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.

21 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,
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.
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Advances in Consciousness Research, part of an annual series that features articles by the world’s leading researchers.
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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*
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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.
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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
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QUOTATIONS

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.
--Voltaire

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."
--Steve

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

JD Walters said...

Hi Ed,

Thanks for the response and the resources. Maybe I should clarify my position a bit, though. I am not a mind-body dualist and I do not consider the AFR to be an argument for dualism. I fall into the non-reductive materialist category myself, as expounded in Nancey Murphy's "Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?". I read and greatly appreciate all the work of Malcolm Jeeves, John Polkinghorne, Fraser Watts and the other gifted people in the science-and-religion field. I have also thought about Christianized robots and agree with Anne Foerst that if robots acquire a relational self and have the capacity to make conscious moral decisions, appreciate beauty and art and all those things that they qualify as persons. I agree with some of your criticisms of the AFR as Lewis expounded in Miracles. He does have a rather quaint view of reason and logic, but the rest of your response I found quite shallow and doesn't really engage with the real issues that Lewis raises. As Vic points out in his book, there are quite a few AFRs and they don't all touch on the same difficulty for the materialist. There might be naturalistic solutions for some of them (I happen to agree with you on the place of numbers and mathematics in a naturalistic setting) but not all, or a solution which works for one of the problems might raise additional ones for the rest. In addition to Alvin Plantinga, William Hasker, Victor Reppert, C.S. Lewis, James Jordan, Immanuel Kant and Arthur James Balfour you should also read Roger Trigg and Karl Popper, both of whom are philosophers of science and hold that the kind of reason required to learn about the world in a reliable fashion is not compatible with a strict physical determinism. See also the website of John Hick for an argument along similar lines. The main usefulness of the AFR is to avoid a stifling physicalism, stifling both to science and many fundamental Christian beliefs. Alvin Plantinga's argument from the reliability of the cognitive faculties has been criticized but see also Justin Barrett's "Why would anyone believe in God?". Barrett is a cognitive scientist, the founder of the field of the cognitive science of religion who finds the same difficulty Plantinga did for the evolutionary naturalist. For me the main point of the AFR (like I say on my blog) is to make sure that atheist philosophers and 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. But it also can show that theism provides a more satifsying conceptual framework for the practice of science. This is something that Polkinghorne comments upon quite a bit. He holds that science's uncanny ability to fathom the physical world points to our being made in the image of God as opposed to being 'nothing but' hairless social apes who just happened to stumble onto toolmaking. True, it is not a knock-down proof for the existence of God, but it does show that the theist does not base his faith on irrational feelings. See Denis Alexander's "Rebuilding the Matrix" for an evolutionary biologist's argument for a theistic framework for science. One last thing: I happen to be studying neuroscience and cognitive science and your view of consciousness is kind of simplistic. But there's still a lot to learn. Thanks again for the reply.

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?

JD Walters said...

Steven Carr,

First of all your example hilariously caricatures my point about Dawkins and Dennett. If you read Dawkins' "A Devil's Chaplain" you will see that while he attacks religion as a 'virus' of the mind which spreads regardless of its benefits and causes people to do irrational things, when he poses to himself the question of whether science is similarly a virus of the mind he says no, absolutely not, and lists a bunch of criteria which science meets which disqualify it as a mental virus. Problem is, how does he hoist himself by his own boots to stand 'outside' our thinking and judge what qualifies as a mental virus or not? 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? I'm not bashing science here. I study neuroscience and I think it's really cool. Second, I know what you mean by your second objection. Dennett does submit our scientific abilities to evolutionary scrutiny in DDI, but science comes out unscathed by this scrutiny and religion does not. The problem is that by the latest results from the cognitive science of religion (cf P. Boyer, J. Barrett, H. Whitehouse, etc.) belief in God does not require any special cognitive machinery to form, but is based on the same cognitive tools we use in other contexts. If you want to dismiss belief in God as an illusion, you also have to give up believing in other minds, the flow of time, the constancy of physical laws and a host of other mental tools we take for granted in our construction of reality. Of course this doesn't mean that God exists because our other cognitive machinery seems to be working okay. It still comes down to a matter of faith and/or philosophical and scientific argument and/or personal experience. My point is that cognitive attacks on religion based on science and evolution are suicidal, but that is exactly what Dawkins and Dennett try to do. 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).

JD Walters said...

Steven Carr,

So you think my worldview is based on trying to figure out which part of a book containing a talking donkey and a talking snake can be relied upon? So you know nothing of the latest biblical criticism which classifies the first chapters of Genesis as a creation myth and the story of Balaam's ass as a folktale? And you obviously have never studied literature, in which meaning and truth can be conveyed in story form without the actual story having literally happened. Would you deny Carl Sagan his insightful observations on human frailty and the wonder of science just because we have not yet actually contacted aliens and Eleonore Arroway is a fictional character? The Bible is a complex library of history, poetry, myth, folktales, prophecy, epistles, etc. It is the job of the diligent student of the Bible to distinguish between these without prejudice, either secular or religious, and that is not the only book I base my worldview on. If you have been to my blog at all you know that I also draw upon literature, secular scientists and philosophers, etc. Stop attacking straw men. You're up against 2000 years of civilization, art, science, literature, philosophy, architecture and music which all flourished within a Christian theistic framework. Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Thomas Aquinas, Jon Duns Scotus, Johann Sebastian Bach, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday and countless other seminal contributors to Western Civilization relied on the Bible for their inspiration. Not bad for a book with a talking donkey and a talking snake.

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.

JD Walters said...

Steve Carr,

Check out this article: http://www.stnews.org/Commentary-2583.htm

Here he applies the meme concept to religious ideas, but in his other books which I did mention (Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Breaking the Spell) he applies the same idea to the rest of our thinking. 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". Also see Susan Blakemore's "The Meme Machine", a defense of the idea which ends with the rather interesting conclusion that the author does not exist as a person, rather what's writing the book is the 'meme-plex' that inhabits her brain.

You obviously do not understand the idea of 'history' as it applied in the intertestamental Jewish context. It did not mean the same thing which we mean today, i.e. a factual description of what really happened, detail by detail. The Jewish idea of history is that of the Covenant which God has with His people, the stories which bind the community together as a whole. When the writer of 2 Peter uses the example of Balaam's ass it is a rhetorical device to illustrate how God can choose to work through anyone and anything. He is using a story familiar to his fellow Covenant-holders. Same thing for midrash, pesher and the other rabbinical teaching devices.

That said, who cares if the author of St Peter thought that the story of Balaam's ass really happened? What does that mean for Christians today? 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. I happen to agree with Dan Brown when one of his characters says that 'The Bible was not faxed from heaven' all in one go. People have to work to discover God and we learn more all the time.

Without definite criteria for what constitutes myth and reality and why they should apply everywhere and always and how you acquired such universal knowledge I do not feel the slightest inclination to agree that you know how to distinguish the two as opposed to Jesus' followers.

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: http://www.stnews.org/Commentary-2583.htm'

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?

Tim 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.

Tim 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.

JD Walters said...

Tim,

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. Given that both religious and scientific thought are from the same organ using similar cognitive tools to arrive at their respective conclusions (see the cognitive science sources I recommended above), Dawkin's bifurcation into mental 'viruses' like religion and 'intelligent thought' like science is at best misinformed and at worst disingenuous. And if you are familiar with Dennett and Dawkin's work don't take Steve Carr's word for it that I misrepresent their views. Find out for yourself. Re-read 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea', and see if, while his 'universal acid' eats through traditional religious understanding of the world, science doesn't emerge unscathed and affirmed.

As for your 'experience' with other conservative Christians, obviously I can't comment on it. At Princeton University where I study there are many evangelical Christians in just about every field of study, including Religion, who see things very similarly to me and don't think it's intellectually dishonest at all. We people of faith can't catch a break: either we are accused of being 'fundamentalist' and closed to new scientific and other knowledge or we are accused of betraying the faith and being intellectually dishonest.

JD Walters said...

Steven Carr,

You have a very interesting style of arguing. Apparently calling an opponent's arguments 'Nonsense' and saying that 'they don't have a case' is sufficient in your mind to establish your superiority. You have not actually rebutted any of the points I have made about cognitive science, biblical interpretation or my reading of Dennett and Dawkin's work. You have given me absolutely no reason to accept your interpretation of our increase in knowledge about God. So you say our knowledge has progressed to the point where we realize that God is a superstition. Ohh, I'm convinced! On what grounds? Where did you get such universal knowledge, far beyond anything our best science has yet achieved?

Likewise I can't really say anything about your 'review' of Denis Alexander's book. You say you've 'seen' it. Have you read it? Is all you can say in reply that he doesn't have an argument and doesn't make a case? Maybe you think so, but why? He has read and studied meticulously the works of E.O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others and gives a full and careful analysis, and ultimately finds them wanting. He draws on state-of-the-art philosophy of science, historical studies, the scientific literature in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and physics, ethics and theology to make his case for a theistic framework for science. Read Kepler, who believed he was "thinking God's thoughts after Him". Or Galileo, who believed that theology is the "queen of sciences by virtue of its dealing with a subject which far surpasses others in dignity". Or Isaac Newton, who said that "all my great discoveries have been made in answer to prayer".

You may disagree with Alexander but you have to give good reasons. Until you stop just calling your opponents' arguments nonsense and calling them liars and just saying that 'they don't have a case', I'll just stop answering you. BTW, your analogy with karma is laughable. There is nothing about the concept of karma that would be of any benefit to the scientific enterprise, while obviously a rational Creator God who has endowed us with the ability to learn about His Creation and orders the cosmos, not by whim but by orderly laws, has been (and still is) a very fruitful hypothesis for scientists.

Tim 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?
t.

JD Walters said...

Tim,

What I resent is Dawkin's arbitrary (in my view) classification of science as a rational activity and religion as irrational. I agree that both are 'products' of evolution although that is probably not the best way of understanding their origin. Better in my view is the idea that the cognitive faculties upon which both science and religion depend for their existence are the products of evolution. And then you have the conundrum that I pointed out: we don't have a separate part of the brain which produces beliefs and God and another part which produces scientific knowledge. All our cognitive faculties are interdependent. So what grounds does Dawkins have to make this distinction? The distinction between 'rational' and 'irrational' is not nearly as clear cut as Dawkins seems to think, and any attack on religious beliefs IN GENERAL (particular cases, of course, can be judged according to their fruit, their coherence, etc.) has the perhaps unintended consequence of throwing enormous doubt on all our cognitive machinery. Dawkins wants to have his cake and eat it too.

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?

JD Walters said...

How about alchemy and Pythagoras theorem? Or phlogiston and Pythagoras theorem? Both were acceptable scientific ideas in their time. Of course it is still a matter of critical reflection and (in the case of science) experimentation to find out which ideas are fruitful. Not all religious ideas are equal, just as not all scientific ideas are equal. The point about their common origin in the same cognitive faculties is to prevent ad hoc dismissal of one while similarly ad hoc embracing the other. Stop using stupid analogies that caricature my points and start arguing!

BTW, you talk about Scientology a lot. Are you by any chance a scientologist?

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