Thursday, December 28, 2023

Melnyk on naturalism

 Here's a quote by materialist Andrew Melnyk. 

“Naturalism claims that nothing has a fundamentally purposeful explanation…Naturalism says that whenever an occurrence has a purposeful explanation, it has that explanation in virtue of certain nonpurposeful (e.g. merely causal) facts.”

Do you concur with this statement, or not? Do you think a materialist can, or should, reject this?

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Miraculous Healing: The case of Henrique Mecking

 The great chess grandmaster from Brazil, Henrique Meckiing, was at death's door from a rare disease. He is alive and well at 71 todya, and attributes this to a divine healing when his disease was at its worst. A devout Roman Catholic in the charismatic movement, he had a rating of 2606 at the age of 60. 

Does Jesus still heal? Here. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Virtue theory and humility

 Aristotle thought that it was good to think highly of yourself, so long as you don't take it too far. The Christian traditiion says that humility is a virtue and that pride is a sin. How does virtue theory deal with an issue like this? 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

From Lewis's the Poison ol Subjectivism

 After studying his environment man has begun to study himself. Up to that point, he had assumed his own reason and through it seen all other things. Now, his own reason has become the object: it is as if we took out our eyes to look at them. Thus studied, his own reason appears to him as the epiphenomenona which accompanies chemical or electrical events in a cortex which is itself the by-product of a blind evolutionary process. His own logic, hitherto the king whom events in all possible worlds must obey, becomes merely subjective. There is no reason for supposing that it yields truth. As long as this dethronement refers only to the theoretical reason, it cannot be wholehearted. The scientist has to assume the validity of his own logic (in the stout old fashion of Plato or Spinoza) even in order to prove that it is merely subjective, and therefore he can only flirt with subjectivism. It is true that this flirtation sometimes goes pretty far. There are modern scientists, I am told, who have dropped the words truth and reality out of their vocabulary and who hold that the end of their work is not to know what is there but simply to get practical results. This is, no doubt, a bad symptom. But, in the main, subjectivism is such an uncomfortable yokefellow for research that the danger, in this quarter, is continually counteracted.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

C. S. Lewis's De Futilitate


This includes different forms of the argument from reason than found in Miracles. Anscombe's rebuttals don't apply to some of what we find here. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

User Illusion

 Perhaps the idea of a mentalistic explanation requires some explanation. A moment ago I went out to get the mail. I believed that getting the mail would be a good thing, I know where the mailbox is, and so I fulfilled my intention to go out to the mailbox and get the mail. My actions had a purpose which I fulfilled. My feet moved, due to signals sent from my brain, but the ultimate reason why the atoms in my brain did what they did is that because they were directed by something possessing a purpose. Or, perhaps the atoms themselves had an inherent purpose. Something desired by some entity brought it about that the atoms moved the way they did.

            But these types of explanations are typically excluded from basic physics. In fact, not only purpose, but intentionality or about-ness, normativity, and first-person perspective are also excluded.  The four fundamental forces postulated by physics, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, are blind forces, which do not act for reasons. If gravity operates on boulders falling in an avalanche, they will neither avoid my head to spare my life nor strike me to punish my wickedness.  No, the gravitational force has no mental life, and genuinely physical particles have no mental life either. But what happens at the mindless level of basic physics, according to materialism, determines what goes on at all levels. It is true that physical events sometimes produce results that an intentional agent would choose, indeed that is how natural selection works. But in the final analysis, if materialism is true, it looks as if the idea of intentions or purposes or desires or motives producing actions is bound to be an illusion. 

In honor of my Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series--Sister Wynona Carr's The The Ball Game.


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Max Planck on consciousness

 I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

Max Planck

Monday, September 11, 2023

Is Introspection worthless?

From Patricia Churchland.  

The brains in our skulls function as they do largely because they are the product of a long evolutionary history. That fact is, of course, not a fact the brain's biological evolution gave it automatic knowledge of; rather, it is something brains have learned as a result of a long period of scientific evolution. Introspection reveals almost nothing about how nervous systems work, and from an evolutionary perspective, there is no reason why it should. If anything, human brains have a positive tendency to be misled about their nature. They tend to suppose they are not part of the biological order, that they are the result of special creation, that nervous tissue itself is not relevant to the understanding of the mind, and that introspection yields incontrovertible truths about a nonphysical mind, about the nature of free will, experience, knowledge, meaning, and language. What the evolutionary and neurobiological perspective makes evident, however, is that to understand how the brain works, introspection is unreliable. Rather, we must do experiments addressing a variety of levels of organization, and we must engage in real theorizing about how the brain functions


Monday, August 21, 2023

God and materialism

 I have argued in defense of God by arguing against materialism. But what if God is just an unusual kind of material entity. After all, matter is just what science describes. If you include God as a theoretical entity in a scientific explanation, then God becomes a an unusal mateiral entity. No skin off the nose of  Christians, right? If we can predict the activitiies of God to some extent (and we can) we can form testable theories about God. 


Sunday, August 20, 2023

Behaviorism and the Paradox of the Thinking Behaviorist

 Arthur Lovejoy, in 1922, describes the Behaviorism of his time.

With this, of course, images and ideas, as well as 'mind;' 'consciousness,' and other familiar categories of the older psychology, are eliminated from the descriptive analysis of perception and thought. " I should throw out imagery altogether," writes Watson. " I believe we can write a psychology and never use the words consciousness, content, introspectively verifiable, imagery, and the like." 1 The researches of Angell and Fernald (aside from other considerations) "pave the way for the complete dismissal of the image from psychology." 2 And this does not mean that these things are merely to be excluded from consideration for reasons of methodological convenience; it means that we have no reason to believe in their existence, that they are not verifiable facts of experience. Those who "grope in a laboratory to discover the ' images ' that the in- trospective psychologist talks about " will find nothing but proc- esses in the larynx. " It is," Watson declares, " a serious misunderstanding of the behavioristic position to say," as one would-be expositor of it has said, "that of course a behaviorist does not deny that mental states exist. He merely prefers to ignore them." He ignores them, Watson explains, " in the same sense that chemistry ignores alchemy and astronomy ignores horoscopy. The behaviorist does not concern himself with them because, as the stream of his science broadens and deepens, such older concepts are sucked under never to reappear."

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Determinate meaning and the case for God.

 Here. A paper by Daniel Bonevac. This is similar to Ross. 

The early Church Fathers argued that the only answer is that there is a transcendent causal power making that relation possible. The power cannot be the forms themselves, or the form of the Good, as Plato thought, for our relation to them is precisely the point at issue. Nor can it be generated from finite minds themselves. The best explanation of our relation to the transcendent identifies the transcendent power with God. (17)

 a. If realism is true, then, given a content bearer b, among our possibilities are skeptical scenarios for b.

 b. Content bearers have specific contents.

 c. A content bearer b can have a specific content only by virtue of some fact.

d. If there were a fact by virtue of which b had a specific content, there would be grounds for discounting skeptical scenarios for b.

 e. There could be grounds for discounting skeptical scenarios for b only if b’s content is grounded in something transcendent. 

f. Something independent of individual, finite minds can ground content only if there is something with causal power, independent of individual finite minds, that makes such grounding possible.

 g. Only a transcendent causal power could make possible grounding in something transcendent. 

h. Nothing natural is transcendent.

 i. Anti-realism grounds content in some feature of a collection of finite minds.

 j. A finite collection of finite minds does not suffice to explain the grounding of content. 

k. An infinite collection of finite minds does not suffice to explain the grounding of content.

 l. The best explanation for the existence of a supernatural, transcendent causal power grounding content in the transcendent includes an infinite mind and, in particular, the existence of God. 

m. So, there is a God. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Lewis's AFR and Plantinga's EAAN

  Plantinga's is an argument that is designed to be consistent with externalism. I have thought of it as the argument from the reliabillity of our rational faculties, though I think he ends up appealing to mental causation. However, I think there are some aspects of science that seem to require internalist accounts of knowledge. Sure, there's other knowledge, but for science to work a scientist has to be able to present his or her experimentaal process so that someone else can follow the same process and check to see if the result is the same. There are some kinds of knowledge where wee can say "It doesn't matter about the process so long as it's a reliable one." But if we are relying on that kind of knowledge in order for science to be possible, it won't work.

Monday, July 24, 2023

From Lewis's essay Bulverism

 But our thoughts can only be accepted as a genuine insight under certain conditions. All beliefs have causes but a distinction must be drawn between (1) ordinary causes and (2) a special kind of cause called “a reason.” Causes are mindless events which can produce other results than belief. Reasons arise from axioms and inferences and affect only beliefs. Bulverism tries to show that the other man has causes and not reasons and that we have reasons and not causes. A belief which can be accounted for entirely in terms of causes is worthless. This principle must not be abandoned when we consider the beliefs which are the basis of others. Our knowledge depends on our certainty about axioms and inferences. If these are the results of causes, then there is no possibility of knowledge. Either we can know nothing or thought has reasons only, and no causes.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Teleonomy and evidence

 Materialism, ordinarily understood, means that all causation is mechanistic. Consider materialistic determinism. The basic elements are in some position at the beginning if there was one, and everything that happens to every basic element of the universe that is necessitated by the laws of physics.  All other states that exist are states that follow necessarily from those basic physical states. On chance-and-necessity physicalism, there is a brute chance factor involved, but nothing at the base level is teleological, normative, perspectival, or intentional. You may get, as Churchland indicates, effects that one might think require intelligence, but they are in fact produced by stupid elements properly hooked up. This is teleonomy, not teleology, the quality of apparent purposefulness of structure in living organisms due to evolutionary adaptation.

 When a Darwinian materialist says “The purpose of your eye is to see” it is not literally true. There are no true purposes in a materialist universe. However, the power to see did result in the eye being selected for.  In the same way, if a materialist says that he accepts materialism because the evidence supports it, this is also not literally true.

Friday, July 14, 2023

The relevance of logical laws

 IV. Argument from the Psychological Relevance of Logical Laws

My fourth argument concerned the role of logical laws in mental causation. In order for mental causation to be what we ordinarily suppose it to be, it is not only necessary that mental states be causally efficacious in virtue of their content, it is also necessary that the laws of logic be relevant to the production of the conclusion. That is, if we conclude “Socrates is mortal” from “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man, then no only must we understand the meanings of those expressions, and these meanings must play a central role in the performance of these inferences, but what Lewis call the ground-and-consequent relationship between the propositions must also play a central role in these rational inferences. We must know that the argument is structured in such a way that in arguments of that form the conclusion always follows from the premises. We do not simply know something that is the case at one moment in time, but we know something that must be true in all moments of time, in every possible world. But how could a physical brain, which stands in physical relations to other objects and whose activities are determined, insofar as they are determined at all, by the laws of physics and not the laws of logic, come to know, not merely that something was true, but could not fail to be true regardless of whatever else is true in the world.
We can certainly imagine, for example, a possible world in which the laws of physics are different from the way they are in the actual world. We can imagine, for example, that instead of living in a universe in which dead people tend to stay dead, we find them rising out of their graves on a regular basis on the third day after they are buried. But we cannot imagine a world in which, once we know which cat and which mat, it can possibly be the case that the cat is both on the mat and not on the mat. Now can we imagine there being a world in which 2 + 2 is really 5 and not 4? I think not.
It is one thing to suggest that brains might be able to “track” states of affairs in the physical world. It is another thing to suggest that a physical system can be aware, not only that something is the case, but that it must be the case; that not only it is the case but that it could not fail to be the case. Brain states stand in physical relations to the rest of the world, and are related to that world through cause and effect, responding to changes in the world around us. How can these brain states be knowings of what must be true in all possible worlds?
Consider the difficulty of going from what is to what ought to be in ethics. Many philosophers have agreed that you can pile up the physical truths, and all other descriptive truths from chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology, as high as you like about, say, the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and you could never, by any examination of these, come to the conclusion that these acts we really morally wrong (as opposed to being merely widely disapproved of and criminalized by the legal system). Even the atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie argued that if there were truths of moral necessity, these truths, and our ability to know those truths, are do not fit well into the naturalistic world-view, and if they existed, they would support a theistic world-view. Mackie could and did, of course, deny moral objectivity, but my claim is that objective logical truths present an even more serious problem for naturalism, because the naturalist cannot simply say they don’t exist on pain of undermining the very natural science on which his world-view rests.
Arguing that such knowledge is trivial because it merely constitutes the “relations of ideas” and does not tell anything about the world outside our minds seems to me to be an inadequate response. If, for example, the laws of logic are about the relations of ideas, then not only are they about ideas that I have thought already, but also they are true of thoughts I haven’t even had yet. If contradictions can’t be true because this is how my ideas relate to one another, and it is a contingent fact that my ideas relate to one another in this way, then it is impossible to say that they won’t relate differently tomorrow.
Carrier responds somewhat differently. He says:
For logical laws are just like physical laws, because physical laws describe the way the universe works, and logical laws describe the way reason works—or, to avoid begging the question, logical laws describe the way a truth-finding machine works, in the very same way that the laws of aerodynamics describe the way a flying-machine works, or the laws of ballistics describe the way guns shoot their targets. The only difference between logical laws and physical laws is that the fact that physical laws describe physics and logical laws describe logic. But that is a difference both trivial and obvious.
What this amounts to, it seems to me, is a denial of the absolute necessity of logic. If the laws of logic just tell us how truth-finding machines work, then if the world were different a truth-finding machine would work differently. I would insist on a critical distinction between the truths of mathematics, which are true regardless of whether anybody thinks them or not, and laws governing how either a person or a computer ought to perform computations. I would ask “What is it about reality that makes one set of computations correct and another set of computations incorrect?”
William Vallicella provides an argument against the claim that the laws of logic are empirical generalizations:
1. The laws of logic are empirical generalizations. (Assumption for reductio).
2. Empirical generalizations, if true, are merely contingently true. (By definition of ‘empirical generalization’: empirical generalizations record what happens to be the case, but might have not been the case.)
3. The laws of logic, if true, are merely contingently true. (1 and 2)
4. If proposition p is contingently true, then it is possible the p be false. (True by definition)
5. The laws of logic, if true, are possibly false. (From 3 and 4)
6. LNC is possibly false: there are logically possible worlds in which p & ~p is true.
7. But (6) is absurd (self-contradictory): it amounts to saying that it is logically possible that the very criterion of logical possibility, namely LNC, be false. Therefore 1 is false, and its contradictory, the clam that the laws of logic are not empirical generalizations, is true.
Logic, I maintain, picks out features of reality that must exist in any possible world. We know, and have insight into these realities, and this is what permits us to think. A naturalistic view of the universe, according to which there is nothing in existence that is not in a particular time and a particular place, is hard-pressed to reconcile their theory of the world with the idea that we as humans can access not only what is, but also what must be.

Two ways of criticizing the AFR


There seem to be two lines of criticism of arguments from reason. One is to argue, a la Moore and Anscombe, that causal antecedents of belief are irrelevant to rationality, because reasons are not causes. The other is to argue that, along the lines of Haldane and Churchland, that mechanistic causation and rational inference are compatible, explaining the confluence in terms of Darwinian survival advantage. The former line of critique denies that reasons are causes, the other claims that reasons are causes, but are a species of ordinary physical causation.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

From James Ross's Immaterial Aspects of Thought

 Some thinking (iudgment) is determinate in a way no physical process can be. Consequently, such thinking cannot be (wholly5) a physical process. If all thinking, all judgment, is determinate in that way, no physical process can be (the whole of) any judgment at all. Furthermore, "functions" among physical states cannot be determinate enough to be such judgments, either. Hence some judgments can be neither wholly physical processes nor wholly functions among physical processes.


Wholes and parts, minds and brains

 The argument from reason, I am being told, has a problem because it focuses exclusively on the parts (atoms) and doesn't take wholes seriously. 

If this argument in Hume's Dialogues is right,  wholes are products of "an arbitary act of the mind." Wholes, including brains, depend on being thought together by minds. 

In such a chain too, or succession of objects, each part is caused by that which preceded it, and causes that which succeeds it. Where then is the difficulty? But the WHOLE, you say, wants a cause. I answer, that the uniting of these parts into a whole, like the uniting of several distinct counties into one kingdom, or several distinct members into one body, is per|formed merely by an arbitrary act of the mind, and has no influence on the nature of things. Did I show you the particular causes of each in|dividual
in a collection of twenty particles of matter, I should think it very unreasonable, should you afterwards ask me, what was the cause of the whole twenty. That is sufficiently explained in explaining the cause of the parts.

The Blind Programmer


Patricia Smith Churchland, however, in response to a version of the Argument from Reason presented by Geoffrey Madell, attempts to defend materialism by suggesting that although humans, unlike computers, are not products of intelligent design, the evolutionary process simulates intelligent design in such a way as to provide reason:

There is a fatal tendency to assume that intentionality cannot just be a function of the neurons and their connectivity, but that there must be someone in the head who interprets neuronal signals, who sees the activation patterns of the visual cortex, who takes the data and makes a free decision, and so on. As Dan Dennett has tirelessly pointed out, postulating homunculi does not explain anything - it just defers the question. And on this, even someone as wedded to intrinsic intentionality as Searle, agrees. If AI has taught us anything, it is that effects which seem to require an intelligent homunculus can really be done by stupid elements properly hooked up. Who hooked us up? Evolution.

So, not only do we have a Blind Watchmaker, we have a Blind Programmer.

But stupid elements cannot select in the interests of truth, and can they add up to determinate meanings? Without determinate meanings it is never clear what anyone means by anything, and logic is impossible.


 Determinism is the view that given what happened in the distant past (which you and I had nothing to do with) the future is inevitable. Such past events can simply be the positions of the material particles in the universe as of, say, July 13, 1950 at 12:13 AM Pacific Daylight Time. Or the set of past event could include choices God might have made to predetermine that such and such will happen. Whether it's physical or divine, given that past state, the future is inevitable. If you play a CD with Ariana Grande's music, you will hear her songs the same way every time you play it, and you won't hear Demi Lovato instead. It's predetermined.

Let's call the set of events over which you had not control X.
The argument against moral responsibility might be stated this way.
1) You are not responsible for X. (It happened before you were born).
2) Necessarily, if X occurs, Y occurs (Y is some action you performed. Think of the worst thing you ever did. Make that Y).
3) Therefore, you are not responsible for Y.
See. you're off the hook.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The framework of meaning


The argument from reason says that reason cannot emerge from a closed, mechanistic system. The computer is, narrowly speaking, a mechanistic system, and it does “follow” rational rules. But not only was the computer made by humans, the framework of meaning that makes the computer’s actions intelligible is supplied by humans. As a set of physical events, the actions of a computer are just as subject as anything else to the indeterminacy of the physical. If a computer plays the move Rf6, and we see it on the screen, it is our perception and understanding that gives that move a definite meaning. In fact, the move has no meaning to the computer itself, it only means something to persons playing and watching the game. Suppose we lived in a world without chess, and two computers were to magically materialize in the middle of the Gobi desert and go through all the physical states that the computers went through the last time Fritz played Shredder. If that were true they would not be playing a chess game at all, since there would be no humans around to impose the context that made those physical processes a chess game and not something else. Hence, I think that we can safely regard the computer objection as a red herring.

Christianity and homosexuality

 Sexual orientation is a matter of who you are naturally attracted to sexually. Some people seem to be sexually attracted to the same sex, others to both sexes, and some only to the opposite sex. Now, traditional sexual morality says that these desires can only be acted on where there is a marriage, and marriage, in the sacred sense is only possible for opposite-sex partners. I seriously doubt that this is simply genetic, as some have argued, but for some people at least it doesn't seem to be alterable. Trying to "pray the gay away" doesn't seem to work for some people, and the failure of Exodus International seems to support this contention. But if traditional Christian sexual morality holds, then people who are in this condition through no fault of their own are morally obligated to be celibate. It doesn't seem to me that those who are in that condition can alter their condition, nor does it seem to me that they had to have committed some sin in order to get into that condition.

What does the Church have to say to such people? There are four possibilities.

1) You are this way because God hates you. When Westboro Baptist says that God hates fags, they don't mean that since you chose to be a fag, you is angry with you. They believe in a particularly strong version of Reformed theology according to which God chooses some for heaven, whom he loves, and he hates everyone else. And one expression of God's hatred for you would be if you were to be an homosexual. That is a pretty good sign that God has created you for the fiery pits. God doesn't have you because you're gay, you are gay because God hates you.

2) You can change your orientation and become straight, through prayer, Bible study, and therapy. I think this was the position of Focus on the Family, and is the basis of Exodus International, and it looks to me like it doesn't work. And I when I read histories of the gay rights movement, and try to explain why so many Americans now accept gay marriage, this chapter in the story tends to be left out.

3) The celibacy option. This is the view that, yes, there are people who are unalterably gay, and these people are obligated to be celibate. Technically, there is nothing wrong with being gay any more than there is anything wrong with having black skin or blue eyes, but the moral path to acceptable to intimate relationships is closed to them.

4) The Lord is my shepherd and he knows I'm gay (the title of a book by Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church). This is to hold that the traditional prescriptions against homosexual conduct are not absolute, and that gays should seek a homosexual equivalent of traditional heterosexual marriage.

These are the four options. 1 seems unacceptable, 2 doesn't work, so 3 and 4 are what is left.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Physics is leading us to a mental universe

 So says Scientific American. 

Haldane vs. Haldane


Unlike Balfour, J. B. S. Haldane is quoted by C. S. Lewis. Also unlike Balfour, Haldane was a dedicated atheist. He wrote in 1934 “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.” Haldane was also a virulent Lewis critic who considered Lewis a “danger to clear thinking.” He once gave a presentation on behalf of atheism at the Oxford Socratic Club with Lewis present but departed without answering questions, preventing any in-person exchange between the two of them.

            Nevertheless, in 1927 Haldane offers a reason for rejecting materialism. He writes.

"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere byproduct of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

What he seems to have been committed to at this stage is some version of Absolute Idealism, as evidenced by this passage:

But I notice that when I think logically and scientifically or act morally my thoughts and actions cease to be characteristic of myself, and are those of any intelligent or moral being in the same position; in fact, I am already identifying my mind with an absolute or unconditioned mind.

However, by 1940 he wrote “Why I am a materialist,” giving an account of his rejection of his previous idealistic philosophy but not rebutting the specific argument he had provided.


 But in 1954, after Lewis in 1947 had quoted him so prominently in the third chapter of Miracles, he wrote “I Repent an Error,” for Literary Guide, in which he responded to the passage Lewis had quoted. Haldane’s counter-response bears little resemblance to Anscombe’s reply to Lewis, but is resembles how many naturalists’ respond when they first encounter the argument. Benjamin Fain summarizes it as follows.

….computers act in accordance with the laws of physics, and despite that they act in full accordance with the laws of logic. The human mind can be represented by the brain, which we can compare to the computer. It is simultaneously a physical and logical being.

Friday, July 07, 2023

Popper's version of Haldane's argument against materialism


The context here is that I have been  working on a paper on the history of arguments from reason. Balfour seems like the first post-Darwin version of the argument, and Haldane is interesting because he uses the argument against materialism, then develops a rebuttal to his own argument based on computers which I think more closely resembles a lot of people's responses than did Anscombe's rebuttal. Popper is interesting because he defends the earlier Haldane against his later self. 

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Two differernt but physically identical worlds.

Here's a BIG problem for people who think that the physical facts determine all the facts. There is a possible world in which I am you and you are me, despite the fact that the two worlds are physically identical. 

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The denial of consciousness

 You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning.

And in a period when factual realism is dominant we shall find people deliberately inducing upon themselves this doglike mind. A man who has experienced love from within will deliverately go about to inspect it analytically from outside and regard the results of this analysis as truer than his experience.

The extreme limit of this self-binding is seen in those who, like the rest of us, have consciousness, yet go about to study the human organism as if they did not know it was conscious. As long as this deliberate refusal to understand things from above, even where such understanding is possible, continues, it is idle to talk of any final victory over materialism.

The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility. There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry.”

–C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 114-5.

The silliest claim ever made

 What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience. Next to this denial—I’ll call it “the Denial”—every known religious belief is only a little less sensible than the belief that grass is green.

-Galen Strawson

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Karl Popper against materialism


One dividing point bewteen left and right

 Some people believe that government's primary role is to protect people from violent threat, but not so much to protect people from misfortune that does not stem from violent threat. Liberals wonder whyconservatives are so strong on national defense and law enforcement but less motivated toward government action to protect us against disease. I think this is a dividing point between liberals and conservatives historically. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

J. B. S. Haldane's argument for atheism


“My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

― J.B.S. Haldane, Faith And Fact

Moore replies to Balfour

 Balfour’s presentation in Foundations of Belief faced a well-known critic, G.E. Moore. Moore wrote;

For it to be true that beliefs were evolved, then the belief that they were so must have been evolved. And this, according to Mr.Balfour, is a reason why we must doubt its truth. That is to say, the fact of (naturalistic) evolution is a reason for doubting the fact of evolution. It is inconsistent to believe in the fact of evolution, if at the same time we believe in the fact of evolution. The inconsistency, we may in fact reply, is all the other way. It is, in fact, contradictory to believe that the validity of a belief depends on any way on the manner in which it was acquired.
Students of the Lewis-Anscombe exchange will notice a predecessor to Anscombe’s criticism of Lewis here. In fact, noticing this put my dissertation advisor, on to seeing the similarity between Balfour’s argument and Lewis’s. But is it inconsistent or contradictory to argue say that the validity of a belief depends on the manner in which it was acquired? This what we seem to object to when we make charges of genetic fallacy or ad hominem circumstantial. But let us take ad hominem circumstantial. Here you simply find a motive in someone psyche that might motivate someone to believe something whether or not it is true or false, and conclude from that that the person’s belief lacks validity. Or in case of the genetic fallacy, the belief may have originated in a non-rational way in someone’s mind. That wouldn’t mean that the belief couldn’t have been tested further down the road in a way that would render it rational.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Science and mentalistic explanations


In science, how beliefs are produced seems to matter, and matter profoundly. Some belief-forming mechanisms work effectively without our knowing how they work. Star basketball players would be hard-pressed to provide algorithms as to how they decide when to shoot, pass, or drive the lane. But science depends crucially on or ability not only to make inferences, but to communicate those inferences in such a way that others in the scientific community can repeat the process and determine whether they concur or not. The paradox of science is that while science seems happiest analyzing realities that are mindless machines, the description they have to give of their own activity in order for that activity to be legitimate is invariably and inescapably mentalistic. Propositions are chosen, and others rejected, on the grounds that they conform to the evidence. In fact, atheists like Richard Dawkins never tire of telling us that their process of selecting beliefs concerning religious claims is evidence-based, while the religionists they criticize ignore evidence. In other words, Dawkins is saying that, unlike religionists, his activities in choosing to accept or reject religious claims can be explained in mentalistic terms, the terms of evidence evaluation. But wouldn’t that be nonsense if nothing in the universe, in the final analysis, has a mentalistic explanation?


Friday, June 16, 2023

Science vs Naturalism


1.      If naturalism is a rational position, then science is a legitimate way of knowing the world, if not the only legitimate way of knowing the world.

2.      If science is a legitimate way of knowing the world, then some people infer their beliefs from other beliefs. This is essential to the scientific method.

3.      If some people infer beliefs from other beliefs, then some things in reality act for reasons.

4.      But if naturalism is true, nothing in reality acts for reasons. Everything acts due to non-rational causes.

5.      Therefore, if naturalism is true, science is not a legitimate way of knowing the world.

6.      Therefore, if naturalism is true, naturalism is not a rational position.

7.      If a thesis can be a rational position only if the position is false, then that thesis if not a rational position.

8.      Therefore, naturalism is not a rational position.


Saturday, June 10, 2023

The paradox of the materiaiist evidentialist

 If materialism is true, it's impossible for evidence to determine what ssmeone believes. What someone believes is determined by the basic forces of physics. Evidence is not a basic force of physics, so it cannot really cause belief if materialism is true. People who believe in materialism based on evidence exist only if maeriaalism is false.

Balfour's argument from reason


Lewis mentions Balfour’s Theism and Humanism in one place, but the closest parallel to the argument Lewis used in Miracles comes in Lewis’s book The Foundations of Belief, originally published in 1895.

Balfour’s argument derives four propositions from what he calls the “naturalistic creed.”

1)      My beliefs, in so far as they are the result of reasoning at all, are founded on premises produced in the last resort by the “collision of atoms.”

2)      Atoms, having no prejudices in favour of truth, are as likely to turn out wrong premises as right ones; nay, more likely, inasmuch as truth is one and error manifold.

3)      My premises, therefore, in the first place, and my conclusions in the second, are certainly untrustworthy, and probably false. Their falsity, moreover, is of a kind which cannot be remedied; for any attempt to correct it must start from premises not suffering from the same defect. But no such premises exist.

4)      Therefore, again, my opinion about the original causes which produced my premises, as it is an inference from them, partakes of the same weakness; so that I cannot either accurately doubt my own certainties or be certain of my own doubts.

In other words, if naturalism, then skepticism. But if skepticism is true, then we have to be as skeptical about naturalism as we are about anything else    

Importantly, Balfour considers the Evolutionary Rebuttal to this argument. Evolutionary biology “establishes the existence of a machinery which, irrational thought it may be, does really bend gradually, and in the long run, to produce true opinions rather than false.” That machinery, of course, is natural selection. This brings the organism into more and more perfect harmony with the environment.

But he finds the Evolutionary Rebuttal to be less than adequate. He writes:

But what an utterly inadequate basis for speculation is here. We are to suppose that the powers that evolved in primitive man and his animal progenitors in order that they might kill with success and marry in security, are on that account, sufficient to explore the secrets of the universe. We are to suppose that the fundamental beliefs on which these powers of reasoning are to be exercised reflect with sufficient precision remote aspects of reality, though they were produced in the main by physiological processes which date from a stage of development when the only curiosities that had to be satisfied were those of fear and those of hunger.

            He concludes:

            I do not think believe that any escape from these perplexities is possible unless we are prepared to bring to the study of the world the presupposition that it was the work of a rational Being, who made it intelligible,  and at the same time made us, in however feeble a fashion, able to understand it.

This is the Foundatons of Bellief, available in its entirety on Google Books. 

The passages I quoted from start on p. 306. 





Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Owen Barfield persuades Lewis to reject "realism"

 In the second place he convinced me that the positions we had hitherto held left no room for any satisfactory theory of knowledge. We had been, in the technical sense of the term, "realists"; that is, we accepted as rock-bottom reality the universe revealed by the senses. But at the same time we continued to make for certain phenomena of consciousness all the claims that really went with a theistic or idealistic view. We maintained that abstract thought (if obedient to logical rules) gave indisputable truth, that our moral judgment was "valid", and our aesthetic experience not merely pleasing but "valuable". The view was, I think, common at the time; it runs through Bridges' Testament of Beauty, the work of Gilbert Murray, and Lord Russell's "Worship of a Free Man". Barfield convinced me that it was inconsistent. If thought were a purely subjective event, these claims for it would have to be abandoned. If one kept (as rock-bottom reality) the universe of the senses, aided by instruments and co-ordinated so as to form "science", then one would have to go much further--as many have since gone--and adopt a Behaviouristic theory of logic, ethics, and aesthetics. But such a theory was, and is, unbelievable to me. I am using the word "unbelievable", which many use to mean "improbable" or even "undesirable", in a quite literal sense. I mean that the act of believing what the behaviourist believes is one that my mind simply will not perform. I cannot force my thought into that shape any more than I can scratch my ear with my big toe or pour wine out of a bottle into the cavity at the base of that same bottle. It is as final as a physical impossibility. I was therefore compelled to give up realism. I had been trying to defend it ever since I began reading philosophy. Partly, no doubt, this was mere "cussedness". Idealism was then the dominant philosophy at Oxford and I was by nature "against Government". But partly, too, realism satisfied an emotional need. I wanted Nature to be quite independent of our observation; something other, indifferent, self-existing. (This went with the Jenkinian zest for rubbing one's nose in the mere quiddity.) But now, it seemed to me, I had to give that up. Unless I were to accept an unbelievable alternative, I must admit that mind was no late-come epiphenomenon; that the whole universe was, in the last resort, mental; that our logic was participation in a cosmic Logos.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Left and right on abortion

 Left wing argument for outlawing abortion: 

1. Fetuses are an oppressed class, like blacks, Hispanics, women, gays, and lesbians. They must be protected in the name of social justice (and Critical Birth Theory). 

Right-wing argument for abortion choice:

If abortion is outlawed, then a lot of babies that would otherwise be aborted will be born under difficult economic circumstances. These will have to be cared for through an expanison of the social welfare system. It will motivate such socialist proposal as paid family leave. In order to protect capitalism, we mut affirm a woman's right to choose abortion. 

So why are all the pro-lifers on the right, and all the pro-choicers on the left? 

Physicalism and the illusion of reasoning

 But at the base level of analysis we can form expectations of where every atom in the universe will be indepenent of any meaning or purpose. It can look as if meaning and purposes have results as to where atoms in the universe will be at some time (such as why I am choosing just these words to put iinto this post) but if materialism is true the location of every atom in this computer can be best predicted without reference to anything I mean to say here. This includes not only the physically determined but intelligently designed computer, but also my brain which chooses my words at this very moment. which ex hypothesi was not inteligently designed. If determinism is true, then a Laplacian Physicist could, given the state of the atoms (and yes, you could write the laws of physics into the state of the the atoms rather than making the laws independent of it, but that would not change my argument) perfectly wihtout reference to anything mental. There would then still be truths of supervenience which indicate what pattens of physical states exist, if physical states are arranged a certain way, but these fact exist without intelligent content. If physicalism is true, the appearnce of believing something for a reason is just that--appearance. An opera singer can appear to cause a window to break by singing the words "Shatter now." but we know that itis physical causes, not intelligible content, that causes the window to shatter. In the same way, given physicalism, a philosopher may have the illusion that he has inferred the nonexistence of God from the evil in the world, but what the physicalist believes, once the logical implicationa of physicalism are drawn, entails he the philosopher has done no such thing. The blind physical processes of physics have caused his "conclusion," and the claim to have inferred anything is an illusion.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

How to commit the fallacy of composition and get away wtih it

 Transference between parts and wholes is tricky. But if there is no teleology in the parts, there is no teleology in the whole. A brick wall is six feet tall because the bricks add up to six feet. But nonteleological activity on the part of basic particles means no real telelogy at the higher levels. The explanation at the basic level provides a sufficient cause, so the mental explanation is otiose.

Sometimes the fallacy of composition isn't a fallacy.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

C. S. Lewis and the milk jug


“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

― c s lewis

My response: Any naturalist who sees this is going to point out that the evolutionary process can't be compared to the upsetting of a milk jug. True enough, but it isn't mental causation either, it's just trial and error mimicing what we would have thought was mental causation. But science as an activity cannot exist unless there is real mental causation--one mental event is produced in the mind as the result of evidence and logic supporting iit. But, if naturalism is true, it looks as if this never happens. Every event in the universe, according to them, is produced by the previous positions of the atoms, the laws of physics, and, if quantum mechanics is true, a chance factor. Reasons don't literally produce anything in such a world. including the beliefs that naturalists inssts are based on evidence.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Ethical Subjectivism and Hannibal Lecter

 Suppose Hannibal invites someone over for dinner, shoves them into the oven, and cooks them AS dinner. You discover what Hannibal has done, and maintain that he has done something very unethical. He replies that ethics is subjective, and the from his subjective point of view, he did nothing wrong.

Is ethics really subjective?

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Do atheists hate God?

 Here's a Christian who says they do. The implication is that they really know in their hearts that there is a God, but are suppressing it. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Snobby attitudes

 In spite of the snobby attitude that a lot of people have towards Lewis, I would point out that Lewis tutored philosophy at Oxford University before taking a permanent job as professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford. How many of you could get a job as a tutor in philosophy at Oxford?

Wednesday, April 05, 2023


 Do you think there are no exceptional cases where there is a medical reason to do a gender reassignment.? Granted. I think the trans craze of the early 21st Century will I think be viewed as crazy by future generations, in much the way the eugenics craze of the previous century is now viewed (How could they have thought that?). But does it follow that birth assigments are infallible?

Friday, March 31, 2023

Arizona School Board ends contract with anti-LGBTQ Christian college

 Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, defends the Washington School District for ending its student teacher contract with Arizona Christian University. It isn't because ACU is Christian, it's because it affirmation of traditional marriage is "bigoted," diversity and inclusion is, he thinks, consistent with excluding such "bigots."