Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Argument from Reason and the God of the Gaps

Dr. Reppert, I am an ex-philosophy of religion student of yours (~1994) at GCC. We had some interesting conversations. You might remember me (Walter Brown) as the son of Walter Brown (Jr., I'm the 3rd) - the creationist. Anyway, I read your Argument from Reason paper. I didn’t understand it all, but I don't see why "Reason" is so mysterious. It is a function, among many, that brains (minds), do. As stomachs digest, complex nervous systems reason. You could make the Argument from Digestion could'nt you? Functions of the brain are the way they are because they are selected for in natural selection - reason is good for an organisms (in our linage) survival/differential reproduction. Therefore, higher organisms seem to have this ability to a greater and greater degree as their brains-to-body ratios increase (in our linage brain size evolution went up, and brain functions , reason being one among many, increased). All mammals have it. What's the mystery? Thx, Walter Brown

At 5:10 AM, Anonymous said…
Dr. Reppert, On more reflection and reading I'm thinking the mystery is - when does nonthinking (nonrational) neurons/synapses/neural transmitters become thinking (rational)thoughts/rational inferences/cognition? And that this undiscovered link is an opening for a supernatural causation? We are just starting to really study the brain, give us several centuries before we give up on naturalistic explanations. Haven’t naturalistic explanations always been shown to be more accurate than supernaturalist ones in the fullness of time and study?

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous said…
Dr. Reppert, this seems similar to the undiscovered link between when nonlife became life. There are those that posit that this is a place for a supernatural causation. They say nonlife can not cause life. They think nature obeys words and our meanings of them. There is so much gray between meanings/words and so many new emergent properties with increasing complexity... Thx, WB

Walter: I am glad to hear from you after all this time. You were the evolutionist son of the creationist WBII. I’ve mentioned you to a few evolutionists who were have tangled with your dad and they were very interested. One of them wanted to get in touch with you, as I recall. You went to the Craig-Dietz debate and brought a tape back, in which Dietz sparked an otherwise dismal performance by referring to Darwin’s theory of evolution as the “greatest story ever told.” I remember you wrote a paper defending your own agnosticism with the argument from evil. If you read through the archives of Dangerous Idea you will find lots of discussion on these topics. Just type the words “problem of evil” or “evolution” into the search box and you’ll get plenty of hits.

You may have surmised that the paper I put on the web was only the beginning. I did that in 1998. Since then I have written a book on the subject, entitled “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea,” (Inter-Varsity, 2003), and was involved in exchanges on the argument with naturalists like Jim Lippard, Keith Parsons, and Theodore Drange in the journals Philo and Philosophia Christi. There was also a voluminous online attack on my book written by Richard Carrier, to which I have written responses on my blogs.

I suppose that the development of the brain might be the basis for arguments on behalf of intelligent design (what your dad would call creationism for cowards), saying that the human brain is a classic example of what IDers call irreducible complexity. And as such, you ask, isn’t the argument vulnerable to a “god-of-the-gaps” objection. The idea behind the god-of-the-gaps objection is that if it turns out that there is a gap in our ability to understand something naturalistically, we ought not to regard it as a refutation of our naturalism, but rather we should give naturalistic explanation a wide berth to discover what the natural causes are and give up on that only as a last resort.

This is a fair concern with arguments of this sort, though it is a kind of argument that cuts against the argument from evil against theism as well as against design arguments for God. Our knowledge of God’s will and plans is even more limited than our scientific knowledge of nature, so of course if theism is true we ought to expect gaps in our understanding of why, for example, God permits Tay-Sachs disease. At one point on this blog I was bold enough to say the religious skeptic can’t use both the argument from evil and the god-of-the-gaps objection against design argument; you have to pick one or the other. But the GGO is often advanced against my versions of the argument from reason.

An instance where the God of the Gaps objection appears strong is in the case of Newton’s account of the orbits of the planets. His theory would have expected the orbits to go somewhat differently from the way they go, and so he postulated God as the one who keeps the planets in line. Laplace later developed a theory that didn’t require this kind of divine tinkering, and when asked about Newton’s theistic theory he said “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

But I’m not sure that the argument from reason can be undermined in the same way. It’s not just pointing to an unsolved engineering problem in nature. First of all, the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatible categories. You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all. Purpose, normativity, intentionality or about-ness, all these things are not supposed to be brought in to the physical descriptions of things, at least at the most basic level of analysis.

Let’s consider the gap between the propositional content of thought and the physical description of the brain. My claim is that no matter in how much detail you describe the physical state of the brain (and the environment), the propositional content of thought will invariably be undetermined. This isn’t my claim of C. S. Lewis’s, this argument was made by the arch-naturalist W. V. Quine. Now of course that doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it’s not a matter of getting a physical description that will work, I’m saying the logico-conceptual gap is always going to be there regardless of how extensively you describe the physical. As I once said, “Bridging the chasm isn’t going to simply be a matter of exploring the territory on one side of the chasm.”

Second, to a very large extent the gap between the mental and the physical was caused by science in the first place. The way one got physics going in the early days of modern science was to attribute such things as colors, tastes, smells, to the mind, while explaining the physics of it without those things. See these entries giving arguments by Swinburne and Feser on this type of argument:

If these arguments are correct, then instead of expecting out naturalistic modes of explanation to keep working when we start to explain the mind, we should rather expect them to break down. Materialistic science began by passing features of the world to the mind in order to avoid explaining certain features of the physical world. If it wants to explain the mind in terms of matter, where is it going to send those mental properties?

Second, science has, so far as I can tell, made no real progress on explaining the existence of consciousness other “mental” features of reality. We have discovered correlations between mental and physical states, but correlations do not prove identity. Attempts to reduce the mental to the physical have so far not been successful, and on my view they are invariable doomed to explaining the mental by explaining it away.

Finally, when we use the term “supernatural” we need to be clear on what we mean. I don’t like to use the word (though C. S. Lewis did) but if I did I would just say that in the last analysis we are going to have to give some “mind-first” explanations for why, for example, some states of mind are about other things. It seems to me that you can accept the force of the argument from reason and become an Absolute Idealist instead of a theist. That’s exactly what C. S. Lewis did, at least at first.

Don't hesitate to e-mail me. I would love to know how you're doing.

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At 4/11/2007 08:18:00 PM , Blogger WT said...

I am wondering why I have not seen the term "cascade" come up when it comes to the notion of consciouness? Or for that matter titles from materialists such as "Roger Penrose has no Mind"
(I'll let the materialists answer the context of that snide statement)

That is to say, one form of materialist thought (at least from what I was able to discern from some programs and interviews from materialists) is that the whole notion of "thinking things through" is nonsense. Or put more bluntly, as one critic of intelligent design parameters or Higher Mind or God (or whatever) have said, consciousness is a mere illusion caused by the overlapping cascade of various processes. Sorta like looking at pixels on a computer screen that give the illusion of three dimensional solidity to certain kinds of graphics. Roger Penrose said the "Emperor has no mind" and critiqued the world of computer making claims to computers that think.

At first Daniel Dennett supporters simply said Penrose was not aware of what in blazes he was talking about, and that to say some of these computer programs like Deep Blue don't "think things through" is akin to saying that airplanes don't fly since they don't flap their fleshy wings. But they DO fly! Ah!

More lately materialists have seemingly dispensed with this notion of "mind" altogether, as did BF Skinner, who regretted (he said) that he ever used the word "psyche" which means "mind" but that in point of fact there is no such beast in the skull. There is no ghost in the machine. So today the analogy is not clever computers, but highy evolved chimps with surpllus neurons who suffer the delusion that the multiple sensations coming in all at once cannot be readily diagnosed at once, so the human brain gives us the cascade compromise of "thinking" we have "thinking", when in fact little more is going on other than what happens to a chameleon who "sees" in multiple ranges due to his eye arrangement evolution has provided that causes an overlap of sensations for him that allows him to hunt food.

At 4/11/2007 10:23:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

I haven't seen the word cascade, but I think these ideas have come up on these posts

At 4/12/2007 03:55:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Reppert, you have a good memory about me, my agnostism (de-facto-athesim now, after seeing that I scored as atheistic as Dawkins in a test in his book "The God Delusion"), and Dietz (my father and he were actually friends before his passing). Your mind, I mean brain, is working well. I just don't get the dichotomy. I read what you said, and I will be re-reading and thinking about it, as I know I'm in way over my head (brain not "mind").

Ok, yes I was basically pointing to GGO. But I think more can be said for GGO in "design" than in the argument from evil. To my knowledge, the argument from evil has never been "solved" (well solved). Did'nt Lewis say, toward the end of "The Problem of Pain", that it is not well solved, and futher that the problem with respect to animals (no "Fall") is even greater. But in "design" in nature there is an extensive record of better naturalisic understandings solving mechanistic guestions. Naturalism has a good, a better, track record. That's the difference. Futher, but off point, does'nt this great record of methodological naturalism imply philosophical naturalism?

You said, "the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatable categories." Why? If the physical is in the right conformations and amounts/densities it can have the emergent property of the mental. EX. neurons -> cortex -> mental thought. Are you saying there is somthing other than the physical in my brain now forming my thoughts? If I give my brain a chemical (L.S.D.= physical) it can (it will) change my mental, by a purely physical process. It sure seems that the mind/matter duality is false. But I might not be thinking about it deep enough. Is'nt the consensus, now, amoung neurologists and other brain researchers that mind is matter? R.DeCarte was wrong. Thx. WB

At 4/12/2007 06:24:00 AM , Blogger Jason said...


The conceptual weakness with the cascade approach (and similar attempts) becomes obvious when you refuse to treat _yourself_ as an illusion of conscious will, and expect us to treat you as being anything other than only an illusion of conscious will. I've used the persistance-of-vision effect concerning moving pictures myself in disputation; but not in favor of your position. No one who understands the process thinks that there really is a train about to hit them (to take maybe the oldest example of film-illusion.)

Put another way, why exactly should Victor and I and other local commenters (pro or con theism either one) not simply talk among ourselves _about_ this new illusion over here making picture-sounds in Victor's direction, rather than treating you as if you weren't only an illusion? In Socratic terms, you ask us to treat you as if you weren't a cabbage, but you claim that we're all cabbages (just relatively effective cabbages at reacting in various ways)--_including yourself_.

Or, as I like to quip in implicit reference to a long-running opponent of ours who likes to jump down the epistemic rabbit-hole whenever the implications of the AfR start pointing toward theism: I don't debate metaphysics with my cousin's little Furbee; and I still wouldn't even if Furman University was silly enough to pay it a salary.

Convince us that you _are_ the kind of thing you're trying to say we _all_ are, in order to avoid the AfR implications; and to precisely the same degree we're going to ignore you as being a relevant disputant. That may sound rude, but that's just an illusion again: no one can really be rude to a Furbee.

Expect us to treat you as being _other_ (and especially _more than_) an illusion of conscious will, though--and you will be tacitly agreeing with the working distinction being appealed to by many forms of the AfR.

(All of which reminds me, I ought to check in on the 1st-person disputation thread sometime soon; I've been busy elsewhere, and things seem to have moved along quite a bit there in my absence...)

Best regards (unless you're only an illusion, that is {g}),

Jason Pratt

At 4/12/2007 01:10:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Well, consider the argument

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Now, if there is no one individual entity that thinks the premises, perceives the logical relationship, and draws the conclusion, then no one has drawn an inference. But if mind-brain identity theory is true, then there is one brain state that is the thought of the first premise, another that is the thought of the second premise, and still another that is the thought of the conclusion. What makes it one rational inference by one person? If thinking things through is really nonsense, then we ought to disregard all their arguments forthwith, because if these guys are right, there really are no arguments.

Walt, There are two major problems with the track record argument against dualism, and I referred to both of these in the linked passages in the quote. First, many of the scientific successes involve siphoning off the "mental" qualities of the phenomenon to the mind and explaining only the properly "physical" characteristics. Swinburne puts it this way:

RS: In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena. The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of the mind with the world of physics.

I haven't even seen an attempt to rebut these arguments from people like Swinburne and Feser.

Second, I haven't seen science get us any closer to an answer about what numbers are, or what consciousness is. The successes of science that generate this track record are somewhat orthogonal to the deepest and most serious philosophical issues that divide materialists and their opponents. I'm not critical of these efforts: they may cure Alzheimer's. But they don't really answer the fundamental questions concerning the relation between mental states and brain states.

Sophisticated forms of dualism, such as that of William Hasker, affirm the close relationship between the mind and the brain, so they at least are not going to be surprised to learn how LSD works. or how Miller Genuine Draft works, for that matter.

The problems start arising when you start putting limits on what can be physical. Purposes in the last analysis can't be physical, subjective perspectives can't be physical, norms can't be physical, logical relationships can't be physical. So long as we say "the brain does this, the brain does that" and we forget what kind of constraints are placed on what properties a physical brain can have, things look a lot easier for materialism than they really are. This is what I have called the "Mr. Brain" fallacy.

At 4/12/2007 06:04:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

One way of proposing the problem for materialism is this. Suppose we ask, of a digestive system "Could all the atoms and molecules of this system be in the positions they are in, but no digestion be going on," and you would have to say no, that's a logically incoherent suggestion. But if we asked "Could a molecule-for molecule replica of me be thinking a completely different thought," and the answer would be yes.

At 4/13/2007 01:56:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Reppert, I would say no. A molecule-by-molecule replica (exact, with all their qualities of movement, ion concentration, etc...) of you, at an instant in time, would be the thoughts + other mental processes that you had at that moment. You could not change the thought. (No more than the digestion could chance the part in the process of digestion it was in) In the next moment, nano-second, the (your) neural-firing-patterns would change and your thoughts would then change.

Now, of course, I see the difference between subjective mental experience and the physical explanations of how neurobiologically it works. Experience(subjective mental) is not the same, and can not be equated to, physical explanations - apples and organges. My seeing blue/greens, my subjective experience of it, is not the neurobiological explanation of it. But the explanation of it (a naturalistic explanation) does explain it, to a high degree. Actually, my blue/green experence is very different than most, I'm blue/green color"blind".

Is it nieve of me to think: Thoughts = neural-firing-patterns? I've been told by a friend, a PhD student in "Philosophy of Mind" at U of A, that there is more to it than that. I'm a biochem major, who likes philosophy but only fishes in it. And I respect those who swim in it, but I scrath my head. I will think more on this... I think I might have the "Mr. Brain" fallacy.

At 4/13/2007 02:21:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need to add this, in the molecule-by-molecule replica idea - I did'nt clearly delineate the replica compared to you. But its the same idea:

The replica (exact molecule-by-molecule) could not have a different thought than you. Even memories, which would of course alter thoughts, would be patterns-of-neural-firing (with all their attendant qualities of degree of firing, neural transmitter specifics, etc...). So the replica would have the same "memories", as well as other mental qualities. So it could not be thinking a different "thought".

That's my thought on thoughts, and I think I need to think more, but my head hurts. Have a good week-end, Thx, WB

At 4/13/2007 10:41:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Walter! I'm one of the folks who was interested in getting in touch with Walter Brown Jr. I am a former creationist and later edited a book of deconversion testimonies titled, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. I also have rec'd emails from a few other children of Christian ministers/apologists, who are now in college and who would probably love to communicate with each another about the transitions they have gone through.

One of them became a MONIST Christian philosopher (no brain-mind substance dualism for him) at BIOLA of all places, a college where substance dualists are in the majority I would have supposed, though even the Society of Christian philosophers is opening up to monism these days and questioning substance dualism, and there's even a recent book about "Four Christian Views of the Mind Body Problem" (substance dualism is only one view, two types of monism are some other options being proposed by Christian philosophers of mind).

I have more info about the variety of such philosophical beliefs at

See the articles:

"Brain and Mind Question" and Christian Theistic Philosophers

C. S. Lewis and the Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism

Also see...

C. S. LEWIS’S “Argument From Reason,” vs. Christians Who Reject Mind-Body Dualism and Accept the Possibility of Artificial Intelligence, Even “Born Again” Machines!

[I just discovered that my third online essay--the one with the longest title listed directly above-- had been cited in the bibliography of a 2007 online paper titled, "The Compatibility of Religious and Transhumanist Views of Metaphysics, Suffering, Virtue and Transcendence in an Enhanced Future" by James J. Hughes, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies at Trinity College in Harford, CT]

Lastly, a word to Vic who wrote:

"VIC: ...the categories of the mental and the physical are logically incompatible categories. You start attributing mental properties to physics and you might end up being told that you are no longer describing the physical at all."

Vic perhaps hasn't considered the implication that the greater the "incompatibility" that he imagines and argues for, i.e., the "incompatibility" between the "mental" and the "physical," or between "mind" and "brain," then the greater difficulty there is in ever connecting the two of those things at all. As if to say the "mind" and "brain" are so "incompatible" that they can never "touch" one another back and forth, and forth and back, as we know they do.

So if Vic is certain that such things are "incompatible" he must also admit at the same time a "connection" between them -- one that is deeply intimate and direct indeed -- in order for the brain and mind to function together as they do, and wake and sleep together as they do. On the necessity of such an intimate and direct connection both naturalists and supernaturalists must agree. So in effect, his argument from reason gets us nowhere, or merely back where we started, with philosophical questions that lack definitve answers or evidence.

By the way, studies are increasingly showing how such things as a tumerous growth inside the brain of a loving and calm and faithful husband and father can have his will and morality altered so as to become an angry parent, even a molester of his own daughter. But when the tumor was removed, the urges to anger and to molest also left him.

There's also been some extremely fascinating experiments and natural observations concerning primate behavior, altruism and cooperation in non-human primate species, as well as studies in the moral psychology of humans as discussed in new books by

1) Frans de Waal, author of Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Evolved, 2006. Also see, Our Inner Ape, 2005


2) Marc Hauser, author of Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, 2007.

Hauser was even interviewed in two science magazines that I spied on the stands this week, NEW SCIENTIST (#2593 Mar. 2007 -- who also offered a free SciPod audio version of his interview), and, DISCOVER (May 2007).

NEW SCIENTIST Interview [with Marc Hauswer] "How we tell right from wrong"--In a hospital emergency room, five critically ill patients desperately need organ transplants. A healthy man walks in. Should the doctors remove his organs to save the sick five? Most people will respond in milliseconds with a resounding "No way". Now imagine an out-of-control train about to run down five workers standing on the track. There's a fork ahead, and throwing a switch could divert the train to another line on which there is only one worker. It's the same question - should we sacrifice the one to spare the other five? - yet most of us would say "yes" just as quickly. How do we make these lightning moral [The complete article is 1688 words long.]

Audio: NEW SCIENTIST magazine devoted a full episode of their weekly podcast, SciPod, to exploring Marc Hauser's work on the "moral organ" and what it means to our notions of justice and fair play. Listen to it here (mp3 format).



P.S., I haunt bookstores and work in the journals and magazines department of a university library, so can't help bumping into interesting information. Also, this week at Barnes & Noble I spotted some new titles I hadn't noticed before and that sounded very interesting indeed, based on my reading the back covers, hinge notes, table of contents, skimming their contents, bibliographies and indexes. I'll probably add them to my Wish Lists (I have multiple lists, divided by topic and all under the name EdwardTBabinski, so if anyone wants to know what I might be reading--via interlibrary loan--they can check out those lists). Oh, and here's the new books I spied at B&N:

What Would Jesus Really Do? (by Fiala, this book looks at least as good or better than the one Dr. Barnhart edited years ago for Prometheus, titled, The Relativity of Biblical Ethics)

How Proust Can Change Your Life (this is a fascinating little book that sums up the wisdom, humor, and candor fof Proust, who spent most of his adulthood sick in bed writing the longest series of novels ever attempted by anyone).

Religion is Not About God

Why We Believe What We Believe

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?

Scientists Confront Intelligent Design & Creationism (a thick book and a fine collection of essays by specialists in each of their fields, published very recently)

Counter-Creationism Handbook (by Mark Isaac--a very handy little work to keep around, that catalogs and replies to every major objection by creationists to the theory of evolution over the past 25 years--but it's even handier online, since the online edition of Isaac's work continues to be updated frequently:

The Devil is in the Details (an upcoming book by Dr. Kenneth Miller, the biologist, opponent of I.D. and Catholic, the book was was mentioned inside a new paperback edition of Miller's older work, Finding Darwin's God)

C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (a classic by Beversluis that features letters by C. S. Lewis written in response to the author in which Lewis addressed questions concerning his arguments. I read at Vic Reppert's "Dangerous Idea" blog, that Beversluis's book will soon be re-released in a new edition with lots of extra commentary by the author.)

Stages of Faith (not new, but an older work, by Fowler, I've read parts of it before)

Also interesting is not just the "stages of faith" that Fowler discussed in his work, mentioned above, but also the fact that there's at least four major "views of God" among Christians in America, according to a Baylor University study:

• The Authoritarian God (31.4% of Americans overall, 43.3% in the South) is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in every creature's life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on "the unfaithful or ungodly," Bader says.

•The Benevolent God (23% overall, 28.7% in the Midwest) still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible. More than half (54.8%) want the government to advocate Christian values.

But this group, which draws more from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews, sees primarily a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible, Froese says.

They're inclined (68.1%) to say caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.

•The Critical God (16% overall, 21.3% in the East) has his judgmental eye on the world, but he's not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort.

"This group is more paradoxical," Bader says. "They have very traditional beliefs, picturing God as the classic bearded old man on high. Yet they're less inclined to go to church or affiliate seriously with religious groups. They are less inclined to see God as active in the world. Their politics are definitely not liberal, but they're not quite conservative, either."

•The Distant God (24.4% overall, 30.3% in the West) is "no bearded old man in the sky raining down his opinions on us," Bader says. Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, then left it spinning on its own.

"View of God can predict values, politics"

After combining the Fowler book, "Stages of Faith," with the recent Baylor data, one might be tempted to ask Christians and other theists such questions as, "Which God do you think you're supposed to believe in? And at what 'stage of faith' or perhaps 'stage of doubt' are you?"

At 4/14/2007 03:09:00 PM , Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

WB brings up interesting points, and Victor is giving some intuitions that underpin his view.

I have just a couple of comments.

First, materialism doesn't require that a replica of me have the same mental states. This has been known since twin earth, but this is easy for Victor to fix by extending his supervenience base out into the world.

Second, on the problem of inference. If the three propositions are in the brain, that isn't enough for there to be an inference in the brain, but if the brain entertains the first two and produces the third via some syntacic operations that (on the surface) follow the rules of inference, that would count as inference.

Finally, conceptual differences between the physical and mental realms don't imply an ontological difference. Pace water-h20, lightning-electrostatic discharge, temperature-mean kinetic energy.

Finally (and because of the perseverant lack of sensitivity to these issues I've stopped reading the blog with any regularity), beware of running together distinctions that need to be made (propositional attitudes versus conscious experience). The "mental" is a varied beast, and some mental properties will be easier for the naturalist to deal with than others. It is too easy to slip around from one thing to another.

At 4/18/2007 05:21:00 PM , Blogger geoffrobinson said...

Darwinists make all sorts of "Darwin of the Gaps" arguments. Just an observation.

At 4/26/2007 12:10:00 PM , Blogger Wakefield Tolbert. said...

Jason and all:

Time for the Devil's Advocate Soapbox Corner:

Is the issue really that intractable about whether or not we are real? I didn't think that was even the problem. The problem is not that some claim we (or our very minds) are illusions, but rather the way we THINK we THINK is but mere illusion.

Is human thought/choice/morality---all just a brain gas? It now seems increasingly likely that this is closer to the case than the idea that we can "think things through."

Links below point to some disturbing new research on the brain.

Is faith merely a cascade of chemicals that evolved to make us feel good?
What about morality? What about simply human consciousness? Is that fiction also?
Seems that morals and conscious decision-making are not just genetically based, but (further insulting to all Christians--not just conservative ones) it seems traditional "choice" arenas (like sexual orientation)are pre-determined in the womb(and can be tested for...

Actions/desires/faith/understanding/insight---all are altered for those with certain kinds of brain injuries.

Conclusion? If it can be altered from a structural change, then clearly the origin of these notions is grounded materially, and has little to do with "free will" (as we know the term), but rather preset. Said one researcher in an interview, "free choice" is something that is real only in the sense that it is experienced, but has no true conscious reality other than what the brain decides at an unconscious level for you to hash over. It is mere illusion and sleight of hand evolved to help us survive rough spots and maintain composure in stressful times, but for most of us choices are actually preset in life. Thus for example in one experiment researchers at one lab were able to determine a test participant's next choice even before he/she made it by using a device that watches for changes in patterns in the brain.
Patterns that were all too predictable, it seems.

Morality and thought are STRUCTURAL in the brain, not a "notion" or mystical-based ethereal quality that is taught so much as it is experienced from the physical mind itself.

Also check out evidences the neurological basis of religious belief, or just spirituality.

Neurological input on this.....anyone?

At 4/26/2007 04:25:00 PM , Blogger Wakefield Tolbert. said...

EB--you said, in part:

NEW SCIENTIST Interview [with Marc Hauswer] "How we tell right from wrong"--In a hospital emergency room, five critically ill patients desperately need organ transplants. A healthy man walks in. Should the doctors remove his organs to save the sick five? Most people will respond in milliseconds with a resounding "No way". Now imagine an out-of-control train about to run down five workers standing on the track. There's a fork ahead, and throwing a switch could divert the train to another line on which there is only one worker. It's the same question - should we sacrifice the one to spare the other five? - yet most of us would say "yes" just as quickly. How do we make these lightning moral

I presume the last part of this sentence was to be "How do we make these lightning moral..distinctions"?

Easily--for most of us.

Regardless of how you think the moral underpinning is forged so quickly(or what others you listed have said about this), no doubt it is a fast rehash of what we already know; the two questions are NOT the same. Perhaps you are pulling our chain, here.

Can we call this fast action the Babinski Reflex?

One asks a hypothetical akin to "should I use FORCE to cut the eyes out of one person in order to use various tissues to save the sight of several other people?"

The other is an emergency situation where we are not offering force for some putative greater medical or societal good (which most philosophers both and theist and non-theist would say is generally unjustified) but rather are having FORCE foisted upon US.

It is exactly the "disembodied gargoyle" type questions like these that made the very non-theist Ayn Rand declare that almost all "public projects" are little more than mausoleums, in essence if not in outright form.

We also had this from you, which is a common theme, I see:

So if Vic is certain that such things are "incompatible" he must also admit at the same time a "connection" between them -- one that is deeply intimate and direct indeed -- in order for the brain and mind to function together as they do, and wake and sleep together as they do. On the necessity of such an intimate and direct connection both naturalists and supernaturalists must agree. So in effect, his argument from reason gets us nowhere, or merely back where we started, with philosophical questions that lack definitve answers or evidence.

Does it not?

There is a wireless router in this computer, and one might call it the "god spot" of the computer. But the digital realm has no "material reality"--so how do the two interact? I put my hand in front of the presumed area where routing info, ip addresses, and other digitlized information is streaming in and OUT of the router to establish networking to this invisible influence that links me to computers all over the planet--I feel nothing against my hand. Hmmm. Also there is no such thing as the MATERIAL reality of "numbers"--they are artificial constructs of the human mind that are not found either by looking at the brain, nor its functions, nor (as someone quipped) is there any stone tablet tumbling around in space labeled "behold--the REALITY of numbers."

This is fiction in the material realm, as with area, distance, and space, and weight, these are measurements and merely relations between objects, but have no material substance that stands alone apart from interpretation by the mind (and by extention) encoded into machinery to take these concepts like digits and engineer wavelengths of various degree to form them and then be decoded to "mean" something on the other end of the paper cup line.

I have yet to go in the woods and find an object that one could call "The Number Five." If you happen to find such, please let me know and we'll both place the number in a sample jar and send The Number Five off to the National Academy Of Sciences pronto-zitti-piano.

Am I to trust then, that since no doubt wireless routers "interact" with the materialess "fiction" of numbers, that the digits riding the wavelengths are therefore false concepts, and that the only thing I need to set the computer up to communicate is to merely tweak the router some more without regard to what wireless networks are (falsly) "out there"?

To say that non-material ideas or notions or thoughts or concepts flow through any device, be it mechanically tweaked to find such or biologically designed to find such, the issue is the same; the material realm does not stand alone--it interacts daily with the non-material realm. It must.

At 6/01/2007 04:35:00 PM , Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

WAKEFIELD wrote: "To say that non-material ideas or notions or thoughts or concepts flow through any device, be it mechanically tweaked to find such or biologically designed to find such, the issue is the same; the material realm does not stand alone--it interacts daily with the non-material realm. It must."

ED's reply: Once we all agree on a definition of "non-material" realm we can discuss matters some more. I don't think that non-material necessarily means supernatural.

And so far as I presently know, sensory input comes into the brain via various sense organs, and those sensations lay in the "material realm" of energies and wavelengths that become sights and sounds and colors and smells inside the brain, because that's how the brain interprets such sensory input. Try an experiment (at least in thought) and keep a new born's brain away from all sensory input of "the material realm" and see just how far that brain-mind develops in a purely "non-material" sense.
Edward T. Babinski

At 6/02/2007 09:40:00 AM , Blogger Wakefield Tolbert. said...

Thanks, Ed. I had seen some of your writings before and am delighted to converse with you on this topic.

Well as far as newborns, my understanding is that kind of thing has been done in another age, minus the notions of human rights, and the results were grim. But that might be an urban legend.

No one doubts that newborns especially are very dependent on new information and sensations for proper physical brain development.
But the very fact the mind is set on an automatic receive is interesting too. We cannot come equipped with everything anyhow. This is NOT the same as saying, however, that consciousness is purely some physical aspect of an "emergent" property. That might be the case in evolution, but it is not proved by saying that at birth certain physical aspects must be stimulated.

In fact, I think modern science has rid us of the silliness of Artistotle's take on "tabula rase", the so called "blank slate", which the mind evidently is NOT. The brain UNFOLDS its abilities. Abilities that were there all along. The stimulation does not add so much to this but rather helps it unfold and develop, in some opinions. This is why there is an upper limit to how the brain can develop. All the Mozart in the world and infusions of barbie dolls will not turn most boys into music loving girls. Much to the chagrin of a PC culture, it seems. The brain? IT does have front-end loaded information of sorts. This is the one area where I agree with the controversial linguist Noam Chomsky who is parodies for his far left views but nontheless demonstrates that certain language abilites can only be innate and have to work in unison. This is the secular version (though he dosen't use the term) of the notion of irreducible complexity of sorts, in that it is difficult in his mind to see how the components we have today evolved in some drawn out mechanistic sense that the chance worshippers would have us believe. Although he denies any complicity, Chomsky has even been accused by Penny Paterson (Koko's trainer) and many others of having a fundantally "creationist" view of biology and human origins.

I think one of the problems, yes, is definitions. And along that line of thinking, I think also the very term "supernatural" is horribly misleading even if it had use in the past. It is like saying we need to "flip the TV on" which is fine in and of itself but does not fully describe the processes of electromagnetism, etc.

If one were to take an ipod or this laptop back in time to the age of Medeival Europe you'd be accused of witchcraft, no doubt. We'll both agree that there is no craft to it. The common derision of miracles in the Scriptures or notions that a supreme being could communicate via other means than we know of is not necessarily (to me) a "supernatural" realm but rather one where we just don't have enough pertinent information to judge how things might be done.

Strictly speaking Christians like myself no more believe in the supernatural any more than non-theists. The affirmation of a supreme being or factors other than tangible conrete "things" does not in itself discount other non-material realms. Gravity comes to mind. It certainly affects things but has no real "fabric" in the term often used for sheer convenience. So too with my example of the router than can pick up electromagnetic fields that have no material reality but are actually working in a realm where we use the analogy of "numbers" to transmit information. Supernatural then?
No. I am certainly not apostate either. Just realistic, as with the notions of "ID" research, (and even SETI weighs in on signs of intelligent design parameters elsewhere in the cosmos), that in Christian theology the mind has other access points to information.

At present I more than admit this is not really ascertained by modern science. But that might not be as much of a roadblock any more than the dozens of other mysteries of mind and cosmos that science has yet to penetrate but for which also no one makes claims of "supernatural."

I think that term is an artifical distinction that gets in the way.

A better term is "unknown" methodology.

Thanks for your interesting reply.
The issue remains if "induction" and knowing propositions for their own sake is something truly emergent or if some other agency must be involved. As you know, the notion that the evolved material brain can "look beyond" its origins is under fire.
In short précis, if Emergence is true, then Lewis' notion on Induction (and all others) as a challenge to orthodox Darwinism is irrelevant, and is thusly annihilated as a logical response to the problem of human choices "stepping outside of naturalistic explanations"--or the "truth" of certain propositions.

In MY opinion, the problems here with "factor E" are manyfold, using orthodox Darwinism itself as the friendly witness:

First, if the locus or loci of free will can in fact be "found" in the brain, then we are probably less able to make free will choices or hold propositions to be true as we gleefully suppose. A narrow gene range in the brain that "evolved" for this purpose would be just that: Narrow---by very definition.

Second, the prime directive to all biological evolution is reproduction. Period. All else is held to be slush and gush by most materialists or is a side effect of the main event---an effort to reach that lofty goal . Bees make nests, humans build cyclotrons and farm equipment. So what? The fact that humans have larger brains than dogs means only that dogs and humans share the common goal of making pups and babes but that via various pathways have had to diverge from the survival needs of their distant common ancestor. It does NOT mean humans are "better" than dogs. Only different.
Thus Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous quip that he assigned no more moral or other specialized significance to the thoughts of humans than those of baboons. So determinism is inherently found even in "emergent ideas" for many materialist thinkers. The goal of thinking, after all, is sublimated to making eggs--ones with a shell (chickens and lizards) and those without (humans and doggies). In this idea the brain is but a tool for making eggs, much as a shovel can be used to dig ditches but on the side can be used to clunk gophers on the head. But the actual purpose remains digging--thus shovels have no "insights" into anything other than a sharp edge.

Third, Emergence is not demonstrated as an observed or located property of the physical brain, it is guessed at, with regard to human beings and higher biological systems. We don't know if the analogy to water is even appropriate or could hold. It is simply an uninstructive statement that proves nothing but master guesswork--masquerading as science which basically says, "That's the way things are, go home, get out of our yard, and take your non-materialist ball with you".


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