Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Craig on Materialism

Here.

230 comments:

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Papalinton said...

I won't bother with the rest of Craig's points but take up, as a representative element, his last bit of advice to this poor trapped Belorussian:

"4. If materialism is false, what would be some good ways to attack it? First, demand from the materialist some arguments for the view that the only fundamental entities which exist are material. Don’t let him get away with just asserting his metaphysical worldview or trying to shift the burden of proof to you (demanding that you prove that a fundamental, immaterial entity exists). He’s making the materialist claim; now insist that he support his claim. Second, give arguments for the reality of immaterial, non-supervenient entities. The arguments for God’s existence come to the fore here. If God exists, then materialism is false. I’ve presented cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments, all of which, if sound, imply the existence of a transcendent, immaterial being. These are great arguments to use against the materialist because they focus on what the real issue is: theism vs. atheism. Unless the materialist has some positive arguments of his own to prove that materialism is true, then he can’t justifiably dismiss theistic arguments merely because they imply that an immaterial, fundamental entity exists. He needs to show why those theistic arguments are unsound—which is just the discussion you want to have!"

1. Whoa! Hold on a moment there, Bill! We know materialism exists, we know we think, imagine, have dreams, feel emotions like love, sadness, joy. All these exist perfectly within a materialist framework. We know as a matter of being a part of that materialist reality that fundamental entities exist and are material. The materialist doesn't have to make the materialist claim. He lives it as does every atheist and theist alive. That is pretty much self evident. That is the base from which we should move forward; from the known to the unknown.

Craig's idea is redolent of the contrived and convoluted theist thought patterns that attempt to posit the immaterial, non-supervenient entities as a given, a standard, [without a scintilla of evidence, proofs or facts], an unfounded base from which to work backwards to the materialist perspective, relegating the materialist position to little more than a subsumed subset of the immaterial worldview. In other words, to work from the unknown to the known. Logical? No. Reasonable? No. This form of illogic is symptomatic of the long-standing tradition of Apologetics to declaratively propose an unfounded first premise [god's existence, revivification of putrescent corpses, levitation] and then to agglomerate supposedly affirming statements and reinterpretations from the christian anthology as 'evidence'.

It seems Craig is conceptually unable to note that the 'real issue' is materialism. To imagine the 'real issue' is immaterialism is nonsensical.

[Cont}

Papalinton said...

Cont

Then comes the revelatory pearler of a statement: "Unless the materialist has some positive arguments of his own to prove that materialism is true, then he can’t justifiably dismiss theistic arguments merely because they imply that an immaterial, fundamental entity exists." Let me paraphrase. Craig is saying that, in the absence of a materialist coming up with positive arguments to prove materialism, then the theistic argument "that an immaterial, fundamental entity exists", wins by default. Anthropomorphism gone feral

Rocks in the head, Craig. No doubt about it. A little hair-brained, borderline delusional and a little embarrassing. This is a god-fearing, superstitious-driven, ghost-believing theologian talking here, not a philosopher. Let's remind ourselves of this little lesson in irrationality that this purported rigorous philosopher also holds as 'true':

"A believer who is too uninformed or ill-equipped to refute anti-Christian arguments is rational in believing on the grounds of the witness of the Spirit in his heart even in the face of such unrefuted objections. Even such a person confronted with what are for him unanswerable objections to Christian theism is, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, within his epistemic rights—nay, under epistemic obligation—to believe in God.”

BenYachov said...

>The materialist doesn't have to make the materialist claim. He lives it as does every atheist and theist alive.

VS

>A believer who is too uninformed or ill-equipped to refute anti-Christian arguments is rational in believing on the grounds of the witness of the Spirit in his heart even in the face of such unrefuted objections.

What if any is the difference between you and Craig here Paps?

The Bottom line is Paps because of your irrational fundamentalist Gnu'Atheist hatred of philosophy you can't even begin to make a philosophical or logical case for Materialism.

So really what good are you as an Atheist?

Keith Rozumalski said...

Papalinton said: “Let's remind ourselves of this little lesson in irrationality that this purported rigorous philosopher also holds as 'true':

"A believer who is too uninformed or ill-equipped to refute anti-Christian arguments is rational in believing on the grounds of the witness of the Spirit in his heart even in the face of such unrefuted objections. Even such a person confronted with what are for him unanswerable objections to Christian theism is, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, within his epistemic rights—nay, under epistemic obligation—to believe in God.;”


Papa, this is textbook case of the Tu Quoque fallacy when contrasted with your statement that we all somehow just know that materialism is true. Craig asserts that the Holy Spirit is testifying to the truth of Christianity, but what is testifying to the truth that materialism is true? As BenYakov pointed out, unless you can make a compelling case for why you think that you “know” that materialism is true what you are saying is no different from Craig’s assertion that Christianity is self-evidently true because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

You must be able to answer certain questions such as how could matter come into being 14 billion years ago without a transcendent immaterial cause? Even if you assert that the quantum vacuum caused the big bang then you must explain what caused the quantum vacuum to exist and you must also explain how the physical laws that govern the quantum world came to be.

You must also be able to explain how subatomic particles could be the final link in the chain of being. For example, your body is dependent on organs which are dependent on cells which are dependent atoms which are dependent on subatomic particles. What are the subatomic particles dependent on for their existence? Since you are a materialist you can’t say that their existence is dependent upon an immaterial God. No, you must assert that every subatomic particle is a necessarily existent eternal object which seems like an absurd position.

Finally, how do immaterial things like a thoughts or emotions supervene upon the material? How does the physical brain interact with immaterial things like thoughts and emotions? How does the physical brain process immaterial concepts like love and justice, after all we can’t see or touch love?

Just because the world we interact with is material doesn’t mean that materialism is true. Our material world needs a metaphysical cause and I believe that the best explanation is a transcendent, immaterial and eternal God.

B. Prokop said...

"Whoa! Hold on a moment there, Bill! We know materialism exists"

No, we don't. We know that matter exists, to be sure. But materialism is a whole 'nother ball of wax!

Papalinton is trying to dodge his responsibility to prove his case, simply by declaring it to be "known".

This is one case where I do agree with Craig. The atheist makes the quite extraordinary claim that materialism is true, but is then unwilling to provide the extraordinary evidence required to back such a claim up.

BenYachov said...

>If everyone believed there was a fairy stealing motor oil in my garage,

What is a "fairy"? Is it some genetically engineered mini-human with insect wings spliced in?

Because "fairies" stealing my motor oil vs punk kids isn't either a scientific nor philosophical argument for materialism.

But it's nice of you to try to help Linton anyway.

Cheers guy.:-)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob I think I know what Linton was saying.

Science provides a kind of intellectual least common denominator in Western culture, a scaffolding that we all agree upon (e.g., F=ma (in such-and-such classical limits), the basic physiological unit in nervous systems is the neuron, blood carries oxygen molecules around, etc).

For most matters, this is taken as a sufficient default explanatory scaffolding for a given phenomenon (e.g., in court cases). Stepping outside of this framework requires some good arguments. If I tell you there is a fairie in my garage that is stealing my motor oil, I expect you to take a skeptical approach as a kind of null hypothesis, to assume a naturalistic story about things until I provide really good arguments/evidence to the contrary.

At least indirectly, all arguments for God's existence involve arguing that this naturalistic story is not the whole story.

Pro-theist arguments do not claim that scientific claims are false or unimportant. Rather, the argument is that the naturalistic picture of reality is not only incomplete (this is obvious even for staunch materialists), but incompletable in principle, when it comes to certain phenomena (e.g., being, morality, life, the flagellum, my garage).

But that doesn't erase the naturalistic web of explanation that we all take as reasonable and uncontroversial. It complements it.

I take the above to be uncontroversial, for purposes of argument.

But if the above is right, then Linton points out a real asymmetry. You (theists) accept the naturalistic picture, and probably give it authority in certain domains. Materialists, on the other hand, do not give the supernaturalist picture any authority in any domains. I think this asymmetry is what Linton was pointing out.

This does make for interesting arguments about where burden of proof lies, but a case can be made that such questions do not have an objective answer as much as one that depends on the background beliefs of the people involved. Arguably, anyway, if I was the only metaphysical naturalist in the world, the burden of proof would probably be on me to show why everyone else was wrong, even if everyone else also accepted the naturalistic explanatory core that I discussed above.

If everyone believed there was a fairie that stole motor oil in my garage, the burden of proof would be on me to show them wrong. In that case, it would likely be pretty easy.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Deleted and reposted with a couple of corrections, sorry Ben

But the fairie claim is still in there so people can follow it. I stipulate now that a fairie is a supernatural being that has no mass or energy, exists outside of space and time, and is pure spirit like an angel that can interact with things that have mass/energy in space and time.

At any rate, I will not respond to any queries about what counts as natural (sorry, Crude). Hopefully my post above can be understood well enough without going down that hole, which in practice I have found is a waste of energy where people end up speculating about what future physics might prove.

If you cannot understand my above post without having that discussion, then sorry to have confused you. ;p

BenYachov said...

BDK

We must not conflate Nature with Naturalism. Naturalism is the view that there is nothing beyond nature.

I don't recognized naturalism. I merely believe in natural phenomena.

But what it boils down too is we must do philosophy.

So we establish God via philosophy or materialism.

Philosophy must be done.

Martin said...

BDK,

Fairies aside, there are other more plausible immaterial entities that naturalists try to account for, with limited success.

Abstract objects, for example. It's difficult to argue that they supervene on the physical, and to argue that they exist only in our minds. But realism isn't a great option for the naturalist or materialist, either, since it involves postulating a separate set of existing entities.

Similar goes for moral values and minds.

Crude said...

BDK,

At any rate, I will not respond to any queries about what counts as natural (sorry, Crude). Hopefully my post above can be understood well enough without going down that hole, which in practice I have found is a waste of energy where people end up speculating about what future physics might prove.

Hey, you don't have to discuss it - we've been around that topic enough times. But in the end, what I've said remains: what counts as a "natural" or "supernatural" claim is disgustingly messy. And I think it's pretty damning when people make arguments about how natural claims have been validated, or are validated within a prominent sphere, and then when time comes to define 'natural' they balk.

You say that going down that hole ends up being a waste of time. I actually agree - but I think that's because it illustrates that the neat little picture of science and naturalism is a myth that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. So yeah, I think your point can be understood - I just think that understanding it properly illustrates why your view is fatally flawed.

There's another problem with your claim: Pro-theist arguments do not claim that scientific claims are false or unimportant. Rather, the argument is that the naturalistic picture of reality is not only incomplete (this is obvious even for staunch materialists), but incompletable in principle,

You started off talking about scientific claims, but you ended while talking about the naturalist picture. I don't think 'non-naturalists' are unique in claiming that science is drastically limited, and incapable of giving us answers in a wide variety of domains. Really, the recent blowup with Krauss is a great example: you have a number of prominent atheists, even naturalists, coming out and telling Krauss that science can't show what he suggests it shows.

I think this gets worse when you get into discussions of the mind. You may not like him, but if you go by Rosenberg's standard, plenty of people - even materialists - give authority to and believe in things Rosenberg claims are incompatible with science: like 'selves' and 'beliefs' and 'intentions' and 'qualia' and such. You say that talking about future physics/science is a bad idea, but that's precisely where you have to go to sidestep that objection.

And one last thing.

Bob Prokop,

No, we don't. We know that matter exists, to be sure.

Since Berkeley (at least), we don't know even that. We know we have experiences of matter.

Crude said...

Also, one criticism of Craig.

* Craig ties theism to a non-material claim. Putting aside questions of what does and doesn't count as material (You're welcome, BDK), that just doesn't fly. The greek pantheon were material - they were still gods. The God of Mormons is co-eternal with and constituted by matter, just an odd form of it. Now, in Christianity, the orthodox view is far and away that God is not-material - I'll grant that easily. But theism is a lot broader than Christianity.

* Also, the opposite of theism is not 'materialism'. You can be a non-materialist and still be an atheist. You can even be a supernaturalist and be an atheist (but then we're getting into the natural-supernatural debate, so again, let's sidestep this.)

tl;dr version - It's not clear materialism rules out theism, and it is clear that atheism on its own does not entail materialism. (Ilion will fight me on this.) And what is or isn't 'supernatural' and 'natural' has to be defined for the natural/supernatural distinction to do much work. And I don't think it can be reasonably defined, or at least doing so opens up a swarm of problems, which is one reason why people prefer not to do it anymore.

B. Prokop said...

"if I was the only metaphysical naturalist in the world, the burden of proof would probably be on me to show why everyone else was wrong"

Exactly what I've been saying for some time now. Given the fact that 99.9% of human beings throughout history have been theists, it is the atheist who is making the extraordinary claim. Therefore the requirement for extraordinary evidence falls on them!

I'm still waiting...

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben and Crude both pointed out I should have added that naturalism (full stop) is the view that the natural is all that there is (or at least that all properties supervene on the natural).

So the naturalists go beyond that 'core naturalistic' system, to statements about its scope, even for things we do not understand.

My main point was giving a sympathetic reading to Papalinton: there is a real asymmetry here between naturalists and antinaturalists. We are all naturalists with respect to some phenomena (e.g., blood clotting), while many of us are not supernaturalists wrt to any phenomenon.

I'm frankly not sure how big of a deal it is, though. It certainly doesn't imply that we are all naturalists tout court.

William said...

So is someone who is an atheist but believes in Platonic entities a naturalist?

Looking at the referenced correspondence, do you think that the naturalist who allows such a rich ontology of non-material things is still a naturalist?

If so, is the denial of super-natural intelligence(s) the only remaining defining characteristic of such an "extended" naturalism?

rank sophist said...

But that doesn't erase the naturalistic web of explanation that we all take as reasonable and uncontroversial. It complements it.

I take the above to be uncontroversial, for purposes of argument.


And

We are all naturalists with respect to some phenomena (e.g., blood clotting), while many of us are not supernaturalists wrt to any phenomenon.

This is actually quite a controversial claim. Classical theists hold that this separation between "natural" and "supernatural" is false. In fact, they believe that all things that exist in our world are created and sustained "supernaturally". The contemporary view that contingent reality is capable of existing on its own, so to speak, is an unsupported assumption.

So, no. I, for one, am not a naturalist about blood clotting.

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist:

Good point. I shouldn't have said that.

I stipulated the "for purposes of argument," because I had in my mind a classical theist that could say anything that happens has a supernatural sustaining cause.

But you are right I got sloppy in the next post and went on to say that everyone is a naturalist wrt blood clotting, that would be wrong. You are not naturalists wrt anything that is real in that sense.

However, when asked to explain blood clotting, you still will advert to the least common denominator naturalistic explanation we all agree upon: chemical reactions involving certain cascades. You may think this is sustained by God or whatever, but you still will agree with it even if it is given by a theist, atheist, or whatever.

You will disagree with the ultimate grounding of such facts, but not the facts themselves. We all can agree on certain "textbook" explanations.

So the asymmetry remains that I pointed out, but I should be wary of saying "we are all naturalists" about blood clotting because of what you said.

Crude said...

BDK,

You will disagree with the ultimate grounding of such facts, but not the facts themselves. We all can agree on certain "textbook" explanations.

But the ultimate grounding is where the meat is anyway. You say 'chemical reactions involving certain cascades', but what a thomist, materialist, idealist and otherwise thinks a chemical reaction and cascades really are is going to differ. You can get by without discussing those differences to a point, but what's left over isn't 'naturalism'.

I think you'll see this better if you switch out 'naturalism' for 'materialism', as was in the OP. An idealist is going to rightly object to someone saying, 'Okay, but you're a materialist when it comes to chemical reactions and cascades and such...' No, they're not. They're an idealist with regards to everything under discussion.

rank sophist said...

However, when asked to explain blood clotting, you still will advert to the least common denominator naturalistic explanation we all agree upon: chemical reactions involving certain cascades. You may think this is sustained by God or whatever, but you still will agree with it even if it is given by a theist, atheist, or whatever.

You will disagree with the ultimate grounding of such facts, but not the facts themselves. We all can agree on certain "textbook" explanations.


This is true. Even if everything is sustained supernaturally, low-level phenomena can be categorized and described without constant reference to top-level phenomena.

However, I still disagree with where you take this fact:

This does make for interesting arguments about where burden of proof lies, but a case can be made that such questions do not have an objective answer as much as one that depends on the background beliefs of the people involved. Arguably, anyway, if I was the only metaphysical naturalist in the world, the burden of proof would probably be on me to show why everyone else was wrong, even if everyone else also accepted the naturalistic explanatory core that I discussed above.

In the classical theist's case, change and being (among other things) become incomprehensible without the supernatural. If one was to deny the existence of God, it would be up to them to create a metaphysical system with equal or greater "explanatory power", to use the scientific term. So the burden of proof is not tied to the number of supporters, but to the quality of the system itself. As far as I've seen, classical theism is the most complete of any such system, and the one most in line with commonsensical understanding.

Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist: yes, you are totally right that mere popularity isn't enough to shift burden of proof. I was being a bit glib there. I was assuming some basic ground level of rationality in all parties involved, and sensitivity to evidence. Not just a bunch of idiots saying 1+1=5.

William said...

bdk and rs:

I don't see the burden of proof as a needfully hot potato here.

Are the cases for naturalism and theism both so weak that all their proponents want to do is argue over why they are not the one that needs to prove their case? This would be fine if it were just a de gustibus situation, but it isn't.

rank sophist said...

William,

Normally I would prefer real argument over playing "musical chairs" with the burden of proof, but Papalinton's post about the onus being on theism is at the root of this discussion. BDK defended his view (or at least tried to explain it), which prompted me to provide a counter opinion.

Also, the case for classical theism, as you know, is extremely complicated and difficult to beat. I have no intention of hijacking this into a defense of it, though; so, unless we want to continue passing the buck around, perhaps this combox should be considered dead.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Obviously we would never settle things here, but I think Papa's point is not bad. There is a core explanatory framework that we all use. To take that as a default until given evidence otherwise is not irresponsible, unusual, or strange. Indeed, the point of arguments for God's existence, as I said, always involves some claim that this 'default' framework is inadequate to some task.

The asymmetries here work against theism, it seems, not atheism. Put crudely, we aren't the ones arguing that there are faries in your garage, or that the naturalistic story is incompleteable. Such charges are extremely hard to make stick.

I'm not saying there is a knock-down deductive argument here, but there are some real considerations, some real asymmetries that give thoughtful theists reason to pause.

BenYachov said...

>The asymmetries here work against theism,

At best it works against "God-of-the-gaps" theism not Classic Theism.

Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm not convinced Ben, as I assume under Classic theism there are things that science ultimately leaves out, no? You don't have to call them gaps. Call them holes. :)

Otherwise you'd just have pantheism or panentheism or some such, which I see as ersatz theism (my last gasp as a theist, I was a pantheist, but then I realized it was indistinguishable from atheism).

BenYachov said...

Etienne Gilson pointed out that Classic Theism is rather close to Pantheism in that God is the top down cause of Being so God is in effect at the center of every being.

Thus God is in every being. Check out Page 70 of THE SPIRIT OF THOMISM.

>as I assume under Classic theism there are things that science ultimately leaves out, no?

I don't understand the question.

BenYachov said...

Science studies the mechanisms within nature & how they function.

The study of nature as Being/Existence is the domain of the Philosophy of Nature(regardless if you believe in God, classic or otherwise).

I think you are conflating the domain of Science with the domain of Philosophy.

William said...

I agree with BDK that our ordinary external senses are innately agnostic (not atheistic).

Our intuitions are another matter-- these seem to vary. I don't think that the theistic intuition can be disproven by any version of physicalism I've seen.

BenYachov said...

>I agree with BDK that our ordinary external senses are innately agnostic (not atheistic).

Then the question becomes a philosophical argument on wither to embrace either Realism(strong or moderate), Conceptionalism or Nominalism.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"I agree with BDK that our ordinary external senses are innately agnostic (not atheistic)."

I don't think I said this. If I did I didn't mean to, as I'm not sure exactly what it means. When I talk about the common scientific core of explanation we share, I'm not talking about the dictates of common sense, or sensory perception (e.g., mechanism of blood clotting is far from common sense and direct sensory perception).

William said...

Ben,

" a philosophical argument on wither to embrace either Realism(strong or moderate), Conceptionalism or Nominalism"

Interesting. Why those three? Is the only alternative to these not to choose at all?

William said...

BDK: By excluding common sense, are you saying that ordinary notions of explanation include hard scientific theories but not religion?

If so, I disagree. I think you are out of touch with a large percentage of humanity, including many who are well educated. People can and do invoke theological explanation all the time--in platitudes if nowhere else.

BenYachov said...

>Why those three?

I believe they are the only three. Not sure.

>Is the only alternative to these not to choose at all?

Maybe I would have to consult others on the matter to be sure.

Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

William I still don't see what ou are responding to in my original comments.

I haven't said anything about excluding common sense. I just said that wasn't what I was talking about, or anything about our 'external senses being agnostic' (whatever that means).

My initial comment above I see as largely right, with a couple of caveats that came out in the comments. It seems people are starting to get lost in the subsequent comments which are a bit of a garden path, and completely missing out on my original point.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note won't respond again for a while, this is starting to get into lots of side issues and I'm busy.

Until next time, folks.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

It is no special claim to say that the "default framework" is "inadequate". On its own, without a metaphysical backdrop, this "default framework" is meaningless. To begin with, you have to believe in the data of the senses. Descartes and Parmenides would part with you there. Then, you have to believe that our a priori notions of cause-and-effect, identity, non-contradiction and so forth are accurate--otherwise, true knowledge and science would be impossible. Here, you lose Hume and much of empiricism, and you even start to go against Kant. And then you have to show how change and existence as we know them can be real. Naturalism isn't even possible without these leaps.

But, if you let change and cause-and-effect get their foot in the door, you have to contend with the infinitely regressive causal chains that appear. This leads you straight into the Unmoved Mover argument. You also have to explain the contingent nature of reality. If you try to counter by positing atomism, you must get out of the paradox of Democritus, and fend off David Oderberg's argument that change occurs even at the lowest levels of being.

Naturalism is far from being obvious. Its case must be built up via countless other metaphysical standpoints, whose cases must in turn be built up. If you can somehow do this while escaping classical theism along the way, you're one of history's greatest philosophers.

William said...

Do we all need a common ontology to properly discuss atheism? It appears we don't have such a common grounding.

Crude said...

Put crudely, we aren't the ones arguing that there are faries in your garage, or that the naturalistic story is incompleteable. Such charges are extremely hard to make stick

I don't think it's very hard at all, particularly nowadays - fairies can be swapped out for multiverses (which admittedly do have some some practical application), Rosenbergisms, or other such. The way I see a lot of naturalists handle quantum physics makes fairies sound reasonable in comparison.

And I take a different position from the classical theists here. I'm a classical theist myself, or at least strongly inclined towards it. And it's a pretty common CT move (probably due to Feser in some part) to dismiss the non-CT theisms, particularly the very anthropomorphic conceptions, as (rightly) having nothing to do with CT. The problem is also there's a tendency to (wrongly) go on and just grant all the criticisms aimed at the anthropomorphic conceptions, and actually imply those theisms aren't threatening to atheism.

That's where I disagree. I agree CT is compelling, and superior. But I think if you remove CT from the equation, and just balance PT (personal theisms) against atheism, PT becomes the most reasonable view hands down.

And I'd like to just endorse what RS said about the metaphysical backdrop. I wonder if one way to put it would be that scientific data, 'sitting on the table', is metaphysically inert: it's not by default naturalistic or non-theistic or otherwise.

William said...

Crude: so you think that the "common scientific core of explanation we share" as BDK put it, is 1metaphysically neutral, despite being physical data?

In that case, "physical" is an equivocal word in our discussion. Agreement on a physical theory does not imply that non-physicalism (as metaphysics) has a default burden of proof.

Crude said...

William,

Crude: so you think that the "common scientific core of explanation we share" as BDK put it, is 1metaphysically neutral, despite being physical data?

I'm not sure if that's the best way to put it - I'm trying to FIND the best way to put it.

I'm not even sure it should be called "physical data". As far as I can tell, nothing precludes an idealist from doing science.

rank sophist said...

Do we all need a common ontology to properly discuss atheism? It appears we don't have such a common grounding.

I think it would help if we were all extremely clear about what we meant by "physical", "metaphysical", "non-physical" and "naturalism". BDK, at least, constantly equivocates between the different meanings of that last one.

Speaking for myself, "physical" as it's currently understood is misleading. It generally refers to "stuff susceptible to the five senses", in opposition to the "non-physical" stuff that is in principle not so susceptible. Yet, as I pointed out, the existence of "stuff susceptible to the five senses" is itself a metaphysical (i.e. outside framework of interpretation) proposition, which means that it is not the uncontroversial default position that BDK wants it to be.

And then, to explain the "physical" after we've accepted its existence, we must apply further metaphysical ideas--in the case of Aristotle and his followers, this ultimately results in the "physical" and "non-physical" being inseparable. Only the union of matter (physical stuff) and form (non-physical stuff) can result in a substance. (Notably, "physical stuff" itself is ultimately cashed out in non-physical terms via "prime matter".)

I have no idea of which definitions BDK is using. From my understanding, his position is incoherent--but perhaps it makes more sense if you apply different meanings to those terms.

William said...

"nothing precludes an idealist from doing science"

I am confused about this.

What would the statements "bacteria can cause disease" or "light has a fixed velocity" mean to a consistent idealist?

Crude said...

What would the statements "bacteria can cause disease" or "light has a fixed velocity" mean to a consistent idealist?

A description of observed regularities that reduce to thought, I would think.

rank sophist said...

From George Berkeley's Wikipedia article:

His last major philosophical work, Siris (1744), begins by advocating the medicinal use of tar water, and then continues to discuss a wide range of topics including science, philosophy, and theology.

So, clearly, idealism does not preclude consideration of physical facts. It merely relocates them to the mind.

Crude said...

RS,

So, clearly, idealism does not preclude consideration of physical facts. It merely relocates them to the mind.

You can add Richard Conn Henry to the list. I'd assume there are others - it's a minority opinion, but it's definitely held.

Among philosophers, the Philpapers poll has this...

External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

Accept or lean toward: non-skeptical realism 760 / 931 (81.6%)

Other 86 / 931 (9.2%)

Accept or lean toward: skepticism 45 / 931 (4.8%)

Accept or lean toward: idealism 40 / 931 (4.2%)


I wonder about the division between external world skeptics and external world idealists.

William said...

Funny how Berkeley's God is so much like Descartes's evil demon :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist wrote:
I have no idea of which definitions BDK is using. From my understanding, his position is incoherent-

That's an overstatement. I perhaps could have expressed myself more clearly, but my point is not just coherent, but trivial. This is partly because I didn't actually take a strong stance on anything substantive.

I'll make it one more time. There is a scientific story about how certain things work. E.g., how action potentials are generated, and this is something that we all can agree upon.

No reference to the supernatural is required for such things. E.g., action potentials are produced by the concerted action of voltage-gated ion channels embedded in neurons.

Dealing with theists, atheists (e.g., all the theist scientists I interact with) these are stories about how nature works that are common ground, that we all partake in.

At minimum, this is a coherent position. I find it frankly fairly uninteresting it is so obvious. I admittedly ignore people who would reject even entering the scientific level of discourse. But that is such a small minority, that should not be taken seriously, that I am not going to take it seriously.

Note I explicitly distanced myself from saying this "common ground" dimension of science puts the burden of proof on theists.

I did claim it isn't strange for someone who already is a materialist to use the methods and results of this common ground when people make outlandish (from the materialist perspective) claims. It isn't unfair to ask what we would gain by adding 'God' to our worldview, what would it help explain that we can't already explain, etc..

And this is an asymmetry. Materialists accept no explanations that invoke Gods, while you accept and use explanations that do not invoke Gods.

I find this all fairly obvious, uncontroversial, and frankly inconsequential given the obvious theistic rejoinders about why this "common ground" scientific picture is not completable (note I have not said anything about common sense or perception: I'm not sure where William got that, but it is tangential to my points).

If it isn't clear what I am saying, then my expressive faculties are not adequate to communicating my point, as I can't make it any more clear.

Crude said...

BDK,

And this is an asymmetry. Materialists accept no explanations that invoke Gods, while you accept and use explanations that do not invoke Gods.

I pointed this out in my criticism of Craig - materialists != atheists. Look at the mormon God. Look at Zeus. In fact, look at Nick Bostrom.

And this is why the discussion about what's natural and what's supernatural - while annoying, I grant you - is also unavoidable. Really, I can even rally Jerry Coyne here, since Coyne will give examples of phenomena that would convince him to believe in God. I think it's pretty striking that 'refuting materialism' is never mentioned, but 'a pretty bold display of power' is. Yet powerful agents, even extremely powerful agents, aren't in conflict with materialism. (Back to Bostrom, etc.)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude if your only complaint is about my claim that materialists are atheists, then I've succeeded.

rank sophist said...

No reference to the supernatural is required for such things. E.g., action potentials are produced by the concerted action of voltage-gated ion channels embedded in neurons.

[...]

I did claim it isn't strange for someone who already is a materialist to use the methods and results of this common ground when people make outlandish (from the materialist perspective) claims. It isn't unfair to ask what we would gain by adding 'God' to our worldview, what would it help explain that we can't already explain, etc..

And this is an asymmetry. Materialists accept no explanations that invoke Gods, while you accept and use explanations that do not invoke Gods.


There is no asymmetry. We both have metaphysical axes to grind regarding this information. In fact, even the information itself is based on certain metaphysical assumptions, as I demonstrated. The materialist does not merely say that the "common ground" image is enough: he makes bold claims regarding epiphenomenalism, mechanism, reductionism and possibly eliminativism, among other things. That's what it is to be a materialist: to believe that all things are material--even minds.

If someone were to say that the "common ground" image was all he needed, he would not be a materialist: he would be agnostic regarding the divide between supernaturalism and materialism. He would not entertain notions either of God or all-encompassing physicalism. Either one goes well beyond the range of "common ground".

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

rank sophist:
Believing that action potentials are generated by the activity of a bunch of voltage gated protein pores is metaphysically neutral? I disagree, and if that is your main concern, then like with Crude's concern, I'm not worried.

Like contesting my claim that materialists are atheists, saying that the explanation of something in chemical/structural terms is not naturalistic is equally strange, and not something I will argue about.

By my lights, and everyone I have ever talked to, these are canonical naturalistic explanations in terms of chemicals, proteins, etc. If you want to push some deviant view, where somehow that is not naturalistic, go ahead and do that, but I'm not gonna drink that kook aid.

As I said, there is a huge asymmetry here and I am frankly seeing some painful contortions for some of you to try to escape it, when it is really rather trivial. As I said:
Materialists accept no explanations that invoke Gods, while you accept and use explanations that do not invoke Gods.

The smart strategy is not fight this truism, but any potential implications of it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I meant kool-aid, not 'kook' aid. Freudian slip.

Anthony Fleming said...

BDK, great points. I think there is a way to see it both ways using Ockham's razor. If we are talking about scientific data from material findings then yes, there is no need to invoke the supernatural. In that way, because we are obviously material beings and there is an “obvious” material world there is an asymmetry between the material view and any non-material views. However, if we are to give the implications of those findings, then I don't believe the same asymmetry exists. Could everything be purely material? Yup. To say that however would be making a more metaphysical statement. Could there be an immaterial base, perhaps an immaterial substratum on which everything is based? Perhaps. Still, it is a metaphysical statement. To say that our material eyes with our material brains using material based scientific instruments have learned a lot about material does not mean that is all there is, that too, it seems to me, would multiply entities beyond necessity.

So yes, I agree with you that there is an asymmetry when we are talking about the actual “stuff” we are dealing with. Giving any implications for that “stuff” seems to tread into the metaphysical. Even so, perhaps there is still a slight asymmetry, in that we at least know that we are dealing with material in the first place, or do we? :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anthony I agree. My innocuous claims have very limited scope (e.g., we all agree that we can give a naturalistic explanation for how the venus fly trap shuts).

They do not imply that full-blown metaphysical naturalism is true. That isn't to say that these considerations couldn't be elements that make up a larger materialist argument, or anti-theistic argument. But a lot more work would be needed to do that.

My main goal was to give a charitable reading of what Papalinton was saying when he said 'We are all materialists.' If I'm not wrong, he got that line from Loftus.

Crude said...

BDK,

Crude if your only complaint is about my claim that materialists are atheists, then I've succeeded.

That's not my complaint. In fact, it was the dead opposite of what you just said here.

My complaint was that being a materialist is not sufficient to make a person an atheist. If you missed that, chances are you missed a lot more. I gave multiple examples of materialists who are not atheists, or who aren't clearly atheists. They existed, exist, and can exist.

The smart strategy is not fight this truism, but any potential implications of it.

It's not a truism, unless you restrict your definition of God/gods purely to the immaterial. The problem is that this isn't the case, either among theists or among atheists. (Hence, Zeus and Thor examples being thrown around constantly, despite both Zeus and Thor being material.)

Your response here is 'Well, most people would reflexively agree with my definitions'. I'm pointing out the problem with both the definitions and the claims springing from them. The asymmetry you're talking about simply doesn't exist once you actually take it seriously enough to investigate it.

Crude said...

And just to add on, as I said previously - you just don't need the 'material' to do science. Idealists can get along with it just fine.

Crude said...

I want to expand on where I'm going by pointing out that materialism is compatible with theism.

The point isn't just to note that some materialists can be theists in and of itself. It's that saying "well, scientific explanations are materialist - but the theist appeals to the immaterial" just isn't a truism. The very existence of material gods - and I gave several good examples - skunks that claim.

There's also the other end of it: not all materialists are atheists, and not all atheists are materialists. But is every atheist who rejects materialism therefore endorsing the supernatural automatically? That's one hell of a claim, and I think calling it 'controversial' is putting it mildly.

There's also the idealist point - idealists are entirely comfortable doing science, and they don't need to assume the material to manage it. That flies against the claim here even more fundamentally, that 'we're all materialists' as far as science goes. We all share some common data, but 'materialist'? It's just not necessary.

I think it's significant that all the above suggestions can be raised, before even touching on philosophy of mind.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude you are just clearly wrong in your second-to-last comment.

I said that materialists are atheists ('is' of predication, not identity), which is logically equivalent to the claim that being a materialist is sufficient for being an atheist. I understood perfectly well what you were saying.

If you were to add a single atom of charity to your readings, you would not have misinterpreted me again.

I understood your complaint, and was not impressed. That is, I am happy to say that if you are a materialist then you are an atheist. If you don't like that way of speaking, you can speak differently.

On your second point, you are right some types of idealists might object about interpreting science naturalistically. That's another point I'd be happy to concede. Someone might say everything is a dream, too, and I couldn't show them wrong.

I am happy with dealing with reasonable plausibilities, not every logical possibility.

Blue Devil Knight said...

By 'second to last comment' I really mean your third to last as you just posted as I was posting this.

No time to read your recent comment.

Crude said...

BDK,

I said that materialists are atheists ('is' of predication, not identity), which is logically equivalent to the claim that being a materialist is sufficient for being an atheist. I understood perfectly well what you were saying.

If you were to add a single atom of charity to your readings, you would not have misinterpreted me again.


Oh, knock it off. I'm being polite, I'm being charitable. If I misread you or if you miscommunicated, we can work through that. We don't need these kinds of theatrics.

If all you meant to say - and what can I do here but try to interpret what you just said, to the best of my ability - is that one can be both a materialist and an atheist, not that materialism entails atheism, I think anyone can see how I'd get you wrong. Especially since A) a reading like that makes the statement pretty pointless (rejecting materialism still allows for being an atheist) and B) equating atheism with materialism is very, very common.

On your second point, you are right some types of idealists might object about interpreting science naturalistically. That's another point I'd be happy to concede.

It's not just the idealists. Thomists would argue that science implicitly requires commitments that are incompatible with materialism, to give another example. But the idealists are worth bringing up because of the prominence of the idea (as someone who goes to bat for the eliminative materialists on a regular basis, you better not play the 'it's not very popular so I don't even have to consider it' card), and how far reaching it is. If you don't even need a commitment to the material to do or use science - and it's clear, you don't - then the entire point you're making here just fails to get off the ground.

Blue Devil Knight said...

So you are with ranksophist: explaining action potential generation in terms of proteins embedded in the neuronal membrane is not to give a naturalistic explanation of the action potential? We disagree, and I'm happy to leave it at that. I've already addressed those that would ground all such natural processes using some additional theoretical apparatus: that is a different issue.

I'm fine standing by my claim that we can give a naturalistic explanation of venus fly traps closing, and everyone can accept such an explanation, even if they try to add an additional layer to that to show how God somehow sustains it.

The asymmetry remains.

rank sophist said...

Believing that action potentials are generated by the activity of a bunch of voltage gated protein pores is metaphysically neutral? I disagree, and if that is your main concern, then like with Crude's concern, I'm not worried.

Like contesting my claim that materialists are atheists, saying that the explanation of something in chemical/structural terms is not naturalistic is equally strange, and not something I will argue about.

By my lights, and everyone I have ever talked to, these are canonical naturalistic explanations in terms of chemicals, proteins, etc. If you want to push some deviant view, where somehow that is not naturalistic, go ahead and do that, but I'm not gonna drink that kook aid.

As I said, there is a huge asymmetry here and I am frankly seeing some painful contortions for some of you to try to escape it, when it is really rather trivial. As I said:
Materialists accept no explanations that invoke Gods, while you accept and use explanations that do not invoke Gods.

The smart strategy is not fight this truism, but any potential implications of it.


You ignored my post. Why?

The bare facts remain.

Supernaturalism:

"There are physical facts, including much that has not yet been explained, and even could not be explained physically (minds). To be reconciled coherently, all of these facts require a supernatural basis."

Materialism:

"There are physical facts, including much that has not yet been explained, and even could not be explained physically (minds). The commonsensical world is false because only material things exist: reality as we know it is an epiphenomenal illusion."

Both claims go well beyond "methodological naturalism" (which you have consistently equivocated with metaphysical naturalism). The only contortions here are yours, in trying to make a comment by Papalinton sound profound.

Crude said...

BDK,

So you are with ranksophist: explaining action potential generation in terms of proteins embedded in the neuronal membrane is not to give a naturalistic explanation of the action potential? We disagree, and I'm happy to leave it at that. I've already addressed those that would ground all such natural processes using some additional theoretical apparatus: that is a different issue.

No, you haven't addressed it, for a number of reasons - and one is that you refuse to define 'natural' or 'supernatural'. And that's going to be necessary to even talk about 'grounding all natural processes'.

And 'explaining action potential in terms of...' is A) possible, using those same ideas, through any number of metaphysics including idealism, and B) whether even the typical way of doing it is rightly called 'naturalistic' is precisely one of the things I'm objecting to here. Does it rely on formal and final causes? If so, you're in trouble.

Science, on its own, does not commit one to materialism, much less naturalism. I'm tempted to say, with some qualifications (because you need some metaphysical assumptions to get science off the ground to begin with), that science is metaphysically neutral. It's not naturalistic, it's not supernaturalistic.

I think the only asymmetry remaining here is between what you're saying your argument shows, and what it actually shows.

Crude said...

Rank Sophist,

Both claims go well beyond "methodological naturalism" (which you have consistently equivocated with metaphysical naturalism). The only contortions here are yours, in trying to make a comment by Papalinton sound profound.

I call that kind of thing 'reverse strawmanning'. Trying to make garbage sound better than it was. Even BDK's statement, which I think is loaded with problems, doesn't come close to Linton's original statement which was all about materialism (a metaphysical claim), and didn't say word one about science. It mostly consisted of grunting and mangling Craig.

I think any sensible conversation about these things will require discussing the definitions of natural and supernatural. BDK, for his own reasons, really wants to avoid that. So not much is going to happen here.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude: figures you would think applying the principle of charity is a fallacy. lol

Blue Devil Knight said...

Is anybody here actually an idealist, or are you bringing that up just as a position my argument doesn't apply to? If so, fine, I've already said it doesn't apply. But anyone here who is a Thomist is most likely a realist, nobody at this blog has ever (not once) thrown doubt at claims about oure ability to naturalistically explain natural processes like venus fly traps closing or action potentials.

So either you think I am right, even though idealists might not, in which case you agree with me and are just niggling away with skeptical comments. Or you are the first idealist ever to explicitly grace the comments section at this blog in the seven years I have been posting here.

So to those that think proteins are not real, or that we cannot naturalistically explain how neurons fire action potentials, or how venus fly traps close, I say 'welcome to the fray', and I don't want to argue about that any more than whether I can prove I am not dreaming right now, or solipsism is wrong. I will gladly grant that I can't conclusively prove the idealist/skeptic/solipsist wrong, and let it go at that.

Idealists and skeptics notwithstanding, I still stand by my original claims as being reasonable to the point of trivial. The irony is I'm now the one appealing to common sense against the logical possibilities of these views, against the reasonable plausability of the view that venus fly traps exist, and science can explain how they work.

Crude said...

BDK,

Crude: figures you would think applying the principle of charity is a fallacy. lol

Yeah, it's not an application of the principle of charity when you give an interpretation that is hardly related to what a person actually said. There's a line between charity and spin doctoring, positive or negative.

I've been charitable and fair here. You? Not so much.

Crude said...

BDK,

Is anybody here actually an idealist, or are you bringing that up just as a position my argument doesn't apply to?

I don't rule out idealism as obviously false, or not worth discussing - I have Thomist and classical theist sympathies, but I'm sympathetic to a variety of arguments without committing to them. Do you not see me defending personal theisms, even materialist theisms, despite subscribing to neither?

I explained why I brought up idealists: because the fact that they can accept science, despite rejecting a material world, helps to illustrate a few things. First and obviously: accepting science doesn't commit one to accepting materialism, or even some external material 'stuff'. That's pretty important for the point you're driving at here, since a lot of your talk has leaned heavily on 'accepting such and such scientific descriptions' and trying to cash that out as 'therefore accepting the material world'. But the fact that idealists can do and accept science just fine shows that the two ideas don't have the relation you're implying they have.

Second, even accepting the 'material world' is going to differ based on someone's metaphysics. Thomists accept an external world, but their 'material' is extremely different from a materialist's - they accept the four causes, and it shows up in their view of the world. What's more, Thomists charge that this is necessary to even make sense of science to begin with, and claim it as an unspoken assumption on the part of many people.

nobody at this blog has ever (not once) thrown doubt at claims about oure ability to naturalistically explain natural processes like venus fly traps closing or action potentials.

You'd be wrong, since Thomists would argue that our explanations of both of those things would involve all four causes, or they wouldn't be explained. That's particularly the case with venus fly traps, since the whole 'teleology in biology' thing is a considerable deal among thomists.

Or you are the first idealist ever to explicitly grace the comments section at this blog in the seven years I have been posting here.

I didn't say idealists were popular, anymore than I claimed mormons had a huge worldwide following. My points don't require either.

The irony is I'm now the one appealing to common sense against the logical possibilities of these views, against the reasonable plausability of the view that venus fly traps exist, and science can explain how they work.

As I already said, you're not really someone who can play the 'appeal to common sense' card in this way, given your EM defense. I think between EM and idealism (or hell, full blown solipsism) it's not immediately clear which is the crazier idea.

Second, idealists agree venus fly traps exist. They differ on how they're constituted.

Third, *materialists* are not united in accepting that 'venus fly traps exist', that common sense is correct, etc. See Rosenberg for starters.

You keep saying that your point is trivial. What would really be trivial is to say that science provides a common language and ground for people of a wide variety of metaphysical views to work into. 'That we all accept natural explanations' is a lot more controversial when you actually try to make sense of that claim, instead of just spouting it off and leaving everyone to their own interpretation.

Crude said...

Third, *materialists* are not united in accepting that 'venus fly traps exist', that common sense is correct, etc. See Rosenberg for starters.

I'll be more specific: what this cashes out to, or what Rosenberg tries to cash this out to, in 'materialism' is one hell of a different thing than any 'common sense' interpretation would be. I think it's fair to say that a number of materialists are, given what they think follows from materialism, at war with common sense precisely because they can't square it with their metaphysics.

Hiero5ant said...

A Very Old Joke:

Two guys walking on the beach come across a watch. The first guy says, "wow, that must have been designed!" The other guy says, "How can you tell? The beach was designed too."

How unfortunate for Comedy that the deniers of the asymmetry thesis won't get this one, either.

rank sophist said...

So to those that think proteins are not real, or that we cannot naturalistically explain how neurons fire action potentials, or how venus fly traps close, I say 'welcome to the fray', and I don't want to argue about that any more than whether I can prove I am not dreaming right now, or solipsism is wrong.

There you go equivocating between methodological and metaphysical naturalism again. It's almost like it's intentional. And, once again, you ignored my post. That's also starting to seem intentional.

Anyway, it's possible to prove solipsism wrong, and there are arguments against the brain-in-a-vat/evil genius hypothesis, but that's a debate for another day.

Don Jindra said...

Keith Rozumalsk,

"Papa, this is textbook case of the Tu Quoque fallacy when contrasted with your statement that we all somehow just know that materialism is true. Craig asserts that the Holy Spirit is testifying to the truth of Christianity, but what is testifying to the truth that materialism is true?"

If you seriously doubt the material stuff around us exists then stick out your hand. I have a hammer I'll smash it with. If that fails to convince, walk to the edge of a cliff and step off. That should end the discussion permanently.

Now, using only the spirit world, what can you threaten me with? If it exists, why can I live my life as if it doesn't and never have any problem? Why are you at a loss to find a means of convincing me that what you feel is a non-material spirit?

William said...

BDK: I agree with you that the theory of cellular biology does not require belief that God, or for that matter belief that I, exist.

Of course, it does not require belief in money either, but most labs need money to do what they do :).

I agree that it certainly does not require belief in garage fairies either, but... you see where I'm going with this. Context matters.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude you make some interesting points in your last post, unfortunately I am right now trying to finish up a paper I really need to submit so will rspond quickly.

During my lunch break, I can only make quick points:
1. I probably should have been more explicit I was talking to the realists in the house, not idealists/solipsists/radical skeptics about things like whether proteins really exist. For those that don't fall into such camps, the asymmetry clearly exists. For those that do fall into these camps, I'm not going to go down that road (I have studied this ad nauseum in graduate school in philosophy and it is frankly one of the reasons I was so happy to leave philosophy for neuroscience--it is a neverending dialectic, even worse than theism/atheism).

2. Your point about the four causes is a good one, but that still doesn't remove the asymmetry, as Thomists accept efficient causation. It's not as if they deny that efficient causes, and explanations based on them are real. So even if a naturalist denies final causes, the Thomist accepts efficient causation. So the Thomist would say we can't completely explain venus fly trap shutting naturalistically, but they wouldn't avoid the naturalistic explanation on offer (in terms of hair triggers that trigger a rapid closing of the trap).

ranksophist
1. I am not conflating methodological and metaphysical naturalism, but also be careful they aren't completely independent.

Once science succeeds in explaining something (e.g., successfully explains how venus fly traps close in terms of proteins and such), then we have given a naturalistic explanation, and we end up with a metaphysical claim (the theory quantifies over things like proteins, and we have good reason to think they exist, so we have a metaphysically naturalistic story about venus fly traps closing).

And as I said, it isn't crazy or irresponsible to make a request for why we should accept additional entities or constructs are required to explain venus fly trap closure...

2. Prove to me that solipsism is false. And don't tell me to read Putnam. That whole argument could be happening in my mind, and depends on assuming an external world is required to give content, which is question-begging. You can't use externalism to refute solipsism!

3. I have no idea which comment you are saying I've ignored. If I did I may have just missed it, or thought responding would require me just repeating myself so would be a waste of time. I don't know which.

OK back to work.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

No, that is not a metaphysically naturalistic explanation. A metaphysically naturalistic explanation would be, "This thing that we observed is all that exists." You cannot possibly use methodological naturalism to prove that, or even to hint at it.

As for solipsism, this argument comes from David Deutsch. Suppose that a professor gives a lecture in support of solipsism, which converts three of his students. But what exactly have they been converted to? That they don't exist, and only the professor exists? Impossible: "I think, therefore I am." Or maybe each of them believes that they exist, and that the professor does not. Either way, the professor has not made any converts to his solipsism.

But suppose that the professor was not trying to convert other people (who don't exist), but was merely trying to defend it to himself against the arguments given by the "dream-people" (Deutsch's term) in his fantasy. This necessarily means that "he" (as a "conscious entity") and "other things" (the "dream-people" and "dream-world") are separate. A committed solipsist would be forced to say that the dream-stuff was still part of him, but was coming from his subconscious mind. Exploration of the dream-world would be a kind of introspection. However, as he learns about this subconscious world, he finds that it's far larger than his conscious world. In dream-books, he reads about all kinds of dream-science and dream-laws that the dream-world obeys. Other philosophies--and in fact an entire universe--are contained in his subconscious world. Needless to say, all of this is as real as the solipsist, given that it's a part of him.

However, what then makes this different from realism? Only two things. First, the solipsist must posit that his mind is inexplicably more complex than other minds describes in dream-books. Second, he must commit himself to an arbitrary "renaming scheme", whereby the "external world" becomes the "subconscious mind", "scientific investigation" and "introspection"--obviously unique categories--are collapsed together, and statements about the external world must be prefaced with words like "dream", "illusion" and so forth. Deutsch rightly dubs this "worthless baggage", and it can be easily cut away with Occam's razor. As a result, the solipsist becomes a realist.

Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist:
I call an explanation in terms of proteins etc a naturalistic explanation. We "all" use these ("all" qualified to exclude solipsists and idealist types). You might want to argue that this naturalistic explanation leaves something out, but in practice you will still use this explanation when talking to everyone in the universe. That's the asymmetry. We have true explanations in naturalistic terms, and everyone uses them, while you (theists) have explanations in Godly terms that your interlocutor never accepts.

If you really hate this way of talking, you could just restrict it to talk of explanations. Even at that level the asymmetry remains. At any level you pick as reasonable, this asymmetry will pop out. And if I were you, I wouldn't worry too much about it as it is innocuous.

As for this argument against solipsism, it is clever but if someone wants to be a solipsist they will do so even in the face of that.

One person's worthless baggage is another's essential suitcase. Solipsists would just say, heck yeah my mind is HUGE. After all, it's all there is. My unconscious mind is ridiculously broad in scope.

At any rate, it is a very interesting argument. In the show 'Awake' (Thursday nights) they played on similar concerns. To prove to her patient that he wasn't dreaming, his psychiatrist pulled out a book, handed it to him, and had him read the constitution of the US. She asked if he really thought he actually remembered it well enough to dream it in such detail.

It was very clever, too clever for TV writers to come up with on their own, so I wouldn't be surprised if the writers were familiar with Deutche's argument.

William said...

I think that, as usual, rs is using a different definition from the scientific one: by "naturalistic explanation" BDK means what rs means (essentially) whan he says "essential causation" and rs thinks that he means "essential causation and an assumption of completeness to the theory."

Am I right that you talk past one another due to variant ideas of what naturalistic means? Come to think of it, I'm not sure I know what that term ought to mean here? Context please?

rank sophist said...

William,

There are two senses of the word "naturalistic". BDK keeps swapping between them without warning. The first is the scientific method: methodological naturalism. It's a way of focusing down on the subject under investigation. This is what BDK means 75% of the time he uses the word. The other 25%, he's referring to metaphysical naturalism, which posits, in true Humean fashion, that explaining the parts explains the whole. In other words, physical explanations are all that is real.

This is how he's convinced himself that there is an asymmetry. Both sides accept methodological naturalism, but, to him, it seems like metaphysical naturalism is only a step away from that. However, it is no less far (in fact, it's probably further, given its science-undermining conclusions) separated from the scientific method than theism. Anyone can accept the scientific method--this is true. The same cannot be said of metaphysical naturalism, despite BDK's insistence to the contrary.

One person's worthless baggage is another's essential suitcase. Solipsists would just say, heck yeah my mind is HUGE. After all, it's all there is. My unconscious mind is ridiculously broad in scope.

True, but they objectively lost the argument. Their theory is the more arbitrary, the more needlessly complex, etc. It's a prime target for Occam's razor.

Blue Devil Knight said...

rs: One person's razor is another's eraser. Plus, the solipsist can say it is a lot simpler to have one mind than all this extra stuff out in the world. So based on 'simplicity' it seems a wash.

Also, I am not "swapping" between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. I am also not saying that everyone can accept metaphysical naturalism, full stop.

I'm saying that for the metaphysical naturalist, there is a story that they see as complete, that science has developed (say, of the venus fly trap shutting). I'm saying that everyone accepts this naturalistic explanation, even those that don't accept it as the whole explanation (e.g., for some reason, you might think God is needed to explain the venus fly trap shutting).

And that is the asymmetry. You think venus fly trap shutting involves proteins and such triggering this leaf to shut. I do too. You apparently think God or something more is also needed to explain it. I do not.

So it isn't that you are a metaphysical naturalist about the trap, but that you accept the explanation (in terms of efficient causation, if you must use such terms) that I do, just not that it is the whole thing.

Again, this is trivial. Ignoring idealist types as I said, you think there are proteins, that they are important for action potential generation, etc.. These are metaphysical claims about what there is, about the basis of action potential generation. You just think it isn't the whole story.

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

That said, if methodological naturalism left nothing out, everyone reasonable would be a metaphysical naturalist. I do not equate the two, but I do not think they are independent. The main goal of most modern antinaturalistic (and pro-theistic) arguments is that the natural sciences necessarily leave something out, at an ontological level.

It is naive and false to think that science is metaphysically neutral. It shows us what there is, all the time: DNA, electrons, sodium ions, plasma, superpositions, etc.. (Again, ignoring idealist types, I'm speaking to the realists here, which is everyone as far as I know).

The question is whether science is metaphysically complete not metaphysically neutral. Metaphysics is the study of what there is. Well, there are proteins, DNA, axons, ion channels. We all agree to this. The only question you should ask is whether the ontology induced by the natural sciences is complete.

And that is the tough question. The one you should be focusing on.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I also think, once we have given what we take as a "full" naturalistic story about the venus fly trap shutting, it is quite reasonable to ask you what we would gain by mixing in Gods or other ingredients into the mix. What explanatory payoff would there be? How would it help us better understand the venus fly trap shutting?

That's where the interesting battle is. Frankly, I think it is unwinnable for the theist once it hits that level, which is why they focus so much nowadays on gaps, things we cannot explain, even to the admission of hard-core materialists. Morality, logical truth, that sort of thing.

But then you are stuck with spackle God filling in gaps.

William said...

BDK: "I'm saying that for the metaphysical naturalist, there is a story that they see as complete"

If two people are walking down the street on a sunny day, and neither is blind, and one says to the other "it's daylight now" the context suggests that he means more than what he said literally, just because it is too obvious.

So it is with the statement above. When you bother to say it, people are going to think you mean other kinds of complete than just a mere single phenomenon's explanation, hence rank sophist's confusion.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

A classical theist has no reason to focus on gaps. All of Aquinas's Five Ways could be applied to anything with a final cause (and the first four to something without one). Science is helpful; it is not an enemy. Also, note that I didn't call science "metaphysically neutral" (it rests upon metaphysical presuppositions itself); rather, I referred to it as "common ground". Both naturalists and supernaturalists accept it, and it can be used to support either of their cases.

Anyway, let's look at your argument here. It runs as follows:

1. Complex physical processes have been detected by science (which presupposes change, etc.).

2. The addition of supernatural elements does not add anything to this picture.

3. Therefore, naturalism is true.

I'd like to see you defend 2. How, for example, do you explain change? How do you explain being? How do you explain the contingent nature of being? What about, to shift the battleground even more to philosophy, qualia, intentionality (in mind and in nature) and thought? How do you stop naturalism from "explaining itself away" via eliminative materialism? If you respond that you need a raincheck on those arguments, then you've essentially admitted that naturalism is worthless. I endorse metaphysical systems that provide answers, not guesses.

Notably, science is incapable of answering those questions, seeing as it's built on methodological naturalism. As Feser loves to say, using science as evidence for materialism is like using a metal detector as evidence that nothing but metal exists. Basically, you're going to have to argue from the here-and-now on metaphysical grounds. (As you probably know, the only way to escape the first issue--change--is through Hume's argument against causation. Yet science goes with it, which results in skepticism rather than naturalism.) Good luck.

William said...

RS: I would prefer to avoid the cruft of excessive Aristotelian explanation in my science except where it has something useful to do, like on an ethics board, thank you very much :D

BDK: If you really intend to make ontological completeness claims for your kind of naturalism, I would ask why bother?

Consider how those sorts of completeness and consistency claims worked out in mathematics and logic. They didn't.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"How do you explain the contingent nature of being?"

I suppose I shouldn't ask this silly question but since the conversation is so silly already I'll ask anyway.

Contingent on what?

Don Jindra said...

"As Feser loves to say, using science as evidence for materialism is like using a metal detector as evidence that nothing but metal exists."

Feser begs the question. This analogy assumes the existence of something other than metal. But before the analogy has validity (rather than a mere rhetorical scoff) he must establish the existence of that "non-metallic" stuff. What sort of "non-metallic" detector does he have? Intentionality? Let him prove it.

rank sophist said...

Feser begs the question. This analogy assumes the existence of something other than metal. But before the analogy has validity (rather than a mere rhetorical scoff) he must establish the existence of that "non-metallic" stuff. What sort of "non-metallic" detector does he have? Intentionality? Let him prove it.

That isn't his point. As he also loves to say, science was redefined by Bacon, Hobbes and co. so that things like intentionality wouldn't "be allowed to count". They were arbitrarily removed from scientific investigation a few centuries ago, and now people are lauding science for proving that they don't exist, since no scientist has "found" them. Kind of funny.

I suppose I shouldn't ask this silly question but since the conversation is so silly already I'll ask anyway.

Contingent on what?


The entire universe is contingent. None of its contents, none of its laws are not contingent. Even math and the logical axioms, as David Oderberg has argued, are not "necessary" in the sense that they could provide a ground of existence. Yet, if everything is contingent, then how does anything exist at all? If nothing is "necessary", there would have been a time at which nothing existed--and "nothing comes from nothing", as we all know. An infinite regress of equally contingent explanations won't solve it (quantum fields! singularities!).

The only solution is a metaphysically necessary object, without which nothing could exist. Naturalism has no such object, and hence posits a universe that's contingent all the way through. In other words, it fails to explain why anything exists in the first place. Aside from a half-hearted appeal to some form of mysterianism, the naturalist has no counter-argument.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Rank sophist I didn't make that argument. I take it that such-and-such explanation of the venus fly trap closing is complete. There is no residue left over I need to explain. Convince me I'm wrong.

But that is not an argument for metaphysical naturalism tout court.

I know Thomists eschew god-of-the-gap type arguments. My claim is that with examples like the above, I have never met an Aristotelian that could convince me I was leaving something out of my account of the venus fly trap shutting. When I ask, they typically tell me to read Feser, which suggests they don't have a very thorough grasp on things.

William made a fun point about the naturalist claim of completeness:
Consider how those sorts of completeness and consistency claims worked out in mathematics and logic. They didn't.

Great, and in those cases it was proven. Prove it for the venus fly trap shutting that the naturalistic picture is in principle incomplete. People didn't agree just because Godel said it: he had to prove it.

Also, note that if you add the propositions to "complete" the incomplete system (going from system A to A'), you end up with A' having incompleteness too. So whose to say if naturalism is incomplete, that adding Gods or whatever will complete it?

Interesting angle though William.

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

As Feser loves to say, using science as evidence for materialism is like using a metal detector as evidence that nothing but metal exists.

Uh oh do we have another Feser groupie here?

If your metal detector detects everything that exists, and leaves out nothing that you are aware of, then perhaps you should take your metal detector more seriously, and put less trust in philosophical speculations.

Point is, as pointed out above, the above Feser quip assumes there is something left out. What are we leaving out of the venus fly trap closing story?

What is left out of our story about action potential generation in terms of voltage-gated ion channels embedded in membranes? Ontologically, what is missing? What would you add to the wikipedia page?

Enlighten me, we'll publish it and revolutionize neuroscience.

Can anyone recommend a good overall introduction to Thomist/Aristotelian philosophy....that is not written by Feser?

BenYachov said...

>Uh oh do we have another Feser groupie here?

What's wrong with being a Feser groupie Churchland boy?;-)

>If your metal detector detects everything that exists,

That is kinda begs the question.

Does Science detect all that exists or do you need philosophy to know the rest even in a hypothetical godless universe?

>Can anyone recommend a good overall introduction to Thomist/Aristotelian philosophy....that is not written by Feser?

Anything by Oderberg, or better yet Etienne Gilson.

Books like Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge which I haven't gotten around to yet buts looks good.

or

Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought

BenYachov said...

Oh I forgot!

Cheers BDK!:-)

BenYachov said...

One correction Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange wrote Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought not Gilson.

(It's still a good book thought)

My mistake.

But as for Gilson I am in the process of reading Methodical Realism
A Handbook for Beginning Realists
by him.

Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben "That is kinda begs the question" yes that was the point! You can't assume the metal detector is a good analogy in either case.

Thanks for the recommendations. Does Oderberg final and formal causation? That seems to be a sticking point for me: people try to convince me we need either one and I end up thinking they are just describing epistemic, not ontological, categories.

BenYachov said...

>You can't assume the metal detector is a good analogy in either case.

No it's a flawless analogy to know that Scientism/Positivism fails the test of itself. It "kills" God via murder/suicide.

Science alone can't logically be the sole or final source of knowledge about reality.

One must do philosophy. As Plato said true philosophy starts with wonder to know, bad philosophy starts with despair and ends in dispair.

Blue Devil Knight said...

The question was about ontology, though. Unless you beg the question, you can't use that analogy. The analogy is good for getting your point across, but not proving the point.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

If that wasn't Feser's point then what was the point of that metal-detector analogy?

"things like intentionality... were arbitrarily removed from scientific investigation a few centuries ago, and now people are lauding science for proving that they don't exist, since no scientist has 'found' them."

Are you sure about that? More likely, that's Feser's superficial spin on a complex problem.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Or I could say "Oh my God why didn't I see it, of course the metal detector analogy kills materialism! How could I have been so blind?!"

lol Basically it is like this.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"Yet, if everything is contingent, then how does anything exist at all?"

Like I asked but you ignored, contingent on what? It's easy to say x is contingent, but what does that mean in this context? How does that concept relate to reality? Is the universe said to be contingent simply because someone naively claims he can image it does not exist? Is that all there is to so-called contingency? Contingency sometimes seems to be a fantasy taken way too seriously.

"If nothing is 'necessary', there would have been a time at which nothing existed"

Arguments like this seem to be confusing existence with change. The two are fundamentally different.

Anyway, what does it mean to say nothing is necessary? How would you know? Specifically, how do you know the universe is either necessary or not necessary? Necessary to whom or what? Even granting the possibility that the universe is unnecessary, it does not follow that there was a time at which it did not exist. Human conception is not necessarily fact.

You say Oderberg argues that math is not necessary. Hurray for him. I agree. But why would anyone believe math or logic could or should provide a ground for existence? Why would anyone believe existence needs any ground to exist? It's there. It couldn't care less what you think about it. It's not bothered by the fact that maybe it shouldn't be there.

Besides, this "nothing is necessary" usually turns out to be a bluff. Some ultimate necessity jumps out of the bushes. We are then given the qualifier, "nothing is necessary except this one thing," as if sweeping the problem under a different rug is a solution. That's Feser's tactic.

Don Jindra said...

BenYachov,

"Science alone can't logically be the sole or final source of knowledge about reality."

In most cases this is a straw man. Science claims to be the best method of discovering knowledge within its scope. It's hard to deny its successes. It's hard to ignore the bungling mess made by other means.

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"Also, note that if you add the propositions to "complete" the incomplete system (going from system A to A'), you end up with A' having incompleteness too. So whose to say if naturalism is incomplete, that adding Gods or whatever will complete it?

Interesting angle though William."

Actually it is a pretty drab angle.

I presume you are, in the back of your mind, invoking Goedel's incompleteness systems. The theorems are about formal systems, which are particular mathematical objects satisfying a certain number of specific properties; and the conclusion is not about unqualified incompleteness but *arithmetical incompleteness*. In other words, even if you succeeded in formalizing the system (a most futile of endeavors) and that such a system satisfied the conditions of Goedel's theorem, by the work of Matyasevitch et. al. Goedel's conclusions can be reworded as saying that there is a Diophantine equation that has no solutions but the system cannot prove such a fact. I agree that such a momentous fact can trouble your conscience, but why should it trouble ours?

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

Grod I know it is about formal arithmetic systems, I was just having fun with the analogy. Point is, even if the analogy is apt (which it is not in all likelihood), there is no way to escape Godel by packing on more theorems to "complete" the system and generate a system that is not incomplete.

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"Point is, even if the analogy is apt (which it is not in all likelihood), there is no way to escape Godel by packing on more theorems to "complete" the system and generate a system that is not incomplete."

I suggest you read my post again. Yes it is arithmetically incomplete, but so what?

BenYachov said...

>In most cases this is a straw man.

Not for people who seriously advocate Scientism & don't make the mistake of equivocation between Science vs Scientism.

>Science claims to be the best method of discovering knowledge within its scope. It's hard to deny its successes.

For example.

>It's hard to ignore the bungling mess made by other means.

The mess is largely one of bad philosophy not bad science.

BenYachov said...

@BDK
>I know Thomists eschew god-of-the-gap type arguments. My claim is that with examples like the above, I have never met an Aristotelian that could convince me I was leaving something out of my account of the venus fly trap shutting.

That's because the Thomist asks the question "What keeps the Venus Fly in existence here and now?" and based on his realistic observation of the world concludes it needs something purely actual to make it exist here and now.

The natural workings & mechanisms of the plant & the lack of need for a "supernatural" explanation for those processes are not relevant.

>When I ask, they typically tell me to read Feser, which suggests they don't have a very thorough grasp on things.

Well it is easier to pass the buck then explain from scratch.

Some of us are lazy.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Grod for goodness' sake I was just having light fun with his analogy relax. I agree: so what?

Blue Devil Knight said...

"What keeps the Venus Fly in existence here and now?" and based on his realistic observation of the world concludes it needs something purely actual to make it exist here and now.

And if I don't buy that "it needs something purely actual to make it exist here and now"? Is there a good argument for that?

BenYachov said...

>And if I don't buy that "it needs something purely actual to make it exist here and now"? Is there a good argument for that?

Take your pick.

The 5 ways? The actuality potency distinction? The arguments for Realism vs Nominalism etc....

You can play the "And if I don't buy..." card to any solution presented to you but why should I buy such knee-jerk skepticism for it's own sake?

Riddle me that?

Cheers friend.

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"Grod for goodness' sake I was just having light fun with his analogy relax."

For goodness' sake, can I not have a bit of innocent fun correcting other people's mistakes trying to pass off as knowledge? Sheesh.

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

BenYachov: It wouldn't be skepticism for its own sake, but asking what you can offer that would add to my understanding of the venus fly trap closing.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Grod: so are you saying that you can patch up an incomplete system by adding new theorems, and make a complete system?

That would be false.

I said that you could not do this. That was my point. Hence, William should be careful of using this as an analogy if he hopes to come up with an alternate 'complete' system of thought.

We were all clear it was an informal analogy, but thanks for the helpful reminder.

rank sophist said...

Can anyone recommend a good overall introduction to Thomist/Aristotelian philosophy....that is not written by Feser?

Oderberg's Real Essentialism is mainly focused on essentialism (duh), but it has extremely detailed breakdowns of the four causes, act/potency, substantial form, prime matter and so forth. It's not a general interest book, though; so, if you don't commonly read analytic philosophy, it might be too opaque as a starting point.

Are you sure about that? More likely, that's Feser's superficial spin on a complex problem.

Feser is quite well-versed in the history of philosophy, and he's gotten a high-five from Anthony Kenny. Plus, his case is fleshed-out and convincing. I'm inclined to trust his analysis over an uninformed guess.

Like I asked but you ignored, contingent on what? It's easy to say x is contingent, but what does that mean in this context? How does that concept relate to reality?

Contingent on something else--anything else. The tree's growth is contingent on the presence of water, which is contingent on many other factors, which are contingent on other factors.

Is the universe said to be contingent simply because someone naively claims he can image it does not exist? Is that all there is to so-called contingency?

No. The universe is contingent because it (and everything in it) began to exist, and because it changes. Everything within the universe is in the same boat. Something cannot create itself, nor can it change itself. Therefore, it's contingent on something else, and it might not have existed.

Arguments like this seem to be confusing existence with change. The two are fundamentally different.

Yes, but something is contingent if it participates in either. Only a metaphysically necessary object that does not participate in being but is being, that does not participate in change but causes it, would not be contingent.

Anyway, what does it mean to say nothing is necessary? How would you know? Specifically, how do you know the universe is either necessary or not necessary?

It changes, it began to exist and it's participating in existence now. Pretty much the profile for a non-necessary entity.

Necessary to whom or what?

Metaphysically necessary. See this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metaphysical_necessity

Even granting the possibility that the universe is unnecessary, it does not follow that there was a time at which it did not exist. Human conception is not necessarily fact.

If it's not necessary, then it very much does follow. Also, if human conception is not necessarily fact, then I suppose there's no reason to put any faith in naturalism, huh? Or anything, really.

Again, skepticism is not naturalism.

Why would anyone believe existence needs any ground to exist? It's there. It couldn't care less what you think about it. It's not bothered by the fact that maybe it shouldn't be there.

You have just made the proverbial "half-hearted appeal to some form of mysterianism". It does nothing but show the holes in naturalism.

Besides, this "nothing is necessary" usually turns out to be a bluff.

I never said that "nothing is necessary". I was saying that, for your position (naturalism), nothing necessary could exist, and therefore contingent things couldn't exist either.

Some ultimate necessity jumps out of the bushes. We are then given the qualifier, "nothing is necessary except this one thing," as if sweeping the problem under a different rug is a solution. That's Feser's tactic.

That makes no sense. Why would necessary, changeless being-itself require a further explanation? The entire point is that it ends the regress and provides an explanation. As Daniel Came said in response to similar claims made by Dawkins, "For an explanation to be successful we do not need an explanation of the explanation."

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"so are you saying that you can patch up an incomplete system by adding new theorems, and make a complete system?

That would be false."

Read my post again.

Oh ok, that did not work the first time, so let me spell it out. The incompleteness in Goedel's incompleteness theorems is *arithmetical* incompleteness, not incompleteness tout court. Say, we have a metaphysical system P to which Goedel's theorems apply (a fantastic scenario, but let us roll with it). The only think you can conclude (*) is that there is a true arithmetical sentence that the system cannot prove true, or in Matyasevitch et. al. reformulation, there is a Diophantine equation that has no solutions but the system cannot prove such a fact. The system could still decide all metaphysical questions you care to name; Goedel's theorems are simply mute about that. And thus my remark: ok fine, P is arithmetically incomplete, so what?

(*) you can conclude a few more things, say about the unprovability of the consistency of the system P in P itself, but this ultimately boils down to the fact that we can translate provability statements, via Goedel's arithmetization of syntax trick, into an arithmetical statement. For example, the proof of Goedel's second incompleteness theorem is, roughly speaking, the running of the proof of the first incompleteness theorem in P itself now applied to a specific sentence, the consistency of P. The extra hypothesis needed on P are there precisely to be able to pull off this internalizing trick.

rank sophist said...

It wouldn't be skepticism for its own sake, but asking what you can offer that would add to my understanding of the venus fly trap closing.

To quote my earlier post that answered this question: "How, for example, do you explain change? How do you explain being? How do you explain the contingent nature of being? What about, to shift the battleground even more to philosophy, qualia, intentionality (in mind and in nature) and thought? How do you stop naturalism from 'explaining itself away' via eliminative materialism?"

You did not respond. Let's put this in context.

How does the venus fly trap change? What causes it to close? And what causes that cause? And so on.

How does the venus fly trap exist? What is holding it together here and now? And, further, what caused it to exist? And what caused that cause? And so on.

The venus fly trap might not have existed. Its existence is contingent on another contingent being, and so on. Why does it (or anything else) exist?

The venus fly trap's closure serves a function. It's "about" something else. In other words, it's a manifestation of intentionality. How does it have intentionality?

The venus fly trap looks and feels certain ways to us. Why?

We can grasp the abstract concept of a venus fly trap without one being present. Why?

I hold that naturalism cannot answer these questions about the venus fly trap.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Grod: as I said it was all an analogy, why are you being so literal and pedantic.

ranksophist those are all great questions I will have to take some time to think to see if I have an answer. I will focus on your questions about the fly trap, and not those about our psychological reactions to the trap, which would bring up a different set of issues.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ranksophist b/c my specialty is neurscience, I may translate them into questions about neurons (e.g., action potentials, neurotransmitter release, etc). I don't understand venus fly traps at the molecular level the way I do neurons...

Unless you object, that is...but your questions all have fairly straightforward translations into neuro.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

That sounds fine to me. I have no idea how naturalism could answer them in any scenario without positing numerous, inherently mysterious brute facts, but I'll wait to see how you respond.

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"as I said it was all an analogy, why are you being so literal and pedantic."

I am assuming that is a question, not an affirmation. The answer is because you made a question. To quote from you:

"so are you saying that you can patch up an incomplete system by adding new theorems, and make a complete system?

That would be false."

So I responded. If you did not wished a dose of literalness and pedantry you way, then why did you not kept your mouth shut and simply dropped the matter?

Crude said...

BDK,

1. I probably should have been more explicit I was talking to the realists in the house, not idealists/solipsists/radical skeptics about things like whether proteins really exist.

Idealists aren't radical skeptics, and radical skepticism is consistent with materialism anyway.

Either way, if you're saying "Well, fine, my claim doesn't apply to idealists or these other views", your claim is taking on a lot more water than you're appreciating. It means that accepting scientific data and claims isn't tantamount to accepting naturalistic data and claims - the only thing that could be 'clinching' the acceptance of those things would have to be flowing in large part from a metaphysical or philosophical position. But accepting some kind of external world doesn't suffice to make someone a naturalist either - thomists accept a material world, but their understanding of the material world is different from the 'naturalist' understanding.

Your point about the four causes is a good one, but that still doesn't remove the asymmetry, as Thomists accept efficient causation. It's not as if they deny that efficient causes, and explanations based on them are real. So even if a naturalist denies final causes, the Thomist accepts efficient causation.

And the Thomists will say that abandoning formal and final causes will make the efficient causal explanations incoherent. I can certainly name a few who say this. When a thomist 'accepts efficient causation', he accepts it as part of the four-cause package. There's no sectioning it off to stand on its own.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Rank Sophist, translated questions follow. Specifically, I answer them about potassium channels (proteins that are embedded in neural membrane that let potassium into the cell during a particular phase of the action potential).

How does the ion channel change? What causes it to close?

An ion channel is made up of proteins, or amino acides strung together into a complex three-dimensional shape that roughly resembles a tunnel. Inside the tunnel (the ion channel pore), there are charged species of amino acids that form a "cork", and this cork can be moved via electrostatic interactions across the channel. Specifically, when the voltage across the cell changes, the position of this "cork" in the pore changes, retarding or allowing potassium ions to flow through the pore.

If you do genetic manipulations, creating ion channels that lack these charged amino acid residues, it abolishes the voltage-sensitivity of the ion channels. Also, you can literally measure the current of this cork as it moves through the membrane (the gating current induced as the cork moves through the pore of the channel.)

And what causes that cause? And so on.

Typically ion flux from ion channels in adjacent regions of the membrane. This is how action potentials propagate down a neuron. Voltage changes in adjacent membrane, this causes ion channels to open, which causes voltage to change, and this happens further down the neuron, and it moves along like a wave at the beach. You could also ask what causes that, and I'd say it depends (e.g., it would usually be synaptic activation from a presynaptic neuron).

How does the potassium channel exist? What is holding it together here and now? And, further, what caused it to exist? And what caused that cause? And so on.

How does it exist? There are covalent bonds holding all these amino acids together. At some point the channel was constructed by translation of an mRNA string into a protein chain via various known mechanisms.

The potassium channel might not have existed. Its existence is contingent on another contingent being, and so on.

Sure. And I might not have existed. We know they exist because we observe them. I don't quite understand the point. Its existence depends on there being a neuron in which it is constructed, and that depends on an animal that has neurons, etc.. And that is an evolutionary question.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Response to ranksophist, part II. Part I was the main physiology, the stuff that would make up part of the common ground that theists and atheists alike (at this site) can accept (vague claims to the contrary, or appeals to idealists, notwithstanding).

You then switch gears a bit by asking about function, which is more complicated conceptually.
---------
The ion channel serves a function. It's "about" something else. In other words, it's a manifestation of intentionality. How does it have intentionality?

Let me use a simpler example. The function of the heart is to pump blood. I don't call that an 'intentional' description of the heart, because I reserve that term for mental phenomena. I find calling it 'intentional' to be tendentious and confusing. While I understand why people talk that way, I won't do it.

At any rate, let me agree though that the heart's function is to pump blood through the circulatory system: that is to say it is an effect of the heart, the effect that keeps the animal alive, and which, if damaged, would kill its chances of reproducing, living, etc.. It is an essential part of this biological system's survival.

Now, I'm not saying this is a final, general, story about biological function. How we assign function depends on the thing being studied. E.g.,, accounts of function of mimetic coloration in butterflies is likely different from the account of function of a single charged amino acid in an ion channel, which is different from the function of bee stings that kill the animal doing the stinging. This is an extremely complicated topic and there doesn't seem to be a univocal answer.

But the function (or I should say, one function) of the potassium channel? To selectively allow potassium ions through the cell membrane, which is typically impermeable to such ions.

So these posts paint a very broad-stroke picture of voltage-gated potassium channels that help generate action potentials in neurons.

Given the above broad-strokes scientific picture, what am I leaving out that, if I understood it, would make me understand the ion channel better? What metaphysical resources will the theist provide that will help me better understand voltage-gated potassium channels?

Show me the final causes, the formal causes, in this, and how they are ontologically irreducible to the elements in the story above.

If you can do that, I'll be impressed.

Blue Devil Knight said...

OK Crude tell me what is incoherent (or what a Thomist would say is incoherent) in my above description of voltage-gated potassium channels.

Let's be specific. I'm done with the generalities.

I will say I've met many Catholic neuroscientists, and they all agree with the above story about ion channels. They may think it is incomplete, but certainly not incoherent. Again with the 'incoherent' talk. Prove it.

Crude said...

BDK,

I will say I've met many Catholic neuroscientists, and they all agree with the above story about ion channels. They may think it is incomplete, but certainly not incoherent. Again with the 'incoherent' talk. Prove it.

I would be both impressed and surprised if any of those Catholic neuroscientists had even heard of formal-final causation, much less had a basic understanding of it. Many guys who don't shut up about the truth of evolution by natural selection, in my experience, will completely botch an explanation of it when called upon to do so.

If you want my input, I'm game. Let me ask this right away: Are you contending that the descriptions you just gave are entirely bereft of formal/final causes? That you described everything in terms of efficient causation only?

rank sophist said...

An ion channel is made up of proteins, or amino acides strung together into a complex three-dimensional shape that roughly resembles a tunnel. Inside the tunnel (the ion channel pore), there are charged species of amino acids that form a "cork", and this cork can be moved via electrostatic interactions across the channel. Specifically, when the voltage across the cell changes, the position of this "cork" in the pore changes, retarding or allowing potassium ions to flow through the pore.

If you do genetic manipulations, creating ion channels that lack these charged amino acid residues, it abolishes the voltage-sensitivity of the ion channels. Also, you can literally measure the current of this cork as it moves through the membrane (the gating current induced as the cork moves through the pore of the channel.)

Typically ion flux from ion channels in adjacent regions of the membrane. This is how action potentials propagate down a neuron. Voltage changes in adjacent membrane, this causes ion channels to open, which causes voltage to change, and this happens further down the neuron, and it moves along like a wave at the beach. You could also ask what causes that, and I'd say it depends (e.g., it would usually be synaptic activation from a presynaptic neuron).


This is very impressive scientific knowledge, but, metaphysically, it's the beginning of an infinite regress. You are very right that I could ask "what causes that", and it's exactly what I plan to do. If voltage changes are caused by presynaptic neurons, then what changes the presynaptic neurons? And what changes the changer of those?

How does it exist? There are covalent bonds holding all these amino acids together. At some point the channel was constructed by translation of an mRNA string into a protein chain via various known mechanisms.

What holds together the "covalent bonds"? What caused the "various known mechanisms"?

Sure. And I might not have existed. We know they exist because we observe them. I don't quite understand the point. Its existence depends on there being a neuron in which it is constructed, and that depends on an animal that has neurons, etc.. And that is an evolutionary question.

If everything is contingent, then there would have been a point at which no contingent thing existed, since otherwise you have an infinite regress of equally contingent explanations. But nothing comes from nothing--so, if everything is contingent, then nothing can exist now. The "evolutionary question" is a contingent explanation of the neurons, and it requires another contingent explanation. In fact, any naturalistic explanation you provide me will be contingent, going all the way back to the beginning of the universe. Even an eternal, unchanging universe (as was theorized in ancient times) would not escape the problem, because everything within the universe would still be contingent.

In any case, I think you see where this is going. I can keep asking "why" and "how" forever, until we reach a point where you say "it just does". The problem is that, to say "it just does" to each of my lines of questioning, you're forced to posit countless brute facts that explain nothing. To say that quarks "just do" exist and change, for example, merely raises more questions. What makes them exempt? Why do we stop here rather than somewhere else? How does something change itself? What if we discover a deeper layer of physics?

The only way out of this regress is to posit the God outlined by the Five Ways: a metaphysically necessary and changeless "mover" that does not participate in but is being. The final two Ways further elaborate that it is the source of all perfections and the director of all things toward their final causes (i.e. the source of intentionality).

rank sophist said...

Show me the final causes, the formal causes, in this, and how they are ontologically irreducible to the elements in the story above.

If you can do that, I'll be impressed.


Very well.

At any rate, let me agree though that the heart's function is to pump blood through the circulatory system: that is to say it is an effect of the heart, the effect that keeps the animal alive, and which, if damaged, would kill its chances of reproducing, living, etc.. It is an essential part of this biological system's survival.

Positing that the heart has a function--something which it is "directed toward"--is to attribute to it a final cause. The words "intentionality" and, as some call it, "proto-intentionality" (in non-mental things) are just modern terms for final causality. To say that "the heart's function is to pump blood through the circulatory system" is a statement with which Aristotle and Aquinas would have agreed wholeheartedly.

Now, I'm not saying this is a final, general, story about biological function. How we assign function depends on the thing being studied. E.g.,, accounts of function of mimetic coloration in butterflies is likely different from the account of function of a single charged amino acid in an ion channel, which is different from the function of bee stings that kill the animal doing the stinging. This is an extremely complicated topic and there doesn't seem to be a univocal answer.

It is indeed very complicated, but it all boils down to this: things are "directed toward" other things, whether it be pumping blood, throwing off predators or killing other creatures.

But the function (or I should say, one function) of the potassium channel? To selectively allow potassium ions through the cell membrane, which is typically impermeable to such ions.

This description, once again, is something for which Aristotle would have high-fived you.

So these posts paint a very broad-stroke picture of voltage-gated potassium channels that help generate action potentials in neurons.

Allow me to break down your description of an "ion channel" with Aristotle's four causes.

1. Material cause: the proteins.

2. Formal cause: the "tunnel shape" assumed by these proteins (i.e. the ion channel in abstract).

3. Efficient cause: "various known mechanisms" that result in the "translation of an mRNA string into a protein chain".

4. Final cause: "To selectively allow potassium ions through the cell membrane."

Given the above broad-strokes scientific picture, what am I leaving out that, if I understood it, would make me understand the ion channel better? What metaphysical resources will the theist provide that will help me better understand voltage-gated potassium channels?

Actually, you've already been speaking in Aristotelian-Thomistic terms this entire time. To say that a thing is "made out of something", "is something", "was made by something" and is "for something" is to explain it via the four causes. And any of these statements end in the God of the Five Ways.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I will end up with one set of brute facts (e.g., this is just how nature works, and that's how it is). You will end up with another set of brute facts (some kind of Godly thing I guess). I don't see the need to add another layer of facts to the brute natural facts, how it will help me understand potassium channels, but I can appreciate that you think it adds something.

Yes, you can play the regress game in space (keep going smaller until you hit QM,, or larger until you hit general relativity, or both) or in time (where did it all start), but I don't see the need to posit God there, for the same reason. Ultimately the regress must stop: why at brute facts about God and not additional brute facts about how nature works?

Of course science is open-ended, we are always looking for deeper explanations of things, criticizing and poking experimentally and mathematically at what we think we know. There is a lot we don't know (e.g., what is measurement in quantum mechanics).

That said, you haven't actually called into question any of the specifics of what I said, so my original point in this thread seems right. There is a first-order scientific story about voltage-gated ion channels that we call can agree upon, even if you think ultimately it needs to be grounded in God. That is quite different from finding flaws in the first-order scientific story I told. And that was my main point. That's the asymmetry.

Of course, my goal wasn't to show that your ontology is incorrect. I can't say that potassium channels aren't presently being sustained by God. I can only say I find no use for this view, and don't see anything specific it adds to my understanding. I see how you think it does help to build a more complete picture of reality, and the whole 'why is there something rather than nothing' rigamarole.

Blue Devil Knight said...

rank sophist I like and appreciate your analysis of what I said in terms of the four causes. I frankly will have to think about it, as perhaps I am a closet Aristotelian. I once described myself as a hylemorphic materialist. :)

But that is one of the best posts, most useful for my attempts to understand Aristotelian thought, since I've been bugging Ben Yachov about it.

Crude said...

BDK,

Ultimately the regress must stop: why at brute facts about God and not additional brute facts about how nature works?

God isn't a brute fact under Thomism, nor for any classical theist position at least as I'm aware. And as far as asymmetries go, that's a pretty major one.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude I don't understand final causes well enough to say: I've been told that the existence of final causes is inconsistent with materialism, but if that isn't the case then all bets are off. I do think what I said is materialist/naturalistic in flavor.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Crude: explanations have to 'bottom out' somewhere. Whatever propositions it is that they bottom out in is what I call a brute fact. Unless there is an infinite chain of inference in an explanation, which seems to make explanation impossible in practice.

If classical theists don't have explanations 'bottom out' in that sense, does that mean they don't ever explain anything? Or do they ground things in something other than propositions?

Blue Devil Knight said...

On these 'regress' arguments: at some point I will shrug and say "I don't know" when you can say "God". I'm ok with that. If you were to say "Maybe you will discover it is God" I'll say "Yep, maybe. But so far I have not seen the need for that hypothesis."

Crude said...

BDK,

Crude: explanations have to 'bottom out' somewhere. Whatever propositions it is that they bottom out in is what I call a brute fact. Unless there is an infinite chain of inference in an explanation, which seems to make explanation impossible in practice.

And I'll repeat: Thomists and classical theists generally argue that God is not a brute fact, and differs strikingly from such. If you're using 'brute fact' in a way that differs from them, then it's worth pointing out.

On these 'regress' arguments: at some point I will shrug and say "I don't know" when you can say "God". I'm ok with that.

Arguments given from classical theists - and, I'll add, personal theists - don't take this form.

I do think what I said is materialist/naturalistic in flavor.

If RS is right about his evaluation of your explanation - really, he did all the work here - then no, it's apparently not.

But then we're right back to the whole 'time to define naturalism' thing. I told Feser years ago (well, commented on his blog) that the arguments he gave were compelling, but I expected any naturalist who found them to be compelling to simply go 'Oh, well, that's naturalism (or even materialism) now'.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I haven't seen anything to suggest what I said isn't materialistic. The 'shape' of the ion channel is important. Its function, or role in the larger system in which it is embeded, is important. Etc. I don't see anything but stuff bumping around here, other than perhaps a different way to conceptualize this same underlying stuff to emphasize different aspects.

So I don't see anything interesting ontologically here other than standard biology. If that isn't naturalistic to you, and it is to me, then it isn't clear what we are arguing about beside the words being used. And I'm sure I don't see what I would get out of adding Gods here. That's what, ultimately, is the core antinaturalistic idea here.

If you were to say God is simply the shape of an ion channel, I'd become a theist in your eyes, but not in mine.

Incidentally, I've delineated what I take to be "naturalistic" (or materialistic anyway) already, previously. "I believe that physical theories describing changes in mass/energy (fields/particles) in spacetime in law-governed ways are 'materialistic'. I also include properties that supervene on such lower-level physical properties as part of my materialist worldview. E.g., hearts, respiration, and tornadoes."

That was in a thread that did exactly what such discussions always do: end up in speculations about what future physics might say. Which is always silly esp on the interblogs where nobody knows any physics. That will happen again here if I entertain that discussion, and I won't waste our time. All the armchair physicists here are free to go at it.

rank sophist said...

Yes, you can play the regress game in space (keep going smaller until you hit QM,, or larger until you hit general relativity, or both) or in time (where did it all start), but I don't see the need to posit God there, for the same reason. Ultimately the regress must stop: why at brute facts about God and not additional brute facts about how nature works?

First, because God is not a "brute fact" in the sense you're describing, as Crude said. Googling the issue, I located this explanation by Douglas Groothuis that covers it very nicely,

Nagel seems to take the idea of God to be at least as inexplicable as the impersonal brute facts of rationality and morality. This objection fails as well. Classical theism deems God self-existent. God has always existed and will never not exist. Therefore, God himself is the reason for and source of his own existence. Because God--unlike the universe--is not causally contingent, God's existence is not explicable in terms of anything more metaphysically basic than or prior to himself; but neither is God's existence inexplicable (as are impersonal brute facts). There is a finite regress of explanation that ends with an infinite (or maximally great) being who explains himself. God is self-referentially explicable. God is the 'last word,' as well as the first word: the Alpha and Omega.

So, no.

Second, because brute facts fail to explain the chains of change and being. Saying that they "just stop" on some contingent thing leaves us with a fundamentally irrational and mysterious universe that cannot be understood. You end up positing countless brute facts, many of which will probably turn out to be false. Plus, the universe will inexplicably be comprised of two sorts of things: things that can be understood via deeper elements, and things that operate on the surface but cannot be so understood.

The materialists of ancient Greece--the Atomists--understood the problems with the position, and posited that all matter was at bottom composed of indestructible, indivisible, identical, unchanging particles that moved around randomly. This theory is not open to us, because, as we know, even the most fundamental particles change.

rank sophist I like and appreciate your analysis of what I said in terms of the four causes. I frankly will have to think about it, as perhaps I am a closet Aristotelian. I once described myself as a hylemorphic materialist. :)

But that is one of the best posts, most useful for my attempts to understand Aristotelian thought, since I've been bugging Ben Yachov about it.


Many thanks. I'm glad I was able to help.

On these 'regress' arguments: at some point I will shrug and say "I don't know" when you can say "God".

Actually, not really. I would agree with the "I don't know" sentiment. I have no doubt that even deeper layers of reality have yet to be discovered. The difference is that I understand God to be at the root of any explanation we give, while you believe that some number of unknowable brute facts resides at the bottom.

rank sophist said...

That should have been: "and things that operate similarly on the surface but cannot be so understood."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Funny I would use that Groothius quote as a good case that you are using facts about God as brute.It doesn't get much more brute than "Therefore, God himself is the reason for and source of his own existence. Because God--unlike the universe--is not causally contingent, God's existence is not explicable in terms of anything more metaphysically basic than or prior to himself."

Sounds quite brute to me. Doesn't get any more brute than that, in fact. I'm happy with brute laws about how nature works: they aren't irrational any more than a waterfall is irrational. They are arational. Ultimately your explanations have to bottom out somewhere, and I have yet to see a good reason to go to God as the bottom.

rank sophist said...

I haven't seen anything to suggest what I said isn't materialistic. The 'shape' of the ion channel is important. Its function, or role in the larger system in which it is embeded, is important. Etc. I don't see anything but stuff bumping around here, other than perhaps a different way to conceptualize this same underlying stuff to emphasize different aspects.

You can say that this is materialism, but know that it's a very, very different materialism from the one typically espoused. Contemporary materialism is practically defined by its rejection of formal and final causes, largely thanks to its underlying assumption of mechanism. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanism_(philosophy)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Then modern biology is not materialistic by your lights, because my description was about as vanilla and uncontroversial as you could get. I'd just say you have discovered that Thomism is materialistic, not that biology is nonmaterialistic :)

Don Jindra said...

BenYachov,

"Not for people who seriously advocate Scientism & don't make the mistake of equivocation between Science vs Scientism."

Got anyone in mind?

Me: "Science claims to be the best method of discovering knowledge within its scope. It's hard to deny its successes."

You: "For example."

I suppose I should have said it's hard for reasonable people to deny its successes.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

It's a well-known fact that contemporary biology "smuggles" teleology and essentialism into its descriptions. Rest assured that no consistent materialist-nominalist would agree with you.

William said...

BDK: "So whose to say if naturalism is incomplete, that adding Gods or whatever will complete it? "

I don't think that adding God would complete naturalism. I think naturalism is incomplete because of my intuitions about the subjective-objective distinction, and merely adding a an objectifying description of deity would fail to complete naturalism because objectification of the world will always leave something out. This is not Thomistic, and I despair to prove the intuition.

rank sophist said...

Funny I would use that Groothius quote as a good case that you are using facts about God as brute.It doesn't get much more brute than "Therefore, God himself is the reason for and source of his own existence. Because God--unlike the universe--is not causally contingent, God's existence is not explicable in terms of anything more metaphysically basic than or prior to himself."

Sounds quite brute to me. Doesn't get any more brute than that, in fact. I'm happy with brute laws about how nature works: they aren't irrational any more than a waterfall is irrational. They are arational. Ultimately your explanations have to bottom out somewhere, and I have yet to see a good reason to go to God as the bottom.


Just worth repeating that the classical theist God is not a brute fact, despite your claims. In fact, Richard Swinburne famously rejected the traditional conception of God in his "inductive cosmological argument", which does indeed posit God as a brute fact. So, again, no.

Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

Perhaps I shouldn't say 'brute fact' as you are getting caught up in it. I defined what I meant above with Crude. The final propositional node in your chain of explanations, nodes that are not explained by further propositions, but are "ground level" in our explanations.

Sort of like saying they are "not explicable in terms of anything more metaphysically basic than or prior to" them. Which is from your definition of God above. Does God figure in the explantions? Can God himself be explained in other terms (is God explicable)? If the answers are 'yes' and 'no' that's what I'm calling a "brute fact".

Call it what you want, explanations stop somewhere. Let's call them something other than 'brute facts' if that bothers you for some reason.

Note calling it 'brute' Doesn't mean it isn't justified, just that it is where many explanations bottom out. By analogy basic physical laws are justified greatly by the data, and also are where explanations bottom out. This is exactly what we see above: God is inexplicable, and stops the regresses you kept bringing up. That is, something that grounds all these explanatory chains, and cannot itself be explained. If you avoid 'brute fact' then it is a 'brute explanans.'

At any rate, not sure why you are getting hung up on my terminology. Suggest something different, I don't care. The important thing is the meaning, which I have made clear using your own arguments.

Finally, we (biologists) are quite clear that when we use teleological language we don't mean to be making ontologically weird claims. There is nothing ontologically weird in my account of the potassium channel above or its function.

Just because we use the word 'function' is not enough to reject naturalism. Just because we talk about the shapes of proteins isn't enough to reject naturalism or take on the whole ontology of final and formal causes (which seem more epistemic than ontological distinctions anyway, to the extent that they are useful). When we do use teleological language it is shorthand for the naturalistic story, not an implicit endorsement of Aristotelian ontology (assuming that the latter isn't naturalistic).

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"explanations have to 'bottom out' somewhere. Whatever propositions it is that they bottom out in is what I call a brute fact. Unless there is an infinite chain of inference in an explanation, which seems to make explanation impossible in practice."

Indeed but there is a world of difference in bottoming out in a brute fact, which is just what it is, a contingent fact with no intelligible rhyme or reason, and in (the classical theistic conception of) God, who is metaphysically necessary and whose be*cause* lies in Himself and not in something else precisely because of what God *is*, subsistent being itself -- there are (compelling) *arguments* that substantiate this claim, they are not pulled out of thin air to stop the regress. So saying that God is a brute fact is simply false; either that or you are equivocating.

Alasdair MacIntyre remarked (somewhere) in his "God, Philosophy, Universities" that an atheist and a theist do not differ simply in the existential status of one particular being, but rather the latter will insist that the natural order is ordered all the way down. This order all the way down inevitably leads to God, who, to repeat myself, is metaphysically necessary and grounds all the contingent order of nature. An atheist will have to posit brute facts with all the vast problems they pose: How do you even *recognize* a brute fact? What are the criteria for some fact, natural law, whatever, to qualify as a brute fact? How can you even know in principle, that you have indeed bottomed out and are not just making an appeal to ignorance? If a brute fact A is the ultimate explanation for a given state of affairs B, but A is itself unintelligible being a brute fact, how can one say with a straight face that B has an intelligible explanation?

Blue Devil Knight said...

grod seems you posted that while I was posting my previous comment, as I discuss the issues there, especially folks' twitching at my phrase 'brute fact.'

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"The universe is contingent because it (and everything in it) began to exist,"

You've stepped outside the universe and seen this contingency? You've seen what caused it to be and what can destroy it? That's the only way contingency makes sense.

Until you disprove the conservation of mass/energy, you have no evidence the stuff of the universe either came into being or can stop being. You have no evidence for the contingency of matter itself.

Contingency within our universe has nothing to do with creation of matter. It relates to forms of matter. A rock ceases to exist when it's eroded into sand. But the material of the rock did not cease to exist. Sand may be contingent on erosion of a rock -- that process "created" it. But no *matter* was created in that process. The form of the matter may be contingent, the matter itself is not. The same can be said for anything "created" within this universe. Contingency is observed only in the reshaping of matter, not in its creation. So applying the concept of contingency derived from changes of form, then suddenly applying that concept to creation and destruction of matter itself, is a misapplication of the word. It equivocates on meaning. That "metaphysical necessity" you pointed me to is based on this equivocation. It's wild speculation pulled out of thin air.

Until you can prove there is something outside the universe that can change the matter of universe as a whole -- create it or destroy it -- I see no reason to believe the universe is contingent.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"Why would necessary, changeless being-itself require a further explanation?"

The most obvious reason is this: Changeless being-itself is incapable of change, therefore it does not even enter into the picture. It cannot produce change or stop change. So it cannot explain change. It defines itself out of being an explanation. The Thomist misapplication of changelessness confuses them on the concept of necessity. Their changeless being-itself is made *unnecessary* in any discussion of change because the moment it causes a change it itself has changed and is no longer changeless. So it cannot end the regress and provide an explanation.

"As Daniel Came said in response to similar claims made by Dawkins, 'For an explanation to be successful we do not need an explanation of the explanation.'"

"Successful" is the operative word here. The Thomist explanation is not successful, regardless of what Came and his reasonably competent first-year undergraduate may think.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"You have just made the proverbial 'half-hearted appeal to some form of mysterianism'. It does nothing but show the holes in naturalism.

How am I appealing to mysterianism when all I say is that the universe is here now and likely has always been here? If that statement is true, it *is* a mystery to me why anyone would ask absurdities like "Why is it here?" or "How did it come to be?" or "Why is it not here?" And it's been my experience that the people who ask these absurdities of me make similar claims for their ultimate being-itself. It's absurd, they'll protest, to ask how being-itself came to be. Well, I counter, eternally *changing* "being-itself" is under your feet and warms your skin on a sunny day.



"Also, if human conception is not necessarily fact, then I suppose there's no reason to put any faith in naturalism, huh? Or anything, really."

I can conceive of a Newtonian Universe. Is it a fact that we live in one? Einstein said no. Newton's conception was close, but ultimately wanting. Einstein's is in a similar predicament. It turns out that the universe doesn't care what we conceive of it. It behaves as it behaves reqardless of what we would like to believe. Does this mean there's no reason to put our faith in naturalism or anything at all? Quite the contrary. We may be wrong but we are on the right path. We may never be 100% certain about nature but we're more correct than we used to be.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"It's a well-known fact that contemporary biology "smuggles" teleology and essentialism into its descriptions. Rest assured that no consistent materialist-nominalist would agree with you."

But we can classify this smuggling as a kind of metaphor, the same way a Thomist classifies our understanding of God's attributes as a kind of metaphor.

grodrigues said...

@Blue Devil Knight:

"Seems you posted that while I was posting my previous comment, as I discuss the issues there, especially folks' twitching at my phrase 'brute fact.'"

Indeed I missed your most recent posts. But I stick to what I said, you are missing the crucial distinction that I pointed out, or tried to, in my post; I will get back to it when and if I have the time.

rank sophist said...

Just because we use the word 'function' is not enough to reject naturalism. Just because we talk about the shapes of proteins isn't enough to reject naturalism or take on the whole ontology of final and formal causes (which seem more epistemic than ontological distinctions anyway, to the extent that they are useful). When we do use teleological language it is shorthand for the naturalistic story, not an implicit endorsement of Aristotelian ontology (assuming that the latter isn't naturalistic).

This limp response is the one typically given by those in the biology field. Would you mind explaining how your "shorthand" can be cashed-out, so to speak, in non-teleological (note that teleology = final cause) and non-essentialist terms?

rank sophist said...

You've stepped outside the universe and seen this contingency? You've seen what caused it to be and what can destroy it? That's the only way contingency makes sense.

Um, what? I didn't see what caused you to be, nor what can and/or will destroy you. Does this mean I don't know that you're contingent? Don't be ridiculous. You change. You began to exist.

Until you disprove the conservation of mass/energy, you have no evidence the stuff of the universe either came into being or can stop being. You have no evidence for the contingency of matter itself.

Again, what?

Contingency within our universe has nothing to do with creation of matter. It relates to forms of matter. A rock ceases to exist when it's eroded into sand. But the material of the rock did not cease to exist. Sand may be contingent on erosion of a rock -- that process "created" it. But no *matter* was created in that process. The form of the matter may be contingent, the matter itself is not. The same can be said for anything "created" within this universe.

This is atomism. It's also blatantly false. Substantial change, to quote David Oderberg, occurs "all the way down". Even quarks change. So, no.

Contingency is observed only in the reshaping of matter, not in its creation. So applying the concept of contingency derived from changes of form, then suddenly applying that concept to creation and destruction of matter itself, is a misapplication of the word.

All of the things you're describing as "matter" are also combinations of form and matter, just like the things they constitute. The only "pure matter" is prime matter, which is non-physical, and so cannot be used by your argument.

It equivocates on meaning. That "metaphysical necessity" you pointed me to is based on this equivocation. It's wild speculation pulled out of thin air.

No, you simply have no idea what you're talking about.

The most obvious reason is this: Changeless being-itself is incapable of change, therefore it does not even enter into the picture. It cannot produce change or stop change. So it cannot explain change.

Are you even trying here? Metaphysically, God is pure actuality, possessing no potentialities that must be actualized by a prior entity. All other things are combinations of act and potency: things that they are, and things that they may become/result in/cause. In other words, God actualizes the ability of everything else to change.

It defines itself out of being an explanation. The Thomist misapplication of changelessness confuses them on the concept of necessity. Their changeless being-itself is made *unnecessary* in any discussion of change because the moment it causes a change it itself has changed and is no longer changeless. So it cannot end the regress and provide an explanation.

Do you honestly believe that you, somehow, have magically discovered the flaw in 800 years of logic? Just how high of an opinion do you have of yourself? In any case, you were wrong, and your misconceptions are truly startling.

How am I appealing to mysterianism when all I say is that the universe is here now and likely has always been here? If that statement is true, it *is* a mystery to me why anyone would ask absurdities like "Why is it here?" or "How did it come to be?" or "Why is it not here?" And it's been my experience that the people who ask these absurdities of me make similar claims for their ultimate being-itself. It's absurd, they'll protest, to ask how being-itself came to be. Well, I counter, eternally *changing* "being-itself" is under your feet and warms your skin on a sunny day.

Being-itself is necessary rather than contingent. Something that changes is contingent. You should have learned more philosophy before coming to post in a philosophy combox.

rank sophist said...

I can conceive of a Newtonian Universe. Is it a fact that we live in one? Einstein said no. Newton's conception was close, but ultimately wanting. Einstein's is in a similar predicament. It turns out that the universe doesn't care what we conceive of it. It behaves as it behaves reqardless of what we would like to believe. Does this mean there's no reason to put our faith in naturalism or anything at all? Quite the contrary.

You just shifted your meaning. Your original statement:

Even granting the possibility that the universe is unnecessary, it does not follow that there was a time at which it did not exist. Human conception is not necessarily fact.

If the universe is contingent and it does not follow that it did not exist at some time, then fundamental elements of human logic are wrong. This means that naturalism cannot be trusted logically, and you are therefore reduced to mere skepticism.

You have changed this to the a story about "advancements of science", which is a completely different subject.

We may be wrong but we are on the right path. We may never be 100% certain about nature but we're more correct than we used to be.

If human logic is wrong, then how would you know? It would be impossible. So, human logic is not wrong, and an unnecessary universe began to exist; or it is wrong, and any claim to knowledge is false. In either case, naturalism is a non-starter.

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Blue Devil Knight said...

rank sophist I explained what I meant by function, wrt the heart, above. It was naturalistic. Just because we use the word 'function', that is not evidence that we think there is some irreducible teleological residue in nature.

Incidentally, a few of us discussed 'formal cause' a while back at Feser's blog here. While that was a helpful discussion, it convinced me that I was not missing out on anything that would help me understand the world better, at least nothing I don't already discuss in more standard terminology (e.g., when I mean 'shape' I say that, not 'formal cause').

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"I didn't see what caused you to be, nor what can and/or will destroy you. Does this mean I don't know that you're contingent? Don't be ridiculous. You change. You began to exist."

It's you who is being ridiculous if you think this is a valid response. It's an evasion. I am composed of matter. The matter of me did not begin to exist with me. Again, you equivocate on the meaning of "began to exist." You pretend creation of matter is the same as the reorganization of matter. My beginning to exist says nothing about the matter in me which, as far as we know, has always existed.


"Substantial change, to quote David Oderberg, occurs 'all the way down'. Even quarks change. So, no."

Oderberg is a physicist? He has proven the conservation of mass/energy is false? No, he has not.


"All of the things you're describing as 'matter' are also combinations of form and matter"

Form does not exist. This is ancient baggage.


"The only 'pure matter' is prime matter, which is non-physical, and so cannot be used by your argument."

That's ad hoc, Thomist hocus pocus. I guess, accordingly, the universe is contingent on the supposed mixing of the form for the universe (or matter) with something else. If your case for a contingent universe is contingent on that, I have no worries.


"Metaphysically, God is pure actuality, possessing no potentialities that must be actualized by a prior entity."

Yes, I know the dogma. It fails to convince.


"Do you honestly believe that you, somehow, have magically discovered the flaw in 800 years of logic?"

Not just me. Aristotle and Aquinas were rejected long before me. I'm relatively confident you're aware of that.


"Something that changes is contingent. You should have learned more philosophy before coming to post in a philosophy combox."

That would play better if you had made headway against my position. Appeals to ancient authority don't work well. You'll have to show me why change in form, or structure, is equivalent to matter coming into being at its most basic level. Even playing on Thomist quicksand that's going to be a problem for you.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"If the universe is contingent and it does not follow that it did not exist at some time, then fundamental elements of human logic are wrong."

My point is this -- you want to make contingency mean something it doesn't need to mean. From Merriam-Webster: not logically necessary; especially : empirical. So what I mean is this: The universe can been seen as not *logically* necessary. It's possible that it couldn't have existed, that we wouldn't be here right now. But logic doesn't matter when we are faced with the empirical fact that it is here.


"You have changed this to the a story about 'advancements of science', which is a completely different subject. ...[snip]... If human logic is wrong, then how would you know? It would be impossible. So, human logic is not wrong"

I don't claim human logic is wrong. I do claim human logic can lead to wrong conclusions, and that's the case in science and philosophy. Aristotle, Aquinas, Newton and Einstein may use logic and reason but it does not follow that they reach correct conclusions about nature. Nature is what it is. It is not "human logic" and is not what "human logic" wants to make of it. All logic and reason must ultimately conform to empirical data.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

A function is a final cause, and final causality is teleology (they're synonymous--newer uses of "teleology" to refer to "design" are incorrect). You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either hearts, ion channels and so forth have no function(s)--no directedness--, or they do. You decide if you want to accept reality or be a head-in-the-sand denialist.

As for formal causes not being helpful, let me enlighten you as to what you're saying. You are claiming that there are no such things as "cat-ness", "dog-ness", "tree-ness", "human-ness", "grass-ness", "ion channel-ness" and so forth. Under your view, there are only specific, disconnected instances. One piece of grass is not truly related to another piece of grass--such connections are only an artifact of language/mind. There is no such thing as "human nature". By denying formal causes, you become a full-blown nominalist.

rank sophist said...

Jindra, you're the djindra guy who got banned from Feser's blog, aren't you? I can see why he would do that. This is getting old.

It's you who is being ridiculous if you think this is a valid response. It's an evasion. I am composed of matter. The matter of me did not begin to exist with me. Again, you equivocate on the meaning of "began to exist." You pretend creation of matter is the same as the reorganization of matter. My beginning to exist says nothing about the matter in me which, as far as we know, has always existed.

Would you mind proving this? That the quarks within you, for example, have always existed in an unchanging state? You realize that this is impossible, correct? Every aspect of matter changes.

Oderberg is a physicist? He has proven the conservation of mass/energy is false? No, he has not.

Is this at all relevant? Quarks change. If something changes, then it is contingent.

Form does not exist. This is ancient baggage.

Argument from personal incredulity.

That's ad hoc, Thomist hocus pocus. I guess, accordingly, the universe is contingent on the supposed mixing of the form for the universe (or matter) with something else. If your case for a contingent universe is contingent on that, I have no worries.

Are you paying attention? The universe changes--this has been proven. The universe began to exist--also proven. Something changing requires something else to enact the change; something that began to exist requires a creator. Therefore, the universe cannot be a necessary object, and must be contingent--which automatically means that it's composed of form and matter, because all contingent substances are form/matter hybrids by definition.

Yes, I know the dogma. It fails to convince.

Argument from personal incredulity.

Not just me. Aristotle and Aquinas were rejected long before me. I'm relatively confident you're aware of that.

Argument from authority. Uninformed authority, I might add. Bring on one of these supposedly strong arguments and let's see how it holds up.

You'll have to show me why change in form, or structure, is equivalent to matter coming into being at its most basic level.

Why would I argue for this strawman position? Who has ever defended this claim? The Thomists have always insisted that everything is composed of prime matter, which does not change. Any substance is at bottom composed of prime matter that has been sectioned-off, so to speak, by a substantial form. A change in form is not "equivalent to matter coming into being at its most basic level." Metaphysically, different beings come into existence and are destroyed--but this has no effect on prime matter.

Oderberg himself suggests that, in time, it might be found that energy is prime matter--but science has yet to advance far enough.

My point is this -- you want to make contingency mean something it doesn't need to mean. From Merriam-Webster: not logically necessary; especially : empirical. So what I mean is this: The universe can been seen as not *logically* necessary. It's possible that it couldn't have existed, that we wouldn't be here right now. But logic doesn't matter when we are faced with the empirical fact that it is here.

So you admit the following three points.

1. The universe is not logically necessary.

2. Things that are not logically necessary are contingent.

3. Contingent things do not always exist.

But then you forget that the entire purpose of the argument is to show that a necessary being exists outside of the universe. This is the only logical explanation. To counter it, you appeal to one of the worst arguments I've ever read: "But logic doesn't matter when we are faced with the empirical fact that it is here." Because something beyond the universe obviously does not exist, logic leading to it must be wrong. This is essentially fideistic atheism. Good luck with that.

donjindra said...

rank sophist,

"Would you mind proving this? That the quarks within you, for example, have always existed in an unchanging state? You realize that this is impossible, correct? Every aspect of matter changes."

Evidently you're not reading what I write. I admit everything changes. I'd be very surprised if quarks weren't in a constant state of change. This makes no difference to me. You seem to assume change cannot be eternal. That's a false assumption.

Me: "Oderberg is a physicist? He has proven the conservation of mass/energy is false? No, he has not."

You: "Is this at all relevant?"

Yes, it's the crux of the problem which is probably why you won't address it. Unless the conservation of mass/energy is proven false, there's no reason to believe the universe began to exist. It's always existed in one form or another.

"Argument from personal incredulity."

I'm incredulous for good reason.

"Argument from authority. Uninformed authority, I might add. Bring on one of these supposedly strong arguments and let's see how it holds up."

That's rich. I haven't based my reasons on any authority. You're the one who claimed I should respect an 800 year old tradition. I merely pointed out I'm not the first one to see it as mere dogma.


"The Thomists have always insisted that everything is composed of prime matter, which does not change. Any substance is at bottom composed of prime matter that has been sectioned-off, so to speak, by a substantial form. A change in form is not 'equivalent to matter coming into being at its most basic level.' Metaphysically, different beings come into existence and are destroyed--but this has no effect on prime matter."

Then we agree that the 'stuff' of the universe has always existed in one form or another. That would make it eternal, which is what I've been saying all along. So the issue of "contingency" is semantic.


"So you admit the following three points. 1. The universe is not logically necessary. 2. Things that are not logically necessary are contingent. 3. Contingent things do not always exist."

1-yes, 2-no, 3-no. I don't see how you could think I've admitted to 2 or 3.


"But then you forget that the entire purpose of the argument is to show that a necessary being exists outside of the universe."

I haven't forgotten. I was wondering when you would get around to this agenda.

"This is the only logical explanation."

Well, no it is not. Besides, logic has nothing to do with the universe as we find it. Call it "logic" if you wish, but the universe simply does not conform to logical dreams.


"Because something beyond the universe obviously does not exist, logic leading to it must be wrong. This is essentially fideistic atheism."

I don't have to claim "something beyond the universe obviously does not exist" and never made any such claim. The "logic" is faulty. It leads nowhere. Why do you think putting words in my mouth gains you points?


"Jindra, you're the djindra guy who got banned from Feser's blog, aren't you? I can see why he would do that."

Yes, but he didn't ban me because of my position on these issues. He banned me because I pointed out a paper of his laid a foundation for totalitarianism, which it does do. Feser can dish it out to materialists and atheists and his political enemies. But he can't take it himself. My opinion of Feser's intellectual and moral fiber is very low.

"This is getting old."

Then stop worshiping the ancients.

Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist wrote:
A function is a final cause, and final causality is teleology (they're synonymous--newer uses of "teleology" to refer to "design" are incorrect). You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either hearts, ion channels and so forth have no function(s)--no directedness--, or they do. You decide if you want to accept reality or be a head-in-the-sand denialist.

Then you are using a different sense of 'function' than those of us in biology. When we say the function of the heart is to pump blood, we are not claiming that there is an irreducible teleological residue in the universe. That's sort of an important thing among biologists in this post-vitalist era.

I was clear above about what I mean when I say the function of the heart is to pump blood. It was naturalistic. You keep insisting, because of the mere fact that we use the word 'function', that this is not kosher. You are wrong there. But let's see your alternate analysis of the claim that the function of the heart is to pump blood. Maybe you will help me see what I am missing.

Blue Devil Knight said...

A couple of people have said biologists have no clue about 'final cause.' This is actually not true. It's hammered into us that it is a relic of a vitalist and Aristotelian way of thinking, one that we need as much as Creationism. Mentioning teleology would be about as welcome.

Now, whether this is justified is a different story. We just don't hear about this very much because it is considered even more dead than creationism.

So, get a degree in biology (you need some street cred), and then write a book arguing that we need to bring Real Teleology™ back! Use the heart as your example. It will revolutionize biology. Show us how your ideas will help, don't just assert we are wrong. "That which is gratuitously assertible is gratuitously deniable" (Bill Vallicella).

Note I am actually trying to be sympathetic here. If you guys can't convince me that this is useful, you have about zero chance with typical biologists who tend to be pretty dismissive of philosophy altogether.

I'm looking over Oderberg's book who says in the later chapters he will apply his thinking to biology. Maybe that will convince me.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Is anyone interested in leading an internet discussion of Oderberg's book? A serious discussion, not a lame blog war? I'm not qualified to lead it, and don't have the time. Ben Yachov? What do you say, a chapter a week? Crude? ranksophist? Victor? Give everyone two weeks to get the book, and then start. Based on the Intro and first chapter it seems interesting.

BenYachov said...

>He banned me because I pointed out a paper of his laid a foundation for totalitarianism,

No banned you because your are a troll who kept sucking up the oxygen with your extended Sir John Cleece level of argument. To this day you refuse to understand any philosophy & you are politically obsessed.

@BDK

I probability would like to participate in such a discussion thought I don't feel qualified to lead it.

A chapter a week would be cool.

William said...

"When we say the function of the heart is to pump blood, we are not claiming that there is an irreducible teleological residue in the universe. "

True, in that biology is not the study of disembodied Platonic teleological residues :).

Aren't you taking things apart too much, though? First the organism outside its society, then the heart rather than the organism, then saying we are looking to find the teleology in the greater universe, outside even the heart? Maybe the teleology gets left behind in that deconstruction somewhere?

rank sophist said...

Evidently you're not reading what I write. I admit everything changes. I'd be very surprised if quarks weren't in a constant state of change. This makes no difference to me. You seem to assume change cannot be eternal. That's a false assumption.

So you endorse infinite regresses? Very nice.

Yes, it's the crux of the problem which is probably why you won't address it. Unless the conservation of mass/energy is proven false, there's no reason to believe the universe began to exist. It's always existed in one form or another.

I have absolutely no idea why this is important. Said law only applies within our universe, and it came into being with our universe. Unless you actually believe in logical infinite regresses and actual infinities, then arguing from this angle will not help you.

I'm incredulous for good reason.

And again with the fallacies.

That's rich. I haven't based my reasons on any authority. You're the one who claimed I should respect an 800 year old tradition. I merely pointed out I'm not the first one to see it as mere dogma.

Begging the question. Pony up with the argument.

Then we agree that the 'stuff' of the universe has always existed in one form or another. That would make it eternal, which is what I've been saying all along. So the issue of "contingency" is semantic.

Again, you endorse infinite regresses and actual infinities. You do understand that these are generally considered argument-defeating fallacies, correct? Prime matter is not eternal, and neither is it "stuff": it isn't anything in particular. It's a non-physical non-entity (pure potentiality) that is then shaped by an actualizing substantial form.

I haven't forgotten. I was wondering when you would get around to this agenda.

Says the guy who endorses infinite regresses to defend atheism. You're kidding, right? This is a troll attempt? A parody?

Well, no it is not. Besides, logic has nothing to do with the universe as we find it. Call it "logic" if you wish, but the universe simply does not conform to logical dreams.

Then naturalism is false.

Yes, but he didn't ban me because of my position on these issues. He banned me because I pointed out a paper of his laid a foundation for totalitarianism, which it does do. Feser can dish it out to materialists and atheists and his political enemies. But he can't take it himself. My opinion of Feser's intellectual and moral fiber is very low.

Considering that you're one of the absolute worst debaters I've ever seen in a combox, I can hardly blame him.

William said...

"That which is gratuitously assertible is gratuitously deniable"

Where we cannot make full theoretic sense of biological systems is at the level of the higher level organism behaving in its environment through its life cycle.

Epistemologically speaking, teleology is irreducible in biological theories at that level, so as Quine would say, we must consistently admit teleology exists in our universe, there at least. Nothing gratuitous about that.

Arguably, we can metaphorically extend a secondary kind of purpose down to the information in our DNA, as long as we remember that our DNA is not sitting just in a gel in a tube--it's part of an organism behaving in an environment.

If it had always been just a smear of chemicals on an asteroid, no teleology there, of course. At lower levels, like the models of chemistry and physics in astronomy, I think you are right to dump final causality.

rank sophist said...

I was clear above about what I mean when I say the function of the heart is to pump blood. It was naturalistic. You keep insisting, because of the mere fact that we use the word 'function', that this is not kosher. You are wrong there. But let's see your alternate analysis of the claim that the function of the heart is to pump blood. Maybe you will help me see what I am missing.

Function

1. the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution; the purpose for which something is designed or exists; role.

Therefore, endorsing "functions" means endorsing final causes.

It's hammered into us that it is a relic of a vitalist and Aristotelian way of thinking, one that we need as much as Creationism. Mentioning teleology would be about as welcome.

I am familiar with this fact. But, as Feser has argued, teleology is inescapable. Biologists wants to say that it's unneeded, but they can't get away from it. The invocation of final causes is absolute critical if one wants to give a complete description of a thing. The heart is for pumping blood. To remove teleology from the description gives you the limp, meaningless, "The heart is an internal lump of flesh that sometimes pumps blood." It's plain common sense that the heart is the "blood-pumping organ", but biologists aren't allowed to say it.

Now, whether this is justified is a different story. We just don't hear about this very much because it is considered even more dead than creationism.

It isn't justified.

So, get a degree in biology (you need some street cred), and then write a book arguing that we need to bring Real Teleology™ back! Use the heart as your example. It will revolutionize biology. Show us how your ideas will help, don't just assert we are wrong. "That which is gratuitously assertible is gratuitously deniable" (Bill Vallicella).

Note I am actually trying to be sympathetic here. If you guys can't convince me that this is useful, you have about zero chance with typical biologists who tend to be pretty dismissive of philosophy altogether.


Which is why biologists (*cough* Coyne) are so often philosophically sloppy. In any case, I have no interest in convincing biologists that their approach is wrong-headed. It should be clear that being unable to call the heart the "blood-pumping organ" is a reductio against non-teleological biology.

Feser has done quite a bit of case-building to show the necessity of final causes in biology, anyway.

I'm looking over Oderberg's book who says in the later chapters he will apply his thinking to biology. Maybe that will convince me.

His main goal is to defend essentialism against contemporary philosophy and science, from what I've read. Teleology is something he only points to from time to time.

Is anyone interested in leading an internet discussion of Oderberg's book? A serious discussion, not a lame blog war? I'm not qualified to lead it, and don't have the time. Ben Yachov? What do you say, a chapter a week? Crude? ranksophist? Victor? Give everyone two weeks to get the book, and then start. Based on the Intro and first chapter it seems interesting.

The book is $130 on Amazon right now, which seems pretty cost-prohibitive for something like this. I managed to get a copy on sale awhile ago, but the price went back up soon afterwards.

In any case, I don't think I have the time or ability to lead something like this. Quite a few of his counterattacks against contemporary philosophers are too technical for me to understand--they go deep into analytic philosophy territory. It might be interesting to participate in a discussion, though.

BenYachov said...

>The book is $130 on Amazon right now, which seems pretty cost-prohibitive for something like this. I managed to get a copy on sale awhile ago, but the price went back up soon afterwards.

That's the hardcover which is psychotic in price. The softcover however should set you back 30 bucks give or take a few bucks.

I always go softcover when I can.

Zach said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...
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Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist you have provided nothing specific in response to my analysis above, other than simply asserting I am wrong multiple times.

Perhaps you have an internally consistent worldview that seems helpful, but I see no reason to buy into your Scholastic extravagances.

rank sophist said...

BDK,

It's a "Scholastic extravagance" to refer to the heart as the "blood-pumping organ"? Is it also extravagant to say that legs are for walking and eyes for seeing? Perhaps lungs for breathing? Look at what you're saying, here. Earlier, you made reference to my position as "drinking the kool-aid", but I think it's clear who's been doing that.

Unless you adopt teleology, your worldview is doomed to obscurantism. Final causes are the common sense understanding of reality; mechanism is indefensible gibberish that renders science impossible. In fact, you and most biologists already think and speak in teleological terms whenever you forget to act the part. If you prefer your final causes sans God, then Aristotle has you covered: he believed that things just were end-directed, with no "director" involved.

I recently saw a quote by John Haldane that went, "Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he's unwilling to be seen with her in public." Seeing this, I have to wonder: why is teleology so reviled? There is no reason other than habit. The contortions you people go through to (unsuccessfully) prevent teleology from seeping through could all be avoided if you just accepted it as real.

In any case, I recommend this article: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/04/5119

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"So you endorse infinite regresses? Very nice."

No. The universe is not composed of propositions.

"Unless you actually believe in logical infinite regresses and actual infinities, then arguing from this angle will not help you."

Of course I believe in actual infinities. I've made that clear. An eternally existing universe demands it. And why would you hold me to a different standard than a Thomist? Or is your God finite?

"Said law only applies within our universe,"

Of course. But we *are* talking about our universe. Otherwise you're begging the question.

"Prime matter is not eternal,"

Then prove it. Prove the laws of physics are wrong. Demonstrate mass and energy are not conserved. Or at least prove you have something better than physics.

"It's a non-physical non-entity (pure potentiality) that is then shaped by an actualizing substantial form."

That's dogmatic nonsense. You're free to believe it. But you have no basis for complaining that I don't.

Me: "the universe simply does not conform to logical dreams."
You: "Then naturalism is false."

This makes no sense. Please elaborate.

"Considering that you're one of the absolute worst debaters I've ever seen in a combox,"

You'll have to make headway against me to make that stick. That must be frustrating.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"But, as Feser has argued, teleology is inescapable. Biologists wants to say that it's unneeded, but they can't get away from it."

Feser's "final cause" is more than the function of an organ. It carries moral and theological content.

rank sophist said...

You'll have to make headway against me to make that stick. That must be frustrating.

How am I supposed to make headway against someone who is willfully dense? Nothing you said above is relevant to what I wrote, and, on top of that, you refuted your own argument. You claim that the universe is logically unknowable, and then endorse naturalism--a logical system about the universe. Not to mention your constant fallacies and retreats. Are you doing this on purpose? Is this just a game to waste my time?

In any case, I've had enough of you. I'm here to debate with intelligent people. Go troll someone else.

Don Jindra said...

BenYachov,

"No banned you because your are a troll who kept sucking up the oxygen with your extended Sir John Cleece level of argument."

Ben/Ed, don't you tired of this charade?

William said...

Don Jindra: "Feser's "final cause" is more than the function of an organ. It carries moral and theological content"

One of the annoying things philosophers do is to attempt explain the nature of a thing by speculation regarding its origin.
Basically, this is the Just So Story method in philosophy :).

So, we have Millikin confusing function with evolutionary origin, Searle conflating biological function with its epistemology within human cognition, and Feser confusing function with a God as final cause.

Living things function. The origin of the mechanism of function is immaterial to whether they function or not.

Blue Devil Knight said...

ranksophist ok make that four times.

happy mom's day to all the moms reading this. I assume it's about zero....:)

grodrigues said...

@William:

"Feser confusing function with a God as final cause."

There is no confusion. AT posits (following the A in AT) that *immanent* final causes are necessary to make sense of the world, to even make sense of efficient causality. Because if a cause is not ordered to produce a *specific* effect or range of effects than it is inexplicable why a cause produces just such effect(s) and not something else entirely. But this is tantamount to saying that final causes exist as an objective part of reality. Then from the passive orderliness of the natural order to their final causes, Aquinas' Fifth way arrives at God.

The arguments may be right or wrong -- the function of public dialectical discourse is to weigh its pros and cons -- but if there is confusion and ignorance is on your part, not on Prof. Feser's.

Don Jindra said...

rank sophist,

"you refuted your own argument. You claim that the universe is logically unknowable, and then endorse naturalism--a logical system about the universe."

Thanks for the elaboration. Now I see why I missed your meaning. How could I predict your strange characterization of naturalism?

I do claim the universe is logically unknowable. Logic will never explain the universe. Everything we know about it is based on empirical data. Certainly neither science nor naturalism are based on logic. Experimentation and observation are by nature empirical. Even the Thomist can't claim the universe is "logically knowable." He starts with empirical observation. He does try to draw wild logical conclusions based on empirical fact. But he begins with empirical observation.

Set a block of material X in front of a Thomist, not even he is arrogant enough to believe he can logically derive the properties of X.

BenYachov said...

>Ben/Ed, don't you tired of this charade?

There you have it folks djindra thinks I'm Prof Feser.

This trollish wackiness speaks for itself.

William said...

grod:

"*immanent* final causes are necessary to make sense of the world, to even make sense of efficient causality."

This is the same category error as Searle does, conflating our epistemology about function with the organism's performances.

grodrigues said...
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grodrigues said...

@William:

"This is the same category error as Searle does, conflating our epistemology about function with the organism's performances."

First, I did not spoke about organisms but about causation. The same remarks apply to electrons as well as to living organisms. Second, I summarized in (less than) three lines why final causes must be an objective feature of the world, and not just an epistemological projection on it. If you want to see it defended at length, there are plenty of books who do it.

rank sophist said...

ranksophist ok make that four times.

Well, dodge my comments and pull out of the argument if you want. Regardless, I still recommend that link above.

William said...

grod: " I did not spoke about organisms but about causation"

And I was not trying to say anything about an ultimate purpose to the universe either.

I'll try to be more precise here. I am asserting that biological theories (about the behavior of an organism, say an owl, over its life cycle) will have their best predictive power when they incorporate notions of purpose and function. For example, in predicting how many mice an owl will catch in a week, we are not going to be as accurate if we do some kind of exclusionary reduction of the owl to mere physics and chemistry, even if we add a story of the evolutionary origins of birds, and even if we add a story about how God sustains the owl in its existence and so forth. Instead, we do better by knowing what function mice catching has for the owl.

grodrigues said...

@William:

"And I was not trying to say anything about an ultimate purpose to the universe either."

Neither was I.

"I am asserting that biological theories (about the behavior of an organism, say an owl, over its life cycle) will have their best predictive power when they incorporate notions of purpose and function."

So first you chide me for allegedly confusing epistemology with ontology, now you bring up biological theories and their predictive success? So what *is* your point exactly wrt the AT conception of teleology?

BenYachov said...

William,

I know you are sincerely trying but enough of the equivocating Paley with final causality Scientism nonsense.

rank sophist said...

William,

I'm glad that you, at least, see the importance of real function. BDK has been brainwashed on this issue.

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