Monday, April 02, 2012

The beginning of my new AFR paper

                C. S. Lewis’s Argument from Reason

            Lewis’s contribution to Christian apologetics is many and varied, but one of his contributions seems to be of great contemporary relevance, and that is his argument from reason. The argument from reason is only indirectly an argument for Christianity or even for theism, but is instead an argument against one of Christian theism’s most popular rivals, and that is a doctrine called metaphysical naturalism.  In recent years, we have seen a very aggressive version of this doctrine propounded by advocates of what is today called “The New Atheism.” Of course, the atheists we have always had with us, but led by popular writers such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, atheists have made it their goal to eliminate religious belief in general, and Christianity in particular, from the face of the earth. At the same time, these atheists have made if very clear what they want to replace religious belief with. They want to people all over the world reject whatever religions they currently accept and embrace instead a doctrine of scientific naturalism. This effort has found its way onto sign on British buses that say “There is almost certainly no God. Now go on and enjoy your day.” To people like Dawkins, belief in the existence of God, or in Christianity, isn’t just false, it is delusional, which means it believed by its adherents in the teeth of overwhelming evidence that it is not true.  Further, they maintain that religious beliefs are not a benign delusion, it is a delusion that blocks the advancement of science at every turn, and actually leads its followers to resort to violence, as is evidenced by the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
            One of the assumptions made by the New Atheists is that they suppose that religious believers believe as a matter of faith, which to them means that believers believe in spite of the evidence. I do not know what someone like Dawkins would make of Lewis’s famous statement from Mere Christianity, in which he says I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in.” But they are quite convinced that the weight of the evidence is against religious belief, and that such faith does considerable harm.
            I noted earlier that the New Atheists not only want to make religious belief disappear, they want to replace it with a non-religious doctrine which is called philosophical naturalism. It is expressed in Carl Sagan’s famous pronouncement that “The Cosmos is all the was, or is, or ever will be.” But there is more to it than this. In the book entitled Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, (the book whose title I cannibalized in “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea) Daniel Dennett contrasts two types of explanations, one of which he calls cranes, and the other he calls skyhooks. Cranes are bottom-up explanations, which explain the more intelligent and more complex in terms of the less intelligent and less complex. Where you have a mental explanation, you must explain that mental explanation in terms of something that is non-mental. For example, if you say that the purpose of your eye is to see, that might be an acceptable thing to say, so long as you can cash that explanation out in terms of something that is not so purposive. In Darwinian biology, if you say that the purpose of your eye is to see, what that means is that the function and survival value of the eye is that it enables the one who has it to see. Evolution will select for something that gives its possessor a survival advantage, but will not do so as a matter of a deliberate mental process. If we say that God designed you eye so that you can see, that would be, on Dennett’s view, and unacceptable skyhook, which he describes as a mind-first explanation with no underlying non-mental explanation. However, the Darwinian version of this statement is acceptable, because even though there is a mental explanation on the surface of things, it is merely a stand-in for a proper scientific explanation that excludes the mental. The mental is, according to naturalism, a system by-product of an inherently non-mental universe. It is not literally true that the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side. The history of science, on this view, is the history of displacing mental explanations, at least at the basic level of analysis, with non-mental ones. Every day, in every way, we’re getting closer and close to the time when all the skyhooks are gone, and all we have are cranes.
            The argument from reason essentially says that this can’t be the comprehensive story of the universe.  Remember, atheists say that religious believers believe in spite of the presence of overwhelming evidence against what they believe. What that implies is that there is an alternative to this, namely, believing in accordance with, and because of the evidence. But if everything in the universe has to be explained from the bottom up, then can it be literally true to say “I reject belief in the existence of God because if there were a God, there would be evidence of his existence which we do not find?” In the final analysis, stuff moves not according to the laws of reasoning or logic, but according to the laws of physics, without intention or purpose. If this is so, then how is it possible to believe anything on the basis of evidence? Scientists believe what they do because they evaluate the evidence for scientific hypotheses, and accept the one which has the most evidential support. Thus, Darwin, we are told, found evidence for his theory of natural selection based on evidence taken from his observations of finches on the Galapagos Islands. Science would not exist if it were not possible to give mentalistic explanations for the activities of scientists. Hence, the ban on skyhooks has to stop when we start talking about the rational formation of beliefs, whether this is the formation of scientific beliefs based on evidence, or the mathematical underpinnings of the sciences (as both Lewis and I learned to our chagrin in school, you can’t get very far in the sciences without being good at math), or the rational consideration of the question of whether or not there is a God, or whether Christianity is true. If we explain reason in terms of the non-rational, we invariably end up explaining it away.

50 comments:

Mr Veale said...

Is this paper going to be available online? Soon?

It looks like it will be a great read!

Crude said...

Looking forward to it. And here I was wondering if you still put out new papers.

Cole said...

This whole idea of Dawkins that if you have had delusions before then that makes you violent is completely false. I've been delusional before and I never hurt anyone physically. I have gotten angry with people but I've always refrained from being violent against others. I've especially never tortured or sacrificed anyone for blood.

Cole said...

I also need to add that I got saved when I was 15 and had my first psychotic break with reality when I was in my late 20's.

SteveK said...

This looks great, Victor. And the answer to this question

"If this is so, then how is it possible to believe anything on the basis of evidence?

is it's possible because Mother Nature made it possible.

Zach said...
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Zach said...

Victor, why would naturalists say "It is not literally true that the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side"? They can be fine with chicken brains having mental states or goal states.

SteveK said...

Zach,
I think Victor addressed your question a few sentences above. Here...

"However, the Darwinian version of this statement is acceptable, because even though there is a mental explanation on the surface of things, it is merely a stand-in for a proper scientific explanation that excludes the mental."

An explanation that involves purpose (the mental) is a stand-in for a proper explanation. This is according to Dennett.

Zach said...
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William said...

If a Platonist is a realist about mathematics, are they a naturalist in Dennett's sense?

Zach said...

William, not acc'd to most metaphysical naturalists, who are physicalists. No abstract objects, no separate minds, etc..

From my limited understanding anyway. I'm sure there are exceptions, different breeds of metaphysical naturalist.

Crude said...

From my limited understanding anyway. I'm sure there are exceptions, different breeds of metaphysical naturalist.

Well then, even by your own standard, isn't it not clear that what Victor said is false? Alex Rosenberg, if I recall, maintains that naturalism really isn't comfortable with 'the chicken crossed the road to...' explanations as anything other than shorthand or stand-in for purely physical explanations.

But put that aside. You say it's 'mainstream naturalism' that the mental is real and irreducible. You may want to flesh that out a little bit. I'm guessing you're thinking "non-reductive materialists".

Crude said...

Also, to make things a little more interesting.

According to the Philpapers survey, if I'm reading the info right, of those who were Platonists, ~41% counted themselves as non-naturalists. 42% counted themselves as naturalists. And just under 50% of philosophers counted themselves as naturalists.

Given that data, if you count Platonists as non-naturalists, the number of naturalists in philosophy is surprisingly low.

Another odd twist. Of the philosophers who identified as naturalists, 13.1% apparently rejected physicalism regarding minds.

Zach said...

Hopefully Victor gets my point: most naturalists are not eliminativists about mental states. Maybe Crude can find one or two who are and put a gold star on his monitor.

By 'naturalism' I meant the metaphysical (not methodological) claim of physicalism as I stated above. By most accounts, (metaphysical) Platonism is not consistent with physicalism. I'm sure there are outliers, but see the first fn to the entry on platonism at the stanford site for a little more on this, those that care.

You will sometimes see people talk about methodological platonism, which is not what I meant. Nor was I talking about methodological naturalism.

Maybe Crude can earn another gold star by finding a couple of actual philosophers that are outliers and advocate metaphysical platonism and naturalism.

Victor Reppert said...

Of course they;re not eliminativsts. You need an argument to show anything here.

Edward T. Babinski said...

THE LAWS OF PHYSICS DO NOT OUTLAW BRAIN-MIND MONISM

Vic, "The laws of physics" define everything on a teensy sub-microsopic level, which is not to say other macro-scopic levels and behaviors cannot also exist. Atoms join to become molecules and molecules become chain reactions and those take place inside cells that reproduce to become tissues that become organs that make up an entire organism that lives with others organisms and takes in patterns of sensations and interactions with the macro-sized world via it's senses, and it stores such sensations as data in a unique electro-chemical organ known as the brain, and that data becomes clumped together in larger arrays and interacts with other larger clumps of data inside the brain-mind system. There's nothing in the laws of physics that outlaws such a thing.

Where do you think your memories are stored? Where is your thinking apparatus stored? Why do we have or need brains at all if the thinking is done for us somewhere in a supernatural realm and if our memories are also stored in that realm? Why the need for so many hours of sleep as well, during which we have no awareness or memory?

There's no need to even embrace dualism if you're a supernaturalist. You could posit brain-mind monism as some Christian philosophers do. They posit that even if bodies die and brains decay that we are still alive in God's eternal memory bank, right down to the last detail since His memory is infinite, and, with His infinite power He can bring us "back" anytime and in any physical fashion He chooses.

I also addressed the fact that your ARGUMENT FROM REASON RELIES ON PRIOR PHILOSOPHICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS/PREJUDICES:
http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/01/prior-prejudices-and-argument-from.html

At the very least the supernaturalist dualist has no closer to such a debate with a brain-mind monist. And neurology and cognitive studies continue like this one: Brain Cells Know Which Way You'll Bet http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/338780/title/Brain_cells_know_which_way_youll_bet

William said...

Ed,

I would like know how your monism works. Is it via some kind of law that requires that physical stuff, when in a living brain is also conscious stuff? How does that work?

Zach said...

Yes, Victor, so it is strange to say that it is literally untrue, from the naturalist perspective, that X did Y in order to Z, when it comes to animals with complex brains.

At any rate, just curious is all. Maybe it is a good bumper sticker that is technically (and plainly) false. Or maybe you go on in the paper to show this is what they ought to believe even though they don't.

Zach said...

William the neuro-person could say we dont' need a fundamental law, any more than we need a new fundamental law for locomotion in whales. It is a property, like locomotion, of a complex biological system, even though 'locomotion' is not part of physics, it exists. I saw my dog run yesterday.

But this is different from the reason concerns, which is inference and intentional/propositional thought. I think that is harder for the naturalist than consciousness. Is why I am a dualist.

Anyway, sorry don't want to derail with Crude Babinski side notes. Seems Victor gets my point, so I'm punching out.

Crude said...

Zach,

By 'naturalism' I meant the metaphysical (not methodological) claim of physicalism as I stated above. By most accounts, (metaphysical) Platonism is not consistent with physicalism. I'm sure there are outliers, but see the first fn to the entry on platonism at the stanford site for a little more on this, those that care.

I know I've pissed in your cheerios a few times here and you're still angry about that - but you're overreacting here. In fact, you're overreacting so severely that you're missing something important.

I never - not once - brought "methodological" considerations into play here. I pointed to the PhilPapers survey, where the philosophers polled responded to a list of questions about what their views are. Go, look at the data for yourself, particularly the correlations. You don't have 'a few outliers' who are apparently claiming to be Platonists and naturalists at once, or at the very least inclined towards both at once. You have a very considerable chunk.

Maybe Crude can earn another gold star by finding a couple of actual philosophers that are outliers and advocate metaphysical platonism and naturalism.

Zach... did you just totally miss my philpapers reference? Did you even know what I was talking about?

"Gold star" is cute and all, but if you really want to play the internet burn game, I've got some advice: read and understand the comment you're responding to. Otherwise you raise the odds of not only screwing up your BURN, but coming across as a freaking feeb.

And before you say "But the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy says...!", remember: your argument isn't with me. It is, apparently, with a considerable number of philosophers who are trying to balance both at once. Maybe they're confused. Or maybe "naturalism" is so plastic that it hardly has much meaning anymore.

Anyway, I'll leave you to your cheerios. Enjoy!

William said...

Zach,

do you think that your Platonism makes the abstract forms causal in some way, via how we develop perhaps? How else could they cause us to be rational?

I think there are issues with how abstract forms could be causal that parallel those of dualism in consciousness.

Zach said...
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William said...

An interaction between abstract forms and physical stuff, via consciousness or not, fits Dennett's skyhooks well, unless we hypothesize a law or some such thing that's something empirically testable, in which case we might find a crane instead.

That's why, with Ed's dual brain/mind assertion, I asked Ed for a how statement, something detailed enough to test. I don't think that showing that brain changes affect the mind is enough to show how the brain makes mental properties happen. That too is a skyhook.

Papalinton said...

"The beginning of my new AFR paper"

Coupling 'reason' with substantiating the claims of christian theism is a non sequitur and little more than Apologetical sleight of hand.

" ... [A] common misunderstanding needs to be corrected. The conflict between science and religion should not be regarded as a conflict between reason and unreason. ........ The distinction between theology and science is in the objects on which to apply reason. Nothing can be learned from reason acting alone. A logical argument contains no information not already embedded in its premises. Reason and logic must be supplemented by additional hypotheses about the nature of reality and the sources of our knowledge about that reality. In the case of science, that source is solely observation. In the case of theology, that source is primarily faith, with some observation thrown in as long as it does not conflict with faith. Theology is faith-plus-reason, with some observation allowed. Science is observation-plus-reason, with no faith allowed." [Victor Stenger, from his new book, "God and the Folly of Faith". p28]

My daughter read a quote from the web this morning, "If the Roman Empire had decided to make Mithraism the official State religion instead of christianity, you would all be Mithraists today instead of christians. But, I, would still be an atheist."

Oh but for the vagaries of religion go I.

Zach said...

William that is only a skyhook if you assume that consciousness is not a complex biological trait like locomotion.

I personally am fine with skyhooks, though.

William said...

I think consciousness can be a complex biological trait, but then I see things like information and purpose in biology too, none of which are physical.

There are matter and energy laws for locomotion though. Where are the laws for the relation of the abstract and consciousness to matter and energy?

Zach said...

William good questions. Not sure I have an answer. Perhaps I'd ask: What is the law of matter/energy for operant conditioning in a mouse?

There could be higher-level laws that abstract away from concerns about mass/energy, even though they must be consistent with basic physics. E.g., history of reinforcement explains this mouse behavior, and we dont' explicitly mention mass/energy at all even though obviously it lurks in the background.

Even for whale locomotion, we can describe the macro-level muscle contractions that explain its movement in the water, while ignoring basic physics (and at the same time expecting it all to not violate basic physics).

This makes me curious what is your positive view of consciousness and abstract thought, especially consciousness? You seem to know the territory pretty well.

Are you a Thomist?

Ilíon said...

"The argument from reason is only indirectly an argument for Christianity or even for theism, but is instead an argument against one of Christian theism’s most popular rivals, and that is a doctrine called metaphysical naturalism."

So, the argument showing inescapable the absurdity of the assertion "There is no God" is only indirectly an argument for "theism"?

William said...

I am an emergent partial-panpsychist: I believe consciousness is as real as charge or mass in the world, but only some objects come to have consciousness.

The boundaries of what is conscious and what is not are vague, even if I know a fair amount about how things well within the boundary work.

Zach said...

William: In what kind of objects? So you think it doesn't exist without said objects, such that if such objects didn't exist there would be no consciousness?

Ilíon said...

Do 'objects' even exist? (This is a serions question, al la Theseus' Ship)

This "consciousless" that some "objects" "come to have" ... does it, like, exist in its own right, independently of the "objects" that "come to have" it? You know, sort of like 'red' existing independently of any/all red "objects"?

William said...

I may be out of depth here but I will try:

An object is probably circularly defined, but roughly is a thing that cannot be combined with another thing of its type without making a difference to that thing.

The property of redness is not an object because redness plus redness is just redness.

A chicken plus another chicken is two chickens,so a chicken is an object.

William said...

Zach: I believe that only objects can be conscious: but I suppose that God, or a ghost, or so forth, would be an object. So the physical composition rules are vague.

Empirically, as far as we know, only certain living things, especially people, are objects. But I think we need to consider how we would know that life on other planets was life, and how we would know if an otherworldly alien was a person, if it did not look like us. I'd rather be inclusive than exclusive: slave owners were too exclusive, and that was unjust.

William said...

sorry that should read:

"especially people, are _conscious_"

SteveK said...

The mental reality that naturalists accept (along with theists) must be explained within the nature of said naturalism. That is the problem I see. That is where naturalism fails.

The mental realities that we agree upon either always existed as actualized reality, or existed as potential reality.

This potential cannot exist in specific instances of reality such as matter and energy, but must exist in reality itself - as a whole. Hence the reference to its nature.

Zach said...

William: so when our physical bodies/brains dissolve, so does our consciousness? There is no survival of our personal consciousness after death?

Ilíon said...

"The mental reality that naturalists accept (along with theists) must be explained within the nature of said naturalism. That is the problem I see. That is where naturalism fails."

This is why 'naturalists' always, and logically must always, end up denying the reality of 'the mind: 'the mind' cannot be fitted into the box called 'naturalism', and if that box is the limit of what one will countenance, then one has no choice but to deny the reality of ‘the mind’, since one cannot bring oneself to admit that the box does not exhaust reality.

The only interesting thing about this little dance the ‘naturalists’ undertake is watching the contortions they undertake to deny (including to themselves) that they are denying the reality of ‘the mind’.

Ilíon said...

SteveK:This looks great, Victor. And the answer to this question

"If this is so, then how is it possible to believe anything on the basis of evidence?

is it's possible because Mother Nature made it possible.


SteveK:This potential cannot exist in specific instances of reality such as matter and energy, but must exist in reality itself - as a whole. Hence the reference to its nature.

There is no such thing as 'Mother Nature'; nor is there any such thing as "reality itself - as a whole". "Reality itself - as a whole", also known as "the Universe", is a concept -- a mental entity -- which does not exist apart form the minds which entertain the thought.

William said...

Zach:

Consciousness is fragile. We lose it when we sleep. We lose it when we die. If there is consciousness after death, it would have to be embodied somehow, somewhere else, since it sure is not evident to the onlooker where we live.

BenYachov said...

Consciousness is not material. It's immaterial. In Cartesian dualism Consciousness is material it's just made out of some type of magical ghost matter.

If like Aquinas we see that something like Plato's realm of Forms is true(at least as it refers to the soul) solves many problems. Consciousness is an immaterial intellective form without matter.

William said...

Some materialists say that energy does not exist, only matter, and that matter has energy as a property. For example, a photon is a bit of matter in particle form with its energy as a property, and its energy is not a thing in itself.

Others would say that energy exists as a thing in the universe, part of the spacetime continuum, which is not a mere property.

Either way, energy is not a material thing, since it is not mere matter.


Some scholars think that consciousness is merely a property we attribute to ourselves, a property of brains, not a thing in itself.

Others would say that consciousness is a nonmaterial thing (see above re: energy).

I question whether this matters to practical science. I am interested in _how_ consciousness happens, not in the definitions. I would like to know _how_ Victor's skyhooks work, not whether they are mere cranes disguised by his definitions :).

BenYachov said...

Einstein has shown energy and matter are interchangeable. Energy is just another form of matter. The Soul as energy is the same as saying the soul is material.

William said...

Ben:
" The Soul as energy is the same as saying the soul is material.
"

Catholic dogma says that a two day human embryo has a soul, but that embryo is not (yet) conscious. I think that birds can be conscious, but I doubt that means they have souls.

So conscious != souled. Are you saying the soul is a survivable medium for human consciousness?

Zach said...

William even vegetables have souls acc'd to Thomist doctrine.

William said...

Ah, my bad, I was thinking Homer, not Aristotle

BenYachov said...

@William

>So conscious != souled. Are you saying the soul is a survivable medium for human consciousness?

No I am not. I am plainly saying energy and matter are the same via Einstein.

Do you agree? Disagree?

If I am confusing the Soul with consiousness I am sorry but my point is energy isn't really immaterial. It may be insubstansive but it is not immaterial.

If you are a materialist you believe there is only matter & energy is just another form of matter.

BenYachov said...

I think I mean insubstantial.

Zach said...

Well, it doesn't quite say they are identical. It says they are interchangeable. Mass has units of kg, while energy has units of kg m^2 / s^2. So they aren't equivalent, and cannot be equivalent because they have different units. Like saying force is equivalent to acceleration because they are proportional to one another.

At any rate, Ben I think you are talking past William.

Nobody has a good theory of consciousness, but everyone is good at attacking other people's favorite theory.

I like about many Thomist views is that consciousness is not treated special. Abstract conceptual thought is special, and is especially human. But experience? Qualia? Like a cat might have? That is not what separates us. It is our contact with the world of abstract contents that makes us human.

Ilíon said...

"Nobody has a good theory of consciousness", because, unlike me, "everybody" is trying to reduce "consciousness" to something else that is "not-consciousness". This is akin to trying to reduce 'love' to something other than love, and just as impossible.

BenYachov said...

By way of analogy Energy is to Matter what Steam is to Ice.

Energy is simply matter without form.

That is how they are equivalent. But just like Steam vs Ice are not identical they are both forms of H2O.

Energy can become matter and matter energy as Einstein taught us.

Other then that I think I agree with you Zack on the rest. Or at least I don't disagree with you.