Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ed Feser on Aquinas' First Way and the nature of God

Ed Feser in part 2 of his lectures at Gozaga University. He goes into depth on the cosmological argument, as stated in Aristotle's Prime Mover argument and Aquinas' First Way, and relates the cosmological argument (which clearly demonstrates God's existence) to the deeper understanding of God's attributes, which turn out to be, simply from careful reasoning, quite like God as the scriptures portray Him.

Compare Feser's detailed rigorous argument with the middle-school banalities of Dawkins and his fans. One of the things that moved me to the Christian side in this great debate about God's existence was the rigor and precision of the theist arguments, and the abject idiocy of the atheist arguments.

Grab a cup of coffee, kick back, and enjoy. For atheists, you might want to have some smelling salts handy.

38 comments:

  1. Well, that's 1 hour 3 minutes and 12 seconds I'll never get back again.

    Feser's an incurable male chauvinist.

    There is no uncaused first mover. There's no empirical evidence. Insisting that there's a philosophical or metaphysical argument to me means that it's a fiction.

    Like claiming that teleological evolution isn't empirical, just metaphysical.

    Meaningless.

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    1. bachfiend, what is really meaningless (idiotic would be a better word) is the atheist contention that, as Granville Sewell says, "...a few (four, apparently) fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics into libraries full of science texts and encyclopedias, computers connected to monitors, keyboards, laser printers and the Internet, cars, trucks, airplanes, nuclear power plants and space shuttles..." and that the universe created itself by picking its own bootstraps!

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    2. Pepe, Sewell doesn't understand thermodynamics (though he tries to write on the topic) - I'm not surprised he doesn't understand how things can have arranged themselves without any supernatural input.

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    3. Unintelligent matter arranging itself by sheer luck to produce the world we know is a Big Lie that atheists use to prop up their agenda.

      Their problem is that nobody believes their faulty logic!

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    4. I just love argument by assertion! :-)

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  2. Mathematics is more rigorous than physics. That does not make it a better tool for studying nature.

    Thomism's rigor is more like rigor mortis. It is a discipline that has been brain-dead for centuries and whose adherents are reduced to arguing what Thomas really meant when he said this or that.

    Hoo

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    1. Thomas' rigor influences the modern world in a manner analogous to Euclid's influence on modern geometry. Thomism (and Aristotelianism that grounds it) is the framework on which Western Civilization works.

      And Thomism is still quite dynamic. New Essentialism is one of the most interesting modern approaches to metaphysics and natural philosophy.

      You need to read more widely, Hoo.

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    2. Thomas' rigor influences the modern world in a manner analogous to Euclid's influence on modern geometry.

      And like Euclid's geometry, Thomas' ideas don't actually match reality.

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    3. Aristotle's philosophy was influential in its day because it was at the forefront of knowledge. Philosophy as a tool of learning about the world has long lost its clout to science. For centuries now, philosophers have been trying to play catchup with science. They ruminate about scientific knowledge without contributing a shred. Philosophers have become irrelevant, a far cry from Aristotle's day.

      I have looked at Brian Ellis's "Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism." I am not impressed. He discusses an example of water's essence, which—as far as I can tell—boils down to its molecular formula H2O (no pun intended).

      Ellis cites Putnam's example of a Twin Earth, whose inhabitants speak some sort of English but what they call water isn't chemically H2O, but rather XYZ (whatever that means). He says: "It is also clear that, if the stuff on Earth is in fact H2O, then it is so necessarily. It does not matter what it is called: that stuff is H2O. And, if we have the science right, then it is necessarily H2O."

      Well, this is bullshit. How about D2O? Is it water? In a lot of ways, it is. Its chemistry is almost identical to that of H2O. Its physical properties differ a little from H2O (molecular weight is 20, rather than 18). I would not recommend drinking it because it is radioactive, but heavy water shares lots of properties of ordinary water.

      In fact, if I were to nitpick then I would say that water contains a certain amount of heavy water, not to mention some other substances like dissolved salts and minerals. I would not recommend drinking pure water as it lacks those salts and thus could be dangerous to one's health. So, to a biologist, it is essential that water contains some other substances. To a chemist it isn't. This entire concept of essence is a bit overblown.

      So all this philosophizing is just icing on the cake of science. A completely extraneous and unnecessary construction that adds nothing to our knowledge of water. There is chemistry of water, there is physics of water, both nontrivial bodies of knowledge. We need them in order to build bridges and ships or to make saline. In contrast, philosophy has nothing useful to say about water. It just regurgitates that which physics and chemistry offer.

      New Essentialists resemble the enthusiasts of the Klingon language. They can impress each other speaking it, but that's about it.

      Hoo

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    4. @Hoo:

      Your argument-- against the relevance of philosophical arguments-- is a philosophical argument.

      Goodness gracious you guys are stupid.

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    5. Ellis's classification of physical processes into "natural kinds" is clearly outdated. For example, he writes:

      When we get down to actions and interactions of the fundamental particles, we find that these too all seem to belong to natural kinds. The decay of a neutron seems to be a natural kind of process. It is quite distinct from any kind of process that we know about, it has an essential nature, and it is just one of many kinds of natural decay processes. Likewise, β-emission would appear to be a natural kind of radioactive decay process. It has its own specific nature, and it is categorically distinct from other known kinds of radioactive decay processes, such as α-emission or γ-emission.

      This sort of navel gazing would be considered interesting a hundred years ago. A physicist reading these ruminations today can only chuckle that Ellis treats decay of a neutron and β-emission as separate natural kinds of decay processes. Because we have known for decades that both decays reflect the same basic process: a neutron decays into a proton, an electron, and an antineutrino. β-emission merely refers to the decay of a neutron inside a nucleus. That is the essence of both processes from the standpoint of physics ca. 1950.

      From an even more fundamental perspective of weak interactions, both decays involve a conversion of a down quark into an up quark (which turns a neutron into a proton) with the emission of a W boson, which subsequently decays into an electron and an antineutrino (Feynman diagram). This is the essence of both neutron decay and of β-emission, at least according to particle physics ca. 1980.

      Again, in this case physics provides a complete picture of the processes Ellis refers to, whereas philosophy is half a century behind the times.

      Hoo

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    6. Egnor: Your argument-- against the relevance of philosophical arguments-- is a philosophical argument. Goodness gracious you guys are stupid.

      Dr. Egnor, you told us recently that ID is an attempt to refute theory of evolution on its own "mechanistic" terms. If you allow your ID friends this tactic, surely I may use philosophical arguments to demonstrate the incoherence of modern philosophers? So who is stupid?

      And how about addressing any of my critiques of Ellis? Chicken, Dr. Egnor?

      Hoo

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    7. @Hoo:

      [Again, in this case physics provides a complete picture of the processes Ellis refers to, whereas philosophy is half a century behind the times.]

      Physics provides a "complete picture" of nothing. Physics provides a picture of physics, which is subdivision of natural philosophy, which is a subdivision of philosophy.

      Metaphysics provides a picture of existence and reality that is prior to physics, in the sense that it is a map of reality, logic, essences, change, etc.

      All statements about things that exist have metaphysics of one sort or another as a pretext.

      You do metaphysics all of the time, when you make statements about science, just as you do grammar when you type sentences about science.

      You just lack the understanding of what you are really doing.

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    8. @Hoo:

      [And how about addressing any of my critiques of Ellis? Chicken, Dr. Egnor?]

      You typed some incoherent things about Ellis. You're a long way from a critique.

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    9. New Essentialism is one of the most interesting modern approaches to metaphysics and natural philosophy.
      From my reading "New Essentialism" engages in unnecessary and unjustified reification from the outset.

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    10. Dr. Egnor,

      Note the difference between you and me.

      I explained in what way Ellis's philosophical musings are unsatisfactory. He merely regurgitates some scientific knowledge, adding nothing whatsoever to our understanding of anything (be it water or nuclear decays). His take on what constitutes the essence of water is chemo-centric and is naive from the biological perspective. His "natural kinds" of nuclear decays miss half a century of important developments in particle physics.

      You, on the other hand, merely accuse me of lacking understanding and being incoherent, without ever addressing what I wrote. That's the intellectual equivalent of not doing your homework. An epic fail, in other words. An illustration to the equation egnorance = ignorance + arrogance.

      Hoo

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    11. The argument of the New Essentialists is that the contemporary view that nature consists of passive particles whose actions and interactions are explained by externally imposed laws of nature is inadequate, and that there are genuine causal powers in nature inherent to substances. It is a correction to Humean metaphysics, which understands causes as 'loose and separate' and denies formal causation.

      Ellis' argument about water has little to do with the chemistry of water. It is a thought-problem about whether substances have genuine properties that specify them and are inherent to them, or whether substances are merely propertyless particles acted externally upon by "laws of nature".

      It is a deep and crucial argument in science, especially in quantum mechanics but also in evolution.

      In quantum mechanics, are subatomic particles really merely the aggregate of smaller particles interacting by externally-imposed laws, or do subatomic particles have inherent properties that constitute exactly what they are. It is an effort to deal with the "strangeness" of subatomic physics. Heisenberg noted that the world revealed by quantum mechanics was better described using classical Aristotelian causes such as potency and act. (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09/feser_on_heisenberg_on_act_and025451.html)

      In evolution, the question of essentialism is particularly salient. Are species merely contemporary manifestations of a constantly changing process of RM + NS, or are there species-level properties of organisms (forms) to which evolution hews?

      These are real and important questions.

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    12. Michael,

      If I understand you correctly, metaphysics is a method of understanding. It's not empirical. There's nothing factual backing it up. It allows you to 'understand' the world.

      If so, I'm quite entitled to reject 'potentiality and actuality' in explaining 'motion' ( actually 'change') and the 4 causes, because they aren't useful to me.

      I've got Aquinas' 'Summa Theologica' (at least the first half of it). It's good for inducing somnolence late at night if I'm suffering from insomnia. I agree with Feser that it has hundreds of pages of argument after Aquinas lists his 5 ways. But they're usually useless argument, addressing questions such as 'does God have a body?', using quotations from scripture, attempting to reconcile contradictions between quotations in which God has a body - and hence they must be metaphors - or is just a spirit (Aquinas' belief), and which therefore must be literally true.

      Although, I do enjoy the sections in which he discusses whether angels talk to each other or to God. And if so, is their conversation local and limited. Or does it propagate widely.

      All just fiction.

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    13. @Havok:

      [From my reading "New Essentialism" engages in unnecessary and unjustified reification from the outset.]

      Perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn't. But you're going to have to make an adept literate philosophical argument to make your case. Not much "reification" of that, so far.

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    14. @bach:

      [Although, I do enjoy the sections in which he discusses whether angels talk to each other or to God.]

      Speculation about angelic chat interests me, actually.

      Whether genes are selfish, or 'survivors survive' applies to groups or to individuals or to genes, interest me less.

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    15. @bach:

      [I've got Aquinas' 'Summa Theologica' (at least the first half of it). It's good for inducing somnolence late at night if I'm suffering from insomnia. I agree with Feser that it has hundreds of pages of argument after Aquinas lists his 5 ways. But they're usually useless argument, addressing questions such as 'does God have a body?', using quotations from scripture,]

      Most classical sages don't read well in primary sources. Aristotle is a nightmare. Newton's Principia is a horrendously dry-- no one uses it to learn Newtonian physics. Copernicus De Revolutionibus will really put you to sleep, and Kepler reads like a fundamentalist sermon.

      Feser's "Aquinas" is an excellent introduction to Aquinas. Copleston is excellent as well, and a little more technical. Not that you care.

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    16. Egnor:
      Ellis' argument about water has little to do with the chemistry of water. It is a thought-problem about whether substances have genuine properties that specify them and are inherent to them, or whether substances are merely propertyless particles acted externally upon by "laws of nature".

      It is a deep and crucial argument in science, especially in quantum mechanics but also in evolution.

      In quantum mechanics, are subatomic particles really merely the aggregate of smaller particles interacting by externally-imposed laws, or do subatomic particles have inherent properties that constitute exactly what they are. It is an effort to deal with the "strangeness" of subatomic physics.


      This postmodern gibberish indicates that you have no idea about quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics can be (and has been) applied to particles that are thought to be fundamental and lacking internal structure (an electron or a photon) as well as to composite objects (atoms). Well-known examples of the latter are the quantum theories of liquid helium-4 (Bogoliubov and Feynman) and of helium-3 (Anderson).

      An electron, as far as we know, possesses no internal structure but has an intrinsic rotational angular momentum (spin). The spin of an electron cannot be explained by some sort of rotation of a finite particle: its surface would have to be moving much faster than the speed of light. Instead, the spin is viewed as a fundamental property of an electron, one of its distinguishing features.

      None of that came from philosophers. Physicists were able to put together a coherent picture of an electron (as well as other subatomic particles) on their own. Philosophers like Ellis merely ruminate on the existing knowledge provided by physicists and contribute nothing new themselves. Aristotle was much more useful in his day.

      Hoo

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    17. 'Whether genes are selfish, or 'survivors survive' applies to groups or to individuals or to genes, interest me less'.

      You reject 'survivors survive'? Does that mean you now reject teleological evolution, because that's all it reduces to, albeit by an unknown mechanism and for unknown reasons.

      Genes are real. Differential reproductive success of individuals is real (Ed Feser in this regard appears very successful with his, if I heard correctly, 6 children). Angels aren't real. Aquinas bases pages and pages of nonsense on a few quotes from scripture, in some of which he'd have to argue that the accounts are metaphorical, because God has a body, and in others, it's in letters by Paul, and it's not clear whether they're meant literally, and if so, how would Paul know?

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    18. Michael,

      Well, Feser makes a point of criticizing Richard Dawkins (over and over again) for not reading Aquinas. So I think I'm therefore justified in reading Aquinas for myself. Feser's arguments aren't actually Aquinas' arguments. If Feser wants to argue for God's existence using new arguments, then he shouldn't be using Aquinas' name. Or just label it in the tradition of Aquinas.

      In science, you tend not to go back to the primary sources, because if the work is dealing with a paradigm change the author is attempting to show why the old paradigm was wrong. Once that's done, you're better off reading more recent sources because the new paradigm is better understood and expanded and the old paradigm no longer needs to be examined.

      Philosophers and theologians tend to go back to the original sources, because to them authority is paramount.

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    19. mregnor: Perhaps it does. Perhaps it doesn't. But you're going to have to make an adept literate philosophical argument to make your case. Not much "reification" of that, so far.
      If thought since you don't tend to bother justifying your claims, I'd do the same.

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    20. Let's just get one thing clear folks: Metaphysical assumptions are foundational to any line of inquiry.
      Your own empirical positions are all based on metaphysical assumptions on physical reality.


      Consider: The metaphysical position that sensually perceived reality is, in fact, real and not illusory is followed by the secondary philosophical position that we can use certain methods of inquiry to best ascertain useful data about that reality(like Bacon's method); hence we arrive at 'science'.

      Your beloved and personified 'science' is based on metaphysical assumptions about reality, that are in turn focused on a philosophical position on the study of nature.
      To refute metaphysics is to refute the very foundations of science.
      Hence your estimative materialist position on the subject is completely self refuting.
      To reason away experiential reality is a form of madness that belongs in Plato's cave, not in academia.


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    21. REX, the position that an external reality exists, and that our senses can give us useful data regarding this does not need to rely upon a metaphysical presumption, but rather can be based upon repeated experience and accepted as a provisional, though well supported, conclusion.

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    22. CrusadeRex,

      But not all metaphysical assumptions are equal. When you state that 'sensually perceived reality' (I take it you mean 'sensory derived reality') may be illusory, you're actually right (for a change). The senses do provide illusions which are mostly correct and almost always useful. But our senses can fool us. Which is the reason science uses instruments to take measurements. To do experiments with a double blind protocol if possible, to prevent subjective wishes affecting the measurement. To repeat experiments repeatedly using different methods if possible to ensure the results are robust. To look for evidence contracting the hypothesis, not for evidence confirming it.

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    23. Havok,
      There is not escaping those foundations with out refuting your own argument.

      Bach,
      I say banana you say Musa acuminata.
      Science is not immune to the corruption you describe. It's history is riddled with with it.
      AGW is a single modern example of science designed to produce a political result.
      A more profound one would be racialism or eugenics.

      Science is just as easily manipulated as any intellectual tool. A hammer may be used to drive nails in order to build a hospital, or used to murder an enemy.
      Science is no different.
      A tool is only as good as the people wielding it. Science is only as good as the scientists who direct it; no amount of instrumentation or double blind testing can eliminate that.
      Science is NOT some divine or supernatural force.
      Scientists who work on the metaphysical presumptions that life exists and has purpose and meaning produce a very different result than those who's starting point in nihilistic and solely for the purposes of advancing their careers.
      A man who seeks the cure for a disease is of a different calibre than the man who seeks to design a more efficient biological weapon. The results of their research carries with it the fruit of their initial position.

      "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit"

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    24. There is not escaping those foundations with out refuting your own argument.
      Which foundations, REX?

      AGW is a single modern example of science designed to produce a political result.
      So you don't understand climate science, as well as not understanding biology?

      Scientists who work on the metaphysical presumptions that life exists and has purpose and meaning produce a very different result than those who's starting point in nihilistic and solely for the purposes of advancing their careers.
      Instead of assuming purpose or meaning (or their lack), wouldn't it be better to start of on the assumption that you don't know?

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    25. Havok,
      "Which foundations, REX?"
      The above described philosophical (metaphysical ones).

      "So you don't understand climate science, as well as not understanding biology?"
      It is not my understanding of climate that is at issue. Nor even the validity of the CO2 emissions trope of that political movement.
      It is an understanding of politics that is required.
      AGW has been used to implement useless and destructive policy by extremely cynical men, some of whom are self styled 'scientists'. I do not blame the climate patterns, gas molecules, sun's rays, polar orientation or the instruments used to measure them for the politics. Do you?

      'Instead of assuming purpose or meaning (or their lack), wouldn't it be better to start of on the assumption that you don't know?"
      Better than what?
      Than either option?
      If so, that is an interesting question.
      I would have to say that I don't think there is a neutral position in this matter - at least when it comes to inquiry made by living beings.
      One either considers there is an order of things that exhibit a directedness or that they are the result of a random convergence of events made possible by forces that just happen to be.
      A computer or a hammer may not consider it's purpose in doing a job. But the job assigned to it works on the presumptions (either way, metaphysical again) of the worker or user.

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    26. REX: The above described philosophical (metaphysical ones).
      Why would I want to "escape" the very basic assumptions I provided?
      How would I even try to? Sense experience seems to me to be pretty undeniable.

      AGW has been used to implement useless and destructive policy by extremely cynical men, some of whom are self styled 'scientists'.
      AGW is a scientific conclusion, and is well supported - the conclusions were not "engineered" as you imply.

      Than either option?
      Than assuming you already know the answer before you start investigating.

      I would have to say that I don't think there is a neutral position in this matter - at least when it comes to inquiry made by living beings.
      Whether or not a scientist has a definite opinion on the matter, they can hypothesis and design experiments as if they did not. This is what actual scientists try to do, and YEC's and ID'ers seem to fail at.

      One either considers there is an order of things that exhibit a directedness or that they are the result of a random convergence of events made possible by forces that just happen to be.
      Or one says "I don't know. How would I find out if there was a directedness to things? How would I know if there were not?"
      I think your claim that there is no neutral position is mistaken.

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    27. It is also this presumption of "directedness" that seems to hamper Thomists like Mr. Egnor. It's assumed that teleology is real, and the evidence is massaged, ignored, tailored to fit what the person "knows" to be the case.

      Mr. Egnor's comments on this are a good example - he see's teleology everywhere, but cannot actually point to something and demonstrate it - it's a premise that is built into his argument(s), but one which has not been established. And it is a premise that he seem unable or unwilling to question.

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    28. CrusadeRex,

      Trouble is, AGW theory hasn't led to extremely useless and destructive policy. Virtually nothing is being done. Atmospheric CO2 levels are still going up. China is burning around half the coal used each year (and as a result suffering disastrous air quality).

      Science is at least self correcting. Your preferred form of metaphysics isn't, because it isn't based on empirical facts, as Michael admits, when he insists that teleology doesn't need evidence, because it's metaphysics or philosophy, not science. Just a matter of personal preference.

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    29. Your preferred form of metaphysics isn't, because it isn't based on empirical facts, as Michael admits, when he insists that teleology doesn't need evidence, because it's metaphysics or philosophy, not science. Just a matter of personal preference.
      I think the claim that teleology doesn't need evidence is merely a convenience. If there were evidence that evolution indeed is directed, then it would be trumpeted by Michael (as we see he in fact does, with his incorrect claims regarding convergent evolution).
      Where the evidence speaks against their position is when people seem to fall back to a metaphysical "dodge", in the same way that god has gotten more vague and insubstantial as what were traditionally acts of god have gotten actual explanations that have turned out to be non-supernatural.

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  3. Coffee, check!
    Snacks, check!
    Time for some Sunday philosophy.
    Cheers, Mike.

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  4. Brian Ellis is a hilarious nutter. In Chapter 5 of his book he writes (p. 94):

    First, ideal laws often remain the fundamental ones, even when much more realistic laws are known. The perfect gas laws, for example, are stil the fundamental laws of the theory of gases, even though real gases are not perfect, and are known to behave in other ways, more or less as Van der Waals's equation of state implies. However, the theory of perfect gases remains the basic theory, and Van der Waals's equation of state is just a modification of it that is of no great theoretical interest. It is not that Van der Waals's equation is very complex. On the contrary, it is quite simple. Van der Waals's equation is not discussed very much in physics textbooks, simply because it is not very interesting.

    This excerpt will elicit an epic eye roll from any Ph.D. physicist with a solid background. It contains two serious errors.

    1. The equation of state of an ideal gas is not a fundamental law. It is merely a model that describes—approximately—a real gas in the dilute limit. It is no more fundamental than Van der Waals's equation of state. Both are models. Not laws. They used to be called laws, but that was back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were empirically deduced relations that were accurate enough for the crude measurements of the time. The equation of state of an ideal gas is derived from more basic principles, namely the postulates of statistical mechanics plus the assumption of non-interacting particles. A derived relation does not qualify as a fundamental law.

    2. Van der Waals's equation of state is, in fact, discussed in physics textbooks. Specifically in graduate-level texts on statistical physics. One can open any of the following books and find it there: Landau and Lifshitz, Kardar, Pathria, etc. The Van der Waals's equation is discussed in serious textbooks precisely because it is quite interesting: it was the first description of a phase transition and of a critical point. That is why any serious text in statistical mechanics must have a chapter covering Van der Waals's equation of state. And they do. That Ellis thinks this equation of state is not discussed in physics texts indicates that he never went above undergraduate texts.

    This guy us a joke.

    Hoo

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  5. Fascinating philosophical arguments very clearly explained!
    Excellent video, Mike.
    I specifically enjoyed his TA approach to time and timelessness in regards to the act. This is a common error of detractors of TA thought, and it was refreshing indeed to hear it voiced in such a clear and direct manner.
    Also on the matter of the 'person' of the unmoved mover he was very concise.
    There is one bone I would pick with Feser, and I have mentioned it before. That difference would have to do with animals and their souls. I won't go into detail about it again, but I don't think it makes mankind any less exceptional to give recognition to the concept that animals also have souls that exist beyond the material world.
    This is where he and I diverge.
    That said, it was a brilliant little speech. I also think he handled the questioners in a very eloquent and direct fashion.
    Thanks again for the post!

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