of their doctrine. Quantum mechanics does not introduce free will in the sense of free agency. Neither does chaos theory. They just put the strings in the hand of a different puppeteer.

    As for emergent processes, I can see why a thinker would want to call upon them to explain what he or she knows to be true about himself or herself. There is little else on offer, in PN, to do that for us. The problem is that no one knows how freedom actually emerges from physics. No one knows how intentionality (aboutness) emerges from non-intentionality. No one knows how consciousness emerges from unconsciousness. PN fails to explain this; and those who try to hold to PN while also trying to explain these things have never succeeded in making it work.

    I think the commentators who object to Jerry Coyne’s conclusion, while holding to PN at the same time, are compromising their commitment to PN. I don’t mind their doing that; it is a more human way of living than PN strictly entails. But it’s not really PN after all, or if it is, it is a tortured version, stretched (as it were) on a rack to try to fit humanness within.

  6. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    My “screed” here (thank you for that) does not depend on Bertrand Russell’s thinking highly of Nietzsche. I don’t think highly of Nietzsche myself. But this passage is worthwhile for the purpose I have used it for.

  7. d

    I don’t have much time now, so I’ll leave just a few initial thoughts. While there’s certainly much to praise about the rhetorical skill and flourish in the article, I find the viewpoint so alien, that the points just don’t connect.

    Try as I might to understand the disdain for atoms and molecules, I just… don’t. Are statements like, “we’re just meat computers” supposed to fill me with existential woe? Why? It’s not obvious to me why it such descriptions should be preceded, as is so common, with the qualifier “just”.

    Our brains are protein computers: awesome! Utterly fascinating.

    So what if we’re agents of causation, rather than causal agents? We’re the privileged few who get to observe their trip through the river of causality. How cool is that?

    One can’t even coherently speak of indeterminacy and non-randomness together… the first defies orderliness, while the other imposes it. One might as well talk about a directionless directions or reasonless reasons. So I feel no loss realizing that those are two properties I do not posses in tandem.

    I don’t feel like my cookie has been stolen, knowing these things – I don’t feel any more self-loathing, disdain or hopelessness, nor do I cherish any less the other self-aware cell colonies I have the privilege of bumping into during my short ride. Am I supposed too?

  8. Alex Dawson

    Firstly can I just say that this is an excellent, thought provoking post, Tom, thanks. In terms of analysing worldviews I think the difficulty comes down to the fact that naturalism has no precise meaning agreed by everyone. I would agree that the strictest metaphysical naturalism (along the lines of their being nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences) would almost certainly entail all of what you have written. To me at least, that is simply so patently obviously false, that it almost doesn’t require consideration (simply from observing that experience is not identical to mathematical descriptions). I would imagine that on some level anyone putting forward this view doesn’t really mean/believe that, or doesn’t recognise really what they’re saying.

    However, although perhaps unlikely for other reasons, I do not see weaker forms of naturalism as implausible. If you place no restrictions on the kind of relations natural elements can have, it does not to me in the least seem impossible for mind to have distinct properties to the physical, which perhaps supervene on physical states, or emerge by some other incomprehensible means. Even if you restrict yourself to base elements that exist spatiotemporally I don’t see any meaningful restrictions on the properties they could have or the nature of relationships between them. Perhaps I’m misguided in my thinking, but it seems to me to be no more than an argument from incredulity that meaning or human-ness would be impossible under such a weaker form of naturalism.

    I suppose the problem here is whether what I’ve (poorly) tried to describe can be accurately called naturalism at all.

    Again, bar super-strict metaphysical naturalists who I think are irrational, I think most reasonable people recognise that a lot of experience/what makes us human is beyond (at the very least our present) understanding. They therefore emerge from unknown properties of known things, or unknown entities altogether. Whether these unknowns are “natural” I think is somewhat meaningless, but more importantly, completely irrelevant. What is, is.

    To come back full circle and consider those who call themselves naturalists, I would speculate that what some of them really mean by the claim “I think naturalism is true” is more along the lines of “what we definitively know of through scientific investigation is based in the physical”. Perhaps they stick on the belief that my aforementioned unknowns are “natural”, but from my way of seeing it that’s almost meaningless and certainly irrelevant. Perhaps (probably?) it partly comes down to that they reject other means of gaining knowledge, but that does not mean they reject meaning and human-ness.

    In relation to the death of humanity, I only see those who actively believe and profess there to be no humanity to be directly damaging. Perhaps to a lesser extent there being an association between lack of humanity and naturalism (which as expressed I disagree to be an actual association in many cases) makes naturalism marginally damaging on the whole. However the extent of that damage is proportional to how frequently that association is put forward, which I see put forward a lot more often from people fighting against naturalism, than from naturalists themselves.

  9. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    re: d, #7

    “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men.”

  10. G. Rodrigues

    @Victoria:

    Given what we have seen of the ‘naturalists’ who post on this blog, though, I can imagine that their response will be a variation of “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven”, don’t you think?

    You have quoted Milton, “Paradise Lost”, Book I, line 263. Leapfrog to the end of Book V; Satan when rebuked by Abdiel for his blasphemous machinations, responds thus (starting in line 853):

    That we were formed then sayest thou? and the work
    Of secondary hands, by task transferred
    From Father to his Son? strange point and new!
    Doctrine which we would know whence learned: who saw
    When this creation was? rememberest thou
    Thy making, while the Maker gave thee being?
    We know no time when we were not as now;
    Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
    By our own quickening power, when fatal course
    Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
    Of this our native Heaven, ethereal sons.
    Our puissance is our own;

    Milton is a fairly tendentious poet; but in here he gives some of the most memorable poetry lines to Satan. It echoes ancient Gnostic heresies of an uncreated self: “self-begot, self-raised” and “our puissance is our own”. Is this not at bottom the Nietzchean programme, one of self-creation? Are not at bottom, all modern, secular, anti-Christian programs, just variations on this theme? Naturalism, philosophically speaking, is intellectually bankrupt, but the self-creation, the begetting for ourselves of our own sense of meaning and purpose, that animates it?

    Milton, following Shakespeare, creates the most frighteningly persuasive of the Hero-Villains. And I use “frighteningly persuasive” because that is exactly what Satan’s rhetoric is. Have we not all known, in some way or other, this temptation of temptations, this pride of prides? Of course, at the end of the day, we know that Satan is wrong, because we (and him) *are* creations, mixtures of act and potency. Our puissance is not our own. We are nothing in ourselves; “we are the hollow men” to quote the beginning of another famous poem. The sad, the tragic irony, is that in self-creating ourselves we are not really creating anything but simply destroying our essences, our natures.

    The final irony being that it was a *Christian* poet that created the most persuasive “atheist” and in the same breath refuted him (*).

    (*) Alas, Milton’s refutation(s) is also among the weakest parts of “Paradise Lost”, aesthetically speaking. But convincingly dramatizing austere and harsh theology is probably next to impossible.

  11. d

    Naturalism, philosophically speaking, is intellectually bankrupt, but the self-creation, the begetting for ourselves of our own sense of meaning and purpose, that animates it?

    I can’t speak for every naturalist out there, but I don’t think so, not in the least.

    Naturalism is a philosophical position, believed by many to be based on the best of our reasoning and evidence – that’s what its about, no more, no less. I don’t see what “self-creating” (whatever that even means) has to do with it.

  12. Post
    Author
  13. Victoria

    @Tom

    Naturalism’s success, were it to come about, would mean the destruction of all humanness everywhere. …

    As I re-read your OP, it reminded me of an exposition I came across about the Biblical doctrine of hell. It made the inference that hell was the complete and utter separation from God’s presence and the total destruction of what it means to be truly human – a total loss of God’s image: no community, no love, no hope, no light, no goodness. With the complete withdrawal of God’s Spirit, those who choose to reject their sovereign Creator and Saviour would end up as described in
    Galatians 5:17-21 and Romans 1:18ff

    Sounds eerily like where Metaphysical Naturalism ends up, doesn’t it?

  14. BillT

    “Philosophical naturalism does not commit one to the idea that free will is nonexistent, the idea that consciousness is an illusion, the idea that humans are no different from animals, morality doesn’t exist, etc.”

    The intellectual cowardice of the modern athiest. Now, it’s quantum mechanics that supposedly saves him from the implications of his own beliefs. At least Nietzsche knew the importance of the thing he killed.

  15. Victoria

    At its core, does not Metaphysical Naturalism maintain [*1]

    1. Matter/Energy & Space/Time (aka the physical cosmos) is all that there is, ever was and ever will be (a la Sagan). There is nothing ‘outside’ of that, and therefore no transcendent, eternal, self-existent God.
    2. The cosmos exists as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system.
    3. Man is a complex “machine”; personality (and rational thought, and indeed, all that makes us human) is an interrelationship between (bio)chemical and physical properties (and dynamics) that we do not (yet) fully understand. Mind is a function of machine.
    4. Death is the extinction of personality and individuality.
    5. History is a linear stream of events linked by cause and effect, but without an overarching purpose.
    6.Ethics (and morality) is related only to man. Man can define his own standards of ‘ought’ (well, as long as Woman lets him think that, anyway 🙂 )

    If those are the core tenets of this worldview, then where do they lead? See my previous post for that answer. And who would want to go there?

    [*1] adapted from James W. Sire – The Universe Next Door, (c) IVP

  16. Holopupenko

    Francis Schaeffer on Creativity:

    “There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity… The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.”

    While I have certain issues with Schaeffer, he’s spot on with this… and, Tom, because of this and other reasons I have to disagree with you on your attempts to soften the blow:

    I do not lay this charge directly at the naturalist’s feet: it is naturalism that is culpable, not you who are naturalists.

    This doesn’t make sense: who “makes” naturalism if not philosophical naturalists? “Naturalism” can’t be “culpable” because culpability requires a rational agent… just like the scientific method doesn’t “do” science–scientists “do” science. Naturalism is a repugnant vision of the world that animates deadly actions–even if those actions aren’t the direct “knife holders.” Philosophical naturalists are, in fact, culpable: whether through the sin of omission or ignorance, they are to be faulted. They are indeed members of the set of people who denigrate, reduce, or eliminate humanness, personhood, dignity. They are anti-human. Not realizing or not wanting to face such inhuman, disordered ideas and their consequences does not absolve them.

  17. NickMatzke

    This doesn’t make sense: who “makes” naturalism if not philosophical naturalists? “Naturalism” can’t be “culpable” because culpability requires a rational agent… just like the scientific method doesn’t “do” science–scientists “do” science. Naturalism is a repugnant vision of the world that animates deadly actions–even if those actions aren’t the direct “knife holders.” Philosophical naturalists are, in fact, culpable: whether through the sin of omission or ignorance, they are to be faulted. They are indeed members of the set of people who denigrate, reduce, or eliminate humanness, personhood, dignity. They are anti-human. Not realizing or not wanting to face such inhuman, disordered ideas and their consequences does not absolve them.

    This makes about as much sense as when some extreme atheist tries to characterize as evil Christians and/or Christianity-in-general (or religion-in-general) on the basis of the fact that God endorses the decidedly dehumanizing practices of genocide, human sacrifice, conquest, etc. at various points in the Bible.

    Chilling the heck out, taking a deep breath, and recognizing the diversity of both religious and nonreligious traditions of thought, rather than trying to pigeonhole them in their entirety into the most evil possible spin on the tradition would help both sides a lot.

  18. Holopupenko

    This coming from an un-chilled moral relativist, someone who uses broad-brushing and incorrect terms like “screed” and “fundamentalist,” someone who’s straw men characterizations of faith are sick self-serving jokes? Really? No dice, Nick. The only kind of “religious faith” you’ll entertain is the milk toast kind that doesn’t threaten your ignorance or your comfort zone. Keep your implied NOMAsand your ultimately deadly philosophical naturalism and hyper-body-count atheism to yourself.

  19. JAD

    Nietzsche is sometimes called a nihilist. However, in their book, What Nietzsche Really Said, Higgins and Solomon argue that Nietzche actually sets forth an affirmative philosophy. The problem is that Nietzche was an egoist and his philosophy was an egocentric one. An egocentric philosophy along with it’s moral-ethical system is not much use when it comes to addressing societies problems.

    Nietzsche’s philosphy was also quite destructive. For example he rejects the Judeo-Christian as a slave or herd morality, in which the “slaves” are being driven by resentment… and seeks to replace it with a master morality. But what kind of society would you have if everyone was a self-centered egoist driven by a will-to-power? It seems to me that Nietzsche’s philosphy would not only be destructive our religious traditions but also to democracy. But then, on the other hand, unlike existentialists like Kierkengaard and Sartre, Nietzsche, a determinist, rejects the idea of free will. So, any kind of moral change is very limited. So, from that perspective, Nietzche seems to by saying we are stuck with two kinds of morality: the slave/herd morality and the master morality. The slave/herd morality is, like Marxes opiate of the people, something that is needed to keep the masses in check. The master morality on the other hand is the source of man’s nobility

    It seems to me that Nietzche rather than murdering humanity is struggling to find it and then hold onto it. However his philosophy seems to lead to an elitist intelligensia or aristocracy. In other words, there is humanity (or, maybe a fully realized humanity) for the few, but not the many. In my opinion, such a view is completely contrary to the advances that have been made in the area of human rights.

  20. Holopupenko

    With regard to the reductionism and dehumanizing results of philosophical naturalism, Christians know humans have the capacity for free will because we know good and evil exist and that people can choose between them. Common sense and humility are not virtues in which atheists excel—especially given the straight-forward point made by St. Ephrem the Syrian around 1,650 years ago:

         If anyone asks what this “will” is, we must tell him the real truth about it: that it is the power of free choice. So if anyone asks, “What is this will? For it is only one thing, but part of it is good and part of it is evil”—then we shall say, “That is because it is a will.” And if he asks again, we shall tell him that it is endowed with independence. And if he continues in his folly, we shall tell him that it is free will. And if he still is not convinced, the fact that he cannot be taught shows that there is free will—because he is unwilling to be taught.
         But if he is convinced when they say to him that there is no free will, it really is marvelous that by denying free will he proves that there is free will. He proves it by putting himself in that desperate state.
         It is as if some eloquent person wanted to rant away and prove that people have no power of speech. What madness! He says there is no power of speech by using his power of speech! His own power of speech refutes him if by means of speech he tries to prove that there is no power of speech.
         Likewise, when free will has gone to hide itself in a discussion and show by argument that it does not exist, then it is more certainly caught and proved to exist.
         For if there were no free will, there would be no argument and no persuasion.
         St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373)
         First Discourse to Hypatius

    Disclosure: I’m baiting historicism.

  21. d

    I will agree with St. Ephrem somewhat….

    The desire to argue, coupled with the subsequent act of arguing does seem like an obvious demonstration of free will… compatibalist free will.

  22. G. Rodrigues

    @JAD:

    Needless to say, I violently disagree with just about everything Nietzsche held, but I also believe that your account is a weak misreading of him. I am not really interested in defending my thesis; neither is this thread the proper venue nor is it related to the main topic of the OP; and besides, my knowledge of Nietzsche is very flimsy.

    I will say this however, as it ties in with my previous post #11 and Tom Gilson’s OP. If God imparts being, and thus it is also the transcendent source of meaning and value, with His death, at the center of every human being a gaping abyss opens up that threatens to devour him. If you gaze long into this abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. Milton’s Satan knows this (even if obliquely); Nietzsche knows this. An existential leap, a transvaluation of values, the self-creation of the Übermensch, is needed if the pitfall of nihilism is to be avoided. The supreme examples which Nietzsche looks up to are the aristocratic Homeric Greek heroes, fierce contestants, and their incessant agon. This task is then a task for the exceptional man (Nietzsche was unashamedly an aristocratic elitist, in various senses of the expression); morality should be left for the rabble to keep them in line, or to quote from J. Swift’s little masterpiece of sarcasm “An argument against Abolishing Christianity”:

    FOR the rest, it may perhaps admit a Controversy, whether the Banishing all Notions of Religion whatsoever, would be convenient for the Vulgar. Not that I am in the least of Opinion with those, who hold Religion to have been the Invention of Politicians, to keep the lower Part of the World in Awe, by the Fear of invisible Powers; unless Mankind were then very different from what it is now; For I look upon the Mass, or Body of our People here in England, to be as Free-Thinkers, that is to say, as staunch Unbelievers, as any of the highest Rank. But I conceive some scattered Notions about a superior Power to be of singular Use for the common People, as furnishing excellent Materials to keep Children quiet, when they grow peevish; and providing Topicks of Amusement in a tedious Winter Night.

    It is also ironic how pathetic are d and Nick Matzke’s responses to Nietzsche: d is blissfully ignorant of the difficulties of his position and Nick Matzke’s quote is a sorry piece that defies qualification. It completely misses the point of the OP; his invocation of “quantum mechanics, chaos theory, emergent processes” was aptly qualified by BillT. As for Nietzsche, a man of palpable genius, he would reserve only scorn, derision and contempt for naturalism and science-fetishism.

    @Tom Gilson:

    And while I am at it (although probably I am derailing off-topic), I would also like to add the following. Tom Gilson said and I quote:

    As for emergent processes, I can see why a thinker would want to call upon them to explain what he or she knows to be true about himself or herself. There is little else on offer, in PN, to do that for us. The problem is that no one knows how freedom actually emerges from physics. No one knows how intentionality (aboutness) emerges from non-intentionality. No one knows how consciousness emerges from unconsciousness. PN fails to explain this; and those who try to hold to PN while also trying to explain these things have never succeeded in making it work.

    This is an understatement. There are several arguments that purport to show that Philosophical Naturalism cannot explain, not even in principle, qualia, intentionality, consciousness, rationality, the self, etc. and that “emergent processes” fail miserably at this task. As for the supposed “mountains of evidence” for Philosophical Naturalism, as far as I can see (and please someone correct me if I am wrong — and by this I mean, present arguments that are significantly different from the two expressed below), they usually boil down to the very weak (actually, non-existent) induction argument from the successes of “naturalistic” science and to the highly dubious argument by elimination (and in my opinion demonstrably false), that the alternatives are in no better shape in explaining these features.

  23. d

    G. Rodrigues,

    Most arguments against theism do rely on some sort of induction. But they are hardly weak.. a small sampling of a few include:

    1) the minds apparent dependence on physical matter. Disembodied minds don’t seem possible.
    2) naturalism is the best explanation for evolution
    3) naturalism provides the best explanation the biological role of pain and pleasure
    4) naturalism better explains indiscriminate tragedy (evidential problem of evil suggests naturalism)
    5) naturalism better explains divine hiddenness.
    6) naturalism is the best explanation for the reasonableness of non-belief.

  24. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    1) The mind’s apparent dependence on physical matter is apparent. The mind’s expression in our world is quite certainly dependent on its connection with the brain. That view is perfectly consistent with theism. See my upcoming blog posts on the creation of man in the image of God, and my recent ones on God and creation. I don’t address this topic there specifically but it provides background: God intended us to be physically embodied.

    2) Naturalism is not the best explanation for evolution. Naturalism is a metaphysical assumption placed upon evolution. The only necessary connection between naturalism and evolution is that if naturalism is true, then evolution or some undiscovered and undreamed-of alternative must be true. Naturalism seems to entail evolution, as far as anyone knows or can imagine. That’s not the same as it being an explanation for evolution.

    3) Theism provides an extremely strong explanation for pain and pleasure.

    4) Theism provides an explanation for tragedy.

    5) Divine hiddenness is entirely consistent with Christian belief and may even constitute an argument in favor of Christianity.

    6) Huh????? You think that’s an argument?? Your non-belief is not very reasonable on that point if you do.

  25. SteveK

    From Victor’s DI blog:

    Hence, I propose a general rule that covers all and thus distinguishes naturalism from supernaturalism: If naturalism is true, everything mental is caused by the nonmental, whereas if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing is not. — Richard Carrier

    Seems reasonable enough.

  26. d

    Tom,

    None of those arguments offer anything that is inconsistent, in principle, with theism, I don’t disagree there. Theists have devised responses on all those fronts… but naturalism provides better, more plausible explanations, or so we naturalists generally argue.

    #6 is closely related to divine hiddenness, though from a slightly different angle. Here’s a good summary of related arguments: http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/#SH4f

  27. NickMatzke

    As for Nietzsche, a man of palpable genius, he would reserve only scorn, derision and contempt for naturalism and science-fetishism.

    Probably true (although not the genius bit) — which is yet another reason it is bizarre to link him to Coyne-ism and similar philosophies.

  28. NickMatzke

    From Victor’s DI blog:

    Hence, I propose a general rule that covers all and thus distinguishes naturalism from supernaturalism: If naturalism is true, everything mental is caused by the nonmental, whereas if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing is not. — Richard Carrier

    Seems reasonable enough.

    Erm, not really. Even from a totally materialist viewpoint it is perfectly possible to have an emergent system which then then exhibits top-down causation. Mental processes, the behaviors of organisms or societies of organisms, etc., would be classic examples of this.

  29. d

    Yea, I understand the marketing appeal to be had in convincing the world that naturalism sends you into the existential abyss, by speaking of it together with all the gloomiest of atheist philosophers..

    But I’ve yet to see a good reason offered why positive emotional reactions to naturalism are unreasonable.

    I can only surmise that maybe those sorts negative emotional reactions come from the relativistic quirks in our cognitive ability for comparison, which advertisers and marketers so love to exploit. We tend to compare like items, not with objective criteria, but against one another.

    When you see two options next to each other on the table – a life followed by eternal bliss, and a life followed by non-existence on the other – one looks a heck of a lot better than the other. One sounds positively dismal, the other sounds great.

    But if you just put on the table, life followed by non-existence, next to non-existence entirely, one looks a heck of a lot better than the other. With option (A), you actually get to live. Cool!

    I can imagine that many humans, seeing nothing but a dark abyss in naturalism, fall in that trap. Perhaps even Nietzche.

  30. BillT

    d,

    You really have to be kidding with the explanation at the link you provided. How many times have we seen this nonesense. “We’re justified in not believing in God because he hasn’t acted as we want him to act”

    You have to be able to do better than that.

  31. d

    BillT:

    That’s not quite it.

    Its that we’re justified in not believing in God, because his alleged actions (or inaction) defy what is most reasonable to expect from a being with his properties and values.

    You may object that we’re too intellectually limited to judge what such a being would or would not do… but that’s an equal problem for anybody who speaks of what God would or wouldn’t do, theists most especially.

    Take the argument for the resurrection, where some theists will claim that the resurrection is probable, presuming God exists, because God would WANT to raise Jesus from the dead. If I’m too epistemically limited to say God would have the means and the will to prevent some tragedy, surely they are too epistemically limited to also say God would want to raise Jesus from the dead. Can’t have it both ways.

  32. SteveK

    Nick,

    Even from a totally materialist viewpoint it is perfectly possible to have an emergent system which then then exhibits top-down causation.

    I think maybe you are misunderstanding Carrier’s statement. Carrier is talking about the first cause, or root cause. In your materialistic world, the causal chain always takes the form:

    non-mental(root) -> mental -> non-mental…
    – or –
    non-mental(root) -> non-mental ->…

    All subsequent causes can be traced back to the root, non-mental cause. What Carrier is saying is this: if supernaturalism is true, at least one thing can be explained by the following causal chain.

    mental(root) – > non-mental -> mental…

  33. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Quick poll. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone suggesting that anyone had ever suggested this:

    The resurrection is probable, presuming God exists, because God would WANT to raise Jesus from the dead.

    How about the rest of you?

    It’s palpable nonsense, and I can’t think of any Christian who has actually offered it for consideration.

    So in other words, d, this “can’t have it both ways” applies to a complete fiction, as far as I can tell. If you want to compare your arguments to Christians’ arguments, I suggest you:

    a) Compare your best arguments to our best arguments, not our worst ones, and

    b) Don’t make up bad arguments and pretend that we’ve made them; for this one of yours (as far as I know) really isn’t one of our worst ones. It isn’t ours at all.

    By the way, if your illustration falls (and it does), then the rest of your argument is hanging over the edge of a cliff.

  34. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Nick,

    Even from a totally materialist viewpoint it is perfectly possible to have an emergent system which then then exhibits top-down causation.

    Can you give an example, please? I’m really curious how something that is caused from the bottom up can exhibit top-down causation.

  35. d

    Tom:

    I have heard William Lane Craig and Licona (who has been cited several times as a good source for resurrection arguments) both make that claim, in the face of arguments that the prior probability against the resurrection is too high to overcome. They usually respond with the rebuttal that its only unlikely, given naturalism, but that it is likely given theism.

    But even if not – theists make all sorts of positive claims about the desires, motives and actions of God apart from that. Its no good to turn around and then tell the naturalist they can’t make positive claims about the desires, motives or actions of God.

  36. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Also WRT to this, Nick,

    Probably true (although not the genius bit) — which is yet another reason it is bizarre to link him to Coyne-ism and similar philosophies.

    You have too little imagination. I didn’t argue from Nietzsche. I drew a literary allusion from him. Sheesh.

    Rather than spending so much time offering up jejune criticisms on matters you don’t understand, maybe you would be better served by spending some time seeking to get the point and to comprehend.

  37. Victoria

    @d

    But even if not – theists make all sorts of positive claims about the desires, motives and actions of God apart from that. Its no good to turn around and then tell the naturalist they can’t make positive claims about the desires, motives or actions of God.

    Yes, but as Christians, we base those claims on what God Himself has revealed, because we have good evidentiary and experiental reasons to trust what He has provided (namely the Bible). You make up claims about God (who you don’t believe in anyway, to say nothing of trusting, obeying, and knowing Him) out of what? Your own imagination?

  38. SteveK

    I’m really curious how something that is caused from the bottom up can exhibit top-down causation.

    I am too. Is there a gap in the causal chain somewhere?

  39. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    “Coyne-ism,” by the way, is not just Coyne’s “ism.” I don’t know what your rhetorical purpose is in presenting it that way—probably to distance philosophical naturalism’s harsher conclusions from some of its actually respected endorsers—but you can’t get away with that ploy.

    Sam Harris denies free will (though he contradicts himself on it. Will Provine denies free will. Daniel Dennett denies human agent causation, as I read him.

    Democritus denied free will. Laplace believed in determinism. Mill and Russell were determinists (or at least denied free human agent causation). Skinner was a determinist.

    And so on.

  40. d

    Victoria,

    To even trust the Bible, you have to presume that such a method of revelation is a reasonably expected way for God to reveal His truth.

    But why on earth would anyone expect that, when thinking of all the means and methods available to such a being to reveal truth to His creation?

    Its eminently more reasonable to claim that revelation by way books of dubious origins, is a fundamentally irrational way for God to reveal truth.

  41. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You have mis-heard Craig and Licona. Their argument comes from a completely different direction, and goes something like this:

    If there is no God, then the Resurrection is highly improbable or impossible. A naturalist, atheist, or skeptic assessing evidence for the Resurrection would likely assign it a very low prior probability, and would be inclined to find any other explanation at all for the evidence rather than to believe a resurrection had happened.

    But this begs the question. If there is a God, then the prior probabilities for a Resurrection are considerably higher. It is the difference between an utter physical impossibility and a possibility through God.

    But even if not – theists make all sorts of positive claims about the desires, motives and actions of God apart from that. Its no good to turn around and then tell the naturalist they can’t make positive claims about the desires, motives or actions of God.

    Theists don’t tend to make those claims apart from giving reasons for those claims, whether they be philosophical or based in revelation.

    This part of the discussion began when you said,

    Its that we’re justified in not believing in God, because his alleged actions (or inaction) defy what is most reasonable to expect from a being with his properties and values.

    You may object that we’re too intellectually limited to judge what such a being would or would not do… but that’s an equal problem for anybody who speaks of what God would or wouldn’t do, theists most especially.

    The problem is equal in one sense: anyone who wants to offer an opinion on what God might or might not do needs to offer a reason for thinking so. You’re welcome to do that. And then if someone offers a valid objection, then your opinion’s validity is undermined if not totally overturned. That works in theology as well as it does in any other discourse.

  42. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No, d:

    To even trust the Bible, you have to presume that such a method of revelation is a reasonably expected way for God to reveal His truth.

    But why on earth would anyone expect that, when thinking of all the means and methods available to such a being to reveal truth to His creation?

    Its eminently more reasonable to claim that revelation by way books of dubious origins, is a fundamentally irrational way for God to reveal truth.

    1. We don’t have to presume it is expected. We go by information that supports that position.

    2. We don’t have to think of all the means or methods God could have used to reveal himself, when we already have the means he actually chose.

    3. Let me turn this around. Are you suggesting that God would have sat up in heaven and asked, “Now, what are those 21st century Westerners going to expect me to provide them by way of revelation? I’d better do it that way or else!”

    4. The origins of Scripture are dubious? Explain, please.

    5. It is irrational for God to reveal truth propositionally? Explain, please.

  43. BillT

    d,

    The argument in the link was just as I (and you, BTW though using words that made a distinction without a difference) described it.

    The othet nonesense that you wrote about God wanting to raise Jesus from the dead is also nonesense and has nothing to do with Christian theology in any way as has been explained to you.

  44. d

    Tom mentioned Sam Harris a couple posts ago… there’s actually couple of really interesting youtube clips of him discussing free will, starting with this one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dodTNPp12rg

    I don’t know if he’d call himself a compatibalist or not, but he echoes similar themes.

    The last minute of the last clip is especially pertinant.

  45. d

    BillT:

    The distinction between your characterization and mine, is the not-so-subtle implication that atheists are just complaining or whining because life and the world arent as perfect as they would like.

  46. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I don’t have time for a YouTube video right now, but just last night I re-read Harris’s 11-page argument against free will in The Moral Landscape.

  47. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Most arguments against theism do rely on some sort of induction. But they are hardly weak.. a small sampling of a few include:

    I will repeat myself; you really are unaware of the essential difficulties of your position.

    As for your sampling, what can I say? Some of them are arguments only in your imagination (“naturalism is the best explanation for evolution”? Huh? This is about as coherent as saying that naturalism is the best explanation for the law of gravity. In fact if anything, naturalism has absolutely *no* account for the order present in the universe; zilch, nada, nothing) while others cannot even get up and do their work. Naturalism has immense, and I would argue, impossible to overcome, difficulties in explaining intentionality, consciousness, rationality, the self, etc. and you go on to assert that it is the best explanation for “indiscriminate tragedy” or ” divine hiddenness”…

    Unless all this time by explaining you really meant explaining away, and we go back to Tom Gilson’s OP. And this is another reason why the inductive arguments are fairly weak; because naturalism *has failed* until now to account for intentionality, consciousness, rationality, the self, etc. so as it stands, the inductive argument simply does not work. Maybe you would like to make a leap of faith and say that in the future everything will fall into place. To which I respond, whatever rocks your boat. I would just like you to face the arguments that expose the immense difficulties that naturalism has to face in accomplishing this. To get you started — see Immaterial Aspects of Thought.

  48. G. Rodrigues

    @Tom Gilson:

    Let me turn this around. Are you suggesting that God would have sat up in heaven and asked, “Now, what are those 21st century Westerners going to expect me to provide them by way of revelation? I’d better do it that way or else!”

    But don’t you see Tom, that the fact that God did not explain Quantum Electrodynamics say, to Moses, which would be a sure sign of divine revelation and thus what would be reasonably expected of a reasonable God to do, but on the contrary, all He has supposedly provided is a hodge-podge of confused utterings, is sure proof that He is not reasonable, from which it follows that He does not exist because God cannot be unreasonable. Get with the program, Tom, get with the program.

  49. d

    G. Rodrigues,

    Well, what can I say? You have a sour opinion of naturalism. Your confidence that theism somehow makes something coherent out the contradictions in libetarian notions of consciousness, intentionality, and will is noted… but unconvincing.

    The inductive inferences about the above, crome from our ever-accumulating knowledge of the brain and cognitive processes… and it is no secret that this knowledge is making the continued existence of libertarian/dualist related metaphysical conceptions of the mind increasingly strained, if not impossible – some libertarians have felt forced to admit as much.

    Maybe, despite it all, one can still manage to successfully barricade all deeply cherished truths about human nature behind some metaphysical barrier, impenetrable to empirical refutation… but color me unimpressed.

  50. SteveK

    d,
    Re: impenetrable to empirical refutation

    Human nature subject to empirical refutation? That large metaphysical barricade you’ve erected is working well, d.

  51. JAD

    Nick: Even from a totally materialist viewpoint it is perfectly possible to have an emergent system which then then exhibits top-down causation.

    Tom: Can you give an example, please? I’m really curious how something that is caused from the bottom up can exhibit top-down causation.

    Example? You mean you can’t accept Nick’s bald assertion on face value?

    Ironically, at least it seems to me, that this is an “example” of vintage Nick.

    Does anyone else see it that way?

  52. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Well, what can I say? You have a sour opinion of naturalism. Your confidence that theism somehow makes something coherent out the contradictions in libetarian notions of consciousness, intentionality, and will is noted… but unconvincing.

    Unlike you, I have actually provided not only arguments, but references to further arguments (in this thread and others) and I have even provided responses to the supposed “contradictions in libetarian notions of consciousness, intentionality, and will is noted” (in other threads, not this one). You have not deigned to respond to a single — and I mean that literally, not even one — argument or payed attention to any of the defenses proposed. From you, all I get is a handful of nothing. Maybe you think, like Prof. Krauss thinks the universe came from nothing, that an argument can come from nothing.

    Instead of arguments, I get a fine piece of psychologizing:

    Maybe, despite it all, one can still manage to successfully barricade all deeply cherished truths about human nature behind some metaphysical barrier, impenetrable to empirical refutation… but color me unimpressed.

    Ah d, (as SteveK pointed out) projection is thy middle name.

  53. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I don’t know, JAD. I mean, I’m assuming that Nick’s point is not going to be, A (at the bottom) causes B (at a higher level) which causes A which causes B …. For all his faults, Nick is certainly not a believer in perpetual motion machines.

    Or is he?

    What I want is an example of bottom-up causation that can produce a top-down causal effect, without eventually cycling back to where it started from the way a perpetual motion machine cycles back. (Or the way it would, if such a thing existed.)

    I want it to be a demonstrable example, too. If for example he tells us that thinking is an emergent property of the brain, and that we know that thoughts can cause effects in the brain and beyond, I want to know how he knows that’s true, empirically and/or philosophically.

    I understand this much: if naturalism is true, then something like that probably has to be true, unless one denies that thoughts can cause effects in the physical world. That was just an example of course. Regardless, I’m asking Nick to bear in mind that he cannot demonstrate his point with any example that begins with (or buries) the assumption, naturalism is true, therefore naturalistic explanation x must (or even could) be true. To do that would be begging the question.

  54. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Maybe, despite it all, one can still manage to successfully barricade all deeply cherished truths about human nature behind some metaphysical barrier, impenetrable to empirical refutation… but color me unimpressed.

    Ah d, (as SteveK pointed out) projection is thy middle name.

    Good point. Aside from being puzzled over what that strange charge might actually mean, I was having trouble figuring which one of us he was talking about. It fits him admirably well, I’m afraid.

    I’ll freely admit to having a sour opinion of naturalism. That was the whole point of the OP. I think it’s deadly and deathly.

    That’s not why I think it’s wrong, though. I think it’s wrong because it fails to account for reality as we know reality to be, and because it’s logically incoherent. That’s not a matter of taste, it’s a matter of argument—as G. Rodrigues has ably pointed out already.

  55. BillT

    d,

    I never said or implied anything about atheists “…complaining or whining because life and the world aren’t as perfect as they would like.”

    I said they justified their rejection of God because they believed God hasn’t acted as they want or expect him to act. It’s a tired old argument which sets the arbitrary opinion of those who want to disprove God’s existence as the standard for judging God’s behavior. It’s quite silly when you really think about it.

  56. G. Rodrigues

    @Tom Gilson:

    What is even more ironic is that when d says that,

    Maybe, despite it all, one can still manage to successfully barricade all deeply cherished truths about human nature behind some metaphysical barrier, impenetrable to empirical refutation… but color me unimpressed.

    he does not even realize that in fact, no amount of empirical data can overthrow a metaphysical proof. Saying that it can is as stupid as saying that physics can falsify Euclidean geometry or the infinitude of prime numbers or whatever mathematical theorem you care to name. But of course, d wallowing in his natural ignorance, is hardly aware of this.

  57. d

    I think we’ve talked about this before G. Rodrigues.

    There are at least two ways in which metaphysical proofs can be true – analytic and synthetic.

    A proof that is synthetically true only tells us something true about the relations of the symbols within it – namely, that their relationships conform to the axiomatic rules upon which the system of proof is based.

    A proof that is analytically true tells us something true about reality beyond those abstract symbols. Somewhere down the line, in any analytically true proof (or in proofs upon which it logically depends), some premise is going to make an inductive or abductive claim about reality – and consequently, CAN be overturned or made less probable by empirical discoveries.

  58. Post
    Author
  59. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Besides the obvious that SteveK and Tom Gilson have already pointed out, I want to add that I was very careful in my wording. I said and I quote “no amount of empirical data can overthrow a metaphysical proof”. If the meaning of this is not plain to you, let me make it more explicit: of course, empirical data (or even scientific theory) *informs* metaphysical reasoning; if I did not believe that myself, I would hardly have cause to believe the Five Ways, which are a-posteriori proofs, or to believe that they constitute the strongest arguments for Theism. But empirical data (or whatever scientific theory you care to name) does not exist in a vacuum; it does not come with some preferred metaphysical interpretation attached. If you want to overthrow a metaphysical reasoning, you have to engage in metaphysical reasoning, pure and simple. If you mean by “empirical refutation” what everyone means by it, then it is literally true that metaphysical reasoning is impervious to empirical falsification, analogous to the way in which a mathematical theorem is not falsifiable by any empirical data.

  60. JAD

    For naturalism to be true the universe MUST be a causally closed system. However, modern cosmology has empirically demonstrated that the universe had a beginning 14.5 bya. But if the universe had beginning then it means that it also had a cause that is outside of itself. But if that’s the case then it really isn’t causally closed. Furthermore, while empirical evidence can point us to a beginning, it can tell us virtually nothing about who or what caused the universe to come into existence, or even if the cause was a who or what. Therefore, we are left with a metaphysical apples and oranges comparison.

    Theism argues that an eternally existing transcendent intelligence is the cause of our universe…

    What is the alternative that philosophical naturalists offer?

  61. videos cristianos

    the madman and humanity for they life is not more than living selfish, but if they would find Christ, then their lives will change completely. It is our Lord Jesus Christ who bring sense to our lives because Christ is the life, the way and the truth. God bless

  62. Holopupenko

    Ahh, those Church Fathers: well ahead of their times… and even further ahead of atheists.

    Foreknowledge doesn’t cancel free will: If God knows in advance what you will do, does that mean God is the cause of your sins? No, says Origen. Just because God knows the choices you will make doesn’t mean he causes you to make them.

         Suppose you get information from a person in no way responsible for the events. If you hear that certain things have happened or will happen to certain individuals, and you do not bear in mind that your informant as to the past or future is in no way answerable for any given happening, you might suppose that the informant has brought about or will bring about what he relates.
         But you would obviously be wrong in so doing. It is as though a man were to read a prophetic book in which the conduct of Judas the traitor is foretold, and having learned what was to happen, were to think, after seeing it done, that the book was the cause of what afterwards occurred, because the book showed him the future conduct of Judas. Or again, it is as if he should imagine that not the book was the cause, but whoever first wrote it—or he who had the book written, God himself, if we may so speak.
         In the case of the prophecies concerning Judas, when we look at the passages themselves, we see that God did not produce the treachery of Judas, but that, foreknowing what would result from the wickedness of the traitor through his own fault, he only made it known. In the same way, if anyone would go deep into the discussion of God’s universal foreknowledge, and into those things in which God stamps the proofs of his own foreknowledge, so to speak, he would understand that the cause of the things foreknown is neither God who foreknows nor those things that were stamped with the proofs of the foreknowledge of God who foreknew.
         Origen, Philocalia, 23.3

  63. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Never challenged you on their existence. Only on their relevance to freedom and intentionality. Do try to pay more attention, please; you’re less likely to embarrass yourself that way.

  64. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    And since you’re back, maybe you’d like to handle this now:

    Nick: Even from a totally materialist viewpoint it is perfectly possible to have an emergent system which then then exhibits top-down causation.

    Tom: Can you give an example, please? I’m really curious how something that is caused from the bottom up can exhibit top-down causation.

  65. Doug

    Emergence==Revelation==(potency becoming actuality).
    That is, “emergence” is a descriptive term representing the act of something being revealed. That the something is revealed indicates that it was “build in” to whatever the something emerged from. As a result, it is nonsense to talk as if emergence is the cause of anything.
    Does “emergence” exist? Of course.
    Does it explain anything? Of course not.

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