Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bruce Russell on Wielenberg

Bruce Russell reviews Erik Wielenberg's God and the Reach of Reason
The book is in interesting and valuable treatment of the arguments of Lewis, Hume, and Russell, mostly Lewis. The review offers a response to one of the lines of argument in the AFR, and just says that Wielenberg has answered another. I think there are plenty of difficulties in the idea that intentional mental states (or to be more specific, propositional attitudes), can evolve from non-intentional states, so long as we insist that they physical is mechanistic and closed, and that any mental state would have to supervene necessarily on the physical states. What that would mean would be that there is a set of truths at the non-intentional level that entails some truth at the intentional level. I don't think such entailments are even logically possible. Pile up the non-intentional truths as high as the ceiling, and they won't entail an intentional truth (S believes that p), necessarily. It will always be possible for the intentional state not to exist, or that multiple possible intentional states are logically consistent with the state of the physical. (For example, a world physically identical to this one could be populated with zombies). Given this, if we are in particular intentional states such as S believes that P, then there is something other than the physical that makes it the case that I am in this mental state as opposed to that one, or as opposed to no mental state whatsoever.Russell offers an analysis of Lewis's argument that goes like this.If S knows that P1) S believes pand2) The complete cause of S's belief that P is the truth of p itself.Hence if I believe that 2 + 2 = 4, in order to know that 2 + 2 = 4, the cause of my belief that 2 + 2 = 4 is the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, and that would be impossible given naturalism.However, says Russell, I know I will be dead onon Jan. 1, 2100, but the truth of that belief is a future state, and can't cause me to believe that this, so on this theory of knowledge, I can't know that 2 + 2 = 4. Therefore the theory of knowledge is flawed, and hence the Lewisian AFR on which the argument is based is also flawed.However, the case of my being dead in 92 years, the knowledge is not known directly, but is a conclusion of a principle of past-future resemblance (which Lewis actually thinks is rationally justified on a theistic world-view but not on a naturalistic one), plus evidence we have concerning human lifespans in our collective experience. Clearly some corrections and/or clarifications need to be done on Lewis's "An act of knowing thus solely determined by what is known," which Russell is surely referencing. Nevertheless, the fact that we live in a world that renders is likely that we will die before the age of 150 seems to be evident to us, and a bridge to the future fact seems possible if we grant the naturalist the resemblance principle. But how do we get a bridge from ourselves as physical beings to the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, of that arguments of the form "modus ponens" are valid.So I don't think the objections to the AFR work that are found in this review.I am glad to see Wielenberg's book getting some attention.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blue Devil Knight on Penelope Maddy's new book

Does the Argument from Reason commit the fallacy of composition

Wakefield Tolbert: After all, he has a good point, and one that is seemingly obvious but some people (including myself!) often miss due to the old adage that the best way of hiding---so they say---is in plain sight. A drop of water an ocean does not make. And no, Jaws can't maneuver in a pail. Nonetheless, water molecules indeed comprise the greater part of oceans, and likewise by analogy atoms and their multitude of connections make for us a larger world, (in fact the Cosmos) and all its attributes. Very commonly, as AC points out in a way, we DO hear much of this "X" could not possibly lead to "Y" kind of argumentation about inanimate matter forming conscious things just as it was supposed before the 19th century that matter had to had a "living spark" or other attribute to form life. . Which as we now know it does not. All around us we see rather ordinary manifestations of matter doing extraordinary things. Like the photons from this laptop showing the pixelized images on the blog.

Same for life itself: It just has to be the right arrangement of compounds. Ammonia and nitrogen, for example, both help compose and are excrete by all organisms. So too the argument with other Composed items. One might as well argue that a single note does not give us the compiled works of Mozart. But notes he has a plenty. Now perhaps some will next argue this argues for Intention and Will in order to arrange these elements (notes or atoms). But in the case of materialism's claim that natural processes entirely account for the evolution of life on Earth (and thus the human mind) as well being an unforeseen but "emergent" property of matter (just as no one could foresee water as the merging of hydrogen and oxygen, but nevertheless has odd qualities that are difficult to explain in themselves), the Will or Intention is not needed, it would seem.

Wakefield: It seems to me in the cases you mentioned, in the supervenience base of "composed" qualities, there is no normativity, no subjectivity, no teleology, and no intentionality. You just have something having a "macro" or "system" property of a set of microphysical parts. In the case of the mind, it does have those four properties, and because of that, I have a lot of trouble seeing how some truth having to do with any of those things can possibly supervene necessarily (and it must be necessarily) from the physical states. It's something like the familiar problem in ethics of getting an ought from an is. It gets worse when you start seeing how attempts to account for the "mental" have over and over again either implicitly denied the mental or slipped it in through the back door.

You take all the physical descriptions and put them in the left-hand side of the equation. Add them together, and it looks as if they can't entail anything on the "mental" side of the equation. There is always room for indeterminacy, or, for that matter, room for zombies. The physical works just fine, but there's just no there there.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Am I a weird naturalist?

My concept of the natural happens to exclude God, since on the working definition that I operate from, teleological and intentional explanations are basic explanations. But God has a character, a nature, and if we knew enough about that character we would be able to predict God's actions. To some extent people are able to predict the actions of God. So if that makes God natural by your definition, I have no trouble with God being natural, or even, for that matter, God being physical.

In defining the physical, my dissertation advisor Hugh Chandler once, in class said that physics is whatever physics quantifies over, and some theories quantify over God, therefore if those theories are true, then God is physical.

Biology is the science of living things, theology is the science of God. Gosh, maybe I'm a naturalist after all. Just a weird one.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Understanding the term "supernatural"

Anonymous: What I don’t get is why this should lead one to adopting a belief in the supernatural. Why the insistence that one need believe in the supernatural in order to be able to legitimately deem an act to be rational or non-rational?

VR: I don't like introducing the term "supernatural too soon in the discussion, at least without clarifying the idea. In the initial stages of the argument we are simply trying to show that the explanatory chain has to hit something rational at rock-bottom, and not something non-rational. Now if we expel all intelligent causes from the rock bottom of nature, then we got something super that, and hence in some sense we've got something supernatural. But you have to understand what sense we mean when we are using the word "supernatural." We need to keep this Lewis quote in mind.

To call the act of knowing--the act, not of remembering that something was so in the past, but of 'seeing' that it must be so always and in any possible world--to call this act 'supernatural', is some violence to our ordinary linguistic usage. But of course we do not mean by this that it is spooky, or sensational, or even (in any religious sense) 'spiritual'. We mean only that it 'won't fit in'; that such an act, to be what it claims to be--and if it is not, all our thinking is discredited--cannot be merely the exhibition at a particular place and time of that total, and largely mindless, system of events called 'Nature'. It must break sufficiently free from that universal chain in order to be determined by what it knows.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

An attack on Lewis from Austin Cline--redated from DI 2005

These comments are from Austin Cline, on his atheism website. He seems a little out of touch with the most recent scholarship on the Argument from Reason. Cline's comments are in bold, my responses are not.

AC: C.S. Lewis wanted to explain nature on the basis of his supernatural god; as a consequence, naturalistic explanations for nature represented a major threat — just as it does for contemporary apologists. Lewis argued against naturalism in a variety of contexts. It plays an important role not just in his discussions about morality, but also in his arguments about the nature of reason.

VR: No, Lewis did not think naturalistic explanations for nature constituted a threat. It is only when these explanations are claimed to excluded a theistic explanation that they become at threat. There is no problem with Christians believing in, say, the law of gravity.

AC: In his book Miracles, Lewis argues against naturalism by saying “If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System.” This isn’t necessarily true. Lewis was aware of advances in physics which revealed that events on the quantum level were probabilistic rather than deterministic, but he regarded this as a reason to think that there exists something more than “Nature” rather than as a reason to think that maybe nature isn’t quite what he (like others) assumed it to be. He rejected the findings of science because they conflicted with his assumptions.

VR: The difference between Quantum and Classical mechanics are irrelevant to the Argument from Reason, since on most interpretations quantum activity is pure blind chance and nothing more. If QM opens the door for ground-level teleology (which seems to be what Wiest was suggesting on this blog a few months back), then we have something that is not naturalism in the sense that Lewis was trying to criticize.

AC: Lewis appears not to have understood that some events and systems are, even in principle, not explainable despite being entirely natural. No one disputes that the weather is completely natural, but while weather events can be predicted to varying degrees of accuracy, it’s not possible even in principle to explain every facet of them because they are too complex, chaotic, and probabilistic.

VR: Meaning not explainable in principle, or beyond out powers of explanation? Cline seems not to understand the difference between inexplicability due to temporary human limitations, and inexplicability due to the absence of determining causes. In any event I see no reason to believe that Lewis was guilty of this lack of understanding, and if he did it is irrelevant to the argument.

AC: Part of the problem is that Lewis adopts a very limited, narrow understanding of naturalism. For Lewis, naturalism is the same as determinism. Thus, what we encounter is a tactic which Lewis uses continually: the construction of a false dilemma fallacy in which he presents the “wrong” option in an unfavorable and incorrectly defined way against the “right” option which, he hopes, will seem more reasonable against his straw man. The idea of a third option, like rejecting both extreme determinism and supernaturalism, is never entertained.

VR: Again the question is not determinism, it is the question of whether, at the most basic level of analysis, nature in non-purposive. Since believing something for a reason needs to be explained purposively in order for it to be regarded as reasoning, this is the basis for a prima facie incompatibility. Replacing blind determination with blind chaos does not help account for reason.

AC: From this inauspicious beginning, things only go down hill. Lewis argues that nature cannot explain the existence of Reason:

“A strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true...and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.’ (Possible Worlds, p. 209)”
In other words, because atoms are not themselves rational, then they alone cannot be responsible for rationality because such an irrational foundation cannot be a reliable basis for rational thinking. This absurd reasoning would preclude atoms being responsible for anything at all — atoms aren’t visible to the naked eye, so how could they produce anything visible? It’s known as the fallacy of composition and is just one more example of Lewis constructing fallacious arguments in the apparent hope that no one would notice.

VR: Lewis makes a distinction between "strict materialism," which can be refuted in one sentence, and naturalism, which requires a much longer treatment. Lewis was praised by his most famous opponent, Anscombe, for "honesty and seriousness" in his revised chapter. Shouldn't this tip anyone off that a "quick and dirty" refutation of Lewis is not in the cards? The real question is how logical relationships between proposition can play any role in some event in the physical world being caused. I'm really not sure what Lewis meant by "strict materialism;" however I would not give that simple of an argument against more contemporary kinds of materialism. But I think a some versions of Lewis's arguments against naturalism are telling arguments against contemporary materialism.

AC: On February 2, 1948, G.E.M. Anscombe read a paper to the Oxford Socratic Club criticizing this section of C.S Lewis’ book, identifying several serious weaknesses. According to George Sayer, a friend of Lewis, he recognized that his position was soundly refuted:

“He told me that he had been proved wrong, and that his argument for the existence of God had been demolished. ...The debate had been a humiliating experience, but perhaps it was ultimately good for him. In the past, he had been too proud of his logical ability. Now he was humbled ....’I can never write another book of that sort’ he said to me of Miracles. And he never did. He also never wrote another theological book. Reflections on the Psalms is really devotional and literary; Letters to Malcolm is also a devotional book, a series of reflections on prayer, without contentious arguments.”
VR: Here we go again with the Anscombe Legend. Sayer was basically a high school English teacher, and he fails to draw the all-important distinction between thinking oneself really proved wrong, and thinking the someone has shown one's argument to be inadequately formulated. Lewis probably thought he had performed poorly in the exchange; he probably thought that there were problems with the formulation of his argument, but there is no reason to suppose that he thought his argument shown to be a bad one.

John Beversluis, on whom Cline seems to be relying for his critique of Lewis, had this to say in a subsequent paper:

First, the Anscombe debate was by no means Lewis's first exposure to a professional philosopher: he lived among them all his adult life, read the Greats, and even taught philosophy. Second, it is simply untrue that the post-Anscombe Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics. In 1960 he published a second edition of Miracles in which he revised the third chapter and thereby replied to Anscombe. Third, most printed discussions of the debate, mine included, fail to mention that Anscombe herself complimented Lewis's revised argument on the grounds that it is deeper and far more serious than the original version. Finally, the myth that Lewis abandoned Christian apologetics overlooks several post-Anscombe articles, among them "Is Theism Important?" (1952)—a discussion of Christianity and theism which touches on philosophical proofs for God's existence—and "On Obstinacy of Belief"—in which Lewis defends the rationality of belief in God in the face of apparently contrary evidence (the issue in philosophical theology during the late 1950s and early 60s). It is rhetorically effective to announce that the post-Anscombe Lewis wrote no further books on Christian apologetics, but it is pure fiction. Even if it were true, what would this Argument from Abandoned Subjects prove? He wrote no further books on Paradise Lost or courtly love either.1

AC: Lewis never publicly acknowledged his defeat, but he did respond. The relevant chapter was renamed from “Naturalism is Self-Refuting” to “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism.” Some statements were revised and he removed the egregious claim that “We may state it as a rule that no thought is valid if it can be fully explained as the result of irrational causes.”

These revisions are not enough to salvage his argument because its flaws are fundamental. Lewis relied, for example, on a bizarre epistemology, according to which knowledge can only be attained indirectly by inferring from sensory perception to the objects supposedly lying behind them. Because of this, he felt that reliable knowledge depends upon logical reasoning — that we cannot come to have true, justified beliefs about the world without it. This is a peculiar and extreme form of rationalism, but it’s not an epistemology which is compatible with modern science and thinking. It doesn’t enjoy wide currency today, even among Christians who ostensibly accept Lewis’ apologetics. If they do not accept the epistemological assumptions he uses, though, they cannot also accept his theological conclusions which they find so appealing.

VR: This is a criticism that Cline is borrowing from John Beversluis, whose book C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, is taken by many in freethought circles to be the definitive refutation of Lewis, in spite of the fact that numerous articles effectively criticizing it have been published. Lewis did say that all possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. But depends in what way? Is he actually saying that what we are immediately aware of are "sense data" and that we recognize physical objects only by performing inferences? This is a philosophical theory that still exists, and it is probably more defensible than most people think it is, but it is true that today the mainstream position is a some kind of direct realism, according to which we perceive physical objects directly.

But would a good case for direct realism refute Lewis's argument? No. First, did Lewis really say we infer physical objects? What he said was:

"It is clear that everything we know, beyond out own sensations, in inferred from those sensations. I do not mean that we begin as children, by regarding out sensations as "evidence" and thence arguing consciously to the existence of space, matter and other people. I mean that if, after we are old enough to understand the question, our confidence in the existence of anything else (say, the solar system or the Spanish Armada) is questioned, our argument in defence of it will have to take the form of arguments from our immediate sensations."

So it is not that we perform inferences in order to know physical objects; it is that we use inferences to defend out beliefs in those objects that makes perceptual knowledge depend on inference. This I consider to be perfectly compatible with the claim that we perceive physical objects directly and noninferentially.

Note: Since I wrote this Dr. Beversluis has written a revised version of his book in which he defends the claim that Lewis did think that we are not directly aware of physical objects. The evidence isn't crystal-clear from the Lewis texts, however I think Beversluis is probably right about this. However, the more important point, which unfortunately Beversluis does not attempt to rebut, is the claim I make below, the claim that on any view we are dependent upon reasoning for knowledge, such that that, if no one ever engaged in rational inference, we simply could not make the knowledge claims that all naturalists accept, such as e=MC squared, or even that the Pythagorean theorem is true.

In any event, if Lewis exaggerated the role of inference in knowledge, so what? His argument is that if naturalism is true, then there are no inferences. Maybe my knowledge that the wall in front of me is purple can remain as knowledge under these circumstances, but if there are no inferences, then no one ever proved the Pythagorean theorem, Darwin didn't really provide arguments for evolution by natural selection, and no one ever inferred that e=mc squared, and no one ever inferred atheism from the existence of evil in the world.

In other words, whether or not Lewis used the "epistemological assumptions" in his argument, the argument does not need them, and will can do just fine without them. Whether one can explain the existence of rational inference naturalistically--well, I could write a book about that subject. In any event, if there is something wrong with Lewis's argument, Cline has failed to take the argument seriously enough to find out what it is.

1 John Beversluis, "Surprised by Freud: A Critical Appraisal of A. N. Wilson's Biography of C. S. Lewis," Christianity and Literature, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1992), pp. 179-95

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Reply to JT Eberhard

JT: To argue that the existence of intention establishes the existence of god is an argument from ignorance, especially given the vast amount we do understand about the brain. All that we know about states of mind has been revealed to us by the application of experiments dealing with the tangible aspects of cognizance. Conversely, it seem the argument of consciousness could once have been called the argument from emotion, before science granted us an explanation of the mechanisms that caused us to be emotional.

VR: Here is my question. Could any amount of brain information be logically sufficient for the existence of an intentional state, such that, given this pile of non-intentional information, a truth about the intentional state is logically entailed? It seems to be a problem very similar from the problem of going from descriptive to normative in, say, an ethical context. The fact we have scientific information bearing on the subject doesn't automatically solve the problem. For example, if I want to know if I ought to fire off a gun right now, there are some descriptive scientific facts about what firing off that gun is going to do that will, given certain moral values
justify the claim that I ought not to fire the gun. But does it complete the argument against shooting the gun? No. Is it an argument from ignorance to suggest that no matter how much scientific information about gun-shooting we gather, we are not going to logically reach the conclusion that shooting the gun is wrong? No.

In general, although a lot of people use the "argument from ignorance" charge against various theistic arguments (and in the case of my argument from reason I don't go directly to God; there are several intervening steps), I have never seen a good analysis of what a fallacious argument from ignorance is. There is maybe a paradigm case or two out there, but it is as if people think they can say phrase and expect the opposing argument to just go away. It doesn't work that way.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Richard Carrier Fallacy

NormaJean: I agree that I have been away from a lot of these discussions. I don't know if I could call it "getting off scot-free." Sometimes if you aren't in a debate which goes on for awhile it's a little difficult to pick up the thread deep in the discussion.

But I think the discussion didn't exactly go in the direction that I would have taken it. The following is a discussion from Doctor Logic's first reply, to which I want to push him a little.

Suppose I consider the proposition "My dog is on the porch."How do I know what this proposition is about? If I see the neighbor's cat on the porch instead of my dog, how do I know that the proposition is false? And how can I assert the proposition in advance of actually making the observation?There's a simple and elegant (and natural) solution. Intentionality is about my own cognitive abilities, and my cognitive abilities are in a physical brain that does exist as the thought is processed. A proposition has meaning in light of me knowing (approximately) what experiences would increase or decrease my confidence in the truth of that proposition. That is, the proposition isn't a physical reference to actual dogs and porches (which may not exist), but is about my presently-existing faculties for recognizing dogs on porches if those things existed. Rocks and CD-ROMs lack intentionality because they lack thought and recognition. Deep Blue lacks intentionality because Deep Blue does not formulate propositions about its abilities to recognize states of affairs. It just recognizes them. For example, Deep Blue does not ponder the proposition that it will lose the game (in some abstract way), even though it is capable of recognizing a great many specific ways of losing a match. Deep Blue's intelligence is fish-like or insect-like. It does not have ability to recognize its own mental states.So the argument that we cannot see how one lump of matter could be about another just doesn't hold up under scrutiny. If the first lump has recognition and expectation, and the ability to recurse those abilities on its own faculties, then that lump can have intentional thought.

What I am failing to see here is that this is an account of intentionality in non-intentional terms. Intentionality is "about my cognitive abilities," you say. If these cognitive abilities presuppose intentionality, then we are shuffling intentional concepts around and calling it an explanation of intentionality. OK, you mention the brain, but that doesn't make it a physicalist explanation. Meaning no disrespect to you or Richard, I would have to call this the Richard Carrier Fallacy. (OK, I'm asking for someone to come up with a Victor Reppert fallacy. I know that.)

DL: A proposition has meaning in light of me knowing (approximately) what experiences would increase or decrease my confidence in the truth of that proposition.

This seems to me just backwards. Meaning is determined by what experiences would increase or decrease confidence in the truth of the proposition?? You have to know what the proposition means before you can figure out what experiences would make it more or less likely to be true.

Further, it is naturalists like BDK who insist most firmly that the presence of intentionality. doesn't require the entertaining of propositions. Indeed, nothing can entertain propositions unless it possesses intentionality to begin with. Deep Blue doesn't recognize it's own mental states, it doesn't ponder propositions, but these capacity are exactly what you are trying to offer a non-intentional explanation.

Here's the problem I am getting at with the numbered premise argument. Add up all the physical, non-intentional states you want, don't help yourself to any states that are intentional, and see if it is possible that these non-intentional states can entail some intentional state or propositional attitude. It looks to me that whatever physical information you give me, I can deny the existence of any propositional attitude, or affirm the existence of alternative propositional attitude, without contradicting myself. Hence, if there is a truth about what the propositional attitude, the explanation of it in terms of a physical, non-intentional substrate is incomplete.

Again, you introduce terms like recognition and expectation. If those terms mean "recognizing that p" or "expecting that p", then you aren't explaining the propositional state, you are slipping the propositional state in through the back door and calling it an explanation. Otherwise, what do you mean by "recognition" and "expectation?"

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