Monday, November 06, 2006

Reply to John Loftus on the AFR

John Loftus wrote: Anyway, Vic, I believe the Euthyphro dilemna applies to Logic as well as Goodness. Did God create the rules of logic, or must he follow them? Do you have anything to add to this latter dilemna that you haven't said about the former dilemna?

It's probably not unlike Godel's theorem when it comes to math. We can use math effectively, but it cannot yield information concerning both the completeness and consistency of the mathematical system itself. So we must refer to metamathematical statements to explain the system. Now, either there are such things as metamathematical statements which explain the whole system, or there are not, but whether they exist is left undecided by the system itself.

I reply:
John: I need to go over the structure of the AFR again to help understand how it is supposed to go. The argument begins by examining the necessary conditions of rational inference: such things as the intentionality required for propositional attitudes, truth and falsity, mental causation in virtue of content, logical laws and their psychological relevance, personal identity throughout the rational inference, and the reliability of our rational faculties. My claim is that if any of these is missing, then we do not make rational inferences. We then look at what kinds of properties and causes there can be if naturalism is true. We look at the natural world, as understood by physics, and ask whether these necessary conditions can occur in a universe in which all there is is, at bottom, physical. The “physical” is defined in such a way that the basic stuff of the universe is not rational, not intentional, etc. and all causation is supposed to by physical causation. The laws governing that stuff are not the laws of logic, they are the laws of physics, and if the physical stuff comes into a “rational” configuration it happens to be that way because of what physical configurations obtain. What we call “rational thought” has to be a systemic byproduct of an essentially non-rational nature, and on my view there is something very, very, paradoxical about asserting something like this.

Now if someone wanted to define materialism widely enough so that something whose essence it was to perceive logical truths could be a material thing, then I guess I could even qualify as a materialist. But if we did that we would be straying big-time from our ordinary conception of “matter.” However, so long as we are not trying to call something “matter,” then it is perfectly possible for non-material things to be able to perceive logical relations as part of their essence. So God can be an essentially rational being, who knows all the logical truths in all possible worlds. Whereas we cannot say of a piece of matter that it is essentially rational without stretching the concept of matter beyond all recognition, we can say of God that God is essentially rational, and it fits perfectly with our ordinary understanding of God.


Anonymous said...

I'll have to consider this in some detail later, but here are a few comments. This is your turf, baby, and I step in lightly, knowing full well you are much better informed than I am on this.

If the AFR is successful, it doesn't necessarily lead to the Christian God. This you'll grant me. Maybe the argument leads us to rethink materialism, as you've indicated. Maybe matter is much different and more bizzare then we think? After all, to my knowledge no one yet had found the smallest particle in the universe. It must exist, or does it?

Furthermore, you do realize that some, if not all of the same problems that we have accounting for rationality and consciousness if God does not exist(or a non-material spirit), applies in similar ways to God himself, if he does. Surely you've seen the essays out there questioning whether God can think, and questioning whether God is a metaphysically free being. I think these are the problems one has wherever the buck stops, correct? You press the Euthyphro dilemna against me, and I press it against you.

The whole issue of consciousness, rationality and the mind/brain problem hasn't been satisfactorily solved in my opinion, on either side of the fence. But one thing seems crystal clear to me: there can be no causation from body to soul or soul to body unless they share some "point of contact."

But the main problem I see here, is that we are biological human beings, not merely matter, if this distinction can be made, and I think it can. As biological systems we have developed the rationality to know how to survive in this world. For instance, as we observe the drinking patterns of a deer we can hunt it down while it is drinking. Human beings who didn't draw such connections didn't survive, based on the theory of evolution. We also had to deal with other human beings in social relationships, and so in order to do so we had to draw conclusions about human behavior and learn to argue our cases to get our way. Compare the standards of acceptable reasoning in the ancient world, especially in the Bible with how the NT writers used the OT, then you know we have developed stricter standards for the acceptance of arguments. Socrates, for instance, could not get away with saying that if we know the good, we'll do the good, nor could Plato get away with his statements on the soul, since we would ask him to define what he meant.

You make me think, and I appreciate it. I'll check back later. Maybe we should just trade books?

interlocutor said...

What [AFR] does is insist that both sides in the dispute agree that there is rational inference, but while one side is trying to explain the rational in terms of the non-rational, our side is not. --From your previous post on this argument.

It seems that there are two very different notions of "explain" at work in this question. Would I be correct in saying that your "explanation" of rational inference wouldn't entail much more than: "God imposed his reason on his creation"? [This sounds more snide than I mean it to sound, but I can't think of any other way to put it.]

What I'm trying to get at is that your "explanation" would not be an explanation of the exact process of how a God would create a rational universe, but rather, a reference to the possibility of a god-like being capable of doing so. Is this correct?

Contrast this with what would be involved in "explaining" rational inference for a materialist. It would involve describing the exact processes by which rationality could (or necessarily must) supervene on the purely physical.

This would be quite the project even if materialism was the case, don't you think? In fact, isn't it reasonable to conclude that if materialism were actually the case, answering this question would be one of the most difficult undertakings imaginable and that it would not be surprising to find that humans have not yet figured out how to explain it?

There seems to be an imbalance here in the request for an "explanation." I can't shake the feeling that it is just "unfair." It seems that both parties should be held to a similar burden.

If a theist wants a materialist to "explain" how rational inference is possible in terms of the exact processes by which the rational can supervene on the physical, then the theist should, in turn, be willing to "explain" the exact processes by which a God can create a rational universe.

Or, if a theist is allowed simply to say that rational inference is possible because a God imposes reason on the universe without having to explain the exact processes of his/her view, then the materialist should be allowed to simply respond that the rational supervenes on the physical without having to explain the exact processes of his/her view.

Does this make sense?

Please forgive me if I have given an insulting caricature of your "explanation" of the possibility of rational inference. I have not actually read your extended works on this argument. Perhaps, you have put a lot into your "explanation" that I am not aware of.

From other experiences with theists, however, I have seen this disparity between what is being asked for in any "explanation."

Anonymous said...

"We look at the natural world, as understood by physics, "

Shouldn't we be looking at the natural world as understood by biology?
After all, it is only living creatures that exhibit what is referred to as rational inference.