Monthly Archives: March 2015



This essay is presented by its author on the supposition of his virtual assignment to the debate side expressed by the title. It is prompted by the impression that published views, on the con side of the debate, typically dismiss the pro side as intellectually and philosophically trivial. Consequently, the con side has not adequately addressed the issue of debate.

The issue or thesis is that human knowledge of material reality is the inference of mathematical probability. Hahn and Wiker (Answering the New Atheism, p 10) accuse Dawkins of an irrational faith in chance when Dawkins has explicitly denied chance as a solution (The God Delusion, p 119-120). Feser (The Last Superstition) does not even discuss mathematical probability, although identifying Dawkins as his main philosophical opponent. In a few instances Feser uses the word, probability, but in the sense of human certitude, not in the mathematical sense.

The Historical Issues

There were two dichotomies with which the ancient Greek philosophers wrestled. One was the discrete and the continuous. The other was the particular and the universal.

The Discrete and the Continuous

Zeno of Elia was a proponent of the discrete to the denial of the continuous. This took the form of a discrete analysis of motion. Any linear local motion takes a finite time to proceed halfway, leaving the remainder of the motion in the same situation. If local motion were real, it would take an infinite number of finite increments of time and also of distance to complete the motion. Therefore, motion is an illusion. From this perspective, it is assumed that the discrete is real. When subjected to discrete analysis, motion, which is continuous, is seen to be untenable.

Heraclitus of Ephesus took the opposite view. Everything is always changing. It is change, which is real. Things as entities, i.e. as implicitly stable, are mental constructs. They are purely logical. It is continuous fluidity which is reality.

The Particular and the Universal

It was apparent to both Plato and his student, Aristotle, that the object of sense knowledge was particular, completely specified. In contrast, intellectual concepts were universal, not characterized by particularity, but compatible with a multitude of incompatible particulars. Plato proposed that sense knowledge of the particular was a prompt to intellectual knowledge, recalling a memory when the human soul, apart from the body, had known the universals.

Aristotle proposed that material entities or substances were composites of two principles. One was intelligible and universal, the substantial form. The other was the principle of individuation or matter, which enabled the expression of that universal form in a complete set of particulars. The human soul had the power to abstract the universal form from a phantasm presented to it by sense knowledge of the individual material entity in its particularities.

From this binary division into the two principles of substantial form and matter arose the concept of formal causality. The form of an entity made an entity to be what it was. It was the formal cause, whereas the particular material substance, as a composite of form and matter, was the effect. Thus, cause and effect were binary variables. The cause is absent, 0, or present, 1, and its effect was correspondingly binary as absent, 0, or present, 1. Thereby, the philosophy of formal causality was tied to the discrete mathematics of binary arithmetic.

The Modern Assessment of Form

This discrete and binary view of formal causality was subtly undermined in the 19th century. What led to its demise was the study of variation in biological forms. Darwin proposed that the modification of biological forms was due to the generation of variants by random mutation and their differential survival due to natural selection.

Superficially this appeared to be consonant with the distinction of one substantial form, or identity of one species, as discretely distinct from another. However, it was soon realized that the spectrum of seemingly discrete and graduated forms was, in its limit, continuous variation. One species in an evolutionary line did not represent a discretely distinct substantial form from the next substance in the spectrum. Rather, they were related by continuous degree The distinction of one biological form from another, as substantial, was an imposition of the human mind on biological reality. To save at least the jargon of Aristotelian philosophy, it could be said that the evolutionary and graduated differences among living things were accidental differences among individuals of one substantial form, namely the substantial form, living thing.

The Resultant Modern Assessment of Efficient Causality

Apart from formal causality, Aristotle also identified efficient causality, namely the transition of potency to act. This would include all change, both substantial change and local motion. In keeping with the limitations of binary arithmetic, efficient causality and its effect were identified as absent, 0, and present, 1. However, concomitant to the implication of the random mutation of forms, which renders the substantial form of living things a continuum, is the implication of mathematical probability as the outcome of an event. Just as the realization that the mutation of forms defined a continuous spectrum for formal causality, probability defines a continuous spectrum from 0 to 1, for efficient causality. Efficient causality is the probability of an outcome, the probability of an event. The outcome or event as the effect is within a continuous spectrum and proportional to its continuous efficient cause, which is mathematical probability. Thus, the inference of mathematical probability as the mode of human knowledge of material reality, frees efficient causality and its effect from the restrictions of binary arithmetic.

Causality was no longer discrete and binary. Causality was the amplitude from 0 to 1 of the continuous variable, probability. Causality had now the nuance of degree, made possible by the rejection of discrete, binary arithmetic in favor of continuity. The magnitude of the effect was directly proportional to the amplitude of the cause. The simplicity of discrete, binary arithmetic, which is so satisfying to the human mind, was replaced by what we see in nature, namely degree.

A Clearer Understanding of Chance

Hume had rejected the idea of efficient causality. He claimed that, which we propose as cause and effect, was simply a habit of association of a sequence of events. In this view, we label as an effect the next in a series of events according to what we anticipate due to our habit of association. The understanding of probability as causality having amplitude restores cause and effect, negating Hume’s denial.

Mathematical probability is the fractional concentration of an element, x, of quantity, n, in a logical set of N elements. This fraction, n/N, has a lower limit of 0 as n → 0. The limit, 0, is a non-fraction. The upper limit of the fraction, probability, n/N, as n → N is 1, a non-fraction. These non-fractional limits represent the old, binary conception of causality. Properly understood, these limits demarcate the continuum of probability, the continuum of efficient causality.

The binary definition of chance was an effect of 1, where the cause was 0. In recognizing probability as efficient causality, this does not change. No one offers chance as an explanation (The God Delusion, p 119-120). In the context of probability, however, the binary concept of chance yields to a properly nuanced understanding. Chance is directional within the continuum of probability. Causality tends toward chance as the probability tends toward 0. This is mathematically the same as improbability increasing toward 1. Consequently, Dawkins notes that a decrease in probability is moving away from chance by degree, “I want to continue demonstrating the problem which any theory of life must solve: how to escape from chance.” (The God Delusion, p120). This escape from chance by degree is explicit, “The answer is that natural selection is a cumulative process, which breaks the problem of improbability up into small pieces. Each of the small pieces is slightly improbable, but not prohibitively so.” (The God Delusion, p121)

Often in common parlance, chance and probability are synonyms: The chance or probability of heads in flipping a coin is one-half. In recognizing probability as the spectrum of efficient causality they are not synonyms. Chance is properly understood as directional movement toward the lower end of the spectrum of probability.

Mathematical Probability and Human Certitude Merge

The recognition of efficient causality as the continuum of probability introduces a distinction between mathematical chance as directional and mathematical probability as spectrum. On the other hand, this recognition merges the meaning of mathematical probability and probability in the sense of an individual’s certitude of the truth of a proposition.

In the Aristotelian discrete binary view of efficient causality, an individual’s certitude of the truth of a proposition though commonly labeled, probability, was strictly qualitative and subjective. One could of course, describe his certitude on a numerical scale, but this was simply a subjective accommodation. For example, stating a numerical degree of one’s certitude was just for the fun of it within a discussion of politics by TV pundits. In spite of adopting an arbitrary scale such as zero to ten, to express a pundit’s certitude, human certitude was still recognized as qualitative.

The recognition of efficient causality as the continuum of mathematical probability, implies that human knowledge is the inference of mathematical probability and, indeed, a matter of degree. There is no distinction between the probability of efficient causality and the degree of certitude of human knowledge. Human certitude, which was thought to be qualitative, is quantitative because human knowledge is the inference of mathematical probability.

Final Causality

Final causality or purpose is characteristic of human artifacts. However enticing as it may be, it is simply anthropomorphic to extrapolate purpose from human artifacts to material reality (The God Delusion, p 157). In the binary context of form and matter, it was quite easy to give in to the temptation. Once binary arithmetic was discarded with respect to formal and efficient causality, the temptation vanished. The continuity of probability not only erased the discrete distinctions among forms, but melded formal causality and efficient causality into the one continuous variable of probability. Final causality is identifiable in human artifacts and in a philosophy based on binary arithmetic. It serves no purpose in a philosophy based on the continuity arising from the inference of mathematical probability from material reality.

Conclusion: Regarding the Existence of God

Binary arithmetic was Aristotle’s basis for the distinction of substantial form and matter in solving the problem of the particular and the universal. The form was the intelligible principle which explained the composite, the particular substance. The composite was identified as the nature of the individual material entity. However, this implied a discrete distinction between the nature of the individual substance and its existence. One binary solution led to another binary problem: How do you explain the existence of the individual when its form, in association with matter, merely explains its nature? The Aristotelian solution lay in claiming there must be a being, outside of human experience in which there was no discrete distinction between nature and existence. That being would be perfectly integral in itself. Thereby, it would be its own formal, efficient and final causes. Its integrity would be the fix needed to amend the dichotomy of the nature and existence of the entities within our experience.

Both the problem and its solution arise out of the mindset of binary arithmetic. The problem is to explain a real, discrete distinction between nature and existence in material entities. Its solution is God, an integral whole. In contrast, the problem does not arise in the philosophy of probability, which expands philosophical understanding to permit the concept of mathematical continuity. That philosophy allows the human epistemological inference of mathematical probability. Probability and its inference from material reality, do not require a dichotomy between formal and efficient causality. In that inference, expressed as amplitude, both form and existence are integral. There is no need of a God, an external source, to bind into a whole that which is already integral in itself.

In Aristotelian philosophy, it is said that there is only a logical distinction between God’s nature and God’s existence, whereas there is a real distinction of nature and existence in created entities. The philosophy of probability avoids the dichotomies arising out of Aristotelian binary arithmetic. In the philosophy of probability there is only a logical distinction between formal and efficient causality in material things. There is no real dichotomy for a God to resolve.