Monday, May 03, 2010

The Argument from Reason: Its Scope and Limits (One More Time)

Again, I go back to Lewis on this. Lewis accepted the AFR against naturalism, and then accepted Absolute Idealism, which was extremely popular in his time. Then he found fault with Idealism and became a theist, and then finally a Christian. His argument against naturalism was a step on the way to theism, eliminating one of the major options. But he didn't take step into theism until later.

I am primarily concerned with what I would call the "great divide" between world-views for whom the mental is a basic cause, and world-views in which the mental is not a basic cause. If the AFR shows problems for the latter type of position, then I think the epistemic likelihood of theism becomes enhanced, as do all other "mentalistic" options.

I understand "naturalism" to encompass those world-views that are, at bottom, anti-mentalistic.

So we can distinguish two propositions:

A) The basic causes of the universe are mental in nature. They are inheretly perspectival, having a subject. They are inherently normative. Something being good or bad, or thought good or bad, has something to do with what goes on. They are intentional. What something is about makes a basic difference as to what happens in the world. They are also purposive. Purposes in human thought and action are not "skyhooks" that have to be analyzed out in favor of cranes. They are ground-level reasons why things happen.

b) What is fundamentally real is not inherently perspectival, is not inherently intentional, is not inherently normative, and is not inherently purposive. The appearance that these mental realities are operative in our world is a byproduct of biological evolution, and at the end of the day the skyhooks have to be replaced by cranes.

I have never said that you get theism automatically if the AFR is an effective argument for preferring A to B. When people point out non-theistic alternatives that are compatible with A, as if that were an answer to me, I have to say, with C. S. Lewis, "How many times does a man have to say something before he is safe from the accusation of having said exactly the opposite?"


The Uncredible Hallq said...

Um, maybe the problem is that your work is based a book defending the idea of a miracle-working God, you use the language of natural theology ("the argument from...") and you've published it in an anthology on natural philosophy? Those look like good prima facie reasons for thinking you were trying to present an argument for the existence of God.

Anonymous said...

Here, again, is the version of naturalism in question:

The world is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenal or protophenomenal attributes (alternatively: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it).

On the version of naturalism in play, we have just one kind of stuff. It's eternal and uncreated. With this stuff, mind can't exist without matter (and mind can't exist unless suitably complex and in the right sort of arrangement). How, exactly, is such a view compatible with theism? Isn't theism supposed to entail that God is the creator of all else that exists ? And isn't God supposed to be capable of existing apart from such a reality?

Crude said...

I think Hallq's explanation would carry more weight if Victor hadn't already explained his position on this repeatedly on his own blog, and that blog wasn't the place where people were having the misunderstanding. Even in the Blackwell companion, Victor makes the same point clear about the AfR moving someone from naturalism to non-naturalism but still leaving non-theism in play.

If someone were to yell "Victor's AfR doesn't prove God's existence!", Victor replies "It's not supposed to", and then "Victor's AfR doesn't prove God's existence!" is yelled again, they no longer have a prima facie case. Now they're just being slow.

Gordon Knight said...

I think this is right. I only worry that the way the rhetoric is bandied about, naturalism often means atheism, anti or non-naturalism means theism, when this is just not how the pie is divided.

Theism is one kind of non naturalistic view.

Vic is entirely right in that once one realizes that naturalism is (insert expective) false, one is freed to consider theism among other possibilities

The AFR is a great argument. I have yet to seee how anyone has explained how logical relationships, the relationships we see when we infer a conclusion from a set of premises can be understood in causal, naturalistic terms.

The AFR has a great metaphysical conclusion! Its on the side of angels against the last 50 years of darkness in much of philosophy.

Theism is another issue.

Crude said...

There's also more than one kind of theism: Pantheism (and not of the 'gosh isn't nature great' variety, but one which sees nature as at heart mental or mind-like - think Brahman in many schools of hinduism), panentheism (ranging from hinduism again, buddhism, and even eastern christianity), polytheism, etc.

On the flipside, 'neutral monism' isn't that cut and dry either. There have been and still are plenty of debates over just what that "not-material, not-mental" stuff of neutral monism really is, complete with accusations that it's really a fundamentally mental (or at least far closer to mind-like than material-like, putting it roughly) 'stuff' itself.

Personally, I look forward to seeing more discussion of neutral monism and panpsychism in the future (Both, particularly the latter, seem to be gaining popularity). They seem vastly more plausible than materialism. Of course, they also seem closer to a religious, even theist-abiding, view of the world from what I've read thus far.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Right Gordon. I don't think man have said that Victor thinks he is proving theism, even if the AfR goes through. Victor realizes what his argument doesn't show, but it isn't often clear from reading the comments here that people get that.

Also, Hallq makes a very good point in terms of what people might reasonably infer.

Victor Reppert said...

If successful, it certainly does enhance the probability of theism. It defends some features of theism, and the most influential competitor to theism.

Look, is the Kalam Cosmological Argument a theistic argument. Suppose it works, and shows that there is a cause of the physical universe. Such a cause needn't have all the characteristics of God. For example, establishing a Cause of the Universe doesn't get you a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, and this is even if you accept Craig's further argument that the cause of the universe must be personal.

Anonymous said...

I guess my point is that such a piece of data, if it is a piece of data, wouldn't be even the tiniest tad more probable on the hypothesis that theism is true than it would on the hypothesis that naturalism is true.

Victor Reppert said...

I am not sure what your definition of naturalism is here. Suppose someone has a noetic structure like the following.

Reductive materialism: 20%
Non-reductive materialism: 20%
Non-materialist forms of naturalism
Theism 40%.

Even if we just wipe out RM, all of the competing views benefit. It isn't automatic that the 20% just spills over to NRM. Why should it?

Anonymous said...

The idea is that the data wouldn't raise the posterior probability of theism above 1/2.

Or think of it in terms of an inference to the best explanation: Both theism and naturalism are equally good explanations of the data. So, theism isn't a better explanation of the data than naturalism.

Victor Reppert said...

Doesn't that depend on your priors?

If God creates the world, the likelihood of having creatures in it with propositional attitudes who use logic is pretty high, assuming that a rational God is going to want to create rational creatures. If the world is godless, the likelihood of having creatures in it who have propositional attitudes drops considerably. Therefore, the existence of creatures with propositional attitudes confirms theism. And I can get to that conclusion without any irreducibility arguments!

Victor Reppert said...

Are there mentalistic versions of naturalism? I really have my doubts. What does naturalism mean, if it allows for mentalistic world-views, as I have defined that term repeatedly.

Anonymous said...

If God creates the world, the likelihood of having creatures in it with propositional attitudes who use logic is pretty high, assuming that a rational God is going to want to create rational creatures. If the world is godless, the likelihood of having creatures in it who have propositional attitudes drops considerably. Therefore, the existence of creatures with propositional attitudes confirms theism.

I guess I need a rationale for why this is so. Why think that a world of rational creatures is high on theism? Why think it's low on naturalism?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Flashback to Victor's post The Argument from Reason as a theistic argument.

Anonymous said...

A lazy first pass reply:

Reppert's argument in the thread above breaks down into two main parts: (i) we'd expect rational creatures on theism, and (ii) we wouldn't expect rational creatures on naturalism.

Re: 1: If we'd expect the data on theism, on the grounds that we have a decent idea of what such a god would likely do, then by the same token we'd also expect a lot less evil (we wouldn't expect divine hidenness, either), in which case anything gained by the argument is immediately lost by the evidential argument from evil and the argument from divine hiddenness. If, on the other hand, we'd like to avoid the evidential argument from evil and the argument from divine hiddenness by denying that we wouldn't know enough of what to expect on theism (e.g., the skeptical theist reply, etc.), then on the same grounds, we don't know enough about what to expect on theism to know whether he'd likely create rational creatures.

Re: (ii): on the hypothesis of a neutral monist or panprotopsychist multiverse, rational creatures become inevitable, in which case the likelihood of rational creatures on the hypothesis is 1.

It looks like you have very much more work to do to get this argument off the ground.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't completely buy the skeptical theist response to the argument from evil, in that I think the atheist may well be able to establish a disconfirmatory impact for his argument against theism. The skeptical considerations are just damage control, they show the disconfirmatory impact of the argument from evil need not be fatal for theism.

The confirmatory impact of the argument from reason may not be fatal for naturalism.

Edward T. Babinski said...


What is "the mental?"

What is "menality?"

If you don't even know what it is then how can you explain it via either naturalism or supernaturalism?

Right now I suspect that minds do not exist apart from an evolutionary process that includes neurons and electro chemical processes and an evolution of memory circuits and evolution of sensory apparatus to input data to the brain which can be memorized, and which undergoes something called mental development.

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