Friday, April 13, 2012

Nagel, Loftus and future science

This is a response to a Loftus post on Thomas Nagel. 

"Scientifically uninformed philosophy, as opposed to scientifically informed philosophy." How in the world do you draw that distinction, given the fact that any step from science to philosophy is a step outside of the content of the science itself. Science always underdetermines the philosophy. Always, always, always.

Yeah, wait and see what science will do with it. That cannot possibly be present science, it has to be future science. If I think that science will reach a future outcome, I am extrapolating based on present science. But let's look at what science has done in the past century or so. We've gone from Newton to Einstein, Einstein to quantum mechanics, and the rejection of subatomic determinism. Scientists of a prior generation would be shocked at these developments. The mainstream in cosmology has mostly embraced a temporal beginning of the universe, something that theists would have expected to find true, but atheists like Russell would not.

Betting against science?

Here's what you quoted from Wikipedia. (OK, I won't quibble about whether you actually read Nagel, as opposed to getting your information from Wikipedia and Amazon. But, at the end of the day, you have to actually read Nagel to see if you have him right).

Nagel is not a physicalist because he does not believe that an internal
understanding of mental concepts shows them to have the kind of hidden
essence that underpins a scientific identity in, say, chemistry. But his
skepticism is about current physics: he envisages in his most recent
work that people may be close to a scientific breakthrough in
identifying an underlying essence that is neither physical (as people
currently think of the physical), nor functional, nor mental, but such
that it necessitates all three of these ways in which the mind "appears"
to us. The difference between the kind of explanation he rejects and
those that he accepts depends on his understanding of transparency: from
his earliest paper to the most recent Nagel has always insisted that a
prior context is required to make identity statements plausible,
intelligible and transparent.

That doesn't sound like he's betting against science, it looks to me as if he has some expectations about what science will eventually say when it gets done. And his point about a prior context seems to me to be logical in nature.

In order to reject this as impossible, you have to accept something like the Dennettian "no skyhooks" rule as somehow definitive of science, so that, if someone breaks that rule, they are, by definition, not doing science. 
I can easily imagine people out of the 19th Century saying that science can never abandon determinism, and that it can never accept a temporal beginning of the universe. To do so would be to not do science.
I see that here, the whipping boy ID has been brought up. I'm not always happy about what ID supporters have done, particularly where public school issues are concerned. But going all the way back to my days studying the philosophy of science, back when there was just creationism and ID had not been mentioned, I remember concurring with my atheist philosophy of science teacher that almost all of the "in-principle" arguments that creationism could never even possibly be science, were bad arguments.

I'm sure some of you will read into those last comments an endorsement of ID, or creationism, and I suppose nothing will stop you from doing so. But, for the record, I didn't endorse either one.

The present-day materialist may think that present science supports what he takes to be materialism. But, he still must look over his shoulder and ask Carole King's question of future science: "But will you love me tomorrow?"

31 comments:

Crude said...

That doesn't sound like he's betting against science, it looks to me as if he has some expectations about what science will eventually say when it gets done. And his point about a prior context seems to me to be logical in nature.

I think this captures the heart of your post, and it's hard to deny. There's something downright great about naturalists and atheists getting dogmatic about science, insisting that they know for all time how science will (really, how it must) end up.

Why, it's almost as if they don't give a rip about science at all.

John W. Loftus said...

Thomas Nagel probably agrees with you on a number of issues as he does with me. But the fact that he agrees with you here, or appears to, doesn't allow you much traction at all. That is the point, just as Antony Flew's conversion to deism shouldn't have given Christians any comfort either. For the fact remains they did/do not embrace Christian faith. If you were to talk with Nagel he would be able to give you reasons why your faith is false, misguided, and perhaps even delusional.

I put it this way: Arguments to God's existence simply do not grant any believer any relevant background knowledge, or “priors,” prior to examining their own particular religious faith. They must still look at the raw uninterpreted data to determine if a miracle took place without using a potentially false presumption that their God performed the particular miracle under investigation. Hence this line of reasoning destroys natural theology in one fell swoop.

As far as science goes, your readers really ought to watch this
wonderful PBS Nova program to see just how science works to solve problems. That is what Nagel and you fail to understand. And that is why Antony Flew converted because apparently he didn't understand it either.

Zach said...

There's something downright great about dualists and Creationists getting dogmatic about science, insisting that they know for all time how science will (really, how it must) end up.

Crude said...

There's something downright great about dualists and Creationists getting dogmatic about science, insisting that they know for all time how science will (really, how it must) end up.

Hey man, if you're gonna copy from someone, copy from a guy who knows more than you. Good move. ;)

Pity for you I made no insistence here about how science will or must end up, while the guys Vic is criticizing did.

As for Loftus' nonsense...

Flew's conversion to deism shouldn't have given Christians any comfort either. For the fact remains they did/do not embrace Christian faith.

John, establishing God's existence - or establishing the inadequacy of physical explanations as currently conceived - can be key to arguments related to Christianity. Embracing the Christian faith is not necessary to 'give comfort' to Christians. It affects that data - and all such data is 'interpreted', like it or not.

Victor Reppert said...

The probability that God raised Jesus from the dead, given God's nonexistence, is zero. The probability that God raised Jesus from the dead, given that God exists is, well, rather higher.

Natural theology is relevant to Christianity. QED.

Victor Reppert said...

So, we are getting our philosophy of science from NOVA? Not from Kuhn or Popper, or Howson and Urbach?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said (without thinking) "The probability that God raised Jesus from the dead, given that God exists is, well, rather higher."

Now when you use the term "God" with a capital G, of whom are you speaking? A supernatural force or being? Allah. The Jewish Yahweh? The liberal "ultimate concern"?

You need to understand this and only claim what your natural theology arguments lead you to think, and not claim more than what they do.

Yes, Nova, it interviews real scientists. Why poo poo it because it's a documentary? Or, perhaps you can tell us all where Kuhn or Popper dealt with this particular issue instead. And tell us how you know students in science classes on the topic don't use visual aids?

Victor Reppert said...

A being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

John W. Loftus said...

Let's put this into perspective by using a few other gods:

"The probability that Allah raised Jesus from the dead, given that Allah exists is, well, rather slim."

"The probability that the Jewish conception of Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead, given that the Jewish conception of Yahweh exists is, well, rather slim."

"The probability that a supernatural force raised Jesus from the dead, given that supernatural force exists is, well, POSSIBLE."

Vic, tell me the most that the AfR leads someone to think at best exists. That's what I want to know. Be honest.

Hume's Stopper really DOES stop you dead in your tracks. Given that so many other God concepts obtain from your argument who did not raise Jesus from the dead then you have no natural theology to start with in investigating the claim that your God raised Jesus from the dead. Why? Because you have not yet gotten to YOUR God. To do that you need to examine the raw uninterpreted evidence apart from your priors that YOUR particular God raised Jesus from the dead. And when you do you will find that without that "prior" you are left with the tools of the historian since that's all any of us have when testing an extraordinary claim. The Jews have done this and do not think your God raised Jesus from the dead. So have I. The bottom line is that with your unjustified "prior" you are not being evenhanded with the evidence. That is begging the question.

John W. Loftus said...

You know the problems with the concept of omnipotence. You cannot simply use that word without qualifications. DZ Phillips argues it dies the death of a thousand questions and you also know this.

And you also know the problems with omniscience. Knows all true propositions, right? So? How is that God any different than Yahweh or Allah?

Perfectly good? Where does that comes from? Surely not the moral argument.

And how is that different from Yahweh or Allah?

John W. Loftus said...

People here can say I'm wrong, but they simply cannot say that I'm ignorant.

rank sophist said...

Loftus, the base-level deities of traditional Islam, Christianity, Judaism, philosophical theism and even (in certain respects) Hinduism were very similar. A general characteristic was that they were all grounds of being--metaphysically necessary entities without which nothing would exist. That kind of "classical theism" has fallen out of fashion, but it was commonsensical in times past, and powerful defenses of it are given to this day. You can disagree with the revealed scripture of any religion all you want, but the argument that their deities are inconsistent is not available to you.

BenYachov said...

Speaking of DZ Philips I got an early birthday present in the mail from Mom. It was expensive & I should have grabbed it myself when I saw it for $40 a steal!

Whose God? Which Tradition? [Hardcover]
D. Z. Phillips (Editor)

Description:

"Philosophy of Religion" is marked by controversy over which philosophical accounts do justice to core religious beliefs. Many Wittgenstinian philosophers are accused by analytic philosophers of religion of distorting these beliefs. In "Whose God? Which Tradition?", the accusers stand accused of the same by leading philosophers in the Thomist and Reformed traditions. Their criticisms alert us to the dangers of uncritical acceptance of dominant philosophical traditions, and to the need to do justice to the conceptual uniqueness of the reality of God. The dissenting voices breathe new life into the central issues concerning the nature of belief in God."

Classic Theists strike back!

It contains the dissenting opinion of Stephen T. Davies at the end of the book. It's expensive but so far is a good read.

I tell ya 95% of Atheist polemics applies to a Theistic Personalist "god".

Not the real God of Abraham & Aquinas!

Victor Reppert said...

I don't understand why in the world you think that God can't be identified apart from some revelation.

John W. Loftus said...

Because the arguments are a wash AT BEST.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Why you guys give Loftus so much attention is puzzling.

The man is an admitted liar, and I don't just refer to his personal affairs, but in the way he deals with discussions.

Fake posts, altered posts, deleted posts, and other tampering with arguments.

He does not deal with arguments fairly, and you have to wade through too much deliberate deception to find the real point.

Zach said...

Emanuel you are a hypocrite and that is not your real name, and you have been making these same ad hominem attacks against John for years.

Give an argument, what are we to even say to your junk posts? You make Crude look like a genius by comparison.

Ephram said...

I find it really bizarre that modern atheists and haters of religion (Christianity, particularly) are so averse to theism in general, since theism in general is completely irreligious. Cf. Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Ben Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, etc.

Philosophical theism by itself is neutral. It calls for no proscriptions/prescriptions on anyone's behavior, so why the *visceral* dislike of it? Why are they opposed to it not just with their abstract minds, but with their hearts and souls as well?

Crude said...

Zach,

You make Crude look like a genius by comparison.

A genius? I'm flattered! Most of the time I merely make you look like an idiot! ;)

As for Goldstein, how is he a "hypocrite"? He's not asking for attention, nor getting it. And Loftus does have a pretty crappy track record - remember the fake blog antics? Ahh, memories.

Loftus,

Because the arguments are a wash AT BEST.

"At best" the arguments are compelling. The fact that you stamp your feet and insist otherwise doesn't have much value. And yes, people really can accuse you of being ignorant - of everything from science to philosophy.

John W. Loftus said...

The arguments, Crude, are so bad that professor Keith Parsons cannot give the theistic side any credibility at all so he quit teaching philosophy of religion classes.

That's the worst case. I gave you the best case.

Papalinton said...

Rank sophist
"Loftus, the base-level deities of traditional Islam, Christianity, Judaism, philosophical theism and even (in certain respects) Hinduism were very similar. A general characteristic was that they were all grounds of being--metaphysically necessary entities without which nothing would exist. "

You know of course, that your comment is utter codswallop. The only distinguishing feature, the only commonality is one of anthropomorphism. All the gods look just like men and/or women. Even the spirit-ancestor worship in the tropical highlands of Papua New Guinea are indistinguishable from the archetypal jesus-god, or allah, or shiva etc etc. The only thing which could be construed as a difference is that the ancestor-worship spirits happen in the main to be past relatives of current tribal members.

Those that assert the existence of a spectral numen, capable of suspending or interfering with natural law, and/or influencing and intervening in the natural world, is simply delusional and expressing great ignorance. There is no requirement for debate on this issue. Arguments for the existence of gods are moot, an exercise in inanity. Of that there is no doubt. The ever-widening fault line between the scientific enterprise and the superstitious nonsense of christian theism has resulted in the interment of the christian mythos in the ensuing chasm with no prospect of resurrection.

That which is being conducted now on the internet is simply the mopping up phase of the knuckledraggers who have yet to reach the tipping point of the threshold from mythos to substantive reality.

As in all education and learning exercises, a gestalt moment will eventuate and all pious christian dogma [that of some 20,000-plus identified sects in the US alone] will be consigned to the mythological section of the library.

I have just returned from the Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Australia this last weekend. The world's foremost scientists, philosophers, ethicists, social scientists among many others, from the corners of the world, attended and presented. Truly a celebration of reason.

B. Prokop said...

"Truly a celebration of reason"

Sounds like an echo chamber to me.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Of course Loftus is ignorant...by his own admission he got D's in High School Algebra and has no significant college credit in Math or the Physcial Sciences.

His knowledge of issues surrounding cosmology and abiogenesis is blatantly superfical as displayed in the book.

Oh...and that stuff about having the "equivalent" of a Ph.D. is bunk. Two or Three Masters degrees does not equal a Ph.D. and displays his ignorance on how a Ph.D. is awarded.

Anything I have to say about John Loftus is based on information available in his books or on his site.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Of course Loftus is ignorant...by his own admission he got D's in High School Algebra and has no significant college credit in Math or the Physcial Sciences.

His knowledge of issues surrounding cosmology and abiogenesis is blatantly superficial as displayed in the book.

Oh...and that stuff about having the "equivalent" of a Ph.D. is bunk. Two or Three Masters degrees does not equal a Ph.D. and displays his ignorance on how a Ph.D. is awarded.

Anything I have to say about John Loftus is based on information available in his books or on his site.

Papalinton said...

"Anything I have to say about John Loftus is based on information available in his books or on his site."

Nothing I read of what has been said about Loftus accords with what I have read from the exact same books nor his website, at which I comment regularly. So I'm not sure which source is being referred to. In fact all that is mentioned in the the earlier part that forms the balance of the comment from which the quote was taken, seems to have come direct from the top of the head of the commenter as if a stream of undisciplined consciousness and unlettered ignorance, with as much worth or import equivalent to that of dandruff.

Papalinton said...

"A being omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good."

This hackneyed appeal to hyperbole simply has no sway anymore. We all know the irreconcilable flaws in the jejune and somewhat infantile concept of an all-powerful and all-knowing spectral phantasm.

Defaulting to such notions is nothing less than a resort to superstition and oracular divination, a somewhat callow response when all else has imploded.

Bilbo said...

Slightly off-topic:

Francis Collins vs. Gnu Atheists

Emanuel Goldstein said...

Papalinton, since you say "nothing I have read about what has been said about Loftus" accords with what you have read in his books I have to conclude that you are ignorant.

Or lying.

The info about his grades and courses are contained in the intro and first chapter of WIBA and its earlier manifestations.

He had no higher education to speak of in Mathematics or the Sciences, although he continues to preach about "what science says".

He is ignorant.

So are you.

Crude said...

The arguments, Crude, are so bad that professor Keith Parsons

Oh gosh! Really, Loftus? They're THAT bad?

That would be devastating... if Parsons actually showed where the arguments failed. Not 'attempted to show, and then did a poor job of it'. But actually showed.

But considering Parsons has not done this in any paper of his I've read, well, I guess you're plain out of ammo. ;)

The best case is what I stated - in the best case, said arguments are compelling.

You're rotten at this, John. You really should consider packing it in and picking up an app at Denny's. It's more your speed.

Emanuel Goldstein said...

The way Loftus has been begging for money, I think the might take up an app at Denny's.

As for Parsons, he just threw a fit and ran away.

He "proved" nothing except that he couldn't handle it.

BenYachov said...

Parsons spent all of his energy polemicing Swinburne and Plantinga.

Two Theistic Personalists!

The man wouldn't know classic theism from a hole in his backside.