Thursday, January 05, 2017

Are there limits on scientific inquiry

But here is the problem. People speaking for science, or as Ilion likes to say, Science!, don't accept the idea that science is subjected to a constraint. 

What you get is a shell game. "Why should we be naturalists?" Because there is no scientific evidence for anything other than the physical world. "But what about the bacterial flagellum? Isn't that evidence that there is something outside the natural world?" No, you IDiot, to infer from the bacterial flagellum, or the fine tuning of the universe, to a being beyond nature is to violate the canons of scientific inquiry." It is the science defenders who seem to think that belief in anything beyond the natural is somehow a threat to their enterprise, but in fact such heresy hunting, if effective, would deprive the scientific community of some of its best practicioners, such as Francis Collins and Donald Page. 

Further, for many atheists, commitment to atheism is something really important to them. I know many atheists who have ten times the zeal most Christians have for their belief. For them it isn't heaven or hell, it's progress or regression. 

The scientific community has the right to define the limits of its own inquiry any way it sees fit. To then say that their domain is the complete realm of rational inquiry is to make not a scientific claim, but a philosophical one. And to reject that claim is not to be what they insist one should not be, a science denier.

144 comments:

Cal Metzger said...

Is it true that you teach students, and at a post-secondary level?

Victor Reppert said...

Oh please.

Victor Reppert said...

Usually when this sort of thing, starts, people start implying that those who hold positions that they think are really off-base are not qualified to teach postsecondary students. It usually introduces an level of ad hominem into the discussion which is almost always counterproductive.

Victor Reppert said...

Let me identify an assumption which runs through many of your comments, and one that I am inclined to question. It is that what is worth knowing about, or understanding, or believing, is that which will enhance our ability to predict and control the world around us. Evidence, as you understand it, is something that enhances our power over the world. But the fundamental problems of life are not all simply to be solved by greater power over the world. They include issues that come from within human beings themselves, and more power over the world just gives us greater ability to screw things up worse.

Religions all assert that the biggest problems we have are internal, not external. (That is, in my view, why Buddhism is a religion). People discovering that their conduct is the source of the problem look for something to enable them to change those patterns, as in the case of a musician like Dion DiMucci, who found success at the top of the rock and roll charts but was ruining his life through his addiction to heroin, and who overcame through turning to God, or David Wood, who was a sociopath who tried to kill his own father before turning to God.

B. Prokop said...

"For them it isn't heaven or hell, it's progress or regression."

For many, it's worse than that. "Progress" and "regression" are merely convenient smokescreens for what a recent OP sagely identified as Christophobia. It's so easy (and convenient) to imagine one's self as a Champion of Progress and Bringer-on of the Radiant Future (what the Soviets referred to as the Светлое будущее), and all of us believers as caricatures of cowled, berobed, obscurantist flat-Earthers.

Case in point: Stardusty's insistence on a woodenly literal interpretation of Scripture. I imagine that when the psalmist writes, "I lie in the midst of lions that greedily devour the sons of men; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords." (Psalm 57:4), Stardusty will insist that The Bible claims there are predatory animals out there somewhere with some very weird dentures.

Joe Hinman said...

Ok Cal, the riot act.

I was a PhD. candidate in the fifth ranked history of ideas program in the country (yea I know there are only five programs in the country, but it was considered good--Univ.
Texas Dallas). I had a 4.0 for five years. I went ABD. One major aspect of that program was history and philosophy of science. That's what i wound up studying. My dissertation was on Newton and the Latitudinarians and their idea of Science as Christian apologetic. The Lats were Church of England guys and most of then divines but several scientists such as Robert Boyle. John Locke was their alley.

In history of science in the 80's and 90's the general climate of opinion stemming from Derrida and Foucault but in history science from Thomas Kuhn and Robert Westfall and a New Scholar Named Margaret Jacobs there was a lot of subjecting science to rigorous critique and social analysis, Studies treating scientists like people who lived in a society and followed social norms rather than genius gods who knew all the answers. One major work coming out of that period was called Leviathan and he Air Pump by Shappin and Shaffer which explored the propaganda was between Robert Boyle and his Lat allies vs Thomas Hobbes,.

Shappin and shaffer showed that science occurs a certain political space in society. It is often used as propaganda, They how how the conventions of experiment and scientific writing were crafted by Boyle to create the impression of the validity of his experiments with the air pump as part of his propaganda war agaisnt Hobbes. Since the Lats indicted most of teh Royal society it was not hard for his experimental technique to catch on among scinetists of his generation.

In another study in that era a sociologist showed that most scientific labs work by the same kinds of rules that primitive villages operate by in their pecking order. Of course there was Kuhn himself who showed that science is not commutative progress but works by parading shifts and scientific revolutions are resisted and fought like political battles.

So through that period it was shown time and time again science is just another human endeavor, it's not the only form of knowledge it is not one by special geniuses but by humans who are trying to pretend they are not afraid to be alone bouncing around in the void.

Dr. Reppert is a philosopher he is going to ask challenging questions, Sorry that stepson the clay feet of your idol.

SteveK said...

Bob,
Science has falsified that these lion creatures exist therefore science has falsified the Bible therefore science has falsified the existence of God. That logic makes sense in Dusty's fundamentalist world.

William Brown said...

"Are there limits on scientific inquiry?"

Yes. The scientific method can only study a very, very small part of the whole of reality. It can only study that part of reality that is material and in our universe.

B. Prokop said...

I'm going to take a bit of a different tack on the question. As to whether there "are" limits to scientific inquiry, the answer is of course yes, it is limited by the inherent inability of science to speak to anything outside the natural, created universe. Science has nothing whatsoever to say about value, purpose, meaning, worth, morality, or beauty.. among many other things. To inquire into those areas, one needs different tools.

But if the question is read "should" there be limits, then one is adding a layer of restriction that is completely artificial - man made. There the answer is (wait for it) a qualified yes. To propose an extreme hypothetical answer, just to show the principle is valid, imagine a line of research that would result in giving every individual the ability to singlehandedly annihilate the entire human race. Such an inquiry ought to be off limits.

So the problem is (like with so many other issues) where does one draw the line? For lines will always need to be drawn in the Real World.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Usually when this sort of thing, starts, people start implying that those who hold positions that they think are really off-base are not qualified to teach postsecondary students. It usually introduces an level of ad hominem into the discussion which is almost always counterproductive."

It's not your positions per se; it's how you express your thoughts, and the way you seem incapable of grasping simple concepts and incorporating them into your thinking.

If someone told me an 8th grader had written your post after being exposed to many, many lessons on the topic on which you wrote, I'd think that the 8th grader would be lucky to get a B.

Jo F said...

"If someone told me an 8th grader had written your post after being exposed to many, many lessons on the topic on which you wrote, I'd think that the 8th grader would be lucky to get a B."--Cal, addressing Dr. Reppert on his intellectual capacity

So, without the grace of luck, your envisioned 8th grader can't make better than a C on his paper in his own grade's classes--graded to the standard of 8th grade courses by 8th grade teachers--even after numerous lessons on these subjects. This may be the lamest insult I've ever read.

Jo F said...


@ Cal,
If you're going to make an ad hominem argument to dismiss everything he writes without even addressing the subject matter of his post, at least do better than "I'll bet you're so uneducated! You see, I've got this hunch that if an 8th grader really tried, and I mean REALLY went after it, (I'm talking try-hard here--proud of this kid. Really, he's great.), though only after frequenting many, many lessons regarding the political issues Dr. Reppert address on his personal blog (you know, to even the playing field a little), then, with just enough luck, he'd get a B on an 8th grade paper. Checkmate, Victor. Cal 1, VR 0" *receives his own high five*

Victor Reppert said...

I think I grasp the relevant simple concepts. I don't buy the assumptions on which they are based. If you think that makes me ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked, be my guest. But if you want to show such a thing, we need more than bald assertions.

Legion of Logic said...

I think the writings of many atheists would be quite barren if baseless assertions and insults were removed.

I read the OP twice and saw no issue. What, precisely, is the issue that prompted the childish insults?

Jo F said...

I should apologize for writing and deleting my comments so many times. And, I must admit--to my shame--that my previously deleted comment was an apology for writing and deleting my comments so many times. Sorry!

SteveK said...

"But if you [Cal] want to show such a thing, we need more than bald assertions."

Why start now?

Joe Hinman said...


It's not your positions per se; it's how you express your thoughts, and the way you seem incapable of grasping simple concepts and incorporating them into your thinking.

If someone told me an 8th grader had written your post after being exposed to many, many lessons on the topic on which you wrote, I'd think that the 8th grader would be lucky to get a B.

January 05, 2017 7:57 PM
you can't even deal with scholarly issues, the things I said wnet wooosh way over your hed,

Joe Hinman said...

Cal: "It's not your positions per se; it's how you express your thoughts, and the way you seem incapable of grasping simple concepts and incorporating them into your thinking. "

>>>funny that is what I think about your posts

Joe Hinman said...

I don't accept the basic premise that one can establish a probability for God, I don't think you can for miracles because it would require the former. I've wrottem sseveral blog peaices on this.

The Bayes Craze

mark sehgal said...

Amazing post

William Brown said...

"So the problem is (like with so many other issues) where does one draw the line? For lines will always need to be drawn in the Real World."

CS Lewis' "The Abolition of Man" delves into this question. It's a good place to start.

B. Prokop said...

I agree - excellent book!

Cal Metzger said...

VR: ""But what about the bacterial flagellum? Isn't that evidence that there is something outside the natural world?" No, you IDiot, to infer from the bacterial flagellum, or the fine tuning of the universe, to a being beyond nature is to violate the canons of scientific inquiry."

VR: "I think I grasp the relevant simple concepts."

All evidence to the contrary.

If you can't correctly frame how the evolutionary explanation for the bacterial flagellum negates the need for a designer for its apparent complexity, then you haven't grasped the concept.


Legion: "I read the OP twice and saw no issue. What, precisely, is the issue that prompted the childish insults?"

VR: "Further, for many atheists, commitment to atheism is something really important to them. I know many atheists who have ten times the zeal most Christians have for their belief."

"...really important to them"?

"...ten times the zeal"?

I don't think my comments are the childish ones here.

B. Prokop said...

"If you can't correctly frame how the evolutionary explanation for the bacterial flagellum negates the need for a designer for its apparent complexity, then you haven't grasped the concept."

Translation: Dr. Reppert dares to challenge the enforced current orthodoxy of the academic community. Victor grasps the concept probably better than you do, Cal. He just doesn't unquestionably agree with it.

"I don't think my comments are the childish ones here."

What is so childish about saying atheists regard their atheism as important, and that they are zealous in their beliefs? Sounds like a compliment to me.

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "Dr. Reppert dares to challenge the enforced current orthodoxy of the academic community."

Yeah, and when they demonstrate the comprehension and verbal acuity of VR's post, they get a (generous) B from their eight grade teacher.

Prokop: "Victor grasps the concept probably better than you do, Cal."

All the more reason I should draw attention to his sloppy post, so that he can demonstrate what you claim.

Prokop: "He just doesn't unquestionably agree with it."

Nor coherently and persuasively, as I pointed out. And that should concern him.

Prokop: "What is so childish about saying atheists regard their atheism as important, and that they are zealous in their beliefs? Sounds like a compliment to me."

I pointed out the juvenile language, and how it prevents one from meaningfully interacting with whatever point VR thought he was making. But since you ask, part of downgrading from an A to a B in a (generous) 8th grade essay grade would be simply pointing out that neither point seems to relate to VR's thesis statement: "People speaking for science... don't accept the idea that science is subjected to a constraint."

It's a very short essay he wrote. It uses childish language, and rambles off topic in the few words it allocated for itself.

Maybe a C+ ?

B. Prokop said...

"I pointed out the juvenile language"

This is rich, considering it's coming from the same person who regularly talks about pink unicorns.

What was that I once heard about a pot and a kettle?

Jo F said...

@Cal,

"If you can't correctly frame how the evolutionary explanation for the bacterial flagellum negates the need for a designer for its apparent complexity, then you haven't grasped the concept."

I could just as easily say that you haven't grasped the concept of a moot topic, and leave it there. Doing that, you're coming off as uninformed on why you believe what you do; otherwise you would be open to defending evolutionary naturalism (EN) with a simple question of "what makes you think that?" No one should get away with claiming that evolutionary scenarios are "just so". You leave me two conclusions at this point: either it's that upon learning of EN you never questioned it but simply acquiesced, or else that my expectation that you would see the sense in holding one's beliefs to a standard of evidence was sadly mislead.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
"All evidence to the contrary."

Again, this is either dogmatism or the failure to scrutinize your own beliefs--the former would entail the latter. For context, note that I am here referring to EN when I talk of "naturalistic evolution".

If you aren't aware of the practical and thus far unresolved problems with naturalistic evolution, then I highly doubt you've really studied the purported evidences in its favor outside of an appeal to authority (or the salient fact that credence to it simply for its being the only naturalistic explanation makes for an uncritically assumed naturalism), and surely you've never considered its scholarly purported unresolvable problems.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
"...really important to them"? "...ten times the zeal"? I don't think my comments are the childish ones here.

Good grief, Cal, this very inference from his colloquial choice of words is infantile. I find a mark of humble intelligence in one who speaks conscious of his audience and their participation. On the other hand, I see clearly the sheer and desperate condescension of one who pours over another's writing looking to adduce his personal narrative that all his dissenters simply must fit into his little box where they are asinine idiots beneath his superior intellect. To sum up my psychoanalysis: you're in the habit of compartmentalizing people as convenient to a bully's paradigm. This is the heart of the New Atheism, and this is where I implore you to see just how irreverent of "the fellow man" it makes people.

Jo F said...

What is so childish about saying atheists regard their atheism as important, and that they are zealous in their beliefs? Sounds like a compliment to me.

Cal, be honest, this is exactly how you feel. Thus, Dr. Reppert's words are in fact apt and descriptive, and, of course, that's what words are for: communication. If you carry on with this vacant pretension that one must use the least approachable words possible, regardless of the context (i.e. a personal blog), in order to be worthy of respect or considered intelligent, or if you fail to retract your rude presumptions that started from and will go nowhere, then I'll begin to dispassionately take your comments with the same dismissiveness.

Jo F said...

Meant to quote that first bit from Prokop

Jo F said...

"It's a very short essay he wrote."

Cal, it's not an essay...

"Prokop: "Victor grasps the concept probably better than you do, Cal." Cal: "All the more reason I should draw attention to his sloppy post, so that he can demonstrate what you claim."

Oh please. Now you're claiming that what you said is meant for meaningfully contributing to the discussion. Are you even capable of actually putting forth an argument for your case, or is it simply not within the purview of your atheism to do much more than riot about anything but the subject matter? Why should it matter to anyone if you even think that Dr. Reppert is illiterate? If you want to prove your case then you'll have to make an argument for it. If not, then what conclusion do you expect me to come to besides your atheism's being philosophically hopeless?

Cal Metzger said...

Jo F: "What is so childish about saying atheists regard their atheism as important, and that they are zealous in their beliefs?"

I quoted because words are important.

VR used language typical of a middle school book report, making points that don't appear to relate to his thesis. There's a point at which a charitable reading of a post should be replaced with a criticism that the writer should, you know, do a little better. Especially if they tout themselves as being so capable.



Cal Metzger said...

Jo: "Are you even capable of actually putting forth an argument for your case, or is it simply not within the purview of your atheism to do much more than riot about anything but the subject matter?"

My criticism points out that the post enters a place where meaningful discussion seems unlikely because things are so muddled and poorly written.

What do you think the point of the post is?

Joe Hinman said...

VR used language typical of a middle school book report, making points that don't appear to relate to his thesis. There's a point at which a charitable reading of a post should be replaced with a criticism that the writer should, you know, do a little better. Especially if they tout themselves as being so capable.

no he didn't. he just did't say it pretentious pontificate

Joe Hinman said...

I pointed out the juvenile language, and how it prevents one from meaningfully interacting with whatever point VR thought he was making. But since you ask, part of downgrading from an A to a B in a (generous) 8th grade essay grade would be simply pointing out that neither point seems to relate to VR's thesis statement: "People speaking for science... don't accept the idea that science is subjected to a constraint."


you are just doing your pretentious little professorial bit because someone from outside your little club of elites touched a nerve and exposed your con game. you ignored my direct because you are not capable of defending your shell game agaisnt someone who studied Kuhn.,

Cal Metzger said...

Jo: "If you aren't aware of the practical and thus far unresolved problems with naturalistic evolution, then I highly doubt you've really studied the purported evidences in its favor outside of an appeal to authority (or the salient fact that credence to it simply for its being the only naturalistic explanation makes for an uncritically assumed naturalism), and surely you've never considered its scholarly purported unresolvable problems."

Yeah, that's usually the problem here; some internet apologist is the one who really understands biology, and the role of Evolution in biological diversity, and the rest of the world's biologically-related fields haven't heard about what said internet apologist thinks they all fundamentally get wrong.

Give it your best shot.

Victor Reppert said...

Looking at the discussion, I see Cal's point. It was a response to David Brightly on another thread, which I thought could stand on its own. But apart from David's context, I can see how it seems a little disjointed.

Still, it reflects, I think, an interest in discrediting an opponent as opposed to merely criticizing an opponent, and I think this mentality, in the end, makes internet discussion of these matters tiresome and unproductive.

bmiller said...

A question to all:
Is it possible that Cal does not perceive that he is being offensive?

David Brightly said...

Bob said,

... it [science] is limited by the inherent inability of science to speak to anything outside the natural, created universe. Science has nothing whatsoever to say about value, purpose, meaning, worth, morality, or beauty.. among many other things,

with the implication that value, etc, lie outside the natural world. Why would one think this? I agree that science has very little to say about them.

B. Prokop said...

David,

I say this, because absent a transcendent reality of which creation is but a part, iron deterministic materialism is inescapable. In a universe without consciousness and free will, all of the things I listed simply do not exist.

Free will cannot logically arise from within a closed system. We have free will. Therefore the universe (a.k.a., creation) is not a closed system.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"with the implication that value, etc, lie outside the natural world. Why would one think this? I agree that science has very little to say about them."

The implication is valid only if the natural world, or what can be known of the natural world, is exhausted by what can be known by science, where by science I mean here the modern empirical sciences. This is a form of scientism and it is false. It is at any rate, denied by Aristoteleans and many others.

As far as the reason why "value, etc." lie outside the scope of the modern empirical sciences, is because the latter have for proper object the changeable, metrical properties of natural bodies. "value, etc." is not a metrical property or can even be put under the mathematical microscope used by the modern empirical sciences.

David Brightly said...

Hi Bob,
My point is that I look around the world I find myself in, which I take to be the natural world, and I find all those things in it, or at least in my experience of it. As do other people. We don't normally regard these as super-natural. It's a phenomenological point, as against an argument.

Joe Hinman said...

David Brightly said...
Hi Bob,
My point is that I look around the world I find myself in, which I take to be the natural world, and I find all those things in it, or at least in my experience of it. As do other people. We don't normally regard these as super-natural. It's a phenomenological point, as against an argument.

first of all, with most of those qualities such as value and meaning we do find then in the natural world but that does not mean they arise in the natural world or due to a natural process. you can't account for the without appeal to some transcend aspect. they are certainly beyond the domain of science, Te purpose of science is not understand such things.

Joe Hinman said...

grodrigues said...
@David Brightly:

"with the implication that value, etc, lie outside the natural world. Why would one think this? I agree that science has very little to say about them."

The implication is valid only if the natural world, or what can be known of the natural world, is exhausted by what can be known by science, where by science I mean here the modern empirical sciences. This is a form of scientism and it is false. It is at any rate, denied by Aristoteleans and many others.

I have yet to see any atheists except for philosophers who are willing to even pretend that there is any other from of knowledge than science. Stephen Pinker answers a question is science the only form of knowledge he includes philosophy and history in science,That means he is just subsuming whatever he has to in order to make everything fit science. That's a sure sign he's married to an ideology,

As far as the reason why "value, etc." lie outside the scope of the modern empirical sciences, is because the latter have for proper object the changeable, metrical properties of natural bodies. "value, etc." is not a metrical property or can even be put under the mathematical microscope used by the modern empirical sciences.

meaning they are not naturalistic, they are notropertiesof the natural world.

B. Prokop said...

But David, your very "experience of it" is a reference to your self awareness, which cannot logically be part of the natural world. Otherwise, you would truly be a "meat machine" with no power to deviate from the predetermined vectors and interactions of your constituent particles. There is no space for consciousness to occupy in such a universe. The fact that you can as an entity to stimuli, concluding that you are encountering such things as beauty or value, is in and of itself proof that "the natural world" is not all there is.

Side point: In a closed-system universe, there cannot even be any such thing as "David Brightly" to experience anything. The matter and energy that constitute your material makeup are constantly shifting, from breath to breath. Given enough time (say, about 10 years or so) and there is scarcely an atom in your body that was there at the beginning. Physically, you are a completely different object several times over in the course of an average lifespan. Whatever there is that is holding you together in all four dimensions (time, as well as space) - your anima, as it were - is something non-material.

Joe Hinman said...

Yeah, that's usually the problem here; some internet apologist is the one who really understands biology, and the role of Evolution in biological diversity, and the rest of the world's biologically-related fields haven't heard about what said internet apologist thinks they all fundamentally get wrong.

you do not understand the philosophy that underlies the ideology to which are so enthralled,

Joe Hinman said...

so far we have driven home the point that there are some pretty big limits on scientific inquiry.

William Brown said...

B. Prokop "Otherwise, you would truly be a "meat machine" with no power to deviate from the predetermined vectors and interactions of your constituent particles."

Isn't this the thesis of CS Lewis (and Vic Reppert's book) that we have no basis to trust our own intuitions of the nature of truth or even of any sense of rationality if scientific naturalism were to be true? As I recall, this was 'Darwin's doubt' about the consequences of his own theory.
Hope I'm not muddling things too badly here - it's been a while since I've read Vic's book or thought about this topic.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Looking at the discussion, I see Cal's point. It was a response to David Brightly on another thread, which I thought could stand on its own. But apart from David's context, I can see how it seems a little disjointed."

This is gracious of you, and it is the kind of thing that earns one intellectual respect.

VR: "Still, it reflects, I think, an interest in discrediting an opponent as opposed to merely criticizing an opponent, and I think this mentality, in the end, makes internet discussion of these matters tiresome and unproductive."

You might be right. You are certainly within the realm of intellectual discourse to make this remark, and it is a point I will consider.

Joe Hinman said...

You might be right. You are certainly within the realm of intellectual discourse to make this remark, and it is a point I will consider.

not bad for an eight grader Doc,so says the expert on 8th grade erudition

B. Prokop said...

"Isn't this the thesis of CS Lewis (and Vic Reppert's book)?"

Not quite. Lewis argued that there were no grounds for trusting rational thought in a deterministic universe. I'm actually going a step further and proposing that there would be no "thought" (i.e., self awareness) whatsoever, rational or otherwise, in a purely materialistic, mechanistic universe. Self awareness is surely inextricably intertwined with the existence of "choice" (i.e., free will), which finds no place in materialism (since everything is predetermined by the iron laws of physics and chemistry, etc.

David Brightly said...

Bob, Joe,
Both of you seem to be using 'natural' in a non-standard way. Value and meaning, etc, are such a familiar part of the everyday that we don't resort to the super-natural to understand them. If the 'meta-natural', say, lies between the natural and the supernatural, how are you going to draw the boundary lines? Bob seems to come close to identifying the natural with the scientific. This would put the natural at the mercy of an ongoing social process. I prefer to say that there is more to the natural than this but that it may be beyond the reach of science to accommodate. One problem is that the phenomenological doesn't seem to succumb to the divide-and-conquer strategy of atomism that works so well in the sciences. But why should that put it beyond the natural?

B. Prokop said...

"Value and meaning, etc, are such a familiar part of the everyday that we don't resort to the super-natural to understand them."

David, you're making the same mistake that you made when you wrote "I look around the world I find myself in, which I take to be the natural world, and I find all those things [value, meaning, etc.] in it, or at least in my experience of it." You fail to consider the possibility that you might be observing things outside the "natural world". If we cannot observe and interact with the supernatural, then it would be quite irrelevant to us, wouldn't it?

David Brightly said...

Hi Bob,
You've got to remember that for me the space labelled 'supernatural' is empty. I just don't see how to draw the line of demarcation around the natural. If you think there is such a line then the burden is on you to show me where it is. I see a space labelled science, but that is too narrow. I have my own burdens, of course, some of which you've hinted at!

B. Prokop said...

" I just don't see how to draw the line of demarcation around the natural."

The line can be drawn at where materialism ends and non-materialism begins (which is actually quite a fuzzy line). Rocks, trees, supernovae, quasars... all are firmly on the "natural" side of the divide. Angels, demons, God Himself - all on the other side. The squishy middle includes such things as The Brothers Karamazov, and all the "generic" entities brought up in previous postings (such as beauty, value, purpose, etc.)

Unique in the universe (as so far known to us) is ourselves - beings with one foot in each realm. We are indisputably material beings, but are also "animated" by our souls.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"You've got to remember that for me the space labelled 'supernatural' is empty. I just don't see how to draw the line of demarcation around the natural."

If you do not even know where to draw the line, how can you possibly know that "the space labelled 'supernatural' is empty"?

William Brown said...

'Supernatural' might not be a very good word. Just because something cannot be captured by the scientific method, should not mean that it is not natural; i.e.: not a part of reality or existence. I'd say that angels and demons, numbers, philosophy, logic, laws of nature, virtues and vices, etc. are all 'natural', they just are not open to the very narrow methods of science.

Joe Hinman said...

More on Draper

My argument against Draper's providential argument on POP.

Joe Hinman said...

christian CADRE blog, CADRE comments

The Nature of Biblical revelation

Joe Hinman said...

'Supernatural' might not be a very good word. Just because something cannot be captured by the scientific method, should not mean that it is not natural; i.e.: not a part of reality or existence. I'd say that angels and demons, numbers, philosophy, logic, laws of nature, virtues and vices, etc. are all 'natural', they just are not open to the very narrow methods of science.

they are not natural nature means the realm of life from life,v that is what is being said when we talk the natural the realm in which flesh and blood people are born from other flesh and blood people, spirits are not part of nature. That is the understanding the church achieved by high middle ages, But in more primitive times nature was enchanted and spirits were part of nature so there are different iews

B. Prokop said...

"they just are not open to the very narrow methods of science"

We're into the realm of defining terms here, but if something is not scientifically observable, that might be a good reason, in and of itself, for labeling it "supernatural".

I understand that God is the Creator of "all things, visible and invisible", which means that quite literally everything is a created entity (other than the Creator Himself, of course). If one equates "existing" with "natural" (as you appear to be doing), then the term adds no value to any discussion.

This is one case where we need to pay attention to the etymology of the word in question. "Super" in Latin means above or beyond. "Nature" (after a long, convoluted evolution) originates with the Latin word nasci, "to be born". So from a purist standpoint, you are correct. "Natural" refers to whatever is created, and "supernatural" to anything beyond that (i.e., God, and only God).

But as I said, that is not a very helpful definition, as one might as well restrict one's self to using "creation" and "Creator". This is where it is helpful to take into account subsequent developments in the usage of "natural". From the 14th Century onwards, the word acquired a sense of "the material world" (although it excluded anything manmade). So a tree was natural, whereas a table made from that same tree was not. Still later, it referred to anything whose behavior was predictable by the so-called Laws of Nature (how anthropomorphic!).

Now that's the meaning I like! Translate "predictable" to "observable by scientific means" and you get a clear distinction between the natural universe, and the supernatural (i.e., beyond natural) world that brought this universe into being, yet is not subject to its laws.

Joe Hinman said...

avid Brightly said...
Bob, Joe,
Both of you seem to be using 'natural' in a non-standard way. Value and meaning, etc, are such a familiar part of the everyday that we don't resort to the super-natural to understand them.

that is the fallenness of modern secular thought, It's a come down from the tgurth of God which is where all value and meaning reside,

If the 'meta-natural', say, lies between the natural and the supernatural, how are you going to draw the boundary lines?

what is meta natural? I dom't recognize that. Meta means beside or beyond, how is that opposed to SN?

Bob seems to come close to identifying the natural with the scientific. This would put the natural at the mercy of an ongoing social process. I prefer to say that there is more to the natural than this but that it may be beyond the reach of science to accommodate.

the term natural is from the Latin natura or the Greek phusys both mean life from life, it the realm in which life spawns life flesh and blood as opposed to spirit.SN is the power of God to raise human nature to a higher level. it's not realm or a place.it's not about psychic powers, God is the Spirit involved.


One problem is that the phenomenological doesn't seem to succumb to the divide-and-conquer strategy of atomism that works so well in the sciences. But why should that put it beyond the natural?

phenomenology is not beyond the natural, Phenomenology is not about spirtualism or about any SN,It's merely methodology and an attitude,

January 08, 2017 10:11 AM

Joe Hinman said...

Hi Bob,
You've got to remember that for me the space labelled 'supernatural' is empty. I just don't see how to draw the line of demarcation around the natural.

It's not a space. i:'t not a realm.It;s the level of consciousness above that of life. It';s the higher level above human nature to which God will raise us through Grace ion giving us the power of holiness, in practical terms it is mystical experience.


If you think there is such a line then the burden is on you to show me where it is. I see a space labelled science, but that is too narrow. I have my own burdens, of course, some of which you've hinted at!

200 peer reviewed studies in academic journals conducted by psychiatrists and psychologists on the effects of mystical experience upon those who have them show that they do transform people's lives. that is SN. That is "the SN" that's what the term SN was coined by Dionysius the Ariopagite to descirbe.

Joe Hinman said...

Note on apparent contradiction

It may look like I contradicted myself in once saying SN is a level above or realm above the realm of flesh and blood but eh saying is mot a realm, I mean by that it's not a place you can go to, it's a higher level of copiousness not a psychical place.

B. Prokop said...

I prefer to use set theory and a Venn diagram to illustrate the way I picture the relationships. Imagine three concentric circles. Within the innermost, place "natural". Within the next ring out, place "supernatural". And within the outermost (which, by the way, has a radius of infinity) place "God".

William Brown said...

Re. the Venn diagram: I guess my point is that everything in that diagram is a part of reality. The term "supernatural" unfortunately seems to connote some sort of magical kingdom to the popular mind steeped in progressive and Enlightenment thought. I try not to use the word, but prefer to emphasize that all of reality and existence is God's reality, not just the tiny slice that we can investigate with science. Impoverished modern man takes as that timy slice as the whole picture, but I perfer not to play into that mindset by my choice of vocabulary. Ideas start with words.

The mediaevals were, IMO, much closer to truth. We have not progressed in our understanding of reality, even though we are much better at the practical applications of the sceintific method (but not with the method itself; the groundwork for that was done by the ancients and the mediaevals).

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"I understand that God is the Creator of "all things, visible and invisible", which means that quite literally everything is a created entity (other than the Creator Himself, of course). If one equates "existing" with "natural" (as you appear to be doing), then the term adds no value to any discussion."

I do not know if it is useful to the discussion at hand, but in a narrow sense that is exactly how I take "supernatural". Supernatural is what is beyond nature, and in the strict sense and as you point out, only God is supernatural.

B. Prokop said...

OK. Then the issue becomes, "Is there any value to distinguishing between natural and supernatural?" That's actually a good question. As William points out, there is the potential of playing into a most unfortunate mindset of "natural equals real" and supernatural equals unreal". And I agree. If I am speaking with a person who thinks that way, I should avoid the term, if for no other reason than that I know ahead of time I will be misunderstood.

But I still maintain there is considerable value in pointing out that not all "real" things are observable by scientific methods. (By scientific method, I do not mean just by our senses or whatever instruments we might construct, but rather by employing the methodologies and procedures of what is generally meant by the term.) I can observe a tree "scientifically" - I cannot do the same with morality, or beauty, or love. Yet all are real.

B. Prokop said...

... and equally real.

William Brown said...

"Is there any value to distinguishing between natural and supernatural?"

I say "no", there is no difference. I think that we should keep this point first and foremost and not fall into the modern secular mindset. We should be be mindful of the words we use.
This is what I am trying to say. I agree with everything in your post, B. Prokop.

B. Prokop said...

Do you have any suggestion (other than supernatural) for a single, catch-all term to characterize Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, and other non-material entities that distinguishes them from rocks, trees, supernovae, etc.?

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"But I still maintain there is considerable value in pointing out that not all "real" things are observable by scientific methods."

Fair enough, but that distinction is different from the distinction natural-supernatural; or in other words, the two collapse only if everything that is natural can be analysed under the microscope of the modern empirical sciences. Since the latter is false (grin), the distinction is a useful one I would presume.

B. Prokop said...

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'm not ready to let this go just yet. There needs to be a good (preferably one word) way of distinguishing between, as the Creed says, "Heaven and Earth", and their constituent elements. Lumping angels in with rocks and trees as "created entities" seems a bit of an overkill. Contrary to William, there is a difference. If you don't like the word supernatural (I myself have no problem with it), what then should we use?

I don't think using "material" and "non-material" is a good solution, because the second term has a built-in negative connotation, making it seem somehow the lesser of the two categories. But the entities populating the supernatural realm (angels, etc.) are in no way inferior to or lesser than material beings. Rather the reverse is true - the supernatural is more real than the material universe.

William Brown said...

"Lumping angels in with rocks and trees as "created entities" seems a bit of an overkill."

I am only lumping them together to make the point that they are all part of the world we live in. Rather than overkill, I feel that the emphasis of modernity is too much of a radical seperation. I think that we should live with a greater awareness of all of reality, not just what we can see.

Joe Hinman said...

William Brown said...
"Is there any value to distinguishing between natural and supernatural?"

I say "no", there is no difference. I think that we should keep this point first and foremost and not fall into the modern secular mindset. We should be be mindful of the words we use.
This is what I am trying to say. I agree with everything in your post, B. Prokop.

January 09, 2017 9:47 AM

you are totally ignoring what I pointed out about the origin of the terms and their meaning, just ignoring the evidence that disproves your error. as usual.

Joe Hinman said...

William Brown said...
"Lumping angels in with rocks and trees as "created entities" seems a bit of an overkill."

I am only lumping them together to make the point that they are all part of the world we live in. Rather than overkill, I feel that the emphasis of modernity is too much of a radical seperation. I think that we should live with a greater awareness of all of reality, not just what we can see.

we live in the natural world that does not mean the term "nature"is synonymous with all things i the world The original terms mean life from life. it refers to biology angels are not biological.

Joe Hinman said...

PK

I don't think using "material" and "non-material" is a good solution, because the second term has a built-in negative connotation, making it seem somehow the lesser of the two categories. But the entities populating the supernatural realm (angels, etc.) are in no way inferior to or lesser than material beings.

why don't we just go by the meaning of the terms,?

B. Prokop said...

Joe,

Restricting "natural" to living beings may have been all well and good back in the 14th Century, but the meanings of words do change over time. Today, such a restriction would be bizarre when the word is routinely used to describe rocks (e.g., natural arch).

"Why don't we just go by the meaning of the terms?"

Which one? "Natural" has had several meanings over time. And they're not all compatible with each other.

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "Do you have any suggestion (other than supernatural) for a single, catch-all term to characterize Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, and other non-material entities that distinguishes them from rocks, trees, supernovae, etc.?"

Imaginary.

B. Prokop said...

Cal's comment illustrates just how important this discussion is. Without a clearly defined and recognizable way of distinguishing between the world of the senses and the Greater Reality which enfolds our universe, it is all too easy to fall into such error as Cal's. More's the pity, because the fallacy he has fallen victim to is largely (if not primarily) the result of linguistic imprecision - an unforced error, so to speak.

I referenced this above, but it's worth repeating. That we know there are two worlds is clear from the Creed: "Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible."

Joe Hinman said...

Joe,

Restricting "natural" to living beings may have been all well and good back in the 14th Century, but the meanings of words do change over time. Today, such a restriction would be bizarre when the word is routinely used to describe rocks (e.g., natural arch).

"Why don't we just go by the meaning of the terms?"

Which one? "Natural" has had several meanings over time. And they're not all compatible with each other.

January 10, 2017 4:46 AM

trees are living. rocks are part of the same world as flesh and bllood because thyey organic. the key point here is they are not spirit, That';s the dichotomy

B. Prokop said...

Are you proposing "Spiritual World" as an alternative to "Supernatural Realm"?

(Not a bad suggestion, by the way.)

Joe Hinman said...

I have not made myself clear omn the SN. Please read my essay it's in three parts and it'sw kind of long but I think it will be worth it, please read it. the parts are inked.

HERE

B. Prokop said...

Joe,

What I gather from your 3-part epic is that you regard the supernatural as something entirely subjective - a personal experience. If I have misunderstood you, then you need to boil your definition down to something as clear and simple as my Venn diagram illustration (see above), so as to communicate what you really mean.

SteveK said...

"Imaginary"

You think non-material entities are imaginary? Does that include an idea, a thought a perception?

SteveK said...

What's the difference between 'imaginary' and 'subjective'?

B. Prokop said...

"What's the difference between 'imaginary' and 'subjective'?"

You can have a subjective impression of a real object, but the object of one's imagination is.. well, imaginary.

How about this? All imaginary objects are subjective, but not all subjective impressions are imaginary.

Sort of like "All Scotsmen are human, but not all humans are Scotsmen."

Joe Hinman said...

What I gather from your 3-part epic is that you regard the supernatural as something entirely subjective - a personal experience. If I have misunderstood you, then you need to boil your definition down to something as clear and simple as my Venn diagram illustration (see above), so as to communicate what you really mean.

no, It's God's empowerment through Grace. we experience it subjectively but it is an objective reality.

Joe Hinman said...

nuary 10, 2017 2:10 PM
Blogger SteveK said...
What's the difference between 'imaginary' and 'subjective'?

the exact same difference in being hit in the face with a brick and pretending you were hit in the face with a brick. why would anyone ever think subjective means not real?

Joe Hinman said...

B. Prokop said...
"What's the difference between 'imaginary' and 'subjective'?"

You can have a subjective impression of a real object, but the object of one's imagination is.. well, imaginary.

How about this? All imaginary objects are subjective, but not all subjective impressions are imaginary.

Sort of like "All Scotsmen are human, but not all humans are Scotsmen."

Yea ProoKp! good one

SteveK said...

My question was for Cal, but thank you nonetheless.

My thoughts:
An "Impression" is real and subjective
An "Object" is real and objective
"Imaginary" is a propositional statement about a thing. What is imaginary is not real. An imaginary impression is an impossibility.

SteveK said...

I like Bob's Venn diagram concept. It's difficult to describe where the line of demarcation goes, but such is life. The demarcation is real, not imaginary. Science has demarcation problems too so it's not just a religious problem.

SteveK said...

Skeptics seem to have a problem when somebody says that "X is real and not physical". In my experience this is usually because most skeptics believe in physicalism or scientistism. There are many natural things that are reasonably thought to be both real and not physical. Once you become convinced of this it's a relatively short hop (IMO) to being convinced of the "real and supernatural"

Joe Hinman said...

I agree Steven, The mind for example. we have on and everything we know is mediated through mind, The New atheists are so brain ashed about mind's connection to brain chemistry the sound like they forget its actually a real thing.We dom't actually know what energy is made of or what su atomic particles are made of.we conveniently label them so we can say'they are made out of charges or quarks or whatever but what does it mean? really they are just saying charges are made out of more charges, sub atomic particles are made out of more such particles.

David Brightly said...

Bob gave us a list of abstractions---value, purpose, meaning, worth, morality, beauty---that we are having difficulty in classifying. Are they, or rather their instances, natural, or are they in some sense an addition to the natural world from some supernatural source? We can agree that they are immaterial, but then so is the abstraction we call 'tree'. I think we can also agree that instances of tree are real enough, and so are instances of value, purpose, etc. Also that vpm... lay outside scientific investigation, certainly in the sense that no instruments exist that can detect their instances. Note that I'm not asking a Platonistic question about the reality of the abstractions---we could discusss that for ever. The question is rather about how they or their instances 'get into the world', as it were. Any thoughts?

B. Prokop said...

Great comment, David!

I'd say that the (as you call them) "abstractions" get into (i.e., interact with) the world via our consciousness - which merely moves the question into what is generally referred to as the hard problem of consciousness.

This is why the Catholic doctrine of the body/soul nature of Man is so important. We have a foot in both worlds, so to speak. But for that to be true, there must first be two worlds in which to have a foot.

B. Prokop said...

A far greater part of "science" deals with naming and categorizing than we normally think about (or realize). A good example of this is the recent kerfuffle over the planet Pluto. When astronomers decided to "demote" Pluto to the status of Minor Planet, it was more than just moving something from Column A to Column B - it was one way of communicating that we had a new understanding of the Solar System and how it was organized. Astronomers were coming to terms that we were in the process of discovering an entirely new realm in the system, the Kuiper Belt, which did not fit into any of the neat divisions that had been serving us so well for so long (Inner Planets, Asteroids, Outer Planets, Comets).

By recognizing a hitherto unknown category of "Kuiper Belt Objects" (affectionately known as Plutoids, and commonly referred to in the literature as KBOs), astronomers could now more clearly grasp the overall structure of the Solar System.

In the same manner, a clear understanding of the various categories of Reality aids in an understanding of, not only how we relate to the physical universe, but also how we approach sensory vs. non-sensory perceptions, and of the Mind's place in Creation.

David Brightly said...

Thanks, Bob.
I appreciate that Catholic doctrine contains a well-worked out and effective system of ideas to account for all these things. But other accounts may be possible. Another question we might all ask ourselves is, Were vpm... there at the very beginning? If not, was their coming into the world an historical event or events, or some sort of process spread over time? And if the latter, how does that work?

B. Prokop said...

Once again, a great question, David. But I see a potentially insurmountable problem with trying to define things which we as physical/spiritual beings can only experience as actions within time from the perspective of eternity. One of the best "plain language" treatments of this difficulty I've ever come across is in the final paragraph of the penultimate chapter of C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce (the character George MacDonald speaking):

"Time is the very lens through which ye see - small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope - something that would otherwise be too big for you to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift by which ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality."

There is a great danger in misinterpreting quite literally everything when we attempt to view what we can only perceive as elements of a story in isolation from that story. That's how the great heresy of Calvinism arose - by trying to see our eternal fates as something other than how we live out our lives. The entire (ultimately unnecessary) "Faith vs. Works" controversy was founded on that false perspective.

So when you ask, "Were vpm... there at the very beginning? If not, was their coming into the world an historical event or events?" you're essentially making the same error that Calvin fell into, i.e., thinking that by removing the "story" element in our contemplation of such truths, we might somehow get a clearer picture of them - when in reality the exact opposite is the end result.

B. Prokop said...

I think my second sentence might be a bit syntactically unclear. Let me try again:

But I see a potentially insurmountable problem with trying to define from the perspective of eternity those things which we as physical/spiritual beings can only experience as actions within time.

There, that's better!

David Brightly said...

That's OK, Bob, that's how I parsed it. Well, you may be right, but let's not abandon hope yet. Your caution comes perhaps from standing in the light of a particular world-view. Calvinism was a controversy that arose within that view. I would like to go back to what an Aristotle or an Epicurus might have said.

Let's take just one of our list, namely, value. I know we speak of 'values' as if they were things we might possess. But I think this usage is a construction out of something more basic, what I call a 'valueing', the sort of thing that's in play when we say somebody values some thing. Valueings are manifested in action and behaviour, as when we see someone expending effort to take care of someone or something. Valueings are dispositional. They don't manifest all the time but they are nevertheless there. Does that make sense, or is it perhaps a bit too positivistic for you?

BTW, I suspect SP on the other thread must be very young.

B. Prokop said...

"He who has seen me, has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

That simple statement solves so many of these either/or dilemmas. When we look upon the life of Jesus (what some internet skeptics call a "story"), we perceive the "Ego sum qui sum" (Exodus 3:14), i.e., the very Source of Being. It's through a story (the Gospels) that we understand what is.

That's just the way we're built. We see things in the context of time, of events, of story. It's why The Odyssey has more explanatory power than any sociological treatise on homecoming. It's why an account of one person's struggle against addiction is more powerful than a binder full of statistics on the subject. It's why Jesus taught in parables.

(In other words, David, I think we're both saying the same thing.)

B. Prokop said...

"BTW, I suspect SP on the other thread must be very young."

I've suspected the same thing. I truly HATE internet anonymity. I wish we all posted under our true names, and our profiles gave meaningful info about ourselves. It'd be helpful to know whether you're having a discussion with a 16 year old boy or with his 45 year old mother.

(In my case, you're dealing with a 64 year old widower.)

David Brightly said...

Hi Bob,
I grant that story and myth are splendid ways of conveying what it is to be a thinking, feeling human person, what the Lebenswelt is like. And that story is holistic in that little pieces can't be extracted and made sense of independently. But I'm not sure it's a good medium for understanding the non-living world and the non-human living world, for which we now have effective methods. Some thinkers tell us that these methods produce yet more stories that we tell ourselves, but I doubt that you would want to use 'story' in that postmodern fashion. The great challenge to philosophy, as I see it, is to put these partial pictures together, as with a stereoscope, to get a seamless integrated image.

We can agree on something, at any rate: our birth years!

David Brightly said...

Sorry, Bob, but I think I may have only just seen what you mean by your last para at January 14, 2017 7:39 AM. Actually, I don't see 'coming into the world', in the context of vpm..., as metaphorical. I see it as literal.

B. Prokop said...

I suspect we're in "violent agreement" here. You say the coming into the world of vpm should be taken literally, and I say the story of their coming into being is how we perceive these eternal truths.

But I seriously wonder whether we're both saying the same thing in differing words?

Tale my example of hearing the Gospel. I maintain that the story is literally true. But I also equally believe the story to be the means by which we comprehend capital "T" Truths, namely the internal life of the Trinity (the Son submitting to the Father; the Father glorifying the Son, etc), the Incarnation, and Redemption.

It's why, in His infinite wisdom, the Holy Spirit did not inspire any scriptural books titled "1st Theology, 2nd Theology" or whatever. Instead we get the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, David and Absalom, Jonah and the fish, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan (among many, many others).

David Brightly said...

Your OT knowledge is much better than mine, Bob. Is there an OT story about the coming of value? It doesn't matter if there isn't. It's a bit of a modern philosopher's thought perhaps. But it's something Nagel worries about greatly in Mind and Cosmos, for example.

B. Prokop said...

Wisdom is personified in Proverbs Chapter 9 and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) Chapter 24.

But you're not going to get much support from either of those for the idea of there being a time before vpm existed. "From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist." (Sirach 24:9)

Those are off the top of my head. I'll give the matter some more thought.

B. Prokop said...

A bit off topic, but Proverbs Chapter 9 is an excellent example of why the fundamentalist (both believers and atheists) insistence on a woodenly literal reading of scripture is nonsense. Does anyone think, after reading this text, that we're supposed to believe that Wisdom is a literal woman who builds a house with 7 pillars and then prepares a feast? That she has maids, whom she can order about? That she slaughters beasts, mixes wine, and bakes bread?

Really?

SteveK said...

I can believe that someone like Dusty believes that since it's consistent with his 'the bible says the earth is 6000 years old' literary skills.

B. Prokop said...

My point exactly. I often find (on the internet, at least) that the staunchest fundamentalists are atheists.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

“ Is there an OT story about the coming of value?”

Is the story of Adam and Eve early enough?

God created all things and all things were good, including the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve “valued” the perceived attributes of eating the apple more than she “valued” God’s command to not eat from that particular tree. It seems that “value” was built into humanity's free will from the get-go.

William Brown said...


Thought that folks here might enjoy these.....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcRFYGr1zcg

From Chapter 4 of Lewis' book 'Mere Christianity' (originally 'Materialism or Religion’ as BBC Radio Talk #3 in 1941). He touches on some of the issues discussed in this thread.

I just discovered these and find them to be wonderful.

David Brightly said...

1. I think we can all agree that the OT contains history, metaphor and myth. Sometimes they seem so tightly bound together as to be inseparable, or indeed to be told apart.

2. Ecclesiasticus24 mixes elements of the abstract/eternal and the concrete/temporal, with the abstract personified for good measure. Bob's quoted verse is of the abstract but the following is of the concrete.

Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.
And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.


3. Eden Story and Value. Here value is an assumed background principle by which Eve's actions can be understood. My understanding of Eden is as myth about the dawn of consciousness in man, especially of the moral sentiments. Also perhaps folk memory of a time before farming and hence being tied to the land?

4. CS Lewis. Excellent though distracting doodles! Though not a Bergsonian I think in the postscript Lewis underplays the power of the moral sentiments. See William Golding, Rights of Passage.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

I’m not quite sure what you are thinking of when you speak of value.
Value can be applied to inanimate objects as in economics, or it can be applied to morality. In the past (as in Aristotle) it had been a consideration of which actions corresponded to the highest good, where that “good” was objectively defined by the nature of the subject.
Now, it seems, it’s become loosed of any natural foundation and merely means what any particular individual chooses to be “happy”, or per Rawls, whatever makes the most people “happy”.

B. Prokop said...

I don't think that's what David means (although I ought to let him speak for himself).

These are slippery questions. Sometimes I think we're asking whether the color "red" would have any objective existence in the absence of a human eye to perceive it. I can defend both a yes and a no answer to that.

Dammit! Why is there never a Buddhist around when you need one?!

bmiller said...

@B. Prokop,

“These are slippery questions. Sometimes I think we're asking whether the color "red" would have any objective existence in the absence of a human eye to perceive it. I can defend both a yes and a no answer to that.”

Sure. I understand that “red” can mean how we as humans experience that light color, or just the abstract physical qualities of the phenomena. But things of the intellect, such as value, have no sense organ such as the eye.

I think this is a problem for naturalism. It has no model for our own subjective experience, or even that of a bat for that matter (per Nagel).

David Brightly said...

I started from something Bob said back at January 07, 2017 5:35 AM. What I mean by 'value' isn't quite what Nagel means in M&C but the two are connected. My meaning might better be rendered by 'valuation'. That's abstract but I take its instances to be all acts or dispositions by something to value something. My suggestion is that concrete valuing comes into the world with life. Plants value water, CO2, other nutrients, sunlight, and so on. Animals value water, air, plants and other animals to eat, and more. That plants value things might be disputed. That animals do is clearer as they have the option of moving around to get what they value. So valuing comes primarily from the needs of life itself, and before life there is no valuing. Cheetahs value gazelles but they are unaware of this. They just get on with catching them. Humans value the general kinds of things that animals do and much more besides mainly because we are highly social. Humans are also aware of their valuing. We can even value things in the future over things now. This clearly requires some conceptual apparatus, lacking in animals, that can do duty for things not present to the senses. So the suggestion is that valuing in humans is continuous with valuing in animals, though with us it is highly elaborated and we are aware of its going on. It lies outside science, though we can perhaps approach it philosophically, but it remains within the natural world.

B. Prokop said...

Whoa! Thanks for some really good raw material for pondering. This really requires a couple of hours of standing on the seashore, watching the waves come in (which, since I now live approx 100 feet from the water's edge, I can do whenever I feel the need).

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

Is teleology an option for a naturalist such as yourself?

David Brightly said...

In the 'final cause' sense? No, I have never been able to understand this.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

OK. Maybe I don’t know what you hold the definition of “final cause” to be.
Let me explore your concept of “valuation”.

It seems that you can see a general tendency in all animate things to do things that they are drawn somehow to do. Is this a fair assessment of what you are thinking when you mention “valuation”?

It also seems from your examples, that you observe that not only do animated things tend to have this general tendency but it manifests itself in manners that suit the type of thing they are. For instance petunias don’t value gazelles and so don’t go about catching them. Cheetahs do tend to do that and we would think it odd if they munched on rocks instead. So in this sense, “valuation” could be defined as a general tendency for animate things to be drawn to certain activities in general with those activities being specific to each kind of animated thing.

Am I on the right track?

David Brightly said...

Though this formulation may well be true it loses sight of the main claim, namely that organisms have 'goods', things which they need in order to live and thrive.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Though this formulation may well be true it loses sight of the main claim, namely that organisms have 'goods', things which they need in order to live and thrive."

Would it help me understand if I exchanged the word "value" with "need" in your previous post? Plants need CO2 for example.

But it seems that Bob Prokop and you are on the same wavelength on this and I'm not. Maybe it's better I just listen for a while instead of side-tracking things.

B. Prokop said...

bmiller,

No, don't hold back! I was wondering something along the same lines, although going even further - speculating about what an inanimate object might value. For example, do two hydrogen atoms value the density and pressure necessary for them to fuse into a helium atom? (But, if you've been a long-time lurker on this site, you'd already know that I frequently wonder about panpsychism. I definitely have not ruled it out.)

David Brightly said...

I would definitely say that needs begin with life. A rock in the chemical environment and temperature of the Earth's surface is stable over long, long time scales. I'd hazard that its main cause of degradation is physical abrasion and disruption by other rocks. It needs nothing to sustain itself. Living things, on the other hand, fight a running battle with their environment to remain stable, let alone grow and reproduce. They require a steady supply of nutrients and energy to rebuild degraded parts which themselves are lost as waste.

A plant has needs. Lacking locomotion it has to hope that its needs come to it. Animals have needs. They also have locomotion and nervous systems that help them find their needs, while ignoring other things. This distinguishing and selecting, this going after one kind rather than another which starts with the earliest of animals, is the beginning of value, or so I claim. The thesis is that there is a continuity from plants to simple animals, to complex animals, to humans. I grant that with us the universe of need has expanded enormously and that we have become aware of it, unlike the other animals. Perhaps we value only some of what we need, and perhaps we value some things we don't need. There are plenty of instances where human urgings have come apart from their biological origins---some are often discussed here! This is the price (if it is a price) we have paid for gaining conscious, rational cognition. Shades of Eden, perhaps. But I say it is not possible to draw a firm line between need and value.

bmiller said...

@B. Prokop,

"No, don't hold back!"

OK. I have been a lurker for a while and I am trying to gauge the personalities. I think a lot of people who would like to contribute get drowned out when a "food fight" starts. I think David's contributions often get trampled in those food fights and I want to hear his perspective.

I'm interested in finding out why people think the way they do, especially when I disagree with them. Lot's of times when I understand their background and perspective from that background I sympathize with the way they reached their conclusions.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

DB:"The thesis is that there is a continuity from plants to simple animals, to complex animals, to humans."
I agree that we witness plants turning toward light, animals seeking nutrition and humans seeking rational ends. But we also witness plants, animals and humans with diseases that behave differently and destructively. Would you agree?

DB:"Perhaps we value only some of what we need, and perhaps we value some things we don't need. There are plenty of instances where human urgings have come apart from their biological origins---some are often discussed here! This is the price (if it is a price) we have paid for gaining conscious, rational cognition. Shades of Eden, perhaps. But I say it is not possible to draw a firm line between need and value."

I look at the first sentence in your quote and the last and I see tension. On one hand, perhaps what we value does not correspond with what we need, and on the other you say "it is not possible to draw a firm line between need and value". It seems you have draw a line of sorts.

David Brightly said...

I think of infectious disease as the environment temporarily getting the upper hand in the struggle for self-preservation. And an organism can carry imperfections which compromise its ability to survive.

Yes, as value evolves out of meed we get a sorites. This is typical of continuous systems.

William Brown said...

"I think a lot of people who would like to contribute get drowned out when a "food fight" starts."

I wish Vic Reppert would contribute. It's his blog after all. I subscribed partly because I read his book and was interested in what he has to say.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Yes, as value evolves out of meed we get a sorites. This is typical of continuous systems."

Since we Yanks and you Brits are separated by a common language, I can't tell if you mis-typed or actually meant meed and sorites. I had to look up sorites and found paradox, but meed could mean "deserved reward". Did you mean "out of need" we get paradox?

David Brightly said...

Sorry, typed for once on mobile phone. Should be 'need'. Sorites or paradox of the heap.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

OK, that makes sense. But why do you think it is typical of continuous systems to produce paradox?

David Brightly said...

Well, there's a continuum of phenomena. At one end the phenomena all satisfy the criteria for falling under the concept need and at the other end they all satisfy the criteria for being values. It's impossible to mark a point in the middle where there are only needs to the left and values to the right, as it were. Likewise with piles of sand grains. There is no size of pile such that all larger piles are heaps and all smaller piles are non-heaps. If humans evolved from apes is there a point where apeness ends and humanness begins?

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

Hmmm.

"It's impossible to mark a point in the middle where there are only needs to the left and values to the right, as it were."

"If humans evolved from apes is there a point where apeness ends and humanness begins?"

I think you mean that apes have needs but no values, at least not in the human sense. So maybe the question you are raising is more about whether this is a continuum of animated things rather than distinct "species"? I think just bringing this up could start a food fight. But here goes.

I don't think there really is a continuum but rather discrete distinct ranges of possibilities that animated things can fall into. Sort of like electrons can only end up in certain orbital shells around the nucleus of an atom.










David Brightly said...

Discrete distinct ranges of possibilities. At any one moment, Yes. But we are minutely different from our parents and our children minutely different from us. Over say 10M years the accumulated differences transform something apelike into us. Over that time ape needs transform into human values, though 'transform' hardly does the process justice. 'mushroom' might be better!

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"At any one moment, Yes. But we are minutely different from our parents and our children minutely different from us."

OK, so you mean viewed not as things currently are observed, but viewing all animated things from a single cell to the current state in the continuum of time. That in this sense, it can look like an unorganized heap.

But even viewed this way, is it truly a heap? I mean if there were no structure at all, why not centaurs or monopods? Are you familiar with breeding of animals?


David Brightly said...

I'm afraid I don't understand. You may have missed the point of the heap metaphor. If a characteristic changes discretely but very gradually from being A to being B, it's nigh on impossible to state when it ceases being A and starts being B. That's all.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"If a characteristic changes discretely but very gradually from being A to being B, it's nigh on impossible to state when it ceases being A and starts being B. That's all."

Then maybe what you think is a continuous "characteristic" like "value" is not continuous after all, and instead is discretely determined by each thing according to it's nature. You may have a theory that human morality developed gradually, but what evidence do we have of that? Where in history do we see this development?

David Brightly said...

Then the natures will be continuous, surely? No evidence in the archaeological record, of course. The best evidence is from studies of the behaviour of modern primates. They exhibit 'reciprocal altruism'. This might be seen as the starting point for the moral sentiments in humans.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

First, as you say, the archaeological record can show no evidence of this immaterial thing we're calling value. But even in the archaeological record, with respect to the physical characteristics of organisms, don't we see something like a tree structure with branches rather than an undifferentiated heap?

Physically, apes and humans are on different branches of that tree and come from a common ancestor, right? So contemporary apes and contemporary humans really have no continuity after the MRCA.

David Brightly said...

I'm afraid that the geometrical metaphor has caused more confusion than enlightenment. Apologies. Think of tracing your genealogy all the way back to a most recent ancestor A you (B) have in common with some chimpanzee C. There are two chains of descendants, from A down to the human B and from A down to the chimp C. If the A-->C chain can develop reciprocal altruism at some point, then maybe the A-->B chain can too, and this might further develop into human morality. The heap idea comes in if you think of lining up the individuals on the A-->B chain in order of descent. Adjacent individuals, just like heaps of sand differing by one grain, will be almost indistinguishable, but the end points, A and B, will be very different, just as a heap of one grain is very different from a heap of a million grains. The continuities run down the chains.

bmiller said...

The only evidence we have of "values" in a human sense starts around the time civilization started right? It really wasn't that long ago, relatively right?

Do you really think we are much different than human civilizations in the past?

David Brightly said...

The earliest stone tools go back about 3M years I believe. By then there must have been something that kept bands of hunter-gatherers together and stopped them killing each other. Settled agriculture and living in fixed cities goes back maybe ten thousand years. So I think these 'values' are much, much older than that.

bmiller said...

Well, 3M years ago is much older that Mitochondrial Eve or Y-chromosomal Adam. But of course even looking at some particular genetic signature doesn't mean that "humans" actually started there, only that these particular signatures started there. Humans are certainly more than just genetic signatures, which is kind of you point about "values" isn't it.