Friday, April 16, 2010

The argument from reason and theism

Someone asked me why I thought that AFR supported theism. My response.

Although I mention the Wikipedia argument on my site, it's not exactly my argument. What the argument from reason shows is that the fundamental causes of the universe are mental as opposed to non-mental. This is something that It doesn't get you theism per se, and when C. S. Lewis himself accepted it, he turned, not to theism but to Absolute Idealism. In Surprised by Joy, and in Miracles chapter 11, Lewis provides independent reasons for rejecting the Absolute Idealist or the Pantheist position. He does not simply regurgitate the argument from reason.


I also emphasize this in my essay for the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

At the same time, if successful, it supports theism in that one it shows that one feature of a theistic world-view, namely that the source of all reality is mental and not physical, is true, and that the most popular alternative to theism, scientific naturalism, is inconsistent with the very possibility of science. I think if that can be pulled off, it's a good days' work for a philosopher.

40 comments:

The Uncredible Hallq said...

Vic, where have you framed the argument as an argument about the cause/source of reality? Reality could have irreducibly mental features and without its being true that it has some mental cause. It seems right to describe views like that of C. D. Broad as involving something irreducibly mental, but not necessarily having the source of everything be mental.

Gordon Knight said...

Suppose one held the following view:

There are abstract objects which have necessary relationships with each other

The mind can have an intentional (non-causal) relationship to these objects--grasping their relations, seeing validity etc in platonic type insight.


Minds are causally dependent on brains.

Brains are physically evolved along with other organisms--matter dominates teh universe, with the exception of some living things (animals on earth, who knows what elsewhere)

I don't have this vie, but it seems coherent, answers the argument from reason, and is a lot more metaphysically conservative than Absolute Idealism.

Gordon Knight said...

The causal dependency would have to be more like Hasker's emergent self than epiphenomenalism, of course.

Anonymous said...

Gordon Knight,

My own take would be similar to Victor's. I don't think the point is that if the AfR works, one must commit to Absolute Idealism. It's simply that one must commit to there being irreducibly mental parts of reality - and that alone is one hell of an accomplishment. It puts a lot of different views in the running, and brings an end to a currently popular one. It changes the discussion.

And as Victor says, that's not bad for a day's work.

Gordon Knight said...

I agree, its an excellent argument against materialism and epiphenomenalism. But it does not show that the ultimate causes of the universe are mental. It shows that mind is one irreducible feature of the universe, which, as you say, is a great accomplishment.

Clayton said...

Vic,
I've been reading your entry in that volume and I'm finding bits of it quite confusing.

You say on pp. 373 in your discussion that non-reductive materialist views that do not explain the connection between mental and physical properties "beg the question" against people like Moreland who say that materialists must give an explanation of the supervenience relation. Two things that seem weird. First, it's weird to think positions beg questions. Arguments might, but positions? Second, in the context of offering an argument against the tenability of the materialist view, shouldn't the shoe be on the other foot? You might think the view is unmotivated, but that's not your argument. Your argument, the argument from intentionality, is supposed to do more than that. But, it really seems it only does more than that to some versions of materialism (i.e., those that accept conceptual reduction or insist on elimination). [Yes, I'm aware that some materialists are opposed to non-reductive materialism, but some materialists aren't and I don't see any clear argument against that view.]

Bilbo said...

Lewis also "argues" against Absolute Idealism and Pantheism in his book, Pilgrim's Regress.

Ken Pulliam said...

Vic,

You say: the argument from reason shows is that the fundamental causes of the universe are mental as opposed to non-mental. Are you familiar with Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate? Based on anthropology and the latest research from neuroscience, Eller concludes that religion is simply an artifact of our human tendency to find mind or intentionality or "agency" in the world. Humans have mind, and we are not sure what else does, so we project our own intentionality onto the world. Sometimes that takes the form of "spirits," sometimes of impersonal forces like chi or mana or luck, sometimes of dead ancestors or witches, and sometimes as gods (which are just a specialized type of spirit).

If Eller is right, it could be that our intuition (or Plantinga prefers, our basic belief)is really just a trick of our mind caused by how our brains evolved.

Victor Reppert said...

The argument from reason is directed against such a view. If intentionality is really a trick of the mind, then science would not be possible.

J said...

Why can't matter...think, or possess intentionality of some type, to varying degrees ? (widely varying).

In comparison to say, ants, rats seem nearly conscious.

Does a rose bush think? It does know when to bloom... At least a rose follows a routine (even if genetically determined).

either way the mere fact of intentional processes--or consciousness-- does not suffice as proof of monotheism...

Victor Reppert said...

The problem is that something can count as material only if, at the basic level, there is no intentionality, no purpose, no normativity, and no subjectivity. If you want to tamper with that definition of matter, be my guest, but that seems to be built into the very idea. Remember Dennett's "no skyhooks" rule? Yet, somehow the truths about thinking have to follow necessarily from truths about what by definition MUST be nonmental. Such entailments, in my view, are bound to break down logically. We can hide the breakdown in pages and pages of neuroscientific analysis, but at the end of the day there is no entailment, no metaphysical glue that binds the mental and the physical together. Whatever glue we come up with, if we analyze it closely enough, has to come from a mind of some sort, and materialism fails.

Clayton said...

"Yet, somehow the truths about thinking have to follow necessarily from truths about what by definition MUST be nonmental. Such entailments, in my view, are bound to break down logically."

Okay, but _why_ is that? So far as I can tell, the AfR at best targets some materialist views but doesn't have anything to say to views on which the relation from the material up is necessary but not knowable apriori.

It's hard to see what argument could rule such a view out. If we had some reason to think that we could know apriori what properties things constituted by matter had, then there might be some hope for apriori refutations of contingent materialist views (i.e., views that say that, as a matter of contingent fact, all mental properties are properties of material beings that also assert that the supervenience relations are not knowable apriori). If we have no good reason to think we can do this, I guess I can't see how someone could acknowledge that and then turn around and say that they have some conceptual argument that refutes materialism. So, what's the response to that?

Victor Reppert said...

If supervenient materialism is true, then everything supervenes on the physical. Including the supervenience relation itself. But the supervenience relation itself cannot supervene on the physical. Therefore supervenient physicalism is false.

Ken Pulliam said...

Vic,

I think you misread my comment. You say: The argument from reason is directed against such a view. If intentionality is really a trick of the mind, then science would not be possible.

The trick of the mind that Eller and I were referring to is the idea that there are minds or agents of intentionality outside of the physical realm. Science would be impossible if there were such agents interfering in the physical world because agents have wills and are not subject to do the same thing every time. Science on the other hand deals with the impersonal which will produce the same effect every time.

Clayton said...

"But the supervenience relation itself cannot supervene on the physical"

Why? If the supervenience relation is necessary, it supervenes upon anything and everything. Can you give me some reason to think that what you said was true?

Victor Reppert said...

Wills can be predicted with probability, even if they are free. Matter can only be predicted with probability anyway, according to quantum mechanics.

Victor Reppert said...

Clayton: I take it that if you want to go the non-reductive route, you think that an physical-omniscient person looking only at the physical is not going to be able to figure out what mental states everybody is in. You think there are mental states, but the very existence of those mental states can't be determined from the physical data alone. Given the physical, we could all be zombies, engaged in mental-state-behavior, but lacking those real mental states entirely.

But we're not zombies, and we have determinate propositional attitudes. Why? Well, there's this relation between the mental and the physical called the supervenience relation, and it explains this. Well, if the supervenience relation supervenes on the physical, then there is another superveninence relation between that relation and the physical, and another, and another, and another, and another....on to infinity.

Clayton said...

"Clayton: I take it that if you want to go the non-reductive route, you think that an physical-omniscient person looking only at the physical is not going to be able to figure out what mental states everybody is in."

Maybe, maybe not. I take it one thing that the physicalist could say is this:

(#) It's possible that there's a being composed entirely of physical parts such that (i) any physical duplicate of it is a duplicate with respect to all of its properties and (ii) no being could deduce what all of its properties are if given only a description of its physical properties.

"You think there are mental states, but the very existence of those mental states can't be determined from the physical data alone."

Okay, I think that's just (#).

"Given the physical, we could all be zombies, engaged in mental-state-behavior, but lacking those real mental states entirely."

If that's just a reiteration of (#), fine. That's a claim about what can be deduced from descriptions couched in physical terms. If that "could" is about metaphysical possibility I'd say 'No'. If that "could" is about metaphysical possibility, that's just the denial of (#).

"But we're not zombies, and we have determinate propositional attitudes."

Agreed. I don't get this next part:

"Why? Well, there's this relation between the mental and the physical called the supervenience relation, and it explains this."

Wait! Who said that the supervenience relation is explanatory? Math supervenes upon facts about cheddar distribution and there's no explanatory connection at all between the math and cheddar facts.

"Well, if the supervenience relation supervenes on the physical, then there is another superveninence relation between that relation and the physical, and another, and another, and another, and another....on to infinity."

No, there's no vicious regress. At least, nothing you've said thus far suggests that there's any sort of regress at all. Sorry, Vic, I'm just not following this at all. I don't see any argument against (#) and that's a pretty commonly held view amongst physicalists who accept supervenience but reject reduction.

Victor Reppert said...

So, you are saying that supervenience has to be an ultimate brute fact? What about Moreland's points?

First, he highlights the claim made by supervenience theorist Terence Horgan that in a broadly materialist the truths of supervenience must be explainable rather than sui generis. As Horgan points out, if there are going to be any brute unexplainable givens in a materialist universe it must be the the physical facts themselves, not some fact concerning inter-level supervenience.

And second, shouldn't we know why the supervenience relation obtains? Doesn't it require explanation. In the case of water = H20, there is a set of facts that make it the case that water is H20. Hyrdogen and oxygen combining together two to one gives us a substance that has certain watery properties. In the case of supervenience, what are the corresponding facts?

Clayton said...

Vic,

Moreland can say that Horgan says that supervenience cannot be brute if materialism or physicalism are true, but why should we assume that Horgan has the physicalist's commitments right? There's some debate as to whether he does. At any rate, when I've seen Horgan say what Moreland says he does, it's in a context where he's arguing that the materialist needs something more than just supervenience to distinguish the materialist view from an emergentist view. In the context of _your_ discussion, I guess I wonder then if you should be using this point to beat up on physicalists. Suppose the supervenience of the mental upon the physical doesn't distinguish the materialist from the emergentist. Surely the AfR should target the emergentists who don't believe there are any minds apart from those that emerge from matter.

"shouldn't we know why the supervenience relation obtains? Doesn't it require explanation. In the case of water = H20, there is a set of facts that make it the case that water is H20"

I don't see why but I also don't get the example. You don't _explain_ identity claims. Why is Archie Leach Carrie Grant? Why is Vic Dr. Reppert?

Victor Reppert said...

There are explanations as to why these identities hold. There is a story that can be told as to how I came to be known both as Vic and Dr. Reppert. Certain facts have to obtain, or the identities don't hold. If I had become an ordained Methodist minister and had not pursued an academic career, Vic would not be Dr. Reppert.

Victor Reppert said...

But why do supervenience relations obtain, when we can just as easily conceive of them not obtaining. Especially when there are no identities. If there is anything to the god-of-the-gaps objection, surely there has to be an objection to a supervenience-of-the-gaps.

Victor Reppert said...

About water, we started off with something with certain phenomenal properties, and then we found out it had a certain chemical character. It could have had the same phenomenal properties and a different chemical character, and it does on Twin Earth (just flew back from there yesterday).

Joshua Allen said...

Gospel of Thomas, v29: Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels.

Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty."

Clayton said...

"There are explanations as to why these identities hold."

There are explanations as to how the _statements_ came to express true propositions and explanations as to how we could have failed to see that the true ones were true, but you don't explain identities themselves. Explaining how people came to associate two names with you is not an explanation as to how Vic came to be Dr. Reppert.

"If I had become an ordained Methodist minister and had not pursued an academic career, Vic would not be Dr. Reppert."

No, that's not right. Isn't "Dr. Reppert" a rigid designator that picks out the same individual that "Vic" does? Could it have been that Vic wasn't Dr. Reppert? No. If you hadn't received a Ph.D. you wouldn't have been called "Dr. Reppert" (probably), but there's no possible world that makes the proposition I express by saying "Dr. Reppert is Vic" false.

"But why do supervenience relations obtain, when we can just as easily conceive of them not obtaining."

I don't know. Some truths are necessary. There's surely no principle here that takes us from being able to conceive of the relations not obtaining to the metaphysical possibility of them not obtaining.

"About water, we started off with something with certain phenomenal properties, and then we found out it had a certain chemical character. It could have had the same phenomenal properties and a different chemical character, and it does on Twin Earth (just flew back from there yesterday)."

Also, I think this isn't right. What does "It" refer to? Does "it" designate rigidly? If you say "it" is supposed to stand for "water", you are saying that "It's metaphysically possible that water is XYZ rather than H2O" expresses a true proposition on our lips. It doesn't. It does on the lips of speakers from Twin Earth because their word "water" doesn't have the same meaning as our word "water" (although, we used similar superficial descriptions to fix the reference for our superficially similar terms).

Joshua Allen said...

The belief that consciousness arose purely from the physical always reminds me of the "underpants gnomes business model" in South Park. Very serious people will very seriously tell you that:

1. Matter begat life and life begat deterministic mental processes
2. ???
3. Truth!

http://www.darrenbarefoot.com/archives/2005/12/the-underpants-gnomes-business-model.html

Joshua Allen said...

Here's the best clip. The AfR is just Stan saying, "I still don't get it; what's phase 2?":
http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/151040

Clayton said...

Yes, very clever, the underpants gnomes. I thought that in this context, we were supposed to be given the refutation of materialism. If the AfR is supposed to get beyond accusations of underpants gnomery, it better not be:

1. Some versions of materialism are bad.
2. ???
C. Materialism refuted!

Joshua Allen said...

@Clayton - Personally, I don't buy into the premise that we need to "refute" materialism. God isn't a cosmic rapist, and no amount of logic or reasoning will coerce someone into believing something he doesn't want to believe.

However, it's clear from AfR that materialists are faced with a dilemma that requires a flying leap of logic which is at least as marvelous as the theist's leap. Pointing out a leap is not the same as refutation, so you're welcome to your leaps. But let's call a leap a leap.

Clayton said...

Joshua,

It's really a simple point--if you undertake an argument against a view that is supposed to go beyond the bare assertion that the view is unmotivated, you incur a burden that I don't think the AfR has met.

Joshua Allen said...

@Clayton - Sorry, I don't even understand what that sentence means. Can you give an example of a "bare assertion that a view is unmotivated"? I'm struggling with the concept of an unmotivated view.

Clayton said...

"I'm struggling with the concept of an unmotivated view."

A view that isn't well-motivated (i.e., there aren't good arguments for it, no evidence that supports it, no reason to believe it, etc...).

There can be well-motivated views that are mistaken. There can be true views that are unmotivated. Of course, some views are motivated and true and some are unmotivated and false.

If there's no reason to believe materialism, fine, it's unmotivated. That's what you seem to think. I thought that the point of having an argument against materialism is to build a case against it.

Joshua Allen said...

@Clayton - OK, I see. I certainly wouldn't have called materialism "unmotivated", but it seems that you're using "unmotivated" to mean anything that isn't "well motivated". Funny word choice, IMO, but that's OK.

In any case, you seem to believe that there exists a version of materialism which is immune to AfR. This might be possible; just as it may be possible that the underpants gnomes could arrive at profit from underpants. Saying that the gnomes lack a phase 2 is not to say that underpants cannot beget profit. It's just that I've not yet seen a discourse on this super-special materialism, so it's about as concrete as underpants phase 2 for me.

Clayton said...

Josh, you say
"In any case, you seem to believe that there exists a version of materialism which is immune to AfR. This might be possible;"

And if it is, the AfR fails in its ambitions:
"At the same time, if successful, it supports theism in that one it shows that one feature of a theistic world-view, namely that the source of all reality is mental and not physical, is true, and that the most popular alternative to theism, scientific naturalism, is inconsistent with the very possibility of science."

Right? So, if you can show that there are alternatives to theism the argument doesn't really address, it doesn't do what Vic says he must do in order to do what he's trying to do.

Joshua Allen said...

@Clayton - agred. I am very interested in seeing and such versions of materialism.

Victor Reppert said...

There are, of course, several versions of the AFR. If the opponent is advocating some kind of reductionism, then all the difficulties in providing a naturalistic account of intentionality come into play.

If the opponent is a non-reductivist, they are basically giving up on the idea of coming up with an analysis of intentionality in physical terms. Instead, they guarantee intentionality through a supervenience relation. Now, this doesn't explain intentionality, because we apparently are not told why this relation exists. It strikes me as a kind of necessity-of-the-gaps response, a kind of mystery maneuver. To the question "why are there genuine intentional states, and real conscious persons, as opposed to just behavior that looks intentional or conscious" the nonreductivist really isn't providing any answer.

I think a physicalist has to be bothered by the fact that they are positing a supervenience relation as an ultimate brute fact, even though it isn't a physical brute fact. So, I wanted to pose some problems for the ontological status of supervenience itself, which strikes me as questionable.

But, there has always been a recognized problem for the nonreductivist in the area of mental causation. If they physical is causally closed, that means nothing non-physical can cause anything. Now cause-and-effect relations between mental states seem to me to be necessary for the possibility of science. Einstein has to do the math, and his doing the math has to cause him to propose his theory. Without mental causation, it cannot be true of us that we literally add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers, much less analyze Maxwell's equations. And yet physical states, not mental states, do the causal work in the materialist's universe.

Edward T. Babinski said...

VIC: "If the opponent is a non-reductivist, they are basically giving up on the idea of coming up with an analysis of intentionality in physical terms."

Vic, Words are not equivalent to things. You think you're speaking about "physicality." You're talking tripe. You have no idea what "physical" really means or what the limits of "the physical" truly are. All words are mere analogies at best.

Perhaps you imagine what when you use the phrase "physical terms" billiard balls come to mind, striking each other? Waves of energy? Quantum tunneling? Try using any big general philosophical term and not conceiving some limited analogy inside your head that you immediately recognize is a limited analogy at best.

I think the phrase "physical terms" is ridiculous because organisms as a whole have senses, memories, basic things that billiard balls certainly appear to lack, or show no experimental signs of having, but we have every reason to believe that sense organs are indeed constructed out of something that we call for lack of a better term, the "physical" world, and that such organs can take in enormous amounts of data and transfer that basic data to the brain via nerves.

And we have every experimental reason to believe that memories reside in some sense in the brain. Not in your big toe, but in the brain. And it took experimental science to make such determinations, not "philosophers." Aristotle philosophized that the brain just existed to cool the body. Even Descarte philosophized that a gland between the brain lobes might contain the seat of the soul or the organ of transference of thoughts from natural brain to "supernatural mind." Experiments disproved Descarts. There's no evidence that the gland that Descarte studied functioned in such a capacity.

Try asking more questions based on experimentation. That's the only route that others can follow, whatever their metaphysical beliefs.

As for "intentionality" I bet you think you know what THAT means too because you use the word. Ha.

As for what "supernatural" means, who can say? That's WAY out of the ballpark of things any of us can can say much about. Even C. S. Lewis could not define supernaturalism without using words to form analogies concerning strictly NATURAL things like lilies and roots and ponds and telephone communication. Ha.

I've discussed the experimental evidence with you before you don't seem to even CARE that even single-celled organisms are capable of accomplishing amazing things, including trapping prey as amoeba have been seen to do, or making houses for themselves by picking up specific pieces of discarded calcium slivers. Without a brain, and these are single celled critters!

Put billions of cells together and a trillion connections between them and add sense organs constantly feeding data into the brain, and storing memories in the brain somehow/somewhere, and you have something that's way more than just billiard balls. See the way studied in memory function and molecular neuroscience are going. Fascinating stuff.

Edward T. Babinski said...

CONTINUED FROM DIRECTLY ABOVE

Read recent studies on exactly how the brain is wired up and functions. Like, which brain regions in which order are involved in various brain functions and mental recognitions, such as humor, or sorrow, or joy, or pain, or visual recognition. And how when one of those regions is cut out of the circuit loop, things can get really screwy. REALLY screwy.

Speaking of cutting off connections, I've mentioned types of screwiness involved in split-brain experiments as well. Sometimes both halves can answer verbally, not just one. And they can each see different things and listen to different questions through different ears simultaneously, and respond simultaneously as well to two different questions.

But you keep talking about naturalism being self-defeating and about libertarian free will (the wheel of fortune theory of how decisions are made and unmade without anyone being able to ever predict them), and dualisms. Ha. The only dualism I see is the tripe that philosophers try to pass off as investigating a problem via philosophizing about it, and mixing up the difference between words and things, and examining words and the mind's limited ability to introspect about its own functioning as if they could find the answer to how the brain functions that way.

I doubt it. Philosophical schools simply make minor adjustments, the school remains, lots of them at odds with one another, like religions, and the philosophers write testy reviews of each other's works.

Studying neuro-science makes more sense, as old ideas die out via trial and error and experimentation.

Even experiments concerning evaluations of how the conscious brain works, such as in cognitive science experiments, continue to teach us more than philosophical introspection ever did.

The experiments will continue. Because thankfully, neuro-scientists are more interested in actually finding out something new about how this or that works, and far less concerned to sit on one's ass with a mirror of favorite terms and philosophize about them, mistaking words for things all day.

Neuroscience doesn't have all the answers and doesn't need to have them all now tomorrow, before we die, else fear of hell kicks in, or fear of other people going there. Ha. And it's far more interesting than philosophical mind-games.

Edward T. Babinski said...

You know neurscientists used to consider the scientific pursuit of the understanding of memory-function totally impossible? But experiments and scientific data are starting to pry open that impossibly sealed trunk.

Even consciousness studies are going places experimentally, just starting, whereas they thought those too would be impossible to study experimentally. But again a tiny edge of experimentation and is beginning to pry open the lid on the consciousness question.

This stuff is fascinating even if you're a supernaturalist and see it all as futile. Even if you don't believe it will ever explain why you like Western music and your wife loves Bach, or why you collect books and your wife collects doilies. Or you love Christ and someone else loves Allah. (Libertarian Free Will, right? Ha.)

These experiments in neuro-science and also in cognitive science are fascinating. There's whole journals devoted to them, including popular science journals on the mind, and websites too with videos by researchers like the TED site.

So what's the Discovery Institute doing? Oh right, deny, ignore, keep talking about "God" and of course "the Bible" when they're NOT speaking in public.

We sleep a third of our lives away, pretty much unconscious. If our "real minds" are in some supernatural world do they "sleep" there too? Doesn't sound very "supernatural" to me. They have to sleep in their supernatural world while I sleep in this natural one? At the same time? And if they're awake in the supernatural world while I'm sleeping in mine, what are they doing, and why can't I remember it? I guess even a supernatural mind needs PHYSICAL SENSE ORGANS? Ha.

And what about dreams, crazy phantasmagoria that psychics make a big deal out of "interpreting" if you pay them. They occur during certain periods of the sleep cycle, but can you suggest any other than wild philosophical surmises as to what they are and how they function, and why they function according to certain cycles when you sleep?

Also, bet you didn't know that sleep walkers are in an unconscious state, dreamless sleep.

And that complete sensory deprivation for long periods can cause madness, because the waking brain needs input from the senses, needs feedback, and will descend into dreams and even madness without solid natural input.

As for NDEs, they recently discovered a spike of activity right before death of the brain that could coincide with the NDE experience. And neither does everyone whose heart is revived recall having an NDE. Most don't. Of those that do, few NDEs involve meeting a religious figure. And NDEs are too diverse to support any one religious creed or doctrine.

I used to think that there was some sort of evidence when I read about blind people, blind since birth, reporting having "seen" things during their NDE. But later found out that after extensive interviews the language itself was being read too literally by researchers, and that the blind people were simply using the same figures of speech that implied sight, like the way blind people say they "saw Jay Leno" last night. But in fact after in-depth interviews such NDEs involved the blind people sensing things around them acutely but without actually "seeing" things.

Joshua Allen said...

@Edward - I'm having trouble seeing your point. If you mess with a person's physical brain, you can erase memories or even consciousness. So what?

If that were fatal to theists, or proof of materialism, theism would've been eradicated long ago, by a much simpler "empirical" experiment. When you kill someone, his consciousness appears to cease. The claim that his soul carries on seems far more extreme, and counter to the empirical evidence, than your minor claim about memories residing in the brain. If people have comfortably believed that the soul lives on beyond the physical body, why would they be swayed by an empirical experiment on the physical brain?