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Dualism Dueling With Science?

Posted on Nov 22, 2008 by Tom Gilson

There is a lively debate going on regarding two views of the mind: dualist vs. materialist. Last month’s New Scientist article, “Creationists Declare War Over the Brain,” prompted responses from several quarters, including one of my own. Dr. Steven Novella wrote a two-part response (Part One, Part Two), taking the opportunity especially to make swipes at Michael Egnor of the Discovery Institute who has written on the topic more than once.

Drs. Egnor and Novella are both physicians, Egnor a neurosurgeon, Novella a neurologist. Novella’s scathing disdain for Egnor is, shall we say, not well disguised (here, for example). So it may be rather audacious for me to jump in with my own thoughts, but here I go anyway.

The question, to borrow terminology from Dr. Novella, is whether every physical effect has a physical cause. That’s one useful definition of materialism. Alternatively, it’s the view that nothing exists except for matter and energy, and their interactions in space and time. While it is not technically identical with naturalism (the view that nature is all that exists; there is no supernatural), for all practical purposes the two may be treated synonymously. Novella’s position can be summarized thus: we don’t know whether materialism is an adequate description of ultimate reality (philosophical naturalism), but science must proceed on the assumption (methodological naturalism) that it is.

The opposing position holds that materialist/naturalist explanations are insufficient for at least some of what we know about reality; dualism, which allows for nonnatural reality of some sort, provides better explanations of at least some phenomena. In this case, it is the mind and brain that are the realities in question.

It goes without saying that materialism is atheistic in practice at least, if not in ultimate principle. If every physical thing in the world can be traced back to just physical causes, then there is no God, or at least no God who does anything in the world. There are theists who are not dualists in the sense Novella, Egnor, and I understand the matter (there’s more to discuss there than we have time for), but there are no theists who are materialists. So you can easily guess on which side of the question I stand.

Novella uncorks the big guns in his two articles: dualism is anti-science, he says.

It is crystal clear . . . that this is about ideology, not science. ID proponents feel that their spiritual ideological world view is threatened by the findings of modern science, and so have decided to undermine it. They want this to be an ideological and cultural war, because in the arena of science they lose. So they claim that science (at least those sciences with which they feel uncomfortable) is nothing more than the ideology of materialism. They want to frame the conflict as that between the traditional, moral, and god-fearing spiritualism on one side, and cold, amoral, mechanistic materialism on the other. This is an emotional fight they feel they can win.

He later tells us how hopeless the fight is:

Does science require methodological naturalism? Yes. This is the real debate going on between mainstream science and various ideological groups who wish to promote a non-naturalist belief system. But this philosophical fight was fought in centuries past – and the naturalists won. The fight is over. But the anti-materialists (really anti-naturalists) want to resurrect this fight, and since they cannot win it in the arena of science they want to fight it in the arena of public opinion and then the legal and academic realms.

But is it really over already? Not on the strength of Novella’s arguments. He treats cavalierly the relation between philosophical and methodological naturalism:

[M]ethodological naturalism posits that nature is all the we can know, regardless of whether or not it is all that there is (which by definition we cannot know).

What does he mean by that parenthetical clause? Is it that we cannot, by definition, know all that there is? That’s a safe statement? Or is he saying that nature is all that we can know, and if there is anything else, we cannot know it? Clearly he means it in the latter sense. Following an extended quotation from the Dover decision, he writes,

The last paragraph is key – the anti-materialist/naturalist movement is really about changing the ground rules of science (re-fighting the fight they lost in the past) to include supernatural explanations, but this is impossible within the necessary framework of science.

The “necessary framework of science,” to Novella, is obviously two things at once: the framework of naturalism is necessary to science; and science is the necessary framework for all of knowledge. The same attitude dominates the first Novella passage I quoted above. If it is “about ideology, not science,” the reason that’s such an awful thing is because anything that is not of science is of the devil. Ideology is of course a highly loaded term; Novella could have substituted the word philosophy to make the same essential point, though with less of a rhetorical jab. Indeed ID proponents would agree that this is a question of philosophy (also of science). Novella’s implication is that if it isn’t about science, it isn’t about knowledge. If it isn’t science, it isn’t knowledge.

The trap there is as obvious as it could be: If it isn’t science, it isn’t knowledge purports to be a knowledge statement, but it cannot claim to be a statement of science. It is a self-defeating proposition.

Science is not the only route to knowledge, and there is no scientific reason to believe that nature is all there is to reality or causation. But for many, including Judge Jones of Dover fame, that’s the way it must be. I referred earlier to Novella’s quote from his decision. It ends with this:

It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482

Apparently the ground rules of science do not allow supernatural causation of the natural world. God has been ground-ruled out of existence. Science came along and made him non-existent. And now the ID movement comes along and (gasp!) argues that science might not have that power after all. (Ironically, even if it did have that power, it would have it by virtue of philosophical argument, not lab work.)

In closing (quickly, before the Michigan State-Penn State football game begins) let’s replay part of the first Novella quote I presented above:

They want to frame the conflict as that between the traditional, moral, and god-fearing spiritualism on one side, and cold, amoral, mechanistic materialism on the other.

Rhetorical dismissiveness aside, what’s wrong with framing the conflict in non-scientific terms? Novella wants to frame the conflict as being between the good guys, the guys who trust only science, and the bad guys who let other thinking into the fray. But we’ve already seen he cannot do that; he cannot play the game as if there were a side that trusts only science. As an ID proponent, I’m perfectly comfortable with letting other ideas enter the discussion. Novella is doing it too, he just doesn’t seem to recognize that he’s doing it. “Science is non-ideological,” he says. Ideally that’s true. He wants us also to believe “Novella is non-ideological.” There are none so blind…

Dualism is not dueling with science. Its gauntlet is laid down strictly with materialist science, especially materialist science that claims it is the only source of knowledge of reality.

44 Responses to “ Dualism Dueling With Science? ”

  1. Tom Clark says:

    “Science is not the only route to knowledge, and there is no scientific reason to believe that nature is all there is to reality or causation.”

    I’m curious about the other routes to knowledge you have in mind and the basis for their reliability.

    As you perhaps agree, science isn’t committed to materialism, only to getting good, evidence-based theories about reality. Does it have a competitor (or perhaps an ally) in this project? Is science missing out on aspects of reality that this competitor/ally succeeds in capturing?

    regards,

    Tom Clark
    Center for Naturalism
    http://www.naturalism.org

  2. Joseph A. says:

    Tom, believe it or not, there are actually are theists who are materialists – or at least as far as I know they are both.

    Peter Van Inwagen is one who comes to mind. He’s also a materialist who believes in libertarian free will. And Nick Bostrom may qualify as a materialist (Not sure of his stance on such matters) who entertains what essentially amounts to deism via the simulation hypothesis.

    So it’s not clear that even materialism automatically entails a denial of theism. In fact, depending on how it’s looked at, naturalism may not entail as much either.

  3. Tom Clark says:

    Joseph,

    Yes, I’m with you on those points. But I’m curious as to whether there are reliable sorts of cognition apart from intersubjective empiricism, of which science is an example, and whether they establish the existence of something beyond nature. Theologians such as John F. Haught (Is Nature Enough?) think there are; I tend to think not as argued in “Reality and its rivals” at Naturalism.Org. So I just wanted to get other theists’ take on this.

  4. Joseph A. says:

    I was addressing Tom Gilson, actually.

    The problem is that empiricism has tremendous limits insofar as humanity goes. Empiricism can hardly offer comment in the spheres of morality, fundamental philosophy, many areas of subjective life, and otherwise.

    ‘Establish the existence of something beyond nature’ is dicey, because what qualifies as ‘nature’ tends to break down in such a discussion. Nick Bostrom and David Chalmers give what they think are strong arguments for seriously entertaining the possibility we live in a (not necessarily omnipotent God) designed world, or at least computer simulation. On the other hand, they also seem to insist that these are naturalistic scenarios – in which case it seems the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ utterly fall apart.

    Then there’s the physics and cosmology situations. Would multiverse scenarios be ‘beyond nature’? What about extra dimensions? The quantum world operates in ways that defy the classical macro-world – is it supernatural because it casts doubt on local realism? Subnatural because it’s typically restricted to the micro-world?

    What if you’re an idealist? Berkeley makes a strong point that the mind-independent world of the material, if it really does exist, is of no use to us since the phenomenal is all we can interact with. On that view, the material world’s actual material existence is supernatural and beyond proof.

    So between the various philosophical points, the advances/discoveries in empirical sciences (The Big Bang, the quantum world, computer science, the hard problem of consciousness, etc) and otherwise, justifications for expecting, and certainly respecting the possibility of something ‘beyond nature’ are incredibly strong. Being utterly certain on all specifics is dicier, but then these questions have always come down to a large amount of faith no matter what belief or lack of belief was in question.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Joseph A.,

    Thanks for your comment (I’ll come back to Tom presently).

    I was not aware of Van Inwagen’s materialist views. This is always a learning experience for me, as a non-specialist in these matters.

    His materialism is certainly not of the sort Novella adheres to, however. Van Inwagen’s theism most definitely allows for God’s actions in nature. He sees God as creator, he sees Jesus Christ as God incarnate, he allows for miracles. Novella’s materialism is absolute: there are no non-natural causes. All of nature can be explained by nature.

    Van Inwagen’s materialism is apparently with respect to the soul or to the mind. I cannot find an article on the web to point me to his exact position on that. His theism is certainly evident in Quam Dilecta. I recognize that the topic at hand is indeed philosophy of mind, so I accept that your mention of Van Inwagen may be relevant. But when we speak of materialism or naturalism, we need to make distinctions between the thorough-going variety of a Novella, and other varieties that may count as a sort of naturalism-in-part. Thorough-going naturalism by definition excludes a deity, or at least the sort of deity who intervenes in or stand in a causal relation to any events in the natural world.

    I’m not at all familar with Bostrom, I’m afraid. It’s that amateur thing again. But deism is not the issue at hand here.

    I appreciate your second comment, in response to Tom Clark, especially this:

    So between the various philosophical points, the advances/discoveries in empirical sciences (The Big Bang, the quantum world, computer science, the hard problem of consciousness, etc) and otherwise, justifications for expecting, and certainly respecting the possibility of something ‘beyond nature’ are incredibly strong. Being utterly certain on all specifics is dicier, but then these questions have always come down to a large amount of faith no matter what belief or lack of belief was in question.

    Tom, I wonder if what you have in mind with regard to “establish the existence of something beyond nature” might be quite specifically, “establish the existence of God, or of a spiritual world (understood as being inhabited by non-physical persons such as angels etc.)” Would that be a fair re-statement of your question?

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Tom Clark,

    Thanks for your questions. I’ve begun to take a look around the Center for Naturalism website, and I’m sure there will be much of interest to read there.

    You asked about other routes to knowledge and their basis for reliability. That, of course, could lead to libraries full of answers (Term paper: thoroughly explain epistemology, and how you know what you’ve explained.)

    I don’t think that’s the scope of response you had in mind, but it does pose the problem of where to begin. I’ll start with a question back to you. Your comment seems to imply that you take science to be the one route to reliable knowledge; or if it isn’t the one route, then you are unsure what else would qualify as an ally or a competitor; if there is such a thing, you do not know about it or trust it. Such a competitor, I take it would be evidence-based and would lead to true (or at least good) theories about reality.

    My question is, do I understand you correctly, that you take science to be the one known reliable, evidence-based approach to true knowledge (or at least good theories) about reality?

    I have other further responses in mind, but I stand a real risk of running down rabbit trails if I have misunderstood the basis of your question, so I think it best to leave it at that for now.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    By the way, I’m looking at “Reality and Its Rivals” now.

    You may already know this, but FrontPage is not doing you favors in its formatting of your web pages. (It’s that Microsoft/Macintosh thing, apparently.) Firefox and Safari for Mac are both generating a lot of question mark icons where they don’t recognize characters in the text.

    Opera renders it just fine on the Mac–but you don’t find a lot of Opera users out there…

  8. Joseph A. says:

    Heya TomG,

    “Thorough-going naturalism by definition excludes a deity, or at least the sort of deity who intervenes in or stand in a causal relation to any events in the natural world.”

    I’d be tempted to agree. However, I also think that naturalism-so-defined is a strange, almost mutated kind of naturalism. It’s at once a statement that only the natural world exists, and a declaration about what qualifies as ‘part of the natural world’. That declaration, to me, comes across as hastily assembled – not a view that, naturally followed, leads to the exclusion of God. But a view that is developed specifically to exclude God to begin with.

    I’ll spare you the Bostrom/Chalmers paper, since it seems off-topic. But I think it does a good job of unintentionally highlighting some of the absurdities entailed by the view, with regards to modern (and envisioned future) technology.

  9. Tom Clark says:

    Tom G.,

    Many thanks for the useful preliminaries.

    You originally said “Science is not the only route to knowledge, and there is no scientific reason to believe that nature is all there is to reality or causation.” So I thought perhaps you had something particular in mind in the way of other routes to knowledge, and also something in mind besides nature (e.g., God) as a knowable part of reality.

    One possibility, as you suggest, would be a way of knowing that establishes “the existence of a [supernatural] God, or of a spiritual world understood as being inhabited by non-physical persons such as angels etc.”, in other words the supernatural realm of traditional Christianity. But I suspect that’s not what you had in mind.

    As you rightly surmise, I’m currently persuaded that science, or more broadly intersubjective empiricism involving publicly available evidence (as opposed to private experience, even if reported by millions), is the most reliable route to knowledge, and it reveals what we ordinarily call nature. Nature may or may not include categorically non-physical phenomena – that’s for observation and theory to finally decide. For instance (speaking to Joseph’s comments) Chalmers is a naturalistic dualist who thinks there might well be categorically mental phenomena *within* nature that connect to physical phenomena via psycho-physical laws. (I see multiverses, the quantum realm, computer simulations of virtual worlds, consciousness, etc. as being within nature as well.) What I don’t see is a reliable way of knowing that establishes the existence of something categorically supernatural or non-natural (theologian John Haught declines the label supernaturalist in favor of anti-naturalist). Having looked fairly closely at Haught’s work (see http://www.naturalism.org/projecting_god.htm ) and that of Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro (www.naturalism.org/objectivity.htm ), I’m looking for other theistic or anti-naturalist proposals about ways of knowing which rival science in reliability and which establish the existence of something non-natural. I hope this helps to narrow down my inquiry somewhat.

    (Sorry about FrontPage, I have to find an alternative, suggestions welcome.)

  10. SteveK says:

    I’m currently persuaded that science, or more broadly intersubjective empiricism involving publicly available evidence (as opposed to private experience, even if reported by millions), is the most reliable route to knowledge, and it reveals what we ordinarily call nature.

    The first thing that comes to my mind in these discussions is the knowledge you have of your own thoughts. This is something that science doesn’t have access to.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Tom,

    I’m multi-tasking in a different way now–reading your article on Reality and Its Rivals and thinking it through, while trying at the same time to focus my attention just on the questions you’ve asked here.

    I will try to stick with the latter project for now, though I’m sure we’ll want to interact on the article you wrote also. Yes, there are other sources of reliable knowledge than intersubjective empiricism. SteveK alluded to one: our awareness of our own experiences, our own thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, qualia, etc.

    There is also a kind of intersubjective rationalism that must be accounted for: the principles of mathematics and logic, primarily. I’m not sure how that fits into your epistemology. Note that while there is general intersubjective agreement exists in these realms, that agreement is now how we know the principles of math and logic are true. We know they are true because we can just “see” that they are, that they must be, that A=A, that not-A ≠ A, that 1+1=2, and so on. These are not matters of induction, of testing, or even of consensus. So although I granted the term intersubjective in the first sentence of this paragraph, surely it operates differently than the intersubjectivity of empiricism.

    And then I’m not sure how far you’ll stretch definitions to fit other kinds of experience into your epistemology. I was a music major; I know how to play trombone. How does that kind of skill knowledge fit into your epistemology? How about my knowledge of my own reactions to, say, Pat Metheny’s First Circle or Brahms’ Fourth Symphony? When I was studying music, was I studying science? There is knowledge there. Is it scientific? And what about history? What about simple conversation, in which, for example, my wife says “I wish we had some quarters here that I could use to run the vacuum through the car at the car wash”? What kind of empirical test am I performing on her statement to take it as a source of knowledge about what she is wishing?

    I think there may be a very deep problem with your intersubjective empiricism. It assumes there are other subjects with whom we may find agreement. Is there an intersubjective empiricist answer to the question, how do we know there are other subjects? Is intersubjectivity itself something that can be shown a fact through intersubjective empiricism?

    Well, of course I believe there are other subjects. But at this point I’m going to refer to your paper. The fact, the reality of intersubjectivity can be defended, certainly. But I would still like to see how you defend it, specifically to see whether you can do so without supplying arguments that could be applied equally as well to Haught’s religious experience argument–or Alvin Plantinga’s, in Warranted Christian Belief or God and Other Minds.

    Regarding FrontPage: I wish I had some good advice! Maybe someone else does…

    Further regarding your epistemology article. I want to say that I appreciate the fact that at least in your comments here, you are using the upper case G for “God,” even though you have not done so in other writings. Whatever you think of God, the word is a proper noun.

  12. Jon Wymer says:

    Thanks for an excellent discussion of whether or not there is more than what we can see, touch, and feel. My question is this: if science and material are all there is, aren’t the answers to all our problems just a moment away as soon as we can research enough? I would think they would already have the world’s problems figured out.

  13. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Science is a trivial extension of rational thinking. Rational thinking is not the same as logical thinking. Rational thinking is about avoiding subjective bias in one’s beliefs. Science’s primary function is the elimination of personal bias.

    Religion does the exact opposite. Religion is about the amplification of personal bias. I have been told on this blog that the evidence for God/Christianity is not enough to compel rational belief. In order to believe Christianity I need to amplify your personal bias in that direction. Furthermore, I have been told here that once I have given-in to this bias, I will see evidence in the form of answered prayers. Of course, in order to see this evidence, I have to use selection bias and ignore negative evidence. That way, I will see confirmation everywhere I look.

    BTW, there’s a really cool list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia.

    This is what this issue is really about. In order to escape bias, I need my claim to be testable, and generally, scientifically so. I need to be able to escape my own personal bias. Science facilitates this through controls. Mathematics does this through symbolic manipulation. I can take a math problem, break it up into smaller parts, and have many different people (or computers) work on the pieces. When I reassemble the results, I should be able to verify my result. I can even arrange it so that the processors don’t know what problem they’re working on. That way, I can eliminate biases like “I really want this theorem to be true”.

    Naturalism and physicalism assume axiomatically that we can think fairly rationally and that the world follows logical rules so that it is intelligible. There’s no point in asking how naturalism accounts for its own axioms. It never will. Indeed, these axioms are fundamental to ALL rational thinkers. It is NOT the case that Christians can account for logic. That would be circular because you can’t have a logical argument that God created logic without first assuming logic.

    Have you checked that A=A today? I know you have checked it in the past, but it may no longer be true today. Same with 1+1=2. I expect that, like me, you feel no need to check such results more than the first few times because you assume that it will never change. You assume that something so obvious has to be correct all the time. Well, this means you are assuming that your past mental/subjective experiences are a guide to future mental/subjective experiences. The name for this is induction.

    Thus, all rational thinkers implicitly assume induction, logic and that they’re experiencing what they’re experiencing. These are the essential axioms of science. Science isn’t something extra on top of rationality. It’s an extension of it.

  14. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    As for the OP… attempts to escape scientific verification are attempts to pander to personal bias. We don’t want to allow personal bias in science because that defeats the purpose of science. If we wanted bias, we could just dispense with science in the first place.

    But the primary mistake being made by ID advocates and by dualists is one of unproductive fine-tuning. Suppose I see a car accident. There are many theories that might explain the accident in principle. Brake failure. Driver intoxication, distraction, etc. Suppose I put forward the theory that all car accidents are directly caused by evil spirits. After studying the accident, we find that the brake lines were cut. We also find that the driver had a high blood alcohol level. Phone records indicate that the driver was on his cell phone at the time of the accident. Now suppose I continue to push my theory about evil spirits. Does the physical evidence at the crash make my theory more or less likely? (Let’s pretend that my claim is even semantically meaningful.) Answer: The physical evidence makes the theory less likely. Why? Because if evil spirits cause crashes, the brake likes don’t need to be cut. The driver need not be intoxicated. The driver need not be distracted. Sure, the evil spirits theory is compatible with any result we could find. However, the physical theory of accidents isn’t compatible with anything we might find. The physical theory is compatible only with what we actually found. To push the evil spirits theory, I have to fine-tune it – I have to say that the evil spirits prefer to act when there are also physical causes. I am modifying my evil spirits argument without paying any penalty, and that’s irrational.

    It’s like drawing a straight flush from a deck of cards and arguing that the deck is not sorted, but shuffled. Yes, it’s possible that it’s shuffled, but it’s not likely. You can say that we don’t know if the next card will be out of sort order, but that doesn’t change the odds. This is the situation with ID and dualism.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic), you say,

    Religion does the exact opposite. Religion is about the amplification of personal bias. I have been told on this blog that the evidence for God/Christianity is not enough to compel rational belief. In order to believe Christianity I need to amplify your personal bias in that direction.

    Personal bias is not a one-way street. In fact, I find it rather ironic that you only quoted part of what was said earlier. The evidence for God/Christianity is not enough to compel belief; neither is the evidence for no God/no Christianity. I wonder what led you to mention just one? After all, in order to believe in atheism or naturalism, I need to amplify your bias in that direction.

    As to the list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia, that’s pretty entertaining; it’s pretty familiar from grad school, in fact. That was one of the most entertaining parts of all our course work.

    In order to escape bias, I need my claim to be testable, and generally, scientifically so.

    But there is a huge bias built in right there! Don’t you see it? It’s blindingly obvious, and I’m going to let you look at it long enough to see it for yourself.

    It is NOT the case that Christians can account for logic. That would be circular because you can’t have a logical argument that God created logic without first assuming logic.

    Euthyphro revisited; same answer. God didn’t create logic, any more than he created good or evil.

    As for the OP… attempts to escape scientific verification are attempts to pander to personal bias.

    Who’s trying to escape scientific verification? Certainly not I! Whatever is appropriate for scientific verification ought to be verified scientifically. Verificationism is the problem–the self-defeating view that no view or thought is potentially true (or meaningful) unless it is susceptible to scientific verification. That one is deader than the proverbial dormouse. (I bet you thought I was going to say doornail, but we had some funny conversation over lunch today about a mouse in the oven mitts.)

    The rest of your second comment is very, very far afield from what ID theorists do, and especially from how we would approach mind-brain dualism or naturalism, so I’m just going to let it go without response.

  16. Tom Clark says:

    Tom G.,

    With respect to your post #11 addressed to me (Tom C.), you raise lots of interesting questions about epistemology and skepticism. But my original question to you was whether you had anything specific in mind when you said there were ways of knowing that establish that there’s more than nature, in particular God according to your specification. The claim that a divinity exists is a factual claim about reality, and I’m curious about the cognitive justification for it that you’d adduce, if you have one. As you know from “Reality and its rivals” at Naturalism.Org, I think appealing to subjective experience absent external corroboration doesn’t work because of the various biases introduced by perceptual distortions and culturally transmitted myths and conventions. Plantinga’s rationalist arguments assert that we can’t trust our own reason unless we assume a God-given supernatural truth-tracking capacity that transcends what evolution can explain. But he doesn’t tell us what that capacity might be or how it works, he offers no empirical evidence that it exists, and provides no account of how physical creatures like ourselves might instantiate and deploy it (see http://www.naturalism.org/plantinga.htm ). And scientific arguments for God’s existence such as ID tend to naturalize him (see for instance “Dembski, naturalist?” linked at http://naturalism.org/science.htm ).

    These obviously don’t exhaust the possibilities, so I’m wondering what your route to belief in God looks like (if indeed it’s possible to explain, it may not be). Again, this isn’t to dismiss or downplay the good points you raise about other sorts of knowledge, most of which I agree with except for the idea of first-person facts about basic qualities of experience (qualia, see http://www.naturalism.org/kto.htm ). And skepticism about other subjects/minds, which of course threatens just about *any* factual objective claim, about God or anything else, is yet another interesting issue. But as I said before, I’m looking for anti-naturalist proposals for how we can reliably know that there’s more than the natural world, in particular a non-natural divinity according to some specification. If you have one, I’d like to learn about it, if not, no problem.

    thanks,

    Tom Clark

    ps: I’m of course on board with most of what Dr. Logic said.

  17. SteveK says:

    Tom G. (that sure is awkward)

    Euthyphro revisited; same answer. God didn’t create logic, any more than he created good or evil.

    I found it interesting that if you take the Euthyphro dilemma here and reword it using the topic of ‘logical validity’ and ‘logic command theory’ you get the same result. Of course, you would substitute some naturalistic source for the ‘command’ instead of using God – examples include: randomness, your mind, matter and energy, the evolutionary process, etc.

  18. [...] Dualism Dueling With Science? is the title of the linked blog entry at Thinking Christian. Tom Gilson starts with this opening paragraph: There is a lively debate going on regarding two views of the mind: dualist vs. materialist. Last month’s New Scientist article, “Creationists Declare War Over the Brain,” prompted responses from several quarters, including one of my own. Dr. Steven Novella wrote a two-part response (Part One, Part Two), taking the opportunity especially to make swipes at Michael Egnor of the Discovery Institute who has written on the topic more than once. [...]

  19. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Personal bias is not a one-way street. In fact, I find it rather ironic that you only quoted part of what was said earlier. The evidence for God/Christianity is not enough to compel belief; neither is the evidence for no God/no Christianity.

    You should be able to see the difference between the two cases. As Carrier says, everyone is atheist about some gods and agnostic about others. I’m agnostic about the God who uses all his powers to ensure that we never have any evidence to believe in him, and atheist about the God who ensures we have overwhelming evidence to believe in him. I think you would say exactly the same. However, you believe in a god who is somewhere between the two. “Atheists” are those who are atheist or agnostic about ALL gods.

    Now let’s turn around what you said. Evidence for belief in monsters under the bed is not enough to compel belief. You could argue that these monsters might be somehow ethereal, and hard to detect. Should I believe in monsters under the bed, or should I be atheist or agnostic about them? Clearly, I should be atheist about the easy to detect monsters, and agnostic about the impossible (or nearly so) monsters. That makes me a monster-under-the-bed atheist because I do not believe in monsters under the bed.

    Our situations are not analogous. You have a belief (in God) that is not rationally justified. I do not have a belief.

    Actually, I don’t go far enough. There’s lots of evidence about human bias. That means that even if God did not exist, you would believe in God when you ignore or amplify your bias. It’s far more likely that your God is conjured up by human bias over the centuries than that he actually exists. So I believe your God is fictitious. There’s plenty of evidence to compel that belief.

    Again, this cannot be turned around. You and I both believe in bias because of rationally compelling evidence. You, in addition, believe in God without rationally compelling evidence, and, therefore, due to bias. The only thing I am believing in here is the bias. To make symmetry between our positions, you would have to believe only in the bias too.

    It is NOT the case that Christians can account for logic. That would be circular because you can’t have a logical argument that God created logic without first assuming logic.

    Euthyphro revisited; same answer. God didn’t create logic, any more than he created good or evil.

    Okay, well you said:

    There is also a kind of intersubjective rationalism that must be accounted for: the principles of mathematics and logic, primarily… These are not matters of induction, of testing, or even of consensus.

    You are presumably “accounting” for this rationalism by way of God. Either that is circular, or you’re not actually accounting for it.

    (I’m also disputing the idea that deductive claims are not inductive in the philosophical sense. We may intuit some things, but rational conclusions go beyond intuitions. I can intuit how to walk before understanding physics and inductive inference. That doesn’t mean I can do physics without induction, and, likewise, I can’t do math without induction.)

    Verificationism is the problem–the self-defeating view that no view or thought is potentially true (or meaningful) unless it is susceptible to scientific verification.

    You’re talking about a charicature of a theory that was current back in the 1930’s. IOW, it’s a straw man.

    You are simply brushing aside the issue of cognitive bias and what we can do to defend against it. I went to some lengths in my previous comment to explain that there are measures we can take to defend against bias in the field of mathematics (you don’t have to call them science). But instead, you pretend I said that everything needs to be done in some sort of physics lab. Why do you pretend to believe that I think all philosophical statements need to be scientifically tested? You should know by now that this is not my view.

    The rest of your second comment is very, very far afield from what ID theorists do, and especially from how we would approach mind-brain dualism or naturalism, so I’m just going to let it go without response.

    Again, you’re dismissing the most important points. In what way is the card analogy broken? I have NEVER received a sensible answer from thiests on these questions. ID theories and dualist theories are horribly fine-tuned, but the supernaturalists just walk around as if not noticing the elephant in the room.

  20. SteveK says:

    DL,

    You have a belief (in God) that is not rationally justified.

    I don’t think this is true at all.

    You may appreciate Dr. Bill Craig’s podcasts on the subject of reasonable faith, knowledge, evidence, etc. Here are two that I found interesting and informative. One and Two.

  21. [...] posts here on the first):Reports of the Demise of Materialism Are Premature – Part II (see also: Dualism Dueling With Science? With all this discussion of materialism I guess I should define it. Put simply, it is the [...]

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Just a quick check-in note. I’ve been away from the computer and Internet almost all of today and much of yesterday. I’m planning to jump back into this discussion soon–tomorrow morning, probably. Sorry I’ve been absent in the meantime.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    Tom C.

    Now I have opportunity at last to respond to your main question. I’m continuing to read through several articles from your website, with great interest. It has been a busy week complicated by downtime due to a chest cold.

    Anyway, the question was,

    I’m curious about the other routes to knowledge you have in mind and the basis for their reliability.

    I’m going to answer your question by challenging the adequacy of the premise on which it’s based. My understanding of that underlying premise is drawn from your paper “Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistemology First.”

    I take it that when you ask about a basis for reliability, you are wondering what there is in other routes to knowledge that assures us we are free of bias and subjectivity in our pursuit of truth. Obviously that’s a high virtue in any epistemic pursuit. Even more obvious, possibly, is the fact that non-scientific approaches to knowledge have led persons and groups to wildly divergent opinions about the nature of reality, and that there seems to be no universally-agreed test to show which (if any) is right and which are wrong. The fallibility problem of which you speak is very real. It has led to considerable harm in the world (I would not agree with your entire list of what falls into that category, but I do not deny the general magnitude of it).

    Your paper leaves me with the sense, however, that you consider intersubjective objectivity virtually the only epistemological virtue, the only test of a given systems epistemic adequacy. (It subsumes what you call the “insulation requirement” and the “public object requirement.”)

    There is another epistemic virtue that seems entirely missing from intersubjective objectivity, with the public object requirement in special focus. It assumes a priori that every real thing is, in principle, susceptible to public observation (direct or indirect). It will identify those aspects of reality and acknowledge their existence, but if there is any other aspect to reality, your epistemology makes it both unknowable and probably also not even real.

    Now Christianity does call upon a large body of public knowledge, both in natural theology and in reference to historical data. That the universe, including time and space, had a beginning seems to count as evidence in favor of an all-powerful person who began in. The universally experienced phenomenon of having free will (though you say it is unscientific) is a publicly shared datum that counts against strict naturalism. I could multiply examples–and I’m well aware you could multiply counter-arguments–but I’ll save that for later (see below for a proposal on that).

    But let us suppose for the sake of argument that the Christian God exists, that he is an immaterial being, that he chooses to make himself known to humans in a manner that respects their free will either to acknowledge him or not. Your epistemology makes such a God unknowable, even if he exists. That seems to me to be a huge fault. It is possible that your rules of knowledge wipe out a very, very huge, central, foundational feature of the core of all reality. It’s like mandating that we must always look at the entire world through a red gel filter (the type that lighting techs place in front of stage lights) at the entire world. Following that rule we can confidently pronounce the color white is an illusion, a false rumor.

    The difficulty is illustrated by these quotes from “Reality and Its Rivals.”

    These statements suggest that faith-based religions, or more broadly, non-empirically based worldviews, might have domains of epistemic competence, for instance in knowing about the supernatural, paranormal or astrological. This in turn suggests that there might be reliable and objective understandings of these domains, lending support to the idea they actually exist.

    The emphasis there is mine; the clause seems to imply you are convinced such domains do not exist–none of them. (I agree the paranormal, generally speaking, or astrological are unsupported and unsupportable claims.)

    intersubjective empiricism: it has no rival when it comes to modeling reality in any domain that’s claimed to exist.

    It actually has no competence in any domain except the physical.

    science as it’s commonly practiced manifestly does not make any commitment to naturalism…. [and later] science cannot be accused of dogmatism.

    That stands in significant tension to:

    Should science find public, reproducible evidence for intelligent design, including a specification of the designer and a clear account of its mode of operation, all this would perforce be incorporated into our best intersubjective picture of the world. The more reliable and convincing this account, and the more integrated with the rest of what we reliably know, the less tempted we would be to call such design supernatural. By illuminating the connections between phenomena of vastly different scales and types, science is inherently monistic in showing the unity of reality.

    If science is inherently monistic, and the only route to knowledge, and if nothing else ought to be believed to exist but what science reveals, then science is dogmatic with respect to non-material reality.

    Thus I think you have asked your initial basis from a perspective that’s flawed. Yes, where science is competent, it is very competent. To assume that this paradigm example of one form of competence should be taken as the sole example of epistemic competence is a very serious mistake, however.

    And yet I haven’t answered your question yet. I recognize this, and I apologize for that; but you and I both know how tricky it can be to respond to a question when it’s based on premises you don’t accept. There is much, much more to be said about all this.

    I alluded earlier to a proposal for another, perhaps better way to carry on this discussion. I have been looking for the right person to propose this to: a skeptic with regard to Christianity who writes intelligently, articulately, and with respect for the opposing position, on topics that are of central interest to me and possibly to others. Another criterion I’ve been holding out for: writing under one’s own name, rather than a pseudonym. It only seems fair to have a level playing field in that respect.

    I will send you an email with more on this proposal.

  24. Tom Gilson says:

    doctor(logic)

    With all respect, Carrier is misguided, I’m afraid. I’ve addressed this earlier. Atheists do not just lack belief; they believe in a certain kind of universe, one that utterly lacks any non-material transcendence. (See the link for more.)

    Our situations are not analogous. You have a belief (in God) that is not rationally justified. I do not have a belief.

    I do see what you’re saying. There are two situations that are not provable:

    A) There is a God as understood through Christianity.
    B) There is no such God (or any other).

    Since neither A nor B is rationally provable, no person should believe either A or B.

    But I consider that A, while not apodictically demonstrable, is far more plausible than not-A.

    There’s lots of evidence about human bias. That means that even if God did not exist, you would believe in God when you ignore or amplify your bias. It’s far more likely that your God is conjured up by human bias over the centuries than that he actually exists. So I believe your God is fictitious. There’s plenty of evidence to compel that belief.

    Interesting. You just said you don’t have a belief; now you’re saying you have a belief that my God is fictitious. And you say that this cannot be turned around; that the charge of a belief produced through bias cannot be made against you.

    You and I both believe in bias because of rationally compelling evidence. You, in addition, believe in God without rationally compelling evidence, and, therefore, due to bias. The only thing I am believing in here is the bias.

    I’ve heard you many times in many conversations here speak of many other things you believe. You believe there is no God; or at least you choose to act as if there is none, which is a belief-based choice.

    I keep telling myself I need to write a post about the disingenuous (but common) claim, atheism is not a belief. But not yet.

    Regarding intersubjective rationalism, I think you missed the context in which I was saying that. I wasn’t saying it can only be accounted for theistically. That’s a claim that could probably be pressed, but I wasn’t attempting that there. I was saying that intersubjective empiricism is not the only form of knowledge.

    The way your card analogy is broken may be my fault, not yours: I couldn’t figure out what you were saying, or how it was relevant to the discussion. Maybe I should just ask you to try again if you wish to do so.

    Somebody just showed up for an unexpected visit. That’s the way blogging is over the holidays… I’m going to post this incomplete and un-proofread, and hope I haven’t said something stupid (at least, nothing stupider than usual).

  25. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    As usual, my writing seems clear to me, but my message doesn’t seem to get across to anyone. :P

    I’ll give it another shot.

    When you rationally believe a proposition P, you rationally believe that you have justification for P that goes beyond personal bias (unless P is a proposition about personal bias).

    Now, suppose that I do not believe P. Not believing P is not the same as believing not P (~P).

    If I don’t believe P, then either I am confident that ~P, or I have no confidence in either P or ~P. (I can be atheist about P, or agnostic about P.)

    Suppose P refers to belief in the existence of any god or gods. In that case, the P theory advances many possibilities:

    1) P with god(s) obviously present.
    2) P with god(s) impossible to see.
    3) P with god(s) who have yet to be seen.

    In case (2), the world would look no different if the gods existed or not, and so I am prevented from ever finding out whether P is true or false. Clearly, I ought to be agnostic towards the gods of case (2). If not agnostic, I probably should consider whether claim (2) is even meaningful because existence requires a possibility of detection.

    The Christian god is presumably an instance of case (3). IMO, there is overwhelming evidence against such a god from evolutionary biology. That’s why I am atheist about Christianity’s god.

    But in contrast to Christians, I am not pandering to my own bias. I can point to specific rational claims against the existence of the Christian god. Also, there are lots of experiments, lots of ways that God could prove himself to exist to me. He could show up and have a conversation with me, and then submit to testing so that we can see his magical powers. God seemed perfectly happy to show himself to the world in the old days (if the stories are to be believed), why not now? I’m open to the evidence. What I’m not open to is personal bias.

    However, you reject the ability to test God in this way. I think the alleged reasons for this rejection are specious. Christianity didn’t predict God would hide from humanity. In my experience, Christians are all too happy to predict God will show up in various ways. No, the idea of God hiding is a rationalization for why God has never shown up and proven himself.

    You admitted in your response to Tom C that you reject naturalism because it rules-out belief in a god who hides from us. Why is that a problem for you? Remember, it doesn’t rule out the existence of a god who hides from us. It rules out rational belief in the existence of a god who hides from us.

    Christianity is consistently pro-bias because, without bias, there’s no way to believe in a hiding god. This is why churches say “give us a chance, believe in God, and then you’ll see prayers answered.” What they mean is “bias yourself, and walk into a trap in which everything looks like confirmation.” Personally, I find this to be offensive and dishonest behavior (not that I expect anyone here to care what I feel).

    Have a good turkey day! :)

  26. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Back to the card analogy. I’ll try to state it as a Bayesian probability problem.

    I have two theories, theory A and theory B. Each predicts a different likelihood for the states of evidence we might find. Suppose theory A predicts equal likelihood for finding evidence in state E1 and evidence in state E2. Theory B predicts that we won’t find evidence in state E1, but only in state E2. We look at the evidence and find it to be in state E2. Which theory is more likely to be true?

    Well, theory A predicts one of the following:

    A with E1
    A with E2

    and theory B predicts

    B with E2

    Finding E2 helps theory B, and hurts theory A because it rules out half the possibilities that A was advancing.

    Suppose the theories also predict results in another context/experiment. Theory A predicts equal weight for finding evidence in states K1 and K2. Theory B predicts we will only find evidence in state K2. We look at the evidence in this new context and find the evidence to be in state K2. Which theory is helped by finding this result?

    As before, theory B is advanced.

    However, the problem for theory A is cumulative. Theory A predicted one of

    A with E1 and K1
    A with E1 and K2
    A with E2 and K1
    A with E2 and K2

    while B predicted

    B with E2 and K2

    I’m sure you can see that the problem has become progressively worse for theory B. 75% of the possibilities advanced by A have been ruled out, while B is undamaged.

    Now suppose we move into another testing context in which we have two possible results, L1 and L2. Again, A is fine with L1 and L2, and B is fine only with L2. Due to the data from the past experiments, A advocates are advancing the following possibilities:

    A with E2, K2, and L1
    A with E2, K2, and L2

    while B is advancing its original proposition:

    B with E2, K2, and L2.

    Here, theory A has been fine-tuned. Possibilities of A that were ruled out by past experience are being excluded. We’re excluding possibilities like:

    A with E1, K1 and L2.

    Going into this experiment, how confident should we be in theory A? Is A just as likely as B?

    Answer: we should think theory B is more likely to be true than theory A!!

    If you disagree, then I want to play poker with you!! :)

    I’ll apply this back to the deck of cards. Theory A is that the cards are shuffled. Theory B is the theory they are sorted. E is the first card draw, K is the second card draw, L is the third. The sorted deck theory (B) says the cards have to draw 2, 3, 4 of clubs. The shuffled deck theory (A) says that the draws can be 2 of clubs or not, 3 of clubs or not, 4 of clubs or not. We draw 2, 3, 4 of clubs. Does it make sense to say that the fine-tuned theory A is competitive with theory B?

    No. We cannot just throw out scenarios of theory A without penalty. We would be ignoring cases of A like

    Theory A with King of hearts, Jack of diamonds, and 5 of spades.

    If we want to ignore such cases, we have to factor that into our likelihood estimates.

    Evolutionary biology and neuroscience make specific predictions about what we have to see. We have to see common descent, we have to see a progression of species, we have to see central nervous systems with causal links, we have to see brains with computing ability, etc. Dualism and ID do not predict these things. They are perfectly happy with other things. God could have created a world in which we think but don’t have brains, or in which species aren’t connected by common descent or common composition (e.g., rabbits could be robots).

    But ID advocates and dualists simply pretend that they can fine-tune their theories (eliminating the robot rabbits and brainless thinkers) without paying a penalty.

    One more thing I want to add: an explanation for why supernatural claims will never gain traction. What does theory A have to do to catch up with theory B?

    To catch up, theory A has to be specific. Theory A has to be consistent with something narrow where theory B is consistent with something broad. Then you do the experiment, and if theory A’s possibilities are vindicated, theory A gains traction over theory A. Of course, the strength of theory A’s prediction has to be weighed against the strength of B’s, so A can win a round without winning the match, but at least A can come back.

    The problem with supernatural claims is that they generally do not make predictions. Suppose God designed the species. In order to convince us of this, you need to create a predictive model of God that says what he would design and why. You have to set things up so that evolution could do anything, but God would do something specific. You’ll never get there unless you’re willing to talk about the designer.

  27. SteveK says:

    Answer: we should think theory B is more likely to be true than theory A!!

    I’m reminded of a short example Dr. Craig gave in one of the podcasts I linked to above.

    You know you’re innocent of a particular crime that you have been charged with – you’ve been framed – and so you put together evidence hoping to convince a jury that you are innocent. The prosecuting attorney does the same to try and prove you are guilty. Unfortunately for you, “Theory B” wins out and you are declared guilty because the Bayesian analysis showed it was the better theory to believe in. But you’re not guilty!!

    Dr. Craig’s point is there are ways of knowing that don’t require that we rely on evidence, argument or, in this case, statistical analysis. God can be known this way.

    (NOTE: If you’re talking about science and ID, not God, then my comment is off the mark)

  28. Doctor Logic says:

    Steve,

    Unfortunately for you, “Theory B” wins out and you are declared guilty because the Bayesian analysis showed it was the better theory to believe in. But you’re not guilty!!

    I think you (or, rather, Craig) have this analogy backwards. You and I are the jury, and God is the suspect. God knows he exists, and our sound reasoning says he probably doesn’t.

    Of course, in a typical court case the suspect may be unable to cough up the evidence that would clear him. Not so with God.

    You are essentially arguing for a biased jury. Suppose you are on the jury, and before you even hear the charges, you look at the defendant and decide he seems like a bad guy. The trial proceeds and you find that the prosecution’s case is empty and pathetic. Should you think it likely that the defendant is guilty? Should you discount your bias? Or should you cling to your bias and assume it very likely that the defendant is guilty?

    I can make this scenario even worse. Suppose again that your intuitive preconception is that the defendant is guilty. Consequently, discount all evidence in the defendant’s favor as some sort of elaborate deception, and accept only damning evidence from the prosecution. Will you reach a rational conclusion about the guilt of the defendant? No. We would say that you were being a bad juror, and that your conclusion was set before you ever heard the evidence.

    Dr. Craig’s point is there are ways of knowing without resorting to evidence, argument or statistical analysis. God can be known this way.

    Craig is just making excuses for believing despite the rational case against belief.

    Let’s go back to the trial story, but use it in a different way. Suppose that you are the defendant. Why do you believe you are innocent? Do you have reasons for believing so?

    There are at least two major reasons you believe you are innocent. First, you don’t remember committing the crime. Second, you remember doing something else instead (i.e., you remember experiencing your alibi).

    Why would you think that these are valid reasons for believing you are innocent?

    You assume two principles implicitly. Statistically, you remember significant actions you have taken, and, statistically, you don’t remember significant actions you have not taken. Roughly speaking, you have taken a significant action if and only if you remember taking it. There might be rare exceptions to the rule, but that doesn’t make the rule thoroughly unreliable, it just makes it slightly less than airtight.

    Back to the trial. The reason you know you are innocent and the jury doesn’t is that you have information they don’t have (i.e., your memories). They would agree with your reasoning and you would agree with theirs. Both are rational. If there were ways to read a suspect’s memory, the jury would agree with you and clear you. (Well, up to a point. If you remember walking on the Moon in nothing but your pajamas, the jury would think your memory faulty, and you probably ought to side with the jury, too!)

    So Craig is 100% wrong. You don’t just magically have knowledge. That would be superstitious nonsense. Rather, you have statistical, Bayesian-approved reasons for knowing what you know. The difference isn’t in HOW you know versus how the jury knows. You and the jury are essentially following the same rules. The difference is in the information available to you versus the jury.

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    There’s more to what Craig says about this that must be included. I haven’t listened to these lectures so I don’t know if he said it there, but it’s in his book Reasonable Faith. It applies directly to this:

    The difference isn’t in HOW you know versus how the jury knows. You and the jury are essentially following the same rules. The difference is in the information available to you versus the jury.

    Craig distinguishes, rightly, between knowing and showing. We can know that God exists, and more, by the working of the Holy Spirit within us. Plantinga, in Warranted Christian Belief lays out an extended explanation of how this is a rational position to take for those who take it, given certain other conditions of their being epistemically responsible about how they evaluate evidences.

    Simply put, given the evidences, it is possible that God exists. Some people (myself included) look at the evidences and say that God’s existence is considerably more plausible than his non-existence. Others disagree. A believer such as myself (or Craig or Plantinga or the apostle Paul in the Bible) would say that we have more working for us than just the evidences: we have the witness of the Holy Spirit. By his working we have strong assurance of the knowledge of God. We can know that God is real; and this knowledge can be as assured to us as the knowledge of any other phenomenal experience or inner state. It can be as assured to me as the knowledge that right now my toe doesn’t hurt but my shoulder is a bit tender. God can do that, and I am quite convinced that he does do that.

    But none of us would put that forward as an apologetic argument to convince someone who does not have the same experience, that same sensus divinitatis. That’s not a valid expectation.

    So Craig is not 100% wrong in light of that. He is not claiming “magical knowledge,” for one thing. He claims there is knowledge that comes by direct experience of God. Knowledge by direct experience is certainly not outside of human expectations!

    The reason you know you are innocent and the jury doesn’t is that you have information they don’t have (i.e., your memories).

    The reason Steve knows there is a God and you don’t is that he has information you do not have (i.e. his experience of God).

    This leads to other questions, obviously, including the one Tom Clark raises with respect to fallibility of belief, and also questions relating to who is granted that knowledge and who is not. I don’t mind taking those issues up later, but the point I want to make for now is this: there is nothing irrational or incoherent in the proposition that God can provide assurance of knowledge of himself to persons as he chooses, by means other than publicly available evidence. This allows one to know truths about God. It is not something that anyone would (or at least should) say is capable of providing evidence to show another person any truths about God.

    There are, as you know, a whole host of publicly available evidences for God, open to public discussion. That’s a different topic than the one Steve has raised just now.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Doctor(logic), in response to this:

    Dualism and ID do not predict these things. They are perfectly happy with other things. God could have created a world in which we think but don’t have brains, or in which species aren’t connected by common descent or common composition (e.g., rabbits could be robots).

    why would it surprise you that the outcomes are fine-tuned for a universe created by God, if indeed the universe were created by God?

    Or otherwise: how are you going to run a Bayesian analysis of what God would do? What are your prior probabilities based on? What background knowledge of God are you calling on, to show what the probabilities really are of God creating robot-rabbits? What makes you think God would have wanted to create a world in which we could think but not have brains? Can you run a Bayesian analysis without some basis for that opinion? Of course not.

    And have you noticed the evidences that don’t run the direction the atheist predicts, like the missing-fossils-of-the-gaps theory, that says “oops, we were wrong about our predictions of innumerable transitional forms, but hey, we can wave that off!” Or the (well-debunked) theory that says the earth is just an ordinary planet, with nothing special about its position relative to its sun, its moon, its other solar system members, the galaxy in which it sits? You have a lot of unfulfilled predictions to deal with. If theory B predicts E2, and E3 is found, then your analogy is considerably weakened.

    The problem with supernatural claims is that they generally do not make predictions. Suppose God designed the species. In order to convince us of this, you need to create a predictive model of God that says what he would design and why. You have to set things up so that evolution could do anything, but God would do something specific. You’ll never get there unless you’re willing to talk about the designer.

    In order to conduct your Bayesian analysis you need your own predictive analysis of what God would design and why. I invite you to develop it and apply it. Have fun.

    There are several overarching predictions in the ID program: one is that undirected evolution will be found to be inadequate to have done what has been claimed for it. Another is that the information that exists in life cannot be shown to be an exception to the general rule that information comes from minds. Another is that no viable theory for the formation of the first life by unguided means will be forthcoming. (In the meantime, ID calls naturalist OOL’s bluff: “future science of the gaps” answers get low marks for credibility.) There are many sub-predictions under these.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    dl,

    It just occurred to me–and it’s too late in the evening to write out the full development of it–that your card-shuffling analogy has the same fatal flaw that I pointed out earlier in Tom Clark’s epistemology. It creates a situation, a set of rules, under which there is no possibility of discovering evidence for God in any possible world, including worlds where God actually exists and has revealed himself. Therefore it rules God out illegitimately.

    I’ll have to explain that further tomorrow. As I said, it’s late now.

  32. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Craig distinguishes, rightly, between knowing and showing. We can know that God exists, and more, by the working of the Holy Spirit within us

    No, you can’t know. Beliefs are not validated or justified by your own bias. Belief in X does not validate belief in X, and how you feel about belief in X does not validate belief in X.

    You know about cognitive bias and psychology. You know that people often believe what they want to believe, and that people claim direct knowledge (especially psychics). You know that such claims are false whenever they are testable. So you have positive evidence that the kinds of justification you are using are generally useless when we have the ability to test them. Why should such forms of justification be reliable when the claims cannot be tested?

    So Craig is not 100% wrong in light of that. He is not claiming “magical knowledge,” for one thing. He claims there is knowledge that comes by direct experience of God. Knowledge by direct experience is certainly not outside of human expectations!

    You seem to contradict yourself in this paragraph. He most certainly is claiming magical knowledge. God uses magic, not technology.

    The only knowledge we get (without inference) from direct experience is knowledge of the direct experience. It’s trivial. If I see something that looks red, then I get knowledge that I see something red. If I see something balloon-shaped, I get direct knowledge that I see something balloon-shaped. However, I do not get direct knowledge that I see a red balloon. I have to infer that. Perhaps after handling red balloons enough, I might know them more directly when I see them. This doesn’t apply to belief in an invisible God.

  33. Doctor Logic says:

    Why would it surprise you that the outcomes are fine-tuned for a universe created by God, if indeed the universe were created by God?

    Fine-tuned to be the way we find it, no matter how we find it? Everything is fine-tuned in this way, even physical theories.

    Fine-tuning doesn’t mean that someone is fine-tuning a knob on a radio set. It refers to the exclusion of other alternatives without accounting for why they were excluded. Fine-tuning is not a sin in itself. However, when weighing two theories, the more fine-tuned theory is at a disadvantage unless the fine-tuning enables it to predict its way out of debt. If supersymmetry is discovered at LHC, it will result in a theory with many more fine-tuned parameters. The reason it will beat the Standard Model is that it makes strong predictions in exchange for the fine-tuning. God theory isn’t making strong predictions in exchange for its fine-tuning.

    What background knowledge of God are you calling on, to show what the probabilities really are of God creating robot-rabbits? What makes you think God would have wanted to create a world in which we could think but not have brains? Can you run a Bayesian analysis without some basis for that opinion? Of course not.

    God is compatible with many possible worlds. There’s nothing he could not arrange. He can blend intervention and non-physicality in with physicality in arbitrary proportion. We could have been 99% non-physical and 1% physical, or the reverse. Even if we were 99% physical, God did not need us to look evolved. He could intervene continuously to provide us with food, etc.

    Are you saying that because I don’t know exactly how to spread the probabilities, I can’t infer anything at all?

    I gave a deck of cards example. I did not specify how the cards were shuffled. Maybe there are 50 people who might have shuffled the cards, and they have varying levels of shuffling ability. Card shuffling never is totally random, anyway. Are you saying that if I deal an ascending straight flush of the deck, I can’t say anything about whether it was shuffled?

    I don’t have to put a firm number on the weighting of final states in order to make a rational judgment, and I can still be pretty sure that the deck is sorted. Maybe the odds of drawing a low-ball straight flush from a human-shuffled deck aren’t exactly 311 million to 1 as with perfect shuffling, but would you think I was unreasonable if I said that it was 10 thousand to 1 against the deck having been shuffled?

    like the missing-fossils-of-the-gaps theory, that says “oops, we were wrong about our predictions of innumerable transitional forms

    You are attacking naive assumptions about the mechanisms of fossilization and evolution, not the theory itself.

    If evolutionary biology is correct, species evolved from a common ancestor (or a small ancient number of such). We can make simplifying assumptions, such as the assumption that evolution proceeds at a constant rate, and that instances of every species get fossilized. These assumptions are not central to the theory, but the simplest possible case.

    It turns out that such simple assumptions are wrong. Evolution does not proceed at a constant speed, and only a tiny minority of species get fossilized and survive to the present. But constant speed and universal fossilization are not implied by the theory. They were just simplifying assumptions about the mechanism. That these assumptions were wrong has no impact on the central claims of evolution.

    Your argument is like me saying that divine creation is wrong because it took millions of years more than 6 days. In response, you can claim that God created the universe, and that shoving that creation all into 6 small, equally-long periods is a simplifying assumption that’s not central to the theory. (Actually your criticism is far weaker than that because Genesis actually says it was 6 days.) I expect you would argue this, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t bother criticizing 6-day creation arguments. I think there are much better arguments.

    In the case of evolution, we find common descent, we find transitional fossils (if not all of them equally spaced as if in a constant speed evolution), and a mountain of genetic evidence confirming evolution.

    There are several overarching predictions in the ID program: one is that undirected evolution will be found to be inadequate to have done what has been claimed for it.

    So the theory that the deck is shuffled predicts that the next card will be… well, it doesn’t say what the next card will be. It just says that it might not be what you expect if it is sorted.

    Another is that the information that exists in life cannot be shown to be an exception to the general rule that information comes from minds.

    There is no such rule. This has already been proven false by genetic algorithms.

    Another is that no viable theory for the formation of the first life by unguided means will be forthcoming. (In the meantime, ID calls naturalist OOL’s bluff: “future science of the gaps” answers get low marks for credibility.) There are many sub-predictions under these.

    The low-ball straight flush has just been dealt off the top of the deck. I’m saying the deck is almost certainly sorted. Are you going to accuse me of issuing the “promissory note” of sorting theorists? Or maybe a future sorting theory of the gaps? Or bias against shuffling theorists?

  34. [...] Gilson, in a post called Dualism Dueling With Science?, discusses the opposing exchanges between neuroscientist, Michael Egnor, of the Discovery Institute, [...]

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    No, you can’t know. Beliefs are not validated or justified by your own bias. Belief in X does not validate belief in X, and how you feel about belief in X does not validate belief in X.

    I didn’t say it was my own bias that validated my belief. Please re-read.

    You seem to contradict yourself in this paragraph. He most certainly is claiming magical knowledge. God uses magic, not technology.

    Okay, class, listen well as I explain knowledge. There are two routes to knowledge:
    1. Technology
    2. Magic

    Because these are the only two routes to knowledge, what we do not know by technology we know by magic. Except that there really isn’t such a thing as magic leading to knowledge, so that what we do not know by technology we do not know.

    Okay, doctor(logic), I know that’s not how you view epistemology. But it sure is a glaring false dichotomy if I ever saw one!

    The only knowledge we get (without inference) from direct experience is knowledge of the direct experience. It’s trivial.

    Wrong. I just had a direct experience of reading the sentences, “The only knowledge we get (without inference) from direct experience is knowledge of the direct experience. It’s trivial.” I gained knowledge from that reading, directly.

    I’m not saying the experience of God is a bare uninterpreted quale. It is an experience that enters in with other experiences and knowledge, and part of a network of inferences.

    But it is also more than an impression. It is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit (Romans 8:16) to the fact that we are children of God. God is not some deaf dumb blind mute ghost. What he wants to communicate, he can communicate. Therefore this is not applicable to the situation.

    Perhaps after handling red balloons enough, I might know them more directly when I see them. This doesn’t apply to belief in an invisible God.

    God is invisible but not incapable.

    As for the fine-tuning discussion you brought up in your most recent comment, I need more time to develop an answer in modal logic, which I think is the right approach to this issue. Since it’s a holiday, I may just decide to let that slide until later. But I will answer this:

    Are you saying that because I don’t know exactly how to spread the probabilities, I can’t infer anything at all?

    Bayesian probabilities include a term for prior probabilities based on background knowledge. Your equation, as I read it, calls for a background knowledge estimate of how probable it is that God would create a world like this one as opposed to another kind of world. That’s the number you need to insert into the equation to make it valid and complete, I believe, unless I’m misreading you completely. So I’m saying you don’t have that prior probability estimate, and you have no place applying Bayesian analysis in this case.

    But I could be wrong about that, no doubt. My full answer will be modal rather than Bayesian.

    The discussions about evidences for evolution is an old one and often-repeated, so again, since it’s a family day and the kids are waking up at last, I’m going to let it pass.

  36. Paul says:

    Tom, could you describe in positive terms what this direct perception of God or the Holy Spirit is like?

  37. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Why does Paul often get straight to the point in one line while it takes me 15 paragraphs?

    Like Paul, I want to know what this direct knowledge is like. It sounds to me exactly like personal bias. That is, you have a gut feeling that you’re right.

    Have you ever had a gut feeling that X was true, only later to discover that it wasn’t true? If so, how is this different? It seems to me that the only difference is that no evidence can challenge your gut belief.

    Why are you reacting so negatively to the word ‘magic’? How does God’s power differ from magic?

    I just had a direct experience of reading the sentences, “The only knowledge we get (without inference) from direct experience is knowledge of the direct experience. It’s trivial.” I gained knowledge from that reading, directly.

    So learning English, and associating words with familiar experiences had nothing to do with it?

    Doesn’t language learning require Bayesian analysis, albeit informal analysis? Suppose you can’t speak French, and you’re dropped on an alien world where only French is spoken. You see a man look up at the sky at night, point and say étoile. You develop theories about the meaning of this word. It might mean dark, night, cloud, star, moon, moonlight, Milky Way, planet, Mars, space, God, etc. How will you distinguish between the theories? You’ll perform tests. If people say étoile when it’s cloudy, it’s less likely they are referring to astronomical objects. If the night is moonless, you’ll think it more likely that étoile does not mean Moon. Anyway, you know how the story goes.

    The same applies when we learn our native tongue. That means that interpreting a sentence is an inference from past experiences, essentially an approximately Bayesian inference.

    There’s little or no knowledge that doesn’t arrive by this approximate Bayesian method. Direct sensations are assumed to be knowledge by virtue of an assumption that they are knowledge. However, direct sensations have no implications. Seeing red by itself doesn’t imply anything except that I am seeing red. Implications of a sensation are always derived by Bayesian reasoning.

    Except, we are supposed to believe, for your “knowledge” of God. You somehow gain some direct knowledge of God (which has, we presume, lots of consequences and implications) without that knowledge being an inference. How does that work? It would be the only knowledge of its kind.

    But it is also more than an impression. It is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit (Romans 8:16) to the fact that we are children of God. God is not some deaf dumb blind mute ghost. What he wants to communicate, he can communicate. Therefore this is not applicable to the situation.

    I guess this brings up the same question Paul asked, because I don’t know what this means. It sounds circular to me.

  38. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Bayesian probabilities include a term for prior probabilities based on background knowledge. Your equation, as I read it, calls for a background knowledge estimate of how probable it is that God would create a world like this one as opposed to another kind of world. That’s the number you need to insert into the equation to make it valid and complete, I believe, unless I’m misreading you completely. So I’m saying you don’t have that prior probability estimate, and you have no place applying Bayesian analysis in this case.

    Two things. First, prior probabilities generally refers to our initial confidence in the various theories. If the theories are supernatural design versus evolution, the priors would be our initial confidence in each theory. Let’s just say it’s 50/50.

    The second thing you are referring to is the distribution of probabilities for observations given each theory. Basically, what we want to know is the probability of finding the world to look evolved when it was actually supernaturally designed. You are saying, and I agree, that we cannot determine this probability with much precision. We probably cannot even get an accurate assessment of its order of magnitude! However, it is patently obvious that the probability of finding the world looking evolved after it has been supernaturally designed is many orders of magnitude smaller than finding a world not evolved. Why? Because making a world look evolved places a huge constraint on design. Assuming supernatural design, there are many more worlds with N species in them that don’t look evolved, than there are worlds with N species in them that do look evolved.

    In modal reasoning (which I think is heavily abused, especially when it refuses to say what necessity means), there are many more supernaturally designed worlds that don’t look like evolution than there are supernaturally designed worlds that do look like evolution. Just look at this one little example. Suppose there are N species. In an evolved world, all N are related by common descent, and the differences between the N species are limited by time, energy, and resource constraints. However, the supernaturally designed worlds have no such constraint. For every world that looks evolved, there is another world in which species Ni is not related to Nj, or in which species Ni and more distant than Nj. That means that there are at least N^2 more worlds in the designed space, and that’s only considering 2 individual species being different. Given that there are millions of species, we’re already looking at millions more designed worlds that look designed than look evolved. The actual number is probably something closer to N! more unconstrained worlds than evolutionarily constrained worlds. (A million factorial would give evolution a 5 million order-of-magitude advantage.)

    Can theism improve on such dismal performance? Yep. Suppose that your model of the designer has some strong constraints. In that case, the number of worlds this designer makes that look evolved might be relatively higher than the number of worlds that don’t look evolved. Such a theory of the designer could be far more competitive with evolution, and lag by less than an order of magnitude. Alas, ID folk insist on not constraining the designer, probably because they think he’s God, and God has no constraints. Also, any constraints on God narrow enough to force him to make our world look evolved are going to result in a lot of other predictions that might prove inconvenient.

    Where does that leave us? If you’re not going to put in any constraints on the designer, then I’m justified in assigning each possible designed world equal weight. All things are equal. Consequently, belief in unconstrained design is ruled out by many many orders of magnitude.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Paul, good question, I’ll come back to it, but I think it will make more sense if I answer these from doctor(logic) first:

    Have you ever had a gut feeling that X was true, only later to discover that it wasn’t true? If so, how is this different? It seems to me that the only difference is that no evidence can challenge your gut belief.

    doctor(logic), yes, I have had that experience. What’s different this time is that after hour upon hour upon hour of study and debate, I have encountered nothing to show me that it isn’t true. The Christian message “holds together,” it is rationally coherent, it’s connected to real history.

    Why are you reacting so negatively to the word ‘magic’? How does God’s power differ from magic?

    Magic is often defined as man’s attempt to manipulate the spiritual world for man’s own ends. Alternatively, it is sham or trickery. How do you define magic?

    So learning English, and associating words with familiar experiences had nothing to do with it?

    I’ll yield to your point there. The perception of God a direct sensory perception; it too requires some context for correct interpretation. Hence Scripture, theology, etc. But that does not eliminate the direct perception of God, through the Holy Spirit, as part of the chain of knowledge.

    Two things. First, prior probabilities generally refers to our initial confidence in the various theories. If the theories are supernatural design versus evolution, the priors would be our initial confidence in each theory. Let’s just say it’s 50/50.

    Wrong if. The theories in question, as I read it, are various theories about how God would do things. Why wouldn’t he make a robot rabbit, for example? You say as much in your paragraph following the one I’ve just quoted, and when you say, “Suppose your model of the designer had some strong constraints.”

    Alas, ID folk insist on not constraining the designer, probably because they think he’s God, and God has no constraints. Also, any constraints on God narrow enough to force him to make our world look evolved are going to result in a lot of other predictions that might prove inconvenient.

    It’s not so clear-cut as that. When ID scientists do ID as science, they do not identify the designer. When ID theorists do ID as philosophy, they often identify the designer. I’m sure you’ve seen this before.

    The rest of the science world wants ID to name the designer for reasons such as you have just mentioned. The rest of the science world wants ID never to name the designer because if it’s God, then “that’s not science!” Whichever way we approach it you’re not going to like it. Even though there is a nuanced and thoughtful third option, we seem frequently to get gored with whichever horn of the supposed dilemma is most convenient at the time.

    Paul, I’m going to answer your question in a main blog post and see if others will add to it.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m finally finding time to start exploring an answer to one of the questions doctor(logic) asked a while ago (see also several follow-up comments after that one). Please consider this to be what I just called it: an exploration.

    The question is best summarized in this, which I’m quoting at length.

    Evolutionary biology and neuroscience make specific predictions about what we have to see. We have to see common descent, we have to see a progression of species, we have to see central nervous systems with causal links, we have to see brains with computing ability, etc. Dualism and ID do not predict these things. They are perfectly happy with other things. God could have created a world in which we think but don’t have brains, or in which species aren’t connected by common descent or common composition (e.g., rabbits could be robots).

    But ID advocates and dualists simply pretend that they can fine-tune their theories (eliminating the robot rabbits and brainless thinkers) without paying a penalty.

    One more thing I want to add: an explanation for why supernatural claims will never gain traction. What does theory A have to do to catch up with theory B?

    To catch up, theory A has to be specific. Theory A has to be consistent with something narrow where theory B is consistent with something broad. Then you do the experiment, and if theory A’s possibilities are vindicated, theory A gains traction over theory A. Of course, the strength of theory A’s prediction has to be weighed against the strength of B’s, so A can win a round without winning the match, but at least A can come back.

    The problem with supernatural claims is that they generally do not make predictions. Suppose God designed the species. In order to convince us of this, you need to create a predictive model of God that says what he would design and why. You have to set things up so that evolution could do anything, but God would do something specific. You’ll never get there unless you’re willing to talk about the designer.

    doctor(logic) is proposing something that can be handled through the logic of possible worlds. (For those who are unfamiliar with this approach to logic, please see the Wikipedia introduction. A “possible world” here means something different than in ordinary language.)

    Let us consider three classes of possible worlds containing complex, intelligent life:
    (1) one in which there is no God, or no God active in nature;
    (2) one in which God exists, acts, and makes his authorship of his actions unequivocally knowable; and
    (3) one class in which God acts in nature, but his authorship of such activities is ambiguous, such that a human observer could have freedom with respect to his or her views toward God: the person could conclude either that God existed or that God did not exist.

    Now the question is whether or not our world is a member of class (1) or class (3) among possible worlds. The atheist or agnostic might phrase it this way: we want to know whether we live in a possible world of class (1) or class (3). In order to have some confidence regarding the answer, the atheist (and the theist) wants to set up some distinguishing characteristics that would differentiate (1) from (3).

    doctor(logic) finds it rather over-convenient (for the theist) that the world we live in is one in which certain features of life are under-predicted by theism. That is, given the full range of class (3) possible worlds, a large proportion of them would likely have characteristics that are more obviously incompatible with evolutionary explanations than those of the actual world in which we live. Some unknown and inscrutable proportion of class (3) worlds would be completely incompatible with evolutionary explanations, whereas presumably all class (1) worlds would be compatible with evolution. (Throughout this comment, by “evolution” I am referring specifically to naturalistic, undirected evolution.)

    The implication is that there are at least two subclasses in class (3):
    (3a) Possible worlds in which life is generally compatible with what is taken to be true so far concerning evolutionary theory, and
    (3b) Possible worlds in which life is generally not compatible with what is taken to be true so far concerning evolutionary theory.

    doctor(logic) says that the existence of life that is compatible with what we know so far about evolution supports class (1) possible worlds. I think it’s a fair extension of what he has said to add that it supports class (3a) possible worlds but not (3b) possible worlds. The ratio of (3b) to (3a) possible worlds is unknown, inscrutable, but likely to be so large that the actual existence of a (3a) world is unlikely with respect to a class (1) world. If we are postulating a class (3) world, we should be surprised that what we see is not a (3b) class world.

    But it seems to me that the class of (3b) worlds may just be an empty set.

    If God had set out to create a class (3b) possible world in which life was clearly incompatible with evolution (as doctor(logic) has suggested he might have done), then God would have created a class (2) world instead. The existence of natural features that are so incompatible with natural processes would require or demand assent to the existence and action of God.

    So the probability calculus doctor(logic) has built on robot rabbits and brainless thinkers (examples by which, using my new terminology, he illustrated a class (3b) possible world), is rendered invalid.

    P.S. In discussing God and possible worlds, some have argued that if God exists in any possible world (as philosophers use the term) then in that world he exists necessarily, from the definition of God. And if in that possible world he exists necessarily, then necessarily he exists in all possible worlds. I think this argument carries considerable force. If any reader wonders how I can speak of a “possible world with no God,” I would say that I have chosen to speak in such a way not because I think it possible for God to exist in some “worlds” and not in others. I have chosen to speak this way only because it has been helpful for me in setting forth this particular argument.

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    A further P.S.

    The preceding comment may be taken as an argument that
    (A) If this is a class (3) world, then
    (B) There are no incompatibilities between evolutionary theory and what God has done.

    If evolutionary theory were perfectly demonstrated, then that would be true, I think (I’m still exploring here), and we would conclude that something like theistic evolution must be true (or we live in a class (1) possible world). But it is not just God’s activities that are ambiguous in our world. The success of evolutionary theory is still in question, too.

  42. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    I’m basically agreeing with you that class (3) probably looks identical to class (1). My point is that

    A) the number of worlds in class (1) is greater than or equal to the number of worlds in class (3), and

    B) the number of worlds in class (2) is many orders of magnitude greater than the number of worlds in classes (1) and (3) put together.

    So the argument is that, all things being equal, if God designed us, it’s massively more likely we would find ourselves in a world in class (2) than class (3).

    Now, it’s perfectly easy to imagine a God who wants to put us in a class (3) world. In that case, all things would not be equal. However, you don’t have a good justification for believing this is the case. The interpretation that we’re in a class (3) world is a new invention on the part of theologians to explain the inconvenient fact that it looks like we’re in a class (1) world.

    Indeed, before Darwin, theologians weren’t saying that the world wasn’t designed. They didn’t react to Darwin as if Darwin was confirming their expectations about God. They were horrified at the prospect that their world, which looked so obviously designed, wasn’t designed after all.

    If there was any suggestion before Darwin that God was hiding, it was probably as a response to the problem of evil, which dates back to the Ancient Greeks or before. What we see again and again is theology reacting in hindsight to reality, not reality matching theology’s predictions.

    Again, reacting to reality by fine-tuning your theory is okay as long as it gets you some predictions. Scientists do this all the time. They look at a system, observe something about it, and then devise a model of that system. The thing that proves they’re not deluding themselves is that fact that the model makes predictions. If the model is wrong, it won’t stand. If it does stand, it tells us things we would not otherwise know.

    But theology is always looking backward. You cannot tell me anything about future discoveries, yet you use scientific discoveries to tune your theory of God. Nothing is inconsistent with your God theory because your theory takes no risks with truth. It takes plenty of risks with consequence, but that’s something different!

    If you’re so confident that God wants us to live in a class (3) world, why wouldn’t you predict that evolutionary biology would be highly successful? If we get proof of design, that moves us into class (2), and God doesn’t want that. Of course, if that happened, theologians would invent (in hindsight as always) some rationale that explains why God changed his mind or why today’s Christians were so wrong in the past.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Before I respond, doctor(logic), I want to check whether your comment was in response to the way I originally wrote mine (which would have been emailed to you, if you have subscribed to comments), or if you were responding to the edited version which I made very shortly thereafter. I think the edited version is clearer, and most importantly, it’s the one others will be reading as we proceed.

    I apologize for making changes after the first posting.

  44. Doctor Logic says:

    Tom,

    Yep, I didn’t see the edits. No problem.

    I don’t think your edits change anything in my comment. I’m comparing class (1) (or class (1) plus class (3)) to class (2), and calling the Christian restriction of God to class (3) worlds an unjustified fine-tuning.

    (3b) may indeed be an empty set. That’s fine by me. Makes the argument simpler. :)

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