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In Defense of "Theistic Evolution"

Via Lee McCracken, my erstwhile Culture11 editor Joe Carter discusses "theistic evolution" at the First Things blog. Taking his cue from a Washington Post op-ed in which Intelligent Design proponent John West criticizes Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, and others, Joe complains that if evolution were undirected, then the low probability of ending up with creatures like us would mean that God "would likely need to run the experiment a number of times to get the desired outcome". He concludes:

The debate over Gods role in evolution is often portrayed as pitting proponents of theistic evolution (Miller, Collins) against advocates of intelligent design (The Discovery Institute, Voltaire). But a more accurate distinction would be between those who believe that evolution is intelligently directed and those who think the process was random and undirected but overseen and/or set in motion by an intelligent agent. This later [sic] view appears to be incompatible with both orthodox Christianity and orthodox Darwinism. So why is it considered an intellectually respectable option for believers?

And Lee responds:

I think Carter goes astray here by taking the language of random and undirected too literally. Clearly, evolution is not random in any absolute sense: it operates within the constraints provided locally by the environment and the qualities possessed by organisms, and globally by the fundamental constituents of the universe (e.g, the laws that govern the behavior of subatomic particles). There are reasonswhich have been widely canvassedfor thinking that the emergence of intelligent life is, if not inevitable, then at least intelligible given the nature of our universe. All a theistic evolutionist is committed to is that God set up those fundamental constraints in such a way that He could foreseeat least with a high degree of probabilitythat intelligent life would emerge at some point.

Well, yes and no. If God is omniscient, then his knowledge of the course of evolution is eternally perfect - and whether the evolutionary process was random or not has no bearing on this at all. Contra Carter, then, the randomness of evolution wouldn't require God to tinker around with multiple universes any more than the reality of free will means that Gabriel had to be prepared to ask women other than Mary whether they'd bear the Christ child; in each instance, the fact that the universe's prior state constrained but didn't fully determine what was going to happen doesn't mean that God had to have been ignorant about how things would go.Ultimately what's needed, then, is a view according to which humans are both "an afterthought, a minor detail, a happenstance in a history that might just as well have left us out" (Kenneth Miller's words) and beings created specially by God whose nature he saw to be good: the former phrase is an entirely appropriate characterization of the remarkable series of physical processes that led to our development, while the latter is an admittedly imperfect attempt to understand things from the perspective of the supernatural order. One of the central defects of the ID movement is, of course, its inability to respect such a distinction between what Aquinas called primary and secondary causes. As the citation of the Angelic Doctor suggests, however, that's hardly a distinction that deserves to be held in intellectual disrepute.UPDATE: Stephen Barr beat me to it. And since this is my first post here, hi all. I'm a graduate student in (surprise!) philosophy at U.C. Berkeley, and I've contributed book reviews to Commonweal a couple of times over the past year or so. I blog regularly here, by the way, and beginning next calendar year I'll be an assistant professor of philosophy at Mount St. Mary's University. Many thanks to Matthew and Grant for the opportunity to join the discussion here at dotCommonweal.

About the Author

John Schwenkler is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.

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The issue of probablility is a red herring. If we assume that the universe is infinite in size -- or at least so enormous that we can treat it as infinite, as a reasonable extension of the central limit theorem would allow -- then there's almost a statistical GUARANTEE that, somewhere, there's a random evolutionary process that would inevitably result in a world like the one we inhabit. Thus the question of randomness of the process really doesn't matter, since all we have to demonstrate that one world evolved, randomly or not, into this one.

RP Burke: I'm not sure that I fully understand this application of the central limit theorem, but don't we know for a fact that the universe isn't infinite in size? It seems that without appealing to something approaching an actual infinity - and indeed, cardinality would seem to matter here, too - of universes, the sort of guarantee you're talking about couldn't be gotten.In any case, though, if God is omniscient then he'd also know which of those universes would turn out to be a world like ours, and which wouldn't.

Hi John. Welcome to dotComm. I am one of the resident heretics here. Among the more traditional Christian notions that I am inclined to resist is divine omniscience. I think God has perfect knowledge of all that exists to be known, but, since the future does not exist, is not actual, then God does not have perfect knowledge of it. God can be said to have an infinitely better knowledge of where the future is likely headed than any non-divine being could ever have, but still, God would not know the future perfectly. I am thus inclined to resist the notion that God could have known the outcomes of our universe and our planet 13.7 billion years ago.As for primary and secondary causation, I am not convinced either that the distinction makes sense, or, even if it did make sense, why it means that the details of our universe were somehow clear to God from the beginning. I don't think the idea makes sense because pure act cannot completely exist in God and then exist again in creation. One would have pure act, and then something else in addition to pure act. I don't think it means that the details of our world were clear to God for etenity because pure act would not be limited to that which came to be in our world, it would include all really possible worlds, and a world where the asteroid did not hit our planet making biological room for us strikes me as a real possibility.At any rate, the only things at stake here seems to be some elements of Christian doctrine that are uninteresting to me. Why is it important to think that God had us in mind when our universe began?Mind you, I do think God is at work in the created order. I think God provides a telos toward which the universe strives, and there is evidence of this throughout the natural and human world. However, how the universe will respond to God seems entirely up to the universe itself, and, how humans will respond to God seems entirely likely to produce things that surprise even God.

Welcome, John!Stephen Barr says the following: "But when we shuffle a deck, we are not escaping in any way from Gods absolute control over events: God knows and wills in exact detail from all eternity that I will shuffle the deck, precisely how I will shuffle the deck, and what the order of the cards will be after I shuffle the deck. On this point Calvinism and Catholicism agree."I am not sure how this reflects God's "atemporality." "From all eternity" is a temporal concept, with time going infinitely into the past and infinitely into the future, but with before and after still being perfectly valid concepts. It sounds like he is saying God knows what is going to happen before it actually happens, and God wills it to happen. But if God is outside of time, there is no before and after for him. This also seems to mean that if you are playing poker and get a bad hand, it is God's will! If God wills everything that happens, he wills every storm, earthquake, volcano eruption, as well as every automobile accident and plane crash. It would also appear that he wills every epidemic of every disease, and wills each individual case of infection and its outcome.Also, it is generally argued that just because God knows what is going to happen "beforehand," that does not mean that what is going to happen is determined. But the argument here seems to be that God has determined the course of evolution because he knew and willed the course evolution would take from all eternity. So it appears that in some cases, God's foreknowledge is no reason to think something is predetermined, but in the case of evolution, God's foreknowledge makes it predetermined.

JP:

I think God has perfect knowledge of all that exists to be known, but, since the future does not exist, is not actual, then God does not have perfect knowledge of it.

But of course that's less of a problem if God exists, and therefore has his knowledge, outside of time, right?DN:

This also seems to mean that if you are playing poker and get a bad hand, it is God's will! If God wills everything that happens, he wills every storm, earthquake, volcano eruption, as well as every automobile accident and plane crash. It would also appear that he wills every epidemic of every disease, and wills each individual case of infection and its outcome.

I agree that Barr's talk of "willing" is a bit unhelpful - though perhaps we could distinguish "primary" and "secondary" senses of this, too?

The central limit theorem is a red herring.Look at it this way, in any lottery, someone is certain to win. The fact that the odds may be vanishingly small for any specirfic individual does not entitle the eventual winner to claim that a miracle occurred (although winners often seem to insist on doing so).In other words, having won the cosmic lottery does not mean the specific outcome was divinely preordained. That life would arise somewhere is simply inherent in the design of the game.

John: A God outside of time is at best an Aristotelian prime mover, and certainly is not a biblical God.The fact that we can reflect on the nature of the universe means that it has to be such as to make critters like us possible, but that hardly means that were were either divinely or proabaliistically (??) necessary.I teach at a historically black university. The best way I have found to get my student's to deny the conclusion that God determines everything that happens in the world is to argue that only one safe conclusion can be drawn from such a claim; namely, that God hates black people. After the initial shock wears off, the students get what I am saying.

oops, should be "we were" not "were were" in fourth line above.

John Schwenkler --Welcome to the blog :-) Always good to have another philosopher around, especially a young one. Before this discussion gets heated, I think it would be good to recognize that the word "God" has many meanings, and in the general discussion "God" has meant everything from an Aristottelian sort of organizing force behind the apparent process. and it can mean a Thomistic sort of God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and simltaneously fully existent at every point of cosmic time. Or it can mean some other sorts of things. Different meanings might require different answers to the questionAlso, I think it behooves us to give some consideration to what "randomness" MEANS. (Yes, I'm a Wittgenstein lover.) Not to mention the meanings of "probability". (By coincidence, I just ordered Frank Ramsey's philosophical papers last night. Before this discussion is over, I might actually understand something about it :-)Would you like to tell us all about "randomness" and "probability" in 140 words or less?

Would you like to tell us all about randomness and probability in 140 words or less?

Nope. :)That Stephen Barr post I linked to in the update seems to me to do a pretty good job, though - but I'd have to do a lot more thinking (and reading) before I could give it a really clear critical evaluation.

"John: A God outside of time is at best an Aristotelian prime mover, and certainly is not a biblical God."Joe, the Biblical God is the God who created Time, (in the beginning...). God was there in the beginning, so in order to be there in the beginning of Time, God must be able to exist outside of Time and Space to begin with.

John, thanks for this post. It is very deep.:-)

"I am not sure how this reflects Gods atemporality. From all eternity is a temporal concept, with time going infinitely into the past and infinitely into the future,"David Nickol --Boethius' celebrated definition of "eternity" is this: the perfect and simultaneous possession of etrnal life. It does not imply a beginning or an end at all, because it is simultaneous with all serial times. Very sophistocated noton for the beginning of the "Dark" Ages, I'd say. ark Ages.

P.S., the concept of randomness and probability have never been a problem for God since He knows all the conditions that exist in the Universe that He created. That being said, even though it is God's desire that we Love Him as He Loves us, Love is not coercive, which is why, unlike Calvin, we do not believe that free will is predestined.

Does not our imagination, and our language, often betray us? We spontaneously think of God as we do of ourselves, and thus speak of God's knowing the future, and of all the difficulties an infallible knowledge of the future might pose. And we cannot imagine a-temporality, any more than we can imagine omni-potence, or omni-science, or in-finity, an infinite act of understanding, etc., etc., etc.... Is not the most we can do to reply to objections? That's the reason for the distinctions between primary and secondary causality, between time and eternity, etc.

Is it accepted that there is a multiverse - that everything that can exist, does exist? I wonder how that reflects on God's omniscience and on God's will.

I wouldn't say that the existence of a multiverse is "accepted" - it's certainly disputed by many ID proponents, at least! But even if there is one - and this was the thrust of one of my earlier comments - then there would have to be quite a lot of them in order for it to be true that "everything that can exist, does exist", and I'm not at all sure where physicists stand on the question of how many parallel universes there are supposed to be.

The best way I have found to get my students to deny the conclusion that God determines everything that happens in the world is to argue that only one safe conclusion can be drawn from such a claim; namely, that God hates black people. Joe,It has often seemed to me that the story Catholic Christianity tells about God depicts him as someone whose plans always go awry. He creates the human race, and the first two members disobey him and get booted from Eden. He gets so disgusted with creation that he at first decides to wipe it all out, but doesn't quite go through with it, saving Noah and the animals on the ark. The world repopulates, but people are so rotten that God confuses them by causing them to speak many different languages. The Israelites are constantly falling from grace (e.g., worshipping idols in the desert while God gives Moses the Ten Commandments). God sends his son to the Jews ("I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel") and they reject him. So with the initial help of some Jewish followers of Jesus, the Gentiles create the "One True Church," which still survives after almost 2000 years, but with somewhere between 20,000 to 40,000 other Christian denominations. If God's plans for humanity have gone so far awry at every juncture, what makes anyone suppose that evolution has gone according to plan?

As Ann and others have suggested on this thread, in trying to reason backwards one eventually runs into the brick wall of language, which is a manifestation of our finitude. At that point, this all seems to take on the aspect of a rather entertaining parlor game.

My welcome too!Nice to see here notions of secondary causality and also the problem of analogy.Joe is on track that the God of Scripture is not and shouldn't be the God of philosophy, since His Action will always be mysterious, election and redemption -for this world at least.

Multiverse is a disasterous notion. Of course, the idea that a universe exists in which I had first been an influential cleric, and anonymous heretic, but then married a Bangladeshi office secretary who was an amibidexterous scrabble fanatic with one brother who was a mass murderer and and three who worked customer service at a computer company called Dellcrosoft is rather interesting.Fr. Komonchak: Your argument seems to work just as well against the notion of coming up with such ideas in the first place. If our immaginations are not sufficiently capable of critiquing the ideas, then perhaps they are insufficient for producing the ideas at all.

The Counterbalance Interactive Library (at Berkeley) offers some discussion of this stuff - wish I could understand it :)

Multiverse is a disasterous notion. Joe, Your understanding of the multiverse is different from mine (which I would refer to as the many-worlds hypothesis). It is that at every "decision point" (to oversimplify, not that I really can do anything else!), universes branch off so that both possibilities actually happen. So only if one of the huge numbers of Joe Pettit's, already in existence in different worlds, came to a point where he chose between marrying a Bangladeshi office secretary and not marrying her, would there be a branching of worlds (or universes) in which one Joe got married and the other Joe didn't. This is actually taken quite seriously in physics. It is not a wild, speculative theory, but a serious suggestion to explain quantum phenomena. It would seem to be totally incompatible with Christianity, as far as I can tell.

It [the multiverse theory] would seem to be totally incompatible with Christianity, as far as I can tell.I was thinking that it was not incompatible but had something to do with God's knowledge of everything. I know I don't understand these concepts very well, but science and religion seem to interact in interesting ways - like the idea of free will and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.Another link - The Center for Theology and the Narural Sciences (also in Berkeley) - I read somewhere that they have been working with the Vatican Observatory on the subject of divine action.

So, David N., would that mean that the concept of the multiverse would be sort of like a "do over", kind of like the movie, "Ground Hog Day" only on a much grander, universal scale?

I was thinking that it was not incompatible but had something to do with Gods knowledge of everything. Crystal,It would seem to me that every time a person was faced with a decision commit a mortal sin (or any sin) or not to commit a mortal sin, that would be a branching point, and you'd get one world in which the person sinned, and another in which the person didn't. So it would seem to be incompatible with free will. You don't really make choices. Everything that can happen, will happen.

The concept of a multiverse would be incapatible with Christianity because there is only one Son of God, who had only one Human Life, and it was here. in this Universe, on the Planet Earth.

"Joe is on track that the God of Scripture is not and shouldnt be the God of philosophy"Bob Nunz --AAACKK!!! AWWK!!! ARGH! COUGH, COUGH, EEEK! and Sob.You think that philosophy is not mysterious? You have all the philosophical answers? (I thought not.)Isn't one of the differences between science and philosphy that sciene thinks it can answer all questions while philosophy knows it can't?

". . .youd get one world in which the person sinned, and another in which the person didnt. "But is it the *same* person in those infinite number of universes? In other words, the theory doesn't predicate an infinite number of one you. To do so would seem to me to be awfully contradictory.

David, I see what you mean in that every choice that can be made, including the bad ones, will be made, so where is the option to not choose badness? There's an interesting lecture by professor (and Anglican priest) Keith Ward - Cosmology and Creation - in which he seems to argue for the multiverse. Here's just a little bit of it ...."[...] Although it is beset with difficulties, the idea of a multiverse prompts a further suggestion about the nature of the Primordial creative Mind. If we posit a divine mind, then there can be an infinite and exhaustive array of possible universes that exist in the actuality of that mind. Perhaps an essential characteristic of primordial mind is the principle of plenitude. According to this principle, every possible sort of good should exist, as long as its existence does not come at the price of excessive and unredeemable harm.St. Augustine comes near to framing the principle when, discussing the existence of evil, he writes that the worlds course is more gracious by antithetic figures (City of God, Bk. 11, ch. 18). That is, As a picture shows well though it have black colours in divers places, so the universe is most fair, for all those stains of sins (ch. 23). Augustines idea is that the universe is better if there are many grades of goodness, even if the lower grades involve the existence of evil. From this we might generalise that the more kinds and degrees of goodness there are the better. And perhaps there is something in the divine nature that causes it to generate every possible sort of good, even though some kinds will inevitably incur suffering. We would be wise to add a proviso that the good must overwhelmingly outweigh the evil, and that evil must in some way be redeemable, or be capable of being turned to or giving rise to an otherwise unobtainable good for the sufferers themselves.Thomas Aquinas similarly asserts something like the principle of plenitude in a rather different way: A mark of active will is that a person so far as he can shares with others the good he possesses. So it befits the divine nature that others also should partake of it (Summa Theologiae, 1a, 19, 2, responsio). Aquinas does not draw from this the conclusion that seems naturally to follow, that it necessarily belongs to divine perfection that there should be many created goods, and many subjects to experience them, and perhaps that the more different kinds of goods there are the better. But it seems logical to do so."But still, I don't understand all this, I just think it's interesting.

David: I do not claim to be an expert on multiverse theory, but what little I have read of it seems like the physicists version of being captured by something like what Heidegger calls ontotheology (although, one can never be quite sure what Heidegger meant). That is, they cannot handle the notion of a genuine indeterminacy. They resist real notions of becoming, explaining all of it away by making ever possible reality actual.You may know of my interest in process theology/philosophy. Whitehead would have little patience, I think, for the idea of multiverses.As for "decision points" one of the real problems is that each branch universe would then itself have its own decision points, and, like the bad shampoo comercial, and so on, and so on, and so on. Given my previous interest in the Jesuits and in the International Jesuit Volunteers (neither path did I eventually go down, but both were seriously considered), the scenario I weave is not at all that unlikely.What IS cool is that there must be universes out there both were I am writing better stuff than Merton and where I was much more adventurous with women (not that Merton was both, also). I feel less like I have missed out on something so long as I am all choosable paths that exist.Crystal: Regarding Ward, his comments exemplify the problem of God as pure act containing within it all actuality. If all actuality is already actual in God, then what are we?David has already identified the moral problem with the multiverse. Another theological problem is the idea of genuine creation. Multiverse theory does not seem to really allow for genuine novelty.

Sorry, meant to say "not that Merton wasn't both" the double negative implying that he WAS both a really good writer and adventurous. Also, "so long as all possible paths really exist."

Joe,I should stop commenting on this because I'm in way over my head, but I thought I'd just add one thing - I do wonder if the God of science is different from a personal God. I don't think that has to be so. Keith Ward, for instance, is a Jesus freak :) who mentions his religious experience in one of his books. I think this stuff is interesting, probably helps I'm a science fiction fan, but I mostly blame my Jesuit spiritual director, as he's the one who first interested me in cosmology.

Ann:Isnt one of the differences between science and philosphy that sciene thinks it can answer all questions while philosophy knows it cant?Is that why the biologist JBS Haldane said "the world is not only stranger than we imagine, it's stranger than we can imagine"?Crystal:I see what you mean in that every choice that can be made, including the bad ones, will be made, so where is the option to not choose badness?What an interesting thought. The copy of you in one universe goes to heaven, while the other one goes to hell. I wonder. Would that imply a parallel heaven and a parallel hell or would one meet one's doppleganger (assuming you and your doppleganger ended up in the same place in the afterlife)?

"" Aquinas does not draw from this the conclusion that seems naturally to follow, that it necessarily belongs to divine perfection that there should be many created goods, and many subjects to experience them, and perhaps that the more different kinds of goods there are the better. But it seems logical to do so.Crystal, I agree. Leibniz, on the other hand, thought that God freely created the best of all possible worlds. The creation was not necessary, but *if* God chose to create then the world created must be the best one possible.Antonio,But your doppelganger wouldn't *be* you, no more than your identical twin really were exactly like you. Enter Leibniz again, with his principle of the identity of indiscernibles. This says, roughly, that if there was no difference between what two names signify, then they signify the absolutely same thing. Your doppelganger in an alternative world would have different relations and experiences from you in this one, and so the two of you would indeed be discernibly different things.

Fr. Komonchak's comment is, I think, right on target. Any claim that we can gain POSITIVE knowledge about God and God's creative activity from our examination of empirical evidence or from our construction of models for how to conceive of the physical universe is a temptation to be avoided. Creation is not a making of any sort. Creation is ex nihilo. Making is not ex nihilo.No examination of worldly processes can tell us anything POSITIVE about creation-conservation. As Fr. Komonchak rightly says, the theological task is to reply to objections against creation ex nihilo, or, I would add, to claims that science can teach us something Positive about God and God's doings. No scientific evidence can disprove God or His creative action. The theological task is to show how any attempt to do so goes beyond what the empirical evidence would warrant. As I understand it, this is the basic insight behind the apophatic theology of the Fathers and of Aquinas.So, or so I would conclude, if either the "theistic evolutionists" or the "intelligent design" proponents claim that they can say anything POSITIVE about God and His doings, they are mistaken.

Ann:But your doppelganger wouldnt *be* you, no more than your identical twin really were exactly like you. Exactly. Note that I did say "copy". I merely wondered about the fate of this hypothetical alternative person in the afterlife. Fr, Dauenhauer:No scientific evidence can disprove God or His creative action.True. It might also be well to point out that neither can science prove God's existence

Any claim that we can gain POSITIVE knowledge about God and Gods creative activity from our examination of empirical evidence or from our construction of models for how to conceive of the physical universe is a temptation to be avoided. Creation is not a making of any sort. Creation is ex nihilo. Making is not ex nihilo.I don't see why the idea that God vreated the universe out of nothing means that you cannot learn anything about God from examining his creation. What you seem to be saying is what Barth said, that we can gain no knowledge of God by looking at creation, but only through what God chooses to reveal to us - revelation. But I think there is some support for "the analogy of being" (Erich Przywara S.J.) - the idea that we creatures and the natural world somehow resemble our creator. I guess Hans Urs von Balthasar and David Bentley Hart are more modern proponents of this stance?

Mr. Pettit: In response to John, you wrote: A God outside of time is at best an Aristotelian prime mover, and certainly is not a biblical God.. May I ask why you think that an atemporal God is not a biblical God? To refer to only two of the giants of the western tradition, both Augustine and Aquinas were of the view that time began with creation and that God exists outside time, and yet they spent a great deal of their time and energy exegeting biblical books and what they had to say about God, the same timeless God. And their God was certainly not simply Aristotles prime mover. I preach every Sunday about the God of the Bible, and dont think that I start talking about another God when I speak in class about a God who exists outside time. So I dont understand why you set up this dichotomyIn response to me, you wrote: Your argument seems to work just as well against the notion of coming up with such ideas in the first place. If our immaginations are not sufficiently capable of critiquing the ideas, then perhaps they are insufficient for producing the ideas at all. This assumes that I think that it was imagination that produced those ideas of God. I dont think so. In fact, I think that the ideas involved cannot be imagined. For example, since images all are limited, they cannot yield the idea of infinity. Or Boethius definition of eternity, referred to by Ann above, which also cannot be imagined. I think it is the mind, not the imagination, that produces such images. Bernard Lonergan conceived of God as the unrestricted act of understanding, the eternal rapture glimpsed in every Archimedean cry of Eureka. We have some experience of acts of understanding and of the joy they are, but we have no image even of them, much less of an infinite act of understanding and the rapture it must be.

Whoa. You folks have ratcheted up the conversation more than a notch or two. It is now admittedly beyond my ability to grasp. But if the Church officialy accepts Darwin's as sound science while continuing to hold that a spiritual force continues to guide us forward, is it not fair to conclude that the Church understands that all knowledge is evolutionary? Even the all-knowing, all-seeing, always-benevolent and all-powerful God's?

Whoa. Michael, who said the Church officially accepts Darwin as sound science? Knowledge is evolutionary in that our understanding of the conditions that exist in God's Universe has evolved over Time.

I don't have a Commonweal subscription, so I can't read that article about Teilhard, unfortunately. I always revisit one of the older dogmas of the Church, that Christ is completely human and completely divine, but one person. The Darwinian revolution brings new light to that dogma; as we evolve, politically and genetically, into something more and more human, we become more and more divine, that is, more an more Christ-like. Teilhard believed that evolution was increasingly an optional process - and he lived before the dawn of genetics technology! I think he's right. Also, the evolution of all life on this planet is, increasingly, a process directed by human consciousness. In other words, evolution of life on Earth IS human evolution, that is, the willful choice of humanity. We have become angels before the fall. Maybe then , Jesus was not a Hellenistic god-man, walking among the troops like Henry V, but instead, a man before his time, a light in the darkness before dawn - if we choose it. The final question is this: does God want companionship or does God want to come into being?

" Knowledge is evolutionary in that our understanding of the conditions that exist in Gods Universe has evolved over Time."Hey, Nancy, you're turning into a philosopher. Point well taken :-)

"... since images all are limited, they cannot yield the idea of infinity."JAK -- Fine argument for the reality of non-imaginative thought!My favorite modern argument is one of Frege's (he's the humogously great logician) A Platonist,he argued the we simply cannot imagine the meaning of the word "no/not". It has neither color,shape, spatial dimensionality of any sort whether length, breadth, width, solidity, odor, etc., etc It is not an imaginary object, and yet even a nine-month-old kid knows what it means :-). (And Singer says they're not rational animals. Hmph.). One could extrapolate and say that neither can we imagine the meaning of "if,,,then..." and all those lovely logical notions that can't be found in the impirical level of the world.There's also "consequently", "necessary", "possible" . . . The list goes on and on.

Nancy:Whoa. Michael, who said the Church officially accepts Darwin as sound science?From the address of Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (October 22, 1996) (the full text is at http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_jp02tc.htm )4. Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis considered the doctrine of "evolutionism" a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith, a point to which I will return. Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. [Italics added] [Aujourdhui, prs dun demi-sicle aprs la parution de l'encyclique, de nouvelles connaissances conduisent reconnaitre dans la thorie de l'volution plus qu'une hypothse.] It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.

Fr Komonchak:This assumes that I think that it was imagination that produced those ideas of God. I dont think so. In fact, I think that the ideas involved cannot be imagined. For example, since images all are limited, they cannot yield the idea of infinity.The following is from Wikipedia:"Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts."Trying to make a distinction between mind and imagination seems like inventing a distiction to support a point. Given the conceptual aspect above, I don't see how imagination is ruled out. In fact, I don't see how the notion of infinity can occur otherwise.

Nancy:The concept of a multiverse would be incapatible with Christianity because there is only one Son of God, who had only one Human Life, and it was here. in this Universe, on the Planet Earth.So now it's heresy to believe in multiverses. I knew it would come to that.

Mr. Manetti: This iobviously turns on one's definition of mind and imagination. I didn't take my notion of the latter from Wikipedia. I believe that understanding, an act of the mind, is the source of concepts, which are not images. The insights occur with regard to images (phantasms), but they are not the same thing as images. "Justice," for example, is not an image. I don't believe I invented this distinction.

Antonio, it is not heresy to believe in multiverses if it is only in your imagination,;-)

P.S., The fact that God placed the Earth in the preferred location in the the Universe, is evidence for God's desire that the Earth be able to sustain Life from the beginning. It should not surprise us in the least that there are many similarities among the various living organisms that exist because of the conditions that exist on Earth to sustain this Life as well as the conditions that are maintained through the Earth's relative position in the Universe. This does not mean that because there are similarities among different species, all species are the same, nor is it Scientific proof that all species come from the same initial source, unless of course, you are referring to The Blessed Trinity.While there is certainly evidence for microevolution as seen in the study of Genetics, there does not exist evidence (i.e. DNA added to an ape that is then added to "apeman", that whalah, results in Man) that macro-evolution has occured, which is why, at the end of the Day, a cat is still a cat, a dog is still a dog, and a monkey remains a monkey.

Fr. Komonchak: My apologies for giving into one of the limits of blogging; namely, that one often moves to the conclusion well before giving reasons to justify this move. I do think that a God outside of time is an Aristotelian prime mover, and I do think that Augustine and Aquinas did not demonstrate otherwise. The argument rests on what it means to be actual. However, justifying these conclusions would be a very long conversation, indeed!Bernard: Regarding ex nihilo, I am persuaded by Langdon Gilkey's study Maker of Heaven and Earth, which traces ex nihilo back to Augustine's efforts to refute Manicheanism. He argues that Augustine needed a position in which all of reality is dependent on one God, rather than two divine powers. Gilkey argues that ex nihilo is Augustine's theological innovation on behalf of this goal. One consequence of this is that, if Gilkey is correct, one would not need to affirm ex nihilo if one had other grounds for defending the conclusion that all of reality is dependent on one God. I think that such grounds exist, primarily by understanding God as that which makes all order possible.Ex nihilo is not biblical. Rather, the more biblical distinction is between order and chaos. In the beginning is chaos, not nothing.At least, that is how I see it.

Nancy, I'm tempted to add: Isn't heresy itself in the imagination? What caught my attention is the blogger's title: In Defense of Theistic Evolution At first I thought he would write about theology evolving, from St. Paul I to Benedict XVI, but then my imagination, before reading Nancy, suggested the blog would be about God evolving, from primitive to modern, absent fossils. But it wasn't, and I was fossicking. I read the blog, did the links, found it was about evolution and God, unevolved, masterminding the whole business, either involved as creator, or interested somehow as onlooker, after a timeless and, I guess, instantaneous act of creation, in which time began and aeons of letting go followed thereafter in epochs. I wonder often at defense of Evolution or Creationism, wishing, perhaps, one or the other had the ball on offense. The more profound wonder is how we can be offended by a game, which demands an offense and a defense at the same time. God, apparently, is not. Who doesn't change is not moved to boo or cheer. Imaginatively, there are no such measurements as either time or eternity. The one cannot be the other, whether side by side, or enveloping endlessly. Welcome John for thinking and being able to write thoughts in words. Writing down thought is the only way to see infinity expressed finitely.

Joe Petit and Crystal Watson, please let me try to be responsive to both of you in this message. Joe, I'll stick with ex nihilo. If chaos is not nothing, if it has any properties, then whence is it, if it itself is not created ex nihilo. I grant your point about what the Bible text says. I take it that theology has deepened the message that the biblical text conveys.Crystal, I agree that I can learn from creation something about God. For example, from the existence of human intelligence, I can know that if there is a god, then that God must be in some sense intelligent. I can also learn that God is fundamentally different from every created reality. However, I cannot prove from creation that there is a God. From the experience of the non-self-sufficiency of every thing that I do know about, I have reason to think that therre is some reality that explains the existence of these non-self-sufficient entities. This, as I understand it, is the line of reasoning that the Fathers of the Church developed in what is called apophatic theology. If I've not accurately represented what the Fathers taught, I apologize.

"Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could" -Julie Andrews, The Sound of MusicUnless, of course, there is a God to begin with.

John--Nice to meet you and thanks for the interesting post. Best of luck at the Mount. My niece is a student there and loves it. The campus is beautiful, especially the grotto.

Mr. Pettit: I was not so much interested in the question of Aristotle, but in why you think that a God outside of time is not a biblical God.I read and liked Gilkeys book and used it when I taught courses on creation. I think you oversimplify his argument. First, he doesnt attribute the ex nihilo to Augustine, and certainly not as an innovation; in fact, he presents it as a commonplace of early Christian thought, with Justin Martyr the lone exception. Second, he presents this notion of creation, negatively, as denying the three implications of dualism: pre-existent matter, the finite God, and the necessary evil of dualism. Positively, it asserted that God was the sole source of all existence and (2) since all that is comes from Gods will as its sole source, nothing in existence can be intrinsically evil A further implication is that the idea excludes any analogy with human art that supposes pre-existent matter (44ff, in the Doubleday Anchor edition).Gilkey himself sees no difficulty with the idea of creation ex nihilo. Perhaps you were thinking of Ian Barbour who flatly denies that it is a biblical notion, a view that is, however, not shared by important biblical scholars such as von Rad and Eichrodt who believe the idea (not the formula) is quite biblical.

Fr. Komonchak: Perhaps I should stop referencing books that I read 17 years ago! At any rate, I will have to go back and check the link to Augustine. I did not mean to suggest that Gilkey rejected ex nihilo, but rather that its theological development was related to refuting specific theological positions, and that if one had alternative reasons to reject those same theological positions, then ex nihilo was not theologically essential.

Ann: I am not convinced that anyone, not even nine month olds, know what no/not means as isolated concepts. Rather, we learn negation through differentiation, and so there must always be a positive dimension to all negation. Babies stick stuff in their mouths. They slowly learn what is not food, what is not this, not that, etc. In other words, every time I negate something, differentiate something, I always have something else, or more accurately, many other things, implicitly in mind.

Creation is not a making of any sort. Creation is ex nihilo.Is creation in the Bible "ex nihilo"?

Please let me amend my previous comment. Naturalists holds that the physical universe is all that there is. In that sense it is self-sufficient. For them, if I'm not mistaken, the distinction between the necessary and the contingent is incorrect. The correct distinction would be between the necessary and the possible, where possibility is interpreted mathematically in terms of probabilities. Any probability larger than 0 is possible. The total number of possibilites , perhaps infinitely many, can occur. If some don't occur, that's just the way the universe is. Necessity, in this context, is just the way the universe is. On this view, it doesn't make sense to ask whether the universe could be some other way, i.e., whether the universe we actually have is, in the classical sense, contingent. x is contingent if its being is dependent on something other than itself. For the naturalist, there's nothing that it would make sense to say that our universe depends on it.There are, I'm convinced, ways to respond to the naturalist challenge, but these responses themselves are not likely to be definitive.So, faith in God's existence is by no means unreasonable, but His existence is not something that we can definitively prove by unaided reason.

Joe Petit --True, there is no knowledge that different sensory objects are different without knowledge of their differences (lovely tautology, that :-), and we get such knowledge by means of our senses. And, let me note, that we do form some at least semi-permanent sensory images of those sensory objects. The ancients called them "phantasms". And one particular image of pure red could function as a representative image of all reds that are exactly the same tone as our phantasm. But that "universal" image of that red is not an image of *all* reds -- not of slightly yellow red, or slightly blue red, or slightly gray red, etc. However, the point about concepts/ideas as opposed to the images/phantasms of the imagination is that they are themselves different from the images, and we can know that by focusing on each one of them. For instance, when I focus on my memory of my laptop (which is an image produced by the imagination) I am aware that it is gray, a particular shade of gray, not all grays at once. . But when I focus on my understanding of what all grays are all like (my idea/concept of gray), that concept, that thought is not *itself* any *particular* shade of gray, so it becomes obivous that it is an essentially different sort of thought from the knowing of the particular gray of my laptop. Philosophers in the classic traditions call these thoughts "concepts" or "ideas". By the way, I'll wager that that Wikipedia quote was written a psychologist, and not a by amathematician either.Mathematicians are often acutely aware of the difference between concepts and phantasms. (I keep using "phantasms" because "image" is so ambiguous -- there is a plain sense of "image" which can apply to concepts insofar as they are sort fo copies of what they represent).. Here's an example of why mathematicians often differ from the psychologists. Consider the meaning of "straight line". We know exactly, precisely what that means. But we can't possibly know it by means of a sensory experience of a straight line. Let's say you see what looks like a straight line. How would you test whether or not it really measures up to your totally precise criterion of straightness, i.e., your concept of straight? You'd need a perfectly straight edged ruler to see if they matched. (And let's ignore the fact that your vision might not be perfect.) How can you tell if the *ruler* is straight? Get another rule to test it against? And how would you know if *that* ruler were straight? You'd be involved in an infinite series of rulers and could never tell if that line is a straight one. In other words "straight" is not something we know with a phanstasm. Yet you *know* exactly what "straight' means. That knowledge of straight is called the "concept: or "idea" of straight, and it is essentially different from any physical line you might draw or any edge of a purportedly straight-edged physical object.Yes, it might be possible that there is a straight edge in the physical world. But our merely sensory capabilities could tell you if you'd found it. The ramifications of this fact, of course, lead to the positing of a non-physical level of our own conscious reality. This level is what used to be called "soul". But "soul" is a four-letter word to scientism. It seems to terror into the hearts of some scientists. Pity. Granted, it opens up all sorts of other problems, but that's life.There are, perhaps, further ramifications than simply my having to recognizet the non-physical level of my own being. It introduces the possibility that there are other, greater souls, perhaps even one that has planned and now directs some of the cosmos. Hmm.. Or maybe a committe of such souls. Complexity. Complexity.

Ann, another example in geometry, where a "point" is conceived to have no dimensions.I don't know that I would say that concepts are "sort of copies of what they represent." I think this inclines us again to picture-thinking, which you want to avoid. What does "justice" copy? Or the notions in physics of "mass," energy, etc., which really aren't "copies," are they?

Ann: I would be inclined to extend understanding by differentiation to the conceptual realm as well, not merely the empirical, but that is a much longer disucssion.

I find the following Richard Rorty quote to be useful when thinking about these issues. Truth cannot be out therecannot exist independently of the human mindbecause sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its ownunaided by the describing activities of humanscannot.Thus, to quote Rorty again: "Truth is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way."

Antonio, it is not heresy to believe in multiverses if it is only in your imagination,;-)Interesting. Put another way, it must not be heresy for me to believe something that someone else thinks is imaginary. Tell that to Galileo.

"Tell that to Galileo." You mean because Galileo believed in a heliocetric Universe even though there is no "center" of the Universe?

"Crystal: I see what you mean that every choice that can be made, including the bad ones, will be made, so where is the option to not choose badness?Antonio, even if this were true, the option would be to not be the one to choose the badness.

With regard to the two quotes from Rorty, cited by Mr. Manetti:Truth cannot be out therecannot exist independently of the human mindbecause sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its ownunaided by the describing activities of humanscannot.This is a curious combination of insight and over-sight. Truths exist only in minds; Bernard Lonergan used to speak ironically of people who think that truth is so objective that it doesnt need to reside in minds. But that the world is out there is the worst kind of picture-thinking, the sort of thing that arises when people ask: How can our mindsin hereget to realityout there?" The world is what comes to be known through true judgements, and this is the world both in here and out there. Truth is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way. I wonder whether Rorty would have applied this cynical comment to that statement itself, proposed, it would appear, as true. Unless, of course, paying their way were taken to mean stating what is the case.

Antonio --Rorty is using "truth" with a particular meaning -- the relationship between a sentence and the thing ithopefully reveals. There is also the truth of thoughts which hopefully reveal what is so. The scholastics distinguished a third meaning -- the truth of the object known, which thye identified with the being of the object or some aspect of its being. It is in this ordinary sense (and metaphysical sense) that one might say emphatically to someone who said you were lying about a fact, "The fact of the matter is JAK --Whether or not our thoughts reveal the objects we think the thoughts are about is, of course, the problem of epistemology. Plato identified the content of thought and thing (participation theory) which is a neat way to overcome the duality of thought and thing, but that theory brings its own problems. Aristotle and Aquinas sometimes shared that theory, sometimes not. Later philosophers keep trying to ground empirical knowledge, but so far as I can see haven't succeeded. Even Aristotle and Aquinas said that our knowledge of the contingent (the empirical world) is at best only "opinion", not knowledge. Plato actually never finally made up his mind. Wittgenstein's early theory of the isomorphism of thought and thing is interesting -- he thought that the structure of our thoughts are like the structures of the things of the world, but not the simpleer parts which are structured. Some physicists seem to like this a lot because they know very well that they only *infer* natures of the simpler parts of a physical object (e. g., the sub-atomic parts like photons and electrons).

Ammended...we know what they are, we just can't agree on what they mean.

I wish I understood this stuff better. When I think back to philosophy cclasses, I can only remember Kant and the distictions he made netween reality and appearance. There's an interesting Gresham College lecture by Keith Ward on Kant and his reaction to Hume, "The Triumph of Idealism", in video here and in text form here.

Which is why the Church is necessary for our Salvation. Christ has founded His Church so that The Word, the Truth of Love, remains consistent. While there may be elements of Truth in other churches, the fullness of Truth can only be found in the Church that He, the Truth, has founded.

Antonio --Rorty is using "truth" with a particular meaning -- the relationship between a sentence and the thing ithopefully reveals. There is also the truth of thoughts which hopefully reveal what is so. The scholastics distinguished a third meaning -- the truth of the object known, which thye identified with the being of the object or some aspect of its being. It is in this ordinary sense (and metaphysical sense) that one might say emphatically to someone who said you were lying about a fact, "The fact of the matter is JAK --Whether or not our thoughts reveal the objects we think the thoughts are about is, of course, the problem of epistemology. Plato identified the content of thought and thing (participation theory) which is a neat way to overcome the duality of thought and thing, but that theory brings its own problems. Aristotle and Aquinas sometimes shared that theory, sometimes not. Later philosophers keep trying to ground empirical knowledge, but so far as I can see haven't succeeded. Even Aristotle and Aquinas said that our knowledge of the contingent (the empirical world) is at best only "opinion", not knowledge. Plato actually never finally made up his mind. Wittgenstein's early theory of the isomorphism of thought and thing is interesting -- he thought that the structure of our thoughts are like the structures of the things of the world, but not the simpleer parts which are structured. Some physicists seem to like this a lot because they know very well that they only *infer* natures of the simpler parts of a physical object (e. g., the sub-atomic parts like photons and electrons).Nancy --Interesting point about the center of a universe infinite in all directions. Hmmm.

Tell that to Galileo. You mean because Galileo believed in a heliocetric Universe even though there is no center of the Universe?No, I mean because Galileo's belief differed from the Church-sanctioned cosmology of his day.

Antonio, I have heard that the problem the Church had with Galileo was that he inferred, since the Earth was not in the central location of the Universe, we must not be central to God's intention for the Universe. Perhaps this was an example of someone re-writing History.My favorite argument in response to those who claim there is no absolute truth is: "If there is no absolute truth then it can not be true that there is no absolute truth".( some famous person who is at the moment unknown to me)

There are absolute truths. We just don't know what they are yet.

Nancy,You mentioned above the idea of the multiverse and the idea that everything that can happen, does .... where does that leave free will. I don't know. I guess every person in each universe would make a free choice ech time they made a decision, but I don't know how that would relate to there being a number of people who would make the "wrong" choice, statistically speaking. I'm lost here :)

Antonio, I have heard that the problem the Church had with Galileo was that he inferred, since the Earth was not in the central location of the Universe, we must not be central to Gods intention for the Universe. Perhaps this was an example of someone re-writing History.</iFrom "The Galileo Affair", by Maurice Finocchiaro, the following is an english translation of the core findings of the Inquisition.That the Sun is the center of the World and motionless is a proposition which is Philosophically absurd and false.That the earth is neither the center of the world nor motioneless but moves even with diurnal motion is philosophically equally absurd and false, and theologically at least erroneous in the Faith.

Ann:Rorty is using truth with a particular meaning the relationship between a sentence and the thing ithopefully reveals. There is also the truth of thoughts which hopefully reveal what is so. The scholastics distinguished a third meaning the truth of the object known, which thye identified with the being of the object or some aspect of its being. It is in this ordinary sense (and metaphysical sense) that one might say emphatically to someone who said you were lying about a fact, The fact of the matter is True. Here's a fuller statement by Rorty on the issue of truth vs. Truth, as it appears in his introduction to "Consequences of Pragmatism".[The pragmatist theory of truth] says that truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about. For pragmatists, truth is just the name of a property which all true statements share. It is what is common to Bacon did not writeShakespeare, It rained yesterday, E = mc2 Love is better than hate, The Allegory ofPainting was Vermeers best work, 2 plus 2 is 4, and There are nondenumerableinfinities. Pragmatists doubt that there is much to be said about this common feature. Theydoubt this for the same reason they doubt that there is much to be said about the commonfeature shared by such morally praiseworthy actions as Susan leaving her husband, Americajoining the war against the Nazis, America pulling out of Vietnam, Socrates not escapingfrom jail, Roger picking up litter from the trail, and the suicide of the Jews at Masada. Theysee certain acts as good ones to perform, under the circumstances, but doubt that there isanything general and useful to say about what makes them all good. The assertion of a givensentence or the adoption of a disposition to assert the sentence, the conscious acquisition ofa belief is a justifiable, praiseworthy act in certain circumstances. But, a fortiori, it is notlikely that there is something general and useful to be said about what makes All suchactions good-about the common feature of all the sentences which one should acquire adisposition to assert.

Antonio, regarding the Earth's movement, the fact of the matter is, that while it is true that the Earth does not hold the central position in the Universe, it does hold the preferred position in the Universe, and if the Earth were to be moved from this preferred position, it could no longer sustain Life. So philoosophically speaking, if the Earth were to be moved from this preferred location, there would be no "to be?". :-)

Crystal, I do not believe in the concept of multiverse. I do believe, however, that for every action, there is a reaction, because everything that exists, exists in relationship. God knows the conditions of the Universe He created, and because He is the Creator, He sees everything as it unfolds. He knows, for e.g., what the outcome will be if we choose to do X. Although His Love is always there to guide us, He will never coerce us, because Love is not coercive.To say that everything that exists, exists in relationship, is not the same as saying Truth is relative, although all Truth is relative to the Creator, God, The Blessed Trinity, who is The Relationship of Love that gives us Life to begin with.

Mr Manetti: What an impoverished view of philosophy Rorty sets out in that quote! It displays a kind of obscurantism, as if certain questions needn't or shouldn't be asked.

Mr Manetti: What an impoverished view of philosophy Rorty sets out in that quote! It displays a kind of obscurantism, as if certain questions neednt or shouldnt be asked.I'm no philosopher, but that's not the way I read it. As Rorty goes on to state:Pragmatists think that the history of attempts to isolate the True or the Good, or to definethe word true or good, supports their suspicion that there is no interesting work to bedone in this area. It might, of course, have turned out otherwise. People have, oddly enough,found something interesting to say about the essence of Force and the definition ofnumber. They might have found something interesting to say about the essence of Truth.But in fact they havent. The history of attempts to do so, and of criticisms of such attempts,is roughly coextensive with the history of that literary genre we call philosophy a genrefounded by Plato. So pragmatists see the Platonic tradition as having outlived its usefulness.This does not mean that they have a new, non-Platonic set of answers to Platonic questionsto offer, but rather that they do not think we should ask those questions any more,I suggest reading the entire piece. A copy can be found on line at:http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/rorty.htm

Fr. Komonchak:Mr. Manetti: This iobviously turns on ones definition of mind and imagination. I didnt take my notion of the latter from Wikipedia. I believe that understanding, an act of the mind, is the source of concepts, which are not images. The insights occur with regard to images (phantasms), but they are not the same thing as images. Justice, for example, is not an image. I dont believe I invented this distinction.This is from http://philosophy.uwaterloo.ca/MindDict/imagination.htmlThe concept of the imagination seems to have been first introduced into philosophy by Aristotle, who tells us that "imagination [phantasia] is (apart from any metaphorical sense of the word) the process by which we say that an image [phantasma] is presented to us" (De Anima, 428a 1-4). It has been questioned in recent times whether the Greek words phantasia and phantasma are really equivalent to "imagination" and "(mental) image" as heard in contemporary usage.I guess I don't see the point in splitting hairs over the issue. To me, Einstein's theory and Shakespear's plays are equally products of the imagination as are other conceptual notions, such as time, E= MC**2 or infinity.Interestingly, regarding the factuality of images, the neurologist Oliver Saks related the case history of someone blind from birth, who had their sight restored late in life. To them, the visual world we take for granted was simply incomprehensible -- a jumble of chaotic shapes and colors, which the person was never able to "make sense of" or organize in any way. Apparently, the cognitive faculties necessary to organize the visual world, like those associated with the acquisition of language, are only present in infancy and early childhood and dissappear with age.

"but rather that they do not think we should ask those questions any more." Perhaps this is because they do not believe that The Truth has always existed even if they do not "see" Him."Oh ye, of little Faith."-Christ

Antonio, regarding Oliver Saks' case history of someone blind from birth, perhaps their "blindness" was not fully restored and that is why they were not able to "make sense of" the visual World. (scientifically speaking)

Mr. Manetti: I'm aware enough of Rorty's position, but disagree with it fundamentally. As for the quote from Aristotle about imagination, I think his thought confirms the distinction between imagining and understanding. The distinction was relevant to this thread because the question arose as to whether concepts of God need be imaginable. I don't think they need to be, any more than concepts in modern physics need to be imaginable.

Nancy:[R]egarding Oliver Saks case history of someone blind from birth, perhaps their blindness was not fully restored and that is why they were not able to make sense of the visual World. (scientifically speaking).The case history is well documented. Besides, when a sighted person suffers vision loss, they lose visual acuity but not cognitive function.Fr. Komonchak:The distinction was relevant to this thread because the question arose as to whether concepts of God need be imaginable. I dont think they need to be, any more than concepts in modern physics need to be imaginable.I obviously misunderstood your earlier point. (Although I find such a pictorial idea of imagination rather 'impoverished'.) In any event, Of course, we 'see through a glass darkly'. To repeat Haldane's quote regarding nature, 'Reality is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine'. Nonetheless, although we can't imagine the infinite, we can certainly imagine the idea of the infinite.As to the concepts of modern physics and the relationship between knowledge and imagination, Einstein made the following observations in a 1919 essay entitled "Induction and Deduction in Physics":The truly great advances in our understanding of nature originated in a way almost diametrically opposed to induction. The *intuitive* grasp of the essentials of a large complex of facts [emphasis mine] leads the scientist to the postulation of a hypothetical basic law or laws. From these laws, he derives his conclusions.

I don't know what it means to "imagine the idea of the infinite"; but I suspect we are working with two quite different notions of the imagination. Einstein's "intuition" seems close to what I mean by insight--"grasping the essentials of a large complex of facts"--which you associate with imagination, it would seem.

Antonio --Can't say I like what Rorty has to say about "true" and "good". To dismiss what phiosophers have said about truth as "uninteresting" shows a mighty limited knowledge of the history of philosopphy. Would that he had read the medievals on the subjecs, as did the founder of pragmatism, Charles Peirce, who read extensively in the medievals and was much influenced by Duns Scotus.. The medievals gave a huge amount of attention to the concepts or "notions" of the good and true, and the other transcendentals. (The transcendentals are features or characteristics of all beings, and so the words signifying them ("good" and "true", etc.) are applicable to all beings. It's for this reason that Aquinas held that even sins are in one sense "good" For instance, if I killed you by shooting you exactly between the eyes, Fr. Komonchak could tightly exclaim "Good shot!" , because the act (apart from its evil aspect) was indeed a good physical act. Me, I think that's at least kind of interesting :-)Another reason they're interesting is that they cannot be defined in the ordinary sense. because, unlike other abstractions, in some sense they leave nothing out (since they signify everything nothing can be left out). Thus they signify God's infinite Being as well as t being of the least finite creatures.But is such a notion of an actual infinity a rational notion? And can there be an actual infinity of alternate worlds? If so, are the two infinities the same kind of infinity? Talk about infinities, whether of God or of an infinite number of alternate worlds, can be clarified somewhat by Georg Cantor's theory of transfinite numbers. Transfinite numbers are infinite numbers generated by a finite rule, e.g., "plus one". For instance, take the number 1, and add 1 to it. Then add 1 to the 2, then add one to 3 . . . ad infinitum. Voila', an infinite number has been generated. Unlike most of the scientific and mathematical giants of the 19th and 20th centuries, Cantor was a very religious man, and he used those infinite numbers to try to "define" or describe the infinite immensity of God. But he encountered a great deal of opposition. Some said that the infinities were only potential, not actual ones, others said the theory involved contradictions, Wittgenstein said it was nonsense, but other mathematicians said no, that there are actually infinite numbers -- for instance, within one line there is an actual infinity of points. Even segments of a line include an actual infinite number of points. There are, said Cantor, infinities of different sizes, and there are an infinity of infinities.I wonder how large the infinity of alternate universes is supposed to be? And how great art Thou, O Lord??

Hi, Ann, I am not a philosopher (and don't play one in my spare time) but I read the Rorty as well as the above and the links, and it seems to me that, whatever the intuitive appeal of notions of "good" and "truth" ex ante language, in order for such notions to be made concrete (i.e., able to be communicated from A to B) they must be "reduced" to a linguistic formula. I suspect that for this reason (as I recall) Greeks tried hard to come up with images, analogies and metaphors as a way of explaining a notion that was "bigger" than the words used to contain it. I am agnostic at the idea that, given our propensity for language, that "I speak therefore I am" means that no concept can actually be bigger than our ability to capture it in langauge. But no matter how hard I try to think otherwise, however the notion of God came to mankind, most religious efforts to make sense of human behavior, or the world at large (its tangible or intangible qualities) is an effort at backfilling and is a quite different exercise than what we normally think as "making sense of" something. E.g., if you go to a doctor with a list of symptoms, the doctor makes sense of those symptoms by trying to find a diagnosis that fits them all and thus predicts an outcome, hopefully a cure, that is relatively certain. He might start with some hypothetical diagnoses, but he is willing to ditch them if they ultimately don't fit (are disproved or shown to be inaccurate in light of new or incompatible information). Sometimes he gets a new diagnosis or none at all.Too much of the time, when discussing God or infinity we are starting with the diagnosis, the end point, and then explaining reality in that light, rather than vice versa. And I think your example of the "good" shot actually shows the inherent limits, not the possibilities, of a transcendent notion of "good." Those are my random thoughts.

"Too much of the time, when discussing God or infinity we are starting with the diagnosis, the end point, and then explaining reality in that light, rather than vice versa."This is true. When explaining reality in the light of God, it always helps to go back to the Beginning. "In the Beginning was The Word, and The Word was with God, and The Word was God...(The Gospel of John) which takes us back to Genesis, The Beginning. This is not to say that the Lord, God, is not the Alpha and Omega simultaneously, but rather, that the Word of God exists as a whole, not as a set of unrelated elements.

"To dismiss what philosophers have said about truths as uninteresting shows a mighty limited knowledge of the history of Philosophy." -or a mighty limited knowledge of the history of History for that matter.Ann, I agree. The history of Philosophy can be seen in relation to the history of History, as in, helping to answer the question, "What were they thinking?" or perhaps even, "What were they thinking"?????

Barbara: You wrote: "Too much of the time, when discussing God or infinity we are starting with the diagnosis, the end point, and then explaining reality in that light, rather than vice versa." I suppose this may very much turn on who the "we" are in your sentence. There are, of course, many people who are still working on the question of God's existence, and of trying to see whether the hypothesis covers all the data. But in the tradition, and still today, there also are many people who have worked their way to an affirmative answer and for whom "infinity" is one of the terms that constitute that answer, and for them it will be quite natural to try to explain reality in the light of the infinite God's existence. In the course of the effort, it might also be that notions will be developed, misconceptions uncovered, and arguments elaborated that will be of aid for those still seeking an answer to the great question.

Hi, Joseph, I am sure that you are right in reference to some percentage of people, for some percentage of doctrines ordained as infallible or non-negotiable, but I wish I could agree that this is a majority, or even a significant minority of either people or doctrines. I only say this because, although I certainly concur one could look either outward or inward, as Pascal said, and affirm the infinite in the form of God, what is the chance that intuition could take you much further than that in discerning the details? If it's hard to imagine what the infinite means, imagine how much harder it must be to imagine with precision or correctness what or how a being that is infinite must be thinking. And yet, it is from assumptions about God from which the details are asserted to flow, and they flow in language not intuition.

Barbara: I didn't say anything about majorities or minorities. My point all along has been that "infinity" is not imaginable, so we are in agreement on the point. For the great shapers of the Christian theist position, I don't think that the ascription to God of such concepts as infinity or timelessness were "assumptions about God," but conclusions reached by rather hard and rigorous intellectual argument, or as implications of biblical revelation, or both. I also agree that it is not possible for a finite mind to know how an infinite being is thinking. As for what such a being is thinking, Aquinas thought this could be known only if this being revealed it; and this revelation does not extend to the particular and concrete elements that constitute the context out of which both believers and unbelievers ask their religious questions. "Why?" occurs often enough in the Psalms, and Jesus asked it on the Cross.

Fr. Komonchak:Mr Manetti: What an impoverished view of philosophy Rorty sets out in that quote! It displays a kind of obscurantism, as if certain questions neednt or shouldnt be asked.As an engineer (now retired), pragmatism has an inherent appeal to me. In any event, I don't understand why one might see a problem in acknowledging that the physical world or God exceeds humanity's finite powers of comprehension and thus our understanding of both is contingent and limited. In fact, far from feeling that such a view is impoverished, I find it opens the door to the possibility that we might find new, *useful* and fruitful ways of envisioning both God and the physical world. As I see it, far from being obscurantist, it asserts that the process of enlightenment is a continuing one. After all:There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I also agree that it is not possible for a finite mind to know how an infinite being is thinking. As for what such a being is thinking,Assuming concepts such as "mind" and "thinking" have any meaning beyond the metaphorical.

Mr. Manetti: I am puzzled that you apparently think I disagree with the judgment that "the physical world or God exceeds humanitys finite powers of comprehension and thus our understanding of both is contingent and limited." I entirely agree with this, at least with regard to God. But Rorty's point is that the effort to seek a true understanding of this world, much less of God, is vain, that we cannot know the world as it is. And I do not understand how any "ways of envisioning both God and the physical world" could be considered "useful and fruitful" if they do not tell the truth about God. This is the objection a British philosopher once launced at Rorty after hearing him say in a lecture, on the one hand, that we cannot know reality as it is, and, on the other, that science recommends itself because of its ability to predict. Perhaps, the philosopher commented, Prof. Rorty would enlighten us as to how it is possible to assert both things at once.

Ann:Cant say I like what Rorty has to say about true and good. To dismiss what phiosophers have said about truth as uninteresting shows a mighty limited knowledge of the history of philosopphyRorty's style aside, it seems to this onlooker that philsophers have been searching for Truth for some time. By the way, I don't think science ever had similar expectations. As H. G. Wells said in 1890:Science is a match that man has just got alight. He thought he was in a room--in moments of devotion, a temple--that his light would be reflected from and display walls inscribed with wonderful secrets and pillars carved with philosophical systems wrought into harmony. It is a curious sensation, now that the preliminary splutter is over and the flame burns up clear, to see his hands lit and just a glimpse of himself and the patch he stands on visible, and around him, in place of all that human comfort and beauty he anticipated--darkness stillFr. Kononchak:But Rortys point is that the effort to seek a true understanding of this world, much less of God, is vain,I don't read him that way. Scientists know that their findings are apt to be supplanted by better insights but that doesn't stop them, from doing science. Engineers are used to having the work of many years end up in the knacker's yard. Nonetheless, one still hopes to discover or build something useful along the way.I hate to keep quoting Rorty, but in that sense, "Truth is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way." In other words, truths are statements that in some context of time and place are perceived to be *useful* or to have value. Thus, it is pointless to search for truths with the expectation of discovering something having an indefinite shelf life. So, when [Pragmatists] suggest that we not ask questions about the nature of Truth and Goodness, they do not invoke a theory about the nature of reality or knowledge or man which says that there is no such thing as Truth or Goodness. Nor do they have a relativistic or subjectivist theory of Truth or Goodness. They would simply like to change the subject.Once again, I'd advise reading the entire piece, if only to discover how I've misconstrued what Rorty had to say. It's at:http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/rorty.htm

What do you think "paying their way" means? Being useful? Having value? Can a proposition be useful or valuable if it does not state what is the case? And yet Rorty, in this essay, denies the correspondence theory of truth. You write: "Thus, it is pointless to search for truths with the expectation of discovering something having an indefinite shelf life." I would want to make some distinctions. It is not now raining in College Park, MD, as I type this. In an hour it may no longer be true that it is not now raining in College Park, MD. But that at 8:30 PM on June 15th, 2009, it was not raining in College Park, MD, remains true, and has an indefinite shelf-life. That Richard Rorty wrote the piece you cite, I take it, has an indefinite shelf-life. I don't know how useful or valuable that statement is, but I take it to state what is the case, and I don't have any reason to deny it. If you think the statement is true, states what is the case, then you are employing the correspondence notion of truth, the one that Rorty wishes to discard. And don't judgments that certain statements are useful and valuable claim to state what is the case: that these statements actually are useful and valuable?In rereading what you wrote above, I wonder if you aren't assuming that I think that knowledge doesn't make progress. I don't think that. Human knowledge does progress; that progress is sometimes linear, building on what was known before; but sometimes the progress consists in discovering the incorrectness or inadequacy of a previously held position. But when the latter occurs, it is because the old position is discovered not to account for all that needs to be accounted for, and, within science, if the purpose is eventually to learn something useful, it would be important that everything that needs to be accounted for is accounted for; anything less would likely be not very useful.

"Can a proposition be useful or valuable if it does not state what is the case?"JAK and Antono-- My complaint against the pragmatist criterion of truth ("usefulness") is that the pragmatists claim both 1) we can know when an action has been useful, i.e., met a proposed goal, and 2) we can't know anything with certainty. This seems contradictory. It makes no sense to me to say I I can't know if there's pie in the oven, then saying Yay, using Grandma's recipe I just made a delicious pie. Granted, there is no absolutely certainty that there is a pie out there, but there is good reason for saying there is. My problem is that i don't know of any epistemology which aequately explains our conviction that there are totally objective facts. I always admired Rorty for admitting that there is no adequate epistemology, at least not yet. But it is very sad that he essentially abandoned philosophy (the search for the most basic truths). Ironically, aaying that philosophy is a genre of literature certainly looks like anattempt to s say something about the world. At the end he just added to what I see is the movement away from rationality in the last few decades, even by some scientists. Scary.(By the way Rorty is the one who popularized the use of the word "ironically". He's going to pay for that:-)Barbara --Your post to me is very interesting. But the issues are difficult. I have to think about it more brefore answering.

" And dont judgments that certain statements are useful and valuable claim to state what is the case: that these statements actually are useful and valuable?JAK --You've said in one sentence what I tried to say in my whole post. I apologize for not reading your o through before replying.

Fr Komonchuk:What do you think paying their way means? Being useful? Having value? Can a proposition be useful or valuable if it does not state what is the case?Sure it can. For a statement to be useful or valuable, it need only serve some uselful purpose. In that sense, before the development of the telescope, astronomical predictions based on Ptolemy's cosmology were deemed to be useful for over a millenium. And yet Rorty, in this essay, denies the correspondence theory of truth. I would want to make some distinctions. It is not now raining in College Park, MD, as I type this. In an hour it may no longer be true that it is not now raining in College Park, MD. But that at 8:30 PM on June 15th, 2009, it was not raining in College Park, MD, remains true, and has an indefinite shelf-life.Besides the fact that such statements are embedded in a linguistically and socially created world, even if the speakers share that world, there is still the question of correspondence of whose reality. What does one say to the Logical Positivist or the Marxist? And how do we get from there to discovering the universal truths embedded in the extra-linguistic reality 'out there'?

And dont judgments that certain statements are useful and valuable claim to state what is the case: that these statements actually are useful and valuable?Of course they do. But that's precisely my point. Just as the worth of a thing is whatever someone is willing to pay, in the economy of useful statements, the measure of worth is whatever the speakers agree upon.If you think the statement is true, states what is the case, then you are employing the correspondence notion of truth, the one that Rorty wishes to discard.Specifically, what I think what Rorty wants to discard is the idea that the correspondence theory of truth is a useful criterion leading all speakers to the same conclusion regarding the truth or falsity of a statement. What I think might correspond to reality isn't worth much if the other participant doesn't buy it. Rorty discards the theory partly on the notion that it hasn't worked out so well in the half millenia or so that it's been around.

I don't look upon the correspondence theory of truth as "a useful criterion"; I think it describes what is meant when someone says, "The truth is, it was raining that day." I don't think it can be discarded without being presupposed by the one discarding it. One question: At times I get the impression that if I say that we can reach the truth about things, people take this to mean the full, comprehensive understanding of things--Truth with a capital T. I think we naturally desire to know this Truth, but, even if we were able to reach It (which I don't think is possible short of the Beatific Vision), we would do so only by small, individual, step-by-step inquiries, discovering the truth about this, and then about that, and then about that, etc. Nor does truth apply only to necessary things. One can be absolutely sure of a contingent fact--the sun is shining; Barack Obama is President; etc.--and certain about a probability.I am a little surprised, Mr. Manetti, that an engineer would question the correspondence theory of truth. It might make me hesitant to cross a bridge you had designed or built!

I dont look upon the correspondence theory of truth as a useful criterion; I think it describes what is meant when someone says, The truth is, it was raining that day. I dont think it can be discarded without being presupposed by the one discarding it.What's germain to this dialogue and what I think Rorty wishes to discard is the notion that the correspondence theory can ever yield Truth, with a capital T. So what I think we disagree about is whether or not one's collection ot truths with a small 't' leads asymptotically in the direction of Truth. But, of course, by the very nature of Truth, there's really no way to know, which, in my view, brings us full circle to having to settle for the bogeyman of 'usefulness'.I am a little surprised, Mr. Manetti, that an engineer would question the correspondence theory of truth. It might make me hesitant to cross a bridge you had designed or built!You better hope I don't place all my trust in the theory. The Potomac Narrows bridge was built according to someone's complacent assumptions about what corresponded to reality and yet it collapsed. All good engineers mistrust their perception of reality and try to err on the side of caution (or what they perceive as caution). They also believe in Murphy's law -- what can go wrong, will go wrong. The only problem is that the potential for 'wrongness' in that sense is hidden that infinite matrix called reality and is most apt to reveal itself in very unpleasant ways.At this point, I find myself repeating the notion that truth, at least in an engineering sense, corresponds to what's useful -- e.g. the set of facts and beliefs needed to build bridges that engineers hope won't fall down, however that seems like a tautology to me.

Antonio --About the currently popular notion that truth is a socially constructed reality. : Undoubtedly my concept of a hurricane has been contributed to by many people, and when I judge that a hurricane is coming I'm dependent for some of my thoughts on other people's thought,, and I don't doubt that some of my might be inaccurate. However, during the week-end before Katrina honlhy the crazy, the senile and the incredibly ignorant did not agree that a hurricane was coming our way. Our possibly slightly different concepts of what is signified "hurricane" did not affect our unanimity about the approach of the monster storm. In other words, there are objects/events which are so overwhelmingly real that you will find total unanimity about their reality exept among the insane, the senile or thoroughly ignorant. So though Rorty's skepticism about people's different perceptions of facts is true about many facts, it is not true of other, overwhelming facts. It seems to me there are three basic epistemological problems: whether things exist independently of our thought, how they exist (what the are) indepedent of our thought, and how and to what extent we come to know such objective realities. I don't think Rorty is clear about the diferences. I should also note that for the ancients *beinng certain" is merely a feeling -- it is not itself the possession of truth. It is a feeling about truth, not a thought about truth, and if used as evidence is can be misleading.By the way, Wittgenstein and Alan turing argued about whether or not a logical system had to be consistent. Wittgenstein said it didn't. Turing said, of course it does. Wittenstein asked, what difference would it make if it were inconsistent? Turing said, well, if it;s inconsistent, then the bridges might fall down. Wittgenstein didn't care. (Yep, I think he ws a little crazy, besides being extraordinarily brilliant, and that's another reason he's hard to read.)

John Schwenkler: Congratulations on a stunning debut post! One must usually discuss abortion, contraception, or same-sex relationships to garner more than 100 comments here at dotComm. Nicely done.

One thing that doesn't make sense; if a perfect God created it all, why isn't it perfect? Granted it's close to perfect (in some places) but it 'should be' flawless throughout, and God Himself seems strangely removed from it! I have to agree with Plato (and, more recently, quantum physics), this is an imperfect reflection (mirror image, hologram if you will) of the 'real' and perfect reality. A big bang just came out of no where and voila - a universe, that is still expanding (not infinite) no less! It worked reasonably well (perfect imperfection - mirror image), evolution and natural selection being its result. Afterall, when was the last time you saw God interfering in nature? He doesn't but rather instituted natural laws and seasons to dictate the rules.Darwin was brilliant: man/Adam (Hebrew-ruddy) was initially only a 'soul (animal principal only). He changed 'after' God put him into the garden (Gen. 2:7-8), which makes me wonder what was wrong with the earth that God decided to move him there? In that supernatural and perfect place, Adam/man gained 'God's image (supernatural spirit-aura)' and became 'more than an animal'. It's just too close - in his initial state Adam must have been a primate!Theistic Evolution!

Ann:It seems to me there are three basic epistemological problems: whether things exist independently of our thought, how they exist (what the are) indepedent of our thought, and how and to what extent we come to know such objective realities. I dont think Rorty is clear about the diferences. It would be interesting to know where Rorty goes astray. I don't get that from my understanding of what he's written but I don't have the credentials to judge.That said, something in this discussion about language and reality reminded me of Wallace Stevens' "The Man with the Blue Guitar" The man bent over his guitar,A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.They said, "You have a blue guitar,You do not play things as they are."The man replied, "Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar."And they said then, "But play, you must,A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,A tune upon the blue guitarOf things exactly as they are."

Mr. Manetti: You wrote: So what I think we disagree about is whether or not ones collection ot truths with a small t leads asymptotically in the direction of Truth. But, of course, by the very nature of Truth, theres really no way to know, which, in my view, brings us full circle to having to settle for the bogeyman of usefulness. It certainly is our desire that all our little truths are heading towards a comprehensive knowledge of things as they are. We obviously are not in possession of the latter, which cannot serve as some criterion out there against which we can measure our little truths. And if some sort of look out there to TRUTH is what you think the correspondence theory of truth implies, I could understand why you would reject it. But that is the view of people who think that knowing is looking out and seeing whats out there to be seen, and I dont hold that view.I still dont know how you can say that something is useful unless it has some relation to reality. Can what does not correspond to reality be useful.When I wrote: I am a little surprised, Mr. Manetti, that an engineer would question the correspondence theory of truth. It might make me hesitant to cross a bridge you had designed or built! you replied: You better hope I dont place all my trust in the theory. The Potomac Narrows bridge was built according to someones complacent assumptions about what corresponded to reality and yet it collapsed.First, I wasnt talking about theoretical knowledge as distinct from practical knowledge. Permit me to stipulate that people have been wrong in their judgments, and that I am not in favor of complacent assumptions about what corresponds to reality. I am in favor of well-grounded judgments about reality, the sort, for example, that have led to the construction of bridges that have not collapsed. I think such judgments are possible. You seem to be calling it into question in favor instead of the useful, but I repeat my question: Can the useful be useful if it does not correspond to reality?

6-17-09 4 \\]\\Barbara --I've given up trying to explain trnascenedentals in a a post,. The subject is jst too messy to start with, and the language of logical functions that I was going to use was not the help I hoped it would be. So here is just a sketch of why Aquinas (who, I think is best on the subject) said that the uses of the words "being", "one", "good", "true" and "beautiful: always have analogous meanings, not univocal ones.I think our discussions have mainly centered around, first, the meanings of mental "truth", not the truth of sentences, nor the truth of facticity, i.e., the truth of objectibve realities, and, second, the meanings of ontological "good", that is, the goodness of facts. For Thomas mental truth is the relation of conformity between a judgment about a fact and the thought about that fact. "Conformity" here means a *relation* of likeness between thought and thing. So when we say a thought is true we are making aect statement about a *thought* and only indirectly are we saying that the thing is like the thought -- or not like it in the case of negative judgments.. But notice this: not every likeness is alike. That seems paradoxical, but not if you realizes that different likeness are themselves both like each other and different from each other. For instance, when I say "George 'looks like' his identical twin Mark" and "Susie 'looks like' her identical twin Lucy' the likenesses are different likenesses George doesn't look like Susie, but the twins are all "like" something else. In "George is like someone else" and "Suzie is like someone else" that does NOt imply that their likeness are the same. In other words, *as used* the meanings of "like" are analogous, not univocal. It might make this clearer to note that in ordinary descriptive sentences we *identify* subject and predicate (e.g., George is tall, Susie is re-headed, Mark is an accountant). But in relational statements we do not *identify* subject and predicate, we only *relate* them", (e.g., the cat is on the mat, Saturn is far from Earth.) It might also help to realize that relations are expressed not only by prepositions, but bh other parts of speech as well (e.g., Lucy plays the piano, Susie wants a motorcycle, (Yes, there are subjective facts involved in these examples, but the point of the sentences is to relate one objct to another one. But it's a fact that ordinary language is extremely complex, with all sorts of meanings implicit in them.At any rate, the point about mentl truth is that it is a relation which intends a differnt reality.The meanings of "good" can be even more complicated. Aristotle defines "good" as "that which all things desire". Obviously the word "desire" here is being used metaphorically -- non-conscious things don't desire anything. But they do *intend* (in the broad sense of "of the noun "intentionality" incline to theiri own perfection unconsciously. . (A thing's perfection is what completes it or its state of completion or flourishing.) But different things are perfected, completed, flourish in different ways. So when we say that my shot at Antonio was a "good shot" it refers *only* to the shot in itself, and that means that the shot hit the bull's eye, so to speak. that it hit Antono is irrelevant. Sigh. Note that a thing's good can be either an intrinsic one (e.g. teeth in a baby's mouth or a or a rosebush's rose or a cherry on top of a sundae). or extrinsic. For instance, by being well married to John, Mary actualizes some of her potentials -- she flourishes. But note again: the baby is not perfected by putting a cherry on top of its head -- its good is not the good of a Sundae. (Actually, peopel have all sorts of perfeting relationships, but that's a whole different kettle of metaphysical worms.The point of all this is that while the uses of "true" (mental truth) share some meaning in common, and the meanings of "good" share some meaning in common, they also differ when applied to different individuals. So in some fundamental metaphysical sense, mental truth is relative (pace Pope benedict) and goodness is also often relative specificallhy to the nature of an individual.:The upshot is, if you want to know what is good, you have to look and see what perfects the individuals. Yes, we share much in common and a lot of what is good for you will be good for me, and some of those goods will even be necessary goods for all of s (e.g., food, friends), health.. But beyond those, we really have to learn by experience what is going to make people, and other things for that matter, flourish.

"For Thomas mental truth is the relation of conformity between a judgment about a fact and the thought about that fact."That is a very ambiguous statement -- the "thought about that fact" is a thought which *precedes the judgment that something is so. A judgment asserts or denies that the thought is like ot noy likr the thing the judgment refers to.Yes, the psychological events are very complex. Just remember: truth is the relaiton between the thought and the thing.

First, I wasnt talking about theoretical knowledge as distinct from practical knowledge. Permit me to I stipulate that people have been wrong in their judgments, and that I am not in favor of complacent assumptions about what corresponds to reality. I am in favor of well-grounded judgments about reality, the sort, for example, that have led to the construction of bridges that have not collapsed.The issue is not complacency but fallibility. Anyhow, I'm not talking about theoretical knowlege in the sense you mean, as the product of some theory, like Newtonian physics, Nenetheless, as I'm sure you're aware, even so-called practical judgements have an implicit theoretical basis. If I've learned in the past that doing X results in Y, my belief that X will always result in Y or that Y is a good thing to do is based on my beliefs about usefulness, a specific theory about causality and the stability of the physical world. In that sense, children develop and act on theories about the physical world at a young age. Anyhow, I'm saying that judgements about absolute reality don't enter into the process -- only judgements about what works and what doesn't. For instance, measuring certain properties of structural steel may tell me whether or not its suitable for a particular application, but I'm under no illusion that I'm experiencing some sort of unmediated experience of absolute reality or even an approximation of it.It's been my experience that engineers don't think they're peering beyond the veil of words into the absolute. In fact, they don't worry about that at all, except for the residue of anxiety they have that reality may have a few surprises in store. That's why I believe Rorty is right when he says, science doesn't allow us to cope with reality, it just plain allows us to cope.The other issue is whether or not at least in science, the accumulation of small-t truths gets us progressively closer to the big-T Truth. I haven't read Kuhn, but I'm told he would say no. (I'll happily stand corrected if my take on his views is wrong.) In my opinion, refining or discarding one theory in favor of another doesn't guarantee that one has converged more closely to absolute reality. In the case of Relativilty, Einstein's theory gives better observational results than Newtonian mechanics, but how does that entitle one to make judgements about how close one is getting to absolute reality? One could have said the same thing about Ptolemaic cosmology -- just keep on adding epicycles until prediction converges with observation. Incidentally, in its own way, the Ptolemaic model is quite beautiful. It's not hard to see why it was embraced by philosophers for so long. However, when you add Kepler's insights on elliptical orbits to Copernicus' (or more properly Aristarchos') heliocentrism you get something whose simplicity and power have the intuitive, aesthetic appeal that Ockham spoke of. At any rate, it's fair to say that Ockham's insight about which alternative explanation to accept is an aesthetic judgement. In some sense, I suspect that aesthetic judgements are at the heart of most intuitions about usefulness.

As the result of my cut-and-paste error, the following was left out of the start of the previous entry.Can what does not correspond to reality be useful.Since 'useful' is a subjective measure applicable to fallible beings -- yes.

Incidentally, every year Skeptic Magazine issues the Darwin Awards (always posthumously) to those whose perceptions about usefulness and its correspondence to reality led to their untimely demise. Note also the number of religious adherents who believe faith healing is useful and medicine is not.

In Re: the question: "As we accumulate Small-t truths, do we get closer to large-T Truth?"The following is from a review of Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" at:http://www.amazon.com/Structure-Scientific-Revolutions-Thomas-Kuhn/dp/02... ...Some readers think that Kuhn was describing a process of successive approximation to truth, incorporating a smart new account of convergence. The point cannot be made too strongly that he was doing nothing of the sort. I recommend reading page 206 from which the remarks about 'really there' were quoted. You don't have to be a relativist and anti-realist to be a Kuhnian, but it helps. The book is around $9 on Amazon. Seems worth it for anyone wishing to pursue the matter further.

Mr. Manetti: In your long post above, you use the adjective "absolute" several times. I wonder why. I don't believe I used it a single time in our exchanges. I think there must be some misunderstanding of each other's views. I read Kuhn's book decades ago, and liked it. It is, of course, not uncontroverted, even among philosophers of science.

"I suspect that aesthetic judgements are at the heart of most intuitions about usefulness." Antonio =If you equate beauty with simplicity, as physicists seem to like to do, then you might be on to a significant *psychological* principle, but not a metaphysical one. I say that because I suspect I suspect that simplicity is appealing to some people for a very primitive psychologicl reason: I think it's because because we tend to avoid hard physical work, and since the simplest motion uses the least energy, the simplest motion is generally more appealing to workmen. Simplicity yields efficiency yields not collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the day.However, not all scientists give priority to simplicity. Some chemists love beautifully oomplex molecucles. Yes, I know that richard Feynman said that if a hypothesis wasn't simple he was strongly inclined to think it wasn't true. But he was a physicist, and physicists are almost by definition reductionists -- scientists looking for the simplest elements/forces in the world. All the way back to Thales, (the first philosopher - many physicist) the physicists have made the utterly unwarranted assumption that there is ultimately only one force of nature that would explain all movements -- in other words many, if not most, physicists have been biased towards simplicity from the beginning.True, "look for the simplest explanation" has proven to be tremenously sucessrful as a heuristic device. But who knows. The world just might be fundamentall complex, even very complex.(I wonder how many physicists are put off by the theory of an infinite number of alternate universes because the theory is complex.) Wjat I'm gettomg at is that the predictive power of a hypothesis trumps simplicity anyday. At least if you are going to use it to build a bridge. If you're just going to *explain* the cosmos it might be different.

Ann:Wjat Im gettomg at is that the predictive power of a hypothesis trumps simplicity anyday. At least if you are going to use it to build a bridge. If youre just going to *explain* the cosmos it might be different.Obviously, for theories that make predictions, aesthetic goodness is a blend of predictive power and some measure of simplicity. So, if two such theories have equal predictive power, one ought to prefer the simpler one.

Fr. Komonchak:I read Kuhns book decades ago, and liked it. It is, of course, not uncontroverted, even among philosophers of science.As I understand it, philsophers of science have given up on trying to formulate grand, overarching theories nowadays and confine themselves to more useful speculations about specific areas of knowledge.

By "philosophers of science" do you mean all of them? Most of them" The ones you agree with? In fact, a good number of them devote themselves to opposing the people who think that science does not pursue or attain a knowledge of what is the case. Once again, I do have to say that I haven't said anything about "grand overarching theories," and, just as with regard to your comments about the "absolute," I wonder why you think the comment is relevant to anything I have written.

Fr. Komonchak:Once again, I do have to say that I havent said anything about grand overarching theories, and, just as with regard to your comments about the absolute, I wonder why you think the comment is relevant to anything I have written.I no longer think it is and was mistaken in assuming it ever was to begin with.Nonetheless, I'd like to get to the root of my disconnect.Earlier, you stated the following, which you attributed to Bernard Lonergan:The world is what comes to be known through true judgements, and this is the world both in here and out there.To put it clumsily, I interpret the above to mean that the collection of truths contained in our mental image of the world coincides with what's 'out there'. I'm uncertain about how one arrives at true judgements, but that's best explored elsewhere. Anyway, I'm not contesting the validity of the point, merely trying to see if I've understood it.You then stated:Rorty's point is that the effort to seek a true understanding of this world, much less of God, is vain, that we cannot know the world as it is.As I understand Rorty, he would deny Lonergan's thesis, that the image of the world in our minds necessarily corresponds to what's 'out there', contending instead, that all our mental image of the world does is allow us to cope with reality.Although, of course, Rorty's dismissive of Truth, in the sense I believe you and Rorty are speaking of, within the confines of physical reality, I find Rorty's views of pragmatism to be, well, useful. To that limited extent, I'd prefer to change the subject.As an engineer trying to deal with that world, what I'm confronted with is the need to make useful judgements, according to some unavoidably subjective and potentially fallible, criterion. Having done due diligence in accordance with the state of the art, I can only hope that my judgement was good enough to solve the problem I was confronted with. I suspect, although I can't prove it in any satisfactory way, that such an approach is the de-facto process by which we interact with the physical world in general.Finally, I'd like to conclude by apologizing for any rudeness or incivility on my part.Antonio

Mr Manetti:First, there was no rudeness or incivility on your part for which you need to apologize. To my comment: The world is what comes to be known through true judgements, and this is the world both in here and out there, you write: To put it clumsily, I interpret the above to mean that the collection of truths contained in our mental image of the world coincides with whats out there. Im uncertain about how one arrives at true judgements, but thats best explored elsewhere.I was trying to distinguish a view of the correspondence-theory of truth that sees it as our looking out at whats already there and seeing it for what it is. Here the theory of knowledge is modeled on sight. A couple of years ago, the Times Literary Supplement, published a review of a book that was proposing epistemological realism. The reviewer was not convinced: But if anti-realism about truth and reality can seem evasive, its robustly realist opposite is not without its own problems. For how could we ever access this supposed independent reality? How could we step outside our conceptual practices and climb up some Olympian vantage point from which we could discern which of our beliefs correspond with how things really are? In other words, this view of correspondence supposes that we somehow have an access to reality by which we can compare our mental constructs and determine whether they correspond to the real. But if we have such an access, why do we need the mental constructs? So this view of correspondence doesnt work, and if this is what Rorty is attacking, hes right in doing so.But if one doesnt conceive knowing as taking a look at whats already out there, then the objection doesnt hold. Rorty doesnt consider any other. Lonergans Insight is a sustained effort to show that human knowing is a compound of experience, understanding, and judgment, and that reality is only known by means of the third activityjudging. Knowing is a matter of verifying insights into experiences. He thinks you need three judgments before you reach extra-mental reality: I exist. This keyboard exists. I am not this keyboard. The key insight that leads to a judgment is that the conditions necessary for affirming something to be real have been fulfilled. If A, then B. But A. Therefore, B. And the key moment is when one recognizes that no further relevant questions are arising. Then the reasonable person says Yes or No to a proposition. The rash person cant wait until this moment and rushes into a judgment. The sceptic wants to know everything before he thinks he can know anything, and so postpones judgment ad infinitum. Judging is a matter of self-responsibility. Id love to know what you make of these two paragraphs from Lonergan:Accept the responsibility of judgment. The obvious content of this rule is negative, for it rejects the notion that there is any set of rules that, so to speak, automatically or mechanically brings inquiry to knowledge, truth, certitude. Method is operative only through minds. Minds reach knowledge only through judgment. And there is no recipe for producing men of good judgment. Because such a recipe does not exist, philosophic methods tend to eliminate the issue, and scientific method to evade it. The responsibility of judging vanishes in rationalism, because there the truth judgment is necessitated. It vanishes in empiricism, because there what counts is not judging but looking. It vanishes in idealism, because there truth assumes a meaning that does not demand any personal decision. It vanishes in relativism, because there a judgment that is simply true cannot be attained. Again, in natural science the individuals responsibility of judging is not acknowledged, and in its place there comes a pragmatism, an acquiescence in what works. But while this pragmatism seems to work well enough in natural science, in the human sciences its results are not so happy. For in the human sciences measurement is superficial and experiment is monstrous (Collected Works, VI, 38-39).Later you wrtie: As an engineer trying to deal with that world, what Im confronted with is the need to make useful judgements, according to some unavoidably subjective and potentially fallible, criterion. Having done due diligence in accordance with the state of the art, I can only hope that my judgement was good enough to solve the problem I was confronted with. I suspect, although I cant prove it in any satisfactory way, that such an approach is the de-facto process by which we interact with the physical world in general.With this I largely agree. I think that all of our human judgments are unavoidably subjective and potentially fallible, and I think it is in accord with what Lonergan sets out. As one develops in ones personal life, and in ones professional skills, ones skill at judging develops also, and enables one to solve more and more of the problems one confronts. Lonergan used to quote the great physicist who said that philosophers of science should not pay attention to what scientists say they are doing, but to what they de facto are doing, which is what you are suggesting above. I thank you for the conversation.

Fr Komonchak:Accept the responsibility of judgment. The obvious content of this rule is negative, for irejects the notion that there is any set of rules that, so to speak, automatically or mechanically brings inquiry to knowledge, truth, certitude.I like the way he puts the problem. I was tempted to say "ain't that the truth". Again, in natural science the individuals responsibility of judging is not acknowledged, and in its place there comes a pragmatism, an acquiescence in what works. But while this pragmatism seems to work well enough in natural science, in the human sciences its results are not so happy. For in the human sciences measurement is superficial and experiment is monstrous I'm not sure I understand this fully. In my admittedly imprecise understanding of pragmatism, I don't see myself simply acquiescing. To me, arriving at a definition of what works is never an uncritical process. In fact, I see it as a value-laden process -- in some sense even an aesthetic process. It's also dynamic, where one frequently finds onself having to settle for 'what's good enough' by simply moving the goalposts. In any event, it's a complicated interplay of many factors. So, perhaps my notion of pragmatism amounts to 'accepting the responsibility of judgement' after all.

A while back, I said that Truth had a shelf life. With the proviso that I am speaking of the material world, what I meant by that is my belief that the Truth we arrive at is often provisional -- subject to being supplanted by later ideas that we believe are 'better' or more useful by some measure. It's not neccesarily the case that what was True becomes not True, it's that it's simply not seen as useful anymore. Ptolemy's cosmos was useful in Ptolemy's world but not in our world.Sometimes, the ideas were simply flat wrong to start with. During the medieval era, the most respected medical doctors were convinced that the Plague was caused by astrological influences. A historian once observed that the mortality rate among the medical profession effectively removed those with such beliefs. They were replaced with more pragmatic practitioners who were not wedded to the old ideas.

That something is useful is, of course, a judgment; that something really is useful is a judgment about what really is the case, so I don't think we can forego wanting to know and occasionally actually coming to know what is really the case.

Sometimes I wonder if what we want is to pursue knowledge, like Tennyson's Ulysses (but hopefully not like Faust). With regard to the Tennyson poem, I like this from an essay by Richard Feynman entitled "The Value of Science":"The same thrill, the same awe and mystery, come again and again when we look at any problem deep enough. With more knowledge somes deeper and deeper mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned that the answer may be dissappointing, but with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries -- certainly a grand adenture."

Plato and Aristotle thought that wonder is the beginning of philosophy, but I don't know how much attention is given today to the experience of wondering. I mean the latter not just as the encounter with mystery, a sort of wondering contemplation or enjoyment, but what Feymann calls "wonder-ful questions" (I added the hyphen). The spontaneity of it--when we wake up in the morning, we don't have to remind ourselves to wonder, to ask questions, any more than we have to remind ourselves to breathe; the infrinite range of it--how many questions do we ask in a given day? is there anything that we do not, or at least could not ask questions about?

At the end of the Day- "It is Holiness that is the fundamental reality of all reality."- Robert MoynihanWhen you live your Life consistent with the Word of God, which is the Divine Will of God, you are living a Life of Holiness. Jesus gave us a New Commandment calling us to Holiness, "Love one another as I have Loved you". To Love according to the Word, is to "see" the Heart of God and the reality of Perfect Love is no longer a mystery.

Fr. Komonchak:Plato and Aristotle thought that wonder is the beginning of philosophy, but I dont know how much attention is given today to the experience of wondering. I mean the latter not just as the encounter with mystery, a sort of wondering contemplation or enjoyment, but what Feymann calls wonder-ful questions (I added the hyphen). The spontaneity of itwhen we wake up in the morning, we dont have to remind ourselves to wonder, to ask questions, any more than we have to remind ourselves to breathe; the infrinite range of ithow many questions do we ask in a given day? is there anything that we do not, or at least could not ask questions about?Interesting. Someone once told me something I've found to be true in my own experience -- that half of the answer involves asking the right question, the pregnant question. Maybe that's what Feynman was getting at.For me, wonder doesn't set in until the first cup of coffee. Anyway, from the highway here, while stuck in valley commuter traffic, you can look up and see the Lick Observatory at the top of Mt. Hamilton and wonder what's going on out there. Or you can stick the reminder of your dental appointment on the side of the refrigerator with a magnet and suddenly realize you're confronted with one of the deep mysteries of the universe and you're using it in such a primitive way -- like some caveman, like the ape in Kubrick's '2001'. In some sense, it almost seems sacreligious. But now I'm gettin' philosophical. Time to make dinner and maybe tke a breather and think about this for a while.

Charles Taylor's article, "Oercoming Epistemology" mght interest you guys. Like Rorty he doesn't think the epistemological problems have been solved, but unlike Rorty he hasn't given up. Go to:Http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/taylor

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