Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dialogue with Carrier Part I

Last November, I sent the version of my response to Carrier that appears on this blog to him, and he was kind enough to send a set of responses back. I am going to put some of his discussions here and give my response to him, not so much with the intent of just blowing them out of the water, but in the hopes of getting behind the arguments to get a feel for the source of our differences, and also with the intention of clearing aside whatever misunderstanding there might be so that the real intellectual clash between the two of us can be made clear.

The first area that I want to call attention to is his discussion of Pyrrhonian skepticism. In his review he argued that even if I succeed in showing that naturalism cannot be true because it conflicts with the possibility of rational inference, but that on a theistic world view rational inference is accounted for, this is still not a complete case because after all it is possible to reject theism and naturalism in favor of Pyrrhonian skepticism. And later on in the review he wonders why I attempt to refute naturalism and not Taoism. The simple and direct answer is that my book is designed to argue that theism is preferable to naturalism on the grounds that theism provides a better account of rational inference, and that it is it. The book is not designed to be a complete case for theism; it defends an argument that was not a complete case for theism in the mind of its primary founding father, C. S. Lewis, who was persuaded to accept Idealism as opposed to (naturalistic) realism by the argument when it was presented to him by Owen Barfield, but did not become a theist until later, and did not become a Christian until still after that. Once we fumigate that naturalist's house, those in it may go to various places. Some may go to the house of theism. At least I hope! But the it's not the burden of the book to make the case for theism vis-a-vis other non-naturalistic world views.

However, some further remarks by Carrier are interesting, which show what is behind the fact that he is complaining about my procedure.

RC: The only reason an AfR proponent needs to do more than that is that he purports to find empirical evidence against the existence of rational inferences. That creates the presumption that there are none. You can't just "assume" that there are if the evidence implies that they are not. Do you see the problem here? Once you get yourself in that position (and only you do--I do not accept that there is evidence against rational inferences, so I never end up in the position of presuming that there are none), the only logically valid way to dig yourself out of it again is to present evidence for the existence of rational inferences, evidence that is not compatible with naturalism (because if the only evidence you have is naturalistic, then you are arguing that naturalism explains rational inferences). And that is the only formally valid way to get from the AFR to any worldview, be it theism or any other. That is not my opinion. It is a fact of formal logic. Don't you agree?

VR: I must confess to a certain amount of puzzlement in understanding this passage. Why in the world does he think that I present an argument against the existence of rational inferences. Indeed, it's the point of my distinction between Skpetical Threat Arguments and Best Explanation Arguments that the AFR should not be in the business of presenting skeptical arguments against rational inference and then arguing that the theist, but not the naturalist, can refute those arguments. Carrier seems to acknowledge this in his Infidels critique when he says

RC: To be fair, Reppert does declare that he will not advance the AfR as a Skeptical Threat argument, based on a brief discussion of the problems such a form of argument presents, and this could count as an attempt to argue "against" PS, though indirectly and incompletely. At any rate, Reppert declares that his AfR will not call "into question the validity of human reasoning" but rather "assum[es] that validity as an established fact" (70), although the argument he presents does not formally vindicate this assertion. We can thus only assume that Reppert rejects PS as an alternative based on some vaguely defined or defended "established facts" that remove it from reasonable consideration. In that I think he is correct, but he has not done the work that would be needed to secure such a position for someone who actually trusts the AfR as he has defined it.

VR: But can't I say that belief in rational inferences is "properly basic?" Can't I just point out the disastrous epistemic consequences of not believing in rational inferences? Let's just take mathematical inferences as a proper subset of rational inferences. If there are no rational inferences, then there are no mathematical inferences. And if there are no mathematical inferences, then no one ever does science, at least as I understand science. All sorts of overpaid people think they are scientists, but there is really no such thing.

All of this points to what I think is a critical area of disagreement between Carrier and myself; Carrier seems to subscribe to a very strong form of epistemological foundationalism that I reject. For his there is a fact of the matter as to whether some claim or other rests upon a foundation, and this does not vary from person to person. If something is properly basic, or properly grounded, for one person, it must be properly basic or properly grounded for everyone. There is a set of propositions that are properly basic, and other beliefs are justified just in case they are supported by those beliefs. This is the thrust of Descartes' project, why he developed those conjectures about Satan controlling his mind, so that he could find those properly basic beliefs and build his system up from there. The traditional empiricist counter-move is disallow Descartes' doubts about experience but employ the same project, but I think this project also fails, as can be seen in the philosophy of Hume. I think people should reason, but they should reason from within their own belief systems and abandon the beliefs against which there is good evidence. So different people start from different places, but we can all think together toward the common goal of consensus, even though that "Omega point" seems pretty far in the distance on a lot of issues. If Carrier thinks he has an epistemological theory that will solve the problems that Descartes and his rationalist and empiricist successors failed to solve, I would like to see what it is.

Carrier does make a couple of further interesting (though puzzling) points when he says

RC: On a different level (and don't confuse this with what I have already said), it does not follow that if therre are no rational inferences, then there is no point in arguing. This presumes that the only effective argument is a rational one, which of course anyone ought to know is clearly not true even if there is such a think as rational argument. Any witness of recent American politics can see that people are routinely persauded by irrational arguments (on both sides). Rather, if there is no such think as rational arguments, then the issue becomes one of cataloguing the arguments that actually do exist by their effectiveness in persuading. But there will be such a list, and thus a point to arguing, even if "rational arguments" is not on that list. Needless to say, you and I both agree that it is on that list. But my previous point has been that only you have offered evidence that it is not. So you have to plug it up if you want that water to stop draining out. That's all I'm saying here.

VR: Again, I don't see how anything I have written raises doubts about the existence of rational inferences, whose existence I take to be properly basic, and justified by arguments concerning the epistemic consequences of denying that there are rational inferences. I am at some pains to construct my arguments in such a way as not to raise doubts about the existence of rational inferences; that's one of the most important trademarks of my versions of the AFR. But if there are no rational inferences, then the whole process of evaluating arguments, which is what Carrier and I are both doing, makes no sense. Without the use of rational inference, we would have no way of using critieria to determine which arguments are persuasive and which are not.

Monokroussos on Mormonism

Chess blogger Dennis Monokroussos provides the following resource on Mormonism:

On LDS stuff, do you have Beckwith, Mosser and Owen's _The New Mormon Challenge_? I'm sure you'd find that a useful tool in your box. Also, there's a nifty little video you can find online called "DNA and the Book of Mormon" you might enjoy and refer to your LDS friends. You can find that here. (viewing online is an option), and I wrote a review for a friend's website, which you can read here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Resource page for the argument from reason

This is a resource page for Lewis and the argument from reason that you might find helpful.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A new intro to the philosophy of mind

This new book by Edward Feser looks interesting, as it is an introductory book on the philosophy of mind that takes dualism seriously. It would be a nice contrast to Paul Churchland's Matter and Consciousness, which for a long while has been a popular introductory text in the philosophy of mind.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

On the Grab Bag

Joshua Frear, of Pennsylvania, writes the following commentary about C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea on his blog. His comments are in red.

Reppert and CS Lewis: The "Grab bag" and Reduction

I read Victor Reppert's book, C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea over break. As Lewis and his writings continually inspire and challenge me, it was very cool to read a book attempting to formalize Lewis's argument from reason. The gist of the book is that Lewis's argument (which I will describe in a second) is actually a good analytical philosophical argument. Lewis argued in the 3rd chapter of Miracles something like this:1. Naturalism tells me that my brain is no more than an aggregate of molecules interacting according to nonrational causes.2. If the thoughts in my brain are caused by nonrational causes, then I have no reason to trust their rationality.3. Thus, if naturalism is true, then I have no reason to trust my thought process that informed me it is true.While I enjoyed Reppert's attempts to formalize Lewis, it felt unsatisfying. Reppert offers 7(!) different formulations. My initial reaction was that these werenothing more than a "grab bag" of the traditional objections to reductive naturalism.However, on reflection, I realized that this "grab bag" is actually not to be despised. Assuming that the world is structured the way Lewis thought it was, a reductive program would explain most phenomena, but not all. There would be various unexplainable phenomena scattered around, troubling us. That is indeed what we see. While I am still dubious of the stylistic value of offering 7 equally competing formulations, I respect the "grab bag" much more now.

Joshua: Yes, there were difficulties with the idea of subdividing Lewis's argument to this extent. But I believe that Lewis's line of argument really subdivides into this many strands of argument, and unless you separate them, the different strands of argument will start tripping over one another. There are several aspects to the rational inferences that we all rely on to know what we (naturalist or not) think we know, and all of these are, in my view deeply problematic for the naturalist. On the other hand, I probably didn't get to develop any one line of argument as well as I would have liked, and some, like the argument from truth, are presented very sketchily indeed. But if all of this is worth its salt, then I am neither going to be the first or the last person to work on these arguments, and further development is both possible and forthcoming. I have some new things to say in my proto-response to Carrier here. In addition, Bill Vallicella has done some things with the argument from truth here and here, though we have yet to see his full version of the argument. See also his discussion of logical laws here, here, and here.

But I do fully understand the weight of Josh's concerns about the grab-baggish-ness of the arguments in the book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Unmoved Mover Part 2

I want to recommend David's treatment of the unmoved mover issue on his blog. See here
and here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

An acrimonious debate on the Dragons forum

An acrimonious debate has been going on on the Forum, to which I post occasionally. It began when a couple of people, myself included, found what we took to be errors in an article by IM Andrew Martin. When these criticisms were pressed against him, he responded to one critic by criticizing what he took to be his excessive use of databases and playing programs, and the fact that he posted anonymously.

I posted the following message to it, which I share here, in hopes of sorting through the confusion that seems to have been generated.

I think we need to distinguish two, perhaps three different questions. (Well, now I guess I've distinguished five!)

1) Does the Moles variation really bust the ...Qa5 variation? Or more precisely

2) Does Andrew Martin's article successfully show that that ....Qa5 is busted by the Moles variation?

I think the jury is out on 1, but I'm inclined to think the answer is "no" on 2, given the fact that there are some fairly obvious improvements in the Movsesian-Bergez game and some Ward lines that Martin failed to respond to. My intial recommendations for improving Black's play didn't require any computer to find, they are thematic ideas that should be familiar from the study of similar variations.

3) Do databases and chess computers help us find the truth about critical Dragon lines?

I think this is difficult to argue with. At least computer programs like Fritz lack a certain kind of bias that we find in even the best annotators. A computer has no idea who won a game it's analyzing, and so it's not going to be biased in favor of the idea that the person who did win the game should have won it, as many of even the best annotators are. Of course, it helps when you can use your chess skill to "drive" the computer, and know how to compensate for the computer's biases and weaknesses. Also. let's face it. Critical Dragon lines lend themselves to computer analysis in ways that, say, the French Defense does not.

4) Do databases and chess computers help you play chess better? Well, maybe not. Dennis Monokroussos once told me he had qualms about recommending the Dragon to a student because he feared the student would start relying on databases and programs in an unhealthy way.

5) Should the study of opening variations be left only to players with appropriately high ratings? The charge of "Armchair Grandmaster" suggests that the answer is yes. I also know that, for whatever reason, I am a better Dragon theorist than I am a chessplayer. Is this a bad thing?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Updated reply to Carrier

This is an updated version of a reply to Richard Carrier that initially appeared on Bill Vallicella's blog. Richard sent me some responses to what I have written, and I plan to work though his replies in a step-by-step manner in subsequent posts.

Reply to Carrier

Richard Carrier has written a very extensive critique of my book, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason1. So extensive, in fact, that when I printed it out it was 127 pages, compared to 128 pages of my book. Considering the fact that two of my chapters are not defenses of the primary argument of the book, this is rather remarkable. I am glad that he has put such an effort into responding to what I have written, although he obviously differs sharply with me on the merits of the arguments.
A quick note to begin with. A more careful reading of my book would demonstrate that I do not employ an argument from motive against naturalists, but only against those naturalists who insist, at all costs, that we cannot let a Divine Foot in the door. I realize that the quotation from Lewontin is sometimes generalized to be a statement about what all evolutionists or philosophical naturalists conduct themselves intellectually, but I have not made that kind of generalization. What I said was that when anyone, a naturalist or a non-naturalist, padlocks their belief system against even possibly considering an opposing view, then I suspect ulterior motives are work.2 How Carrier translates that into an Argument from Motive against naturalists is beyond me.
I should say that desires, either that God should exist or that God should not exist, unavoidably operate extensively in the minds of even those people who do their best to be rational about the matter. We should be conscious of the presence of ulterior motives on our own parts as well as those of our opponents, and should not presume that all ulterior motives are on one side of the question. But I would not accuse someone else of believing for ulterior motives unless I were convinced that their minds were padlocked against the possibility of accepting a contrary position.
I. The Scope and Limits of My Book
I must first raise some objections to what I consider to be a lack of regard for the scope and limits of my book. The book is relatively short, and written so as to be accessible to an audience of non-specialists. As such, it is not designed to be the final word on the arguments it presents. A lot more needs to be said than what I have said in the book. Those familiar with my original article on the Secular Web know that I originally wrote about one Argument from Reason. I could have simply developed one of the arguments from reason and left it at that, and if I thought my book would be the end of the discussion I probably would have done just that. But I see my own work as one link in a chain, going from Kant to Balfour3 to Lewis to Hasker4 to me and on forward to others. I have heard from a number of philosophy graduate students interested in pursuing these arguments. So the question one needs to ask in response to my book is not “Does Reppert conclusively refute naturalism?” Rather, one should ask “Has Reppert shown some promising ideas for criticizing naturalism that give reasonable people a good reason to reject it?” (Carrier seems to have made no mention of the discussion of Critical Rationalism in the chapter 2). But even by those standards, I am quite sure Carrier will say that, in light of the scientific and philosophical arguments he presents, the versions of the AFR that I defend are not very promising. I of course don’t agree, and that’s why I am writing this response.
Carrier’s disregard for the scope and limits of my book is further illustrated by his discussion of Pyrrhonian skepticism. I said, “If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.”5 Now it seems perfectly reasonable to me to rule out any world-view that renders rational inference (and therefore science) impossible, even if we have no idea of what world-view to put in its place. Carrier seems to be saying that if on all other counts my argument is persuasive, it might still be rational to reject some kind of anti-naturalist worldview by becoming a Pyrrhonian skeptic and adopting no worldview at all. I suppose, while I was at it, I should have refuted the Cartesian evil demon, or refuted the brain-in-a-vat scenario. Or maybe I should have thrown in a refutation of Parmenides and Zeno. If the only worldviews that permit rational inference are anti-naturalist ones, then either the discussion has to come to a screeching halt or anti-naturalism must be accepted. If Carrier were to tell me that he was going to stop arguing about atheism and instead seek enlightenment in a Zen monastery, I would probably not want to use the Argument from Reason to talk him out of it. This in no way undermines the task I have assigned to the Arguments from Reason, and that is to provide good reasons for preferring non-naturalistic worldviews to naturalistic ones.
But it gets even worse. Consider the claim
P) If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.
From this Carrier somehow thinks that this entails
P1) We should deny any premise that is not rationally inferred.
And he then argues that I must have a rational inference to support P, otherwise P is self-defeating. But this is preposterous. I never said you had to be able to rationally infer everything you believe; I said that we couldn’t accept a worldview that entailed that no one makes rational inferences. P1 in no way follows from P, nor does Carrier provide any argument to suggest that it does.6
This is symptomatic of a problem with Carrier’s review throughout, he puts such a heavy burden on someone advancing a case against naturalism that it can be no surprise that the case fails. But with more realistically calibrated requirements for success, perhaps my arguments will turn out a little more successful.
II. Carrier’s Three Underlying Problems
The first and most serious problem with my arguments is that I commit what he calls the Possibility Fallacy, that is, I assume that having no explanation is equivalent to not being able to have one. I mention this objection on p. 118, in the context of discussing Nicholas Tattersall’s critique of Lewis’s Miracles and Darek Barefoot’s response. I quote Barefoot’s reply in my book as follows:
Tattersall here confuses logical absurdity with phenomena incompletely known. To learn why grass is green simply involves gathering more information. To learn how non-rational processes give rise to rational thought is like learning how a three-dimensional object can be created by arranging lines on a two-dimensional surface. We need not draw lines all day long in every geometric pattern imaginable to realize that the task is impossible. It is true that by means of perspective drawing we can usefully represent a three-dimensional shape, such as a cube, in two dimensions, just as human reason can be represented and communicated usefully by computer programs and even by humbler devices such as multiplication charts and slide rules. Nevertheless we can identify a set of lines in two dimensions as representing a cube only because we occupy three-dimensional space, and similarly we can appreciate that the blind functions of a computer have been so arranged as to accomplish a rational purpose only because, unlike the computer, we possess genuine rationality. 7
Carrier gives me two options for developing my argument. Either I prove
conclusively that a naturalistic account of reasoning is impossible, or I conduct an exhaustive study of the finding of brain science and find that reasoning probably cannot be accounted for in terms of brain function. It seems to me that there is a third option available. I can show we are dealing with a conceptual chasm that cannot simply be overcome by straightforward problem-solving. An example would be the attempt to get an “ought” from an “is”. Moore argued that for any set of “is” statements concerning a situation, the question of whether this or that action ought to have been done is left open. To generate any confidence that you can get an “ought” from an “is”, it simply won’t do to come up with one theory after another to show how you can get an ought from an is. We need to be given some idea that these theories can surmount the conceptual problem Moore and others have posed.
Another way of putting my point is to say that reason presents a problem analogous to what David Chalmers called the hard problem of consciousness.8 When we consider seriously what reasoning is, when we reject all attempts at “bait and switch”9 in which reasoning is re-described in a way that makes it scientifically tractable but also unrecognizable in the final analysis as reasoning, we find something that looks for all the world to be radically resistant to physicalistic analysis.
So I maintain that there is a logico-conceptual chasm between the various elements of reason, and the material world as understood mechanistically. Bridging the chasm isn’t going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm. Now someone might perceive the chasm and either think that some kind of paradigm shift in our thinking will bridge the chasm, or that it while it’s a mystery to us how all this is possible, that somehow there is a bridge over the chasm, even if we can’t see one that’s consistent with materialism. In pointing out the chasm, I do not necessarily claim that no possible considerations could persuade us to think that the chasm has been bridged. However, we have no reason to believe that the problem can be dissolved a way by doing just a little more science. Without necessarily demonstrating that the problem is insoluble, I can try to show that the problem is deep and intractable, and that an alternative to naturalism would resolve the problem. And I should point out that lots and lots of naturalists, like Colin McGinn,10 think that there is a deep and intractable problem. The arguments from reason, in many cases, suggest that the descriptive discourse of physics cannot capture the normative discourse of reason. This presents a logico-conceptual gap, which is a very different kind of problem than pointing out something for which we don’t currently have a naturalistic explanation, and saying it must be supernatural because science can’t explain it now.
The second fallacy Carrier says I commit is the Causation Fallacy. He thinks that I, along with C. S. Lewis, endorse the argument that “the presence of a cause and effect account of belief is often used to show the absence or irrelevance of a ground and consequent relationship,” and that therefore all cause and effect accounts prove the absence of irrelevance of ground and consequent relationships. However, he claims in arguing thus I commit the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent, Hasty Generalization and Red Herring. (Quite a lot of fallacies to commit in one argument!) But while this type of argument was used in Lewis’s original chapter, in the revised edition this is not the primary reason for thinking that reason cannot be accounted for naturalistically. And I don’t argue that way either. The argument against the relevance of ground and consequent relationships has to do with the causal closure of the physical. If a physical account of the process is causally complete, and physics is mechanistic, how do reasons come into play? Remember, at the most basic level of analysis physics, in order to play the role of physics in the kind of physicalism that is under attack in my book, must be mechanistic. This being the case, if we apply the Principle of Explanatory Exclusion and the Principle of Causal Exclusion defended by Kim10 and others, a case can be made that a comprehensive physicalistic causal explanation excludes a mentalistic account of rational inference.
The third fallacy he thinks I commit is the Armchair Science fallacy. That, he says, is my failure to interact with the extensive philosophical literature and the findings of cognitive science. Here I would first like to reiterate that no book, especially a book that is supposed to be readable by non-specialists, can interact with every opposing thinker. Well, perhaps I should at least interact with the really important stuff. But what is that? I see no interaction in Carrier with John Searle,11 in spite of the fact that he is advocating positions that Searle has quite famously criticized. Nor do I see any discussion of Thomas Nagel, who maintains that an evolutionary account of our capacity to reason has always seemed to him to be laughably inadequate.12 Nor do I see any interaction with Lynne Rudder Baker’s13 and William Hasker’s14 critiques of eliminativism, which I explicitly reference in the book. Nor do I see any references to Jaegwon Kim’s work on mental causation and the Principle of Explanatory Exclusion.15 The literature is enormous on this subject, and a comprehensive treatment of the relevant issues would require a 12,800 page book with a 128 page bibliography. Carrier and I are bound to differ as to what is “really important.” Of course the argument needs to respond to what Hasker calls the “sensible naturalist.”16 But naturalists and anti-naturalists might very well disagree on exactly who the sensible naturalists are.
I do, in my book, say that naturalistic analyses of mind “invariably fail,” largely because they “sneak in” the very concepts they are trying to explain through the back door. They also tend to re-describe what they are trying to explain in terms that will make such things as consciousness and reasoning more tractable to naturalistic analysis, but this produces what I call a “subtle changing of the subject.” Instead of explaining their subject matter, they explain it away. Since I did say these things, it simply won’t do for Carrier to merely assert that there’s all this philosophical and scientific literature out there. He needs to show evidence that these analyses of mind don’t commit the two errors listed above. Carrier’s own treatment of intentionality is repeatedly guilty of the first defect, as we shall see.
Further, scientific work on cognition can be illuminating without actually solving the fundamental problems of the philosophy of mind that my book is concerned with. I never denied that the mind is not in many important ways dependent on the brain, it is just that the brain story cannot be comprehensive, if I am right. So I have no problem with the idea that scientists like Cattell can help us understand how different mental functions are linked with different areas of the brain.17 As I put it on pp. 114-115;
But again I would reiterate the claim that the arguments from reason require only that the account of mental functioning in terms of blind physical processes, operating in accordance with the laws of physics, rather than in accordance with thee laws of logic, cannot be comprehensive. It seems to me to be perfectly compatible with an extensive dependence of the mind on the physical brain; it only says that if mechanistic accounts of rational inference are the only accounts you can get out of brain science, then a neurophysiological account cannot be complete.18
Now I should make perfectly clear that the more defenders of AFR interact with naturalistic philosophical and scientific literature, the better. Here I would strongly recommend Angus Menuge’s recent analyses of the Churchlands and Dennett,19 along with the critiques of the Churchlands by Hasker, Baker, and myself20 that I endorse in my book. But if we have what David Chalmers would call a “hard” problem of intentionality, then simply knowing about correlations between intentional states and physical states will not solve the problem. What science would have to provide is a successful intertheoretic reduction, and this is something over and above what straightforward neuroscience provides. What we need are answers to questions that are fundamentally philosophical rather than scientific, questions that are perhaps better addressed in armchairs rather than in laboratories.
Here again I would just reiterate what I said earlier, that the problem with naturalistic analyses of reasoning has to do with a logico-conceptual gap between our ordinary conception of what goes on when we reason, as opposed to what has to be given in a properly mechanistic analysis of that same process. If you give an analysis of how the brain produces some output or other, that may not do the job if when we get does the thing that has been analyzed physicalistically cannot plausibly be described as reasoning.
Further, many people in the philosophy of mind, even some who would be described as card-carrying physicalists, often maintain that we have no real understanding of how the mental and physical are related to one another. Physics describes things from a third-person, non-normative, mechanistic point of view, while we describe our own thought processes from a first-person, normative perspective. Hence, they maintain, mental events are irreducible to physical events, nevertheless they are either token-identical to physical events or supervene upon physical events. However, they also often say that they perceive the relation between the mental and the physical as being deeply mysterious.
III. Non-Reductivism and Beyond
One strategy in responding to the versions of the argument from reason that I have presented is to admit that these realities are profoundly mysterious in a naturalistic universe, but that that providing a supernatural explanation for them is unacceptable. Keith Parsons sums it up when he says.
Physicalists may have to admit that some mental phenomena are mysteries and likely to remain so. Consider consciousness. How consciousness can exist in the physical world remains the “world-knot,” as Schopenhauer called it, and the expressions of despair quoted by Reppert are apt. But the honest thing to do when we confront an insoluble mystery is to admit that we do not know. It is obscurantist to “explain” the mystery in ways that only deepen our ignorance.21
In other words, yes, we can’t reduce reason to the non-rational activities of physical particles, but to accept a theistic account of these is obscurantist. His quarrel is going to be with chapter 6 of my book, entitled “The Inadequacy Objection.”
Now Carrier, to be sure, is not a non-reductive materialist. He thinks that mental-physical reductions are indeed possible. But I think his discussion of the relevant literature underestimates the sizable group of people in the philosophy of mind who are philosophical naturalists but who eschew reductionism. The “sensible naturalist” of Hasker’s reply to me is clearly a non-reductive materialist, who tries to stay within the naturalist fold while not holding out any promise for, for example, a causal analysis of mental states.
Then there are other people who think the mind’s being what it is requires a change in metaphysics, such the mind is fundamental to the universe and is not an evolutionary by-product. However, these thinkers are reluctant to accept theism as the solution to the problems they pose. Such people include Daniel Hutto,22 who has proposed Bradleyan absolute idealism as the solution to the hard problem of consciousness, and of course Thomas Nagel. In fact Nagel’s The Last Word is pretty much a defense of the Argument from Reason, the difference being that he does not offer God as his solution of choice. Reason for Nagel, is fundamental to the universe, but not the reason of God. The general thrust of Nagel’s book is to show the importance of rejecting accounts of reason that make reason relative, but, once you do that, you end up having to accept a metaphysics that, as he puts it “makes us more at home in the universe than is secularly comfortable.”23 However, Nagel has traveled outside the realm of what people like Carrier would consider naturalistically acceptable and adopted what I call explanatory dualism, the idea that in addition to mechanistic explanations at the most basic level, we must have rational explanations as well.
Now Carrier’s strategy is very different. He spends little energy trying to show that even if naturalistic explanations of reason are unsuccessful, offering a theistic account of the phenomenon of reason does nothing to alleviate our ignorance. He instead maintains, not that I have overestimated the power of theistic explanations, but that I have underestimated that power of naturalistic explanations. (Of course one can argue both that naturalistic explanations are adequate and that theistic explanations are inadequate, but neither Carrier nor Parsons actually do both.) He thinks I have failed to pay sufficient attention to analyses of mind that are on offer.
IV. Intentionality
Consider his treatment of intentionality. Carrier’s task is to show that you can build and intentional brick wall out of non-intentional bricks. Just as a brick wall can be six feet tall even though none of the bricks are, a state can be intentional even though the fundamental, underlying states are non-intentional, as is required by the understanding of naturalism that both of us accept.
But what does Carrier say about intentionality? He says that A material state A is about material state B just in case “this system contains a pattern corresponding to a pattern in that system, in such a way that computations performed on this system are believed to match and predict behavior in that system.”
Unfortunately, this analysis of intentionality is simply loaded with intentional concepts, so if we didn’t know what intentionality was before we heard from Carrier, we wouldn’t know now. Moreover, on its face, it doesn’t even come close to being a physicalistically acceptable concept of intentionality that analyzes intentionality in non-intentional, physical, terms. Consider the term “corresponds.” What does “corresponds” mean in this context? If I’m eating a pancake, and the piece of pancake on my plate resembles slightly the shape of the state of Missouri on the map, can we say that it corresponds to the state of Missouri; that it is a map of Missouri? I’m looking at about for bottle trees right now. Is each of the bottle trees about the other bottle trees because there is a “correspondence” of leaves, branches, bark and roots, one to the other? In order for “correspondences” to be of significance, doesn’t it have to be a “correspondence” recognized by somebody’s conscious mind as being “about” the thing in question? And if that’s the case, then are we anywhere in the vicinity of a naturalistic account of intentionality?
And then there’s more to the definition than that. The intentional state has to be believed to correspond. But how could we define belief if we didn’t have any idea what it was for a mental state to be about something? If I have to believe that brain state X is about object Y only if I believe it to correspond to Y, then how do we analyze my belief that there is a correspondence without throwing us into an infinite regress?
Presumably this is explained by a “choice,’ though this doesn’t have to be a conscious choice. Decisions, presumably can be done by computers, even without intentionality. But do decisions generate beliefs? “The core engine of intentionality derives from the attentional centers of the brain. That’s why cats can keep track of their prey, for example—by the same means, we can track the image or thought of, say, out uncle, by attending to it cognitively, a process well understood in neurophysiological terms.” But surely one can “track” something without thinking “about” it. A heat-seeking missile tracks its object, but surely we don’t want to say that it’s activities are in any way intentional. Does a thermostat make decisions about what number to show? In dealing with questions of mind you have to be awfully careful to make sure that the words people are using really do mean what you think they mean, or whether they have been subtly re-defined to make them tractable to a physicalistic account.
Another highly ambiguous term, though quite popular in the philosophy of mind, which Carrier uses in his account of intentionality, is the term “computation.” But what does that mean? Chris Eliasmith suggests that there are serious problems with all definitions of computation currently on offer.24 He writes:
There are numerous competing definitions of computation. Along with the initial definition provided here, the following three definitions are often encountered:
Rule governed state transitions
Discrete rule governed state transitions
Rule governed state transitions between interpretable states
The difficulties with these definitions can be summarized as follows:
Admits all physical systems into the class of computational systems, making the
definition somewhat vacuous
Excludes all forms of analog computation, perhaps including the sorts of
processing taking place in the brain.
Necessitates accepting all computational systems as representational systems. In
other words, there is no computation without representation on this definition.
So how does Carrier want to define computation in his account of intentionality?
Without further definition, his use of the term is simply not clear. Yet it plays a very important role in his arguments against me.

In short, I just don’t see it. C. S. Lewis wrote an essay in which he delineated the difference between “looking at” and “looking along.”25 When you look at something, you view it from a third-person, outside perspective. When you look along something, you view it from within. An attempt to come up with a physicalistic view of the mind invariably ends up looking “at” mental events, and always fails to capture what is going on when you look “along” those same events, as the thinking subject. But these are not merely the musings of a popular Christian apologist of the last century. Philosophers of the stature of Thomas Nagel, Frank Jackson,26 and John Searle have, in essence, said the same thing. But perhaps we all are just suffering from a lack of imagination. If so, then Carrier’s reflections on the matter have done nothing to expand my imagination. The suggestion that intentional states could arise in a purely physicalistic universe strikes me as incoherent.
But, as Carrier points out, there are other physicalistic accounts of intentionality on the market. Maybe those analyses will not suffer from the kinds of problems I am seeing in Carrier’s account. But I doubt it. If Angus Menuge’s critique of Daniel Dennett is right, then these sorts of problems afflict Dennett’s account of intentionality as well. 27

1 Richard Carrier, “Critical Review of Victor Reppert's Defense of the Argument from

Reason (2004),

2 Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: A Defense of the Argument from Reason

(Inter-Varsity Press: Downer’s Grove, IL, 2003) p. 127.

3 Arthur James Balfour, The Foundations of Belief, Being Notes Introductory to the Study

of Theology (New York: Longmans, Green and Company, 1895).

4 William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), 58-80.

5 Reppert, p. 58

6 I am grateful to Tim McGrew for pointing out the difficulties in this passage.

7 Darek Barefoot, “A Response to Nicholas Tattersall’s “A Critique of Miracles by C. S.


8 This is developed in David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of A

Fundamental Theory, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

9 In using this term I am certainly not suggesting that materialists are engaged in deliberate deception.
10 Colin McGinn, The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World (New York: Basic Books, 1999). For an interesting critique see Charles Taliaferro, “Mysterious Flames in the Philosophy of Mind” in Kevin Corcoran ed., Soul, Body, and Survival, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 59-72.
11 See especially John Searle, The Re-Discovery of the Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), reviewed by Thomas Nagel here: Also, Carrier’s views are certainly opposed by the admittedly controversial Chinese Room argument.

12 Nagel, The Last Word, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 75. See also The View from Nowhere, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 78-81.
13 Lynne Rudder Baker, Saving Belief: A Critique of Physicalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987) ch. 6.
14 William Hasker, “What Can’t be Eliminated,” in The Emergent Self (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), pp. 1-26.
15 Jaegwon Kim, see especially “Mechanism Purpose and Explanatory Exclusion” in Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
16 William Hasker “What About a Sensible Naturalism?” in Philosophia Christi, vol 5 no. 1, (2003) pp. 53-62
17 Raymond Cattell, Intelligence: Its structure, growth, and action. (New York: Elsevier, 1987).
18 Reppert, pp. 115-116
19 Angus Menuge, Agents Under Fire (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) pp. 27-94.
20 Reppert, “Ramsey on Eliminativism and Self-Refutation,” Inquiry 34 (1991), 499-508, Reppert, “Eliminative Materialism, Cognitive Suicide and Begging the Question,” Metaphilosophy 23 (1992): 378-92.
21 Parsons, “Need Reasons be Causes: A Further Reply to Victor Reppert’s Argument from Reason,” Philosophia Christi, vol 5 no. 1, (2003), 74-75.
22 Daniel Hutto, “An Ideal Solution to the Problem of Consciousness,”
23 Nagel, The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 130
24 Chris Eliasmith, “Computation” in “Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind,”
25 C. S. Lewis, “Meditation on a Toolshed,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 212-215.
26 Frank Jackson, “Epiphenomenal Qualia,” Philosophical Quarterly, 1982.
27 Angus Menuge, PCID Volume 2.3 Philosophy of Mind Issue, “Dennett Denied, a Critique of Dennett’s Evolutionary Account of Intentionality”.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Reply to Thinking Nurse

I appreciate the comments provided by Thinking Nurse. He writes:

As I see it, your point is that in any society not based on religious principles, the ethical system of the person or group with the greatest capacity to use force will prevail.

Not simply that it will prevail, it is that I can't think of any fact that would entail that that person or group ought not to prevail. Of course religious people have misused force; that doesn't make them right.

The implication is, that divine authority, with it's ability to save or damn our souls, is the 'biggest gun of all'.

No. The idea that I have is that the right and the power are grounded, according to theism, in a perfect loving being, whose has desires for us that coincide with the fulfilment of our natures as human beings. If the power were not concentrated in a perfectly good being, the presence of supreme power would not solve the problem.

The behaviour of many followers of religion implies that they too believe that the ethical system of the group with the greatest capacity to use force will prevail, using violence through crusade, jihad and pogrom to assert their own faiths and wipe out the faiths of others. Less obvious, but equally insidious use of force includes denying children access to science, by teaching creationism as fact.

They may believe that. A great achievement of Christian thought after the 17th Century was the acceptance of the idea that Church and State can be separated; that governments should pursue the legitimate goals a human happiness and fulfillent, and leave the salvation of souls to the Church. The idea is in Thomas Aquinas, but it took awhile to sink in.

I don't know of anyone who is denying children access to science by treating creationism as a fact. If someone does teach creationism as fact, I take it is because they believe it to be the best science. They may be wrong about this, of course, but they teach what they believe to be the truth. W0uldn't you teach your children what you believe to be the truth?

Any system of thought based on faith rather than evidence must use force to assert itself, because rational persuasion requires the use of evidence to change people's minds. Without science and evidence, force is all that theism has left.

I would categorically deny that Christianity is based on faith rather than evidence. It is where, believe it or not, my understanding of the evidence has led me. My book is an attempt to defend an argument against philosophical naturalism. The argument may be unsuccessful, but I quite honestly think I have a good argument here.

C. S. Lewis wrote: " am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in." So why would I feel I had to use force, if I thought that the weight of the evidence was on my side?

A proof that Bill Clinton was right, or was it Nietzsche?

As you may recall, Bill Clinton once reminded us that a good deal depends on what we mean by the word "is." But it is possible to equivocate on other words as well. A syllogism I once sent to Bill Vallicella about an unsharpened pencil turned out to be an equivocation on the term "pointless," not the term "is," as I had intially suspected. Just for fun, I analyzed the famous proof that Ray Charles is God, and since Ray has passed away, a proof that God is dead. To wit:

Logical proof that Ray Charles is God , and that God is dead

1. God is Love.
2. Love is Blind.
3. Ray Charles is Blind.
4. Ray Charles is God.
To which we can now add the Nietzschean addendum
5. Therefore God is dead.

To subdivide, we find:

1. God is love.
2. Love is blind.
3. Therefore, God is blind.

On this one, of course these concepts are complex,one diagnosis would be that this English argument commits the fallacy of four terms, which would be clear in Greek.

1. God is Agape.
2. Eros is blind.
3. Therefore God is blind.


1. God is blind.
2. Ray Charles is blind.
3. Therefore Ray Charles is God.

seems to be the fallacy Clinton was noting. But since most people don't want to attribute blindness to God, we can see how the fallacy works as follows:

God is wise.
Socrates is wise.
Therefore Socrates is God

The absurd outcome is the result of ignroing different uses of the word "is."

On the other hand the "Nietzschan" syllogism

1. Ray Charles is God.
2. Ray Charles is dead.
3. Therefore God is dead.

seems to be an instance of the indiscernibility of
identicals, and is a valid argument whose conclusion
would be true if the first premise were true.

Isn't logic fun? You can prove almost anything, so long as the meanings of words can be manipulated!

Dragon Games 2: The ten-time state champion

The saga of 14...Nd3+ continues with a game against Arizona's first home-grown established master and the reigning state champion. One of the rewards of chess that has kept me interested over the years has been the life-long friendships I have made through the game. I met Bob Rowley in 1968 when I was 14 and he was 18. We were both 1500 players paired in the opening round of the Summer Rating Tournament at the Phoenix Chess Club, which held its meetings at that time in an old park building in downtown Phoenix. Bob missed a win in a pawn ending (something he soon learned to stop doing) and the game ended in a draw. At first I won a match from him and had a good +2 record in the first 7 games, before he went on a winning streak against me too long to mention. He cleaned out the state championship in 1970, drawing only one game, a feat he repeated against an even stronger field some 12 years later. In the 70s and 80s he and I were frequent guests at the house of the late Armand Bosco, where we played innumerable speed games. Between 1970 and 1991 he won ten state championships, (the Schwarz Memorial was a ten-round double round robin), and fell short only once or twice, as I recall.

I had hoped that one day he would develop into an IM or a GM, but that isn't terribly easy to do unless you develop at a young age or you quit your day job (for him, as a teacher a DeVry Institute of Technology). He has been a regular at the World Open and the National Open, and frequently been able to take half points and some full points out of grandmasters like Helgi Olafsson and Dmitry Gurevich. He got an IM norm at the World Open in, I think, 1992, but he never successfully followed it up.

We met in the fifth round of the 1971 Rocky Mountain Open. He knew that I had studied this line a lot, but he thought he had found a win for white. We followed the Polchinski game until

19. e5

Which has come to be regarded as the main line.


A move order error. Rxb3 20. axb3

20. Ne2?

After 20. g5 exd4 21. gf Rxc2 22. Bxc2 Qc3+ Kc1, the White king dances away and the Black one dies, as has occurred in a couple of games.


Apparently this move isn't necessary. In the game Bernys-Sinarski corr. 1990 Black played 20....Rac8 21. g5 Rxb3+ 22. axb3 Bf5 and went on to win.

21. axb3 Be6!

An improvement, suggested to me by three-time state high school champion Franklyn Yao, over 21...Bc6 22. g5 Nh5 23. Rxh5 gxh5 24. Ng3 e4 25. f4, which won for White in Grabczewski-Gasiorowski, Polish ch. 1970. I found a couple of games in the database in which Black played 22....Bb5 and did OK.

22. Ng3!

Rowley anticipated my improvement and came up with an improvement of his own. 22. g5 has led to draws in several games in the database. At almost the same time, Mecking played 23 Nc3, with the same idea.


At least I got one move right after getting outside of my analysis. That's better than Mecking's victim Joksic, who played 22....e4 23. Nxe4 Rc8 24. Kb1!! Rc6 25. g5 1-0.

23. Ne4!

After Mecking's 22. Nc3 Rc8 White has the option of 23. Rd3, but after Qc7 24. Rh2 Rd8 25. Rxd8 Qxd8 26. Ne4 Qd4+ 27. Kb1 Qg1+ 28 Ka2 a5 drew after 38 moves in Falkowski-Nitsche (great philosophical name!) DDR-cup corr. 1984.


The standard move here is 23....Rc6, but according the the Fritz5.32 there is no clear win for White after moves like ...b5 or event ...a6. After 23...Rc6, in the game Kanjo-Poleksic, Yugoslav corr. 1987, play continued 24. g5 Nh5 25. Rxh5 gxh5 26. c4 Ra6 27. Nf6+ exf6 28. gf6 Qa2+ 29. Kc3 Qa5+ 1/2. Nine years after the Rowley-Reppert game, ot one of our nights at Armand's house, Bob uncorked 24. Rd3 Ra6 25. c4 and after something like Qa2+ 26. Kc3 Qa5+ 27. Kc2 Qa2+ 28. Kd1 Qb1+ 29. Ke2 Qc2+ 30 Rd2 White wins, and if 29...Ra2+, then Nd2 wins for White. So for many years I thought that "St. Bob" had slain the 14....Nd3+ variation. But when I started using computers I booted this position up, and Chessmaster 5500 came up with 25...Bc4, and after 26. bc Qa2+ 27. Kc1 Ra1+ 28. Rc3 Qa4+ 29. Kc3 Qb5+ 30. Kd3 Qd7+ 31. Ke2 Qb5+ 32. Ke3 Nd5+ 33. Kf2 Qb6+ 34. Rc5 Rxh1 35. Qxh1 Nc3 36. Kg2 Nxe4 37. Rc8+ Kg7 38. fxe4 Qe6 and Black can probably win.

One strange addendum to all of tis is that after 24. g5 Nh5 some books recommend 25. Rd6 (and some attribute this to Tal) Bxb3 26. Ra1 Qxa1 is recommended, as leading to a draw, but 26...Ba4 pockets a piece. Another book howler.

24. Nxf6+ gxf6 25. Qxh7+ Kf8 26. Qxh8+ Ke7 29. Qxc8 1-0