The 19th and early 20th century  theory of evolution was a dramatic, alpha male theory: it was supposed that all animals bred at such a ferocious rate that they always outstripped the food supply, and every generation was a whole scale battle for the best and the brightest to survive. The modern theory of evolution paints a very different picture: freaks breed too, and sometimes- by dumb luck and not out of developing any magical superpower- they turn out to be better at it. In the old model, nature was one eternal Olympic games, Miss America pageant, and ruthless talent show. We were all supposed to laugh at the weak and rejoice in the strong. The new model makes the evolution part of nature look much more like a Church bingo game, played off the side of nature.  

(going out of town till Wednesday, to one of the few remaining parts of the world with no Internet)

Three notes on evolution and natural selection

-Didn’t “natural selection” used to be nothing but boring, old fashioned “death”? Did we do that much more than recognize an interesting side effect of death? Include some mutations too, I guess. So death and freaks. “A closer look at death and freaks”, however, isn’t the name for a theory that could make anyone giddy with the idea that they’ve killed God, or overthrown everything once claimed about nature, or ushered in an absolutely different new era of human understanding.  

-While raising objections to his claim that nature acts for an end, Aristotle makes reference to how rain, if it fell for anything, would fall to make crops grow. But the rain falls just as well on, say,  growing grapes and drying grapes while making the former grow and the latter rot. St. Thomas responds to the argument by saying that the objection errs by comparing a universal cause to a particular effect. The cycle of the rains is not to be referred to any crop, but to generation and corruption as such- the goal of which seems to be the perpetual existence of nature (or something like this). When one tries to compare crops to the rainfall as such, he is stuck in the odd limbo of both knowing that the rain is essential to the crop, and at the same time knowing that there is no essential connection between rainfall and any one crop. Seen from the universal point of view of the hydrological cycle, any crop, or even the ensemble of all crops only arise by chance- for the rain will keep falling whether they are there or not, and whether the result is growth or rot. 

An identical argument to this one arises when people consider evolution or natural selection, considered as universal processes. One finds no connection between the process and the species that results, and concludes from this that there is no teleology, only “blind forces” (no one knows when the sentient powers of force failed, but it might be worth figuring out…) All the argument amounts to is a the mismatching of a universal cause with a particular effect, or ensemble of particular effects, considered as such. 

-I read Paul Churchland claim that we are physical because we arose from evolution, and might as well get used to it. Wouldn’t it be better to say we are physical because we were conceived, born, reared, etc? Why reach for evolution as the most concrete “physical” process?

A guess about immaterial

(I’m working through this.)

“Spirit” or “immaterial” is an important term to be precise about. The logical structure of the term is an infinite name: it is simply the negation of “material” as opposed to being the privation of material. “Dark” for example, is the privation of light, and cold the privation of heat; but “non-dark”, the infinite name, is the negation of dark. Aristotle insisted, rightly, that infinite names were in fact not names at all (the adjective was one that negated the noun, like “artificial leather”). His reason was even though nondark denied one meaning, it did not impose a new one. The square root of negative one is nondark, as is the unicorn’s second horn. One does not name something by an infinite name as such.

Though we use the term immaterial is a negation of materiality, we use it to describe the term of some causal relationship. This is clearest in the unity we see among several images. A series of images which exist as multiple are one in thought. We name this unity by the negation of the multiplicity, but the “being one” is not the same thing as the “being one” of any one image, and so we do not have a mere contrariety or privation of one and the many. One thought does not stand to three oranges the way one orange does. The privation of many images is one image; or perhaps the absence of any images, where the absence is understood to be in the same order. The unity of thought with respect to all that can be sensed and imagined is not a unity standing to the many as a privation of the multitude, but a negation of it. It thought does not stand to many images as one image or a “zero images” (which seems to be the quantitative imagination of the lack of quantity) This is why we use the infinite name, but apply it to a reality which is known to be, but only known by negation. I can’t understand thought except by using an image, but I use it as negated, and negated in a more profound way than the negation “zero images”, if zero has any value, which I’m not convinced it does.

But how can something be used precisely as negated? Won’t I be forced to some kind of analogy? Thought just exists. it makes unities transcending the sensible and imaginable. why do I know it and not know it? That’s just how the it reveals itself, I guess. Take the world as it is.

So do we divide the infinite name? Or is it better to say all negations are not infinite names? Some things are known, or are known best, by negations, even though negation considered simply as a process of negating some noun does not result in a new noun.

two guesses about prudence

-For St. Thomas, prudence requires that reason take cognizance of particular things, but reason does not immediately and first take cognizance of particular things. We can be staring straight at something, and yet our reason only apprehends it according to categories that are common to many. The particular as such can never said of something, and so as soon as we desire to speak of something- whether in our interior discourse or not- we are locked into the common.  The man who wants to make a prudent choice, therefore, must initially confront a gap between what he has and what he needs to do. This gap in knowledge calls for an inquiry, which St. Thomas follows Aristotle in calling “counsel”. But why not say that the man who would be prudent might lack general principles too, and need counsel about these too? Because the man can’t wholly lack the general principles, since the most general ones are given naturally.

-Prudence is much more like role-modeling than analysis. The one who has a role model confronts situations with the habitual disposition that he will act like his role model in the various circumstances of life. One can see the process particularly clearly in the conformity that naturally arises in groups. Everyone has some experience of loving something because they think someone they admire would love it; or acting some way because they think it would be the way their idol or everyone else would act. This is the sort of thing prudence does, only with good idols and heroes and with regard to conforming to the right community.

The goal or good of evolution

I dug up an old article from The New Scholastic which argued for the goal or telos of evolution. Simplified, with a link to the major premise, the argument is lovely:

The diversity and distinction of things is a good

But evolution as such generates a diversity and distinction in species

Therefore, evolution as such produces a good.

 St. Thomas recognizes how easy it is to be wrong about the major premise (either by thinking multiplicity is accidental, or evil, which is very difficult not to do.) The minor premise is given from the terms: there is no evolution without some sort of diversity in species, and diversity in species is explained by evolution. So for Thomists at least, evolution- even in Dawkins’ terms- is teleological. Oddly enough, in an evolutionary world, natural species are more able to contribute to a primary good of the universe than a stable species would be. The goal is not flux, which is simply an instrument, it’s diversity and distinction, which is the goal.

The false idea of the discrete theistic proof

For Aristotle, proofs for the existence of God come at the end of two rather long and involved sciences, physics and metaphysics. In both cases, Aristotle starts off very far away from God and then slowly steps towards him. St. Thomas takes Aristotle’s arguments more or less for granted, and takes the proofs as starting points from which he slowly steps through the divine nature, to the divine persons, to creation, the angels, the soul, the goods of the soul, etc.

We have a tendency, however, to treat the proofs for the existence of God as though they are discrete “events” that are supposed to stand on their own. We neither see them as conclusions to a science, nor as principles for another science which gives a fuller articulation of God, then treats of how such a being relates to the mysteries of Christian revelation, then treats of what our knowledge of God tells us about the physical world, how he is relevant to solving epistemological questions and moral science, etc (this is more or less the order of treatises in the Summa theologiae). Regardless of whether we think the proofs are true or not, we tend to treat them as though they were hermetically sealed off from any larger body of discourse. In practice, we are supposed to give the proof (or refute it) more or less from nothing and then forget about it as soon as we discuss revelation, cosmology, epistemology, politics and morals, etc. The upshot of this is that we never quite treat nature, knowledge, the universe, morals or politics as though God existed or not. We pretend that the question is not relevant. There is some truth to this, but at the same time it makes a great difference about what we think about nature, knowledge, morals, etc. if we come to them thinking they were the products of intelligence, benevolence, providence, etc.

Theists, for example, are all-too-prone to say something like “sure, the arguments about natural law in St. Thomas occur in a theology textbook, but one need not understand them in relation to God’s nature”. Why brag that your account of something in the Summa can work just fine apart from the five ways? Is it some kind of virtue to forget that one has reached a conclusion about something?  Theist and atheist epistemologists too easily treat discussions of knowledge as it were of no decisive importance if there were some subsistent truth that determines all nature by his knowledge, or as if it were of no relevance to ones account of knowledge if we regard knowledge as something limited to human beings.  For their own part, skeptics and atheists from Hume to Graham Oppy have argued that since the divine proofs do not explicitly prove every attribute that is ascribed to the divinity, that they are therefore insufficient. As if the proof were supposed to make you stop thinking! It is self-evident that if all you know about something is that it exists, you have the most minimal knowledge you can have of it. To complain that proofs for the divine existence give you a minimal account of the divinity is like complaining that the first course didn’t give you all the food you wanted. It’s not supposed to! There would be something wrong with a first course that did!  The objection only makes sense- and would only be seen as an objection- if both theists and atheists regard theistic proofs as something one were supposed to give (out of little or nothing) and then promptly forget about.

This desire to isolate the argument arises from a certain lukewarmness with respect to the proofs themselves, combined with a desire to speak to everybody, avoid conflicts, and avod the scandalous an difficult claims that classical metaphysicians make. At some point, however, one simply has to take a stand and accept that what he says cannot be accepted by everyone. At some point, the acceptance or rejection of the proof has to become a principle that will divide our arguments off from others. To imagine that there is some sort of neutral, unoffensive and inclusive point of view is itself a metaphysic that is probably, in fact, rejected by everyone- theists, atheists, and agnostics alike.


Christ was crucified wearing only a crown of thorns. The crown was intended to be a mockery of his claim of kingship and authority over us, which he had in virtue of his divinity; the public display of his nakedness was intended as a mockery of his humanity.

In thinking about creation ex nihilo, we imagine creation from an empty black space. Bloodhounds would probably imagine creation from something odorless.They would imagine souls and spirits like vague and subtle smells, just like we see them as fogs and shapes.

A Cartesian design argument

I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve written twenty different arguments against Descartes evil deceiver. I’m not a fan. Speaking of it was the one and only time I cussed on the blog. I was thinking about writing another critique, the point of which was: “its one thing to read a book an think that there might be some evil deceiver- but one can’t look out at the world and think this. The argument can only exist in that a mode of existence that belongs to a text, as text.”

Then I thought “what would the evil deceiver argument be if you actually were looking at the world?” At this point, it would be a design argument. The question is about whether your faculties are well or ill disposed to the world.

It hit me like a lightening bolt “Descartes! You’re Brilliant!” This argument works! (or something like it)

To riff off of the hardest logic problem ever, we can put the problem in terms of three gods: true, false, and random. All the faculties that true makes see some truth; all the faculties that false makes do not see some truth; and all the faculties made by random might see some truth truth or might not.

You know you must see some truth. Make the truth as banal as you want “some tires could be round”, “I like the taste of certain ice creams taste better than bricks”, dogs are animals. Therefore etc,

The Absolute consideration

At the beginning of the second chapter of  De Ente et Essentia, St. Thomas begins his consideration of things with what he calls “the absolute consideration”.The absolute consideration is the foundation of an account of knowledge. Absolute, as always, is some negation of being relative to something, and the absolute consideration denies the relations of existing in an individual, or as it existing in mind. Consider “man”. Define it however you choose, or just consider it. Keep away from individuating accidents and stay with what can only be said of the nature in itself.  The consideration in itself is not determined to the mind or things. Make the idea a universal, said of many, and it is clearly in mind, make it particularized to some individual and it is clearly in things. But no amount of consideration or analysis will ever reveal whether your consideration is of something things or of something in mind. It can be referred to thing, or it can be the foundation of logical relations in the mind (“man” as a predicate or a middle term is not in things) or referred to someone known.

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