Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Michael Egnor Answers the Questions

 
I treid to answer Michael Egnor's questions as best I could [A Quiz for Atheists from a Creationist]. Now Egnor has answered his own questions at: What I Really Believe.1

Some Sandwalk readers will be delighted to discover that Egnor refers to Aristotle in support of his beliefs, proving that Aristotle is good for something!

Most Sandwalk readers will be interested in this ...
That's what I believe. Note that these beliefs are entirely compatible with modern science; in fact, classical philosophy and classical theism is the source for modern science, which only originated in civilizations that embraced this classical view of the world. Some enlightenment philosophers moved away from some aspects of classical philosophy (e.g. final causes), but classical philosopohy and classical theism remain the foundation of Western Civilization and of modern science.
Many of you are modern scientists. How many think that classical theism is important in your work? How about classical philosophy?

Really? No one thinks that? Where do the IDiots come up with these ideas?

More and more scientists, philosophers, and theists are recognizing that science and theism are incompatible. That sort of makes it hard to claim that classical theism remains the foundation of modern science, doesn't it?


1. Comments aren't allowed on Evolution News & Views so you can leave comments for Michael here.

30 comments :

  1. There's a huge hole between "foundation of" and "still used" and Egnor drove right through it.

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  2. "living things have a soul, which bears the same relationship to the body that form bears to matter."

    OK, form is matter's spatial and temporal extant, so we're supposed to believe then that the soul is just the body's spatial and temporal extent? If so, I don't see why the soul is remarkable. If not, I have no clue what this word salad was intended to mean.

    "Plants have a vegetative soul, which mediates growth, reproduction, nourishment, etc. Animals have a sensitive soul, which mediates sensation, locomotion, memory etc, in addition to the powers of the vegetative soul. "

    So why do plants have "vegetative souls" that mediate growth, reproduction and nourishment, but rocks don't have "lithic souls" that mediate sedimentation and metamorphosis? Because rocks aren't "alive?" Aside from that being the trivial answer, is vitalism really making a comeback in the biological sciences?


    "Humans have a rational soul, which has will, intellect, reason, etc, in addition to the properties of the sensitive/vegetative soul. Furthermore, humans have spirits, which are created in God's image. We are subjects and not just objects because of the powers of our rational souls and the fact that we are spiritual creatures."



    Also, what's the difference between a soul and spirit? Egnor implies that a spirit is something in addition to a soul, but leaves us hanging on what exactly it is.

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  3. I'll grant him #1 as compatible with science. That's because the question is meaningless and the answer says nothing, though I suppose it gives him talking points in club catholic.

    For the other questions - sorry. They involve either a willingness to accept bogus reasoning, or a willingness to accept unevidenced assertions (or both). And in some case, there is a willingness to shut down a legitimate inquiry on the basis of bogus reasoning. I see those as antithetical to science.

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  4. Egnor: "Plants have a vegetative soul, which mediates growth, reproduction, nourishment, etc. Animals have a sensitive soul, which mediates sensation, locomotion, memory etc, in addition to the powers of the vegetative soul. Humans have a rational soul, which has will, intellect, reason, etc, in addition to the properties of the sensitive/vegetative soul."

    Remember this took you enjoy a BLT sandwich - you're really eating soul food!

    But seriously, where does Egnor come up with this nonsense? Does he also believe in the four humours?

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  5. He starts with "Because God." I didn't read the rest.

    Egnor doesn't believe in evolution and doesn't think it is necessary to perform brain surgery, so I don't think that we really need to know how well he read Aquinas. He just cain't think straight.

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  6. What a verbose non-answering dumpass Egnor is.

    Of course it is easy and "elegant"(...as far as the begging of questions is elegant) to answer where consciousness, sensitivity and intentionality come from by postulating a conscious, sensible, and intentional entity, substance or "form" -the soul- of which they are faculties.

    The only problem is that this doesn't explain anything at all. It is, as Julian Huxley said when criticizing Bergson's useless notion of Élan vital (that he proposed as an explanation of life and as the fuel of evolution), like explaining the motion of a locomotive by an Élan locomotiff, or locomotive substance or locomotive form of which locomotion is a faculty.

    Aristotle's philosophy was a brilliant early attempt at answering the most important and fascinating questions, but those ideas have not aged well -they have been pretty much refuted by modern science that is; and anyone spouting them today as sensible answers to the questions (or pseudoquestions) Egnor asked is an idiot.

    Fail.

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  7. I dunno, "thou shallt not kill" may have prevented me more than once from killing my lab partner. And hey, if it's good enough for Newton, it's good enough for me.

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  8. Egnor asks for discussion from behind the skirts of his mommy. . . .in this case the comment-banning IDiot "blog" that he writes for.

    None of the clowns from the "Discovery Institute" deserve serious debate or discussion. They are merely propagandists.

    Debates and discussions with fairies and goblins would be more intellectually satisfying.

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  9. I answered these questions on my own blog, and really, this guy is using the same tired old nonsense that's been debunked a million times over.

    Like the question of "Why is there anything?" Why is God exempt from that query? You can be Hawking-esque and say the universe just IS. Or you can regress and say God just IS. But either way, you acknowledge that some fundamental thing needs no explanation for its mere existence.

    And I'm really surprised that no one calls these guys out on the notion that Moral Law is "objective", and we know that because it's intuitive. Huh? Intuition is by definition subjective. These guys ought to try attending an accredited college for once.

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  10. ---Really? No one thinks that? Where do the IDiots come up with these ideas? ---

    You don't get the point.
    His "flock" believes that. Because it makes them feel good and worthy and makes people you you and me look arrogant, rebellious and immoral, breaking away from "proven" and "established" facts (like "classical theism is the source for modern science").

    He just states what he needs to state in order to satisfy his flock and himself (and to avoid a real reasonable discussion).

    Why do you think such folks disable commenting on their blogs?

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  11. It would appear that Michael Egnor is stuck somewhere in the middle of the 14th century and hasn't noticed that the world has moved on since then. The views he expresses are indeed compatible with that which passed for science in Europe in about 1350 CE, but not in the Islamic Empire, for example who where much more advanced, so maybe, that's his definition of modern! Who knows!

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  12. Well, is there any possibility that the character sets of classical philosophy/science and modern science could not entirely overlap? Could there be [gasp!] evolution of methodologies between the Classical Age of Greece and now?

    [Note that I'm not advocating that modern science replaced philosophy. That borders on the man-thus-no-monkeys fallacy.]

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  13. Well, yes, that he doesn't allow for comments says it all. Thanks for the opportunity. I probably spent way too much time commenting on his posts but here goes: http://vulu.net/blog/what-that-guy-believes

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  14. 2 things jump out at me on reading Egnor's answers.

    (1) When he implies at various points "God did it!", the obvious question is "How does he know that?". Or "How does he know that, while millions of us didn't know that? What does he know that we didn't?"

    (2) Why is asking "what caused God" 'nonsensical'?

    I realize that Egnor's answers are arrogant, absurd and largely meaningless on their face, but I'd still like to here honest answers.

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  15. "(2) Why is asking "what caused God" 'nonsensical'?"

    It's a very old argument - you define God as 'necessary', because *something* is holding up moral law, or created the universe, or has to be the perfect being ... and if it's necessary, by definition it exists. So 'what created God' is a nonsensical argument because God *has* to exist.

    A small child can see two big flaws in that argument: 'who says?'. But even if we concede there has to be a necessary being, even if we call that necessary being - for no obvious reason - 'God' ... that isn't the Christian God. If we concede (and I don't, in any of the cases) that there's a creator, a moral law instigator and a perfect being out there ... why would the same guy be all three?

    As Larry says, these are Christians coming up with rationalizations for what they already believe. It is logically consistent, but fails the 'OK, now let's go out and observe it' test.

    Atheists beware! This is a very old, very worked through argument, and any objection you've just come up with in two seconds, every theologian for millennia has considered. Classic Courtier's Reply stuff - and a classic example of a rabbit hole theologians use to bash atheists for not knowing theology. Theology's not worth knowing, but the correct response is to not engage. You're not going to convince *them* that their entire working life and belief system is, for example, a complete and utter total fucking waste of fucking time. It's rather easier to convince everyone else.

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  16. How many think that classical theism is important in your work?

    Oh yes, it's very important. Hardly an important experiment gets carried out without a sacrifice to Zeus and Athena (goddess of wisdom, after all), and a visit to the Oracle.

    Although I must admit having some respect for that new-fangled Norse pantheon after learning that Odin traded an eye for wisdom.

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  17. Oh, yes I'm delighted. No, I think the right word is... amused.

    I will repeat that Aristotle and Classical phylosophy are necessary to understand much of the history of science and western thinking. You are right pointing out that a modern scientist wouldn't find much use of him otherwise. As for Classical theology... I've heard that joke before.

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  18. Classical theism is the source for modern science like tyranny is the source for democracy.

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  19. From Michael Engor's reply:

    "However, there are no material explanations for the subjective experience that characterizes the mind."

    He's going to look really silly in another few years if the current progress in understanding the brain delivers a 'materialist' answer as many people anticipate.

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  20. anonymous said,

    You're not going to convince *them* that their entire working life and belief system is, for example, a complete and utter total fucking waste of fucking time.

    Why didn't you tell me that thirty years ago when it would have been really useful?

    I'm going to blame YOU for all the time I've wasted. :-)

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  21. In a mere 2500 words or so (I didn't actually count) Egnor has established a case of sorts for the God of Deism. One can argue with this or not, but he seems to feel that further reasoning is unnecessary when he gets to religion.

    In effect, he asserts without the slightest evidence or reasoning, this proposition: That there is a creator God of some sort implies that we must choose one of the religions with which that insight is compatible.

    The 'fact' of God's existence doesn't mean that the communion wafer is actually the body of Christ, nor that we are commanded to stone gays, nor that we must abstain from lobster, nor that Heaven or Hell actually exist. The devil is literally in the details.

    So, IMHO, Egnor's piece is entirely wasted. Andlp got it right: "word salad".

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  22. In reply to Question 2, Egnor appeals to the cosmological argument, claiming that because the universe "began to exist" it must have a cause.

    This is nonsense for two reasons:

    1. At least since quantum theory came on the scene, we have excellent reason to believe that not everything is caused.

    2. The universe didn't "begin to exist" in any standard sense. Time itself is an aspect of the universe; there is no time at which the universe didn't exist.

    So requiring a prior cause is just nonsensical.

    And this is just a classic argument from ignorance: "Nothing in materialism predicts or explains the emergence of 'I' from 'it'."

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  23. There's a general rule of thumb that seems to work for me - if the writer can't make their point in a way that I can can easily follow, it's probably wrong.

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  24. I'm surprised no one has called him on this: "New Atheism has distinguished itself by what it denies. But it needs to judged as well on what it affirms, and on how much insight it provides."

    What part of "atheism is not a religion" do these guys fail to understand?

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  25. *pile of giggles*

    Okay, where, exactly, is this elegant, thoughtful, intense theism I keep hearing about?

    Engors response is one of the most childish things I have ever read!

    Plants have a plant soul!

    Animals have an animal soul!

    People has people souls!

    Its like hes a goddamn kindergartner!

    What kind of soul does an amoeba have? What kind of soul does a mimivirus have? What kind of soul does yeast have?

    ROFL!!!!

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  26. Looks like he took his Catholic high school theology (Thomas Aquinas) a bit too literally.

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  27. The only problem is that this doesn't explain anything at all. It is, as Julian Huxley said when criticizing Bergson's useless notion of Élan vital (that he proposed as an explanation of life and as the fuel of evolution), like explaining the motion of a locomotive by an Élan locomotiff, or locomotive substance or locomotive form of which locomotion is a faculty.

    Egnor is almost certainly a vitalist. Living things are distinct from non-living things not because of the particular arrangement of molecules and the presence of certain chemical cycles, but because living things really do possess an altogether unique substance: a soul. This is vitalism / elan vital mumbo-jumbo you'd've thunk was abandoned by science quite a while ago.

    So life is alive because it possesses the essence of life-i-ness. There's actually a name for this type of vacuous explanatory fallacy: a virtus dormitiva or dormitive principle explanation. The origin of the name stems from a Molière play in which a physician tautologically explains opium's ability to sedate people who smoke it by way of the fact that opium has a "sleep power" or "dormitive principle." Reasonable people, of course, can see that this is no explanation at all. People like Egnor, unfortunately, think this quite profound.

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  28. It's already been said, but I'll second the notion that Egnor is digging a Courtier's Reply rabbit-hole. My gut-level read on all of his "causes" and "ways" is that when philosophers dissect the universe into abstract concepts, those concepts inevitably fail to add up to a complete picture, and into that gap of failure is placed the causality-sink called "God". Or the "Prime Mover" or "Final Cause" or whatever.

    Whenever he brushes up against more concrete ideas, like the question of our attitude toward the death of others in a world of natural selection, his arguments suddenly become narrow and simplistic: "we wouldn't even perceive the death of unrelated others as evil. It would be a real win- more offspring for me!" Setting aside the fact that this is largely true - in general, our reactions to death and suffering differ pretty dramatically in scale from immediate family to tribe to nation/race/etc. to species - it also overlays a caricature of tooth-and-claw individualism onto a vast range of evolutionary strategies for gene propagation.

    I think he's too enamored of his "causes" to realize that that gene-spreading need not be a purpose to be an effect. The story of evolution is nothing if not one of unintended consequences, and there's no reason that that shouldn't apply to the notion that an instinct to short-term disadvantage can create long-time benefits. For example, it's not unreasonable to think that the willingness to risk one's own life for others can create enough good will in the long run to outweigh the actual probability of death. And if, say, a whole family becomes known for its altruism, the seemingly self-defeating sacrifice of a small number of them can increase the spread of their kinfolk's genes, which are close enough to their own to be effectively the same.

    At best, Egnor can still say that he finds materialism to be an uncomfortable or even distressing philosophy, especially as it pertains to morality... but that has no bearing on what's true.

    His only interesting claim is that "the 'strangeness' of quantum mechanics to modern sensibilities is largely a consequence of abandonment of classical metaphysics." If he can use Aquinas to explain quantum phenomena to greater satisfaction than the Copenhagen model, then I'd love to see it. Until then, though, I fail to see how his dense metaphysics is in any way relevant to modern science.

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  29. 'I think he's too enamored of his "causes" to realize that that gene-spreading need not be a purpose to be an effect.'

    I think this is right. A lot of Christians have alighted on 'purpose' as the magic bullet that kills atheism - 'scientists can't explain *why*', 'the purpose-driven life', 'if water boils on my stove it's because of convection, but it's also because I want to make pasta' and so on.

    But it gets all sorts of things exactly the wrong way round, and evolution is one of them. Genes didn't set out to make giraffes. But if you think in terms of 'final causes' and 'divine purpose', that's how it looks. Even the schoolbook narratives of evolution - the just-so stories - tend that way.

    I think 'purpose' is one of those areas where we atheists need to clarify our message, explain that we're not for nihilism, we're for emancipation.

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  30. "I fail to see how his dense metaphysics is in any way relevant to modern science."

    I enjoyed Egnor's replies, and I appreciate him laying it all out. There were a couple of places which seemed very thin, even in his terms, and that was one of them: 'science doesn't have all the answers, therefore God'.

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