Saturday, November 30, 2013

No Pity for the Kitty

The ASU-UA football game is tonight, so I thought I would let everyone know where my sentiments lie, (as both an ASU graduate and instructor). 

Fall Down, Arizona (to tune of Bear down, Arizona):

Fall down, Arizona,
Fall down, black and blue.
Fall down, Arizona,
You know damn well you're through.

So it's Trip! Fall!
Drop that ball!
Arizona, you are screwed!

Jay Richards on the AFR

Here. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Boghossian's Agenda

This is a Debunking Christianity account of what Peter Boghossian is up to. Does anyone see this as dangerous to a free society?

Friday, November 22, 2013

A couple of new youtube videos

One on Lewis and intelligent design, and one on the AFR.

An excerpt from Lewis's "Image and Imagination"

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lewis's passing. Here. 

Oh yeah, there was some American politician who got shot that day, and another British author who died that day as well.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Descriptive Project in Debating Controversial Issues

You know when discussion is productive when opposing sides spend less time trying to zing one another and more time trying to get clear on where their real differences lie.

When it gets unproductive is when people assume that they know exactly why the other side thinks the way it does. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Some Background on School Prayer

But you have to look at the background on this. Our country was initially populated by people escaping religious persecution who were looking for a safe have to practice their own religion. When we came together as a country, we had a religiously diverse population, so when we wrote the constitution, we had to say that the government would not support any religion at the expense of others, nor would it prohibit the free exercise of religion. 

Prayer in public schools was a complicated issue where there was a religious diversity amongst students and teachers, because, how could, say, Catholics and Protestants agree on a prayer to say. Now, we are talking about a school-sponsored prayer. No student-sponsored prayer is, or needs to be, prohibited. But in the Cold War, America was distinguishing itself from a Communist enemy that was known to be atheistic. So, the school district in New York decided to develop a prayer which they thought anyone who believed in God could pray. (Those of you who pray, do you ever pray generic prayers?) 

Interestingly, it wasn't the atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair who sued the school district to stop this, it was some Jewish parents, who thought that the prayers said in school would not be considered appropriate for Jewish students to pray. The Supreme Court said that it violated the establishment clause of the Constitution to have this prayer, even though the prayer was a generic prayer. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

More dialogue with Parsons



  • You can follow his side here. 

    Keith, I think you have misunderstood what I am doing with the idea of the psychon. The problem I am pointing to is this. I am not actually suggesting that the "soul" is a physical entity, but I am attempting to show that in order make a define the physical in any meaningful way that excludes things like "psychons", you have to define the mental (or as you would have it, the "personal") out of the physical. You seem to be saying that there is nothing but prejudice keeping us from assigning mental properties to physical entities like the brain. But when you have to define the physical in contradistinction to the mental, I believe that you have at least a prima facie difficulty that requires some explanation.
    Since the physical, at least at the base level has to be free of purpose, intentionality, subjectivity, and normativity, these things have to be bootstrapped in on higher levels. Further, these higher levels have to be necessary consequences of what is on the lower levels.
    Now you seem to follow Melnyk in bootstrapping the mental into the upper levels of a physicalistic universe via some version of functionalism.
    Here's a description of functionalism provided by William Vallicella.
    Mental properties are functional properties. So when we say that x, a brain event say, has a mental property, all we mean is that it stands in certain causal relations to sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, and intervening brain events. So what makes the brain event mental is simply the relations in which it stands to inputs, outputs and other brain events. Once you grasp this, then you grasp that the brain event can be wholly physical in nature despite its having a mental property. Mental properties are not intrinsic but relational.
    Now, the link provides some criticisms by Vallicella of this claim, but my main concern at this point is simply asking you if you think his description of functionalism is correct.

      Tuesday, November 12, 2013

      Keith Parsons responds, and I reply back

      Yes, I do think you are abusing language here, and the result is that your position becomes even more obscure than standard Cartesian dualism. "Physical" obviously means more than occupying space or having a spatial location. Marley's ghost could be coming through Scrooge's locked door, and so have a spatial location, and still not be a physical entity. "Physical" has to mean that its causal powers and liabilities are reducible to, or ultimately explicable in terms of, the laws, entities, and processes acknowledged by basic physics. In terms of our current understanding, the causal capacities of physical things come down at rock bottom to the properties and interactions of quarks, leptons, and the gauge bosons that mediate fundamental forces. Your "psychons, angel ons, and theon" are not physical in that sense--or, if they are, then I REALLY have no idea what you are talking about.
      Further, a basic component of the concept of the physical seems to be that it is impersonal at the ontologically fundamental level. Fundamental things do not think, choose, decide, reason, etc., though fantastically complex composites of them (e.g. you and me) do. As I have always understood dualism and theism--and as they are defended by some of their leading advocates, such as Richard Swinburne--these views put personal explanation at rock bottom.
      For these reasons, then, I regard your suggestion that souls might be physical to be an abuse of these terms as they are normally understood.
      Let's get to what you identify as the real issue: Do the principles of reasoning govern the brain or the laws of physics?
      Here is my basic question: Why can't thinking logically (in accordance with the laws of logic) be something I accomplish with my physical brain? Why cannot my thought, say,
      ~(P v Q), therefore
      ~P & ~Q
      be physically realized as an event in my brain? If realization is taken as an identity relation, as I think it should be, then the above-described mental even IS a physical event
      Problem solved. The radical disjunction you propose simply does not apply. Things in the physical world can be done in accordance with the laws of logic because those laws are apprehended by mental events that are physically realized in the operations of the brain.
      This mental/physical act of apprehension, in virtue of its physical properties, can therefore initiate or enter into causal chains. That is how the laws of logic impact the physical world--qua apprehended by physical brains.
      Where is the incoherence? In fact, there is none. There may be a recalcitrant feeling of incoherence on the part of some people, but I suggest that this feeling has no logical basis, but is due to the continued subliminal influence of pernicious and obscurantist Cartesian categories. For four hundred years a religiously-based ideology has told us that the mental and the physical are mutually exclusive categories. We have to finally exorcise this notion, or the mind/body relation will always appear unnecessarily obscure.

      VR: OK, what defines the "physical?" You say
      "Physical" has to mean that its causal powers and liabilities are reducible to, or ultimately explicable in terms of, the laws, entities, and processes acknowledged by basic physics. In terms of our current understanding, the causal capacities of physical things come down at rock bottom to the properties and interactions of quarks, leptons, and the gauge bosons that mediate fundamental forces. Your "psychons, angelons, and theon" are not physical in that sense--or, if they are, then I REALLY have no idea what you are talking about.
      Well, Keith, that runs you up against what is known as Hempel's dilemma. You can either define the physical in terms of current physics, in which case you have quarks, leptons and gauge bosons that mediate fundamental forces. But if you go that route, then physicalism is obviously false, since clearly we can expect physics to expand and discover other entities at the basic level of analysis. On the other hand, if fundamental physics is expandable, then fundamental physics might be expanded to include just the entities that I mentioned above, in which case you haven't ruled anything out.
      Now I see that you made the step that is typically made at this point. You say:
      Further, a basic component of the concept of the physical seems to be that it is impersonal at the ontologically fundamental level. Fundamental things do not think, choose, decide, reason, etc., though fantastically complex composites of them (e.g. you and me) do. As I have always understood dualism and theism--and as they are defended by some of their leading advocates, such as Richard Swinburne--these views put personal explanation at rock bottom.
      This is what is called the "via negativa" in defining the physical. The "mental" has to be kept off the basic level in order for the "physical" to be significantly physical. But that's exactly what generates the incompatibility between the mental and the physical. You have to make sure the base level is stripped of the mental, but you still want to make sure the mental is still there at some other level. The problem is going to be that if the mental isn't in the base, then there is a lack of entailment between the physical state-description and the mental state-description. It isn't just a religion-based ideology that generates this result, it is the fact that any attempt to define the physical the excludes what you want it to exclude has to exclude the mental from the physical.
      Admittedly, you can have properties of a whole system that is not a property of its proper parts. Thus, if you have a wall made up of bricks that are six inches high, you can add the bricks up and get a wall that is six feet high even though none of the bricks is six feet high. However, there is an "adding up" of the brick sizes which entails that the wall is six feet tall. Given the brick-statements, the wall-statement is entailed. But it doesn't work that way for the mental. I see this, for example, in Quine's argument for the indeterminacy of translation. You can pile up non-mental facts until doomsday, but the question of what mental states there may be remains open. In the case of the bricks and the wall, the brick state-descriptions entail the wall-statement. In the case of the physical state-description, these state-descriptions do no in any way entail the mental state-description. Any set of physical state-descriptions is compatible with various mental state-descriptions, or there being no mental state there at all.

      • Monday, November 11, 2013

        Could I really be a materialist after all?

        Some further discussion with Parsons. 

        Depending on how you define the brain, I would be prepared to agree that we think with our brains, if we just mean by that whatever occupies the space between me ears. My argument isn't an argument for something that is not spatial. However, do the laws of physics govern the brain, or do the principles of reasoning? That's the real issue. Can we admit into brain theory the emergence of something whose actions are determined by laws other than the laws of physics, if we assume that because the laws of physics operate non-teleologically?
        Here's something I once wrote in a reply I once did to Richard Carrier:
        But we should be careful of exactly what is meant by the term “brain.” The “brain” is supposed to be “physical,” and we also have to be careful about what we mean by “physical.” If by physical we mean that it occupies space, then there is nothing in my argument that suggests that I need to deny this possibility. I would just prefer to call the part of the brain that does not function mechanistically the soul, since, as I understand it, there is more packed into the notion of the physical than just the occupation of space. If on the other hand, for something to be physical (hence part of the brain) it has to function mechanistically, that is, intentional an teleological considerations cannot be basic explanations for the activity of the brain, then Parsons’ suggestion (and Carrier’s as well-VR) is incoherent.
        You see, I could become a materialist rather easily. I could just say that God, souls, and angels are just different types of material beings. To give them a scientific ring, I can call them psychons, angelons, and, of course, the theon. Now, if you don't like my proposed expansion of materialism and you want to exclude me from the materialist club, you have to explain to me why I am abusing language here. You have to tell me what it is about matter that makes it impossible that God is a material being. And how would you do that without saying that these entities have ground-level "mental" properties which exclude them from inclusion into "the physical."

        Sunday, November 10, 2013

        Notes on some more comments by Parsons on the AFR

        KP: Further, human beings would be most unfortunate if in fact a theory as important as PRM (the physical realization of the mental-VR) were true and could not be rationally believed. Goetz and Taliafero appear to concede that PRM could be true, but they hold that the truth of PRM would preclude rationally believing it by our standards of rational belief. However, if our standards of rational belief are such that they can preclude us from rationally believing an important theory that (we are assuming) is in fact true, then perhaps our standards of rational belief are deficient. Standards of rational belief are supposed to permit, not preclude, rational belief in true theories. If PRM is true—and, again, Goetz and Taliafero apparently concede that it could be—then this is a very important truth and there needs to be some way that we can rationally believe that it is true.

        VR: Interestingly, if it is problematic that certain things of significance my be true, and yet we are unable to rationally believe them, then this poses some problems for a number of interesting positions in philosophy, which many religious skeptics endorse. A good example would be Hume's essay on miracles. If we take Humeanism about miracles far enough, the God could be sitting up in heaven performing miracle after miracle, and the best we could, as human reasoners, could say about it would be that we don't have a naturalistic explanation for it yet. Water into wine? We'll understand it better by and by. Someone rises from the dead? It's GOT to be a hallucination. I'm being appeared to hellishly? Got to be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.

        Are there features of the world and human minds that are necessary in order for there to be, for example, any scientists in the world? Suppose reality were nothing but a turnip with a bit of whipped cream on top. If this were the case, this would be a significant truth, but given the nature of knowledge, neither the turnip nor the whipped cream would know this. Turnips and bits of whipped cream don't do science. Is this a problem? 

        Monday, November 04, 2013