Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Question for Tom Woods

Tom Woods recently put out a podcast: No, You're Not a Dummy For Believing in God. It is generally not the type of podcast I would listen to. I believe that man's mind does not have the ability to understand the full nature of how the universe was created. But Michael Edelstein asked to put Tom's podcast up for discussion on the agenda for the next Circle Rothbard here in the People's Republic, and so I listened to it.

What Tom did is discuss the Thomas Aquinas five-way proof of the existence of God (See The clip below). Without attempting to give Tom's podcast hours of thought, my view is that I generally agree with regard to the first mover principle that Tom discusses. My problem is that I think that is as far as the mind can go in understanding the nature of the first mover.

I believe Tom is a practicing Catholic, so I would like to put this question to Tom: How do you know the first mover is backing the Catholic faith? How can you make the jump from recognizing the necessity of a first mover and jumping to any organized religion or that we should think of the first mover in terms closely reflecting the nature of man in any way.

I am not asking these questions because I think I have an answer one way or another, but I am curious as to the argument that takes the jump from first mover to an organized religion.




  1. I have a great deal of respect for Tom Woods. In fact, he is one of my favorite people in the liberty movement. I also have no problems whatsoever with his personal beliefs and faith, as it plays no role in his arguments and work to advance liberty.

    With that said, I find his Christian apologetics rather silly. If you are going to believe in God, fine. Just say you have faith and leave it at that. As Kierkegaard explained, faith is independent of reason, and cannot be argued with ( But trying to justify God, and especially a particular type of God, with logical arguments is bound to fail. None of the arguments put forth over the long history of apologetics have been convincing, as can be seen in the fact that in the philosophy of mind no one takes the Thomists seriously. Does Tom think there have been no developments in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of science in the last 700 years? Why bring up arguments from the 1300s as if no one has thought about these issues since?

    Just really quickly, Tom has not laid out a very convincing case for a first mover. For example, why couldn't there be an infinite regress? Tom just waves it away, but it remains a viable option. Or, why can't there be closed loops of efficient causation? As a very simple example, why can't A cause B to actualize while B causes A to actualize? Some have argued that this is the very definition of an organism. The possibilities here are endless. Tom also just waves away the possibility of multiple independent first movers, but I think this also remains a viable option.

    Another example is the argument that God must be immaterial. How can an immaterial being effect material change? This implies dualism (, which as been debunked ad nauseam in philosophy over the last couple of hundred years and no one in philosophy of mind. Functionalism reigns supreme. Ultimately, if one digs deep enough, one discovers that only functionalism and compatibilism are truly consistent with the axiom of human action, for a choice without constraints is no choice at all.

    1. The issue I have with atheists is that while belief in God is clearly irrational, it is equally irrational to believe there is no God. There is no empirical evidence to prove God exists, but there is no proof he does not either. If one wants to stay rational, they must remain skeptical to any conclusions in this debate.

    2. If A causes B to actualize, A must have pre-existed B. If that is the case, then B cannot have pre-existed A, and thus cannot have caused A to exist. The logic of this is no different than saying that a thing cannot cause itself to exist since it can't cause anything prior to its own existence. Priority here can mean other than just temporal-causal.

    3. "As Kierkegaard explained, faith is independent of reason ..."

      "The issue I have with atheists is that while belief in God is clearly irrational ..."

      It's amusing that both of you fail to either acknowledge or recognize that reason is itself fundamentally dependent upon faith in practice. A study of the philosophical foundations of logic and an attempt to uncover the reason why mathematics appears to be language of nature will expose you to the necessity (currently) of grounding reason (when applied to propositions about the real world) in faith. There is no way to appeal to axiomatic truths like is possible in mathematics, and there is no fundamental reason why aspects like internal consistency or uniformity of basis need to be necessary attributes of the real world. These aspects are accepted upon faith. The very justification for the entire program of Science is grounded in faith. There is no reason why the world *has* to be amenable to analysis.

      I'm not defending Tom Woods here at all, just the notion of Faith itself.

    4. Jesse - I'm not an atheist but I also don't believe it's up to atheist's to prove he doesn't exist. Objectively speaking, the burden does not rest on anyone to prove a negative.

    5. Kyle, the question of whether or not God exists is fundamentally a question of the origins of existence. Logically, there are only two options for how the universe and everything in it came to be. Either something had to be created out of nothing, or something had to exist in perpetuity. Both answers defy what empirical evidence tells us is possible. From our observations of the universe, nothing lasts in perpetuity, and nothing can be created from nothing. Thus, asserting that God doesn't exist (or does exist) is not supported by empirical evidence, and thus irrational.

    6. There is more to reason than empirical evidence. The Austrian School of economics believes that this is the case. There are certain truths that can be inferred without empirical tests. Mathematics, I would argue, is another prime example. It is known a priori. The question of metaphysical arguments, of course, is a separate question or methodology. But if such arguments for the existence of God don’t work, I don’t think it is because those arguments are not akin to those found in the “hard” sciences of physics and chemistry.

    7. There is a revival of neo-Aristotelian metaphysics:

      It is a living tradition, not something that stopped developing after Aristotle.

      And Aquinas is not a “dualist” in the philosophy of mind, at least NOT AS commonly understanding akin to Rene Descartes.

      Here’s another presentation of the same argument that Woods give, from a different angle, from Feser:

  2. I came away with the same thought after listening to this podcast. However, I felt he probably spent about as little time he could explaining just these basic concepts that I had never been introduced to, so I presumed that his explanation on Catholicism would be several times longer. That being said, I would like to see a response, even if just a summary that doesn't go into the same detail.

  3. It was an interesting show. I'm just beginning to explore this stuff. Along the same lines, "Why I Choose to Believe the Bible" by Voddie Bauchum (who endorsed Ron in 2012) is perhaps the most interesting thing I've listened to: (

  4. I went to Mass weekly for decades. I raised my two children as Catholics, through Confirmation. I was married in the Catholic church, and my wife converted to Catholicism. I am about as Catholic as you can get, within reason.

    Once I examined the underlying tenets -- e.g., how the Roman Empire joined with the church at the Council of Nice, which books were excluded from the Biblical canon -- I stopped attending Mass.

    I am a firm believer in God, but have reached that through examining testimony from near-death experiences -- 'Proof of Heaven' by a Harvard-trained neurosurgeon -- reincarnation -- e.g., 'Life Before Life' by a team of psychiatrists at the University of Virginia -- and the underlying beauty (by design, I think) of physics -- e.g., 'The Holographic Universe.' Also, material on Edgar Cayce, e.g., 'Many Mansions', is fascinating, and convincing to me.

    I always found Aquinas really hard to follow and believe; his logic seemed really stretched and reaching.

  5. I think there was a universal religion long ago. Read 'Fingerprints of the Gods' for a convincing recitation of the physical evidence, all around the world.

    I think the Catholic Church, and other major religions today, hijacked that universal religion, shutting down direct access to God, substituting Church and State in a position of power. It is easy to become suspicious of the Catholic Church, given its central role in child abuse scandals (read 'The Franklin Cover-Up'). And, right in front of our nose, the Catholic Church has strange symbols: why in the world is there a phallic symbol (Egyptian Obelisk) in the middle of St. Peter's Square? Why in the world does the Pope have a pine cone on his staff and why in the world does the Church have a giant pine cone statue (Court of the Pine Cone)? Hint: the pine cone is the symbol of the pineal gland, which, with practice, yields a 'sixth sense.'

    And, to me, the most important element of the universal religion that is suppressed by the Church and other major religions of today is that concerning sex: ordinary, draining, procreative orgasmic sex vs. sacramental, binding, regenerative non-orgasmic sex (read 'Cupid's Poisoned Arrow' and see Funny, regenerative, non-orgasmic sex may have been practiced by Catholic priests and nuns, including St. Thomas, long, long ago.

    Just food for thought!!

  6. I found this podcast fascinating. I took several philosophy courses in college which covered the major arguments for and against the existence of God and they never touched on the Aristotelian and Thomistic arguments Tom introduced in the podcast. After I heard this I bought the book Tom recommends, "The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism" by Edward Feser. It goes into this argument and two other of Aquinas's five ways in much more depth and addresses major critics as well as explaining how the arguments have been misinterpreted over the centuries. I'm not all the way through it yet but I don't think it connects the unmoved mover argument to organized religion, however it does address a lot of what Ed Ucation brought up. Fair warning, Feser is very knowledge about religious philosophy but clearly not a Rothbardian.

  7. Interesting discussion. It is certainly true that the existence of God is not provable, just as you cannot prove that God does not exist. It all comes down, I think, to human experience, which makes it possible for humans to believe in things beyond proof. For me it has meant an expansion of the universe beyond the merely physical. I will admit that at my very core I want to believe I am immortal, that death is not the end of who I am. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. Or perhaps it gives me the ability to give more of myself without fear.

  8. Billions of years ago the fish with the first proto-eye saw more than anyone had every seen. All he had was a cluster of specialized cells that indicated the presence of light above a certain threshold. He could nor distinguish intensity, shape, color or source. He was lightyears ahead of any other creature, but he was still only catching glimpses of what was going on around him. Humans seek Divinity like that fish seeks the light source.

  9. Bob, I appreciate your question. The honest answer, at least as I understand it (and I am an amateur, remember), is that the first mover argument can't lead to a particular god, though in the second part of the discussion I tried to show that certain gods or types of gods can be definitively ruled out. Natural theology, which is what this is, can be a propaedeutic to faith, but that's as far as it can take you. In fact, a number of Protestants wrote to discourage me from relying on natural theology for this very reason.

    To the commenter who is aghast that I would raise an argument from a 13th-century thinker as if there hadn't been "progress" since then, this is pretty much the same argument one would make against Mises, Rothbard, etc., who think we can find wisdom in earlier economists. As I noted in the podcast, the arguments that have been put forth against the traditional proofs are very weak. This is in fact why Feser, who had become an atheist, became a Catholic again. He'd been told all the old arguments were stupid and long refuted, but when he saw that the alleged refutations were unfailingly unpersuasive, he looked at the proofs again and found them to be sound.

    Not every objection can be replied to in a 30-minute episode, but if you take a look at Feser's books and blog, you'll find a whole tradition of thought that is quite familiar with modern so-called advances and sticks by St. Thomas.