Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Hasker on Chalmers



im-skeptical said...

I agree that Chalmers clings to an untenable middle ground between dualism and physicalism. But going the way of Hasker doesn't offer any explanatory power, either. To say that we have an immaterial entity that is responsible for our conscious experience does nothing to help us understand how it works.

William said...

I agree with you, skep, about Hasker not addressing the question about how the immaterial can have subjective experience.

Hasker does hit on some very good points about the advantages to letting go of causal closure though.

Given that the basic difference you have with others in the blog about the physical is that you define the mental to be physical, I can reframe Hasker's idea in your terms by saying that there is a very real advantage in allowing macrophysical system properties to be causal, that is, by breaking the causal closure of the micro-physical (allowing properties other than basic one like charge, mass, etc. to be causal).

Who could prove otherwise, anyway?

im-skeptical said...

"there is a very real advantage in allowing macrophysical system properties to be causal, that is, by breaking the causal closure of the micro-physical (allowing properties other than basic one like charge, mass, etc. to be causal)."

I don't see why you can't explain things in terms of "macrophysical" causes. But to say there's no link between those different layers is a mistake.

Consider the software "Mathematica". You can tell it to solve a differential equation. There are many layers of functionality, from the symbolic mathematical equation, to the high-level programming language, to the machine code, to the operation of memories, registers, and accumulators, to logic gates, to transistors, to electric fields and the movement of charged particles. Each of these layers has its own operational description and language. Each is understood separately from the lower or higher layers, yet there is a well-understood causal link from one layer to the next.

Now consider a human mind. It also has many layers or levels of functionality, but because we didn't build it ourselves, we don't fully understand all of them. But we are closing in on that understanding, and it's just a matter of time until we are able to say definitively that we can explain how it all works.

Now consider the dualistic understanding of mind. There is a real gap between the physical and the mental. Now how do we understand its functionality? There's no way we could ever explain how that gap is bridged, except to say that it's some kind of magic. Sorry, that's not good enough for me.

Victor Reppert said...

How are you using the word "magic" here? Is it just a derogatory term, or does it have parameters of usage?

Even without reducing teleology to mechanism, we can explain and even predict what a mind does. Assuming that we have no explanation unless we have a mechanistic one seems mistaken,

William said...

im-skeptical: "there is a well-understood causal link from one layer to the next"

Applied to what Chalmers and Hasker are talking about, this seems to just beg the question with regard to the conscious experience part of what you define as physical. With the computer, it can probably be shown how any given higher layer property is specifically due to a specific composition of specific properties of the lower layer.

Hasker is suggesting that one can just let go of clinging to the hope that one can always show a microphysically defined causal link from the microphysical properties to certain macrophysical system properties.

William said...


Claiming that there is magic in emergence is nothing new, I think-- see here, especially the discussion, since the original post is just an extended ad hominem:

im-skeptical said...

Interesting article. A theist's perspective on what is not understood. Now I agree that 'emergence' may be used in cases where we lack a physical understanding of some behavior or property. But to equate it with magic is not valid. To say something is magic is to say that there is no physical explanation. This would necessarily be the case with mind/brain dualism, where there simply is no way to tie the two together in a coherent way. I have never liked the term 'emergenge', but I would never consider it to be synonymous with magic.

planks length said...

"Magic" has neither negative nor positive connotations for me. I regard the term as quite neutral. Do you wish to call consciousness, or miracles, or creation itself "magic"? Go right ahead.

Depending on how one defines magic, I have no problem with the word.

William said...

Yes. A pod of whales breaching...that's magic :)

planks length said...


Or this: MAGIC.

Now that's magic!

im-skeptical said...

"A pod of whales breaching...that's magic"

I find it amazing that Christians don't embrace their belief in the supernatural. They seem to be embarrassed by their own belief in supernatural phenomena, refusing to call it magic. Instead, they will point to ordinary events that cause some kind of emotional reaction, and call that magic. Let's get real. Jesus rising from the dead - that's magic. The ability of an immaterial entity to control our bodies and guide our thoughts and feelings - that's magic. A pod of whales breaching - that's nature. And nature certainly can be awesome. But awe is an emotion.

planks length said...

"Jesus rising from the dead - that's magic."

I'm fine with that, as long as you also call it true. Magic is not a dirty word to me. No embarrassment here.

grodrigues said...


"They seem to be embarrassed by their own belief in supernatural phenomena, refusing to call it magic."

Because what characterizes magic is not "supernatural" (whatever that is). A lot has been written by it, started with Frazer's classic "The Golden Bough".

Not that you, with your braindead polemics, would know any of it.

im-skeptical said...


Sounds interesting. I'll read it.

Ephram said...

"They seem to be embarrassed by their own belief in supernatural phenomena."

We have an overabundance of arguments/evidence for the truth of our supernatural belief. In light of that, why should we be embarrassed by the truth? Indeed, how could any person be embarrassed by what he honestly reasons to be true?

im-skeptical said...

What I'm saying here is that natural phenomena that evoke an emotional response are not miracles or magic. They are explained as ordinary natural events, and so is the emotional response.

amorbis said...

The ability of an immaterial entity to control our bodies and guide our thoughts and feelings - that's magic.

No. You're either grossly misunderstanding, or (more likely) you're being intellectually dishonest. In dualism, mental states like thoughts and feelings are *themselves* immaterial - and the mind of which they are time-slices is considered to be an immaterial entity because of that. Get your facts straight before you mock, idiot.

im-skeptical said...


I would be happy to hear your version of the facts, and especially how you think immaterial mental events (acts of will) can control the body.

Papalinton said...

As I was reading through, the further I read the louder the alarm bells pealed. Hasker's argument seemed somewhat off-song and not quite right. The paper seemed to be segueing ever so subtly, with an under-current more ideological in nature than philosophical.

On returning to re-read it I noticed this: © William Hasker and ISCID 2003.

I knew I had referenced this at another time. Some years earlier I had purchased the book, "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design", by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. Barbara Forrest you will recall was the head of the NSCE having a significant role in the Kitzmiller vs Dover School Board court case on Intelligent design. Information on ISCID and the Discovery Institute cited throughout Forrest's book can begin from the bibliography entry at p.379.

A little more searching and:
"The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) was a non-profit professional society that promoted intelligent design and rejected evolution.[1] It sought to alter the scientific method to eliminate what it saw as its materialistic, naturalistic, reductionistic and atheistic underpinnings. The goal of the intelligent design movement the Society supports is to "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions"[2] and to "affirm the reality of God."[3]
ISCID's views on evolution and the scientific method ran counter to the scientific consensus. Evolution is overwhelmingly endorsed within the scientific community[4] while intelligent design has been rejected as unscientific."

Skep astutely focussed the problematic nature of Hasker's contribution here, " But going the way of Hasker doesn't offer any explanatory power, either."

planks length said...

HERE is an article which thoroughly skewers every one of the arguments regularly brought up on this website by our resident atheists.

For anyone genuinely interested in a search for Truth, and not just in an infantile desire to "win" an internet argument, this presentation is pure gold. I sincerely hope that Dangerous Idea's loyal atheist following might give it an open-minded reading.

Papalinton said...

A counter response to Pravmir's arguments

A further response to Pravmir's argument

Top 10 failed proofs of god's existence"

And an amusingly irreverent look at religious belief and how it actually is practiced and believed in the community

I do hope Plank and friends will seriously consider the message underlying these refutations and particularly the the illustration of practical religious belief in the video.

im-skeptical said...

Pravmir's simplistic view of theistic arguments:

1. There is no evidence for God’s existence.
“Nearly everything the Christian lays eyes on is proof of God’s existence”

- A strawman. There is no empirical evidence for God. Period.

2. If God created the universe, who created God?
“If God had a Creator then His Creator would be God.”

- If God can exist necessarily, there is no logical reason the universe or some material reality) couldn’t just as well exist necessarily. There is no need to posit a God at all.

3. God is not all-powerful if there is something He cannot do. God cannot lie, therefore God is not all-powerful.
“An argument based on strict logical word games can render the idea ‘all-powerful,’ or ‘omnipotent’ self-defeating.”

- Another strawman. The logical conflict between omnipotence and omniscience is well known, and it’s not a matter of playing logical word games by posing tasks that are logically impossible. Theists need to face up to this.

4. Believing in God is the same as believing in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
“multiple thousands of years of human testimony and religious development; ... martyrs enduring the most horrific trauma in defense of the faith; ... accounts in religious texts with historical and geographical corroboration; etc”

- God is a mythical being, like any other supposed supernatural entity. The fact that people believe in it is irrelevant to the the fact that it’s still a myth. The fact that the bible mentions some events and places that are real is also irrelevant. These are logical fallacies.

5. Christianity arose from an ancient and ignorant people who didn’t have science.
“The virgin birth of Christ was profound and of paramount concern to the ancients precisely because they understood that conception was impossible without intercourse.”

- Yet another strawman. Those ancient people were prone to believe all kinds of superstitions and miraculous events. Virgin births were attributed to numerous godly or semi-godly beings in those days.

cont ...

im-skeptical said...

6. Christian’s only believe in Christianity because they were born in a Christian culture. If they’d been born in India they would have been Hindu instead.
“Indeed, being born in a Jewish or Christian centric home today is more often a precursor that the child will grow up to abandon the faith of his or her family.”

- The fact is that the vast majority of adults who adhere to any religion were raised and indoctrinated with those religious beliefs.

7. The gospel doesn’t make sense: God was mad at mankind because of sin so he decided to torture and kill his own Son so that he could appease his own pathological anger. God is the weirdo, not me.
“The Father sacrificed His own Son in order to destroy death with His life; not to assuage His wrath, but to heal; not to protect mankind from His fury, but to unite mankind to His love.”

- Yet another strawman. Even if it wasn’t to appease his anger, torturing and killing Jesus is still barbaric and senseless. Jesus’ suffering doesn’t make me any less guilty of my sins, and mankind certainly hasn’t been united in his love.

8. History is full of mother-child messiah cults, trinity godheads, and the like. Thus the Christian story is a myth like the rest.
“It seems only natural that if the advent of Christ was real it would permeate through the consciousness of mankind on some level regardless of their place in history.”

- Claiming that all those similar stories are actually some kind of precursor echoes of the true story is really a stretch, given that none of them actually foretold the story of Jesus. The Christian mythos was largely derived from other myths that were common in that era.

9. The God of the Bible is evil. A God who allows so much suffering and death can be nothing but evil.
“It’s weird for someone who does not believe in ultimate good and evil to condemn God as evil because He did not achieve their personal vision of good.”

- Yet another strawman. Forger about evil. There is unnecessary suffering. That’s nature. Nature has no concern for the well-being of living things, but God supposedly does, and this is contrary to God’s supposed character.

10. Evolution has answered the question of where we came from. There is no need for ignorant ancient myths anymore.
“Even if the whole project of evolution as an account of our history was without serious objection, it would still not answer the problem of the origin of life”

- Yet another strawman. Evolution does not claim to answer the question of how life began. But there are other hypotheses that do. None of them have yet become universally accepted, as evolution has, but neither do they involve the work of a supernatural being.

David Brightly said...

Returning to Hasker's article, to which Victor has been kind enough to draw our attention, I was struck by his account of Searle's 'gappy' psychology on pages 11--13. I think Searle is right about this, but I don't draw his 'uncomfortable conclusions' at all. Quite the reverse. For rather than 'undermining our lived experience of free will' this picture actually explains rather nicely our sense of free will---it's that which fills the gap in our understanding of our psychology. Why is our understanding gappy? Consider this. We have found that an understanding of the physical world based on macroscopic objects is gappy too. A physics based on a common-sense conception of material objects went nowhere for two millennia and was then abandoned in favour of an analysis into unseen sub-microscopic parts. This analysis was supported by our ability to perform experiments on the said bodies. Now make an analogy between macroscopic objects and the objects of introspective psychology---thoughts, beliefs, reasons, desires, fears, etc. We are not yet in a position to analyse these into unseen parts. Indeed, they seem peculiarly resistant to such an analysis. It's as if we have the quarks and leptons of thought---Searle's neuron firings---but no idea of the intermediate structures. So the gappiness of psychology corresponds to the gappiness of pre-modern physics. Just as those parts of our minds that are directed outwards to the world see it in terms of macroscopic objects so do those parts that are directed inwards. Maybe the inward looking parts have relatively sparse information to work on, and hence produce relatively coarse concepts.

Papalinton said...

Yes. 'Gappiness' in knowledge and understanding is not a useful void in which to posit unsubstantiated counter-argument. Whether at the macro or sub-micro level, our investigation is very much a process of painstakingly and diligently peeling back the layers, one by single one, of the onion as it were, careful enough to contain the spume of eye-stinging mist from releasing its potential to degrade or compromise the findings as a consequence of blurred vision.

The role of peer-review cannot be overstated here.

im-skeptical said...

Hasker seems to be only interested in the views of non-reductive philosophers. He might be better off reading up on cognitive science. He might find that his reasons for abandoning reductivism are not so good. The idea that a physical form of conscious experience must be epiphenomenal and therefore can't be a product of evolution is misguided. It stems, no doubt, from a fundamental misunderstanding of what conscious experience is. But he might gain a better insight by abandoning his exclusive reliance on philosophers of the immaterial mind, and look to science instead.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, this was a reply to a non-reductivist philosopher, so what do you expect.

But what if a scientist came out an denied reductionism, or posited design? Wouldn't that automatically get the branded as pseudoscientists? If that is the case, then science can't meaningfully answer the question, because only one kind of answer will be considered scientific.

I think a lot of appeals to science have a circular flavor to them.

Let me ask this question. Assume that creationism were true. What would science look like in that possible world? Would it be true that if even if there were no evolution, it would be necessary to invent it?

im-skeptical said...

"Would it be true that if even if there were no evolution, it would be necessary to invent it?"

No, if science in such a world worked the way it does in our world, it would postulate what the evidence indicates. Presumably, there would be strong evidence of creation, if it were true, but if the evidence points to something else, that's what would be postulated.