Sunday, April 19, 2020

The nature of the bond in 1 Corinthians 7:15

Being “under bondage” is not the same as being bound. If it is, all married Christians are “under bondage”, for all are bound to their mate. This is not a happy view of marriage, to say nothing of the Christian view of marriage: “I am in bondage to my wife or husband”.

The deserted wife is not under bondage in the case of desertion. She is still bound to the deserter. The apostle will say so in verse 39 of 1 Corinthians 7: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth, but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will…”

That “under bondage” refers to a guilty conscience is further proved by the apostle’s statement of its opposite: “but God hath called us to peace”. The opposite of being under bondage is peace. It is an important principle of the interpretation of the Bible that one can determine the meaning of a word or concept by its opposite in the passage. For example, in Romans 8:33, 34 the meaning of “justifieth” in verse 33 as a judicial act of God is established from its opposite in verse 34, “condemneth”. As “condemns” is a legal act of the judge, so is its opposite, “justifies”, in verse 33. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, the opposite of “under bondage” is “peace”. This proves that by “under bondage” the apostle is describing the state of one’s conscience, not a liberty to be remarried. (David Engelsma, "A Critique of Divorce and Remarriage in the Westminster Confession of Faith (2)," Salt Shakers 59 (Apr 2020): 8-9)


To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor. 7:12-16)

Does the passage of 1 Corinthians 7 allow for a true divorce in the event of a breakdown in a marriage? Within the hardline fringe Dutch Reformed wing, the answer is no. According to David Engelsma and the PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America), once two people are married to one another, the marriage bond cannot be broken unless one of the spouses die. In the event of adultery or any manner of serious sin, a formal divorce can be filed, but the two parties are still considered married to one another, in the sense that the bond between the estranged husband and wife continue to exist. The two divorcees still possess a bond of marriage between them, despite the fact that they are legitimately and biblically divorced. Obviously, this means that there can never be a true divorce between the couple at all, for the bond was never broken.

To support his case, Engelsma argued that the term "under bondage" is not the same thing as "being bound." He further argued that "under bondage" cannot be said of the marriage bond because it is "not a happy view of marriage." However, since the original text is in Greek, to appeal to the "weirdness" of the English text is, to put it nicely, unacceptable. Regardless, the way to interpret the text is in context, and it is the passage of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 that is placed above in order for us to understand what the text is actually saying.

The first thing to take note here is the situation facing the couple is the threat of divorce in a marriage where one party is a believer and the other is an unbeliever. That divorce is in the air is seen in verse 12 whereby Paul counsels the believing spouse not to initiate divorce against the unbelieving spouse. Paul however knows that the unbelieving spouse might be adamant in wanting to divorce the believing spouse. Therefore, he counsels that "if the unbelieving spouse separates, let it be so" (verse 15). The flow of thought should immediately make it apparent that this "separation" is a divorce, since Paul was counseling against divorce just 4 verses back.

A good way to visualize what is going on is to replicate the situation mentally. Let's have a couple Adam and Susan. Susan has just recently came to faith and Adam is upset over that. Paul would counsel Susan not to initiate divorce against her husband. However, Adam insists on divorce and thus he wants to "separate." Now, if Susan was counseled not to divorce, then surely she wants to preserve the marriage, and would attempt to stop Adam from filing for divorce. Tensions would surely erupt if one party wants a divorce, and the other does not want divorce. The marital bond has become like slavery bonding Adam against his will. This then is the context in which Paul's further counsel to the believing spouses like Susan would apply. In such a scenario, the believing spouse is not bound or enslaved to the marriage relationship — to preserve it at all costs. Rather, let the unbelieving spouse go through with divorce, says Paul. Instead of tension and dissension in the household, God has called the believer to peace. In a sense, Paul's counsel to Susan would be: "I have told you not to divorce Adam. But if he is so adamant in wanting a divorce, let it be. Do not continue to fight him over this and put numerous obstacles in an attempt to forestall divorce. Rather, God has called you to peace instead of conflict with Adam who is insistent on getting a divorce."

Having exegeted the text in context, compare this with Engelsma's handling of the text of Scripture. Engelsma asserted that the "under bondage" here must be about the believer's conscience since the opposite of "peace" must be turmoil in the soul. The problem is that that is not the only thing that can be the opposite of peace. Interpersonal conflict and tensions within the home, if not open conflict between husband and wife, is also the opposite of peace. Upon what basis should we understand Paul to refer to the individual's conscience? Engelsma does not say why that is the case, but instead just asserted his position to be true. However, a plain reading of the passage of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 should make it evident that the context here is social and familial, not individual. As I have shown, when understood in the context of how Paul's advice interacts with an understanding of interpersonal dynamics, one comes away from the passage with an understanding that is far from Engelsma's interpretation of the text.

The key point of 1 Corinthians 7:15 for the purpose of the divorce and remarriage issue is not that 1 Corinthians 7:15 teaches remarriage after divorce, but rather that 1 Corinthians 7:15 teaches that the marital bond is indeed broken in a divorce. Being in a marriage is to be bonded to each other, and that bond can feel like slavery when it is preserved against the will of one of the spouses. Therefore, when a divorce happens, this bond is indeed broken. And if the bond is broken, then one cannot claim that the bond between husband and wife continues to exist after divorce, for that is a contradiction.

In conclusion, on this issue of divorce and remarriage, Engelsma is mistaken in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:15, and the Westminster stance on this issue is exonerated. While divorce is a serious sin, we do live in a fallen world where human covenants are breakable. Let us not impose doctrine on biblical texts, but rather derive doctrine from biblical texts, and as we do so, have compassion over the brokenness of the world instead of imposing even more burdens on divorcees.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Book review: Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science

With the reflections done on various passages in the book, I have compiled and rewrote some of the reflections and joined them together in a review of the book. Here is my review of Edward Feser's book Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science. An excerpt:

How should we understand the world and how it works? What is the nature of reality itself? In the modern era, the natural sciences are taken to be the study of reality. The success of the natural sciences is due to the correspondence their theories have to how reality seems to function, and the ability to apply the knowledge gained from the natural sciences for the betterment of humanity. While the natural sciences are always developing, their explanatory power and technological advancement has gained our trust that they do in fact teach us what reality is and how reality functions.

The philosopher Edward Feser however demurs from this depiction of reality. Rather, he asserts that Aristotelian philosophy is properly basic and that the operation of science presupposes Aristotelian categories and terms. ... [more]

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

On color (again)

The starting point of the argument is the observation that the appearance of qualities like color varies from observer to observer. The same object will look bright red or dull red depending on the lighting; a color blind person might not be able to tell it apart from a green object; another person’s color experiences could in theory be inverted relative to my own; and so on. The best explanation of these facts, the argument concludes, is that color is not really there in the objects themselves but only in the mind of the observer.

But there are several problems with this argument, which Putnam (1999, pp. 38-41) has usefully summarized (where Putnam is reiterating points that go back to writers like J.L. Austin (1962) and P.F. Strawson (1979)). First, the argument rests on a simplistic characterization of the commonsense understanding of color. Common sense allows that the same color can look different under different circumstances, just as it allows that a round object can appear oval under certain circumstances. Hence the commonsense thesis that color is mind-independent is not undermined by the fact that an object will look bright red in some contexts and dull red in others. Furthermore, color blindness no more casts down on the supposition that color is mind-independent than hallucination casts doubt on the reality of physical objects. In both cases, the defender of common sense can note that a perceiver’s faculties are simply malfunctioning, and thus not presenting objective reality as it really is. Meanwhile the inverted spectrum scenario presupposes that the physical facts about both external objects and the brain could be exactly as they are while the way colors look is different. It presupposes, in other words, that color can float entirely free of the way things really are in the material world. But that is exactly what the commonsense view denies, so that to appeal in this context to the alleged possibility of color inversion is to beg the question. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, pp. 342-3)

The problem with Edward Feser here is privileging yellowish light from the Sun over all other lights. What happens if Earth orbits a blue giant start, or a red dwarf star?

Hence the reductionist would say that in a world without conscious observers, apples, oranges, and the like would not have color understood in the irreducibly qualitative commonsense way. This is so even though these objects would in that case still have the same surface reflectance properties they have in the actual world. But then, the reductionist himself is committed to the thesis that color, in the commonsense qualitative sense, is distinct from any physical property. Moreover, he is committed to the thesis that physical properties are neither necessary nor sufficient for color in that irreducibly qualitative sense – since, again, color in that sense would not exist in the absence of observers, even though the relevant physical properties would. (p. 346)

From a scientific viewpoint, color exists in the absence of observers.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Ontology: Things inside "virtually"

By contrast, the hydrogen and oxygen in water are virtual or potential rather than actual. … That it is in the water only virtually or potentially rather than actually is the reason you cannot burn the hydrogen in water, which you could do with actual hydrogen. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 313)

In general, the particles of which any true physical substance is composed exist within it virtually or potentially rather than actually. For example, if a stone is a true substance, then while the innumerable atoms that make it up are real, they exist within it virtually or potentially rather than actually. What actually exists is just the one thing, the stone itself. (pp. 313-314)

This echoes the Aristotelian position that parts exist in a substance virtually or potentially rather than actually. (p. 317)

Indeed, there is a sense in which these ordinary objects are more fundamental than the particles that make them up, insofar as the particles exist in them only virtually, only relative to the wholes of which they are parts. (p. 330)

Using an electron microscope, we can see individual atoms. It should be evident therefore that the idea that atoms of molecules like water, or even the various atoms in stone, are only there "virtually" and not actually, is nonsense.

Time, time dilation, and the Aristotelian view of time

In particular, that spacetime appears curved could be interpreted as evidence that it really is curved, but it could also be interpreted instead as evidence that some force is affecting our measuring devices (Kosso 1998, pp. 102-3; Rickles 2016, pp. 83-90; Sklar 1992, pp. 53-69). (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 305)

When one has an a priori system, it can be really astonishing where one can end up. In this particular instance, it is astonishing that Edward Feser thinks it is a plausible interpretation of the special theory of relativity that time dilation does not exist. Rather, in Feser's interpretation, the measurement of time is dilated, but time itself is perfectly fine. Given how everything in the material world including the human body runs on physical and chemical and biological processes that proceed in time, what Feser is advocating for here is a split between the clock and processes in time. But since the clock keeps time through mechanical or other processes (e.g. computer chip), how is that supposed to work out?

Feser's proposed interpretation is therefore unscientific. It fails to notice how the human body itself depends on the flow of time to function. The moving of muscles, the transmission of nerve signals — all of these depend on physiological processes that are similar to how clocks keep time. It is simply inconceivable that something that affects "our measuring devices" will not affect us also. If something affects "our measuring devices," then it will affect our perception and engagement with time as well. Electrical impulses will travel slower if time is slowed and so on, and one does not have to be a materialist to hold that to be true.

It is hoped that philosophers actually understand science if they want to propose interpretations of that science. Otherwise, they will appear foolish, as Feser does in this statement of his.

On the "spatialization" of time - Definition of time, as spatial dimension?

This suggest a further argument against any attempt to spatialize time, which is that it can never be completely carried through. Again, time is the measure of change within space. If we think if space as three-dimensional, then time is the measure of change within three-dimensional space, but if instead we say that what common sense conceive of as time is “really” just a fourth spatial dimension, then what this implies – again, for all the defender of the spatialization of time has shown – is that time ought really to be thought of as the measure of change within four-dimensional space. If the defender of the spatialization of time now claims that time so understood is really just a fifth spatial dimension, then the response will be that in that case time turns out to be the measure of change in five-dimensional space. And so on ad-infinitum. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 290)

According to Aristotelianism it seems, time is defined as the "measure of change within space." Using this definition, Edward Feser argued that time cannot be taken as another dimension like space. However, is that truly an acceptable definition of time?

This definition of time implies that change must happen when time progresses. In other words, if there is an instance in which change does not occur, then time cannot be said to have occurred. This is problematic on many levels. First of all, there are many examples in which change does not occur even though it cannot be said that time has not passed. Hydrogen atoms in the inter-galatic medium are perhaps the best example of something that will not be undergoing any changes for the next few hundred years (unless Christ comes again, but that is a different thing altogether). Most atoms will not undergo any form of nuclear reaction so they would be considered "timeless" as well according to this definition. Bacteria locked in ice are also "timeless" during their "time" frozen in ice, as they do not change. All such examples should be sufficient to show that time can pass without any change happening. Therefore, the Aristotelian definition of time is falsified.

Feser is also in error in understanding what "spatialization" of time in the context of modern science actually mean. It does not mean time becomes another spatial dimension (although some may give that impression). It just means that time is analogous to space in the sense of its quantifiability and ability to be manipulated (time dilation and gravitational dilation). It does not mean that time is a spatial dimension in an eternalist 4-dimensional block that we (3-dimensional beings) perceive as time. Rather, time is qualitatively different from space. It is theoretically possible that we might discover infinite dimensions of space, yet time is still the (א +1 ) dimension, a separate dimension from all other spatial dimensions.

As such, it seems that there is no reason why time cannot be seen to be analogous to space. While we currently know of only one temporal dimension, there is theoretically no reason why there cannot be more than one temporal dimension either. Feser's and the Neo-Aristotelian argument on the nature of time is flawed and based upon an errant understanding of the world, and thus should be rejected, whether it is seen in philosophy, or in theology (Classical theism).

Saturday, April 04, 2020

On the "spatialization" of time - Abstraction and mathematization

All these puzzles disappear when we realize that the mathematics just is an abstraction rather than anything concrete. In particular, it is abstracted from a concrete physical reality whose nature outruns anything captured by the mathematics, rather than being exhaustively constitutive of concrete physical reality. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 279)

The idea of space as a kind of receptable or container can be elucidated by noting what it rules out, such as the views of Descartes and Leibniz (Cf. Bittle 1941, p. 152). If space is what contains extended physical substance, then (contra Descartes) it cannot be identified with extended physical substance itself. Space qua container can either be filled or empty in a way a physical substance itself cannot be. (p. 199)

Is space and time merely mathematics? It would seem rather reductionistic to reduce things to mathematical formulae. But the problem is that this question is not actually important for whether time can be considered space-like with coordinates in space-time. For some reason, Edward Feser seems to think that the opposing view reduces everything to mathematics. Generally for most people with some version of a scientific worldview, that reductionistic approach is not taken. Rather, if the mathematics are true, then what we are saying is that the nature of space-time must reflect the mathematics we have found that describe reality.

It is this view of reality, rather than Feser's reductive picture, that informs scientific worldviews of reality. We do not spatialize time just because the math demands it, but rather because the math reflects the nature of reality. If reality does not spatialize time, then the math will not reflect it.

This is not to say that we must necessarily take 'time' to be just another spatial dimension, but rather that arguments against seeing 'time' as being different from 'space' cannot be argued from the fact that 'time' is 'space-like.' Whatever time is, it is space-like. It may have many dissimilarities to 'space,' but that is another argument altogether.

The reason why Feser thinks current understanding of space is insufficient is because he defines "space" in an Aristotelian manner. This is not however how "space" is defined scientifically, which is why there is nothing wrong with the spatialization of time.

On the "spatialization" of time - Geometry and the Cartesian plane

A second problem is that there are serious questions about how coherent is the description of space and its occupants that results when we conflate physical space with geometry, and geometry in turn with a system of numbers. Neither points (since they lack any extension at all), nor lines (since they lack width and depth), nor planes (since they lack depth), can be said to occupy space. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 278)

No, they do not occupy space. They constitute space.


On the "spatialization" of time - Events in space and in time

Events always also stay the same distance apart in space. An object located at a certain region of space exclusively occupies that region. Two physical objects cannot be in the same place at once. By contrast, an event located at a certain point in time is not the exclusive occupant of that point in time. Many events are occurring at any particular moment. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 275)

Are events in space analogous to events in time? Edward Feser does not think so. For him, while two physical objects cannot be in the same place at once, many events are occurring at any particular moment. However, here again Feser does not adequately represent the issue, as I will show.

When we mention that two physical objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time, it is evidently clear that there are two factors in play - "not same place," and "not same time." Two objects can occupy the same place at different times, or they can occupy two different places at the same time. Likewise, if we move forward with the analogy, two events cannot be occurring at the same time at the same place. Two events can occur at the same time but different places, or they can occur at two different times at the same place. Notice that I have just swapped the "place" and "time" in the sentences to show that events in time are analogous to events in space, contra Feser's assertion to the contrary.

When Feser said that "many events are occurring at any particular moment," that is true but it is not the whole picture. If two objects cannot be in the same place at once, then we must add the same qualifier analogously and then we will note that it is false that "many events are occurring at any particular moment" at the same place. Feser's objection only works if the analogy is not played out in full, for once it is played out, the analogy between space and time does work.

Self-referentiality, time and tenseless sentences

A second problem is that the theory cannot account for sentences of which there are no tokens or instances. Consider a sentence like “There are now no tokens or instance of any sentences,” which could be true at a time when no one happens to be uttering any sentences. The new tenseless theory entails that the truth condition for this sentence would be that it is uttered at a time when there are no tokens or instance of any sentences. But of course, it never could be uttered when there are no tokens or instances of any sentences (since for someone to utter it would just be to produce a token or instance of a sentence). The new tenseless theory thus implies that the sentence could never be true. Thus, since the sentence could in fact be true, the theory is false. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, pp. 241-242)

The rendering of tensed sentences into tenseless sentences is not necessarily easy. This is especially the case when the sentence can be rendered into a self-contradiction. The sentence offered by Edward Feser is one such example, for the sentences "there are now no tokens or instances of any sentences" when uttered contradicts itself. Since that is the case, the question must first be asked whether and in what situations such a sentence could be true. This particular sentence is true when no one is uttering any sentences, including this sentence. In other words, the only time this sentence could be said to be true is when it is not uttered. Therefore, if the sentences is to be translated into a tenseless statement, the scenario itself must be translated for it to make sense.

It is rather surprising that Feser did not seem to attempt a translation of the sentence unlike his previous example, so let me offer a translation here for this sentence. The offered translation is this:

"There is at time t (e.g. 8am, December 1st 1999) no tokens or instances of any sentences, with this sentence at time u."

This translation after all is the sense of the sentence in tensed form, and therefore the tenseless form would be thus.

Whether tenseless sentences are basic for one's philosophy of time, it seems rather apparent that the language of tenses should not be an issue. If there are problems with one's view of time, the realities of tenses (of which some languages do not have any) do not seem to be helpful in resolving the discussion.

A-theory and B-theory of time: An error in reasoning

In any event, the new tenseless theory concedes that the old theory fails, but denies that this gives any support to the A-theory. According to the new theory, though the meaning of a tensed sentence is not captured by a tenseless sentence, its truth conditions are nevertheless captured by the latter. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 241)

However, this approach too faces grave problems (Craig 200a, Chapter 3; Craig 2001, pp. 119-29). One such problem is logical. Supposed that Bob and Fred each utter a token or instance of the sentence “Socrates drank hemlock.” Let’s label Bob’s utterance of the sentence B, and Fred’s utterance of the sentence F. According to the new tenseless theory, B is logically equivalent to the sentence “Socrates is drinking hemlock earlier than B,” which gives B’s truth conditions. Similarly, F is logically equivalent to the sentence “Socrates is drinking hemlock earlier than F,” which gives G’s truth conditions. Now, B and F are also logically equivalent to each other. In other words, what Bob says when he says “Socrates drank hemlock” is true if and only if what Fred says when he says “Socrates drank hemlock” is also true. So, the sentences “Socrates is drinking hemlock earlier than B” and “Socrates is drinking hemlock earlier than F,” since they are logically equivalent to B and F respectively, should be logically equivalent to each other as well. However, they are not logically equivalent, because it could have turned out that Bob uttered his sentence while Fred did not, or vice versa. So, the new tenseless theory’s analysis fails. (p. 241)

The "new tenseless theory" propped up by B-theorists in the philosophy of time asserts that the truth conditions of a converted tenseless sentence if equivalent to the truth conditions of a "normal" tensed sentence. Feser, as an advocate for a traditional understanding of time (A--theory presentism), rejects that tensed sentences can be so converted into tenseless sentences. At this moment, I am not taking a stand on A- or B-theories of time, but just to note whether Feser has proven his case.

With regards to the "new tenseless theory," Feser asserts that if the same sentence ("Socrates drank hemlock") is said separately by Bod and Fred, their two utterances if converted into tenseless sentences would not have the same truth conditions and therefore are not equivalent to each other, thus the new tenseless theory is false. However, did Feser adequately present that theory? It does not seem to me to be the case. Feser converted Bob's utterance to "Socrates is drinking hemlock earlier than B," where "B" is the act of utterance. However, is that the correct way to render Bob's utterance into a tenseless sentence? I would suggest not.

When Bob utter "Socrates drank hemlock," he was stating that, from his vantage point at his time and space, Socrates' act of drinking hemlock was in the past. The sentence "Socrates is drinking hemlock earlier than B" however suggests something different, in that Bob was being self-reflective in his thought and uttered something like "Socrates drank hemlock earlier than this utterance of mine." In other words, the problem with Feser's argument against the "new tenseless theory" is that he did not properly render the utterance tenseless. Rather, the proper tenseless rendering of Bob's utterance is "Socrates is drinking Hemlock earlier than December 1st, 1999," assuming Bob had uttered that sentence in the date of December 1st, 1999.

Such a way of rendering propositions tenseless would render Feser's argument moot. Whether it is adequate to render tensed sentences into tenseless sentences is a separate question which I am still mulling over, but at least on this point, Feser's argument against tenseless sentences is singularly unconvincing.

Friday, April 03, 2020

On the issue of relative motion

For another thing, McGinn argues, there are difficulties with the thesis itself, never mind the argument for it First of all, on analysis it appears to be incoherent. Consider a universe with just two objects, A and B. Suppose that from A’s frame of reference, A is stationary and B is moving toward A, whereas from B’s frame of reference, B is stationary and A is moving toward B. According to the relationalist, there is no fact of the matter about which is really moving. Relative to A, B is moving and A is not, and relative to B, A is moving and B is not, and that is all that can be said. But remember that local motion is change with respect to place or location. For B to move, then, is for it to be at location L1 at one moment and at a different location L2 at the next. Now, since B is indeed moving from A’s frame of reference, the locations L1 and L2 that B is at at each movement must be different locations. But since B is not moving from B’s frame of reference, the locations L1 and L2 that B is at at each moment must not be different locations. So L1 and L2 are both identical and not identical. But that is absurd. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 213)

Second, McGinn argues that the relativity of motion becomes implausible once we factor in considerations other than motion. If we are only considering only their motion, we could say either that the sun is at rest and that the earth is moving relative to the earth, or that the earth is at rest and the sun is moving relative to the earth. However, when we factor in the different masses of the sun and the earth, this is no longer the case. … The motions considered in the abstract may be symmetrical, but the causal factors are not, so that there is a fact of the matter about which is really moving relative to which. (p. 214)

A major paradigmatic shift in science has been the shift from an absolute frame of reference to a relative frame of reference. This is especially evident when one considers the theories of relativity. Depending on the frame of reference, an object can be considered to be in motion, or be stationary. Superficially, we take the Earth to be stationary when calculating motion on Earth, although we understand the Earth to be in motion around the Sun. But relative frames of reference mean more than considering something to be a stationary point of reference. It means that the frame of reference can be swapped such that if one object X is seen as stationary, the other, Y, is seen as in motion. But if Y is seen as stationary, then X is seen to be in motion. Therefore, the very concept of "motion" is relative. It is this concept that Edward Feser, citing McGinn's argument, disputes.

McGinn's argument seems valid enough. If B is seen as moving, which is true from A's perspective, it moves from point L1 to point L2. However, if B is seen as stationary (B's perspective) and A is moving, then surely B is at point L1 and remains at point L1, never moving to point L2. Such an argument however misunderstands how relative frames of reference works. In relative frames of reference, there is no such thing as absolute points of space, and it is this error that McGinn commits.

To perceive the nature of the error, let us place a marker at point L1 and a marker at point L2, and name them M1 and M2 respectively. In A's frame of reference, B is moving towards A and it moves from L1 to L2. Thus, B would have moved past M1 and M2, as M1 and M2 are both stationary in A's frame of reference. Consider however what would be the case in B's frame of reference. If B is considered stationary, then A is moving towards B. The markers M1 and M2 would also move towards B, since they are in the same situation as A. Since M1 and M2 supposedly mark L1 and L2 respectively, then it could be said that L1 and L2 move towards B. In other words, in B's point of reference, to the extent that points L1 and L2 are supposed to be points in space, they "move" towards B if B is taken to be the frame of reference. This is seen in the diagram below:

McGinn's error therefore is in assuming that L1 and L2 mean anything at all in relative frames of motion. The entire concept of frames of reference is precisely to assert that just as there is no such thing as a fixed frame to consider motion, so there is no fixed frame to consider location. L1 and L2 only make sense in A's frame of reference, not in B's.

Feser's next paragraph deals with gravitational rotation, which is the realm of the general theory of relativity. Unfortunately, I have not really learned the General Theory of Relativity, but from my limited understanding, it is false to assert that rotation of the earth around the sun disproves relative frames of motion. First of all, the earth does not technically revolves around the sun. Rather, it revolves around the center of gravity of the entire solar system. The sun "wobbles" so to speak since it makes up most but not all of the mass of the solar system. This shows that it is not the sun as an object that is considered stationary, but rather motion under the force of gravity follows the curvature of space-time. Since space-time curvature is asymmetrical in the case of the solar system, so we do say that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.

Relative frames of motion are apparent however when the space-time curvature is symmetrical, as in the case of a binary star system with stars of equal masses. In this case, it is true that star C revolves around star D, and star D revolves around star C, and also that both stars revolve around their common center of gravity, as seen in the figure below:

As it can be seen, where space-time curvature is symmetrical, relative frames of motion are present. The fact that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the sun revolves around the earth, is due to the asymmetrical nature of the space-time curvature caused by the sun, and therefore this example is not a valid one in disproving relative frames of motion.

Having examined the arguments put forward by McGinn and repeated by Feser, it is evident that their arguments against relative frames of reference betrays an ignorance of the science involved. While one can legitimately ask whether an absolute point of reference with regards to space, motion, or even time is or should be present, it is fallacious to claim that relative frames of references make no sense and are self-contradictory. They are certainly counter-intuitive, but self-contradictory nonsense they are not. Feser would certainly benefit from some science education, as the arguments he has put forward here betray an ignorance of science as a subject.

How does color emerge?

The atomist maintains that when the banana goes from being green to being yellow, the only change that occurs in the banana itself is a change in the arrangement of atoms and their impact on the sense organs. Neither the greenness nor the yellowness we see is really there in the banana in the first place, but only in the conscious experience of the perceiver. … But in fact this neither reduces qualitative change to local motion nor eliminates it, but merely relocates it. For example, the qualitative change from green to yellow is now, in effect, located in the conscious perceiver himself rather than in the banana. It is a transition from the perceiver’s experiencing greenish qualia to his experiencing yellowish qualia. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 210)

Why do we see color? As explained by science, light waves of certain wavelength (in the visible light spectrum) have certain colors. In the object being seen, some light is absorbed by the surface of that object due to the photons with that energy level being absorbed by electrons in the atoms in the molecules on an area on the surface of the object. The light waves that are not absorbed are reflected from the object, and the wavelength of these light waves have a certain color. When we observe that object with our eyes, the light waves reflected from the object enter our eyes and our minds read the color of the object from the wavelength of light that has entered our eyes.

The reason why I have briefly gone through the science of optics here is to correct what seems to be confusion on the part of Edward Feser. Contrary to Feser, color changes are not changes in the perceiver only. In the case of a banana being ripened, the cells of the banana have ripened, and this ripening came about through a cascading set of chemical changes within the banana cell. Part of this ripening process is the changing of molecules on the surface of the banana, causing the electrons of the atoms in the molecules on the surface of the banana to start reflecting yellow light and not green light. Certainly, in the philosophy of mind, the question of how the color is translated into what we know as "green" and "yellow" is asked, but that is not the issue in question here.

When it comes to secondary qualities like color, the term "secondary" is not synonymous with "imaginary" or "false" or "not real." Rather, the term "secondary" means that these qualities are derived qualities that come into being due to the interaction of objects with subjects. It is subjective in that sense. For imagine if an alien organism has the ability to see infrared radiation as well, the banana would not appear to that organism purely "green" or purely "yellow," but probably tinted with shades of red. Since for that alien organism the banana does not appear "green" or "yellow," does it mean that the banana suddenly lose its "attribute" of being "green" or "yellow"? The asking of this question should manifest to us why color is said to be a secondary quality not a primary quality. Or take another example in a spaceship that is travelling at a significant fraction of the speed of light. All incoming light at the front of the spaceship would be blue-shifted. At a certain speed, anyone looking out of the front of that spaceship would see infrared radiation as visible light. Do these celestial bodies in front of the spaceship change their color "attribute" at all? Again, the question itself make no sense since it ignores how color is perceived in subjects.

In science therefore, to state something is a secondary quality is not to say these things do not truly exist except in the mind. All secondary qualities do exist, but they are emergent qualities not fundamental qualities. Feser should really brush up on his science, because not understanding science is undermining his case.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Trinity Review: Did Calvin Teach a Doctrine of Secondary Justification?

Some time ago, I had written a short blog post refuting Steven Wedgeworth's assertion that John Calvin had in fact teach a doctrine of double justification (an initial and a secondary justification). I was subsequently contacted by Tom Juodaitis about using it in the Trinity Review, and I decided to improve it and send the improved version to him. Well, I have just checked the website and the latest Trinity Review (for April/ May 2020) is out, by yours truly. Check it out here. An excerpt:

In the modern Reformed world, there have been raging controversies over issues like the Law-Gospel distinction, and charges of neo-nomism versus antinomianism as it relates to the Federal Vision, Norman Shepherd, John Piper, and the disgraced pastor Tullian Tchividjian. Most worrying is the push for some version of a “judgment by works” by theologians such as Mark Jones, who has likewise defended John Piper from the charge of works-righteousness. According to Jones, all that Piper has striven to do was to defend the necessity of works for salvation, which he asserted was taught by Reformed theologians and the Reformed faith. Works lead us to the “possession of life” not the “right to life,” and therefore for Jones there is nothing wrong in asserting that works are necessary for salvation, when understood according to the manner he has prescribed.


Sharp readers might have noticed that I have removed the part about Arminianism. That is because I did not want to expand the article even further. Without writing a second article about this, let me just point out to you the Arminian error on this topic as stated in the Canons of the Synod of Dordt:

Who teach that what is involved in the new covenant of grace which God the Father made with men through the intervening of Christ’s death is not that we are justified before God and saved through faith, insofar as it accepts Christ’s merit, but rather that God, having withdrawn his demand for perfect obedience to the law, counts faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, as perfect obedience to the law, and graciously looks upon this as worthy of the reward of eternal life. (Canons of the Synod of Dordt, Second main point of doctrine, Rejection of Error, 4)

The modern versus the Neo-Aristotelian conception of scientific laws

The standard view of laws of nature regards them as universal regularities, ordered in something like a pyramidal structure, and where at least the laws at the apex of the pyramid are ontologically fundamental in the sense that they don’t presuppose anything else (except God, for proponents of the standard view who are theists). They are universal in the sense that they hold everywhere and always. … When we reach the laws at the top of the pyramid, we have (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor) reached metaphysical bedrock. (For the atheist, anyway. Again, the theist who is committed to this picture of laws would say that God is the cause of the laws. Even for such theists, though, there is nothing in the natural world that is more basic than the laws.) (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 177)

There is another way to understand laws of nature, however, which is most famously associated with Nancy Cartwright and first set out in the essay collected in her influential book How the Laws of Physics Lie (1983). On Cartwright’s view, each of the tenets of the standard view is false. First, laws are not universal regularities. Or to be more precise, if interpreted as universal regularities, laws turn out not to be strictly true; whereas if they are interpreted in a way that makes them come out true, they are no longer strictly universal. … Laws are true only ceteris paribus, only when certain conditions obtain. In that case though, they correctly describe the behavior of the entities they govern only under those particular conditions, and are not true of the entities universally. (p. 178)

A second way Cartwright departs from the standard view is by denying that laws are ontologically fundamental. What are fundamental to the entities studied by physics and the other sciences are rather their natures and capacities (Cartwright 1999, pp. 59-73, 78-90). By virtue of these natures and capacities, entities “try” or “tent” to behave in certain distinctive ways (1999, pp. 28-29), and the tendencies of one entity can combine with those of another to produce a joint effect. (p. 178)

Such an arrangement constitutes what Cartwright calls a “nomological machine” (1999, chapter 3). Laws are essentially descriptions of the regularities characteristic of a certain kind of nomological machine. … (p. 179)

The third way Cartwright’s position differs from the standard view is that she takes laws to form a “patchwork” rather than a pyramid (1999, chapter 1). There are the laws describing the behavior of this nomological machine and the laws describing the behavior of that one, but we have no reason to believe that anything unites them all. In particular, we have no reason to believe that laws are arranged in a hierarchy or that there is some one most basic law or set of laws from which all the others follow. (p. 179)

… there is nothing in the actual findings of modern science that favors the standard view over hers. Empirically speaking, the rival views are evenly matched at best, with the choice between them essentially philosophical rather than scientific. (p. 179)

As an alternative to the "mechanical" view of science and the world, Edward Feser sets forth an alternative vision whereby science is merely descriptive of systems not of things. Things rather are as Aristotle sees them, as things with their own natures and capacities, borrowing from Nancy Cartwright's view, and thus things rather than laws are fundamental. Lastly, laws are disparate not connected together, since they are not fundamental for reality but merely descriptive of systems. Feser further asserts that the difference between these two models of reality are empirically indistinguishable, and therefore science does not and cannot disprove his alternate ontology.

On a surface level, the two models seem indistinguishable. However, I would assert that it can be proven that Feser's alternate model is unable to justify science and the workings of science, and I would do so by looking at each of the three Cartwright tenets that Feser embraces.

The first tenet is a rejection of the universality of scientific laws. Feser asserts universality to be false because things in real life do not follow scientific laws, as the laws only apply in ideal situations which are not found in this life. In a sense, it is true that there the real is different from the ideal, but it is a leap of logic to assert that therefore laws are not universal. The fact of the matter is that under certain situations, we can approximate the ideal. For example, under high temperature and low pressure situations, all gases approximate the Ideal Gas Law, regardless of whether it is chlorine, argon, or carbon dioxide gas. In chemistry, the stochiometric ratio of the reaction of sulfuric acid with sodium hydroxide is always 1:2, and this applies to the reaction of any diprotic base with a monoacidic base. Newton's First Law can be easily proved in space where friction is negligible if not absent. In other words, the distinction between the real and the ideal does not in any way invalidate the application of scientific laws.

But, Feser will object, that only proves that the laws work only under certain conditions, does it not? No, for the beauty of science is that in non-ideal scenarios, the other variables can be factored into the equation and applied then. For example, the Van der Waal equation with variables a and b work for real gases. In mechanics, the force of friction can be measured and taken into account. In chemistry, impurities in chemicals can be ascertained and factored into chemical reactions. In other words, scientific laws do not apply only under "certain conditions." The simple form of the law can be seen only under ideal conditions, but the laws do apply under all conditions.

Compounding the problem with Cartwright's first tenet, a rejection of the universality of laws breaks the practice of science. If laws are not universal but particular, then science and technology would grind to a halt. Why should anyone think that the application of a certain temperature in an industrial plant would result in fractional distillation of petroleum? Rather, if universality is rejected, each industrial application must be investigated anew since what works for one "substance" (e.g. alcohol and water) may not work for another "substance" (i.e. petroleum). We cannot assume that gravity on other planets would necessarily follow either Newton's Law of Gravitational Attraction or Einstein's General Theory of Relativity either. Therefore, while Cartwright's first tenet cannot be disproved empirically, it vitiates the practice of science altogether. For science to be science, laws must be both universal and true.

Cartwright's second tenet places things as being fundamental not laws. The problem with this new take on Aristotle is that it can be proven that laws are more fundamental than things. The ability to transform one element to another through radioactive decay, through bombarding things with energetic particles (e.g neutrons, alpha particles, other atomic nuclei), or through nuclear fission and fusion, have proven that atoms are in fact real and fundamental and that Aristotelian "substances" are at best an emergent quality. The creation of anti-matter, and the ability to destroy matter by combining that matter with anti-matter to form pure energy, are not hypotheses but actual experimental science. On this second tenet therefore, science has indeed disproved Cartwright's new take on Aristotle.

On Cartwright's third tenet, that is debatable. Scientists have not yet discovered a unifying theory of everything, and it is uncertain if they ever will. However, the problem with the third tenet is not that there are certain disparate sets of laws, but rather Cartwright's denial of all hierarchy goes against our understanding of how the various scientific disciplines connect to each other.

The convergence of scientific disciplines (and here I focus only on the natural sciences) is seen in for example biochemistry, whereby biology and chemistry are integrated. The biochemical pathway of glycolysis for example show how chemistry underlies biological nutrition, and thus chemistry is more fundamental than biology. When one looks into molecular structure in bond length, angles of chemical bonds, valence electrons and dipole movement, it can be seen that physics is more fundamental than chemistry. All of these prove that there is some hierarchy among scientific disciplines and scientific laws. Along with the rejection of second tenet, the scientific picture of atoms and laws of nature appears more credible than the Neo-Aristotelian version of substances being fundamental. A deeper understanding of science here thus falsifies Cartwright's third tenet.

As it can be seen, on the surface, it seems that Cartwright's and Feser's model of ontology and science is empirically indistinguishable from the modern ("mechanist") model. But a deeper understanding of science falsifies that model. One can reinterpret certain scientific laws in line with this Neo-Aristotelian model, but the model cannot and does not work for actual scientific practice and understanding. Cartwright's and Feser's model of science and scientific laws are therefore to be rejected as contrary to how science actually works.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Mind independence and subjectivity in science

Now, the empiriological description of nature is essentially what Sellars calls the “scientific image” of the world, as opposed to the “manifest image” of common sense and ordinary experience. Since the subclass of “empirioschematic” sciences make use of concepts that are widely regarded as merely regulative rather than corresponding to anything in mind-independent reality, there is a tendency to identify the scientific image, strictly construed, with the emperiometric description of the world, specifically – that is to say, with a mathematicised conception of nature of the kind toward which the “mechanical world picture” tended, and that has become definitive of modern physics. That is not to say that those who take the scientific image to exhaust reality would all hold that everything real can be reduced to entities within the ontology of physics. Some would say instead that everything real need only supervene on the latter. Either way, though, for those who take the scientific image to be an exhaustive picture of reality, the ontology of physics “wears the trousers,” as it were.

… The basic idea of this “absolute conception” is to construct a description of the world that is entirely free of any explicit or implicit reference to the point of view of any particular observer, or any particular type of observer. As Nagel emphasizes, the conception in question regards anything that depends on the point of view of particular observers as “subjective,” and thus it takes itself to be by contrast an entirely “objective” description. … The distinction between primary and secondary qualities became the standard way of expressing the idea, with secondary qualities regarded as reflecting the observer’s subjective point of view and primary qualities alone constituting the truly objective features of reality. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, p. 133)

Part of what this chapter has been concerned to show is that the manifest image, the world as it appears from the “subjective” point of view of the conscious subject, cannot coherently be eliminated and replaced entirely by the “objective” or “absolute” perspective of the scientific image. For the latter presupposes the former, in two fundamental respects. First, abandoning the manifest image while trying to maintain the scientific image is tantamount to attempting to keep the apex of the “arch of knowledge” aloft while destroying its feet and legs. As Colin McGinn writes, the scientific image “purchases [its] absoluteness at the cost of removing itself from the perceptual standpoint” (1983, p. 127). Hence, “to abandon the subjective view is to abandon the possibility of experience of the world” (p. 127), and thus to abandon the evidence of observation and experiment on the basis of which the claims of the scientific image are supposed to be justified. It is also to abandon the reasoning processes that take us from that empirical evidence up to the scientific image and then back down from it to testable predictions. For the subjective view includes the cognitive (as well as the perceptual) states and processes of the scientist. (p. 134)

In short, an “objective” description is itself an extension of the “subjective” point of view, and the scientific image is itself merely a component of the manifest image. (p. 135)

The practice of science involves human beings, and humans with regards to both their practices and theory choices are not objective. That said, the shift from seeing science as this objective enterprise that scientists are involved in to something that focuses on the subjectivity of scientists is in my opinion a swing from one extreme to the other extreme.

Thomas Kuhn in dealing with the history of science took note of the changes in paradigms that have taken place in science. He had noted how paradigms are by nature resistant to change until a crisis occur due to one too many breakdowns with the older paradigm. While this idea of "crisis" was overplayed by Kuhn in his early formulations of his philosophy of science, there is a sense in which crises do precipitate major changes, even if not all major changes come about through crises. Kuhn's historicist focus however does not necessarily imply any form of relativism, for the simple reason that scientists are genuinely searching for the objective truth. The problems with paradigms is not that they are "socially constructed," but rather the reason why different paradigms emerge is because of the finitude of human knowing even as it grasps after objective reality. This is seen in the problem of induction that pervades science, such that science while grasping after truth can never fully attain it.

Having said this, it is because there is a grasping after objective truth that science does to some degree approximate the truth, and scientific laws approximate the laws of nature. That is why, while Newton's Laws of Gravitation are superseded by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, Newton's formulas can still be used in most cases where the effect of gravity on the curvature of space-time is not significant. Science is not pure objective truth, but it does approximate it to some degree.

It is because of this that Edward Feser's view concerning science is disturbing. Feser's position, while not being fully subjective, undermines the objectivity of science in such a manner that the subjectivity of scientists must be considered in science itself. It is understandable why Feser would do this so he can bring Aristotelian teleology into science, but the argument he uses is flawed. The issue with regards to science is whether there is something beyond the practice of science, and I will assert that there are in fact laws of nature that science as a discipline grasps after, albeit imperfectly. Since science grasps after the laws of nature, the subjective striving of scientists should be seen as an artifact of the discipline of science, not as part of the subject of science. For Feser, science needs to encompass the practice of scientists in understanding their observations, instead of focusing on the imperfect practice of scientists in attempting to understand the objective truths of nature. For Feser, perceptions informs science, while I would suggest it is nature that informs science, with perception being the instrument of knowing.. In other words, Feser in my opinion confuses the process of science with the subject of science, and this I think is a major categorical error on his part.

Science seeks to understand how the natural world works. It seeks to understand objectively how the world is run. Thus for example, it is either true or false that penicillin kills dangerous bacteria, and we can test that hypothesis out. The subjectivity of the scientist, while ever present, does not add or subtract from the fact that penicillin does in fact kill harmful (non antibiotic resistant) bacteria. In the laws of motion, Newton's First Law is either true or false, and the subjectivity of the scientist does not color its truth. From these two example, it should be seen that the subject of science itself is not focused on the process of observation and explaining observation, but about the facts of how the world actually works.

When it comes to complex theories and meta-theories, meta-narratives of science, then subjectivity plays an ever increasing role since human judgment is used in theory choice and construction. This is why scientific theories can be totally false, but this is not to deny their aspirations towards the objective truth, for human error does not disprove scientific truth.

Feser's conflation of process with subject has resulted in his attempt to insert subjectivity into the subject of science, instead of keeping it to the practice of science. The laws of nature are mind-independent, and Feser's arguments to undermine science's objective referent should be rejected.

On the senses and the mind

A further problem with the imagined Cartesian dualist response …. Is that it begs the question against the Aristotelian insofar as it assumes that the perceptual and cognitive states of subjects of experience can entirely float free of the body. From the Aristotelian point of view, that is not the case, even given that the human intellect is incorporeal. For one thing, perceptual experience is corporeal, presupposing sense organs and brain activity. For another thing, even cognition requires, in the ordinary case, brain activity as a necessary condition, even if it is not a sufficient condition. … If we were entirely incorporeal, we would essentially be angels, having our knowledge in a single act and without relying on perceptual experience. The Cartesian notion of res cogitans is really the notion of an angelic intellect, not a human one. Hence, from the Aristotelian point of view, to establish that there is a succession of perceptual and cognitive states in the subject of experience just is to establish that that subject is corporeal and thus that the way in which it manifests actuality and potentiality is in part by being a composite of form and matter. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge, 93)

Does the mind require senses to function? Is corporeality necessary for thinking? According to Edward Feser, corporeality is necessary for human thinking and learning, whereas non-corporeal thinking is angelic and having "knowledge in a single act and without relying on perceptual experience." Yet in Feser's steps of arguments one can see many flaws and false assumptions present.

The first flaw is the assumption that perceptual experience is corporeal. According to Feser, to perceive something one must have a body. But in the Aristotelian scheme, humans are hylomorphic (where the soul is the form and the body the matter). Since for the Christian, during the period between the first death and Christ coming back, the souls of believers will be with God while the body remains in the grave (c.f. Phil. 1:21, 1 Cor. 15:23), how is this possible if humans are hylomorphic? In this glorified but not fully recreated existence, can the soul perceive God's love for him? It would seem for the Christian that the answer should be yes. And if that is true, then Feser's assumption here is false, for the Christian soul that is non-corporeal following the first death can indeed have perceptual experiences.

Feser's second assumption is that cognition requires brain activity. But that confuses correlation with causation. If as we have argued that the non-corporeal soul can have perceptual experiences, then certainly cognition does not require brain activity as a necessary condition. Lastly, Feser continues smuggling in his idea that an object must have actuality and potentiality, but that is almost expected by now.

Since that is the case, it is not true from a Christian perspective that the senses are needed for the mind to function. The "Cartesian notion of res cogitans" is therefore not an angelic way of knowing and the fact that there is a succession of perceptual and cognitive states does not imply anything about the thinking subject or the nature of things.

On action and the problem of occasionalism

If physical objects themselves don’t really do anything, then there is no point in trying to study what they do or how they do it. God, who alone ever really does anything in the natural world, becomes the sole worthwhile object of scientific study, and natural science gives way to theology. But the situation is even stranger than that, at least if we factor in the Thomistic principle that agere sequitur esse (or “action follows being”) – that is to say, that the only way a thing behaves reflects what it is. If physical objects do nothing and only God acts, then it would follow that physical things don’t have any existence distinct from God’s existence. Occasionalism would collapse into pantheism, and the Cartesian philosophy of nature would thereby abolish nature altogether. (Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundation of Physical and Biological Science, 92)

One argument that Edward Feser has put forward for why it is important for objects to have potentialities of their own, and why it cannot be asserted that God is the one who energizes all things, is that such an assertion collapses everything into theology, and leads to occasionalism. And if the Thomistic principle of "action follows being" is factored in, then this assertion collapses occasionalism into pantheism. That of course would be unpalatable for many people and Christians also. But is such an argument sound?

The first and major thing that must be examined is Feser's assumption that to make God the ultimate energizer of reality leads us to occasionalism. But before I examine this, it must be said that this problem plagues the Aristotelian as well, if he desires to be Christian that is. For even though every object has potentialities, the question can be asked if God decrees the potentialities of an object. If he is to be a Christian, all things must be created so there must be a time when there was no potentialities (i.e. no created thing). Of course, one can hold to eternal nature, but that is explicitly contrary to Scripture. But if there is a point of creation, then, unless one wants to speculate about other eternal entities (which compromises the aseity of God), all potentialities must come from God. So the Christian Aristotelian has the same problem that the supposed "mechanist" does, in that it seems that the Christian Aristotelian faces the same pull towards occasionalism as the "mechanist" worldview supposedly does.

Feser's assumption however is something that I reject. For one thing, in the theistic scientific worldview, apart from miracles, God does all things through intermediaries according to the laws of nature. The laws of nature are set down by God as an expression of who He is, but they are not Him per se. They "proceed" out from God, in the same way as God's decrees (plural, not the singular decree), covenants and actions proceed out of Him. Theologically, we can call them God's "energies." Laws of nature and the constants of the universe (e.g. Planck's constant, Gravitational constant etc.) are decreed by God, immutable in this current universe (as far as we can currently observe). They partake of the immutability of God while Creation stands, but certainly they are not God!

For impersonal things therefore, while God is the ultimate energizer, He acts (in providence) through scientific laws. Rather than thinking of an object as having inherent "potentiality," the object acts according to an external law (the laws of nature discovered and approximated scientifically). Since the laws of nature are not God, therefore the theistic scientific worldview does not lead to occasionalism.

The second proposition that Feser utilizes is the Thomistic principle that "action follows being," arguing that "if physical objects do nothing and only God acts, then it would follow that physical things don't have any existence distinct from God's existence." But this Thomistic principle is merely to restate and apply the Aristotelian idea that a thing has potentiality and therefore a thing must act (potentiality transformed to actuality). However, for anyone not committed to Aristotelianism and Aristotelian ontology, we reject the idea that a thing must necessarily act. Feser here smuggled in his premises to collapse occasionalism into pantheism, but this collapse only takes place if we (1) agree with him that occasionalism is true, and (2) a thing must have potentiality to act. If we deny either or both of these propositions, which I did, then Feser's argument is false.

Once again, Feser argues against the scientific ("mechanistic") worldview, but all the while smuggling in Aristotelian categories. However, if we reject those categories, then Feser's argument is invalid and thus the case against the scientific worldview is unsound.