Monday, February 28, 2011

Charting the history of science

A little oversimplified, don't you think? In any event, even in college I knew better than to identify the Middle Ages with the Dark Ages, although plausibly there was a dark period during the early Middle Ages. Of course, the university system in Europe started during the Middle Ages, hardly a sign of overwhelming darkness.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On the Objectivity of Science

I think Bob's point has to be modified in certain ways, in that I think that science has the means to eventually correct its biases and mistakes over time. It is a human enterprise, subject to peer pressures and what not, but eventually it has the ability to snap out of its biases. Take, for example, the behaviorist phenomenon in psychology. I remember when I was an undergraduate that the entire psychology department at ASU was one big rat lab. Eventually this broke down, and now this period of the history of psychology is made fun of. But you would have been made fun of in those days if you thought behaviorism wasn't the wave of the future. Sometimes science gets out of a rut simply because the major figures keeping it in that rut die off.

In short, I would say that science has ways of moving in the direction of objectivity, but the wheels of the science gods may move more slowly than most people realize. Hence a strong apparent consensus in the scientific community may represent nothing more than a passing phase, not a guarantee that science has reached genuine certainty.

I'm not saying Bob would deny this. I do think what you have to say that science, as a intersubjective human enterprise, moves in the direction of objectivity, though it never achieves complete objectivity.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bob Prokop on Science and Objectivity


You, if anyone, are well aware that I am the very last person to admit there is anything like a real conflict between Science and Religion. That said, I am also very much opposed to some of the frankly absurd conclusions arrived at by various persons who have a less-than-professional expertise in BOTH fields. I'm thinking not only of scientifically-ignorant Young Earth Creationists, but also of those (primarily atheist) persons who claim an objectivity for Science that it in no way deserves.

With that in mind, I simply have to quote to you a passage from a remarkable book I have stumbled across: "Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science", by Jan Golinski, Cambridge University Press, 1998, page ix:

"There is nothing self-evident or inevitable about scientific claims that become established as "truths" in specific times and places. ... Scientific knowledge should be understood primarily as a human product, made with locally situated cultural and material resources, rather than simply the revelation of a pre-given order of nature."

Golinski argues that, while the "Facts" accrued by scientific research may deserve a modicum of trust and be granted a (strictly defined) degree of objectivity, the broader conclusions derived from such knowledge are inextricably part of the prevalent culture and existing power structures. He makes a convincing case.

This has HUGE implications for the OTF. It means that no atheist (or skeptic, or whatever) can claim to stand "outside" of anything, simply by incanting "scientific" tropes under the illusion (dare I say "delusion"?) that such information is inherently objective. The DATA may very well be so (and there are limits even to that), but whatever effects such raw information may have on KNOWLEDGE can never be so. The scientist (or layperson relying on scientific research) will forever be a product of his times, his culture, and his environment. No one is an outsider.

As a very specific illustration of this concept, allow me to draw your attention to a perfectly wonderful book, also by Cambridge University Press, by Maria Lane, "Geographies of Mars" (2011). The book concerns how astronomers understood Mars throughout history. You might be aware that around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries, it was widely believed, both by professional astronomers as well as by the public as a whole, that Mars was inhabited by a canal-building intelligent race. Here is what Ms. Lane has to say about that belief. It is well worth a careful read:

"The geopolitical moment in which the inhabited Mars narrative unfolded - dominated as it was by European imperialism and American expansionism - produced an intellectual and social climate in which the view of Mars as an arid, dying, irrigated world peopled by unfathomably advanced beings was really the only interpretation of Mars observations that could plausibly have been accepted by large numbers of Western scientists, writers, and audiences."

My point for bringing this up? Simply this - the widespread assertions by persons who make a habit of conjuring up "Science" (although they are most likely not themselves scientists) with the aim of confining religious thought to a supposed "God of the Gaps", and their claim that "History is on Our Side", are no less a product of the contemporary environment than the now discredited belief in intelligent life on Mars, and will someday be regarded with the same degree of amusement by future generations, who do not share our own particular cultural prejudices and blinders.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Florida Man Raised from the Dead by Praying Cardiologist

What do you make of this sort of thing?

What it is to be persuaded by an argument

This is from my reply to Keith Parsons in essay "Some Supernatural Reasons Why My Critics are Wrong" (a title that was given to my essay by someone else), in Philosophia Christi (Volume 5, no. 1, 2003).

But think for a moment about what it is to be persuaded by an argument. If we are thinking in common-sense terms, we would have to say that what goes on when we are persuaded by Parsons's argument that Arizona State will not be in the BCS this year is that we consider the epistemic strength of the premises, the grounding relation between the premises and the conclusion, and then accept the conclusion as a result of considering the evidence presented in the argument. To be convinced by an argument is for the reasons presented in the argument to play a causal role in the production of the belief. If the argument is causally irrelevant to the belief, then we cannot say that the argument was persuasive. This can often be cashed out counterfactually: If I really am persuaded by Parsons's argument, then it cannot be the case that I am such a partisan of the Arizona Wildcats that I would think the worst of the Sun Devils' prospects even if the Sun Devils had a Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback, outstanding and experienced running backs and wide receivers, a rock-solid offensive line, and was returning everyone from what had been the stingiest defense in the Pac-10 the previous year.

On the one hand, the reasons have to persuade me in virtue of their being reasons. The logical force of the argument has to have a causal impact on belief. It has to make a difference as to whether I form the belief or fail to form the belief in question. And that, by the way, is bound to make a difference as to what I do with my body. I am going to behave differently if I think the Devils have a good chance to take the Pac-10 title than if I don't. And that is going to affect what the particles in the physical world do. But if the physical is causally closed, that means that the physical and only the physical can affect where the particles in the physical world go, and, the physical is defined as lacking, at the basic level of analysis, the central features of the mental. So the only way this kind of causal relation could possibly exist, would be if we could analyze the mental in physical terms as a kind of macro-state of the physical. Just as the word "planet" is absent from physical vocabulary, but a whole bunch of particle-states add up to there being a planet, perhaps "S's belief that P" can be added up from a set of physical states. But that seems to me to be just impossible. Add up the physical all you like, and you aren't going to get "S's belief that P." The physical leaves the mental indeterminate. Yet, if science is to be possible, is has to be determinate whether, for example, Einstein is plussing or quussing when he is adding numbers in the course of developing his theory.

So, I argue that you need mental causation for the possibility of science, but you can't get that without affirming what seems to be an implausible reductionism, that conflicts with the indeterminacy of the physical.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christians are gaining in numbers, not atheists

I am redating this post. 

According to this report from Inside Catholic.

HT: Bob Prokop

The Courtier's Reply

What the New Atheists call the Courtier's Reply concerns the fact that the New Atheist attack on theistic belief is often made in ignorance of what the theist believes. The rebuttal to the reply is that atheists claim that God does not exist, and therefore detailed accounts of exactly what Christians or other theists believe about their God is irrelevant.

In the emperor case, then king is naked, and this can be discovered by looking, and what color the imaginary clothes are supposed to be is irrelevant. 

The legitimacy of this response depends on what aspects of theism are relevant to the arguments Dawkins and company are making. It is a matter of what is relevant to the reasons for rejecting Christianity or theism. Admittedly, a lack of knowledge about the difference between Arianism and orthodox trinitarianism is probably not relevant. However, to make this kind of claim, one needs to know what sorts of arguments for theism have been advanced. For example, if you go around saying that you can refute any first cause argument by asking the question who made God, you have to take into account the fact that the causal principles defenders of cosmological arguments use normally don't require that anything and everything needs a cause. In the case of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the principle is "Whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of its existence." In the case of the Thomistic argument from contingency, there is a distinction between contingent and necessary beings, and while contingent things need causes, necessary beings do not. So your defense of the claim that all cosmological arguments fail in this way will inevitable come across as ignorant to people who know something about how such arguments are supposed to work

If your claim is that the God of the Bible is morally deficient, then you have to have some understanding about how Scripture passages are interpreted and understood by theologically informed religious believers. You could make the case against God without bringing any of this up, but if it is part of your case against God, then you need to do your homework and understand what believers actually say about this.

If your argument is that religion conflicts with science, then you have to take seriously the kinds of attempts that are made to reconcile religion and science by people who have considered the question.

Hence, some aspects of theology are going to be relevant to the arguments you would be making, and others may not be.

Some further comments by Feser

I think this part of his post needs to be underscored. 

Don’t expect the scales to fall from their eyes anytime soon, though.  It is hard enough for anyone to say “I was wrong.”  But the New Atheist has to say much more than that.  To admit his errors really amounts to saying “I am exactly the sort of person that I have loudly, publicly, and repeatedly denounced and ridiculed, and the hating of whom gives me my sense of identity and self-worth.”  That requires a nearly superhuman degree of honesty and courage.  So, while this or that New Atheist loudmouth might, like David, finally see himself for what he really is, I think we can expect the bulk of them to continue their spiral into intellectual and moral darkness.  All in the name of reason and morality, of course.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Barker-Horner Resurrection Debate

What does naturalism exclude?

What makes a philosophy naturalistic, or even physicalistic? We are inclined to think that traditional Christian theism is supernaturalist view, but what makes something supernatural? Unlike C. S. Lewis, I want my naturalist opponents to tell me what their naturalism excludes. Otherwise, I'm just going to argue that my Christian world-view is just a liberal form of naturalism. 

The characteristics of the physical that interest me are the absence of certain critical elements from the basic level of physics: intentionality or aboutness, normativity, subjectivity or perspectivality, and purpose. Would you consider something to be naturalistic  if the fundamental-level explanation for its activity were, say, teleological? If something is purposive at the basic level of analysis, could it be naturalistic in any meaningful sense. If yes, then what do we have to include in our explanation in order for us to say "OK, if that's in the basic-level explanation, it's not naturalistic anymore."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Arguments for atheism

This is a set of arguments for atheism on

Friday, February 18, 2011

The animal that destroys even itself

IT is amusing to notice that many of the moderns, whether sceptics or mystics, have taken as their sign a certain eastern symbol, which is the very symbol of this ultimate nullity. When they wish to represent eternity, they represent it by a serpent with its tail in its mouth. There is a startling sarcasm in the image of that very unsatisfactory meal. The eternity of the material fatalists, the eternity of the eastern pessimists, the eternity of the supercilious theosophists and higher scientists of to-day is, indeed, very well presented by a serpent eating its tail -- a degraded animal who destroys even himself.


Dinesh D'Souza on Atheism and the Science Card

I'm a little dubious about using the absence of any scientific argument in the billboard campaign for atheism as evidence for much of anything. But are atheists entitled to assume that science is on their side?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

C. S. Lewis's Meditation in a Toolshed

It is interesting to see how much this essay anticipates more recent discussions in the philosophy of mind.

HT: Steve Lovell

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bultmann's blatant chronological snobbery

A redated post, prompted by Bob Prokop's charge of chronological snobbery against Doctor Logic. I am linking to the Wikipedia entry on the fallacy of Chronological snobbery.

It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless [radio] and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits.

Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth

Apparently Bultmann never visited a charismatic church. Those churches are not only filled with people who believe in demons and spirits, they consider them part of daily experience.

It reminds me of Al Plantinga's joke:

Pastor 1: Do you believe in infant baptism?
Pastor 2: Believe in it? I've seen it done.

This (1/22/10) is Lewis's critique of chronological snobbery, from Surprised by Joy.

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my ow thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date has is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also a "period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Miracles and the Case for Theism

This was my first published paper, and I see that Common Sense Atheism has made it available online.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Russell on Free Thought

Russell: The expression 'free thought' is often used as if it meant merely opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. But this is only a symptom of free thought, frequent, but invariable. 'Free thought' means thinking freely — as freely, at least, as is possible for a human being. The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyrant of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man's emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker.

Are these the two things we need to be free of intellectually? Are there other things that we should think about being free from in order to be rational? Intellectual peer pressure, maybe?

just plain snobbery

A redated post.

Shulamite made a comment about my reference to "just plain snobbery" as as reason why Lewis is not taken seriously amongst philosophers. It reminds me of when I was in my first year of teaching introductory philosophy at the University of Illinois. I informed my students that there were about 18 full-time teachers at the U of I, and as best as I could tell 17 of them were atheists. One student raised his hand and asked "Those atheist teachers, do they think of themselves as the supreme beings?" I didn't answer the way I should have, which would have been to say "well, not all of them."

David Marshall on why Christianity passes the OTF, and Secular Humanism may fail

Something tells me, deep down in the pit of my stomach, the Loftus isn't going to buy this.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

An Unbeliever's Near Death Experience

Logical Positivist philosopher A. J. Ayer.

Ignorance about C. S. Lewis

Apparently, for some people, if you write children's books, it doesn't matter what else you say.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Skepticism

Another Chestertonian Golden Oldie

His chapter on Maniacs from Orthodoxy. A Chesterton-Dawkins debate would be a delight to see.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Friday, February 04, 2011

Hasker's version of the Argument from Reason from The Emergent Self


Dostoyevsky on Miracles

From The Brothers Karamazov :

In my opinion miracles will never confound a naturalist. It is not miracles that bring a naturalist to faith. A true naturalist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles. And if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the naturalist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith. Once the naturalist comes to believe, then precisely because of his naturalism, he must also allow for miracles.

HT: Bob Prokop

God should have made it obvious, so why didn't He?

That seems to be the theme of Loftus' discussion here. It seems to require a very different world from the world we live in, a world in which religious ambiguity is eliminated.

Such a world, in my view, would eliminate the possibility of real choice, because it would be perfectly obvious, not only that there is a God, but it would also be perfectly obvious what we ought to do. Further, we could know that in doing what we ought to do, we would be rewarded, while if we do what we ought not to do, we would be punished. Who but a complete fool would do what is right?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Darek Barefoot's defense of the Argument from Reason

A re-redated post.

I have redated this post because Darek has responded to Jim, but it has been awhile (13 days) since it was up.

A few years ago Darek Barefoot sent me a defense of the Argument from Reason. I ran across it lately, and asked him if I could share it on the blog. He said yes, so here it is.

Simulating Sleep: A Thought Experiment to Demonstrate the Argument from Reason

by Darek Barefoot

Under a physicalist model of reality, all connections are instances of cause and effect (quantum events having a peculiar "disconnectedness"). Whatever the mind or brain comes to know about reality must be through such cause-and-effect connections with the events and objects that are known. We know that an object is red, with a high degree of probability, because it looks red to us. Some connections are less direct, and might be called "detections." We come to know the barometric pressure at a given moment because what is obvious to our senses when we look at the dial of a barometer is causally connected with a physical state difficult or impossible to sense directly. The cause and effect relationship between what we see on the dial and actual atmospheric pressure is critical. To repeat, under physicalistic assumptions all acts of knowing must be causally connected with the state of the object being known; no other type of connection is available.

Physicalists such as Daniel Dennett insist that even consciousness, to the extent that the word describes anything real, is a causally driven physical activity and nothing more. What we think of as conscious functions such as sensation and reason are interpreted as behaviors. For convenience we might divide these behaviors into those that are external and therefore obvious to any observer, such as walking and talking, and those that are internal actions of the brain that must be detected, such as the electrical changes measured by an EEG.

Logical connections, however, defy being equated with or reduced to chains of cause and effect. We can demonstrate this incompatibility with the following thought experiment. Suppose I lie down on a bed, close my eyes, relax my limbs and deliberately begin to breathe in the deep, regular pattern that we associate with asleep. Now, as I lie on the bed under these conditions, how do I know that I am awake and not asleep? I can sense that the position of my body and my external behavior are consistent with sleep. If a third party were to walk into a room and observe my behavior, they would think it more likely than not that I was asleep.

If I know myself to be awake, in spite of sensing my bodily behavior to be that typical of sleep, I must under physicalist assumptions be sensing or detecting the other behavioral component, my brain activity. After all, these two types of behavior allegedly comprise everything we call the state of being awake, and my act of knowing myself to be awake must be linked to my "awake" behavior, uninterruptedly, by means of cause and effect. The trouble is, I can offer no sensory account of what my brain is doing. I cannot see or hear any part of my brain, nor can I claim to see or hear electrical or chemical changes going on in it. I cannot "feel" my brain in the somatosensory way I feel the position of my limbs or the way I feel my heart beating when my pulse is rapid.

To know things about the state of my brain by causal means through detection, as opposed to direct sensation, would require special instruments. For example, suppose an EEG were set up in the room where I am lying down and that I were connected to it. Suppose further that instead of just a graph it
generated an audio signal in the form of beeps and that from the timing of these beeps it could be determined whether the person hooked up to the machine was awake or asleep. Even lying on the bed with my eyes closed I could listen to the beeps and detect my brain activity to be that of someone who is awake. It is important to note that this is public, not private, information. A person walking into the room could also detect from the beeps that I was awake in spite of observing that my bodily behavior was consistent with sleep.

The ability of an EEG to convey to me my brain state is well and good, but returning to my original situation in the room, I have no EEG and cannot detect my brain activity. I have only the messages I am receiving from my body as effects in the form of sensations. To the extent that these sensations "say" anything about my condition with respect to my being asleep or awake, they say "probably asleep." How, then, do I nevertheless know myself to be awake? I do so by logical means. I am feeling the state of my body, and since I can only feel things when I am awake, it is overwhelmingly probable that I am awake. Logic transforms "probably asleep" to "probably awake," and I am content to put faith in this mysterious alchemy. How is this happening?

Perhaps I was mistaken about the causal inputs, the "sensations," I am receiving. Perhaps the logically active part of my brain, in the cerebral cortex, is actually connected by cause and effect means with "awake" activity in some other part such as the mid-brain. In reality, then, the way I know I am awake is by sensing the awake state of my brain, or at least part of it. But what about the syllogism that I (mistakenly) thought was means by which I know I am awake: "I only experience bodily sensations when I am awake; I am experiencing bodily sensations; therefore I am awake." Is the syllogism still sound? If the syllogism is sound and if it is different than the sensing of an awake state of one part of my brain by another part, then I was not mistaken after all. But the implication is dire for any physicalist model of the situation, because it means that I can know about the awake state of my brain without any sensory, causal connection to that state. It should go without saying that the brain activity entailed by my act of knowing cannot be causally connected to itself; the event sequence involved cannot be its own cause.

Few options are left, physicalistically speaking. It might be claimed that I do not in fact know that I am awake in the circumstances specified. Physicalists who wish to ply that argument are free to do so, and the rest of us may be excused for paying them little attention. The other strategy is to identify the syllogism with the act of sensing of an awake state in some part of my brain. This would have strange implications, to say the least. My means of knowing that I am awake would actually be not reason distinct from sensation but reason as sensation--and as a sensation different that the one the syllogism identifies, to boot. Remember, I thought that I arrived at my knowledge by reasoning based on sensations originating in my body. Can any of our knowledge, including cognitive science, survive if syllogisms are equated with sensations? Is logic, as distinct from simple sensation, a kind of illusion? That can hardly be true if the word "true" is to retain any meaning.

It is pretty routine for us to differentiate between sensations and syllogisms. Are the sensations entailed in seeing and smelling a rose the equivalent of propositions inferred logically about a rose? For one thing, syllogisms and propositions may be sound or unsound, true or false. Sensations, on the other hand, are not true or false or correct or incorrect, they simply "are." As Ayer observed, "A sensation is not the sort of thing which can be doubtful or not doubtful. A sensation simply occurs. What are doubtful are the propositions which refer to our sensations." To claim that there is no sharp divide between sensations and syllogisms is, at the bare minimum, to assume a heavy burden of explanation.

Let's imagine, instead of me lying on a bed, an electrical device with a meter that displays the level of incoming voltage. The voltage meter might due to unexpected mechanical events read "0" when in fact there was still an electrical current present in the device. Let's roughly compare this circumstance to my appearing to be asleep when I am not. Let's also suppose that, forseeing this possibility, the makers of the device have installed a small red indicator light that stays lit when any current is present, even if the voltage meter happens to read "0." There might even be a small sign beneath the light reading, "power on." Is there any distinction in principle to be made between the manner of operation of the voltage meter and that of the indicator light? Both undergo an obvious physical change when electrical current flows through them. We may call the branching circuit to the indicator light a "logic circuit," but only as a subjective attribution. One circuit in the device is no more "logical" than another. Nor does a distinction in principle appear with increasing complexity of the device. Even if the indicator light were replaced by a chip with an LCD display that read, "Beware, I have determined that current is present in my circuits!," it would remain a sensor. In principle, a sensor is a sensor. It is impossible to distinguish between types of sensors in the same way we can between sensations and syllogisms.

The simulated sleep experiment is designed to make obvious the gulf between sensation and reason that always exists but may be harder to differentiate when impression and conclusion coincide more closely. Other examples can be offered, however. If I look through red-tinted glasses I understand that objects that are not red will look red and red objects will look white. My knowledge does not cause me to experience red when I see white, however, nor do I have to stop and picture a white-appearing object as red in my mind to understand logically that it must really be red. Nor does my experience of knowingly viewing objects through red-tinted glasses amount to sensory dissonance. It is not the same as, say, looking at what appears to be a melting ice cube and discovering with surprise that it is warm to the touch. "Looks white through red-tinted glasses, is therefore red," is in terms of raw sensory experience unfathomable, but it is a phenomenon that I have no difficulty coming to terms with as long as logic is available to me.

The simulated sleep experiment points up the difficulty physicalism has accounting not only for reason, but for consciousness as well. Consciousness in the context of the experiment is substantially synonymous with the state of being awake and is defined behaviorally along the same lines. As I point out above, there are three means of determining that I am conscious. Means No. 1 is to observe my waking or conscious behavior. Someone who sees me walking, talking and otherwise responding will know that I am conscious. I myself have access to that behavior by sensory means as well. I can feel my body moving and hear myself speaking. Means No. 2 is to detect my conscious brain activity, as by the EEG. Both I and an observer potentially have access to this information as well. Means No. 3 is my private experience as the basis of a logic transaction that obtains the information otherwise available by Means Nos. 1 and 2. The problem for physicalistic theories of consciousness is that they cannot accomodate "private" knowledge as objective, and Means No. 3 of determining whether I am conscious necessarily is private. If I decide to give any physical clues at all about my state to an observer, the observer would receive the information through Means No. 1. If the observer, on the other hand, resorts to instrumentation or any causally-based investigative method to determine my brain activity, the information he obtains will owe to Means No. 2. No advances in technology or cognitive science can remedy the problem unless they endow test subjects and observers with mental telephathy.

The irreconcilability of private knowledge with physicalism can be grasped through analogy. Suppose I am an astronomer who comes to know, by some power of my brain not entirely understandable to me, the precise position and orbit of a heretofore uncharted moon of Jupiter. I know this fact apart from anything that may be construed as observation of the moon or its effects. If I train my telescope on the right portion of the sky, I can say I have observed the moon to exist. If someone else happens to do the same, they will make the discovery as well. Before either observation is made, however, I and I alone know the moon exists, and I know it with the same degree of certainty that I know myself to exist. If, after another astronomer observes the moon, I were to tell him that I knew it was there previous to his discovery without being able to give him any observational account to justify this supposed insight of mine, he would likely regard me as a crank. Presumably the same astronomer would, on the other hand, have a different opinion if the object of knowledge were not a hypothetical moon of Jupiter but my own unobserved state of consciousness.

There must be a factor associated with what we call consciousness that is absent from physical events and objects as we encounter them externally. This factor has most often been associated with so-called qualia, the "what it's like" of experience. Famous expositions of "what it's like" to exist as a member of a particular animal species (Nagel, 1974) or to see colors (Jackson, 1982) make the fairly obvious point that there is something to experience that cannot be captured in a factual description. The ineffable "something" that comprises qualia is amorphous, objective in its existence but subjective as to its essence. Whether I know myself to be conscious as I lie on the bed is a question of hard fact. Either I know my condition or I do not. If I know myself to be conscious, then the source of my knowing is as objectively real as the knowledge itself.

To say that there is something more than physical cause and effect occuring in consciousness and reason is not to deny that in our experience they are conditional on certain physical states. Too much should not be made of the association. If I tampered with the components of a radio, the quality of the sound it produced would be effected. If I tampered with the radio forcefully, it would cease to produce sound at all. Only through a fallacy could I conclude from these facts that the broadcast heard over the radio originated in the radio itself. The analogy is imperfect, as all analogies are, but it remains true that the observed necessity of certain conditions for the occurrence of certain events does not confine the explanation of those events to the conditions alone. The existence of a body of water of a certain size may be a condition of having high and low tides, but a body of water does cause tides to occur simply by existing. If the brain is more like an interface than a stand-alone machine, then it cannot be in contact with the "mindless" entities we know as physical substances. It is easy to appreciate that this unsettling implication is more congruent with theism than with atheistic materialism.

The Argument from Reason was popularized by C.S. Lewis in his book Miracles (1960) and developed by others since. The experiment described here is an effort briefly to illustrate his thesis.


A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (1952) 93.

Thomas Nagel, The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974) 435-50.

Frank Jackson, 'Epiphenomenal Qualia,' Philosophical Quarterly (April 1982) 127-136.

C. S. Lewis, Miracles (1960) 12-24.

For a good overview of the Argument from Reason, see Victor Reppert's article of the same name at

Chesterton on Shaw

[Shawʼs] latest play, The Showing Up of Blanco Posnet, has been forbidden by the Censor. As far as I can discover, it has been forbidden because one of the characters professes a belief in God and states his conviction that God has got him. This is wholesome; this is like one crack of thunder in a clear sky. Not so easily does the prince of this world forgive. Shawʼs religious training and instinct is not mine, but in all honest religion there is something that is hateful to the prosperous compromise of our time. You are free in our time to say that God does not exist; you are free to say that He exists and is evil; you are free to say (like poor old Renan) that He would like to exist if He could. You may talk of God as a metaphor or a mystification; you may water Him down with gallons of long words, or boil Him to the rags of metaphysics; and it is not merely that nobody punishes, but nobody protests. But if you speak of God as a fact, as a thing like a tiger, as a reason for changing oneʼs conduct, then the modern world will stop you somehow if it can. We are long past talking about whether an unbeliever should be punished for being irreverent. It is now thought irreverent to be a believer.

HT: Tim McGrew