EB: I also heard from Austin Cline who runs the Atheism Guide at
about.com--some of whose pieces on C. S. Lewis you recently replied to.
Austin thought your replies were poor. He thought you misrepresented his
comments on Lewis' view about QM, and that you dismissed what he wrote on
the premise that Lewis couldn't really have meant such a thing, without
explaining why not.
VR: My big complaint about a lot of people who write critically about C. S. Lewis, including Beversluis, Tattersall, Cline and, yes, Babinski, is that they will often find something Lewis says that they can pick a bone with, without asking whether it is really a point essential to Lewis's argument. Often the point with which they have a bone to pick is tendentiously interpreted, and taken as a fatal flaw, when in fact the argument can be very simply corrected so as to eliminate the problem.
I may be mistaken in attributing to him a confusion between inexplicability in principle an inexplicability so far as we know. Of course, not everyone accepts the claim that QM shows that physics is indeterministic. Carrier, for example, is a thoroughgoing determinist, last I checked. Lewis does suppose that naturalism presupposes that nature is a system of determining causes, and that if some events are undetermined, this is an attack on strict naturalism. This is certainly not the way I would describe the scientific situation, writing today. I'll freely concede that Lewis's understanding of QM was limited. So is mine. However, please notice that Lewis is very explicit about saying that he doesn't base any argument on QM, one way or the other, and that his discussion of quantum indeterminacy is merely for purposes of illustration. Can't people read what he says?
However, my central point is that whether the physical universe is deterministically non-rational at the basic level, or indeterministically non-rational at the basic level, is neither here nor there when it comes to assessing Lewis's argument. Lewis says, “If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System.” I say, "If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System, insofar as it can be explained at all and is not the product of pure chance." But admitting the possibility of pure chance doesn't help the naturalist. If, however, QM is used as an opening to bring mental qualities into the most basic level of analysis, that would be another matter, but most naturalists would disallow this move as compromising to naturalism.
Bottom line: Lewis may not have understood QM, however QM is not going to resolve the problem Lewis poses for the naturalist, unless it is construed in a way that is fatally compromising to naturalism as we know it. See the posts on the concept of physicalism on this blog.
As for his claim that I dismissed his comments on Lewis because Lewis couldn't have meant such a thing, I take it he is referring to his claim that Lewis is committed to a bizarre epistemology when he says that perceptual knowledge, such as my knowledge that there is a blue marker before my eyes, depends on reasoning. I replied that 1) this kind of epistemology has contemprary defenders, and is not as easily refuted as some might suppose, 2) Lewis's claim, which I quoted at some length, is that perceptual knowledge depends on reasoning in the sense that if sense knowledge is challenged, we have to be able to reply to the challenge by producing an argument, which doesn't imply that we perform inferences whenever we perceive physical objects, and 3) Whatever Lewis's epistemology of perception may have been he doesn't need to say that perceptual objects are inferred in order to make his argument go, because the scientific enterprise depends crucially on logical and mathematical inference.
My main point is that he points he criticizes, in both cases, the one about QM and the other about inferences and perceptual knowledge, are incidental to Lewis's real argument. Criticisms like this perhaps undermine the claim that Lewis is omniscient, but they do little else.
EB: I replied to Austin by sending him my two web articles on your views and those of C. S. Lewis (one article is linked to the other above). I also reminded Austin that you presuppose that reasoning can't work in a
naturalistic cosmos. It's inconceivable to you that reasoning works at all
without some supernatural origin or guiding force behind it.
VR: The argument certainly does not prove that it is supernatural, although I realize Lewis did use that term. The AFR is compatible with idealism and pantheism; neither of these views make a distinction between the natural and the supernatural.
EB: I assured Austin that there is nothing I haven't tried over the past three years to point out to you the insufficiency and vanity of philosophy concerning many alleged "proofs" offered as "solutions to big" questions, except to remind you time and again that you don't have an argument at all but merely a presupposition/intuition that makes you mentally immune from
recognizing the weaknesses of words and of philosophical concepts
themselves, i.e., when it comes to using them to try and "prove things
VR: Gosh. You sound like a fundamentalist Christian pontificating about "vain philosophy." Unfortnately we have decisions to make in this life about what seems reasonable to believe, and philosophical arguments can help us do just that. Atheists should not be too happy with your strictures against philosophy, since that means that their arguments against theism are equally vain. I believe in "proofs' in a limited sense, in that I believe that arguments can give us substantial reasons for accepting or rejecting world-views. It's arguments or tea-leaves, and I choose arguments. However, you will have noticed that I am sufficiently tentative about my arguments as to make some people who otherwise like my work uneasy, like Deejay, for instance.