Monday, June 12, 2006

A blogger comments on the AFR debate

J. D. Walters, a new blogger, has some things to say about the Reppert-Carrier exchanges.


Edwardtbabinski said...

I read J.D.'s website and sent him a response you might find interesting that includes some articles you might wish to peruse or even share with some of your students:

Hi J.D.,
I noticed that Vic Reppert has mentioned your blog at his. I first met Vic Reppert after he contacted me concerning a book I had edited, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. I bet we have each read nearly everything Lewis wrote on religion (except perhaps some of his letters). Between ourselves we’ve also discussed Lewis’s AFR, along with a few other interesting arguments that Vic has pursued as a Christian philosopher. I though I would share with you some references you might want to add to your list concerning the AFR. Note the last piece about a 2004 meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers involving debates about personhood, including whether robots in the future might not be Christianized. Also note:

C. S. Lewis and the Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

The "Brain and Mind Question" and Christian Theistic Philosophers

Also see, Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Religion, Ed., Michael L. Peterson (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2004), produced by members of the Society of Christian Philosophers, featuring the question “Should a Christian Be A Mind-Body Dualist?” in which Dr. Lynne Rudder Baker (Univ. of Mass.) argues that Christians should reject mind-body dualism. Her contributions and arguments in that Christian debate also appear online:

Should a Christian Be a Mind-Body Dualist?—NO

Reply to Zimmerman’s ‘Should a Christian Be a Mind/Body Dualist?—YES’

Dr. Baker’s articles and books are listed at her university website.

Malcolm Jeeves is another Christian professor with an online article (published in Science & Christian Belief) in which he rejects dualism. See Reflections on the Neuropsychology of Thought and Action

Rev. Dr John Polkinghorne, considered by some to be “one of the greatest living writers and thinkers on science and religion” is another Christian who believes mind is an emergent property. He employs the nothing buttery phrase coined by D. M. MacKay, a brain physiologist and yet another Christian who argues in favor of mind-body emergence rather than dualism, and whose works are listed here.

Many Christians who accept evolution like Polkinghorne, also reject “mind-body” dualism. See this list of online resources produced by Christians who are pro-evolution. There have also been discussions of the topic of Christian dualism versus Christian monism on the listserv of the American Scientific Affiliation, an Evangelical Christian group that consists mainly of scientists (but which features a wide range of opinions).

Not just speaking of scientists, but there are also Christian theologians who view "mind-body" dualism as unbiblical and theologically unacceptable. See the book, Whatever Happened to the Soul?: Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998). The book’s editors include: Warren S. Brown, Professor of Psychology at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology and Adjunct Professor at UCLA's School of Medicine; Nancey Murphy, Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller; and, H. Newton Malony, Senior Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Fuller.

That reminds me, a Christian student told me in the college library a few years ago that he was transferring to a Presbyterian university in Great Britain, somewhere in Scotland I believe, where the Christian professors were apparently all anti-dualists. That student was enthusiastic about D. M. MacKay's writings. I do wish I'd remembered the name of the institution he mentioned.
Advances in Consciousness Research, part of an annual series that features articles by the world’s leading researchers.
A robot has been developed that appears to be able to distinguish between ‘itself’ and another robot, or even between ‘itself’ and a mirror image of ‘itself.’

Not that it's conscious, but would that matter if it functioned in a conscious-seeming fashion and had recognition abilities similar to our own? A Christian purchasing such robots could probably have a Christian-conversation chip installed in them so that the robots could speaking edifyingly about Christian matters to their owner--if that was the owner’s choice. Then again, such robots might also get it into their unconscious heads that making converts of human friends of their master as well as making converts of other robots was the thing to do to increase their master’s happiness, and there lies the future rub. *smile*
Can Robots Be Part of the Covenant? was a question debated at the 2004 Society of Christian Philosophers conference. In the view of Anne Foerst (visiting professor for theology and computer science and the director of NEXUS: The Religion & Science Dialogue Project at St. Bonaventure University), “Christianity is, at least potentially, the most inclusive of all religions.” If robots are able to participate in significant social relationships, then there is no reason why Christians should reject the participation of robots in the covenant God established first with Israel and later with Christ, she said. The inclusion of robots, if they are sufficiently capable of interacting with other in significant ways, is simply an extension of the inclusivity established in the Bible, she stated. The concept of “personhood” should be understood theologically and culturally, continued Foerst, who is also the “theological advisor” for the robots Cog and Kismet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Throughout both Testaments, she pointed out, there is a constant theme of decreasing exclusivity and breaking down barriers between groups.
Keeping up with A.I. and robotics:

The author of Digital Biology

Search these popular science sites under Artificial Intelligence, A-Life, Robots, here, and here.

International Society of Artificial Life


It is truly extravagant to define God, angels, and minds...when we do not know why we move our arms at will. Doubt is not a very agreeable state, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

I have a problem with the "C" word (i.e. consciousness), because no-one ever defines what it means. Those who do define it do so using other pieces of undefined terminology, and when you ask for definitions you find that they are circular. We all have a personal experience of something that we have agreed to call "consciousness", but this gives us only the illusion that we know what we are talking about.

Anyway, my own (unoriginal) view is that "consciousness" is an emergent property of a large network of interacting neurons. The network observes itself, because each part of the network interacts with other parts of the network, so the various parts of the network create a "virtual reality" for each other. It is not a big leap to then see how the experience that we call "consciousness" is one and the same as this "virtual reality". Also, the network is coupled to its external sensors (e.g. eyes, ears, etc), so the network's "virtual reality" is steered around by external inputs.

A corollary is that lots of different types of network can have "consciousness."

It may be the case that it is more fun to live with consciousness rather than to analyze it rationally.
--LuboŇ° Motl

Kind of like the difference between analyzing a joke and the joy of "getting it?"

Hmmm, I wonder how will people react if it should be proven beyond a doubt that the brain-mind is a sort of "machine?" Some will be crestfallen, exclaiming "We're only machines! Woe is us!" But others may react differently, exclaiming, "Fascinating! I never knew machines could do all that! Being conscious! Now we'll just have to explain our love of learning and search for knowledge as ‘auto- programming based on maximizing recursivity’ since now we know for sure we are machines.”—E.T.B. (paraphrasing Raymond Smullyan)
"Theism's Pyrrhic Victory" in The Southern Journal of Philosophy 40 : 4 (2002) by Paul Jude Naquin, Louisiana State Univ.--Naquin's paper addresses Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism in Warrant and Proper Function. "The goal of this essay is to show that traditional theism suffers from a malady similar to the one that Plantinga claims to find in metaphysical naturalism."

See also: The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner

Steven Carr said...

'scientists like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins don't get away with dismissing religion as an aberration and an illusion while holding their beloved science immune to evolutionary criticism.'

You mean that if Dennett critises Scientology, you point out to him that , by the same token, he cannot claim that his TV is working?

I don't think that people can criticise others, when their worldview is based on trying to work out what part of a book containing a talking donkey and a talking snake can be relied upon.

Steven Carr said...

And, of course, neither Dennett nor Dawkins hold their beloved science 'immune' to evolutionary criticism.

But hey, why should people bother to report their view accurately?

Steven Carr said...

' If, as Dennett maintains (in Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Breaking the Spell) all our thinking consists of memes in action which spread and reproduce irrespective of their truth value, what makes us so sure that science is an accurate means to obtain knowledge?'

Where does Dennett say that 'all our thinking consists of memes in action which spread and reproduce themselves irrespective of their truth value'?

Quote please.

As for classifying Balaam as a folk-tale.. That is true, but the author of 2 Peter did not think that way. He regarded it as history.

It is not I who cannot tell myth from reality, but the people who believed and recounted miracle reports about Jesus.

Steven Carr said...

'See Denis Alexander's "Rebuilding the Matrix" for an evolutionary biologist's argument for a theistic framework for science.'

I've seen that book.

He doesn't have an argument for a theistic framework for science.

He doesn't have a framework for science that makes God a factor that will appear in a science paper.

No more than people can come up with a framework for science that uses the concept of 'karma'.

Steven Carr said...

' Apparently you are also not aware of the venerable theological tradition, starting with St Paul, of "progressive revelation" in which, as is the case with science, a people's knowledge of God and of His world can be refined and enhanced over time.'

Our understanding of the God of the Bible has indeed been refined and enhanced over time, and we now know that he is a product of a superstitious, credulous populous who thought that donkeys could talk if there was a God.

Steven Carr said...

'Check out this article:'

Read it.

And it confirms that you were just lying when you said 'Dennett maintains (in Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Breaking the Spell) *all* our thinking consists of memes in action which spread and reproduce *irrespective of their truth value*.....'

Even in the article you give, Dennett says nothing to imply that a true idea may not spread more rapidly than a false idea.

Steven Carr said...

'For example, he says at some point in DDI (I don't have the book in front of me) that "a librarian is simply a library's way of making more libraries".'

Don't you understand metaphor? Or the idea of putting something in as stark a fashion as possible to get the reader to think about whether it is true or not?

Or understand that Numbers was written to be regarded as history?

Anonymous said...

jd walters said:

"Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins don't get away with dismissing religion as an aberration and an illusion while holding their beloved science immune to evolutionary criticism"

"Finally, I'd appreciate it if you don't accuse me of misrepresenting other people's points of view. Intellectual debate goes best when you don't resort to ad hominem attacks. If you think I misrepresent someone, tell me how I do so (which you did not, other than to just deny what I said)."

You have yet to provide a single quote showing that either Dennett or Dawkins think science is immune to evolutionary criticism. As Steven Carr has already pointed out, looks like you have followed the usual path of other Christian apologist's in distorting those two men's philosophies.

Anonymous said...

"That said, who cares if the author of St Peter thought that the story of Balaam's ass really happened?"

You might be surprised at the number of conservative Christians who care very much.

Also, based on my experience in talking with many of those conservative Christians, they would look at your interpretation of scripture as being at best intellectually dishonest, at worst as heretical.

Anonymous said...

JD Walters said:
“Obviously you didn't even bother to read any of my previous quotes in this comment column. I do give a source for Dawkins (from "The Devil's Chaplain"), an essay in which while he describes the 'virus' of religious thought as irrational and a product of evolution, when it comes to science he vehemently denies that science is in any way like a mental virus, instead it follows rational rules of propagation and is based on free and intelligent thought.”

On the contrary, I did read what you quoted earlier and what you have now written. It does not follow that because science is not like a virus, that it is not as much a product of evolution as religion. Science never could have developed if a brain hadn’t evolved to engage in its practice!
The only thing I have been able to deduce from your quotes is that Mr. Dawkins believes that the brain is capable of irrational and rational behavior. I don’t really get what you find so objectionable about that. Is it the fact that religion is basically an irrational activity, while science is not?

Steven Carr said...

'Given that both religious and scientific thought are from the same organ using similar cognitive tools to arrive at their respective conclusions....'

Scientology and Pythagoras Theorem were arrived at by similar methods....?

What is this?