Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A post on uk.religion.christian from Danielos Georgoudis on consciousness

This is a usenet post from Danielos Georgoudis in response to a thread I started, on why the problem of consciosness is so hard for materialists, and why it is something more than just a bump in the road for materialism.

DG: Well here are some of the reasons why consciousness can't be just
another property of material systems:
1. All other properties of material systems can be described in
materialist language; consciousness cannot. It's reasonable to claim
that if a problem cannot be described within a paradigm of thought then
it can't be solved either.

2. All other properties of material systems are directly or indirectly
observable; that is there are always some means to detect whether a
property is present - or at the very least somebody can propose some
speculative idea about how to detect the presence of that property in a
material system. No so in the case of consciousness. For example nobody
has any idea at all about how to measure whether frogs have conscious
experiences or not. Or whether salt crystals growing in brine have
them. Conversely nobody has any idea about how to measure that at death
a person's conscious experience is extinguished. Or that under
general anesthesia patients are not having conscious experiences (the
fact that when they wake up they don't remember having had them is
quite irrelevant).

3. Scientific thought is about explaining observations. The problem of
consciousness refers to the fact that we observe in the first place.
That's a different kind of problem. Nobody has any idea of how
scientific thought could by applied here.

4. There are several problems that science has not yet solved, e.g. how
life started, or how the human brain produces intelligent behavior.
These are hard problems and it may take a long time to solve them.
Still nobody really doubts that these are scientific problems or that
science can in principle solve them. Also there are many scientists
actively working in solving them. Not so in the case of consciousness.
Scientists are practical people; they won't use their time
investigating a problem nobody can cast in scientific terms. It's
materialist philosophers who must try to solve this problem, and they
are really stuck.

5. Contrary to all other material properties, conscious experience is
about quality rather than quantity. Nobody has any idea how one could
test that two people who are looking at the same red wall have a
conscious experience that is in any way similar.

6. In all other problems that science has encountered it was easy to at
least achieve consensus that the problem exists. Not so in the case of
consciousness; materialists cannot even agree whether consciousness
represents a problem for materialism or not. (Which is not surprising
considering that the problem of consciousness cannot even be described
in materialistic terms.)

The above is a rather quick and dirty exposition. The best book I know
about the problem of consciousness is David Chalmer's "Facing Up to the
Problem of Consciousness". Incidentally David Chalmers is considered
one of the brightest philosophers in the field of the philosophy of
mind. You can read more about him in the following wikipedia article

It's interesting to compare the concept of consciousness with the
concept of God. Materialists famously point out that the hypothesis
that God exists is not required to explain any objective observation.
But, equally, the hypothesis that conscious experience exists is not
required to explain any objective observation either. If the former
fact is sufficient reason for believing that God does not exist, so
would the latter fact be sufficient reason for believing that conscious
experience does not exist, which would strike most people as absurd.
Actually there are a few people who go as far as to claim that
conscious experience does not *really* exist but is only an illusion
(whatever that exactly means in this context). Quite a few materialists
claim that free will does not exist - indeed the hypothesis that free
will exists is not necessary to explain any objective observation
either, and it's easier to deny that free will exist than to deny
that conscious experience exists. In any case materialism pushes people
into making claims that to most people sound absurd. Not a good sign.
It appears that materialism is incapable or producing a coherent
worldview. (Worldview is the set of all propositions one accepts as
true.) But theism can.

> Also, re the development of materialism, you'll know doubt be aware of
> many ancient non-dualistic philosophies/religions which have no problem
> seeng mind/body as one and not transcendent/imminent.

I think the most powerful worldview is not based neither on materialism
nor on dualism, but on idealism. Contrary to what many people believe
idealism is fully compatible with science and technology (actually in
simplifies the scientific endeavor) - and is also fully compatible with

Christian Materialism

Some Christians embrace materialism in the philosophy of mind. But when they do this, I have to ask a few questions. Materialism in the sense that interests me has three central characteristics:

1) The mechanistic character of the physical.
2) The causal closure of the physical.
3) The supervenience of everything else on the physical.

I am not sure that everyone who claims to be a materialist and a Christian really buys these three doctrines. Maybe they do. I looked at some things J. D. Walters linked to with respect to Nancey Murphy and now I wonder what she holds with respect to this. As I have repeated numerous times, I could pass as a materialist on some definitions of materialism. But until we get a clear account of what the materialist is really committed to, it is difficult to know whether I disagree with the persons metaphysics, or just their use of terminology.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From CSC on the Guillermo Gonzalez case

VR: This sort of thing always stirs things up.

CSC: The big story this week was the denial of tenure to widely-published pro-ID astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University, despite the fact that he exceeded by 350% his department’s standard for research excellence in peer-reviewed publications. A quick recap of the key developments in the case:

1. Two tenured professors in Gonzalez’s department publicly admitted that his work on intelligent design played a role in his tenure denial.

2. Two additional faculty members in Gonzalez’s department were found to be connected to a national statement denouncing intelligent design as “creationist pseudoscience.”

3. Tenure statistics were obtained showing that 91% of faculty who applied for tenure this year at ISU received it, refuting the university’s claim earlier in the week that its tenure standards are “so high, that many good researchers have failed to satisfy the demands of earning tenure” at ISU.

4. Tenure standards for ISU's Department of Physics and Astronomy were released showing that outside research funding was not a stated criterion for tenure decisions in the department.

5. ISU continues to pretend that nothing is wrong while ignoring the hostile work environment for Gonzalez.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spurring on a suspension

I wondered what all of you think of the controversy surrounding the suspension of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw in last night's Suns-Spurs game, which almost certainly affected the outcome of the game and maybe the series. I think the action taken by the league was horrible (no pun intended), unjust, but maybe correct nonetheless.

Part of the issue involes the interpretation of the rulebook and what constitutes an altercation. Is every flagrant-2 foul an altercation? Where is the vicinity of the bench, where the players are supposed to stay?

My suspicion is the Horry planned his shot at Nash to provoke some of the better Suns players to get themselves suspended. At least that seems to me what the preponderance of the evidence would suggest. The guy is not an out-of-control frustrated rookie. I don't know of any reason why this wasn't an attempt to provoke a suspension and help his team underhandedly. If this were provable, then Horry should be banned from the NBA for life. Unfortunately, I think you would have to prove that beyond reasonable doubt to warrant that kind of action, and you can't.

The actions of Stoudemire and Diaw are not anywhere near half as reprehensible as those of Horry, even on the most charitable construal of his actions. Nonetheless, I can understand why the league was reluctant to set aside a rule designed to prevent the kind of bench-clearing altercation that took place between Indiana and Detroit a couple of years ago. They feared, and not without reason, that any softness on the issue of leaving the bench might result in an Indiana-Detroit -style altercation either in this series or in a future series involving physical teams.

On the charge of San Antonio being a dirty team, Amare was unwise to make the charge, and tainted the whole team with the conduct of only a few of its players. I have never heard of Tim Duncan or Tony Parker being dirty. I see no good reason to believe that they are coached to play dirty. And what is a dirty hit is often in the eye of the beholder. And, what is more, he embroiled his team in a media circus which must have distracted him and his team from basketball.

I could be a speaking as a biased Suns fan, but I have a sense that this year's NBA champions will come out of this series. It would be unfortunate if the Spurs were to win the series because one player on their team cheated.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Could science end up vindicating the argument from reason

This is a response I gave to Ed Babinski on Debunking Christianity

Where in the brain is affected by the soul? I think brain science will eventually figure this out.

Why simply assume that the progress of science will confirm naturalism? Couldn't it eventually refute naturalism? I am predicting that the final confirmation for the argument from reason will come from neuroscience.

I've read that split-brain cases are not nearly as "split" as was originally thought; that there is an underlying unity of consciousness present. I wish I had the reference at hand.

You see, materialists like to have it both ways. When the difficulties of present materialist explanations are advanced, they tell us that we shouldn't do armchair science and that eventually science is going to figure this out. But if that is the case, then we have to countenance the possibility that science will disconfirm naturalism.

My claim is that there has to be something inherently rational that is responsible for our rationality. That's the first step in the argument. The "mental" facts do not, and on my view, cannot follow logically from the physical facts, so if the physical fact determine all the other facts, that means that there are no determinate mental facts, or that the facts are determined by something else. Now if we reconceive the physical to somehow include the mental, as in absolute idealism, then we have an answer to the argument from reason that doesn't require supernaturalism.

In fact the idea of "the supernatural" has to be defined. I know Lewis uses the term, but you should look closely at how he defines it. I avoid the term myself. All that is required for the mind to be supernatural is that "it doesn't fit in" to the mindless flow of physical causation. That's it. It doesn't have to be spooky or even religious. So, so far as I can tell, by that definition Roger Sperry would be a supernaturalist, even though he claims that his "emergent laws" are not supernatural.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hugh Chandler's book on ethics

The legendary Hugh Chandler's book on ethics is now available for purchase. (Dr. Chandler was my dissertation advisor).

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Problem of Evil and the Burden of Proof

It seems a good deal of discussion on the problem of evil hinges on exactly where the burden of proof lies. If the burden lies with the theist to prove that the evils in the world can be squared with God's goodness, then the deficiencies that many of us find with the various theodicies on offer is a serious problem. However, the logical basis for saddling the theist with this kind of a burden seems to me to be hard to come by.

But I'm pretty much a skeptic about burden of proof claims. I think what has the burden of proof is whatever we don't believe, and it has that burden to the degree that we think that what we don't believe is unlikely to be true. If you want to argue that issue with me, maybe I'll set of my next entry so you can do that.

But, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that, all things being equal,

1) Theism is true.

has a burden of proof that

2) Atheism is true.

lacks, in virtue of the latter's superior ontological parsimony.

Even if we grant this, the problem of evil atheist is attempting to establish

3) The argument from evil shows that God does not exist.

In this context, the atheist is not content to use a lack of evidence/parsimony argument against the theist, the atheist is claiming that there is positive and decisive evidence against theism. Like it or not, it looks to me as if the atheist has picked up the burden of proof.

Andrea Weisberger has tried to argue that the theist does have the burden of proof on this issue. Graham Oppy, the agnostic reviewer for Internet Infidels, puts her claim as follows:

Oppy: In the Preface, Weisberger lays her cards on the table: she gives a clear and concise summary of the overall shape of her argument. She announces her belief that the success or failure of the theodicies which she investigates is pivotal for determining the success or failure of the argument from evil. In defence of this controversial claim, she appeals to considerations of burden of proof: it is the theist who is making an ‘extraordinary’ claim, and hence who faces the burden of squaring this claim with the ‘ordinary’ facts about the world. Moreover, she claims that to reject this burden of proof is to admit that the ‘extraordinary’ claim in question is ‘unfalsifiable’ (and hence, at least by imputation, not deserving of reasonable belief).

However, he thinks that is where Weisberger's argument fails:

Oppy: Perhaps the main fault which I find with the overall line which Weisberger takes lies in her appeals to the burden of proof. It seems to me that the right method here is to formulate the competing views--i.e. theistic and non-theistic theories of the world--and then to ask which one is best supported by the total available evidence. If theists can reasonably suppose that they have lots of evidence which supports the claim that God exists, then they may reasonably believe that there is a solution to ‘the problem of evil’, even if they do not know what that solution is. To insist, that theists have to provide a satisfactory theodicy or else abandon their theism, is to fail to pay proper regard to ‘the principle of total evidence’. Of course, this is not to say that non-theists cannot reasonably suppose that ‘the problem of evil’ helps to sway the weight of total evidence in favour of non-theism--indeed, I started out by claiming that this will very likely be the case--but that seems to me to be a very different issue.

I think Oppy's response is right on the money.

Some stuff from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Kripkean anti-materialist arguments

Monday, May 07, 2007

Charles Sanders Peirce's theism

McCaughan on a passage by Feser

Gareth McCaughan responds to an argument of Feser's that I put on this site. I presented it without giving it a full endorsement, however. I had, however, been presenting a number of Feser's arguments with some sympathy, but I am a ways away from giving the argument in question my full endorsement, simply because I do think it's a tricky step from conceivability to possibility, as exapologist points out in his reply.

A concession to hard-hearted wickedness

Matthew 19:1-9
After Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went southward to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Vast crowds followed him there, and he healed their sick. Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?" "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning `God made them male and female.' And he said, `This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together." "Then why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?" they asked. Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery--unless his wife has been unfaithful."

What sense do you make of this passage from the standpoint of biblical inerrancy? Jesus is claiming that some things which are part of the Jewish law which are not just, but which are nonetheless part of the law as concessions to human hard-hearted wickedness. If this is compatible with inerrancy, then this seems to open up a way for an inerrantist to maintain that slavery is morally wrong.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

N. T. Wright's treatment of Mere Christianity

N. T. Wright's appreciative critique of Mere Christianity. Of course, I've always maintained that Lewis's apologetic house was a fixer-upper.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

And this is Keith Parsons' reply

You can't accuse me of not linking to Keith Parsons.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My argument against the war in Iraq

My argument against the Iraq war
Shiites believe that the true successors of Muhammad were murdered and the succession went to the wrong people. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim who ruled a country with a 2-1 Shiite majority with the power of the sword. The US invaded Iraq, and ejected Saddam from power. Apparently the argument from weapons of mass destruction fell apart upon close inspection, but the most laudable of the motivations that the Bush Administration might have had for going in there was the idea that if we could set up a democracy in Iraq, we could set up a model for other Middle Eastern Islamic countries to follow. The idea was that other countries in the Islamic would be able to see what democracy can do and would want to have democracies in their own countries. So the Islamic world would gratefully see the advantages of American democratic political institutions and anti-American terrorism would be de-motivated.
Unfortunately, this plan had a snowball’s chance in Baghdad of working. Democracy doesn’t work unless the religious majority is prepared to allow the religious minority religious freedom. Will Shiites give that to the Sunnis, whom they consider to be usurpers of the true Islam and assassins of its true leaders? So long as religious minorities don’t get religious freedom, all you’re ever going to get is a tyranny of the majority. Hence the Sunnis are fighting against us, and many of the Shiites don’t want us around either.
Islam, unlike Christianity, is from its very founding a religion that seeks rulership. Whatever its merits may be, it seems constitutionally incapable of accepting the idea of church-state separation. At least, those who might be willing to accept a de-politicized conception of Islam are not likely to be found in Iraq. I have always thought that had we understood Buddhism better, we might have avoided the colossal blunder we committed in Vietnam. Had we understood Islam, we perhaps might also have avoided the even more colossal blunder in Iraq.

A Metaphysical Club post on slavery and the Bible

A post from the Metaphysical Club on slavery and the Bible. Was the slavery of the Old an New Testaments the same as the slavery written about in Uncle Tom's Cabin?

This is the Fatwah database

Where you can get answers on problems related to Islamic belief. Should you kiss your wife in front of your kids? If you are a Muslim, this site will tell you.