Thursday, November 10, 2005

Contra Babinski

ED: I KNOW that both Christians and atheists have been unable to convince each other of the validity of each of their PHILOSOPHICAL proofs that they have sought to prove to one another. (Which is not to deny that occasionaly someone switches sides, most notably, Antony Flew, though Flew admitted to Richard Carrier that he had not been able to keep up with the debate or the literature concerning the topic of a fine-tuned cosmos. Flew is what, in his 80s? If Flew's change of mind provides substantiation it may be for my own view, namely that philosophy doesn't have the kind of proofs, in his case proof of negative atheism, that he formerly thought it did.)

VR: I've made very clear what I think "proofs" can do, and what they can't. My argument is that that the presence of mind makes sense if we assume that reason is in some sense fundamental to the univese, but it does not make sense as an evolutionary by-product. Naturalistic analyses of mind make conceptual "slides" which allow them to analyze mind in terms of non-mental matter. I have repeatedly made very clear claims about the scope and limits of philosophical arguments. I even devoted an entire chapter of my book to it. Do you balieve that there can be evidence or reason to be, or not be a theist? If so, you believe in the sorts of "proofs" that I am talking about. If not, why should there even be any discussion on this subject at all?

People make profound commitments to world views. They bet their lives on them. Because decisions have to be made, one way or the other, to live according to one world-view or another, we need to do the best we can to assess the evidence.

EB: It also seems obvious that "God" a "Designer" (or even "the Ideal") are great words to use whenever a philosopher faces a puzzling question. Those philosophers who use the word "God" as an explanation seem quite sure they have "explained" a puzzling question in philosophy. (I'm NOT asserting that naturalists have definitve answers to all the puzzling questions either.) But simply invoking the word, "God," amounts to "explaining" one puzzling question by invoking an even greater puzzle. I am criticizing the way philosophy claims to "answer" big questions via philosophical "big word" talk.

VR: I devoted an entire chapter to this issue as well. The argument from reason maintains that reason of humans only makes sense in a world in which reason is fundamental to that universe. One way to cash this out is in terms of theism. My point is that intentional explanations really do explain, and in many cases intentional explanations explain better than nonintentional ones. If you ask why I go to church, neurophysiology is not going to answer the question as well as knowing that I am a Christian who believes in corporate worship. Some explanations hae to be fundamental, and while some world-views allow mental states to be on the basic level others (naturalistic ones do nor). If we can't go on to explain intentional states in terms of non-intentional states, we still have explanations.

EB: I could of course go into detail concerning your own attempts to prove philosophically that naturalism is self-contradictory.

VR: We've already started to go wrong here. I do not say that naturalism is self-contradictory. Lewis changed the title of his third chapter of Miracles. A simple exercise for you, Ed. State my arguments correctly. Distinguish between what i do say and what I do not say.

EB: Pshaw. Nothing is self-contradictory in philosophy, not when it comes to the big questions. If Alvin Plantinga can explain how evil and pain arose, beginning with nothing but a perfectly good God who created an entire cosmos directly, nothing but a perfectly good God who created an entire cosmos directly, then surely nothing's inexplicable.

Vr: So now you go from misrepresenting me to misrepreseting Plantinga. Plantinga has said over and over he cannot explain why there is suffering.

EB: Likewise with the naturalist and the human brain-mind. In your argument you harp on molecules, atoms and that they know no reason. No kidding. Rocks don't appear to do much either, but erode or melt, but if you put those same atoms together in just the right way, you can get a computer and satellite TV network, out of mere rocks. Fact is the brain is a neurochemical organ capable of storing vast amounts of information. The brain-mind takes in the world around it via sensations and socialization. (Lacking socialization, people would just grunt). Taking in all of that data, storing data, informatino about consequences, causes and effects, similarities and differences, I don't see how the human brain-mind could AVOID discovering things that work compared with things that don't, and then generalizing, i.e., devising general rules that also work, rules of reasoning. As for those atoms, and molecules, and electrochemical impulses in the mind, they are being moved around due to the overall dynamics of the system, how it evolved, how it developed in its youth, and based on everything that person has learned in their lifetimes. Taking all of that in, it can't help evolving a reasoning ability. That is naturalism if you believe it. It's not self-contradictory philosophically.

VR: So you are saying that we have philosophical proof of materialism, on the basis of scientific evidence! So much for not believeing in philosophical proofs; I guess that just applies to Christians. Anyway, it strikes me as crazy to suppose that reason just had to evolve, and I wonder if even most sober naturalists would make such a claim. Lots of creatures, after all, survive with out reasonoing.

Whether this story is logically coherent and conceptually clear is another matter of course.

EB: t may seem impossible to those who are dualists like yourself and like to argue otherwise, but there are also CHRISTIAN mind-brain monistic naturalists. As I said, go figure. Or at least try to convince those folks that your view is proven superior by your philosophical arguments. You needn't even argue with skeptics or atheistic naturalists, just argue with your fellow Christians who have studies the brain and philosophy and come to a different conclusion than you have concering the brain-mind question. One such Christian brain-mind naturalist has a debate essay with a Christian brain-mind dualist in the book of such essays that was published by the Society of Christian Philosophers.

VR: A lot "materialist" views held by Christians in the philosophy of mind are really non-standard versions of materialism that would not be considered acceptably materialist by people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. In fact, on some definitions of materialism, I come out as a materialist. Some are more orthodox materialists, however. But so what. I already said I fully expect my arguments will not convinced everyone, in fact I don't even hold that everyone should be convinced by my arguments. If you think otherwise, you haven't read me very carefully.

EB: Another thing I claim to KNOW is that tales of miracles and Near Death Experiences are far from consistent. With such inconsistancy concerning first hand anecdotal data about the afterlife and/or first hand anecdotal data about the divine, I tend to DOUBT that holding specific beliefs about the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, etc. are what life is all about.

VR: Non sequitur.

VR: A lot of people who have corresponded with me have told me that you must have a very intense hostility to evangelical Christianity. It isn't a matter of what you have read and haven't read. You can read and read and read, but if you can't exposit an opponent's position well enough to be recognizable by the person who holds that position, then I see a problem.

Of course, I'm critical of McDowell; my discussion of him in my book is pretty critical. Of oourse Lewis was not omniscient. I'm pretty clear about that, too. I have been interested in following the trail when I thought Lewis was on the right track.

I tend to get a little frustrated when I am constantly having to correct misunderstandings of what I have said. When that happens, I suspect that soemone is looking at me and figuring out what I must have said since I am in such and such a camp, rather than reading me and finding out what I did say.

1 comment:

Edward T. Babinski said...

All accusations of my "intense hostility" aside. I have stated the philosophical flaws in your "argument from reason," which amounts to yet another version of an argument from mere incredulity.

In fact there might very well need to be another category of "logical fallacy" added to the books in this case, that of assuming that once you start with atoms (viz., energy/matter), nothing of any more highly and widely organized consequence, no surprises as a result of higher and wider organization, can follow from energy/matter.

It is one philosopher's credulity set against another, the theist's and the non-theist's. And there are categories inbetween as well, i.e., pantheists, panentheists, and people who believe in life after death and those who don't in all such categories. (One must recall that there is evidence that early pagans and Hebrews believed in the supernatural, even in a personal god(s), but also often believed in a very thin afterlife if at all, a hades or sheol to which everyone was relegated as mere eternal "shades.")

My view concerning such questions is that we don't know enough to answer them, and that of all the means of understanding such questions are our disposal, philosophy is the least successful at "answering" them.

The wisdom of philosophers in this respect is about as cloudly as that of theologians of all the world's different religions when it comes to proving ultimate truths to other theologians.