Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Christian quasi-naturalism and the argument from reason

There is an important and key difference between what I might call Christian quasi-naturalism (Van Till style functional integrity, etc.) and naturalism per se, and it is that for naturalism per se the physical is not only closed after creation but also the initial conditions are design-free, while for CQN (the position, I take it, that people like Weekend Fisher are trying to defend, as well as Christian materialists in the philosophy of mind like Nancey Murphy) at least the initial conditions are designed. Now there are a couple of different ways of looking at these initial conditions. We might think, on the one hand, that these not only were designed, but that they show evidence of design (and therefore accept some version of the fine-tuning argument) or we might say that while we believe them to have been designed, we might think that God did it in such a way as not to leave fingerprints that science can discover, and so we might accept the idea that even though we think those initial condition are there by design, it is just as reasonable to suppose that they are what they are as a result of, say, our happening to be in a universe that supports life because all of them really exist, and we happen to be in a life-permitting one and not a life-hostile one (big surprise there). People committed to CQN must believe that the universe as it began is the result of design, the question is whether this can be made evident to science or not. Now it looks like there are some versions of the argument from reason that, if they work, require something more than just a designed beginning. For example, if our knowing necessary truths requires causal interaction with eternal realities, this is going to undermine the causal closure of the physical, since the physical realm is a temporal and not an eternal realm. So if that argument works, it's an argument against CQN as well as naturalism. But do all the arguments require this? Are any of the arguments from reason arguments against naturalism but not against Christian quasi-naturalism?

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25 Comments:

At 2/21/2007 03:29:00 PM , Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Hi there

You & anon have been posting more often than I've had a chance to reply, but I think I've caught up on my reading the exchanges now, and I'd like to just pick up here unless there was some particular thing where you were wanting a specific reply on another part of the conversation.

I'll make a passing objection to having a label such as "quasi-naturalism" since, from where I sit, there's nothing quasi about my views. But given that I find myself not completely agreeing with either of two other camps, I won't fuss too much and I'll go forward hoping that "CQN" is close enough for government work.

So we get back to the meat of it later in the post.

VR: This is going to undermine the causal closure of the physical ...

WF: Exactly. Which is why I find the argument from reason inconclusive. It's also why I object strongly to statements made by certain other elements to the effect that a successful naturalistic explanation of the human mind proves there's no soul or no God. Again, I take it for granted that the human brain operates in a natural way, and have no earthly idea why people see that as an anti-religious finding.

VR: So if that argument works, it's an argument against CQN as well as naturalism. ... (and again that any argument from reason against naturalism is also an argument against quasi-naturalism)

WF: But how so? I don't follow how that's supposed to argue against CQN (or against radical naturalism either, "sola natura" if you will). Maybe you could draw the connections explicitly.

Thank you for your time in this.

Take care & God bless

 
At 2/21/2007 04:16:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Look, I've got to come up with some terms to describe this stuff. But let's take a look at what the argument from necessary truths requires. The idea is that when we know something (like knowing that the cat is on the mat), the fact that something is so plays a role in producing the belief that it is so. If I know that the cat is on the mat, there is a causal link from the cat's being on the mat to my thought that it is on the mat, either through direct perception, or perhaps the cat's being on the mat causes my daughter to call out to me and say "Hey, the cat's on the mat.) So if I know a logical truth, there must be some link between, say, the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 and 2 + 2's actually being 4. But if naturalism is true, then all the links to my brain states are to other states in space and time. The physical real is, if nothing else, a spatiotemporal realm. But the truth that 2 + 2 is 4 is not in space and time, so if naturalism is true we couldn't possibly know that. If my mental states are not caused by something that is non-spatiotemporal, we can't know that 2 + 2 = 4. But that means that the physical isn't closed. So this AFR seems is an argument against causal closure.

I think that if the physical is closed, then either there is no soul, or that soul is epiphenomenal (having no causal power). Let's take OJ's killing Nicole and Ron (assuming, of course, he's guilty). The knife's striking the victims has to be caused, and caused only, by a physical chain of events going back to the beginning of time. If OJ's jealousy isn't a physical state, then it didn't have anything to do with the killing.

I am not saying that a naturalistic account of the mind is an anti-religious finding. I think materialist theories of mind cause problems if you think Christians need a libertarian view of free will, (I actually do think that) or if you think that if God re-creates a physical self, that self would be a replica and not a resurrection. But I have not made this argument. I just think that this naturalistic accounts of the mind are just false, and the falsity of those accounts gives us an apologetic in favor of theism.

 
At 2/21/2007 06:39:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

" think that if the physical is closed, then either there is no soul, or that soul is epiphenomenal (having no causal power). "

Are you equating the soul with the mind, with mental abilities?

I should clarify that the anonymous posts under your reply to Weekend Fisher were by me.
Also should clarify that I don't consider myself to be some sort of quasi-naturalist. I strongly believe that God did creat this world to be self-sufficient: that is it does not need constant tweaking by God to keep things running in it. And that would include the ability of humans to think.

 
At 2/21/2007 09:59:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

The "soul" typically thought to be a non-physical element in human nature, something that is not strictly governed by the laws of physics, for example.

 
At 2/23/2007 10:34:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ve been reading over the postings on your blogsites trying to understand this Dangerous Idea you have regarding naturalism. Looks to me like the crux of the argument is:

1. That the basic particles of the physical universe are in and of themselves non-purposive or non-rational.
2. That rational, conscious behavior has to be rational or intentional all the way down, so to speak. That is, ontologically speaking, the components of rational behavior would themselves have to be rational.
3. And that because of that it is impossible for the physical brain to be conscious and engage in rational behavior.

I honestly am having trouble understanding how you can support number 2. I’m sorry, but it looks to me as though you are presupposing what you need to prove.
I think God set up the initial conditions of the physical universe so that it would be possible for it to be configured in a way that would enable sentient, rational creatures.
Puddleglummer

 
At 2/24/2007 10:54:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

A thought or two on the above:

By no means do I assume that a Biblical conception of God is at issue here, but if it is then a self-sufficient clockwork universe is out of the question. That God "upholds all by the word of his power" and "by him we live and have our being" is repeated in various ways in Scripture.

Entirely apart from the Bible, however, a universe that is capable of ticking along without the conditioning of a transcendant mind is logically unsustainable. Hume was nice enough to help out with this point about three centuries back. Matter of itself is unintelligible, that is, matter must acquire intelligibility (of the kind science depends upon) by having rules imposed upon it. Rules are mental constructs. To have universal rules such as the laws of nature we must postulate a universal Mind. I call this the Argument from Intelligibility. C. S. Lewis offered a brief version of it on pages 165-71 of Miracles. Even Einstein admitted that the existence of rules constituting the laws of nature is assumed, not proven--which is another way of saying that the rules are not spatio-temporal, and if not spatio-temporal only the mental category is left.

The fine-tuning argument may show that God created our universe for the purpose of nurturing biological life, but any universe with physical laws (any universe worthy of the name, in other words) would have to be intelligently conceived.

Along these lines, I recommend Hugo Meynell's The Intelligible Universe: A Cosmological Argument (sadly out of print but available by library loan) and John Foster's more recent The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God.

The fact that the material universe must be conditioned by mental activity ties in nicely with the AfR. Humans, who by reason invent rules to organize their immediate surroundings, are both reflecting and giving evidence of the divine image they bear.

 
At 2/24/2007 09:17:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

Thanks Darek for your interesting comments.
It is always well to make clear one's biases when interpreting scripture. I am a rather radical Catholic who completely rejects the use of scripture as a means to understanding how the physical universe works. Your quotes from scripture are to be taken poetically or metaphorically to indicate all creation is from God, as far as my religious understanding goes. I would also like to say, that believing that His creation is a self-sufficient creation does not imply a 'clockwork' universe. Quite the contrary, a clockwork universe needs someone to continually rewind it and that is a theologically unsound view of God, imho. I believe He planned things a little better than that.
I've no argument with you in regards to who is the Creator of the physical universe. I do fail to see how what you have said here would make it impossible for physical beings to have evovled into the rational creatures we are. In other words, you have not provided me with any reason for not thinking that it is our physical brains which are the source of our mental abilities. And there is already too much scientific evidence to the contrary.
Most certainly we can agree that if you simply look at the individual particles of the universe they can be described as being unintelligent. That does not mean that they cannot be configured in a way that results in intelligent behavior. Don't you think it possible that God may have wished it that way?

 
At 2/25/2007 04:52:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

To me it seems obvious that biblical statements about the physical world are written to convey meaning in ancient as well as modern cultures. Therefore, they are intended to leave room for scientific elaboration and elucidation to some degree. Nevertheless, origins cannot be entirely separated from processes. Modern scientific cosmogonies are not designed to leave room for any kind of supernatural creator, whether or not they incorporate a "big bang." Nor does modern biological science leave room for miracles such as the virgin birth.

Aside from that, the idea of God as Sustainer is just as unavoidable in Christian thought as the idea of God as Creator. When the Bible says that he "upholds everything," it is clearly and deliberately in the present tense. Likewise, "in him all holds together." But if there should be any doubt, the idea of a universe with "laws of nature" that are simply there apart from mental activity is logically faulty. This logical defect emerged in philsophy under the name, the "problem of induction," which I urge you to investigate. Its relevance to science is confirmed by the attention it is given in such recent works as The Philosophy of Science by Alex Rosenberg.

To turn to the subject of reason, if you look above you will see that Victor invites you to consider the impact of abstractions on our thought processes. Consider the difference between the number two and the numeral "2." The numeral is a symbol, right? It is not, strictly speaking, the number two. When I say that the number two is prime, I don't mean that the numeral "2" is an example of good graphic art. Because the number two is an abstraction, we cannot identify it as a physical object such as a a graphite scrawl on paper or a luminescent character on a computer screen. Nor can we identify it as a sequence of physical events. For example, a certain fluctuation in an electrical current flowing through a circuit in a computer chip cannot be identifed with the number two. All of those items can represent the number two, but they are not in fact the number two.

Now, you and I both agree, I think, that the number two is not a physical object or arrangement of objects or sequence of physical events. That we are able to grasp the distinction means that our thought processes are affected somehow by the number two itself, not just representations of two. But how can this be, assuming that all thought processes are nothing more or less than brain processes? Brain processes are electrochemical. They are only affected by physical objects (molecules, free electrons, electromagnetic fields). And they consist only of and physical event sequences in the form of cascading discharges of synapses. Where in these objects and events could we hope to find the number two as opposed to a representation of two? None of the molecular objects in the brain can possibly be the number two itself. Ditto the neural event sequences. The number two as an abstraction, different from any physical object or event sequence, affects my thought process. But the number two, again as an abstraction, cannot possibly be given a role to play in the physical processes of my brain.

The upshot is that we simply cannot identify rational thought processes one-to-one with brain processes. Granted, complex brain processes have to be working for me to think about the number two--or anything else. This only proves that such processes are a necessary condition of thought, not that they are a sufficient explanation of thought. Think of a compass. As you assemble a compass you would get no inkling from the way the parts behave on the workbench that they might respond to an influence othern than physical manipulation and inertia. But once the compass is in a carefully balanced inertial state, another response begins to occur as well--magnetic attraction. Disturb the mechanical structure of the compass and the response is disabled. This is a rough illustration of the relationship that must obtain between brain processes and thought processes.

 
At 2/27/2007 05:55:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

Sorry, Darek, for the delay in my response. Have had some personal matters taking up a lot of my time lately.
As regards biblical interpretation. I didn't meant to exclude the possibility that there are references in the Bible to the real world. But I don't see it as being useful in providing explanations for physical phenomena. There is, for example, plenty of scientific evidence to show that the first two chapters of Genesis can be taken as little more than myth.
Scripture is, I believe, to be used to strengthen believers in their walk of faith.
Since God is an uncreated Being I don't think science can say anything about Him. Science is limited to the created world.
I am in agreement with you that we can look at neural activity all we wish, but we are never going to see the abstract concept 2 in that activity. After all, abstract concepts don't inhabit any space. I don't see how that fact requires one to reject the possibility that the brain can conceive of and manipulate such abstact concepts.
Also, you seem to be under the assumption that physical laws are prescriptive rather than descriptive. I think they are the latter: they are descriptions of how the physical world works.

 
At 2/28/2007 09:09:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

Pgmr

You said, "After all, abstract concepts don't inhabit any space. I don't see how that fact requires one to reject the possibility that the brain can conceive of and manipulate such abstact concepts."
Presumably, the brain as a physical organ must interact with something physically in order to manipulate it. To put it another way, in order to manipulate something your brain must become aware of that thing. And for the brain to become aware of it, it must affect the brain--have some causal impact upon it. But to the extent that the brain is a mass of chemicals interacting according to physical law, only physical objects or events or combinations thereof can be conceived of as having a causal impact upon it. We have agreed that abstractions are not physical objects or events. Therefore, abstractions cannot have causal effects upon brain processes, make themselves felt to the brain as it were. But abstractions do have a causal impact upon thought processes. Therefore, brain processes are not the same as thought processes, even though brain processes are necessary somehow to the occurrence of thought processes.

On the subject of laws of nature as descriptive rather than prescriptive, description cannot underwrite prediction. A description of how something behaves today does not amount to a prediction of how it will behave tomorrow. But science does predict how objects in certain circumstances will behave tomorrow. To say that today objects attracted one another in proportion to their masses is not to say that they will do so tomorrow unless some prescriptive force is attributed to the statement, "Objects attract one another in proportion to their masses." The description based on observation must be evidence of something beyond observation, a "rule" to use Einstein's term, that is being applied. To illustrate, a description of the fact that bishops on a chessboard only move diagonally has prescriptive force to the extent that a rule in the minds of the chess players biases the movement of pieces on the board. But the rule is a mental object, not a physical one.

Turning to scientific explanations of origins . . . Please note that I am not anti-scientific. I do not believe it likely that the earth was created a mere six thousand years ago. Nevertheless, the appetite of science to explain origins is insatiable. It includes the Catholic Church, or simply Christianity. In scientific terms, Christianity like animism of Hinduism is a natural phenomenon with sociological and psychological--ultimately, biological--origins. To say that the rise of Christianity is best explained by the miraculous resurrection of Jesus is as unsound scientifically as to say that the appearance of the flagellum of a microorganism is best explained by miraculous creation.

 
At 2/28/2007 09:50:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

Darek, a simple electronic calculator manipulates the abstract concept "two". There is no causation in that manipulation other than physical causation. Same in the brain. I think we have different ideas about what abstract concepts are. It makes no more sense to say that abstractions "do have a causal impact upon thought processes" than physical events cause abstract concepts.

As to physical laws. There is no guarantee that the laws of physics cannot change.
You said:
"To say that today objects attracted one another in proportion to their masses is not to say that they will do so tomorrow unless some prescriptive force is attributed to the statement." There is no prescriptive force necessary to invoke inductive thinking which is all this prediction really is.
And how does this rule which you call a mental object have a force that can manipulate physical objects?

I couldn't agree with you more about the miraculous being outside the scope of science. Science can have nothing to say regarding the existence of God.
Take care.

 
At 3/01/2007 08:54:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

Pdgmr

I appreciate that you are tired of the exchange, so I won't continue with the peripheral points concerning induction and science.

For the record, however, computers do not manipulate numbers or other abstractions. Computers manipulate representations of abstractions. The simplest digital computer is a manual device, the abacus. Numbers are represented on the abacus as beads on wires. It hardly need be said that the characteristics of beads on wires are different than the characteristics of numbers in the abstract. The rules of operation of an abacus are devised so that when the input representations (bead positions) are manipulated, the resulting output representation (again, assorted bead positions) stands for the correct abstract number calculation. But representation is not identity. That which stands for something is not the thing itself.

What is true of the abacus is in principle true of all computers. Patterns of electrical impulses in a computer are not numbers, but representations. The computer has been carefully engineered so that its manipulation of representations aligns with rational manipulation of abstractions. Since representations can have physical properties that abstractions lack, representations can have a physical effect on the computer's functions. If our minds--like computers--were only affected by representations, we would be unable to differentiate between representations and abstractions. But we can differentiate between the two, therefore out mental processes amount to more than mere computation.

 
At 3/03/2007 08:29:00 AM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

Darek, I think you've made some very good comments here. At least I find myself much in agreement with what you've said.
The point I've been trying to make, and where I suspect we differ, is the only way to manipulate abstract concepts is through their representations. There would be no way to manipulate or think of the abstract concept "2" without the physical processes that go on in the brain. There simply cannot be a human mind without the human brain. And we now know that that brain has been developed through millions of years of human evolution. It has come about purely through the natural processes of this physical universe.
Now we both believe in God and I'm guessing that you will want to point to God as an example that negates what I've just said. But God is an uncreated Being who exists outside of space and time. There is simply no way for us to comprehend such a being. I see God as Spirit (my word for the incomprehensible) and not Mind. I don't think the mental processes of God are the same as humans. When we say something llike: "God is thinking", I believe we are just speaking in metaphor. And I think it a mistake to assume that the way we think, the way we are able to conceptualize things is the same way that God "thinks or conceptualizes things."

 
At 3/03/2007 01:55:00 PM , Anonymous J. Clark said...

"It must certainly be allowed, that nature has kept us at a great distance from all her secrets, and has afforded us only the knowledge of a few superficial qualities of objects; while she conceals from us those powers and principles on which the influence of those objects entirely depends." (David Hume, 1737)

Hume and Popper both, I believe, are honest scientific philosophers. Both recognize the weakness of the "reliability" of the scientific method. But both refuse to allow for a super-nature solution. And in doing so, I believe, both have done theism a huge favor by allowing an apology for faith and revelation by these gaps that they reveal in the scientific method.

Spirit = incomprehensible "no way" Then how can you subscribe to Jesus? Who is the logos of God, making God comprehensible. Also, to a lesser degree, every miracle, every awareness of consciousness, morality, circumstance, other revelations?, creation and reasoning (if you want to or do believe in God) are in some way revealing something about God. And I have to believe that this is what we call "the grace of God."

On a separate note, Hume refused the "super nature" explanation not just for his scientific method and philosophy but for everything he wrote about or against. Though his main thesis is that we really can't know anything for sure because of these gaps. So how can we trust Hume then? Did he ever apply his method to himself and his philosophy? He was a rebel to the end.

 
At 3/04/2007 09:57:00 AM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

j. clark,
I see myself in the Via Negativa strand of the Christian tradition. The best we can do is say what God is not. God's revealation is only in terms and concepts that humans can understand. That is why the sacrements are of such importance for strengthing one's faith, at least from the Catholic perspective.
This also seems to fit in nicely with Kantian epistemology, which I also find myself gravitating toward.
Take care.

 
At 3/04/2007 12:54:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

Pdgmr

I appreciate your patience so far. Your response concerning our dependence on representations is a natural one. It is as far as I can tell, the same as that of philosopher Daniel Dennett. But I hope you will keep an open mind and consider the difficulties.

First, it is one thing to say that we must manipulate representations in order to think about abstractions. It is another to say that our thinking about abstractions consists entirely of manipulating representations. Computation is solely the manipulation of representations. Thought must consist of something more for the following reasons.

The first is a matter of distinction. To illustrate, I once knew a man named Warren who was so profoundly colorblind that he only knew to stop for traffic lights when the large, top light was shining. The red signal is generally on the top and is usually larger than the amber and green ones. Warren believed other people who told him that there was another property that distinguished the lights, but this property was a mystery to him otherwise. Those of us who do distinguish red from green might hastily conclude that Warren distinguishes--"mentally manipulates"--color by manipulating signal position, but this is not really the case. Warren manipulates signal position only, can distinguish signal position only. If the entire human population had Warren's problem then it could only be accidentally the case that the topmost signal of traffic lights would be red--that is, the topmost light would not be red because of its color. In fact, only someone who is capable of distinguishing between green and red could mistakenly conclude that Warren manipulates colors in order to negotiate traffic lights.

Now, let's substitute abstractions and representations for signal color and signal position in the example above. Our only being able to manipulate representations would entail our being as insensible to abstractions as Warren was to color. The idea would not occur to us that abstractions are different from representations any more than it would occur to Warren (apart from his being told) that the color of a traffic signal was different from its position. Our ability to distinguish between abstractions and representations cannot be reconciled with the idea that we only manipulate representations.

The second problem is that of mental causation. Instead of numbers, consider sentences. In school we are told at some point that a sentence expresses a "complete thought." But the thought or idea of the sentence is different from the sentence as a set of lines on paper or on a computer screen, or a set of audible sounds. The meaning of a sentence, the abstract idea or thought expressed by it, is what Victor on a recent post referred to as "propositional content." Look at the following:

"The causes science detects are exclusively physical, therefore the causes of our mental activity must be exclusively physical."

The above sentence is a symbolic object, a representation--a set of lines right now on your computer screen. But the idea it represents has different properties than the physical object. Assume that you are persuaded by the sentence as an argument. Does your being persuaded mean that the physical properties of the sentence alone have triggered a series of strictly physical events in your mind/brain, resulting in a physical state that constititues a belief? If the physical properties of the object--and nothing more--have caused your belief, then your belief has not been caused by the idea the sentence represents. Remember, the physical properties of the sentence are not those of the idea. But your belief has a chance of being rational only if its causes include the idea.

How can this be? It must be the case that the representation does not "cause" belief the way the striking of billiard ball B by billiard ball A causes the movement of B. The representation prompts or catalyzes belief by provoking the occurrence of an idea in the mind, which then causes belief. The representation as a physical object is necessary to this mental transaction, but it cannot account for the transaction as purely physical cause-and-effect. We have to reach this conclusion to preserve the rational nature of at least some of our thoughts.

As for God, C. S. Lewis said, correctly I think, that God must be more like a mind than like anything else. In our immediate experience, to be other than a mind is to be less than a mind. But God need not be a mind exactly like ours for our minds to be somewhat like his. There is a scripture where Jesus says that John the Baptist was "a prophet and more than a prophet." Jesus himself can be described as a man and more than a man. God can be described as a mind and more than a mind. However, if there are any truths whatsoever expressed in the Bible, they include that man has been created in some important sense in God's image (however you conceive of the creative process), and that God is a being who desires a relationship with his creatures.

 
At 3/04/2007 01:56:00 PM , Anonymous J. Clark said...

"Human communication involves both digital and analog modalities: Communication does not involve the merely spoken words (digital communication), but non-verbal and analog-verbal communication as well"
by Paul Watzlawick PhD (* July 25, 1921 in Villach, Austria) is a theoretician in Communication Theory and Radical Constructivism

Representation as analogies to meaning reminds me of undergraduate studies in speech comm. All communication is analogies to meaning in a person. It becomes somewhat miraculous if you think about the origin of reason and thought. It appears and you put words to it. Understanding simply appears at times with no origin.(there is a causality but sometimes we cannot know what the cause is) And we can communicate it by words. There is an abyss of thought here.I have thought about writing later about "communication as a proof of the existence of God." "He SPOKE into the darkness," "In the beginning was the WORD" etc.

 
At 3/04/2007 02:09:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

Darek,
I should be thanking you for your patience. I can't respond much to your interesting post right now. In the process of moving.
Perhaps couple of things you might be thinking about while I compose my response:
How can you have an understanding of abstract concepts without the physical representation of those concepts?
Also, what is mental causation? Sounds like you are relying on what we perceive in the physical world to explain what is happening in the mental realm. I'm not sure that can be justified as readily as you and Mr. Reppert assume.
Also, given the scientific evidence for evolution, which I believe is overwhelming, how do you explain this mental substance attaching itself to the brain: a physical brain that was a result of millions of years of physical changes?
Also, like to add that I don't believe I understand everything there is to know about the mind. Nor do I have some master theory to explain its workings. But given all the problems with dualism, I see no need, at least yet, to adopt the view being advocated here regarding what the mind is.
Take care

 
At 3/05/2007 03:35:00 PM , Anonymous J.Clark said...

One thing, the Bible teaches that the spiritual (for us at least) needs the physical. Meaning that the spiritual transcends the physical by a dimension unknown to our senses. Lewis writes in his essay "Miracles" that the answer could easily be found in terms of dimensions.
"To explain even an atom Schrodinger wants seven dimensions: and give us new senses and we should find new Nature. There may be Natures piled upon Natures, each supernatural to the one beneath it, before we come to the abyss of pure spirit; and to be in that abyss, at the right hand of the Father, may not mean being absent from any of these Natures-may mean a yet more dynamic presence on all levels." p10 in "The Grand Miracle"

some fuel.

 
At 3/06/2007 06:47:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

JC,

You make a good point. The Bible teaches that the material creation is to be glorified or uplifted, not abandoned (Rom 8:21). Lewis returns to that theme near the end of Miracles.

As I understand it, physicists today are increasingly convinced that additional spatial dimensions are required to resolve mathematical issues over basic physical forces. This taxes our conceptions mightily. In our exprerience, space is nothing more or less than three-dimensionality. Extra dimensions amount to space being "space-and-more." This is yet another reason to hesitate before ruling out the supernatural realities referred to in the Bible.

Pdgmr,

You refer over and over again to millions of years of evolution as if that would, by itself, exclude purposeful attention and design by God. Imagine for a moment two observers who have spent their entire lives inside a rock polisher. Somehow they survive amid the constantly tumbling rocks, gravel and sand. One day the first observer says to the second, "It occurs to me that this system we see around us was designed to create beautiful, polished stones." The second observer dissents. "You are deluding yourself. As these various bits of rock collide with each other over and over again at random angles, projections of all sizes tend to be broken off while smooth areas tend to remain intact. Over the aeons, this naturally results in smooth surfaces predominating until the rocks acquire a contoured, glossy finish. But since the driver of the process is utterly random, there can be no design to it."

Observer number two is making a critical error. A designed process can deliberately incorporate random variation to achieve a clearly defined and forseeable result. Even under the assumption that the Darwinian evolutionary model is correct, the conclusion that it exludes design of the process to achieve a specific end is faulty.

 
At 3/08/2007 04:55:00 PM , Anonymous J.Clark said...

Hugh Ross has written much on extra-dimensionality as a proof for God. Though I don't agree with everything he says, he has given a sound argument (from a laymen's point of view) of the possibilities. You can read his argument in "Beyond the Cosmos: The Extra-Dimensionality of God." Ross makes gross applications to theology which are strained and forced but I like the mathmatical possibilities of dimensions and the light it could shed on nature.

 
At 3/09/2007 06:33:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

JC

I have read some of Ross's books and I agree with you completely. He shoehorns theology into physics in a way that isn't always convincing. But he deserves marks for pointing out that modern physics paints a strange picture, one that by no means excludes the supernatural providing there are good reasons to believe it exists.

 
At 3/09/2007 04:54:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

Darek, just a few quick responses to what you last replied to me. Your comments are in quotes.

"You refer over and over again to millions of years of evolution as if that would, by itself, exclude purposeful attention and design by God."
I am afraid you have misunderstood me. I have referred to evolution as the mechanism by which sentient creatures like us came into being. Remember I am a theist who believes in the Christian God. :-)

"But since the driver of the process is utterly random, there can be no design to it."
The analogy to evolution breaks down completely here: it is most certainly not an utterly random process.

"Observer number two is making a critical error. A designed process can deliberately incorporate random variation to achieve a clearly defined and forseeable result. Even under the assumption that the Darwinian evolutionary model is correct, the conclusion that it exludes design of the process to achieve a specific end is faulty. "
Agree largely with this. However, you have made a common error by assuming that a teleological explanation can be reduced to the goals of the designer.
Christians and naturalists can agree completely as regards to the evolutionary process itself. Just as we can agree about the causes of a toothache. :-)

 
At 3/09/2007 05:09:00 PM , Blogger The Puddleglummer said...

"First, it is one thing to say that we must manipulate representations in order to think about abstractions. It is another to say that our thinking about abstractions consists entirely of manipulating representations. Computation is solely the manipulation of representations. Thought must consist of something more for the following reasons."

Darek, I've tried to understand this post to the best of my ability. I'm afraid I don't see anything in the comments you've made that would provide a convincing case that makes it impossible for the brain to engage in the mental activity that we commonly refer to as the mind. I hope I don't appear to be merely stubborn here. I honestly don't see how you get from the fact that there are indeed abstract concepts to the view that the brain cannot think!

"As for God, C. S. Lewis said, correctly I think, that God must be more like a mind than like anything else"

I have to admit to being unable to imagine how God's "thinking" could be like what we humans do, God being an uncreated being who inhabits a realm that is free of space and time. I'm sorry but, imho, the way of the Via Negative seems like the only rational way to talk about God.
Take care.

 
At 3/12/2007 09:33:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

Pdgmr

OK, let's take it one small step at a time. I say above that a sentence as a physical object is different from the idea (or proposition or thought) represented by the sentence. To help establish this I earlier referred to a parallel distinction between a numeral and a number (properly so called). Without jumping ahead, can we just agree on that much?

 

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