Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Could science end up vindicating the argument from reason

This is a response I gave to Ed Babinski on Debunking Christianity

Where in the brain is affected by the soul? I think brain science will eventually figure this out.

Why simply assume that the progress of science will confirm naturalism? Couldn't it eventually refute naturalism? I am predicting that the final confirmation for the argument from reason will come from neuroscience.

I've read that split-brain cases are not nearly as "split" as was originally thought; that there is an underlying unity of consciousness present. I wish I had the reference at hand.

You see, materialists like to have it both ways. When the difficulties of present materialist explanations are advanced, they tell us that we shouldn't do armchair science and that eventually science is going to figure this out. But if that is the case, then we have to countenance the possibility that science will disconfirm naturalism.

My claim is that there has to be something inherently rational that is responsible for our rationality. That's the first step in the argument. The "mental" facts do not, and on my view, cannot follow logically from the physical facts, so if the physical fact determine all the other facts, that means that there are no determinate mental facts, or that the facts are determined by something else. Now if we reconceive the physical to somehow include the mental, as in absolute idealism, then we have an answer to the argument from reason that doesn't require supernaturalism.

In fact the idea of "the supernatural" has to be defined. I know Lewis uses the term, but you should look closely at how he defines it. I avoid the term myself. All that is required for the mind to be supernatural is that "it doesn't fit in" to the mindless flow of physical causation. That's it. It doesn't have to be spooky or even religious. So, so far as I can tell, by that definition Roger Sperry would be a supernaturalist, even though he claims that his "emergent laws" are not supernatural.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to discover how, in practical terms, science could "disconfirm naturalism". Since the scientific method is implicitly founded on methodological naturalism, I find it difficult (although not entirely impossible) to envisage a situation in which science refuted one of its own cornerstones. Could you give a plausible example?

vjack said...

I don't know if you've seen this, but I find it useful for understanding what is meant by "supernatural" - http://tinyurl.com/2c3dg2

exapologist said...

Here's one way in which I can imagine naturalism could be disconfirmed by science. If naturalism is construed as a large-scale research program, and a Lakatosian philosophy of science is correct, then science could disconfirm naturalism if the latter became a *degenerative* research program (in Lakatos' sense) -- i.e., if it could no longer generate auxillary hypotheses that were heuristically fertile, making no novel predictions.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Lakatos's concept of "degenerative research programs" is particularly useful in this context, for two reasons:

1. It is notoriously difficult to determine whether a given research program is "degenerative". The opponents of string theory, for example, claim that the theory is incapable of making fertile predictions; its supporters naturally deny this.

2. Methodological naturalism is not a research program per se. It is a rule of procedure ("allow no supernatural explanations") that underpins all of modern science. And unless all of science (as we currently understand it) were to grind to a halt, it would be difficult to argue that naturalism itself is a "degenerative" assumption.

Adam said...

Neuroscience is further along the path to explaining human behavior (including the science vs. religion schism)than is generally recognized. I apologize for the self-promotion, but the book I've authored,"Man by Nature: The Hidden Programming Controlling Human Behavior," describes this progress rather well. For those interested, the website "manbynature.com" contains an overview of the book.

Sturgeon's Lawyer said...

Victor,

The only way I could imagine science "disconfirming naturalism" in this way would be for it to find a place where rationalism says, in effect, "I can't go beyond this point." This already exists in certain physical cases: the Big Bang, black holes, other "singularities."

Conceivably such a place could be found in the brain.

But I doubt it on two grounds.

The first ground is, simply, scientists. I honestly believe that if such a point were found they would circle the wagons of denial.

More importantly, however, there is already a good scientific model for how reason arises in the brain: self-organizing systems. Order (which is what reason basically is) arises from chaos all over the place in nature, from the random motion of molecules creating highly-ordered crystals, to the self-replicating machinery of cells. Compared to the latter, frankly, the arising of reason from the firing of neurons in a brain is not a big deal; we tend to think reason is a tremendously complex thing, but it is reason and reason's self-regard that tells us this.

Anonymous said...

Adam,

I've browsing your book site and from what I can tell the claims you make for modern neuroscience are simplistic at best and misleading at worst. I say this as an undergraduate at Princeton University pursuing a certificate in neuroscience. It would be foolish to deny the link between brain and behavior, but it is more subtle than many people realize. Statements like 'we are programmed to do this and this' underestimate the delicate balance of feedback and homeostatic control that make us conscious, intentional agents with goals and purposes.

Philosophical views which extrapolate from current science to present an overly deterministic picture of human nature run the risk of making the progress of science and critical thought unintelligible. Who would deny that science is a remarkable human achievement, but an achievement of the conscious effort of many great men throughout history. I find the replication of memes a very poor model for the actual history of ideas over time.

Finally, I have nothing against amateur scholarship but when I read something on the volatile subject of neuroscience I prefer to read from someone who has published extensively in the primary literature in the field. It would also be a plus if your book had been published by MIT Press instead of 'Peppertree Press'!

For a more sophisticated effort at understanding the implications of modern neuroscience for the study of human nature, please consult the following:

Did my neurons make me do it? Philosophical and neurobiological perspectives on moral responsibility and free will by Nancey Murphy and Warren Brown

http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199215393

exapologist said...

Hi Anon,

Sorry for not being clear. My comment wasn't aimed at methodological naturalism (explanations should only appeal to non-supernatural explanations/causes), but rather metaphysical or philosophical naturalism (the natural world is all there is).

Regards,

EA

Anonymous said...

No apology is necessary. Victor never made it clear which form of naturalism he was referring to, although on reflection it seems a tad more likely that he meant metaphysical naturalism.

Nonetheless, I don't think that metaphysical naturalism could ever be characterized as a "scientific research program", because science cannot test for the existence of something that is assumed a priori to be untestable. However, it might be possible to rule the supernatural in if it was ever shown that naturalism is empirically inconsistent (which I guess is something along the lines of your original post).

I just find it hard to imagine a finding of experimental neuroscience that would indeed demonstrate that naturalism is empirically inconsistent.

Edward T. Babinski said...

ED'S RESPONSE TO VIC, BELOW

VIC: Where in the brain is affected by the soul? I think brain science will eventually figure this out.

ED: I suspect that's not a suggestion you would accept if a physicalist made it. *smile*

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VIC: Why simply assume that the progress of science will confirm naturalism? Couldn't it eventually refute naturalism?

ED: Why assume anything at all and simply admit you don't know? What's your motivation for making such an assumption? Is that motivation itself strictly philosophical?

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VIC: I am predicting that the final confirmation for the argument from reason will come from neuroscience.

ED: Predict away. However prediction is not a philosophical argument.

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VIC: I've read that split-brain cases are not nearly as "split" as was originally thought; that there is an underlying unity of consciousness present. I wish I had the reference at hand.

ED: Please explain the sense in which you are using the phrase "not nearly as 'split." Name a single case in which one half of a split-brain communicates information only it is privy to, to the other half. Please refer me to such an experiment. Every experiment I have read about involves exposing only one half of a split-brain to some particular information, and the other brain hemisphere never knows what that particular information is. Hence, I've seen no valid evidence of "mind-reading" of one half of a split brain by the other half.

And I suspect that the quotation you mention will merely refer to the fact that split-brain patients have two hemispheres in the same body with the same past and so both hemispheres are already quite parallel to one another and remain so since they remain together in the same body and continue to share the same space, time and sensations. Also, only the cerebrum is split, not the cerebellum, so they still share the same cerebellum for movement control.

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VIC: You see, materialists like to have it both ways. When the difficulties of present materialist explanations are advanced, they tell us that we shouldn't do armchair science and that eventually science is going to figure this out. But if that is the case, then we have to countenance the possibility that science will disconfirm naturalism.

ED: Possibilitize away. It's kind of like predicting away, as I already said above.

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VIC: My claim is that there has to be something inherently rational that is responsible for our rationality. That's the first step in the argument.

ED: I recall an argument like that once before, the homunculous argument. There had to be a little person curled up inside each individual human sperm before it met the egg in order for a person to later come out of a woman's womb. The argument is along the lines of "like must produce like." Must it? Always and in every sense? It's the type of thinking employed by the author of Genesis who wrote that God created all the "kinds" and each reproduced after their "kind." There was no idea back then that perhaps different "kinds" arose from previous "kinds" which were extremely different from latter "kinds."

Also, if a scientist was able to see into another dimension but was limited to only seeing the smallest bits of matter and energy in that dimension and how they interacted on the smallest scale, do you suppose that that scientist could guess correctly or even know from studying such minute facets of that dimension exactly what the rest of that dimension was like?

Also, what scientist could have predicted by looking only at the atoms inside rocks, water and air that when rearranged, these same atoms could form all the complex organs in his own body. Who would have guessed by looking at the atoms of a rock alone that they could also be rearranged to form a finger, a liver, a brain?

Or what scientist could have predicted, via looking at hydrogen atoms alone, that simply the force of gravity could draw together such atoms and that they would then fuse together -- hydrogen atoms fusing with other hydrogen atoms over eons -- until the simplest of atoms along with the force known as gravity, led to the formation of all the different atoms/elements known today?

Who indeed could predict, looking at atoms alone, all the different ways that atoms could join together to form differently types of molecules and those molecules interact with one another in unique and different ways?

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VIC: The "mental" facts do not, and on my view, cannot follow logically from the physical facts, so if the physical fact determine all the other facts, that means that there are no determinate mental facts, or that the facts are determined by something else. Now if we reconceive the physical to somehow include the mental, as in absolute idealism, then we have an answer to the argument from reason that doesn't require supernaturalism.

In fact the idea of "the supernatural" has to be defined. I know Lewis uses the term, but you should look closely at how he defines it. I avoid the term myself. All that is required for the mind to be supernatural is that "it doesn't fit in" to the mindless flow of physical causation. That's it. It doesn't have to be spooky or even religious.

ED: What have you proven? All you've done is ask questions, and then stopped at the point at which answers are unknown and claimed victory for YOUR answer without even saying what "supernature" is. This sort of automatic default argument only means that the AFR is of convincing value to philosophers who claim to have the right answer from the start. (As I said above, predict away, possibilize away.)

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VIC: So, so far as I can tell, by that definition Roger Sperry would be a supernaturalist, even though he claims that his "emergent laws" are not supernatural.

ED: That's just redrawing the Venn diagram as you want it to look so as to encompass the emergence hypothesis within your own. And you still haven't defined what the word "supernatural" means. "Supernatural" remains simply a default word that refers to the mystery of an unanswered question. And there are plenty of those. As well as a variety of predictions, possibilities.

I want you to consider the question of what "logical thought" is (and how it "emerged" over evolutinary time and after the deaths of more species than either of us can trace backwards in time and space).

What do you suppose it was that allowed the first simple organisms to perceive that one thing was different from another, while another was the same, and react differently yet appropriately to them in each case? Is that evidence of "supernature" too?

Secondly, equations involving symbolic logic can be solved unconsciously by computers (which are mere "matter") far faster than they can by human brains (which you claim have access to "supernature"). I'm not sayinig that proves anything, except that symbolic logic equations are modelable on computers which are mere matter.

But we've been over this philosophical terrain before, for years, you and I. In fact I've been over this subject even years before I met you, because Mark Hedwig at Origins Research brought up Lewis's argument in its pages years before you did, challenging any readers to address it, and I did, via exchanging snail-mail letters with him until he felt it wasn't a project/challenge worth pursuing. And because Michael Denton's anti-evolution book was new at the time and they chose to lay down the gauntlet via that book. (Denton has since become a theistic or mystic evolutionist and no longer trucks in creationism.)

In my snail mail letters to Mark Hedwig on the subject of Lewis's argument I cited evidence of single-celled organisms whose actions and behaviors in relation to finding, identifying, pursuing and trapping their prey, or creating tiny houses around their single-cell out of finely arranged calcium spiracles that other single-celled creatures had discarded, showed the ability to distinguish differences and similarities in the world around them, and to react in what one could call a "pre-logical" or "semi-logical" fashion. And if even an unconscious single-celled little organism was capable of such amazing feats, imagine what a brain consisting of billions of single-cells all connected up together via electro-chemical reactions might be able to accomplish in terms of logic?

Lastly, even Christian philosophers remain divided over whether or not to be dualists or monists when it comes to the brain-mind question. So either dualism or monism is compatible with Christianity, which may be yet another proof of the frustratingly flexible nature of philosophical argumentation when faced with such multi-faceted complex questions as that of the brain-mind question.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think Victor is right. Clearly neuropsychology hasn't explained reason or consciousness, and especially for consciousness it could turn out that as the years move on it becomes more and more clear that science is not getting us in the vicinity of what we want to understand about consciousness.

It does seem the split brain patients exhibit two different volitions simultaneously. In practice, cutting the corpus callosum doesn't have horrible consequences because in practice they get the same sorts of information into both sides of the brain: it takes evil experimenters to show the two brains different stimuli.

Sperry's downward causation is naturalistic. He doesn't think a wheel rolling down a hill is supernatural, but the wheel downward-causes the molecules in the wheel to move the way they do.

I wrote up a post about downward causation, just a bunch of examples really, here.

JD: The blogosphere is an idea bazaar not an ivory tower. Who cares where someone is going to school or what someone is studying? Good arguments, knowledge, reason shine brightest out here. It becomes clear pretty fast who needs to be taken seriously, and who can be ignored.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is it that you (or anyone else covered by that blanket "we") "want to understand about consciousness"? The questions that interest me personally are empirical ones: How can we characterize or test for consciousness? Are other animals conscious, and if so which ones? How did consciousness evolve (if it did evolve)? And so on.

It is not at all clear that science is incapable of making progress on these questions (although the whole area is currently bedeviled by the absence of a clear diagnostic definition of consciousness). Furthermore, if we ever do manage to reconstruct the evolutionary development of human or animal consciousness then many of the prevailing metaphysical problems will simply evaporate.

Anonymous said...

BDK,

I did focus on Adam's arguments. I didn't just 'flash my credentials' and leave it at that. But I think you undervalue the importance of what kind of training a person receives in order to tackle a particular set of issues. The guy who's self-promoting his book is not a neuroscientist. And I also think you overestimate the rigor of the 'selection process' in the blogosphere. There's a lot of pure crap out there that people take seriously.

"It becomes clear pretty fast who needs to be taken seriously, and who can be ignored."

I hope that wasn't a veiled insult. I know I'm still a student and have a lot to learn, but I don't deserve that kind of verbal assault from anyone, no matter how far ahead of me they are in my fields of interest (Ignore the above if you didn't intend it as an insult).