The Overwhelming, Mysterious, Multi-dimensional Glory of God’s Goodness

I don’t know how to speak this well enough. It would take a poet. God is good, and his way is good. It’s very good. It’s rich, it’s beautiful, it’s mulit-dimensional, it’s mysterious where it ought to be, and it’s plain where it should be. It’s dizzyingly satisfying. It’s glorious. It’s right.

I don’t know how to say that well enough, partly because there’s an aspect in it of “you had to be there.” You could go there, actually, because what I’m talking about is the long conversation with Bill L on the post, The Range Master and the Doctor: A Parable About Abortion.

More than anything else there we’ve talked about suffering in relation to abortion. Bill L’s view is that a fetus cannot suffer before 21 weeks in the womb, so there’s no moral harm in taking its life:

I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of thoughts that allow any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.

He balances this against other suffering:

I hate to say it but I’m not surprised that you’re not aware of the suffering you want to cause. Unwanted children cause many people suffering. Disabled children cause many people suffering. I suggest you start talking to people who have had abortions and actually listen to them.

I’ve already spoken a very passionate opinion about disabled children causing suffering. I left out the most important part there, though, and I want to spend some time on it here. It’s about God’s eternal and essential goodness.

God is good, and his goodness is far better than just wanting us to escape suffering. His goodness is of the sort that wants to build us up in our goodness. He’s a soul-tester and a soul-builder, not a comfort-manager.

On one level everyone know this. Though suffering is not good in itself, still God produces good through it. Suffering amplifies souls. There’s a rather cryptic saying of Jesus that comes in here, I think. It’s in Matthew 25:29; and I hope I’m not violating the context too badly by using it in this way. Jesus says,

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

What we are is amplified in suffering. Those who are growing grow even stronger. Those who are shrinking shrink all the more.

The most beautiful souls I know are those who have stood the test. Years ago I knew Bill McDowell, one of the scholars on the translation team for the New King James Version of the Bible (no relation to Josh or Sean McDowell). He had lost his first wife to breast cancer. Around the time I first met him his second wife was also diagnosed with breast cancer, and she too passed away, slowly and painfully.

I didn’t know her well enough to see her heart, but I knew Bill, and I’ll never forget what he said at the time of her death: “I am so grateful for the love of God and of this church for me.” Sure, he was a world-class scholar, yet what really stood out to me was that he was a man of grace, love, and humility, in ways that were both enlarged and revealed through his suffering.

Above all—and he would have been very quick to say this!—he was a man who knew the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Before a soul can grow it must become fully alive. This fullness of life is possible only through Christ, who died for us so that we could live in him forever.

We need Jesus Christ, even to get started in soul-building. Suffering can play a part in getting us started on the way of Christ. It reveals to us that the world is bigger than we are. There are evils we cannot control. Some of them come from within. When we discover this we have a choice. We can fight for the right to be who we are–a self-centered act right from the start; or we can recognize we need outside help to be rescued, mostly from ourselves.

He rescues us through forgiveness, for one thing. Back to the topic of abortion, I think Christians may be too slow to say that although it’s really wrong, God can really forgive that wrong.

He rescues us through reconciling us to himself. We don’t just get a clean slate, we get a new life and a new relationship with him.

When God accomplishes that rescue for us he reveals a world of goodness we had never dreamed of. It’s goodness like Bill McDowell’s; goodness like the fruit of the Spirit of God, highlighted in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. These virtues grow in us best when we face and pass the test of suffering. Some of them would be meaningless without it.

To grow in such things is far better than to grow in comfort and ease! Again, everyone knows this on some level. Though everyone would like to live in easy comfort, few of us would love being friends with someone whose life had always been that way. Their souls are small.

Everyone knows this on some level, but some people would still rather have life their own way. They want to define “goodness” for themselves. To want this is to fail the test at the very beginning; for goodness is God’s domain. We can approach it, and we can experience it, on his terms only. To try to define it on our own terms is to put ourselves in the place of God.

God is good. He is good in his way, not in ours; but his way of goodness is our best way of goodness. He’s offering us all life in his goodness, for now and forever. Why would anyone settle for mere comfort?

I fear I’ve been rambling. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: I said at the beginning, I don’t know how to speak this well enough. With my heart overflowing this way I’m finding it hard to connect everything in a strictly logical sequence. I just want you to understand that true goodness—God’s goodness—is more multi-dimensional, more beautiful, sometimes mysterious, yet in every way better than mere human comfort.

Pursue it. Look to Jesus Christ as your way, truth, and life (from John 14:6) Seek God, and you will find him, and you will know that he is good.

Comments

  1. scbrownlhrm

    Melissa” captured it:

    “We know that self-giving love entails suffering…..”

    “We know that a fetus is a human being. We know that it is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. We know that carrying and nurturing a human being, as does living in any real community, involves self-giving love. We know that self-giving love entails suffering. We know that to live in a community characterized by self-giving love is good and in fact is our human calling. We know that the avoidance of suffering is not the pinnacle of human morality. Therefore the community that prioritizes the avoidance of suffering over all else is not morally good nor will it lead to real life and flourishing of human beings. Due to our calling to be Christ in the world, as the church, we will not support measures that encourage that mindset that fail to affirm the goodness of self-giving love or that label the taking of innocent human life to avoid suffering as good.”

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  3. Bill L

    I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of though that allows any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.

    To be clear here, I had a typo in that… it should read:

    I believe the most reasonable approach we can take with abortion and deciding any right-to-life issue is the point at which something can suffer. By that, I mean not only sensing pain, but having the kind of thoughts that allows any creature to comprehend that pain is something bad, and that it wants to avoid this.

  4. Bill L

    God is good, and his goodness is far better than just wanting us to escape suffering. His goodness is of the sort that wants to build us up in our goodness. He’s a soul-tester and a soul-builder, not a comfort-manager.

    I worry here because it is the kind of justification that was probably used by those conducting Inquisitions, witch hunts, Crusades, and religious wars.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    All of which have been distorted in the popular imagination.

    Still you do well to worry, for this kind of thing can be misused. Any truth can be abused. If a thing is true, though, it is true, even if someone distorts it in practice, to use it as an excuse to do wrong.

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  7. SteveK

    I love what Melissa said (#1). Bill L would like us to think that eliminating suffering is the highest good. I’ve lived long enough to know that is a lie. Suffering for the sake of a child brings about so much goodness. Why would a mother choose to abort a child rather than choose to live a life of suffering for the purpose of making herself and her child a better person? Suffering for the good of another is a virtue. Choosing comfort over the good of another is not.

  8. Bill L

    SteveK
    Then let each mother decide if she wants to suffer in that way. You don’t know each person’s situation better than they do.

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  10. SteveK

    I don’t need to know the situation because “suffering for the good of another is a virtue” is true in all situations.

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    Tom Gilson

    That opens up another angle on what I wrote here. In soul-building, God is interested in growing us in virtue, not in letting us shrink through comfort. This too is good, and reflects his goodness.

  13. SteveK

    The question for society is do we want to promote and encourage people to avoid suffering for the good of another? I say no. Let us not make laws that encourage that attitude or make it easy to carry out. But this is what society is doing with the abortion issue. Even if it remains legal it should be publicly discouraged and thought to only occur in the rarest of situations. We are nowhere close to that.

  14. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Compare these:

    1. “He survived the challenge. I know it was beastly difficult for him, but we can all see how it’s made him a better man.”

    2. “He won the Lotto, quit his job, paid off his mortgage, bought a Tesla, and everyone can see how it’s made him a better man.”

    Which makes more sense?

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  16. bigbird

    @SteveK

    Bill L would like us to think that eliminating suffering is the highest good.

    A view which inevitably leads to demands for euthanasia, and, if he is honest, leads to infanticide for those babies who have managed to escape detection of severe disabilities.

    After all, it isn’t the mother’s fault that their baby’s severe disability wasn’t detected in time for an abortion! Why should they suffer when the baby isn’t self-aware anyway, and will spend their lifetime suffering?

  17. SteveK

    Continuing my thought in #15, allowing anyone the freedom to abort before 22 weeks for any personal reason serves to undermine society by encouraging people to put themselves before others. The few that think a fetus isn’t special might convince a mother to abort her child and to help assuage her guilt, but it doesn’t convince everyone connected to her that she just selfishly helped undermine society, starting with them. Almost nobody takes abortion lightly. There’s a reason for that.

  18. BillT

    @14:

    Explain, please.

    Bill, perhaps, has bought into the revisionist history that Christianity has brought unending evils to the world.

    The Inquisition, the reality of which is that this was a isolated occurrence which over it’s 300 year history put less people to death than the very secular Reign of Terror did in it’s single bloodiest day or the untold millions of “infidels” put to death by Islamic powers.

    Witch hunts which were, by in large, secular occurrences where Church involvement and Church courts were uniformly more lenient then their secular counterparts.

    The Crusades, a series of defensive campaigns fought to stem the 400 years of unabated violence and conquest of the Islamic Caliphate.

    And religious wars. which only account for about 7% of all wars ever fought and of which half are attributable to wars begun by Islamic forces.

  19. SteveK

    Or maybe Bill L thinks those who pass laws for the good of society, but against the will of the people, are trying to suppress secular “heresy”?

    I don’t think anyone wants the heavy hand of government to abuse our freedoms, but is that what we are asking for? I fail to see how restricting abortion to only the rarest of situations is considered heavy handed and abusive.

  20. scbrownlhrm

    We know that self-giving love entails suffering….”

    Suffering for the good of another is a virtue…..”

    To live in a community characterized by self-giving love is good and in fact is our human calling….”

    God is good, and his way is good. It’s very good. It’s rich, it’s beautiful, it’s multi-dimensional, it’s mysterious where it ought to be, and it’s plain where it should be. It’s dizzyingly satisfying. It’s glorious. It’s right.”

    It’s all there – right in front of us. Tom and SteveK and Melissa carry us into the contours of “…the God who is glorified by sacrificing Himself for creation and not by sacrificing creation for Himself……” (Fischer).

    It is a peculiar affair that should such self-giving love in fact be the elemental nature of The True, should such in fact be the constitutional shape of The Good, then it is inescapable that we have what the Naturalist cannot truthfully give to us – ever – and what he therefore cannot truthfully assert – ever – as we arrive at what David Bentley Hart describes as the “….absolutely singular and indivisible reality which no inventory of material constituents and physical events will ever be able to eliminate. Here again, and as nowhere else, we are dealing with an irreducibly primordial datum.” The Christian’s sweeping claim conveys us to the end of all things where we discover the express image of such other-filling amid the express image of such self-emptying within what can only be an ontic-singularity. How odd that love’s contours inevitably deliver us into something not only uniquely triune but by all accounts into something necessarily triune as the metaphysical singularity of volitional love’s ceaseless reciprocity amid all that is Self/Other/Us within the Triune God instantiates that very footprint – image – across Mankind’s entire potentiality, across Mankind’s entire actuality.

    That is the metaphysical locus where the Christian semantics of potentiality transpose to the Christian semantics of actuality.

    It is an uncanny affair that all of the Christian’s Firsts rationally begin there, that all of the Christian’s Lasts rationally end there as reason chases after reality. The categorical paradigm of Self-Giving streaming from the immutable love of the Necessary Being confronts reason with Himself and presents her with the primordial datum of love’s eternally sacrificed-self – even to the bitter ends of time and physicality. Indeed, the Christian finds being amid reason factually free to (on the one hand) embrace the inevitable vertices of Self/Other even as the Christian finds (on the other hand) the factual freedom to chase after an extraneous landscape, knowing that the latter move on the part of reason can only sum to the factual contradiction of The Real – and therein factually sum to the unreasonable.

    What about Naturalism?

    The Naturalist cannot in truth assert love’s contours in any coherent sense and he is therefore left with the absurdity of his own irreducibly primordial datum of indifference which he must – at some ontological seam somewhere – embrace. He is left with what begins and ends in factual, moral, nothingness as his reason searches for, but cannot find, that which is greater than, higher than, his own Self – as we will see in the following quote. That tragedy finds him embracing the very antithesis of love inside of the Isolated-I for the will of the self – in naturalism – determines itself principally in and through the choices it makes and so it, at some very deep level, coming from the nothing of indifference, must also be nothing – (to paraphrase DBH) simply a pure movement of spontaneity, motive without motive, absolute potentiality, giving birth to itself. A God beyond him or an [actual] human nature within him would confine his decisions within certain inescapable channels and so at some, usually unconscious level — whatever else he may believe — he stakes himself entirely upon the absence of either.

    Naturalism herself cannot discover love – she can only pretend – and that tragedy is worsened by fact that even the pretense itself must first get permission from that which supersedes the pretense – from that which begins and ends in the privation of the I/Self. Love’s antithesis emerges. Such is stated more fully in the following quote from David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies:

    “The will, we habitually assume, is sovereign to the degree that it is obedient to nothing else and is free to the degree that it is truly spontaneous and constrained by nothing greater than itself. This, for many of us, is the highest good imaginable. And a society guided by such beliefs must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a very particular “moral metaphysics”: that is, the nonexistence of any transcendent standard of the good that has the power (or the right) to order our desires toward a higher end. We are, first and foremost, heroic and insatiable consumers, and we must not allow the specters of transcendent law or personal guilt to render us indecisive. For us, it is choice itself, and not what we choose, that is the first good, and this applies not only to such matters as what we shall purchase or how we shall we live. In even our gravest political and ethical debates — regarding economic policy, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, censorship, genetic engineering, and so on — “choice” is a principle not only frequently invoked, by one side or by both, but often seeming to exercise an almost mystical supremacy over all other concerns.

    “All of this, undoubtedly, follows from an extremely potent and persuasive model of freedom, one that would not have risen to such dominance in our culture if it did not give us a sense of liberty from arbitrary authority, and of limitless inner possibilities, and of profound personal dignity. There is nothing contemptible in this, and there is no simple, obvious moral reproach to be brought against it. Nevertheless, as I have said, it is a model of freedom whose ultimate horizon is, quite literally, nothing. Moreover, if the will determines itself principally in and through the choices it makes, then it too, at some very deep level, must also be nothing: simply a pure movement of spontaneity, motive without motive, absolute potentiality, giving birth to itself. A God beyond us or a stable [actual] human nature within us would confine our decisions within certain inescapable channels; and so at some, usually unconscious level — whatever else we may believe — we stake ourselves entirely upon the absence of either. Those of us who now, in the latter days of modernity, are truest to the wisdom and ethos of our age place ourselves not at the disposal of God, or the gods, or the Good, but before an abyss, over which presides the empty power of our isolated wills, whose decisions are their own moral index. This is what it means to have become perfect consumers: the original nothingness of the will gives itself shape by the use it makes of the nothingness of the world — and thus we are free.”

    If love is anything – and it is – then Trinity.

    Any ontology of love void of Self, and/or void of Other, and/or void of the singular Us necessarily sums to the unintelligible irrelevance of Naturalism’s hallucinating indifference. Whatever other truth claims we make upon the contours of the virtuous, upon timeless reciprocity, nothing comes anywhere close to the ontology of love which reason spies – discovers – within the copious array of vectors seamlessly converging in the Triune God vis-à-vis Christ. To DBH once more, “The true infinite lies outside and all about this enclosed universe of strife and shadows; it shows itself as beauty and as light: not totality, nor again chaos, but the music of a triune God. Nietzsche prophesied correctly: what now always lies ahead is a choice between Dionysus (who is also Apollo) and the Crucified: between, that is, the tragic splendor of totality and the inexhaustible beauty of an infinite love.”

  21. scbrownlhrm

    We know that self-giving love entails suffering….”

    Suffering for the good of another is a virtue…..”

    To live in a community characterized by self-giving love is good and in fact is our human calling….”

    God is good, and his way is good. It’s very good. It’s rich, it’s beautiful, it’s multi-dimensional, it’s mysterious where it ought to be, and it’s plain where it should be. It’s dizzyingly satisfying. It’s glorious. It’s right.”

    It’s all there – right in front of us. Tom and SteveK and Melissa carry us into the contours of “…the God who is glorified by sacrificing Himself for creation and not by sacrificing creation for Himself……” (Fischer).

    It is a peculiar affair that should such self-giving love in fact be the elemental nature of The True, should such in fact be the constitutional shape of The Good, then it is inescapable that we have what the Naturalist cannot truthfully give to us – ever – and what he therefore cannot truthfully assert – ever – as we arrive at what David Bentley Hart describes as the “….absolutely singular and indivisible reality which no inventory of material constituents and physical events will ever be able to eliminate. Here again, and as nowhere else, we are dealing with an irreducibly primordial datum.” The Christian’s sweeping claim conveys us to the end of all things where we discover the express image of such other-filling amid the express image of such self-emptying within what can only be an ontic-singularity. How odd that love’s contours inevitably deliver us into something not only uniquely triune but by all accounts into something necessarily triune as the metaphysical singularity of volitional love’s ceaseless reciprocity amid all that is Self/Other/Us within the Triune God instantiates that very footprint – image – across Mankind’s entire potentiality, across Mankind’s entire actuality.

    That is the metaphysical locus where the Christian semantics of potentiality transpose to the Christian semantics of actuality.

    It is an uncanny affair that all of the Christian’s Firsts rationally begin there, that all of the Christian’s Lasts rationally end there as reason chases after reality. The categorical paradigm of Self-Giving streaming from the immutable love of the Necessary Being confronts reason with Himself and presents her with the primordial datum of love’s eternally sacrificed-self – even to the bitter ends of time and physicality. Indeed, the Christian finds being amid reason factually free to (on the one hand) embrace the inevitable vertices of Self/Other even as the Christian finds (on the other hand) the factual freedom to chase after an extraneous landscape, knowing that the latter move on the part of reason can only sum to the factual contradiction of The Real – and therein factually sum to the unreasonable.

    What about Naturalism?

    The Naturalist cannot in truth assert love’s contours in any coherent sense and he is therefore left with the absurdity of his own irreducibly primordial datum of indifference which he must – at some ontological seam somewhere – embrace. He is left with what begins and ends in factual, moral, nothingness as his reason searches for, but cannot find, that which is greater than, higher than, his own Self – as we will see in an upcoming quote. That tragedy finds him embracing the very antithesis of love inside of the Isolated-I for the will of the Self – in Naturalism – determines itself principally in and through the choices it makes and so it, at some very deep level, coming from the nothing of indifference, must also be nothing – (to paraphrase DBH) simply a pure movement of spontaneity, motive without motive, absolute potentiality, giving birth to itself. A God beyond us or an [actual] human nature within us would confine our decisions within certain inescapable channels and so at some, usually unconscious level — whatever else we may believe — we stake ourselves entirely upon the absence of both.

    Naturalism herself cannot discover love – she can only pretend – and that particular tragedy is worsened by fact that even the pretense itself must first get permission from that which supersedes the pretense – from that which begins and ends in the privation of the I/Self. Love’s antithesis emerges. Such is stated more fully in the following quote from David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies:

    “The will, we habitually assume, is sovereign to the degree that it is obedient to nothing else and is free to the degree that it is truly spontaneous and constrained by nothing greater than itself. This, for many of us, is the highest good imaginable. And a society guided by such beliefs must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a very particular “moral metaphysics”: that is, the nonexistence of any transcendent standard of the good that has the power (or the right) to order our desires toward a higher end. We are, first and foremost, heroic and insatiable consumers, and we must not allow the specters of transcendent law or personal guilt to render us indecisive. For us, it is choice itself, and not what we choose, that is the first good, and this applies not only to such matters as what we shall purchase or how we shall we live. In even our gravest political and ethical debates — regarding economic policy, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, censorship, genetic engineering, and so on — “choice” is a principle not only frequently invoked, by one side or by both, but often seeming to exercise an almost mystical supremacy over all other concerns.

    “All of this, undoubtedly, follows from an extremely potent and persuasive model of freedom, one that would not have risen to such dominance in our culture if it did not give us a sense of liberty from arbitrary authority, and of limitless inner possibilities, and of profound personal dignity. There is nothing contemptible in this, and there is no simple, obvious moral reproach to be brought against it. Nevertheless, as I have said, it is a model of freedom whose ultimate horizon is, quite literally, nothing. Moreover, if the will determines itself principally in and through the choices it makes, then it too, at some very deep level, must also be nothing: simply a pure movement of spontaneity, motive without motive, absolute potentiality, giving birth to itself. A God beyond us or a stable [actual] human nature within us would confine our decisions within certain inescapable channels; and so at some, usually unconscious level — whatever else we may believe — we stake ourselves entirely upon the absence of either. Those of us who now, in the latter days of modernity, are truest to the wisdom and ethos of our age place ourselves not at the disposal of God, or the gods, or the Good, but before an abyss, over which presides the empty power of our isolated wills, whose decisions are their own moral index. This is what it means to have become perfect consumers: the original nothingness of the will gives itself shape by the use it makes of the nothingness of the world — and thus we are free.”

    If love is anything – and it is – then Trinity.

    Any ontology of love void of Self, and/or void of Other, and/or void of the singular Us necessarily sums to the unintelligible irrelevance of some flavor of an eliminative hallucinating indifference. Whatever other truth claims we make upon the contours of the virtuous, upon timeless reciprocity, nothing comes anywhere close to the ontology of love which reason spies – discovers – within the copious array of vectors seamlessly converging in the Triune God vis-à-vis Christ. To DBH once more, “The true infinite lies outside and all about this enclosed universe of strife and shadows; it shows itself as beauty and as light: not totality, nor again chaos, but the music of a triune God. Nietzsche prophesied correctly: what now always lies ahead is a choice between Dionysus (who is also Apollo) and the Crucified: between, that is, the tragic splendor of totality and the inexhaustible beauty of an infinite love.”

  22. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I’m updating the site to https. There have been glitches. I’m almost done. Please let me know if things are stable now. Thanks.

  23. bigbird

    @SteveK

    Suffering for the sake of a child brings about so much goodness.

    I’m not convinced that’s a necessary outcome. It also can bring broken relationships and misery.

    But I think all this talk about suffering is a diversion from the real issue, which is the taking of a human life. Let’s not buy into Bill L’s worldview where the avoidance of suffering determines moral decisions.

    Unless we are operating with a utilitarian ethic, the amount of suffering is irrelevant. We don’t kill human beings for any reason, including to avoid suffering, whether it is redemptive or not.

  24. SteveK

    bigbird,
    I wasn’t implying that *everything* that follows would be good. Contextually, I am talking about self-sacrificial love – which always entails some amount of suffering. That always brings about good even if nobody chooses to see it that way, and even if everyone hates you for doing it. Christ is our example.

  25. SteveK

    But I think all this talk about suffering is a diversion from the real issue, which is the taking of a human life.

    It goes deeper than that. Bill apparently doesn’t see early human life as special. He knows we are taking a human life. Why is human life special at any age or any stage of development? That’s more the issue that Bill L needs to resolve and naturalism is a dead end as far as that goes.

  26. bigbird

    @SteveK

    Bill apparently doesn’t see early human life as special. He knows we are taking a human life. Why is human life special at any age or any stage of development? That’s more the issue that Bill L needs to resolve and naturalism is a dead end as far as that goes.

    A naturalist can quite happily agree that human life is special, simply because we ourselves are humans, and the only rational species.

    There are plenty of atheists who are strongly opposed to abortion – after all, if you value human life as we all do, it is the most consistent viewpoint to take.

    Bill L’s approach, however, is a utilitarian one that weighs up the suffering of the parent against the suffering of the fetus (it also considers the utility of the wider community). Inevitably, under such a system the fetus loses out.

  27. SteveK

    I agree that it’s all about utility for Bill. Which utilitarian approach is the best? Well, that depends on who you talk to – and that’s the best answer naturalism can provide. That’s why I said naturalism is a dead end.

  28. John

    The naturalist atheist utilitarian can say abortion is both immoral and moral . He/she can use that standard to justify absolutely anything . Add macro type evolution into the mix and one can even justify believing in God who does not necessarily exist . Everything is good , nothing is evil or good is evil and evil good or mere subjective reasoning decides what is good.
    Deceptive times .
    Hey has anyone got a true compass ?

  29. Michael Gordon

    The growing worldview that life is all about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is certainly in line with atheistic notions. Christians fall into the trap naturally as we model of Christ’s compassion without considering His model of suffering and sacrifice. There have been several movies over the years that have mused over the concept of drugging away emotions, suffering, pain and such. Unfortunately, a happy pill and euthanasia are the logical outcome of a pleasure/pain worldview.

  30. Bill L

    OK, this is why I see more than a few hints of “Inquisitional thinking” in much of the writing here.

    The OP and many comments speak about how suffering is actually good for us. I admit that this can be the case when I, for instance, suffer through reading the changes in US water law that affect my work (man that’s grueling stuff). Also we make our children suffer through their math drills so they can become better at it. But this can become a way of thinking that can lead to very bad consequences. Bigbird has correctly pointed that out in #25:

    Suffering for the sake of a child brings about so much goodness.

    I’m not convinced that’s a necessary outcome. It also can bring broken relationships and misery.

    Pregnant women are not your children, nor your employees. They are adults (usually) and married people who are not in need of your fatherly discipline. In #10 Tom says “They don’t know their own situation better than God does.” But if we’re honest, what he is really saying here is “They don’t know their own situation better than what I believe God would want.” With this, Tom decides that he will be the father figure. He knows what’s best for the individuals better than they do.

    I’ve lived and worked in too many “3rd world” countries where I’ve known too many people who are negatively affected by suffering – often unnecessary – that leads to greater misery. I’ve seen too many tourists in these countries placate themselves by saying “Oh, but they seem happy, so it’s all the same whether they have clean cook-stoves or not.” But I know that the mother who inhales the smoke or who looses her eyesight to it are not better off as she just tries to provide meals for her family in the spirit of “self-sacrificial love” SteveK mentions in #26.

    In #11 SteveK takes this a little differently:

    I don’t need to know the situation because “suffering for the good of another is a virtue” is true in all situations.

    “So,” says the Inquisitor “you will need to be tortured under this ordeal that we may bring about a better world where heretics and non-believers are purged from our land. In this we will follow the will of God.”

    Does Bashar al-Assad say something similar to himself as he watches refugees flee his country? “Sure, they suffer now. But it will be for the greater good of Syria as those who are not on my side leave this country.”

    While elimination of suffering may not be the only goal, it’s a damn important one. And if you are going to take actions that would cause suffering (like voting to restrict abortions before 22 weeks) you had better be sure your actions are not causing more harm than good.

    An important thing to understand about the Inquisition or religious wars or which hunts here, is not so much the numbers of people killed in comparison to other events. It is about the kind of mentality that leads to misery for others; even if it happened to one person, it would be bad.

    The kind of mentality that attempts to make martyrs of others that do not want to be martyrs seems to be effective at assuaging your own guilt. These people are not your Christ. They don’t ask to be, and they don’t want to be.

    @16:
    Compare these:

    1. “He survived the machine accident. I know it was beastly difficult for him, but we can all see how it’s made him a better man, even though he has lost his arm.”

    2. “He avoided the machine accident thanks to the safeguards and training we put in place.”

    Which is better?

  31. Bill L

    There seems to be much discussion about me having views that I not only have not expressed, but views that I’ve already specifically said that I do not hold. This is unfortunately all too common a tactic when we want to dismiss the views of others (I see it from all kinds of people – secular and religious).

    I have not spoken of mere comfort or any kind of anesthesia. When we understand (even roughly) what consciousness is, we can use it to expand our circle of empathy. All sentient creatures deserve our empathy and that is the kind of goal we should be moving towards. So while Singer and Dennett may point out that newborn babies do not experience consciousness and suffering as equally as an adult, they may be right, but their cut-off point is arbitrary. An expanding circle of empathy leads us to include all sentient creatures and avoid their suffering whenever possible.

    Yes, newborns don’t suffer as much as adults, but the question for me is can they suffer at all? Or do they even have that ability?

    Human life lies on a continuum and is part of an unbroken chain. I don’t know how many non-creationists are on this site, but if you feel that single-celled humans (zygotes) deserve protection, would you feel the same way about Homo erectus zygotes? What about Australopithecus zygotes? Where do you draw the cut-off and why?

    So of course single-celled zygotes are human. But they are one kind of cell. Sperm and egg cells are also human (we’re not talking about fish after all). Liver cells are human. The headless body mentioned in the previous OP is human.

    Personhood is the issue. It is our consciousness that makes us human. It is what makes us who we are.

    Doctors are close to the point where full head/body transplants will be possible. Suppose for a moment you had a disease where you know that you will die, but it only affects your body (not your head or brain). The doctor says that he can give you a body transplant. You will have a new body. Most people would happily agree to the procedure. But suppose you had brain cancer and a doctor approached you with the offer to take out your bad brain, and give you a transplanted one. You would rightly say “Wait… that wouldn’t even be me.”

    The parts of us that can make decisions about moral issues, that can love, express empathy and devotion, that can do math problems, build buildings or compose music… this is what matters. Without even having those components in place, we are no better than liver cells.

  32. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You say,

    Pregnant women are not your children, nor your employees.

    Right. I knew that.

    They are adults (usually) and married people who are not in need of your fatherly discipline

    Fatherly discipline is not what the law is for. Just because it functions as a useful analogy, to explain how ease and comfort are not the highest form of good, does not mean that it exhausts all the ways in which that is true.

    In #10 Tom says “They don’t know their own situation better than God does.” But if we’re honest, what he is really saying here is “They don’t know their own situation better than what I believe God would want.” With this, Tom decides that he will be the father figure. He knows what’s best for the individuals better than they do.

    No.

    You and I are trying to make an ethical decision regarding abortion, right? We’re coming at it from two angles. I’m saying that preserving the life of a child fundamentally good, and therefore in any ethical decision. Everyone agrees that’s true for children at some stage in development, and in my OP I made the case that we need to treat children that way at every stage of development.

    You’re coming at it from a different angle: that the mother’s suffering should be treated as an even more fundamentally good. That works to undercut my point only if the avoidance of suffering in general is a greater good than preserving the life of children, who are (or at least might be) morally significant human persons.

    Let me repeat that for clarity: you have to be able to establish that the avoidance of suffering is a fundamental good. Otherwise it’s really hard for you to rebut our position on the ethical principle represented in preserving children’s lives.

    My response, then, was to rebut your apparent belief that avoiding suffering is a fundamental good, an even greater good than preserving the life of (possibly) morally significant human persons. I accomplished that rebuttal (in my opinion) by showing that there are greater goods than avoiding suffering, and that some greater goods are actually accomplished through suffering.

    This is all about general ethical principles. It’s not about me telling women what’s good for them. It’s about rebutting your attempt to call upon another ethical principle as if it were higher than preserving babies’ lives.

    Meanwhile, however, if you do want to play the game of “You’re acting like their father,” I could say you’re playing the dysfunctional, enabling father’s role of allowing adults to walk away from the consequences of their decisions.

    That would be a nice tit-for-tat. I’m not putting it out there to show that you’re really doing that, though. I’m putting it out there to show that if you want to play rhetorical games, that’s exactly what they are: games. I don’t care who wins that game. I care about the ethical principles.

  33. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    But I know that the mother who inhales the smoke or who looses her eyesight to it are not better off as she just tries to provide meals for her family in the spirit of “self-sacrificial love” SteveK mentions in #26.<

    I do not claim that suffering is a fundamental good, either; nor do I need to claim that it is, in order for my point to stand.

  34. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Human life lies on a continuum and is part of an unbroken chain.

    That’s as clean a statement of naturalistic principles as any I’ve heard. Would it surprise you if I said I thought that was outlandishly unlikely to be correct? That there’s an actual ontological difference between humans and the animals? That it’s really, really obvious–all you need to do is look around? That the only thing that could possibly cause anyone to doubt it is an a priori metaphysical commitment to naturalism?

    Doctors are close to the point where full head/body transplants will be possible.

    Really? How close? Is this science or science fiction?

  35. SteveK

    “But I know that the mother who inhales the smoke or who looses her eyesight to it are not better off as she just tries to provide meals for her family in the spirit of “self-sacrificial love” SteveK mentions in #26.”

    My first sentence in #26 clarified that I didn’t mean to imply that everything was good. Your example here highlights some of those things that are not good. If you had listed the good things that resulted then my point would be validated. Your example is not suffering for the good. She is not suffering for the purpose of loosing her eyesight. She’s suffering for the purpose of providing for her family and that is good.

  36. SteveK

    I should clarify that your example is an example of suffering for the good (providing for the family). What you are doing is focusing our attention on the smoke and blindness as if *that* is what she is suffering for. In other words, you’ve distorted the situation.

  37. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    So of course single-celled zygotes are human. But they are one kind of cell. Sperm and egg cells are also human (we’re not talking about fish after all). Liver cells are human. The headless body mentioned in the previous OP is human.

    Let’s just try to clarify that the zygote is a human. The egg, sperm etc are not. They are human cells but not a human. The zygote is the stage at which a new human organism comes into being.

    Personhood is the issue. It is our consciousness that makes us human. It is what makes us who we are.

    The implication of that is that I’m not human when I’m not concious?

  38. Bill L

    All,
    I think Tom is right in many ways… we are coming at this from different angles.

    I will need to convince Tom that the suffering he and others are causing is the greater harm (or lest suffering), and I don’t think I will be able to do that since he believes he knows God’s word.

    Likewise, someone would need to convince me that there is some higher purpose or at least greater good that would come from the suffering caused. Obviously, I don’t see it.

    I’ve been reading the links and articles provided by bigbird, but so far I am unconvinced.

    For some reason, I’ve always hated the phrase “we will agree to disagree” but I currently see no other way at this point. With that, I would like to thank everyone for their thoughtful input. I know these debates can get heated and emotional (I believe that deep down, these are emotional reactions that we are all trying to justify anyway) and I apologize if I have been rude to anyone.

  39. SteveK

    Bill L
    Before you do anything I suggest you establish that there is *anything* natural that is of higher value under naturalism. If this entire conversation boils down what you find valuable in nature then let me know so I can bow out now.

  40. Bill L

    Honestly SteveK, I’m not sure how to establish that. If we (conscious entities) are what establishes values, then I can only continue to search for the highest ones the only ways I know how. I can make general pronouncements about love, truth, expanding knowledge, deep happiness, expanding well being and avoiding causing suffering… but I wouldn’t know how to quantify the highest values.

    Do you have any suggestions?

  41. Post
    Author
  42. Bill L

    Good point Tom.

    OK, then Steve. You just need to convince me of the truth (or likelihood) of Christianity.

    Please keep it under 1,000 words. I’m on a tight schedule.
    😉

  43. SteveK

    Bill L
    Start with convincing yourself that naturalism is false. You can do that by realizing that you can only search for and find a higher value fact if nature has one to find. But there’s nothing of higher value to discover under naturalism. You are wasting your time. Consciousness is not a higher value fact. You are the one that gave it value.

    Once you realize naturalism is false, let me know.

  44. Bill L

    SteveK,

    Start with convincing yourself that naturalism is false. You can do that by realizing that you can only search for and find a higher value fact if nature has one to find.

    I’m OK with the suggestion in your first sentence. I think it would be interesting to investigate the subject. However, it’s not really related to the OP, and I know Tom really tries to keep the comments on track. I’m more than OK with Tom sending you email address if you seriously wanted to pursue this with me.

    However, I’m not certain about your second sentence. Did you intend for it to read the way it does? What I mean is that IF there are no objective higher values in nature, I don’t necessarily see how it follows that Naturalism is false. That may make it something you don’t like. But that’s another issue.

  45. Bill L

    Melissa,
    I don’t know if you’re still following this, but if you are, and if I remember correctly, you are not a creationist. How would you answer my question from #34?

    ….if you feel that single-celled humans (zygotes) deserve protection, would you feel the same way about Homo erectus zygotes? What about Australopithecus zygotes? Where do you draw the cut-off and why?

  46. Post
    Author
  47. Bill L

    I usually define creationist as someone who does not believe that all of life shares a common ancestor. That could be a ID creationist, a YEC, OEC, or similar variation. For the most part, I do not include Theistic Evolutionists, and some ID’ers (on specific issues).

    For the purposes of my question, a creationist would be someone who does not believe that Homo sapiens share common ancestors with other hominids and primates.

  48. SteveK

    Bill L
    I meant what I wrote, and yes, I know the conclusion doesn’t follow necessarily. As a naturalist you hold contradictory views of reality – consciousness has a high value, consciousness doesn’t have a high value. This is perfectly acceptable from within naturalism and I see you are comfortable with it.

  49. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    .if you feel that single-celled humans (zygotes) deserve protection, would you feel the same way about Homo erectus zygotes? What about Australopithecus zygotes? Where do you draw the cut-off and why?

    I think I’ve been quite clear that I am arguing for the protection of human life. It’s humans that are made in the image of God. That does not mean, of course, that we get to do whatever we like with the rest of creation.

  50. Bill L

    Let me be more explicit about this:

    I’m presuming you are not a vegetarian for ethical reasons given what you have said.

    If someone were to raise gorillas or monkeys in a humane manner, that did not endanger the species, I assume that you would have no qualms about killing and eating them. Given this, should their be any problem about aborting their zygotes?

    If we lived in a world where Australopithecus were alive and well, would you treat them the same way? Why or why not?

    What about the various members of the genus Homo? Where do you draw the line and why? Is it only for H. sapiens?

  51. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Is it only for H. sapiens?

    Yes. I think why you think this question is crucial is because you are still working on the assumption that cognitive ability is the deciding factor, I am not.

  52. Bill L

    I hope I do not need to state the importance of the above question to anyone, but as I realize how often things become misunderstood in blogs like these, I think I should try to be clear…

    Melissa has made the argument that we should protect zygotes because they are human beings according to a scientific understanding.

    But DougJC and I have raised the question(s) about what it means to be a human person, for which we received some scorn. We have also pointed out that what it means to be a human person is not merely a question of diploid DNA; we believe the import part is the continuum that leads to consciousness, and for that we have also been derided.

    Humans lie on a continuum according to a scientific view. Homo erectus were one of our closest relatives. They made primitive tools, used fire, and cooked their food. If Melissa expects us to accept her position on scientific grounds, she will have to explain why it would be acceptable to kill them, or not kill them (as we do with other animals for food). If it is not acceptable, she should tell us at what point in our evolutionary heritage it would have been acceptable and most importantly, why.

  53. Bill L

    Oops, I didn’t see that Melissa had responded as I was typing. I look forward to her response about why it’s ok to kill and eat or abort the zygote of H. erectus.

    If she says “they are not human.” We will want to know her reasons for such a claim.

    Also, at which point in the evolutionary history of the two species did it become unacceptable to kill them, and why? What is the scientific cut-off point?

  54. BillT

    But DougJC and I have raised the question(s) about what it means to be a human person, for which we received some scorn.

    If I may Bill, on what basis do you and Doug get to define human life by this standard. Science says human life/human beings begin at conception. The law says that the intentional killing of a human being is murder. But you get to decide that the standard should be whether this human being is a person? Why? Because you say so. And that’s outside of the issue that this “person” standard isn’t really definable in any definitive sense except assigning some arbitrary time frame to it.

  55. Bill L

    BillT,

    Let’s look for common understanding to your very good questions…
    Start by answering the questions I’ve presented to Melissa beginning at about #50.

    I have the feeling she is avoiding them.

  56. BillT

    No Bill. No frozen dead people, no headless bodies or bodyless heads, no homo erectus zygotes.

    I have the feeling Melissa is avoiding them.

    It isn’t Melissa.

  57. Bill L

    HINT: Is this “human being” standard really definable in any definitive sense except assigning some arbitrary time frame to it?

  58. Bill L

    Usually I find that when people avoid hypothetical questions, it is either because they are afraid of being forced to change their mind about something, or they are hiding something.

  59. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Usually I find that when people avoid hypothetical questions, it is either because they are afraid of being forced to change their mind about something, or they are hiding something.

    Huh? I answered the question. I thought I’s already made it clear. They are not the same species as us. Now you are obviously able, if you want to embrace a materialist metaphysics to argue that human beings, Homo sapiens and persons are all equally arbitrary cutting points in a seamless continuum of particles in motion. In that case there really is nothing discuss, science becomes a mass delusion, in fact everything we think about is not an actual thing in the first place.

  60. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    ….if you feel that single-celled humans (zygotes) deserve protection, would you feel the same way about Homo erectus zygotes? What about Australopithecus zygotes? Where do you draw the cut-off and why?

    This is a question straight out of materialist metaphysics, and the answer to it is another version of one we’ve given before in these discussions. This question draws on the assumption of strict ontological continuity from inanimate matter, to the various biological species, and on to humans ourselves.

    So once again, Bill L, you’re asking us why our worldview should make sense given your worldview, which of course it can’t. We don’t believe in that kind of strict continuity.

    Neither do you.

    I mean, you may think that you do, but you treat humans differently. You consider it wrong to kill humans any time from 22 weeks in the womb forward. I’m sure you don’t consider it wrong to kill other adult organisms. Some of them you would certainly not want to kill, but others you do. Further, I’m confident you know that we’re different from all other animals in that we can have these kinds of moral discussions.

    The great difference in humans is that we alone have the stamp of what the Bible calls “the image of God” on us. This is universally understood as humans’ ability to think and act with a certain degree of freedom from physical necessity (natural law), to relate with others in morally significant ways, and especially to relate with God in love and trust. Again, I think these effects or unique descriptors of humans are all things you would agree with, except for the part about God; but we find that God is a far more than sufficient explanation for observed human uniqueness, so we go the whole distance there.

    So you’re stuck in a position of mixing worldviews. We aren’t. We can affirm human worth and human uniqueness without self-contradiction. My answer, then, to your question is simply this: The reason human zygotes have value far beyond those of any other species is because they’re human. They’re young, they’re completely undeveloped, but they’re still members of the clan we could rightly call, “bearers of the image of God.” To kill image-bearers is wrong on many levels. One level on which it’s wrong is that it’s a dishonor being done to God’s image among us.

  61. bigbird

    @Bill L

    I will need to convince Tom that the suffering he and others are causing is the greater harm (or lest suffering), and I don’t think I will be able to do that since he believes he knows God’s word.

    You can’t convince us. You are operating from a different ethical framework. Most Christians base their morals on divine command theory. God has pronounced it is wrong to take a human life, and so the amount of suffering is irrelevant. We don’t kill people to minimize suffering.

    A utilitarian ethical framework is entirely different – it is all about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain or suffering. Under that framework it is entirely acceptable to kill someone if it yields a net benefit to the community. It doesn’t even matter if they are conscious and self-aware (e.g. the trolley problem).

    Of course, if we deny that the fetus is a “someone”, i.e. a person, it makes the utilitarian calculus much easier. It also mean even Christians could potentially support a pro-choice position. In practise, though, this is rare. Basing such a critical moral choice on our opinion as to when a fetus has personhood is fraught with difficulty, and the only realistic position for divine command theorists is to reject abortion altogether.

    I am interested, though, to know if you consider yourself to be a utilitarian.

  62. BillT

    HINT: Is this “human being” standard really definable in any definitive sense except assigning some arbitrary time frame to it?

    Bill L,

    And just what arbitrary time frame have I applied? That human life/human beings begin at conception is unarguable scientific fact. That willfully killing human beings is murder is the universally accepted legal standard. How is any of that arbitrary?

  63. Bill L

    BillT (and others),

    And just what arbitrary time frame have I applied? That human life/human beings begin at conception is unarguable scientific fact.

    If the uniqueness of human beings is so discrete on scientific grounds, then we should have no problem answering the questions I’ve proposed above. You should be able to tell me at what point in transition from another species (such as H. erectus) to H. sapiens we say it is acceptable to kill these people (or what ever term you would like for them) and not acceptable at some other point. More importantly, you should be able to say why.

    Notice that Melissa has not done it. Scientifically, species is a fluid concept. In reality, we know that there is no one point you could go back to historically and say this adult here is a different species, but the child of this adult is a different species (with some rare exceptions). Melissa knows this. God did not create the species concept. Humans did. Just to say that these are different species does not answer the important questions.

    If you want to answer it on some religious ground like the existence of a soul, that is another matter.

    But you (BillT) and Melissa have said that there are scientific reasons for the distinction. Why then was it OK to kill our ancestors that lived 200,000 years ago, but suddenly not OK to kill the ones that lived 199,999 years ago. Melissa, may have already given her answer: “science is a mass delusion.” And if that’s the case, we can drop any scientific reasons for this discussion.

    Fortunately, I do have a good scientific answer to these questions – sentience is the only reasonable position, even with all of its fuzzy boundaries.

    If you don’t believe me BillT, try answering the questions.

    [bigbird: yes, I am largely a utilitarian.]

  64. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    If the uniqueness of human beings is so discrete on scientific grounds, then we should have no problem answering the questions I’ve proposed above.

    It isn’t so discrete on scientific grounds. In fact, it’s so indeterminate, there is no strictly scientific reason to treat human beings at any stage of development any different than any other material object.

    You’re barking up a tree that’s falling over on you, Bill L. I suggest you chase yourself out of there before it crushes you.

  65. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Note that there are definite scientific distinctions between humans and other organisms. I’m not disagreeing with the others on that. It’s just that there are no scientifically identifiable moral distinctions.

  66. Bill L

    I’m sorry, I thought that Melissa and Billy were saying that there were good scientific reasons for their beliefs. I guess not.

  67. Post
    Author
  68. BillT

    No Bill. This analogy, like your others, fails to inform us about the question at hand. Here is why. You continue to work under the assumption that we have to “earn” our right to live. That there has to be some point in time where we have “done enough” or “become enough” to not be subject to voluntary termination. Because we say this isn’t true and that we all are that valuable from the point of conception you think there must be some definitive point in time when we became so. So you say we must give you that point for the entire species when they became “valuable” enough. The point we became human beings and not just some humanoid species. But being human isn’t about genetics. It’s about being made in God’s image. It’s about being more than just another species. Much, much more.

    And Bill, we’ve conceded that if we are nothing but another species then there is no good reason not to voluntarily terminate us. But that’s a problem for you as well because your “22 weeks” goes right out of the window with it. If we have to earn our right to live then Peter Singer is correct. No good reason not to kill infants. They haven’t done enough to warrant recognition as fully sentient humans. They’ve got to step up and show us something real to earn the right to live. And really, even that is nonsense. If we’re all just so much genetic material then Hitler and Stalin and Mao were right. We’re all expendable at any time it’s useful for the fulfillment of the power if the state or the wims of the powerful.

  69. BillT

    I’m sorry, I thought that Melissa and Billy were saying that there were good scientific reasons for their beliefs.

    Care to copy and paste were we said that?

    But, of course, neither of us said anything like that. We said there were good scientific reasons to know when was the beginning of life. And the kind of life we knew the beginning of was human life. As to why human life should matter and be protected that’s not something we have a problem with. It’s for you that it’s a quandary. Can you really give us any reason why under your worldview it should matter at all. Why were Hitler and Stalin and Mao wrong?

  70. JAD

    Melissa responding to Bill L @ #65:

    Bill L: Usually I find that when people avoid hypothetical questions, it is either because they are afraid of being forced to change their mind about something, or they are hiding something.

    Melissa: Huh? I answered the question. I thought I’s already made it clear. They are not the same species as us. Now you are obviously able, if you want to embrace a materialist metaphysics to argue that human beings, Homo sapiens and persons are all equally arbitrary cutting points in a seamless continuum of particles in motion. In that case there really is nothing discuss, science becomes a mass delusion, in fact everything we think about is not an actual thing in the first place.

    I think Melissa has been excellent with her responses. Not only are they well thought out, but they have been very open and honest. Melissa hasn’t been hiding anything. I don’t see where Bill got that from. I think he owes Melissa an apology.

    I think what we have going on here is another case of tag-team obfuscation. Something like that happened a few weeks ago after Ray got banned—apparently in retaliation. Now we have Bill L teaming up with DougJC (on the previous thread) doing essentially the same thing. Is this still about Ray?

    How is what they are doing obfuscation? I think you need two things to have a meaningful conservation: (1) basic honesty, and (2) some common ground. I think Bill and Doug are deliberately avoiding any kind of common ground, which in turn causes me to question their basic honesty. So the discussion/ debate has been, in my opinion, a big waste of time.

    One has to wonder what exactly it is that is motivating them. If they are trying to win Christians over to their world view I think they are going about it in the wrong way. But maybe they think that Christians represent some kind of threat to the future of civilization and need to be stopped at all costs… Maybe they can enlighten us about this. I have my own theories as to what is really going on here, but I’ll let them have the chance to explain themselves.

  71. SteveK

    So once again, Bill L, you’re asking us why our worldview should make sense given your worldview, which of course it can’t.

    This is the underlying problem. I thought #47 and #53 would cause Bill to sit up and question his naturalistic worldview, but no, he seems to be embracing it all the more.

    When values are the product of the human mind then no human value judgement can be factually incorrect. Remember that the next time Bill L says your judgement about human life is somehow incorrect.

  72. Simon

    Melissa wrote,

    “The zygote is the stage at which a new human organism comes into being.”

    Assuming you are correct, precisely how does that work in the case of identical twins?

    If your statement is true, it seems to me that a pair of twins can never be more than a single human organism, yet no one and no religion AFAIK treats them as such. Do you?

  73. Bill L

    All,

    JAD is right; I do owe Melissa an apology.

    Melissa, I’m sorry. You did address the question I was asking. I sincerely apologize to you and to all of those reading.

    I will be unable to respond to anything else until later this evening (work keeps getting in the way).

    [On a side note, I did not know anything about Ray. I had been wondering what had happened to him.]

  74. Melissa

    Simon,

    If your statement is true, it seems to me that a pair of twins can never be more than a single human organism

    Actually for your conclusion to follow from my statement you need an extra premise: the only way for a new human organism to form is by fertilization of a human egg.

  75. bigbird

    @Bill L

    I am largely a utilitarian.

    Why are you a utilitarian? What grounds your utilitarianism?

  76. Bill L

    There’s a lot to cover here and very little time for me. I can’t even begin to do an adequate job. It would probably require a few books or even 3 or 4 scbrownlhrm-sized comments.

    First, I want to thank Melissa for being so gracious in her acceptance of my apology. It is so rare that I’ve seen her use a harsh word, or a less-than-tactful response to anyone that I can only aspire to be like her.

    At this point I just want to be clear about where we are with this…

    Melissa, BillT and others have clearly expressed that scientifically, human life begins at conception and is not defined by any other point. If that is the case, the moral argument is highly dependent upon what it means to be human. The answer has been given – Homo sapiens, and only Homo sapiens.

    It may be helpful then to draw an example of what this moral argument leads too…

    [*warning* – the below picture is not a pleasant one to think about. I imagine Tom will ban me from the site for writing it, but am I doing anything other than speaking the truth? And if that is his reaction, I would suspect it speaks to something that is visceral in him, something I’m grateful is there.]

    According to this viewpoint, if you were walking through a forest in Asia say 1.6 million years ago, and you came across a group of H. erectus that were sitting around their campfire cooking a dinner of meat and root vegetables, it would be perfectably acceptable to stealthily pick up one of the hand axes they had just made, kill one of them, and eat him.

    Please take a look at these early humans and let that sink in a bit:
    http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-erectus

    Or maybe it’s 40,000 years ago and you come upon a family of H. neanderthalensis. They have just finished burying one of their relatives, and are putting flowers on the grave. But you’re hungry, so no problem, just hit one over the head with a rock while the others run in fear. No doubt his daughters will get over it. Enjoy your meal.

    Have a look:
    http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-neanderthalensis

    Do I actually think Tom, Melissa, BillT, JAD or anyone else on this site would actually do this? No, of course I don’t, even if they say they would now.

    Because of their sentience, these humans are too much like us, and that is why we have the feeling that this kind of killing is wrong. We imagine them to have feelings similar to ours, and we wouldn’t want ourselves or our families to be treated like that by anyone. So we in turn realize that in order to build a world worth living in, we would not do it to anyone.

    Of course as we move away from the things that are like us, we tend to feel less horrified at the thought as we are less able to empathize with their feelings. So we feel a little revulsion at the thought of killing a gorilla, a lot less when killing a cow, and almost nothing when killing a plant.

    The scientific answer here is not a “mass delusion” as Melissa has described it. It is something that leads us to an understanding of why we feel an aversion to killing. We can suppress these feelings (our ancestors had to do so in order to survive), but we can also embrace them in order to make the world a better place to live. This is not a secular necessity; religious believers can also embrace sentience as a cause for expanding the moral sphere.

    However, with the kind of reasoning that it is narrowly defined humans and only narrowly defined humans matter, we arrive at the sad and unnecessary kind killing that leads to so much suffering of many beautiful creatures in the world. Go ahead – follow this link and scroll a little more than half way down. Think about how you feel about the pictures of the gorillas on the left.

    http://thewe.cc/weplanet/valued_life/closest_living_relatives_on_brink_of_extinction.htm

    We can be better than this.

    I think I’ve covered all of the topics and questions having written what I did. If I’m not banned, I will be happy to address anything you feel I’ve left out.

  77. bigbird

    @Bill L

    I think we should address utilitarianism at another time.

    Why’s that? It’s quite logical to support abortion as a utilitarian, or even infanticide. It makes no difference when human life is considered to begin, and even when the fetus is conscious is irrelevant – even infanticide is easily justified as a utilitarian.

    In fact since we have a clash of moral frameworks, most of this discussion is pointless. We think human life is sacred – you think it should be weighed up against the happiness of others.

    The only thing we can dispute is the validity of the frameworks themselves.

  78. SteveK

    Because of their sentience, these humans are too much like us, and that is why we have the feeling that this kind of killing is wrong.

    I’d like to hear Melissa’s take on this. If these are humans then it’s immoral. If they are not then it’s not immoral. Sentience is an accidental property that can come and go and it’s common to both animals and humans. Yet humans and animals are not equivalent beings.

    But anyway, that doesn’t mean we can just kill other living beings for any reason we choose. As Christian’s we are to be responsible caretakers.

    The empathy argument could be valid for a different reason. While it may not be immoral to kill a non-human for food, it may not be the wise thing to do in that particular situation. You might feel empathy because you have better options.

  79. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Bill L @83,

    First, what-if arguments are always iffy, for obvious reasons.

    Second, your analogy depends on it being “perfectably acceptable to … kill … and eat” any non-human animal. But who considers that to be true?

    We don’t. No one does. Since your argument therefore depends on a premise no one considers to be true, your argument is invalid. There’s no argument there, no reason to agree with you based on this argument, at least. I suggest you drop it.

  80. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Your statement includes,

    that is why we have the feeling that this kind of killing is wrong.

    Is “wrong” a feeling or is it a reality?

    Is it really wrong (in your opinion) to oppose early-term abortion, or does it only feel wrong?

    The difference matters.

  81. Bill L

    Tom,
    Assuming they are not threatened or endangered, why would it not be acceptable under your worldview to kill and eat any non-human animal?

  82. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I could give an extended answer. I’m editing someone’s book on that topic. But I don’t think it’s necessary.

    Your argument depends on its being perfectly acceptable to kill and eat any non-human animal, and no one considers that to be so. You have no argument.

  83. Bill L

    Your answer to that is critical to deal with the argument, unless you do not understand it. Many people find it perfectly acceptable to kill and eat any animal at all. If they do not, it is because they invoke the argument that I have (even if they are not fully aware of it). Given what you and especially Melissa have said, you seem to have no reasonable ground to say it would be immoral. And it would be.

    You have no defense.

  84. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I don’t believe you could identify one culture in the world without moral taboos on eating certain animals. You have no argument without that.

    Further, your coding assertion (before “you have no defense”) is your opinion of what our worries entails, but i don’t think you’ve got that right. You seem to think our beliefs entail that there be no moral compunction against killing any non-human animal. That’s a weird conclusion to draw from our position that there must always be moral strictures against killing humans. It doesn’t follow.

    Your argument seems to be:

    1. Our worldview entails that it be equally okay to kill any non- human animal.

    (Apparently a conclusion drawn from, “it’s always wrong to kill humans, therefore it’s never wrong to kill non-humans.”)

    2. Many people seem to agree.
    3. This entails that it must be okay on your worldview to kill prehistoric proto-humans.
    4. This is obviously not okay.
    5. Therefore your view is wrong

    Premises 1 and 2 are false. Number 4 is an unsupportable prehistoric what-if.

    You have no valid argument there. Not even close.

  85. Bill L

    Until you can provide a Christian-based defense for the why you don’t eat certain animals such as gorillas, I have to assume at several things… You don’t have one and/or your defense is not based on the Christian worldview.

    So far you’ve provided nothing. Not even close.

  86. Tom Gilson

    You can tell me all day what you have to assume. Just don’t treat your assumptions as if they were our conclusions.

    You’re asking us to defend against a case you haven’t even made.

    See my parenthetical statement under premier one above. Is it not obviously a non sequitur?

  87. Bill L

    Is it time to change the name of the blog to “Thinking – when we feel like it – Christian”?

    I never said your position is that it’s never wrong to kill non-humans. That is the point of what I wrote. I know you do think it is wrong. But I suspect is has little or nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with where we actually get our moral intuitions – our brains.

    However, based on what Melissa and others have presented so far, there should be no problem with killing any non-human. She has made that clear. The point I am trying to make is that we (all of us) need to understand why it is wrong at all to cause suffering. Why do we feel this empathy for non-humans? Why don’t we feel it for plants or rocks?

    Perhaps you would need a psychology degree to really want to think about these issues, and I’m just barking up the wrong tree.

    😉

    [BTW, thanks for not banning me.]

  88. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Melissa, would you please show us where you made it clear that “there should be no problem with killing any non-human.”

    Bill L, if you want to mount an argument, go ahead. Please, though, quit this business of waving your hands vaguely in the direction of one. It’s getting tiresome. Especially when accompanied with not-so-vague insults.

  89. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    The point I am trying to make is that we (all of us) need to understand why it is wrong at all to cause suffering. Why do we feel this empathy for non-humans? Why don’t we feel it for plants or rocks?

    That’s a very good question. On naturalism it’s very difficult to find any ontological difference between humans and plants or rocks. It’s extremely difficult to understand why anything is wrong. (Remember my question in #88?)

    The short answer to your question about the value of non-human animals, on Christian theism, is that God gave humans a stewardship responsibility over animals, and different animals have different places in that realm of responsibility.

    I told you there’s a long answer. You assume there isn’t. See #94.

  90. Bill L

    So where do you draw the line and why?

    In case I haven’t made that clear, that’s the important part.

  91. Bill L

    From #88:

    Is “wrong” a feeling or is it a reality?

    Is it really wrong (in your opinion) to oppose early-term abortion, or does it only feel wrong?

    As I have said, the only things that can make anything “wrong” morally are conscious entities. That is as wrong as it gets. I believe you feel the same way, but it has to be one superior conscious entity.

    That feeling of “wrongness” that you feel about gorillas is from your mind as well.

  92. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Rightness and wrongness are from God, Bill L, on Christianity.

    You’re trying to make Christianity work on naturalistic assumptions again.

    Where we draw the line is humanity, and the reason why is because humans are made in the image of God. You can’t make that work on naturalistic assumptions, but we can certainly make it work on theistic assumptions.

    You’re welcome to tell us we can’t make it work, but if you try to do it, try not to keep proving we can’t make theism work on non-theistic presuppositions. We already know that.

  93. Bill L

    Where we draw the line is humanity….

    OK, I’m a little confused now. So it is OK to kill non-humans?

  94. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No. Not as a blanket, 100%, always-right-no-matter-what sense, at any rate.

    Why would you ask?

    See #92 paragraph 2, and also Premise 1, parenthesis.

    Glad I could help resolve the confusion.

  95. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Now, if you had asked, “Is it always wrong to kill humans?” I would have said, “It’s always wrong to kill them except when sober and carefully considered reflection leads to the conclusion that killing is unavoidable for reasons of other humans’ safety or the demands of justice.”

    If you had asked, does that mean “Does that mean it’s always right to kill non-humans?” I would have said, “I can’t imagine where you got that from.”

    If you had asked, “Are there ethical considerations that come into play in deciding whether to kill non-humans?” I would have said, yes, and I’m editing a book on that right now, actually.

    Now, in one way or another I think I’ve actually said all that already.

    But you seem to come back to some strange black-and-white position that says if killing humans is wrong, then killing non-humans must be right.

    Do you see that? Do you see that’s what you’re doing?

  96. Bill L

    Well, what makes it wrong? That’s why I ask?

    Example:
    Assuming you believe it’s ok to raise cattle to be sold for beef under say a feedlot situation, why would it be Ok or not Ok to do the same with gorillas?

  97. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Bill L.,

    Are you willing now to acknowledge that our position does not entail that “killing humans is always wrong, therefore killing non-humans is always okay?”

    Let’s get that far first, okay?

  98. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Note that we’ve strayed a ways here, now. Before I answer your question in #104, I’d like your opinion on how it fits into the argument.

    For example, “Theists can’t explain why killing cows is okay but they’re not so sure about killing gorillas. Therefore it follows for those reasons, by a train of logic including a, b, c, etc., that theists’ anti-abortion stance is incoherent.”

    Here’s why I want you to do that. You’re asking me to explain something I’m not able to summarize briefly. It would take me some work to present it. I’m willing to do the work if it contributes to the main point of the discussion, but right now it looks more like a rabbit trail, and I don’t want to do it under those conditions.

    So if you can show me I’m wrong about it being a rabbit trail, I’ll put in the effort.

  99. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You interpreted #57 wrongly to mean, “Deciding factor for whether it’s always wrong or always right.” That’s not what she meant. Ask her.

  100. Bill L

    Mostly Melissa and BillT have made explicit statements that the only plausible cut off point for the protection of human life is at the moment of conception. They have both stated that this is when human life begins and that an argument from sentience makes no sense. It becomes critical then at that point to know exactly what it means to be human.

    Melissa has provided the answer – Homo sapiens and only Homo sapiens. She would not extend protection to H. erectus, at least she has said so about their zygotes. Nor would she do this for monkeys or gorillas. Why? She believes humans are made in the image of God. That is why I presented the gruesome scenarios in #83.

    I understand that there is a Biblical injunction about stewardship. But Almost all Christians believe that killing animals for their pleasure (meat is after all not necessary unless you’re an Inuit or something similar) is just fine.

    Yet even Tom seems hesitant to express a willingness to kill gorillas or (if we lived in such a world) other species of Homo. So a good question is why.

    I honestly can’t see that there can be another answer to this other than an empathetic continuity bases on the similarity of emotions. My argument is that we do not kill those like us, because we imagine them to be like us. We do not want to experience suffering ourselves, and we see how clear it is that animals do suffer. What we would not want for ourselves, we know we should not do to another, lest we end up in that position ourselves some day, or our family members do.

    This is both a reasoned and emotional position – emotional because it is our sense of empathy that allows us to feel the suffering of others (if we allow it) – reasoned because we have learned how to empathize with others (human or non) by studying them more carefully and realizing they are sentient creatures. We have learned over the centuries to read works of fiction that force us to get inside the mind of another and see things from their points of view. We have learned to engage hypotheticals that (while not realistic) teach us to expand our ways of thinking to the abstract as a way to solve problems and dilemmas that we could not have conceived of before. A common refrain from the days of slavery and apartheid when asked “well, what if you were black” was often along the lines of “But I’m not.”

    If the argument is that we should not kill a zygote because there is no other feasible cut-off point, and since Melissa says that the cut-off point is only H. sapiens and it is Ok to kill the zygote of any other species, then there should be no problem with cultivating and killing any other non-human adult (assuming sustainability). I submit that Melissa and BillT would not actually do this. In fact, I don’t believe they would kill a gorilla (I hope). But the question remains – why?. Can you bring an argument in to this that does not involve empathy. If it is just a question of empathy, is it morally wrong? If it is morally wrong, why? If not, why does that same empathy provide the best explanation for why we feel the revulsion about killing Homo erectus?

    I’m probably forgetting some things. But this is a start.

  101. Bill L

    Tom,
    @ 109 – it’s not the point. The point is why?

    EDIT: I’m also waiting for Melissa to respond.

  102. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    (Long answer here. Please read it all carefully, it’s all part of the solution to the conundrum you think is unsolvable.)

    Bill, if I get you right, here’s what you’re looking for. You want to know why (from our point of view)

    1. It’s okay to kill animal zygotes, generally speaking.
    2. It’s frequently not-ok to kill already-born animals.
    3. It’s never okay to kill human zygotes, or any human at any stage of growth or development.
    4. And finally, how all those fit together in a coherent ethical system.

    Here’s my brief answer (I mean, it could be even longer yet!). When I speak of animals here I’m referring to already-born (or hatched, or molted, or whatever), unless otherwise specified.

    The Christian position is that human life has unique value because God gives it unique value. Animal life doesn’t have that specific unique value because God hasn’t given it that unique value. This is our position.

    Why humans? Why not homo erectus? Ask God. Our position doesn’t explain why that’s the way it is. It takes it as a fact. This isn’t particularly a weakness for Christianity: naturalism can’t coherently explain why anything has value.

    Now, what our doctrine does not entail is this: animals do not have the same unique value and worth that humans have, therefore they may be freely and indiscriminately killed.

    So then, why kill cows but not gorillas? First, let it be said that if there is wrongness to killing gorillas (and there usually/probably is), it is not wrongness on the same level or in the same way as the wrongness of killing a human. There is a strong, sharp, divide between humans and animals, ontologically speaking, and gorillas are decidedly on the animal side of that divide. To kill a human is to kill a person in God’s image. To kill a gorilla is to kill an animal not in God’s image.

    So then is it wrong to kill something not in God’s image? It can be, yes, but it’s not wrong for the same primary reason it’s wrong to kill a human. It’s wrong for other reasons.

    It could be “wrong” (not really wrong, but culturally wrong) in some cases for irrational reasons of taboo. In Brazil some tribes consider it horribly taboo to kill and eat deer, just as we would consider it terrible to kill and eat a dog. I don’t know why they have that taboo. It’s cultural.

    It could be wrong in come cases because it’s a violation of beauty in God’s world, which we are to steward.

    It could be wrong in some cases because it’s genuinely poor stewardship, either because it’s needless or damaging to the ecosytem: killing dogfish (which taste horrible) just to kill them is probably a bad idea. (I admit I do not know what place they have in their typical ecosystems.)

    It could be wrong in come cases because of the amount of pain the animal apparently feels.

    It could be wrong in some cases because of the way it can sear the conscience of the killer. To kill a great ape is reminiscent of killing a human. It can be a conscience-deadening thing to do that.

    In these last two senses I agree partly with your idea of the “empathetic continuity,” but I disagree with you that this is the only basis for explanation.

    So you are incorrect in concluding that empathetic continuity is the only possible basis for our decision making in this regard.

    Now, I’ve given several reasons for moral caution in killing animals. There are many other categories I could probably name if I took time to think this through, but I think I’ve made my point.

    None of these ethical considerations about animal-killing constitutes an absolute, universal prohibition on its own, though any of them individually or together could constitute a particular prohibition. There’s a difference between, “Don’t kill those gorillas!” and “Never kill gorillas!” So it could (and very often would) be wrong to kill a particular pod of whales, even though it’s not true that it’s always wrong to kill whales.

    This all leaves room to argue that it’s possible, at least in most cases (where the future population of the species is not at risk), that it’s hardly ever a moral sin to kill the zygote of any other species—depending on how the mother is affected, of course. That’s because in most cases none of the above considerations comes strongly into play.

    So in this we have reasons why animal zygotes can (often) be killed without moral blame: they don’t meet any of the moral tests given above.

    We have multiple explanations for why it’s often wrong to kill infant to adult stage animals. Your “empathetic continuity” explanation is far from the only one.

    We have an explanation for why humans must be treated differently.

    We have no contradictions or inconsistencies in this set of answers. Melissa and BillT wouldn’t kill a gorilla. Why? We’re still awaiting their specific answers, but it’s clear that those answers can come from a completely different ethical category than their reasons for not killing babies in the womb.

  103. SteveK

    It’s also not always moral good to condemn the guilty or free the innocent. There’s a situational hierarchy to Christian morality with everything pointing back to God’s sovereignty, will and purposes. No doubt we get it wrong all too often. His grace covers that error.

  104. Bill L

    It could be wrong in come cases because of the amount of pain the animal apparently feels.

    It could be wrong in some cases because of the way it can sear the conscience of the killer. To kill a great ape is reminiscent of killing a human. It can be a conscience-deadening thing to do that.

    In these last two senses I agree partly with your idea of the “empathetic continuity,” but I disagree with you that this is the only basis for explanation.

    So you are incorrect in concluding that empathetic continuity is the only possible basis for our decision making in this regard.

    Do you realize that given the qualification I put in place (that it be sustainable), the only reasons you gave for not killing gorillas or H. erectus would be the empathetic continuity that I described?

    Perhaps there was another: “It could be wrong in come cases because it’s a violation of beauty….” but this one is obviously subjective. So given what we have here, your ethical decisions are being made just as I described – based on what is going on in your own mind, and you have not made a inherently Christian argument for the protection of species that are closer to us. So as long as we are assured the population of H. erectus were considered sustainable, there seems no Christian argument put forward (thus far) that would prohibit them from being killed and eaten. I for one am glad you do see them as worthy of protection. I hope you feel the same for gorillas and monkeys. I wish you felt the same about other animals, but that is another issue.

    So we arrive at the problem (unless you are an ardent creationist) – at what point in the history of human evolution did it suddenly become acceptable? And of course, why?

    Tom, you’ve already admitted that there are no good scientific answers to this problem. So I hope some non-creationist Christians will provide their points of view. Thank you for providing yours.

  105. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Of COURSE there are no good scientific answers to the question you’re asking. It’s not a scientific question.

    I am an ardent creationist, in the sense that I believe ardently that God is the creator of all. I believe God used both primary and secondary causation to do so.

    Beauty is obviously both subjective and objective.

    I do not believe human evolution, in the sense of common descent from a last universal common ancestor, is likely to be a true explanation of our natural history. If it turns out I’m wrong, however, then the point in history when humans became a morally unique species was when God in some way stamped us with his image.

    Do you realize that given the qualification I put in place (that it be sustainable), the only reasons you gave for not killing gorillas or H. erectus would be the empathetic continuity that I described?

    Wrong.

    Beauty and stewardship both enter in, and sustainability isn’t the whole story in stewardship. Note also that my take on empathetic continuity agrees with yours only in part; your take on it is not the same as mine.

    Note also that even if we did agree, and even if the only reasons I gave were the same as the one you gave, it wouldn’t weaken my overall position one whit. See points 4 at the beginning of #112. Even if you were right about this, my position would still meet those qualifications.

  106. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You say,

    you have not made a inherently Christian argument for the protection of species that are closer to us.

    Was that a requirement in this debate? Again, see the four points at the beginning of #112. What does “inherently Christian” mean in this context, anyway? “Inherently different from non-Christian arguments”? Why should it have to mean that?

    All I need is an argument that’s consistent with Christianity, not one that’s unique to it.

  107. Bill L

    I realize that I may need to point out here that DougJC and I were berated in the previous OP for having a seemingly “ambiguous” line of demarcation between non-sentience and sentience. We can see here that Tom (and presumably others) do the same.

    Don’t believe me? Then tell me at what point in our evolutionary history it goes from acceptable to kill, to not acceptable and why. The distinction between H. erectus and H. sapiens is an arbitrary one. If we were to go back 70,000 years ago, there would be no difference disenable.

    In our view however, no line could be clearer than sentience. As Tom even partly agrees with, it is what makes us human, or at least worth caring about.

  108. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    I’ll give the short answer which pretty much echoes what Tom has written.

    First the prohibition on killing innocent humans is, from a Christian point of view, because they carry the image of God. This argument does not consider any feelings of empathy we might or might not have towards our fellow human beings.

    As Tom has already written in the case of animals there may be other reasons we consider it wrong to kill them, including our feelings of empathy and considerations of their potential suffering.

    To be honest I am really puzzled as to why you would consider this some kind of massive issue. As you have already alluded to, sometimes we don’t necessarily feel empathy towards certain creatures but given sufficient reasons we can extend our empathy, or in fact act on our reasons even if we don’t feel like it. I have reasons apart from feelings of empathy to protect human lives. It doesn’t follow that feelings of empathy should not influence our stance on other animals.

  109. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    The point is, Bill (@118), if naturalism is true, then I’m wrong. That’s trivially obvious. If naturalism is false and Christian theism is true, then you’re wrong. This too is obvious. Comment 118 is vacuous.

    In our view however, no line could be clearer than sentience. As Tom even partly agrees with, it is what makes us human, or at least worth caring about.

    No, Tom doesn’t agree with that even partly. Good Lord, where did you get that from?

    What makes us human (as distinct from all other creation) is what I wrote above: the image of God stamped upon us.

    Maybe this will help some.

  110. Bill L

    From Tom’s OP “Atheism and Evidence”

    It’s possible that arguments for God are wrong, so atheists typically say they don’t believe in God. It’s possible that arguments for abortion are wrong, and atheists commonly support abortion. How does this make sense? So what’s going on with this selective insistence on sufficient evidence?

    After this conversation, tell me – does it really seem that I’m proceeding on insufficient evidence for what I believe regarding abortion?

  111. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Bill L., you addressed the question to Melissa but your question demonstrates you’re not hearing what I’m saying.

    You said, “Given what I have said in #117, where would you draw the line and why?”

    What you said in #117 is drawn directly from a worldview that assumes ontological continuity between all species.

    Theism does not assume ontological continuity between all species.

    So your question translates as, “Given that theism is false, what would theism say?”

    You have GOT to quit expecting theism to meet naturalism’s presuppositions!

    When will you see that????

  112. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    After this conversation, tell me – does it really seem that I’m proceeding on insufficient evidence for what I believe regarding abortion?

    It seems (see #123) that you don’t understand the issues, and therefore not evaluating the evidence accurately.

  113. Bill L

    Tom, @ 123

    That’s why I asked an evolutionist. Not you.

    EDIT: But now I’m curious Tom. When did God put the “stamp” on humans?

    EDIT 2: And for Melissa, at what point did humans begin to carry the image of God?

  114. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    The distinction between H. erectus and H. sapiens is an arbitrary one.

    According to the Christian there is a point at which humans (carrying the image of God) first came into being. That is not an arbitrary cutoff. In the facts I currently have that means Homo sapiens.

    I’m presuming you take a critical realist view of science – that science categorises things that are actually there rather than just categorising the way the human mind divides up reality. (FYI that was what I was referring to in my comment about science as a mass delusion). Therefore species boundaries are an attempt to categorise according to what actually exists in nature, the science could be wrong but they are not arbitrary divides.

  115. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Bill @125, Melissa is not a naturalist. The issue isn’t evolution. It’s naturalism.

    I’ll be interested to see how she answers. I’m pretty sure I know what it will generally be. I hope you get it when she does.

  116. Post
    Author
  117. Bill L

    Very honest Tom – Thank you.

    Might it be possible then, that he does not put the “stamp” on humans (or any other creature) until they achieve sentience?

  118. Post
    Author
  119. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Are you saying that God’s work in granting humans a special place in creation depended on our evolving to a point where he could do that?

    He could do it whenever he wanted. I don’t know how many thousand years ago that was. I don’t know why he chose to do it when he did it. I do know it wasn’t because he was anxiously waiting for one of his creatures to qualify for it.

  120. Bill L

    Huh? What does that have to do with anything?

    According to you, it is the “stamp” that makes killing or not killing morally permissible or not.

    Given that voting to ban abortions will cause unwanted suffering, wouldn’t it be better to not cause the suffering of the things that we know can suffer, and leave it to the decision of those that can suffer at whether or not they want to terminate the pregnancy? Given that roughly half of all pregnancies end in a natural abortion (a miscarriage) it should be clear that God has no problem with this. Doesn’t it seem you are going against his natural order?

  121. Bill L

    Melissa, @ 126

    I’m a biologist. Species lines are arbitrary if you go back to the right point in time. For the vast majority of cases, there is no “parent is one species, offspring is another.”

  122. Bill L

    [Sorry, I’m not seeing everyones comments right away. Either my computer or the blog is having issues on my end.]

  123. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Given that roughly half of all pregnancies end in a natural abortion (a miscarriage) it should be clear that God has no problem with this. Doesn’t it seem you are going against his natural order?

    A large proportion of human beings die of natural causes therefore not killing human beings goes against God’s natural order? I hope you can work out the problem here without anyone having to explain it.

    Species lines are arbitrary if you go back to the right point in time. For the vast majority of cases, there is no “parent is one species, offspring is another.”

    When I refer to arbitrary I mean a human distinction that does not correspond to something in reality. Therefore when we define a person as a “human being at a particular stage of maturity”, the particular stage we pick is arbitrary because there is no actual substance “person” to be wrong about. In contrast we could be wrong about humans because they are actual substances. The fact that the boundaries in some hypothetical cases may be difficult or even impossible to discern does not mean the distinctions are arbitrary.

  124. Simon

    Melissa,

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your response. I don’t see how the extra premise you say I need differs in any way from your premise.

    If my conclusion from your premise is incorrect, it would help if you explained precisely how you apply your premise to twins, which was my original request.

  125. Melissa

    Simon,

    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand your response. I don’t see how the extra premise you say I need differs in any way from your premise.

    If my conclusion from your premise is incorrect, it would help if you explained precisely how you apply your premise to twins, which was my original request.

    If you don’t see the difference, you need to try to make more careful distinctions. One individual begins at conception, a second when that organism divides producing another human being.

  126. SteveK

    Bill L,
    Was that you in your mother’s womb at 5 weeks? A new human being existed at conception and if it wasn’t you at 5 weeks, who was it?

  127. Bill L

    SteveK,

    Was that you in your mother’s womb at 5 weeks? A new human being existed at conception and if it wasn’t you at 5 weeks, who was it?

    It was no more “me” than my liver is “me” right now, or my stem cells are “me” right now, or that the food I ate and is in my digestive system is “me” right now.

  128. Bill L

    Melissa,

    A large proportion of human beings die of natural causes therefore not killing human beings goes against God’s natural order?

    That is a fair point. But it seems to me that people have always been well aware that people die of natural causes. God responds in the Bible by proscribing killing in most circumstances (certainly he commands it in others, but that is another matter). Abortion was practiced in OT times, but God says nothing. Do you wonder if that was for a reason?

    Given that you know that there is no clear time in evolutionary history where it went from being ok to kill this individual, but not ok to kill his or her offspring, it certainly seems that God could have had the same in mind with a developing embryo.

    I don’t know any other way to look at this but to say with so few and unclear reasons to ban abortions at an early stage, it would seem immoral to force others to accept your views.

  129. SteveK

    Bill L
    Livers, stem cells and digested food are not human beings. The human being in the womb was Bill L.

  130. SteveK

    Additionally, Bill, there is no obligation to any particular utility. Because a human being now has a certain functional ability and you feel empathy toward it, nothing obligates you to do anything. Picking the utility of convenience and aborting the child is one of many options. It may not be your option, but it’s an equally good one for the purpose of that utility.

    This is your worldview.

  131. Bill L

    I never said I was only a utilitarian.

    We might be more successful if we ask people what their worldviews are before we tell them.

  132. DougJC

    Melissa,

    I had a reply written for a prior thread before the downtime but I’ll save it for another time. I do have one question here that will help my understanding of A-T metaphysics though if you don’t mind. (Below addresses only the “A” side rather than “T” side of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition since I now suspect that Aristolean causation may be a viable metaphysics for a new kind of naturalism and am seeing how far it goes.)

    A large proportion of human beings die of natural causes therefore not killing human beings goes against God’s natural order?

    What if this form of killing appears to be entirely natural? Two thirds of all human embryos fail to develop successfully, as noted. This is a completely natural state of affairs and seems to result primarily from a kind of maternal RNA “test” that ends up determining whether an embryo dies or goes on to develop into a fetus (see research overview here). What this could mean is either an embryo does not really have active potential to develop into a person but a more passive potential requiring explicit “agreement” between itself and maternal mechanisms and functions to advance in development, or the embryo has active potential but the mother unconsciously halts it. Either way would seem to set a natural law precedent in favor of stopping embryo development under certain circumstances.

    We might speculate that this state of affairs occurs because only a close match between certain maternal biology and embryo biology is likely to result in a healthy fetus. I don’t think the embryo can be called defective here because it is not defect but a lack of genetic match that appears to be the primary issue. Nor is it maternal defect. But this appears to define at least part of what I think could be an Aristotelian-like form for a human embryo and its relationship to maternal host that permits abortion up until nervous system development. It does not seem wholly unnatural to me (in Aristotelian terms) for a pregnant mother to, at some point early in the pregnancy, decide that there is not a match between the fetus and her ability or desire to raise it to viable adulthood and choose to terminate the pregnancy. As long as this is done prior to conscious capacity of the fetus, this would seem to be very similar to the kind of natural law already observed earlier in the reproductive cycle.

  133. Bill L

    SteveK,

    The unfortunately short answer is that I am an utilitarian and a consequentialist (yes, I can’t imagine how surprised you must be right now).
    😉

    You’ve probably read more on this than I have, so I’m not going to bore you. Have you read Michael Shermer’s “The Science of Good and Evil”? I think he gives the most agreeable forms of my personal philosophy.

    You can also take a brief look at this if you wish. I largely agree with the author:
    http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/11/on-utilitarianism-and-consequentialism.html

    I’ll remind you that I asked you about what an obligation is a few months ago. You really didn’t have an answer then. Has anything changed?

    Is anyone forced to accept God’s obligations if s/he choses not to?

  134. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Given that you know that there is no clear time in evolutionary history where it went from being ok to kill this individual, but not ok to kill his or her offspring, it certainly seems that God could have had the same in mind with a developing embryo.

    Hang on. I don’t agree with your first sentence, obviously I wasn’t clear enough before. The fact that we cannot discern a time now does not mean there was not a time.

  135. Bill L

    Melissa,

    Do you care to speculate about what that may have been like? I am sincerely curious.

  136. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I’m interested in Melissa’s answer, too, but let me clarify the question if I may. You say,

    Given that you know that there is no clear time in evolutionary history where it went from being ok to kill this individual, but not ok to kill his or her offspring, it certainly seems that God could have had the same in mind with a developing embryo.

    I think this is what you have in mind:

    As you see the picture under theistic evolution (or evolutionary creation, as some call it) there is some population of homo indefinite, which is in the process of evolutionary development on the way to becoming homo sapiens. They are not yet members of homo sapiens, so on the Christian view, killing them in the womb might be okay.

    Then God comes to some member(s) of that population and singles them out to bear his image, giving them the moral worth and significance we now have (remember, sapiens means knowing or wise; it means man who knows). To kill any of these homo sapiens persons would have been wrong at any age and for any reason, except in cases where justice or protection of other homo sapiens justified it.

    What I want to say is that if this picture of humans’ natural history is accurate, then in the moments before God marked out a first person to be homo sapiens, it was neither ok nor not-ok for homo indefinite to kill one another, because at that point there were no persons with moral accountability for their actions.

    I suppose you could ask, if homo indefinite and homo sapiens ever coexisted, was it okay for homo sapiens to kill homo indefinite? That would be a fair question, and I don’t know right off the bat how I’d answer, although I suppose it would be similar to the answer I’d give regarding killing the great apes.

    But you can’t fruitfully ask, was it it morally okay (in the Christian theistic scenario) for homo indefinite to kill each other. If they did, it had no more moral dimension to it than black widow spiders killing their mates, or lions killing antelope. There is no moral accountability among creatures on earth other than in homo sapiens, and there was no moral accountability before homo sapiens.

    That’s all just for the purpose of clarifying the question that needs answering.

  137. G. Rodrigues

    @DougJC:

    What if this form of killing appears to be entirely natural? Two thirds of all human embryos fail to develop successfully, as noted. This is a completely natural state of affairs and seems to result primarily from a kind of maternal RNA “test” that ends up determining whether an embryo dies or goes on to develop into a fetus (see research overview here).

    You are equivocating on the meaning of the word “natural”.

    I should add that this is not minor slip, but rather betrays a fundamental lack of understanding.

  138. Bill L

    I think you’ve done a good job in #149 Tom.

    I just want folks to keep in mind that species transition is a lot like language transition. We currently view Spanish and Latin as two different languages. But of course Spanish slowly transitioned from Latin. Were we to go back 1,300 years or so, and you were hanging out in Madrid, people would have thought they were speaking Latin, albeit with a dialect rather different to what is spoken in Rome. But their Latin did not go from Latin proper to Spanish overnight, or even in several decades. There would be no logical point to step back into to say, “now we have a new language.”

    I’m sure everyone knows this. I just want to be sure we are thinking about it.

  139. Post
    Author
  140. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    Was that you in your mother’s womb at 5 weeks? A new human being existed at conception and if it wasn’t you at 5 weeks, who was it?

    It was no more “me” than my liver is “me” right now, or my stem cells are “me” right now, or that the food I ate and is in my digestive system is “me” right now.

    SteveK made a straightforward question. Of course the you in your mother’s womb — if it was you — no longer exists, so saying that the past you is not you “right now” is either stating a tautology or you are instead arguing that there is no synchronic identity (*). So which is it?

    (*) The argument against change taken in the Heraclitean direction (as opposed to the Parmenedean). It is surprising how much the history of ideas in the West is but a mere cyclic struggle between the same opponents in different dresses. Bill L recapitulates Heraclitus; naturalists plagiarize Democritus. Aristotle refutes them all.

  141. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    I’m sure everyone knows this. I just want to be sure we are thinking about it.

    No, “not everyone knows this” because the fact that there were transitional forms (to borrow your evolutionary language) does not imply that Spanish and Latin are not different languages — which they clearly are.

    And besides if my guess is right, this is completely irrelevant to what Melissa will say.

  142. Bill L

    G. Rodrigues,

    @153
    I have not looked into the arguments to which you are referring, so I’m not sure how to answer your question. It may not be necessary. I have maintained all along that it is our brains (minds) that make us who we are – the quality that makes us worth protecting. In the scenario presented by SteveK, at 5 weeks, that has not formed.

    @154
    The point is not that Spanish and Latin are or are not different languages. The point it that the cut off time for the transition would never be recognized in the moment.

  143. Post
    Author
  144. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Do you care to speculate about what that may have been like?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “like”. We don’t know when or how the transition from animals to rational animals occured. If you accept any of the arguments for the immateriality of the intellect then we know that it was not just an instance of physical evolution.

  145. Bill L

    Melissa,

    If you accept any of the arguments for the immateriality of the intellect then we know that it was not just an instance of physical evolution.

    I think you already know, I have not seen a good reason to accept them.

  146. Bill L

    Tom,

    I hate to do this to you, but I simply won’t have the time over the next few days or so. However, you do have a degree in psychology, so I think you may find the reading interesting.

    I’m going to give you this one as a start, but keep in mind that I draw a line at the ability of a creature to suffer. I’ve been vegetarian for almost 30 years based on this approach.

    http://www.grandin.com/welfare/fear.pain.stress.html

  147. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Is this supposed to have something to do with the answer to #156?

    The word “mind” doesn’t appear in it, nor does this begin to touch philosophy of mind in its main subject matter.

    Or does this have to do with your setting your abortion cutoff at the point of potential suffering or pain? All that tells us is that you don’t view humans as anything but bags of tissue before that point, which is what you’ve been saying all along anyway, so I don’t see how this advances the argument.

    So apparently you hate to ask me to read the article, and I hate to read it unless you explain how it connects.

  148. Bill L

    As I have also mentioned previously, Carl Sagan’s books “The Dragons of Eden” and “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” are good primers.

  149. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    That’s putting it very, very, very, very, very simply.

    It’s also obviously wrong, in my studied opinion. (This is not a new topic for me.)

    To equate mind with the brain or any part thereof is fraught with incredible contradictions and inconsistencies. It’s a move that only a materialist could make; no one else would dream of it. You’re continuing to make those materialist assumptions.

  150. SteveK

    Why would you expect to *see* a good reason? I suspect it’s your commitment to materialism that is preventing you from seeing it (in the rational sense).

  151. Melissa

    Doug JC.,

    What if this form of killing appears to be entirely natural?

    There is natural in the sense of what naturally happens, but we know that not everything that happens naturally is good. The idea behind natural law is that nature has given us certain natural ends and natural law prescribes that we pursue those ends. To clarify, we do not have to pursue every good but we must not behave in a way that frustrate our natural ends.

    There are a couple considerations to take into account in the case of unborn humans. Due to our social nature we have certain natural rights, one of them being the right to life. Depriving an innocent human being of their life is a grave moral transgression. Since there is no separate substances human embryo, human baby, human child, human adult, they are all the one organism at different stages of maturity.

    It does not seem wholly unnatural to me (in Aristotelian terms) for a pregnant mother to, at some point early in the pregnancy, decide that there is not a match between the fetus and her ability or desire to raise it to viable adulthood and choose to terminate the pregnancy.

    It doesn’t seem unnatural to you for a mother to kill her child? Since the function of the womb is to allow her child to reach an age whereby they can be safely delivered into the world, any action taken to frustrate that end is entirely unnatural as the term is understood in natural law theory. In fact her desire not to protect her child is unnatural.

  152. Melissa

    Bill L.,

    I think you already know, I have not seen a good reason to accept them.

    By that do you mean you don’t have any exposure to the arguments or you have a valid refutation?

  153. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    I have not looked into the arguments to which you are referring, so I’m not sure how to answer your question. It may not be necessary. I have maintained all along that it is our brains (minds) that make us who we are – the quality that makes us worth protecting. In the scenario presented by SteveK, at 5 weeks, that has not formed.

    You maintain all sorts of contradictory things. For one (there are others), you insist on the existence of clear cut-off points, e.g.:

    Given that you know that there is no clear time in evolutionary history where it went from being ok to kill this individual, but not ok to kill his or her offspring, it certainly seems that God could have had the same in mind with a developing embryo.

    But here you are giving me a vague one. So by your *own* criteria it fails. So to quote you on another thread (here, #182), you have not given me a good reason why I should not kill you.

    The point is not that Spanish and Latin are or are not different languages. The point it that the cut off time for the transition would never be recognized in the moment.

    That may well be your point but it is an irrelevant one, for whether there was or was not a clear cut off point is irrelevant to what things are. And that was my point.

  154. Bill L

    G. Rodrigues,

    I think you misunderstand me. I have not insisted on the existence of clear cut-off points. I have maintained that we have to use the clearest cut-off points that make sense.

    I understand your point of view. But if one says that human beings are the cut-off point (as Melissa and others have maintained), we need to understand what human beings are, and most importantly why and how we make that that distinction.

  155. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I can’t for the life of me understand what’s hard about that, Bill. Human beings are human beings. To question whether a human at 21 weeks is less “human” than a human at 23 weeks is to misunderstand the meaning of the noun (not the adjective) human.

  156. Bill L

    SteveK and Melissa @167 and 169,

    I think you both make great points and I think these are interrelated.

    Do I have a “commitment to materialism?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, but it has been one of the key questions that I’ve had ever since starting to engage with folks on this blog. It was probably one of the main issues that led me from atheism to agnosticism.

    I’m sure it’s obvious to you that I am skeptical of religion and all things supernatural. I’m sure you can understand why. Even most people on this blog would agree that the vast majority of people in this world and people through the ages have come to the wrong conclusions about supernatural issues. Just look at how many religious beliefs are out there that are held by people who sincerely want to believe in a God of some kind. It should be clear that we do not have good methods for evaluating the truth of religious claims. Look at the other kinds of supernatural beliefs that most of us would laugh off (at least privately in our minds) such as astrology, or ESP. This has always led me to the understanding that we do not have very good methods of discerning supernatural truth. If there seems to be one thing humans are very good at, it is fooling ourselves.

    Related book recommendations:
    The Invisible Gorilla – Chabris and Simons
    Intuition: Its Powers and Perils – Myers
    The Believing Brain – Shermer
    Under the Banner of Heaven – Krakauer

    Perhaps a good question is why do I approach things that way? Is it conscious, unconscious or some combination? Since I was not raised with a religious mind-set, I speculate that that could have a lot to do with it (let’s set any genetic inheritance possibilities aside for now). To my knowledge, I have always approached any belief system of – well, what’s the evidence? Are there good reasons for the belief? Are there more plausible alternatives? However an interesting question could be raised if we begin to find out that certain personality types are either more open to, or more closed to supernatural explanations:
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-come-some-people-believe-in-the-paranormal/

    I do not know of a system of understanding the world that obtains better results than the scientific method. And if one trend seems clear over time, it is that supernatural explanations tend to become replaced by natural ones. Of course this does not mean that this will always be the case. But I think there is sufficient reason to put the burden of proof on those offering supernatural explanations. To be certain, we always need to be open to the possibility that a supernatural explanation is correct; maybe that’s easier said than done for some.

    I think the point you’re trying to make is that a commitment to any preconceived idea could lead us to put on our blinders when dealing with the arguments from the other side. Isn’t that really what most (if not all) of us do? When, for example, Tom reads a book by Michael Shermer does he really sit down and try to understand Shermer’s position and see its merits? Or does he do what most of us do and go through it looking for counter arguments since he knows he does not want to agree with Shermer’s premises and conclusions? I have almost certainly done the same while reading McDowell, Strobel, Craig, and others.

    So I have to ask in turn – Do you have a commitment to supernaturalism? Would such a commitment be just as damaging to finding out the truth about something? For example, think about someone’s commitment to strict creationism. Are these people really taking an honest look at the evidence and drawing their conclusions based on that? Or are they looking at for any “out” they can find for fear of what it may do to their world view. To be honest, it is one of the points that has made me view most religious people (even the obviously very intelligent people on this blog) with extreme caution.

    Have I looked at the evidence from both sides (naturalistic and supernaturalistic) regarding the problem of consciousness? Yes. And so far I remain a firm agnostic. Have I looked at enough and the right information? Probably not.

    Of course, I ultimately want to believe things because they are true. Not because they are comforting (e.g. I don’t like the implications of subjective morality, so I will believe it must be objective) or because I have a need to fill a void in my explanation.

  157. Bill L

    Tom @172,
    Then I think you should have no trouble telling me when they get the “God Stamp” – and how you know that.

  158. SteveK

    Bill L @173
    The short answer is that I have knowledge of too many facts that cannot be made from matter and energy. If I were to suppose they were made from matter and energy then my knowledge of these facts would make no sense. I know that doesn’t get me all the way to ‘God exists’ but it gets me moving.

    Spend some time reflecting on all the things you know that science didn’t discover or could not in principle discover because of what these things are. List them. Expect a long list.

  159. G. Rodrigues

    @Bill L:

    I think you misunderstand me. I have not insisted on the existence of clear cut-off points. I have maintained that we have to use the clearest cut-off points that make sense.

    You think wrong. The “clearest” cut-off point that “makes sense”? Really?

    I understand your point of view. But if one says that human beings are the cut-off point (as Melissa and others have maintained), we need to understand what human beings are, and most importantly why and how we make that that distinction.

    Everyone knows what human beings are, just as everyone knows when a human life begins.

    I’m sure it’s obvious to you that I am skeptical of religion and all things supernatural. I’m sure you can understand why. Even most people on this blog would agree that the vast majority of people in this world and people through the ages have come to the wrong conclusions about supernatural issues. Just look at how many religious beliefs are out there that are held by people who sincerely want to believe in a God of some kind. It should be clear that we do not have good methods for evaluating the truth of religious claims. Look at the other kinds of supernatural beliefs that most of us would laugh off (at least privately in our minds) such as astrology, or ESP. This has always led me to the understanding that we do not have very good methods of discerning supernatural truth. If there seems to be one thing humans are very good at, it is fooling ourselves.

    So “we do not have good methods for evaluating the truth of religious claims”? We are very good at “fooling ourselves”? If the discussion in this comment thread is anything to go by, we also “do not have good methods” for evaluating when a human life begins, what it is, and yet you assert with no qualms here in #182 that “I can’t see a reason not to kill them”. Your skepticism is, very conveniently, highly selective. And self-refuting.

  160. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Okay, Bill @174,

    It was at 9:06 am on the morning of January 27, 19998 BC. But that’s only approximate, within a half-hour or so. I mean, they wrote it down for us clear enough, they just didn’t have quartz-crystal watches back then.

    Is that the kind of answer you wanted?

    I’m trying to discern what your repeated request for this obviously impossible information represents. Are you baiting me? Do you misunderstand what it means that God created a new population and species in his image, and that he did it in deep prehistory? Or are you just committed to repeating an inane question? Obviously no one knows right when the human race became the human race.

    I don’t think you’re the type to repeat inanities, and I doubt you’re baiting me. Honestly, though, I can’t imagine why you think what you wrote in #174 could possibly be expected to be true. I can’t imagine why you keep asking about this. Could you help me with that, please?

  161. Post
    Author
  162. Bill L

    Tom,
    The question in #174 was not only intended for evolutionary issues. You are also welcome to give the when and how you know answers for human development – i.e. is it in the egg, sperm, zygote, newborn, etc.

  163. SteveK

    The clearest cutoff point that makes sense *would* be the cutoff point. If there wasn’t a point you could never make sense of it.

    Does this rabbit trail have any relevance?

  164. Simon

    “One individual begins at conception, a second when that organism divides producing another human being.”

    I don’t see how that’s at all compatible with your premise in both of the forms in which you stated it:
    1) “The zygote is the stage at which a new human organism comes into being.”
    2) “Conception is the beginning of a new discrete human life…”

    I also don’t see any theological, moral, or biological basis for a first vs. second individual beginning. Would you please explain how you would determine which of the twins was first and which was second?

    It seems clear that the earliest anyone can say that a both members of a pair of twins begin discrete human lives is far later than conception or a zygote.

    I’m also interested in how you would apply “The zygote is the stage at which a new human organism comes into being” to the cases of Lydia Fairchild and Karen Keegan. It seems to me that you must judge them to be 4 discrete humans, while most of us would say that they clearly are just 2 discrete humans.

  165. Post
    Author
    DougJC

    Melissa,

    I’m not using “natural” to refer to what naturally happens, I’m referring strictly to natural law in the A-T sense. In this context the true form or essence of the things we perceive — sperm, egg, fertilized embryo, fetus, etc.– define their nature and therefore what is correct or incorrect, good or bad in the way they are to be treated.

    The claim is made that the form of a human embryo is one that has active potential to develop into a human being. If true, there’s little argument that abortion is against natural law. The crucial question is: how do we know this about the form of a human embryo? The answer I assume must come from empirical observation and rational argument.

    However, we observe during development of human embryo and mother that 2/3s of embryos are killed by steps taken by the mother’s body. It also seems these embryos are predestined for death or survival by virtue of genetic timing encoding for duration of cytokinesis, time between first and second mitoses and sychronicity of second and third mitoses (from research mentioned prior).

    On what basis do we decide then that embryo death is unnatural or bad? There is no genetic defect that causes this; it may, rather, be important for several fertilized embryos to compete in the womb to best ensure viability of one of them. If we are relying on form or essence to guide our views, it seems we could conclude A) that the form of a human embryo has only passive potential to become a human fetus and hence is not equivalent to the form of a human fetus; or we could conclude B) that the form of a human embryo is metaphysically subordinate to the mother, much the way necessary amputation is not wrong despite the fact that the natural end of a limb is clearly not separation from the host and death.

    So from the above understanding of the form and essence of human embryo under Aristotelian causation as informed by biology, I’m not seeing why it necessarily follows that aborting a human embryo is wrong.

  166. Post
    Author
    Melissa

    Simon,

    I may be about to prove Bill L. a liar, but I will do my best to be patient.

    I don’t see how that’s at all compatible with your premise in both of the forms in which you stated it: 1) “The zygote is the stage at which a new human organism comes into being.” 2) “Conception is the beginning of a new discrete human life…”

    First of all my comments that the quote above were not premises in a formal argument but rather statements in a particular context. I’m sure you agree that context matters. In this case the discussion was about the difference between a zygote and other human cells and when a new human organism begins under normal conditions. So my statements don’t entail that all new human organisms must begin by the joining of an egg and sperm, just that if conception occurs, that is when a new human organism begins their life.

    I also don’t see any theological, moral, or biological basis for a first vs. second individual beginning. Would you please explain how you would determine which of the twins was first and which was second?

    Well since biologically there is one human organism and then biologically there are two human organisms, there is a biological reason for thinking that there is a first, then a second. Of course I can’t make you see that. The fact that we can’t determine which is which is irrelevant to the question of whether they exist at all.

    I’m also interested in how you would apply “The zygote is the stage at which a new human organism comes into being” to the cases of Lydia Fairchild and Karen Keegan. It seems to me that you must judge them to be 4 discrete humans, while most of us would say that they clearly are just 2 discrete humans.

    No, there is no entailment that I must judge them that way. If one organism ends life by whatever means then their life is ended. The fact that another human being carries their DNA is irrelevant because DNA does not make the human being.

  167. Post
    Author
    bigbird

    @DougJC

    On what basis do we decide then that embryo death is unnatural or bad?

    Who said it was unnatural? Nature is taking its course. Although anyone who has experienced a miscarriage (and who actually wanted the baby) can explain to you why it is “bad”. Abortion, however, is the very opposite of nature taking its course – it is human intervention in nature taking its course, resulting in the death of a human being that (most likely) would have otherwise lived.

    Nature also takes its course with humans who have been born – most of us die naturally. That doesn’t justify deliberately killing us.

    Ethics is to do with right or wrong human conduct – the things we do. Not the things that nature does.

    As an aside, I think in certain circumstances apes can be ethically killed. For example, if I was starving in the wilds of Africa, had a gun and an ape in front of me, I’d kill and eat it. And of course ape is a common bushmeat in Africa. In normal circumstances I’d judge that since many apes are endangered species that they should not be killed, and their capacity for suffering means they should not be hunted.

  168. Post
    Author
    BillT

    DougJC,

    Let me start by offering an apology to you from the other thread we were on. I spoke too harshly.

    As far as your above I’m wonder if the biological hair splitting is really getting us anywhere. That many embryos fail to develop because of natural causes is the same fate we all face. Life ending because of natural causes. That doesn’t negate their potentiality any more than your eventual death negates yours. The law takes life as it finds it. Killing someone second before
    their certain death still leaves you a murderer. Embryos deserve to let nature take its course without willful outside interference.

    (P.S. I’m sure Melissa will have a better answer.)

  169. Post
    Author
    G. Rodrigues

    @DougJC:

    However, we observe during development of human embryo and mother that 2/3s of embryos are killed by steps taken by the mother’s body. It also seems these embryos are predestined for death or survival by virtue of genetic timing encoding for duration of cytokinesis, time between first and second mitoses and sychronicity of second and third mitoses (from research mentioned prior).

    Of the humongous number of sperm that is released only one fertilizes the egg therefore it seems that sperm are predestined to *not* fertilize the egg therefore all life is — fill in blanks with some invalid non-sequitur — therefore we are allowed to kill unborn children.

    I have already said as much but I will repeat it: you are laughably off-base when it comes to A-T.

  170. Post
    Author
    Melissa

    Doug JC,

    The claim is made that the form of a human embryo is one that has active potential to develop into a human being.

    If you mean our claim, then no, the claim is that the human embryo is a human. As I already wrote there is just one substance -the human, at various stages of development. You are welcome, as always, to provide a biological argument that the human embryo is not a human organism, but I think you will need to severely strain the definition of human organism.

    Even if you did sonehow manage to satisfy the above it is clear though from the rest of your argument that you are not using the word natural in the way it is used in natural law theory. Your conclusion entails (according to natural law theory) that human embryoes would not be directed towards a human fetus which seems an odd, and do I say, unsupportable conclusion. Here is a post that may help you understand the the issues with what you have written:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/whose-nature-which-law.html?m=1

  171. Post
    Author
    Melissa

    Bill L.,

    Have I looked at the evidence from both sides (naturalistic and supernaturalistic) regarding the problem of consciousness? Yes. And so far I remain a firm agnostic. Have I looked at enough and the right information? Probably not.

    Conciousness and intentionality are major problems for materialism, but even if you deny that underlying non-teleological view of nature, it is rational thought, particularly the human ability to grasp and manipulate abstract concepts that is impossible to reduce to a physical process.

  172. Post
    Author
    Simon

    Melissa wrote, “I’m sure you agree that context matters. In this case the discussion was about the difference between a zygote and other human cells and when a new human organism begins under normal conditions. So my statements don’t entail that all new human organisms must begin by the joining of an egg and sperm, just that if conception occurs, that is when a new human organism begins their life.”

    But that doesn’t hold for twins nor chimeras.

    “Well since biologically there is one human organism and then biologically there are two human organisms, there is a biological reason for thinking that there is a first, then a second. Of course I can’t make you see that.”

    No, I don’t see any such biological, and merely arrogantly restating your assertion doesn’t help. I don’t see it as any different than a typical cell division, in which neither daughter cell can be identified as first or second.

    “The fact that we can’t determine which is which is irrelevant to the question of whether they exist at all.”

    So there’s zero basis for claiming that one is first and the other is second. Fission is the earliest possible time at which both of those discrete human lives could have begun.

    WRT chimeras: “No, there is no entailment that I must judge them that way. If one organism ends life by whatever means then their life is ended.”

    I don’t see that any “lives” as you are defining them have ended. Which lives ended in these cases? Please explain your reasoning instead of repeating your assertion.

    “The fact that another human being carries their DNA is irrelevant because DNA does not make the human being.”

    Melissa, you’re clearly not engaging with the relevant embryology and I’m hoping that your failure to do so is ignorant, not deliberate and cynical. Chimerism is not even close to meaning merely “carrying another human being’s DNA.” These women are chimeras. That means that each one of them is the product of not one, but two different conceptions, zygotes, and embryos. They are fusions as identical twins are fissions.

    So when did these 4 lives (according to your definition) begin, and when did 2 of them end if you now regard each of these women as only a single person each?

    Let me remind you of your claim right below: “… the claim is that the human embryo is a human.” That would make Lydia Fairchild, the product of two embryos, TWO humans according to your claim. I see her as a single human being. I don’t see how you can get there from your claim.

  173. Post
    Author
    bigbird

    @Bill L

    Have I looked at the evidence from both sides (naturalistic and supernaturalistic) regarding the
    problem of consciousness? Yes. And so far I remain a firm agnostic. Have I looked at enough and the right information? Probably not.

    If you haven’t read The Character of Consciousness by David Chalmers, you haven’t read enough. It’s a very insightful critique of materialist theories of the mind by a non-theist.

  174. Post
    Author
    Melissa

    Simon,

    But that doesn’t hold for twins nor chimeras.

    Yes it does. The fact that in one case a second human life is formed by another process after conception is interesting but irrelevant to the question of whether a new human life begins at conception. And again the fact that one human dies and it’s tissue is absorbed by it’s twin is sad but again irrelevant to the question at hand.

    So there’s zero basis for claiming that one is first and the other is second. Fission is the earliest possible time at which both of those discrete human lives could have begun.

    First I will point out to you that the fact that we cannot label one first and the other second has zero bearing on whether there is actually a first or second. Since there was one life, then there were two, I don’t consider that zero basis. Nothing else to “see” here obviously. Let me ask you a question. If there was no human organism before the twinning what was alive before that?

    I don’t see that any “lives” as you are defining them have ended

    Well since there were two lives, as defined, then there is one, it follows that one has ended.

    Let me remind you of your claim right below: “… the claim is that the human embryo is a human.” That would make Lydia Fairchild, the product of two embryos, TWO humans according to your claim. I see her as a single human being. I don’t see how you can get there from your claim.

    Product of two living humans, that both continue living? No, one twin absorbs the tissue of the other. One twin dies. One continues to live. Two conceptions, one live birth.

    I still think the problem here is that you’re reading more into my statement than is really there … or possibly you’re interpreting my words according to ideas that would only be at home in your worldview. If you still disagree with what my words entail you are going to have to spell out your argument not just make assertions, stating all premises explicitly, so we can work out who’s making the error.

  175. Post
    Author
  176. Bill L

    Melissa,

    I may be about to prove Bill L. a liar, but I will do my best to be patient.

    Um, I think I must be missing something here.

    bigbird,

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I will see if I can find it right away.

  177. SteveK

    Bill L @146

    I read the blog post you linked to and it did little to change my statement in #142. I would revise it to include ‘consequence ‘ into the mix but that’s it.

    The value placed on certain goals, consequences, and obligations are the result of each individuals natural history, psychology and biological makeup. Nobody’s natural history, psychology and biology are morally wrong or factually wrong. There’s no obligation for anyone to make a change yet look at all the naturalists telling us we need to change.

  178. Bill L

    Maybe they can’t think of a better consequence than the well being of sentient creatures. If you have one, they may find it interesting.

  179. SteveK

    If they find it to be better (find it valuable) it’s for the same reasons – natural history, psychology and biology.

  180. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Bill L,

    “I may be about to prove Bill L. a liar, but I will do my best to be patient.

    Um, I think I must be missing something here.”

    Melissa was referring to your thoughts on her character in an earlier thread when you expressed gladness she was posting again. She was suggesting her patience was wearing thin. 🙂

    Shane

  181. DougJC

    bigbird,

    Who said it was unnatural? Nature is taking its course. Although anyone who has experienced a miscarriage (and who actually wanted the baby) can explain to you why it is “bad”. Abortion, however, is the very opposite of nature taking its course

    Unnatural, here, means strictly against the natural end of the essence in question since I’m using natural law assumptions. So before judgments of good or bad of any kind can be made, one must first understand the true essence of the entity in question, and in so doing, one also grasps the natural end of that essence, what its nature directs it towards. There are many ways that a naturally directed end can be interrupted or overridden– and some of them are caused by humans and some of them caused by nature– but all of them can be recognized as against the natural end of that entity.

    I’m asking whether the essence or form of a human embryo is unambiguously directed towards a fetus and eventually personhood or if, rather, it is more like that of an egg or sperm, requiring intervention or a threshold for activation to proceed to implantation in the uterus. This so far I think is an empirical question requiring only assumptions about causation that are not necessarily theistic.

  182. DougJC

    BillT,

    No worries, I reacted with perhaps an extra touch of sensitivity and it helps to know your comment was not intended harshly.

    In the embryo issue, to me its less about non-human causes and more about how we understand the natural end of a human embryo by watching it’s formation and growth over time. Form and essence is I think well-defined under A-T metaphysics but I wonder how we reach the point of complete, certain knowledge of that form and essence and how it changes based on new biological discovery.

  183. DougJC

    G. Rodrigues,

    Of the humongous number of sperm that is released only one fertilizes the egg therefore it seems that sperm are predestined to *not* fertilize the egg therefore all life is — fill in blanks with some invalid non-sequitur — therefore we are allowed to kill unborn children.

    If one argues the natural end of a sperm is to fertilize an egg, there is no way to proceed from there to any claim about unborn children, the argument fails full stop.

    However, if one argues that the natural end of each sperm cell is to become a human being, then, yes, the above biological scenario is cause for concern.

    Likewise, if one argues that the natural end of each human embryo is to become a human being, then, yes, finding a biological scenario that demonstrates that 2/3 of them die outright suggests that the argument is wrong. Perhaps, instead, the natural end of the human embryo is to implant in the uterus, and life actually begins at implantation. I’m speculating, of course, but since A-T is supposed to be superior form of metaphysics I’m curious to see how this issue is resolved.

  184. G. Rodrigues

    @DougJC:

    Likewise, if one argues that the natural end of each human embryo is to become a human being, then, yes, finding a biological scenario that demonstrates that 2/3 of them die outright suggests that the argument is wrong. Perhaps, instead, the natural end of the human embryo is to implant in the uterus, and life actually begins at implantation. I’m speculating, of course, but since A-T is supposed to be superior form of metaphysics I’m curious to see how this issue is resolved.

    If one tacks on premises wholly foreign and in complete ignorance of A-T, yes, one can derive “cause[s] for concern”. Is there a point in such an exercise other than filling the comment thread?

  185. Melissa

    Doug JC,

    Likewise, if one argues that the natural end of each human embryo is to become a human being,

    The human embryo is already a human organism and therefore a human being.

  186. Post
    Author
  187. Simon

    Melissa:
    “And again the fact that one human dies and it’s tissue is absorbed by it’s twin is sad but again irrelevant to the question at hand.”

    Now you’re just making things up, and the 2x bad grammar is a tell. What led you to invent those objectively false claims? In the case of each of the chimeric women, neither death nor absorption occurred. Cells descended from both embryos are very alive and functional in the single human life that two embryos combined to form. We’ve done this intentionally thousands of times in mice. That’s my whole point, and fabrications don’t make that fact go away. Would you mind trying to explain using the actual facts instead of fabrications?

    “First I will point out to you that the fact that we cannot label one first and the other second has zero bearing on whether there is actually a first or second.”

    You keep asserting and refuse to explain. In the case of the chimeras you simply fabricate objective facts.

    “Since there was one life, then there were two, I don’t consider that zero basis.”

    This is nonsense only according to YOUR claim. I see one embryo that’s not yet a human life splitting into two embryos. Neither is first, neither is second.

    “Nothing else to “see” here obviously. Let me ask you a question. If there was no human organism before the twinning what was alive before that?”

    A very plastic human embryo, not a human life. You’re not seeing the relevant facts, you’re just making them up.

    Back to the chimeras:
    “Well since there were two lives, as defined, then there is one, it follows that one has ended.”

    It follows only if your premise is correct, and to support it in the case of chimeras, you made not one, but two objectively false claims about things that we know for certain.

    “Product of two living humans, that both continue living? No,…”

    Exactly! It only makes sense if zygotes and early embryos clearly do not constitute discrete human lives.

    “… one twin absorbs the tissue of the other.”

    Utterly false. The embryos merge.

    “One twin dies. One continues to live.”

    Utterly false. Cells from both embryos are alive. Are you fabricating deliberately or reflexively? Do you see that you are reasoning backwards from your conclusion? If you end up with falsehoods, what does that tell you about your conclusion?

    “Two conceptions, one live birth.”

    Yes. Two embryos whose cells are still alive despite your denials. Therefore a conception cannot be equivalent to a discrete human life.

    “I still think the problem here is that you’re reading more into my statement than is really there …”

    I’m not the one fabricating data.

    “… or possibly you’re interpreting my words according to ideas that would only be at home in your worldview.”

    I think embryonic death and absorption mean the same thing in both our worldviews. The embryos that made up the chimeras didn’t die, despite your false claims.

    “If you still disagree with what my words entail you are going to have to spell out your argument not just make assertions, stating all premises explicitly, so we can work out who’s making the error.”

    I think I have. Why don’t you start by explaining how in the case of Karen Keegan, her children would have arisen from ova (obviously alive) from one embryo’s cells while the blood sample (also obviously alive) came from the other, while all of the tissue samples had cells from both embryos—if, as you explicitly claim, one embryo died and was absorbed by the other? From where did you get this fantasy? Was there a cellular resurrection?

  188. Melissa

    Simon,

    You are both rude and uniformed about matters that are pertinent to the discussion, as well as being completely unaware of the contentious nature of the assumptions underlying your claims. It’s clear from your response that you are interpreting my statements through the lens of materialism. Don’t expect me to be concerned that by interpreting my statements through a framework that has serious problems dealing with claims of identity and change you end up with nonsense.

    I know you think you have explained your argument but you have not. To make it explicit your claim seems to be that if cells are found in one human that have the DNA from a second human, then that means that the first human is actually a combination of the two humans. Therefore to avoid this problem your solution is that the two zygotes were not actual discrete humans. To make it clear I am disputing the first sentence and you have given no reason to think this is true. So my suggestion is to support that assertion with an actual argument or you can let me know if I’ve misunderstood you.

    While you’re working that out you might also consider the case of mother child microchimerism. Since the mother is, I presume on your terms an actual discrete human, and living cells with her DNA exist in her child, your position seems to entail that the mother also exists in her child.

    You might also consider living human cells lines from a dead human, is that discrete human still alive?

    Now to your accusation that I am making up facts. You claim that it is rubbish to say that one twin absorbs the other but rather that they merge. What’s the actual difference? All facts require interpretation, you are interpreting through the lens of your worldview and I through mine. I’ll remind you that you are trying to show a contradiction in my worldview, the fact that it might contradict yours is hardly surprising. Since the formation of tetragametic chimeras is variously described as merging, fusing, and also as the death and absorption, or disappearing twin your accusations are unfounded. The fact that the human tissue might merge does not mean that both humans survive unless you accept materialism.

  189. scbrownlhrm

    The status of the embryo, twinning, chimerism, and so on:

    David S. Oderberg, The Metaphysical Status of the Embryo, Part One and his Part Two, a rejoinder to Persson’s objections to part one help distinguish where the Naturalist is falling down.

    We must keep in mind three things:

    1) The nuances and claims upon reality via A-T essentialism differ from the “essentialism” of Kripke-Putnam, as Feser notes, “Nor can you understand how contemporary (e.g. Kripke-Putnam) essentialism differs from real essentialism [see David Oderberg’s book “Real Essentialism”] (i.e. the Aristotelian kind) unless you understand the act/potency distinction….”

    2) It is factually the case that, say, a pancreas grown in a lab and transplanted into a human being (DNA mixed with DNA), and/or, say, various arrays of biological frustrations (brain damage, limb loss, etc.), or what have you, are in part matters of origination and as such they not only fail to derail the A-T metaphysical penumbra in question but they in fact serve to reveal the metaphysical reach of that penumbra.

    3) As both Tom and Melissa have repeatedly pointed out, the Naturalist cannot squeeze his own definitions and terms into the Theist’s. The Naturalist has no room within his own ontological landscape to “fit” the Theist’s definitions and terms. The sloppy and unsuccessful attempts of both Bill L and Simon to find misalignment between the Christian’s metaphysics (on the one hand) and the physical sciences (on the other hand) are a result of their failure on this third point especially, though they are also guilty of missing the key metaphysical nuances of the first two points.

    Man’s Speciation, twinning, and so on are discussed by David Oderberg in his book “Real Essentialism”, which is easily available.

    Formal (coherent) vs. informal (sloppy) manipulations of “nature” and “A-T” and “essentialism” are also contrasted in whose nature, which law and in Aristotle watches Bladerunner. The later link happens to apply to the pancreas grown in a lab, to A.I., to transplantation, to DNA mixed with DNA, and to other modes of “parts” – all of which, like twinning and chimerism, fail to offend the Theist’s line of ontological claims.

    In the womb we find that the embryo in question – the human being in question – now or finally arrived at – does in fact, “…via a continuous process of maturation within which there is no arbitrary ontological cut-off point become a mature human being…”

    Both Melissa and Tom keep reminding folks that Naturalism cannot contain the Theist’s ontological truth claims, that DNA – or Genome – does not constitute the entirety of the Man. DNA mixed with DNA accomplishes exactly nothing for the Naturalist. In fact, it actually helps solidify the Naturalist’s own lack of reach while revealing the greater reach of the Theist – and with greater reach comes the prize of plausibility.

    Sure, in Naturalism, Genome just is the whole show – and we dance to its music.

    But none of that sums to the Theist’s stopping points.

    For instance, both twinning and chimerism casually, seamlessly – both biologically and metaphysically – satisfy the express trajectory in question. In the case of twinning, a full stand-alone human being carries on for some amount of time X, say, T-X, (we all have this or that T-X…..that’s part of Humanity too….at least in this possible world) and, during its T-X, carries on in its continuous process of maturation within which there is no arbitrary ontological cut-off point towards becoming a mature human being. Then, (we’re still on twinning here) as Oderberg reminds us, we come to life of this or that *kind*, as in, say, the planarian flatworms which can be divided and the divided halves continue to grow as individual worms. Cells that can divide are no less individual cells because of that possibility — they belong to exactly the same *kind* as their descendants. This includes cellular *animals* such as bacteria and amoebae, and, biologically speaking, human zygotes and early embryos simply fail to be any sort of “mystical exception” here, despite the sloppy biology and sloppy metaphysics of the Naturalist seeking such mystical exceptions.

    The human being, prior to twinning, just is a full stand-alone human being during its T-X and quite naturally (in the A-T sense) carries on in its continuous process of maturation within which there is no arbitrary ontological cut-off point towards becoming a mature human being. And then, after twinning, we find, no longer one in the midst of its T-X, but rather two full, stand-alone human beings in their various T-X’s quite naturally (in the A-T sense) carrying on in their continuous processes of maturation within which there are no arbitrary ontological cut-off points towards becoming mature human beings. Chimerism is the reverse, as, at the start, we find, in *kind*, two full, stand-alone human beings in their various T-X’s quite naturally (in the A-T sense) carrying on in their continuous processes of maturation within which there are no arbitrary ontological cut-off points towards becoming mature human beings. Then, afterwards, we find a full stand-alone human being during its T-X quite naturally (in the A-T sense) carrying on in its continuous process of maturation within which there is no arbitrary ontological cut-off point towards becoming a mature human being.

    Transplantations (DNA mixed with DNA), artificial limbs, a pancreas grown in a lab and transplanted into a human being (DNA mixed with DNA), Melissa’s noted mother child microchimerism, and various arrays of biological frustrations of this or that essential property – such as brain damage, loss of limb, or what have you, are in the same state of affairs as are the events of twinning and chimerism as all of those are nothing more than red herrings foisted by those who insist on doing the impossible, which both Tom and Melissa have rightly noted: inanely attempting to squeeze the means and ends of Theism into the farcical modes of the Materialist’s attempt at generating “pretend useful fictions” by which the Materialist “claims” to have found some sort of “factual line”. But of course he has nothing more than random collections of what Melissa properly defined as “……arbitrary cutting points in a seamless continuum of particles in motion. In that case there really is nothing to discuss, science becomes a mass delusion, in fact everything we think about is not an actual thing in the first place……human distinction [in that sense] does not correspond to something in reality. Therefore when we define a person as a “human being at a particular stage of maturity”, the particular stage we pick is arbitrary because there is no actual substance “person” to be wrong about.”

    The consequences of such useful fiction is the ontological, factual, elimination of all logical lines whatsoever such that humanity can, has, and is, making a case, even now, for killing at *any* location along that seamless continuum of particles in motion. “Wellbeing” and “Useful” both beg the question and sum to terms without meaning – for there is no discovery – there is only invention – vis-à-vis Naturalism. Belgium’s 20-something year olds are gaining the “right” to euthanasia on demand – cause wellbeing (I-feel-pain) and, also, giving anesthesia to fetuses younger than 20 weeks permits the killing of the fetus while eliminating the “human part” (It-might-feel-pain) – cause wellbeing. Indeed, a lack of consciousness provides Materialists of all stripes along that seamless continuum of particle in motion with an ultimate utility – in or out of the womb. And that approach by the Naturalist makes perfect, logical, metaphysical sense given their anemic means and their insubstantial ends.

    As David Bentley Hart notes,

    “Nevertheless, as I have said, it is a model of freedom whose ultimate horizon is, quite literally, nothing. Moreover, if the will determines itself principally in and through the choices it makes, then it too, at some very deep level, must also be nothing: simply a pure movement of spontaneity, motive without motive, absolute potentiality, giving birth to itself. A God beyond us or a stable human nature within us would confine our decisions within certain inescapable channels; and so at some, usually unconscious level — whatever else we may believe — we stake ourselves entirely upon the absence of either. Those of us who now, in the latter days of modernity, are truest to the wisdom and ethos of our age place ourselves not at the disposal of God, or the gods, or the Good, but before an abyss, over which presides the empty power of our isolated wills, whose decisions are their own moral index. This is what it means to have become perfect consumers: the original nothingness of the will gives itself shape by the use it makes of the nothingness of the world — and thus we are free.”

    Every “line” that sums to a fictitious line (and that is the only kind the Naturalist has) can be logically sacrificed – cause scientism – and we see that such fruit is slowly ripening on the world stage in said Ultimate Utility.

    Meanwhile, reason’s demand for lucidity “through and through” informs the Christian’s metaphysics and permits him to transcend the self-negating linelessness of the Materialist’s seamless continuum of particles in motion as ontology *discovers* both essence and final causes – all of which retains, rather than eliminates, the metaphysical actualities of logic – full stop, of personhood – full stop, and of love – full stop.

    Sloppy metaphysics and dis-logic permit David Oderberg to conclude the obvious:

    “I have examined three common arguments, found in Harris and many other bioethicists, against the metaphysical status of the embryo as an individual human being. Neither the distinction between embryoblast and trophoblast, nor the potential for twinning, nor the argument from totipotency, undermines the proposition that the embryo is a human being, a full member of the same natural kind as both the author and reader of this paper……. There are other arguments as well, which I have no space to consider here. In particular, Harris and others regularly dismiss appeals to potentiality as providing no succor to defenders of the humanity of the embryo. In some respects they correctly identify mistaken appeals by such defenders, ones that are irrelevant or based on confusion about just what potentiality involves and how it affects both the metaphysics of the embryo and the proper ethical stance toward it…… The point of the present paper is to caution against the role that inadequate metaphysics can play in distorting ethical debates. Bioethicists who do not ultimately care, for ethical purposes, whether the embryo is an individual or not, are bound nevertheless to cease using specious metaphysical arguments against those who do. That such arguments do not work is, for those who fall into the latter camp (such as myself), a matter of no small importance.”

  190. DougJC

    Melissa,

    Yes, your comment was missing earlier. Good; I feel like I’m on the same page with you but I’m not so far able to communicate my point– due most likely to my imprecise language and improper use of A-T lingo.

    You are welcome, as always, to provide a biological argument that the human embryo is not a human organism,

    No, I’ll instead put it that the human embryo has the active potential to develop into a more mature stage of human being, provided that the form of a human embryo is the form of a human being. This is in contrast to a human egg which is not the form of a human being but rather has it’s own form and it’s own natural end to become a human embryo. No controversy there?

    A human egg requires an efficient cause to become a human embryo (either fertilization or some form of stimulation) so an efficient cause must be key to a demarcation between forms. (And I should add here that a human egg does not likely require any additional material cause to become a human embryo as cloning research has demonstrated.) If a human egg required no efficient cause to become a human embryo, we would conclude the form of human egg and form of human embryo were the same. Correct so far?

    In the research I mentioned, there seems to be a hint of further efficient cause acting by the mother’s body on the embryo that crucially determines if the embryo goes on to implant or die. From other research described here, it seems cells in the uterus actively respond to only certain embryos. This seems to be an efficient cause that makes the difference between an embryo left to its own or an embryo that becomes a new entity composed of placenta (literally formed from both embryo cells and maternal cells) and embryo now sharing the maternal blood supply. This efficient cause seems conceptually similar to the efficient cause that triggers a human egg to turn into a human embryo. Thus, why not view the human embryo as a form that has a natural end in uterine implantation with a new form including placenta, rather than seeing its end as a mature human being?

    And I should mention that seeing the form of human embryo as distinct from the form of a mature adult would then be like seeing the form of human egg as distinct from the form of a mature adult. Then, abortion prior to the implantation stage would be morally similar to contraception.

  191. scbrownlhrm

    DougJC,

    The efficient cause of….. coronary plaques….. myocardial infarction…. and so on.

    You’re stuck in materialism and trying to force Theism to dance to its melody.

    Sloppy.

  192. Melissa

    Doug JC.,

    A human egg requires an efficient cause to become a human embryo (either fertilization or some form of stimulation) so an efficient cause must be key to a demarcation between forms.

    No (to the second part of your statement) as it doesn’t follow from your first statement. The action of something on a substance does not necessarily lead to a change of form, if that was the case what you have, for all intents and purposes, offers no explanatory power over straight materialism. All sorts of things act on mature human beings bringing about a change that is not necessarily a change of form so I’m afraid your argument doesn’t work. If you want to know the demarcation line for natural living substance it is the living organism. Each organisms’ nature is stable over it’s lifetime.

  193. Simon

    Melissa:
    “You are both rude and uniformed…”

    So let me get this straight. You arrogantly claim that the (materialist) biology dictates your anti-abortion position, which you really justified post hoc by claiming that a zygote is a DISCRETE human being. I point out cases that are not discrete, which you deny by bald materialist assertions and arrogant materialist fabrications, providing no explanation whatsoever. Then you are sweetness and light, while I am rude for pointing out your empty posturing.

    Got it!

    “It’s clear from your response that you are interpreting my statements through the lens of materialism.”

    Your tactical retreat into a completely different argument that this is about materialist worldviews is ridiculous, because your arguments have been materialist from the beginning.

    By the way, you don’t understand the relationship between cells and DNA at all, yet you repeatedly construct arguments based on false (and completely materialistic) assumptions. For example:

    “To make it explicit your claim seems to be that if cells are found in one human that have the DNA from a second human, then that means that the first human is actually a combination of the two humans.”

    You’re not getting it at all. Not even close.

    I’ll ask you to stop explicitly misrepresenting my position and deal with what I actually wrote, because you completely misunderstand the critical relationships between cells and DNA. You could start by acknowledging that I NEVER EVEN MENTIONED DNA when I was explaining this to you to maintain clarity. YOU are the one who keeps bringing up DNA, and it’s clear that you don’t know what you are talking about. So again, my claim doesn’t “seem to be” about DNA. At all.

    But the ultimate is this:
    “You claim that it is rubbish to say that one twin absorbs the other but rather that they merge.”

    Wow. That’s a clever elision, Melissa.

    You omitted the far more morally important part of your claim: that one twin DIED (that is, in your view a human being died), despite the fact that you can’t identify which human being (in your opinion) died and which one remains alive. Why the omission? In my opinion, it doesn’t matter because the embryos weren’t human beings—Karen is one, discrete human being who arose from two embryos.

    Try to comprehend (without using the term “DNA,” please) that for Karen, only two samples, both arising from tiny numbers of embryonic cells, were monozygotic, while EVERY other sample was dizygotic. Why do you think I pointed out that you can’t identify which twin/cell was first and which second in the case of twinning/cell division?

    “What’s the actual difference?”

    So the death vs. life of what YOU consider to be a discrete human being doesn’t matter isn’t actually different. QED.

    “All facts require interpretation, you are interpreting through the lens of your worldview and I through mine.”

    Can’t you see that by retreating to asserting that it makes no actual difference to you whether we consider the embryos that constitute macrochimeras (according to you, discrete human beings) to be alive or dead, you’ve agreed with Bill L in principle? But I suspect you do, since you quietly dropped life/death of what you consider to be human beings in favor of trying to argue about absorption.

    These cases demonstrate that no one truly considers zygotes, morulas, blastocysts, or even gastrulas to be discrete human beings with discrete human lives.

  194. bigbird

    Here’s a clear exposition from philosopher Peter Kreeft on the options we have regarding abortion.

    He outlines the four possibilities below, and examines what abortion is in each of these four cases:

    The fetus is a person, and we know that.
    The fetus is a person, but we don’t know that.
    The fetus isn’t a person, but we don’t know that.
    The fetus isn’t a person, and we know that.

    The fourth case is the only case where abortion is morally permissible, if you consider killing innocent human beings is wrong.

    “What makes Case 4 permissible is not merely the fact that the fetus is not a person but also your knowledge that it is not, your overcoming of skepticism. So skepticism counts not for abortion but against it. Only if you are not a skeptic, only if you are a dogmatist, only if you are certain that there is no person in the fetus, no man in the coat, or no person in the building, may you abort, drive, or fumigate”.

    It seems clear from the discussion thread above that we don’t know that the fetus is not a person.

    More here.

  195. scbrownlhrm

    Simon, (&DougJC)

    #208 delineates where your logic breaks down.

    Also, you keep trying to make Theistic epistemology dance to Materialistic ontology. Just like DougJC.

  196. Melissa

    Simon,

    Well at least your little tantrum was revealing.

    You arrogantly claim that the (materialist) biology dictates your anti-abortion position

    No. I claim that biology dictates when a human organism begins. Biology by the way is not materialist, what you are thinking of is biology interpreted according to a materialist metaphysics.

    Your tactical retreat into a completely different argument that this is about materialist worldviews is ridiculous, because your arguments have been materialist from the beginning.

    Well that would be interesting if they were, since I consider materialism unable to explain how things can change but remain the same thing. My arguments have never been materialist.

    You’re not getting it at all. Not even close.

    I’ll ask you to stop explicitly misrepresenting my position and deal with what I actually wrote

    I repeatedly asked you for clarification which you failed to provide thereby forcing me to guess at what might be driving your arguments, I admitted at the bottom of the paragraph that I may have misunderstood you and invited you once again to clarify if needed.

    You could start by acknowledging that I NEVER EVEN MENTIONED DNA

    OK. You never even mentioned DNA … except in this comment.

    You omitted the far more morally important part of your claim: that one twin DIED (that is, in your view a human being died)

    The dying was implicit in my sentence obviously.

    despite the fact that you can’t identify which human being (in your opinion) died and which one remains alive.

    I consider Karen the twin that lived, I didn’t realise that such an obvious fact could be cause for contention. I thought your problem was that we couldn’t hypothetically go back and determine which one was Karen before the merging/absorption.

    “What’s the actual difference?”

    So the death vs. life of what YOU consider to be a discrete human being doesn’t matter isn’t actually different. QED.

    You’re a real piece of work. My question wasn’t rhetorical, I was actually trying to get you to explicitly state what the biological difference would look like.

    Can’t you see that by retreating to asserting that it makes no actual difference to you whether we consider the embryos that constitute macrochimeras (according to you, discrete human beings) to be alive or dead, you’ve agreed with Bill L in principle?

    And since you’ve misunderstood the first bit your conclusion is wrong as well.

    But I suspect you do, since you quietly dropped life/death of what you consider to be human beings in favor of trying to argue about absorption.

    Yes, I quietly dropped the life/death in favour of absorption as evidenced by the last two sentences of my comment***:

    Since the formation of tetragametic chimeras is variously described as merging, fusing, and also as the death and absorption, or disappearing twin your accusations are unfounded. The fact that the human tissue might merge does not mean that both humans survive unless you accept materialism.

    *** That would be sarcasm BTW.

  197. scbrownlhrm

    Simon,

    “So the death vs. life of what YOU consider to be a discrete human being doesn’t matter isn’t actually different.”

    That pretty much reveals all we need to know about your level of “analysis” here.

  198. Melissa

    Simon,

    My suggestion, if you want to move the conversation forward, is to treat me like an idiot*** and explain two things.

    1. Why the cells from one individual human organism cannot divide off to form a second individual human organism.

    2. Why the presence of dizygotic tissue in one individual must be interpreted, if both zygotes were individual human organisms, as the continuing life of both organisms.

    ***I’m expecting that won’t be a problem for you.

  199. DougJC

    Melissa,

    The action of something on a substance does not necessarily lead to a change of form

    Right, efficient causes do not necessarily lead to a change in form. But if you’re saying efficient causes have no part to play in the formation of human life, then what moves one substantial form to become another substantial form? What causes the egg with one form to become an embryo with a new form?

    I know, under most circumstances, an efficient cause brings together egg and sperm and the substantial form of each together becomes a new substantial form of human life. However, parthogenesis and cloning reveal that under certain circumstances, the egg itself can (likely) become a human life by itself. Therefore, there is no added material cause necessary, just a transition from one form to another due to an efficient cause. Conceptually, something is operating on “possibility-of-being” and changing it to “actual-being” without offering any material of its own. Note that I’m not saying this is moral or natural in any sense, just that a theory of forms has to have some account of what is happening in this case, some metaphysical view of the minimum requirement for actualizing potential being and fundamentally changing form.

    It seems to me that the form of an egg is like a biological machine with at least two switches requiring external triggering. The first switch triggers growth to blastocyst. The second switch triggers implantation and gastrulation. No fetus is possible without both switches occurring. No embryo can exist apart from material from the uterus for placental development. Whatever triggers these switches seems just as likely to be creating new substantial forms as it is to be merely altering existing forms. If resolving this is not just a matter of faith– and that, I think, it is the claim of A-T– how do we differentiate?

  200. Melissa

    Doug JC.,

    Whatever triggers these switches seems just as likely to be creating new substantial forms as it is to be merely altering existing forms. If resolving this is not just a matter of faith– and that, I think, it is the claim of A-T– how do we differentiate?

    We differentiate on the basis I have already told you. The nature of the living thing is just the type of organism they are. Therefore the human organism at any stage is human because it’s nature is human. The canine organism at any stage is canine because it’s nature is canine.There is just one living human organism that persists from conception to the moment of their death. Any other differentiation fails to take account of the fact that the same organism persists through all the various developmental changes.

  201. Simon

    Melissa:
    “I consider Karen the twin that lived,”

    Karen is thoroughly dizygotic and two people by your definition, one person only by mine.

    “I thought your problem was that we couldn’t hypothetically go back and determine which one was Karen before the merging/absorption.”

    I think that’s your problem, not mine. 😉

    I understand the embryology. If I inject my induced pluripotent stem cells into an unrelated embryo to make a chimera, would you say that either I died or the discrete human being (according to you) that was the embryo before microinjection did? Keep in mind that the injected stem cells (at least in mice) can easily push nearly all of the host embryo’s cells out into the extraembryonic tissues, so arguing relative contributions won’t work.

    “Yes, I quietly dropped the life/death in favour of absorption as evidenced by the last two sentences of my comment***: “Since the formation of tetragametic chimeras is variously described as merging, fusing, and also as the death and absorption, or disappearing twin your accusations are unfounded.””

    I ignored that because it was absurd. Using that reasoning, since abortion is described by some as getting rid of excess tissue that is not a human being, you’ve now got no problem with it?

    “My suggestion, if you want to move the conversation forward, is to treat me like an idiot*** and explain two things.”

    I don’t think you’re an idiot at all. So far, your writing suggests that you are egotistical, rigidly incurious, hypocritical, and fabricate evidence to work backward from a conclusion, but IMO you’re far more sneaky than idiotic.

    “1. Why the cells from one individual human organism cannot divide off to form a second individual human organism.”

    Other than your terminology, I’m fine with it, but it falsifies your claim that a discrete human life begins at conception. Why are you changing to “organisms” instead of “discrete human lives,” your fundamental assertion?

    You also seem to have a problem with the notion of someone else provisionally accepting what you offer as a tenet and seeing where that leads. Is that correct?

    “2. Why the presence of dizygotic tissue in one individual must be interpreted, if both zygotes were individual human organisms, as the continuing life of both organisms.”

    I don’t view embryos as organisms; you do. Because both—if your claim is correct—started out as “discrete human lives,” both obviously still live, and neither has died. If you can’t say which one died, you can’t credibly claim that either one died. Are you going to be changing the definition of death, too?

  202. scbrownlhrm

    Simon,

    You stated:

    Karen is thoroughly dizygotic and two people by your definition”

    That is false.

    It’s easy enough to set up a straw man and debunk it but you may want to address the Christian’s actual truth claims instead.

    Not only have you not addressed the Christian’s actual truth claims, but you have not shown us that you can even find – somewhere in your metaphysics – the ontic-location of either “Alive” or of “Man”.

    As we’ve seen already, there is, on Materialism, no (actual) “man” at all – anywhere – and hence there are no (actual) “stages” of “man” and, moving further – as we push the Physicalist for logical lucidity – we begin to discover that his metaphysics don’t just fail to factually ascertain Man – but his metaphysics – just as catastrophically – also fail to ascertain Life, of Alive.

    And why is that?

    David Oderberg briefly touches on it:

    Metaphysically, moreover, the very concept of self-organization is suspect. More precisely, the idea that an entity can organize itself into *existence*, which is what is at issue, is deeply suspicious. For if an entity – any entity – is to organize itself into existence, it has to exist before it can do *any* organizing, let alone organizing its own existence; so it has to exist before it exists, which is absurd. This means that self-organizing systems are really systems that are organized into existence from *without*, as a convection cell is organized into existence by its environment, albeit with apparent spontaneity and unpredictability. Once in existence, there is no conceptual problem with the entity’s continually organizing itself through self-regulating, homeostatic, or other mechanisms that involve, say, taking in energy from the environment, utilizing it and expelling waste products. But that it could organize its entry into the world in the *first* place looks like as good a case of metaphysical impossibility as one is likely to get.

    While the Christian has the metaphysical and scientific wherewithal to *distinguish* the Human Being as an actual substance, a real entity, it doesn’t seem that the Naturalist does. Not “really”, as that pesky and seamless continuum of particle in motion leaves him with only arbitrary cutting points. Hence killing at one point vs. any other point all break down to metaphysical – and hence logical – equivalents. Per Naturalism, that is.

  203. Melissa

    Simon,

    I died or the discrete human being (according to you) that was the embryo before microinjection did?

    The embryo of course.

    Other than your terminology, I’m fine with it, but it falsifies your claim that a discrete human life begins at conception.

    Explain exactly why it falsifies my claim. Think through and explicitly state your assumptions that you are using to come to your conclusion. That’s what I mean by treat me like an idiot. Lay out every point in your reasoning.

    You also seem to have a problem with the notion of someone else provisionally accepting what you offer as a tenet and seeing where that leads. Is that correct?

    Not at all, I want you to explain why you think it leads to your conclusion.

    Because both—if your claim is correct—started out as “discrete human lives,” both obviously still live, and neither has died

    No. Please explain your reasoning because there is something you are assuming that I am not and I if I try to guess at it you’re sure to get in a huff.

    I don’t view embryos as organisms

    Why not?

  204. Melissa

    Simon,

    If you can’t say which one died, you can’t credibly claim that either one died. Are you going to be changing the definition of death, too?

    I think this is supposed to be your answer but it has major flaws. Let’s consider a hypothetical, where we have two clones, identical in everyway, babies, unable to communicate. One dies. Now we can’t tell which one of the clones died, but we can still credibly claim that one died.

  205. scbrownlhrm

    Simon and DougJC,

    The problem seems to be that “DNA = Man” is how you *seem* to assume the Theist defines Man. The line of continuity from cell or cells to adult is a layer one cannot leave unaccounted for, hence twinning and chimerism – ultimately partaking of said continuity – fail to insult the premises of the Christian’s metaphysics.

    Genome = Man?

    Well, that is false – on Theism. One cannot make a whole out of a part, so to speak.

    As we’ve seen in this thread, the available lenses of Materialism (on the one hand) and the lenses of the Christian’s metaphysical penumbra (on the other hand) are constantly bringing us to the following intersection noted earlier by Melissa:

    All facts require interpretation, you are interpreting through the lens of your worldview and I through mine. I’ll remind you that you are trying to show a contradiction in my worldview, the fact that it might contradict yours is hardly surprising.

    Debilis described that same intersection elsewhere, alluding in part to the nihilism of, not science, but scientism:

    And that is part of a running theme here. As with my argument from moral truth, and my refutation of the argument for materialism, one simply can’t cram these kinds of questions into a scientific model. The entire point of what the theist is saying is that there are things which don’t fit that model. One is free to disagree, but it makes no sense to argue against the truth of those claims by pointing out that science doesn’t find them. Of course it doesn’t, that’s the theists point. The debate is over whether or not science gives us an exhaustive picture of all reality.

  206. scbrownlhrm

    But Materialism is not the only pair of glasses on the market”

    “Ape to Man? When? How? What did *that* look like?”

    The current thread demonstrates a point raised by Feser:

    From an Aristotelian-Scholastic point of view, contemporary metaphysicians (and contemporary biologists when wearing their metaphysician’s hats) are simply too conceptually impoverished to (correctly) approach questions about essence.

    As this thread has demonstrated the “definition” of “man” is a moving target – the Materialist’s own assertions forever collapsing into an ontology of the arbitrary. “Ape to Man? What did *that* look like?” suffers the same constitution even as the Physicalist “reasons” that those questions even matter to the Christian’s own a priori of Dirt-To-Man. The Naturalist who asks those questions is, it turns out, unaware of the magnitude of the problems he faces just in asking the questions.

    While the Philosophy of Mind matters, we need not even bring such to the table – as the Naturalist’s appeals – of late – to emergentism fails on all counts to show just how it is that his Physicalism can birth a Self in any coherent sense – as the tree itself, the ape itself, the man *it*-self, and so on, are not actual entities, are not actual things vis-à-vis Naturalism but instead sum to illusory artifacts. As DBH reminds us, “…..a true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes.” Immanent causation amid final causes are simply non-entity within Naturalism as all attempts at “ontic-locating” collapse and therein we cannot ever know what the Naturalist means when he says “Man”, nor can he ever tell us, just as we can never know what the Naturalist means when he says “Alive”, nor can he ever tell us, just as we can never know what the Naturalistmeans when he says “Tree”, nor can he ever tell us, for such artifacts – it turns out – fictitiously phosphoresce.

    Our Atheist friends are a million miles away from earning the intellectual right to think that they can assert that Theistic epistemology must dance to Materialistic ontology. In fact, given his own epistemology – all the weight of the intellectually rigorous is actually in the reverse direction – on pain of his own unintelligibility.

    The question is not “When Man?” and it is not “When Life?” Rather the question is, first, “What Life?” and second, “What Man?”

    As David Bentley Hart notes, the conceptual poverty underlying the Atheist’s (and some Christian’s) approach defies exaggeration:

    This is why, as I observed far above, much of what passes for debate between theist and atheist factions today is really only a disagreement between differing perspectives within a single post-Christian and effectively atheist understanding of the universe. Nature for most of us now is merely an immense machine, either produced by a demiurge (a cosmic magician) or somehow just existing of itself, as an independent contingency (a magical cosmos). In place of the classical philosophical problems that traditionally opened out upon the question of God — the mystery of being, higher forms of causality, the intelligibility of the world, the nature of consciousness, and so on — we now concern ourselves almost exclusively with the problems of the physical origin or structural complexity of nature, and are largely unaware of the difference. The conceptual poverty of the disputes frequently defies exaggeration. On one side, it has become perfectly respectable for a philosophically illiterate physicist to proclaim that “science shows that God does not exist,” an assertion rather on the order of Yuri Gagarin remarking (as, happily, he never really did) that he had not seen God while in orbit. On the other side, it has become respectable to argue that one can find evidence of an Intelligent Designer of the world by isolating discrete instances of apparent causal discontinuity (or ineptitude) in the fabric of nature, which require the postulate of an external guiding hand to explain away the gap in natural causality. In either case, “God” has become the name of some special physical force or causal principle located somewhere out there among all the other forces and principles found in the universe: not the Logos filling and forming all things, not the infinity of being and consciousness in which all things necessarily subsist, but a thing among other things, an item among all the other items encompassed within nature. The only question at issue, then, becomes whether this alleged causal force or principle really is a component of physical reality, and the only way of adjudicating the matter is to look for evidence of “divine” intervention in nature’s technological structure. That, however, is not a question relevant to the reality of the transcendent God, and for this reason it has never been treated as such in the philosophical traditions of classical theism.

    Melissa and others have helped bypass that intellectual fog as, on Materialism, we cannot ontologically locate “man” at all – anywhere – and hence there are no (actual) “stages” of “man” and, moving further along that theme – as we push the Physicalist for logical lucidity – we discover that his metaphysics not only fail to factually ascertain Man – but his metaphysics – just as catastrophically – also fail to ascertain Life – fail to ascertain Alive.

    Feser circumscribes that a bit further:

    Ferris Jabr of Scientific American kindly informs us that nothing is really alive, not even Jabr himself or his readers. Fairly verbose for a dead guy, he develops the theme at length – not by way of giving an explicit argument for his claim, so much as by putting forward considerations intended to make it appear something other than the killer joke it seems on its face to be.

    The routine is familiar, even if Jabr’s thesis is a bit more extreme than that of other biological reductionists. There’s no generally agreed upon definition of life; there are borderline cases such as viruses; living and non-living things are all made up of the same kinds of particles; so……

    The “so” part is where these sorts of views get into trouble, because the reductionist conclusions – let alone Jabr’s eliminativist conclusion – don’t follow, and even Jabr doesn’t really claim to have established that there is no such thing as life (as opposed to merely putting it out there as a proposal). Indeed, if the line between the living and the non-living is as blurry as Jabr alleges, one might just as well argue that everything is alive, rather than that nothing is.

    That either extreme conclusion equally well “follows” from Jabr’s premises shows that something has gone wrong here. But then, denying apparently obvious distinctions is typically a mark of imprecise rather than rigorous thinking. So too is the marketing of such denials as “liberating” – as Jabr claims the denial that life exists is.

    Emergent-ism” fails the Naturalist as the principle of proportionate causality is, in more vectors than the one under review in this thread, manifestly out of his reach.

    As a reminder, David Oderberg echoed one of (there are more) the reasons the Naturalist is left with Jabr’s conclusion – nothing can be an actual self – nothing can be alive – as both Man and Alive sum to what our Naturalist friends in this thread have demonstrated – the (ontologically) arbitrary – the ontic-fiction:

    Metaphysically, moreover, the very concept of self-organization is suspect. More precisely, the idea that an entity can organize itself into *existence*, which is what is at issue, is deeply suspicious. For if an entity – any entity – is to organize itself into existence, it has to exist before it can do *any* organizing, let alone organizing its own existence; so it has to exist before it exists, which is absurd. This means that self-organizing systems are really systems that are organized into existence from *without*, as a convection cell is organized into existence by its environment, albeit with apparent spontaneity and unpredictability. Once in existence, there is no conceptual problem with the entity’s continually organizing itself through self-regulating, homeostatic, or other mechanisms that involve, say, taking in energy from the environment, utilizing it and expelling waste products. But that it could organize its entry into the world in the *first* place looks like as good a case of metaphysical impossibility as one is likely to get.

    Oderberg converges with the brute honesty of Rosenberg, Harris, Jabr, and others – and they are just too intellectually honest for the average Naturalist to face, and, so, the less sophisticated Naturalists appeal to a kind of “magic” to traverse the gap of ontological non-entity (Man, Alive, Self, Life, and so on) sort of “magically” organizing itself into existence. Such is an absurdity as “…..a true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes.” That pesky metaphysical impossibility described by Oderberg carries the Naturalist to his final unintelligibility.

    Emergent-ism (supposedly) comes to save the Naturalist:

    There is a reason so many Non-Theistic biologists are moving away from the ever more troubling assertions of what is, of late, the clearly too simplistic arena of natural selection’s reductionism and towards, of late, emergent-ism. The former “gene x mutates – gene x gets selected” brand of reductionism is becoming all too often nothing more than a sort of “evolution of the gaps” and hence the need for something more robust is fueling this shift. Lennox, in his book, “7 Days that Divide the World” comments:

    Robert G. Reid has added to the question marks over natural selection in his comprehensive work Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment, of which a reviewer, Christopher Rose, wrote, “Reid argues convincingly that the selectionist paradigm is a conceptual dead end for understanding innovation since it mistakenly views natural selection as a creative force in evolution.” Reid is well aware of the risks of his undertaking: “Since neo-Darwinists are also hypersensitive to creationism, they treat any criticism of the current paradigm as a breach of the scientific worldview that will admit the fundamentalist hordes. Consequently, questions about how selection theory can claim to be the all-sufficient explanation of evolution go unanswered or ignored.” He then details substantial evidence that natural selection cannot bear the weight that is often put upon it…….. This does not of course mean that the scientists quoted above have given up on the naturalist paradigm. It does mean, though, that there is a shift away from simplistic reductionism to “emergentist” explanations that raise even more sharply the question of the input of information from an intelligent source and make the a priori exclusion of such input appear all the more arbitrary. For “emergence” is turning out to be another slippery term that can mask a number of hidden assumptions.

    Lennox then quotes Christopher Rose further on matters of simple biology – never mind the metaphysical impossibility (per naturalism) of creating from non-entity:

    On the upside, evolutionary biology needs to be pushed beyond reductionist/ gene-centric explanations for properties like multi-cellularity, body plans, behavioral flexibility, self-maintenance, homology and human intelligence. The important events in life’s history clearly involved causal factors at numerous levels of organization, none of which have inherent priority over the others. On the downside, emergentism will undoubtedly increase the challenges of teaching evolution theory and convincing the public (and ourselves) that biologists know what we are talking about.

    As David Bentley Hart notes, and which more and more Atheists are conceding of late (forced by logic’s demand for lucidity), the magic of emergent-ism cannot help the Naturalist find “Man” of any kind, nor “Alive” of any kind, nor “Life” of any kind, as there is no such thing as magic:

    A true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes. Unless, then, one is positing the existence of proto-conscious material elements, particles of intentionality and awareness that are in some inconceivable way already rational and subjective, and that can add up to the unified perspective of a single conscious subject (which seems a quite fantastic notion), one is really just talking about some marvelously inexplicable transition from the undirected, mindless causality of mechanistic matter to the intentional unity of consciousness. Talk of emergence in purely physical terms, then, really does not seem conspicuously better than talk of magic.

  207. scbrownlhrm

    As a reminder, none of this, however it turns out inside of physicality/time, challenges the Christian’s a priori of Dirt-To-Man. The Christian’s metaphysical truth claims upon reality cohere with, converge with, the physical sciences. That is why the attempts by this thread’s interlocutors to force Theistic epistemology to dance to Materialistic ontology have simply failed. That is to say, Dirt-To-Man is fine for Theism as Scripture affirms such – regardless of what the physical facts turn out to be in said process. The reason the word “regardless” is permissible there will be completely missed by our Atheist friends as they believe that, oh, say, “DNA = Man” and think the Theist also believes such and just fails to grasp – and employ – higher thinking in the business of immanent causation, final causes, essence vs. property, act vs. potency – and so on – as such comprise the contours of the Christian’s far wider metaphysical canopy which logically – casually – subsumes the narrower, thinner slices of contingency which we observe within our physical sciences.

    The Materialist’s seamless continuum of particles in motion is, as Melissa noted, forever the pesky foe of his own attempts at such metaphysical accounting. In pushing the Physicalist further amid the Theist’s sole intellectual right to immanent causation (and so on) we leave him (the Physicalist) behind, empty handed, without anything that can be called “Alive”. As alluded to earlier, all the Materialist has is his own…..

    “……arbitrary cutting points in a seamless continuum of particles in motion. In that case there really is nothing to discuss, science becomes a mass delusion, in fact everything we think about is not an actual thing in the first place……human distinction [in that sense] does not correspond to something in reality. Therefore when we define a person as a “human being at a particular stage of maturity”, the particular stage we pick is arbitrary because there is no actual substance “person” to be wrong about.”

    Exactly what, then, is the Naturalist talking of when he asks the Theist, “Ape to Man? How? What did that look like?” What “line” is he traversing there in his own ontology as he attempts to get “it” to reconcile with the Theist’s ontology? The Naturalist – just in asking the question – reveals his own unawareness of the problems he faces.

    Sadly the Naturalist is – throughout every syllable of the question posed – unbeknownst to him – shouting into the air questions dealing with nothing more than pure artifact as within his (the Naturalist’s) paradigm he finds that immanent causation, final causes, the principle of sufficient causality, and other such contours necessary to rise above pure artifact, simply collapse into unintelligibility given his means and given his ends.

    His inability to metaphysically locate neither Life nor Man (and so on) finally forces – at some ontological seam somewhere – the very objects of this entire conversation – Man (on the one hand) and “Alive” (on the other hand) – to suffer the same unfortunate elimination which the scientism he is using to study said objects also suffers.

    Our Atheist friends, it is clear enough, have not earned the intellectual right to ask of the Theist, “Ape to Man? When Man? How? What did that look like”? as those very questions themselves are – within the Naturalist’s own paradigm – unintelligible.

    That brings us to an opening, to a door, and as we look through it we begin to realize just why it is that the question at hand is not, and never has been, “When Man?” and it is not, and never has been,“When Life?” Rather the question is “What Life?” and the question is “What Man?” Never mind the philosophy of mind – that’s not even on the table and yet the Physicalist is left with pure artifact as his inescapable reduction carries him into the final throws of elimination and we find that “life” itself – “Alive” itself – “Man” *it*-self are, all, non-entity. Indeed, it is inescapable: “…..a true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes.”

    It is that, or else, it is this:

    The affairs of Alive, and Man, and Ape, and Tree, and…… and…. and the whole show is what the Physicalist just cannot endure: in the state of affairs that is this universe life turns out to be – in *kind* – an unavoidable (brute) fact. “Aristotle on Method and Metaphysics (Philosophers in Depth)” finds its 11th chapter titled, Synthetic Life and the Bruteness of Immanent Causation. It is by David Oderberg and the attached PDF link is 20 pages of reading that is a bit heavy, but worth the time. Abiogenesis, it turns out, fails to grant the Naturalist the intellectual right to assert either Alive or to assert Man for it (abiogenesis) necessarily entails the non-existence of the very object claimed to exist. The magic of emergentism just fails – because there is no such thing as magic. The conclusion is interesting:

    On the present analysis, the existence of life comes out as a brute fact about the universe, relative at least to any abiogenetic naturalistic explanation. This will seem less palatable to many than the brute existence of information defended by Davies, but unpalatability in both cases is irrelevant to truth. The question then becomes one of whether life had an origin at all. If the universe is eternal, life also had no temporal beginning. If the universe had a beginning, then life came into existence at that beginning, and since the Big Bang model seems to exclude this, then some other cosmogony is needed. For most theists, at least those who consider God to be a literal creator, both of these possibilities leave room for, and arguably mandate, the existence of an ultimate cause of the universe and all that is in it, life included. If the universe began in time, but life appeared sometime after that origin, but not through abiogenesis, then a theistic explanation looks like the only option. This latter is what most theists have believed throughout history, and I am content to count myself among them. To demonstrate that they have not all been victims of collective delusion, however, is another matter for another time.

    In a peculiar twist of metaphysical necessities it turns out that the oh-so-simple phrase of “life from life” means far, far more than the Philosophical Naturalist can ever hope to shoulder. In his unsophisticated way he thinks, here, that we speak of abiogenesis when we say “life from life” – and he is mistaken because “life” in that sense is still non-entity. Rather, the Christian – the intellectually honest – and Atheists such as Rosenberg, Harris, Jabr, and more of late, refer there to something far, far more rigorous than that.

    It’s a bit amusing but Man’s Mind in the lab building cells not only makes the problem of immanent causation all the more scientifically demonstrable – verifiable – but also taints the Materialist’s entire backdrop – both epistemic and ontic – with pesky tentacles of this or that level of Mind atop Matter – which he can never safely break free of. In more modes than one, in a peculiar twist of metaphysical necessities, it turns out that the oh-so-simple phrase of “life from life” means far, far more than the Philosophical Naturalist initially conceived.

    As we’ve seen in this thread, the available lenses of Materialism (on the one hand) and the lenses of the Christian’s metaphysical penumbra (on the other hand) are constantly bringing us to the following intersection noted earlier between Simon and Melissa:

    All facts require interpretation, you are interpreting through the lens of your worldview and I through mine. I’ll remind you that you are trying to show a contradiction in my worldview, the fact that it might contradict yours is hardly surprising.

    Debilis described that same intersection elsewhere, alluding in part to the nihilism of, not science, but scientism:

    And that is part of a running theme here. As with my argument from moral truth, and my refutation of the argument for materialism, one simply can’t cram these kinds of questions into a scientific model. The entire point of what the theist is saying is that there are things which don’t fit that model. One is free to disagree, but it makes no sense to argue against the truth of those claims by pointing out that science doesn’t find them. Of course it doesn’t, that’s the theists point. The debate is over whether or not science gives us an exhaustive picture of all reality.

    “When did Ape become Man? How? What did that look like?” What unsophisticated questions which are themselves unanswerable by the Naturalist as we cannot ever know what the Naturalist means when he says “Man”, nor can he ever tell us, just as we can never know what the Naturalist means when he says “Alive”, nor can he ever tell us, just as we can never know what the Naturalistmeans when he says “Tree”, nor can he ever tell us, for such artifacts – it turns out – only fictitiously phosphoresce.

    Our Atheist friends are a million miles away from earning the intellectual right to think that they can assert that Theistic epistemology must dance to Materialistic ontology. In fact, given his own epistemology – all the weight of the intellectually rigorous is actually in the reverse direction – on pain of his own unintelligibility.

    Lennox comments on the views through our categorically different lenses:

    Suppose that scientists manage one day to produce life in the laboratory from nonliving chemicals — as many believe they will, in light of Craig Venter’s construction of a synthetic bacterium using a genome contained in a computer program. Suppose, further, that this life thrives and establishes itself as a new species, Species X, say. Now imagine that all scientific records of this are lost, and in the far distant future scientists come across Species X. If neo-Darwinism is still the reigning paradigm, these scientists will inevitably argue that Species X is related to all other life by an uninterrupted naturalistic evolutionary process. They will be wrong, will they not? The relationship of Species X to other species involves a special and discrete input of information by intelligence. What is more, that intervention of human intelligence is, by definition, invisible to neo-Darwinism — just as invisible as is the special creation of humans by God to neo-Darwinism today. But neo-Darwinism is not the only pair of glasses on the market.

  208. GrahamH

    The Christian’s metaphysical truth claims upon reality cohere with, converge with, the physical sciences.

    That’s pretty funny to me, given that leads to things like:

    – Christian says we have a soul and survive death, science “says” no evidence of a soul and death is not too hard to imagine (what state were you in before you were born?)
    – Christian says there is supernatural causation, science says nope (Christian can’t demonstrate supernatural causation mind you)
    – Christian says a man can live in the belly of a whale and other miracles, what do you think sciences’ position on this is?
    – Christian says life is evidence of a designer (pretty much an argument from personal credulity), science says “no designer needed”.
    – Some other Christians say the earth is 6000 years old, there was a worldwide flood, there were 2 incestuous beginnings of humans, and all races in the world started from the tower of babel.

    Not really coherent and congruent with science.

    So when we explain physical things we only need to invoke the vocabulary of physical theory. The terms of Aristotelian metaphysics, like “form”, “essence or “prime matter”, etc. add nothing to our understanding and have no explanatory role to play. They are tired old manufactured notions, but otherwise required to support a predetermined argument and protect a cherished conclusion.

    The terms of Aristotelian physics and metaphysics are like other outmoded terms in science. Mendel spoke of “factors;” we now talk of “genes.” Physicists once thought that we need to invoke the luminiferous ether to explain light. Special relativity dispensed with that need. As our understanding of reality progresses through science, terms that were once thought necessary become redundant. Such is the fate of the terms of Aristotelian science and metaphysics.

    We rely upon physics to give us our information about the physical world. Prima facie it is the method that has the track record of delivering the goods. Yet there is nothing about it that indicates a deficiency that can only be filled by something supernatural. There is no conspicuous failure of physics to account for something essential, such that supernatural support need be invoked.

    And its superiority over the supernatural is stunning. When we explain things, we should use things we can rely on. Using supernatural to explain things is manifestly unreliable and inadequate – because the supernatural and supernatural causation can not be demonstrated, and it is also defined and conceived in wildly different ways. It is basically not an explanation at all.

    Science has the effect of converging on the truth. Theistic claims has the effect of creating a wild divergence of claims, even within Christendom, with no evidence to arbiter those claims.

    However, you are more than welcome to believe whatever fanciful metaphysics you wish. It is a little off topic, but there should be a good forum post to thrash out metaphysics because I think it is key. We’ll always be in disagreement otherwise.

  209. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    Your affinity for scientism and straw men aside, your content further affirms the conceptual poverty of Atheists (and some Christians) underscored by DBH.

  210. BillT

    We rely upon physics to give us our information about the physical world.

    Yet, your initial list of “conflicts” doesn’t include any “information about the physical world.” (Souls, supernatural causation, miracles, design, and bad biblical interpretation.)

    Yet there is nothing about it that indicates a deficiency that can only be filled by something supernatural.

    Another fact that doesn’t include any information about the physical world. (More supernatural causation.)

    So, if I understand you, science doesn’t give you any information about things that fall outside it’s purview. Shocking.

  211. GrahamH

    scbrownlhrm:

    Your conclusion has no premises supporting it.

    BillT:

    You are asking if “science doesn’t give you any information about things that fall outside it’s purview”? Sure. You shocked by that?

  212. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    The conclusion that your content echoes the conceptual poverty underscored by DBH is supported by your content’s content. It’s demonstrable. That you cannot see it is simply because you hold an uncritically examined metaphysics. It’s uncritical because it is very probable that it is in part unconscious.

    Aside from your obvious affinity for scientism and straw men we find your content to be a simple echo of the New Atheists, and hence said content is of no interest to the sort of intellectual rigor which the Theist demands – as underscored by DBH.

    If nothing is outside of the purview of the physical sciences – then scientism.

    You’re welcome to that sort of incoherence if you like it. We’re just not that impressed by it – proximally it is embarrassingly circular and it simply becomes unintelligible distally.

    From TLS:

    “Part of the problem with [GH’s] Dawkins’s criticisms of [the non-physical] Aquinas, then (and of the other New Atheists’ criticisms of certain other religious arguments), is that they fail to understand the difference between a scientific hypothesis and an attempted metaphysical demonstration, and illegitimately judge the latter as if it were the former. Of course, they might respond by claiming that scientific reasoning, and maybe mathematical reasoning too, are the only legitimate kinds, and seek thereby to rule out metaphysical arguments from the get go. But there are two problems with this view (which is known as “scientism” or “positivism”). First, if they want to take this position, they’ll need to defend it and not simply assert it; otherwise they’ll be begging the question against their opponents and indulging in just the sort of dogmatism they claim to oppose. Second, the moment they attempt to defend it, they will have effectively refuted it, for scientism or positivism is itself a metaphysical position that could only be justified using metaphysical arguments. Of its very nature, scientific investigation takes for granted such assumptions as that: there is a physical world existing independently of our minds; this world is characterized by various objective patterns and regularities; our senses are at least partially reliable sources of information about this world; there are objective laws of logic and mathematics that apply to the objective world outside our minds; our cognitive powers – of concept-formation, reasoning from premises to a conclusion, and so forth – afford us a grasp of these laws and can reliably take us from evidence derived from the senses to conclusions about the physical world; the language we use can adequately express truths about these laws and about the external world; and so on and on. Every one of these claims embodies a metaphysical assumption, and science, since its very method presupposes them, could not possibly defend them without arguing in a circle. Their defense is instead a task for metaphysics, and for philosophy more generally; and scientism is shown thereby to be incoherent. As the philosopher and historian of science E.A. Burtt stated in his classic, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science,

    “…even the attempt to escape metaphysics is no sooner put in the form of a proposition than it is seen to involve highly significant metaphysical postulates. For this reason there is an exceedingly subtle and insidious danger in positivism. If you cannot avoid metaphysics, what kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination? Of course it goes without saying that in this case your metaphysics will be held uncritically because it is unconscious; moreover, it will be passed on to others far more readily than your other notions inasmuch as it will be propagated by insinuation rather than by direct argument. . . . Now the history of mind reveals pretty clearly that the thinker who decries metaphysics . . . if he be a man engaged in any important inquiry, he must have a method, and he will be under a strong and constant temptation to make a metaphysics out of his method, that is, to suppose the universe ultimately of such a sort that his method must be appropriate and successful. . . . But inasmuch as the positivist mind has failed to school itself in careful metaphysical thinking, its ventures at such points will be apt to appear pitiful, inadequate, or even fantastic.”

  213. GrahamH

    scbrownlhrm

    If nothing is outside of the purview of the physical sciences – then scientism

    No. Ironic you are quick to accuse others of strawman. Read again carefully…

    science doesn’t give you any information about things that fall outside it’s purview

    Science has a framework (its “purview”). It is like a Judge in a courtroom. If someone says their defence is “the devil made me do it”, the Judge dismisses that defence regardless of their personal beliefs. They are a jurist within a defined framework. Scientists are the same. They don’t explain things by miracles.

    Theists makes claims that conflict with science for the reasons I explained, and also due to them not being able to demonstrate the things they claim, including supernatural or supernatural causation. You can conjure up a nice metaphysical framework – no argument there, I am more interested in the justification for it.

    Feser again? I have read TLS and enough A-T stuff. It’s like I don’t need to read anymore on astrology to know it is not worth any further thought or action. Until the metaphysics can be justified without making things up (like essences, form, pure actuality, necessary being, etc..) – I see it as extremely unconvincing. It has been well manufactured to secure those who want to rationalise a pre-held position, but not much to offer in rationally building up a case.

    Take “necessary being”. How would anyone know if such a thing exists? The only beings we know of are contingent. The only necessary things we know of are causally impotent (like numbers). Putting the two together is just imagination unless some good reason can be given to think it actually exists. And a lame armchair argument doesn’t cut – an argument needs evidence to support it.

    Also, where is the evidence for supernatural causation?

  214. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    It’s nice to see that you’ve dispensed with scientism, that you in fact agree with the Theist that science cannot give us an exhaustive picture of reality.

    It’s a pleasant surprise.

  215. SteveK

    “It has been well manufactured to secure those who want to rationalise a pre-held position, but not much to offer in rationally building up a case.”

    Excuse me, but are you really this simple minded? And here below you demonstrate the ABC’s of contradicting and arguing with yourself.

    A) “Take “necessary being”. How would anyone know if such a thing exists?

    B) “The only necessary things we know of are causally impotent (like numbers).”

    C) “And a lame armchair argument doesn’t cut – an argument needs evidence to support it.”

  216. BillT

    You are asking if “science doesn’t give you any information about things that fall outside it’s purview”? Sure. You shocked by that?

    Graham H,

    No. As my post described, you listed a bunch of “conflicts” that fall outside of science’s purview and then complained that science didn’t tell you anything about them. You really couldn’t have missed that could you have?

    That’s why I said “your initial list of “conflicts” doesn’t include any “information about the physical world. (Souls, supernatural causation, miracles, design, and bad biblical interpretation.)”

    It seems you are making the very obvious mistake that science is the only way we can know anything. You state “Science has a framework (its “purview”). It is like a Judge in a courtroom. No, it isn’t like a judge in a courtroom. It’s a method for discovering things about physical world. None of your “conflicts” have anything to do with the physical world as I already noted.

  217. GrahamH

    BillT

    I agree science has a purview or boundaries around its implied metaphysics. It looks at the physical properties within the universe.

    If someone asked the question “what created the universe” (including all things if there are multiverses etc) – that is not a coherent question for science. It may not be a coherent question full stop, but that is not the point here. Nor is this evidence (nor even remotely implied) of the supernatural as traditionally concieved by theists.

    So we may agree with that boundary. But the conflicts I mentioned earlier tresspass into territory science can answer. If someone claimed that a man had lived in the belly of a whale for an extended period of time, knowledge from science would reject this claim. We know the properties of humans, whales, oceans etc; and what conditions are required for living so we have very good reasons for rejecting the claim on that basis.

    The claims of miracles undermine science, because it means there are these capricious supernatural events interfering with the regularities of nature. But there is no evidence of that interference.

    So then people making those claims have come up with very good reasons to demonstrate the supernatural and supernatural causation.

  218. GrahamH

    SteveK

    I’ll put it this way to get to the essence of the issue: The only beings I know of are contingent (like humans); the only necessary things I know of are causally impotent (like numbers); therefore I have no reason to believe there are necessary beings that have causal power.

    So that’s how I don’t believe in necessary beings with causal power. But I am happy to be shown otherwise as I admit I don’t know everything. And if a claim offered as explanation included the supernatural or supernatural causation, those things would need to be demonstrated before it is accepted as a bona fide explanation. Simply offering them as an explanation is not evidence of their truth.

  219. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    You again affirm DBH’s underscoring of the conceptual poverty of Atheism in your misguided claim that the Christian term “miracle” equates to an event which is “un”-natural, that “interferes” with nature. By your comical and conceptually impoverished definition a savage would *RIGHTLY* consider trauma surgeons as supernatural agents somehow “violating” or doing violence to “nature”.

    But the Christian knows what you and the savage don’t – there is nothing “un”-natural in any of it.

    That you can’t even see where you’re far, far afield is evidence of the underscored conceptual poverty.

  220. SteveK

    Graham,
    If all necessary beings are causally impotent, how did contingent beings come to exist?

  221. G. Rodrigues

    @GrahamH:

    Theists makes claims that conflict with science for the reasons I explained, and also due to them not being able to demonstrate the things they claim, including supernatural or supernatural causation.

    And then you have the sheer chutzpah of accusing scbrownlhrm of “No. Ironic you are quick to accuse others of strawman. Read again carefully…”, when, for whatever faults he may have, he diagnosed you accurately in one word: scientism. That you yourself cannot recognize it is just a token sign of your ignorance, of both metaphysics and science.

  222. BillT

    But the conflicts I mentioned earlier tresspass into territory science can answer.

    No, they don’t. Souls, supernatural causation, miracles, design, and bad biblical interpretation are not within science’s purview. And for you to choose miracles to illustrate you point proves exactly the opposite. Graham, they call them miracles specifically because they are “capricious supernatural events interfering with the regularities of nature.” And the fact that “there is no evidence of that interference.” is, of course, just what one would expect. That’s why they’re called miracles!

  223. GrahamH

    BillT

    Not really my point. We have good reasons to reject those claims on the basis of science unless, like I said earlier, people making those miracle claims come up with very good reasons to demonstrate them. Otherwise they are just fanciful renderings of the imagination and not worth any further thought.

    Also like I said earlier, it is one thing to claim the supernatural as a cause (and give it a definition and a name – like miracles) – that’s all great. And you can certainly define it in a way that tries to dodge science. But what I am interested in is what are the good reasons and evidence that the miracles actually occur? If there are none, it does not dodge science, because we would then not accept a claim like a person can live in the belly of a whale. Or no rational person would.

    Back in 232 I asked “where is the evidence for supernatural causation”? No answer offered.

  224. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    You remind us of another commentator here who asserted, wrongly, that “miracle” equates to “un”-natural, that dead people are never raised back to life, that everyone dies only once, that should any of those happen then such would be a violation of nature and that, given science, they are not possible. Of course, his basis for asserting such was the same conceptual poverty comprising all of your own premises here.

    Ultimately he was verifiably wrong about the word nature, about the word violation, about the prefix “un” in un-natural, about the word raised, about the word miracle, about the word science, about the word dead, and about the word possible.

    Here we have verifiable evidence that scientism – that a rejection of metaphysics – caused him, and is causing you, to misinterpret the nature of reality, to define things based on false premises. Whereas, the Christian’s metaphysics successfully predicted that such events “did” and “can” and “do” and “will” occur given the nature of reality.

    “What kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination?” Well – you certainly have not ended up with an accurate kind of metaphysics – the kind which can afford you the predictive power of Theism – the kind which properly interprets the nature of reality.

    You affirm DBH’s premise and conclusion: The conceptual poverty of Atheism is, in the content of your premises thus far, demonstrable. You and that Savage mentioned earlier are on the same page after all.

  225. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    Since your ability to interpret reality is verifiably flawed in something as basic and simple as the syntax of “X brought Y back to life” here in the real world (your conclusions are in line with the Savage mentioned earlier) and since the Theist’s ability to predict is verifiably more accurate – there is little need in showing you the evidence of reason, science, and metaphysics where causation is concerned.

    Your a priori commitments simply preclude you from allowing such contours into your model of reality. Imaginary Time and other roads to unintelligible fictions are available for you – as is an array of other metaphysical question begging roads vi-a-vis Hawking, Carroll, and others. You seem to like that sort of thing – scientism and all, fictions and all, question begging and all.

    You’re welcome to it.

    We’re just not that impressed with such.

  226. BillT

    Where is the evidence for supernatural causation?

    Graham,

    The evidence for supernatural causation exists but it doesn’t exist in science. Let’s look at one we all know. The Big Bang. Now. as far as I know there is no valid, verifiable scientific evidence for the Big Bang. In fact, many scientists have fought hard against it because they know that the most reasonable explanation for it is supernatural causation. In fact, they’ve invented a whole muliverse theory, that also has no valid, verifiable scientific evidence, just to avoid the obvious implications of the Big Bang. Other miracles, like the ones in the NT for instance, have verifiable historical evidence. Again, there is evidence but not scientific evidence.

  227. GrahamH

    BillT

    You see this is why I ask for evidence (scientific or otherwise) for supernatural causation. Simply saying it is “obvious” the big bang was supernatural causation is not even close to any sort of evidence. And how do we know supernatural causation is even available to be used as an explanation? All the causes we know of are not supernatural.

    I am not really concerned about the type of evidence, scientific or philosophical – it is either good evidence or bad. We know the Big Bang was a massive expansion within a quantum fluctuation. What is beyond that is unknown, not because there is no natural explanation possible, but because we can’t “see” further back than that. It is also not the case that the big bang was creation ex nihilo. Or in other words there was nothing, then something. That may never have even been the case, nor may even make any sense, and there is no evidence to conclude that.

    It is entirely possible the universe has an eternal past – there is no evidence that takes that off the table. It is just we can’t see far enough back to make any conclusions about the state of things or the properties.

    Saying that alone is evidence for supernatural causation makes no sense nor does it come within a whisker of being evidence. Simply being unable to see something is not evidence for the supernatural.

    BTW they did not invent multi-verse to avoid supernatural causation. Scientists build models and test them with new observations. That how we make new findings on reality, like the Higgs Bosun for example. The multi-verse is one model, but because science is intellectually honest, it does not claim knowledge until the evidence supports it. Science has no model that includes supernatural causation, because there is no reliable evidence (of any sort) supernatural causation actually exists.

    I think that really just leaves you with supernatural claims in old texts like the NT, written in an era were the locals were largely illiterate and very superstitious. And the competition for supernatural claims against all ancient mythologies is fierce.

    The word “supernatural” really just means “things there is no reliable evidence for”. If there was reliable evidence (scientific or philosophic) they would be accepted as an explanation of reality.

  228. SteveK

    All the causes we know of are not supernatural.

    Your statement here might, or might not, be related to my question in #239. I’m not sure since you didn’t answer.

    “If all necessary beings are causally impotent, how did contingent beings come to exist?”

  229. SteveK

    If there was reliable evidence (scientific or philosophic) they would be accepted as an explanation of reality.

    What would you consider to be reliable evidence – can you think of a scenario where you’d say “That was supernatural”?

  230. BillT

    Graham,

    If you’re going to respond to me then please respond to what I actually wrote. I never said “it is obvious the big bang was supernatural causation”. I said “that the most reasonable explanation for it is supernatural causation” and it is. You have absolutely no explanation for the Big Bang except a lot of hand waving yet you say I’m the one without evidence. If you believe in a “universal past” then you do. I don’t think that adds to your credibility however. Your attempt to equate the conjecture of the mutiverse with the Higgs Bosun is an apples and elephants comparison. And your belief that the supernatural claims from the NT came from people who “were largely illiterate and very superstitious.” only shows your bias. If they were so illiterate how do we have their written accounts. And the superstitious claim only illustrates your lack of knowledge about the very conservative traditional culture of the ANE.

    If there was reliable evidence (scientific or philosophic) they would be accepted as an explanation of reality.

    Was this meant to be intentionally funny? You do, of course, understand that it is and has been accepted as an explanation of reality by the vast majority of all of the people who have ever lived.

  231. SteveK

    He means accepted by atheists like him. It’s not therefore it’s not accepted as an explanation.

    See how that works, BillT?

  232. BillT

    He means accepted by atheists like him. It’s not therefore it’s not accepted as an explanation.

    See how that works, BillT?

    Please forgive me.

  233. GrahamH

    Guys

    I don’t really think you can expect a reasonable person to accept supernatural claims unless there are good reasons and evidence. I have asked for those good reasons and evidence, but you haven’t offered much. You can make any claim you want, but are you able to demonstrate them?

    SteveK:

    Re: your first question – If the only beings I know of are contingent, a question predicated on beings that are necessary does not make sense.

    Re: your second question – where you ask “what would I consider reliable evidence” for the supernatural? I would respond – “what have you got”. You don’t reverse engineer the evidence to suit. You put whatever evidence you do have on the table to be judged. If you claim the supernatural – what is the evidence?

    BillT
    Why is “the most reasonable explanation for the Big Bang” the supernatural? You have neither shown that, nor explained how the supernatural is even available to be used as an explanation. It is the difference between claiming something, and demonstrating its truth. What your arguing sounds simply like an argument from personal credulity – “I don’t understand, therefore supernatural”.

    And if you think the beliefs of “the vast majority of people that have ever lived” is actual evidence of reality, then I guess you have a very different idea of what constitutes good evidence.

  234. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    It is unfortunate that you reject metaphysical necessities in favor of Scientism or else you might have a clue as to just why it is your definition of “supernatural” sums to the classic case of the Skeptic’s Straw Man.

    That is why you and that Savage mentioned earlier tend to come to the same sort of misguided conclusions about the nature of reality.

    The Savage does this from his ignorance of Science, while you do this from your ignorance of Theism’s actual truth predicates fueling your own straw-man “supernatural” semantics.

    In other news…..

    The committed Naturalists, such as Oppy, Hawking, and a growing crowd of others of late, are pushed by logic to reject the eternal past of this universe – and hence escape the problem by diving into the only option left: Delusion’s Imaginary Time. Such scientifically repeatable affairs are, it seems, not “real”. They are fictions. The alternative is unthinkable.

    The choice to believe that Imaginary Time is (at bottom) The-Real, and that all else – our entire anthology of the scientifically repeatable – is (at bottom) Delusion’s Imagination, is hard evidence which helps us predict what to expect to find in these threads from our Skeptic friends – and what we will find in this thread – eventually – as the Skeptic is forced into a corner and must choose between delusion’s ends and lucidity’s ends.

    The Skeptic will go with delusion’s ends every time.

    Why?

    Because he has settled it in his mind (whatever mind is) that if there truly is a God then it is better to be wrong and delusional and thus find no God than it is to be lucid and correct and find God.

    “Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Peter Boghossian have said they would not consider it conclusive evidence for God if the stars all realigned themselves to say in everyone’s own language, “I am God, believe in me.” Boghossian says, “It could be a delusion.” Dawkins and Boghossian have also said the same thing about the return of Christ, if it happened: not enough evidence.” (Gilson)

    That is what we are dealing with.

    This is only one of many examples – this business that temporal becoming cannot be real (else God) therefore temporal becoming is, at bottom, Delusion’s Imagination.

    Of course the Skeptic has many other options by which to escape into such eliminative ends – to be set free from one’s own mind. Indeed – reduction’s final abolition of logic – final abolition of love – of all that is mind surfaces as the Skeptic’s great emancipator.

    And those options are all, to his eye, more charming than logic and more captivating than love.

    The Atheist/Naturalist has to declare temporal becoming to be (at bottom) a body of delusions given his philosophical commitments – the mountain of evidence against him found in the compendium that is science becomes expendable as said commitments become threatened. But wait…. “commitments become threatened”? What? Whatever “become” means there in the phrase “become threatened” vis-à-vis mind/reasoning is anybody’s guess given the fiction of Time and the fiction of Becoming.

    Scientism – we see before our very eyes (whatever “see” means) – causes the Atheist/Naturalist to, at first, unintentionally misread the nature of reality – as with the nature of things as simple and as basic as the syntax housed in the form of, “X brought Y back to life” within the real world as we actually find it as he, as you GH, defines “miracle” and “supernatural” there in that syntax along the same premises as does that Savage mentioned earlier, and, eventually, it causes him to intentionally dump the anthology of science – the verifiable nature of reality – into the abyss of Delusion’s Imagination.

    And that is where these conversations always “end”.

    There comes a point when the fiction of “reasoning“, when the fiction of mind’s “becoming”, when the fiction of time, when the fiction of temporal becoming, all converge and sum to the period on all sentences.

    That is why you and the Savage tend to come to the same sort of conclusions about the nature of what they are “seeing” in the peculiar and repeatable syntax of “X brought Y back to life” here in the real world – an event which the Christian’s definitions of mind, of body, of life, of death’s contingency upon that which is something other than the body proper (and so on) easily granted him from day one the ability to predict. But the Savage and yourself are each certain that such must be – somehow – doing “violence” to “nature”, each must be somehow “un”-natural and thus you each misread reality. The Savage does this from his ignorance of Science, while you do this from your ignorance of Theism’s actual truth predicates fueling your own straw-man “supernatural” semantics.

    Nice try.

    Too bad you reject metaphysical necessities in favor of Scientism or else you might have a clue as to just why it is your definition of “supernatural” sums to the classic case of the Skeptic’s Straw Man.

    Whereas, the Christian finds that to surrender logic’s lucidity short of the bitter ends, to surrender love’s contours short of the bitter ends – leaves the totality of mankind’s truth predicates finally unintelligible. It is inescapable – the eyes of logic and love are that by which, through which we in fact see.

    In fact, without eyes you need not even bother looking for God – your own a priori of chemistry and culture (Etc.) can only grant you an absurdity which is herself unable to comprehend reality’s constitutional datum into which both logic and love manifestly carry us. Surrender logic or love at any point – and you must surrender both at some “ontic seam” somewhere – and all your truth claims upon reality will painfully – themselves – collapse for one must proceed with reality’s eyes wide open in the real world – if one seeks God. And the Christian has it that it is logic on the one hand love on the other hand which sum to sight.

    This is why the issue here is neither belief nor unbelief – “…at least not in any intellectually important sense…” – but rather the issue is an a priori rejection of traveling with reality’s eyes wide open in the real world – over and above your demand for your own intact a priori of surrendering said eyes in the fumes of what painfully sums to what just does qualify as the metaphysics of this or that flavor of eliminative materialism.

    It is not particle which transposes reality’s constitutional datum, but rather it is the eyes reading said datum which transpose necessity’s beautiful terrain. Volition makes her presence felt as all the stars may align and still it will not be enough for those such as yourself who are eager to sacrifice the contours of reality’s elementary datum which logic’s relentless demand for lucidity joined with love’s final felicity necessarily divulge within consciousness as one spies the Christian God. It is unavoidable – given that volition is involved one simply cannot ask for evidence for what one simply cannot see without eyes – as one simply cannot spy God given such intentional motion towards aborting – at some ontological seam somewhere – the only eyes by which to see – those of logic and love.

  235. scbrownlhrm

    A very simple, basic, and very natural and often repeated occurrence housed in the syntax of “X brought Y back to life” in the real world is one of many such items which affirm DBH’s earlier comment (the first David Hart quote in #225) that the Skeptic argues against things entirely foreign to classical theism – and hence argues against straw man definitions of “God” and of “Supernatural” and of….. and of…… and that he seems entirely unaware that such is the case.

    In the real world:

    The syntax of “X brought Y back to life” is coherent “out of hand”. Physicians do not violate the laws of nature as they morph – inside of Time and Knowledge – the very definition of the word “death”. Infusing molecules and energy, and what have you, into dead bodies violates no “laws” (whatever laws of nature means) – but only serves to morph the definition of death to that which is contingent upon the physician(s) / person(s) ability(s) and not upon the body proper.

    The definition of Death is non-static – ever in flux vis-à-vis the Mind(s) which surround the Body in question.

    It happens every day.

    And the definition keeps changing, fluxing, the reach of said Person(s) around said body ever reaching farther.

    How odd that death itself should turn out to be such a contingent state of affairs where Persons/Minds/Physicians are concerned.

    The Skeptic is left without observational reality, without science, and even without the definition of death in his favor – rather – the only item he has left *IF* he means to reject the syntax of “X brought Y back to life” in any sort of “out of hand” fashion turns out to be his own a priori of what sort(s) of Person(s) exist / what sorts of technical ability(s) said Person(s) bring to the table. Period. Given that the definition of death is clearly, obviously, *not* housed in the body proper, but in the sorts of Person(s) surrounding said body, their capability(s) to infuse molecules, energy – and so on – well then of course it is all very simplified.

    The only key variable left is the sorts of persons involved, as observational reality, science, the ever changing definition of death, and no need to mess with the “laws of nature” (whatever they are supposed to “be”) all affirm the coherence “out of hand” in syntax of the form “X brought Y back to life” in the real world as we actually find it. Given the nature of reality the Christian rationally predicts that said syntax easily obtains inside of nature all the while never doing “violence” to “nature”, never summing to the Skeptic’s straw man definition of “un”-natural.

    The modern Skeptic and the ancient Savage tend to come to the same sort of conclusions about the nature of what they are “seeing” in the peculiar and repeatable syntax of “X brought Y back to life” here in the real world – an event which the Christian’s definitions of mind, of body, of life, of death’s contingency upon that which is something other than the body proper (and so on) easily granted him from day one the ability to predict.

    But the Savage and the Skeptic are each certain that such must be – somehow – doing “violence” to “nature”, each must be somehow “un”-natural and thus each misreads reality.

    The Savage does this from his ignorance of Science, while the Skeptic does this from his ignorance of Theism’s actual truth predicates fueling his own straw-man “supernatural” semantics.

    It is unfortunate that the Skeptic rejects metaphysical necessities in favor of Scientism or else he might have a clue as to just why it is his definition of “supernatural” sums to the classic case of the Skeptic’s Straw Man.

  236. BillT

    Why is “the most reasonable explanation for the Big Bang” the supernatural? You have neither shown that, nor explained how the supernatural is even available to be used as an explanation. It is the difference between claiming something, and demonstrating its truth. What your arguing sounds simply like an argument from personal credulity – “I don’t understand, therefore supernatural”

    How much of the basics do you need explained to you? You certainly couldn’t be unaware of the numerous philosophical/theological arguments to which the reality of the Big Bang acts as confirmation. Aquinas’ Five Ways just for starters and Genesis 1 just for good measure. This has not only been covered here numerous times but is a regular part of this discussion on or in any blog, book or article, secular or religious, that covers this topic. Are you unfamiliar with Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel, also?

    And if you think the beliefs of “the vast majority of people that have ever lived” is actual evidence of reality, then I guess you have a very different idea of what constitutes good evidence.

    And you either have a lot of gall or a very faulty memory to ask this of me after you began this line of discussion by asking me “If there was reliable evidence (scientific or philosophic) they would be accepted as an explanation of reality.” Just who were you referring to when you said “they would be accepted as an explanation of reality” if not people? A herd of cows?

  237. SteveK

    Graham @253
    “Re: your first question – If the only beings I know of are contingent, a question predicated on beings that are necessary does not make sense.”

    Above you said that you DID know about some necessary things. Nevertheless, the basic question remains unchanged – how did these contingent beings come to exist? Let’s see how much you rely on reliable evidence ( scientific or philosophic).

    Regarding my second question, you said you would judge the evidence presented to you. I can get you some evidence to judge but in the meantime I’m asking what your judgement criteria is?

  238. SteveK

    Graham,
    Re: judgement criteria for the supernatural

    Because you use the term so often, I’m confident that you have some idea what “natural” means in terms of a natural explanation so I’m asking you to define that so we can know what would, by definition, fall outside of this.

    For example: if someone said all natural things are physical things then it follows that a non-physical thing would be beyond the natural order – it would be a supernatural thing. I’m not saying this is you, just giving an example.

  239. GrahamH

    scbrownlhrm

    What is your definition of supernatural then, or supernatural causation, and what is the evidence for it?

  240. GrahamH

    BillT

    What is the evidence the Big Bang was creation ex nihilo? And again, where is the evidence supernatural causation is available to us to use as an explanation?

    It is not good enough simply to assert supernatural causation as an explanation, there has to be some evidence that it is available to us to use as an explanation. Otherwise it is just circular reasoning – it is like saying “oh I already have a pre-held belief in the supernatural because I am a Christian, and that type of supernatural fits nicely to explain the Big Bang (if I also assume the Big Bang was creation ex nihilo)”.

    The two obvious flaws is the lack of evidence for both creation ex nihilo of the Big Bang and supernatural causation. Without evidence for those things, you don’t have much I am afraid. If we know the Big Bang was a massive expansion within a quantum fluctuation, that is not creation ex nihilo. Do you have evidence it was creation ex nihilo, or merely assume it?

    In terms of being accepting of reality – the point is a form of intersubjective reason and evidence, backed up largely (but not wholly) on empiricism, converges on the truth of reality. People from all sorts of cultures and religions can be brought together and agree there is a Higgs Boson or similar, and this happens everyday all around the world with large infrastructure projects etc.

    But if you brought everyone from around the world to agree if there was a supernatural, and if so, what is its nature (and upon what basis do we conclude such things) – you would simply not get agreement.

    So supernatural claims has a divergent effect, not only amongst different types of superstition, but also amongst Christians there are mutually exclusive claims on the nature of the supernatural. Due, I think, to the poverty of evidence. Except of course if you can provide good evidence, I would concede the point and be very impressed.

  241. GrahamH

    SteveK

    Yes I said necessary things, not necessary “beings”. I would see ourselves as an example as a being. And I came to exist as a cause of other contingent beings and events. The only necessary things I know of, and can demonstrate, are things like numbers; and they are causally impotent. The only things I am aware of as being causally potent, is other contingent things. If you are heading towards some form of metaphysical necessity, you can put it on the table.

    My general criteria for judging evidence is its ability to be demonstrated within the context of a convincing reason/s.

    But at this stage, when I usually get these kinds of questions, the theist is trying to shift the burden of proof. I am open to the supernatural, I just don’t have good reasons to believe it. But I may well be ignorant. You are invited to put the evidence (and reasons) on the table.

  242. GrahamH

    I asked the original question – Where is the evidence for supernatural causation?

    All I really got was BillT saying it explains Big Bang, but he didn’t say how nor why supernatural causation is available as an explanation. And the miracles in the Bible, but how do we know that is true and all other ancient religious supernatural claims are false. So…

    Where is the evidence for supernatural causation?

  243. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    Supernatural? Logic and love are the only eyes by which to see her – and these your metaphysics cannot retain, as described already.

    Full stop.

    Do you need to hear it again?

    Your own a priori precludes you from seeing the Supernatural.

    Full stop.

    You’ll have to deal with that if you actually want to make progress in understanding the Christian’s actual truth claims on the nature of reality.

    Something as simple and straightforward as X brought Y back to life affirms that Science and Theism converge as God is the most natural entity there is, or ever can be, as the un-derived is necessarily more concrete than the derived. That you expect to be able to measure a kind of material ripple atop the water should God dip His toe into the pond that is the natural (created) order reveals your gross lack of understanding where Christianity is concerned.

    The Supernatural is quite natural as she does not do any “violence” against the laws of nature. It is only your own a priori of Scientism which precludes you from seeing her. As noted earlier you necessarily, unavoidably, reject and annihilate – at some ontological seam somewhere – the only eyes by which to see God – those being the eyes of logic and of love.

    But you metaphysically eliminate – and hence reject – at bottom – both of those eyes. The unfortunate comedy is that, after closing your eyes, or rather after gouging out both logic and love, you then ask to be shown “evidence”.

    SteveK has been leading the horse to water where logic is concerned – but one cannot make the horse drink. Your evasiveness there is revealing. And intellectually uninteresting.

    Even more lackluster of you:

    1) You have not justified your embrace of the past-eternal universe. Those who know more than all of us reject it – but you don’t. Why? Those who know more than all of us seek to eliminate cause, effect, time, and becoming as pure delusion – because the evidence leaves them with that or with something which offends the material order.

    2) Similar to #1, but of a different focus, you have not shown us why it is more rational to believe that all is at bottom a kind of delusion, vis-à-vis Oppy and Hawking and a growing crowd of others who, knowing the science involved better than all of us put together, reject both the past-eternal universe based on the evidence – and God based on the a priori – and so choose instead the only option left – the contours and implications of Delusion’s Imagination.

    3) You demonstrated your own non-understanding of Christian metaphysics several times now as you fallaciously define therein.

    4) You have failed to define what “evidence” looks like on your own terms, as per SteveK’s requests.

    5) Your terms of “supernatural” equate to the same sort of thinking as the Savage on something as basic, and simple, as the syntax of X brought Y back to life which easily obtains within the natural order – which does not do any “violence” against “laws of nature” . As noted, the ancient Savage does this from his ignorance of Science, while you are clearly doing so from your ignorance of Theism’s actual truth predicates.

    6) Your endless perseveration with Bill T reveals yet more of your own misunderstanding, both of “evidence” and of Theism.

    7) You have failed to tell us anything about necessary beings – which you claim exist – but which you cannot define nor inform yourself or others of given your commitment to, not science, but scientism.

    Given 1 – 7 you clearly have to put your own cards on the table if you actually desire any progress here.

    As an aside, there is no need for the Christian to make a case for or against a past-eternal universe.

    That the evidence today just happens to be leading those of the Naturalist’s stripes to move into rejecting the whole anthology of repeatable data on temporal becoming and also into rejecting a past-eternal universe and, thereby, into embracing Delusion’s Imagination as The-Real just happens to be the current state of affairs – but it can go either way as far as the Christian’s metaphysics is concerned. It seems, based on your comments with Bill T, that you don’t understand how that can possibly be the case for the Christian’s metaphysical claims – but that is because your definition of “evidence” and of “supernatural” and of “knowledge” are all misguided vis-à-vis your scientism.

    That Naturalists are willing to reject both logic and temporal becoming (at bottom) is touched on here in this thread not to make a case for or against the past-eternal universe, for such can go either way as far as the Theist is concerned, but, rather, merely to show by the Skeptic’s own example the actions we have come to expect from the committed Naturalist when his own logic and his own evidence and his own science are all telling him he must choose between Delusion’s Imagination (on the one hand) and something which may offend the material order (on the other hand).

    That is not important to the Christian – it is only relevant to make a comment about the materialist’s mode of reasoning – because he *is* a materialist. The temporal becoming of his reason-ing in all of that is, of course, nonsense.

    For the Christian it does not matter either way. “Even if it turned out to be a universe without a temporal beginning, even if it is a four-dimensional block universe…… whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be….” such does not and in fact cannot offend the ontology housed within the metaphysics of the Christian’s truth claims.

    You may want to take care to avoid getting *too* excited about either the Ya nor the Na on the past-eternal universe – as the Theist is happy with either one.

    Supernatural? Logic and love are the only eyes by which to see her – and these your metaphysics cannot retain. You therefore think about the nature of reality along the same misguided lines of the ancient Savage as you both conclude that, given the nature of reality, X brought Y back to life is a syntax which cannot obtain in the natural order of things unless it first does “violence” against the “laws of nature” – for such syntax just has to be “un”-natural. But Theism and Science have left the ancient Savage – and hence your own definitions – behind long, long ago.

    Hence Science and Theism converge as God is the most natural entity there is, or ever can be, as the un-derived is necessarily more concrete than the derived. Again – that you expect to be able to measure a kind of material ripple atop the water should God dip His toe into the pond that is the natural (created) order reveals your gross lack of understanding where Christianity is concerned.

    The Christian has always known that the syntax of X brought Y back to life is all very natural and does not do any violence against the “laws of nature” – and hence the Christian’s definitions of mind, of body, of life, of death’s definitional contingency upon that which is something other than the body proper (and so on) have easily granted him from day one the ability to predict and even expect such occurrences inside of the created order.

    That is why both the Hebrew and the Christian got it right – all those millennia ago.

  244. BillT

    Graham,

    The two obvious flaws (for your position) is the lack of evidence for both creation (in some other way outside of creation) ex nihilo of the Big Bang and (evidence for creation without) supernatural causation. Without evidence for those things, you don’t have much I am afraid. If we know the Big Bang was a massive expansion within a quantum fluctuation, (how do you explain it if ) is not creation ex nihilo. Do you have evidence (for what) it was (other than) creation ex nihilo, or merely assume it?

  245. SteveK

    Graham
    If you want evidence don’t hide the proverbial goalposts. Tell us what would convince you rather than make us repeatedly attempt to ‘kick a goal’ only for you to tell us we’ve missed again.

  246. scbrownlhrm

    Shifting goalposts?

    Well of course.

    However – the ultimate hedge will always arrive by way of this or that equivocation saturated with the rising tide of the ultimate sterilizer:

    Yes, yes but for all we know….. yes you see… an illusion perhaps…… but for all we know….. Oh dear…. for all we know…. -tis but an illusion….. yes yes…. for all we know….”

    Such a sonnet intones – stealthily at first – a clever melody which the Skeptic’s ears cannot resist – then louder – a raging tirade at the last – and then the water breaks – the womb delivering her long awaited messiah as the abolition of logic arrives – ingrown and twisted into the abolition of mind – the unintelligible is born and the universal solvent of the Great Abolitionist surfaces as the Skeptic’s great Emancipator – granting him his liberation both from his own mind and from logic’s obstinate demands for lucidity.

    Such freedom emerges as pinning the Skeptic down on any foci of knowledge becomes a futile case for there is no contour of reality which will fail to finally melt away – awash in the Emancipator’s universal solvent.

    But then, all of this was predicted in a comment from Sept. 18th 6:41 AM with:

    …..And that is where these conversations always “end”…..”

    It’s a tired tale told by a poor player fretting upon the stage ~ The Skeptic enters – stage right – and claims an uncanny metaphysic retaining nether logic nor love, the eyes of Man eagerly traded for a song, and then – having happily surrendered all that sums in sight – stumbling in the dark – pleads that “evidence” be placed in front of his absent eyes that he may take a look and – he promises – if only it shall please his penchant, well then, he shall not hesitate one nanosecond to turn about within his vanished mind.

    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing ~~~

  247. Melissa

    Graham H.,

    Feser again? I have read TLS and enough A-T stuff. It’s like I don’t need to read anymore on astrology to know it is not worth any further thought or action. Until the metaphysics can be justified without making things up (like essences, form, pure actuality, necessary being, etc..) – I see it as extremely unconvincing. It has been well manufactured to secure those who want to rationalise a pre-held position, but not much to offer in rationally building up a case.

    If you had read enough you would know the problems Aristotle was addressing by proposing the potential/actual distinction, the concept of form, why he argued that there must be an unmoved mover, so to claim that he was just making things up without any justification and trying to rationalise a pre-held position is obviously false. If you have an actual logical or evidentiary problem with the argument then that is a different matter, but all you’ve offered here is personal prejudice.

    It seems that one of the stories you tell yourself is that the only people who find them convincing are those who already believe. I hope you can see why this particular story is contradicted by the evidence. There are many, many people who become Christian from other religions, from no religion and from atheism. I myself went from a none to a Christian while studying my undergraduate science degree. Feser himself was an atheist for 10 years as an adult. You might be interested in his road from atheism: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/road-from-atheism.html?m=1

    If it’s too long you might want to note this:

    Why not? Because to read something is not necessarily to understand it. Partly, of course, because when you’re young, you always understand less than you think you do. But mainly because, to understand someone, it’s not enough to sit there tapping your foot while he talks. You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth. And when you’re a young man who thinks he’s got the religious question all figured out, you’re in little mood to listen — especially if you’ve fallen in love with one side of the question, the side that’s new and sexy because it’s not what you grew up believing. Zeal of the deconverted, and all that.

    You’re pretty much just going through the motions at that point. And if, while in that mindset, what you’re reading from the other side are seemingly archaic works, written in a forbidding jargon, presenting arguments and ideas no one defends anymore (or at least no one in the “mainstream”), your understanding is bound to be superficial and inaccurate. You’ll take whatever happens to strike you as the main themes, read into them what you’re familiar with from modern writers, and ignore the unfamiliar bits as irrelevant. “This part sounds like what Leibniz or Plantinga says, but Hume and Mackie already showed what’s wrong with that; I don’t even know what the hell this other part means, but no one today seems to be saying that sort of thing anyway, so who cares…” Read it, read into it, dismiss it, move on. How far can you go wrong?

    My point is that you clearly have not grasped the arguments, you’ve shown no intention of grasping the arguments and for this reason, to attempt to satisfy you demand for evidence that is convincing to you is a waste of everyone’s time.

  248. G. Rodrigues

    @Melissa:

    My point is that you clearly have not grasped the arguments, you’ve shown no intention of grasping the arguments and for this reason, to attempt to satisfy you demand for evidence that is convincing to you is a waste of everyone’s time.

    The expression “convincing to you” is quite accurate and revealing. For what GrahamH is asking is not evidence, but rather evidence that satisfies a subjective ad hoc standard all his own. This allows him to ask the impossible and or shift the goalposts.

    His demand for evidence is hollow, a mere rhetorical ploy. No serious intellectual work is involved, but he can always pass up — to himself if not to others — as an eminently reasonable, rational person.

  249. SteveK

    I recommend the “convince them” attitude that Feser wrote about.

    Naturally, I had already long been aware of this sort of argument. The difference was that when I had first thought about it years before I was approaching it as someone who had had a religious background and wanted to see whether there was any argument for God’s existence that was really persuasive……But now I was approaching it as a naturalist who was trying to give my students a reason to see the argument as something at least worth thinking about for a class period or two. I was playing defense attorney rather than prosecution, but a defense attorney with the confidence of someone who didn’t have a stake in his client’s acquittal. Already being a confirmed naturalist, I could be dispassionate rather than argumentative, and could treat the whole thing as a philosophical exercise.

  250. GrahamH

    Big on making claims, but when it comes to the rather reasonable question of “show me the evidence” – oh, how dare I. There are claims I shift goalposts (um…where’s that?), I am not open to the evidence (um…how so), and the old conceited A-T response that I have made little attempt to understand their ancient sophisticated arguments (without actually presenting any).

    Why get all uppity and peeved when someone says “where is the evidence of supernatural causation”? Why not cheerfully say “here you go dude” – if there was any.

  251. GrahamH

    BillT

    The onus is on you if you say the universe was created ex nihilo and by supernatural causes.

    Creation ex nihilo does not win by default, nor is it the default position, nor is it the scientific consensus. If you are making a positive claim that is what occurred, you have to demonstrate it.

    Same with supernatural causation. If you are using it, upon what basis do we know it is a type of causation available to explain things? How do you show supernatural causation is true?

    You see, it is the difference between claiming things, and demonstrating their truth.

  252. scbrownlhrm

    GH,

    Since your metaphysical treatments all ultimately eliminate the Self, and Logic, and Love, and Reasoning, all that is presented to you will likewise suffer the same incoherent pains of the same incoherent elimination.

    That you don’t even realize this about yourself is revealing.

    No one is obligated to dance to your eliminative tunes.

    And why would we?

    After all, it’s satisfying enough to simply point out how your sort of truth claims actually amount to self-negating means carrying you to unintelligible ends.

    -Tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  253. scbrownlhrm

    BillT,

    You’re right. GH can’t demonstrate proof of natural past eternal material causation and misses your point about that double edged sword. Time is a funny entity, and the ancient Hebrew’s theology of Timelessness seems inevitable.

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