Friday, June 26, 2009

C. S. Lewis and the Empty Universe

A redated post.

This is a passage from C. S. Lewis's The Empty Universe, which was a introduction Lewis wrote to a book entitled A New Diagram of Heaven and Earth by a man named Harding. It parallels some of the comments I have been putting up on DI2 about the "siphoning off" argument is Swinburne and Feser.

The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life, and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance gradually empties this rich and genial universe, first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account:classified as out sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed “souls” or ‘selves” or “minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods, that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a “ghost,” an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our habit of personifying men; a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Subject had lost. There is no “consciousness” to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is “not the sort of noun that can be used that way.”

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

A review of Devitt and Sterelny

Kelley Ross argues that the phenomenon of language has anti-physicalist implications, which the authors treat dismissively.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Balfour and the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

A redated post.

This post is a repost of one I did a few months back on the Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism. Follow the link back and you can read the 38-comment debate it sparked.

Balfour and the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism
The Argument from Reason did not originate with Lewis. Something like it can be traced all the way back to Plato, and Augustine had an argument that said that our knowledge of eternal and necessary truths. Descartes maintained that the higher rational processes of human beings could not be accounted for in materialistic terms, and while Kant denied that these considerations did not provide adequate proof of the immortality of the soul, he did think they were sufficient to rule out any materialist account of the mind. However, naturalism or materialism as a force in Western thought did not become really viable until the 1859, when Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species. The earliest post-Darwinian presentation of the Argument from Reason that I am familiar with, and one that bears a lot of similarities to Lewis’s argument, is found in Prime Minister Arthur Balfour’s The Foundations of Belief. Lewis never mentions The Foundations of Belief in his writings, but he does say in one place that Balfour’s subsequent book Theism and Humanism is “a book too little read.” According to Balfour the following claims follow from the “naturalistic creed.”1) 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.”2) Atoms, having no prejudices in favour of the truth, are as likely to turn out wrong premises as right ones; nay, more likely, inasmuch as truth is single and error manifold. 3) My premises, therefore, in the first place, and my conclusions in the second, are certainly untrustworthy, and probably false. Their falsity, moreover, is 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. 4) Therefore, 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. Balfour then considers a “Darwinian rebuttal, which claims that natural selection acting as a “kind of cosmic Inquisition, will repress any lapses from the standard of naturalistic orthodoxy. The point was made years later by Antony Flew as follows: [A]ll other things being equal and in the long run and with many dramatic exceptions, true beliefs about our environment tend to have some survival value. So it looks as if evolutionary biology and human history could provide some reasons for saying that it need no be a mere coincidence if a significant proportion of men’s beliefs about their environment are in face true. Simply because if that were not so they could not have survived long in that environment. As an analysis of the meaning of ‘truth’ the pragmatist idea that a true belief is one which is somehow advantageous to have will not do at all. Yet there is at least some contingent and non-coincidental connection between true beliefs, on the one hand, and the advantage, if it be an advantage, of survival, on the other.However, Balfour offers this reply to the evolutionary argument: But what an utterly inadequate basis for speculation we have 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. Interestingly, Balfour’s argument here finds surprising support from Darwin himself. In a letter to William Graham Down, Darwin wrote: the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? As can be seen Balfour’s presentation of the argument, and his consideration of counter-arguments, anticipated much of the debate on this issue that is still going on a century after his book was written.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

A brief critique of Plantinga's EAAN from Clayton Littlejohn

I found this in the combox of a very old post of mine, from 2005. I would like to see some discussion of it, pro and con. I am linking back to the initial post.

CL: In some discussions (I believe Plantinga's, but I don't have a text at hand), it is said that the probability that we would have reliable faculties given evolutionary theory and naturalism is either low or inscrutible. The argument for this is that selection pressures don't favor such faculties.

I think this overlooks something important--selection pressures operate on populations where organisms have various traits already. So while selection pressures might not favor certain things across the board (except perhaps things that confer survival value), selection pressure might favor reliability for certain creatures with certain features under specified conditions. We might argue that the probability of organism having reliable faculties (R) is low given evolution (E) and naturalism (N) but as we fill in further details of that organism, their continued survival may in fact show the conditional probability of R and this extra information on E and N is quite high.

So while we might be able to conceive of creatures who can survive without reliable ways of informing themselves about their surroundings, that is very very different from imagining how we might fluorish given our equipment, needs, and surroundings without reliable faculties.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

An early statement of Lewis's in response to Russellian Naturalism

In his [Bertrand Russell’s] “Worship of a Free Man” I found a very clear and noble statement of what I myself believed a few years ago. But he does not face the real difficulty -- that our ideals are after all a natural product, facts with a relation to all other facts, and cannot survive the condemnation of the fact as a whole. The Promethean attitude would be tenable only if we were really members of some other whole outside the real whole: wh[ich] we’re not. (Saturday, 5 January, 1924; before he was a Christian)

The idea is that if you say the universe is bad, and the universe produced you and the very thought that the universe is bad, isn't your thought tainted at the source?

The link is to Jim Slagle's blog.

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Arthur Balfour's Dangerous Idea

Balfour is one of the early forefathers of the argument from reason, and we know that Lewis read and recommended Balfour. It was my dissertation advisor, Hugh Chandler, who discovered the connection between Balfour and the AFR, and later game me a copy of The Foundations of Belief he found in England. This post, by Jim Slagle, who wrote his master's thesis on the AFR, links to an online edition of Balfour's first philosophical book, A Defense of Philosophic Doubt, published in 1879, and my be the first post-Darwin version of the AFR to come out.


Monday, June 01, 2009

A Stanford Entry on Contradiction

Horn seems opposed to dialethism.

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