Monday, April 30, 2007

Redated post replying to John Loftus on the AFR

Reply to John Loftus on the AFR
John Loftus wrote: Anyway, Vic, I believe the Euthyphro dilemna applies to Logic as well as Goodness. Did God create the rules of logic, or must he follow them? Do you have anything to add to this latter dilemna that you haven't said about the former dilemna?

It's probably not unlike Godel's theorem when it comes to math. We can use math effectively, but it cannot yield information concerning both the completeness and consistency of the mathematical system itself. So we must refer to metamathematical statements to explain the system. Now, either there are such things as metamathematical statements which explain the whole system, or there are not, but whether they exist is left undecided by the system itself.

I reply:
John: I need to go over the structure of the AFR again to help understand how it is supposed to go. The argument begins by examining the necessary conditions of rational inference: such things as the intentionality required for propositional attitudes, truth and falsity, mental causation in virtue of content, logical laws and their psychological relevance, personal identity throughout the rational inference, and the reliability of our rational faculties. My claim is that if any of these is missing, then we do not make rational inferences. We then look at what kinds of properties and causes there can be if naturalism is true. We look at the natural world, as understood by physics, and ask whether these necessary conditions can occur in a universe in which all there is is, at bottom, physical. The “physical” is defined in such a way that the basic stuff of the universe is not rational, not intentional, etc. and all causation is supposed to by physical causation. The laws governing that stuff are not the laws of logic, they are the laws of physics, and if the physical stuff comes into a “rational” configuration it happens to be that way because of what physical configurations obtain. What we call “rational thought” has to be a systemic byproduct of an essentially non-rational nature, and on my view there is something very, very, paradoxical about asserting something like this.

Now if someone wanted to define materialism widely enough so that something whose essence it was to perceive logical truths could be a material thing, then I guess I could even qualify as a materialist. But if we did that we would be straying big-time from our ordinary conception of “matter.” However, so long as we are not trying to call something “matter,” then it is perfectly possible for non-material things to be able to perceive logical relations as part of their essence. So God can be an essentially rational being, who knows all the logical truths in all possible worlds. Whereas we cannot say of a piece of matter that it is essentially rational without stretching the concept of matter beyond all recognition, we can say of God that God is essentially rational, and it fits perfectly with our ordinary understanding of God.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Some Comments from Blue Devil Knight, and a question

Blue Devil Knight wrote these very interesting comments in the combox a couple of days ago, to which I wish to pose a question:

To clarify one point in response to Jason, I never insinuated that we or other animals are not conscious (see my point 4). I have always said this was a crazy view. I think we are not unconscious bee people, but that doesn't mean our apian friends can't have internal states that refer, are true or false, trade in inferences, or communicate the contents of these states to other bees.
What I said (and it isn't a dogma, but something I can back up) is that arrogance about the ontology of consciousness is unfounded.

There are lots of intuitions that fly around. Some of the more popular ones:
1. No matter what the neuropsychological sciences reveal in the future, they will never address my concerns about qualia.
2. Zombies are possible.
3. Consciousness is merely a biological process like digestion or respiration. To disagree is to be no better than a vitalist.
I am up to date on the relevant science, and I can confidently say that everyone is just ignorant, and not in the same way that the young-earth creationists are ignorant. We are all ignorant: there is no science out there that, once learned, will clear things up, that will convince all but the most ideologically trapped person. We are like the presocratic philosophers grasping for a theory of physics. Some of us may be right, but nobody knows it and nobody has sound arguments. The confident folk produce mere predictions about a 'future brain science', predictions based on intuitions.
The people who think their predictions are obviously true are free to act as such, see where it leads them. And maybe one of them will end up, in 500 years, looking as prescient as Democritus. Or maybe someone will come up with a good argument that we should swallow their intuition pie.
I do think we are basically a complicated arrangement of molecules, but would no more be tempted to destroy a person than to wantonly destroy a Michelangelo, another "mere" bunch of molecules. Clearly the theist will need some help in thinking about the moral implications here if they would need convincing not to become a homocidal maniac in a solely natural world. But that takes us way past the relevant into the ludicrous.

VR: If we are at this early of a stage scientifically in understanding cognition (which means that there are a lot of overconfident philosophers and scientists out there on all sides of the issue), why commit yourself to ontological materialism, as opposed to an ontological agnosticism with respect to the mind. Of course you want to be a methodological mateialist or naturalist, no argument there. Given the fact that there are a lot of anti-materialist arguments out there, and let's say all of them rest in one way or another on intuitions of some kind which, as you say, we have to wait for future science to determine of they are legitimate or not, then why not say we have to study the mind scientifically and wait to see what develops?


Monday, April 16, 2007

Tom Clark and Direct Realism

Looking through the Tom Clark paper on Killing the Observer, I noticed that it seemed to rely on rejecting the claim that the immediate perceptual object is some sense data, but instead we perceive physical objects directly. Yet the essay never responded to the main arguments against this, which I mention on the post below.

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The Hard Problem of Rational Inference: A Reply to Blue Devil Knight

Blue Devil Knight expressed some frustration with the fact that I don’t adequately distinguish between different types of problems that naturalism faces in giving an account of the mind. There is a widespread conventional wisdom in the philosophy of mind that there is a proposition/intentionality side and an experiential side of the philosophy of mind; that there are puzzles perhaps on the proposition side, but there are deeper problems are problems related to consciousness. My response is that while these problems should be distinguished, I think I have good reason to suppose that they can’t very well be divorced, and the divorcing them in the way that many philosophers of mind want to makes things perhaps easier for the naturalist or materialist than it really is. Here’s why.

Let’s take the traditional syllogism:

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

Is this a valid argument? We all think that it is valid. However, that depends upon whether the argument has three terms, four, five or six. In other words, the meanings of the terms we use have to be constant throughout the syllogism. Do we mean by men males adults, or humans? Do we mean by mortal subject to physical death, or subject to complete extinction? Christians would say we are mortal in the first sense but not in the second, atheists normally think that we are mortal in both senses. Am I talking about Socrates the ancient Greek philosopher, or the dog my philosopher friend named after him?

In order to argue validly, I have to know what I mean by these terms. My knowledge of what I mean by something is something that seems to me to be open to introspection. Now admittedly the extensions of the terms are fixed in part by my causal relation to the world, but if I don’t have access to the “in the head” part of the meaning of these terms, I can’t reason. If I can’t truly say “I know what I meant by that,” I’m in trouble.

There are, to be sure, some information-theoretic analyses of, say, birdsong or bee dances, which show how information can be transferred from one critter to another. However, I take it that you can’t go to the birds and ask them what they meant by their song and get an answer. If you have a good consciousness-independent conception of informational content, then it seems to me that you are going to have the problem of how this content can be present to consciousness, because the kind of reasoning that I am engaging in while writing this response is, and must be present to my consciousness.

That’s why I don’t think a naturalist can refute the argument from reason without coming up with a decent-looking solution to the hard problem of consciousness. And then there are other problems on top of that.

It seems to me that there are a some distinctions I ought to make, between the issue of intentionality simpliciter, the issue of how intentional content becomes propositional content, and then the issue of how intentional content comes to be present to consciousness. I think the last two may be a good deal harder for the naturalist than the first one.

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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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Monday, April 09, 2007

link to an attack on materialism by George Bealer

I read a number of Bealer essays when I was in grad school, and thought he was pretty challenging, though kind of technical. This is a well-known essay of his. HT: Joe Markus

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Is the case for materialism as strong as it looks?

Feser on the Case for Materialism

The most formidable argument against dualism has always been what I would call the argument from the onward march of science. Science, we are told, always pushed in a materialist direction, and it invariably resolves problems for materialist understandings of things that may have seemed insurmountable to a previous generation. So prior to the 19th century, many otherwise naturalistic thinkers were reluctant to accept full-blown atheism, because they of what they took to be the undeniable evidence of design in nature, yet Darwin came along and showed us all how to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Arguments of any kind against materialism can do no better than point out some explanatory gap in the present materialist understanding of the world, but just as past gaps have been close by subsequent science, so difficulties that naturalistic science faces in coming to terms with things like consciousness, intentionality, and reason, are simply bumps in the road to be got over in good materialist fashion by the future course of science.

Edward Feser thinks this argument is not as strong is it might appear to be at first. He writes:

First, the advance of science, far from settling the mind-body problem in favor of materialism seems to have made it more acute. Modern science has, as noted in chapter 2, revealed that physical objects are composed of intrinsically colorless, tasteless, and odorless particles. Colors, tastes and odors thus, in some sense, exist only in the mind of the observer. But then it is mysterious how they are related to the brain, which, like other material objects, is composed on nothing more than colorless, tasteless, and odorless particles. Science also tells us that the appearance of purpose in nature is an illusion: strictly speaking, fins, for example, don’t have the purpose of propelling fish through the water, for they have in fact no purpose at all, being the products of the same meaningless and impersonal causal processes that are supposed to have brought about all complex phenomena, including organic phenomena. Rather, fins merely operate as if they had such a purpose, because the creatures that first developed them, as a result of random genetic mutation, just happened thereby to have a competitive advantage over those that did not. The result mimicked the products of purposeful design in reality, it is said, there was not design at all. But if purposes were “mind-dependent”—not truly present in the physical world but only projected on to it by us—then this makes that act of projection, and the intentionality of which it is an instance (as are human purposes, for that matter,) at least difficult to explain in terms of processes occurring in the brain, which seem intrinsically as brutely meaningless as and purposeless as are all other purely physical processes. In short, science has “explained” the sensible qualities and meaning that seem to common sense to exist in reality only by sweeping them under the rug of the mind, that is, it hasn’t really explained them at all, but merely put off any explanation by relocating them out of the physical realm and into the mental realm. There they remain, however, forming a considerable bump under the rug, one that seemingly cannot be removed by further scientific sweeping.

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