Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Philosophy 101


They say life is what you do when you are planning something else. That happens with blogs, also. I had started reading about the history of the Church response to evolutionary theory and wanted to post about it, but got sidetracked. I hope to get to that subject, but while reading one of my favorite Intelligent Design (ID) websites, I read a post by Michael Egnor on Evolution News and Views relating to philosophy.

Now, my expertise in philosophy is at the 101 level, but a lot of philosophy has been flying around in evolutionary circles, and I'm sure not everyone who speaks about it is an expert. So, I'll give my own opinion.

I won't go into the details of Michael Egnor's post, but he recommends a book about philosophy which addresses the New Atheist arguments. The book is The Last Superstition, by Edward Feser. The New Atheists are people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett who are contemporary authors with various backgrounds. They argue that today's science has replaced religion and traditional religious (Catholic) philosophy such as that of St. Thomas Aquinas, who built his own system on that of Aristotle (the Greek philosopher).

The main point of Feser's book, to make a sweeping generalization, is that Aristotle worked out a philosophy that claimed to prove that change can happen in this world, but ultimately depends on an Unchanged Changer. And Aquinas built on Aristotle's work. as can be found in his five proofs of God, one of which depends on an Unmoved Mover.

Feser explains that today's scientific mindset tries to ignore Aristotle's metaphysics (which investigates the properties of reality), and yet unconsciously uses it. For example, the New Atheists tell us that scientific experiment is the only way to understand reality, yet they take for granted the reasoning behind experimentation--that one thing is caused by another. In other words, they are missing a certain concept in their understanding. They take an alternative philosophy in which there are no Universals in the sense Aristotle means. (Universals are essences of things that occur in the world, for example, "red-ness" for things that are red and "human-ness" for humans.)

Feser makes very interesting arguments, but I have thought in my limited study of philosophy that he and other philosophers like him are also missing at least one fundamental concept. They talk about Aristotle's philosophy of change, where there has to be, by logic, something (or someone) that is First and causes change. But a person would still have believe that there is a source of change other than physical energy and matter to get to that point.

The equation above is for Gibbs free energy and it is important because it is used to calculate physical / chemical change. It comes to us courtesy of J.W. Gibbs, who is pictured at top right and lived from 1839-1903. The triangle is the symbol I learned in high school to designate change (the Greek letter delta). The G is called Gibbs free energy, the H is enthalpy, or the tendency of things to change from a higher state of energy to lower (such as water falls from a higher to lower state in a waterfall). T is temperature and S is entropy--the tendency of things to become more disordered. When you plug in the values for each situation you evaluate, you can tell whether a physical change, such as a chemical reaction, will happen or not (if Gibbs free energy is negative, it will happen).

If I understand Feser correctly, he would say it is a Prime Mover that causes change, at least the first in a long line. If we don't accept that, our reasoning is faulty. But I think that most scientists, especially materialistic ones (those who think the world consists only of matter and energy which are interchangeable through Einstein's equation E=mc^2), would look at the Gibbs equation and say it explains what causes change. This can go all the way back to the Big Bang (BB), that explosion being caused by a great concentration of energy, and even before the BB. To them, there is nothing sacred in the BB as far as the formation of the universe goes. It could be that energy forces and mass continue to alternate in various proportions endlessly (and in fact, this is what they think). Both Aristotle the philosopher and Gibbs the scientist assumed that change comes from a cause.

One either believes our universe is made of only mass and energy, or one believes there is a God. Feser does a good job in showing the ridiculous logical consequences of a materialistic mindset, but I don't think he fully gets to the bottom of what causes it. Though the materialist's reason may be faulty on some level, in my opinion the deeper problem is lack of faith.

Faith is a mystery, and I will talk more about it (I hope) next post.

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