Thursday, December 27, 2007

The inadequacy objection

A. The Inadequacy Objection
This objection is also extremely popular. It claims that appealing to God or any or any other supernatural entity provides only a pseudo-explanation for the phenomena in question. So, if something cannot be explained naturalistically, it is better to simply say we do not have an explanation than to appeal to something beyond our outside of nature.
So for example, if we were to explain the existence of reason in terms of the theistic God, that would not be to explain the existence of reason at all. The only way reason could be genuinely explained would be if reason could be explained interms of something that is without reason, something like, say, a blind evolutionary process. As Keith Parsons put it:
Creationist “explanations” do not explain. When we appeal to the inscrutable acts and incomprehensible powers of an occult being to account for mysterious phenomena, we only deepen the mystery. Like Nagel…I regard such “explanation’ as mere markers for our ignorance, placeholders for expalantion we hope someday to get.
However, what we are calling “supernatural” explanations are primarily intentional, teleological, or person explanations that cannot in principle be reduced to impersonal mechanistic explanations. And it is just false to say that in the absence of a further mechanistic explanation, all we have is a “placeholder.” Consider my cheering and pumping my fist when Steve Nash hits Amare Stoudemire with a alley-oop pass that results in a slam dunk for Amare against the San Antonio Spurs. The explanation that makes sense of that action on my part is that I am a fan of the Phoenix Suns who especially likes to see them beat the San Antonio Spurs. Having given that explanation, which is intentional in nature, I have not indicated whether or not there is some further explanation available in terms of neurophysiology. No doubt neurophysiology is part of the account (no dualist wants to deny that), but whatever may be involved in that further account, or even if there is no further account and the intentional explanation is all we’re ever going to have, nevertheless we do have an explanation and not just a placeholder. Indeed, a detailed analysis of my brain states would be far less explanatory in terms of what anyone wants to know about my state of mind after seeing that slam dunk than the simple intentional explanation that I gave above.
If, as I believe, God is a rational, personal being, surey that makes it more likely that rational creatures shold arise in a world God creates, because persons by nature are interested in communicating with other persons. So the prohbability that rational beings should emerge looks to me pretty good; the emergence of rational beings in a naturalistic universe seems very unlikely if not impossible.
While we do not know any strict laws concerning God’s conduct, we certainly think we know various things regarded God’s character which make some divine acts more likely than others. If God were to resurrect someone from the dead who lived in the 21st Century, it would more likely be Mother Teresa than Adolf Hitler.
The inadequacy objection gratuitously assumes that matter is what is clearly understandable, and that “mind” is something mysterious, the very existence of which has to be explained in terms of unmysterious matter. This seems just false. According to Galen Strawson:
This is the assumption that we have a pretty good understanding of the nature of matter—of matter and space—of the phsyical in general. It is only relative to this assumption that the existence of consciousness in the material world seems mystifying. For what exactly is puzzling about consciousness, once we put the assumption aside? Suppose you have an experience of redness, or pain, and consider it to be just as such. There doesn’t seem to be any room for amything that could be called a failure to understand what it is.
On the toher hand, matter is described by modern physics in the most mystifying terms imaginable. The philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen writes: “Do concepts of the soul…baffle you? They pale beside the unimaginable otherniess of closed space-times, event horizons, EPR correlations, and bootstrap models.”
Parsons says “When I am told that consciosuenss and reasoning are due to the inscrutable and miraculous operations of occult powers wielded by an undetectable entity that exists nowhere in the physical universe, I am not enlightened.” I will not comment on whether or not this description of mind/body dualism backed up by theism is an apt one, although I consider it to be actually misleading. Nonetheless, I would simply pointo ut that to be enlightened is to discover the truth, and if thsie is the truth, then it is enlightening, even though it may be epistemically frustrating to someone like Parsons. Second, the “obscurantism” I am advocateing may be necessary to preserve science itself, while (if I am right) a mechanistic account of mind undermines the scientific enterprise. Parsons’ own theory makes Einstein’s theory of relativity and Darwin’s theory of evolution the result of blind physical causes. In the last analysis, whose theory is more obscurantist?
Therefore I maintain that the inadequacy objection gratuitously assumes that the only real explanations are mechanistic explanations, and that this is evidently false. It is supposed to be part of God’s nature to be rational. If we explain one thing in terms of something else, and that something else in terms of something else again, the chain of explanation will have to terminate somewhere. The theist explains the existence of ratioanlity in the universe by appealing to the inherent rationality of God. It cannot be the case that the materialist can actually argue that one ought never to explain anything in terms of something having such and such a nature. One cannot go on giving reductive explanations forever. If, as I have argued, we have good reason to suppose that reason cannot be built up out of nonintentional and nonteleological building blocks, then in order to preserve reason and the logical foundations of science, we have good reason to accept a nonmaterialist understanding of the universe. If my argument in this essay is correct, then explainig reason in terms of unreason explains reason away, and undercuts the very reason on which the explanation is supposed to be based.

Labels: ,

16 Comments:

At 12/27/2007 09:25:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

IMO, the naturalist is someone who rejects the explanatory power of non-predictive models. IOW, every proper explanation (even if it turns out to be the wrong explanation) is predictive. I don't care whether the explanation is "physical," I only care whether it is predictive.

You sort of hint at the truth of this when you mention probability, but your supernatural alternative fails when asked to make a prediction.

The premise behind my definition is that merely restating our observations does not explain them. If we plot points on a graph, we can't explain the data just by drawing dots over the points. Nor can we say "the explanation for the data points is F, where F is the curve that passes through these points and any others we may add to the graph." That's just restating the question!

A proper explanation is an actual stated curve running through those points. Thus, if we're going to explain the data, we have to interpolate and extrapolate, and that forces us to make a prediction.

Let's look at your supposed explanation. You say God is a person, and persons (or, at least, the ones you know) like company, therefore it is likely that God would make persons to keep him company.

So, what are our data points? Our data points are that we exist as gregarious persons in a physical universe.

Your response is to just draw dots over us person-data-points and say, "yep, gregarious persons, check!" I find that inadequate. You cannot invent a God and then say God predicts exactly what we see today, and whatever we may see tomorrow. That's fine-tuning and fine-tuning ad infinitum without ever fixing the theory enough to make a prediction. To be explanatory, a theory has to say what we will not see tomorrow! It has to take a stand in some substantive way.

If you don't have to meet this demand, then I ought to be able to play the same game with a naturalistic theory of everything (ToE). I can say that "A ToE explains everything (by definition), and will explain everything we might see tomorrow, whatever we see."

Of course, your response will be, "okay, doctor(logic), where's this theory you speak of?"

And I will say, "ah, I don't know all the details of my theory, just like you don't know the details of God. But just as God is capable of explaining the universe, so is a ToE (by definition and in principle) capable of explaining the universe. We only know a few things about the ToE (i.e., the known laws of physics, and the fact that the ToE is natural), but that's enough."

And your response will be "No, doctor(logic)! It's not enough to explain the world with a theory you do not have! You cannot explain the world with unknown physics!"

Well, Victor, that is precisely my inadequacy objection to your claim. God is a theory you do not have. If God were actually real and you understood (and could predict) his actions, then you would have your explanation. But you lack all of that (at least, in this life). Using God, you can predict no more about tomorrow than I can with the ToE I haven't discovered yet.

Every supernatural (non-predictive) explanation is the same way. The AfR says that there's no predictive explanation for rational minds, and just draws dots over the data points. And when we get more data points tomorrow, the AfR will draw dots over those too.

In contrast, a proper theory in cognitive science makes predictions about what we won't see tomorrow in the lab.

 
At 12/28/2007 06:45:00 AM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

DL

Don't you believe that there are some truths that are capable of being learned--and that are worth knowing--that do not fit the testable hypothesis model on which science relies?

 
At 12/28/2007 06:47:00 AM , Blogger midacamp said...

"In contrast, a proper theory in cognitive science makes predictions about what we won't see tomorrow in the lab."

Forgive me if I am misspeaking here as I am still developing my knowledge regarding this argument.

But it seems to me that Reppert is making a prediction: we'll never see rationality come from purely nonrational causes. The naturalist can't appeal to humanity as a counterexample because (1) that would be begging the question and (2) for the very reasons you gave about drawing dots over the points.

This quote seems to support that:

"So the prohbability that rational beings should emerge looks to me pretty good; the emergence of rational beings in a naturalistic universe seems very unlikely if not impossible."

The stronger form of this statement is making a prediction. At least it seems to me. Am I missing or misinterpeting something here?

 
At 12/28/2007 11:06:00 AM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

It seems to me that you can make predictions about what God is more or less likely to do.

 
At 12/28/2007 02:42:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Darek,

Don't you believe that there are some truths that are capable of being learned--and that are worth knowing--that do not fit the testable hypothesis model on which science relies?

No, but I need to be clear about something. I am talking about science writ large. The division between mental and physical experience is an artificial/arbitrary one, IMO. To my mind, the idea that science is confined to things touchable by the 5 senses is unreasonable. Mathematics is scientific in this broad sense of the term. Mathematics consists of regularities in mental or computational experience.

So science more broadly is a matter of devising a theory of my experiences, and testing that theory by making predictions. That way, I'm not fooling myself by my own biases.

The only claims that do not need to meet these criteria are the assumptions and axioms of rationality, and those axioms are the very same axioms that imply that this "science" should work.

Would love to hear if you have any other learnable truths that do not fit into this paradigm.

 
At 12/28/2007 02:56:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

midacamp,

The question is whether dualism provides an explanation for consciousness, or whether it simply says that consciousness is inexplicable.

My claim is that dualism is not an alternate explanation of cognition. Dualism says we will never find a proper explanation for cognition (not even a plausible candidate). At best, dualism is an explanation for us not finding an explanation.

That said, yours is a fair question to put to Victor.

If we build a machine that is apparently conscious and rational, and apparently a person, is Victor's thesis refuted?

Better yet, if we simulate an evolutionary algorithm that does the same, is Victor's thesis refuted?

 
At 12/28/2007 03:01:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Hi Victor,

It seems to me that you can make predictions about what God is more or less likely to do.

So what could we discover tomorrow that would reduce your confidence in your theory of God?

Let's remember that there's no such thing as confirmation without falsification. You cannot do epistemology in a world where confirmation is allowed, but 'disconfirmation' is prohibited. For example, if successful prayer healing is taken as evidence for God, then failed prayer healing must also be taken as evidence against God.

 
At 12/28/2007 04:22:00 PM , Blogger midacamp said...

"The question is whether dualism provides an explanation for consciousness, or whether it simply says that consciousness is inexplicable."

It is my understanding that the argument states that dualism is the only explanation for consciousness and that a closed, non-rational system cannot produce it (or is unlikely to produce it). I may be wrong here, though.

"If we build a machine that is apparently conscious and rational, and apparently a person, is Victor's thesis refuted?"

I don't think this case would refute it as rational actors designed the machine. The other recent post re: computers would still stand as an objection, IMO.

"Better yet, if we simulate an evolutionary algorithm that does the same, is Victor's thesis refuted?"

I think we'd agree that we'd have to see how the simulation was set up and run. If it were a truly non-rational system, then yes, it would seem to refute Victor's thesis. But if it turned out that rationality were smuggled in, well, it would seem to support it.

 
At 12/28/2007 11:18:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Lots of things can and do disconfirm my belief in God. And other things in my experience confirm it, and theism is winning these days for me. If God were to change the laws of nature in some fundamental way, that would of course undermine my beliefs. For some reason, maybe because He is rational, he doesn't do that.

On the other hand, you don't have anything except practical necessity and custom and habit supporting the principle that the future will resemble the past if you are a naturalist. Those could just as easily support a false belief as a true one. But, for some reason, induction keeps working. Lucky us.

 
At 12/29/2007 04:02:00 AM , Blogger mattghg said...

Let's remember that there's no such thing as confirmation without falsification.

So, is physicalism falsifiable?

 
At 12/29/2007 09:58:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

If God were to change the laws of nature in some fundamental way, that would of course undermine my beliefs.

Why is it more likely that the laws of nature will change in the case of naturalism?

What about miracles? Suppose that the Red Sea parts without any apparent physical mechanism, apparently pushing natural laws into retreat. Will that raise or lower your confidence in theism?

On the other hand, you don't have anything except practical necessity and custom and habit supporting the principle that the future will resemble the past if you are a naturalist. Those could just as easily support a false belief as a true one. But, for some reason, induction keeps working. Lucky us.

Unfortunately, theism is susceptible to the very same flaw. Indeed, all rational thought is susceptible to it.

Saying that "nature is reliable and so induction works" is no worse than saying that "God is reliable and ensures induction works" or "memory and logic are reliable ensuring that this syllogism works".

Induction is inescapable for any reasoning entity. There's no good reason I can see for making a special case out of induction as it applies to purely physical experiences. It has to apply to all our experiences, physical and mental.

 
At 12/29/2007 07:52:00 PM , Blogger Darek Barefoot said...

DL

>>To my mind, the idea that science is confined to things touchable by the 5 senses is unreasonable. Mathematics is scientific in this broad sense of the term. Mathematics consists of regularities in mental or computational experience.<<

Naturalistic confinement to the world of direct or indirect sensory experience arises from causal closure of the physical. Scientific reasoning occurs in the brain, and the brain is a chemical system. That which affects chemical systems is potentially detectable, that is, it can be made available to the senses. To say that the workings of the brain are not so confined constitutes a headache for naturalism. Chemistry is solidly grounded in the world of sensory experience, and the physical resources of the brain are narrowly confined to chemistry. That is where the headache for naturalism arises.

Additionally, mathematics consists not just of regularities but of necessities, as I have pointed out before. Physical processes are indeed confined to regularities, at least as far as science is concerned.

A drawback to your ideal of predictabililty is the underdetermination of data by theory. Different theories may generate the same predictions, so we have to fall back on some means to select among such theories based on other considerations, such as beauty, simplicity, or similar ideals. For example, a God who chooses to reveal himself solely through moral reflection, reason and special revelation generates near-term predictions that may appear very similar to those of naturalism. In that case, considerations other than prediction must be brought to bear.

 
At 12/29/2007 07:57:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

So, is physicalism falsifiable?

No. Physicalism is a class of theories, not a theory in itself. However, specific physical theories that would be members of the class are falsifiable. Once they are verified, they will lead to predictions that render physicalism itself verifiable.

For example, the theory that memory is stored in the physical layout of a neural network is falsifiable (although it has been tested and verified). Indeed, we commonly utilize neural memories in artificial systems. If this theory of memory is correct, it will lead to predictions that must be true if physicalism is true, e.g., that there must be physical pathways and organizing mechanisms that create these physical memories.

However, it would be unreasonable for me to say that minds are explained by some unspecified physical theory that I have yet to invent, and which I have yet to even devise tests for.

Dualism seem to be precisely the negation of physicalism. A negation of the claim that an as-yet-undiscovered/uninvented physical theory explains cognition.

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Dualism can compete if it produces specific, predictive, falsifiable theories of dualism. I'm not sure I have ever seen such a thing. I'm not even sure it's even possible.

Here's a potential predictive dualist hypothesis: after a patient becomes clinically dead and then is revived, they could wake up with the knowledge and personality of some other dead person (instead of their original) because their reactivated physical system gets attached to a different non-physical soul.

It's rather silly in light of what we know about the physical basis of mind, but it would have been a plausible theory 500 years ago, and at least it makes a prediction!

Now, if dualists had a bunch of verified theories of this nature, they would be in great shape. They would be able to make predictions that had to be the case if dualism were correct. Alas, they have no such theories that I know of, and certainly not any verified ones.

Once you start down the road of verifications, every successful theory of cognition makes the opponent's program far less likely to be correct. Physicalism has a wealth of theories, and dualism has not a one.

 
At 12/30/2007 09:12:00 AM , Blogger properly basic said...

DL, would an out of body experience count?

 
At 12/30/2007 09:59:00 AM , Blogger properly basic said...

Have any of you seen this Dennett piece on freewill? If so, any comments?

http://meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=dennett&topic=freewill

 
At 12/31/2007 01:07:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

PB,

DL, would an out of body experience count?

I think it might. If we can demonstrate that astral projection gets you answers that are otherwise impossible with particle physics in spacetime, that would be progress. At least it would show that physics as we know it is open.

And we ought to be able to make other sorts of predictions. Maybe we can create a non-biological machine that serves as a radio for souls just like human bodies do. Perhaps I could use such a device to tune into souls of living people (just like two radios can be tuned to the same station). Or maybe we can use the device to tune into the souls of dead people. I ought at least to be able to make a device that can detect evil by polling spirits or something. These are the kinds of predictions one ought to make from a theory of dualism, as opposed to a mere denial of naturalism.

My point is that even if there are non-material souls, the only way you'll be explanatory is if you have a predictive physics of non-material souls. For example, the magic in Harry Potter is perfectly explanatory and predictive of phenomena, even if it violates physical constraints.

However, I get the strong impression that dualism is not intended to give predictive answers to practical questions. It is not intended to be explanatory in the broad, scientific sense. Rather, dualism is intended to as an interpretation of reality that is consistent with mythology or consistent with a particular view of justice. If cognition is physical and causally closed, then we don't "deserve" to be punished by God. Universal justice (as imagines by Christians) breaks. So I see dualism's role as apologetic, not explanatory. Ironically, dualism and supernaturalism do not escape the determinstic/random dichotomy, so it's all futile in the end.

I'm glad that you brought up Dennett. What he says is very relevant, and, IMO, right on the money. Thanks for the link.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home