I had a good laugh when Feser fans claimed he “destroyed” my critique this week, and at first thought, “Oh gosh, did I get something wrong I need to correct?” And then I read his reply. Face, meet palm. Holy cow. His response is wildly inept. I’ll lay it out for you here. So you can now share in my laugh.
The Aristotelian Argument
Edward Feser’s primary argument is that he doesn’t understand my arguments. That’s certainly true. And clearly why he goes completely off the rails in his attempt to rebut them. But let’s look at those failures…
First, Feser mistakes my introductory point about competing hypotheses as to the ground of all being as itself my rebuttal to his Aristotelian argument; wrong. My actual rebuttal to his Aristotelian argument comes paragraphs later; and that is explicitly stated there, so I don’t know how he could be confused about this. Most weirdly, he says that, “In response to the argument I actually gave for the existence of a purely actual actualizer (what Aristotle calls the Unmoved Mover), Carrier has absolutely nothing to say,” and then he goes on to try and rebut what I did say, which is not at all what he opened with and mistook as my rebuttal! So, first he does what he falsely accuses me of, “attacking some argument he thinks he knows something about and feels confident he can refute, instead of what his opponent actually said,” and then says I said nothing else against his argument, then admits I did have something else to say against his argument (in fact myactual rebuttal), and then proceeds to try and recover from that (the actual) rebuttal. This is a strange way to write. It shows he is confused and emotional and not editing his own article but writing it in a stream of consciousness without going back and correcting mistaken statements earlier in his reply that he himself is refuting with his own subsequent statements.
After I set up the issue of alternative hypotheses of the grounding of all being, when I get to Feser’s actual Aristotelian argument, I say “Most of [his premises in this argument] are uncontroversial on some interpretation of the words he employs…except one, Premise 41, where his whole argument breaks down.” That’s where my actual rebuttal to his Aristotelian argument proceeds. Obviously. You know. Just FYI.
My argument there is that his premise stating that “the forms or patterns manifest in all the things [the substrate] causes…can exist either in the concrete way in which they exist in individual particular things, or in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect” is “a false dichotomy.” I then explain how Aristotle actually solved that problem (of how forms and patterns exist), and it’s none of the options Feser gives in his premises. And Aristotle’s solution is actually the correct one. And that eliminates Premise 41 of Feser’s argument. Feser falsely claims he addressed that option in his book. He did not.
Weirdly again, Feser says he “explicitly note[d] at p. 209, in the context of discussing omniscience in greater detail, that a third alternative would be the Platonic view that forms exist in a third realm distinct from either concrete particular things or intellects” after he “spen[t] much of chapter 3 arguing against this third, Platonic alternative.” Um. I explicitly said the Aristotelian view, not the Platonic view. No refutation of the Platonic view addresses the Aristotelian view. The very view I am pointing out he doesn’t even mention as an option in his Premise 41. Or anywhere else in his book. This is hilarious. How could he make this mistake? I explicitly state that Aristotle took Plato’s theory of forms to task and replaced it with a different theory. One that happens to be correct. How did Feser not notice that’s what my argument was? How could he possibly have confused that as a defense of Platonism? I can’t even begin to imagine. I have to suppose he didn’t even read my article at all carefully but just skimmed it in a pique of rage and failed to grasp anything it actually said.
Oh, and if you missed the joke, notice once again how he does the very thing he falsely accused me of here: “attacking some argument he thinks he knows something about and feels confident he can refute, instead of what his opponent actually said.” He attacks Platonism. I did not propose Platonism. I fully knew he addressed Platonism in his argument. Not having addressed Platonism isn’t the problem with Premise 41. Not having addressed Aristotelianism is the problem with Premise 41. What does Feser have in response to that?
So Feser has no response to my actual rebuttal to his Aristotelian argument.
And the Rest
Feser’s rebuttal gets all confused and jumbled after that, just a grab bag of random complaints. He doesn’t address any of my rebuttals to any of his four other arguments in any coherent way. But it’s all he gives us, so let’s sample some of that…
I won’t address every weird and false thing Feser says about my article. There are many. But, for example, Feser falsely claims I collapsed two premises into one when addressing his Aristotelian argument. Nope. I quote only Premise 41, exactly as he wrote it, verbatim. I include no other premise for critique there. And likewise, he tries to accuse my calling spacetime the ground of all being “pantheism,” but that’s not credible on any non-ridiculous definition of theism. No mind, no god, no theism. You can’t have pantheism if all you have is space and stuff. Unless, I guess, for some reason, you nevertheless “worship” it; which I never mentioned anyone doing or having to do. So his accusation of pantheism is just semantic legerdemain. It’s atheism, dude. Accept it. Don’t make us laugh at you all the more for trying such a silly argument. As if we’ll be offended at being called pantheists, for worshiping nothing and believing in only mindless spacetime and its contents. In other words, the same godless reality all naturalistic atheists believe in.
Feser also says “space-time, for all Carrier has shown, is contingent.” No, actually, I showed it was a logically necessary outcome; either according to Feser’s own arguments, or my Merdae Fit argument. If Feser’s arguments are valid, then there cannot not be a spacetime. All I show, indeed, is that his attempts to leverage the ground of all being into having conscious intelligence fail. I did not show his arguments for the other attributes fail. And what has those other attributes and isn’t a conscious intelligence? Oh right. Spacetime. See the problem? His own arguments refute him on this point. Now, I do doubt his arguments are really all that valid; there is a reason science abandoned this kind of armchair reasoning about the nature of existence (a fact Feser rages against). But I wasn’t interested in delving into that any further because I didn’t need to. Showing his arguments just prove spacetime is a necessary being is all I need do to refute him. And I don’t even need his arguments. I proposed even my own: Ex Nihilo Merdae Fit. And no intelligent mind is needed for that to be so. That’s the stuff he confessed he couldn’t understand. Sorry. I can’t help him understand things if he isn’t inclined to understand them.
Feser then switches to the Thomistic argument, claiming spacetime’s “essence is distinct from its existence,” but I already refuted that argument, too: essences don’t exist; and even insofar as you can semantically conjure them into existence, essences cannot be separated from existence. Feser does not even acknowledge I argued those two facts, much less respond to my refutations of them. It’s as if he didn’t even continue reading my article to its conclusion and didn’t know I refuted his Thomistic argument at all. It’s really funny to see him do that. Likewise, how spacetime can be self-causing and self-actualizing is also fully explained in my article and the linked article on my Merdae Fit argument.
Feser also falsely claims “[Carrier] never tells us exactly why the notions in question are obsolete or exactly what is the relevant scientific evidence that I ignore.” Yes, I do. I explained why essences are pseudoscience. I explained how Feser is ignorant of relevant ontological discoveries in physics about spacetime and theories of matter-energy. And so on. And I explained why these ignorances matter. For Feser to claim none of that is in my article, is either dishonesty, or more evidence that he didn’t really read it. That he only responds to my rebuttal of his first argument; ignores my rebuttals to every other argument; and gets completely wrong what my rebuttal to his first argument was; is all further evidence he humorously didn’t even read my article before writing his rebuttal. He just grabbed some random quotes and rage blogged.
Feser likewise falsely claims I “give no actual examples of objections [he] ignore[s] that undermine [his] conclusions,” when in fact that’s all I did, five times. I identified the specific single premise in each of his five arguments that is false, and gave examples of what undermines that premise, and in each case, it’s something he did not address in his book. His attempt to defend his Aristotelian argument against my rebuttal illustrates this very point: he falsely claims I argued that he did not consider Platonism; false. I said he did not consider Aristotelian Forms Theory, not Platonic Forms Theory. And lo, he didn’t. Nowhere in his book. And still not even in this response to my rebuttal. It’s almost like he does not comprehend there is a difference between those two theories or what it is. Even though I explained it in clear English in my article. I can’t help him. If he can’t comprehend the difference between those two theories, he is simply doomed to not understand why his argument fails.
Humorously, Feser also objects to my pointing out that minds are inherently complex entities, by simply asserting that “the divine intellect, being absolutely simple, is the opposite of complex.” That’s not a rebuttal. You can’t just say “God’s mind is simple” and then describe an immensely complex mind. A simple mind is one that has few memories and abilities. For example, a worm’s mind is simpler than a human mind. Because its contents and their connections and thus capabilities are few. Feser is claiming God has a simpler mind than even a worm. Which by definition would not be intelligent. It would be less intelligent than even a worm. The simplest mind by definition would have no intelligence at all, beyond the trivial (like the intelligence of a stone; note that even a germ or a leaf is more intelligent than a stone). Yet Feser simultaneously says God has the most intelligent mind conceivable. Which would not be simple. It would be vastly more complex than a worm’s mind, and indeed even a human’s mind. And it wouldn’t just be complex. It would have to be organized, e.g. all its thoughts (all the objects in its mind, things, faces, names, etc.) would have to be correctly connected, so as to produce only true beliefs and coherent knowledge. A disorganized mind would be a jumble, so the wrong things are connected to each other; and such a mind would have false beliefs and confused knowledge (and in my article on Feser I linked repeatedly to my demonstration of these points in The God Impossible).
You can’t just “declare” a complex thing simple. That’s a violation of the Law of Identity. Plain and simple.
What Are Parts?
Only one remark in Feser’s entire response even engages with what my article actually said, and states correctly what it said. As all his other remarks do neither, he has adduced no rebuttal to my article. But it’s definitely worth addressing the one quasi-correct thing he says: that he does not understand how spacetime can be simple, “since it is extended,” and therefore “it is also in the relevant sense material (contrary to what Carrier asserts) and is composite rather than simple (contrary to what Carrier asserts).” Feser still falsely says “[Carrier] gives absolutely no non-question-begging reason to reject” this claim. To the contrary. I articulated a very straightforward and non-circular argument why spacetime does not have these properties in the sense his argument requires.
Remember, Feser is using strictly deductive logical syllogisms. So it does not matter if spacetime is in some sense extended and not simple. Because his syllogisms have stated a very limited and specific definition of those two terms. Such that something that does not mean that definition, does not validate his argument. His arguments only work with his limited definition of them; not other definitions of them. So he has to attend to that. He can’t just engage an equivocation fallacy (another violation of the Law of Identity) and expect no one to notice.
Here is what I wrote:
One might try to play Devil’s Advocate and say, well, space-time isn’t a material entity in the sense that it’s not “made of matter,” and obviously isn’t itself located “in” space or time, sure. But what does Feser mean by “material entity”? Well, he defines that as “having parts which need to be combined in order for them to exist,” which makes them able to come into being and pass away. This doesn’t really include space-time; and even if one thought it could, we can simply define our model’s substrate as a space-time that can’t be broken up or made or dissolved. As a hypothesis, that’s as good as Feser’s; and in fact more congruent with his insistence that the substrate be “absolutely simple,” because it’s hard to get simpler than a mindless space-time with no other fundamental properties. Certainly that’s far simpler than a vastly complex mind with unlimited superpowers. It also doesn’t get you anywhere to ask what holds space-time together and keeps it from dissolving. Because we can just as easily ask, “What holds God together and keeps him from dissolving?” Whatever answer you give to that, we can give for space-time. That’s how models work. Isn’t that great?
So. Let’s walk through this. In case you didn’t get the point. As Feser clearly didn’t.
“Extended” simply and only means in his argument “hav[ing] parts which need to be combined in order for [the thing in question] to exist” (c. p. 75; see also c. pp. 81, 200, 206). Does spacetime need all its parts for spacetime to exist? If you take parts of it away, does it cease to be spacetime? No. No more than trimming a tree branch causes a tree to cease to exist or cease being a tree. Is there any point at which trimming away the parts of spacetime causes it to cease to be spacetime? No. Not in any sense that wouldn’t likewise trim away Feser’s God (e.g. trimming away God’s mental contents and powers and attributes until what you have left is literally nothing).
This is all the more so if the ground of all being is the dimensionless spacetime point of a nothing-state (and then all subsequent expansion of spacetime was a logically necessary outcome of that initial state, as my Merdae Fit argument would demonstrate, the point Feser confessed in his pique he couldn’t grasp), as then spacetime doesn’t even have parts in any sense at all. It has zero extension. The subsequent extension is then caused and explained by that initial ultra-simple state. But we don’t even need to assume that. Because none of Feser’s syllogisms work with such a broad definition of “extension” or “parts.” They only work with his limited definition of those terms, whereby disassembling a thing, results in it ceasing to be that thing. The things’ existence depends on its being composed of other things. That fact is simply never true of spacetime. Spacetime therefore does not have extension or parts in Feser’s sense. The only sense that gets his argument to work.
For example, look at his syllogism around pp. 79-80: Premise 2: “A composite exists at any moment only insofar as its parts are combined at that moment.” This does not describe spacetime: spacetime does not cease to exist if its parts aren’t “combined” (if, for example, you take parts away or move them around). There is no point at which by removing its parts, it ceases to be spacetime, or ceases to have the fundamental properties of spacetime. Spacetime is therefore not a composite according to Feser’s own premise 2. That’s crucial. Because premise 3 is then also false for spacetime: no concurrent cause is required for spacetime to be a composite; because spacetime isn’t a composite. And insofar as spacetime can grow or shrink, the cause is spacetime itself. No concurrent cause is needed. Spacetime can do this, once it exists at all, by the inviolable laws of geometry and probability (which are logically necessary truths, not contingent facts), as correlates with eternal inflation and superstring theories, for example, and the Merdae Fit principle I briefed in my reply to Feser that he confesses he didn’t understand. Spacetime also isn’t located “in” time. It is time. All as one static, unchanging, multi-dimensional object. It therefore has no location and doesn’t actually ever “change” in any sense relevant to his argument. It is simply the simultaneous realization of all things necessary and contingent.
We could even conclude that Feser’s argument conclusively proves that it is logically necessarily the case that spacetime can never be broken up; that it is logically impossible for there to be less or more of it, or for any of its parts to be taken away (just as he would say for the indivisibility of the “parts” of his God: his various thoughts and abilities and properties). But we needn’t even conclude that, because his argument simply doesn’t show that any of those things would make spacetime not be spacetime, or take away the properties spacetime has, and thus prevent spacetime from causing its own expansion or retraction or division. If spacetime is all there ultimately is, then all expansions or retractions or divisions of it are the inevitable consequence of its inherent properties qua spacetime. As, for example, eternal inflation theory proposes: that spacetime alone, its own inherent properties, caused its eternal expansion and fragmentation into a continuous foam of bubble universes. No intelligence required. No other cause required.
Spacetime also falsifies Feser’s Premise 16. Because it is true for most things, by his definition of parts, that that which has “a beginning or an end…would have parts which could either be combined or broken apart.” But that’s not true of spacetime. The only way spacetime can have a beginning or end, is for nothing whatever to exist before or after it. But that’s also true of Feser’s God. The only way (according to his own argument) that God could have a beginning or end, is for nothing whatever to exist before or after him. In other words, subtracting the substrate (God) leaves us with nothing. Not with something else. Not with parts that are not themselves God. But nothing. Likewise, subtracting the substrate (spacetime), leaves us with nothing. In fact, you can conceivably have a God only if there is a place and a time for him to exist (otherwise, he literally “exists nowhere” and “never exists,” which is by definition not existing). So God needs spacetime. Spacetime doesn’t need God. You can conceivably have a spacetime with no God in it. So spacetime is even less composite than Feser’s God.
In other words, the only way to get spacetime to be “broken apart” in such a way that spacetime itself has a beginning (for example), is to take away spacetime altogether. But without a place and time to exist, nothing exists. And when nothing exists, the emergence of spacetime is logically inevitable. But even apart from that, note that of course Feser would have to argue you can’t subtract God without the consequence of nothing existing; but that’s exactly the same thing true of spacetime. So how can he tell the difference between God and Spacetime? His argument provides no way of doing so. Ostensibly, the only way it provides is by trying to show that this substrate, that can’t be subtracted from existence without subtracting all of existence, has intelligence and knowledge. But I separately demonstrate he has no valid argument for adding those properties: my refutation of his Aristotelian and Augustinian arguments show you don’t need a mind to explain patterns and forms (nor do you need Platonism; which he somehow confused me as claiming).
So it is not true, as Feser claims, that “since it is extended,” therefore spacetime “is also in the relevant sense material” and “composite.” Nope. Feser’s book contains no premise or argument by which that’s true, any more for spacetime than it would be for his own God (we could conceptually “subtract” some of God’s knowledge, and thus prove he is composite and material; but Feser’s objections to that procedure, would hold as well for spacetime). Spacetime simply isn’t a composite by Feser’s own definition, and therefore isn’t in any relevant sense material by his own definition. His argument simply doesn’t work for spacetime. Or rather, all it does is work for spacetime. By proving spacetime logically necessarily exists. He then essentially just trips up on trying to prove spacetime is conscious.
Feser didn’t even read my article (and still has not). Much less advance any intelligible response to it. He confusingly thinks I argued for Platonism against his Aristotelian argument; somehow he didn’t read what I wrote, which clearly repudiates Platonism and argues for Aristotelianism against his Aristotelian argument. He says nothing in response to that, my actual argument. He doesn’t even seem to know I argued against the very existence of essences and their separability from existence; accordingly, he offers no response to my refutations of those claims. He also doesn’t read his own book; as he misapplies his own definition of “composite” to spacetime, despite the fact that I clearly explained why that’s an equivocation fallacy. Which indicates again he didn’t read my rebuttal to that. He certainly offers no response to my actual arguments on that point. He just pretends I didn’t make any. There are many other evidences he didn’t read my article, but just ignorantly and angrily quote mined it; I gave several examples. I consider this conclusive. If this is all he has, he’s definitely done.