Friday, September 22, 2017

When religion ruled the world, they called it the dark ages

This is a popular meme, and its a pile of manure. It trades on

a) identifying the entire Middle Ages are the Dark Ages

b) presuming that religion (that is, the Catholic Church) had power over everyone during that time.

First, dark meant originally dark to historical knowledge. Thus, Darkest Africa isn't dark because it was a bad place, or because the people had dark skin, it was dark because we were in the dark about it.

Second, the Catholic Church as an institution was so weak during the early middle ages that the papacy was often sold to the highest bidder. Secular political leaders exercised a great deal of power over the church, not vice versa. The Investiture Controversy, one of the great issues of the 11th and 12th Centuries, was generated when a pope decided to put a stop to the installation of bishops and other church leaders by monarch. Is this religion ruling the world?

Yes, in the early 13th Century, Pope Innocent III could tell King Henry of France to take his wife back, or else. In the 14th Century, the king of France kidnapped the pope and forced the relocation of the papal palace to Avignon.

Third, there was considerable technological advance throughout the Middle Ages, as recounted here. 
The university system was developed in medieval times, and the university system is the reason why a global scientific community developed. That is why science didn't get off the ground in ancient Greece, but did get off the ground in Christian Europe.

If assisted suicide is legalized, will vlunerable people be less protected

I can understand the case for legalizing assisted suicide. I can. But will suicide be put forward as the preferable option not to save those who are dying from suffering, but for the convenience of the rest of us? It is easy to imagine, for example, insurance companies refusing payment for end of life care because, well, you had the right to commit suicide, and if you don't avail yourself of that, we shouldn't have to make any more payments.

(My trust in insurance companies is extremely limited).

Margaret Battin did a study where she claimed that vulnerable persons are not at risk in assisted suicide. But not everyone is convinced.

Moreland's Defense of Dualism


Lydia McGrew on the Naturalistic Induction

The naturalistic induction goes something like this:

Science has made and continues to make such great progress throughout history, gradually whittling away at the set of things that were previously not scientifically understood, that whatever it is that you are presently bringing forth as evidence against naturalism, I am sure that science will eventually get to that in time and explain it, as well, as entirely the product of natural causes.

McGrew is not impressed. 

Are we conquering nature?

Or is nature conquering us?

HT: Helen Flaherty-Hammond.

From Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Was there a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam? I doubt it

In assessing whether the war in Iraq was justified, some argue that there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and therefore there was a 9/11 justification of the war. So far as I have been able to tell, the evidence for that is not very good. But if you think otherwise, feel free to provide some counter-argumentation.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Outsider Test for Human Rights, or OTHR

We might ask what evidence there is that rights exist. You have a feeling that everyone ought to be treated equally. Isn't that just your social conditioning? If you grew up in India, and were raised to believe that people occupy different positions in the caste system based on the Law of Karma, wouldn't you think that the idea that everyone was created (or evolved?) equal was slightly ridiculous?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Why physicalism isn't true

My argument is an attempt to show, not assume, that minds exist first, on the grounds that if they don't exist first, they cannot emerge. Mental states have to be a complexity-fact about the physical world if physicalism is true. But let's take the claim that "I am Victor Reppert" and the claim "I am Hugo Pelland." It seems perfectly conceivable that there is a world physically identical to this one in which you are me and I am you. If you say that such a world is impossible, you need to prove it, since it is conceivable. There is nothing about the physical world that guarantees that I will be me and you will be you. So physicalism cannot be true.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Exchange with Keith Parsons on the mind

KP: Victor,
I would like to resume this conversation after this long gap. I was out of my office for the eclipse (wonderful!) and for the hurricane (horrific!).
The meaning of "physical" I am presuming is simply the physical universe as it is presently understood by fundamental physics. There is nothing in postulating the physical realization of the mental that requires new laws or "emergence" in any mysterious sense. Why should it? Why is thinking in principle any different from any other physical activity? Why can it not be something we do with our brains just as we sing or dance with our physical components? Does a brain have mental properties? No. Just as a larynx does not have musical properties while it is engaged in the act of singing, so brains do not have mental properties when engaged in the act of thinking. The sensation of redness, for instance, is an adverbial property describing how I see something. I see "redly." It is not a property of my brain or the physical components of my brain. Perceiving, redly or otherwise, is something I accomplish with my brain. The redness pertains to the doing, not the doer. The whole point of realization physicalism is that the mental is an accomplishment or performance, just as singing is a performance. The musicality is in the performance, not the hardware that does the performing. A mind is defined functionally as whatever it is that performs mental actions such as thinking, feeling, imagining, etc. For human beings the brain is the mind since it is what performs the mental functions for us.
Frankly, your objections puzzle me. I do not see how they are relevant. You seem to be drawing conclusions not implied by anything I have said or by anything entailed by what I have said. Once again, I cannot help but get the impression that what is operating here is a highly recalcitrant intuition or set of intuitions that I simply reject. I do not see "the mental" as a set of properties mutually excluded by "the physical" any more than than I see "the musical" as being excluded by "the physical." Being musical is something that (some) physical things can do, as is being logical.
Or maybe I am the one badly confused. If so, please be so kind as to point out exactly why and how.

VR: The musicality, I am afraid, is a function of its connection to minds. That is how, in the first place, modern physics avoided the claim that their understanding of the world removed everything interesting from it. Heat is the mean kinetic energy of gases. But that has nothing to do with the feeling of hotness. So what is the feeling of hotness? It is in your mind. A physical description of Sam Cooke's singing of "Wonderful World" doesn't, on the face of things, entail that it sounds a lot better to me than today's gangsta rap, but it does sound a whole lot better.
What makes something singing as opposed to sound? It is the intentions of the singer and the understanding of the listener that makes the difference. It is the same as the economic and the physical.
Consider heat. From the physical side, heat is the mean kinetic energy of gases. But what that tells you nothing about the feeling of heat, which can make you want to stay inside, or fear like virtually nothing else (if you live in the Phoenix area) the breakdown of your air conditioning system. That's not in the physics, because it was "siphoned off" to the mind. Base-level physics leaves out the mental. The sound waves that make up the sound of Sam Cooke's voice are physical, and can be described without any reference to mental states. But my understanding and appreciation of the music requires a mind, and part of my appreciation involves my appreciation of the minds of the singer and the songwriter.
Physical phenomena in the world can be of two types. One type of physical phenomenon are mind-independent realities, things that would be the way they are whether or not there minds reacting with them. They have certain characteristics which are described by basic physics, or by "grouping" A planet's going around the sun is not mind-dependent. But my computer program that is running a chess program isn't playing chess in and of itself, it is playing chess relative to programmers and players who recognize it as such. I happen to have the Komodo chess program running on my computer as we speak. It is a far better chessplayer than I am. But its strength as a player exists as an extension of the playing and programming abilities of human beings with minds. Its output, in and of itself, is not playing chess in and of itself. When I play chess, I play chess from my own perspective. Komodo doesn't play chess from its own perspective. When it clobbers me, it does so from my perspective, not its.
Adverbs modify verbs, and verbs describe what persons, places, and things do. And what physical things do has to be in accordance with physical, not logical, law.
KP: I do not see "the mental" as a set of properties mutually excluded by "the physical" any more than than I see "the musical" as being excluded by "the physical." Being musical is something that (some) physical things can do, as is being logical.
VR: The musical is mind-dependent, and a purely physicalist world, there would be no music, even if the sound waves identical to those coming over my radio when "Wonderful World" comes on.
To be logical is not merely to think in accordance with reason, it is to think "from reason." Evidence and reason have to actually make a difference in what we think. Otherwise, we are not reasoning. The brain states not only have to "realize" a rational process, they have to be what they are because of the relevant logical relationships. Those logical relationships have to make a difference. But since logical relationships do not have particular locations in space and time, and since they make a difference in what we think, the causal closure of the physical has to be thrown out, or else the physical is mental at the basic level. This is what Nagel has been arguing, and orthodox naturalists have been reading him out of their camp for so arguing.

Reply from Keith Parsons


                Thanks for checking in! We are OK. My immediate neighborhood did not flood, though areas less than a mile from me were completely inundated. The Marines were using huge amphibious vehicles to rescue people from their roofs. Fifty inches of rain in three days defies comprehension. The university just reopened today, so this is the first I could get back to my e-mail. Thanks much for checking in!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Keith Parsons

Keith Parsons, a longtime personal friend of some 40 years, and teaches at the University of Houston at Clear Lake. Because of Harvey, I am concerned, since he has not responded to my e-mail. Jeff Lowder thinks he is in a shelter somewhere without internet access.

He may be an atheist, but he is in my prayers.

Reply to Johnson on nonmental reasoning

Johnson also says I missed the relevance of non-mental forms of reasoning.38 He says that “His argument explicitly claims that purely physical, nonmental processes—the kind he says naturalism insists are ultimately explanatory—cannot reliably produce true beliefs.”39 I wish he had quoted me on this, because I can’t find a statement to that effect in my own essays myself.  I replied that what is needed for my argument is that we sometimes go through explicit mental reasoning processes, and that this is critical for the kind of knowledge on which naturalism is grounded. Perhaps I did not make that as clear as I might have in the debate, but that is the point I want to make. There can be noninferential forms of knowledge, such as my direct awareness that I am in front of a computer screen right now. As a long-time, though intermittent, tournament chessplayer, I can agree with Kasparov that not every step in a chessplayer’s mind is an explicit rational inference, and this is even more the case in something like basketball. If LeBron were to rely on explicit reasoning to decide whether to shoot or pass the ball to Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers would never get into the NBA playoffs, much less reach the Finals. Whether these processes are purely physical or not probably depends upon your theory of mind, but we can come to some true beliefs without explicit, premise-to-conclusion reasoning. He also mentions computers, but he misses my central point that computers are by necessity products of intelligent design, and their reasoning processes are dependent upon the thoughts of their builders, programmers and users. The template of meaning that makes a computer’s process mean rook to f6 can only exist if there are humans who invest the computer’s activity with the meanings associated with chess. Now, once we do that, certainly the computer can slaughter me in a chess game. But what computers have is what philosophers call derived intentionality, not original intentionality. 

Bob Prokop's Eclipse Experience

The first comment here.