Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Rage of Unbelief

This is in response to Alex Rosenberg's debate with William Lane Craig. Not mentioning any names, but this does seem to be a real problem with "movement atheism." If this movement becomes more predominant, we may find ourselves in a society deeply bifurcated on religious grounds--a kind of intellectual apartheid, where we are no longer able to talk to one another. The societal damage this would do would be incalculable.

HT: Bob Prokop


240 comments:

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Cole said...

I think on ultimate issues such as this we should simply dialog rather than debate. One thing I will die for, however, is love. As John Keats puts it:

I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion--I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more--I could be martyr'd for my Religion--Love is my religion--I could die for that. I could die for you. - John Keats

B.L.T. said...

This article hints at a conflict within the liberal and new atheist worldview. They both claim to affirm that bigotry everywhere and in all cases is evil, wicked, abhorrent and delusional. But they also often seem quite bigoted against all conservatives and/or Christians who appear bigoted to them. As such, if an atheist or a liberal finds themselves at a place where they accuse someone of bigotry, hatred and ignorant thinking, but are not open to be corrected then they themselves are engaging in a form of bigotry. As atheists often say, bigots are never open to correction but simply repeat their hate speech over and over again. Yet, this is precisely what we hear from atheists and many liberals.

Bilbo said...

I sensed a large degree of frustration on Rosenberg's part. He made it clear that he was not happy with the format used in the debate -- a formal, competitive debate -- and that he had preferred an informal discussion/debate, such as Craig had had with Shelly Kagan. It's not clear why Rosenberg settled on this format. Was he manipulated into it somehow? Anyway, I suspect his frustration was the source for his disdainful tone.

BTW, this was the first William Lane Craig debate that I watched. I was on the high school debate team for four years, so I know the huge advantage that experience in formal, competitive debates gave to Craig. If Craig is the one who issues the challenges and also insists on the format, then I have to question his ethics in this matter. A non-debater wouldn't realize the advantage he is giving to Craig by agreeing to this format. But any experienced debater would recognize it at once.

Bilbo said...

The Craig-Kagan Debage

Bilbo said...

Notice that Kagan has a much more equal advantage with Craig and is able to hold up his end of the debate rather well.

B. Prokop said...

"As atheists often say, bigots are never open to correction but simply repeat their hate speech over and over again. Yet, this is precisely what we hear from atheists and many liberals."

B.L.T.,

I would agree with you if you added "many conservatives" to your list. They are also frequently guilty of hate speech. Just look at Limbaugh, Beck, Bachmann, Alan West, Ted Nugent, etc., etc.

Cole said...

Speaking of liberals and conservatives. Nazi Germany put all of those who were disabled and unable to produce in the gas chambers. Sounds like the Republican Party.

Rasmus Møller said...

Cole,
Your remark comparing repuplican party to nazi is not ok. Not at all, Even if it were your intention to demonstrate exactly what hate speech is, it is not ok.

I don't doubt that you hear republicans utter hate speech. But we must take care, lest we imitate exactly what we hate.

Sorry for this outburst of highbrow sermon.

Cole said...

Why not? It is well known that Luther had a huge influence on the religious views of Germany. He was not only hateful against the jews (like most Christians today are to atheists) but developed a doctrine of God's total sovereignty. God causes all things to work together for good. This has been put forth by reformers that God has control even over evil. He brings about a greater good by causing (directly or indirectly) all things. Is this not what Hitler was doing? He was trying to build a superior humanity by doing experiments and such on the Jewish people. He was trying to bring about a greater good by commiting these acts thereby imitating the reformed God as he ruled over people. As Hitler has stated in Mein Kampf:

I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.

The Sovereign God of the Reformation has the profile of Adolf Hitler. Let us abandon The God of the Reformers.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. R. Manheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943) 1:65

Cole said...

To be sure, these great men are only the Marathon runners of history; the luarel wreath of the present touches only the brow of the dying hero.

Among them must be counted the great warriors in this world who, though not understood by the present, are nevertheless prepared to carry the fight for their ideas and ideals to their end. They are the men who some day will be closest to the heart of the people; it almost seems as though every individual feels the duty of compensating in the past for the sins which the present once commited against the great. THEIR LIFE AND WORK ARE FOLLOWED WITH ADMIRING GRATITUDE AND EMOTION, AND ESPECIALLY IN DAYS OF GLOOM THEY HAVE THE POWER TO RAISE UP BROKEN HEARTS AND DESPAIRING SOULS.

TO THEM BELONG NOT ONLY THE TRUE GREAT STATESMEN, BUT ALL OTHER GREAT REFORMERS AS WELL. Beside Fredrick the Great stands MARTIN LUTHER as well as Richard Wagner.

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf - Translated by Ralph Manheim, p. 213.

Ilíon said...

Have you not listened to Christ? He told us in no uncertain terms that the world would hate us ... and seek to murder us.

One has only to *watch* life around one to observe how they hate us simply for drawing breath -- we don't even have to say anything about sin: that we are not sinning along with them is reason enough to enrage them to hate us.

As just one example, consider the hatred directed at the late Mother Terese

Ilíon said...

^^
"[Conservatives] are also frequently guilty of hate speech. Just look at Limbaugh, Beck, Bachmann, Alan West, Ted Nugent, etc., etc."

"Speaking of liberals and conservatives. Nazi Germany put all of those who were disabled and unable to produce in the gas chambers. Sounds like the Republican Party."

"Liberals" and other leftists are *always* such liars.

WMF said...

"Speaking of liberals and conservatives. Nazi Germany put all of those who were disabled and unable to produce in the gas chambers. Sounds like the Republican Party."

Perhaps you may want to me in the direction of extremely decisive evidence that the republican party would like to enforce eugenics, unless you want people to think that you are a raving lunatic moron.

WMF said...

"Speaking of liberals and conservatives. Nazi Germany put all of those who were disabled and unable to produce in the gas chambers. Sounds like the Republican Party."

Perhaps you may want to me in the direction of extremely decisive evidence that the republican party would like to enforce eugenics, unless you want people to think that you are a raving lunatic moron.

Cole said...

WMF,

You missed the point.

Matt DeStefano said...

BTW, this was the first William Lane Craig debate that I watched. I was on the high school debate team for four years, so I know the huge advantage that experience in formal, competitive debates gave to Craig. If Craig is the one who issues the challenges and also insists on the format, then I have to question his ethics in this matter. A non-debater wouldn't realize the advantage he is giving to Craig by agreeing to this format. But any experienced debater would recognize it at once.


This is why I don't understand why Rosenberg agreed to this format. It's pretty obvious that Craig is not only an experienced formal debater, but he particularly shines when allowed to go first in this format where there is little back-and-forth.

I would not say it's unethical (unless the folks at Reasonable Faith are somehow manipulating or coercing the format changes), but it's stupid on the atheist's part.

Ilíon said...

Oh, come on! Everyone knows that it's "unethical" to hand 'atheists' their asses on platters, rather than just rolling over as their spout their foolishness.

im-skeptical said...

Perhaps it's a little late to comment on the OP, but seriously? Theists are shocked that an atheist would be less than completely deferential to them? My earlier comment about the pot calling the kettle black applies here as well.

"people rage against God (note that the fury is directed at the Father and the Son) because they think He restricts them and interferes with what they want to do. Thus, God is viewed as oppressive and is rejected as an authority and ruler over their lives."

Right. Atheists who don't believe that God exists, feel oppressed by him. Schumacher understands us better than we understand ourselves. Maybe it's this kind of condescending attitude that atheists find frustrating.

im-skeptical said...

After listening to the first round, I note that Craig's opening remarks included jewels like:
- Atheists think it's OK to walk into a school and start killing children.
- Atheists have a hihilistic worldview.

This is the kind of crap we hear every day.

Syllabus said...

Notice that Kagan has a much more equal advantage with Craig and is able to hold up his end of the debate rather well.

Well, that's probably also because Kagan doesn't hold some of Rosenberg's more... outré positions.

Zach said...

im-skeptical: atheists (well, really I should say vulgar materialists) are either nihilists or incoherent. Pick your poison. There are some atheists who are Platonists/moral realists and I admit they are harder to deal with.

RD Miksa said...

Just a quick note.

To all those complaining of the debate format, and the supposed advantage that it gives Craig, and how such a format is not conducive to discovering truth, all I can say is: stop whining! Its pathetic. Really...it is. Especially those of you, like Bilbo, claiming that Craig is potentially unethical in promoting and encouraging such a format.

Are we to believe that atheists are such children that they do not understand a debate format and the challenges it presents? If so, then they deserve the beating they get. And if not, then they should stop whining!

Are we to believe that atheists have somehow been coerced into entering such a debate without their full knowledge and consent? If so, then I am sure that they could have informed us during the debate that they were coerced and forced into it. And if not, then they should stop whining!

Are we to believe that atheists are so stupid (or narcissitic) that they fail to prepare for a debate format and the points that their opponent will bring up? If so, then again, they deserve the thrashing that they get. And if not, then once again, stop your god-damn whining!


A debate format is fair in terms of time, it includes a moderator to keep things on track, it ensures that the debaters have preparation time to bring out their best points, and it is interesting and engaging. In a few words, it is an excellent format; which is likely why it has been used, in some form or other, for thousands of years.

And if Rosenberg--or any other atheist--did not want to engage in the debate then I suggest that he either should not have done so, or, if he did agree to debate like he obviously did, then he should have grown a pair of testicles, stopped whining like a bitch, and got on with the job of debating like he freely agreed to do rather than complaining about the format and insulting his opponent.

So, long story short to some of the atheists (both the atheist commentators and the atheist debaters): stop whining like a sore-losing bitch when things don't go your way.

Rant finished.

RD Miksa

Bilbo said...

Enjoyed your rant, RD. I don't know if Rosenberg was somehow manipulated into that debate format or not. From his "whining" that he had wanted a different format, I suspect that this format wasn't something he had initially agreed to, but had somehow been maneuvered into. But who knows?

What I do know is that this format requires a great deal of skill and experience to do well. I know that from four years of doing it myself. The inexperienced outsider doesn't realize how much training and practice it takes to do this type of debate in a competent manner. It would be like being challenged to a game of chess, when you didn't even know how the pieces are supposed to move, let alone all the strategy involved. So if atheists accept Craig's challenge to this debate format, I suspect they do so out of ignorance of how great a challenge it really is.

Is this format conducive for discovering truth? Only if both sides of the debate are equally skillful at this type of debate. Then indeed you can witness something that is fun to watch and that gets to the heart of issues quickly. For the experienced debater such a debate is like listening to a great symphony. But an experienced debater could see right off that this debate wasn't worth watching.

But since most of Craig's opponents don't have the debate skills, an informal format, such as in the Craig-Kagan debate, would be much more effective at exploring the issues.

Papalinton said...

If one wishes discourse on whining, it seems Robin Schumacher, "The Rage of Unbelief", in this OP makes a pretty good fist of it.

The society already is bi-furcated on religious grounds. This is to be expected as religious superstition retreats from the public square. Just as the social revolution of the 60s and early 70's demonstrated, these forms of changes periodically happen to the betterment of the broader community. The de-emphasizing of religion in the public forum is a good thing going forward. Europe doesn't seem at all fussed with the paucity of religion and every social benefit indicator, education, public policy, universal health care, etc etc places them at the top. That is not to say they do not have problems; the biggest of which is the effect of another religious superstition, Islam, clearly a social misfit of worrying proportion. But I am confident they have the determination and the skills to meld it into the community pretty much as they have done with the christian mythos.

To throw in, "The societal damage this would do would be incalculable", is scripted right out of John's apocalypse.

Ilíon said...

Bilbo: "Notice that Kagan has a much more equal advantage with Craig and is able to hold up his end of the debate rather well."

Syllabus: "Well, that's probably also because Kagan doesn't hold some of Rosenberg's more... outré positions."

At the same time, Craig's "advantage" isn't in the '-ist' he is debating, but in the self-defeating '-ism' that the '-ist' is trying so desperately to advance.

Ilíon said...

I pretend to be skeptical: "After listening to the first round, I note that Craig's opening remarks included jewels like:
- Atheists think it's OK to walk into a school and start killing children.
- Atheists have a hihilistic worldview.

This is the kind of crap we hear every day.
"

And the above is the kind of lies we hear from 'atheists' all day long, and twice on Sunday.

I haven't even listened to the recording, yet I will assert that Craig said neither of these things. I venture to say that what Craig really said is something more like this:
1) as stheism logically entails the denial of real morality, 'atheists' have no rational basis upon which to ground a moral assertion that it is wrong "to walk into a school and start [murdering] children"
2) as atheism logically entails the denial of real value and purpose, and of any ultimate meaning to our lives, both individually and collectively (and indeed entails the denial that these terms even have meaning), than a logically and rationally consistent 'atheism' must, perforce, be nihilistic.

im-skeptical said...

So we have a guy who believes in ghosts and magic and an invisible superman telling me that my position isn't rational. It takes brass.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>Atheists think it's OK to walk into a school and start killing children

I am very familiar with Craig's case, and he doesn't say anything like this. What he says rather is that a naturalistic (or physicalist) worldview does not have a way to ground objective moral values. In an impersonal, purposeless universe like that, any moral values would have to be grounded in human society/opinion, because there is no where else for them to exist. And therefore they are relative, or just "human opinion" and nothing more. If everyone decided that raping babies was OK, then it would be so.

However, he thinks that atheists can be just as moral as Christians because he thinks that there is a purpose to the universe and thereby a way that moral values are objective (i.e., independent of what anyone thinks).

What he is saying, in other words, is that atheists are inconsistent: they believe in objective moral values, but have no way to do so on a naturalist worldview. And that, ergo, naturalism is false.

Victor Reppert said...

Ghosts, magic, and invisible supermen?

I don't believe in any of those things. I am a theist and a Christian. If you don't understand the difference between theism and magic, I guess I will have to explain again.

This type of tendentious rhetoric shuts down discussion.

Ilíon said...

VR: "This type of tendentious rhetoric shuts down discussion."

Why not just openly and bluntly say it? "i_pretend_to_be_skeptical" is intellectually dishonest ... you know, just as "mean" ol' me has said, all along.

im-skeptical said...

Victor,

I've been told over and over again that it's irrational for me to believe what I do, which is essentially that the world is nothing more than what it appears to be. No gods, no souls, no Jesus risen from the dead.

If you believe that people rise from that dead, that's magic, as far as I'm concerned. It isn't supported by any real evidence we can see, just unverified stories.

If you believe that people have a soul that exists apart from the body, then you believe in ghosts.

If you believe in an all-powerful supreme being who can't be seen, that's what I call the invisible superman.

I think it's irrational to believe in things that don't exist. People like Zach and RD tell me that it's irrational not to.

I think they believe in all of those things, but I stated it in a somewhat brash way. Unforgivable, I know, but is it really so far from the truth? Rather than shutting down discussion, it seems to have gotten some attention. The only one here who appears to want to shut down the discussion is I-lyin'.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"However, he thinks that atheists can be just as moral as Christians because he thinks that there is a purpose to the universe and thereby a way that moral values are objective (i.e., independent of what anyone thinks).

What he is saying, in other words, is that atheists are inconsistent: they believe in objective moral values, but have no way to do so on a naturalist worldview. And that, ergo, naturalism is false."

Craig is correct that atheists can be just as moral as Christians. But he is wrong about the reason. It's not because God hands us objective moral values. It's because our human nature makes us want to live with the rest of our fellow men. The closest thing we have to an objective moral value is the golden rule. Other than that, there isn't anything objective, that everyone agrees upon, and that isn't affected by time, culture and circumstances.

The bible is full of examples of things that were acceptable and even normal at one time, but are now regarded as morally abhorrent. The only reason you think something is an objective moral value is because you take the perspective of your own time and culture. Slavery - bad. Killing children - bad. Homosexuality - bad. None of those things are universally true. You would not think that those are objective moral values in another time and place.

I'm not being inconsistent about this. The very idea of God-given objective morality is inconsistent - with reality.

Zach said...

im-skeptical: yes, I said it is irrational to not believe that something exists, when it doesn't.

Careful your house is going to burn down it is made of straw.

Tell me how consciousness fits into nature, and I'll think you have thought about the issues enough to have an opinion worth listening to.

Papalinton said...

Victor Reppert:
"Ghosts, magic, and invisible supermen?
I don't believe in any of those things. I am a theist and a Christian. If you don't understand the difference between theism and magic, I guess I will have to explain again. "


Potato ... potahto?
Tomato .. tomahto?
New Testament Miracle ... Greco-Hellenistic Magic?

History tells us it doesn't have a dog in this fight. It's pretty much all semantics.

WMF said...

"So we have a guy who believes in ghosts and magic and an invisible superman telling me that my position isn't rational. It takes brass."

So we have a guy whose only defense against objections to the rationality of his position are straw men, ad hominems and tu quoques.

Ilíon said...

"So we have a guy whose only defense against objections to the rationality of his position are straw men, ad hominems and tu quoques."

Exactly. And almost every 'atheist' or "skeptic" -- or "agnostic" -- one will ever encounter behaves in just the same way. Further, when boxed-in by inescapable logic, they will *always* retreat into the swamp of irrationality and illogic, so as to "defend" their God-denial.

Martin said...

"When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff." - Cicero

im-skeptical said...

Zach,

I appreciate your reply.

How does consciousness fit into nature? More easily than dualism. The concept of a soul or some kind of external being adds absolutely nothing to explaining our subjective experience. The fact is, we have subjective experience, and we are products of nature. I think if you could see the conscious experience different animals, you would see a whole range of levels of consciousness from pure automaton to sentience to human consciousness. My question for you is, at what point in this continuum does it become necessary to introduce the external soul, and what is accomplished by it?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>The concept of a soul or some kind of external being adds absolutely nothing to explaining our subjective experience.

This comment indicates that you have not examined the dualist case very well, outside of the atheist echo chamber. The opposite of skepticism, if you ask me.

The arguments for dualism are deductive, so saying that they have no explanatory power does nothing, absolutely nothing, to refute them.

For example, the problem here is that consciousness is subjective, or private, whereas matter is public and observable by anyone (in principle). The gulf between the two is, perhaps, unbridgeable. It isn't something being "postulated" to explain any fact; rather, it is a datum itself in need of explanation.

Ilíon said...

"... It isn't something being "postulated" to explain any fact; rather, it is a datum itself in need of explanation."

And, [consciousness and mind] not only is unexplained by/under naturalism, but rather is wholly inexplicable under naturalism. The reality of minds contradicts naturalism – thus, even without an “explanation” for minds, the mere fact of them refutes naturalism and atheism.

im-skeptical said...

Still no answer to my question.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>Still no answer to my question.

You're question asked to Zach was:

>My question for you is, at what point in this continuum does it become necessary to introduce the external soul, and what is accomplished by it?

I already answered that implicitly: the "soul" is not a hypothesis, among others, to explain a set of facts. Rather, it is directly deduced from the impossibility of matter giving rise to it. OR... one of the premises fails in the dualist's arguments. But criticizing it for not being able to explain anything does not refute any of the premises, and so is a misplaced objection.

Your other question about when in the continuum of evolution did a soul arise can be answered by looking to "evolutionist" answers to creationists when they similarly complain that the eye could not have evolved slowly because you can't have half an eye. You either have an eye, or you don't. How do you answer that creationist argument? Same thing for the soul, IF it exists. But again, this question does nothing to refute the actual existence of the soul. If the lights are on in the room, you can't refute that fact by saying that someone slowly turned the dimmer down and that there is no precise point at which the lights were on, and that therefore the lights are not now on. That objection makes no sense.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

In my statement, I did not claim to refute the existence of a soul. I did say that it really doesn't help to explain why we have consciousness. If you think it does, I would like to understand that. It's like saying I can't see something with my eyes unless I have someone standing behind me to do the seeing for me. Well, he might be able to see, but how does that make ME see? You might say the one standing behind me is really ME, but I can't see what it explains. I am myself. When my brain stops functioning, my conscious experience stops, too. There's no evidence of any sort that tells me otherwise. Having a ghost just complicates the picture unnecessarily.

"You either have an eye, or you don't. How do you answer that creationist argument? Same thing for the soul"

That argument has been answered very eloquently by Richard Dawkins in "The Blind Watchmaker". Even if you hate the guy, it's an excellent book that is worth reading. It just might open your eyes to a different way of thinking about question like that.

"you can't refute that fact by saying that someone slowly turned the dimmer down and that there is no precise point at which the lights were on, and that therefore the lights are not now on. That objection makes no sense."

Most Christians maintain that animals don't have souls, and that the soul explains our human conscious experience. But I think consciousness is a continuum. So it's like the light burning at 100 watts versus burning at 80 watts. Why would 100 watts imply a soul, but 80 watts doesn't? That's what doesn't make sense.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>I did say that it really doesn't help to explain why we have consciousness. If you think it does, I would like to understand that.

I think I've said, by my count three times now, that the soul is not an explanatory posit at all. So even if it fails to explain something, that is not a mark against it because that's not something it's trying to do. Rather, it's an existence claim that is itself a part of the world in need of explanation.

>There's no evidence of any sort that tells me otherwise.

I've outlined several, and they are generally in this form:

1. All minds have feature X
2. No matter has feature X
3. Therefore, no minds are matter

If you wish to deny the conclusion, then that entails denying one of the premises. Either minds do not have feature X, or matter does have feature X or can produce feature X. If you cannot refute either premise, then you have no rational basis for denying the conclusion.

That is how dualism works, and appealing to Occam will do you no good. Perhaps the conclusion, "no minds are matter" is explanatorily impotent. Yet, if both premises are true, then it can be as impotent as you like but still true nonetheless.

>That argument has been answered very eloquently

No doubt, and I agree. You missed my point, which is that the answer Dawkins gives shows that the "continuum" objection (or sorites objection, to be technical) applies just as much to the soul as to vision.

> the soul explains our human conscious experience

Not explains, but rather is a fact that is itself in need of explanation.

>So it's like the light burning at 100 watts versus burning at 80 watts. Why would 100 watts imply a soul, but 80 watts doesn't?

The fact being presented is that the light is currently burning at 100 watts. Pointing out that the light once burned at 80 watts, and once at 60, and once at 20, and once at 0.00001, does not refute, throw doubt on, or otherwise have any relevance to the fact that the light NOW is burning at 100 watts.

Hal said...

"I think I've said, by my count three times now, that the soul is not an explanatory posit at all. So even if it fails to explain something, that is not a mark against it because that's not something it's trying to do. Rather, it's an existence claim that is itself a part of the world in need of explanation"

Martin,
im-skeptical already agrees with you that we are conscious beings. And he also said that he was not trying to refute the existence of a soul. He was pointing out that he sees no reason for accepting that claim of existence.

If you wish to persuade others that the soul actually exists, then you need to provide evidence for it. For example, if it could be shown that the soul explains how humans and animals are conscious that would be a good reason for accepting its existence.

im-skeptical said...

"If you wish to deny the conclusion, then that entails denying one of the premises. Either minds do not have feature X, or matter does have feature X or can produce feature X. If you cannot refute either premise, then you have no rational basis for denying the conclusion."

I do refute the premise that no matter has feature X. My brain is a material thing. My mind is a product of the brain. You have no rational basis for claiming that premise is true, unless you can show that it is true. (Yes, I've heard the arguments. They all simply assume that a mind can't be produced by material causes, but they never demonstrate the truth of that claim.)

"Not explains, but rather is a fact that is itself in need of explanation."

You say the soul needs an explanation, so please explain, because it doesn't make much sense to me. If the soul is eternal, did I have one before I existed? Is it affected by learning, by disease? Is it smarter than I am? So many unanswered questions.

"the light NOW is burning at 100 watts."

So what does that mean? Any less than 100 watts implies no soul? There are plenty of humans whose light is a little dim. Exactly what level of consciousness does it take to say that there must be a soul present?

Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said...

Hal,

>If you wish to persuade others that the soul actually exists

I do not wish to do so. My point, if you'll look, was that "explanatory impotence" is not an argument against the soul.

Hal said...

"1. All minds have feature X
2. No matter has feature X
3. Therefore, no minds are matter"

Martin,

Humans have minds. Minds don't exist on their own.

The substance people are made of is generally referred to as "matter."

We attribute consciousness to material objects (horse, monkeys, dogs, people) all the time.

If you wish a non-dualist to accept your deductive proof you are going to have to modify it greatly.

Hal said...

"I do not wish to do so. My point, if you'll look, was that "explanatory impotence" is not an argument against the soul."

Martin,
Neither I nor im-skeptical (if I understand him correctly) is claiming souls don't exist.

We are pointing out one argument that could be made to support the existence of a soul. But you've already acknowledged you are unable to provide that argument.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>I do refute the premise that no matter has feature X.

OK, but my point is that "explanatory impotence" is no argument against the soul. Refuting a premise is. So it appears you agree, now. Good.

> My mind is a product of the brain.

This is sidetracked from my original point, but I could point out a problem with your thesis, here. If you flip the deadlock on your door because you fear burglars, then your brain needs to cause electrical signals to travel down your arm to cause the muscles to move. And, as you say, your brain also causes (or more accurately "realizes") your mind. So your brain is doing all the work and the mind becomes a byproduct that does not actually do or cause anything. So the statement "you locked your door because you feared burglars" is false.

But this flies directly in the face of empirical observation. I at least observe myself turning the lock because I fear burglars, and my observations of others seems to confirm this as well, though less certainly than of myself.

So there is another argument for the soul: materialism ends up with a mind that does not actually cause anything, which is empirically disconfirmed.

You can see my diagram of this argument here.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

There are alternative views to the one you present. In particular, epiphenomenalism is consistent with both a materialist worldview and with what we observe empirically. In this view, the mind is an observer of what the brain does. The mind itself is just another mental activity, but it is fooled into believing that it is calling the shots, when in reality, it is only following what the brain does.

http://skepticink.com/tippling/2012/11/23/language-whos-choosing-my-words/

Hal said...

"My mind is a product of the brain."

im-skeptical,

Could you clarify? Sounds to me like you are just as much a dualist as Martin is. In other words, you are substituting the brain for what he calls the soul(mind?).

WMF said...

"The mind itself is just another mental activity, but it is fooled into believing that it is calling the shots, when in reality, it is only following what the brain does."

This is a fairly major concession if you ask me.

im-skeptical said...

Hal,

It may be difficult to see things that way, but the mind has no substance or existence apart from the brain. I don't think it's easy to pin down. That's why theists think it's such a sticky issue for materialists. They say that a material object can't experience anything like consciousness, so there must be something else doing the experiencing. But in my view, mind is strictly a physical phenomenon, entirely dependent on the activity of the brain.

The brain learns by forming new connections in response to physical inputs. The mind is enhanced as a result. When the brain is damaged, the mind suffers too. And when the brain goes away, so does the mind. The connection is so intimate and so complete, that it seems strange to me that anyone would insist that mind and brain are somehow separate. All the evidence says they are not separate at all.

Martin said...

I'm-skeptical

Did you miss frames 8 and 9 on my presentation? If epiphenomenalism is true, then no reasoning can occur and so no belief is rationally inferred, which includes the belief in materialism. I swear that the behavior of some materialists is identical to how atheists view religious people: the belief is shown to lead to absurdity? Ah well. Just believe it anyway.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Did you miss my earlier comment?

"(Yes, I've heard the arguments. They all simply assume that a mind can't be produced by material causes, but they never demonstrate the truth of that claim.)"

I have yet to hear you or any philosopher, or anyone at all offer substantiation for that claim. If your arguments are based on that, you need to show that it's true. Otherwise, I have no reason to accept your argument.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>They all simply assume that a mind can't be produced by material causes

Please show me the exact frame number in my argument that "assumes a mind cannot be produced by material causes."

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

Frame 9 says "for a belief to be rationally inferred, the belief must be caused by other beliefs."

This is a claim that a physical brain can't produce a rational thought by itself - that there has to be something else. This is actually a denial or a misunderstanding of epiphenomenalism.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>This is a claim that a physical brain can't produce a rational thought by itself - that there has to be something else.

That's just nonsense. You'll note that I named the presentation "Jaegwon Kim". This is an argument from the materialist philosopher Jaegwon Kim against non-reductive physicalism, because he wishes to defend reductive physicalism. I.e., he thinks that the mind is not caused by the brain, but actually is the brain. So the epiphenomenalist problem is solved for him by saying that the mind just is brain activity, rather than being caused by brain activity.

In fact, the premise does not assume that there must be something else. It merely says that for a belief to be rationally inferred, it must be caused by other beliefs. Those other beliefs could be physical brain activity, as Kim thinks.

Victor Reppert said...

I think we have to understand what is meant by materiality.

To have a genuinely and consistently naturalistic view you perforce have to leave out intentionality or aboutness, purpose, subjectivity or perspectivality, and normativity. If we something exists because it means something else, if we say something exists because it serves a purpose, if we say that it does something because of its own point of view, if we say it does something because it satisfies some norm, then we are in effect mentalizing the supervenience base, unless we are expecting an analysis of a supervenience base that lacks all these things to entail states of this type.

But I don't think we can avoid mentalizing the supervenience base if we want to say that these things exist at all.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

What you say about Kim seems to disagree with what I have found, which is that he is actually a dualist. He believes that certain mental phenomena are not reducible to physical states of the brain. I don't have a detailed understanding of his arguments, but it hardly sounds like materialism, I must say.

ingx24 said...

I think the problem here is that materialists are completely misunderstanding what is meant by "soul" (or "mental substance", or whatever). Since materialists see everything in material terms, they think of a soul as being this kind of extraordinarily thin ghostly matter that is supposed to generate consciousness and thought. The materialist then says that there is no reason why a physical substance shouldn't be able to do the same thing (and rightly so), and concludes that belief in a soul is just wishful thinking that needlessly complicates our ontology.

But this is not what is meant by the word "soul" at all. The traditional Cartesian soul is not this ghostly matter that is supposed to be able to generate mind and consciousness in virtue of its structure and composition. A Cartesian soul just IS the mind and consciousness. The soul is not an explanatory posit to try to explain the phenomena of mind and consciousness, but rather IS the mind and consciousness that is an explanandum in its own right.

I hope that makes more sense.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

The point is not what Jaegwon Kim is or is not, but that the argument in question does not assume that beliefs cannot be physical. Kim is a reductive physicalist about intentional states, such as beliefs and desires and so forth. And his argument is that the only way to avoid epiphenominalism is for beliefs to be physical brain states (rather than being caused by, or realized by) them.

So you are incorrect that the premise "for a belief to be rationally inferred, the belief must be caused by other beliefs". All that is saying is that "reason" means "being caused by the logical relationship between two other beliefs." It does not assume that said beliefs must be non-physical.

So you are incorrect about what you said about the argument.

im-skeptical said...

Victor,

Since I don't have training in philosophy, I don't know exactly how to respond to your comment. But it does seem that you are saying that my brain can't, on its own, have a physical state that I experience as 'aboutness' or purpose. Do I understand that properly?

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

and yet your slide 10 would seem to say otherwise.

ingx24,

Thank you for that discussion. However, the soul is still seen as something apart from the body, whether substantive or not. So it is fundamentally immaterial in nature.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

Good grief, that is not an "assumption", that is the end result of an argument. The exact opposite of an assumption.

In order to avoid epiphenomenalism and thus preserve the possibility of reason and science, then mental causes must either be A) identical to physical brain activity, or B) something other than brain activity.

Hal said...

"I think the problem here is that materialists are completely misunderstanding what is meant by "soul" (or "mental substance", or whatever). Since materialists see everything in material terms, they think of a soul as being this kind of extraordinarily thin ghostly matter that is supposed to generate consciousness and thought. "

ingx24,

I think materialists and non-materialists make that assumption.

I'm a materialist but only in it's most basic and warranted form: the only substance is matter; i.e., there are no immaterial or spiritual substances.

In my view, the mind is not a substance nor is it a thing. Rather it is a convenient way people have of referring to or talking about some of the mental powers we attribute to humans.

This is why Martin's critique of epiphenomenolism is so misguided. It is not a mind or a brain that causes a man to go get a beer out of the fridge. This assumes the misguided conception that the mind or brain is somehow separate from the whole person, as if it is another little person inside the man directing his actions.

Hal said...

"To have a genuinely and consistently naturalistic view you perforce have to leave out intentionality or aboutness, purpose, subjectivity or perspectivality, and normativity."

Mr. Reppert,
Perhaps.
In any case, one need not be forced to accept the claims of the supernaturalists when rejecting that particular form of naturalism.

Martin said...

Hal,

>This is why Martin's critique of epiphenomenolism is so misguided. It is not a mind or a brain that causes a man to go get a beer out of the fridge. This assumes the misguided conception that the mind or brain is somehow separate from the whole person

Nothing about this argument implies a little man inside your head, nor does it say that the mind or brain is somehow separate from the whole person. I really have no idea where you are getting this from. The non-reductive physicalist, as im-skeptical appears to be, says that the mind is caused by the brain (rather than being identical to it).


1. The brain causes you to lock your door (as it must in order to send signals down the arm to the muscles)
2. The mind causes the arm to lock your door (your fear of burglars causes you to flip the deadbolt)
3. The brain causes the mind

Those three facts entail that only the brain is causing anything, and the mind is a dangler, like smoke from a train.

Which further entails that reason and science are impossible.

ingx24 said...

Thank you for that discussion. However, the soul is still seen as something apart from the body, whether substantive or not. So it is fundamentally immaterial in nature.

Exactly.

I think materialists and non-materialists make that assumption.

I have never seen a sophisticated dualist assume or claim that the soul is some kind of "ghost matter". Usually people identify the soul with the mind/consciousness, not as some kind of invisible ghostly matter that produces the mind/consciousness. Ordinary people may be tempted to see the soul as "ghost matter", but I think that is only because of a confusion in terminology or a convenient method of visualization.

im-skeptical said...

"In order to avoid epiphenomenalism and thus preserve the possibility of reason and science..."

I wonder if we mean different things by "epiphenomenalism". I don't think it is in any way incompatible with reason and science. Your chart seems to imply that some mental entity (depicted as being outside the brain) causes activity in the brain. I disagree with that.

Say there is some brain state that triggers the mental experience we call a thought. That same physical state also leads to the next brain state, and so on in a chain. Each (or perhaps some) of those states can trigger the subjective experience of a "thought". However, in no case does the experience of a thought cause the following brain state. It only seems to, because that's how we perceive our own mental function. It's actually the brain that does the "work" of reason and logic.

How does that in any way entail that reason and science are impossible?

im-skeptical said...

ingx24,

The soul or spirit has traditionally been called a ghost. I don't mean to imply in any way that it has or doesn't have some kind of substance. Nor do I imply that it is anything different from a "soul".

Victor Reppert said...

IS: Since I don't have training in philosophy, I don't know exactly how to respond to your comment. But it does seem that you are saying that my brain can't, on its own, have a physical state that I experience as 'aboutness' or purpose. Do I understand that properly?

VR: If certain central contrainst concerning what a brain is (it has to be properly physical system), then, that is correct.

What laws govern the brain? The laws of physics, or the laws of logic?

ingx24 said...

Because it would be physical causation, and not logical relations, that would cause one thought to follow another. In other words, the fact that "Socrates is mortal" follows logically from "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man" has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the thought "Therefore, Socrates is mortal" comes after the thoughts "Socrates is a man" and "All men are mortal". This makes the fact that there is a logical relation between the three thoughts nothing more than a happy accident.

ingx24 said...

In other words, there is no reason why ANY of our thought processes - governed as they are by the laws of physics rather than the laws of logic - should be anything close to coherent. This calls into question the entire enterprise of science - if the procession of our thoughts and reasoning has nothing to do with logic or reasoning, then the scientific inferences we have made are most likely not valid. Any that are valid are only so by coincidence.

Martin said...

im-skeptical

>Your chart seems to imply that some mental entity (depicted as being outside the brain) causes activity in the brain.

There is no "outside" anything. That is just a way of representing the mind as being caused by brain activity rather than being identical to it.

> That same physical state also leads to the next brain state, and so on in a chain.

And that is precisely the problem. As Edward Feser says in his book Philosophy of Mind:

So there are logical relations between mental states that partially determine precisely which mental states one will have, if one has any at all. But there seem just obviously to be no such relations between neurons firing in the brain. It would be absurd to say – indeed,it isn’t clear what it could even mean to say – that “neuronal firing pattern of type A logically entails neuronal firing pattern of type B,” or that “the secretion of luteinizing hormone is logically
inconsistent with the firing of neurons 6,092 through 8,887.”

Neurons and hormone secretions have causal relations between them; but logical relations – the sort of relations between propositions like “It is raining outside” and “It is wet outside” – are not
causal.

im-skeptical said...

So we get to the heart of the problem: that a brain can't perform logical functions. You need a soul to do that? I can make a computer perform logical functions, but you say the brain is different, because it needs the guidance of a soul. We already discussed all this, and I flatly reject it. Brains and computers both perform logical functions, and they do it by following their respective programs, which are physical things.

BenYachov said...

>So we get to the heart of the problem: that a brain can't perform logical functions. You need a soul to do that? I can make a computer perform logical functions,

So a being with a soul like yourself can using his intellect to construct an instrument that uses human logical symbols to represent a logical function?

Beg the question much?

>but you say the brain is different, because it needs the guidance of a soul. We already discussed all this, and I flatly reject it. Brains and computers both perform logical functions, and they do it by following their respective programs, which are physical things.

You are just repeating your dogma you have not answered the problem.

At minimum if the intellect is a material thing then it can't be like a computer at all. It must be something else.

ingx24 said...

What a computer does doesn't even count as following logic unless someone is there to interpret the inputs and outputs as being logical. Outside of interpretation a computer is just a hunk of metal with electricity running through it and a monitor outputting photons.

im-skeptical said...

Ben,

"You are just repeating your dogma you have not answered the problem."

What I've been saying is that when you say that a brain can't do that, you should back up your claim with evidence, or I don't have a good reason to believe it. And I don't. I think brains can do that, and as I said, nobody has shown me why they can't.

"At minimum if the intellect is a material thing then it can't be like a computer at all. It must be something else."

Does that make sense? Why couldn't it be like a computer, which is in fact, a material thing?

im-skeptical said...

"What a computer does doesn't even count as following logic unless someone is there to interpret the inputs and outputs "

It's the same old thing. You state without evidence or justification that physical things can't do that. Talk about dogma. Why don't you prove it?

ingx24 said...

I'm pretty sure the burden of proof is on the materialist to show how purely physical systems can have minds/consciousness. And no attempt to do so in the past 50 years has been successful.

im-skeptical said...

"I'm pretty sure the burden of proof is on the materialist to show how purely physical systems can have minds/consciousness. And no attempt to do so in the past 50 years has been successful."

Brains perform logical functions all the time. But you say they can't - that there's really a man behind the curtain who does all the thinking for them, and then tell me I have to prove that your claim isn't true. My claim is based on what what we observe. Yours is based on dogma. Once again, it has no factual basis.

im-skeptical said...

I know this isn't going anywhere. We have on the one hand the assertion that the brain is the instrument that performs our cognitive functions and creates our conscious experience. And on the other hand, the assertion that brains don't actually do that, but there's some external agent that performs those functions by proxy. I doubt that either side will come up with proof that will convince the other. Am impasse.

All I can say is that brains can be seen, their activity measured and mapped to conscious experience. Souls can't be seen, measured or observed in any way. Their existence is inferred by a logical process that uses as its premise the notion that brains (or material objects) can't think for themselves. It's this premise that I find faulty. It has no substantiation. It is simply stated as fact.

As the old quip goes, "Who you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

You are raising all kinds of issues scattershot. One of the main issues is your comparison of the mind to computers, but this is not a good comparison. Computers have their meaning only relative to a mind assigning that meaning to them. Electrons coursing through the circuitry means "1" and a lack of electrons means "0", but this is only because we (minds) assign that meaning to them. In virtue of just their physical properties, they don't mean anything.

Which raises yet another argument for dualism:

1. No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind (for example, the squiggles "dog" means "dog" only because we assign that meaning to those squiggles; without us minds around doing that, the squiggles don't mean anything at all)
2. All thoughts have meaning. Your thoughts right now are no doubt "how can I refute this argument?". That's the meaning your current thoughts probably have.
3. Therefore, either A) no thoughts are matter, or B) thoughts have meaning only because they are assigned that meaning by a mind.

If you choose A, you are a dualist. If you choose B, then you go to infinite regress because you are trying to explain a mind in relation to a mind, and thus not explaining it at all.

Papalinton said...

The Rage of Unbelief?
Is there any wonder?

What religion has contributed to the world this month, 2013. See HERE

That's right. Turn it off. There is nothing wrong with religion. This all an atheist conspiracy. Lalalalalala [fingers in ears].

Ilíon said...

Martin: ""When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff." - Cicero"

Perhaps I misunderstand your intent. But, assuming that I do not misunderstand your intent, I cannot help but wonder whether you are reconsidering?

Ephram said...

Linton,

State-backed irreligion in the 20th century – in China, in Cambodia, etc. – swallowed up the lives of around 150,000,000 innocent people, in what was by far the bloodiest century in human history. So if there is something wrong with religion, there is something far more wrong with atheism. In light of this history, it is a ridiculous "faith" position to believe that the abandonment of all religion will inevitably usher in a sunlit utopia for all mankind.

But is there an active movement going around saying that "atheism has no place in the modern world," "atheism should be made illegal," "atheism is a virus of the mind," etc., even when those claims and labels would far better fit atheism than Christianity? No, because a world with God (or vestiges of Him) is the only world where the evil of human nature can be curbed to a sufficient degree to allow sustained tolerance and love to exist.

ingx24 said...

All I can say is that brains can be seen, their activity measured and mapped to conscious experience. Souls can't be seen, measured or observed in any way. Their existence is inferred by a logical process that uses as its premise the notion that brains (or material objects) can't think for themselves. It's this premise that I find faulty. It has no substantiation. It is simply stated as fact.

Once again, you are assuming that souls are what produce conscious experience and thought. This is wrong. A soul is not this unobservable extraordinarily thin type of matter that, by virtue of its composition, produces mind and consciousness. Rather, a soul (in the Cartesian sense; Aristotelians mean something completely different by "soul") just is a person's mind/consciousness. The debate between dualists and materialists is that between those who believe that mind/consciousness is as it appears to be (dualists) and those who believe that it is nothing more than electrical impulses and chemical reactions (materialists). ("Non-reductive materialism" is, if I am not mistaken, either a form of epiphenomenalism or a way of saying that reduction of mind to brain activity isn't convenient or useful despite its theoretical possibility).

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

To add to what ingx24 said, even Bertrand Russell saw this (he was a dualist for a time) clearly. He argued that we have more intimate knowledge of mind than we do of matter, because we are minds and can introspect. You have intimate knowledge of what-it-is-like to feel pain, believe something, fear something, and so on. You have knowledge of the intrinsic nature of mind. But what is matter? It's described abstractly by physics in terms of mass, charge, spin, etc, but what is its intrinsic nature? Is it little billiard balls? Little corpuscles? Or perhaps just numbers? We just don't know, and physics doesn't tell us.

cautiouslycurious said...

Ephram,

Steven Pinker would like to have a word with you.

As he notes, the 20th century is most likely not the most violent century on record and may not even be in the top 10.

Also, as he notes, calling those regimes state-backed irreligion is about as meaningful as calling them state-back Ascientology, and hence blaming the lack of acceptance of Scientology for their misdeeds. If you look at the positions of atheists, you will see that there are significant differences that are contradictory to the beliefs of those regimes and the lack of mention of God is merely a superfluous similarity (e.g. just like a mustache). I could just as easily call my position Atheism+ to make your point irrelevant.

ingx24 said...

I think what Martin said is an important point that a lot of materialists have lost sight of.

A big difference between dualists and materialists is how seriously they take introspection. Dualists (which most ordinary people are) see the mind through the first person perspective, taking the mind to be the conscious experiences they have every day. Materialists, on the other hand, tend to see everything through the third-person perspective of science, seeing mental states primarily as causes of behavior. For example, a dualist will take pain to be defined by how it feels, while a materialist will take pain to be defined by the behavior it produces. The result is that the two sides end up talking past each other. While the materialist will see it as just obvious that the mind is the brain because the brain is what produces the behavior that the mind is said to produce, the dualist will see it as just obvious that the mind cannot be the brain because the mind through the first-person perspective is just plainly different from electrical impulses and chemical reactions.

im-skeptical said...

ingx24 and Martin,

There is one crucial element you are leaving out of your discussion of the soul, which otherwise seems quite reasonable: that you believe the soul has an existence apart from the body and therefore is an immaterial being in its own right that lives independently of my body. (You do believe that it continues to exist after by body has died.) Without this soul to guide me, my brain would be a useless piece of machinery processing information without meaning or understanding.

"mind cannot be the brain because the mind through the first-person perspective is just plainly different from electrical impulses and chemical reactions"

You are denying that the mind can be subject to illusion or delusion. You give it far too much credit, I think, for seeing things as they really are.

Ilíon said...

Zach: "im-skeptical: atheists (well, really I should say vulgar materialists) are either nihilists or incoherent. Pick your poison. There are some atheists who are Platonists/moral realists and I admit they are harder to deal with. "

That sort are not “harder to deal with”, for they are at least as incoherent as the “vulgar materialists”.

Their Platonism and/or moral realism is both ad hoc, which is a weakness even if non-fatal, and contradictory to their denial of God’s reality, which self-contradiction is a fatal weakness. Consider what they are asserting:
1) The foundational/fundamental basis of all reality is not Mind, but rather mindless matter;
2) There exist immaterial Unthought Thoughts, over and above the mindless matter which is the foundation of all reality, yet being nonetheless utterly “natural” and fully subsumable under philosophical naturalism (*), which immaterial Unthought Thoughts “explain” all the facts of reality which cannot be accounted for under “vulgar materialism”.

(*) of course, they have to distort naturalism to make this sub-assertion

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"but this is only because we (minds) assign that meaning to them"

Your claim here is that a brain can't assign meaning to things - only a "mind" can do that. It's the same as saying that in the absence of its immaterial soul a brain can't conduct a logical process or that a brain can't be rational. The same unsubstantiated claim I have objected to. Where is the substantiation for this? You are absolutely certain that it's true, but you can't show me anything that verifies it. Nothing.

Martin said...

I'm-skeptical

Do electrons have meaning apart from someone interpreting them to have meaning? Do the squiggles on this screen mean anything apart from the English language and its users? I don't know any materialist who would deny that words, arrows, stop signs, etc only have their meaning because us humans assign meaning to them.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"Do electrons have meaning apart from someone interpreting them to have meaning? Do the squiggles on this screen mean anything apart from the English language and its users? I don't know any materialist who would deny that words, arrows, stop signs, etc only have their meaning because us humans assign meaning to them."

You are correct, and that's not the issue at hand. It is: Can my material mind assign meaning, or is it only your immaterial soul that can do it?

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

You are jumping the gun. The only issue in premise one is that no matter has any meaning apart from humans interpreting it that way. A stop sign means stop only because us humans have decided it means that. In virtue of just its physical properties, independent of human interests and language, it doesn't mean stop or anything else. And you appear to agree. So that's premise one. Matter is meaningless.

And the second premise is that thoughts have meaning. From which it follows that no thoughts are matter.

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

Aww!. Let's round off this discussion. We pretty much know what consciousness is. For a neat summary see HERE.

The mind is what the brain does. All the evidence we have is indicating that consciousness is an emergent property, a function of the neuronal firings that stimulate perception, sensation, emotion, and reflection; all the various responses we generate as we interact with and within our world. Those that deny the evidence even the little we currently have, in positing some notion of an indivisible, independent 'soul', are simply being perverse.

For heaven's sake! [Pardon the use of irony] Give it over. Put dualism back where it rightfully belongs, in the shamanic basket of goodies.

BenYachov said...

>All the evidence we have is indicating that consciousness is an emergent property,

Hey look everybody Paps is a Property Dualist!

Well that is in some sense an improvement over a reductionist materialist monist.

Of course all the objections we can hurl at Cartesian Dualism can be applied to Property Dualism.

Of course hylomorphism dualism doesn't have any of these problems.

ingx24 said...

You are denying that the mind can be subject to illusion or delusion. You give it far too much credit, I think, for seeing things as they really are.

This is another common confusion by materialists: They assume that, since perception is not good at revealing the physical world as it truly is, introspection is similarly susceptible to error in revealing the mind as it truly is. The problem is this: While your senses may be mistaken in showing (say) an object as being red when in reality it has no such property, your introspection cannot be mistaken about the fact that you are having a red sensation. If it seems to you as if you are having a red sensation, or thinking about dogs, or imagining the sound of a flute, then, by definition, you are. There is no logical possibility of error here. You cannot say, "Well, sure, it seems as if you are thinking about something, but in reality you are just misperceiving electrical impulses in your brain". However, you can say, "It seems as though this object is solid, but in reality it is mostly empty space with particles zipping through it at high speeds to give the illusion of solidity".

ingx24 said...

Of course hylomorphism dualism doesn't have any of these problems.

I may be misunderstanding hylomorphic dualism here, but as far as I'm aware hylomorphic dualism says that only conceptual thought is immaterial, and that sensations and mental images are fully material in nature. Doesn't that carry with it all the problems with identity theory (i.e. that nothing we observe in the brain comes even close to resembling a mental image)?

Ilíon said...

"I may be misunderstanding hylomorphic dualism here, but as far as I'm aware ..."

It's far more likely that Son_of_Confusion is misrepresenting it. 'benYachov' is very like the typical God-denier -- ideas, and reason itself, are important to him only in as far as they can be used for grinding that very big axe with which he has burdened himself.

Papalinton said...

">All the evidence we have is indicating that consciousness is an emergent property,
Hey look everybody Paps is a Property Dualist!"


Nah. Consciousness is an emergent function in the same sense that puts the wood, wheels, nails, rope and axles together into a soapbox cart and it can take you right on down the hill, whereas previously you would be hard-pressed to do so by sitting among the separate bits. No rocket science needed here to see that dualism as a concept of ensoulment and as mentation separation from the body are purely theological concepts. As such concepts, they are dead ducks in every field, except for the more obtuse practitioners of woo-mongering.

I suspect had Aquinas had been living today, knowing and understanding what we now know, scientifically, sociologically, psychologically etc etc. he would surely have been a scientist. He was a truly brilliant individual, the best of the Summa Cum Laude whose intelligence and intellect was sorely constricted and constrained within the poorly and only knowledge base at his disposal in the Middle Ages, theology. He was a product of his time, and the only game in town was christian theology. Not wishing to sit on his hands, it was he that thought to splice and spice up the dead hand of Christian mythology with the brilliant pagan mind of Aristotle. Can you imagine what he would have been able to achieve had he had the resources and the depth of the knowledge base we now have available ? The brilliance of his mind, with such limited resources clearly demonstrates he would have been a Daniel Dennett or an Albert Einstein or akin the great popularizer of science, Hawking, or even the greatest living theoretical physicist, Edward Witten, if he were alive today. It is simply unimaginable this man would even contemplate siding with the Fesers, Plantingas and other also-rans of the intellectual world.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

"And the second premise is that thoughts have meaning. From which it follows that no thoughts are matter."

Not unless you assume that thoughts are not the product of a purely material brain, but of the soul. A bad assumption if you are at all interested in looking at the empirical evidence.

ingx24,

"your introspection cannot be mistaken about the fact that you are having a red sensation"

Wow, that's quite a strong claim. I don't suppose you have any evidence to support it, do you? The lunatic who is utterly deluded about the world around him and even his own identity, has merely to look into his soul, and then he sees the truth - no mistake about it. In my own case, I look and it seems I don't see the same thing you do. Why do you suppose that is?

ingx24 said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure if Aquinas were born in this era he would have been more akin to Francis Collins than to Stephen Hawking or (lol) Daniel Dennett. Aquinas's goal was to reconcile Christian theology with what was the latest "science" of the time, and had he been living today he would likely have been doing the same thing. Of course, this is all idle speculation since no one knows what someone from the past would have been like had they been born in this day and age.

Also, I find it hilarious that you lumped Daniel Dennett in with Albert Einstein. As if someone who literally denies that anyone is conscious (except in his redefined sense) is worthy of the same intellectual respect as someone who completely revolutionized the foundations of physical science.

ingx24 said...


"your introspection cannot be mistaken about the fact that you are having a red sensation"

Wow, that's quite a strong claim. I don't suppose you have any evidence to support it, do you? The lunatic who is utterly deluded about the world around him and even his own identity, has merely to look into his soul, and then he sees the truth - no mistake about it. In my own case, I look and it seems I don't see the same thing you do. Why do you suppose that is?


You completely misunderstood what I said. What I meant is that, if it appears as if you are having some kind of mental state, then, by definition, you are. In the case of mind/consciousness, the appearance IS the reality. It makes no sense to say that it only seems to me as if I'm thinking about something and that I actually am not. If it seems to me as if I am thinking, then, necessarily, I am thinking.

I don't see how I can make this any more clear.

Martin said...

Im-skeptical

>Not unless you assume that thoughts are not the product of a purely material brain, but of the soul.

I don't think you understand how logic works. It isn't an assumption, its an argument. If you affirm that matter has no meaning, and that thoughts do have meaning, then it follows that thoughts are not matter. To deny this conclusion entails denying that either thoughts have meaning, or that matter is meaningless.

Martin said...

Im-skeptical,

Almost everything we say you somehow manage to not understand. I don't whose fault this is.

What ingx24 is saying is that if, for example, someone believes they are Jesus Christ, while they can obviously be mistaken about that. But what they cannot be mistaken about is the fact they believe they are Jesus Christ.

If you see a ghost, you can be mistaken about seeing a ghost but you cannot be mistaken about the fact that you think you see a ghost.

im-skeptical said...

What ingx24 said is, "This is another common confusion by materialists: They assume that, since perception is not good at revealing the physical world as it truly is, introspection is similarly susceptible to error in revealing the mind as it truly is."

Now I wouldn't dispute that if you are experiencing a 'thought' or sensation about something, that you are in fact experiencing that in your mind. But that doesn't imply that introspection reveals the mind as it truly is.

If your mind is deluded, will introspection tell you that? Consider someone who has been rendered susceptible to suggestion through hypnosis. If you ask him about the decisions he makes, he may tell you that he has determined in his mind to take a course of action, when in fact he had no choice in the matter. He is deluded about what his mind is doing and how it affects his behavior.

To say 'introspection is not susceptible to error in revealing the mind as it truly is', is patently false. At best, you can say "I just had a thought about redness", but you can't say for sure how that thought arose. Was it a dream, induced by drugs or stimulation of your brain cells, or a vision from some holy spirit? How would you know?

ingx24 said...

And now you misunderstand what I meant by "reveals the mind as it truly is". What I meant is that, if mental states don't seem like anything occuring physically in the brain, you cannot say that our perception of our own minds is wrong and that what we see in the brain is what our minds are truly like.

im-skeptical said...

"if mental states don't seem like anything occuring physically in the brain, you cannot say that our perception of our own minds is wrong and that what we see in the brain is what our minds are truly like."

Huh???

"Almost everything we say you somehow manage to not understand. I don't whose fault this is."

Sorry. I guess an interpreter would be helpful.

Papalinton said...

ingx24
"Actually, I'm pretty sure if Aquinas were born in this era he would have been more akin to Francis Collins than to Stephen Hawking or (lol) Daniel Dennett."

Nah. Collins is best known as an administrator, whose only other widely-known contribution amounts to authoring two books on the peripheral issue of religious woo, 'The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief', 'The Language of God'. Contrast this with Dennett's contribution:

"Author of such groundbreaking and influential books as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Daniel C. Dennett has reached a huge general and professional audience that extends far beyond the confines of academic philosophy. Dennett has made significant contributions to the study of consciousness, the development of the child's mind, cognitive ethnology, explanation in the social sciences, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary theory." See HERE.

Chalk to cheese really.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...

"@ingx24:

"I may be misunderstanding hylomorphic dualism here, but as far as I'm aware hylomorphic dualism says that only conceptual thought is immaterial, and that sensations and mental images are fully material in nature. Doesn't that carry with it all the problems with identity theory (i.e. that nothing we observe in the brain comes even close to resembling a mental image)?"

Yes you are correct as far as the first count. Incorrect as far as the second count, because hylemorphic dualism *also* views matter, and nature in general, differently than identity theorists (usually mechanistic materialists of one stripe or another), so the arguments against identity theory do not go through (e.g. arguments via intentionality), at least, not in any naive, direct way."

edit: William Hasker in one of his books launches a couple of arguments against hylemorphic dualism; I remember not being particularly convinced, but that might very well be because of my even greater ignorance back then; guess I will have to revisit them.

ingx24 said...

so the arguments against identity theory do not go through (e.g. arguments via intentionality), at least, not in any naive, direct way.

But how are mental images supposed to be material if they aren't directly observable? As far as I know, all that is physically observable in the brain is electrical activity and chemical reactions. How is that supposed to be a mental image?

grodrigues said...

@ingx24:

"But how are mental images supposed to be material if they aren't directly observable? As far as I know, all that is physically observable in the brain is electrical activity and chemical reactions. How is that supposed to be a mental image?"

Very short answer, and somewhat evasive, because I do not feel competent to expound the Thomistic theory of knowledge to give a fuller answer: this would be an argument against hylemorphic dualism *if* you can establish that "mental images have property P" and "matter does not have property P", with P some property like being "is directly observable", *inside* hylemorphic dualism. And to establish that, by the nature of the case, you would have to restrict yourself to non-rational animals. But no general argument of the type you sketch (as far as I can understand it) can do that, because it would also establish that non-rational animals that have sensation and memory *also* have immaterial souls and hence are immortal, something that most dualists, of whatever stripe, will reject.

ingx24 said...

But no general argument of the type you sketch (as far as I can understand it) can do that, because it would also establish that non-rational animals that have sensation and memory *also* have immaterial souls and hence are immortal, something that most dualists, of whatever stripe, will reject.

I do not reject that animals have immaterial souls. I don't see why any dualist would, since it'd end up with the conclusion that animals are not conscious (and if you deny that animals are conscious, I have nothing to say to you).

But why would we need to restrict ourselves to non-rational animals to show that mental images aren't material? I don't understand.

grodrigues said...

@ingx24:

"I do not reject that animals have immaterial souls."

As far as I know, most dualists do. Feel free to correct me on this. The issue is not so much that having immaterial souls entails they are not conscious (if by conscious you mean they have sensation, memory and such powers, then quite clearly they are conscious) but that, for just one example, then they would be (or have; the exact formulation does not matter for my current purposes) immortal souls.

"But why would we need to restrict ourselves to non-rational animals to show that mental images aren't material? I don't understand."

If you prove that mental images are not material, then the issue just gets relocated. Let me put it this way: if you are OK with animals being immaterial, immortal souls, the case is closed as far as you are concerned and you have an argument against hylemorphic dualism; if you are not OK, then the question is just whether non-rational animals have mental images in the sense you are using. If your would-be argument works, then they do not.

"and if you deny that animals are conscious, I have nothing to say to you"

Now I remember. You are the one in the "All arguments can be outweighed" and accused me of being dogmatic when I said that animals do not have the capacity for reason is a rather obvious empirical observation and then asked if you had any other reason to suppose otherwise. Right.

And by the way, I will reiterate what I said in the other thread: (non-human or not rational) animals are not conscious, not in the same way human beings are conscious, precisely because animals are not rational.

im-skeptical said...

ingx24,

It would seem that when empirical evidence contradicts religious dogma, some still prefer to reject the evidence if favor of the dogma.

But back to our discussion. Your last reply to me was hard to comprehend because of the wording. For example, you say 'mental state' when I think you mean to say 'thought'. They are not the same thing, since many (actually most) mental states clearly don't correspond to thoughts.

If you want to discuss it further, could you state it more clearly?

WMF said...

"As far as I know, most dualists do. Feel free to correct me on this."

Perhaps you want to specify: which dualists? Cartesian dualists? Property dualists? All dualists?

grodrigues said...

@WMF:

"Perhaps you want to specify: which dualists? Cartesian dualists? Property dualists? All dualists?"

Dualists was left unqualified, so it is the latter option.

@im-skeptical:

"It would seem that when empirical evidence contradicts religious dogma, some still prefer to reject the evidence if favor of the dogma."

I suppose that jab was directed at me. I never mentioned the Bible, Catholic official teaching or whatever, just philosophical positions, so what "religious dogma" are you referring to exactly? It is even more ironical, because ingx24's argument, was first directed at naturalists like yourself, so what "empirical evidence" are you referring to?

Ilíon said...

Here is my "executive summary" of the (ahem) argument between 'im-skeptical' and 'Martin' A valiant attempt at the impossible

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

If you are a follower of the philosophy of Michael Murray and the like, then I'd say you you reject the evidence. Aside from that, animals are known to engage in problem solving. They can use language to communicate with humans. They exhibit an awareness of self. Why would you say they are not conscious?

Earlier, I discussed a continuum of levels of consciousness. This seems a much better model for what we observe than anything we hear from religious philosophers.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"If you are a follower of the philosophy of Michael Murray and the like, then I'd say you you reject the evidence."

I do not know who Michael Murray is. I asked you what "religious dogma" were you referring to, and what empirical evidence do you have in mind, since ingx24's argument, if it works like he says he does, was primarily directed at naturalists like yourself. In other words, I am asking for once to actually be intellectually honest and substantiate your claims.

im-skeptical said...

grodriues,

"I am asking for once to actually be intellectually honest and substantiate your claims."

Feel free to go on ignoring what I said. You asked, I answered. It's like talking to a pile of bricks.

But I have been asking for substantiation to the claim that rational thought can't come from material things like the human brain, and all I get is circular arguments with no substantiation for the claim. So why don't you object to real intellectual dishonesty? Oh, I know...

Martin said...

>But I have been asking for substantiation to the claim that rational thought can't come from material things like the human brain, and all I get is circular arguments with no substantiation for the claim

I provided an argument above, and you not shown which premise is false. I however did provide justification for each premise.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

your argument:
"1. No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind (for example, the squiggles "dog" means "dog" only because we assign that meaning to those squiggles; without us minds around doing that, the squiggles don't mean anything at all)
2. All thoughts have meaning. Your thoughts right now are no doubt "how can I refute this argument?". That's the meaning your current thoughts probably have.
3. Therefore, either A) no thoughts are matter, or B) thoughts have meaning only because they are assigned that meaning by a mind.'

If that's not the one, could you refer me to it? If it is, then it does not contain the assertion to which I objected. I don't disagree with this argument, as far as it goes. But I don't agree with the conclusion you draw from this argument, that there must be an infinite regress.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"You asked, I answered."

No you have not answered. I still do not know, what you referred by "religious dogma". As far as the empirical evidence, there was a context in my request, but I will be more explicit for your benefit: in the *context* of ingx24's (or Martin's) specific argument, what specific empirical evidence do you have in mind, especially given that his arguments were primarily directed at naturalists like you.

"But I have been asking for substantiation to the claim that rational thought can't come from material things like the human brain, and all I get is circular arguments with no substantiation for the claim."

This thread contains arguments; that you do not understand them, much less have refuted them is your problem (talk about being a pile of bricks... sheesh).

Finally, let us tackle your so-called empirical evidence. First off, do you know the classical arguments for the immateriality of thought from its universal and determinate content? Since you invoked "religious dogma", it seems you think that there is no rational evidence for the immateriality of thought and that my only justification is "religious dogma". This thread contains arguments; let us grant for the sake of argument that it is we that are mistaken about these arguments. Let us then turn to the classical arguments. Kindly explain them first and then show where they go wrong.

Second, it is not exactly a recent discovery that animals can make tools, as it is a rather ancient observation that birds make nests, beavers construct dams, etc. Neither is exactly a recent discovery that animals can communicate in certain ways and thus have some sort of language. Neither is problem-solving a sign of rationality in the classical sense, since it is not very difficult to see how having sensory knowledge and memory suffices for, for example, trial-and-error problem-solving. It is not like dualists (of whatever stripe) do not know this or have not thought about it; maybe because you are an ignorant you think everyone is. If you want to know more, and why none of these constitute counter-examples you can see for example Mortimer Adler's The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes.

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

The examples you cited are all cases of the natural behavior of animals, and I was not considering those behaviors, since I agree that they could have evolved without any kind of rationality or intent. I was talking about more advanced cognitive skills that we see exhibited by some animals. Things like the cat using a rug as a device to open a closed door, or an ape who builds a platform that allows him to leave his enclosure. And what about learning sign language and using it to communicate effectively?

None of these animals could prove Pythagoras' theorem, but I think it's a mistake to say that they don't think at some level, and don't have consciousness.

And sure, this thread contains arguments for the immateriality of thought. That's what we were debating. I challenged a key assertion - that rational thought can't come from a purely material object.

Let's continue with Martin's argument. Fine, as far as it goes. But then he states that choice B entails an infinite regress. So here's where the assumption is silently slipped in - that a purely material mind can't assign meaning to something. What he's doing is using a circular argument to answer my objection.

All I asked, is for someone to demonstrate the truth of that assumption. I've been told by a couple of people now, that it's up to me to prove that a material mind can produce rational thought. But unlike Mr. Ill-logic, I think the burden of proof is on the one who makes the argument, not the one who doesn't believe it.

Martin said...

I'm skeptical,

The infinite regress won't work because you explains things entirely in terms of the explanandum. I.e. it leaves mind unreduced.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"I was talking about more advanced cognitive skills that we see exhibited by some animals. Things like the cat using a rug as a device to open a closed door, or an ape who builds a platform that allows him to leave his enclosure. And what about learning sign language and using it to communicate effectively?"

I did mention this, if briefly. Either way, check the reference if you want to know the whole story. A direct answer is, and I am going to repeat myself, linked with the nature of rational thought and what typical manifestations it has.

"None of these animals could prove Pythagoras' theorem, but I think it's a mistake to say that they don't think at some level, and don't have consciousness."

So animals cannot engage in mathematics but they still "think" at the same level as human beings? Do you proofread what you write? What does this even mean? You yourself have just pointed out a basic difference and then go on to negate it. Once again, in the light of the classical arguments for the immateriality of thought, engaging in mathematics *is* a manifestation of rational thought. There is nothing artificial or ad hoc about this.

And then it is we "religious philosophers" that are attached to "dogmas"...

"And sure, this thread contains arguments for the immateriality of thought. That's what we were debating. I challenged a key assertion - that rational thought can't come from a purely material object."

The key assertion *IS NOT* that "rational thought can't come from a purely material object", that *IS THE CONCLUSION*. Really, do you even know logic? If you do not agree with the argument you *HAVE TO SHOW* where the argument goes wrong, not butcher it, or show to the entire world's satisfaction that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

"Fine, as far as it goes. But then he states that choice B entails an infinite regress. So here's where the assumption is silently slipped in - that a purely material mind can't assign meaning to something. What he's doing is using a circular argument to answer my objection."

Yes, you keep asserting, claiming and whatnot. Reasoning? None that I can see. You have just conceded that the argument is fine. Then you say you disagree with the conclusion. But if the argument is fine then the conclusion follows inexorably by logical necessity. If the conclusion does not follow, then there is a mistake somewhere.

You mention circularity in assumption B, but you do *not* show that the argument is indeed circular, you just assert it. What is assumption B? "thoughts have meaning only because they are assigned that meaning by a mind." But this follows from premise 1 that you have already conceded to it, so either you have an infinite regress or you have a circular explanation (e.g. the homunculus fallacy), so what the heck are you talking about?

Finally, you still have not answered my questions. You took a jab at me; was that just a jab (which I readily concede I also engage in sometimes) or is there some meat in it? Do you know the classical arguments for the immateriality of thought from its universality and determinate content?

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

You continue to misread or ignore what I say, deliberately, I think. We could discuss more, but I think it's pointless.


Martin,

I'm afraid I can't give you a philosophical treatise on reduction of mind, but there are people who have. Allow me to explain why I think your argument fails. You make a logical case whose conclusion has two choices, one of which is invalid, you say. So you reject choice B in favor of choice A. What's wrong with choice B? It entails an infinite regress of assignment of meaning. And why is that? Because you have already accepted choice A: that thoughts are not material, and you implicitly insert an assumption that a material mind cannot assign meaning. And that becomes your justification for rejecting choice B. So your evident conclusion - that no thoughts are matter - depends on itself for justification. Or at the very least, it depends on an unstated assumption as I have explained.

So I ask what is the justification for this assumption, and the best answer I get is that arguments for the immaterial mind have been made. But your own argument implicitly includes this assumption, which makes it a circular argument.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"What's wrong with choice B? It entails an infinite regress of assignment of meaning. And why is that? Because you have already accepted choice A: that thoughts are not material, and you implicitly insert an assumption that a material mind cannot assign meaning."

No, no, no, no, thousand times no. It is because of premise 1 that the vicious regress (or circularity) follows, premise which you have *already* granted.

But maybe you are right, after all; it is indeed pointless to talk to you as you cannot even recognize an elementary argument.

im-skeptical said...

My material mind assigns meaning to things. Simple as that. No regress. Premise 1 is no justification for the regress.

William said...

What does the above argument really demonstrate? Perhaps this:

"One's modus ponens is another's modus tollens."

--Putnam

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>My material mind assigns meaning to things. Simple as that. No regress. Premise 1 is no justification for the regress.

The regress comes about because matter can only have meaning if that meaning is assigned by someone (which you agreed) with. So if thoughts are material, then the meaning of thoughts can only be because someone assigns meaning to them. But now you haven't explained mind at all; you've explained it in terms of mind, and so have left it unreduced. Can you really not understand this very simple argument?

Matter has no meaning, apart from the meaning given to it by human beings (or whoever).

Thoughts have meaning.

Thoughts are material (according to you).

Therefore, thoughts only have meaning because they are given meaning by someone (i.e., another mind).

But now you have to explain that mind, and you end up going around in circles.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

I asked earlier what an immaterial mind adds to your understanding of how the mind works. So if my material mind can only be understood in terms of another mind (which I flatly deny) and you add this other immaterial mind (or soul) into the equation, how does that make any difference? Why couldn't I say the soul's understanding of things can only be understood in terms of yet another soul. After all, the rationale for this is no different from your rationale. So why shouldn't there be an infinite regress of immaterial minds, each needed to give meaning to the one before it?

Ridiculous, you say? No more ridiculous than the unsupported assertion that a material mind can't understand or assign meaning to things.

cautiouslycurious said...

I don't understand where the disconnect is. Im-skeptical is saying that for the first premise (No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind), a collection of material is able to ascribe meaning to other material. He is saying that his material mind is able to ascribe meaning to other material. If you were to change the first premise to specify an immaterial mind, he would then reject that premise. Why is this so hard to understand?

im-skeptical said...

"If you were to change the first premise to specify an immaterial mind, he would then reject that premise."

Correct. And also, the whole argument becomes trivial.

Martin said...

>He is saying that his material mind is able to ascribe meaning to other material.

That is not any of the premises, so I'm not sure where it is coming from.

Thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

Its thoughts have meaning.

No matter has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

So if thoughts are material, then the meaning thoughts have is assigned by a mind.

But the mind doing the assigning now needs to be explained. How does its thoughts have meaning?

It just goes around in circles.

Martin said...

To put it another way:

We want to explain:

1. Mind, which is...
2. A program, which is...
3. A an algorithm, which manipulates...
4. Symbols, which...
5. Only have meaning if assigned by [goto 1]

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"My material mind assigns meaning to things. Simple as that. No regress. Premise 1 is no justification for the regress."

I am going to try for one last time.

I am going to take a slightly different tack and produce the vicious regress in a different way than Martin does. Which by the way, you *still* have not responded to and prefer instead to go off on a tangent about souls and explanatory power and what not. It really is an amazing spectacle.

You grant premise 1. Premise 1 reads as (slightly refined by me):

1. No configuration of matter and energy has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

Since you are a materialist, a thought just *is* a configuration of matter and energy (a pattern of neurons firing or whatever; details are irrelevant). From which it follows that:

1a. No thought has meaning unless that meaning is assigned by a mind.

But 1a. does not even make sense; it is not like there are thoughts, these things floating around in the mind, and the mind assigns meaning to them as it encounters them. Thoughts *just* have meaning and the mind is not some entity separate from the thoughts it entertains. So prima facie you are already committing yourself to an implausible picture.

But let us throw you a bone and suppose you can overcome this hurdle. How exactly does the mind does this impossible trick? For suppose there is a thought going on in the brain. You concede it is just a meaningless chunk of matter; since it is just matter, it is neither about this, nor about that. Then there is this separate entity called the mind, presumably a part of the brain, possibly improper, that somehow seizes this chunk of matter and says "you are about dogs". But how exactly it is possible to do this? What is in the chunk of matter identical to the thought that leads the mind to say "you are about dogs" since you have already conceded that this chunk of matter is no more about dogs than about anything else?

But let us throw you another bone and suppose you can solve this problem. Somehow. By dint of magic. So now we have a relation or tie between a chunk of matter and the outside piece of reality commonly called "dogs". But what is this tie? It *must* exist because you are committed to say that material mind assigns meaning to thoughts. It must be *in* the brain, because you accept premise 2 that thoughts indeed have meaning. So this relation or tie, must exist, must be in the brain somehow and is not identical with the thought itself because you accept premise 1. So you are committed to say that this tie is another, different chunk of matter in the brain that somehow encodes the meaning of the chunk of matter that is the thought about dogs. Denote this tie by A.

But there is a tie between the chunk of matter that is the thought and the chunk of matter that is A. They must be tied for otherwise the chunk of matter that is the thought has no meaning; and conversely, the chunk of matter that is A is not itself the tie that gives the meaning to the chunk of matter that is the thought allegedly about dogs. This tie must be a real, existing tie -- and thus material -- because otherwise there is nothing that links the thought and the tie A that gives the meaning to the thought. It is neither A itself, nor the thought itself, so by your commitments it must be a third chunk of matter localized in the brain. Call it B.

But there must be a tie between B, the chunk of matter that is A and gives meaning to the thought, and the chunk of matter that is the thought, whose meaning is dogs...Vicious regress.

note: FWIW, I suspect that what you really want is to deny premise 1. and go after materialistic theories of meaning, like causal theories. But since you are ignorant of the literature and of what your interlocutors hold, you keep going in circles and hurl specious, idiotic charges.

Martin said...

Mind consists of thoughts.

Thoughts have meaning.

No matter has meaning unless it is assigned by a mind.

So as grodrigues says, there must be some little mind inside your mind saying "this chunk of matter is about dogs." But now that other little mind has the meaning "this chunk of matter is about dogs". So how does it have that meaning? A third mind must assign meaning to it, saying in effect "this chunk of matter has the meaning 'this chunk of matter is about dogs'. But how does that chunk of matter have meaning? Well, it must be assigned meaning by a fourth mind which says "this chunk of matter has the meaning 'this chunk of matter has the meaning 'this chunk of matter is about dogs'".

But now where does that fourth mind get its meaning from? Well, there must be a fifth mind saying "this chunk of matter has the meaning 'this chunk of matter has the meaning 'this chunk of matter has the meaning 'this chunk of matter is about dogs.'"

And so on.

In other words, it's a classic homunculus fallacy.

im-skeptical said...

Vicious regress.

I suppose, if you insist that everything that happens in my brain must be consciously considered and assigned meaning. Yes, if I had a thought, and then recognized that I just had that thought, and and then had yet another thought about that thought, and so on. That would indeed be a vicious regress. But that's not how the mind works.

You solve the problem by assuming the existence of an immaterial mind that doesn't have to think about its own thoughts in a regress - it just understands things. I solve the problem by recognizing the reality that my material mind operates in much the same way that you think your immaterial mind operates, but without the need for this separate entity.

It's really not so hard to see, if you are willing to try. Sorry to disappoint you, no homunculus, no soul, no regress. Just a natural physical organ performing its function.

cautiouslycurious said...

Martin,

1. Mind, which is...
2. A program, which is...
3. A an algorithm, which manipulates...
4. Symbols, which...

The algorithm does much more than merely manipulating symbols; that is the key to it all. To take your example, suppose we have a program and we don’t know what it does. We input pictures of animals and it will create new objects for each picture. We notice that the classes it creates have funny names that we have never heard of before, however, it is creating all of the ‘dog’ objects out of the ‘sweeples’ class and all of the ‘cats’ out of the ‘sniggles’ class all of the horses out of the... Now, what does it mean to be a ‘sweeple’? I would think that the meaning would be obvious, it means ‘dog’. The class names have meaning because that is how the program uses those classes to categorize inputs. Similarly, when I say that a word means X, I’m saying that that is how I am going to categorize inputs, just like a program.

ingx24 said...

I'm almost starting to suspect that im-skeptical is a troll. A very good one at that. He just seems incapable of understanding anything that anyone is saying. It's one thing to find arguments unconvincing, but im-skeptical just completely fails to understand them.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>f you insist that everything that happens in my brain must be consciously considered and assigned meaning.

No, I'm not insisting on that at all.

You agree that nothing material has any meaning unless that meaning is assigned by some mind.

So then, if thoughts have meaning (which they do), that meaning must have been assigned by some mind. Right?

Martin said...

cautiously curious,

None of that is relevant to what I've just said. What I'm trying (desparately) to get get im-skeptical to understand is that if nothing has meaning apart from a mind assigning meaning to it, then either thoughts (which have meaning) are immaterial, OR they have their meaning because it is assigned that meaning by a mind.

Martin said...

I'm not giving up.

Here is another description of it, from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"Some mental states exhibit intentionality. ...They are states that are about, of, for, or towards things other than themselves. ... For example, I may have a desire for an apple; I may have love for or towards my neighbor; I may have a belief about republicans or academics; or I may have memories of my grandfather."

"As a purely physical event, an influx of sodium ions through the membrane of a neural cell creating a polarity differential between the inside and outside of the cell wall, and hence an electrical discharge, cannot be of Paris, about my grandfather, or for an apple."

"Thus, by Leibniz’s Law, if minds are capable of intentional states and bodies are not, minds and bodies must be distinct."

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"I suppose, if you insist that everything that happens in my brain must be consciously considered and assigned meaning. Yes, if I had a thought, and then recognized that I just had that thought, and and then had yet another thought about that thought, and so on."

Nowhere in the argument is the assumption "that everything that happens in my brain must be consciously considered and assigned meaning", nowhere. Make the assigning of meaning as unconscious or subconscious as you want, the argument still goes through. Once again, you do not tackle the argument; you grant its cogency and then make stuff up.

"You solve the problem by assuming the existence of an immaterial mind that doesn't have to think about its own thoughts in a regress - it just understands things."

Dualism, of whatever stripe, may have problems but it is not *this* problem. Sorry, but your tu quoque does not work.

"It's really not so hard to see, if you are willing to try."

The power of magical thinking at its best. If just we dismiss all the arguments it is really not hard to see. Well, at least, I now have a bullet-proof response to *any* charge an atheist brings. Problem of evil? Pfft. "Yeah I suppose the argument works but that is not how the universe works"; "It's really not so hard to see, if you are willing to try". It is so easy! Why bother with arguments?

im-skeptical said...

"if nothing has meaning apart from a mind assigning meaning to it, then either thoughts (which have meaning) are immaterial, OR they have their meaning because it is assigned that meaning by a mind"

OK. Leave out the immaterial part. Meaning is assigned by a mind. If my thoughts have any meaning (which some would dispute), it's because my mind assigns meaning to them. So what's the problem? Just that my mind is material, and my thoughts are material.

The way we assign meaning is just by categorizing and associating things, as CC said, and creating a model to describe them. It's an algorithmic function performed by the brain.

You insist that I refuse to understand. It seems to me that the same might be said about you.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>If my thoughts have any meaning (which some would dispute), it's because my mind assigns meaning to them. So what's the problem?

Because if your mind assigns meaning to them, then your mind then has the meaning "this brain activity here means X". So where does that get its meaning from?

You would have to say a third mind.

ingx24 said...

The way we assign meaning is just by categorizing and associating things, as CC said, and creating a model to describe them. It's an algorithmic function performed by the brain.

Except that "categorization", "association", "models", "description", "algorithms", and "functions" are all mind-dependent concepts, and therefore cannot be used to explain the mind (because then you would be explaining the mind in terms of mind-dependent concepts, which is just another circular regress).

A computer does not literally categorize, associate, model, or describe anything. It is merely a system of metal parts and electricity with a component that shoots out photons (the monitor). The meaning that a computer's inputs and outputs have is assigned by us.

Of course, everything I just said will just go right in one ear and out the other, so there's no real point in saying any of it.

im-skeptical said...

"So where does that get its meaning from?

You would have to say a third mind."

No, I wouldn't. There's only one mind involved.

I think we discussed once before this issue. If you have a dualist view, it seems you can't escape the idea that there must be some other entity involved - something apart from the physical brain. But since I'm not a dualist, I don't have that problem. There simply is no other entity watching what goes on in my brain and assigning meaning to it all. If you could manage, for just a moment, to drop the dualist perspective, this wouldn't be a problem, believe me.

But since that is obviously impossible for you, you will insist that I'm irrational, I'm a troll, etc. So be it.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>No, I wouldn't. There's only one mind involved.

So there is only one mind. And that mind involves thinking thoughts. And those thoughts have meaning. Which mind is assigning meaning to your mind?

im-skeptical said...

'Which mind is assigning meaning to your mind?"

My mind can assign meaning to itself, or to its own thought processes. This is not any kind of contradiction unless you place artificial constraints on what a mind can do.

Martin said...

But for it to be assigning meaning, it has to mean "this brain activity means X", so which mind assigns that meaning to it so that it can assign that meaning?

im-skeptical said...

Like I said, drop your dualist insistence that something else has to assign meaning to it (just long enough to see it for a moment from another perspective - even if you think that perspective is wrong), and then you don't have to keep asking about this other mind. Really, it's pretty tiresome.

im-skeptical said...

Maybe this would help:

Say there IS a soul - a human mind, and it understands things and assigns meaning and all that. OK so far? But this soul is so closely tied to the body that is in no way separate from the body. It has no separate existence. It can suffer from disease, and dementia, and it dies when the body dies.

Now can you stop insisting that there has to be another mind?

William said...

P1. Material things must have their meaning via having meaning assigned by a mind.
P2. Thoughts are material.
C1. Thoughts must have their meaning via having meaning assigned by a mind.

P3. Minds are made of thoughts.
P4. Things are material if made of things that are material.
P2. Thoughts are material.
C2. Minds are material.

C2. Minds are material.
P1. Material things must have their meaning via having meaning assigned by a mind.
C3. Minds must have their meaning assigned by a mind.


This works against materialism UNLESS we admit:

H1. The mind can assign meaning to itself.

I believe that the AT theorist tends to deny H1?

ingx24 said...

Alright, let's try this again.

1. Material things only have meaning when assigned meaning by a mind. The words on this page only mean what they do by convention - objectively, they are only meaningless marks created by electricity and photons. A stop sign only means "stop" because we have assigned it that meaning - objectively, it is only a hunk of metal with red and white coloring.

2. Assume that we had no idea that brain activity is correlated with mental activity. We look at a brain scan and see meaningless patterns of electricity/chemicals/whatever. Clearly, these brain phenomena have no more objective meaning than a stop sign or words on a page. If we knew (as we do now) that brain activity was correlated with certain thoughts, we could establish individual correlations and figure out that certain patterns of electricity are correlated with, say, thinking about dogs. But without knowing this, we would have no reason to suspect that these meaningless patterns of brain activity that we see in brain scans have any objective meaning or have anything to do with thinking. What meaning brain scans have is assigned by neuroscientists who are using the brain scans to infer that someone is thinking about a certain object.

3. Thoughts are clearly about things. A thought about dogs, for example, is about dogs - it has objective meaning (that is, the content "dog"). But again, nothing we see in a brain scan is objectively about anything at all, much less about dogs.

4. Therefore, thoughts have a property that brain activity (and material objects in general) do not have - the property of OBJECTIVELY having meaning or content without it needing to be assigned to them by a mind. (In my view, Aristotelian final causes do not affect this conclusion - directedness toward an object as a final cause is not the same as having content in the way that a thought about dogs has "dog" as its content. But I don't know enough about A-T theory to be able to comment on this.)

5. But say you decide to deny premise 3. You say, with Daniel Dennett, that thoughts do not have objective meaning or content, and that this content is only assigned by others as a convenient fiction for interpreting behavior. Or you say that one part of the brain is assigning meaning to other parts of the brain that we call our "thoughts". In this case, the act of assigning meaning has meaning itself. Saying "this chunk of matter is about dogs" has content, the content of "this chunk of matter is about dogs". Now, since material objects and processes cannot have content by themselves (premise 1), there must be another part of the brain that is assigning THIS content. But this leads to an infinite regress - with infinitely many parts of the brain all assigning content to each other. This makes no sense.

6. Premise 5, then, is a reductio ad absurdum of ascriptivist theories of content/meaning. The most common way out of this is through a causal theory of content - saying that thoughts are about things in virtue of being caused by those things. But there are many reasons why this will not work - the most obvious being that "being caused by x" and "being about x/having content x" are two very different things.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

>>"So where does that get its meaning from?

>>You would have to say a third mind."

>No, I wouldn't. There's only one mind involved.

With all due respect that response tells me you can't or won't answer the question or address the obvious problem.

>I think we discussed once before this issue. If you have a dualist view, it seems you can't escape the idea that there must be some other entity involved - something apart from the physical brain.

Rather whatever is involved can't be a mere physical brain alone. The logic here seems solid.

>But since I'm not a dualist, I don't have that problem. There simply is no other entity watching what goes on in my brain and assigning meaning to it all. If you could manage, for just a moment, to drop the dualist perspective, this wouldn't be a problem, believe me.

I could pretend 2+2=5 but mathematical logic is against me. I could pretend the world was really made in a 144 hour period of time 6,000 years ago but there are other logical, scientific and philosophical problems with that view.

Invoking mere dogma is not a convincing response here. I'm sorry but it is you who are arguing by dogma.

>But since that is obviously impossible for you, you will insist that I'm irrational, I'm a troll, etc. So be it.

It is clearly impossible for you to give up you dogma since I guess you invest so much of your non-belief in it. Less dogmatic Atheists then yourself might simply embrace a non-materialism Atheism or something. But you seem to have what we call in psychology a major cognitive dissonance.

Reconsider that.

im-skeptical said...

I think William stated it correctly. The Thomist (and perhaps all theists) deny H1, and a materialist doesn't.

So the theist's denial is based on philosophical arguments and the materialist's acceptance of it (by the way, I'm certainly not alone on this) is based on empirical observation.

Call it dogmatism, call it "magical thinking", whatever you like. It seems precious few here seem to be willing to have a meaningful discussion.

So be it.

William said...

I personally don't see a problem with H1. Some things have color because they have been painted a color, and some things are naturally colored by being what they are, is the analogy.

I do, however, deny P2, that thoughts are material. It seems like a stretch. As Callard says:

"By decreeing that the word ‘natural’ (or ‘physical’) is to be applied to any phenomenon we discover, the naturalist robs naturalism of any content relevant to the substantive dispute between naturalists and those who disagree with them. "

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"I think William stated it correctly. The Thomist (and perhaps all theists) deny H1, and a materialist doesn't."

And thus spoke the world-renowned scholar and expert on Thomism, im-skeptical.

I cannot speak for Thomists, but I am not even sure what I am rejecting, because I am not even sure what H1 *means*; and I said as much in the form of the vicious regress argument I gave. And then I went along under the assumption that some sense could be made of it (I think the expression I used was "I will throw you a bone" or some such), so even if you were correct in your ascription, whatever you mean by it, it would be *irrelevant* for the argument that I laid out.

"So the theist's denial is based on philosophical arguments and the materialist's acceptance of it (by the way, I'm certainly not alone on this) is based on empirical observation."

Empirical observation? What empirical observation? And "I'm certainly not alone on this"? What does that even mean? You take solace and comfort in the fact that there are people out there that share the same absurd crank opinions as you? So what? There are hundreds and hundreds of millions of Christians, together with hundreds and hundreds of millions of Muslims, and some other hundreds and hundreds of millions of broads theists who agree with *me*. Does that count? Do you think it is evidence of anything? I can readily observe that you cannot recognize an argument even if it bit your nose off. Is that the empirical evidence you are talking about?

You *claim* the argument has a circularity hidden in it. Actually showing it? Zilch, nada, zero. You claim that the arguments make an indirect appeal to "that everything that happens in my brain must be consciously considered and assigned meaning" when it clearly it does *not*. You claim that the vicious regress Martin constructs only works because of his prior commitment to dualism, but showing it? Zilch, nada, zero. Rather the vicious regress follows from the premises and *your* materialist commitments, not dualist ones, as the argument is a reductio. So you are left with stammering like a "it is no problem; I just declare by fiat that the material mind can do that trick and it is the end of it". I suppose if we only joined the Dark Side of the Force of Irrationality, we would all see how "simple, no problem" it is.

So let me make a short summary: your second post in this thread was a complete butchering of the moral argument. You *consistently* misunderstand dualism (of whatever stripe). You caricature your interlocutors: "So we have a guy who believes in ghosts and magic and an invisible superman telling me that my position isn't rational. It takes brass". What the? When Martin schooled you on epiphenomenalism and pointed out that the argument came from a *materialist*, your lame response was " I don't have a detailed understanding of his arguments, but it hardly sounds like materialism, I must say". Priceless, just priceless. You cannot handle elementary arguments; this is even shown by your repeated, consistent method in the whole thread which has been a form of tu quoque: "yeah I cannot explain it but neither can you as invoking some mysterious magical soul explains nothing, so nyah nyah". In your last post (as of this writing), in a real class act, you run away and say that your interlocutors are not interested in "meaningful discussion". If "meaningful discussion" is discussion with an irrational, ignorant blockhead like you, then you are quite right, I am not interested.

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

Your diatribe is a little disjointed, but rather than let your misstatements of what I have said stand, I should clarify a few things.

In answer to William, I said Thomists deny that a material mind can assign meaning to itself. (The word material wasn't used in the wording of H1, but that was the context. I should have been more explicit.) If I am wrong about that, anyone can feel free to enter the discussion and provide a correction. I do not speak for them, either.

My arguments have not been based on popular appeal. I said I wasn't alone in my position because of the many comments about my refusal to understand, being a troll, etc.

I said the materialist view is based on empirical observation. I believe that's true. It is based on what I understand of the science of mind. Nowhere in that scientific view is there any notion of an immaterial entity. Nor should there be, because such a thing has never been observed.

I did show the circularity of the argument that had been presented. I thought it was pretty straight-forward. Sorry if you were unable to comprehend it.

I did not butcher Craig's moral argument. I understand his argument, but he says that if God doesn't exist, there is no grounding for morality - anything goes. Atheists believe that God does not exist. So from the perspective of an atheist, Craig is telling them that in their worldview, there is no morality.

In the discussion about Jaegwon Kim, Martin said that he was a materialist, which is what Kim claims. But he is in fact a dualist, as I said.

As for how I caricature my interlocutors, please go back and read what they have said about me. At least I agreed that it was a bit brash.

Finally, let me say that I have been, and I am still willing to have a meaningful discussion. If one goes back and reviews what you have said to me, it becomes evident that you are not.

Papalinton said...

im-skeptical

Try as you might to impress [and correctly] upon believers that the dint of philosophical possibility is not evidence, fact, proof or an empirical conclusion, one must realize that these ubiquitous standards are immaterial [pardon the irony] to the believer.

Just as with their ethereal beliefs and the nature of their gods, the believers' arguments are without substantive form.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

>I said the materialist view is based on empirical observation.

That is just plain wrong since Materialism is a philosophical view not a scientific one. Can we use science to show idealism is true or false? How about phenomenology?

It's like being asked to prove evolution with a particle accelerator.

That is just ignorant and silly.

No offense.

Claiming one view is based on empirical findings(which is also a wrong headed claim btw ) while other other is based on philosophy is just plain silly.

It's kneejerk Postivism nothing more.

Both views are philosophical.

Even after all my proding you have become no better then Paps
refusing to learn any philosophy?

That is very disappointing.

Well at least you seem to mean well. But at this point I believe your beliefs are based on emotion not reason.

>I believe that's true. It is based on what I understand of the science of mind. Nowhere in that scientific view is there any notion of an immaterial entity. Nor should there be, because such a thing has never been observed.

Again Positivism is still self-refuting. You might as well tell me the Earth suffered a Global flood and be
done with it.

I understand grodrigues anger here. He has my sympathy.

im-skeptical said...

Papalinton,

I understand. I never expected to convince anyone here, but I did think these things were suitable matter for discussion. As it turns out, the discussion is very one-sided. If you don't buy what they say, you're ignorant, irrational, etc. (Yes Ben, it is disappointing.)

BenYachov said...

>As it turns out, the discussion is very one-sided. If you don't buy what they say, you're ignorant, irrational, etc. (Yes Ben, it is disappointing.)

No Im-skeptical you are ignorant & irrational because you treat materialism as an empirical science instead of as a philosophy(which it is BTW & is so even in a godless universe) and to date you refuse to learn any philosophy. This is self evident in the mistakes and ignorant statements you have made on the subject.

This is true even if we really do somehow live in a materialist Atheistic reality.

>I understand. I never expected to convince anyone here, but I did think these things were suitable matter for discussion.

Who is saying they are not suitable? The issue is your non-arguments & catagory mistakes(such as confusing empirical science with philosophy and other mistakes).

BenYachov's Law: Reasoning is a learned skill. Just because you deny the existence of god(s) doesn't automatically make you rational.

Your arguments against dualism are meaningless considering one could be an Atheist & a property dualist or some other type of Atheist dualist. So all this panic if you considered the flaws in materialist monism is not warrented and kind of dogmatic IMHO.

I can be a believe without being a fundamentalist why can't you manage the same with your un-belief?

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

im-skeptical

" ... but I did think these things were suitable matter for discussion. "

Indeed they were. And they were matters rightly requiring to be put on the record of discourse, which you ably did.

What is difficult for believers to appreciate is that A-T philosophy, the principal christian metaphysical perspective, has largely been set aside by mainstream philosophy for a number of reasons simply discounting it of any substantive merit as a basis for discussion going forward. Primarily, it is inextricably wedded to Christian theological premises, premises that have been shown demonstrably to boast a significantly less than stellar performance as an explanatory tool. Whenever religious claims to reality, the state of things as they actually exist, have collided with scientific data, it is religious claims that have invariably retreated.

Of course when one is accused of ignorance of or unwillingness to learn philosophy, that is euphemistically a focus on anything other than A-T philosophy. For the Yachovs of the world, any other form of philosophy one might legitimately subscribe to is simply a metaphor of ignorance, according to their worldview. Therein lies the context in which their understanding of the world is viewed, a medieval prescription for truth that simply renders the last 1,000 years of human history, growth and development to theological amnesia. Aquinas was the pinnacle of christian thought and the last millennia has been its slow but inexorable denouement.

Ilíon said...

"BenYachov's Law: Reasoning is a learned skill. Just because you deny the existence of god(s) doesn't automatically make you rational."

im-skeptical's problem isn't that he *can't* reason. Sure, he probably can't reason as well as I ... but then, I earn my living by the practical application of logic.

No, im-skeptical's problem -- as with BenYachov -- is that there are topics about which we *will not* reason. And worse, he (both hes) doesn't just leave those topics alone, but rather engages in aggressive anti-reason.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

I have already wasted too much time on this, so I will just comment one point.

"I did show the circularity of the argument that had been presented. I thought it was pretty straight-forward. Sorry if you were unable to comprehend it."

Let's see. From February 17, 2013 8:36 PM:

"If you have a dualist view, it seems you can't escape the idea that there must be some other entity involved - something apart from the physical brain. But since I'm not a dualist, I don't have that problem. There simply is no other entity watching what goes on in my brain and assigning meaning to it all. If you could manage, for just a moment, to drop the dualist perspective, this wouldn't be a problem, believe me."

There are other alleged "refutations" in the thread, but they all have the same general tenor. So what is your response? You *assert*, but never actually *show*, that there is a circularity in the argument, that there simply is "no other entity watching what goes on in my brain and assigning meaning" and imply that the problem is with Martin, that has, possibly unknowingly, crept in his dualist biases. That when he says there is another entity that assigns meaning it is because of his dualist prejudices (note: this does not even scratch the form of the vicious regress that I gave). But this is simply false and rests on an egregious misunderstanding of the argument as laid out -- every step of the argument *does* follow from previous steps or premises. If you want to refute an argument it does not suffice to say that it contains a fallacy or instantiates an invalid form, you have to say *exactly* where the argument goes wrong and explain why. For an argument to be valid it suffices that it instantiates a valid form; in fact, it is very easy to show that *every* argument, valid or invalid, instantiates at least one invalid form. I am not going to explain any of this to you. To borrow from Dr. Johnson, I found you an argument, I am not obliged to find you an understanding. Suffice to say that you do not know what a refutation is; which is quite understandable, since you cannot even recognize a valid argument. But that is the problem with ignoramuses; they are ignorant of their own ignorance.

You want to belabor under the illusion that it is me (or Martin, or ingx24 or whomever) who is "unable to comprehend" your "refutation"? Be my guest. I sincerely hope that whatever shred of rationality you locked in some padded cell inside your brain eventually has the chance to come out and see the light of day.

And by the way, you are an ignorant blockhead, not because you are an atheist, or because of any specific positions you hold onto, but because you repeatedly spout nonsense (BenYachov has just highlighted some), you are demonstrably ignorant of the relevant matters under discussion, and because you cannot recognize valid arguments.

What is more ironical is that the argument leaves enough of a wiggle room for a naturalist, at the very least, to live on to fight another day. But you chose to dig in your heels and spout foolishness like "the mind assigns meaning to itself". I know of no serious naturalist that says this kind of tripe (admittedly, they will spout other kinds of tripe); its explanatory value is null (prediction: a promissory note will be issued how neuro-science will figure it all out. In the distant future. Eventually). But the most important point is that, lame protests notwithstanding, it does land you in a vicious regress, not because of any dualist premises snucked in by us, dualist fiends, but because of strict logical necessity.

cautiouslycurious said...

Grodrigues,
"If you want to refute an argument it does not suffice to say that it contains a fallacy or instantiates an invalid form, you have to say *exactly* where the argument goes wrong and explain why."

He did. I understood it, why can't you? It's almost like you pretend you can't speak English so you can call atheist's ignorant of the issues. You plainly ignore what is said to you, and that's not his fault.

grodrigues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin said...

>He did. I understood it, why can't you? It's almost like you pretend you can't speak English so you can call atheist's ignorant of the issues. You plainly ignore what is said to you, and that's not his fault.

His "solution" was to say that the mind assigns meaning to itself. I answered about fifty times, and he failed to respond to my answer: if the mind assigns meaning to itself, then the mind has the meaning "this has meaning X", in which case you have to explain how the mind has the meaning "this has meaning X". He's just "explained" it by going around in circles.

It's like if I ask you which line in your BASIC program assigns the value 42 to variable Q, and you answer "it assigns it to itself."

Huh?

There are literally no materialists who use this completely fallacious method to answer how the mind has meaning.

Rather, what they often do is use a causal explanation of meaning. E.g., a snake in the environment causes a certain kind of brain activity, and then over time this brain particular activity comes to represent snakes. So in that way, matter can in fact have meaning.

The fact that im-"skeptical" latches on to a horribly fallacious and circular argument, and then digs his heels in and refuses to answer the objections I've raised over and over and over and over and over ad nauseum, shows that he is, in fact, "skeptical" in the same way climate "skeptics" are "skeptical." I am now cautious whenever I see someone claim to be "skeptical", because generally what that seems to mean these days is "skeptical of everything except physicalism, which cannot be questioned."

grodrigues said...

@cautiouslycurious:

I said more than what you quote. Among other things, I said and I quote:

"You *assert*, but never actually *show*, that there is a circularity in the argument, that there simply is "no other entity watching what goes on in my brain and assigning meaning" and imply that the problem is with Martin, that has, possibly unknowingly, crept in his dualist biases. That when he says there is another entity that assigns meaning it is because of his dualist prejudices (note: this does not even scratch the form of the vicious regress that I gave). But this is simply false and rests on an egregious misunderstanding of the argument as laid out -- every step of the argument *does* follow from previous steps or premises."

You might want freshen up on your reading skills before impugning those of others. Now, since you have nothing of import to contribute, excuse me as I take my leave.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

You have not made a rational argument.

You have a choice my friend. You can learn philosophy(& thus learn to argue rationally for Atheism) or you can wind up like Paps, CC or God forbid Ilion.

That is all.

im-skeptical said...

Since people seem to think the idea of mind assigning meaning to itself is absurd, maybe I should explain what I mean. It probably doesn't match some technical sense of the phrase in philosophy that you may have in mind (and if so, it wouldn't be the first time I have made such a statement), but it isn't an absurdity at all.

The mind does attach meaning to various things - things I see or experience as well as things I think about. Say I think about an object like a flower, and my mind may see it as a biological specimen, it may associate it with some memory from the past, etc. In that manner, it attaches meaning to something. Likewise, I can think about my own mind as an object. I can think about what the mind does and how it works. I can make the same kind of associations as I might for any other kind of object that I think about. In doing so, my mind attaches meaning to itself.

Again, there's nothing absurd about this notion at all. Clearly, the processes involved in making mental associations are more complex than the single line of BASIC code that Martin describes. If I'm using some philosophical concept improperly - well why don't you just shoot me? Did I ever tell you that I came here to learn?

Ben, I find it interesting that you complain about me saying that I have a materialist view. What should I say? I notice that at practically every turn, you are assigning some philosophical position to me and others ("Oh, so you're a "). So can't I call myself materialist? What gives?

Ilíon said...

"... or God forbid Ilíon."

It really terrifies Son_of_Confusion that people may someday open their eyes and allow themselves to see that I was right all along.

Martin said...

>Say I think about an object like a flower, and my mind may see it as a biological specimen, it may associate it with some memory from the past, etc. In that manner, it attaches meaning to something.

Yeah, you really aren't understanding even the problem, and so no wonder your refutations are not viable.

You just said, "Say I think about an object like a flower..."

STOP! Right there. Now, explain in physical terms how a bit of matter can be "about" a flower.

im-skeptical said...

So, Martin, do you claim that my mind can't think about flower? Of course it can. I guess I don't get what you are objecting to, unless you are saying that only a soul can do that. If so, I would repeat my objection that you are making this dualist assumption. It's an assumption that I don't make, because there is no need for it. And so we find ourselves right back where we were before. Go ahead, call me all the names you like. But remember, I'm just trying to explain to you how I see things.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

You didn't answer my question.

I asked you to "explain in physical terms how a bit of matter can be 'about' a flower."

Physical relationships include:

Being next to
Being on top of
Being stuck to or joined with
Being separate
Being in motion relative to
Being still relative to
And so on

Now you need to explain this "aboutness" relationship. How can a bit of matter be about a flower? Please describe that relationship in physical terms.

BenYachov said...

>Now you need to explain this "aboutness" relationship. How can a bit of matter be about a flower? Please describe that relationship in physical terms.

Either explain the above in materialistic terms and solve the discrepancy or profess you don't know.

>I guess I don't get what you are objecting to, unless you are saying that only a soul can do that. If so, I would repeat my objection that you are making this dualist assumption.

What does God or the soul have to do with answering the problem?

Nothing really.

BenYachov said...

>Ben, I find it interesting that you complain about me saying that I have a materialist view.

Well don't you? So far you have championed the materialistic monist view via dogmatic fiat sans argument.

>What should I say? I notice that at practically every turn, you are assigning some philosophical position to me and others ("Oh, so you're a ").

Well it is a philosophical discussion. If I don't bother to learn any science what is the point is having a scientific discussion of evolution?

If you can' or won't learn philosophy then your Atheism has no meaning or rational content.

>So can't I call myself materialist? What gives?

You can call yourself what you like but you need to defend it or else admit ignorance of it.

But faking it is getting you nowhere I'm afraid.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"So, Martin, do you claim that my mind can't think about flower? Of course it can."

Premise 2 of the argument as Martin wrote it:

"2. All thoughts have meaning. Your thoughts right now are no doubt "how can I refute this argument?". That's the meaning your current thoughts probably have."

So where is Martin claiming what you say he is claiming? Where? Of course it can. It is *essential* to the argument that it indeed can.

"I guess I don't get what you are objecting to, unless you are saying that only a soul can do that."

Martin is not saying that. He is saying that a material mind as you conceive it cannot do that; can you spot the difference?

At any rate, "I don't get" is certainly one of the most correct things you have said in this thread. Kudos for that.

im-skeptical said...

Ok, I'm getting a little swamped. What should I address first? I'll see what I can do to answer, one issue at a time. I would prefer to keep personal attacks out of the discussion. Go ahead and challenge what I say, but if you would like to hear my view, please keep it civil.

So what's the first question?

Martin said...

I asked you to "explain in physical terms how a bit of matter can be 'about' a flower."

Physical relationships include:

Being next to
Being on top of
Being stuck to or joined with
Being separate
Being in motion relative to
Being still relative to
And so on

Now you need to explain this "aboutness" relationship. How can a bit of matter be about a flower? Please describe that relationship in physical terms.

BenYachov said...

My "attacks" aren't "personal".

They are reasonable criticisms of both your knowledge and skills.

Even if grodrigues is put off by you(I would say he has a just case in that regard) I have to date said you seem like a nice enough fellow and mean well.

But your proformance thus far has been lacking IMHO.

Now answer Martin first & ignore me like I ignore Paps and Ilion.

im-skeptical said...

Aboutness, OK.

Being neither a neuro-scientist nor a philosopher, I'll give it a stab.

I see the brain as being rather like a computer. It stores information by forming or changing connections between neurons. Some groups of neurons and their interconnections are instrumental in our understanding of things - they form models the external world. For example, when we think of a flower, we evoke an image that comes from the chunk of our brain that comprehends 'flower-ness'. If we see something that resembles a flower in some way (say an outline drawing), it can invoke that same model, and we see that thing as a flower, even though it's only lines on a piece of paper. As we learn more about flowers, our model can change by modifying the neural connections. Also, we form associations between flowers and other chunks of our brain, like memories of events.

Does that begin to answer the question, or are you looking for something different, and if so, what?

Martin said...

See how you tried to describe "aboutness" physically, and just ended up using more aboutness?

You speak of models, but what are models? They represent, or are about, something beyond themselves.

So it's still circular.

This happened to Richard Carrier when he tried to review Dr Reppert's book. Darek Barefoot pointed responded on behalf of Dr Reppert:

Intentionality refers to the quality of "aboutness" possessed by our thoughts. In CSLDI, Victor Reppert points out that thoughts can be about things, but we do not speak about one bit of matter being "about" another bit. How can this strange quality be explained naturalistically? Carrier attempts to answer this challenge, but he invariably falls back on the very concept he is trying to explain. He stumbles into this trap again and again, despite Reppert's specific warning about it in the book (CSLDI, 119).

Turning now to Carrier's explanation of intentionality, we must assume that the "virtual models" and "patterns" he refers to consist of series of synaptic discharges in the brain, since these discharges are the physical events that scientific instruments detect. But what does it mean in physical terms to say that such a series "corresponds" to an "actual system"? This is what Carrier needs to tell us.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

We all know that scientific understanding of cognition and mind is still not well-enough developed to give a comprehensive explanation for all mental processes and our consciousness, too. It's a matter of time, I think, before that picture changes significantly, just like so many other fields of science have done. Then we'll be in abetter position to say, here is precisely what happens in the brain to produce conscious awareness, etc.

Martin said...

I'm not talking about conscious awareness, or neuroscience.

I'm asking you to describe, in purely physical terms, how a chunk of matter can be about another chunk of matter.

im-skeptical said...

Martin,

It appears we are trying to cross two different concepts. The neural connections and brain activity constitute physical 'aboutness'. But you want to know how that relates to philosophical 'aboutness'.

Say we have a book - all about flowers. The book contains physical descriptions and all manner of information about flowers. That's a physical thing, and it has some kind of 'aboutness'. It's about flowers. If I read the book, it creates physical activity in my brain, some of which I perceive as thoughts 'about' flowers.

But that's not what you want to hear, because you want me to cross some kind of chasm between the physical and the philosophical. So I don't know how to answer you. What more can I say?

Martin said...

OK, good. The book clearly has aboutness. But that aboutness is easily explained as being assigned, or derived from, our own minds. Someone (us, collectively) is saying that this marking: d o g...

...is about canines. But without us around giving it that meaning, the markings have no meaning at all. Because it is physical. And physical things do not have meaning.

So, again, please describe the aboutness of our thoughts entirely in physical terms. Is some force shooting out of your head and touching the thing you are thinking about?

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