Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My final (?) critique of the Outsider Test for Faith

The centerpiece of The Christian Delusion seems to be the Outsider Test for Faith. Here is Loftus's presentation in TCD:

1. Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.
2. Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one's religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is causally dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.
3. Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.
4. So the best way to test one's adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This expresses the OTF. (82)

It seems to me that we can raise some questions about the first two premises. People today grow up in a culturally diverse world. Perhaps their early religious education may come from one religion or another, but plenty of people get hit with outside perspectives in high school or in college. There are aware that there are other religions. They are aware that there are some who deny the existence of any supernatural beings whatsoever. They know about controversies surrounding creation and evolution.

The cultural influence on people to adopt and be strongly committed to the faith they grew up in is mitigated by numerous influences from many sources. Peer pressure drives young people toward premarital sex, even when Christian groups oppose it. What we get from most media outlets does not drive us in the direction of a serious faith. We may find ourselves wanting to believe, but if we have heard the warnings about wishful thinking, that is going to make it harder, not easier to believe. As a result, even from a relatively early age, our beliefs with regard to religion, we are considering evidence. The image Loftus presented of believers who are "brainwashed" doesn't match a large number of Christians I have gotten to know over the years. In fact, the failure of most Christians to satisfy the stereotype found in anti-religious literature made their views on these matters lose credibility for me.

So the third premise, that one's religious beliefs should be regarded as probably false based on upbringing, seems to be highly questionable, simply because most of us are not only interacting with upbringing, but with evidence.

But now we come down to the test itself. One should approach one's own religion with the same level of skepticism that one approaches other religions. Is that a fair expectation? On one level, it's a kind of "fairness doctrine" for religious beliefs. Don't use a double standard for other religions that you don't use for your own.
At least hypothetically ask yourself if the evidence for your own religion would really be convincing if you weren't a believer.

But if that's all there is to it, then I would have to say that I believe that Christianity has an evidence base that is unmatched in other religions, and furthermore, if I came to think that the Christian evidence base was matched by, say, the evidence base for Islam or Mormonism, that I would probably start having serious doubts about what I believe. Now some of you may wonder how I could possibly believe such a thing, but I do believe it.

Does that mean that my Christianity passes the Outsider Test for Faith? Well, Loftus is going to say that, no, those psychological and sociological influences still have be in their grip.What would be evidence convincing to Loftus that I had passed the OTF? Deconversion, of course.

However, while I believe in pursuing objectivity, I also believe that human beings have no cheap and easy way of setting their intellectual biases aside. Remember Descartes? He knew that he had a lot of ideas and beliefs that he thought weren't justified. And he decided to doubt, not just religion, but everything. And he proved, in the Meditations, that God exists, that the soul is distinct from the body, that the will is free, etc. Would Loftus then say that his beliefs had passed the Outsider Test for Beliefs? Or would he say that he only thought he got outside, but really didn't. But you have to wonder what Descartes could have done that he didn't do.

Loftus makes couple of claims about how Christians deal with other religions, about which need some attention. In dealing with, say, Mormonism, Christians will argue that what Mormons teach conflicts with the Bible. That may be more of an internal critique of Mormonism than we realize, because Mormons, supposedly, accept the authority of the Old and New Testaments as well as modern revelation such as the Book of Mormon.

The other method Christians have of responding to other religions is to take a Humean method of evaluating the evidence and presume methodological naturalism in analyzing those religions. Now, for example, I think that the origins of Mormonism can be explained naturalistically. But that's not because of my method, that conclusion came on the basis of my study of how the religion was founded. There could be information about the evidence base for Mormonism that would make me think twice about whether or not it is true, but as it happens, there isn't. So no, I don't approach Mormonism as a methodological naturalist. In fact, some Christians explain the founding of Mormonism supernaturalistically; they think Joseph Smith was visited by an angel, a fallen angel. I happen to think that is not supported by the evidence. But it could have been, just as it could have turned out that that evidence supports the claim that Moroni was a good angel.

So, his description of how Christians evaluate other religions is off base. To be a real methodological naturalist is to give up on knowing that there has been supernatural activity, even if there has indeed been supernatural activity. I don't believe that the orthodox Christian critique of, say, Mormonism, entails that kind of opportunity cost. 

Loftus makes what I consider to be a bizarre claim, in endorsing Richard Feldman's argument that when there are two "epistemic peers" who have a "genuine disagreement" based on "shared evidence," it is rational for both to suspend judgment. This would effectively shut down philosophy if it were followed, and I think it would even shut down science, and it is a very good thing that people don't operate that way. If we go by my credentials, I am certainly Loftus' epistemic peer (actually his superior, since I have a Ph.D and he does not), so since we disagree on God, and even on the legitimacy of the Outsider Test for Faith, he's now obligated to suspend judgment on what he says. Will he follow Feldman's advice? When hell freezes over!

I am deeply skeptical about "default positions." My biggest problem with the outsider test for faith is that there is no outside. If we can imagine all the possible positions with respect to the probability of theism from 100% sure that theism is true to 0% probability that theism is true, I don't see any spot on that continuum that is a default position. I think that, realistically, what real people do is just begin from where they are and conditionalize, as Bayesians say, on the evidence. If there is enough evidence, and we all keep conditionalizing, we'll eventually converge on the truth. I think this is a more realistic way of looking at the process of thinking through controversial issues than is the idea of some neutral "ground zero" to which we should all be expected to move. Maybe part of that comes from my philosophical upbringing; I went through grad school when both in religious philosophy and in secular philosophy I kept hearing about the decline and fall of classical foundationalism. So I don't believe that there is such a thing as a "neutral corner" and I am suspicious of those who think they have gone there.

Yet, I do think the evidence both for the existence of a theistic God, and the evidence for the central claims of Christianity, is sufficiently strong that it should be convincing to an open-minded agnostic, just as it convinced the former atheist C. S. Lewis. If I perform the thought experiment of asking myself what I would believe had I started out from open-minded agnosticism, my answer is still Christianity. I don't think it reasonable for me to actually make myself an agnostic in order to do a real outsider test, but insofar as I perform the hypothetical outsider test, that's the outcome.  Now, it could be that I have mis-evaluated the evidence. There are people whom I deeply respect who have evaluated it differently. Now, no doubt Loftus evaluates the evidence differently from the way I do. But that evaluation isn't part of his outsider test argument.

What does Loftus say about that? Well, he gives us the sociological and psychological analyses of people like Eller, Long and Tarico, defending the claim of Shermer's that smart people believe weird things because they are good and defending what they already believe for non-smart reasons. But you can only say that if you have actually shown the reasons that we have for believing what we do to be bad. That step can't be skipped. Of course I know I could have misevaluated the evidence, and there are psychological and sociological mechanisms that might be the causes of that misevaluation. But those same forces affect us all. No deconversion, no "outsider test," is going to save us from making mistakes. C. S. Lewis became a believer, overcoming a considerable emotional resistance to becoming a believer. Loftus says the same thing about how he became an atheist. But crossing from one world-view to another doesn't guarantee the correctness of how one has reasoned..

Loftus writes: So upon what basis do nearly all believers around the world, including Reppert, think they are exceptions if this is the case? They cannot all be the exceptions! Believers are simply in denial when they claim that their religious faith passes the OTF. 

But I could say the same thing about Loftus. He has a belief about matters of religion. Atheism is a cultural and psychological phenomenon, just like Christianity, in spite of Loftus's protestations to the contrary.  The anti-Christian movement has as sociological and psychological dimension, to be sure, as is the New Atheism. Loftus is subject to sociological and psychological influences. He is subject to confirmation bias. He, and his cadre of debunkers of Christianity cannot be the exceptions. With all the psychologizing in his book, it is rather surprising that he says nothing whatsoever about Paul Vitz's work on the Psychology of Atheism. You see, the more you argue the pervasiveness of human irrationality, the more difficult it is to explain who Loftus and company can be the Knights of Reason who have escaped all the psychological influences and have apportioned their belief to the evidence. I happen to realize how difficult it is to be rational. Because I realize this, I believe that I work harder at it than most people on either side of aisle.

To test this, compare his website and mine. How frequently do I bring something up that is a problem for my Christian beliefs, and try to deal with it. Now, how often does he bring something up that is a problem for atheism, and try to deal with it?

I conclude that while the OTF can be a valuable thought experiment, it hardly provides a basis for an argument against Christianity. It can be only a hypothetical test at best, it cannot be perfectly performed by anyone on any side of the fence, and no one can judge whether any of their ideological opponents has truly passed it.


bossmanham said...

It seems to me that the OTF is just one big genetic fallacy.

Walter said...

But now we come down to the test itself. One should approach one's own religion with the same level of skepticism that one approaches other religions. Is that a fair expectation? On one level, it's a kind of "fairness doctrine" for religious beliefs. Don't use a double standard for other religions that you don't use for your own.
At least hypothetically ask yourself if the evidence for your own religion would really be convincing if you weren't a believer.

This is my take on the OTF: a person should try their best to be consistent in their methodology in evaluating their own beliefs by the same criteria as they use to judge the differing beliefs of others. One example might be: you have no problem believing that God supernaturally revealed himself to Moses or Paul, yet you choke at the thought that he might have revealed himself to Muhammad. One might give Muhammad the benefit of the doubt, and upon further study conclude that Mo was delusional or a liar, but one should not reject it out of hand simply because his claims sound "silly."

Walter said...

But if that's all there is to it, then I would have to say that I believe that Christianity has an evidence base that is unmatched in other religions

As a person that is entirely unfamiliar with eastern religions, I wonder how good is the evidence base for say Hinduism? The Hindu faith is said to predate even Judaism. Do almost a billion Hindus have a good reason to believe in the faith of their culture or are they just following a herd instinct?

Anonymous said...

Vic, there are a lot of non-sequiturs here, but at least you're wrestling with it. And there are plenty of things you don't understand too, such as Richard Feldman's argument, which is surprising since you are my superior.

I would like to respond, and maybe I will, but there are so many things you utterly miss that I am surprised at the level of your brainwashing, easy stuff, basic stuff.

Since you pride yourself on challenging Christians as well as atheists then give it a go. How would YOU respond to this post of yours? Label non-sequiturs for me just so I can see you agree. Then with those out of the way I'll have less to write.

SteveK said...

This would effectively shut down philosophy if it were followed, and I think it would even shut down science, and it is a very good thing that people don't operate that way.

It would shut down the legal system too.

"Your Honor, the jury suspends judgement because we, as epistemic peers, have a genuine disagreement based on the evidence."

JSA said...

@Walter - I've researched both and, personally, I think it's quite plausible that Muhammad experienced some "supernatural" revelations. It's far less plausible that Joseph Smith did.

Regarding evidential base for Hinduism, there is really no comparison to Christianity or Islam. It's apples and orange. Human society at the birth of Hinduism didn't have the same expectations about historical records, evidence, let alone the same societal structures. So I don't think it's fair to even compare.

I will note, however, that the closing scene in Ramayana is intended to be a warning against those who would try to judge the ancient revelations by modern standards. Rama challenges the interlopers to draw his bow, and when none of them can, he rises up and demonstrates that he can -- the original master is still master, despite the pretensions of the challengers.

T'sinadree said...

I was surprised that there was no interaction in the OTF chapter with David Basinger's book Religious Diversity: A Philosophical Assessment.

Anonymous said...

T'sinadree, most all of that kind of literature is interested in deciding between exclusivism and inclusivism or some variant in between.

Or did you read this $120 hardcover book and claim otherwise (I see it's now $55 in paperback)?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Once again Loftus shows he is unable to engage with arguments. More of his signature name-calling without serious content.

The one specific claim Loftus makes is that Victor didn't understand Feldman's paper.

It is clear that Loftus doesn't understand Feldman, who explicitly argues that in cases of reasonable disagreement "the right thing for both of us to do is to suspend judgment on P."

Feldman goes on to say:
"This may see to be a distressing conclusion. It implies that many of your deeply held
convictions are not justified. Worse, it implies that many of my deeply held, well-considered beliefs are not justified. Still, I think that this is the truth of the matter. And perhaps the conclusion is not so distressing. It calls for a kind of humility in response to the hard questions about which people so often find themselves in disagreement. It requires us to admit that we really do not know what the truth is in these cases. When compared to the intolerant views with which we began, this is a refreshing outcome."

Loftus has obviously failed to grasp or implement the basic simple premise of Feldman's paper.

Feldman, an atheist, displays an intellectual maturity that I applaud:
"To defend my atheism, I would have to be justified in accepting some hypothesis explaining away religious belief, for example the hypothesis that it arises from some fundamental psychological need. And, while I am inclined to believe some such hypothesis, the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that I am no position to make any such judgment with any confidence at all. Such psychological conjectures are, I must admit, highly speculative, at least when made by me."

I'd like to see Loftus point out all the other non sequitors in Victor's post. I won't hold my breath.

I do disagree with Victor when he says, of Feldman's claim, "This would effectively shut down philosophy if it were followed, and I think it would even shut down science, and it is a very good thing that people don't operate that way."

Well, in science we would say, let's figure out how to experimentally determine who is right. We do tend to suspend judgment until the evidence clearly supports one viewpoint. Because philosophy is not evidence driven in the same way, it is stuck with interminable cycles of disputes that are never resolved.

Perhaps Feldman's approach would kill many branches of philosophy, though. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? :) Seriously, though Feldman says he doesn't mean people should stop arguing about what they think is right, but should have a more humble orientation in terms of how justified they really are.

Victor Reppert said...

Again, we see Loftus' procedure, just assert that the critic is wrong, that he doesn't understand, that his arguments are non sequiturs, etc. Trot out the word "brainwashed" one more time.

I think it fair to say that Loftus is trying to respond to us "brainwashed" Christians by using brainwashing tactics himself. Part of what made it possible for me to retain my faith in spite of spending the vast majority of my academic career in secular philosophy departments that had a large atheist majority is the fact that while nonbelievers said a lot of things that tried to make Christians feel stupid, when you actually looked at their arguments, the arguments didn't match the rhetoric. Just asserting that your opponent is ignorant, that he doesn't really understand, without showing how and why he is ignorant is a brainwashing tactic.

I simply restated what Loftus put in his book about what Feldman's argument is. I didn't have the original source with me, so maybe he has a response to the obvious problems I posed for him. I happen to agree with William James that the question of religion is a forced choice, and that, over the long haul at least, suspense of judgment is practically impossible. You either choose to act as if God existed, or you don't. Further, the whole enterprise of thinking is to try to see something that your epistemic peers didn't see. We are constantly saying to one another, "You may be as bright as I am, or brighter, but you didn't think of this. What about it?" From what I read of Feldman's position, it appears to me to be intellectually stultifying, and I see nothing in Loftus' description, which he thought was enough us to go on, to suggest otherwise.

So I am still waiting for a real response from Loftus on this.

Anonymous said...

Vic, you did a lot of rambling in your post which included some thoughts that were irrelevant about the OTF. There isn't much to respond to, sorry.

You don't see it. You refuse to see it. And I tire of trying to show you. Some people cannot be convinced. You are one of them. There are others. And this comment of mine is not trying to change your mind but just acknowledging I read your last comment and telling you what I think.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of dead end discussions for people like us who are on opposite sides. This seems to be one of them. So sometimes I just back off and try something different.

So let's try this, shall we?

JSA said...

Well, in science we would say, let's figure out how to experimentally determine who is right. We do tend to suspend judgment until the evidence clearly supports one viewpoint. Because philosophy is not evidence driven in the same way, it is stuck with interminable cycles of disputes that are never resolved.

I don't think this is true. Scientists, like philosophers, often allow themselves to be persuaded by empirical evidence about the minor issues. But scientists don't invest in the empirical research about the big issues unless they are committed to and motivated by a particular theory, just as philosophers will seek out a debate those who disagree with them.

And, like philosophers, scientists who have invested heavily in a particular theory are very unlikely to change their minds and adopt an opposing theory when they find disconfirming evidence. They'll squirm and struggle for as long as they can to avoid abandoning their previous theory.

As Planck observed, the scientists with the weaker theories are never persuaded by evidence. They just die, and the next generation leaves them behind.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Loftus 0
Reppert 1

JS: I disagree but I don't want to get into phil of sci debate which would derail this thread.

normajean said...

BDK: Are you aware of any "dummies books" or websites that will help to explain the replacement rules in logic? Serious question. I'm reviewing logic for fun these days and I'm struggling for whatever reason =) AND please don't tell me to play chess lol.

Blue Devil Knight said...

normajean: it's expensive, but Hurley's introduction to logic is a great book.

normajean said...

Sounds good, thanks man

normajean said...

Yikes! $100 bucks-ish

JSA said...

@BDK - Yeah, I wasn't making a strong statement about epistemology. I was just reacting to your quote that I highlighted, which seemed like a very romanticized notion of how scientists work, that doesn't really ring true from my experience.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor I'm no longer convinced that the Muslims have less of an evidence base than Christianity. The Hadith, in addition to the Q'uran, are quite numerous and were vetted by scholars for authenticity and accuracy.

Interestingly, the Hadith include eyewitness accounts of multiple miracles, such that Muhammed ascended to heaven (the so-called "night journey"). Link to miracle claims here.

Also, I think it isn't all that hard to step out of one's belief system and evaluate it from the outside, so to speak. Especially for people who are younger, and are taught a reasonable view of things (e.g., that they should subject their beliefs to criticism and update them based on evidence). You are obviously not saying that you need to already be a Christian to be convinced of Christianity, after all.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Sorry, a bit off topic, but a while back Victor asked for the worst argument for your position you have ever heard.

I think I just found what may be the worst argument I have ever heard against dualism:

"As Sam Harris has pointed out, if God had created us with an immaterial mind, then there is no reason to expect that he would have also created a brain for us."

I can't believe Sam Harris really thinks this, and naturalists I implore you: think before you swallow such throwaway lines. You are giving them a slow pitch right over the plate.

That quote is from this essay by John Loftus.

Anonymous said...

BDK, I think you have emotional issue with me and perhaps with Sam Harris too.

Nonetheless if the mind exists and does all of what the theist claims it does, then please tell us specifically why, if it does that which the theists claims it does, God needed to create us with brains.

I'm all ears.

Blue Devil Knight said...

John, seriously you stand by it? I will give you one chance to think about it before I kill it. Perhaps read up on some neuroscience. I'll respond when I get back from lunch.

On a personal note, I do not have issues with Sam Harris, even if he is wrong in that one silly line about brains (which I would bet he will never publish, if he actually said it at all).

You have already tried to say I have a personal problem with "militant atheism". Let me repeat what I have already said...
I don't mind militant atheists at all. I think Dawkins is incredibly entertaining and witty, have enjoyed the work of Harris.

What I mind is your willingness to substitute name-calling for real argument, your tendency to overstate the originality and strength of the arguments that you do present (e.g., the outsider test). You are just awful at the give-and-take of real argumentation, as evidenced by how you dealt with Reppert/McGrew recently.

I mind that you hypocritically hammer people that you think don't have credentials, but then act as if your lack of serious specialization (i.e., PhD) shows you are some kind of intellectual jack of all trades poised to be especially damaging to the Christian philosophy.

The shameless plugging of your books doesn't do anything for your credibility either, whether or not it helps sales.

So, John, my problem isn't militant atheists: it's you. You are taking on the roll of a public face of atheism, and you make us look arrogant and incapable of logical argument. It is embarrassing to have you out there implicitly representing something I believe personally, and doing such a crappy job of it.

With your actions on the blogosphere, you are giving the Christians as much ammunition as you think you are giving them doubt. You are to atheism what that crazy communist lady on the corner handing out 9-11 conspiracy pamphlets is to progressivism.

My hope is that Christians here don't take you seriously as a representative of atheists/naturalists more generally.

Anonymous said...

BDK, I know you can place things in a petrie dish and write down what you see. Anyone can do that. But I honestly do not see any critical thinking skills coming from you.

There is a difference you are not even remotely aware of. It the history I have had with people, and now with you too.

The very fact that you repeated this claim of your without my responses mean you don't care about honesty. Others can see for themselves though our discussion ten days ago. Did you forget we had it in such short order, or is it you will not be persuaded no matter what I say?

Anonymous said...

Oops, here's the direct link to our discussion right here. But BDK carries on as if we never had it. Sheesh.

Blue Devil Knight said...

John yes I encourage people to read your response and decide if I am ignorant as you say, and if your response is sufficient.

Also people here can decide if, as you say, I lack critical thinking skills. I certainly post here enough for people to decide on that. Or maybe I am just a stamp collector scientist. Is that relevant to my arguments? Will you ever actually engage with an argument?

Oh, by the way here's my response to that awful argument.


Rebuttal to the worst argument I have ever seen against dualism.

Claim: if dualism is true, then there is no reason to have a brain.

Rebuttal: there are at least four reasons to have a brain if (substance) dualism is true (I invite readers of this blog to add to the list):

1. Gather and process sensory information from the environment. Dualists realize that damage to V1 makes you blind, after all.

2. Control behavior by activating muscles, helping us walk, etc.. Dualists realize full well that severing the spinal cord, or damaging the motor regions in the brain, produces paralysis.

3. Send signals to the nonphysical mind about its (the brain's) activity: let the mind know what is happening in the world and body.

4. Receive signals from the nonphysical mind about the mind's activity to help it better carry out roles 1 and 2.

Note I'm not endorsing dualism, just calling out the worst argument against dualism I have ever heard.

A better argument would be: given all the neuroscience we know and the functions carried out by the brain, it isn't clear what is left over for the nonphysical mind to do. That would actually be a good inductive argument against dualism.

I imagine it is entertaining for the Christians to see two atheists go at each other. It does not make me happy to give consolation this way. :)

Anonymous said...

BDK, one thing needs to be explained if you are right about me. Why do so many scholars say such nice things about my work and agree to write chapters for my books?

Oh, don't bother, you can't.

Anonymous said...

BDK, you lack imagination, a theists imagination. To the theist there is a conscious and a subconscious mind. That's one of the tricks Bill Craig and JP Moreland uses to defend how Jesus could be both God and man and yet be tempted without sin.

A subconscious mind can do all of this work without a brain. There is nothing you can say that would show otherwise for all that you would say presupposes what you must deny in making your case, that there is a mind which includes both a conscious and a subconscious side.

You don't even see this even to the point of claiming it's the worst argument you ever heard.

Once again proof to me all you're good for is observing stuff in a petrie dish and writing down the results.

Blue Devil Knight said...

John I'm not going to engage in psychoanalyzing how other people respond to you. Jeesh.

I'm done with you. There is enough in this thread and other threads for people to decide if I am reasonable, out of line, mean, dishonest, ignorant, or whatever. It's all out there. I've got work to do.

Anonymous said...

...and theists already believe there is some connection between the mind and the body anyway so there is once again no need for a brain if there is a mind. Now God might have reasons for creating a brain, but it's simply unnecessary upon the supposition there is a mind.

I think you misjudge me based on the bad judgment of Reppert who based his judgment on the almost daily posts by Steve Hays and company a few years back.

Shame on all of you.

Blue Devil Knight said...

John responded to my argument while I was posting, so let's look at what he said.

John said:
"A subconscious mind can do all of this work without a brain."

But you would need to establish that the dualist must believe that there is nothing left for the brain to do (whether that mind is conscious or unconscious). No dualist would agree to that, you are just throwing up a straw man. I listed four ways the dualist would think the brain is important, and you didn't address any of them directly.

John also said:
"and theists already believe there is some connection between the mind and the body anyway so there is once again no need for a brain if there is a mind. "

They believe there is a connection between the mind and brain, yes. How would that show the brain is not needed? There is a connection between the liver and the circulatory system, does that mean the liver isn't needed?

I will respond to the arguments, am done responding to personal attacks.

JSA said...

Nonetheless if the mind exists and does all of what the theist claims it does, then please tell us specifically why, if it does that which the theists claims it does, God needed to create us with brains.

Can someone elaborate on this? I'm genuinely interested in understanding what the question is.

Christian creeds profess bodily resurrection, which would seem to me to be compatible with naturalism's view about the brain. Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

BDK allows a dualist to make inconsistent statements as matters of fact for which I am supposed to account for on their terms.

That's funny to me.

Since when must I agree to inconsistent statements from people I disageee with?

I know what they claim, silly. I don't buy it. If the mind tells the arm to raise then there is no need for the brain to do so. The mind has a connection to the body so why must it have a brain? Why can't the mind connect to the muscles themselves and tell them to move? Why isn't the mind everywhere the body is anyway? Why must it be located anywhere specific in the brain or located anywhere at all?

That's what the theist must wrestle with and I claim there is no need for a brain if there is a mind DESPITE their inconsistent statements to the contrary.

Sheesh, are you that dense? There are indeed people on my side of the fence who I wish were on the other side, like BDK. Imagine this, he takes what a theist says as fact and asks me to account for these statements as if they were facts when I'm claiming instead there is no reason for me to do so on their own grounds.

Petrie dishes are calling, BDK.

Hey, let's agree to ignore one another from now on. I will ignore you if you will ignore me.

JSA said...

John, was that a response to me?

If the mind tells the arm to raise then there is no need for the brain to do so. The mind has a connection to the body so why must it have a brain? Why can't the mind connect to the muscles themselves and tell them to move? Why isn't the mind everywhere the body is anyway? Why must it be located anywhere specific in the brain or located anywhere at all?

Why would the theist have any different answer than Daniel Dennett or John Searle? To your first question, Dennett would say that the mind supervenes on the brain, which seems compatible with theism. To your second question Searle would argue that the mind that supervenes on the brain is not truly alive without a body (i.e. a disembodied mind makes no sense). That, too, seems like standard Christian orthodoxy.

I guess I'm having trouble seeing how this is a theist vs. atheist issue.

Blue Devil Knight said...

John: you are attacking a straw man.

Dualists accept that the brain is the seat of interaction with the mind because that's what the best evidence suggests (e.g., Eccles, Popper, Descartes, Lashley all realized this). You are not attacking a theory the dualists actually believe.

You would actually have a good point if your standard dualist thought that mind directly caused muscle contraction (and responded to stimuli in the environment). But no actual dualist believes that, so you are attacking a straw man.

Now of course you are free to ask why God decided to make us with a brain that interacts with a mind. For that matter, why do we need muscles why can't the mind directly pull on the skeleton to make us move? You could also ask that. But that wouldn't stand up as a criticism of any real dualist.

I gave four specific things left for the brain to do in a dualist world, and you have not addressed one of them.

Again, I'm not defending dualism, I'm just pointing out that this argument should have been sucked out in the first trimester.

JS: the argument is about substance dualism, not mind in general. I actually have been convinced lately that substance dualism is not necessarily the best reading of the Bible, that the Bible teaches us that humans are made of stuff of the Earth. So you can respect neuroscience, and respect the Bible at the same time.

Anonymous said...

JS I'm not a neurologist and my comments are not directed to you, but to BDK. I can usually only respond to one person at a time, like I do in what follows.

BDK. I see no reason to accept the claims of dualists who must incorporate the brain into their dualism because it's obvious we all have one. And so I see no reason at all why this is a strawman. You might as well tell Vic to abandon his AFR argument because no metaphysical naturalist agrees with it. Of course we don't. But that no more should dissuade him from pressing his case as it does me when dealing with this particular argument. And so I see absolutely no reason why I should accept anything my opponents agree about just as Vic should accept what metaphysical naturalists say about his argument.

It's the nature of arguments to do this and this is basic stuff really.

If there is a non-material mind that tells the brain what signals to send to the muscles so that an arm is raised upon cue, then there is no reason why we need the brain at all. The mind could skip it and make it's connection directly to the muscles themselves.

This seems obvious to me and nothing has approached dissuading me of it.

Anonymous said...

So much for the worst argument ever, eh BDK?

Child's play really. But Vic won't chime in because he really doesn't want to tell his patsy what an ignoramus he is for he's his own special useful idiot.

BDK let's agree to ignore one another from now on. I'll ignore your ignorance and you stop comenting with ignorance on what I write.


Blue Devil Knight said...

Again we get the same argument from John:
"If there is a non-material mind that tells the brain what signals to send to the muscles so that an arm is raised upon cue, then there is no reason why we need the brain at all. The mind could skip it and make it's connection directly to the muscles themselves."

Why not argue that we don't even need muscles, as the mind could skip the muscles and makes its connection directly to the skeleton like a marionette? Real (as opposed to straw) dualists believe the brain and mind are tightly connected. They believe this because the data shows it must be the case (for reasons I discussed above in reference to things such as blindness and paralysis). Why isn't the mind directly connected to the femur? Well, perhaps that would have been a possibility, but the evidence suggests otherwise, so no dualist has ever believed it. Not even Descartes.

You continue to say that there is "no reason" that the mind shouldn't control muscles directly. How do you know that? Muscle works really well to move things, but are not good at processing complex information. Kidneys work really well to filter out waste products. Lungs are great for respiration. The brain, the organ intimately involved with thinking (under every view, even the dualist), seem particularly well-suited to interact with a mind. The brain is a wonderful processor of complex sensory information, able to receive signals, integrate information, and transmit commands like no other organ. It is ideally suited to interact with a mind that can make use of such information and influence decisions.

Worst argument ever against dualism: if dualism is true, then we wouldn't need our brains. How many ways must I refute this claim?

Anonymous said...

Tell ya what BDK, if Vic doesn't straighten you out from here based on the premises then he's treating you as a patsy. Welcome to being his useful idiot. And this is one reason why I come here to antagonize because Vic won't clean his own house.

Victor Reppert said...

You don't clean your house, John. Whenever I post over at your place I get called all sorts of names, and you didn't respond. You said that your commenters spoke for themselves, and not for you, which is fine.

I, notoriously, don't moderate comments here, so I wasn't even in my blog when BDK's comments came in.

In spite of all the favorable comments that your books received from endorsers, I am beginning to see more and more that you are an ideologue and an anti-Christian apologist. We should expect no more of a fair treatment of the issues surrounding the truth of Christianity from you than we get from Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel. You announce that some Bible scholars aren't critical scholars because they are unwilling to undercut their own ideology in the interests of intellectual honesty. But you can be an uncritical unbeliever just as easily as you can be an uncritical believer. So long as you choose propaganda over debate and discussion, you show yourself to be a propagandist and not a philosopher (in the original sense of a "lover of wisdom"). Although you present some ideas that are challenging to Christianity, you have shown yourself incapable of carry on an decent discussion of those ideas in open dialogue.

I have had numerous interesting exchanges with BDK. Especially look at Dangerousidea2 for the year 2007, when I was developing the arguments that appeared in my Blackwell chapter. The "no-brain" argument was one that I think I remember seeing in Carrier, and I thought it was nothing to worry about, so I am not surprised that BDK unendorses it.

I've had my differences with Steve Hays and Paul Manata, and have objected to the tone they have adopted towards me. But I actually found the tone of The Infidel Delusion remarkably civil, and certainly very civil compared to the attitude you have adopted toward not only my criticisms, but those of people like Steve Lovell and Blue Devil Knight.

I have even conceded that the OTF is, or rather can be, a reasonable thought experiment. However, we cannot presume upon the outcome that other people will reach if they perform that thought experiment themselves. Some of the statements made surrounding it just strike me as insane. You claim with absolutely NO ARGUMENT WHATSOEVER, that Christian critics of other religions either just question-beggingly argue from the Bible, or presuppose methodological naturalism in their arguments. Would you kindly go over to your old debating partner David Wood's site, not answering infidels, but Answering Islam, and show me this is true of his critique of Islam? Or go to the thousands of evangelical anti-Mormon websites to see if these guys are Humean methodological naturalists? Facts are stubborn things, John, but a good propagandist like you learns to ignore them.

I think you are brainwashed, John. I think you have been brainwashed by the adulation you receive as a highly-regarded anti-Christian apologist. There is no way that you could have achieved the fame you have achieved as a Christian minister or Christian philosopher, but over at your echo-chamber at DC, you are the great leader.

It takes a lot of provocation to get me to say things as not-nice as I have been saying here. But you have revealed your true colors with the comments you have left on my site. I will never argue for the truth of Psalm 14:1. But if atheists want to supply that argument for me, I'm not going to complain.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor said:
The "no-brain" argument was one that I think I remember seeing in Carrier, and I thought it was nothing to worry about, so I am not surprised that BDK unendorses it.

Carrier endorsed it? Where? I have trouble believing it, as he is usually a bit more subtle: I've never seen him make such a bald howler of an argument.

Loftus, mooning someone is not an argument. I'm the one that brought up your argument, not Victor (what I now think of as the worst argument ever against dualism).

At any rate, I'll be happy to respond to any actual arguments John.

Victor Reppert said...

It was in the Carrier-Wanchick debate, the argument from Mind/Brain dysteleology.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor: Carrier's argument is a bit more subtle and convoluted, and as I suspected a much more slippery target that is not as obviously false as the bald claim that 'if dualism is true, then we wouldn't need brains' (which is what Loftus claimed).

Rather, Carrier's argument is a reductio.

First, assume God exists and is good. Then note that a brainless mind is better than a mind that is brain-dependent(because the latter is subject to injury and such). But we already know that the mind is brain-dependent (this is claimed to be an established empirical fact about minds). By modus tollens, this shows there is no God.

While I find this argument unpersuasive, it is at least more interesting, less obviously false, and brings up some interesting points. And it is not equivalent to the claim that 'if minds are immaterial, we would have no need for brains.'

It's an awful argument to use in a debate (the 13 step proof Carrier presented in the debate is bound to fall flat), but brings up enough interesting issues to start a fun discussion.

It is more subtle than the Loftus claim, as it really isn't an argument about dualism at all, as it uses the claim that minds are "embodied" or brain-based, rather than minds in the absence of brains, as a premise (P15 in his argument).

Carrier never suggests that dualism implies we don't need brains, period. Rather, his argument is that if dualism is true, then we don't need brains to explain those mental properties that inhere in the nonphysical mental stuff. This seems a reasonable claim.

Even in that scenario, brains would still be required to explain early sensory processing, lower-level motor control,etc.. In that sense, his argument isn't baldly ridiculous.

Alex Dalton said...

Lowder and Draper have made similar arguments, claiming that, on theism, mind-brain dependence is improbable (arguing that the brain is unnecessary as Loftus does, seems to be a non-sequitur).

In response to Lowder's support of Draper on the Secular Outpost, I've attempted to argue that mind-brain dependence is probable on theism. I wrote that "Physical embodiment provides a nice mechanism for the antithesis of certain omni-attributes that God might not want to endow creatures with - spatial location, lack of intrinsic eternality, limitations on knowledge, etc." It might be said that God could have simply created spirits or souls that lack the omni-attributes, but a) it seems easy to think of other good reasons for physical existence and on mind-body dualism the brain is the interface between the mind/soul and such existence, and b) since bringing about mind-brain dependence is at least *one* way of limiting the attributes of a created being, I'm not sure it matters whether or not there are other means of doing this.

jn said...

Just my: "too sense." Was interested in what Loftus had to say (was thinking about buying the book) UNTIL I read through the thread. The others called it right - namecalling, not actually addressing the questions raised, a seeming lack of intellectual humility and a generally grouchy approach made change my mind. So much heat and so little light! When Aristotle wrote of the three foundations of effective argument he included credibility. Sorry John, but the above seriously damages yours - and therefore both your argument.

Secular Outpost said...

FYI: I've blogged about the argument from physical minds, including a reply to Alex's objection, at