Thursday, April 27, 2006

What's wrong with the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter

My problem with the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter is that its title seems to trivialize the issue of evolution. It sounds a lot like "How to Demolish Materialism is Six Easy Lessons from the Comfort of Your Own Home." or "Blow Away Resurrection Skeptics In Your Spare Time."

This paper, by Doug Groothuis, makes the point very clearly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter

Here it is online. The Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter. At least he didn't call it Evil-ution. With Christians like these.....

A quote from John Dupre

Why does eliminativism upset get people upset? A quote from John Dupre's book The Disorder of things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993) p. 158:

"Folk psychology provides us with the entire resources of language for making subtle distinctions between an indefinite array of mental states. this is one of the main things that language is for, and on eof the things that language users, especially the most talented users, are most skilled at applying it to. One should be astounded and even appalled at the scientistic arrogance that supposes that the dry and highly specialized technical terminology of an esoteric subfield of science should supplant the instrument developed over centuries by the efforts of Shakespeare, Dante, and Dostoevsky--to speak only of the West--and millions of others to describe the subtelties of the human mind."

The Chinese Room

Josh wrote:
Dr. Reppert,

I was wondering if in the course of debating the AFR, you use Searles disproof of strong AI as a defeater to the mind/computer objection. I see that Carrier brought up this objection on the Secular Web, but I don't remember seeing it. Do you think that it is not an applicable undercutting defeater?



Of course Searle himself would not endorse the conclusion of the Argument from Reason. But it is true that if Searle's argument works, it makes life easier for the defender of the AFR. And I do think Searle has it right. But it is a demanding chore to convince a naturalist like, say, Blue Devil Knight that Searle isn't nuts. On the other hand, Searle says "If you are tempted to functionalism, I believe you do not need refutation, you need help." One can only imagine what he thinks of eliminativists!

More clarifications on eliminativism

I think we have actually made some progress in making sense of eliminativism, in the sense that we have a clear definition of eliminativism as the view that propositional attitudes are embedded in folk psychology, a false theory whose posits will be eliminated in a matured neuroscience.

We have also agreed that eliminativism faces some problems in construing its philsoophy as genuinely realist. Traditionally, a scientific realist is committed to the truth, as opposed to merely the empirical adequacy, of scientific theories. But if having a true theory means having true beliefs, we have a problem. The Churchlands, like Steven Stich and William Lycan, in the late 80s and early 90s, were moving toward a pragmatism that dethrones truth. Of course, Churchland proclaimed that new theories would provide us some thing better than truth, but what would that be, something more true that truth? Dennett had argued on pragmatic grounds for folk psychology while denying that it was ultimately true. But if truth is replaced by something pragmatic, then these justifications for FP are as good as there can be. As I wrote in 1991:

"The dethronement of truth opens up the possibility of a much looser form of pragmatism: a non-propositional cognitive science may be the best way to go, propsotional attitude attributions are prefectly justified in other contexts, and there just isn't any question of limning the true and ultimate structure of reality. This may not be acceptable to eliminativists like Churchland, but one would like ot know why not."

Belief in the unity of science, for example, which is one of Churchland's fundamental commitments, is undermined by going pragmatist.

However, it is now suggested that perhaps a non-propostional concept of accuracy can save eliminativism. I'm not sure it makes sense; i think the concepts used are parasitic upon the older "folk' concepts. But that is what is at issue.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Some loose ends on eliminativism

Hiero5ant: On most of these, I have been putting links to the previous discussion, but there may have been a few I missed. I should set up the links to track back so that people can read the whole discussion backward if necessary.

Tim: A finite rational mind that needs to explain rationality may be limited in its resources and even in its motivations. Even on theism and dualism, we have human minds and not divine ones. We have the ability to see logical relationships, to string those perceptions together into an inference opens us up for error.

Kip: Are you saying that we cannot be aware of something unless we are aware of it through sense experience? Do we have good reason to believe that everything we are immediately aware of, whatever is directly evident, is given to us through a sensory modality?

BDK: I would like to work through the eliminativism issue a bit more systematically, working through Hasker's, to my mind, outstanding critique, with some supplementation from Angus Menuge's Agents Under Fire. In the process I'd like to try to explain why some of the responses to EM have been as vehement as they have been, hopefully giving you a chance to see if the critics are guilty of misunderstandings.

I am working my way back through your old posts to see if you have provided some explanation of why a opposing Fodorian representationalism is treated as sufficient for a critique of propositional attitude psychology. But I have to pick up my copy of Neurocomputational Perspective from the college's Inter-Library Loan.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I don't believe I'm still keeping this up

Blue Devil Knight said...
You are right that truth and the like hasn't been a focus for the EMers from the get-go. They have spent a lot of time on more basic questions about the dynamics of neural nets and the like, without thinking as much about normative issues. This would have been a great criticism about ten years ago.

But as I've said a couple of times now, they do think brains construct models of the world, and these models can be closer or further from reality.

For example, I think the contents of my visual experience are a model of the world (a nonpropositional model of what is happening in the "specious present" to evoke activity in my retinae). This model can be inaccurate (illusions) or accurate (we are very good at determining if two lines are parallel). What does this concept of a model's fit to the world leave out that you want with truth?

I do not experience propositional contents directly, or if I do, I don't know they are propositional. I engage in verbal imagery, imagining myself or others saying things. I often have a feeling of understanding when I engage this sensory imagery. I sometimes have no such feeling of understanding, as when I listen to someone speaking in Portugese.

That feeling of understanding may indicate that there are propositional contents which I have (unconsciously?) "grasped". I prefer to stay neutral: I have an understanding of the statements, and frankly don't make confident psychological claims about the basis of my understanding. I am an agnostic. EMers are atheists. Propositional devotees are theists.

If a person can be in a state of understanding a proposition, isn't that a propositional attitude?

The problem with talking about models is that models aren't really models unless they are recognized as models, and once they are recognized as models, you have a relationship between some state of the person and a state of affairs, and if the person is a language user, the person is capable of stating, at least if asked, what they see. I construct sentences in my mind before writing typing them in, just like this one.

Have these neurophilosophers explained what verisimilitude is? And doesn't accurate just mean truthful? The problem here is that I know what an accurate model is because I understand what truth is. The whole thing feeds of the very folk psychology which presumably has been condemned. A model is accurate just in case if gives me lots of true beliefs. It's inaccurate if it doesn't.

All we seem to be getting here is an analogy to physical vision. The analogy has some strengths, but some things aren't a whole lot like physical vision. Shoot, I have other senses as well, and those are somewhat different from physical vision. And I can say that I "see" a logical connection between three sentences when I solve a syllogism, but that makes sense just in case I have propositional attitudes.

We keep being told that what we are being given is 1) not propositional but 2) does all the work of propositional attitudes. If it's does all the work of propositional attitudes, then why isn't it a propositional attitude. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, why call it a goose?

Ask an eliminativist or eliminativist sympathizer a question, and you will be given all sorts of scientific detail about the latest discoveries, but as if these answered the fundamental philosophical question, when they really do no such thing. Back where I come from, this is called a smokescreen.

It seems pretty clear to me that I am as directly and immediately aware of what I believe as I am directly and immediately aware of the computer screen in front of me. I know what my sentences mean. If I didn't, there would be not much point in debating this stuff.

Being told that there are no beliefs strikes me as something like being told that we are brains in a vat. Even though there is a self-refutation argument to the effect that we are not brains in vats, (Putnam's) most epistemologists would argue that we are entitle to dismiss the skeptic about the external world without being able to prove the skeptic wrong. It seems to me that, even in the absence of a good self-refutation argument against EM (the structure of which I will be presenting in future posts) we have good reason to reject EM for much the same reason. If it's true, then most of what I believe is false and it's the end of the world.

Ament's Essays: Book Review - The Problem of Pain

Ament's Essays: Book Review - The Problem of Pain

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Jason Pratt on Pianka


this may be worth posting more generally than in a comment thread. (But
you think I should post it there instead, let me know.)


Bringing data up to date while prepping for a more general post on the
topic later (to be emailed to Victor).

Jim, I agree: _so far_ I see no specific evidence that Pianka is an
advocate of intentionally doing this. As I told Steven, I'm actually
quite glad about that.

Yes, the Seguin transcript (of the 2nd speech on March 31st) and Mims'
report (of the 1st speech in early March) are off on some points (as I
noted, though not in detail). This could be explained in a number of
different ways, many of them more-or-less in Pianka's favor.

(I will note that until recently I haven't read any other articles by
the Seguin Gazette on the controversy, only the transcript link provided by
Steven, for which again I thank him. As those articles are about
reporting opinions pro and con on the lectures, I consider them less important;
I'drather work on the primary data, insofar as it can be had.)

I agree, having an actual recording (and transcript) of Pianka's speech
early in March would be helpful. Since we don't have it, though, we're
kind of vaporing in trying to discuss it; which is one reason why I
suggested doing a principle-comparison between Pianka (using the late-March
transcript) and Carlson instead.

The transcript available on Pearcey's website is, as Nick Matzke
himself points out, "partial". In point of fact, it matches up fairly well to
the final five minutes or so of the fuller transcript from March
31st--which, in the content of its speech, seems to incorporate some bits from the
Q&A session earlier in the month. If the structure of the two speeches are
parallel (and I have no reason yet to doubt they wouldn't be); then the
parts that people are mainly complaining about (or hailing as radical),
in misunderstanding or otherwise, would have occurred _before_ this
section--as the transcribed lead-in itself indicates.

It is also interesting, that the tape recording (per the transcript)
kicks in precisely _after_ the portions that Mims was (mostly) complaining
about (using the 2nd transcript as a basis comparison.) I'm curious as to how
NP got hold of the transcript and/or the audio tape from which the
transcript comes. Possibly someone knows this already, but I haven't found it yet.
Info would be welcome. Mims says, in his letter to the TAoS, early April,
that he has access to the tape.

BDK says he has read transcript from the _videos_ of both talks; and
claims video was in fact taken of the first talk (which he's very glad
of)--though the link he sent doesn't contain this or even mention it (neither does the Pearcey article Matzke links to). Perhaps this information is in the
comments below Matzke's blog entry, and I missed it? (Entirely
possible, but some clarification would be appreciated if so.)

Something else I would expect to be useful, would be Mims' response to
reading the St. Edwards transcript. (Anyone have info on this?)

The link Jim posted to Panda's Thumb (for the statement by the TAoS)
still doesn't work, btw, as of today (April 18th, about 11 CST). Not sure
that's important, but a new link would be appreciated. (Possibly Panda's Thumb
removed it because it violated copyright law.)

Also, the Seguine Gazette's transcript of the second lecture now
appears to be completely gone (as of April 18th): a search on their site turned up
three articles on the dispute, but _not_ the transcript itself, nor any
explanation for its disappearance. (I suspect legal issues; but it
while it would be nice to have that confirmed, there would be equally legal reasons
why the paper couldn't say so officially, since that would be
considered an admission of infringement in court.)

Fortunately, Google has kept a snapshot of it; I would post the link,
but the address is terribly long. I've now saved it, though, in case it
disappears, too. (Again, possibly for legal reasons, since transcripts
nominally would be at least co-property of the various universities.)

If another site is now hosting the second transcript, such as St.
Edwards, a link would be appreciated so that others can still have access to it.
Otherwise, I'll try copy-pasting the Google archive link to an html
artifact here (though I'm not very good at that, and the size of the
address is kind of daunting me {s}); or I'll send Victor a text of the
transcript for him to post up (at least until lawyers warn him of
copyright infringement. {g})

Finally, the link found and posted by Jim to a statement from Pianka on
the topic is much appreciated. (I suppose it's dated after all this
started?--no way to tell on the page itself, or its root page,

At least three topics for serious discussion occur to me; at least two
of which I will try to cover in a longer forthcoming letter.

a.) what, in the primary data we have at hand (such as it is), can we
find that may shed light (being as charitable as possible to Mims as well as
to Pianka) on why Mims went as ballistic as he has about this (followed by
Carlson of all people)?

b.) what are the points of similarity and disjunction between Pianka
(especially with an eye to the lecture series, though not forgetting
the qualifying entry on Pianka's website which Jim provided for us) and
Carlson (the hardline atheistic evolutionist who is criticising Pianka,
specifically on evolutionary and anti-theistic grounds)?

c.) the controversy leads into the question of what it means to be better
than a bacterium, and in what ways. For example, it appears to me that
one point of similarity shared by Pianka (in both transcripts, as well as
his qualifying post) and Carlson; is that _both_ of them make appeals to
humans which presuppose some kind of transcendent superiority (not merely
effectual) for humans, while also strenuously denying any such thing
can be true about humans compared to any other naturally produced species. (Which of course would include, as Pianka did put it, bacteria.) A discussion of this, though it may be done somewhat separate from the Pianka
situation, would seem to be worth having.


Eliminative Materialism and Neuroscientific Successors

BDK wrote:
To lie is to know X is false, but to assert X anyway. The EM advocate would just say that knowledge is a property of internal nonpropositional representational states that can be true or false, or if you prefer, can provide a better or worse fit to the world. This, of course, is the positive story Churchland has been developing with his state space semantics, or recently he's been calling it 'domain portrayal' semantics.

VR: OK so you can have a nonpropositional representational case that a proposition is false? I'm sorry, but that sounds like burning water, military intelligence, jumbo shrimp and compassionate conservatism. If I am in a state that can be true or false, that state is to all intents and purposes a propositional attitude.

BDK: Victor, you keep giving indirect arguments. What about the contents of your visual experience: are they propositional?

VR: I can see something without having any propositional thoughts. But my visual experience invariably gives rise to propositional thoughts.

BDK: 2) They are nonpropositional. In this case, what is to be feared if all contents are nonpropositional in a similar way? Our visual experience is extremely rich, much more thick and nuanced than can be described in a few words. Perhaps most of our brain uses a similar high-capacity, parallel, nonpropositional representational format, and linguistic tokens are anemic reflections of such rich internal contents.

VR: At the end of the day, I am trying to account for my own experience. And I am aware of all sorts of propositional thoughts. I am aware of the meaning of the sentence I just wrote. I am aware of what I mean when I am presented with a definition of eliminative materialism. Not every part of my mental life is propositional but by golly a lot of it is, especially my entire career as a blogger.

What the Churchlands do is say that they are replacing propositional attitudes with something that they describe in non-propositional terms that fits more nicely with what a brain scientists sees (or the ultimate brain scientist will see) when you look at the brain. Then when you ask them how what is going on has anything to do with knowledge as you know and understand it, and they then tell you that, well, of course this neuroscientific description is what knowledge really is, and that you shouldn't worry about what is going to happen to knowledge, or the distincition between telling the truth and lying, or what have you. It all seems like double-talk to me.

Lynne Baker writes: Throughout, he conflates views on the nature of knowledge and views on the mechanisms that encode it.
Connectionism, if true, may falsify sentences-in-the-brain models of internal mechanisms, but all that would follow is that propositions and propositional attitudes should not be understood in terms ofsentences-in-the-brain. Throughout, the (plausible) claim that if connectionism is true, then sentences-in-the-brain models are false is elided with the distinct (and implausible) claim that if connectionism is true, then knowledge is nonpropositional. [This footnote is taken from my review of Churchland's A Neurocomputational Perspective. The review appeared in The Philosophical Review 101 (1992):906-908.]

Lynne Baker on brain states

Lynne Rudder Baker is a critic of physicalism but a materialist in some sense. She has also developed some of the more sophisticated versions of the self-refutation argument against eliminative materialIism/ have her papers page here, which has a link to a pdf paper entitled "Are Beliefs Brain States,"

Raffaele Ventura on Aquinas' Third Way

A simple question for eliminative materialism

A good deal of political dialogue today depends on whether one affirms:

1) Senior Bush administration officials made false statements about weapons of mass distruction in Iraq.


2) Senior Bush administration officials lied about weapons of mass destruntion in Iraq.

Folk psychology would explain this difference by saying that in 2, but not 1, affirms that senior Bush officials believed these statements were false when they made them. How would an eliminative materialist explain the difference?

This is the Wikipedia entry for eliminativism

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Interview of me on

I was interviewed on tape for the Reasons to Believe program by Ken Samples. The broadcasts should be available here. They will be running segments of our interview and then having some discussion afterward. I've been told it will be a couple of weeks before this is up. Will keep you posted.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Is refuting eliminative materialism like rolling a drunk?

Bill Vallicella wrote, in one of his eliminativism posts: EM is so patently absurd that I must ask myself: Is it a good use of my time to beat up a cripple or roll a drunk?

It's probably not that easy, because it's pretty difficult to get your mind around what the eliminativists are up to if you are unsympathetic to naturalism or materialism. I think, at the end of the day, self-refutation-style arguments do work.

I still consider William Hasker's critique of eliminativism in the first chapter of The Emergent Self to be the best critique of eliminativism that I have read.

The definition of eliminative materialism

This is from the founding essay on eliminative materialism "Eliminative Materialism and Propositional Attitudes, by Paul Churchland, from Journal of Philosophy 78 no. 2 (1981)

"Eliminative materialism is the thesis that our commonsense conception of psychological phenomena constitutes a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than merely reduced, by completed neuroscience."

Here the idea that folk psychology is a theory is built right into the definition of eliminative materialism. Has anything been written since to suggest that this claim that folk psychology is a theory should be written into the definition of EM?

On what Pianka really thinks

This came up in the comment line of a previoius entry, in response to a link provided by Jim Lippard on what Pianka really is up to. I put this on the comments line but it really deserves its own entry.

The main point is this: the profound concern about Pianka's statements depend upon taking literally some statements he makes to the effect that human life per se does not have greater value than the life of bacteria and lizards. If you believe that, and if you think, ss he does, that human beings in their current numbers threaten the health of the ecosystem, then you have constructed a case for eliminating human beings in large numbers, whether you wanted to be doing that or not. But what is his value theory? Was he really saying that human life is not more valuable than the life of bacteria???

If he wasn't then he simply needs to be more clear. If hwe was, then, then this is too scary for words.

In my original comment I wrote:

All of these claims may be what he thinks. But what is upsetting to me is the claims his denial, or apparent denial of the intrinsic value of human life. I mean, if you make all these Malthusian predictions and then you say that human life is not valuable but biodiversity is, then you provide the underpinnings for an argument in favor of "rooting for viruses," if not turning them loose, even if you do not draw the conclusions yourself.

I conclude, therefore, that the responses of Mims and Carlson are understandable and based on something. Pianka does say things like "What good are you?" and "We're no better than bacteria." I can imagine things he might mean by it that would not lead to the sorts of dreadful results that come out of all of this, but perhaps all he is guilty of is a regrettable lack of clarity.

Douglas Groothius on evidence for Easter

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

This, of course, is what it's all about.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Joe Markus on Michael Martin, again

Hello Professor Reppert,

Happy Easter! I hope you are having a pleasant Easter weekend.

If you don't mind indulging me, I'd like to make one more argument regarding Michael Martin's fall-back position in his book Atheism.

As you know, Martin argues, based on a reformulated verificationist criterion of meaning, that theism is likely factually meaningless--that is, neither true nor false. But in an effort to cover all his bases, he argues later in the book that IF it should turn out that theism is factually meaningful then it is likely that God does not exist. He attemps to support the latter claim by presenting several atheistic teleological arguments, several arguments that the concept of God is incoherent, and some arguments based upon evil.

In his own words:

"My position is something like this. Yes, "God exists" is probably meaningless. But I am not completely sure. If I am wrong, there is still no reason to believe in God (negative atheism) and good reason not to (positive atheism). So my argumentative strategy reflects to some extent my actual belief. I would believe that God does not exist if "God exists" is not meaningless (which it may not be)."

My new argument against the fall-back position is really fairly short and simple. If theism is PROBABLY neither true nor false then it is probably not false (and probably not true). If it is probably not false then any argument which suggests that it is false must be unsound or in some way less than cogent. Now Martin's position may not be strictly inconsistent. But I do submit that there is a tension here. I believe that his arguments for the factual meaninglessness of theism tend to counter his arguments that it is false. Insofar as he believes his argument for the factual meaninglessness of theism is cogent, he must believe his arguments for the falsity of theism are less than cogent.

Consider an example. Suppose I offer an argument that the activity of photons are probably neither moral nor immoral. Then later I offer an argument that their activity is immoral. I could say that my position is not inconsistent because I have only claimed that it is PROBABLE that moral concepts don't apply to photons. To allow myself a fall-back position, I might offer an argument that IF moral concepts do happen to apply to photons then their activity is immoral---offering an argument for the latter claim. Doesn't my argument that moral concepts do not apply to electrons tend to cast doubt on the cogency of my argument that electrons are immoral?

It looks like the core of my argument involves something like this:

"It is probable that X is neither A nor B" ENTAILS "It is probable that X is not B."

That principle seems true. For example, if it's probable that (A) "Joe is neither short nor bald" then it is probable that (B) "Joe is not bald".

If someone argues that A is probably true, how can they later argue that B is probably false without giving up their argument for A?

It seems to work with this sort of example but I'm not sure it would work in the case of Martin's argument. Would it work with claims about the application of the concepts of truth and falsity? Maybe.

Anyway, that's the gist of my argument.

I'd appreciate any comments. Thanks for your time.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

A dialogue on the free will problem

On Johnny-Dee's blog.

A further response to the Gospel of Judas tripe

Some research on the Shroud of Turin

More dialogue with BDK on Churchland

Blue Devil Knight wrote:

Under those assumptions, EM would make knowledge impossible (not just scientific knoweldge!). So, if EM is true, either knowledge is not possible, or the above philosophical account of knowledge gets it wrong. Which seems more likely? Perhaps it would just point out that philosophy needs an epistemology that is actually sensitive to neuropsychological details, not just detritus from the days of philosophical conceptual analysis.

But I believe I do know what knowledge is. Justified true belief may not be sufficient, but it is a darn good start. Amplification of my understanding of knowledge based on neuroscience is one thing. Being given a scientific story that essentially changes the subject and calling that an account of knowledge is a completely different thing. I like the way Fodor put it:

If it isn’t literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying ..., if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.

A Theory of Content and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: Bradford Books/MIT Press, (1990) p. 156.

Luckily for progress, most scientists make free use of math, language, words such as "truth", and the like, without worrying about their ultimate ontology or truth-conditions. Does using X imply an implicit endorsement of certain philosophical ideas about X? Clearly not.

Clearly yes, it seems to me, unless a face-saving alternative analysis is on the horizon. And not a subject-changing one. If I am going to argue with you, I am presupposing that there are arguments, and that it is logically possible for you to be persuaded by them. Otherwise, I'll try brainwashing.

As for Churchland's view, Paul is a realist with a pragmatic attitude (his first book, Scientific Realism and Plasticity of mind, lays this out, as he also does in his edited volume Images of Science, where he and a bunch of people gang up on van Frasen).

How he handles truth, or its mental homologue, is that it is a mapping between brain models and the world. Such models can match up better or worse. We make such judgments all the time in science (how well does our model fit the data). The internal brain models are not propositional, but high-dimensional internal neuronal maps (exactly analogous to street maps: it isn't the intrinsic features of the street map that are important, but the metric relations among features of the street map).

From reading the van Fraassen essay it looked as if "realism" was simply a refusal to accept a van Fraassen-style non-realism in which we treat scientific claims about observables as true and claims about unobservables as only empirically adequate. Churchland rejects that distinction, so that makes him a realist??? Truth, as we know it and understand it traditionally, seems to be explicitly set aside. Yes, there can be better or worse mappings from a pragmatic standpoint, but it is the utility of those maps, and not the correspondence between the propositional contents and reality, that make it real knowledge as opposed to not knowledge.

As an aside, if you are that much of a pragmatist, how do you resist Pascal's Wager?

One more thing. Churchland thinks that, because our future psychology, which will dovetail with neuroscience, will be much more pragmatically useful than belief-desire psychology. Its explanatory resources will be much richer, and people will willingly abandon the explanitorily anemic resources of propositional-attitude psychology mainly because it is more useful for understanding their own minds and behavior.

No thank you. I think I'll pass on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More on eliminative materialism

Blue Devil Knight wrote: The most important part of all their work (Sellars, Rorty, Feyerabend, the Churchlands) is that our psychological theories do not self-verify, as some people would claim (e.g., those who like to say that their propositional attitudes are just "given": this is the whole point of Sellars' great work Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind). This fact, that we don't know how our minds work by inspection, has interesting consequences.

But doesn't the very operation of science presuppose that humans have perceive the truth of certain propositions; mathematical, observational, and inferential? If we are just wrong about our mental processes, so much so that we think we have propositional attitudes but really don't doesn't that undermine at least the traditional conception of science as the pursuit of truth.

But, as I remember when I wrote my reply to Bill Ramsey on the self-refutation argument, that Paul Churchland (In A Neurocomputational Perspective) was redefining science in pragmatist terms and was ready to get rid of the notion of truth. But pragmatism, it seems to me, puts folk psychology in the driver's seat for sure. Even if you think folk psychology isn't true, you at least have to admit it's pragmatically useful.

I remember spending a number of mornings in Carrow's Restaurant near my house poring over NCP, and thinking that his radical philosophy of mind and radical philosophy of science probably don't go together very well.

Here's the reference for my reply to Ramsey.

Reppert, V. 1991. Ramsey on eliminativism and self-refutation. Inquiry

Mims defended

This is an article defending Mims against the charge of misrepresentation. But it doesn't look as if Pianka advocated setting the ebola virus loose. His claim is, I think, that we have to control the population before viruses do it for us. So he supports something like the forced abortion one-child policy they have in China.

However, if you believe that there is no intrinsic value to human life as opposed to other life, and you think that what does have intrinsic value is biodiversity, you think that human population needs to drop a few billion people in order to insure the best chance for biodiversity, you have the power to launch the ebola virus in order to achieve this biodiversity goal, do you then have any reason not to do so? Suppose you were in a room with Pianka*, someone who has adopted Pianka's ideas and pushed them to this logical conclusion. It reminds me a little of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, a movie in which a philosophy professor is shocked to discover that two of his students have used his nihilistic philosophical ideas as a pretext for murder.

I'm more concerned about the underlying ethical convictions behind what Pianka said than I am with the question of whether he said "Yes, we ought to go do this." Ideas have consequences, and these ideas have scary consequences, whether Pianka has drawn those consequences or not.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Carrier vs. Wanchick-here's you're chance to lobby the judge

I am a judge on this debate for the Secular Web. Although I'm a theist, and Carrier is my most prolific (or perhaps prolix) critics, I am going to be careful to give both sides fair consideration. Wanchick is a Christian blogger at The Good Fight.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Vallicella on whether folk psychology is a theory

An essential dimension on eliminative materialism, and, I believe, the element that determines whether eliminative materialism is open to a self-refutation charge, is the claim that folk psychology is a theory. According to EM, propositional attitudes are theoretical entities in a theory to explain observable behavior. If this is conceded, then the advocate of EM will argue that we have to be open to the possibility that these theoretical posits could be replaced by posits that are more scientifically adequate. Those who think eliminative materialism is self-refuting also typically challenge the claim that folk psychology is a theory.

But, to me, it seems very clear that at least some propositional attitudes, like my desiring a steak dinner, are not theoretical posits, but are rather states of affairs of which I can be, and am, directly aware.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Some Comments on Comments

I've given some thought to my rather open comments policy, but I really do believe in keeping an open intellectual atmosphere. Further, I am convinced that people making up their minds what to believe are influenced as much by the kind of person a belief makes you as they are the with the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments presented, which may be not be easy to assess. So if you are committed to an ideology that is deeply at variance with my own, and you want to be a jerk about presenting your position, my reaction is "Go ahead. Make my day. Take all the rope you like and hang yourself." The fact that I might not delete a comment does not mean that I approve of it or the tone in which it was presented. I do not feel that I am obliged to comment on everyone's comments, so if I don't respond please don't be so egotistical as to suppose that your comment is so brilliant that I am "ducking" you. If you start saying things like that I may indeed show you the door. I may fail to respond because I don't have time, or because I feel I need to think for awhile, or sometimes because I really don't think it deserves an answer.

I think people have an obligation to their own beliefs to defend them in a ladylike of gentlemanly fashion. This, of course, does not exclude passionate advocacy of what you believe.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Barbara Montero on Conservation

Here is a paper by Barbara Montero arguing against the argument from conservation for physicalism. HT: Joe Markus.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Mere Christianity Book IV ch 2

Book II Chapter 2
The Three-Personal God
These chapters are an attempt to provide an understanding of the Trinity
The Trinity is regarded as a mystery, not something that is transparent to human understanding.
When Eldridge Cleaver was in prison he received catechism classes from the nuns. They asked students to give an account of the Trinity, with the idea of showing that the Trinity could not be understood. But Cleaver thought he did understand the Trinity. “It’s just like Three In One Oil.”
Some people say “I believe in God, but not a personal God.” Christians actually believe that the God of Christianity is more than a mere person
Other religions see God as less than personal, only Christianity sees God as more than personal.
Some religions say that human souls are absorbed into God; what that means is that the person ceases to exist.
It is only Christians who claim that we can be taken into the life of God without ceasing to be ourselves.
Our attempt to imagine a three-personal God is like someone who lives in a two-dimensional world trying to understand three-dimensional figures.
People had an idea of God, then encountered Jesus, who claimed to be God.
The theology is built around experiential knowledge.
But it is a theoretical framework to make sense of what we experience
“It is the simple religions that are the made up ones.”
Our understanding is based on the “lens” we have working for us, we can only see God if our mirror is clean.
The Christian community is the “laboratory tools” for coming to know God.

More Mere Christianity Notes

Chapter 12 Faith
Dealing with faith in the second, higher, sense.
The question of faith in this sense arises when someone has tried his level best to practice the Christian virtues, and discovers that he has not been successful, and discovers that his own efforts only give back to God what comes from God already.
Reiterates that what God wants is not actions of a certain sort, but people having a certain sort of character.
It’s not a matter of bargaining, of claims and counterclaims between God and humans. So long as we are thinking in those terms we cannot be in a right relationship to God
We have to discover all of this by experience; any child can say we have nothing to offer God except His own, but the life of a Christian is a discovery of this truth.
As a result we must “leave it to God,” that depend on Christ to share with us the perfect obedience his lived out at his crucifixion
Is faith more important than works?
Which blade of the scissors is more important? Real faith arises in the context of wanting and trying to do the right thing and realizing that, apart from God’s grace, failure is complete.
Christianity begins from the moral code but is ultimately about a relationship with God that goes beyond mere morality.

Book III Chapter 1
Making and Begetting
Lewis attempts to provide an account of the doctrine of the Trinity.
“Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say ‘The ordinary man does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion.” I have rejected their advice. Theology means “the science of God” and I think any man who wants to think about God at all wants the most accurate ideas about Him that are available. You are not children, why should you be treated as children?”

Some people say that since they have experienced God, they have no need of theology.
Sure, the experience of the Atlantic Ocean is more vivid at the beach than it is looking at a map, but a map will get you to New York, while experiencing the beach will not.

Theology is practical because a lot of common ideas about what Christianity is about are false.

Popular Idea: Jesus Christ was a great moral teacher and that if only we took his advice we might be able to establish a better social order and avoid another war. That’s quite true, but it is less than the whole truth about Christianity and of no practical value at all.
We have always had lots of good advice and have not followed the advice of the greatest moral teachers. Why should we be able to follow Christ when we can’t even follow Confucius?

Christians claim that:
1) Christ is the son of God
2) This who give Him their confidence become sons of God
3) His death saves us from our sins

These statements are, of course difficult. So is modern physics.
Christianity says that when we attach ourselves to Christ we become sons of God. People find that confusing. Aren’t we sons of God already?

Christ, the son of God, is begotten, not made. Humans receive a certain kind of life as created beings (bios), and another kind of life (zoe).