Friday, September 29, 2017

Mr. Putin, stop messing with our elections!

I also find it severely troubling that he doesn't treat Russian tampering with the election process as anything other than a national security threat aimed at undermining confidence in our election process. If someone had hacked into the RNC and gotten all of the e-mails people had sent one another there, I think we would have seen a lot of worry on the part of Republican leaders about Trump going public, and it would have hurt him. The fact that the Democratic committee e-mails were publicized but the Republican e-mails were  not  is manifestly unfair. The problem is that, as Lindsay Graham points out, even if Trump benefited from Russia this time, they could easily throw their support behind the Democrats next time. This should be neutral territory between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. This has to stop, and Trump is more concerned about protecting his own people than to putting a stop to this threat. If shutting down the investigation of Russia was his motive for firing Comey (He could have numerous failings, but we have to ask what the real reason for the firing was), and Trump said exactly that, then he is at the very least failing to protect our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

It isn't even a question of collusion, it's the refusal on the part of the Trump  people to treat this as what it is, a threat to our democratic process.  Can you imagine Ronald Reagan not doing everything he could to make sure this kind of hacking never, ever happens again? Mr. Putin, stop messing with our elections!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is belief in moral realism properly basic?

Yes, you can argue that belief in moral facts is properly basic, and use something like Plantinga's Reformed epistemology to justify moral beliefs. But if you object to Reformed epistemology for God, then why accept it for morality?

Also the existence of a moral fact doesn't seem to follow logically from anything we know or can know scientifically. Bertrand Russell makes this argument:

I conclude that, while it is true that science cannot decide questions of values, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.

Making moral beliefs properly basic is difficult to square with a science-based epistemology.

Furthermore, this kind of moral realism is also hard to square with ontological naturalism, at least as I understand it. The naturalism I am concerned about holds that physics is causally closed, physics is non-normative, and everything else supervenes upon and is determined by the physical.

I'm inclined to think that basic moral beliefs are properly basic. But when the ontological and epistemological implications of this are spelled out, this "fits" well with a theistic world-view, and does not fit well with a naturalistic one.

Friday, September 22, 2017

When religion ruled the world, they called it the dark ages

This is a popular meme, and its a pile of manure. It trades on

a) identifying the entire Middle Ages are the Dark Ages

b) presuming that religion (that is, the Catholic Church) had power over everyone during that time.

First, dark meant originally dark to historical knowledge. Thus, Darkest Africa isn't dark because it was a bad place, or because the people had dark skin, it was dark because we were in the dark about it.

Second, the Catholic Church as an institution was so weak during the early middle ages that the papacy was often sold to the highest bidder. Secular political leaders exercised a great deal of power over the church, not vice versa. The Investiture Controversy, one of the great issues of the 11th and 12th Centuries, was generated when a pope decided to put a stop to the installation of bishops and other church leaders by monarch. Is this religion ruling the world?

Yes, in the early 13th Century, Pope Innocent III could tell King Henry of France to take his wife back, or else. In the 14th Century, the king of France kidnapped the pope and forced the relocation of the papal palace to Avignon.

Third, there was considerable technological advance throughout the Middle Ages, as recounted here. 
The university system was developed in medieval times, and the university system is the reason why a global scientific community developed. That is why science didn't get off the ground in ancient Greece, but did get off the ground in Christian Europe.

Moreland's Defense of Dualism


Lydia McGrew on the Naturalistic Induction

The naturalistic induction goes something like this:

Science has made and continues to make such great progress throughout history, gradually whittling away at the set of things that were previously not scientifically understood, that whatever it is that you are presently bringing forth as evidence against naturalism, I am sure that science will eventually get to that in time and explain it, as well, as entirely the product of natural causes.

McGrew is not impressed. 

Are we conquering nature?

Or is nature conquering us?

HT: Helen Flaherty-Hammond.

From Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Was there a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam? I doubt it

In assessing whether the war in Iraq was justified, some argue that there was a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and therefore there was a 9/11 justification of the war. So far as I have been able to tell, the evidence for that is not very good. But if you think otherwise, feel free to provide some counter-argumentation.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Outsider Test for Human Rights, or OTHR

We might ask what evidence there is that rights exist. You have a feeling that everyone ought to be treated equally. Isn't that just your social conditioning? If you grew up in India, and were raised to believe that people occupy different positions in the caste system based on the Law of Karma, wouldn't you think that the idea that everyone was created (or evolved?) equal was slightly ridiculous?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Why physicalism isn't true

My argument is an attempt to show, not assume, that minds exist first, on the grounds that if they don't exist first, they cannot emerge. Mental states have to be a complexity-fact about the physical world if physicalism is true. But let's take the claim that "I am Victor Reppert" and the claim "I am Hugo Pelland." It seems perfectly conceivable that there is a world physically identical to this one in which you are me and I am you. If you say that such a world is impossible, you need to prove it, since it is conceivable. There is nothing about the physical world that guarantees that I will be me and you will be you. So physicalism cannot be true.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Exchange with Keith Parsons on the mind

KP: Victor,
I would like to resume this conversation after this long gap. I was out of my office for the eclipse (wonderful!) and for the hurricane (horrific!).
The meaning of "physical" I am presuming is simply the physical universe as it is presently understood by fundamental physics. There is nothing in postulating the physical realization of the mental that requires new laws or "emergence" in any mysterious sense. Why should it? Why is thinking in principle any different from any other physical activity? Why can it not be something we do with our brains just as we sing or dance with our physical components? Does a brain have mental properties? No. Just as a larynx does not have musical properties while it is engaged in the act of singing, so brains do not have mental properties when engaged in the act of thinking. The sensation of redness, for instance, is an adverbial property describing how I see something. I see "redly." It is not a property of my brain or the physical components of my brain. Perceiving, redly or otherwise, is something I accomplish with my brain. The redness pertains to the doing, not the doer. The whole point of realization physicalism is that the mental is an accomplishment or performance, just as singing is a performance. The musicality is in the performance, not the hardware that does the performing. A mind is defined functionally as whatever it is that performs mental actions such as thinking, feeling, imagining, etc. For human beings the brain is the mind since it is what performs the mental functions for us.
Frankly, your objections puzzle me. I do not see how they are relevant. You seem to be drawing conclusions not implied by anything I have said or by anything entailed by what I have said. Once again, I cannot help but get the impression that what is operating here is a highly recalcitrant intuition or set of intuitions that I simply reject. I do not see "the mental" as a set of properties mutually excluded by "the physical" any more than than I see "the musical" as being excluded by "the physical." Being musical is something that (some) physical things can do, as is being logical.
Or maybe I am the one badly confused. If so, please be so kind as to point out exactly why and how.

VR: The musicality, I am afraid, is a function of its connection to minds. That is how, in the first place, modern physics avoided the claim that their understanding of the world removed everything interesting from it. Heat is the mean kinetic energy of gases. But that has nothing to do with the feeling of hotness. So what is the feeling of hotness? It is in your mind. A physical description of Sam Cooke's singing of "Wonderful World" doesn't, on the face of things, entail that it sounds a lot better to me than today's gangsta rap, but it does sound a whole lot better.
What makes something singing as opposed to sound? It is the intentions of the singer and the understanding of the listener that makes the difference. It is the same as the economic and the physical.
Consider heat. From the physical side, heat is the mean kinetic energy of gases. But what that tells you nothing about the feeling of heat, which can make you want to stay inside, or fear like virtually nothing else (if you live in the Phoenix area) the breakdown of your air conditioning system. That's not in the physics, because it was "siphoned off" to the mind. Base-level physics leaves out the mental. The sound waves that make up the sound of Sam Cooke's voice are physical, and can be described without any reference to mental states. But my understanding and appreciation of the music requires a mind, and part of my appreciation involves my appreciation of the minds of the singer and the songwriter.
Physical phenomena in the world can be of two types. One type of physical phenomenon are mind-independent realities, things that would be the way they are whether or not there minds reacting with them. They have certain characteristics which are described by basic physics, or by "grouping" A planet's going around the sun is not mind-dependent. But my computer program that is running a chess program isn't playing chess in and of itself, it is playing chess relative to programmers and players who recognize it as such. I happen to have the Komodo chess program running on my computer as we speak. It is a far better chessplayer than I am. But its strength as a player exists as an extension of the playing and programming abilities of human beings with minds. Its output, in and of itself, is not playing chess in and of itself. When I play chess, I play chess from my own perspective. Komodo doesn't play chess from its own perspective. When it clobbers me, it does so from my perspective, not its.
Adverbs modify verbs, and verbs describe what persons, places, and things do. And what physical things do has to be in accordance with physical, not logical, law.
KP: I do not see "the mental" as a set of properties mutually excluded by "the physical" any more than than I see "the musical" as being excluded by "the physical." Being musical is something that (some) physical things can do, as is being logical.
VR: The musical is mind-dependent, and a purely physicalist world, there would be no music, even if the sound waves identical to those coming over my radio when "Wonderful World" comes on.
To be logical is not merely to think in accordance with reason, it is to think "from reason." Evidence and reason have to actually make a difference in what we think. Otherwise, we are not reasoning. The brain states not only have to "realize" a rational process, they have to be what they are because of the relevant logical relationships. Those logical relationships have to make a difference. But since logical relationships do not have particular locations in space and time, and since they make a difference in what we think, the causal closure of the physical has to be thrown out, or else the physical is mental at the basic level. This is what Nagel has been arguing, and orthodox naturalists have been reading him out of their camp for so arguing.

Reply from Keith Parsons


                Thanks for checking in! We are OK. My immediate neighborhood did not flood, though areas less than a mile from me were completely inundated. The Marines were using huge amphibious vehicles to rescue people from their roofs. Fifty inches of rain in three days defies comprehension. The university just reopened today, so this is the first I could get back to my e-mail. Thanks much for checking in!


Monday, September 04, 2017