Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reply to an old response from Doctor Logic

There was an important response from Doctor Logic a month or so back which requires a response.
On to your main argument...Science was free to analyze what was quantitatively analyzable through mechanistic analysis and treat everything else as mental.I think the distinction that was made was between the objective and the subjective, not between mind and matter. I wrote a long response about this, but I think I can summarize it very briefly.Science is about isolating properties of things from biases of observers. That is, isolating properties are part of the thing itself rather than accidental side-effects of interactions with particular observers.An objective property of a system is a property that inheres in the system itself, independent of knowing anything about the external observer.I cannot say that music is objectively pleasant until I specify who is listening to it (i.e., put an observer in the system). So, I could say that Beethoven's 6th is objectively pleasant to me but not objectely pleasant in and of itself. Hence, pleasantness of music is subjective.However, by using instrumentation and external verifiers, we can show that sodium is objectively explosive in contact with water. We don't need to know anything about the experimenter to state this fact.Now, historically, it may be the case that some regarded the objective-subjective distinction as a mind-matter distinction (I don't know if it is or isn't the case). However, that's not necessary to the success of reductionist science. What's necessary is an objective-subjective distinction for systems.This would be my answer to your question "how did that work back then?"

VR: Here’s the problem I have with this. So long as we can include both subjective and objective features of reality as part of the furniture of the world, you can make a distinction between subject and objective features of the world that the early reductions required. The problem is that if reality is ultimately physical, then in the last analysis nothing is really subjective. In the last analysis subjective states are not subjective after all. What is ultimately real are physical states and combinations thereof. What is real are physical states and states that are logically entailed by the existence of those physical states. The subjective is expunged from orthodox physical descriptions, and there is no entailment from physical states to subjective states. Hence the “siphoning off” that was so essential for the early reductions will not work for mental states, and as a result the very thing that made a reduction of temperature to the mean kinetic energy of gases plausible makes the reduction of the mental to the physical implausible.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An Evangelical Outpost post on zombies

Nagel's account of reason

Reason, if there is such a thing, can serve as a court of appeal not only against the received opinions and habits of our community but also against the peculiarities of our personal perspective. It is something each individual can find with himself, but at the same time it has universal authority. Reason provides, mysteriously, a way of distancing oneself from common opinion and received practices that is not a mere elevation of individuality... not a determination to express one's idiosyncratic self rather than go along with everyone else. Whoever appeals to reason purports to discover a source of authority within himself that is not merely personal or societal, but universal... and that should also persuade others who are willing to listen to it. The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 3-4.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This is Augustine Shutte's defense of the argument from reason

This requires JSTOR to open. The author, at the time he wrote this, was unaware that Lewis has revised his argument. It references another defense of Lewis against Anscombe by Eric Mascall in Christian Theology and Natural Science (Longmans, 1957), which appeared 3 years before Lewis's revision was published.

I think the Mascall-Shutte reformulation is open to the objections to Skeptical Threat arguments. But it is interesting.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Did this presentation of the AFR influence C. S. Lewis?

From Balfour's The Foundations of Belief (pp. 306-310).

These conclusions are, no doubt, as we saw at the beginning of this Essay, embarrassing enough to Morality. But they are absolutely ruinous to Knowledge. For they require us to accept a sys- tem as rational, one of whose doctrines is that the system itself is the product of causes which have no tendency to truth rather than falsehood, or to false- hood rather than truth. Forget, if you please, that reason itself is the result, like nerves or muscles, of physical antecedents. Assume (a tolerably violent assumption) that in dealing with her premises she obeys only her own laws. Of what value is this autonomy if those premises are settled for her by purely irrational forces, which she is powerless to control, or even to comprehend ? The professor of naturalism rejoicing in the display of his dialectical resources, is like a voyager, pacing at his own pleasure up and down the ship's deck, who should sup pose that his movements had some important share in determining his position on the illimitable ocean. And the parallel would be complete if we can con- ceive such a voyager pointing to the alertness of his step and the vigour of his limbs as auguring well for the successful prosecution of his journey, while assuring you in the very same breath that the vessel, within whose narrow bounds he displays all this meaningless activity, is drifting he knows not whence nor whither, without pilot or captain, at the bidding of shifting winds and incalculable currents.

Consider the following propositions, selected from the naturalistic creed or deduced from it : (i.) My beliefs, in so far as they are the result of reasoning at all, are founded on premises produced in the last resort by the ' collision of atoms/ (ii.) Atoms, having no prejudices in favour of truth, are as likely to turn out wrong premises as right ones ; nay, more likely, inasmuch as truth is single and error manifold. (iii.) My premises, therefore, in the first place, and my conclusions in the second, are certainly untrustworthy, and probably false. Their falsity, moreover, is of a kind which cannot be remedied ; since any attempt to correct it must start from premises not suffering under the same defect. But no such premises exist. (iv.) Therefore, again, my opinion about the original causes which produced my premises, as it is an inference from them, partakes of their weakness ; so that I cannot either securely doubt my own certainties or be certain about my own doubts.

This is scepticism indeed ; scepticism which is forced by its own inner nature to be sceptical even about itself; which neither kills belief nor lets it live. But it may perhaps be suggested in reply to this argument, that whatever force it may have against the old-fashioned naturalism, its edge is blunted when turned against the evolutionary agnosticism of more recent growth ; since the latter establishes the existence of a machinery which, irrational though it be, does really tend gradually, and in the long run, to produce true opinions rather than false. That machinery is, I need not say, Selection, and the other forces (if other forces there be) which bring the ' organism ' into more and more perfect harmony with its ' environment/ Some har- mony is necessary so runs the argument in order that any form of life may be possible ; and as life develops, the harmony necessarily becomes more and more complete. But since there is no more important form in which this harmony can show itself than truth of belief, which is, injdeed, only another name for the perfect correspondence between belief and fact, Nature, herein acting as a kind of cosmic Inquisition, will repress by judicious persecution any lapses from the standard of naturalistic orthodoxy. Sound doctrine will be fostered ; error will be dis- couraged or destroyed; until at last, by methods which are neither rational themselves nor of rational origin, the cause of reason will be fully vindicated. Arguments like these are, however, quite insuffi- cient to justify the conclusion which is drawn from them. In the first place, they take no account of any causes which were in operation before life ap- peared upon the planet. Until there occurred the unexplained leap from the Inorganic to the Organic, Selection, of course, had no place among the evolu- tionary processes ; while even after that date it was, from the nature of the case, only concerned to foster and perpetuate those chance -borne beliefs which minister to the continuance of the species. But what an utterly inadequate basis for speculation is here ! We are to suppose that powers which were evolved in primitive man and his animal progenitors in order that they might kill with success and marry in security, are on that account fitted to explore the secrets of the universe. We are to suppose that the fundamental beliefs on which these powers of reasoning are to be exercised reflect with sufficient precision remote aspects of reality, though they were produced in the main by physiological processes which date from a stage of development when the only curiosities which had to be satisfied were those of fear and those of hunger. To say that instru ments of research constructed solely for uses like these cannot be expected to supply us with a meta- physic or a theology, is to say far too little. They cannot be expected to give us any general view even of the phenomenal world, or to do more than guide us in comparative safety from the satisfaction of one useful appetite to the satisfaction of another. On this theory, therefore, we are again driven back to the same sceptical position in which we found our- selves left by the older forms of the * positive/ or naturalistic creed. On this theory, as on the other, reason has to recognise that her rights of indepen- dent judgment and review are merely titular digni- ties, carrying with them no effective powers; and that, whatever her pretensions, she is, for the most part, the mere editor and interpreter of the ^utter- ances of unreason. I do not believe that any escape from these per- plexities is possible, unless we are prepared to bring to the study of the world the presupposition that it was the work of a rational Being, who made it intel- ligible, and at the same time made us, in however feeble a fashion, able to understand it. This conception does not solve all difficulties ; far from it.

According to a once prevalent theory, * innate ideas ' were true because they were implanted in us by God. According to my way of putting it, there must be a God to justify our confidence in (what used to be called) innate ideas. I have given the argument m a form which avoids all discussion as to the nature of the relation between mind and body. Whatever be the mode of describing this which ultimately commends itself to naturalistic psychologists, at least, it is not on the face of it incoherent. It does not attempt the impossible task of extracting reason from unreason; nor does it require us to accept among scientific conclusions any which effectually shatter the credibility of scientific premises.

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J. B. Pratt's 1922 version of the AFR

Let us continue a little farther the line of thought suggested by the materialist s denial of efficiency to consciousness. Since consciousness never interferes with physical processes, never affects them in any way, the whole of man s civilization, the sum total of his achievements, both material and spiritual, must be ascribed to purely physical laws. The whole tre mendous mass of it through all the ages would have come about just the same if no scientist or inventor had ever had a thought, no poet or artist a sentiment, no moral or religious teacher an aspiration or ideal, no patriot a feeling of loyalty, no mother an emotion of love. But leaving these things on one side, let us consider in more detail one aspect of the denial of the efficiency of consciousness which should be of par ticular interest to our materialistic friend. Conscious ness, he will remind us, is always an effect and never a cause. And this means, if Materialism is to be self- consistent, that every psychic state, every feeling and every thought, is determined in its totality by the correlated brain process and never in any degree by any preceding psychic state. To say that a thought is even in a minute degree a co-cause of the follow ing thought would be to wreck Materialism. In the process known as reasoning, therefore, it is a mistake to suppose that consciousness of logical relations has anything whatever to do with the result. It is not logical necessity but mechanical necessity that squeezes out our so-called reasoned conclusions. Take the familiar syllogism: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. . . Socrates is mortal. The materialist assures us that we should be falling back into the primitive superstitions of a pre-natural- istic age should we suppose that either of the pre mises had anything to do with our arriving at the conclusion. We finally assert that Socrates is mortal not because we have in mind the mortality of all men and the humanity of Socrates, nor for any other logical or psychological reason; but because certain mechanical processes in our brains force that thought into consciousness. Thus no conclusion is ever ar rived at because of logical necessity. There is no logical necessity among mental processes but only physical necessity. The truth is, according to Ma terialism, we think the way we have to think, the way our mechanical brains constrain us to think. We may happen to think logically; but if we do, this is not because logic had anything to do with our con clusion, but because the brain molecules shake down, so to speak, in a lucky fashion. It is plain, therefore, that no conclusion that we men can reach can ever claim to be based on logic. It is forever impossible to demonstrate that any thesis is logically necessary. If we happen to entertain it we do, that is all; for demonstration is out of the question. This seems plainly to be the inevitable outcome of the materialist doctrine. And it gives an interesting and somewhat surprising turn to the discussion. For suppose at this point we ask the materialist why he maintains that Materialism is true. If he hopes to convince us he can only reply that he considers Materialism true because it is the logical conclusion from certain admitted facts, or that the falseness of all other theories can be logically demonstrated. . . . The hopeless self-contradiction of such a position is obvious. With one breath the materialist asserts that his doctrine is logically demonstrable and that there is no such thing as logical demonstration. As Brad ley has put it, no theory can be true which is inconsistent with the possibility of our knowing it to be true.

DePoe on the self-refutation and self-defeat


A nice review of my book

A quote from A. E. Taylor

HT: Jim Slagle

"When anything is known, there is a triple presupposition: there must be that about which something is known, the person who knows this something, and the knowing of it. All three are constituent factors of the concrete world of our experience, and we have no right to treat the second and third factors as insignificant. It may be that if the astronomer who has 'swept the heavens with his telescope and found no God' had taken into account not only the heavens but himself and his search, he would have found the evidence which he pronounces to be missing."

A. E. TaylorDoes God Exist?


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mapping Dualism and Materialism

This post is redated and expanded. Sometimes, when I hear discussion of dualism vs. materialism, I have to wonder how, exactly, the map is being drawn between those positions. What exactly is going to count as dualism or materialism. Just as materialists wonder if defenders of materialism have read or understood the major figures in materialist philosophy, so I sometimes wonder if defenders of materialism are familiar with the different varieties of dualism that have been defended in recent years. For example, William Hasker's defense of dualism, found in The Emergent Self, is certainly far from insensitive to the developments in neuroscience, and is attentive to the close correlation between mental states and brain states that have been mapped by neuroscientists. In fact, neuroscience provides the primary basis for Hasker's defense of an "emergent" dualism as opposed to a traditional Cartesian dualism. See especially the discussion on pp. 153-157 and 197-198, and there is even a footnote reference to D. Frank Benson's The Neurology of Thinking (Oxford 1994). I have yet to see anyone grapple with Hasker's book from a materialist perspective, which is too bad. I guess I've done more to solicit materialist response than he has, but he really does offer an across-the-board case against materialism and a well-developed anti-materialist theory to challenge it, and I really didn't do that. It isn't clear to me that we know, without further clarification, what is meant by terms like "materialism," "substance dualism," "property dualism," and other terms that have been used so often that we are lulled into thinking that we know exactly what they mean. I provided a typology of positions in the philosophy of mind in my review of Kevin Corcoran ed. Soul, Body and Survival (Cornell, 2001). (Faith and Philosophy July 2004, 393-399. Standard or Cartesian dualism is committed to these four claims: 1. The mental is sui generis, existing independently of the physical and not in any way reducible to it. 2. Mental states inhere in a thinking thing or substance, not in a bundle. 3. Mental states do not have a location in space. 4. Souls are created individually by God ex nihilo,; they do not emerge from pre-existing material states. However, I would consider myself a dualist and have some doubts about both 3 and 4. William Hasker and Brian Leftow would be examples of non-standard dualists whose views are represented in the Corcoran volume. Hasker is an emergent dualist and Leftow is a Thomistic dualist. Standard materialism requires three theses: 1. Physics is mechanistic and is to be described in purely non-mental terms. 2. Physics is causally closed. 3. All states that are not physical supervene on physical states. Typically a materialism, for example, should not maintain that there is such a thing as libertarian free will, because libertarianism requires the existence of fundamental purposive explanations. But Peter van Inwagen, for instance, calls himself a materialist in the philosophy of mind but also is a defender of libertarian free will. Lynne Baker calls herself a materialist but her first book on the philosophy of mind was an attack on physicalism. So there are nonstandard forms of materialism, as well as nonstandard forms of dualism, and many "Christian materialists" actually reject one of more of the central theses of standard materialism. Good examples would be Lynne Rudder Baker, who calls herself a materialist but whose first book on the philosophy of mind was an attack on physicalism, and Peter van Inwagen, who believes in libertarian free will, (See his book An Essay on Free Will, from which is inconsistent with strict physicalism. I keep having to say this over and over again, especially when Babinski keeps pointing out that there must be something wrong with my arguments against physicalism because there are Christian philosophers who believe in a materialist philosophy of mind. First of all, if this were true then you could refute any argument for materialism on the ground that some atheist philosophers, like C. J. Ducasse and J. McTaggart believed in life after death, and that atheist existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was a Cartesian dualist, or that my college metaphysics teacher, Ted Guleserian, is both and atheist and a mind-body dualist. Now any of these may have good arguments for what they believe, but merely pointing out that they exist does not provide evidence for anything at all. In my book there is a detailed definition of physicalism, and a slightly broader defintion for naturalism. My arguments are directed against just those positions. Until I get a clear idea of what a person holds, it will not be clear to me if that person is a materialist or a dualist, or maybe a little of both. I keep pointing out, but apparently some people choose not to pay attention, that I could qualify as a materialist on some definitions. (In fact I once heard a paper by a dualist accusing C. S. Lewis of being a non-reductive materialist!) The kind of dualism William Hasker defends in his book The Emergent Self is called Emergent Dualism. I would appreciate it if people would kindly refrain from stereotyping my positions.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This is a debate on the AFR

From late 2004 on Evangelical Outpost.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Reply to Exbeliever on the Argument from Reason

This is a redated post, with a response to exbeliever

A lot of people seem to want me to take a swing at Exbeliever's response to my argument from reason. I should begin by saying that I didn't invent the argument. It was most famously defended by a Christian apologist that Exbeliever can be perhaps be excused for never having heard of, C. S. Lewis. A version of the argument can be found in the book Scaling the Secular City by another obscure apologist by the name of J. P. Moreland. And there's a really obscure philosopher from the University of Notre Dame who has developed what is known as the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, which bears a family resemblance to the arguments from reason that I defend. His name is Alvin Plantinga.

In general, the argument makes a distinction between naturalistic world-view, in which the fundamental entities of the universe lack mental characteristics (atoms, or maybe something else, but not something that at all resembles a mind), and world-views such as theism, but also pantheism and absolute idealism, according to which the fundamental causes of the universes are mental, or as Lewis would say, more like a mind than anything else. The argument from reason, if successful, gives us a good reason to suppose that one of the mentalistic world-views must be true and that naturalism is false. It is designed to enhance the likelihood that theism is true by eliminating some alternatives, alternatives that are in fact the most popular non-theistic world-views.

It's a good idea to look at what happened in Lewis's own case to see how the argument contributed to his coming to belief in God. Lewis had been what was then called a "realist", accepting the world of sense experiece and science as rock-bottom reality. Largely through conversations with Owen Barfield, he became convinced that this world-view was inconsistent with the claims we make on behalf of our own reasoning processes. In response to this, however, Lewis became not a theist but an absolute idealist. It was only later that Lewis rejected absolute idealism in favor of theism, and only after that that he became a Christian. He describes his discussions with Barfield as follows:

(He) convinced me that the positions we had hitherto held left no room for any satisfactory theory of knowledge. We had been, in the technical sense of the term, “realists”; that is, we accepted as rock-bottom reality the universe revealed to the senses. But at the same time, we continued to make for certain phenomena claims that went with a theistic or idealistic view. We maintained that abstract thought (if obedient to logical rules) gave indisputable truth, that our moral judgment was “valid” and our aesthetic experience was not just pleasing but “valuable.” The view was, I think, common at the time; it runs though Bridges’ Testament of Beauty and Lord Russell’s “Worship of a Free Man.” Barfield convinced me that it was inconsistent. If thought were merely a subjective event, these claims for it would have to be abandoned. If we kept (as rock-bottom reality) the universe of the sense, aided by instruments co-ordinated to form “science” then one would have to go further and accept a Behaviorist view of logic, ethics and aesthetics. But such a view was, and is, unbelievable to me.

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1955), 208.

So did the argument he accepted make theism more likely? It certainly did. In his mind it gave him a reason to reject his previously-held naturalism. Now you might think of Absolute Idealism an atheistic world view; I don't think you would want to call pantheism atheistic, but the argument runs a reductio absurdum against non-mentalistic world-views.

Consider the following argument:

1. Either the fundamental causes of the universes are more like a mind than anything else, or they are not.
2. If they are not, then we cannot make sense of the existence of reason.
3. All things being equal, world-views that cannot make sense of the existence of reason are to be rejected in favor of world-views that can make sense of the existence of reason.
4. Therefore, we have a good reason to reject all worldviews reject the claim that the fundamental causes of the universe are more like a mind than anything else.

Now if you want to hold out the idea that a idealist world-view is nevertheless atheistic, then my argument merely servces to eliminate one of the atheistic options. But suppose someone originally thinks that the likelihoods are as follows.

Naturalism 50% likely to be true.
Idealism 25% likely to be true.
Theism 25% likely to be true.

And suppose that someone accepts a version of the argument from reason, and as a result naturalism drops 30 percentage points. Then those points have to be divided amongst theism and idealism. So the status of theism is enhanced by the argument from reason.

Exbeliever writes:

Notice that the skeptic is simply to assume that something like a god can exist and after assuming this, it can be posited as an explanation of a phenomenon like reason. Much like presuppositionalism and its TAG argument, Reppert demands that the skeptic presuppose the most controversial aspect of his worldview (i.e. the existence of a non-corporal being who reasons without a physical brain) and then accept this presupposition as a valid "solution" to a "problem" of epistemology.

Now we have to tease out what he means by can. If "can" means logically possible, then all I need to show that is that there is no contradiction in the assertion "God exists." And I think that's pretty clear. If on the other hand, he means "it is plausible that God exists," well, the plausibility of a belief differs from person to person. There is no person-independent way of assessing antecedent probabilities, at least as I see it. So yes, if someone thinks that the existence of God is hopelessly implausible, he might conclude either that there must be some naturalistic understanding of the phenomenon of reason that has not yet been discovered, or he can conclude that some non-theistic mentalistic world-view must be true. But that does not alter the fact that the argument provides a substantial reason for believing in God. I have never said that the argument is absolutely decisive, in fact I have disappointed some supports of the argument with the modesty with which I present my arguments.

In EXB's discussion of the explanations for computer malfunctions, it seems we have a reason for preferring computer sprites to infallible designers. If these really are the only options, then evilcomputerspiritism must be accepted. It's just that we all know perfectly well that there are more alternatives, and the most plausible explanations are not on the table. So the argument is a false dilemma. In the case of my argument, where are the "third alternatives" other than what I have identified, namely, pantheism and idealism?

EXB writes: What Reppert has done in his argument is hidden the fact that the idea of a god, itself, must be plausible if it is to be called on as a "solution" to an epistemological "problem." To solve an extraordinary problem, he has posited an even more extraordinary solution. Simply having any old "solution" does not make a worldview superior to one that can offer no solution. The solution, itself, must be plausible; otherwise, it is simply magnifying the problem of the existence of a phenomenon by requiring justification of the existence of an even greater phenomenon.

Now here, instead of saying that the existence of God needs to be possible, he is now saying that it needs to be plausible. But of course I am trying to render it plausible by attempting to show that it makes sense of reason. In doing so I am at least attempting to enhance the plausibility of theism. So to say that I must first show that the existence of God is plausible before I can present an argument that the existence of God is plausible is to involve me in an infinite regress. EXB is just begging the question here.

As for what is "oustide my experience" the existence of an external physical world is, strictly speaking, outside my experience, in that it is consistent with all my experiences that there is no external world and that I am a brain in a vat being given experiences of objects that have no external reference. In other words, it is perfectly possible for me to have the relevant experiences in a world in which the objects do not exist, just as it is possible for me, after using a liberal amount of Jack Daniels to be, as philosophers would say, "appeared to red-goatly" even if there is no red goat in my presence. So EXB's burden of proof argument is a road to radical skepticism about a lot more than just religion.

I will leave EXB"s criticisms my critique of materialism for another occasion, pointing out only that I have dealt in some detail with criticisms of the various arguments from reason on this blog, including those of Richard Carrier. In fact, I redated three of those responses to the past month. Link


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Lewis's last version of the argument from reason

Lewis's Last Version of the Argument from Reason
The Discarded Image was published posthumously.

No Model yet devised has made a satisfactory unity between our actual experience of sensation or thought or emotion and any available account of the corporeal processes which they are held to involve. We experience, say, a chain of reasoning; thoughts, which are ‘about’ or ‘refer to’ something other than themselves, are linked together by the logical relation of grounds and consequents. Physiology resolves this into a sequence of cerebral events. But physical events, as such, cannot in any intelligible sense be said to be ‘about’ or to ‘refer to’ anything. And they must be linked to one another not as grounds and consequents but as causes and effects—a relation so irrelevant to the logical linkage that it is just as perfectly illustrated by the sequence of a maniac’s thoughts as by the sequence of a rational man’s.” C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964), 165-6.