Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why James Sennett still believes

I am grateful to John Loftus for putting this up, though some of the comments feel like a bunch of fundy Christians trying to get Sennett to pray the sinner's prayer. Only, I guess there's no prayer once you accept the Four Atheist Laws.

59 comments:

Kyle said...

It was a very insightful note from Sennett. I agree with most of what he said and think his honesty should be commended.

The ignorance by most of the commenters in response was rather telling. I am amazed by those on both sides of the issue who are so brashly confident and derisive toward those who try to take both sides honestly (including some of the posters at that site).

Brash confidence, as opposed to a more reasonable perspective, simply serves to hide self-delusion and ignorance.

They further play their hand by offering responses to his brief look at good arguments for theism. Do they truly believe that Sennett, a natural theologian and philosopher, has simply missed the possibility of a multiverse hypothesis? Do they not think that he has ever come across the other simplistic retorts offered? No, the reasoning is probably more to offer comfort to those among their numbers who might have real questions based on his comments. They thus attempt to show him as absurd, ignorant or else. The comments mirrored much of what could be found on a typical Christian website if this were posted. People would surely point out critiques of his comments concerning the intelligence of naturalistic arguments. The comments serve more to give confidence to those already convinced. In fact, the response mimics some of the very group tactics that Loftus points out in regards to the church in his book.

thechristiancynic said...

Thanks for posting this, Vic - I don't read Loftus' blog, but I'm grateful to hear news like this from Sennett, who undoubtedly changed the course of my intellectual life in the one semester I studied under him. (Actually, it makes me want to contact him again to catch up; the last time I talked to him was before he got his current position at Brenau University.)

Anonymous said...

Honestly, while I'm happy Sennett maintains his faith and continues to grow in it, I didn't find his post all that insightful. At least not in an intellectual sense.

Not intellectually abysmal, mind you. Just... 'that's nice. Ho-hum.' Strange how it's provoking such reactions, though.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Kyle: I agree somewhat, and of course at DC you will end up with know-it-all bungnappers that aren't worth the time to argue with.

However, on your specifics about the multiverse hypothesis, I brought that up with respect, and even took pains to stress that I agree with his more general point even though his example was poorly chosen.

Contrary to your assumption, my bet is that he doesn't actually know much about the multiverse hypothesis. It is a relatively new branch of cosmology, often connected with weird string theoretic considerations. His wording of the problem smacks of old-school 1990s big-bang cosmology, not the latest work.

However, as I said at that post, his general point is solid, and we can't fault someone for not being up to date on the latest trends in cosmology (well, actually we can, especially if that person is using cosmology to make religious arguments, but I'm cutting him some slack because the general tone of the piece is so refreshing).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: the strength isn't the intellectual content, but the honesty. It is refreshing to see true spirituality, true soul-searching, on the internet, especially a blog. These things are filled with know-it-alls posturing like peacocks. It's BS. His post cuts through that and has an authenticity resonance that is rare.

Which makes me think Ilion will hate it. :) Let's see, what adjectives would Ed Anger use? Pusillanious, genuflecting to the atheist rabble, weak and mealy-mouthed? We should have a raffle.

Ron said...

That note from Sennett is fascinating. I agree with a lot of what he says. There are a few things which I either disagree with or would modify.

1) I respect Loftus as a thinking person and have read snippets of his book which I am planning on buying someday. That said, Loftus believes that empirical science is the only pathway to truth which should strike anyone as simply unbelievable. One just needs to mention morality or rationality to debunk that load of stark scientism.

2) I like that he is an inclusivist like me though I disagree with the blanket bashing of conservative/evangelical Christians near the end of the note. Exclusivism for better or worse has a long history in Christian thought and ought to be approached with more respect. I think inclusivism should be defended biblically as bearing out a high Christology.

3) Some people mentioned the multiverse hypothesis. Well, where did the multiverse come from? What generated that? Many universes popping out of nothing seems to make the problem worse for the naturalist not better.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Ron. But concerning my views on the relationship of science to religion:

Strong scientism states, “there are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them.” Weak scientism, will allow for the existence of truths apart from science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But advocates of weak scientism still hold that science is the most valuable, most serious and most authoritative sector of human learning.…fields outside science gain if they are given scientific support and not vice versa. Accordingly, if weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support. I’m an advocate of weak scientism. In the words of Steven Pinker, during an interview when he was asked if something was possible said, “that’s an interesting hypothesis; I hope someone tests it.”

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ron: Good question--you might check out this book. It is a popularization, but describes the weird universe formation process which I don't even want to try to describe as I would mangle it I'm sure (it has to do with membrane collisions blah blah). Theoretical of course (untested by data), but it blocks the possibility arguments of the theists.

Note I should have only said that the multiverse hypothesis within string theory is new. The idea of there being "multiple universes" has been around for a very long time! There are ideas about testing it, but it is controversial. What is newer is that real physicists have finally stopped treating as silly questions about what happened before the big bang, and realized it is actually a well-formed question with interesting possible responses (gone over in that book which I have not read closely, only enough to know I need to finish it).

As I said, I think consciousness, morality, and mathematics are much more real problems for the naturalist. To point to big bang theory as a deal killer just seems sort of old school like something from the 1960s. Not to be pejorative, but there are better problems with naturalism than that.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Only science can tell me if I love my wife. I must go to the laboratory to get tested!

Gordon Knight said...

John:

What of the view that considers science to to be the only road to truth w/respect to some areas of knowledge but not all. I think creationists are just silly to try to use the Bible to discover truths about natural processes. But isn't it equally silly to suppose that science can provide us with moral truth? And if you are willing to go all positivisitic and deny the reality of moral truth, then you move closer to strong scientism,methinks. Or consider logic and mathematics, which are surely the soundest of all branches of knowledge, yet they are not (Quine notwithstanding) empirical.

Of course I think that there is also a special branch of knowledge, difficult to grasp but yet real, namely metaphysical knowledge, which of course would include theism, as well as mind/body (think of how absurd the scientistic attempts to understand mind are!), universals, etc.
Even D M Armstrong doesn't think Science solves the problem of universals.

Gordon Knight said...

I wanted also to thank John and Victor for posting this. James S. has the same view, as far as I can tell, as I do, its nice to read a kindred spirit.

Ron said...

John,

Thanks for the response. That clarifies things.

BDK,

Thanks for the book rec. I admit that my reading on this topic is a little dated. Gosh, it's hard to believe we're almost done with the first decade of the third milllenium!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon said "think of how absurd the scientistic attempts to understand mind are!"

That's a bit strong Gordon. Incomplete I'd agree, but absurd?

Ron said...

BDK,

You said that the multiverse hypothesis is theoretical; that is, it is not yet confirmed by science. If we are to be strict empiricists shouldn't we still say that Big Bang cosmology is more favorable to theism? Perhaps it isn't a deadly blow to naturalism but it is still a legit pointer away from it. Theoretical advances in math helped Einstein form his testable theories of relativity but we have no idea whether multiverse theory will ever be able to stand empirical testing.

If naturalists are good empiricists shouldn't they be reluctant to embrace this as evidence against theism? (Assuming for the sake of argument that the multiverse is anti-theistic)

Gordon Knight said...

BDK: I think any attempt to explain away introspective evidence is absurd, but I agree that is only because I take Cartesian intuitions very seriously. Maybe its just a psychological peculiarity but I have never understood how anyone can think its possible to explain away consciousness or subjectivity. To me these are the most real things there are--as D. correctly noted, its the external world that is problematic, not the mind.

I do actually think there is a possible *materialist* theory, indeed the one first advocated by H. Feigle and also the later Russell. But that sort of "identity theory" is really a kind of dual aspect theory. Introspectively accessible mental states are the in-itself of the phenomenal brain.

Anyway, would you not agree that *some* materialist theories,e.g. logical behaviorism and eliminativism.. are absurd. Consider "I think there is no such thing as thinking"

Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

Gordon Knight's last comment reminds me of a quote of Richard Swinburne: "It is characteristic of the advance of science that different branches of science have
become integrated with each other, such as optics with electromagnetism. But the
way in which such integrations have been achieved is by supposing that the subject matter of optics and the subject matter of electro-magnetism are (despite appearances)
really the same sort of thing – physical particles or waves. That involves that supposing that the secondary qualities by which we originally identify the subject
matter (the colour of the light, and the feel of the heat) do not really belong to the physical thing, but are an effect of the physical things in us. But when you try to explain mental things and properties themselves, obviously you can’t siphon off the
mental aspect of them! And so it is the very success of science in explaining physical events , which makes it immensely unlikely that it will be able to take the final step to explain the very different kind of events which are mental events."

Anonymous said...

As Paul Davies and others have pointed out, diving for the multiverse doesn't do much to block the problems (specifically, indicators towards a theistic conclusion) the Big Bang introduces. Not only do similar problems remain (origin / tuning of the multiverse, etc), but brand new ones pop up (simulations, simulations within simulations, etc) that threaten to reduce the entire naturalist project to absurdity. And those problems make it vastly more likely that cosmology will end up looking far more like philosophy and theology than hard science.

Anyone who wants to play with infinities and multiverses should be warned that the ramifications for debates about God, metaphysics, and science may not be what they expect.

Gordon Knight said...

There is an old book, _Mind, Brain, and Quantum_ by Michael Lockwood which has a wonderful quote which unfortunately I cannot remember but it was something like "being told by some philosopher that mental states are really neural firings excites the same sort of intellectual vertigo that the ancients must have felt when the pythagoreans told them material things were really numbers."

Clayton said...

f I choose naturalism (which I see to be the only real alternative to theism), then I must accept that somewhere, at some time, something came into existence out of absolutely nothing. (For all the efforts of contemporary atheists to escape what Frank Hoyle saw clearly as the implications of big bang cosmology, this consequence still stands undefeated.) And this is a claim I don't even know how to begin to get my mind around. The perplexities (and they are many) of the problem of evil pale into nothing by comparison. Which is harder to conceive, that one powerful enough to create a universe might have plans too complex for us to fathom that somehow make some kind of sense out of the state we find the world in, or that everything from quarks to DNA to dwarf stars to the whole of the cosmos came out of absolutely, positively, indefinable emptiness???

I guess I'm a bit disappointed. Sennett's remarks suggest (to me) that he doesn't really understand the options available to atheists or the problems that theists face in making sense of creation.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon: I don't know of many naturalists that want to do away with consciousness. Explaining is not the same as explaining away. Lightning still exists even though we know it is a certain type of electrostatic discharge. If conscious states are biological processes, that doesn't mean conscious states don't exist.

It seems more odd to posit a disconnect between the biology and the mind. The dualist is left with all these pesky correlations between mind and brain, correlations that are expected (and predicted) under neuronal theories of mind.

But I don't want to re-retread my old arguments, so I'll wave at other stuff I've said.

I motivate a bionaturalistic approach to propositional states here if you are new to the field

I spelled out my view more specifically here.

I have just started a long series of posts on the related, but different, subject of consciousness, first one here).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: You are right the theist can still intelligently claim that even in multiverse theory you can find arguments for God, but the 'first cause' argument is sort of moot, and that was Sennett's focus (that's why I said his claims seemed sort of anachronistic).

My point is that those arguments (and any arguments based on silly claims about like 'irreducible complexity') are way less compellilng than those based on consciousness, morality, and mathematics.

Consciousness is something we are all familiar with, but the scientists have no consensus, not even a compelling theoretical mechanism in place to tell us how it might be implemented. This is not the case with evolutionary or cosmological arguments.

Anonymous said...

BDK,

Except a new 'first cause' style argument ends up popping up in most, and possibly all, multiverse scenarios besides. In which case it isn't that the 'first cause' is rendered moot, but it's being exchanged. And what one gets in exchange is arguably far more dangerous to the naturalist, certainly atheist, worldview than what's had with biting the bullet and sticking to the one universe we're sure of. At least in the case of Sennett, it can explain why that move isn't exactly one which liberates him from this pesky problem.

And I don't think one needs to refer to IC (whose silliness I'm not willing to cop to, especially considering the silliness of many 'just so' "naturalist" options) to make strong arguments with the science as we know it. Yes, there are many other areas where naturalists have some serious trouble, but their options in cosmology are poor - and the moves available to them tend to involve sacrificing some of what makes naturalism initially attractive anyway.

Blip said...

BDK,

For what it' worth, my intuitions are identical to GK's in this respect. I remember the first time I heard about materialism; my reaction was "Huh? My mind is my brain? How does that even work?" I couldn't see how it wasn't just obviously false.

While I am now much more well read in the literature, that initial reaction hasn't really gone away. There still seems to be something gravely wrong with identifying a feeling with a material process. If you can't just see that they are different things, I honestly don't know what to say! I realise of course that most materialists don't seem to think this at all, and that perplexes me even more.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Blip: many people felt the same way about living things in the 19th century, the heyday of vitalism. They couldn't fathom how living things, even simple worms, could just be a complicated arrangement of material stuff. Some extra ingredient seemed to obviously be required.

Because of such cautionary historical tales, and as I said in the second my my first four posts on consciousness, I take this inability to imagine how consciouisness could be a biological process to be a relatively boring psychological fact, not a profound fact with deep metaphysical implications.

So, while the arguments against naturalism don't work as knock-down arguments by any means, I also think that someone who wants to be an antinaturalist would do well to focus on consciousness. At least for now, until the scientistic utopia is reached, when everything you think you need gods to explain can be explained as a natural phenomenon.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: Yes, new problems emerge you are right. But the first cause is not one of them.

That said, there is perfectly reasonable skepticism toward string theory.

I agree that some evolutionary stories consist of pseudo-explanations, but with consciousness there isn't even a potential mechanism in place. For so-called irreducible complexity cases, there is natural selection (which, incidentally, is eroding the flagellum example in ways we would have predicted) as a mechanism. For consciousness, we have nothing so compelling.

Incidentally, there is tons of very good science on evolution, but some real crap out there especially when it comes to evolutionary psychology like Pinker's work.

At any rate, something feels very fishy and wrong with these god of the gap type concerns, as if theism is needed as a putty to fill gaps in our present scientific knowledge. Is god really an explanatory construct needed to explain things? That seems superficial to me, theologically wrong-headed and destined to lead to atheism. Don't you need God to sustain even things that are considered by all to be 'natural' at some level? That is, He sustains being, is immanent, not some external spackle that we apply when we hit a mystery such as thunder. Sure, thunder is natural, but isn't it made possible, now and always, by God?

I frankly don't get all this fretting about specific little things like thunder, consciousness, and such. Shouldn't we need God even if we could explain everything? (Frankly I was quite shocked to see people agree that they wouldn't believe in God if science could explain everything--that is a very weak basis for belief in God it seems).

Perhaps the thoughtful theologians will set me straight on this, as I make no pretensions of being a theologian.

Blip said...

BDK,

Nah, I just don't get the same feeling over the vitalism debate, and I suspect that a lot of the intuitive force of vitalism came from the fact that "life" connotes consciousness.

You state "I take this inability to imagine how consciousness could be a biological process to be a relatively boring psychological fact, not a profound fact with deep metaphysical implications."

But there are some things about which you wouldn't say this, I'm sure. Suppose I drew a line on a piece of paper and claimed that it was one-dimensional rather that two-dimensional. "We can reduce facts about the second dimension of the line to facts about the first!", I tell you. You'd think I was barmy (and rightly so), but I'm not sure if you could prove me wrong. To me, that case seems straightforwardly analogous to debates about materialism in the philosophy of mind.

philip m said...

BDK,

There are some things that it is true it wouldn't matter a bit if we found a scientific explanation for them. God could still be the sustainer of the universe.

However, the reason why these things have these sorts of evidential values is because if there are no currently known scientific laws that can show us they are to be expected in the ordinary course of things, then it is true that we need an explanation that will provide a reason for why a particular phenonemon occurs. For consider the case in which God *did* create the universe, fine-tuned it, and creates the connection between brain states and mental states - in that case, there won't be scientific explanations for those things. But if we find scientific explanations for them, then why not conclude that the universe is simply a natural entity totally explicable by science? Eventually science would give us a true account of all the facts.

I think Swinburne's approach here is interesting, for he not only says that theism can explain this particular thing and science cannot, but he also provides reason for why we should never expect a scientific explanation for it, either because it is 'too odd' or 'too big' to be explained by science. It wouldn't be in science's interest, for example, to have a law which predicted Jesus's resurrection, since it is 'too odd.' Or the existence of the universe and the conformity of objects to natural laws are 'too big' since science's jurisdiction only falls *within* those parameters. And so on.

But you don't see how if we found ourselves to live in the exact universe we would expect to if there was no God, why people would suddenly think that perhaps doesn't exist after all?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Blip: I don't quite see the argument there with the line. For one, there are nonreductive naturalists (indeed that has been the mainstream nonmaterialist view, of people like Fodor and Searle). For another, even if we assume naturalism implies reductionism, your line argument, to the extent I understand it, seems to just restate that you think reductionism is false, not give an actual argument to that effect.

I'll be dealing with all the major philosophical objections to the biological approaches to consciousness at my neuroscience blog, in due time.

Much of the vitalist's arguments were about inheritance as well as goal-directed behavior. They couldn't see how simple biological stuff could yield the complexity of phentoypes observed. They also couldn't see how an animal seeking food, learning, etc, could be simply the result of "dead" matter, no matter how complicated a configuration. There were also probably consciousness-based arguments for a vital force, but I am less familiar with those.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Philip: that is helpful, thanks. I guess I see the point, but why not have a theism that doesn't depend on such gaps (other than obvious miracles such as the resurrection)? Christianity is consistent with the mind being a biological process (at least if you buy Nancy Murphy's arguments in her book 'Bodies and Souls.').

Spinoza was a theist, and thought these gap-based arguments were antithetical to true faith (from my limited and basically nonexistent understanding of Spinoza). I guess I'd be pushing toward a more pantheistic Spinozistic version of Christianity, one that doesn't use God for petty-seeming things such as using him as spackle. I would want a God that could survive the closing of all the gaps (except, if I were a Christian, stuff like the resurrection, and other obvious revealed miracles).

I don't know if this makes sense, but it seems like the kind of Christianity I would gravitate toward. Does it exist? Am I right to think it is Spinoza-esque?

Finney said...

"I would want a God that could survive the closing of all the gaps"
I haven't followed the conversation but this statement doesn't make sense to me. If by gaps you're referring to the absence of scientific explanations for phenomena, then for all the gaps to be filled, there must be a scientific explanation for the totality of physical existence, precluding the need to go outside the scientific method and postulate a God.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest that it's a mistake to regard the 'closing of gaps' as somehow atheistic or anti-theistic. Some gaps can be 'closed' in ways that that result in strong or stronger indicators of God that existed previously. The mere existence of other things, even if we were to 'fully' understand them, can also serve to indicate God by said existence alone.

On the other hand, I also think that 'non-reductive naturalism' also tends to seem one hell of a lot like non-naturalism. I suppose one could turn towards an embrace of a broadly Aristotilean metaphysics to explain mind, life, the natural sciences, etc and call the result 'naturalist'. On the other hand, you'd be a naturalistic in the company of Aquinas and many scholastics.

Naturalism just ain't what it used to be.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: my point is one's belief in theism, if it depends on these gaps, seems weak to me, will o' the wisp.

Mainstream nonreductive materialism is not a lot like nonnaturalism at all. Read Fodor, for instance. Mousetraps are multiply realizable, so not reducible to physics (e.g., you could have a spring loaded mousetrap, or a sticky paper mousetrap, etc, so there is no clean reducing base). But that doesn't mean mousetraps are nonphysical.

A better example might be 'hardness'. It is multiply realizable, so you can't reductively explain it in terms of particular types of stuff, but it is still a physical property.

By analogy, functionalists like Fodor think that mind is not reducible because it is multiply realizable, but they still think physical.

For Searle, mental properties are like hardness, for Fodor mental properties are like mousetraps. If you actually read Searle you see he thinks minds are biological processes, so he and I are (strangely) even closer together than me and Searle.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Change last word of last comment to 'Fodor.' :O

I know I wouldn't want a theology that required me to keep up with gaps that I could stuff with God. I'd want something that would survive the stuffing of all gaps except what was explicitly revealed.

Anonymous said...

And Searle has to expend a lot of energy trying to convince people he's not a dualist of some variety, and at least in my amateur estimation his preferred way to defend himself against those charges involves a lot of fast talk and inventive playing with definitions. I remain unconvinced, and I'm certainly not the only one.

Fodor, I know less about. Though last I checked he was off trying to slay the Darwin dragon, and that makes him interesting to say the very least.

As I said, I have no doubt that someone could take (for example) a broadly Aristotilean position with regards to mind and nature and be able to claim the result as being naturalism of a sort. Hell, David Chalmers explicitly rejects physicalism, but he (if I read him right) considers himself a naturalist all the same. It just indicates the poverty of the classification "naturalism". Hence, it ain't what it used to be.

As for gaps, I don't consider myself threatened by the prospect of closed gaps, past or future. On the other hand, I think the idea of all gaps ever being closed is itself the stuff of fantasy anyway (Hell, we have enough trouble many times knowing whether or not a gap truly IS closed), so it's not terribly useful to talk about such a state regardless. I'm sure belief in God could be warranted even if all scientific gaps were closed. On the other hand, I'm not about to tell God how to improve on His creation.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note I'm not endorsing nonreductive physicalism. I tend toward reductionism myself. I was just blocking the factually incorrect claim that reductive materialism is synonymous with materialism. THere are plenty of nonreductive materialists, it was indeed the mainstream between 1970 and 2000 or so in philosophy of mind (before that, mind-brain identity theory was all the rage).

There are plenty of gaps, and always will be. For instance, why does the magnetic field switch polarity every few million years on the earth? I don't know why people don't use gaps like that to argue for theism. It's a gap in our knowledge, nobody has any good ideas how it happens. Hence, it passes through Dembski's ludicrous filter and therfore must be the product of design. :)

Anonymous said...

Sure, there's non-reductive materialists, and non-materialist naturalists, and.. etc, etc. In this lone anonymous' position, they tend to come across a bit shady. Then again, you don't want to hear what I think of the eliminativists and reductionists.

Nor do I think Dembski's filter applies that way. But there are ways to evaluate nature, gapped or gapless, and realize or respect an indication (strong or weak) of some kind of design without arguing ICness. Hell, I think Victor here recently gave a fine example of a kind-of design argument that works even if a naturalist explanation is available.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon--ok so you disagree with them and you think they are shady. That is a new topic.

Thanks for the discussion. Peaceout.

Anonymous said...

Who said disagree? I can agree with them on a lot. It's that remainder where the problem pops up, and which Searle is a fine example of. As I said, the label they all (or most of them) try to fit under.. if they really can all fit under it, it ain't much of a label.

But there we go. Good place to end it.

Rob G said...

"it seems like the kind of Christianity I would gravitate toward. Does it exist?"

Both true Scholasticism -- not the modernist caricature -- and Eastern Orthodoxy, while not pantheist (Christianity and pantheism are incompatible), could be called to one degree or another 'panentheistic,' in that the sustaining action of God is seen as immanently present in all creation.

Gordon Knight said...

Searle is a property dualist. I don't understand why he does not just say that. I think "non-reductive" materialism is generally the same thing as property dualism (if there are mental properties, and they are not "reduced" to the physical, then there are real non-physical mental properties, right?

BDK Actually I thought Functionalism took over from identity theory in the 70s, 80s, 90s... Eliminativist views such as that of the Churchlands is a minority view. But Dennett seems to be a closet eliminativist.

In defense of the 1 vs. 2 dimensional analogy: What makes it absurd to say "two dimensions" really are 1, is the fact that we are aware of the property of being two D, and the property of being 1 D, and can recognize the difference.

Likewize, we are aware of the property of felt pain, we are aware of C-fibers firing, we recognize the difference.

philip m said...

BDK,

I think I understand your point. That is true. When you put in the way of God being 'spackle' it does seem a bit intellectually impoverished.

However do note that the argument is not just 'God explains this and science doesn't,' but rather 'God explains this and science doesn't, and probably never will.' Since a scientific explanation depends on states of affairs in order to explain things, there can't be a scientific explanation for why there are any states of affairs at all. In this case it is unwise to think that we are merely putting God in the place of our future scientific knowledge.

So I think in the case that arguments for why we shouldn't expect science to be able to give an account of a particular phenomenon are good, that this isn't a bad way of thinking at all. The theist is not just taking *anything* that science doesn't currently know the explanation of and plugging God in. That's an inadequate description of the sort of reasoning going on here.

And it is definitely a mixed signal to theists to say they should not try to look for evidence for God's existence, by the way. Not from you, just from unbelievers in general.

Blip said...

BDK,

GK says what I'd say re my 2D/1D argument - we see eye to eye on this. Sometimes the only way you can tell two things are different is by just seeing, and the mental/physical divide seems like such a case.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon: Searle is just unclear. If you talk to him, it is clear he thinks consciousness is a biological phenomenon like bile production, and that philosophers need to step out of the way and let the neuroscientists tell us how it works. He is quite clear on this in person. However, I understand where the confusion comes, as he writes in a confused way.

Gordon: "BDK Actually I thought Functionalism took over from identity theory in the 70s, 80s, 90s..."

Yes, that's exactly what I said.

Gordon: "we are aware of the property of felt pain, we are aware of C-fibers firing, we recognize the difference."

I can be quite familiar with water, but still not know its underlying nature. I drink it, know a heck of a lot about it, but it takes science to reveal the underlying structure/mechanism (in this case, that water is identical to H20). Right now there is no compelling story about consciousness (just as there is no compelling story about magnetic field polarity reversals in the Earth either). I expect that science will reveal the structure/mechanisms underlying both.

At this point in time these arguments come down to a battle of intuitions, not sound arguments, which is not a good way to settle something. I say this based on vast experience. One side says, "But it is just obvious that my experience of a sunset is not some biological state" and the other side says "OK, if it is obvious you should have a good argument." And we get Jackson's Mary, Nagel's bat, and such, and standard responses to those, back and forth, but ultimately intuitions that seem to be driving the arguments.

In 50 years it will be interesting to see which side seems more reasonable, those that think the mind is a biological process, or those that think the mind is not fully part of nature. Right now neither side has a good reason to be dogmatic and dismissive of the other. Let each work on developing a positive theory, and ultimately we will see which is better based on how much it explains.

Gordon: "I think "non-reductive" materialism is generally the same thing as property dualism (if there are mental properties, and they are not "reduced" to the physical, then there are real non-physical mental properties, right?"

This is sidetracking into a discussion of the merits of their view, whether it actually works, while originally the claim was that they were not physicalists, which is false. I'll have one more go before I bow out of this subthread.

The majority of the nonreductive physicalists would disagree with what you said. They'd say that while we have predicates that figure in a psychological theory that can't be reduced to physics, this doesn't mean there are nonphysical properties. Especially since Jaegwon Kim's work on supervenience and reduction, this would be the mainstream.

Think about hearts. Hearts are physical objects, even though hearts are not reducible to physics (the category 'heart' is multiply realized--leech hearts and human hearts are very different, plus we have artificial hearts).

The category 'heart' is useful, though, because it offers us a means to make claims that generalize over many different implementation details. I can say 'Hearts pump blood.' This is true, and I know it is true of the leech, human, and artificial heart. If someone tells me 'John's heart malfunctioned', that is informative even if it turns out John is a frog.

This doesn't mean hearts are nonphysical things (I hope nobody wants to argue that). Just because our 'heart talk' can't be reduced to physics theories, that doesn't mean hearts are nonphysical. So, minds are like hearts. Physical, but not reducible.

Most things in biology are like this. Clearly kidneys are composed of cells, which are composed of lipids/proteins/carbs, which are composed of strings of atoms, which are composed of blah blah blah. Biological systems, with their strange heirarchical organization, and functional kinds such as hearts, are not all that amenable (it would be argued) to reductive explanation.

Fodor goes over this stuff in great depth in the first chapter of his book 'Language of Thought', and Jaegwon Kim in his book 'Supervenience and Mind' (Kim, of course, thinks that qualia are not reducible to physics, but that is independent of his more general treatment of supervenience, causation, and reductionism). I'm not offering to continue discussing this topic by mentioning these authors, but trying to escape. It is complicated, and I believe largely a waste of time, so I don't wanna continue this subthread on nonreductive physicalism. If you are a philosopher you will probably find it fascinating. I find it incredibly tedious. (But it is key to keep straight the predicate-property distinction in all of it).

My main point was to dispute the claim that nonreductive materalism is an oxymoron. It isn't. It might be wrong, but it isn't an oxymoron, it was the most popular view of mind for over 30 years in professional philosophy!

Of course the Churchlands are the champions of reductionism, and you can read one pro-reductionist argument here. There are a lot of ignorant things said about reductionism by people that have no idea what they are talking about. If you know nothing about the techincal literature on reduction, read her article. She is one of the clearest-writing philosophers alive.

A second and independent way to be a nonreductive physicalist is to be an externalist about the contents of thought. Externalists would say the content of their thoughts isn't fixed by the properties of their brain, but by broader physical properties such their history of interaction with the environment. (E.g., me and a twin on another planet raised by different but identical behaving people both pass through the same brain state at time t, and think 'Where is mom?': we are thinking about different people even though we are in identical brain states). Hence, there is something essential about the system in which the brain is embedded in fixing the content of a thought, so extra-neuronal factors must be important in fixing mental contents (but nothing antiphysicalist is in this argument).

So, there are at least two ways to not be a mind-brain identity theorist, either by going to functionalism, or to externalism.

Anonymous said...

Throw me in alongside GK with his general view of nonreductive physicalism. I more and more lean towards a scholastic or aristotilean-thomist view of nature and mind alike, and as I believe Victor himself has said, the physicalist alternatives too often seem to be engaged in a project of not so much explaining as burying the bodies deep enough.

Robert said...

Interesting discussion, too bad it got away from Sennett’s comments and is now on Blue Devil Knight’s preferred philosophical position of materialism.

Blue Devil Knight wrote:

“This doesn't mean hearts are nonphysical things (I hope nobody wants to argue that). Just because our 'heart talk' can't be reduced to physics theories, that doesn't mean hearts are nonphysical.”

A heart is physical, we can measure it, weigh it, take some cells from it and look at it under a microscope, etc. It is all there to **see** and to **measure**.

Then came Blue Devil Knight's incredible “whopper” fish story:

“So, minds are like hearts. Physical, but not reducible.”

Whoa wait a minute, stop the horses, stop the presses, that is quite an unwarranted jump in “logic”. MINDS ARE PHYSICAL???? You can’t measure a mind, weigh it, take some cells from it and look at it under a microscope, etc. You cannot see it, nor has anyone seen a mind. We all directly experience our minds, but the only way the mind is physical is if you claim that the brain is the mind. And that is just a dogmatic claim that materialists like yourself make. It does not persuade me at all. And your logic does not follow, you have in no way shown that the mind is physical just like a heart or kidney.

“Most things in biology are like this.”

And most THINGS are observable, measurable, and quantifiable. Not so with minds.

“Clearly kidneys are composed of cells, which are composed of lipids/proteins/carbs, which are composed of strings of atoms, which are composed of blah blah blah.”

Again, you are “preaching to the choir” on this point that physical organs are in fact physical organs composed of physical cells, which are composed of physical atoms all the way down.

“Biological systems, with their strange heirarchical organization, and functional kinds such as hearts, are not all that amenable (it would be argued) to reductive explanation.”

Anything that is physical can be given a reductive explanation, not so the mind. Which is why Dennett has to arbitrarily dismiss consciousness and why Searle argues for two distinct kinds of explanations (those that involve causally sufficient conditions and which involve things, and those which do not involve causally sufficient conditions but involve persons and personal explanations). Dennett just conveniently makes the problem go away with word magic, Searle at least understands the problem but at present has no solution to it. You on the other hand did a shell game manipulation trick where the mind suddenly and magically became just another physical object like a heart or kidney. And how did that happen? Because you just say so!

Robert

Blue Devil Knight said...

Robert: I was just explaining how a nonreductive physicalist thinks, I wasn't endorsing it.

You obviously share Gordon's intuitions, but intuitions, no matter how much spit comes out of your mouth when you state them, are not arguments. To just baldly state you can't measure the mind is to beg the question. I can't weigh voltages, but voltages are real, so be careful of straw men arguments and analogies.

We can attach electrodes to the head of a quadraplegic, and they can learn to move the cursor around with their thoughts. They learn to move it to 'yes' or 'no' on the screen, based on electrical activity in the brains. They cannot move their arms or legs. Does this constitute a translation of their endogenous thought patterns into a communication channel? Is it crazy to think so? Where was your argument for that? I missed it.

As I said above, and it bears repeating because it comes up (over and)^100 over again:
At this point in time these arguments come down to a battle of intuitions, not sound arguments, which is not a good way to settle something. I say this based on vast experience. One side says, "But it is just obvious that my experience of a sunset is not some biological state" and the other side says "OK, if it is obvious you should have a good argument." And we get Jackson's Mary, Nagel's bat, and such, and standard responses to those, back and forth, but ultimately intuitions that seem to be driving the arguments.

In 50 years it will be interesting to see which side seems more reasonable, those that think the mind is a biological process, or those that think the mind is not fully part of nature. Right now neither side has a good reason to be dogmatic and dismissive of the other. Let each work on developing a positive theory, and ultimately we will see which is better based on how much it explains.

This was correct, and Robert you may have missed it, because your post and its tone make my point perfectly.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, BDK, the 'intuitions' thing is a bit of a red herring. It's not as if the non-physicalists sit around spouting off 'This is what I think because I think it!' Their intuitions lead them to arguments, some of them (in my humble opinion) pretty damn powerful and impressive. And those intuitions are many times based on introspection, examination of their subjective thoughts, etc - which, in this case, is rather close if not actually 'evidence'.

I can respect your saying that neither side has a lock on this, but there's more going on here than mere emotion.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm not saying people shouldn't make arguments (quite the contrary). I'm saying people who are cocky and dismissive are being silly, because there are no conclusive arguments, and not enough conclusive data/theory.

It would be like me getting all red in the face (like Robert did) if someone said 'The problem of evil does not kill theism.'

This whole thing started with me (at Debunking) saying that consciousness is a big problem for naturalists, and naturalists that don't see this are being silly. Now people here are trying to convince me there is a problem. Duh.

OK everyone I'm out and someone else can have the last word. I'll continue my discussion of consciousness at my neuroscience blog soon, with Mr B kicking butt and taking names and solving the problem of the biological basis of consciousness. :)

Shackleman said...

BDK: "I'm saying people who are cocky and dismissive are being silly"

From BDK's blog: "The topic of consciousness tends to bring out the nutballs, and creationism ties people's knickers in knots"

Make of it what you will.

Shackleman said...

and also....

BDK: "In 50 years it will be interesting to see which side seems more reasonable, those that think the mind is a biological process, or those that think the mind is not fully part of nature. Right now neither side has a good reason to be dogmatic and dismissive of the other. Let each work on developing a positive theory, and ultimately we will see which is better based on how much it explains."

From BDK's blog: "Over beers many neuroscientists are dismissive when consciousness comes up. They treat it as a "philosophical" problem, a waste of time for real scientists. I find this attitude strange. New data fuel conceptual progress in science, so it seems an empirical approach is the best way to make headway on something that is clearly a real and important phenomenon. Avoiding the topic leaves it in the hands of the philosophers, a fate just a little better than death."

{emphasis added}

Hmmmmmmm. Evidently you would only ever consider arguments that come from your subscribed-to methodological naturalism. You're stacking the deck in favor of your own positions.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackelman: Really?

Even dualists want us to do empirical studies of consciousness and its relation to the brain. Leaving it to philosophers is a mistake.

If you want to actually discuss the issues, you are welcome to do so at my blog. If you just want to take pot-shots at me in a thread I said I'm bowing out of, if you want to be that guy, have fun with it bro'. She's all yours.

Robert said...

Blue devil wrote:

“Robert: I was just explaining how a nonreductive physicalist thinks, I wasn't endorsing it.”

Then why did you have such an emotional reaction to my post???? If I argued against something you don’t even hold to, then why your emotional meltdown????

“You obviously share Gordon's intuitions, but intuitions, no matter how much spit comes out of your mouth when you state them, are not arguments.”

Perhaps **you** spit when you talk because you get too emotional or excited, I do not. Didn’t your mother teach you that that was impolite? :-)

“To just baldly state you can't measure the mind is to beg the question.”

It’s not begging the question because for me science studies what is physical and hence what is measurable (that’s why mathematics is so important for scientists, they want to measure things precisely whether it be by means of chemical equations or physics formulas). You can’t apply those “hard sciences” methods with the mind. Or haven’t you noticed that yet?

“I can't weigh voltages, but voltages are real, so be careful of straw men arguments and analogies.”

Actually voltages can be measured, as again voltages ***are** purely physical phenomena. I mentioned weighing because that is one form of measurement. If it’s physical we can measure it, quantify it, predict how it behaves according to natural laws, and so on.

“Is it crazy to think so? Where was your argument for that? I missed it.”

Speaking of arguments, I NEVER EVER SAW THAT ARGUMENT THAT THE MIND IS PHYSICAL. You merely stated it and now claim that what you stated is not even your own view.

“As I said above, and it bears repeating because it comes up (over and)^100 over again:
At this point in time these arguments come down to a battle of intuitions, not sound arguments, which is not a good way to settle something.”

So arguments involving intuitions according to you are out of bounds? By whose authority should we believe THAT? Yours? And rational arguments cannot involve intuitions is that what you are claiming? And why should we listen to YOU?

“I say this based on vast experience. One side says, "But it is just obvious that my experience of a sunset is not some biological state" and the other side says "OK, if it is obvious you should have a good argument." And we get Jackson's Mary, Nagel's bat, and such, and standard responses to those, back and forth, but ultimately intuitions that seem to be driving the arguments.”

You should read some Reid, or if you want a modern thinker who talks about different ways that knowledge is acquired, read Plantinga. But oh wait you can’t read or take Plantinga seriously because He’s a theist and he doesn’t buy into your materialism hook, line and sinker as you do.

“In 50 years it will be interesting to see which side seems more reasonable, those that think the mind is a biological process, or those that think the mind is not fully part of nature.”

We’ve had way over 50 years of materialistic scientists and philosophers assuming and then seeking to prove that we are solely physical beings. And they (materialists) are no closer to “proving” their point then they were many, many years ago. They even brought in AI as their attempt to prove their point. And AI has been a dismal failure in this regard. Or haven’t you noticed? And I’ll give you another 50 years, and you won’t make it.

“Right now neither side has a good reason to be dogmatic and dismissive of the other.”

I’ve got very good reasons (both philosophical and revelational) to dismiss your side. For example there is this revelation called the Bible, perhaps you’ve heard of it. But oh wait, we can’t, we are not allowed to appeal to what the Creator says about us.

Das ist verboten!!

“Let each work on developing a positive theory, and ultimately we will see which is better based on how much it explains.”

How naïve. You can keep on working on your **positive materialist theory**, till Jesus comes back, have fun, because you will **never prove it**. At least you will have fun dogmatically declaring it to others and bamboozling some people.

“This was correct, and Robert you may have missed it, because your post and its tone make my point perfectly.”

Tone? I am not the one who had the emotional reaction, you did. And you reacted emotionally to my post when supposedly I was challenging a view that is not even your own. How emotional are you gonna get if someone directly challenges your own view?

“I'm not saying people shouldn't make arguments (quite the contrary). I'm saying people who are cocky and dismissive are being silly, because there are no conclusive arguments, and not enough conclusive data/theory.”

It is the materialists that are cocky and dismissive, they are the ones who have attempted to **use Science** to prove their materialistic worldview and beliefs, and they have repeatedly failed. But there’s always hope, SOMEDAY OVER THE RAINBOW . . .

You remind me of the folks over at the Vienna circle who were so intent on banishing God and eliminating metaphysics from all meaningful discussion. They were going to use their “verification principle” to wipe out all metaphysical claims. But then it was pointed out that their verification principle did not meet its own criteria. Oops! And then there was B.F. Skinner and his “Skinner box”, now that box is gone, he is dead and gone, and his behaviorism has been thoroughly rejected and dismissed (ever read Chomsky’s refutation of Skinner, a marvelous read). Don’t you materialists learn from your own past history?

“It would be like me getting all red in the face (like Robert did) if someone said 'The problem of evil does not kill theism.'”

I didn’t get “red faced” and get all emotional, YOU DID. You are projecting your intense emotions and reaction onto me. All I did was question the statement that the mind is physical. Seeing as no argument was given it was simply dogmatically declared by you. Fortunately there is only one pope, unfortunately, there is more than one person who is a pope wanna-be and so acts as if they speak with absolute authority so we should just accept what they say because **they** say it. I don’t believe in that kind of authority being placed in one human person. That is also why I actually love science and the peer review process. Nothing to fear from questions, data, evidence, theories, because truth will be supported by these things and error will be found out (or rooted out as it may be).

“This whole thing started with me (at Debunking) saying that consciousness is a big problem for naturalists, and naturalists that don't see this are being silly. Now people here are trying to convince me there is a problem. Duh.”

Materialists are not honest about the “problems” involving consciousness, mind, meaning, rationality, free will, language, logic, mathematics, etc. etc. All those nonphysical realities that are incapable of being explained and accounted for by solely physical explanations. Realities that cannot be observed or measured. And yet the materialists vainly keep trying to **use science** to deal with these problems in their world view (Science becomes their own “god of the gaps”), and they just keep running smack into the wall of reality.

“OK everyone I'm out and someone else can have the last word. I'll continue my discussion of consciousness at my neuroscience blog soon, with Mr B kicking butt and taking names and solving the problem of the biological basis of consciousness. :)”

Some people make category mistakes because they are just ignorant, some make them intentionally and try to pull the wool over the eyes of the rest of us by trying to convince us that they have a solely physical explanation for *******all things******. Some people just keep hitting their heads against the wall, over and over and over again. I don’t have much sympathy for this as their worldview is driving their rejection of truth and leads them to attempt to substitute something else that is more acceptable to them, for the truth.

Robert

Shackleman said...

BDK, you reap what you sow, brother.

I'd love to discuss these things with you, but unfortunately you ignore my posts (especially when you don't like where my thoughts might lead the discussion to), and frequently dismiss me while being cock-sure of yourself. A trend I notice you do with others (see your response to Robert).

This tactic you yourself claim is "silly" and *that* I would agree with.

I'm happy to be "that guy" who points out inconsistencies when I find them. Your posts included.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Robert: thanks for that unemotional response.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the find, Shackleman.

Kinda puts Ilion's sometimes-derided mocking in a new light when that contrast shows up.

Gordon Knight said...

A brief defense of intuitions.

Any time you engage in argument, you rely on intuition. Logical laws are justified ultimately on intuition, so too are simple arithmetical truths.

There is another sense of intuition, which is found often in moral philosophy. E.g. When Judith Jarvis Thomson asks us if we think it we think it would be okay to disconnect from a violinist, or when anti-utilitarians ask if our considered judgement is that organ harvesting surgeons are doing the right thing. But this is a different sense of intuition than that which drives anti-materialist arguments.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon: the problem is there are two groups with opposite intuitions, and intuitions aren't enough to settle the arguments. If we all agreed it would be fine, we could go off holding hands and agree on how to interpret neuropsychological experiments.

I hope to never say I'm bowing out of a discussion again, as sometimes afterwords there is something worth responding to.

James Sennett said...

I just wanted to sign on and say I'm grateful to my old and dear friend Vic Reppert for posting this link (as I am to my equally dear and even older friend John Loftus for the original posting). I also must say that I am extremely flattered and pleased at the amount of discussion it has engendered on both blogs. I know much of these conversations developed tangentially from my original musings, but still I am grateful that I could be the wellspring from which so much interesting dialog emerged. Thanks to everyone for your interest and your thoughts. I wish you all well in your personal searches for truth and for faith, whatever conceptions of them you are drawn to.

Blessings,
James Sennett

PS - I did not mean to imply that John Loftus is older than Vic Reppert. In fact I doubt that seriously -- Vic is one old codger! ;-> I've known Vic since grad school days, circa 1985, but I've known John since seminary days, circa 1977. So you see, we're all pretty stinkin' old!