Reply to John Mark Reynolds on the significance of William Shakespeare

I started a conversation with my good friend, the Christian philosopher John Mark Reynolds, on Shakespeare’s pivotal cultural role with this article published in John’s blog: Eidos.

He responded here, but due to events surrounding the Covid virus he wasn’t able to publish my counter-response:

Due to several requests, I present my last response below:

As he so often does, Dr. Reynolds has presented an emotional reaction to an argument I never presented. I could easily dismiss his response as mere strawmen and sweeping generalizations, but I think it would be instructive for us to trace his false claims about the Renaissance, the Shakespearean texts, and twisting of what I actually wrote.

I think it would be best to first restate my thesis. The Renaissance introduced humanism and secularity after the long darkness of Medieval scholasticism and the authority of the Catholic Church. One key theme of Humanism was to reconnect Europe to its pre-Christian classical and pagan past. This is a prevalent theme in Shakespeare, whose plays have elements of Christianity, Classical pre-Christian Greece and Rome, and Northern European pre-Christian paganism. Although nobody really knows if Shakespeare was a believer in Christianity or not (it is commonly said of him he was certainly Catholic… or Pagan, or an atheist), all three elements appear in his works. I explicitly stated I was not addressing the question of his religious belief but offering him as an example of what I call the first symptoms of Europe rejecting the graft of Christianity. In concert with the theme of the Renaissance, Shakespeare used these elements to reconnect his contemporary Europe to this pre-Christian past in order to regain what had had been lost to the culture during the time of church rule. It is possible that, like Marlowe, Shakespeare did lean toward an anti-Christian sentiment but was more careful about not overstepping boundaries, and it is equally possible he tried to moderate Christianity to accord more with prior European culture. Either way, it was a beginning of the rejection of total authority of the church and reintroduction of classical and pagan Europe – a rejection that accelerated over the next five centuries. This is a bit more nuanced than Reynold’s strawman distortion of Shakespeare as radical anti-theist.

Renaissance Ideals

Dr. Reynolds presents a false and fatally restrictive description of the Renaissance. He characterizes Renaissance England thus:

“We need not explain away anything about his plays if we merely accept Shakespeare as the consistent product of his time and his education, which produced his preference for classical, Christian culture.

In so doing, he conceals the essential aspects of Shakespeare’s time and culture in an attempt to make it appear a mere extension of Medieval Scholasticism and Church. At great peril of appearing to snobbishly appeal to authority (with my apology to those of a more delicate nature to whom this habit of mine seems to cause psychic offense), I will contrast Reynolds’ assertion to a more conventional and scholarly understanding of the English Renaissance. The British critic, author, and Shakespeare scholar, Andrew Dickenson, writes in an article for The British Library:

“Though historians debate the precise origins of the Renaissance, most agree that it – or one version of it – began in Italy some time in the late 1300s, with the decline in influence of Roman Catholic Christian doctrine and the reawakening of interest in Greek and Latin texts by philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, historians including Plutarch and poets such as Ovid and Virgil.” 

“Gradually, the concept of a ‘humanistic’ curriculum began to solidify: focussing not on Christian theological texts, which had been pored over in medieval seats of learning, but on classical ‘humanities’ subjects such as philosophy, history, drama and poetry. “

Contrary to Reynold’s unfounded claim, the Renaissance was not a simple continuation of Medieval Christianity, but a return to secular humanism and reattachment to European pre-Christian culture. As the early first step in this rejection of the graft, it was not a dismissal of Christianity but rather the important act of removing Christianity as the central focus and once again contemplating European origins and man as the measure of things.


Dickenson then describes education at the time of Shakespeare, which contrasts starkly with Reynold’s unhistoric claim that Shakespeare was reflecting his classical Christian education:

“In Britain, humanism was spread by a rapid increase in the number of ‘grammar’ schools (as their name indicates, language was their primary focus, and students were often required to speak in Latin during school hours), and the jump in the number of children exposed to the best classical learning. ShakespeareMarloweSpenserJonsonBacon: almost every major British Renaissance intellectual one can name received a humanist education. Shakespeare’s plays and poems are steeped in writers he encountered at school – the magical transformations of Ovid’s poetry infiltrate the worlds of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, his Roman histories are cribbed from the Greek historian PlutarchThe Comedy of Errors is modelled closely on a Greek drama by Plautus, while Hamlet includes an entire section – the Player’s account of the death of Priam – borrowed from Virgil’s Aeneid.”

Reynolds then employed a typical apologist rhetorical trick of projecting his deficiency of stance onto his opponent when he accused me of allowing my bias to distort the culture and education of Shakespeare when in fact that is exactly what he did with his unfounded sweeping claim of the centrality of Christianity. My approach is to allow the facts their primacy of place. As we will see later, this rhetorical trick is further applied to the text of Shakespeare’s plays themselves.

The Question of Shakespeare and Religion

Reynolds gave us another unfounded sweeping claim that Shakespeare was undoubtedly a Catholic in response to what I presented as the conventional view among scholars that we cannot really know his true beliefs as in the texts we see prominent examples of Paganism, Catholicism and nihilistic atheism. The preeminent scholar of English Literature with special expertise in Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and Medieval England, Harold Bloom, better explains the nuance and complications of this question in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human:

“We cannot know, by reading Shakespeare and seeing him played, whether he had any extrapoetic beliefs or disbeliefs. G. K. Chesterton, a wonderful literary critic, insisted that Shakespeare was a Catholic dramatist, and that Hamlet was more orthodox than skeptical. Both assertions seem to me quite unlikely, yet I do not know, and Chesterton did not know either. Christopher Marlowe had his ambiguities and Ben Jonson his ambivalences, but sometimes we can hazard surmises as to their personal stances. By reading Shakespeare, I can gather that he did not like lawyers, preferred drinking to eating, and evidently lusted after both genders. But I certainly do not have a clue as to whether he favored Protestantism or Catholicism or neither, and I do not know whether he believed or disbelieved in God or in resurrection. His politics, like his religion, evades me, but I think he was too wary to have any.

“Though G. K. Chesterton liked to think that Shakespeare was a Catholic, at least in spirit, Chesterton was too good a critic to locate Shakespeare’s universalism in Christianity. We might learn from that not to shape Shakespeare by our own cultural politics. Comparing Shakespeare with Dante, Chesterton emphasized Dante’s spaciousness in dealing with Christian love and Christian liberty, whereas Shakespeare “was a pagan; in so far that he is at his greatest in describing great spirits in chains.” Those “chains” manifestly are not political. They return us to universalism, to Hamlet above all, greatest of all spirits, thinking his way to the truth, of which he perishes. The ultimate use of Shakespeare is to let him teach you to think too well, to whatever truth you can sustain without perishing…

“Do Shakespeare’s modes of representation in themselves betray any ideological turn, whether Christian, skeptical, hermetic, or whatever? The question, difficult to frame, remains urgent in its implications: Is Shakespeare, in his plays, ultimately a celebrant of life, beyond tragedy, or is he pragmatically nihilistic? Since I myself am a heretical transcendentalist, gnostic in orientation, I would be happiest with a Shakespeare who seemed to hold on to at least a secular transcendence, a vision of the sublime. That seems not altogether true; the authentic Shakespearean litany chants variations upon the word “nothing,” and the uncanniness of nihilism haunts almost every play, even the great, relatively unmixed comedies.”

What commands the attention in the above passages is the contrast of Shakespeare’s textual Paganism to the spacious Christianity of Dante’s texts, as acknowledged by the Catholic Chesterton, and the indeterminacy of Shakespeare’s religious beliefs, if any at all.

Interpretation: The Play is The Thing

As mentioned above, Reynold’s repeats his rhetorical trick of painting his opponent with the color of his own deficiency, here in regard to the texts themselves. Ironically, he retorts the play is the thing, while he himself bases his own claims and remarks almost entirely on external examples with almost no basis in the text. What I attempted to do was just the opposite: interpret from Shakespeare’s own words, or in Bloom’s locution, hew to the “authentic Shakespearean litany”.

At the expense of even further expansion of this writing, I need to present the opening quote of my last essay which well encapsulates my thesis. It appears at the beginning of Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to
And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

I further demonstrated from examples of the text of the play itself that what is at work here are:

1. A departure from the madness of devils and hell characteristic of the theocracy of the Medieval Church.

2. A Renaissance refocusing on the earthly powers that buffet and excite man in this world, reaching back to classical Greece and northern Paganism through the wandering in the dark of moonstruck lovers.

3. And most importantly of all, the urgent role of the authentic poet to hear the music of these earthly powers and play this music in the authentic poetry of originating language: to give heretofore unknown things form, place and name.

Reynolds merely rejected this out of hand, with absolutely no support from the text, nor any substantive rebuttal of the textual examples I provided. More importantly, he offered no counter interpretation. In another forum (Twitter) I successfully pressured him to finally provide an interpretation which I found stunningly absurd. His claim, briefly stated, was that this was all about the role of Christian rationalism; the madness of devils and the madness of the lovers were the same and driven by non-Christian sensuality; and the role of the poet was to reconcile these with reason and moderation inspired by his Christianity.

The problem, of course, is all of this directly contradicts the “thing” of the play. It is important to note that it was Oberon and Puck who brought about the final reconciliation as Pagan Fairy King and Fairy – the very opposite of a Christian God. All inspiration of the characters of the night came directly from paganism, while only the day characters of Theseus and Egeus characterize rationality and come off the worse for it.

Reynold’s restrictive and contrived interpretation conceals the true importance of the play, the essence of which is the poetic creation of our world from the earthly music and dreams of man. This accords well with Bloom’s thesis that Shakespeare accomplished the greatest act of poetry in history through his creation of man as individual rather than type. Through the music he heard and his inspired dreams, the heretofore unknown thing to which Shakespeare gave form, place and name was nothing less than the soul or nature of man himself and the mystery of his place in the cosmos. Not an answer to that mystery, but the awesome revelation of the mystery itself.

And with the realization of the immensity of the mystery and depth of our nature, the primitive answers of a strange Eastern religion begin to lose their power to explain.

Answers to Questions from Chris Rhodes on Epistemology, Physics and the Kalam

This is in response to a conversation between Chris Rhodes and me on Twitter. The subject is too involved to attempt on Twitter, so I am answering here.

1. Why should we believe it to be true and what evidence is there for it?

A. The physical structure of perception and cognition suggest it. The brain sits inside a box with no windows and is entirely reliant on electrochemical impulses through the neural network for information about the external world. Vision, for example, is not like a camera that throws a picture against a screen, but rather eyes take light within a very narrow bandwidth and transform that energy into electric impulses conducted through the optic nerve to a part of the brain that operates to make some sense of the data. It produces a picture through innate sensibilities and categories of understanding that are not present in the real world. For example, color doesn’t exist outside our imagination, but is created in the imagination as response to specific electromagnetic wavelengths. Hoffman has done experiments where he disrupts that part of the brain with magnets and causes the subject to perceive the world without color. That indicates the color is created in that section of the brain. Second, there are experiments which show how radically our expectations reduce the pictures we draw from vision out of the overwhelming confusion of sense data. The vast majority of what exists in front of us is never represented because we naturally focus on what we expect to be important. There was a famous experiment where a man was giving a lecture during which a man in a bear suit slowly walked behind him from one end of the stage to the other. Nobody in the audience saw him and disbelieved it happened until shown a video. The result of the experiments clearly show that we format sense data according to our expectations of what will happen next, and this is decisive in editing and focusing the picture in representation. The same types of experiments have been done in time and space representations.

B. There are certain conditions of thought which shape all representations and ideas, and further, we cannot even conceive outside those conditions. Space and time are among those conditions. It is impossible for us to think other than in space and time, even though reality outside the Newtonian band of existence seem to confound space and time entirely. This would indicate that space and time are merely our modes of drawing the world and not a feature of the world itself. One of the great challenges Einstein faced was trying to describe ultimate reality, which did not exist in space and time, because it is beyond our ability to conceive outside those conditions. No matter how you describe it, you always resort to spatial and temporal terms because we can do no other. That led to describing the absence of time as block time, which relied on a spatial metaphor. The paradoxes caused by relativity force us to talk of successionality, where in extreme relative motion we encounter situations where effect can precede cause. Here we are forced to use a temporal term to a reality where time doesn’t exist, and our inner sensibility leads to paradox. The same applies to the question of what happened before the big bang, where there was no time or space. There is no before, which is a misplaced concept.

C. We know from quantum field theory that the world itself does not exist anything like how we perceive it. Back to the case of the bus hurtling at us, we represent it to ourselves as a solid object in space and time. In reality it is an inconceivably complex interaction of various quantum fields existing mostly of empty space. Even the notion of solid matter dissolves at this level, where quanta are no more than coagulated energy along the field, and what we perceive as mass is merely the effect of the Higgs field slowing the flow of quanta in other fields. Consider that the wall in front of you is almost all empty space. The particles that make up atoms are very far from each other and what you perceive as a solid in space is quite different. What we perceive as the space of the wall is mostly empty, and what we perceive as a smooth solid is the result of the energy of this field not allowing light of certain wavelengths through. They refract back to us evenly and we draw a colored solid space in our mind. If we punch the wall. we physically encounter that energy and are repelled. At the deepest level of existence that we know, the world is entirely made of vibrations. The vibrations along the 24 quantum fields, and the vibrations of quanta themselves. All else is our representations. That is the basis of Hoffman’s analogy of bits to icons.

Under experiments with psychedelics we can see how these subjective determinations can be altered in all sorts of ways and still appear to us as realistic because we are altering our conditions of perception and thought, and in doing so we see its independence from the world in itself.

2. His theory is based on evolution, which we know as fact through experiments and observation. However, if you apply Hoffman’s theory to the thing that supports it, we have no reason to believe it. How do we know what we observed as evolution was really that? It could have been something else our brains

This is a question I deal with quite a bit and is my departure from pure Naturalism as we commonly understand it. There are two modes of thought, objectively technological and ontological. That is my major focus but far too wide to go into detail here. In the technological mode we adhere to our objective representations and what can be verified through them. Hoffman, Kant, et al. do not deny there is correct information here. If there were no correspondence between our representations and external world, there would be no adaptive benefit. But there is a degree of correspondence that derives from the unique conditioning of sense data by what is observed. If not, we would be eaten by tigers we thought were rocks, we could never catch any prey, airplanes wouldn’t fly, and we would never have reached the moon. Our objective representation of the world is what allows us to manipulate it because our attempts to measure objects and reason relationships between them are in close correspondence to innate properties of these objects beyond our understanding. This gives us correct information about measure and relation within certain limits of scale but can never tell us what these things we perceive actually are. That requires ontological thinking, which is in essence pre-rational.

We can observe phenomena over time that allow us to build a view of evolution which is as reliable as our building a view of aerodynamics. We can trace how understanding has developed throughout mammalian history, for example, and through the various phases of man. We can study DNA to get a picture of a mechanism for these developments. But that is all we can know scientifically.

The deeper questions are beyond measurement and comparison, such as the question of intentionality in the universe. Man’s intellect and morality has perceptibly developed in a discernable direction, and at a superficial level the science of evolution can explain much of it. The problem is not that this explanation is false, but rather radically incomplete. What is DNA essentially? We can measure and relate scientifically, but never know what it is in its essence. It certainly has the appearance of a will or intention, but where does that come from? Is it a reflection or revelation of Being itself? And if so, are we intended as the development of consciousness of Being – a sort of Being in self-regard and self-experience? That’s where the mystery is, but beyond the objective understanding of technological objectivity.

3. Hoffman’s theory is not compatible with Kant’s epistemology or Seth’s theory. To give an analogy, Kant believes that if the actual world is a man, our vision is a shadow. Seth believes that if actual reality is a 6 ft tall man, we might see a 5’ 8” woman, and Hoffman believes that if actual reality is a man, we would see any number of things that could fill the role of a man’s relation to us. This is further exacerbated by their ideas of consciousness, which differ radically, with Seth thinking that it’s generated by the neurons in our brain as a the conscious experience of reality, while Hoffman thinks it’s the fundamental part of reality.

We need to separate epistemology from the question of consciousness at this point. I’m not sure that your epistemological analogy is quite right. Kant wouldn’t see it as a shadow at all because that implies external space and time. The same would apply to Seth and Hoffman. I think it is closer to the case that all three see our conception of the world as a construction derived from sense data through innate conditions of understanding and perception.

Consciousness is far more speculative and there are various theories that borrow from contemporary physics. Hoffman adheres to a theory among some physicists that consciousness is basic to the universe and progresses to higher levels of complexity and development in the same way as the cosmos. Others look to the wave behavior of the deepest level of reality and its similarity to wave behavior of the brain and posit a model that is like the wave interaction among quantum fields. All of this is, however, very early and speculative, although promising.

4. Hoffman’s theory is too ill-defined. He thinks we see representations of actual reality with some semblance of truth, but what truth stays through the representation? Does the color of the thing? The shape? How does our brain decide which representation to create?

I believe I addressed this above, but if you had other thoughts concerning this that I didn’t, let me know.

5. Assuming that Hoffman wishes to be consistent, he must also assume that what we call reason or logic is also a faulty, inaccurate perception of reality, that would mean that nothing we believe is valid, because we came to the conclusion through a process not aimed at truth, including his own theory.

Again, I believe I covered that above. In short, it is correct to a usable degree at the Newtonian level but becomes stretched to incomprehension beyond that.

6. Hoffman’s view of consciousness/mind is inconsistent. On one hand, he claims consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality, and that the world is inhabited by conscious agents who create reality. However, this is incompatible with his view that our conscious experience is created and altered by evolution, and therefore something that gradually developed, rather than something fundamental.

Again, I addressed above the theory of progressive cosmic development and complexity from which he derived his theory. Our consciousness would be just one step along this development. He also entirely ignores the more primordial and deeper mode of ontological consciousness. There is far more profound truth in Beethoven and Shakespeare than in both volumes of relativity.

7. And aside from Hoffman’s theory, I think your characterization of WLC and certainly your characterization of Aristotle are both strawmen. First, when WLC dismisses the antimony, he does it on the basis that we have good scientific evidence that the universe began.

Let’s leave Aristotle aside for the moment because I don’t think it is all that relevant to this discussion. When WLC bases his claim on the assertion that there is good scientific evidence the universe he again is knowingly evading the real issue. First of all, there is no consensus among physicists that the universe indeed had a beginning. Roger Penrose would be a prime example of physicists who contest that notion.  

More important, he ducks the crux of Kant’s Antinomy by obscuring the meaning of “beginning”. Most physicists who adhere to a beginning of the universe are careful to distinguish that from the beginning of physical reality, where the big bang is no more than a change of state from what we are forced to think of as pre-big bang (even though the concept of time does not actually exist beyond the big bang) to our particular universe where entropy set in motion what we perceive as time and space.

The critical point is that we cannot possibly know anything about any origins of our universe nor can we apply the concept of time or our natural physical laws. Concerning the Kalam, that means that the premises assume things we cannot possibly know and therefore are not compelling.

Response to Michael’s Millerman’s Call for a New Heideggerian Beginning to a Political Crisis

This a partial reproduction of the script of a video I recently released on my YouTube channel and some further clarification of certain points. The video is a response to Michael Millerman’s argument for a Heideggerian approach to a new political beginning and can be seen here:

I made the video because I disagree with Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger, which appears to me to be solely grounded in the pre-Turn thinking of Being and Time. Despite Millerman’s occasional allusion to post-Turn Heidegger, his methodology is solidly in the framework of Being and Time, which Heidegger came to reject. I find this an important issue for us today because this interpretation has led to much mischief in the past and continues to do so yet today in the works of far right writers.

Millerman’s position is that we are in a time of political crisis and Heidegger, whose task was to prepare for a new beginning for our thinking of man’s essence and relation to Being, has some important things to contribute. I think he errs when he attempts to substitute political crisis for Heidegger’s crisis of man’s relation to Being, which is far more fundamental and cannot be skipped over. Even in Being and Time, Heidegger stressed that we can never come to times with the basic concepts we employ born of metaphysical thinking until we have come to terms with the most fundamental question of all: the question of Being, and to try to build without that foundation of understanding of Being can only lead to more metaphysical error. Millerman’s attempt to think a new Heideggerian beginning to politics violates this precept and ultimately points to another far right political disaster, this time in the writing of Alexander Dugin.

Millerman’s interpretation of Heidegger is limited to Being and Time and the pre-Turn Heidegger, which Heidegger himself rejected after his famous Turn. Academics, especially philosophers in academia, generally consider Being and Time to be Heidegger’s seminal work and focus on it to the exclusion of his post turn thinking. This is because Being and Time was still written in the tradition of academic philosophy that is accessible to the academy, being grounded in Husserlian phenomenology and its methodology. The post-Turn Heidegger resolutely rejected philosophy as the dead end of metaphysics and took another path. It is at this point that Heidegger came into his own as the giant of 20th Century thought and left the academy blinking in confusion.

Millerman describes the Heidegger of Being and Time as concerned with addressing the crisis of science, which is its captivity to metaphysical objectification that uproots science from Being itself and obscures its grounding. Heidegger approaches this through philosophical methods and tools to understand the fundamental Being which precedes all our concepts and interpretations, which he called fundamental ontology. Heidegger put it this way in Being and Time:

Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task.

The Seinsfrage, or question of Being remained his sole focus for the rest of his life, but his approach turned 180 degrees after Being and Time, as Heidegger himself described it. Before we go further with Being and Time and Millerman’s interpretation, it’s critical to understand Heidegger’s place and time within Western thought. Heidegger stood at the end of the last two major thrusts of Western philosophy: the first being the two-century long journey toward the destruction of metaphysics beginning with Francis Bacon and ending with Nietzsche. The other major thrust, which began about a century later with the Romantics, was the overturning of reason as the mode of apprehending truth in favor of esthetics, which again Nietzsche brought to fruition.

Being and time focused on the first of the two trends and attempted to build upon what he saw as Nietzsche’s ending of metaphysics. He sought a way of grounding the sciences in Being itself, thereby eliminating all metaphysical speculation and the subject/object dichotomy to which metaphysics gave birth. It attempted this project through the phenomenological analysis of Dasein and its cognitive structure as it interprets Being. Dasein here is the essence of man as Being and as the self-awareness of Being in the world.

The fatal flaw here is that in this approach there still lurks the dark figure of metaphysics in the assumed Kantian Transcendental Idealism and Husserlian Transcendental Hermeneutics. The only overcoming of the subject/object dichotomy Heidegger could manage within this framework was what he called Zuhandensein, which is the entanglement of man and tool in work. This would be radically rethought after the turn when he finally includes the second thrust of late philosophy: esthetic experience of truth.

It’s important to note that Heidegger never bothered to finish Being and Time. It was planned as a two-part work, the first covering Being, the second on Time, but he only wrote 2/3 of the first part on Being and put it away. In his later years he referred to it in an interview as an example of writing too soon. Through the thirties and into the forties we can trace the move of his thinking away from philosophy and toward what he called poetic thinking. This turn is clearly seen in his collection of essays, Holzwege, which appeared in 1947 and fully presented in the lecture: Was Heißt Denken?

The most important aspects of this turn are:

1. Replacing the focus from the modes of Dasein in interpreting Being to Being itself and man’s nature as a part of Being.

2. Replacing analytical methods with esthetic exploration of Being through poetry, i.e abandoning the methodological approach that Millerman suggests in his argument.

3. Ereignis as the experience of the revelation of Being

This move to esthetic mode of knowledge replaced phenomenological explanation of interpretation of Being with this notion of Ereignis, where we experience the truth as Being reveals itself through a partial unconcealing of its nature. We experience this poetically as originating language as Being speaks through man. Here truth is not something we interpret or determine, but something we experience through poetic language if we open ourselves to the experience. This is The real fruition of Nietzsche’s esthetic, much as Zarathustra experienced atop the mountain at midnight, looking at the moon through the laciness of the spider web and, experiencing the most profound truth, sang the Drunken Song.

Millerman’s argument is problematic. First, it attempts to solve the problem of a crisis of politics before we have addressed the underlying question of Being through Heidegger’s phenomenological methodology which Heidegger himself rejected. This is a common mistake, which we see in Sartre’s application of Heidegger’s analytics to existentialism, and Derrida’s exploiting the notion of hermeneutics as a way to deconstruct metaphysical assumptions lurking in all Dasein interpretations of Being. Uprooted from Being, the latter two end up either declaring truth as an invention or not existent.  It is interesting that at the end of the clip I presented, Millerman actually says the deconstruction of metaphysics, the Derridian term, rather than Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics. But For Heidegger, it is no longer a matter of method by which we deconstruct the past or other such superficial games, but rather building on the destruction of metaphysics in order to prepare the way to a poetic relation to the truth and essence of Being.  This, and only this, is the new beginning Heidegger has in mind. We can not hope to understand anything else authentically until we learn to think the question of Being, which implies a rejection of philosophy for a new mode of authentic knowledge, free of metaphysical speculation and focusing completely on the world presented to us as Being while resisting all temptation to relapse back into metaphysics when we come before what we cannot yet know.

Let’s compare the attempt to construct a politics of Dasein with a question once asked of Heidegger: why he never wrote anything on morality. He answered we don’t yet even know the questions to ask. He meant we first need to pursue the Seinsfrage and only then can an authentic morality emerge out of our nature and the nature of Being. The same would apply to the question of politics. In his famous interview in the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Heidegger dismissed all political formations and instead pivoted to the one true appropriate question before we can address any others, our relation to Being and the essence of technology. Again, this is the new beginning he had in mind and necessarily precedes our ability to address other questions.

What Millerman proposes is not an authentic application of Heidegger. We are not ready to even know the right questions to ask about politics or any approach to political philosophy. Early in his career Heidegger had given up on philosophy’s ability to resolve anything. When we do learn the right questions from a true grounding in Being, political formation will emerge.

In his long poem of 1965, Aus der Erfarhrung des Denkens, Heidegger gives us a line that perfectly encapsulates all of what I described and what serves me as the touchstone to Heidegger and our place and time:

Wir kommen für die Götter zu spät und zu früh für das Sein, dessen angefangenes Gedicht ist der Mensch.

(We come too late fort he gods and too late for Being, whose just begun poem is man)

Here we are in Nietzsche’s time of the great vertigo as a result of the Madman’s announcement of the death of god, the last effect of the destruction of metaphysics. Or as Heidegger calls it, the time of destitution in his essay in Holzwege, Wozu Dichter. We are ungrounded and in a vertiginous floating stuck between the time of the gods and the time of Being until we discover the way to Being, and that way cannot be through philosophy or science, but through poetic experience of Ereignis. And that is what poets and authentic thinkers are for. Our own essential destiny is that of the poet. Our purpose is to be the poetic experience of Being for Being itself – its just begun poem. Being speaks through us as the manifestation of experience itself in which we and Being share. Poetry is not just some avocation for Heidegger but the only way to recover what we lost through metaphysics, when Logos in its original and full meaning of word as the musical revelation of Being in the world, with its resonance full of the manifold presence of Being, that is Being speaking through man, was attenuated to the desiccate impoverishment of logic.  

To conclude, much political mischief has been committed by attempting to derive political theory from Heidegger’s early and abandoned phenomenology, starting with Heidegger himself and his early support of Nazism, Sartre’s embrace of Communism, and Alexander Dugin’s use of it as dressing and camouflage over Putin’s thugocracy, as well as lesser lights in America who distort and name-drop Heidegger in an attempt to legitimize their crude and ugly populist nationalism.

I fear Millerman fails to see the danger such an approach entails, especially in light of its past disasters. Dugin’s faux_heidegarianism only mimics Heidegger’s tracing of words to their authentic beginnings in order to reveal a supposed authentic Russian interpretation of Being and culture, an enterprise that leads not to any originating logos but rather a maze of fallen language which easily elides into nationalism. He furthers this through his concept of communal Dasein, which eerily echoes Heidegger’s early embrace of Nationalism as an authentic mass experience of Nietzschean Will, as described by Juergen Habermas in his criticism of Heidegger, and echoes the dark myth of Volk with the Russian Narod.  Make no mistake, Dugin’s fourth political theory is no authentic thinking of Being, but inauthentic window-dressing for authoritarian brutality. It could not possibly be further removed from the poetic inquiry of Being.

So where does this leave us concerning the political crisis? The simple answer is: in danger with no authentic solution at this point. I believe that in such a crisis the best approach is to look to politics and government for as little as possible until the day comes when (if that day comes) we have sufficiently thought the question and Being and are able to ground a state authentically in Being itself. To reach that state requires the freedom for such thought to take place. Coercive governments, right or left, can only stifle that thinking and oppress the people by enforcing inauthentic myths of culture and values, as is the goal of all nationalism. For that reason, I am a rare breed indeed: a Heideggerian libertarian.

A Short Reply to SJ Thomason’s Video: Evidence Atheists Believe in God

One of the most common responses among apologists is the employment of the psychological defense mechanisms of cognitive distortion and projection. SJ’s video is a clear example of distorting the arguments of atheists to avoid the cognitive dissonance and threat to religious beliefs that would result from processing these arguments and facing them head on, as well as projecting onto atheists her own doubts about faith. Here SJ reimagines atheists’ legitimate opposition to god in general and the example of the bible as an attack on the god of the bible as if we thought he were real. We attack the character of the god of the bible as we would other literary characters who symbolize a disagreeable belief and the inanities that apologists blurt out when cornered in their own contradictions, such as “There’s nothing wrong with babies being born with cancer. It’s all relative.” But we don’t for a second actually believe this god exists. We argue against the religions that accompany the Bible and the claim that it’s anything more than primitive mythology and superstition. In the West we tend to focus on Christianity since that is the predominant belief among those who still persist in religion. In the US we do so for several reasons, including philosophical and political grounds. It isn’t remarkable that those of differing philosophies debate their positions, and many of the arguments with theists are of that sort. There is also the political element of countering Christian claims that the US was founded on Christian principles and is grounded in Christian culture. The growing number of nonbelievers rightfully strive to remove religion from its assumed place of privilege to safeguard our own freedom of conscience. Apologists rarely, however, listen to these opposing arguments but instead dismiss them without consideration with the same rote responses, much like a mantra.

The more interesting aspect is projection, in which apologists such as SJ project a violent fear of crisis of belief onto atheists. SJ’s performative and much too long laugh at the end of the Turek and Silverman clip is a clear expression of psychological defense in the form of denial and projection. We see apologists try to imagine atheism as a religion taken on faith and its adherents as subconsciously accepting the existence of god as the mirror image of their own fears and doubts. The claim that a theist podcast that appears every Sunday at 4:30 is a religious act is as absurd as claiming Rachel Maddow appears religiously at 9:00 every evening. Adhering to a schedule does not imply religious observance or belief. Another telling example was the critique of Richard Dawkins acknowledging he can’t know the origin of life but positing possible hypotheses. SJ reflexively jumps to the conclusion that Dawkins accepts the position of panspermia on faith when in fact he doesn’t accept it. He merely holds it out as one possibility, but SJ cannot let herself distinguish between the weakness of her own position which proclaims absolute truth on nothing more than faith and a scientist positing various possibilities but not proclaiming anything beyond scientific knowledge as truth.

She concludes this exercise of psychodrama with a return to her comforting and prophylactic mantras repeating the claim that Christianity is true until her doubt subsides for now.

Critique of Bertuzzi’s Powerful Arguments for Dualism

Excellent display of how trivial and silly most of academic philosophy has become, although admittedly these wouldn’t be the brightest representatives. But before the video even starts Cameron has introduced his confusion into the mix by conflating soul with nonphysical. It is possible that if duality were true, it would not consist of anything like a soul, and certainly not an eternal soul, but rather some mysterious state where consciousness inheres, but for an apologist, this is really the only important issue.

Sadly, the video is mistitled as there were no credible, let alone powerful arguments for duality. The first argument by Dustin is a simple tautology. It also suffers from false suppositions and terms, which I will get to later, but for now the issue is that he assumes a difference between “mental states” and “physical states” in order to conclude that difference. Roughly, he posits a material landscape and contrasts it with a mental representation of that landscape and our ability to construct other possible but imaginary landscapes from that representation. He points out that there are an infinitely greater number of possible imaginary landscapes than there are material, and therefore the imaginary states are unconnected and substantially different from physical state.  The problem, of course, is he erroneously compares the physical state of the landscape itself to the nonphysicality of each imagined landscape when the issue is the physicality of the consciousness that produces these imagined landscapes. That the process of consciousness can produce multiple thoughts about an object in no way implies the consciousness producing the thought isn’t physical or that the thoughts themselves are not physical.  Common printers can produce many copies or variations of a representation, yet the printer is as physical as are the outputs. In other words, the thoughts themselves can be physical even if they concern an idea that doesn’t physically exist.

Justin’s argument is mired in the obsolete metaphysics of mereology and never even gets off the ground. It also shares the same false assumptions and terms with Dustin’s arguments, which I will now address. At the beginning of the video where they attempt to define terms as well as later in their arguments they falsely assume neurons and atoms to be the fundamental layer of existence; an assumption that underlies the failure of their arguments before the logic of their arguments even comes into play. Almost all physicists accept quantum field theory as the deepest state of existence that we know, especially since being confirmed by the production of a Higgs Boson. This replaces the idea of material with waves along fields. The question of consciousness is not one of whether or not we can find it inherent in what we perceive as the material nature of neurons and atoms, but whether the most fundamental state of reality as waves can yield an understanding of a physical existence of consciousness. There is, in fact, a great deal of similarity between brain activity and quantum wave physics, including a freedom from deterministic causality and its mode as waves.  At this deepest level, where any real substance differences would have to have their basis, there is no such thing as substance, essence, or matter, which means they are chasing illusions. This error is behind their definition of non-reductive physicalism as “existence of neurons and atoms and nothing else.” Brian Greene has some excellent videos I could recommend to those three to attempt to catch up with the rest of the 21st century. As a side note, I enjoy the irony that Pythagoras seems to have gotten the ultimate nature of reality as resonance right from the very beginning.

The point is there is no good reason to assume a soul or non-physical consciousness for two compelling reasons. First there is not a shred of evidence that such a thing exists, but rather the idea can be traced to a Cartesian metaphysical error. The fact is we never encounter consciousness apart from a functioning brain. ( ) And second, the new mysteries of the physical universe now coming to light hold out promise of answering this question within a better understood concept of physical.

A Critique of “Numerous Reasons Why Secular Humanism is FLAWED” by SJ Thomason

I had hoped to do a live debate with SJ on the topic linked to above, but after first agreeing she backed out – ostensibly because I’m too arrogant. How a simple semiliterate biker who lives somewhere under a bridge could be too arrogant remains a mystery, but even if it were true it is hardly an honorable reason to renege on the agreement, and I’m certainly no more arrogant today than I was last week when she agreed to the debate. I considered just remaining silent if there were to be no debate, but SJ’s article is literally the silliest and worst-reasoned writing I have ever encountered. Such a rare event should not be left unremarked – it may never come my way again.

Overall, the article is a sad mixture of stawmen, sweeping generalizations, false comparisons, and a conflation of humanism and atheism. The first half never even mentions humanism, secular or otherwise, but bemoans the wane of Christianity in the west to the gain of atheism and agnosticism, and in doing so she presents a strained and inaccurate comparison of secular Europe to the Christian Europe of the past. Finally, in the second half of her article she defines “secular humanism” by quoting an article in “Free Inquiry” that proposes three essential characteristics of secular humanism, which we will explore below. First, however, we should note that humanism in general, and secular humanism in particular, covers a wide range of opinion and “Free Inquiry” no more speaks with authority for all of humanism than SJ does for Christianity. As usual, the subject is far more manifold and nuanced than SJ allows, and her attenuated representation enables a more easily constructed strawman by allowing her to obscure the fact that not all atheists are humanists and not all humanists are atheists. As a result, she conflates Nazism and Communism with humanism – a ridiculous association.

The Comparison of Secular Europe to Christian Europe

I won’t address the first half of her article in detail since the topic at least claims to be secular humanism which is presented in the second half, but will briefly recite the main points.

She begins by quoting statistics showing the decline of Christianity and growth of non-believers in Europe and the US. From there, she proceeds to claim a causal relationship to what she deems to be Western devaluation of human life. In doing so she avoids all mention of the fact that the most atheist countries in Europe are also the least violent and most contented populations in the world. Rather she cites without reference to controversy various practices such as suicide among the terminally ill, abortion, and a claim of addiction to pornography as proof of this devaluation. Of course, there are competing views on the morality of each of these categories, but again there is not only no argumentation for her claim, there is no mention of the differing opinions – merely an assertion. It can be argued that suicide in such cases is the more humane approach when suffering reaches the point of no longer bearable, that there are arguments to consider that a fetus is not yet a human individual, and that pornography does no harm but rather is a personal choice that leads to a healthier life than does Christian sexual repression. But, of course, we find not a hint of such unwelcome complexities.

More egregiously, she moves to an implied causality of atheism and possibly secular humanism to the barbaric murder by fascist and Communist regimes. But not all atheists are humanists and the totalitarianism of fascism and communism are the driving force behind the murderous oppression, not atheism, which does not appear in the vast majority of nonbelievers. To repeat, the least religious countries in Europe are the least violent and most content. More pointedly, most fascist societies, including the Nazis, were Christian.

I will cite one passage from the later section because it sheds light on what follows:

Let us not forget that Friedrich Nietzsche portended what the world would be like without God. In the Godless communist regimes of the USSR, China and Cambodia, estimates indicate that around 120 million perished in the last century.

” Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him, – you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forewards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? – for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife, – who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event, – and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!”

What SJ sees as a simple portent of trouble ahead is far more profound and meaningful. It is a poetic presencing of the vertigo that persists yet today, caused by the death of God whom we killed in the Enlightenment. This is not a reversible event because the Enlightenment removed the very possibility for a rational thinker to believe – an event only equaled by the myth of the Garden of Eden, where humanity dared to surpass the dim delight of the animal to become self-aware human responsible for his own actions. Now we are taking the final step of devising our own values since the primitive values of Christianity died along with God. The result, of course, is shock and vertigo from which we have no choice but move forward. The old values proved false and groundless and it is up to us to find a ground for more authentic values. Or as Heidegger put it almost a hundred years later: “We come too late for the gods and too early for Being..” And as we toil to connect to Being, which reveals true values, we bury the dead.

She is, of course, referring to the seminal Aphorism 125 of The Gay Science; a work she very likely never read and certainly doesn’t comprehend. The relevant portion reads:

The aphorism ends with these words:

– It is further stated that the madman made his way into different churches on the same day, and there intoned his Requiem aeternam deo. When led out and called to account, he always gave the reply: “What are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?”

And yet today, there are those who remain in the darkness of these tombs and cling to the corpse, SJ among them. The rest of the world, however, and in fits and starts, discovers in freedom the beginning of these new values – values rejected and hated by the tomb dwellers. But values that move in the direction of individual liberty and responsibility and away from ignorance and superstition. It is that direction that SJ hates in the form of liberty and science, but doesn’t realize all other paths are closed for good.

Three Elements of Secular Humanism

1.  A Naturalistic Philosophy

“A naturalistic position is a position where people believe that everything we experience can be explained by natural causes or properties, excluding supernatural or spiritual explanations. People who endorse naturalism believe that everything can be explained by science. This belief is also known as scientism.”

She conflates all naturalism with scientism. It is certainly true that humanists generally believe everything exists in the physical universe absent any unseen metaphysical manipulation or power. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean all humanists believe everything in the universe can be reduced to scientific formulation. Many of us believe scientism, as superficial objectivism, can be as great an error as religion as we search for a broader and deeper understanding of the world while resisting with all our strength any relapse to metaphysical assertions. It is only along this path that Being reveals the ground of values.

2. A Cosmic Outlook

“According to, “Secular humanism provides a cosmic outlook—a world-view in the broadest sense, grounding our lives in the context of our universe and relying on methods demonstrated by science. Secular humanists see themselves as undesigned, unintended beings who arose through evolution, possessing unique attributes of self-awareness and moral agency.”

Here we see the above-mentioned hatred of science. Merely through unargued assertion, she claims that without Christianity we cannot explain the deeper nature of humanity and resorts to the long-debunked claim that DNA is a literal code and proof of intelligent design. This is a stark example of an attempt to replace hated Enlightenment science with the old myth and superstition – a hopeless task. While it just might be true that science alone cannot explain our universe, there are other complementary approaches than confine themselves to physical reality. It is certainly true that Christianity was a false attempt to do so.

I have written of this in more detail in other pieces on this blog.

3. A Consequentialist Ethical System

“Our conscience further speaks to God’s intense love for us. The moral argument states that if we have objective moral values and duties that transcend eras and cultures, we must have an objective and transcendent moral lawgiver. Numerous studies have indicated we have objective moral values and duties to follow the Golden Rule[9] and these transcend people and generations. Accordingly, we have a Divine moral lawgiver.”

This is the companion piece to the hatred of science as an expression of hatred of freedom. It is a baseless claim for the reality of a dead metaphysical source of values. Rather than repeat myself, I refer to previous criticism of this idea:

There is one passage, however, that reveals the essential problem at the core of her moral assertions:

“The secular humanist who endorses objective morality may be able to call on a standard, but he also believes that there is no ultimate punishment for evil. In his worldview, Adolf Hitler will never be punished. He will never face justice for his evil infliction of extreme pain on millions.”

Her implied belief in a need for cosmic justice in no way implies anything such thing actually exists. Instead, this is merely the psychological desire to remake the world as she would have it rather than take the universe on its own terms. It would be terribly frustrating for her to realize that no matter how strong her desire, such an invention is impossible. The strength of this need, however, is again the expressed hatred of freedom for others.

Nietzsche was exactly right that Christianity is the religion of resentment, and that resentment would, if it could, hold back the rest of humanity and refasten the chains that would bind us back to fearful primitive need.

Critique of William Lane Craig's Argument in Debate with Alex Malpass

Here I critique a debate on 3/24/2020 between William Lane Craig and Alex Malpass  on the validity of Craig’s version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, although Craig succeeds in bogging down the discussion in diversionary examples of metaphysical conundrums. The debate can be seen here:

Craig’s enterprise is to defend a primitive religion by means of 13th Century Scholastic metaphysics. In light of what humanity has learned in the ensuing centuries, especially in the areas of physics, neuroscience and the progress of philosophical thought, this is an enterprise that cannot be honestly accomplished. Thirteenth century speculations are no match for 21st century knowledge and discovery, and for that reason Christian apologists routinely resort to rhetorical tricks and sophistry. William Lane Craig is preeminent among them in his rhetorical skill and, sadly, intellectual dishonesty.

At the 5:30 mark of the video, Craig slips in his major sleight of hand and manages to steer the rest of the debate into the murkiness of metaphysical contradictions in an attempt to justify the contention of the impossibility of an eternal past based on impossibility of infinite regress. I will focus solely on this move because once it is seen in the light of analysis the rest of the debate becomes tedious and unimportant.

He starts by presenting a brief history of the argument of prime mover but suddenly ends it with a superficial and inaccurate account of Kant’s First Antinomy in The Critique of Pure Reason. The Critique of Pure Reason was a critique of metaphysics itself and sought to ground knowledge of the world solely in the empirical realm of objects of perception. He demonstrates that reason, which underlies our objectification and ordering of random sense data, loses any ability to provide knowledge when it operates purely rationally with no sense data content, i.e. metaphysically. Craig can usually get away with these tricks because he knows few of his followers have ever read Kant, and even fewer are able to understand him.

The First Antinomy

For reasons that will become clear, at the 5:30 mark Craig focuses on the First Antinomy in Kant’s Critique. He begins with this description of the antinomy:

 “The question of the finitude of the past has decisive rationally compelling arguments for opposite conclusions, and that therefore it shows the bankruptcy of reason in giving us knowledge of reality.”

He then glibly dismisses Kant’s critique by claiming that the argument concerning infinite regress has come roaring back largely as the result of modern physics and cosmology pointing to the finitude of the universe “leaving people more open to the idea that the universe began to exist.”

We will examine both statements in detail, but first let’s set forth Kant’s position in the Critique.

1. Kant begins with the sections: Transcendental Aesthetic and Transcendental Analytic. These set forth our innate capabilities of intuition and thought and demonstrate how we construct objective representations from sense data. In the Aesthetic he shows time and space to be a priori subjective sensibilities through which reason constructs representations of the external world. Accordingly, time and space are not part of the world external to our understanding but faculties for constructing a representation of the external. We will later compare this to Einstein’s concept of spacetime.

 In the Analytic he sets forth our innate a priori categories of understanding under the guide of reason which order these intuitions in our spatial and temporal imagination. While we can never know the thing-in-itself as it exists outside our subjective representations, we can gain knowledge of the world through these representations because the thing-in-itself does condition the sense data which enables a degree of correspondence. When we venture to speculate in the absence of sense data, however, we lose our ability to gain any knowledge but instead venture off into transcendental illusions. Kant writes:

“For if no intuition could be given corresponding to the concept, the concept would still be a thought, so far as its form is concerned, but would be without any object, and no knowledge of anything would be possible by means of it. So far as I could know, there would be nothing, and could be nothing, to which my thought could be applied.” B146

Through this he declares the premises of metaphysical arguments invalid and limits validity solely to empirical objective knowledge while stating that “concepts without intuitions are empty” (A52/B76). Those who persist in the Medieval Scholastic tradition of metaphysics have never really overcome this insight, which is why Craig resorts to misconstruing and simply dismissing it.

In the later section on Transcendental Dialectic, Kant explores the fallacies of empty metaphysical argumentation and presents four antinomies, which are expositions of inherent contradictions in metaphysical argument. An antinomy presents a dialectical occurrence of two seemingly justifiable yet contradictory metaphysical conclusions. They all share the basic fallacy of the ambiguous middle:

If the conditioned is given, then the whole series of conditions, a series which is therefore itself absolutely unconditioned, is also given

Objects of the senses are given as conditioned

Consequently, the entire series of all conditions of objects of the senses is already given. (cf. A497/B525).

Kant demonstrates the term “conditioned” changes meaning from P1 to P2. P1 uses conditioned in the transcendental (metaphysical) sense of pure concept void of content. It assumes to know the noumenal world of thing-in-itself which it could never possibly conceive. In P2 it refers to objects of the senses, which are objectively conditioned. The error is applying the necessity of conditioned in the phenomenal world to the unknowable noumenal. We cannot know that there exists anything unconditioned at all there. All we have access to is the world of appearance, where there is only a matter of known conditions and the yet to be discovered conditions. Subjective knowledge is limited and the entirety of series of conditions could never be grasped. In effect, the metaphysical argument projects the necessity of conditions inherent in understanding the world of appearances onto things in themselves and assumes an unconditioned condition:

 “[They] take a subjective necessity of a connection of our concepts…for an objective necessity in the determination of things in themselves” (A297/B354). 

The antimonies are apagogic, which means they cannot themselves be directly proven but rather rely on the indirect approach of disproving the other. This arises from the false choice given in the dialectic. The First Antinomy is apt for discussion of the Kalam:

  • Thesis:

The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space.

  • Anti-thesis:

The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space.

This is an example of reason and the a priori sensations of space and time misapplied to pure and empty ideas. The world as it is in itself is neither finite nor infinite as space and time have absolutely no meaning outside our subjectivity. The world in itself exists in a state we literally cannot conceive, and we simply create transcendental illusion when we attempt to project our modes of understanding onto it.  

A couple centuries later, contemporary neuroscience gives support to Kant’s basic epistemology. For Craig, this is an argument he cannot overcome, so let’s take a closer look at how he tries to evade it.

If you remember, he characterized the First Antinomy as:

“The question of the finitude of the past has decisive rationally compelling arguments for opposite conclusions, and that therefore it shows the bankruptcy of reason in giving us knowledge of reality.”

Here we see the habitual apologist move of creating a strawman. I have no doubt at all that Craig correctly understands Kant, therefore I can only conclude he is willfully misconstruing the argument. First of all, the Antinomy is apagogic, meaning that neither side of the dialectic can provide a rationally compelling argument, but can only disprove its opposite. Why might Craig make this misrepresentation? Because to deny the Kalam, or any syllogism, we need only show that the premise is not one that we are reasonably compelled to accept, and by acknowledging the apagogic nature he would lose right at the start. Second, notice the characterization of reason as bankrupt and incapable of giving us knowledge of reality. As I mentioned, Craig can rely on the ignorance of his followers in these matters, but at this point it should be obvious to us that Kant showed no such thing. Reason is not bankrupt for Kant, but rather enables understanding of sense data from the external world – the only reality to which we have access. It is neither bankrupt nor incapable of providing knowledge. It would be correct to say that reason devoid of sense data provides no knowledge, but that is the exact point Craig is desperate to conceal.

As we see, Craig has no honest rebuttal to Kant, so let’s now look again at his mere dismissal by claiming that the argument concerning infinite regress has come roaring back largely as the result of modern physics and cosmology pointing to the finitude of the universe “leaving people more open to the idea that the universe began to exist.”

Again, I trust that Craig knows better and is once again misconstruing the issue. Many (not all) physicists do posit a beginning of our universe, but the frame of reference has changed. For Medieval metaphysicists our universe was the totality of the physical world. We now know that our universe resulted from an instantaneous and massive inflation, but that something existed before that big bang. While we can know nothing of the state of existence before the big bang, it seems very likely that the laws of physics and what we perceive as time and space originated with that initial inflation, leaving us in the same position as Kant describes when we try to grasp what existed beyond our ability to perceive and with no attributes of space or time. Of course, without space and time there is no sense in considering eternity of finite existence, but rather we would be imposing the conditioned of the empirical world onto something quite inappropriate and unknowable.

Finally, Craig acknowledged that he bases his argument on a tensed theory of time. As we will see, there is no compelling reason to accept that theory and good reason to doubt it, which again allows us to reasonably reject his premises, defeating him once again right at the start.

This hinges on the somewhat crude dichotomy of A Theory and B Theory of time, although in reality there are much more subtle distinctions at work. A Theory of time posits that time is not subjective, but an inherent property of the physical world. Craig’s tensed theory of time would fall under A Theory and posits that only the present is real. B Theory is usually described as time being a subjective experience of flow while in reality past, present and future are equally real and present, and time is tenseless. I believe it is more accurate, however, to say time does not exist outside the subjective mind and therefore tenseless is a misused concept since there is no time to tense.

B theory is more prominent today, especially among neuroscientists and a large number of physicists. An essential element of Einstein’s Relativity is that time is merely the subjective experience of relative motion, and at the speed of light that experience disappears altogether and we would experience the essential timelessness of the universe. That is how Einstein explains all the counterintuitive temporal occurrences that relativity describes. The experience of time is always relative to any individual observer, and his time is not the time of another. For Einstein, everything past, present and future in the physical universe exists outside our consciousness in a static state of timelessness. Again, this precludes the question of eternity or finite existence of the universe as inappropriate projections of subjective understanding where it cannot possibly apply. By the way, the same applies to space as the combined spacetime, but is less counterintuitive. When we look at objects in space we are used to the changes in apparent dimensions as we move about, such as distant objects appearing smaller than closer objects. We automatically adjust our understanding of space relativistically, but lack that capability for time, which relativity has proven works in the same way. This might be because as we evolved our mental capabilities on the African Savannah small changes in spatial relativity were meaningful for our survival, while meaningful temporal relativity becomes apparent only at a much larger frame of reference.

There are physicists who are proponents of A Theory of time, but not in a way helpful to Craig. Typically, they consider time and space to be actual physical aspects of the universe, but not necessarily of everything before or outside our universe. For them time and space are effects of increasing entropy which drives time forward and creates space. Before the Big Bang, however, which initiated the increasing entropy, time and space didn’t exist which again precludes the dialectic of eternal vs. finite.

Having succeeded in his sleight of hand at the 5:30 mark, Craig then managed to mire the debate in the minutia of meaningless metaphysical speculation that brings to mind counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.

The Birth of Shakespeare out of the Spirit of Music

My great friend, the theist philosopher John Mark Reynolds, and I embark on a new conversation in which I instruct him on Shakespeare’s Renaissance linkage of Europe back to its pre-Christian roots as well as the nature of poetry.

Bertuzzi’s Failed Attempt to Conflate Claim and Evidence

Cameron Bertuzzi once again reveals that his intellectual side of Christianity plays at the shallow end. In this video he attempts to refute Matt Dillahunty’s statement that there is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, where Dillahunty distinguishes anonymous claims from evidence that backs up claims. In doing so, Bertuzzi builds a strawman, piece by piece, right in front of our eyes starting with an amazing sleight of hand in this video:

Bertuzzi starts with a quote by Dillahunty from a debate with Mike Winger, transforms it through two modifications and concludes that Dillahunty’s claim fails by begging the question and is refuted by “advancements in probability theory”. The conclusions are as laughable as his modifications to the Dillahunty’s claim. It would be easy to just dismiss this video as nonsense, but it is representative of a specious argument spreading throughout the YouTube apologist community desperate to “prove” the resurrection of Jesus, for which there is no reliable evidence or firsthand account. This is of primary urgency since Paul wagered everything on it:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”

Claims are not evidence

This is the quote by Dillahunty that Bertuzzi addresses:

“When you said Jesus appeared to the 500, that’s just a claim. We’ve spoken to no one from the 500, no one who was even there to even speak to the 500, or anything else. When you present these things as evidence, they are in fact just more and more claims from essentially the same sources – from anonymous authors. And what Mike as kind of done at the start of this is to say, well, really here’s all this evidence, and it’s the evidence for the supernatural and you don’t get to just throw all of it out. But it’s not the evidence. It is the claim. It is a bunch of claims, and it is claims upon claims as well. What we have here is this list of claims coming from a source, the Bible. The Bible is the source, not the evidence.” 

We will follow his steps to refute this position, starting with:

Modification 1

In this section Bertuzzi moves to redefine “claims” in order to demonstrate that claims can be at least insufficient evidence, starting with the sleight of hand I alluded to above.

(1A) “Claims in the form of reasonable assertions can constitute evidence”

The issue hangs on what a “reasonable” assertion would be, which Bertuzzi defines as “sometimes people make assertions because they have a deeper reason for thinking that assertion is true.” After having just presented double talk where he makes a diversionary assertion that he’s unable to perceive any difference at all between a claim and evidence, he imperceptibly executes his sleight of hand by conflating those two very different things in his definition. It should be obvious to anyone not overly-susceptible to sophistry that what separates a “reasonable claim” from an “unreasonable claim” is accompanying evidence, either a direct firsthand account, as supplied in Bertuzzi’s example of his daughter’s account of an occurrence at school, or some other physical evidence that gives the claimant this deeper reason to think it’s true.

Those are the exact elements Dillahunty presented as missing from the anonymous claims of those not present for this supposed miracle. Unlike Bertuzzi’s daughter in his example, we have no idea who is making the claim or even if these 500 exist at all. We lack any deeper reason at all to believe the claim precisely because there is no evidence such as the kind in Bertuzzi’s example.

He then muddies things further by altering his example to where the teacher called his wife who then relayed to him the incident at school; but of course that isn’t analogous to the case of the resurrection. Bertuzzi knows both the wife and the teacher and can trust their motives. It would be less reliable evidence than the first example because of the added chance of error by adding an additional participant, but it is close. The resurrection account, on the other hand, gives us no direct statement from any firsthand witness nor does it tell us anything about the transmitters of this account, leaving us with no real evidence at all.

(1B) “Claims of miraculous are not evidence of the miraculous”

In this next move Bertuzzi emerges from the fog he created to further distort what Dillahunty said by asserting that Dillahunty’s statement really only refers to claims of the miraculous. Oddly enough, the clip he then plays shows Dillahunty saying nothing of the kind, but rather: “So a claim is an assertion that something is such and so”. Once again, a sleight of hand while we’re still blinded by the fog created above. He does this because he is eager to conceal the original problem of no firsthand accounts or other evidence of the resurrection and divert instead to the question of the possibility of evidence for a miracle. We are seeing the strawman now taking on limbs as he morphs the question to “if we now see that claims can be evidence, why can’t claims of the miraculous be evidence?” But of course, that isn’t the issue at all, but rather if there is evidence to support the claim.

He concludes this section by arguing that in situations where regular explanations fail in the event of something inexplicable, we should keep an open mind to extraordinary explanation, which he based on accounts of alien abductions too silly to recap here. The point is this isn’t a question of keeping an open mind to new interpretations and theories based on novel experience but of basing those on verifiable evidence – something that fails both for alien abductions and the resurrection. It is that failing that Bertuzzi again attempts to obscure by the reasonable sounding advice to keep an open mind.  

As practitioners of sophistry almost always do, he then strikes the pose of the honest purveyor of fairness:

“Here’s my point with all of this, and I’m going to be very blunt. It’s intellectually dishonest to just ignore evidence that goes against what you already believe… If you’re going to say that [I just want to follow the evidence] then you can’t arbitrarily choose what explanations you’re going to consider and what you are not.”

Putting aside the total lack of self-awareness, reasonable people most certainly do get to choose what explanations to consider based on existence of evidence.

(1C&D) “Some evidence is not the same as sufficient evidence; We have some evidence of miracles”

This move is no more than, having fallaciously claimed evidence for the resurrection, he now points out that evidence need not be sufficient to prove the claim in order to be considered. That’s fine as far as it goes but isn’t really relevant. Rather than leave it at that, though, he will later try to make the case that this evidence (which in reality doesn’t exist but are really mere claims) is in fact sufficient. We’ll leave that as a bit of levity for the end.

Modification 2

In this conclusory part of the video Bertuzzi tries to establish sufficient evidence for the resurrection by claiming that Dillahunty is guilty of begging the question and that “advancements in probability theory” justify the evidence as sufficient. Both of these attempts are both laughable and show actual contempt for the intellectual capacity of his followers.

He bases his claim of question begging on David Hume’s essay “Of Miracles”. This question of miracles relies on far more than Hume’s essay, but that’s another matter. As is his custom, Bertuzzi provides no evidence or argument that Hume begs the question, but quotes another apologist, David Johnson:

“Hume’s argument against miracles obviously either begs the question, or becomes obscure…”

Well, that surely settles that matter. Although, maybe he was just obscure and not begging the question. It’s hard to tell from that quote. But the funniest part is when he follows that up with a quote from C S Lewis:

Now of course we must agree with Hume that if there is absolutely “uniform experience” against miracles, if in other words they have never happened, why then they never have. Unfortunately, we know the experience against them to be uniform only if we know the reports of them all are false”

Obviously, in addition to lacking all self-awareness Bertuzzi also has no firm grasp of the concept of begging the question. Rather he has turned the onus of proof of the claimant on others to disprove every positive claim. Of course, it doesn’t work that way and without credible evidence there is no reason to credit the claim – the very point Bertuzzi has been trying to conceal the whole time.

He ends with the funniest of all when he claims support from “advancements of probability theory”. This probably sounds really impressive to the unenlightened among his followers, but this grandiose claim is no more than regular inductive logic employed in science since the days of Francis Bacon – only misapplied. The scientific method explicitly requires verifiable and reproducible evidence from which to draw inductive inference. For Bertuzzi, however, it merely means the number of people who make the claim, and if somebody says 500 people say so, that is sufficient evidence. As he puts it: “Enough evidence can overcome any nonzero probability.” True enough, but there is again that pesky distinction between evidence and mere claim.  Perhaps he is aware of some advanced theory of probability that demonstrates that enough mere claims become sufficient, but I would be comfortable betting he doesn’t.

Genealogy of an Error: Cartesian Dualism

It is regrettable that today in the 21st century there is still discussion of substance dualism, an idea that died some time ago, but the moldering corpse of which is dutifully carried from cave to cave and revered by stiff necked theists. It originates with the catastrophic collision of two momentous errors:  Ancient Near Eastern god mythology and Western metaphysics.

The concept of metaphysics is foreign and posterior to the Bible. The primitive Near Eastern gods are by no means of some noumenal realm but rather a physical force within the world and present. They control the waters and the winds, bring feast or famine and are the primal force of the universe. They are gods of fear, reflecting the ever-present existential peril of primitive man overwhelmed by the violent whims of nature. They are projections of the brutally primitive father figure, at once threatening and protecting – a force amenable to supplication, obedience and praise. Man thus created god in his father’s image. Survival was seen as dependent on the favor of these father gods and worship became a matter of life and death. Accordingly, the heretic became the greatest threat to tribal survival and an abomination requiring immediate death. The god(s) of the Bible are no different, present in the world and causative.

Metaphysics as we know it is a Greek invention which separated the physical world from its essence, positing that what we encountered in the world was merely form the essence of which derived from an unknowable and nonphysical noumenal realm. Our soul, as nonphysical, was the conduit between noumenal truth and physical appearance. This metaphysical separation of essence from the physical is an error that has ever since misled humanity to seek truth in the imaginary heavens rather than the earth.

I have written before of the metaphor of Christianity as an incompatible graft onto the body of Europe – one destined to go through a process of rejection.

Greek metaphysics was the suture that bound this strange oriental religion to the West via Augustine’s use of Aristotelian metaphysics of causality and Thomistic/Platonic metaphysics of soul. This synthesis justified Christianity to the Western intellect, marrying the continuation of primitive myth and superstition to the metaphysical annihilation of essential truth in the world. Thus, was born the illusion of Cartesian substance duality.

I address this issue here as a follow on to two long dialogs with the theist philosopher Dr. John Mark Reynolds, at the end of which, in lieu of providing a justification for an immaterial soul, he referred me to an argument by a minor theist philosopher, Frank B Dilley.

I will critique his argument, which at least acknowledges what Reynolds would not: that dualism is dead other than among the waning influence and number of theist philosophers. Dilley claims his scope thus:

“Three prominent conceptions are the Platonic/Cartesian, the Aristotelian/Thomistic, and now “emergent” dualists. All three are thought to be dead by the majority of contemporary philosophers of mind.

“Descartes was convinced that the present existence of a non-substantial self could not be contradicted, and found other reasons to support his view that this self was not material, persisted in time, was possibly immortal, and had a relation to its body which was merely contingent and with which it interacted frequently. Taking consciousness seriously requires a non-material self.

“Briefly stated, modern Cartesians have defended the existence of a nonmaterial persisting conscious self, justifying its persistence in order to account for continuity of experience, character and memory, and justifying its non-materiality by the fact that its contents (qualia, feelings, thoughts, etc.) cannot be located in the physical world (inside or outside the self) and that its ways of responding (reasoning, free will, intentionality, etc.) are not ways that material bodies operate. So far I am merely stating the obvious about substance dualism.”

Before going into a more detailed look at Dilley’s argument, I will make some preliminary comments.

Descartes’ claim that non-substantial self could not be contradicted rested on a primitive and naïve understanding of the nature of the physical. For Descartes, the physical, other than energy, was irreducible matter (stuff), and qualia, feelings and thoughts were immaterial. Today we understand that whatever is physical exists at the most elementary state yet known as waves in a quantum field. This state, not possibly known to Descartes, provides far more possibility for eventually understanding mind as physically based. It is important to disentangle the notion of physical from material, and interesting to note that the only two instances in the universe we know of where deterministic causality ceases and indeterminacy is the rule are in the wave activities (vibrations) of quantum events and the wave activities of the mind (which may be the key for the existence of free will). This approach, sometimes called quantum mind, is being followed seriously by such leading-edge physicists and neuroscientists as Michio Kaku, Roger Penrose, Adrian Kent, Hiroomi Umezawa, Giuseppe Vitiello, Walter Freeman, Karl Pribram, and Henry Stapp. Simply put, substance dualism is a product of ignorance of the nature of physicality. When we finally come to understand the nature of consciousness, it will primarily be due to the work of physicists and neuroscientists, not philosophers and theologians.

It is common for theists such as Dilley to obfuscate the immaterial nature of the universe by constantly referring to the more promising avenue of non-reductive physicalism as non-reductive materialism to reinforce this misconception of materiality. But Dilley does candidly admit what is at stake here and his motivation:

“There is widespread agreement, also, that much is at stake if Cartesian dualism is abandoned. If there is no Cartesian soul then there is no reason to believe in a self which unifies present experience or which persists over time, in the possibility of life beyond death, in rationality as we ordinarily conceive it, in libertarian free will, and in our ordinary notions of moral responsibility.”

This foreshadows his later conclusion that, even if we cannot prove immaterial substance, we should use the as yet inconclusiveness of physical explanation of mind as an excuse to maintain our belief: “perhaps we should hold onto our folk psychological ideas..” This isn’t serious thought, but merely an attempt to cling to Christianity by his fingernails. If we eliminate the soul, we lose immortality and a transcendent god. He errs, however, in claiming physicalism necessarily abolishes free will, morality, unification of experience. and reason. To the contrary, wave activity and brain structure likely provide more solid physical ground for their explanation.

Most of Dilley’s article focuses on the defects of epiphenomenalism and panpsychism, which I don’t dispute. Although these defects might be resolved in time, I don’t think either of these are the answer and won’t go into Dilley’s objections. He provides very little argument, however, to justify taking substance dualism seriously, but we will look at what little there is.

Dilley first presents the individuation problem, which arises as a tension between individual bodies and sense experience on the one hand, and immaterial soul on the other. If our consciousness is not defined by our unique material facts, then how do we distinguish one soul from another? What happens if we transplant this immaterial soul to another body? Dilley responds:

“…dualists could say that spirits are located in the same place where their brains are, but any good Cartesian must reject that suggestion. It is precisely because colors and thoughts cannot be reduced to physical properties or be found in physical space that makes dualism attractive. This point is made decisively by Colin McGinn, not himself a dualist, who points out of our conscious experience that “it is not located at any specific place; it is not made up of spatially distributed parts; it has no spatial dimensionality; it is not solid. Even to ask for its spatial properties is to commit some sort of category mistake, analogous to asking for the spatial properties of numbers.”18 It is precisely because colors and thoughts cannot be reduced to physical properties or be found in physical space that makes dualism attractive.”

Here he simply repeats Descartes error of material, unavoidable for Descartes but inexcusable for anyone in the 21st century. If anything, the seeming immaterial nature and absence of space and location are precisely what make quantum mind attractive. He concludes:

“A good Cartesian can imagine that there is a possible person in this or some possible world who has exactly similar psychological characteristics to hers and yet is someone else, and can imagine that a person who grew up differently in this world or some possible world could still be her. Had she become a plumber instead of a philosopher she would have been the same person, though, to borrow from John Gardner, under these circumstances it might be her pipes, not her theories that fail to hold water. For Cartesians, it is the subject of awareness, not the psychological states or body it has, that individuates and identifies the person.”

The nice thing about metaphysics is you can derive a solution for any problem at all because we can imagine anything at all. His solution here is that he can imagine differentiation of souls irrespective of bodies. To do this, however, he conflates three distinct concepts central to cognition:

1. Soul, which supposedly is our true and eternal immaterial self.

2. Consciousness, which is what we are aware of at any particular moment.

3. Mind, which includes subconscious and unconscious activities.

The problem then becomes, what is the soul without body experience, and how do we explain the changes to our souls through those experiences.

Dilley’s next stop is the famously intractable interaction problem. While a metaphysician can magically solve problems through definition, these solutions almost always result in contradiction. In this case, the problem arises as the inability of material substance and immaterial substance to interact. Without interaction there can be no effect on the soul of the sort Dilley posited above, and the soul can have no effect on the brain. This problem arises directly from the initial metaphysical error of separation of mind and body and can never be solved. Or, not solved as long as we refrain from the special pleading that usually underlies metaphysical definition. In Dilley’s case:

“As many dualists have claimed, mind-brain interactions may be “anomalous.” It may be true that physical causes and effects are linked by spatio-temporal continuity, but that is surely not true of mental causes and effects. Mental causes, unlike physical causes, may be linked by semantic content or by association, but not by spatial links. Links between mind and brain are causal, not spatial. If psychokinesis is possible, mind does not move from the vicinity of its body and go to the area of the body it affects, it just directly works on that object.

Moreover, if mental causes merely change the distribution of energy in the physical world, then conservation of energy causes no problem. I differ from some Cartesians in thinking that any actions of mind on brain should in principle be capable of scientific investigation. It is true that my mind itself cannot be examined by physical science, but if my mind acts on my brain by changing the resistance of synapses, or if my mind can act on “remote” matter and directly affect other brains, then a developed physical science should provide evidence of mental causation. Some parapsychologists think that parapsychological science has established such influences.”

And anomalous can mean anything at all since immaterial consciousness can never be examined, and therefore is unfalsifiable. Quantum mind or any other physical explanation, on the other hand, will stand or fall on the basis of falsifiability. Serious people cannot afford mere metaphysical assertion. As for parapsychology, he then went into positive speculation about remote viewing (which US DoD and the CIA definitively debunked when it shut down the Stargate Project over Ingo Swann’s consistent failures), communication with the dead, etc.

Having blithely solved the interaction problem, Dilley is free to solve the related problem of mind/brain pairing:

“The ultimate solution to the original attaching of souls to bodies precedes any awareness on my part, but a solution which appeals to God is in order for most theists, since it is rare to find a dualist who is not a theist. Souls need bodies in order to gather information and to interact with other souls, and it may well be that bodies are needed for souls to develop. Many theists from Plato onward have developed “soul-building” explanations for the soul’s attachment to and even restriction to one body at a time.

“Once a soul has been attached to a body, there are quite ordinary explanations for why soul and body become increasingly interdependent.”

Who knew it was that easy? Now that he solved the pairing problem by appealing to god everything else falls into place. Except that, now that he has solved the interaction and pairing problem, he concludes his case with what he calls “the structured soul, the structured body and the pairing problem.”

“Cartesian philosophers have no problem in recognizing that the body/brain has a structure, and that changing of that structure is an ongoing process. What is not discussed so frequently is that the soul or mind must also have a structure. What we Cartesians should say about the soul is that it is not at present a blank slate but that our minds are slates that have been well written on. We should say that our present experience discloses to us that our souls are structured. Now, to talk about the soul as structured is not typical Cartesian talk, but I want to argue that it should be and to use the fact that the soul has a structure to help to minimize the “pairing” problem in the way it is usually raised. Why a particular existing soul continues to be paired with a particular existing body with which it mutually interacts has a relatively simple solution.”

This is another great example of the contradictions that arise from metaphysically defining away problems. Above he postulated that souls and mind cannot be spatial, but in this last section describes mind as a structure, which necessarily implies spatial topology, and even more conveniently, maps exactly to the brain. This implies several fatal problems for his justification of Cartesian Dualism:

1. The justification requires a spatial concept of mind.

2. The spatial mapping of mind and brain remove any valid reason for positing a separate mind in the first place since they end up indistinguishable.

3. All of this conveniently ignores the certain fact that the brain and brain chemistry absolutely determine consciousness. Drugs will alter consciousness, serotonin imbalance will cause depression which will severely impact one’s thoughts, and the mind completely disappears when under general anesthetic. From this, it is safe to conclude that the mind is identical to the brain, and certainly will cease in all aspects after death.

In Part 2 I will explore another approach to understanding mind.

Moral Ontology vs. Objective Morality

The following is a response to a Twitter discussion concerning epistemological and ontological issues in the theist claim of an objective moral law. I am responding here to a theist’s criticism of my view of evolving morality which he does by means of a metaphysical argument derived from Aquinas’s metaphysical assertion of actus assendi and a questioning of Heidegger and Kant. You can see his presentation here:

Mr. Claramunt, I think you might be attributing certain positions in Sein und Zeit to me which I don’t hold. If Heidegger had only written Sein und Zeit and Was ist Metaphysic we wouldn’t still be reading him. His important work began with Holzwege, and to resolve the conflicts you claimed I will stay within the later Heidegger. Also, I take major aspects of Heidegger as a starting point for my own thinking, but develop along my own path and it may be necessary at times to distinguish between Heidegger’s thought and mine. I don’t think we need to revisit Kant at this point. I only brought him up to establish the idea of correspondence as a justification of ontic analysis, but it’s the ontological that’s at issue here. As for impenetrable hermeneutics, I think that issue is somewhat exaggerated, but it is important to appreciate that both Kant and Heidegger were stretching existing language or creating new language to bring into view new things for which we had no pre-existing language. I believe Heidegger was far more successful in that endeavor but as a result he can only be understood in German, which I assume you read.

You describe a contradiction between Sein existing only in Dasein’s understanding of Sein and the impossibility of Dasein preceding Sein. That certainly is a contradiction, but not what Heidegger proposed. It seems to me you are conflating Being and World as thought by Heidegger.

Sein precedes Dasein and was always existent. Dasein occurs in Being and as a part of Being as the being that is conscious of being-there. We as Dasein and part of Being are tasked to be the consciousness of Being – Being in self-regard and self-experience. As such our most authentic activity is appreciation of what Being reveals to us as a revelation which itself is grounded in Being.  Being exists, as is its nature, whether we provide its consciousness or not, but the World doesn’t, and it is this worlding of the world that you conflate with Being in your contradiction. The world is an Ereignis, something that cannot be understood in translation in the Heideggerian sense, but combines connotations of authenticity, ownership, and occurrence. Man participates in this occurrence of World as one of four essential elements (das Geviert): Erde, Himmel, die Göttlichen and die Sterblichen.  Dasein is the mortal and limited being whose dwelling is limited to the earth for a while but intimates in Being’s revelations the eternality of the sky and the godhead which form the core of Being and ground of all things. The godhead does not consist of sentient gods but non-sentient striving from its own nature, much like Nietzsche’s Wille. Through us, however, it develops consciousness and speaks through us when we speak poetically. This brings us to your introduction of Aquinas’s actus essendi.

The key to understanding the difference between Being and actus essendi is to keep in mind Heidegger’s insistence on steadfastly not retreating to metaphysics, which is always ungrounded as a product of imagination rather an authentic thinking of Being in the world.  Instead, we are to remain silent before the unknowable/unspeakable rather than jumping to metaphysical assertions. This is difficult for followers of Medieval Scholastic philosophy, which is expressly metaphysical in its approach. Aquinas tried to explain individuation of essence observed in the things of the phenomenal world through the imposition of a metaphysical actor (God) who bestowed physical existence of his possession of perfect essence of things as a separate act for each individuated occurrence. Thus, there is one perfect essence of man, for example, but each man in the world of substance is an individuated instance of this perfect essence. Due to the imperfection of the substantial world, each differs from the other to some degree, but all are effects of the willful act of the metaphysical god and representations of the undifferentiated perfect essence.

You are right that Heidegger refrains from thinking of Being as God, and for the obvious reason that it would be a step backwards into the false clarity of metaphysics. To posit the essence of Being as a metaphysical essence and assign to it characteristics would be to speak where we should remain silent since we would be speaking inauthentically about what we cannot know. Being exists only in this physical realm as a manifold which we perceive piecemeal, authentically (poetically) as things as they are revealed in our encounter, or inauthentically as objects of ontic (metaphysical) understanding. When we experience the thing authentically, we do so absent the metaphysical error of essence/existence. When we inauthentically look at the object in ontic analysis we obliterate essence entirely. Science and technology tether themselves to this ontic analysis while theology separates essence from Being and mislocates it to a metaphysical illusion which ironically leads us inevitably to the technological reduction of modernity.

Heidegger sees pre-Socratic philosophers as the last of authentic thinkers in the West, who rightly understand logos as word experienced in the resonance of poetry. These thinkers were betrayed by later philosophers who subverted poetic thinking by removing the poetry and focusing instead on reason, thereby turning logos into logic. The first fatal step to metaphysics occurred around the time of Socrates which changed the ontological understanding of A is A to A=A, the latter turning A into an object without essence that can be individuated over and over. Instead of this tree in its being and that tree in its own being, we have a metaphysical perfect essence of trees that can be thought of as equal and additive. It is the occurrence of this error in Aquinas for which Heidegger provides the remedy.

The illusion of objective morality is an artifact of this obsolete metaphysics. There is no metaphysical moral perfection. Essence, which is the only ground of truth, is a manifold physical existence in constant alteration. Since only essence can ground truth and essence only exists physically as Being, to know morality requires a new thinking into our own nature as an integral part of Being itself. It is there for us to encounter if we open ourselves to its revelations. Hints are in the holy commune of family gatherings, the kindness we show others, etc. It is common among all humans as we all participate in the same Being. It is a metaphysical error to interpret that commonality as something objective outside our consciousness. The only path forward is to understand it as it appears in the worlding of this world. We only do that poetically through the recovery of the fullest meaning of logos. Meanwhile, Being seems to be having its own way without our notice. Since historicity is an element of World, we can trace a direction in our understanding of morality over the millennia which appears to evolve toward more inclusion, empathy, respect for individuality and freedom. There are setbacks and fitful advances, but over time the trajectory reveals itself.

To SJ Thomason: Why Ontology Really Matters.

(A response to her essay: Moral Values and Duties are Universal, Objective, and Grounded in a Benevolent God)

Thomason attempts to argue there is an objective and universal moral law given to us by the Christian god. This is an ontological assertion that must first be clarified before moving to its descriptions or conclusions. She does give a nod to that requirement at the beginning, which I will explore in detail, then moves on to a very long and superficial overview of writers and schools of though of varying degrees of importance, all of which could have been omitted and won’t be detailed here, and closes with  a claim for Aquinas’s Medieval Scholastic notion of Christian Synderesis. I think her argument would have been tighter had she skipped the meandering overviews and moved directly from an ontological inquiry to the conclusion for Synderesis, but would still have failed from its fundamental flaw, which she shares with almost every writer on morality that has come before here: an inauthentic ontological grounding of morality.

Ontology is the question of Being. Arguably the greatest thinker of Being, Martin Heidegger, was asked toward the end of his life why he had never written anything about morality, to which he answered that we don’t yet even know the right questions to ask. As Heidegger showed more forcefully than anyone, it is only with the right questions in mind that we have any hope of penetrating Being. Past writers on morality, with the possible exception of David Hume, have failed in that initial effort and as a result moral philosophy has been a continuous story of failure. Instead of any real inquiry into being, which implies the essence of morality and man within Being, past attempts have skirted the question by either facile metaphysical assertion of a god, or by ontic/technological and thereby superficial classifications and measurements. Religious writers have generally been among the former, while Utilitarians and Consequentialists have been among the latter, and both cases evaded the ontological question, rendering the ontological grounding that some claimed merely illusory. But then, if even Heidegger didn’t know the questions to ask, we could hardly expect them to either. Sadly, they also lacked Heidegger’s scruples about remaining silent before that which cannot be spoken.

As Thomason approaches this essential question, she gives a naïve and incomplete description of ontology:

“Moral ontology refers to whether moral values and duties objectively exist independently of people and are to be discovered by people. Ontology is defined as a branch of metaphysics that covers the nature of being. Moral ontology focuses on whether a standard of good and bad values or right and wrong duties exists.”

Her presuppositions in the above statement are what doom her analysis and conclusions. Before getting to the question of moral ontology, let’s remind ourselves of what ontology is to begin with: Why does anything exist at all? From that yet unanswerable question we move to particular things encountered in the world and question the if and how of their existence. For our purposes here, the question is morality unqualified: does it exist and if so how? The how includes its nature, meaning to us, and how it is grounded in Being itself. Thomason begins with the fallacy of bifurcation by reducing the question to morality as objectively existing or invented by man. She errs again in that last sentence by limiting the possibility of morality to a standard and duties, which she does to detour us onto the path leading to objective laws. Since we are at the beginning of our journey, however, any presumption of objectivity or formality of law is worse than merely premature; it closes off any possibility of finding the right path, i.e. the danger of asking the wrong questions.  

By skipping the necessary thinking of the essense of morality she merely asserts an objective moral law grounded in the god of the bible. This is the sort of metaphysical flight of fancy we were to have overcome by now but persists to this day among supernaturalists. To this metaphysical invention she merges the superficial discoveries of the ontic/scientific theories of social scientists through the notion of Christian Synderesis, which she borrows from Zollo, Pellegrini and Ciappei (2017):

“Despite the different sophistications of the utilitarian approach, a common element of all these theories is that the agent is rational and able to evaluate the situation and its outcome. Definitely, such requisites are not met by talking about intuition, especially the ability to forecast and choose the preferable outcomes. Conversely, universalism imposes that every act is performed according to general and transcendental moral principles (Kant, Foundations of the metaphysics of morals, ed. orig. 1785; 1959)” (Zollo et al., 2017, p. 695).

The authors used an influential Christian moral social doctrine, synderesis, to bridge the gap between the two viewpoints. Synderesis is “an innate human habit that fosters moral judgment and triggers the virtue of practical reason” (Zollo et al., 2017, p. 682). Synderesis is the “correct habit that regulates intuition due to its innate nature and it is present in every individual.” (Zollo, Pellegrini and Ciappei, 2017, p. 690). It is our conscience.

In other words, morality is a synthesis of innate moral principles and cultural interpretation from these principles. At no point, however, was there any real thinking about the if and how of these principles, but merely assumed on the observation that all societies have the same basic moral values but interpreted differently. We could assume from that there would be closer and lesser interpretations of this objective and immovable law among the different cultures, although no such laws were ever really shown to exist. The variability of interpretation among cultures could yet arise as something other than variation from a law – an open question since we never really discovered the if and how of morality, and thus know nothing of its grounding. Instead, Thomason merely reasserts a metaphysical claim for which we have no knowledge. We see this error play out as she concludes:

These findings support the assertion that we have a conscience and a moral compass, which direct us to goodness. It follows that the source of our conscience is a benevolent, transcendent moral lawgiver. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul stated the following in Romans (2:15): “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

Her conclusion is a perfect encapsulation of the failure of moral thought through the present as the failure to ask the right questions. So, what might the right questions look like?

What in the essence of man would give rise to morality? This question is critical because we can only judge morality for man from our own nature. If we had the nature of a crocodile our sense of morality would derive from something quite different.

Is man as an evolving being in possession of evolved feelings that in adapting him for survival have the effect of what we feel as morality?

How would that faculty of morality actually work and why would it be susceptible to varying interpretations over time and place? What does the discernable arc of morality over the time from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to apparent greater value of individuality, tolerance and forgiveness reveal to us about the nature of morality and man?

And most fundamental and difficult of all, what in Being grounds this morality? Is there intention in Being toward which we evolve, and if so, what does that imply about genes themselves? Nobody yet has fathomed this genetic mystery as an expression of the essential nature of existence.

It would be so much more interesting to see apologists such as Thomason grapple with these questions first, and if not, then remain silent before what is not yet revealed in Being.

The Philosophical Naivety of Alvin Plantinga and SJ Thomason’s Failure to Restore the God of the Gaps

This is a response to a blog by SJ Thomason:

SJ announces in the first paragraph:

“The intention of this blog is to offer reasons to reject naturalism and scientism.”

Unsaid but revealed at the end of her blog is the additional intent of claiming validity for god of the gaps arguments with this abolition of science. She starts with a philosophical statement by Alvin Plantinga to support a claim that human intellect alone cannot ground the validity of science. From there she borrows from William Lain Craig a list of things she asserts science can’t explain and ends with an uninformed attempt to align the big bang with the creation myth in Genesis. Her misrepresentation of physics and cosmology is too obvious to require treatment here. But as she starts out with philosophy, I’ll take the opportunity to address the fundamental philosophical issue that is rarely addressed but critical to the discussion.

She quotes a passage by Alvin Plantinga from his book “Naturalism Defeated”:

“But if naturalism is true, there is no God, and hence no God (or anyone else) overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution. And this leads directly to the question whether it is at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs. Darwin himself expressed this doubt: “With me,” he said, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

This is fairly straightforward as far as it goes. There is a long line of skeptics concerning our direct understanding of reality, including Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, and to a lesser extent, Heidegger. Kant famously proposed that time and space were no more than subjective senses and that innate a priori reason governed our ordering of sense data from the external world so we could construct some sense of our surroundings in our imagination. Contemporary neuroscience expands on Kant’s basic concept, with leading researchers such as Donald Hoffman describing our minds as a type of computer screen interface that presents our surroundings to us not as they are, but as what could be easily and quickly understood for practical use; an evolutionary adaptation that enabled our survival on the Savannah and later led to our domination of the planet. The things of our understanding don’t exist as we imagine them, just as the icons on our computer screens don’t look anything like the streams of bits they represent. Even space and time are merely subjective strategies for ordering sense data. In fact, our minds did not evolve to render truth, but rather to give quick icons of only what is practically important at the moment. We really have no idea what reality would be outside our subjective representations.

This certainly limits scientific understanding, and these limits are at the very heart of contemporary physics where logic, basic causality and 3d space no longer suffice to understand what really happens at the level of string theory. But most importantly, it doesn’t invalidate science either. There is some correspondence between our rational representations from sense data and something outside our imagination, and that correspondence is infinitely useful. As Hoffman puts it, if he sees a bus hurtling toward him, he gets out of the way because, while he doesn’t take the representation literally, he does take it seriously. The correspondence is what enables us to survive. This evolved understanding works well within the narrow band of the Newtonian realm in which it evolved, but less so the more we go beyond that range, either macro or micro.

So Plantinga is correct that science will not explain the entire universe, and what it does explain is only a computer screen representation of the bits. From there, though, he reveals his own philosophical naivety when he draws the false choice between science (which he assumes to equate to naturalism) and faith in metaphysical divinity. If we expand naturalism to mean simply understanding drawn from the physical world, we can then allow another critical addition to our modes of understanding, and one far more primordial than reason and science.

Long before we developed our capacity for reason, we knew the world by feeling. As we absorbed the vibrations around us those vibrations (e.g. sound and light) resonated within us causing moods. We can still see this relationship in the German language where the word for mood – “Stimmung” literally means voicing or tuning. It implies the sympathetic vibrations of our own strings with that from the world outside. When theists insist science cannot explain beauty, meaning or morality, they are quite right. But then science was never intended to be the proper mode of understanding for such things. We have always understood these through “Stimmung”, and as we refine our aesthetics, we refine our relation to the world through beauty, meaning and morality. Nietzsche saw our greatest mode of relating to the vibratory essence of the Will of the universe to be through music. Heidegger saw it through poetry, which is really originating language before the music is wrung out of it – logos in its original pre-Socratic and pre-rational meaning. These enable our most primordial connection to reality, and even today precedes our rational arguments. As Burke knew, rational argument is almost always in service of justifying our feelings.

Morality is a case in point. Mammals in general, and pronouncedly among primates, have evolved innate sensibilities that have enabled greater cooperation, not only within a group, but outside also. This has enabled our creation of civilizations and determined our morals. It appears that we share with other mammals an innate sense of empathy and fairness.

David Hume was onto something important when he described morality as a sense to be cultivated. A matter of taste improved over time. The thing that sets us apart from beasts as civilized beings. Over the millennia we have refined these sensibilities in a way that traces an arc toward more acceptance of others, greater cooperation, and caring. We have come far from the Biblical barbarity of genocide, slavery, killing of non-believers, and eye for an eye revenge. From our standpoint these discarded practices literally cause us sensible distress. Disgust. Offense to our more refined sensibility. As such, morality is not objective. It wouldn’t undergo continuous refinement if it were, but looking back it most undeniably has. Being pre-rational it also cannot by determined through reason as Kant believed nor does it essentially consist of law. It cannot be rationally characterized or derived.  But it is real and is grounded in our own nature, which itself is grounded in Being. Through our contemplation of this nature and refinement of these sensibilities we arrive toward the only authentic morality. This is not man as fallen, but man ascending from apes. We now can more clearly interpret the myth of the Garden of Eden as Eve bravely eating the apple of knowledge and daring the ascent of man from the dim delight of animals to the conscious participation with Being.

When Heidegger was asked why he never wrote anything on morality, he answered that we don’t yet even know the right questions to ask. Ethics has been a failed enterprise for the entire history of philosophy. But at our moment in time, the question of morality, along with the question of meaning, approach us as the most urgent matters. As Heidegger wrote, we are too late for the gods and too soon for Being. But today it is time. And we do know the questions to ask. Meaning and morality can only be determined out of our own nature, and our nature authentically thought as an integral aspect of Being. And if our nature is such that we sense that empathy, fairness and tolerance are characteristics of the good, then for humans that is morality. The question is: How can our nature enable us to live more authentically with Being. The question takes us along a path where we carefully consider what already has been revealed in the moral arc to this day. And with that consideration in mind look to what Being reveals to us going forward and in that revelation remain steadfast in the refusal to resort to metaphysical explanations for what yet remains concealed. To remain silent in the presence of what cannot yet be spoken is our task.  No gods for the gaps or imagined otherworldly solutions. All the answers are here before us on this path if we have the ears to hear them. And the courage to dare the consequences. The answer will come from a philosophical/poetic inquiry of the revelations, firmly grounded in the Being of this very world, and not reduced to scientific measurement and classification. SJ is quite right that science cannot answer these two paramount questions. Nor can metaphysical imagining of gods and their laws.

In not considering an ontological approach, Plantinga and SJ continue a naivety that traps them in the old, discarded and failed attempts and mired in the false choice of science or metaphysics.

SJ’s final move is to resurrect the long-ago refuted Kalam Cosmetological Argument and then attempt the absurd trick of reconciling the big bang to the biblical creation myth. This failure rests on her misunderstanding of cosmology itself. We need not repeat all of that here because it all collapses from the failure of P2 of the argument itself:

P2: The universe (time, space, and matter) began to exist.

The simplest criticism of that premise is that it is an unwarranted assumption. First of all, the big bang did not simply come about out of nothing. There is debate among physicists about whether it came about from an infinitely dense singularity, a quantum field, or from no big bang at all but rather eternal permutation of local pockets of order within an always existing greater universe. But no theory posits an absence of preexisting energy or material and thus there is no real beginning. Just transformation of something that simply always existed.

There is no justification for assuming a first cause to the universe. From that, there is no need to insert a god into a gap. Theists often reject this by claiming it is illogical to assume something always existed without a cause. Perhaps, but Plantinga and SJ themselves began with a critique of reason’s inability to explain reality.