Thursday, June 20, 2013

John Lennox's AFR

Here. 

36 comments:

im-skeptical said...

"Why should I trust anything that such an apparatus produces?" [referring to the physical brain]

He shouldn't.

Victor Reppert said...

If we don't trust our minds, then we can't trust the products of our minds, such as the theory of evolution. If naturalism is true, then it was produced by the same irrational causes as the thoughts of Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart.

im-skeptical said...

The same kind of processes that produce the thoughts of Robertson, Swaggart, et al, are responsible for the widely varying beliefs we all have. Some believe in evolution, some don't. Some believe in multiple gods, some in one, some in none. Some believe in magic, some do not. What makes you think that the product of our minds is reliable? Clearly, it isn't. I never understood how anyone could think this was a good argument for theism. It is a much better argument for naturalism.

ingx24 said...

im-skeptical,

Why do you think it's a good argument for naturalism, if you acknowledge that your cognitive faculties are irremediably flawed and unreliable? How do you know that it's not actually a good argument for, say, Abraham Lincoln being the 3rd vacuum cleaner of the United Cups of Afghanistan? Maybe that's a logical inference, while what you're saying is not. Naturalism leads to an insurmountable skepticism that makes rational inquiry (including science) impossible.

im-skeptical said...

"Why do you think it's a good argument for naturalism"

If naturalism is not true, then my idiotic thoughts should be just as reliable as yours, or anyone else's, because they are not tainted by irrational, mechanistic processes. But wait, I am an idiot. So are we all (at least to varying degrees).

"Naturalism leads to an insurmountable skepticism that makes rational inquiry (including science) impossible."

That's a non sequitur. Naturalism leads to the realization that we need more than armchair theorizing to gain realistic understanding. We need evidence to back up what we believe. Otherwise, it's just so much ranting and raving.

ingx24 said...

Might as well quote from an in-progress "paper" I'm writing on the AfR for my blog:

"Science depends crucially on the process of designing experiments, making inferences based on data, and doing mathematical calculations - all of which crucially involve logical reasoning. But if logic is little more than a language game without any ability to get at objective truths, how can we trust the scientific truths we have gained by using it? It may be objected that science can be trusted because it gets repeatable, useful results, but as we have seen before, radically false beliefs can be useful if they serve the right alternative purpose. We may get useful results from scientific inquiry, but that alone does not guarantee its reliability at discovering objective truths."

im-skeptical said...

ingx24,

How can we possibly know whether the things we believe are true? There must be some kind of corroboration. If we have corroboration, we can verify our beliefs, we have a greater level of assurance that we are correct. Without it, we are in the dark. That's what science is all about. We don't just come up with a theory and then assume for all time that it's true. We need evidence. We test the theory every way we can. If it doesn't stand up, we look for another theory that will. In that way, we reinforce the things we believe. We can assure ourselves that they are reliable, because they have been tested and verified.

ingx24 said...

If we have corroboration, we can verify our beliefs, we have a greater level of assurance that we are correct. Without it, we are in the dark.

How do you know whether or not something verifies a belief? Doesn't judging whether something supports a belief require logical reasoning of some kind - the very logical reasoning that is being called into question by the AfR?

That's what science is all about. We don't just come up with a theory and then assume for all time that it's true. We need evidence. We test the theory every way we can.

How do you know how to test a theory? Don't you need to reason your way through an experimental plan, and then judge whether or not the results support the theory?

If it doesn't stand up, we look for another theory that will.

How do you know whether or not it stands up? Couldn't your brain produce the belief that the theory stands up regardless of whether it actually does stand up?

In that way, we reinforce the things we believe. We can assure ourselves that they are reliable, because they have been tested and verified.

How do you know that the testing and verifying process itself is reliable? Doesn't that require logical reasoning? And how do you know that a belief having been tested and verified makes it more justified? Maybe a belief having been tested and verified is irrelevant to how justified it is, and your belief that it is relevant is a false belief produced by your unreliable cognitive faculties. Who's to say?

Papalinton said...

John Lennox and the AFR?
Bit of a conceptual and perceptual oxymoron, no?

im-skeptical said...

"Who's to say?"

A very good point. When it comes down to it, I don't think we can have absolute certainty about anything. All we can have is some level of confidence. Corroboration is very important. I'm not saying you should believe whatever the crowd believes. I'm saying you should have evidence, the more the better, and if the evidence is good there will be others who agree.

This doesn't settle the question for many issues. Christians believe they have excellent evidence for the historicity of the gospels. Others think the evidence isn't so good. So there's disagreement about who's right. All you can do is take an honest look at the evidence, and try to put aside biases and preconceptions. That's not so easy. But from what I have observed, science works WAY better than armchair philosophizing.

Martin said...

im-skeptical,

>I don't think we can have absolute certainty about anything

The thing is, if the AFR is true then it isn't about certainty at all. Rather, it's about the fact that none of our beliefs are caused by the content of other beliefs. But for a belief to be rationally inferred, it has to be caused by the content of other beliefs. The belief that "all men are mortal" and the belief that "Socrates is a man" need to cause the belief that "Socrates is mortal", in order for that belief to be rationally inferred.

But if naturalism (or physicalism) is true, then all our beliefs reduce to particles in motion, and so all beliefs are already caused by particles in motion and so there is no "room" for particles to also be pushed around by the informational content of other beliefs.

And therefore, if naturalism is true, NO belief is rationally inferred.

im-skeptical said...

"But for a belief to be rationally inferred, it has to be caused by the content of other beliefs."

That doesn't make sense. Whatever you believe, this chain of beliefs can only go back to fundamental assumptions or facts that are not rationally inferred.

Martin said...

>Whatever you believe, this chain of beliefs can only go back to fundamental assumptions or facts that are not rationally inferred.

But the current beliefs you have must still have been caused by other beliefs. Yes, tracing the line will eventually bottom out (foundationalism), or go in a circle (coherentism), or go to infinity (infinitism). But in each of these cases, the "top level" beliefs you have must still have been caused by other beliefs in order for them to have been rationally inferred.

im-skeptical said...

Let's just say they "bottom out" somewhere. So what's the point?

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"But from what I have observed, science works WAY better than armchair philosophizing."

Because what you are doing in this combox is hard empirical science.

Having spent many hours inside labs doing lab work, and with "lab work" I also include the *theoretical* work necessary to squeeze from the theory a model of the experiment yielding actual predictions, a quite boring work but at the same time very instructive (and then again, if I could go back in time, I would have started in mathematics right away), I am always amazed by how the Gnus who continually idolize the goddess Science are the ones who least understand it.

Martin said...

Maybe they bottom out, maybe they don't. That's besides the point. I'm not debating which epistemology is correct here.

B. Prokop said...

"I am always amazed by how the Gnus who continually idolize the goddess Science are the ones who least understand it."

I am long past amazement. Gnus use the word science (Trademark) like it was some sort of magical incantation. Just wave it over a discussion, and voila, you've won!

I do have to second your observation about lack of understanding (at least at the internet gnu level). That's what makes the employment of science (Trademark) so amusing. All it takes is just the word. You don't have to actually know what you're talking about. Just say "science" and you're done. (Well, maybe that and some perfunctory "research" in Wikipedia, that Fount of All Wisdom.)

Dan Gillson said...

I keep arguing that our definition of Nature, the one which should be relevant to our understanding of Naturalism, should be roomy enough accomodate the way in which subjectivity determines what's real. In part I do this because it allows us to use experience as way to justify epistemological claims. I can claim that I know something merely by appealing to how things appear to me, with the stipulation that 'how things appear' is in a logical sense disjunctive from 'how things are'. I also keep arguing the same point because a certain faulty conception of Nature seems to elicit the same philosophical anxiety from the same people, viz., that if Naturalism is true, then human life is merely an illusion. Certain commentators here are fully prepared to embrace the consequences of such a Naturalism tacitly, which, I think, reinforces the anxieties of other commentators. I can assert both that Naturalism is true and that human life isn't an illusion (isn't, as Martin puts it, "determined by particles in motion"), because I maintain that Mind and World, being obverses of each other, are equally constitutive of human experience. Under such a conception of things, theists can recoil from a picture of Nature without retreating to the Supernatural, and atheists needn't embrace an inane view of the world.

That's my schtick, and I'm sticking to it!

im-skeptical said...

Bob -"Particles in the air do not give the sun a red tinge"- the astronomer,

Don't tell me about people who don't understand science. This forum is full of them, and you accuse me of not understanding? I see people spouting about what degrees they have or who they associate with. Anybody can get a degree from some cheesy diploma mill. When I hear them say things that reveal their lack of understanding, that tells me what I need to know.

Dan Gillson said...

Regarding the epistemological disjunction in my previous comment, one can also know whether one or both of the disjuncts obtains.

B. Prokop said...

I stand by what I wrote. Particles in the air do not "give the sun a red tinge". Read my posts again - they are scrupulously accurate. If you cannot see this, you are merely putting your scientific ignorance on public display.

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"This forum is full of them, and you accuse me of not understanding? I see people spouting about what degrees they have or who they associate with. Anybody can get a degree from some cheesy diploma mill. When I hear them say things that reveal their lack of understanding, that tells me what I need to know."

Exactly. And you are a fake. Demonstrably so.

And to preempt any possible misunderstanding, this has nothing to do with what degrees I have or do not have, possibly obtained at some "cheesy diploma mill"; feel free to think that I am lying, faking, whatever, about what instruction I have or have not. It is quite irrelevant.

im-skeptical said...

Bob -"Particles in the air do not give the sun a red tinge"- the astronomer,


Rayleigh scattering is what I'm talking about. It's what makes the sky blue and the sun yellow. Under the right conditions (such as smoky air), it can make the sun bright red.

I don't care what you and your sidekick grodrigues say, I do know what I'm talking about in this matter. I don't feel the need to claim knowledge about all things, the way some of the people here seem to. Nor do I claim to know everything about science, but I suspect I know more about it than you, perhaps considerably more. I haven't taken Epistemology 201, so I can't couch my discussion in philosophical jargon, but I know logical bullshit when I see it ("rational thought can't arise from non-rational sources").

One thing I despise is people who act like they're superior. Especially when they're only pretending (which is most often the case).

ingx24 said...

Dan Gillson,

I agree 100% with what you just said. Too many people seem to see philosophy as constituted by "naturalism" (only physical, observable things exist) and "supernaturalism" (i.e. theism or Christianity), with nothing in between. I think this is a false dichotomy: one can have an essentially naturalistic worldview (in the sense of not believing in any kind of miracles or divine intervention), as I do, without denying the existence or relevance of subjective experience. Although I am an interactionist substance dualist, I don't think there's anything "supernatural" about it, nor do I think that it necessarily needs to have anything to do with God or religion (I think it's reasonable to believe that minds and bodies could get associated naturally without any need to appeal to divine intervention). And despite what some people (both theist and atheist) would have you believe, this is an entirely consistent position: in fact, I believe it is the position that should be embraced by any non-religious person who takes both science and subjective experience seriously.

im-skeptical said...

Dan,

I would very much like to hear you explain more of your conception of mind. Actually, I would like to participate in the discussion, but as you have seen, whenever I try, there are people who want to derail the discussion in an attempt to make some point about who's wrong and who's right. So I will bow out. Maybe now there can be some good discussion. I'd still like to hear it.

Martin said...

Ingx24,

Indeed. Bertrand Russell, an atheist, was also a substance dualist for a time, and never embraced materialism. The debate today, like American politics, has descended to the realm of George W-style black and white simpleton idiocy. Either you are a materialist pro choice atheist who loves science, or you are a dualist religionist pro life Bible thumper who hates science.

B. Prokop said...

Martin,

C.S. Lewis brought attention to this very phenomenon in his novel That Hideous Strength. From page 283 (at least, in my copy):

“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe and every little bit of the universe, is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point? … If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at any given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp.”

The full quotation (in fact, dialog) is far longer, but this should suffice to get the drift.

Papalinton said...

" If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at any given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp."

What Lewis was inadvertently describing here is called, learning, education. We become more discerning and sharper in focus about what is more likely and evidentially correct or true and what still remains 'fluffy'. It is about sorting the wheat from the chaff. That 'time before' Lewis pines for is is to go back to the times of fluffiness when reality segues into superstition.

B. Prokop said...

Read the book, Linton. Lewis wasn't "pining" for anything. He was simply describing what goes on in the world, and rather objectively. Nothing "inadvertent" in this passage.

By the way, once one gets past the rather cringeworthy sexism in the novel (understandable, seeing as it was written in 1942), That Hideous Strength is my absolute favorite Lewis book. I get more out of it with each re-reading - and (barring, of course, an unexpectedly early demise) I certainly haven't read it for the last time!

Papalinton said...

You're right. Lewis probably wasn't pining for it i n the sense that he was apparently making an objective description. But there is no question todays believer's pine for it just as Lewis had written Why else would believers continue to trot out Lewis as if he were the alpha and the omega of all knowledge. It really does become quite tiresome how the writings of a famous [no doubt about that] writer of fantasy novels are held up as the universal model with extraordinary explanatory power. Well, surprise, surprise, in point of fact all he does is promulgate the same ol' Apologetics of the Christian mythos. Indeed he did not deviate from the script, did not produce anything new or unknown about the world, did not add to the commonwealth of human knowledge; just a more slick unctuous interpretation of a re-interpretation of an earlier interpretation of a fossilized story that was set in concrete by emperorial fiat in 325CE following centuries of internecine squabbling and bloodshed.

Hardly a revelation.

Kathen said...

Papalinton

I think people continue to refer to Lewis because he was just such a good writer, so fun to read. In that respect I think he is like Richard Dawkins. Even people who hate their views read them both because they are so clear, so straightforward, so delightful to read.

But Lewis was not a professional theologian. He was really an apologist and not a theologian at all and he could be silly and sloppy, writing stuff that he had not researched properly. Your comment that he 'did not produce anything new', however, would probably have pleased him. He saw himself as presenting old truths in a new light, that is all.

Outside his professional work, of course. There I think he did add to human knowledge.

Lewis' 'cringeworthy sexism' cannot be excused because of the time he lived in. He was sexist even for his time. However, most of the sexism of 'That Hideous Strength' is standard Christianity and not Lewis' invention at all. If we cringe when we read about Jane being given a lecture on her lack of wifely obedience we should remember that quite recently the Catholic Church taught that a married woman should not leave the house without her husband's permission. Lewis did not make this stuff up.

B. Prokop said...

From a historical perspective, given that Christianity will be 2000 years old in less than 20 years, Lewis is practically a contemporary. But in any case, chronological snobbery is not a virtue amongst serious thinkers. I find one heck of a lot more wisdom in Homer than in most current writers. I would imagine that Lewis has many centuries of readership ahead of him.

Besides, you can't really complain about folks bringing up Lewis on a website that is headed "This is a blog to discuss ... C.S. Lewis".

Off on a road trip (and thus away from my computer) until Thursday. See you all then.

B. Prokop said...

I think we can excuse people for holding views common to their times that now horrify us. I cannot make myself unreservedly condemn southerners who fought for the Confederacy, just as I cannot really condemn people today who buy clothing made in Bangladesh by virtual slave laborers (although future generations will scratch their heads in wonderment that we ever did so - at least, I hope they will). Not long ago I was dismayed by coming across an appallingly racist 1909 letter by my favorite composer, Gustave Mahler (in which he opined that American blacks were incapable of contributing anything of value to culture). But you have to look at it in the context of the times.

And it was Christianity itself that finally advanced us beyond the cringeworthy sexism of Lewis's time - once people realized the full implications of Galatians 3:28.

It was also Christians who led the 19th Century anti-slavery movement and the 20th Century Civil Rights movement. And I am confident that it will be Christians who will lead the inevitable battle against working conditions in the "developing world" (I truly hate that term, but unfortunately we don't have a better one recognizable to all, by which to describe that part of the world.)

And now I really am powering down and loading up the car.

ingx24 said...

Speaking of the AfR, I've published a blog post on the AfR, for anyone who is interested. I put a lot more time into this one than I normally do into blog posts, so hopefully it turned out well. Maybe Vic can read over it to see if there's anything I missed :P

Papalinton said...

Kathen
I don't recall calling Lewis a theologian. But do recall noting him as a famous author of fantasy. And I do recall writing that he promulgated the same ol', same ol' Apologetical line, not deviating from the conventional script that had been concretized by tradition. He certainly added to the commonwealth of humanity's knowledge base with his great contribution to the fantasy genre.

And yes he is a master story-teller.

Papalinton said...

JOHN LENNOX ;o)