It seems my little spat with Dan Peterson got picked up by someone of the Eastern Orthodox perspective with a Mormon background. I was glad to see they also took issue with Aristotelian/Thomistic/Classical Theism getting shafted to make a poor point. I am by no means a philosophical ally of the previously mentioned philosophies, but to disregard them is to do so at one’s own peril. Some of the best metaphysics done in all of Western history were done by the scholastics, and every student of philosophy and theology should make use of them. Here are the relevant bits:
It seems that I was not the only person who took issue with Peterson and Hamblin’s last Deseret News piece. Peterson just posted a response to a critic of the piece, whom Peterson describes as a member of a primarily atheistic message board where he is regularly defamed. Now I don’t know the nature of this critic’s arguments, but Peterson sent his piece to a friend who is an expert in Aristotle just to see what the expert would say. The expert confirmed that Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover only contemplates itself and does not “love” its creation or the rest of the universe.
Now I did admit that Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover was like this, but my objection to the article (which I tried to post on Peterson’s blog, but my comment hasn’t gone up yet – perhaps Peterson just lumped my criticism in with his harsh atheistic critics, or perhaps he doesn’t allow critical comments on his site at all, or perhaps he simply overlooked it) was not that his portrayal of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover was incorrect, but that he was mis-portraying the role of the Unmoved Mover in the larger classical theistic tradition. Aristotle, of course, had no need to reconcile his Unmoved Mover with the Biblical God, but later Christian thinkers did.
It seems Dan Peterson took note of my recent blog post about his misuse of Aristotle and sought the advice of one Daniel W. Graham of BYU’s Philosophy Department. I’m not sure what exactly to make of Dr. Graham’s comments just yet, because I don’t see how they help Dan’s position at all. In any case, because I don’t allow comments on this blog, I always give others the last word. So here in Dr. Graham’s comments from an e-mail published by Dan:
I hate literary pablum. I hate it even more when pablum is presented to a large audience in the place of thoughtful and informed writing. Bill Hamblin and Daniel Peterson gave the internet another steaming bowl of pablum with all the usual pretense of scholarship and intelligent writing but it fails to deliver on every front.
I’ve seen these two whine on Facebook about how they only have 800 or so words and that they can’t publish some detailed account of someone’s philosophy or belief. Such whining is baseless, because that isn’t being asked of them. Is it so hard to express something interesting about Aristotle’s God in 800 words? Not really.
PROTIP #1: Stop Wasting Words.
If you have 800 or so words to write about the God of Aristotle, don’t open with an unrelated story about Galileo. What does the other throw of Aristotelian Science in the Medieval University have anything to do with Aristotle’s Metaphysics? The answer is, precious little. This anecdote doesn’t serve your purpose, why include it? Why not just include an anecdote about the perceived distance between man and God in the Aristotelian schema?
PROTIP #2: Stop Being Illiterate
Seriously. There is no consensus among scholars who specialize in the works of Maimonides, Al Farabi, or Thomas Aquinas that they failed to incorporate and synthesize an Aristotelian philosophy into their faith. I doubt the both of you are even aware about the growing interest in Neo-Thomistic philosophy where plenty of modern Catholic philosophers attempt to meld biblical and Aristotelian thinking. Is any of that successful? I don’t know and more importantly, Hamblin and Peterson are not even aware they don’t know.
PROTIP #3: Actually Read Aristotle
I have a feeling neither Hamblin nor Peterson did much more than glance at some kind of gloss of Aristotle before writing that piece. I take a dim view of their scholarly ability to be anything but lazy and shallow, so it didn’t actually surprise me they couldn’t get much right about the 12th book of Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’. So when they make this complaint:
The unmoved mover, endlessly contemplating itself because it's the only thing in the universe worthy of its notice, seems unlikely to pay any attention to the sufferings of less worthy beings such as, say, humans. And if it truly affects all other things but cannot be affected, there appears little point in praying to it. One might as well pray to a rock.
I knew poor Aristotle was in for a rough mishandling. In the interest of Philosophy proper, here is a passage from the previously mentioned book (1072a21-8 ):
There is, then, something which is always moved with an unceasing motion, which is motion in a circle, and this is plain not in theory only but in fact. Therefore the first heavens must be eternal. There is therefore also something which moves them. And since that which is moved and moves is intermediate, there is a mover which moves without being moved, being eternal, substance and actuality. And the object of desire and the object of thought move in this way: they move without being moved. The primary objects of desire and of thought are the same. For the apparent good is the object of appetite, and the real good is the primary object of wish…
What’s this? Desire gives the means for the unmoved mover can cause motion without moving itself? Interestingly enough, Aristotle described heavenly bodies as capable of feeling a love and desire for God (‘On Heavens’ 285a29), could it be that the entire world has a desire for God? In this same chapter we read(1075a11-25):
We must consider also in which of two ways the nature of the universe contains the good or the highest good, whether as something separate and by itself, or as the order of the parts. Probably in both ways, as an army does. For the good is found both in the order and in the leader, and more in the latter; for he does not depend on the order but it depends on him. And all things are ordered together somehow, but not all alike- both fishes and fowls and plants; and the world is not such that one thing has nothing to do with another, but they are connected. For all ordered together to one end…all share for the good and the whole.
It is simply dishonest for an actual reader of Aristotle to come to the same conclusions Hamblin and Peterson did, because Aristotle certainly ascribes order and goodness to the entire world because of the eternal mover and it makes little sense to say that God achieved this by kicking off a series of causes, but ultimately remains aloof.
In the 7th book of the ‘Metaphysics’, Aristotle equates God as a way of life, because God’s thinking about primary substances is what started the creation of the universe and in that creation is a desire to manifest itself in perfection. When creation desires or thinks about God, it is doing so to be more like God, this gives the order and goodness we find in the universe because God is order and goodness.
So there is a consistent way for someone who holds to an Aristotelian kind of philosophy to conceive of God as this prime mover who doesn’t directly meddle in the affairs of creation. For example, take a righteous paragon (I dunno, like Abraham maybe) who is ever turning his mind to God and exercising his ability to close in on the perfection of his being, so that he is able to better apprehend the will of God and share that inspiration. Such an event might look like God is giving something to Abraham directly, but a close inspection of categories and causation as expounded by Aristotle could reveal the opposite (Maimonides comes close to this view in his ‘Guide For The Perplexed’).
I know Deseret News isn’t exactly a shining example of informed commentary, but when it employs a couple of PhDs in good faith to produce a short and insightful column, it should get that. Instead, Peterson and Hamblin just sort of make shit up and don’t care about the consequences. It is a wonder why they got removed from NAMIRS.
Over on the blog Intrepid Lutherans, Brian G. Heyer has a post about presuppositional apologetics where he gives a very positive review of the method. He makes this very interesting comment (bolding mine):
That particular debate takes a line of reasoning which departs from the usual and important combat of evidences, and it addresses the presuppositions of truth, morality, and logic. Instead of arguing the plenary examples of how the physical scientific evidence shows a young earth, or the historical evidence of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the logical assertion of presuppositional apologetics is that the absence of God is impossible.
The post reminded me of something James White often says: “Theology matters”. Dr. White often says this because he feels that scripture and the study of what scripture says (which falls under the purview of theology) should determine what a Christian believes. While I don’t often get involved over matters of what Christians should or should not do, I couldn’t disagree more. Dr. White is often critical of William Lane Craig because he believes (and probably with good reasons) that Craig’s theological beliefs are not supported by scripture and that Dr. Craig seems to place more emphasis on using philosophy to determine his theological beliefs instead of scripture.
All this may be true of Dr. Craig, but I can’t help but believe that sound biblical thinking can still lead to bad philosophy. Consider one of my previous posts about trying to ground a notion of truth in the person of God; if S5 modal logic and first order logic hold, any attempt to do so will make all truths necessary. To drive this point home again, I want to consider something that Christian Philosopher James N. Anderson wrote.
Just another symptom of a very sick American culture:
3. Sir Richard Francis Burton's 'Personal Narrative Of A Pilgrimage To Al-Madinah and Meccah'
Burton is no philosopher in a strict sense, but he is a keen student of the human subject. An accomplished solider, explorer, linguist, and translator he also has amateur hats in anthropology (particularly in ethnography) and religious studies. The guy was a genuine badass with too many exploits to cover here, but one I need to mention is his trip to Medina and Mecca disguised as a Muslim so he could study the Hajj pilgrimage. That is some serious gumption.
Burton tried several disguises before settling on portraying himself a Sufi Sheikh hailing from Afghanistan. How an Englishman could trick other Afghanis into thinking he was a fellow countryman is beyond me, but he reports that he did it on several occasions. Using tricks of folk magic and hypnotism, he earned his keep as a healer, helping perfectly healthy people overcome imagined ailments with some soothing words, tonic water, and a variety of other harmless placebos he had become acquainted with as “oriental curiosities”.
Burton’s writing seems to take Horace’s advice of: “You’ll write wonderfully, if by a deft selection make a familiar word look new.” To the current social sciences, his writings are just the antiquated scribbling of a Victorian Englishmen stuck in his times, but his wit and style are hard to match. His talent of observation cuts through a lot of the cross-cultural static that would inhibit most Western observers of Arab subjects. Consider this selection on the natives of Medina (from Chapter 21):
One of meat-space friends posted a question on a social media site that asked everyone what are some of the most influential books you’ve ever read. He wanted people to understand “influential” as having the most impact on your worldview. Asking this type of question always invokes a bit of story telling because important books are often embedded into the context of our lives. I’ve decided to list 5 books that have made a major impact on me.
1. Marcus Aurelius’ 'Meditations'
This is the first philosophy book I read from front to back and actually felt I had a decent understanding of. I picked up a Penguin edition of the Meditations at Bagram Air Force Base for free (from some box of library books donated “4 TEH TROOPS”) late 2004 on my way to some hovel called Asadabad. It was lost on me then I was just a stones throw away from the ancient site of Kapisa founded by Alexander the Great. It also would have been meaningless to me that the hovel I was traveling to was the birthplace of Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn al-Afghānī, the great 19th century Islamic thinker.
So Chris Bolt and I have been having an exchange and I think it has ultimately run its course. I’m a little disappointed by Chris, I don’t think he returned the level of charity or care in reading that I gave him. This is not to say he was uncivil, but I didn’t care for passive aggressive comments like this:
Pat includes the Greek text in his post. Whether he is showing off or genuinely thinks it adds to the discussion I do not know.
There is a lot I could say about this, but I won’t. I’m really not interested in rhetoric and performance, but I’m getting the feeling that Chris is interested in it. I started getting that suspicion in his first post when he made comments like this:
Frankly, if that is the best one can do, then I feel pretty good about my apologetic.
I feel as though presuppositionalists are in good shape.
I wondered, “Why include such things? Who needs reassurance?” but over the course of the discussion he went from reaffirming that he feels good about his apologetic to adding in little observations like this:
Perhaps Pat is showing off in switching to x and y
Even his parting remark was a shot at me:
Only time will tell if our atheist friend is stubborn enough to defend claims like “Liars always lie” or “Hyperbole does not exist” or “The Apostle Paul self-consciously affirmed non-classical logics.” Concession is the alternative. Pat needs to put down his shiny new logics and find a new line of argument.
Now compared to the typical discourse that takes place on the internet between atheists and Christian apologists, this is below mild. Still, it bothers me because I think I failed in my personal assessment in Chris, I may have ended up projecting something on to him that he simply wasn’t. I set myself up for that disappointment, if it is the case.
I wonder about two things; how closely Chris read anything I wrote and how closely he studied the issues at hand. For just one example of the former, he made this remark in his latest post:
What Pat should do is forthrightly address the view that the Apostle Paul, following the poet he quotes, is using hyperbole to communicate the truth that Cretans are generally liars. There is nothing in Pat’s post that takes away from this traditional apologetic response to the charge of contradiction in Titus 1.12-13a.
And what did I post on the 16th of December on this very topic?
Now I can respect that Paul was making a rhetorical point in citing Epimenides, he was as Greek as they come. To most Christians (and to most apologists) this isn’t much of an issue, but it is for the Presuppositional/Covenantal apologist. Here we have a proposition embedded in scripture that is both thought of by unregenerate and regenerate minds, both Jew and Gentile, that simultaneously affirms and denies its own truth value.
This proposition exists. It is a contradiction. How does it stand in relation to the Triune God? How is this proposition grounded in Almighty God? How does Chris account for it?
The purpose of me using Titus was merely an example of showing the proposition exists for both of us and if it exists for both of us then both our worldviews must account for it. It isn’t some argument against scripture itself. What Paul cites is a liar paradox, how and why Paul does so isn’t relevant to the minor point I was making and I thought I explicitly made that clear. Perhaps I didn't.
As I said above, I’m beginning to doubt Chris is paying much attention to the issue I’ve raised. He has been promoting responses to me by another blogger that leave a bit to be desired, but I’ve ignored them since I considered it a rabbit trail. I don’t think Chris would have promoted the blog posts unless he considered them substantial, so I’ll show an example:
Tarski’s proposal is that we can save consistency in the face of the Liar Paradox, not for natural languages, but for restricted and regimented artificial languages, wherein no language contains its own truth predicate. At the bottom level, we have the “object language,” which does not contain words like “true” or “false” at all.
This does not accurately describe what I laid out:
Let us say that the following the following takes place in language ln. In this case ln is an object language and a meta-language; ln-1 is an object language from ln and ln+1 is the meta language for ln. Each language ln contains every wff from ln-1 and has a predict that belongs to every true wff and only true wffs of ln-1, let us call this Tn. Tn cannot apply to any wff of ln unless that wff also belongs to ln-1.
There is no bottom level object language that does not contains words like ‘true’ or ‘false’. This is made explicit. It goes on to read (wikipedia link removed):
However, if we want to contend with the truth-value of an assertion made in the meta-language, we would need further recourse to a meta-meta-language to consider whether or not the truth predication of the meta-language (regarding the object-language) is correct. What if there’s a question regarding the truth ascribed in the meta-meta-language? Well, we need a meta-meta-meta-language. See the pattern? It’s turtles all the way down.
An infinite regress isn’t a mistake or a problem. Infinite regression is fine n dandy in mathematics, such as the creation of an infinite set of natural numbers through successive application of the successor relation to zero. Same concept here and asking me where the hierarchy stops is to assume to the collection is finite instead of infinite. It doesn’t stop, it runs to completion in the same manner that Bertrand Russell shows that Tristram Shandy can finish his biography in 'Principles of Mathematics'.
Now I’m not disappointed that Chris made an oversight or didn’t read me carefully. We all do that. But I’m disappointed that I feel that I’ve fallen prey to something I’ve warned about to numerous other atheists in real life, don’t become the object an apologist uses to showboat. I may have just become that object.
I blame myself, I tricked myself into thinking I could have a good discussion with a fellow philosopher over complex topics in a spirit that didn’t frame the conversation like some kind of zero-sum duel where only one person comes out the victor. I didn’t get that, instead I got backhanded remarks and condescension, probably for a crowd.
I hope I’m wrong, but I’m going to close the matter and wish Chris a happy new year and move on to other topics.