Thinking Christian

Thinking Christianity for church, home, and community

If You Believe Atheism Is True, Then Atheism Is False

Posted on Feb 2, 2013 by Tom Gilson

Reddit visitors, thank you for coming. See my notes at the end of the original post here, after you’ve read the post, of course.

I wrote briefly last night about Alex Rosenberg, the atheistic philosopher who ended his debate with William Lane Craig by admitting he believes that no thoughts are about anything.

He meant exactly that. No thought is about anything.

This may come as rather a shock to some readers. It’s strange. It’s really strange. One consequence of it (if Rosenberg is right) is that if you believe atheism is true, then atheism is false.

(The sort of atheism to which I’m referring here and in the title is Rosenberg’s. If there’s another version of atheism for which this is not true, I’ll be glad to know about it.)

Let me explain where this comes from. It starts with scientism, then it goes to physics, then to a view of the brain that demands we believe a certain way about it.

Scientism
In his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, Rosenberg defends a form of scientism that he defines this way (p. 17-18, Nook edition):

This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when “complete,” what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today…. Science provides all the significant truths about reality….. Being scientistic just means treating science as our exclusive guide to reality, to nature—both our own nature and everything else’s.

Physicalism
Now obviously there’s nothing wrong with regarding science as a guide to reality, and in its sphere of inquiry, by far the best. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing how superb it is in that domain. But Rosenberg doesn’t stop there. He says (p. 28),

If we’re going to be scientistic, then we have to attain our view of reality from what physics tells us about it. Actually, we’ll have to do more than that: we’ll have to embrace physics as the whole truth about reality.

He says this is a necessary consequence of thinking scientifically, which it isn’t (and can’t be, as we’ll see below); and he also says it is a necessary consequence of atheism, which it is, at least as today’s “New Atheism” is commonly held. It’s necessary for that just because the New Atheism agrees that the physical world is all there is; and the physical world runs according to inviolable natural laws, a mindless mix of necessity and chance.

Rosenberg goes on to say (p. 28, emphasis added),

All the processes in the universe from physical to mental, are purely physical processes involving fermions and bosons interacting with one another.

Physics explains chemistry, which in turn explains biology; mental processes are purely physical and chemical, and that’s all there is. (This belief is variously called materialism, physicalism, or naturalism, though there are nuances between the meanings of those words, esp. naturalism.) He adds,

Physics is causally closed and causally complete. The only causes in the universe are physical, and everything in the universe that has a cause has a physical cause…. the physical facts fix all the facts.

The Physical Brain and “Aboutness”
Now let’s jump ahead to chapter 8, where he introduces an “illusion” he thinks we should be aware of, specifically, that when we think, we are thinking about things (p. 142):

Thinking about things can’t happen at all. The brain can’t have thoughts about Paris, or about France, or about capitals, or about anything else for that mater. When consciousness convinces you that you, or your mind, or your brain has thoughts about things, it is wrong.

The reason is because everything is purely physical and nothing else, as we have seen; thus the brain is physical and nothing but physical, and the same is true of thinking: it is a purely physical event. And it’s impossible to suppose that one physical thing or event can be about another physical thing or event. A paper clip can be around paper, but it can’t be about paper. Or as Rosenberg tells us (p. 144), it’s a mistake to suppose that

The first clump of matter, the bit of wet stuff, the Paris neurons, is about the second chunk of matter, the much greater quantity of diverse kinds of stuff that make up Paris. How can the first clump—the Paris neurons—be about, denote, refer to, name, represent, or otherwise point to the second clump?… How can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be about some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe…?

No Thoughts About Anything
Are you following this? Does it make sense? If not, Rosenberg would say you’ve fallen victim to the usual illusion, which is to think that when we think, we’re thinking about something. Quite a strong illusion, isn’t it?

Now most thinkers (myself included) would agree that one physical object cannot be about another physical object. But Rosenberg says that science proves our brains and our thoughts are purely physical, and thus we have to give up thinking our thoughts are about anything. And if he’s right about what science “proves” about the brain, then his conclusion must follow: thoughts aren’t about anything.

But there’s a very strange effect that follows from that belief, which I don’t see him grappling with anywhere in the book. It’s most obvious where it’s most conspicuously missing, for example on p. 167 and p. 190:

Since there are no thoughts about things, notions of purpose, plan, or design in the mind are illusory…. Since the brain can’t have thoughts about stuff, it cannot make, have, or act on plans, projects, or purposes that it gives itself.

And now let’s add one more quote (p. 123), and what’s missing should become very clear:

Scientism allows for moral “improvement.” It’s a matter of combining the core morality that evolution has inflicted on us with true beliefs vouched safe for us by science.

Do you see it? It’s all through the book, but it blazes out especially clearly in a statement like that one.

Therefore No True Thoughts About Anything
Rosenberg believes that some things are true and some things are false. But just as physical things cannot be about other things, neither can they be true or false. Can a clump of wet matter be true? How could it be?

It follows that he also believes that thoughts can be true or false; but in order for thoughts to be true or false, they must be true or false about something. And yet if thoughts cannot be about anything, how can they be true or false about anything?

If Atheism Is True, We Cannot Have a True Thought About It
Rosenberg argues vehemently that his scientism must be true; but his scientism means that no beliefs—not even about scientism—could be true. He also insists that his scientism is necessarily linked with atheism; that atheism is best defined by scientism. If so, then no one can believe that atheism is true (or false), because that would require them having some belief about atheism, which Rosenberg’s version of atheism makes impossible.

So if Rosenberg’s scientism is true, then it is absolutely impossible for him or anyone else to think it’s true; for that would require thinking a true thought about scientism when no thought could be about anything at all.

Again: If Rosenberg’s atheism is true, then it is absolutely impossible for him or anyone else to think it’s true; for that would require thinking a true thought about atheism when no thought could be about anything at all.

Therefore …
This may come as a particular shock to atheistic readers. It’s strange. Everything is really strange, if atheism (as Rosenberg understands it) is true.

It’s a very good reason to doubt that atheism is true.

Related Information: Ed Feser’s extended series on Rosenberg, in which among other things he argues that Rosenberg is right about what scientism means, wrong to think that scientism could possibly be true.

Also: an online article by Rosenberg in which he presents similar material in much shorter form.

Note to visitors from Reddit: I’m glad to have you here. I’ve noticed many of you dislike some of what I’ve said here. I’ve also noticed that what many of you dislike is Rosenberg’s position, not mine. You’re disagreeing with him, many of you, not with me; yet you’re complaining that I’m wrong at the same time.

I suggest you watch out for that.

Update March 12 (Reddit Again): Someone wrote,

His argument summed up:

  • No physical thing can be true or false.
  • A thought is a physical thing.
  • Atheism is a thought.
  • Therefore, atheism cannot be true or false.
  • Therefore, atheism is not true.
  • Therefore atheism is false.

If he can’t see the flaw in that line of reasoning, then there’s no hope.

Well, of course there’s a  flaw there—several of them, actually. If I had written that, then I would indeed be a hopeless case. The thing is, that wasn’t what I wrote. The second point should have specified that it is Rosenberg’s view. The third point should have specified that belief in atheism is a thought about atheism. The fourth point should have read, “Therefore no one can think about atheism, atheism is true or atheism is false. The last three points thus proceed out of misrepresentations and fallacies of the Reddit writer’s own making, not mine.

What then about the headline, “If you believe atheism is true, then atheism is false”? That’s a different line of argument entirely:

  • If Rosenberg’s version of atheism is true, no thought can be about anything.
  • Therefore if his version of atheism is true, no thought can be about atheism.
  • The thought atheism is true is a thought about atheism.
  • If a person holds the thought about atheism that atheism is true, she is doing that which is strictly impossible on Rosenberg’s view of atheism.
  • Thus if she succeeds in holding the thought that atheism is true, she proves by demonstration that Rosenberg’s version of atheism is false.
  • Therefore if she believes atheism is true (holds the thought, atheism is true), then (Rosenberg’s) atheism is false.

But thanks again for visiting.

271 Responses to “ If You Believe Atheism Is True, Then Atheism Is False ”

  1. Edward says:

    Your logic fails when you make the claim “no physical things can be true or false “. Claims are not physical things, therefore they can be true or false and claims concerning physical things can be determined to be true or false. This is in contrast to physical things, which just are.

    Creative attempt to justify your belief, but yet again it fails when basic logic is applied.

  2. TFBW says:

    It seems like Rosenberg not only denies the existence of minds and ideas, but also of information in general. He asks, “how can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be about some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe?” He takes it as given that it can’t, and everything else follows — or rather, nothing else follows.

    But one piece of matter can be about another in some way. Matter can code for information, and information can be about matter. No minds or any other non-physical entities are required to demonstrate this. Plain old biochemistry will suffice to demonstrate. It even satisfies his penchant for reductionism.

    DNA can hold information about proteins.

    There are identifiable segments of your DNA which are “about” keratin, or haemoglobin, or melanin. It’s not about any particular molecule of those compounds, but it contains information about the manufacture of those compounds. If that’s not a sufficient example of “aboutness”, then I’m sure I have no idea what he means by the term — and I doubt that he does either.

    Once we grant that one piece of matter can be about another, it doesn’t seem so far fetched that my computer can hold information about a set of stairs that I designed using it. Thus, whether the matter in question appreciates it or not, an aboutness relationship exists between my hard disk drive and a set of stairs, rather like the relationship between proteins and the DNA blueprints that were used to make them.

    To cut a long story short, I don’t see any problem with brains having thoughts about matter, given the progression above. If having a thought is just a conscious aspect of information processing, and the information in question is about something (like a protein or a set of stairs), then the thought is about whatever the information refers to. It doesn’t matter that the stuff doing the information processing is physical, and that the information is embodied in a physical thing.

    That’s just as well, because I don’t see how science would be possible at all if we couldn’t have thoughts about matter. How can Rosenberg maintain a commitment to scientism when his conclusions preclude the possibility of science?

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Edward, first of all, you’re right: no physical thing can be true or false. Your bed is not true. My hair is not false. It could be fake (it isn’t), but it couldn’t be false; for to be false is to stand in a kind of relationship with some proposition or fact in a way that physical things cannot do or be.

    You also say correctly that “claims are not physical things.” I agree; and I agree with the rest of your analysis (the first paragraph).

    The problem is, I wasn’t presenting/analyzing my beliefs but Rosenberg’s. Note how I treated his position, not in terms of claims but beliefs. In order for a belief to be true or false, it has to be true or false about something. Rosenberg denies that thoughts are about anything, so therefore beliefs are not about anything. Therefore beliefs can neither be true nor false.

    (The same is probably true of claims, but it’s more apparent for beliefs.)

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    If my analysis is subject to any attack, it would be in my assumption that beliefs are always thoughts. If that’s not true, and if there’s a way on Rosenberg’s view for beliefs (whatever they would be) to be about something else, then beliefs could conceivably be true or false on his view. I just can’t think of a way that would be possible. I don’t see a way of rescue for Rosenberg in that direction.

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me use “belief-expression” instead of “belief.”

    1. All belief=expressions are (at least) thoughts. (This seems safe to presume. Belief-expressions may be public, but before they become public they must begin as thoughts.)
    2. No thought is about anything. (Rosenberg’s opinion.)
    Therefore
    3. No belief-expression is about anything. (1 and 2, Modus Tollens)

    4. For any belief-expression to be true or false, it must be true or false about something. (Definition of truth-relationships.)
    5. No belief-expression is about anything. (3)
    Therefore
    6. No belief-expression can be true or false. (4 and 5, Modus Tollens)

    So on Rosenberg’s view (2), there is no truth or falsehood in any belief-expression. Including his own.

    Now, what about beliefs? Can they be treated separately from belief-expressions? Suppose they could: what good would that do us. If I have a true belief residing somewhere in my brain, and if I express it in thought or in publicly audible/readable/etc. ways, my expression is neither true nor false, for it is not about anything (2). So if Rosenberg held any true beliefs, we could never know it.

  6. Edward says:

    This is deceptively fascinating thought experiment. The more I think about it, the more I’m intrigued.

    I have no idea if this is the thinking of Rosenberg or not, but give me your opinion on this..

    Reducing the mind down to biochemical processes, we have thoughts becoming nothing more than interacting neurons and various chemicals. When a thought is performed regarding something not physically part of the neutral interaction (say, I’m thinking about a bridge), my neurons create a simulated bridge, in a simulation of the area the bridge resides. I am not thinking about the bridge insofar as my brain is about the bridge. Instead, my brain is creating an abstract of the bridge using the chemicals it has to work with. All thoughts regarding the actual bridge are really thoughts on a simulated bridge, which happens to mimic the features of an ‘actual ‘ bridge. In short, I’ve created a symbolic representation, a second physical thing which emulates the characteristics of the bridge I’m thinking ‘about ‘, but yet exists in physical form (neurons and chemicals). In this aspect, I’m never thinking about some physical object, but building and interacting with symbolic, even simulated, equivalents of the actual target object.

    On that note, my brain is melted and I’ll let you tear it apart.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Good thoughts, Edward. This is what Rosenberg would say, and I believe he’s exactly right. There is no representation unless there is something, call it The Observer (not Rosenberg’s term but mine) to whom that representation is represented. Further, there is no representation unless The Observer draws that connection between the representation and that which is represented. But if the brain is purely physical, where in it do we find The Observer? There is none. And even if there was one (which there isn’t), that Observer would have to be able to say in one way or another, These neurons are about that bridge; but that aboutness relationship is problematical, as I’ve already discussed.

    Therefore there is no representation relationship.

  8. ZachsMind says:

    This right here is exactly why I am constantly telling both believers and skeptics alike that is it belief which is broken. One cannot win in this debate by dancing around the mulberry bush of faith. Cuz it’s circular (il)logic. “if you believe in #atheism then you must have faith.”

    So. I don’t.

    I have more to say but your website still seems to be having technical issues, so I’ll post it to my wordpress website instead.

  9. Tom Gilson says:

    ZachsMind,

    What Rosenberg says here applies equally to knowledge as to belief.

    I didn’t state that specifically because I didn’t think it needed stating; your equating belief with faith is off the mark in this context. But that’s not worth worrying about. Just re-read what I said about belief and substitute knowing or knowledge where I used believing or belief. Rosenberg says we cannot know about anything.

  10. [...] originally wanted to post this to The Thinking Christian but he’s having technical issues. Or maybe if the post gets too long it gives an error. So [...]

  11. SteveK says:

    Edward,

    In short, I’ve created a symbolic representation, a second physical thing which emulates the characteristics of the bridge I’m thinking ‘about ‘, but yet exists in physical form (neurons and chemicals).

    Let’s look at photographs because they are like what you are describing. We know that a photo of a bridge is ‘about’ the actual bridge. However, if we examine the situation closely using Rosenberg’s understanding of knowledge we see that we got that knowledge about the relationship from our physical brain – which is just a complex symbol generator.

    So, as far as knowledge goes, all we have are symbols informing other symbols informing other symbols in a closed system called the physical brain. This is Rosenberg’s model of knowledge.

    Is there any truth to our belief (which is just another generated symbol) that symbol A (picture) has some connection to symbol B (bridge)? Well, for that answer we look to symbol C or D. But is symbol C or D informing us of the truth about A & B? Beats me.

    So it turns out we cannot know that a photo of a bridge is about an actual bridge, at least according to Rosenberg.

    The missing piece of the puzzle that Rosenberg misses is our ability to directly, contextually, know what the various symbols mean. Tom rightfully refers to this as the Observer that transcends the closed system of symbols. Rosenberg thinks everything can be learned by studying symbol syntax and symbol relationships (doing physics), but the truth is that syntax all by itself is meaningless (literally).

    The reason you actually DO know this is because there are other paths to knowledge and Rosenberg is dead wrong.

    For more on this see the Chinese Room thought experiment. Read through the though experiment and ask yourself if you could *know* what the symbols mean (what they refer to) or if you were just following rules (akin to the physical laws) and had no clue as to what they meant.

  12. Tom,

    I’m really glad you posted this about Rosenberg’s work. The total consistency of Rosenberg’s book is of tremendous value: he simply refuses to make up things that cannot be shown to be entirely natural. But this does eliminate things like beliefs, aboutness, agents, free will, morality, and so on.

  13. Keith says:

    I totally have to read this book, thank you for that!

    Does Rosenberg say that science “proves” our brains are purely physical? I would agree there’s no evidence of anything supernatural so far, but that’s not the same as proof.

    Where I’m hitting a wall on your post is here: “It follows that he also believes that thoughts can be true or false; but in order for thoughts to be true or false, they must be true or false about something.”

    I don’t see anywhere Rosenberg states what makes a thought “true”, and I think that’s needed. Do you and Rosenberg agree on what it means for a thought to be “true”?

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, Keith.

    On page 183 (Nook), he writes,

    Science provides a compelling reason to think they [non-physical views] must all be wrong.

    p. 8:

    [My former] mistake, as Hume showed so powerfully, was to think there was anything more to reality than the laws of nature that science discovers.

    p . 19

    Science shows that the stories we tell each other to explain our own and other people’s actions and to answer the persistent questions are all based on a series of illusions.

    On a similar not, p. 223:

    The proof is obvious. There is nothing that makes our lives meaningful [i.e., gives meaning to human existence].

    I don’t think Rosenberg deals with what makes a thought “true” in this book. I wonder about that, too. But I can’t imagine any way a thought could be true if it’s not about anything, and he is massively, abundantly clear that thoughts are not about anything.

  15. SteveK says:

    Does Rosenberg say that science “proves” our brains are purely physical?

    Science cannot ‘prove’ otherwise. It’s a conclusion that is built into the philosophy of science.

  16. Keith says:

    Steve K: I find the “Other Minds Reply” convincing.

    Here’s another way to think about it: How can we distinguish between a computer in a room with a finite set of sensory inputs (whatever those inputs might be), and a human baby (which is, from a naturalistic point-of-view), a computer in a room with a finite set of sensory inputs?

    You can obviously argue for supernatural inputs in the case of the baby, but I don’t see any argument to make that’s not based on supernaturalism.

  17. Edward says:

    Giving this entire concept some added thought, I think i may be approaching it from the wrong direction, making it far more complex than necessary.

    Our brain is a network of neurons and chemicals which store reactions to nerve stimuli. In short, it’s a nerve pack with a poorly implemented save feature (we only recall tiny bits and fill in the massive blanks with prediction).

    Beginning there, I agree with Rosenberg, as we cannot know anything. When we see a bridge, the nerve endings in our eyes (in the back of our brain, actually) response to the reflected light and these nerve impulses get semi-stored via chemical reaction. The only thing we ‘know’ is our nerve endings have fired, but even that is an action of recall, even real-time.

    Given that, when we think ‘about’ a bridge (or the photo of a bridge), we are really just firing the same nerve endings in a pattern which we recognize from prior experience.

    Given that, we never truly think ‘about’ an object, as we do not know about any objects, as they merely exist as hypotheticals in our brain, based upon accumulated nerve firings and chemical memory. We cannot fully experience a bridge, as our tactile features (skin) cannot touch an entire bridge at once. We construct what our nerve endings perceive on an ongoing basis, filling in gaps with previous experience. We never truly see a bridge, we see one part of a bridge, then predict or recall what the rest of the bridge entails.

    Beyond that, while we are touching something, we cannot see it, so we are estimating, working from nerve recall, what we are touching in real-time. A simple example of how thinking about something does not happen, consider how often people trip. We are merely predicting, based upon past nerve responses, what action is needed to interact successfully with a given object. We are not thinking about the object we are interacting with, we are reacting using what is essentially muscle memory.

    Given all of this, we are able to make predictions based on past experiences (nerve firing), but we cannot know if these predictions will come true except through trial and error. Obviously the more successful trials, the more we rely on the prediction, but to know something will always happen.. we can only work with what we can interact with.

    Luckily, we have machines to aid our senses, but we’re still limited to current interaction or splotchy memory. Hence we use of external symbols (language) to be used as an external, more accurate, storage medium to both store important physical interactions. There is the added benefit of being able to use language as a shared storage medium.

    In the end, we’re a muscle memory based glob of nerve endings which can only predict what interactions will entail and how outside objects are made up. We’re professional guesstimators, each living in our own simulation as to what we predict reality consists of.

    The thought experiment of us living inside a simulation isn’t far off; we each live in our respective simulation. What we consider reality is merely the nerve interaction results we all agree upon, to be adjusted if ever our predictions fail.

    In short, we can never know if and what we know, therefore we cannot know anything.

  18. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Edward:

    In short, we can never know if and what we know, therefore we cannot know anything.

    Therefore we cannot even know that we cannot know anything.

    This is just too easy.

  19. Keith says:

    Tom, your concluding comment was “It’s a very good reason to doubt that atheism is true.”

    I don’t understand why your argument, even if true, leads to that conclusion?

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith,

    I am at that point still speaking of Rosenberg’s sort of atheism. The argument seems to lead to the conclusion that if atheism is true, it cannot be known to be true, for the reason that if his atheism is true then nothing whatsoever can be known to be true. Nothing.

    In particular, if there are any steps of reasoning that lead one to think atheism is true—for Rosenberg, it would be science—all of those are not knowable as true. He couldn’t even know that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, because that calls on an “about” relationship between his brain and water and the elements.

    I’m tempted to go on with examples but they would be endless. The point is, if his atheism is true, then there would be no knowledge anywhere in the world by anyone.

    I think that’s a good reason to doubt his version of atheism is true.

    Oh, and one last step goes with that: As Ed Feser shows in his extended series on Rosenberg, any strictly scientistic viewpoint leads in the same direction. Anyone who disbelieves in God because “all knowledge comes from science and only potentially-scientifically-knowable things exist,” has committed him- or herself to the same outcome: there is no knowledge anywhere in the world.

    Now, I haven’t argued, as Feser has, that this conclusion extends to all Rosenberg-like versions of atheism—he did a ten-part series, after all—but I think in this he is right; so any atheism even moderately similar to Rosenberg’s, which includes all the common New Atheist positions, leads logically to a world with no knowledge in it of any kind by anybody.

  21. Keith says:

    Tom, obviously you and I would disagree on some of the arguments and the reasoning, but I’m trying to ask a slightly different question.

    If his reasoning did, in fact, conclude there is no knowledge, why would that fact imply he is incorrect?

    Regardless of whether we agree on his reasoning, I think you’re saying his conclusion cannot be true, and I’m not clear on why?

  22. Andrew W says:

    That’s an interesting clarification, Keith. Would it be more accurate to say “We have no meaningful way of deciding / evaluating whether it is true or false”?

  23. Saskia says:

    Reminds me of Zeno’s paradox… it seems to prove so neatly that nothing moves. Except for one fatal flaw: things do move.
    And we do have thoughts about things. The fact that Rosenburg is writing a book about all the things he thinks is proof of it.
    Seems silly to me.
    Saskia

  24. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    If his reasoning did, in fact, conclude there is no knowledge, why would that fact imply he is incorrect?

    Because the statement “there is no knowledge”, is the true knowledge that there is no knowledge, and is thus self-referentially incoherent. If it is not true then we need not bother with it. Maybe there is a coherent sense in which it is “true”; if there is, nobody knows what it is.

    Now Rosenberg will most likely label this as a “puerile objection”; after all, he is not stupid, so hasn’t he thought of so obvious an objection? The problem is that as far as I can see, no he has not. He may try to hide the fallacy a little more caustiously so that it takes us longer to uncover but it is there all right.

    @Saskia:

    Reminds me of Zeno’s paradox… it seems to prove so neatly that nothing moves. Except for one fatal flaw: things do move.

    Question-begging. If the argument purports to prove that nothing moves you cannot appeal to “the fatal flaw” to show that the argument is false. You have to show where exactly the mistake is.

    Just to be clear, I do believe that things do move. Just that the response to Zeno and Parmenides cannot be a mere shrugging of the shoulders. In fact, Aristotle’s response to Zeno and Parmenides — he took the arguments seriously — is a landmark in the history of philosophy and a crucial, if not the crucial path, to the notions of act and potency.

    In the same way, response to Rosenberg cannot be a mere shrugging of the shoulders. For one thing, because *if* one buys into metaphysical naturalism, it is very hard to avoid Rosenberg’s conclusions.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    Further, in regard to Keith’s question, suppose (contra reality) Rosenberg’s position were not self-referentially incoherent; or suppose that weren’t enough(!). There’s more.

    On Rosenberg’s view, there is no knowable reason to suppose that atheism is true. That doesn’t leave much reason to suppose atheism is true, does it? Thus I conclude (besides the previously stated reasons) that there is reason to doubt his atheism is true.

    Frankly, though, Keith, I’m rather surprised you would ask. If I read you right, your question is, “if this worldview eliminates all human knowledge, why would that constitute reason to doubt it?”

    Either I misunderstood your question, or you’ve misunderstood something, it seems to me.

  26. Debilis says:

    These are excellent criticisms. I can’t make up my mind whether I respect Rosenburg’s position or not.

    It’s definitely bold, and committed to following his premise wherever it leads. Still, it’s hard to imagine that he could have any support for his premise that outweighs all those reasons to reject it.

    Certainly, I didn’t see that in the debate.

  27. Keith says:

    Tom: I think Rosenberg’s view is coherent. I suspect the views you ascribe to him are likely views he holds and he’d probably agree his beliefs lead to the conclusion that “nothing is knowable”, where “knowable” carries a lot of semantic baggage, if you get my drift.

    A worldview that eliminates all human knowledge from the arena of “provable truth” is only a problem if you have evidence there is knowledge that is provably true, in which case Rosenberg is wrong.

    When Rosenberg says there is no such human knowledge, he’s coherent. If you have no evidence he’s wrong, it’s not a “very good reason” to doubt atheism.

  28. bigbird says:

    When Rosenberg says there is no such human knowledge, he’s coherent.

    Really? Isn’t what Rosenberg says about human knowledge a knowledge claim itself?

    That sounds rather incoherent to me.

    Hmm, I see that G. Rodrigues has said the same thing …

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    Right.

    Keith, you underestimate the extent of the problem.

    Rosenberg’s position entails that he cannot know there is such a thing as science. He cannot know there is such a thing as himself (actually he denies the enduring self, but that’s another story). He cannot know there is such a thing as knowing, much less proving. He cannot know that he has any opinions, much less that they are right or wrong. He cannot know whether he is married or not, and if he’s married, he cannot know who he is married to.

    On his view, no human can know anything whatsoever about anything.

    It’s not just removing knowledge from the arena of proveable truth. It’s removing knowledge from the arena of thinking about things, imagining things, hoping about things, seeing things, recognizing things.

    This is not coherent.

  30. SteveK says:

    I think Rosenberg’s view is coherent.

    There is a very easy way to demonstrate to every individual that his view is false.

    (1) Can you have knowledge of your thoughts? Yes, therefore knowledge of reality was obtained without the need of science and without knowing anything about physics. Rosenberg’s theories are false.

    (2) Are your thoughts about anything – a red car, a science experiment, a theory, etc. – and can you know that your thoughts are about these things? Yes, therefore the same conclusion follows as in (1) and in addition to that Rosenburg’s theory of ‘aboutness’ is false.

  31. Ken S. says:

    The primary flaw here is that atheism cannot be “true or false” because it is not a claim or a belief in the first place. It’s an ABSENCE of a claim. There’s no thought paradox because atheism isn’t a thought,but the absence of a thought. No sentience is required. Rocks are atheists.

  32. Debilis says:

    For anyone who is interested Edward Feser (who is a Catholic philosopher and outspoken critic of the New Atheists) wrote a lengthy critique of Rosenburg’s book here.

    I found it to be spot-on.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    Ken S., that’s not true of atheism as Rosenberg describes it, and I’ve been careful to specify that this is about his version of atheism. So if you disagree with what he says about it you could take that up with him.

    I think, though, that what he says about a universe without God is hard to deny: if you think the universe has no God, nothing but material reality, then I think that logically that commits you to the rest of what Rosenberg affirms.

  34. bigbird says:

    The primary flaw here is that atheism cannot be “true or false” because it is not a claim or a belief in the first place. It’s an ABSENCE of a claim. There’s no thought paradox because atheism isn’t a thought,but the absence of a thought.

    I’m pretty sure my cats lack a thought or claim about God or gods but for some reason I don’t think they are atheists. Similarly for babies.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Right. If you actually think about the world (unlike rocks and babies—some toddlers excepted), you must have some opinions about what the world really is. So I wonder, Ken S., which of these standard naturalistic atheist beliefs you would not subscribe to, assuming you must have some opinions about reality. You’re not a rock, after all.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    I find it sad, yet interesting, Ken S., that Rosenberg ends up with a view of knowledge no higher than that of a rock’s, and that you virtually start there.

    Don’t you realize there’s more to you and me than that?

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith @#27, in my response to you last night I erroneously picked up on your word “knowledge” and ran with it. That was wrong on my part.

    You said that “he’d probably agree his beliefs lead to the conclusion that ‘nothing is knowable’, where ‘knowable; carries a lot of semantic baggage, if you get my drift.”

    That’s not what he said at all, and I hope I didn’t leave you with that impression. He said instead that nothing is think-about-able. It’s not just that you and I can’t know anything (whatever your view of knowledge may be). It’s that you and I cannot even think about anything; for the aboutness relationship just doesn’t exist.

    He’s that radical about it. (And yes, I feel free to use the word “about.” I’m not Rosenberg.)

  38. Keith says:

    Tom: “more to you and me than that”?

    What is your evidence of that claim?

    You dislike Rosenberg’s conclusions (which is fine, I “dislike” them myself, and he may well “dislike” them too). Disliking them is different from evidence he’s wrong.

    So far, the evidence we have supports an entirely physical universe. Philosophical arguments aside, the lack of evidence of anything else is, well, disturbing. If there was something else, you’d think we’d have seen signs of it by now.

  39. Keith says:

    Tom: thanks for the clarification; as I said earlier, I need to read this book (that done, maybe I’ll be back to bend your ear further). :-)

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    That was Ken S.’s conclusion that I “disliked,” Keith.

    Rosenberg’s conclusion isn’t just unpleasant. It’s wrong. It’s logically and existentially impossible. So while disliking is relevant, it’s not what rules my response to it. I reject it for rational reasons, not because I’m emotionally uncomfortable with it.

    If you want evidence to show there’s more to you and me than a rock, which is what I think you asked for, then I ask you to look inside yourself for it. You know better. The evidence of human experience is real.

    Your human experience is evidence of a universe that’s got more to it than the purely material aspect that Rosenberg describes. Philosophical arguments are relevant, too. Has science not discovered non-material reality? Why would that surprise you? What is science looking for, anyway, but truths about material reality?

    And oh, God has placed so many signs of himself here, I don’t even know where to begin!

  41. bigbird says:

    So far, the evidence we have supports an entirely physical universe.

    No, consciousness is strong evidence that the universe is not entirely physical.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Good point. It’s very common among physicalist thinkers to deny the existence of consciousness altogether. Dennett and Rosenberg are prime examples. Sam Harris is an atheist counter-example who says he regards consciousness as an unsolved mystery in an all-physical universe. Even that, though, shows that consciousness is evidence that the physical universe is not all there is—for no matter how hard they try to deny it, we keep waking up mornings. Consciousness is real.

  43. Keith says:

    Tom: we cannot look inside ourselves for evidence because we know our brains lie to us all the time.

    Every experience we have involves our brains lying to us. From filling in the blind-spot in our vision, to the fact our memories are re-written and modified every time we “remember” anything (and including the literally hundreds of demonstrable, repeatable errors our brains make in normal decision-making), our brains lie.

    The science is settled: looking within for evidence is asking questions of a very, very unreliable witness.

  44. Tom Gilson says:

    Who is the “we” who know this?

  45. Keith says:

    Who is “we”? The scientific community? All of us?

    I’m sorry I didn’t support those assertions, I didn’t think of them as contentious.

    Let’s see, I mentioned the blind-spot: basically, eyes have a spot in the middle of the vision area where they can’t see anything. The brain uses the surrounding area to predict what is there, so what you “see” isn’t what’s actually there, it’s what your brain just makes up.

    Memories are re-written: you re-write your memories every time you access them. In other words, the act of remembering something modifies the memory. And, of course, memories aren’t like video tape, your brain “remembers” specific points in time, and then fills the rest in on demand, literally making stuff up to fill in the gaps.

    Normal decision making: wow, where to start. Wikipedia has a pretty good page entitled “List of biases in judgment and decision making”. It’s a list of hundreds (literally, hundreds) of ways your brain behaves irrationally or exercises bad judgement.

    All of this is standard science, there’s nothing particularly contentious or even disputed about it, it can be easily reproduced in the privacy of your own home with family members as test subjects. :-)

    If you’re going to argue the brain is a trustworthy, reliable reporter of, well, “anything at all”, you’re going to have a bad time.

  46. Keith says:

    bigbird: consciousness is strong evidence that the universe is not entirely physical.

    I think I agree, although I wouldn’t say “strong” evidence (at its heart this is a “god of the gaps” argument, and science has a good historical record of winning those arguments).

    If we don’t understand consciousness in a physical way by the end of this century, I think this argument will start to look quite a bit more formidable.

  47. SteveK says:

    Keith,

    So far, the evidence we have supports an entirely physical universe.

    That’s only true if you leave out or dismiss the evidence that doesn’t support an entirely physical universe.

  48. SteveK says:

    If you’re going to argue the brain is a trustworthy, reliable reporter of, well, “anything at all”, you’re going to have a bad time.

    This is just silly. You’re shooting yourself in the foot here. Why should we trust what your brain is telling us here, or what the brains of several scientists observed, or what the brains of the Wikipedia mob reports to us?

    Saying that we have multiple, repeatable reports by unreliable reporters doesn’t do anything to help your case either.

  49. Keith says:

    Steve K: I’d like to have a better answer for you, but in short, we trust “the mob” because it works.

    We know the more different individuals and groups repeat an experiment and achieve the same results, the more likely those results will repeat for the next individual or group.

    In other words, “repeatable reports by unreliable reporters” does help the case, and in fact, that’s a fair restatement of the scientific method.

  50. Keith says:

    Steve K: “That’s only true if you leave out or dismiss the evidence that doesn’t support an entirely physical universe.”

    There is truth in this, and I understand and acknowledge your point.

    The counter-argument is the “evidence” has never been, as far as I know, a case where supernatural involvement was the best explanation for an event, it has always been the lack of a physical explanation for an event or observation. The latter is different, and arguably a weaker form of evidence.

    If only God would re-arrange the stars once a year to spell out “Happy New Year!” Now that would be evidence! :-)

  51. SteveK says:

    In other words, “repeatable reports by unreliable reporters” does help the case, and in fact, that’s a fair restatement of the scientific method.

    The only way the math works is if the individual reports are thought to be generally reliable.

  52. SteveK says:

    The counter-argument is the “evidence” has never been, as far as I know, a case where supernatural involvement was the best explanation for an event, it has always been the lack of a physical explanation for an event or observation.

    Who said anything about the supernatural? I’m just saying that there is evidence for the non-physical.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    I don’t think God wants to make the evidence that blatant, Keith.

    Let’s not be fooled by the current process, for that is all too likely to happen. The fact is that God’s purposes in this world can be obscured in a conversation like this one. It’s not about whether someone is clever enough to figure out the clues. It’s about whether someone is willing to move toward him in a personal relationship.

    There are clues, of that there is no doubt. The evidences are everywhere: in the origin and design of the universe; in our human attributes (very non-natural!) of consciousness, free will, identity, purpose, and rationality; in God’s historic interaction with his people, recorded in the Bible; in Christ himself, and in his historically rather well-attested resurrection; in our (again, very non-natural) sense that we were made for better things, and our longing for that sense of home; and much more.

    But the evidences are not of the sort that compel belief one way or another. It’s possible to mount a case either for theism or against it. I think that in itself is remarkable, considering that balance has remained for centuries on end.

    So what it comes down to is the opportunity to choose.

    Suppose God did spell out his name in the stars (something even more spectacular than “Happy New Year!”, you know). Would everyone love him? Would everyone acknowledge his goodness? Just knowing he exists is not enough. It’s about knowing him.

  54. BillT says:

    It seems that Rosenberg is to atheism as Peter Singer is to atheistic ethics. For Rosenberg shows us that if adhered to strictly, atheism disproves itself. This is much like Singer who shows that if followed strictly, atheistic ethics aren’t ethics at all. While atheists worldwide publicly applaud their intellectual heroes we can almost hear them whispering under their collective breaths, “Shhhh… you’re letting the cat out of the bag.”

  55. Keith says:

    Tom: I think we’re getting away from the topic. I hope that’s OK, say so if you don’t want this discussion here, there’s no offense meant or taken!

    When you say “It’s about whether someone is willing to move toward him in a personal relationship.” I grant that point, but we can consider if the clues/evidence are a factor themselves. The most obvious “clue”, of course, is hearing the Gospel, or, as you put it, “the opportunity to choose”.

    If born a child in Africa, the possibility of a personal relationship with God is less than if you’re a Southerner in the US. If born a child in China for most of recorded history, or a Muslim in any of 50 countries in the world today, your chances lie somewhere between remote and non-existent.

    We can argue if ignorance is a defense against hell (church leaders have argued on both sides of that question for centuries), but to say my ultimate destiny is based on my willingness is simply untrue. God’s initial rules determine with high probability if an individual will move toward Him.

    In other words, the evidences provided are, in and of themselves, selection criteria.

    To a Christian, that’s irrelevant: if God is all-powerful, knowing and good, His plan will be perfect. But for the rest of us, God’s selection of a specific set of people (based on what appears to be random chance), is problematic.

    If God revealed Himself… well, I for one would welcome it. The attributes of God would compel love, would they not? If his presence is sufficiently compelling that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess”, why would His revelation not lead to exactly, precisely, what the Bible tells us God wants most? At the least, people who will never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel would have that chance.

    I’ve always been confused by Satan’s rebellion: Satan is an intelligent being who is obviously unclear on the meaning of the word “omnipotent”. Only an idiot would rebel against the omnipotent, and apparently, Satan is just that stupid.

  56. BillT says:

    “God’s selection of a specific set of people …. is problematic.”

    All of God’s people are “selected” and always will be. That’s just reality. Whether it’s the people of Israel (“the chosen people”) or those that follow, we were all chosen. It’s the corollary of salvation by grace. Does that mean we have no part to play? No, because there is free will in a world with a sovereign God. Do we understand how that works? No, it’s part of the mystery of the faith. But Christ’s sacrifice assures us that God’s goodness will be revealed in all of this.

    “Only an idiot would rebel against the omnipotent…”

    Then you can count me an idiot. (Hint: We all have, are and will rebel against the omnipotent. That’s just how we roll.)

  57. SteveK says:

    Only an idiot would think that he would suddenly stop rebelling against God simply because he learned one day that God really existed.

  58. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    One question, and please answer frankly. This is not so much of a challenge, as it is a question of trying to understand where you are coming from. :)

    Where do you get your ideas about Christian doctrine from? Where do you get your own theological views from?

  59. bigbird says:

    Keith: If you’re going to argue the brain is a trustworthy, reliable reporter of, well, “anything at all”, you’re going to have a bad time.

    So I take it you are in agreement with Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism?

  60. Timothy Muse says:

    … just joining the conversation & have only skimmed the comments

    1. Arguments which seem to blame God b/c everyone doesn’t have the same “opportunity”

    God is not to be blamed for several reasons.

    First, God revealed himself to man in the beginning. When man sinned against God he received due penalty which was broken fellowship. Additionally, when sinful man was to pass down the knowledge of God did such things at times and to various degrees in places as choosing not to, worshipping other “gods”, mixing truth with falsehood, etc., man himself has responsibility in the fact that the truth of God is not spread over all the earth.

    Second, the gospel is given according to “grace” and therefore God is not obligated to give it or show it to any (and therefore cannot be blamed where opportunities are less than others), and he deserves praise and thanks for the gift and the expressions wherever it is made known.

    Readers should keep in mind how “opportunity” doesn’t limit God from exposing any that he would save. The Bible has many example where people lived in pagan lands but through providence came to be exposed to gospel truth and were saved (i.e., Ruth for example).

    2. Discussions related to unbelievers believing “IF” God were to show specific evidence.

    While I agree with Tom that there is plenty of evidence,
    the argument itself is nothing more than what the Sanhedrin does in Matthew 27. The Sanhedrin had been given all kinds of evidence of Christ’s divinity, but mocked him before the crowd at the crucifixion saying that if he would come down from the cross they would believe him. The point was not that they didn’t have evidence, they were simply displaying arrogance as well as blasphemy while they asked for Christ to do something other than that which God had revealed in his word the Messiah would do. In fact, as one put it they were Satan’s instruments in his final attempts to turn Christ for doing the will of God which he had come into the world to do. He did not come down from the cross because he did not come to save himself but to save sinners which required the cross.

    The Messiah is not prophesied between the time of the resurrection and the 2nd coming to write “Happy New Year in the sky” or to come and stand 1000 feet tall in New York or anything else of that nature. He is to remain in heaven and bring about the salvation of the elect to the ends of the earth which is advancing and there’s evidence he’s doing this.

    There’s an aspect of arrogance in man trying to set “tests” for God (beyond or contrary to what he has revealed) rather than seeking God through the things he has revealed.

    3. Rosenberg’s deception about believing if Craig could provide answers for evil given a good and compassionate God.

    This too is a smokescreen and is revealing. Rosenberg’s question asks for evil to be explained based on certain attributes of God when evil involves other attributes and roles of God. In other words, no evidence would be satisfactory for Rosenberg.

  61. Keith says:

    bigbird: So I take it you are in agreement with Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism?

    I had to look that one up, so you’re getting a surface answer, in other words, this is what I think my position is based on a little reading and a little less thought. :-)

    I think I mostly disagree with Plantinga. I agree with him, of course, that unguided evolution would (and did) create brains tuned to survival, not truth. I disagree that fact undermines naturalism because I would argue the brain is unreliable.

    (And now, of course, we would have to figure out exactly what “reliable” means. Does it mean identifying tigers? Or does it mean an intuitive understanding that slavery is morally wrong? Or something in-between, which is where humans appear to mostly end up.)

    I’m going with “unreliable”. Human thought processes are frequently unreliable, as was discussed in #48, #49 and #51 above; the scientific method, peer review, the scientific hierarchy and so on is largely intended to correct for the inevitable mistakes and innate bias of the brain. As W. Ramsey pointed out in his commentary on Platinga’s argument, there are clear flaws in the brain, and evolution/naturalism explains those flaws better than other theories.

    Platinga’s assertion that the probability of even our level of cognition resulting from unguided evolution must be low, is a fair argument, but it’s hard to know if he’s right without actually running the evolutionary experiment over a few times, and that’s going to be hard to do, at least not without a few spare planets to work with.

  62. Keith says:

    Victoria: Where do you get your ideas about Christian doctrine from? Where do you get your own theological views from?

    Sure: I spent my early years as a Methodist, then the family switched to a Calvinist/Reformed Baptist church and I spent my teenage years there. I attended seminary in North Carolina, an Evangelical/Southern Baptist school.

    And let me just say how much I’ve enjoyed visiting the blog: thank you all for taking the time to teach and for making me welcome.

  63. bigbird says:

    I think I mostly disagree with Plantinga. I agree with him, of course, that unguided evolution would (and did) create brains tuned to survival, not truth. I disagree that fact undermines naturalism because I would argue the brain is unreliable.

    I’m not sure why your thinking the brain is unreliable matters.

    The point of EAAN is that naturalism is unlikely to result in reliable cognitive faculties. If this is the case, this undermines all our beliefs, including science itself.

  64. Keith says:

    bigbird: you may be correct, but my reading of EAAN made me think Plantinga argued (1) evolution plus naturalism must result in unreliable minds, but (2) our minds are basically reliable, so evolution plus naturalism isn’t what happened. I’m agreeing with (1), but not with (2), that’s why I tried to flag the place where I wandered off the farm.

  65. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    You keep saying our minds have been proven to be unreliable and then you proceed to tell us how several unreliable minds add up to a reliable conclusion (aka science). Please do the math for me.

  66. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    but (2) our minds are basically reliable, so evolution plus naturalism isn’t what happened.

    Naturalism “did not happened”, because naturalism is a metaphysical view on reality. Evolution theory is indeed a causal story to explain certain historical data and so, in a certain sense, “it happened”.

    I do not think you understand Plantinga’s argument. You have already conceded pretty much everything that Plantinga set out to prove, so there is really no more room for discussion.

  67. Keith says:

    bigbird: When you say: “If this is the case, this undermines all our beliefs, including science itself.”

    Yes, but no.

    The fact that our minds are inherently unreliable undermines our beliefs, but only to the degree the mind is unreliable and then only to the degree to which we cannot correct for the unreliability.

    It’s not a black-and-white thing, where agreeing you can’t completely trust your brain means you can’t make coffee.

    It’s like measuring from your house to the nearest ocean with a ruler. Do it once, you’re going to be wrong. Do it 1,000 times and average the results, and you’re going to be pretty accurate, because the accumulated errors will tend to cancel each other out.

    See what I mean? It’s unreliable, but we can correct for the unreliability.

  68. Keith says:

    SteveK: “several unreliable minds add up to a reliable conclusion”.

    It’s because each person or group’s errors are usually not the same, and so they cancel each other out. The example I used with bigbird (of repeatedly measuring with a ruler), corresponds fairly well to the real world.

    The way science works is you publish something and then other people try and reproduce what you did. If you or they mess it up, you and they won’t get the same results, which raises a red flag. If a third group tries to reproduce your work, and gets the same results as you, we start to think you’re correct and the second group messed up.

    Once 100 different groups have done this, we’ll have a good idea whether or not something is true, because over a large enough set of attempts, the right answer will surface.

    The question you may want to ask is what happens when everybody has the same flaw in their experiment. It does happen, there are more than a few case-studies in the literature.

    For example, imagine everybody in town walking up to the top of the town hill, looking around, and reporting the earth is flat. Everybody has the same flaw in their experiment and the mistaken result is perfectly reproducible — sending more townspeople to the top of the hill won’t help at all.

    When every experiment contains the same flaw, or flawed assumption, the scientific method doesn’t help much.

  69. Keith says:

    G. Rodrigues: I went back to Wikipedia (I confess!), and I didn’t find my misunderstanding. I would welcome an explanation of where I got it wrong (and I’m happy to agree not to reply if you’d rather not get into a discussion — I’m just curious what my mistake was).

  70. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    my reading of EAAN made me think Plantinga argued (1) evolution plus naturalism must result in unreliable minds, but (2) our minds are basically reliable, so evolution plus naturalism isn’t what happened. I’m agreeing with (1), but not with (2), that’s why I tried to flag the place where I wandered off the farm.

    Plantinga isn’t arguing for 2. His point is that if our minds do not reliably form true beliefs that is a defeater for all your beliefs including naturalism.

    Tom was making a similar point in relation to Rosenberg – you cannot argue coherently for the truth of a proposition if none of your thoughts are about anything. You can’t even live as if it was true which should count as evidence that there is a mismatch between reality and Rosenberg’s view of reality. We experience our thoughts as being about things, surely you can see how ridiculous is is to ignore this evidence (because that is what it is) without a very good reason – and there is no good reason.

  71. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    The crux of Plantinga’s EAAN argument is to prove the implication

    (A) E and N => P

    where E stands for Evolution theory, N for metaphysical naturalism and P for the statement “Human cognitive faculties are unreliable”. Since you already grant the consequent P the only work left to do is one of mopping up.

    If the human cognitive faculties are unreliable then whatever argument you have for the truth of E and N is itself on epistemological shaky grounds and cannot be relied upon; meaning, even if E and N were true, it is impossible for us to know it. We can expand on this, and Plantinga does, but this is enough.

    And no, science does not work in the crude, idealized fashion you describe; you simply do not know what you are talking about. Literally. But *even* if it did, it would not help you one iota, because the unreliability of cognitive faculties is at a fundamental level, e.g. about things as simple as reading a thermometer or applying modus ponens — they are all untrustworthy, so *all* knowledge is just so much junk, including whatever arguments you care to give that all knowledge is just so much junk.

  72. bigbird says:

    @Keith, as G. Rodrigues says if our cognitive faculties are unreliable (as Plantinga implies is the case if we accept naturalism), we can know nothing. We have no scientific method.

  73. TFBW says:

    Keith says in #43:

    Every experience we have involves our brains lying to us. From filling in the blind-spot in our vision, to the fact our memories are re-written and modified every time we “remember” anything (and including the literally hundreds of demonstrable, repeatable errors our brains make in normal decision-making), our brains lie.

    Keith says in #49:

    In other words, “repeatable reports by unreliable reporters” does help the case, and in fact, that’s a fair restatement of the scientific method.

    Keith says in #68:

    When every experiment contains the same flaw, or flawed assumption, the scientific method doesn’t help much.

    Short version: simple repetition helps reduce the impact of random errors; varying the method of the investigation helps eliminate systematic errors inherent to a particular method; but nothing can compensate for the inherent flaws of human cognition, whatever they may be. Science can not be more reliable than the human brain at the end of the day, so any reservations you have about the human brain should also apply to products of the human brain, like science and philosophy.

    On that note, Keith says in #45:

    If you’re going to argue the brain is a trustworthy, reliable reporter of, well, “anything at all”, you’re going to have a bad time.

    Do we have your brain’s word for it? The word of many scientists with similar brains? Do they all wish to testify as to the unreliability of the organ that they have used to produce this advice? Will they swear on a stack of unreliable grey matter that their grey matter is unreliable?

    Well, then, I suppose I had better doubt their word for it!

    Rosenberg’s argument is similar, but he cuts his own legs off at the knees in a much more dramatic and complete manner.

    Regardless of how unreliable you think the brain might be, there are forms of knowledge that are only available to you by thinking: rational knowledge, such as knowledge of logic; moral knowledge (if such a thing can exist at all); and the knowledge that you are experiencing things — sights, sounds, smells, pleasures, pains. You might be tempted to think that brain measurements can supersede that last category of knowledge, but it can’t: our understanding of the relationship between brain activity and conscious experience is based on the testimony of people who say that they are consciously experiencing such-and-such a thing.

    Don’t drink too deeply of the scientism Kool-aid, friend.

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, would you please tell us whether or how you would distinguish between,

    “in every experience our brains lie to us,”

    and

    “everything we experience is a lie from our brains”?

    In other words, is every experience marred somewhat (to some extent) by deception, or is everything we experience a complete deception?

    Also, maybe you answered this once before–I was too busy to keep up yesterday in particular–but who is the “us” to whom the brain is lying?

  75. Keith says:

    Everybody:

    Thanks for the correction on Plantinga, I’ll look more closely at that.

    I’m hearing a lot of versions of something like “Science cannot be more reliable than the human brain at the end of the day, so any reservations you have about the human brain should also apply to products of the human brain, like science and philosophy”, and “if our cognitive faculties are unreliable, we can know nothing”.

    Yes, but no.

    First, we need to agree our cognitive faculties are unreliable. Every time you write yourself a sticky note, misremember something or demonstrate one of the endless forms of irrationality common to humanity, you prove that point. If anyone thinks their mind is reliable, well, there’s no polite way to say it, you’re wrong. (If you have any doubt at all, spend 30 minutes reading the Wikipedia page titled “List of biases in judgment and decision making”.)

    Second, science is more reliable than any person’s mind. The scientific method is all about correcting the unreliability of the mind by applying process. For example, we design experiments to correct for the natural bias of the person running the experiment, resulting in science that is more reliable than the experimenter’s mind. Or to state this a different way, saying you cannot correct for the mind’s unreliability means that putting a note next to your keys to remind yourself to pick up milk, doesn’t actually work.

    To be clear, I would agree we are using one thing the mind does well in order to correct a different thing the mind does not do well, and in that sense, science can never be more reliable than the sum total of all of our minds working in concert to correct each other. If that’s what you meant, we’re at least partially arguing semantics and I apologize for missing that!

    Third, the fact my mind is unreliable in one area doesn’t make it unreliable in another area, or even consistently unreliable in the same way all the time. It’s a physical system: as a simple example if your blood sugar is high, you may behave irrationally. If your blood sugar is low, you guessed it… you may behave irrationally.

    I hear this being presented as all-or-nothing, or as Melissa said, “if our minds do not reliably form true beliefs that is a defeater for all your beliefs including naturalism”. That’s not true: if I’m bad at math, that doesn’t mean the human race is bad at math. Melissa might be quite good at math, and the day will be saved. Or, as it turns out, the human race might be quite good at creating machines that are really good at math, and again, the day is saved.

    I honestly don’t understand the all-or-nothing nature of this pronouncement. If you foot is sprained, you get crutches and keep walking. The processes we’ve put in place in our daily lives and in science are the crutches for our brains.

    The fact the brain is sometimes unreliable is a problem, but hardly means that I can never trust anything I think, just that I must correct for the fact my mind is unreliable.

    When G. Rodrigues says “so *all* knowledge is just so much junk, including whatever arguments you care to give that all knowledge is just so much junk”, I have no idea how to respond. Either G. Rodrigues believes his mind reliable (in which case, he’s reading Wikipedia right this second and becoming seriously depressed), or he’s lying in bed because there’s simply no point to getting up in the morning, since he knows his mind is incapable of navigating the stairs.

    Fourth, I think TFBW makes a good point when saying “nothing can compensate for the inherent flaws of human cognition, whatever they may be.” There may, in fact, be inherent flaws in the human brain, common to all brains and undetectable by science. I grant that point, but would reply it’s inappropriate to use that argument as evidence of error in the existing body of science.

    The possibility of undetectable, inherent flaws doesn’t mean airplanes are likely to fall out of the air because our understanding of physics is fundamentally flawed, or that evolution is likely to be proven wrong because our understanding of natural selection, geology or radiometric decay is fundamentally flawed. We have hundreds of years of data and repeated experimentation and the standard model of physics has been stable for a very long time; it’s not going to change in fundamental ways.

    Finally, as someone once said, we’re all tugging at the same bootstraps. Anybody who says the brain is reliable doesn’t get a seat at the table: it’s simply, factually, not true. Which means that all of us: atheists, philosophers, scientists and theists alike, are trying to measure things and reach agreement when we all possess slightly different, constantly changing rulers.

  76. Keith says:

    I would read/restate “in every experience our brains lie to us” as “an objective reality exists, but our senses give our brain an imperfect representation of that reality”.

    I would read/restate “everything we experience is a lie from our brains” as “none of our experiences have anything to do with any objective reality (if one even exists)”, which makes me wonder where the brain would be, of course.

    I believe with some confidence there is an objective reality and every experience of it is marred somewhat by deception (otherwise people would relate common experiences the same way, and they don’t). I don’t believe everything we experience is a complete deception.

    I’m going with “believe” here, of course. If we’re all a computer simulation a la “The Matrix”, everything we experience would be a complete deception, although it’s tricky to think about what the word “we” would mean in that context.

    At some point the semantics of the language are insufficient.

    > Who is the “us” to whom the brain is lying?

    Ask Locke, or maybe Hume, not me! :-)

    I’m guessing you’re making the point that “lying” is a bad word choice? (Not to complain, I’m the one who used it first.)

    This is a weakness of mine, I tend to visualize my brain as a computer that takes in data and outputs rational decisions; obviously we know that’s not the case, but it leads me to use words like “lying” when the computer messes up.

    From a physical view I agree with you, there’s no lying, only physical processes bumping up against each other.

  77. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    It seems you are arguing that each person has individual mental limitations and biases. I agree. I wouldn’t say that those add up to the mind being generally unreliable. That’s an unfair an inaccurate generalization. For the most part these things can be corrected to some extent – especially when a person is put into a situation where these limitations and biases need to be overcome (jury, problem solving, better focus).

  78. Keith says:

    SteveK: yes, with one tweak.

    The mind is always unreliable about some things: for example consider the moon, Ponzo and other visual illusions.

    We all know the moon isn’t larger when it’s near the horizon, and yet the mind always shows it to us as larger. We can correct for the effect (hold up a ruler!), we can trick the mind into doing a better job (I’ve read that bending over and looking between your legs will work), but the mind won’t budge on this one.

    In other words, in the same way our mind is wired to work well in some ways, it’s wired to work poorly in others.

    So, “generally unreliable” is unfair/inaccurate only in certain domains, it’s absolutely fair/accurate in others.

  79. Michael Powell says:

    I have 2 things to say about this:

    1. I don’t know anything about Rosenberg beyond what was written in this article, but more celebrated philosophers have grappled for centuries with the conflict between determinism and free will, with similarly unsatisfactory conclusions. Rene Descartes, who famously sought to derive a complete system of philosophy from the first principle of “Cogito Ergo Sum”, came to the pretty shaky conclusion that the mechanical world was purely deterministic, but that a free soul was connected to the mechanical body through the pineal gland. Many people have made many pronouncements about the illusory nature of free will and thought, both from the perspective of mechanical determinism (like Rosenberg) and from the assumption of God’s omniscience/omnipotence (like John Calvin). It’s a difficult question to answer from either perspective, especially when our experience of will is so vivid. I don’t personally accept the conclusion that my thoughts are pure mechanical determinism, but I also don’t have a mechanism to point to that wrests them from the flow of cause and effect. How neural function (and the quantum effects therein) translates into high level cognition is still quite uncertain and leaves plenty of room for new understanding. The claims Rosenberg makes, based on his apparently religious attachment to the current state of science, demonstrate a kind of hubris anyone should try to avoid.

    2. ALL THAT BEING SAID, the writer of the article employs some pretty poor logic to bend Rosenberg’s statements into his own conclusion. Rosenberg’s point about thoughts (as I gather it, and presuming it’s consistent with the fact that he was capable of thinking it up) is that human cognition is not some metaphysical process that connects to ideas in a Platonic sense, but is the activity of a sort of wetware computer whose state derives deterministically from the state of the rest of the universe around it through strict cause-and-effect from every other state that proceeded it. Thoughts aren’t “about” anything because they’re just mechanical elements of deterministic states, and as such are neither meaningfully “true” or “false”. The writer of the article, in what reads as either deliberate misdirection or non-rigorous logical thought, declares that this ambivalence means that thoughts are False because they cannot be declared True. Therefore, he claims, Rosenberg’s insistence on Atheism coupled with this theory proves that Atheism is False! Except it doesn’t mean that at all. Rosenberg’s model is that our brains are computers running deterministically, reacting to environmental sensory data in a structured way. If such a computer is complex enough to attempt to answer the existence of God based on scientific observation and logical contemplation, then the answer that computer produces may align very well with the actual nature of reality. Atheism, in this sense, is no more discredited by the physical nature of thoughts than any form of faith. In fact, if atheism is the result of a more logical meat computation process than religion, as Rosenberg suggests with his promotion of “scientism”, then there is no contradiction and faith lacks a leg to stand on.

    It seems apparent that the writer took a number of liberties in order to produce this smug little article. It’s difficult to say how much was deliberate and how much was simply sloppy thinking.

  80. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    First, we need to agree our cognitive faculties are unreliable.

    No, we do not. I do not.

    Second, science is more reliable than any person’s mind.

    False.

    The scientific method is all about correcting the unreliability of the mind by applying process.

    False, that is not what the scientific method is about. Even if it were, since the scientific method is a *product* of the human mind, it is impossible for it to work *unless* minds are basically reliable. Notice that no one is disputing that mistakes are made, that illusions occur, etc. But even the very notion of illusion *presupposes* the basic reliability of the cognitive capacities of the mind, for otherwise we would not even be able to make the distinction between illusions and correct visual perceptive experiences.

    What all here are adamant about is that the mind is reliable at some basic level, for otherwise science would not even be possible. Until you stop with this false myth that somehow science is “correcting the unreliability of the mind” you will not get anywhere.

    I honestly don’t understand the all-or-nothing nature of this pronouncement.

    There are two distinct things here: first, *you* made that pronouncement, when you *repeatedly* made the unqualified claim that the mind is unreliable, so we can hardly be faulted for taking you at face value. Second, it is the *conclusion* of the EANN that *if* both Evolution theory and metaphysical naturalism are true then our cognitive faculties are unreliable (note: this needs to be refined, as Plantinga formulates the conclusion in probabilistic terms. Deductive forms of the argument from reason are much better in this respect). If you want to prove Plantinga wrong, you have to say where exactly the mistake is being made.

    Either G. Rodrigues believes his mind reliable (in which case, he’s reading Wikipedia right this second and becoming seriously depressed), or he’s lying in bed because there’s simply no point to getting up in the morning, since he knows his mind is incapable of navigating the stairs.

    Do you know what is a reductio ad absurdum argument? Whether you find it depressing or not is irrelevant, what is relevant is whether you can answer it.

    I grant that point, but would reply it’s inappropriate to use that argument as evidence of error in the existing body of science.

    Pay attention, please. That is not the argument, nobody is claiming there is “error in the existing body of science”.

    Anybody who says the brain is reliable doesn’t get a seat at the table: it’s simply, factually, not true.

    Now you are contradicting yourself and returning to your original contention. Make up your mind.

  81. SteveK says:

    Keith

    The mind is always unreliable about some things: for example consider the moon, Ponzo and other visual illusions.

    False…and your next statement proves it to be just that.

    We can correct for the effect (hold up a ruler!), we can trick the mind into doing a better job (I’ve read that bending over and looking between your legs will work), but the mind won’t budge on this one.

    The mind recognized the error and adjusted. You cannot say the mind is unreliable and then go on to say it has the fundamental, inherent, reliable ability to overcome these things. This fundamental reliability was demonstrated prior to the invention of the modern scientific method and it continues today.

    Modern science is merely a *demonstration* of the minds general reliability.

  82. Keith says:

    G. Rodrigues: I think we’re partially in heated agreement.

    As far as I can tell, you and I agree the mind makes mistakes, but you object to my categorization of the mind as “unreliable”. I think this is similar to Steve K.’s point: in other words, we all agree the mind makes mistakes, but you and Steve argue the mistakes don’t rise to the level of unreliability.

    I’m OK with that: the mind makes mistakes, but is generally reliable (and I would add the mind is more or less reliable depending on the problem domain, because there are problem domains where the mind simply gets it wrong, each and every time).

    When you say science isn’t about correcting the unreliability of the mind, I can see how that’s a problem for you, if you don’t agree the mind is unreliable.

    Perhaps we could agree part of the methods of science are about avoiding and/or correcting the mistakes of the mind (for example, experiment design is about correcting experimental bias, a “mistake of the mind”), and we can further agree the mind’s general reliability in some problem domains is what allows us to avoid/correct those mistakes?

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael, thank you for your comment.

    I don’t say that thoughts are false because they can’t be declared true (on Rosenberg’s naturalism). I say they are neither true nor false because truth or falsehood requires an aboutness relationship which Rosenberg denies exists.

    So if you have a thought about something, say, that atheism is true, then there must perforce be an aboutness relationship there. But if there is an aboutness relationship, then Rosenberg is wrong to deny that there is any such thing as an aboutness relationship. As I wrote,

    So if Rosenberg’s scientism is true, then it is absolutely impossible for him or anyone else to think it’s true; for that would require thinking a true thought about scientism when no thought could be about anything at all.

    Again: If Rosenberg’s atheism is true, then it is absolutely impossible for him or anyone else to think it’s true; for that would require thinking a true thought about atheism when no thought could be about anything at all.

    Now if Rosenberg is wrong about the aboutness relationship (as he must be if one can successfully think, atheism is true), then he is wrong about what led him to deny the aboutness relationship, which boils down to this: his naturalistic version of atheism cannot be true.

    Meanwhile your analogy of a computer fails, on Rosenberg’s model; for in order for a computer to answer some question (the existence of God or any other question), the computer’s output would have to be about the question; but Rosenberg denies any aboutness relationships whatsoever. If the computer could in fact answer some question, that would entail the existence of an aboutness relationship there; and again as in the previous paragraph, Rosenberg’s worldview explanation would be a failure.

    Everything I wrote was deliberate, thank you, your smug little assessment notwithstanding. The “sloppy thinking” you think you identified in it was in fact something you said I said, but not anything that I actually did say.

  84. Tom Gilson says:

    P.S.: Granted (your part 1) that it is a difficult question, I want to at least clarify that John Calvin never said that free will or thought were illusory.

  85. Keith says:

    SteveK: I think we’re (at least partially) in heated agreement as well.

    I agree the mind used something it was good at (building tools that measure things) to correct for something it was bad at (the visual system has a number of suboptimal features, to be kind).

    And I would agree the scientific method is a codification of processes that have been around longer than “science”.

    I disagree that the fact the mind finds ways to compensate for its mistakes means the mind is mistake-free, or that compensation for some subset of possible mistakes means it can be trusted not to commit other, unrelated mistakes. Which is what I mean by the word “unreliable”.

    Steve, I’m confused by something I’m hearing in your and G. Rodrigues’ posts: you’re fine if I say the mind makes “mistakes”, but unhappy if I say the mind is “unreliable”.

    Why, and how do you draw the distinction between the two?

  86. Keith says:

    Tom: When you say Calvin believed in free will how do you define free will?

    I was always taught that Calvin’s view of free will was complex, but leaning toward determinism; Calvin certainly believed God’s will was primary (to the point of believing God willed Adam’s fall, even if Adam was at fault). In other words, I would have hesitated before saying Calvin believed in free will in the sense that most people mean it.

  87. Tom Gilson says:

    Calvin believed that there was no freedom with respect to whether one is elect to be saved. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he grappled much with free will otherwise.

  88. Michael Powell says:

    Rosenberg’s position on “Aboutness” is an odd and difficult to define stand taken with the purpose of hammering home the idea that brains and their states are purely mechanical. “About” is an abstract metaphysical construct, and his entire point (again, as I read it) is that brains operate on pure physics. Metaphysics, writ large, are an illusion, so he denies them with regard to brain activity. But at the same time, the surrounding universe has properties that can be said to exist or not exist, and clearly brains tend to produce pronouncements that describe those properties. So Rosernberg’s mechanical brain activity can produce output, and that output takes the form of a metaphysical argument about the truth of science and God, but the brain activity itself isn’t properly related to the metaphysical notions it’s producing. It’s not a very satisfying argument because it contradicts the prima facie experience of being a person with thoughts, but it does have an internal consistency that you misrepresent. Per his model, the fact that brain activity lacks metaphysical properties does not affect the accuracy of a statement, once made.

    The smugness I refer to comes down to how you take his position on brain physics and deliberately misrepresent it as an indictment of statements of fact. Rosenberg, per his model, may be a meat computer, but he may also have expressed a true statement about the world. How one describes his neural activity is irrelevant, and I think you know that.

    Furthermore, the last line where you imply that your ridicule of a questionable philosopher is somehow evidence for the existence of God comes out of nowhere and is clear nonsense.

  89. SteveK says:

    Keith,

    I’m confused by something I’m hearing in your and G. Rodrigues’ posts: you’re fine if I say the mind makes “mistakes”, but unhappy if I say the mind is “unreliable”.

    Why, and how do you draw the distinction between the two?

    One is fundamental, the other is a product of the fundamental.

    Since you like thinking in computer terms, the operating system (I’m guessing because I’m not a computer expert) would be the fundamental “mind” of the computer. This system must be reliable in order for the computer to complete ANY “mental” task successfully. If the operating system is fundamentally unreliable then ALL tasks would be unreliable.

    The fact that we, as humans, have ANY reliable mental capabilities is proof that the mind is reliable at the fundamental level but unreliable in other ways.

    That’s how I would explain it, but perhaps G. Rodrigues can better explain. He always manages to do that.

  90. Keith says:

    Tom, Calvin did consider with free will in the context of more than just salvation.

    One of the chapters of “Institutes of the Christian Religion” (a book I must admit I’ve never read, which is a little ironic given Calvin’s focus on slothfulness), is “Man Now Deprived of Freedom of Will and Miserably Enslaved”, and starts off “… it becomes necessary to inquire, whether the sons of Adam are deprived of all liberty; and if any particle of liberty remains, how far its power extends?”

  91. Michael Powell says:

    Brains do not have operating systems. They’re organically grown neural networks that develop according to a rough pattern and self-organize on a raw level based on feedback. Their sense of reliability is due to a honing of processes based on trial and error during development and the inherent robustness of their massive parallelism. Brains are not fundamentally reliable because they can be modified into malfunctioning states through physical means (chemicals, physical trauma, temperature) and nonphysical means (disinformation, mental trauma).

  92. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael, could you explain how it’s possible for a thought in the brain to be true or false when it is not about anything? If I’m wrong on this I’ll gladly own up to that, but at this point I don’t know of any way around the conclusion I’ve presented.

  93. Tom Gilson says:

    Further (and for example) you say,

    But at the same time, the surrounding universe has properties that can be said to exist or not exist, and clearly brains tend to produce pronouncements that describe those properties.

    Rosenberg is quite insistent that the brain’s output is not about “those properties,” or about anything else, for that matter. So I have to wonder how a brain could describe any X when its output strictly cannot be about that X.

  94. Keith says:

    When you say the mind is reliable at a fundamental level, well, that’s a mistake. :-)

    The mind is composed of multiple, relatively independent units, believed to have appeared at different times in man’s evolution (for example, the cerebrum is the source of higher brain functions such as thought and action and appeared most recently, the limbic system handles lower level tasks like sensory and motor functions, the brain stem handles even lower level tasks like breathing and heartbeat: the more fundamental the task, the earlier it appeared evolutionarily). The parts sometimes cooperate and sometimes override each other: there’s nothing at the bottom that “just works” and everything else is built on that working part.

    Each part of the mind fails, or makes mistakes, in its own way. For example, many visual illusions have nothing to do with the highest levels of the brain, they’re fundamentally part of the underlying visual processing system itself, so by the time the information gets to “you”, the mistake has already been made.

  95. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    because there are problem domains where the mind simply gets it wrong, each and every time

    And what are these problem domains?

    And if in such a problem domain, “the mind simply gets it wrong, each and every time”, how can we even know that it “gets it wrong”? In order to know that it “gets it wrong”, it must recognize a mistake was made and where the mistake was made, which *just is* “getting it right”.

    Perhaps we could agree part of the methods of science are about avoiding and/or correcting the mistakes of the mind (for example, experiment design is about correcting experimental bias, a “mistake of the mind”), and we can further agree the mind’s general reliability in some problem domains is what allows us to avoid/correct those mistakes?

    No, I do not agree with that, because science is emphatically not “about avoiding and/or correcting the mistakes of the mind”, neither is experimental bias a “mistake of the mind”. You are equivocating left and right and using sloppy language, making it very difficult to follow you.

    In fact you consistently equivocate throughout the thread. Just one example among many: you speak about people climbing to the top of the Hill, surveying the landscape and concluding that the Earth is flat. This is not a “mistake of the mind”, not in the sense of the mind falling prey to an illusion or whatever. What it is, is an illegitimate inference from the available data. A whole different kettle of fish.

    Think about it for a minute. If you agree that the mind is generally reliable, why would there be a need to correct it? I repeat, it is simply a false myth that somehow science is “correcting the unreliability of the mind”. False as in not true, wrong, incorrect, etc. Both as a matter of the history of science and of the actual practice of scientists everyday. In fact, even as a matter of principle, as a moment’s thought will tell you.

    you’re fine if I say the mind makes “mistakes”, but unhappy if I say the mind is “unreliable”.

    Here is an analogy: suppose I ask you to perform the multiplication 163475472762 * 484264141353 by hand, using the standard multiplication algorithm. It would probably take you a lot of time, and probably you would make a lot of mistakes in the way forcing you to go back and do it all again. The point here is not so much that mistakes can be, and are, made, but that we can recognize them in the first place. And because we can recognize mistakes, we can correct them. And because we can correct them, our cognitive facilities are essentially reliable for if they were not reliable we would not be able to even recognize that we made mistakes much less correct them.

    @Michael Powell:

    Brains are not fundamentally reliable because they can be modified into malfunctioning states through physical means (chemicals, physical trauma, temperature) and nonphysical means (disinformation, mental trauma).

    This is as silly as saying that people are not “fundamentally alive” because we can club them to death. And it is self-refuting. But self-awareness does not seem to be the strongest suite of some commenters.

  96. Michael Powell says:

    Well, again, this is speaking for the Rosenberg model, so it uses his meaning for the word “thought”, describing the neural state/activity of the brain. The thought itself is a bundle of electrical impulses in a pattern, which cannot be said to be “true” or “false” or “about” anything, in the same way the state of a logic gate in a computer cannot be said to have independent meaning. However, emergent from this low level activity is an ability to interpret a lifetime of complex sensory data in an incredibly detailed way and produce language to describe those interpretations. The “thought in the brain” is a meat computer, but the language that describes the interpretations is subject to discussions of truth and falsehood when compared to objective reality. If God does not in fact exist, and a statement is made that God does not exist, it does not matter whether the statement is made by a complex meat computer or an abstracted mind containing “true thoughts”. The statement would be true regardless.

  97. Keith says:

    G. Rodrigues: In order to know that it “gets it wrong”, it must recognize a mistake was made and where the mistake was made, which *just is* “getting it right”.

    Only in the sense that having your car break down on your way to work, walking back home, getting on your bicycle and peddling to work, is the same as your car never having broken down in the first place.

  98. Tom Gilson says:

    Again, though, Michael, what is the relationship between this true statement of which you speak, and the conditions concerning which it is true? Must it not be an about relationship? I’m genuinely puzzled as to how it could be anything else.

    How could a statement that God does not exist be true if it is not about God and his existence or nonexistence?

  99. SteveK says:

    However, emergent from this low level activity is an ability to interpret a lifetime of complex sensory data in an incredibly detailed way and produce language to describe those interpretations.

    It’s a closed system, Michael. How does this closed system, which cannot be said to be “true” or “false” or “about” anything, make the transition to about some thing? If it had the inherent ability to make this transition to begin with then that ability must be part of the closed system. But this is what you are denying. You are attempting to gain a free lunch where something new comes from nothing, where ability comes from complete lack of ability.

  100. Michael Powell says:

    This is a “finger pointing to the moon” situation. You’re focused on the statement. We can be meat computers and all of our thoughts and statements and activities are totally without meaning or purpose on an objective level. The statements we make are empty because they’re the mechanical result of our mechanical brains. Nothing is about anything because we’re all bundles of cogs. At the same time, there can be no God. So viewed through the lens of language the statement is true. But the statement itself is a mechanical output with no purpose.

    Look, Rosenberg is apparently a crappy reductivist philosopher who is unwilling or unable to describe layers of complexity or engage at which point abstraction enters the picture. His absolute use of the term “aboutness” invites and deserves mockery because it’s a philosophy that denies philosophy.

  101. Tom Gilson says:

    I think we can agree on that!

  102. Melissa says:

    Only in the sense that having your car break down on your way to work, walking back home, getting on your bicycle and peddling to work, is the same as your car never having broken down in the first place.

    I guess in your analogy you are relating the car to the brain but who is the driver and what is the bicycle? If you we’re going to be accurate you would need a car that realises it’s not working, fixes itself and then keeps going. If I had a car like that I would consider it generally reliable, wouldn’t you?

    But, all of that is slightly off track anyway because you ignored the main point which is that if we always get the wrong answers in particular domains we have no way of knowing that.

  103. d says:

    The EAAN only works if one buys the really big assumption that the truth values of beliefs have no connection to their adaptive fitness.

    I’m aware Plantina argues at length that this must be the case on naturalism, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt his view. In any case, the naturalist simply needs to support a counter-assumption… that true beliefs do tend to bolster adaptive fitness. There’s a lot to work out there surely, but the EEAN is no check-mate.

    Also, I don’t think Plantinga actually raises Christianity out of the exact same epistemic quagmire. The EEAN gives rise to an epistemic problem of evil of sorts. False beliefs are an epistemic evil to Plantinga’s truth-valuing God. So how does one explain a world that contains so many deceptions, even about the truths He most wants us to grasp? In short, to explain it, you have to start introducing all sorts of things that undermine the very confidence Plantinga wants to have in our truth-detecting faculties, under theism. Demons, Devils, and impaired sensus divinitatus-es – and even worse – perhaps God has good reasons beyond our ken, to allow us to be deceived, much like He may have good reasons to let babies die of starvation, etc.

  104. Holopupenko says:

    I’m aware Plantin[g]a argues at length that this must be the case on naturalism, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt his view.

    [Memo: being aware in no way implies you understand... or want to understand. That much is clear based on the character of your comments.]

    Name one philosophical argument to counter Plantinga’s, and provide the verifiable references. Then provide verifiable references for the “plenty” of “reasons” to which you refer.

    [Memo: "reasons" are not arguments.]

  105. bigbird says:

    The EAAN only works if one buys the really big assumption that the truth values of beliefs have no connection to their adaptive fitness.

    Given that there are an infinite number of false values of beliefs, I think the really big assumption is that the truth values of beliefs *do* have a connection to their adaptive fitness.

    The EEAN gives rise to an epistemic problem of evil of sorts. False beliefs are an epistemic evil to Plantinga’s truth-valuing God. So how does one explain a world that contains so many deceptions, even about the truths He most wants us to grasp?

    Your statement implicitly accepts that we *can* know true beliefs from false beliefs.

  106. Michael Powell says:

    Beliefs are memes (in the original Dawkins sense) whose chances of survival are dependent on their attractiveness for propagation, which is not dependent on objective truth. Certainly, ideas that are proven or rigorously arguable are often compelling, but many others survive on a combination of a grandly intriguing premise and a convenient non-disprovability. I would say that God is the latter type but that’s perhaps another argument.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    Apparently you believe memes are real.

  108. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s ironic in this context that memes’ existence (in Dawkins’ original sense) is neither proven nor rigorously arguable. They are in fact conveniently non-disprovable, and I think it could even be said that Dawkins employed them as part of an intriguing, grand explanatory premise.

    For my part, I think the whole thing is hogwash. Memes in the informal, derived sense are real enough, but not in Dawkins’ sense.

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    But that’s another argument.

  110. bigbird says:

    For my part, I think the whole thing is hogwash. Memes in the informal, derived sense are real enough, but not in Dawkins’ sense.

    Agreed. A pseudo-scientific word for “idea”.

  111. Michael Powell says:

    I mean, certainly, a meme is not an object laying on the ground with a height and width that can be measured. It’s a philosophical abstraction that isn’t meant to be proven so much as shown to be useful in describing things. Ideas (and various idea-like subunits) get varying levels of traction in the popular consciousness, and tend to spread and mutate as they’re passed along. I don’t think that core observation is particularly strange or controversial. Dawkins used the then-neologism “meme” to describe this phenomenon because he thought it analogous to the way genes propagate. It’s in line with Wiener’s conception of cybernetics, which is a fascinating piece of theory that basically describes the underpinnings between any system involving data and structure. You may sneer at Dawkins if you like –either for his hubris in coining a term (like any philosopher) or out of spite due to his strident Atheism– but the meme concept is actually quite valuable when it comes to describing how ideas propagate. I don’t think you can look at the internet (particularly the proliferation of the “informal, derived sense”) and claim with any credibility that there’s nothing to the metaphor he presents.

  112. bigbird says:

    the meme concept is actually quite valuable when it comes to describing how ideas propagate.

    Really? In what way is ‘meme’ more useful than ‘idea’?

  113. TFBW says:

    “Meme” is more useful than “idea” to Dawkins, because “idea” is emotionally neutral, whereas “meme” has the connotation of a harmful virus. This gives Dawkins great rhetorical advantage when referring to ideas that he hates — religious ideas, specifically.

    To the extent that it is supposed to offer anything beyond rhetorical utility, it is supposed to draw a parallel between the reproduction of ideas, and the reproduction of genes by cellular life. Taken in a literal sense, the idea is completely wrongheaded, because ideas are not even physical things, and do not “reproduce” in any literal sense at all (try counting them), let alone in a manner that is remotely analogous to sexual or asexual cellular reproduction. He’s applying biology to information theory when he should be working the other way around.

    It’s supposed to have scientific utility despite these obvious shortcomings because Dawkins thinks that everything is better when viewed through the lens of Darwinism. He calls it “having one’s consciousness raised by Darwin.” I call it “having one’s head in the clouds.”

  114. bigbird says:

    “Meme” is more useful than “idea” to Dawkins, because “idea” is emotionally neutral, whereas “meme” has the connotation of a harmful virus.

    Dawkins did not consider that memes in general have that connotation – only memes he doesn’t like.

    Anyway I think I’ll bail out of any further discussion about memes, as it seems to me to be rather pointless.

  115. TFBW says:

    Dawkins did not consider that memes in general have that connotation – only memes he doesn’t like.

    He only calls ideas “memes” when he doesn’t like them. When he first coins the term, he’s neutral about it, even including as an example “a good idea” that a scientist hears about and passes on. By the end of that paragraph, however, he draws the virus analogy, and the tone changes, as follows.

    When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking — the meme for, say, “belief in life after death” is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.

    Oh, look: he chose a religious idea to illustrate the parasitic virus analogy. Straight after that, he’s on to the subject of the God meme. So “meme” lacked a negative connotation for about the first half a page of its existence. Since then, as far as I can tell, he’s only applied the term to ideas he doesn’t like (even if others have used the term in a more neutral way). Something is “just a meme” when it is a popular idea that lacks any actual merit (by his judgement). When you believe in something related to religion, for example, your brain is being parasitized by a meme; in contrast, when you see something in terms of Darwinian evolution, you are having your consciousness raised.

    There’s something fundamentally screwed up about the idea that memes “literally parasitize” brains. What the heck are brains for if not for processing ideas? Ideas are not hostile foreign matter to a brain in the way that a virus is hostile foreign matter to a cell. It seems, by his model, that the only brain which is free of parasites is the one which is void of all ideas — or at least that would be the case if “meme” were actually synonymous with “idea”.

    I think his fan-base laps up the idea so uncritically because it’s such a super way to dismiss religion as a whole without needing to bother with any pesky details. It means that religious views can be categorically dismissed as invasive parasites that have subverted the rational processes of the brain. It’s not an argument: it’s a diagnosis.

  116. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    The EAAN only works if one buys the really big assumption that the truth values of beliefs have no connection to their adaptive fitness.

    No, that it is not the assumption. I suggest you go and read the argument.

    note: for various reasons., some of them internal to the logical structure of the EANN, I much prefer the arguments from reason from Hasker, Lewis, Reppert, etc. They actually go back at least to the Scholastics, since the special status of human beings — say, immortal souls — is derived from the capacity for reason and what this means exactly.

    Either way, I find it highly amusing that the detractors of the EANN are in general the same people that decry religion as an evil superstition, when religion (and superstion and credulity and…) are positively endemic in human culture. A well-known intellectual bag of hot air even compared religion to a mental virus. These are the same people that keep telling us how the brain is generally unreliable and whatnot. And in the same breath they go after Plantinga and say with a straight face that no, Evolution — given how people talk about it, I gather it is a magic spirit guiding our biological history — guarantees the general reliability of our cognitive faculties.

    Shrug shoulders.

    Against stupidity even the gods contend in vain.

    – Schiller

  117. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    You may sneer at Dawkins if you like –either for his hubris in coining a term (like any philosopher) or out of spite due to his strident Atheism– but the meme concept is actually quite valuable when it comes to describing how ideas propagate.

    I will sneer at Dawkins and I will say that the concept of meme is virtually useless in describing how ideas “propagate”. Absolutely nothing was gained by coining a new word to suggest that ideas propagate like genes. Dawkins is a biologist, or at least his background is in biology, so I suppose that he laid hold of the only thing he knows: genes. But ideas — and that is what memes are — do not “replicate” in any meaningful sense of the word. They are not “viral” in any meaningful sense of the word. There is not a single piece of knowledge gained about the patterns of spreading ideas, quantitatively or qualitatively, that was not known before the concept was introduced. The very concept of meme is a meme so it is vulnerable to the same charges Dawkins makes against other memes. Etc. and etc.

    But I am with bigbird. This does not even deserve the trouble of a detailed critique — which do exist by the way.

  118. Keith says:

    Hi, Melissa.

    G. Rodrigues asked for specific problem domains, and you’re suggesting that even if such problem domains exist, we can’t know it. I think I can provide some specific examples of problem domains, and obviously, if you agree I’ve provided those examples, we can agree it’s possible to know the problem domains exist.

    The first example is economic valuation. It turns out that if I give you a glass of wine and ask for your evaluation, you will like it more if you think it costs a lot. This experiment has been repeated many times: fundamentally, your brain “likes” things in proportion to how expensive it believes they are (either in goods or effort, “expensive” isn’t necessarily monetary). Further, this applies to the exact same object: if I give you a glass of wine, get your evaluation, then tell you I’m about to give you another glass of wine that’s more expensive and give you the same wine as before, you will rate it higher the second time. Further, it doesn’t matter in which order you taste them: the “more expensive” glass will be rated higher than the identical “less expensive” glass in any order. In this case, your brain gets it wrong by answering a question based on irrelevant factors.

    This called “framing”, that is, the brain uses context in ways that context shouldn’t be used.

    You probably don’t care if you prefer expensive things regardless of their actual quality, but imagine if your doctor describes a treatment, and you’re trying to decide if you should have it. If your doctor says “90 out of 100 patients are alive after 5 years”, there’s some chance you’ll choose the treatment. If your doctor says “10 of 100 patients are dead after 5 years”, you’re much less likely to choose the treatment. What’s worse, if it’s framed that way to your doctor (the professional, presumably with experience), the doctor is also more/less likely to recommend the treatment depending on how you frame the question. In this case, your brain gets it wrong by incorrectly evaluating risk based on how the question is phrased and not the actual information.

    Then there’s “anchoring” (another example of your brain using context in ways it shouldn’t). If I ask people (1) How happy are you? and (2) How often are you dating (or having sex in the case of couples), the correlation of the two answers is low, that is, happiness is independent of dating/sex. If I reverse the order of the questions, the correlation is high, that is, you’re happy if you’re dating or having sex a lot. In other words, if I make the brain think about some value (how often are you dating?), the brain will use that same information to answer an entirely different question.

    Presumably dating is related to happiness, so there should be some natural correlation, but even irrelevant numbers cause the effect. If I ask you the last four digits of your phone number, then ask you to guess the date of some random historical event, your guess will be related to the digits of your phone numbers, that is, high digits in the phone number will result in more higher (more recent) years being chosen for the historical event. In these cases, your brain gets it wrong by using the same quantitative values repeatedly for entirely unrelated purposes.

    How about the “above average effect”? Over 90 percent of professors think they’re better than average professors. Over 90 percent of drivers think they’re better than average drivers. Gay men systematically underestimate the chance they’ll get AIDs based on their lifestyle. College students systematically overestimate their likelihood of career success. We’re all optimists, even when we have no reason to be. Once again, your brain gets it wrong.

    Then there are “false memories”. Show people a short film, and then ask them a set of questions about the film. When asking the questions, phrase a question to include planted information, for example, “Did you see the red car at the stop sign?”, when there was no stop sign in the film. Wait a few minutes, then ask the people to identify pictures from the film; a significant percentage of the people will identify pictures showing a stop sign because they were asked a question that mentioned a stop sign. In this case, your brain got it wrong by inventing a memory to match an event that never happened.

    Even when people aren’t trying to fool us, our memories are horrendous. A day after the space shuttle Challenger explosion, a psychologist asked 106 students to write down exactly how they heard about the explosion and what they were doing at the time. Two and a half years later (not 10 years, 2 years!), the students were interviewed: 25% told significantly different stories, and less than 10% had all of the details correct. What’s more interesting is every subject expressed a high degree of confidence in their recollections, including one wonderful comment by a student who, when shown his written notes, said “That’s my handwriting, but that’s not what happened.” In this case, your brain gets it wrong because your brain constantly re-writes memories and introduces errors.

    A side comment, just because it’s really, really interesting: one of the things we know about memory is the act of remembering something rewrites the memory. In other words, your memory isn’t a library where you go, find the book you want, and look something up. Instead, your memory is like a library where you go, take the book out, copy it (making a few mistakes here and there), and then return the book to the library.

    I won’t talk much about visual illusions, because most visual illusions are mistakes in the underlying vision system, that is, it’s not “you” that makes the mistake, it’s the eye itself or the basic vision processing that makes the mistake and your higher brain functions are getting bad information. But consider “inattentional blindness”, which is when “you” deliberately choose to ignore something terribly obvious.

    The classic example is the gorilla video (you can find it on YouTube). Put a bunch of people in a room with basketball players on the stage. Tell the basketball players to pass the ball around, and tell the people to count the passes between the players. While the subjects are busily counting passes, have someone in a gorilla suit walk onto the stage, dance around a bit, and walk off.

    It turns out most people won’t “see” the person in the gorilla suit. The problem is that when the brain concentrates, it tunes out other events. Of course, your visual system “saw” the gorilla, but your “mind” simply ignored it. Maybe this isn’t “your brain getting it wrong”, since you might reasonably want to concentrate on the other task, but since the object might be “an oncoming train”, it’s not exactly your brain “getting it right”.

    The idea of a “rational” brain is simply fiction. Consider the effect of sex on the decisions we make. Men who receive a loan offer with a picture of a smiling woman are more likely to take out a loan than those who receive an offer with a smiling man. Does a picture of a sexually attractive person make the terms of a loan better somehow?

    Or, more interestingly, take two bridges, one that’s risky to cross (a high suspension bridge, maybe rope railings), and one that’s easy to cross. Have a woman approach men after they cross the two bridges, and as part of the conversation give them her phone number. Significantly more of the men that cross the risky bridge will contact the woman vs. those that cross the safe bridge.

    And no, it’s not that men who choose to cross risky bridges are themselves more likely to later contact her — if the woman approaches the men 10 minutes after they cross the risky bridge, they will contact her at the same rate as those that crossed the safe bridge. It’s the act of crossing the risky bridge itself, and only for a short period of time, that changes the men’s “oh so rational” behavior.

    All of these examples are fundamental errors in brain function, where the brain simply gets the wrong results.

    The brain is neither “rational” or particularly good at many types of problem solving, and it’s trivial to cause it to make mistakes.

    A tool that decides the cancer treatment I choose, based not on the information, but on how the question is asked, is not “generally reliable”. A tool that can’t remember a momentous event for more than 2 years, or which invents memories of things that never happened, or that systematically overestimates my capabilities and underestimates risks, or that reuses recent information for no particular reason at all other than it was used recently, is not generally reliable.

    Finally, this is a tremendously abbreviated list, we could go on like this all day. If you’re interested deeper discussions and more examples, I’d recommend the books “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not” and “Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives”. The books “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness”, and “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior” are less technical but also interesting.

  119. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    Your response has, if I am not mistaken, 20 paragraphs and relates the examples of “framing”, “anchoring”, “above average effect”, “false memories”, “visual illusions”, “inattentional blindness” and “decision nudging”. Besides a few inaccuracies and the many equivocations, what is most remarkable is that you really do not understand the arguments if you think this proves what you think it proves. And by the way, no you have not provided examples of “problem domains”, at least, not in the usual sense the expression has.

    But at this point I am at a loss at what I can possibly say. Several arguments have already been given; you have responded to exactly none; you have not shown where they are wrong. Rather, you go on and on and on, with the same tiresome disquisitions as if nobody had ever responded to it.

    To quote from the blogger Codgitator:

    I really can’t get enough of it. Ordinary language arguments against ordinary language. Reasoned critiques of critical thought. Advisements to heed those whose vastly superior insight into reality enjoins us to ignore reality and all mortal authority. Sensible, sober reminders not to take common sense too seriously. Yep, I eat it up.

  120. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    I too am at a loss for words. I thought fundamentally unreliable meant exactly that, but now I see it doesn’t.

  121. Keith says:

    @G. Rodrigues: I replied because Melissa asked about explicit problem domains for the brain, and I thought that a question I should answer.

    I also don’t believe in the line you and SteveK draw that lets the brain make mistakes without being considered “unreliable”, and I believed I could push that idea a little farther down the road.

    When you say I have not provided any “problem domains”, I disagree. (Unless you are using “problem domain” in a specialized sense of which I’m unaware, which is certainly possible.)

    It’s clear I’m missing the points of your arguments, but I can assure you it’s not intentional. If you care to take the time and trouble to lead me through your arguments so I do understand them, I’m happy both to be wrong and to learn. Otherwise, I would agree you and I can’t get further, we’re talking past each other.

    Regardless, I would appreciate it if you’d post the inaccuracies you found: if I said something factually incorrect, I’d like to have it corrected.

  122. Michael Powell says:

    I’ve got news for you: genes, fundamentally, are packets of information. They’re encoded in nucleotides and exist to be read, transcribed, expressed, and propagated by what amounts to molecular machines. As such, viewed broadly, memes are not a shaky theoretical parallel to genes so much as they are a superset of elements of which genes are a specific expression. If you accept genetics and evolution as a mechanism (if you don’t, I can’t help you) and you consider God as the prime mover of biology, then in a very real sense genes are God’s biological memes.

    Remember, as an evolutionary biologist, Dawkins may not necessarily have the same moral prejudices the rest of us do towards viruses and parasites. A virus amounts to a piece of genetic material that relies on host organisms for reproduction. We think of viruses as illnesses, but that’s just because those are the ones with the most obvious expression. There is reason to believe that our species (and life in general) has contracted, adapted to, and lived symbiotically with countless benign or even beneficial viruses throughout our history. Even parasites can have benefits, as severe allergy sufferers have been known to see a complete remission through introduction of hookworms.

    Remember also that although Dawkins coined the the term “meme” and described it using the language he did, the idea exists independent of him now. You don’t have to let your spite boil over and poison what is a useful philosophical construct because you don’t like the guy who invented it. I only mentioned his name to differentiate my original usage from the popular internet usage.

  123. Keith says:

    SteveK: apologies all around, I guess it was kind of a long posting.

    I urge you to return to your previous thought: fundamentally unreliable means exactly that. :-)

  124. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    You don’t have to let your spite boil over and poison what is a useful philosophical construct because you don’t like the guy who invented it.

    What part of “it is a useless philosophical construct” do you not understand?

  125. SteveK says:

    Keith,
    If the mind is fundamentally unreliable, how are you able to function on your own? It’s because your mind is highly reliable *in the moment*.

    Do you question the veracity of your your immediate perceptions? I hope not, but if you don’t then you are not following your own argument. You should doubt that you are actually reading this on your computer screen because the mind is unreliable.

    Without someone to “peer review” and verify your life as it happens, you should conclude that you really have no idea what you are doing from moment to moment. And when you try to remember on your own what you did yesterday, you should doubt that too because our individual memories are like Swiss cheese.

    This is where your argument leads, but I’m guessing you will come back and argue against that as if you say “I didn’t really mean what I said above”.

  126. Michael Powell says:

    @G
    I guess it’s the part where you’re wrong.

  127. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    I guess it’s the part where you’re wrong.

    I have (briefly) given my reasons. Since you have not shown that they are wrong, not even made a gesture towards it, besides just repeating the metaphor, what exactly is the answer am I supposed to give to non-arguments and baseless, ungrounded claims?

  128. Michael Powell says:

    You haven’t given reasons, you’ve just denied, flatly, that the notion of memes is useless, that ideas don’t propagate within a population, and that the notion of a “meme” is a meme. That last part at least is true, and the prevalence of memes as a concept in popular culture (as well as the modifications in people’s understanding of what it means) is a high quality example of what the term was meant to describe. The original concept got traction in people’s minds, someone used it in a compelling way, and other people learned it and repeated it with a slightly different spin, etc., until it came to refer specifically to a kind of repeatable internet joke. That’s the behavior the model describes, and does so well.

    If you can’t see that ideas propagate in this way, then, again, I can’t help you. Understanding things requires a certain baseline of awareness. If you can, then it’s not actually relevant whether you think the model is novel or not. If a model of describing a complex system makes significant predictions that tend to turn out true (like the evolution of the “meme” concept) then it is a valid model. You can like it or not, fine, but when I invoked the term you knew what I meant and the framework underneath it, and in that sense it did its job, despite your resistance to it.

  129. Keith says:

    Steve:

    We’re both using some undefined terms, so forgive me if I’m pedantic, and tell me where I’m missing the mark.

    I’m not clear on what you mean by “highly reliable in the moment”. If you mean my mind can handle its usual tasks with fair reliability, I would agree. But it’s hard to imagine how that would be otherwise, as I’m adapted to my environment. If there was a required task a mind wasn’t able to do reasonably well, that mind didn’t make it. So, yes, I’m the product of a long process of selection for the things I do, and it would be odd if I couldn’t do them.

    Imagine if tomorrow morning, the only way I could get food was to correctly recite 200-digit number sequences. Would you agree my mind is no longer “highly reliable in the moment”? Reliability is a function of the demands made on the object, and I’m the end result of a long process of selection based on a particular set of demands.

    Think of our visual system: If we lived in caves where there was no light, or if we had to spot small, moving prey from hundreds of feet like hawks, we’d soon starve to death. Does that make our eyes reliable or unreliable?

    I do question the veracity of my immediate perceptions. I may be misunderstanding your thought, but when you look twice because you’re unsure of the speed of an oncoming car, aren’t you doubting the veracity of your immediate perceptions?

    To restate, yes, I think the mind is inherently unreliable, and I think the views “you must believe the mind is reliable to argue for anything”, “science can never be more reliable than a mind”, or “the mind is reliable and that proves something”, are all wrong. And, as far as EAAN goes: I think evolution plus naturalism did result in unreliable minds.

    I think the “all or nothing” position is wrong (I’m focusing on where you say “… you should conclude that you really have no idea what you are doing from moment to moment. And when you try to remember on your own what you did yesterday, you should doubt that too because our individual memories are like Swiss cheese”).

    My memory now is nothing like my memory was at 20, and if you haven’t reached that point yet, trust me: someday sooner than you’d like, you’ll turn to someone and say something inane like “Where did I leave the car, anyway?”.

    All of the flaws of the mind I listed appear on a sliding scale, present more or less in different people at different times. The fact that memory fades over time, that memory is easily tricked, that everyone by a certain age has Alzheimer’s to some degree, or that someone with full-blown Alzheimer’s cannot recognize their children, doesn’t mean that memory doesn’t work and cannot be trusted at all. It only means memory is flawed and it may be worth making some other kind of recording if you don’t want to make a mistake.

    So, yes, this is where that argument leads, and I’m good with that.

  130. BillT says:

    “…what is a useful philosophical construct because you don’t like the guy who invented it.”

    And it shouldn’t matter that this “guy who invented” this “useful philosophical construct” is a guy completely without philosophical credentials. A guy whose philosophical musings are simply an embarrassment and is a complete non-entity to legitimate philosophers the world over. A guy who couldn’t hold up his end of conversation on this blog. A guy Michael, who obviously isn’t a match for you, G. Rodriguez, Tom, or possibly even me (a lawyer no less!). Yet, despite this, this guy is supposed to have developed a “useful philosophical construct”. Shouldn’t he be able to spell philosophy first?

    And remember this same guy wouldn’t debate William Lane Craig, who regularly publishes in legitimate philosophy journals, because he didn’t measure up to this guy’s academic standards. Ironic coming from a guy that doesn’t even publish in legitimate academic journals in his own field.

  131. Holopupenko says:

    G. Rodrigues:

    The sophist @128 is merely channeling his own kind: Gorgias. I would take Aristotle’s advice and just walk away… and let him hear the shrillness of his own ignorance.

  132. SteveK says:

    Keith,

    I think the “all or nothing” position is wrong

    I agree so please stop saying the mind is fundamentally unreliable as if this is some universal truth. It’s not. The mind is fundamentally reliable except when it’s not – and the frequency at which it’s not is very low.

    The fundamental reliability part is evidenced by your consistent, moment by moment, ability perceive reality correctly on your own, think lucidly on your own, think rationally on your own, spot errors and make corrections on your own. Your mind works very well.

    When someone points out that you made a logical error, that you mis-remembered an event sequence, that you forgot some details or invented some, that you have opinions and emotions that change and color your perceptions of the past – this doesn’t change the fact that your mind “works” (to borrow a favorite utilitarian term).

    I’m done arguing over this nonsense. Go ahead and comment if you’d like but I will not return the favor.

  133. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael,

    Richard Dawkins does not consider memes to be a “useful philosophical construct,” but rather as really existing entities that provide a naturalistic explanation for the transmission of ideas regardless of those ideas’ truth.

    Now, as a construct of sorts, they could perhaps be useful in explaining how, for example, a term like “meme” itself is propagated and gains currency. Memes understood that way are not Dawkinsian memes, but rather another sort of memes, according to the more informal usage that has gained currency of late. And in this sense they are not so much philosophical as linguistic or cultural constructs: abstractions or summary representations of how actual words get used by more and more people in more and different settings.

    In the meantime I’m not sure what the term “philosophical construct” even means in the context of naturalism, and with reference to some entity that is supposed to have some causal effect on the real world. I could develop an idea of its meaning if the context were postmodernism or poststructuralism, but none of those ideas would fit what Dawkins intends memes to be and to do.

    You see, he treats them not as some philosophically derived abstraction but as real things, real packets of information that reside in definite places (spoken words, written words, and words as represented in brains) and do definite things (propagate through spoken and written language, take up residency in brains, affect how brains process other information and perceive the world). “Constructs” as such don’t do that; only real things could do that.

    So as a philosophical construct, memes (in the Dawkinsian sense) are not so much useful or useless as nonexistent. If memes are constructs, they are not Dawkinsian memes. Dawkinsian memes are real existents (or so he thinks) that do real things.

    Now, is there any good evidence that Dawkinsian memes are real existents? That’s controversial at best.

  134. Keith says:

    BillT: Dawkins has published in academic journals in his field (source Wikipedia), and his refusal to debate Craig wasn’t over academic standards (source Dawkins’ statement published in The Guardian). I’m making no point here, just noting a couple of facts I looked up, your post surprised me.

    On an entirely different topic, I’ve never felt comfortable with Dawkinsian memes, mostly for the reason Tom touches on, it feels awkward to me to think about ideas as things.

    That said, what made me more comfortable with the idea was thinking about idea “stickiness” and obsessive-compulsive symmetry obsessions. In both of cases, there are ideas/words that have qualities and exhibit physical characteristics not found with other ideas/words.

  135. Michael Powell says:

    The difference between memes as a construct and memes as an object is just a matter of perspective. Dawkins uses physical language to describe the movement of a packet of information because it’s an effective metaphor for what happens, with measurable physical effects. If I were to spontaneously generate a novel notion, that notion would exist, in a physical sense, in my brain as neural connections and an electrical state. If by whatever process I wind up communicating this notion, that process of communication consists of expressing that neural state in some form of language or other evocative process. A person who receives the communication perceives the language medium, converts it through physical processes into a thought, and it becomes another neural state. To describe this process as the movement and mutation of a thought-object is a bit of an abstraction, but no more than comparable descriptions of actual genes. Remember, a parent’s DNA doesn’t move directly from to the child. It’s transcribed by enzymes and rebuilt in new cells. Biologists use the “gene” model to describe how certain clusters of DNA nucleotides are copied and expressed within and between individuals. You didn’t take a piece of your father’s DNA, but you inherited his genes. It’s an abstracted model of a series of processes and objects, coined for the purpose of describing patterns of propagation. Memes are the same, and exist to the same extent.

  136. Tom Gilson says:

    Controversial, at best. Especially since he applies it asymmetrically. Religion is a meme (or a complex of memes) but science isn’t, in his book. Why?

  137. Keith says:

    Tom, if you know off-hand, which book & where?

  138. Michael Powell says:

    It’s been a long time since I engaged The Selfish Gene, so I don’t know what statements you’re referring to that would suggest that scientific ideas were not also memes or comprised of memes. My understanding of the concept is that virtually all ideas could be described that way. If you have a citation I’d be interested to see it, and if you’re right about Dawkins’ position then that’s a point where I disagree with him.

  139. bigbird says:

    Religion is a meme (or a complex of memes) but science isn’t, in his book. Why?

    In *Viruses of the Mind*

  140. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    You haven’t given reasons, you’ve just denied, flatly, that the notion of memes is useless, that ideas don’t propagate within a population, and that the notion of a “meme” is a meme.

    So I have not given any reasons, just denied it flatly, and then you quote two reasons I gave.

    Right.

    note: for the record, I did not say “that ideas don’t propagate within a population” and I actually gave more than two reasons.

  141. bigbird says:

    Religion is a meme (or a complex of memes) but science isn’t, in his book. Why?

    Oops. In *Viruses of the mind* Dawkins calls both scientific and religious ideas memes. But he regards the latter as viruses, while scientific ideas are not.

  142. Michael Powell says:

    Listing someone’s claims individually and calling them false is not the same as producing reasons why those claims are false.

  143. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    Listing someone’s claims individually and calling them false is not the same as producing reasons why those claims are false.

    Oh the irony.

  144. Sault says:

    So the title of this post should have been “If You Believe Rosenberg is True, then Rosenberg is False”?

    …because as far as I am aware, atheism itself does not require materialism of the sort that Rosenberg proffers. Atheism, strictly-speaking, does not denounce the supernatural – it only denies the existence of God(s).

  145. Michael Powell says:

    Sault is the winner.

  146. SteveK says:

    Cute.

  147. bigbird says:

    Atheism, strictly-speaking, does not denounce the supernatural – it only denies the existence of God(s)

    Anyone ever met an atheist who believes in the supernatural?

    Although I should add a caveat that I think believing that conscious beings able to contemplate their own existence emerged from inanimate matter *is* believing in the supernatural. And is the multiverse anything other than supernatural?

  148. Crude says:

    Anyone ever met an atheist who believes in the supernatural?

    You could probably twist things enough to suggest that, say, buddhists qualify, or some others do.

    I’d also ask, if an atheist is a thing that merely lacks God belief, what does that make people who believe that God does not exist, or who believe naturalism is true? Apparently, something other than atheists.

    As funny as it is to see not just Rosenberg, but materialism and commitments to naturalism being thrown over the side of the boat in a last ditch effort to defend atheism, I’ll have to cut this comment short. I had a nice big dinner today, and need to dump some atheists in the toilet, then flush them.

    Since, you know, whatever I’m putting in there lacks God-belief, and is therefore an atheist, apparently.

  149. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    I replied because Melissa asked about explicit problem domains for the brain, and I thought that a question I should answer.

    The problem is that as G. Rodrigues already stated you have not shown what you think you have. You prefaced your many examples with this:

    G. Rodrigues asked for specific problem domains, and you’re suggesting that even if such problem domains exist, we can’t know it. I think I can provide some specific examples of problem domains, and obviously, if you agree I’ve provided those examples, we can agree it’s possible to know the problem domains exist.

    But your original claim was:

    there are problem domains where the mind simply gets it wrong, each and every time

    You have given us a whole list of situations where the mind often produces the wrong answer but I think you would also agree that being aware of these issues is evidence that we can get it right some of the time.

    The brain is neither “rational” or particularly good at many types of problem solving, and it’s trivial to cause it to make mistakes.

    No one is disputing that people often act irrationally but your declaration above does undermine all your pronouncements and it does undermine science. Part of science (or any discipline for that matter) is to provide reasoned arguments to support your conclusion, that is impossible if humans are not rational. What do you think is doing the reasoning and problem solving involved in science if not humans?

    I agree with Steve K. in #132. I mean, you seem to be attempting to offer rational arguments to support your position and yet you admit that you are not rational. If you can’t recognise the incoherence in that there is not much we can do for you.

  150. Sault says:

    I’d also ask, if an atheist is a thing that merely lacks God belief, what does that make people who believe that God does not exist, or who believe naturalism is true? Apparently, something other than atheists.

    An atheist can believe many things beyond “God does not exist” or “I lack belief in God” or whatever the phrasing may be.

    First, a naturalist who does not rule out the possibility of the supernatural (say, if evidence is provided to support such an existence) may be an atheist, without being in the same category as Rosenberg.

    Second, an atheist may believe in the supernatural because belief in the supernatural does not automatically imply belief in God. The two are, technically, separate beliefs. A person can believe in haunted houses and watch “Ghost Hunters” and not believe in God…. right?

    Rosenberg doesn’t speak for all of us. His inability to present a coherent view of atheism does not condemn atheism any more than the inability of some Christian to present a coherent view of their belief condemns Christianity.

    Considering how much a Christian detests being told what they believe, I would expect the same courtesy in return.

    My only contribution to the discussion about how reliable our brains are is to say that they can’t be all that bad – we’ve sent people into space, sequenced our genome, and created Hot Pockets. I’d say that we’re doing okay.

  151. TFBW says:

    @Keith
    I think I’ve lost sight of the original point you were making. Is it something along the lines of, “the brain demonstrably makes systematic errors under certain conditions, therefore science is the most reliable form of knowledge?” That’s probably not a very charitable way of phrasing it, but if you could give your own, succinct, one-sentence precis, it might help re-focus the discussion.

  152. Holopupenko says:

    @104

    d: “Run away!!!!”

  153. BillT says:

    Keith,

    I just looked up Dawkins on Wiki and there is no mention of any academic papers he has published. Just his books. My understanding is his doctoral thesis was his only published acedemic paper. He also made numerous statements about WLC’s credentials.

  154. BillT says:

    Fair enough. I stand corrected.

  155. bigbird says:

    I just looked up Dawkins on Wiki and there is no mention of any academic papers he has published. Just his books. My understanding is his doctoral thesis was his only published acedemic paper.

    Michael has supplied the list of his publications, but it is striking how little Dawkins has published over his career, given his high profile as a scientist. His focus has rather been on writing popular science.

    It is even more striking when you spend some time investigating the publication list.

    For example, let me post the full text of “Dawkins, R. (2000). “W. D. Hamilton memorial”. Nature 405 (6788): 733″.

    Sir – A non-religious memorial event for W.D.Hamilton (see Nature etc) will be held in the chapel of New College, Holywell Street, Oxford, on 1 July 200 at 2.30 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

  156. BillT says:

    bigbird,

    I probably should have said research papers. That would have been more accurate though given I’ve been properly shown up I’ll refrain. He’s been a publicist for most of his career. I mean he writes very well on evolution for those that missed that part of the 5th grade. However, as I said here and in prior posts, as a philosopher (and theologian) he’s still a chowder-head.

  157. Keith says:

    Melissa:

    When you say I would agree being aware of these issues is evidence we can get it right, the question turns on the definition of “getting it right”.

    We can be demonstrate these problems and so be aware of them, but we can’t stop them from happening. I suppose we can avoid some problems (imagine moving your head from side-to-side to avoid depending on your blind spot, or we could decide to always decrease any estimate we might make of our own abilities by at least 15%). I wouldn’t call that “getting it right” myself, but I can understand the argument. Regardless, there are many examples where we can’t avoid the problem at all, there’s simply no “getting it right” in those cases.

    I agree my statement undermines any pronouncements I make, including scientific pronouncements.

    However, the statement also undermines any pronouncement you or any other human makes, because we’re all adrift in the same equally leaky boat.

    I disagree when you say it’s impossible for irrational minds to produce rational arguments or results.

    One of the things I’ve been trying to argue is that parts of the scientific process are explicitly helpful in avoiding these problems, or, in your words, helpful in “getting it right”.

    A simple example is a double-blind drug experiment, where neither the patient nor the administrator knows if the patient is getting the drug or a placebo. The purpose of the protocol is to correct for the known irrationality of the administrator and the patient. (If the administrator knows the patient is getting the real drug they will treat the patient differently than patients not getting the real drug, which is irrational if the administrator wants to know if the drug works; if the patient knows they’re getting the real drug they’ll expect to get better, and will often lie about their symptoms, which is irrational if the patient wants to get better.)

    Everybody involved is expected to behave irrationally, but we can use process to correct for their irrational behavior and obtain correct results.

    I am confused why you say that is incoherent: I’m irrational, but not all the time and not always to the same degree (like every other human). Some of my statements are irrational and some are not (like every other human). The trick for both of us (like every other human), is figuring out which are which.

  158. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael, you say,

    If I were to spontaneously generate a novel notion, that notion would exist, in a physical sense, in my brain as neural connections and an electrical state. If by whatever process I wind up communicating this notion, that process of communication consists of expressing that neural state in some form of language or other evocative process. A person who receives the communication perceives the language medium, converts it through physical processes into a thought, and it becomes another neural state.

    What is the relationship, I wonder, between thoughts and neural states? In what physical sense do thoughts exist as neural states? How can a thought “become” a neural state? Once it’s a neural state, where does the “thoughtness” of the thought go? Does the thought have any causal efficacy upon actions or subsequent thoughts, or does all causation reside in the physics and chemistry of that neural state?

    I’m sorry for the long list of questions. I’m not asking you to answer them all separately, because the first one is the one that counts, the others just clarify what puzzles me about this relationship between thoughts and neural states.

    And obviously without a good sense of that answer, I can’t really understand what you mean by memes yet.

  159. Keith says:

    Dawkins has a minimal set of academic/research publications, far below what I’d expect at his level. It looks (as BillT indicated) like his focus has been books for the last 15 years; he does one every 2 years (which is a pretty fast rate, considering he’s writing about science, does speaking tours and so on).

  160. Keith says:

    TFBW: Me too! I’m sure there was a point at one time… skimming back through the posts, I think Tom argued the evidence of human experience is “real”, then bigbird said consciousness is evidence the universe isn’t physical, and I disagreed with them both. The citizenry subsequently disagreed with me. :-)

    Science is the most reliable form of knowledge we have… I don’t like the sound of the word “reliable” in that context, but I think I’m going to have to own it.

    The “reliability” of science is really about error correction. What made science so huge was figuring out a way to consistently separate bad ideas from good ideas. That’s something we’ve never managed to do in philosophy. (And before people get out their torches, I am ready, so ready, to be wrong, no need to burn anything, OK?)

    Basically, if you can kill bad ideas so they never come up again, you get to move forward a lot more quickly than when you can’t do that. The Sun rotating around the earth is a bad idea: if someone argues that, there’s a list of ways you can prove them wrong, total time wasted, a few hours. You didn’t wash your hands before delivering that baby: ditto, if necessary you can run the experiment again, total time wasted, a few months. Bad ideas go away in science, and usually don’t come back.

    When arguing philosophy, it’s not so easy to kill the bad ideas. There are strong arguments around theodicy, but proving someone wrong is hard, if not impossible, and you’re always going over the same ground with each new generation.

    And that is what makes science “reliable”, compared to other ways of knowing.

  161. Holopupenko says:

    @160

    Science is the most reliable form of knowledge we have… I don’t like the sound of the word “reliable” in that context, but I think I’m going to have to own it.

    This is an example, Keith, of why your thinking is limited by self-imposed, self-stultifying strictures and ignorance.

    I mean… come on, really… try to be as honest as an atheist can be (whatever that means if we’re supposedly not thinking anything per Rosenberg): is your assertion itself a “reliable” natural scientific statement?

    If it’s a “scientific” assertion (in the sophomoric way you employ the terms “science” and “scientific”), then it’s self-referential (circular), i.e., you’re appealing to science to assert science is the most “reliable” form of knowledge. Memo: dumb fallacy alert.

    If you backtrack and say it’s not itself a scientific assertion, then it must be based on a more reliable form of knowledge that is justified and qualified to provide a foundation for your silly assertion. Would you mind telling us what that is? Oops… but if you do, your position collapses.

    Point one.

    Point two: you have no clue of the “location” of science and the scientific method (as an epistemic tool) in the realm of human knowledge, do you? But, hey, it sounds cool… so you use it without thinking.

    It is blatantly obvious you have no clue that the scientific method is a subset of something called the epistemic cycle. A child who steals toys from another in the sandbox will likely get his lights punched out if he does it enough… and he’ll learn… which is “error correction,” isn’t it? Would you classify that as learning by means of the natural sciences? If you do… well, per Melissa, there’s likely nothing short of Grace that will help you at this point.

    Are you so obtuse to miss the fact that ALL fields of human knowledge–including philosophy and theology–operate by means of the epistemic cycle (different loci of authority notwithstanding)?

    Hey, try this on for size: a Thomist (and G. Rodrigues will likely agree) would assert that sensory knowledge (meaning, by extension, the observational basis for the modern empirical sciences) is the most FUNDAMENTAL form of human knowledge. BUT, even as it is most fundamental, it is neither the only form of knowledge, nor is it the most important form of knowledge, and neither is it “reliable” outside its own realm.

    It seems you have a LOT of serious and health skepticism that needs to be applied to your presuppositional nonsense. And… you’re right: you own it.

  162. TFBW says:

    @Keith
    Science has the advantage that it’s about physical stuff. We make things out of physical stuff, and we call the clever things “technology”. The better we understand the physical stuff, the more likely it is we’ll be able to make clever things with it. The success of science is therefore reflected in the progress of technology, which has been quite impressive, even taking into consideration the fact that we harm ourselves with it about as often as we help ourselves. Better science means cleverer technology, and the proliferation of clever technology suggests that we’re doing pretty well with science.

    It’s a heck of a stretch, however, to claim that science is the best way of knowing anything, let alone the best way of knowing everything. For starters, as was pointed out not very politely in #161, you haven’t been scientific in your determination that science is the greatest. If you used something other than science to reach this conclusion, then your assertion classifies itself as an unreliable one, and there’s no reason we should take it seriously. If you say that it’s reliable despite not being scientific, then it demonstrates that reliability is possible without science, which undermines its own main point. And even if you did use science to prove your point that science is the greatest, the reliability of the conclusion would be premised on the truth of the conclusion — i.e. it would be a circular argument.

    The fact that you haven’t noticed any of these difficulties — or indeed understood them when others have pointed it out — makes me suspect that you don’t have much experience in critical analysis. It’s not surprising if you haven’t: there aren’t many places that teach it. Science seems to be treated as a substitute for critical (rational, logical) analysis in many cases — even by philosophers. Or, rather, anything based on such traditional philosophical constructs as syllogisms is dismissed as obsolete in favour of “evidence” that consists of a few carefully selected examples that support one’s case. In other words, bad science is preferred over good philosophy. That’s the only way I can explain the likes of Rosenberg, who stands in such stark contrast to William Lane Craig’s clear points and logical syllogisms, and yet seems to think that his case is so obviously right that it’s barely worth engaging his opponent.

    Let me put it to you, however, that judging science as the best of everything on the basis of technological progress is to compare apples to oranges at best. Progress in philosophy does not produce such conspicuous results. Progress in philosophy tends to birth entirely new areas of study, which eventually become subjects in their own right, rather than branches of philosophy. It’s the mother of all the sciences, but you’re not going to notice that in the way you notice computers getting smaller, cheaper and faster. Scientific progress thus not only produces a different kind of progress, but also more conspicuous progress.

    Even then, the praise that science receives for technological progress is not entirely well-placed. Enormous advances have also been made in mathematics, logic, and related fields of information processing that deal in pure abstractions. These are not “science”. They do not use the scientific method. They use formal methods, and have no experiments. They are performed by pure exercise of thought, not by examination of matter. And science relies on them implicitly. Physics can rarely advance without corresponding advances in mathematics.

    Given this analysis, I suggest that your view of science as the greatest of all methods of knowing is a naive one, despite the fact that you are in the illustrious company of Dawkins and many other acclaimed advocates of atheistic scientism. Please reconsider whether there isn’t more to knowledge than science alone. Also reconsider whether other fields may have “progress” of a less conspicuous and not directly comparable kind.

    Please also get over the “killing bad ideas” theory of intellectual progress. I can’t possibly address that to the extent that it requires, so I’ll just leave you with the thought that it might be a bad idea itself. Think about it.

    Getting back to the original point of human experience being “real” and consciousness being evidence for the non-physical, it’s an argument that’s easily misunderstood if you’ve subsisted on an intellectual diet of nothing but science, which is what tends to happen in cases where people think that science is better than everything else. Like most unbalanced diets, however, it’s actually a recipe for malnutrition. You should do a little reading on “the hard problem of consciousness”, and you should do so by going to a source that is actually going to explain the problem, rather than explain away the problem, as the likes of Rosenberg would. Jerry Fodor is probably a good choice if you prefer your sources not to be tainted with the blight of religious thinking, but I’ve written a basic explanation of the subject myself which you may find helpful.

  163. Keith says:

    Holopupenko: I will try to be as honest as it is possible for an atheist to be. :-)

    I will also say that somebody on the blog told me yesterday that if I was less colloquial, my posts would be shorter. Friend, if you skip the name-calling, your posts will be, ah, “more compact”.

    You ask if my assertion is ‘a “reliable” natural scientific statement’. I’m not sure what that means, would you please spell it out? I tried to say science is “reliable” in the sense of providing more consistent value than other ways of knowing things. I can measure that return (“indoor plumbing”), but it requires we share a set of values which may not be the case). I tried to be careful in how I used the word “reliable”, I’m sorry if I failed.

    I’m fine on the epistemic cycle, and is physical force error correction? Yes.

    Is that “learning by the natural sciences”? I never thought about it, but my off-the-cuff answer would be yes, what could be more “natural” than learning through pain? I’m guessing there’s a different point you’re making here, but I think I missed it.

    I would agree with you all fields of knowledge operate through epistemic cycles.

    But if your point is that because the underlying intellectual structure is the same, the end results are the same, I disagree. As TFBW says, “science has the advantage of being about physical stuff”.

    I would not immediately agree with you sensory knowledge (SK) must be the most fundamental form of human knowledge. (I’d be interested in a reference or hearing those arguments, please.)

    I would agree with you (1) SK may not be the only form of knowledge, (2) SK may not be the most important form of knowledge, and (3) SK may not be the most “reliable” outside its own realm (or even inside its own realm, for that matter).

  164. Keith says:

    TFBW: Thank you, I know your post took time to write up, and I appreciate you investing your time to try and teach.

    I want to read your post carefully and think about it, but one point:

    I believe you and Holopupenko both read “the most reliable form of knowledge we have” as “science is the best way of knowing everything”, or as you said, “the greatest of all methods of knowing”, and that’s not what I said.

    The problem is the word “reliable”, which is why I whined about using that word at all (and in my defense, I didn’t use it first). In my post, “reliable” means, well, “reliable”. Generally correct, consistent, trusted, good results.

    I’m pretty sure I never said science is necessarily the best way to know anything, or definitionally superior to other ways of knowing things. And, I understand the inherent problems in making such a statement.

  165. TFBW says:

    @Keith:
    If you’re going to emphasise how generally correct, consistent, trusted, and reliable science is, I can only assume you are describing it in relation to everything else. Everything else is then, by implication, of a lesser quality than science in all those regards. If everything else is of a lesser quality in this way, then science is, by simple definition, the best. This interpretation comports with your pattern of praising science and pointing out the flaws in everything else.

    So although you’re technically right when you say, “I never said science is necessarily the best way to know anything”, it nevertheless seems to be the point of which you were trying to convince us, given what you have said. If that’s not the message you want to convey, then you may need to reconsider how you express it. I don’t see any concessions to subjects other than science in your comments, but rather the implication that a scientific approach can and does provide us with better results, and should always be preferred.

  166. Michael Powell says:

    Tom,

    Our brains are physical objects, and our mental activity is expressed as physical and electrical configurations within those objects. I think of thoughts as the somewhat abstracted, higher level experience of representing a thing in your mind.

    Take a computer, for example. You load a JPEG image into memory from the internet, which means there are arrays of logic gates holding a certain electrical pattern on a RAM chip. At the same time, at a higher level, it’s a picture of a cat. The electrical pattern held by the logic gates is the neural state and the thought is the cat picture. The principle is very much the same, except with exponentially higher complexity.

  167. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    I have asked this already, but I will ask it again: do you understand what a reductio ad absurdum is? If your interlocutor says that one of your arguments is circular or is question-begging, do you understand what he is saying and are able to draw the consequences (either assent or provide a response)? My suspicion is that you really do not understand. For just one example, I quote this response of yours to Melissa:

    I agree my statement undermines any pronouncements I make, including scientific pronouncements.

    However, the statement also undermines any pronouncement you or any other human makes, because we’re all adrift in the same equally leaky boat.

    This is an important methodological point. The first aim in any sort of public discussion is not so much the conversion of the interlocutor but in clearing up the issues of contention and see where the battle lines are drawn. For this to be achieved, a dialect of argument and counter-argument must be engaged in, but that is precisely what you do not do.

    Let me give some examples taken from your response to Holopupenko.

    You ask if my assertion is ‘a “reliable” natural scientific statement’.

    Holopupenko did ask that, but the question is in the context of an argument that, contra your claim, science is *not* “the most reliable form of knowledge we have”. The reason is blindingly obvious. Science itself rests on assumptions: of a metaphysical nature, of an epistemological nature, etc. Since a conclusion is only as reliable as its premises, it follows that science is only as reliable, but not more reliable, than these assumptions. These assumptions on the other hand, *cannot* be justified by the empirical sciences themselves because any such type of argument would be a circular one. Its justification must be found elsewhere. It therefore follows that there is a mode of knowledge apart from the empirical sciences that is more reliable than science itself.

    But even if you do not know, and in all probability you do not, what this mode of knowledge consists of, there is an example of a field of knowledge that is more reliable than the empirical sciences: mathematics. Not just for the same reasons as stated above (empirical sciences *presuppose* mathematics), but also because the standards of rigor in mathematics are the highest of any field of human knowledge.

    Then in response to TBFW you say this:

    The problem is the word “reliable”, which is why I whined about using that word at all (and in my defense, I didn’t use it first). In my post, “reliable” means, well, “reliable”. Generally correct, consistent, trusted, good results.

    So you whine about the use of reliable. Then you explain that the sense in which you are using “reliable” is just the ordinary sense of “reliable” everyone is using. What the? Shrug shoulders.

    Is that “learning by the natural sciences”? I never thought about it, but my off-the-cuff answer would be yes, what could be more “natural” than learning through pain? I’m guessing there’s a different point you’re making here, but I think I missed it.

    More equivocation. You have just reduced “learning by the natural sciences” to a vague woolly “natural” learning, emptying the expression of any relevant meaning whatsoever. But if you go this route, then why oh why do you harangue with all the science-y talk?

    But if your point is that because the underlying intellectual structure is the same, the end results are the same, I disagree. As TFBW says, “science has the advantage of being about physical stuff”.

    You agree; you disagree. You affirm; you deny. Arguments to back up your claims? None. Response to the arguments made? None.

    As for TBFW’s claim, it should be refined to the fact that the empirical sciences — more precisely, the hard empirical sciences — restrict themselves to the quantifiable, predictable and controllable properties of material bodies in motion or change. This is an advantage insofar as it delivers precise quantitative knowledge; but the advantage comes at a price — the proper object of study, the questions it answers, the type of answers it gives, are necessarily constrained and limited.

    And what is “physical stuff” anyway? General relativity is a theory of space-time. Is space-time “physical stuff”? Is “physical stuff” what the sciences say there is? But if so, you are again on a circular merry go-round.

    I would not immediately agree with you sensory knowledge (SK) must be the most fundamental form of human knowledge.

    And here you go again; this time, not even thinking through what you are saying. Sensory knowledge is the foundation of all scientific knowledge. You say that the latter is the most reliable, and at least insofar as it is the most reliable, it is the most fundamental, from which it follows that your position entails that sensory knowledge is the most fundamental. For heaven’s sake, after all you have asserted what could possibly be the most fundamental knowledge?

    I can not resist giving another example of another misunderstanding of yours. Earlier in the thread you said that the “brain lies to us” or something to this effect. Tom Gilson repeatedly asked you who is this “us”, distinct from the brain, that the brain is lying to. Your response simply showed that you did not understood the question. And the fact that you do not understood the question shows that you do not understand what your claims entail, which I guess is why you do not actually respond to the reductios, charges of question-begging, etc.

    You do not have answer my post — it was *not* written up with the aim of drawing a response. If it has an objective, it is just to make you stop, actually pay attention to what people are saying, and think through your position instead of just hurling the first claim that pops in your head to defend yourself.

  168. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    You load a JPEG image into memory from the internet, which means there are arrays of logic gates holding a certain electrical pattern on a RAM chip. At the same time, at a higher level, it’s a picture of a cat.

    Outside of the human mind, a JPEG image in a computer’s memory is no more about a cat than about my brother-in-law, the moon or green cheese. In itself, it is about nothing at all because a physical object, say a configuration of logic gates, is no more about this than about that — assuming naturalism of course; on a broadly Aristotelian philosophy of nature this is no longer true.

    Since you cannot invoke a “second” mind to give the mind’s thoughts their intentionality (a case of doing this would be the homunculus fallacy), you have to give an account of the mind’s intentionality without smuggling it by the back door. To pick your example, you have to explain in virtue of what is the neural state (“The electrical pattern held by the logic gates”) intrinsically about the cat. It is all very good and well for naturalists to distance themselves from Rosenberg; it is quite another to actually manage it and stay consistent at the same time.

  169. Keith says:

    TFBW: Working through your article.

    Do you believe consciousness is unique to humans, if so, why? (I’m trying to figure out if you see physical evidence in either direction, vs. the logical argument.)

    You also said “Imagine two animals at the evolutionary threshold of consciousness. They are identical, except that one has consciousness, and the other doesn’t. They both have identically complex behaviour.”

    Why is it sure the animal crossing the boundary of consciousness would have identical complex behaviour to the other? This appears rooted in the phrase “[consciousness] isn’t a behavior”, but isn’t it possible that consciousness could cause behaviors?

    Imagine when I become conscious I’m less likely to want to die; is that impossible?

  170. Michael Powell says:

    G:
    I don’t have to do anything of the sort. I never claimed to have a full soup-to-nuts understanding of the full complexity of how physical brains operate or how consciousness can emerge from them. I can suggest, vaguely, that complex systems of relatively simple units have been shown to behave with apparent intelligence (ant colonies are an example) but as a bridge between the mechanical substrate and our subjective experience of consciousness that explanation is as unsatisfying and incomplete to me as it is to you. So let’s not pretend that I have or have claimed to have all the answers regarding how the brain works and how the mind lives in it.

    Why don’t you, instead, explain where I am mistaken in my vague understanding of neural mechanics, and tell me how you manage to type without a mind inhabiting your brain.

  171. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    I don’t have to do anything of the sort. I never claimed to have a full soup-to-nuts understanding of the full complexity of how physical brains operate or how consciousness can emerge from them.

    I never mentioned consciousness, but only the much “simpler” datum of the intentionality of our thoughts and sense perceptions.

    So if I am reading you right, you have not, and do not pretend to have, a non-circular explanation of the mind’s intentionality in terms of neural states. Ok, than nothing to see here, move along.

  172. Michael Powell says:

    You think “intentionality” and “perceptions” exist independent of consciousness, or at a more fundamental stratum of function?

  173. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    You think “intentionality” and “perceptions” exist independent of consciousness, or at a more fundamental stratum of function?

    Intentionality, as Brentano terms it “the mark of the mental”, is a special case of what Aristotle termed final causes, and thus in that sense, it can exist independently of any higher order consciousness. Similarly, perceptions, or sense experience, have their own proper organs; animals also have sense organs and memory, but they do not have a consciousness, or at any rate, not in the same sense human, rational beings have.

  174. Keith says:

    G. Rodrigues: “animals … do not have a consciousness, or at any rate, not in the same sense human, rational beings have.”

    How do we know that, and what are the specific differences?

  175. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    How do we know that, and what are the specific differences?

    As I said, because animals are not rational beings. Do they have language as human beings do? Can they grasp universals? Form abstract concepts? Erect a culture? Do mathematics? Do you have *any* reason whatsoever to believe they do?

  176. Michael Powell says:

    So if I interpret you correctly (by investigating external definitions for “intentionality”), you’re saying that minds, absent consciousness, can form representations of objects and situations. Well, I guess that depends on what you want to label “minds” and “consciousness”. Lizards certainly seem to be able to detect prey, recognize it as such, and find branches that are convenient to climb on in order to hunt it. I would argue, given that definition, that robots can perform similar actions. Surely they don’t have a metaphysical disconnect between physical states and “intentional mind”. Perhaps lizards do possess, counter to your assertions, a lower-level kind of consciousness, but as none of us has experienced the subjective mental life of a lizard, I don’t think we can really make any hard claims about the properties of their minds.
    For humans, I’d say that our conscious minds are dependent on our minds’ ability to process sensory stimuli into perceptions and representations of objects and abstractions. It does seem to occur outside our conscious will, and with good reason, because our brains do an awful lot self-correcting, especially when it comes to sensory matters. Eyes in particular have a lot of limitations, and the brain does a lot of work to create a persistent image for you.
    What you’re demanding of me, I suppose, is a full explanation of how these processes work inside a brain. Well, I don’t know, and I don’t believe anyone does. The entire point of a brain is staggering parallelized complexity, and untangling how that works for even one individual’s brain would be unbelievably difficult. I am not a person who could do that or who would pretend to be able to.
    So what are you challenging, precisely, the notion that minds reside in brains?

  177. Michael Powell says:

    Regarding animals, how do you know what they can and cannot do, mentally?

    They don’t have formal languages as complex as ours, but they are certainly known to use specific patterns of vocalizations to communicate specific things. Whale song is a classic example, but birds do it too. Also, chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught some very basic sign language.

    Can they erect a culture? Well, they are well documented showing fairly specific social structures, with hierarchical rules and etiquette.

    The lines you have drawn are arbitrary and poorly defined. I would not argue that any animal has a developed human’s cognitive capability, but it’s hubristic and sloppy to assume that we don’t exist on the same continuum.

  178. Keith says:

    G. Rodrigues:

    Animals have language, mathematics and form abstract concepts. Not like human beings do, of course, counting is nothing like calculus.

    This isn’t a trap, I’m genuinely trying to understand how to draw the line (or if the line is inherently fuzzy and we can’t answer the question other than to say “we have it and they don’t”).

  179. SteveK says:

    Regarding animals, how do you know what they can and cannot do, mentally?

    Same question applies to you…and not just regarding animals, but neuron structures, which is where this disagreement started.

    G. Rodrigues is explaining in terms of AT metaphysics how he knows what animals (and neurons) can do. You can offer up your own metaphysical pontifications, but I don’t think you’ve done that yet have you? Don’t make G. do all the heavy lifting, get in there and help. ;)

  180. Michael Powell says:

    How can AT metaphysics describe the capabilities of neurons? I’m talking about biology, at a fairly basic level for our modern society. Are you questioning that brains are made of neurons? Are you questioning that minds reside within brains? If not, then how is there even room to argue metaphysics against what I’ve presented?

  181. SteveK says:

    For what it’s worth….I was a complete ignoramus with regard to AT metaphysics when I first got into these discussions. I took the time to listen and study it a little on my own and it slowly began to sink in. I’m still an ignoramus compared to many, but much less so now. So far I have not found anything in that metaphysic that I can rationally disagree with. Quite the opposite, really. I haven’t found anything else that can come close to beating it – but I’m still looking and learning.

    So my suggestion to the skeptics here would be this: listen with an ear toward understanding.

  182. SteveK says:

    I’m talking about biology, at a fairly basic level for our modern society.

    Intentionality is the subject of biology? Don’t let the ID theorists hear you say that :)

  183. Michael Powell says:

    G offered intentionality as a counterpoint to the biological model I was describing, which I thought was more or less a non-sequitur.

  184. SteveK says:

    It’s not a non-sequitur. Intentionality is an example of a meaningful distinction between animal and human that must be explained.

    Your explanation, as far as I can tell, is that intentionality is explained when matter & energy are rearranged differently (to put it very simply). But that explanation doesn’t really explain intentionality. That explanation only explains complex physical brains and neuron structures. To explain intentionality, you’ve got to look beyond the physical.

    By analogy, consider ink strokes on a piece of paper. The intent found “in” the ink isn’t sufficiently explained by saying the ink was rearranged in a particular way such that intent / meaning emerged from the physical ink strokes.

  185. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    I would argue, given that definition, that robots can perform similar actions.

    Robots and similar artifacts are accidental forms whose telos is externally imposed by their designers and creators. Lizards are substantial forms occurring in nature, which have their telos immanently and intrinsically. They “perform similar actions” in the same sense as a robot programmed to wince, flinch and make noises when kicked is similar to the pain a lizard evinces on being kicked.

    Perhaps lizards do possess, counter to your assertions, a lower-level kind of consciousness

    What I asserted was and I quote: “animals also have sense organs and memory, but they do not have a consciousness, or at any rate, not in the same sense human, rational beings have.”

    but as none of us has experienced the subjective mental life of a lizard, I don’t think we can really make any hard claims about the properties of their minds.

    The subjective mental life (??) of a lizard is not really what is at issue.

    What you’re demanding of me, I suppose, is a full explanation of how these processes work inside a brain.

    No that is not what I asked (asked by the way, not “demanded”) of you. The problem is not a scientific one.

    So what are you challenging, precisely, the notion that minds reside in brains?

    The naturalist (and naturalism is the context of the OP) idea that minds are identical, wholly reducible or supervenient upon the physical brain; computationalist accounts of the mind; etc.

  186. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    They don’t have formal languages as complex as ours, but they are certainly known to use specific patterns of vocalizations to communicate specific things. Whale song is a classic example, but birds do it too. Also, chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught some very basic sign language.

    Only after posting did it occurred me that I should have put language after the grasping of universals and the formation of abstract concepts; now, mistake having been done, I have to put up with these objections.

    No one disputes that animals have means of communication. You mentioned whales; but we can climb down the ladder of biological complexity to say, ants, as it is known that ants also have a form of communication via a complex interchange of chemicals. What they do not have is the capacity to grasp universals and communicate abstract thoughts to one another. You can teach dogs and chimpanzees in a Pavlovian fashion to respond 4 to the question of what is 2 + 2, but they, not being rational beings, cannot grasp the universal and abstract concept of 2. They can recognize *particular* instances of 2 — say, for example, a zebra in the African savanna may gauge 1 lion as not a threat but 2 lions as a threat, so in some sense, it must grasp the difference between 1 lion and 2 lions. What it cannot do is grasp the difference between 1 and 2. It cannot grasp red; but may be able to grasp that red blood is a sign of danger. It cannot grasp what the water is intellectively and essentially, but it must have a sense of how to search for water if it is to survive. On and so on. But this is just the classical, Scholastic difference between sensory knowledge of particulars and intellective knowledge of universals.

    Well, they are well documented showing fairly specific social structures, with hierarchical rules and etiquette.

    No one disputes that animals can form societies which exhibit a degree of cooperation and mutual, symbiotic assistance. You mentioned the obvious example of ants. But neither is the way humans form societies the same, as witnessed by the variety of social arrangements human beings have (each species of ants has only one type of social arrangement), neither animals have a culture in the way human societies have erected a culture. Culture, by the way, has a specific sense and it does not have to do, or is not reducible to “specific social structures, with hierarchical rules and etiquette”.

    The lines you have drawn are arbitrary and poorly defined.

    The lines are neither fuzzy nor arbitrary; it can all be summed up in a word “Rationality” and what having it entails. Rationality, or the potency for reason, entails a series of potentialities in the human nature that do not exist in other species. These potentialities are actualized in the most diverse manner throughout human history and reflect themselves in literature, music, mathematics, physics, or culture understood in the broad sense. The evidence is everywhere; belaboring it is a futile exercise.

  187. SteveK says:

    Rationality, or the potency for reason, entails a series of potentialities in the human nature that do not exist in other species.

    What I find very interesting is when you look at this potency going backward in time and what that analysis yields in terms of a conclusion. I believe this is the First Way. Naturalism doesn’t even attempt to deal with it rationally, because it cannot. Instead it just says *poof*, it came from nothing. And they mock Christians? Oh, the irony!

  188. Michael Powell says:

    As is perhaps not surprising, I’m getting pretty tired of this. So I will respond to key points very briefly.

    When referring to animal social structures I was actually referring to wolf packs and ape families. Ant colonies are more analogous to brains themselves, as they consist of fairly simple individuals which, when they interact together, demonstrate an emergent intelligence far beyond any individual unit.

    Yes, I am saying that minds, whatever their metaphysical properties, are wholly supervenient to the physical brain. How could it be otherwise?

    It is clear that humans have a capacity for language far beyond any other known creature. This is, perhaps, our single greatest advantage over other animals, and is the primary reason for our global domination. Specifically, language is our ability to produce representational abstractions that can be recognized and interpreted by ourselves and others. I would suggest that our capabilities for mathematics and rationality derive rather exactly from our ability to produce abstractions and symbols for these things. If we have a special talent for reason and abstraction, it is because we have language for it.

  189. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    What I find very interesting is when you look at this potency going backward in time and what that analysis yields in terms of a conclusion. I believe this is the First Way.

    The First Way is indeed an argument for the existence of God borne by the asymmetry between potency and act; but it does not concern itself with “going backward in time” but rather going backward in the chain of ontological priority. The universe could very well be past-eternal that it is simply irrelevant to the First Way; or to the other Five Ways for that matter.

    @Michael Powell:

    Yes, I am saying that minds, whatever their metaphysical properties, are wholly supervenient to the physical brain. How could it be otherwise?

    The answer is rather that it cannot be the case that the mind is wholly supervenient on the physical brain. The intentionality of thought is one such argument. Check the literature for other arguments. One of the ironies is that some of the best arguments, and certainly most of the best *modern* arguments, were given by people that are atheists, agnostics or otherwise have no theological axe to grind: Russell (yes, *that* Russell), Popper, Putnam, Searle, Fodor, Chalmers, Nagel, Jackson, etc.

  190. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    G. Rodrigues has already touched on some of the points I wanted to make but I will offer some further advice for you (which you may consider presumptuous but is offered in the hope that you will begin to think through the implications of what you are writing)

    You wrote:

    I am confused why you say that is incoherent: I’m irrational, but not all the time and not always to the same degree (like every other human). Some of my statements are irrational and some are not (like every other human). The trick for both of us (like every other human), is figuring out which are which.

    The problem with this is that your original statement was that brains are not rational. This was stated with no qualification at all. Maybe you failed to convey what you actually meant but if that is the case then the correct response would be to acknowledge the incoherency in your original statement and explain what your actual position is.

    In the quote above your have qualified your original position to remove the incoherence but in the same post you write:

    I disagree when you say it’s impossible for irrational minds to produce rational arguments or results.

    Surely the definition of irrational is not rational. My guess from what you’ve written in this thread is that when you think “rational brain” you equate that to a perfectly rational brain and when you write irrational brain you really mean not perfectly rational. Would I be right in this? I hope you can see how this would be confusing to the rest of us because you seem to be flipping from an extreme position to a more moderate one.

    I think the problems with scientism has been adequately covered by Holo, G. and TFBW. Do you see the problems inherent in it? It’s hard to tell, because you haven’t acknowledged them but moved onto a slightly different subject. Science is very good at answering particular limited questions.

    Lastly I would like to address what I see as an assumption on your part that we don’t agree with you because we don’t know enough about science. I would suggest you suppress your urge to educate us on the practise of science because, statistically, it’s unlikely that you have the qualifications.

  191. Michael Powell says:

    So if the mind is not supervenient to the physical brain, what does the brain do, and how does the mind interact with it? Where does the mind exist separate from the brain?

  192. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    Where does the mind exist separate from the brain?

    You will have to ask that to the substance, or cartesian dualists, not me.

    Later edit: in all fairness, I should warn you that the question betrays a good deal of cluelessness. But the substance dualist will explain you why.

  193. Keith says:

    @Melissa:

    Thank you for the advice: sometimes in a blog post, especially in community where one is unfamiliar with the long-term residents of the community, it’s hard to know when a posting would be welcome, or how much to explain and how much to assume is common knowledge, or when the community’s knowledge is greater than one’s own. (Especially in this community, where the common language is one I know only peripherally, when I know it at all.)

    I appreciate your bluntness.

  194. Keith says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    When the “potentialities” are present in other animals to a more or lesser extent, how can you say the lines are neither fuzzy or arbitrary?

  195. SteveK says:

    G. Rodgrigues

    …but it does not concern itself with “going backward in time” but rather going backward in the chain of ontological priority.

    You are correct. The point I was attempting to make was that this chain always exists and could have never ceased to exist (going backward in time). It existed even at the instant the universe was created.

    So whatever the naturalist has as his view of reality, it must include this ontological reality at every step. Am I wrong?

    Let me ask you a question…can the First Way argument using the reality of motion also be formulated using the reality of morality? In my untrained mind that’s how I’ve always used it, albeit informally. Everyone thinks morality is real just like motion (relativism doesn’t change this), but maybe the argument doesn’t work.

  196. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    When the “potentialities” are present in other animals to a more or lesser extent, how can you say the lines are neither fuzzy or arbitrary?

    But I deny that the potentiality for reason is present in other animals besides human beings; more precisely, knowing what rationality *is* and what typical behavioral manifestations it assumes, I conclude that humans have it and other animal species do not. I could expand on this but I will save you the boring details.

    Now of course, the argument boils down to the fact that we have absolutely no reason at all to believe that animals have such potentialities precisely because they are not actualized in any way. But strictly speaking, negative evidence is always inconclusive. We can never be sure that the negative evidence is not simply the result of our poor powers of observation. Maybe deep in some jungle somewhere, chimpanzees do discourse on the problem of universals, or the nature of time, or crack some coarse, vulgar jokes involving the latrine in their very own, syntactical chimpanzee language, and only when a nosy, indefatigable biologist, camera on its shoulders, is around do they put on their chimpanzee air and goof around the chimpanzee way. But until such evidence is forthcoming, I will stick by what I said.

    @SteveK:

    So whatever the naturalist has as his view of reality, it must include this ontological reality at every step. Am I wrong?

    Not sure I understand what you are saying, so I will just take a stab at it. What an argument like Aquinas based on a distinction between essence and existence really shows, is that the whole created order could not exist for a moment if it were not conserved in being. Existence is like the music played by a violinist; it keeps on going while the violinist keeps playing and it stops when the violinist ceases. If per absurdum God would go away, so would the entire created order.

    Now the problem for a naturalist, or I should say one of the many, seemingly insurmountable problems, is that he obviously has no recourse to such a being to serve as the ontological bedrock grounding the whole of reality; he has to posit brute facts. So when you hear to that most tiresome of cliches “We do not need the God hypothesis” or some such, you can secretly laugh. In one sense the atheist is right, as God is not a cause among causes, elbowing its way to have a share in the causal cake; we can perfectly do physics or biology without mentioning Him and that is perfectly fine. But since the atheist must posit brute facts, he *cannot* consistently say that “We do not need the God hypothesis” (not that God is an “hypothesis”, but let that pass for now) because God is precisely the ultimate ontological grounding of such brute facts — the existence of any causality going on in the created order, its contingency, its passive orderliness, etc. and etc.

    Let me ask you a question…can the First Way argument using the reality of motion also be formulated using the reality of morality?

    Not directly as far as I can see. In the AT conception of morality, the moral commandments flow from the essential, objective reality of human nature; it is based on an account of the goods or ends that fulfill it. So any such argument from the POV of AT metaphysics would take as an initial step the reality of natures or essences and their intrinsic, immanent ends. But this would be basically a riff on the Fifth Way.

  197. SteveK says:

    G. Rodrigues

    If per absurdum God would go away, so would the entire created order.

    You’ve said it better than I, but I was attempting to say the same thing in my own unsophisticated way.

    I know you said that the First Way doesn’t work for morality, but just so you understand my thinking I took this and reworded it using morality instead of motion. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts as to where I go wrong so I don’t repeat the error.

    1 Our senses prove that some realities are morally good (MG).

    2 Things are MG when the potential for MG becomes actual MG.

    3 Only an actual MG can convert a potential MG into an actual MG. (mankind cannot create good on his own, neither can material universes – but even if you think so I suppose the argument still works)

    4 Nothing can be at once in both actuality and potentiality in the same respect.

    5 Therefore nothing can become MG by itself.

    6 Therefore each thing that is MG is made MG by something else.

    7 The sequence cannot extend ad infinitum.

    8 Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a moral grounding for that which is MG, and this everyone understands to be God.

    (If God would go away, so would all that is MG)

  198. TFBW says:

    In answer to Keith #170:

    Do you believe consciousness is unique to humans, if so, why?

    It might be. If you hold to the idea that man was created in the image of God, whereas other animals weren’t, then the property of consciousness is one of the possible differences that might follow from that distinction. Because consciousness can’t be detected from the outside, however, I don’t see any possible way to decide the question. I think that consciousness needs sense data and a brain, because consciousness is consciousness of something, even if the subject is one’s own thoughts, so I’m pretty sure that plants aren’t conscious, for example. But dogs? I really couldn’t say.

    On the other hand, if you hold to a naturalistic view, then everything reduces to matter, and consciousness must be a property of matter. Finding a distinction in that perfect continuum is quite a challenge.

    Why is it sure the animal crossing the boundary of consciousness would have identical complex behaviour to the other? This appears rooted in the phrase “[consciousness] isn’t a behavior”, but isn’t it possible that consciousness could cause behaviors?

    The difficulty is that for any particular behaviour, you can always imagine it being so with and without consciousness. If you say that the addition of consciousness adds a behavioural distinction, I would ask, isn’t it possible to conceive the new behaviour without the addition of consciousness, or the addition of consciousness without the new behaviour? If you can somehow imagine a behaviour that would certainly not be possible without the property of consciousness, then you’re really on to something.

    Sure, evolutionary theory can be saved from the problem of explaining how consciousness might arise, despite it not being a selectable behaviour, by the ad hoc hypothesis that consciousness arose as a side-effect of a behavioural distinction. There’s no data to back up this hypothesis, however. The only actual data we have about consciousness is our own conscious experience. Some people claim not to know what the term refers to, despite explanations of this sort. Perhaps they aren’t just being obtuse: maybe they really aren’t conscious. Thought experiments, being the only kind of experiment that we know how to conduct on the matter, lead us to think that such “philosophical zombies” (beings who are identical to conscious beings, minus the consciousness) are at least logically possible.

    In short, consciousness can be modelled as non-behavioural in nature without any rational difficulty. It’s possible that the addition of consciousness does, in fact, produce behavioural differences (that’s why it’s used as an ad hoc hypothesis in Evolution, despite the absence of relevant empirical data), but it’s always possible to imagine those exact same differences arising without the addition of consciousness. That is unless you can conceive of some counter-example, where everyone else has failed so far.

    I note that in #176, G. Rodrigues has argued for a distinction based on the capability of abstract analysis. In my view, this conflates consciousness with intuition at the very least, which is why I spent so much time in my article talking about the relationship between the two. I would argue that there is no logical difficulty in imagining a culture of robots who lack consciousness, yet go about doing philosophy, mathematics, art, music and science in a strange mechanical parody of humanity. This picture is premised on the idea that it is possible, in principle, to reproduce human intuitions and intelligence algorithmically, which is a major premise indeed, but nothing additional is assumed about consciousness. So long as human intuitions can be reproduced algorithmically, these unconscious machines will be capable of doing all the things that G. Rodrigues has ascribed to consciousness. There is also the argument that some people do, in fact, lack consciousness (by their own testimony). Can we argue that they are lying without begging the question? I think not.

    Joke: Rene Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender greets him, and asks, “a beer for you?” Descartes replies, “I think not” … and vanishes.

  199. James Foley says:

    Actually, both you and the author you’re citing are wrong in the examples you’ve shown and, possibley, taken out of context. That aside, your title is entirely false.

    You have taken this one atheist author and applied HIS personal thoughts on atheism over a wide spectrum of atheists.

    To be absolutely clear, Atheism is merely the rebuttal to the original deity believers argument. That being that the deity exists as a living entity that has it’s own independent sentient power over our lives. That is false. God is just the personification, the construct representative of mankind’s most noble thoughts and ideals based on the ponderances and observances of the peoples of that time period, and such knowledge was then passsed on. The devil is merely the antithesis of that personification.

  200. Crude says:

    An atheist can believe many things beyond “God does not exist” or “I lack belief in God” or whatever the phrasing may be.

    No doubt. I’m not asking about that.

    I asked, if an atheist is someone who merely ‘lacks belief in God’, then what is someone who believes God does not exist? Apparently it’s not an atheist.

    It’s not mere “phrasing” either, because if “I believe God does not exist” and “I have no belief about God whatsoever” were interchangeable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and various atheists wouldn’t be going to extremes attempting to insist that they do not have a belief (as atheists), but lack beliefs.

    Considering how much a Christian detests being told what they believe, I would expect the same courtesy in return.

    What Christians tend to detest is people *inaccurately* reporting what they believe. I’m asking about definitions here, courtesy be damned.

    The point of my question is that if atheists are merely “that which lacks God belief”, such that a tapeworm or a peppermint is an atheist, then I’d like to know what we call someone who believes that God does not exist. Apparently, it’s not ‘atheist’. But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

    It’s almost as if the whole ‘atheism is a lack of belief!’ thing is just a desperate canard employed by people in an effort to run away, terrified, from the burden of proof.

    Powell,

    Now I see the depth of your delusion.

    You’d best hope G. Rod isn’t deluded, because he happens to be raking you over the coals here.

    My advice? Be quiet, say “I have to learn more about this before I can discuss it. I’m bowing out of this conversation.”, and either go learn more about intentionality, objections to materialism, and more before discussing this again. Or don’t, and just don’t discuss it again. Leave it to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

    More likely, you’ll hit a place like richarddawkins.net, rant about how mean theists are and try to lick your wounds there. Whatever crutch you need, I suppose.

  201. Keith says:

    @SteveK, G.Rodrigues:

    Steve K, you said you’ve been reading on your own w.r.t. AT Metaphysics. Can you recommend anything specific?

  202. Keith says:

    @SteveK: you said that intentionality is a distinction between animal and human.

    Can you please clarify how you define intentionality, and specifically, if it requires language and an act of communication?

  203. Tom Gilson says:

    James, please re-read the OP. I made it clear that the “atheism” I was speaking of in the title and throughout the post was Rosenberg’s. I could have clarified that right in the title, but that would have been rather clunky, don’t you think.

    Now, as I think I also said, if there is no God then Rosenberg’s analysis applies regardless. But that’s another discussion.

  204. Michael Powell says:

    How precisely is he raking me over the coals? By bringing gussied-up superstition to a reality fight? At some point people have to realize that regardless of how many famous people you can name-drop, if your “reason” is based on irrational assumptions then all your pretense of wisdom is based on nothing.

  205. BillT says:

    “God is just the personification, the construct representative of mankind’s most noble thoughts and ideals based on the ponderances and observances of the peoples of that time period, and such knowledge was then passsed on.”

    Proof? Evidence? Reasoning?…Anything??

  206. Michael Powell says:

    Yeah, who said anything about God being noble? The God of the Old Testament self-describes as jealous and wrathful.

  207. SteveK says:

    Keith,

    @204
    According to the SEP, “Intentionality is the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs.” Seems right to me.

    Does this require language and an act of communication? It doesn’t seem to require that, just a certain kind of being with a certain kind of mind.

    @203,
    I’m one of the last people you should be asking ;) I just read bits and pieces online from the SEP to other credible sources. I really should get a good book though, and I’ve heard that Feser is a good place to start.

  208. Victoria says:

    Once again, the atheist demonstrates his inability or unwillingness to engage in truly critical analysis and reasoning by making such superficial statements about the nature of God, who BTW is the God of both the Old and New Testaments.

    The God of Biblical Christianity is THE eternal, self-existent, uncreated Being, in His own class. He exists in Eternity, and is the One Who brought Creation(I’ll just use that as a tag for spacetime/matter-energy: the physical universe) into existence. All other beings are in a different class from God; they are in class of created beings – different in category and in nature from the One true God.

    The gods worshipped by the other nations are not gods at all – they are not in God’s class. They are as nothing at all.

    Yes, God is jealous for His people’s faithfulness in their worship of Him, precisely because He is the only Being entitled to it (Isaiah 42:8-9, Isaiah 45:22, Isaiah 46:9, for example). In the OT, the contrast is between the one True God and the false gods (who are not gods at all) of the pagan nations.

    God’s wrath? Yes, He is also the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25). To mock God’s wrath is to have no concept of sin and rebellion against THE Sovereign King of Eternity and Creation, and He will separate the righteous from the wicked, and both will receive their just rewards. Yes, God punishes sin, but to see only His wrath in the OT is to ignore His lovingkindness. God directs His wrath against those who rebel against His rightful authority as the King, but He bestows His lovingkindness on those who willingly love Him and serve Him. Not only that, but He is willing to forgive the rebels who cease in their rebellion and turn to Him.
    This is made very clear throughout the OT (see Exodus 20:4-6, for one example among many).
    The God of the OT is also the God who planned the redemption of the human race, Who carried out that plan through the Person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Would a merely wrathful God step into human history and take the just punishment of sin for all of us on Himself, and then offer us His forgiveness and redemption as a free gift on that basis?

    The willful ignorance of atheists truly astounds me sometimes, but what else can we expect?

    Note in edit: My argument is valid even if one does not accept the Bible as God’s revelation of Himself. Michael’s caricature fails to stand up, because it ignores the complete context of the Bible. It fails Reading Comprehension 101, to say nothing of Biblical Theology 101. It fails to consider the possibility that these particular aspects of God’s nature make sense in the full context of Who He reveals Himself to be.

  209. SteveK says:

    Michael,

    if your “reason” is based on irrational assumptions then all your pretense of wisdom is based on nothing.

    Please explain the irrational assumptions being made and why they are irrational. So far you’ve only been throwing stones at others and you’ve yet to explain WHY your position is rational. What is it about neuron structures that leads you to rationally conclude that they have the physical property of intentionality or ‘aboutness’?

  210. Keith says:

    SteveK: Yes, the SEP has helped me a lot with this blog. :-)

    I believe I’m still missing something, though. Animals both create and use tools, I’m trying to think of some way they can they do that and avoid intentionality.

  211. Keith says:

    Victoria: I noticed you said “uncreated”, and I’m jumping on a chance to ask a question I’m pretty sure you can answer for me.

    In my experience, when the KCA comes up, the argument goes something like:

    The universe has a beginning so it has a creator, and that’s God.
    Who created God?
    God is by definition something that isn’t created.

    which seems like cheating, we could “define” the universe as something that’s “not created” and skip a step.

    What’s the real answer as to why God gets to be the uncreated object?

  212. SteveK says:

    Keith,

    Animals both create and use tools, I’m trying to think of some way they can they do that and avoid intentionality.

    That’s a can of worms I am fully unqualified to deal with. I will say this much: Machines can both “create” and “use” tools but it’s nothing like what humans do.

    Nature “uses” storms and winds to “create” things like snow drifts so that it can “use” them, but it’s nothing like what humans do.

    Both lack intentionality in the way that humans have it, so it seems entirely possible that animals also lack it.

  213. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael @#192, could you clarify your question, please? Are you asking where the non-physical mind is located in physical space? Are you asking how the non-physical effects a physical effect in strictly physical terms?

    Just wondering.

  214. Keith says:

    SteveK: hopefully somebody will jump in and help us both out. :-)

    I think this question is to the point: (1) should we say that tool creation/use by an organic brain reasonably avoids intentionality and (2) to what extent should we say that intentionality implies consciousness?

  215. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    My short answer is that this is a metaphysical starting point (something that one simply accepts as an axiom of one’s worldview), and that what you said is not the KCA anyway :)

    Either way, there must be something or Someone that (or Who) is eternal. If there is a Someone Who is eternal and self-existent, then that Someone can be a sufficient cause to bring something else into existence (sorry guys if I’m butchering the philosophy – I’m sure G. Rodrigues and Holopupenko will bring their swords to bear on this).

    My longer answer (and I don’t want to hijack the OP, so perhaps we can find another thread to continue this on – Tom??) is that I accept this axiom (that God is the eternal, self-existent Creator) because of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection from the dead, which the NT repeatedly makes clear is the proof that He is Who He claimed to be – namely that same self-existent and eternal God). Start with Him and work backwards. His resurrection challenges the idea that reality is nothing more than spacetime and matter and energy.

  216. BillT says:

    “Yeah, who said anything about God being noble?”

    Not to mention that without God noble is a meaningless construct.

  217. Melissa says:

    Steve, Keith,

    I’m no expert either but if you accept AT metaphysics then there is a sort of intentionality in everything such that things are directed towards their natural ends. If you reject final causes then intentionality becomes problematic. Human intentionality is a special case, being conscious and rational. Rosenberg rejects human intentionality because he denies the reality of final causes consistently. I guess at least he is attempting to be consistent but it’s a mistake to deny final causes in the first place.

    Keith,

    I think Feser’s The Last Superstition or Aquinas would be helpful starting points. In these he goes back to the ancient Greeks to look at the problem of change and why the act-potency distinction is important. He also covers briefly the problem of universals before moving onto natural theology.

  218. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    which seems like cheating, we could “define” the universe as something that’s “not created” and skip a step.

    There are various cosmological arguments and they vary, but God is that which is pure act as opposed to created things which are act and potential. Or God is necessary while the universe is contingent etc.

  219. Keith says:

    @Melissa: you say “Human intentionality is a special case, being conscious and rational.”

    Are you saying animals exhibit intentionality, but that it’s not conscious or rational? (And if so, why?)

    Thanks for the reference: I read Feser’s TLS awhile back and didn’t find much to like (I think I made it to the part where he says contraception is wrong because it frustrates the natural end of sex, and that was too much for me). That said, you all recommend him both on and off the blog, I’ll have another go.

  220. Crude says:

    How precisely is he raking me over the coals? By bringing gussied-up superstition to a reality fight?

    By disarming you to the point where all you can do is stammer ‘s-s-superstition! M.. magic!’ in response to him. All he’s been doing is explaining some pretty basic philosophical and metaphysical positions and arguments to you, and showing why your position is not only wrong, but woefully uninformed.

    That’s not going to change just because you’ll pout and act indignant.

  221. Crude says:

    Are you saying animals exhibit intentionality, but that it’s not conscious or rational? (And if so, why?)

    If I understand both Feser and the classical view correctly, ‘intentionality’ in the broad sense isn’t even necessarily limited to living things.

    That view also doesn’t deny that animals are conscious or have experiences, but grasping universals, etc, is another matter.

  222. Keith says:

    Crude: sorry, but would you please explain further what you mean by “in the broad sense”?

    Feser talks about “intentionality” the same way Brentano does (Feser says, in TLS, “Intentionality is regarded by many as the defining feature of the mind”). And follows by saying it’s conceptually impossible to explain it in terms of the material, which would limit it to living things, wouldn’t it?

    He also uses a term “physical intentionality” which he says is the same as AT’s final cause — is that where you’re going?

  223. Victoria says:

    @Keith
    There is an even deeper answer to your question. Encounter the Living God for yourself, or more to the point, let Him get a hold of you, fill you with Himself, and be changed forever. Then you will know why He is the answer to who or what is eternal and self-existent. Encounter Him in the Person of Jesus Christ, the One Whom the NT writers were witnesses to during His Incarnation and after His resurrection. When you really meet Him for the first time, when the implications of that sink in, you will and should be scared to death, for in Christ, the eternal sovereign King of Eternity has stepped into Creation to take back what is His from the grasp of those who have rebelled against, to restore what they ruined. It means having to acknowledge that reality is much more than human reason can grasp. You are not being asked to give up reason, but to give up the rebellious pride that says human reason is all-sufficient. It is at this point that He will reach out His hand to you, and say ‘Do not be dismayed, for it is I, the God Who loves you and Who redeems you’. If you take His hand, He will bring you across the chasm that separates you from Him, but you have to give Him your hand and take His.

    I am just a simple woman, with a PhD in experimental physics, who likes romance novels, astrophysics and ancient history, marathon running, high heels (yeah, I know, those two are almost mutually exclusive :)), who encountered God for herself 35 years ago that very same way, and fell in love with Him.

    All of this philosophical posturing going on here (and I don’t mean to imply that rigorous thinking is not important, for it is) reminds me of a little anecdote that I came across back in my graduate school days (and my apologies to G. Rodrigues and mathematicians in general, and to the fact that it seems self-serving to me :) )

    A mathematician, a philosopher and a physicist were given the following problem:
    At the end of this 20 meter hallway, there is a table, with a vintage bottle of wine on it. If you can get to the end of the hallway by Zeno’s (Paradox) algorithm, you can claim the prize.

    The mathematician thought about it for a moment, and then pulled out his pipe, lit it, and blowing smoke, said ‘Impossible’.

    The philosopher meanwhile, was having epistemic issues (must have been a post-modernist), questioning the very meaning of reality, etc. He took out a notebook and his pen, and began to write furiously.

    The physicist said, ‘Alright’. He walked 10 meters, then 5, then 2.5, then 1.25, then 0.625, stopped, said ‘ah, close enough’, reached out with his hand and picked up the bottle of wine.

    The story ends with a quote from 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, but I’d like to add 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 to it.

    That anecdote always stuck with me, and I’m always reminded of it in these discussions

  224. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    The arguments fails almost at every step; I do not have time right now to explain why but I will get back to you tomorrow.

    @Keith:

    You completely butchered the KCA.

    What’s the real answer as to why God gets to be the uncreated object?

    The KCA does not allow you to conclude that; if successful, the Creator it proves to exist could, for all we know, be a lesser god, a demiurge, etc. Even so, your question is predicated on said butchering of KCA because there is *no* special pleading going on. The answer to your question is found in other types of arguments, e.g. cosmological arguments or metaphysical arguments that start with the metaphysically composite nature of the created order and proceed to the existence of a metaphysically simple being as its ontological grounding.

    Animals both create and use tools, I’m trying to think of some way they can they do that and avoid intentionality.

    Yes, animals create tools. Beavers make dams; birds make nests; spiders weave webs, etc. But there are differences in kind and not mere in degree, in the tool fashioning of humans and animals that reflect the latter’s capacity for reason.

    You are *very* confused to bring in intentionality. Intentionality, in the context of the mind-body problem, is the property of our thoughts to be intrinsically about their object. No one is claiming that animals can make tools and at the same time “avoiding intentionality”, I certainly am not. In the AT conception, intentionality is just one special case (*) of teleology writ large, or final causes, which exist at *every* level of reality, from elementary particles to the higher forms of conscious teleology manifested in rational beings.

    All other objections you may present (animals communicate, animals have perception and memory, animals do problem solving, etc.) have a similar response: there are differences in kind not just in degree that are reflective of the radical capacity for reason. The problem, and the reason (besides lack of time) I am not listing here such differences in kind, is that they will all seem ad hoc and artificial unless I first take some plains to explain exactly what is distinctive about rationality, and how it differs from other powers that humans share with other animals like sensation, memory and imagination (**).

    (*) actually, this is not quite true, but this is the subject of the Fifth Way.

    (**) I am using imagination in a specific technical sense, as the capacity the combine memories — memory with a twist so to speak.

  225. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Michael Powell:

    Now I see the depth of your delusion.

    By your own admission you neither have, neither you pretend to have an explanation of intentionality. Your comments show that you simply do not know what you are talking about. Your latest questions to me presume that I am substance dualist when I am not, besides being based on a severe misunderstanding of dualism. This means, you have absolutely no idea what I believe as regards the mind-body problem and yet you allow yourself to hurl such epithets as “gussied-up superstition “.

    I suppose that when one has absolutely no idea of what the issues are, when one has no answer to the arguments or cannot even mount one, not even if one’s life depended on it, the only recourse is to say that your interlocutor is “deluded”. To borrow from Dr. Johnson, it is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

  226. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Keith:

    Ack, I write too fast.

    Replace

    But there are differences in kind and not mere in degree, in the tool fashioning of humans and animals that reflect the latter’s capacity for reason.

    with

    But there are differences in kind and not merely in degree, in the tool fashioning of humans and animals that reflect the former’s capacity for reason.

    Also replace

    The problem, and the reason (besides lack of time) I am not listing here such differences in kind, is that they will all seem ad hoc and artificial unless I first take some plains to explain exactly what is distinctive about rationality

    with

    The problem, and the reason (besides lack of time) I am not listing here such differences in kind, is that they will all seem ad hoc and artificial unless I first take some pains to explain exactly what is distinctive about rationality

  227. SteveK says:

    G. Rodrigues

    The arguments fails almost at every step; I do not have time right now to explain why but I will get back to you tomorrow.

    I told you I was an ignoramus. :) I didn’t intend for you to spend a lot of time on this, but I do appreciate some basic feedback.

    At the risk of digging a deeper hole for myself, I forgot to mention that with this argument I’m starting from the perspective of a naturalistic worldview – not a Christian worldview. I can explain if necessary.

  228. Crude says:

    Keith,

    Feser talks about “intentionality” the same way Brentano does (Feser says, in TLS, “Intentionality is regarded by many as the defining feature of the mind”). And follows by saying it’s conceptually impossible to explain it in terms of the material, which would limit it to living things, wouldn’t it?

    First, just because intentionality is regarded as a ‘defining feature of the mind’ doesn’t mean that it’s limited to the mind.

    Second, you have to be careful when Feser and other thomists talk about ‘the material’, because under A-T and similar views, even matter itself is regarded differently than it is under a mechanistic view. A-T isn’t just a metaphysical view about minds and living things, it’s a metaphysical view about nature generally – even non-living things are/can be viewed differently than on a mechanistic view.

  229. Keith says:

    @Victoria: I truly appreciate the thought, and to be honest, I find the arguments for a theoretical existence of God plausible and deeply interesting: I appreciate all I’m learning here, and that you folks let me hang around and ask questions.

    I don’t think I’d ever be able to make the jump from a theoretical first cause to a personal God that cares about me.

  230. Keith says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    First: thanks on the KCA, I understand.

    Second, when you say something is distinctive about rationality such that there’s a difference in kind, I’d appreciate enough of a pointer I can use to dig, or even a text reference. Basically, I’m not understanding how you (and others on this list) draw a bright line: I spent time looking today, and all I found was naturalists who don’t agree.

  231. Michael Powell says:

    Tom,

    Within the premise of a non-physical mind, yes, I’m asking how the mind interacts with the body (including the brain) and what the brain does if it does not contain the mind. Any answers must, of course, address how Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, down syndrome, and other physical ailments can destroy the non-physical mind’s memory, alter its behavior, or otherwise abridge its function. I’ve had “Cartesian Mind-Body dualism” thrown at me over this question, and I will just mention that Descartes’ unfounded conclusion that the locus of mind and body exists in the pineal gland is the single most damning disgrace in a brilliant man’s career.

    As many people may have surmised, my engagement with pre-enlightenment and other philosophy was fairly brief and is vaguely remembered. The impression I had was of intelligent people casting about in the dark, spinning out to bizarre conclusions as they tried vainly to square their religious biases with a reality that would not bear it. I vastly prefer “natural philosophers”, which is of course a thing people called themselves before they learned to say “scientists”. As such, when people wave “intentionality” in my face as an inarguable physical property, it is very difficult to take it as anything but empty words.

    In this particular context, my view is this: if your model of the mind disregards its obvious reliance on the brain, and fails to explain exactly how this mind is moored there or how things work if it is not, then no amount of metaphysics can save you. You have abandoned reality before you have even begun.

    And waving your hands about “reality is all God’s dream” will not cut the mustard.

  232. Crude says:

    As many people may have surmised, my engagement with pre-enlightenment and other philosophy was fairly brief and is vaguely remembered.

    What’s been surmised is that you don’t know what you’re talking about, but are quite irate at having that pointed out. And if you think you’re fumbling on ‘pre-enlightenment philosophy’ alone, that just illustrates how much you have to learn.

    As such, when people wave “intentionality” in my face as an inarguable physical property,

    “As such”, when people try to explain to you just what is meant by intentionality and what problems it introduces when attempt to square it with certain poorly thought out metaphysical systems, you freak out a bit. You don’t want to actually learn and understand, so you write multiple paragraph responses which amount to “you’re wrong, I don’t know why, but I better say this because the undirected sparks in my brain have instructed my body to dance in such a way”.

    In this particular context, my view is this: if your model of the mind disregards its obvious reliance on the brain,

    The mind’s reliance on the brain, in a relevant sense, is not obvious. That the brain and the mind are intimately related in humans and animals is closer to obvious – but it’s also not disregarded, much less denied, by substance dualists, hylemorphic dualists, or even idealists.

    And waving your hands about

    No hand-waving here, except your own. Which is natural – look at you. You’re reduced to huffing and pouting and saying “I don’t understand your arguments, I only glanced over them once and religious stirs my negative emotions, but I feel in my heart that you’re wrong”.

    Powell, for your own sake – give up on your irrationalism and your superstitions about matter. Drop the magic, and open your mind to reason, rational thought, and logic. I promise you, as scary as it is to loosen the grip you have on your emotional commitments to materialism, naturalism and – quite possibly – even your atheism, in the end, you’ll be better for it.

    It’s time to open your mind to reason – not a counterfeit of it.

  233. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    Are you saying animals exhibit intentionality, but that it’s not conscious or rational? (And if so, why?)

    What I said was that there was a “sort of intentionality” in all of nature. Same thing as you mentioned it in a later comment being related to final causes. Human intentionality is a special case being both conscious and rational. Animals are not rational.

    Thanks for the reference: I read Feser’s TLS awhile back and didn’t find much to like (I think I made it to the part where he says contraception is wrong because it frustrates the natural end of sex, and that was too much for me). That said, you all recommend him both on and off the blog, I’ll have another go.

    That’s just completely wrongheaded. If the arguments are sound and valid then it doesn’t matter whether you like the conclusions. You need to wrestle first with the metaphysics. Where do you sit on the subject of universals, change, etc? It’s only once you’ve got the basics in place that you can properly address other questions.

  234. Keith says:

    @Melissa: You make it sound too easy. If it were only a matter of getting the basics in place, and then all the other questions fall out, the history of Western Civilization should have been very different. If it were a matter of getting the basics in place and then all the other questions fall out, where is the self-correction in the process that will tell you you’ve gotten one of the basics wrong?

  235. Victoria says:

    @Keith

    I don’t think I’d ever be able to make the jump from a theoretical first cause to a personal God that cares about me.

    Of course you can’t. Nobody can, at least not under their own power. No one who is a Christian became a Christian in that way. It is the Personal God Who loves us Who takes the initiative to draw people to Himself, through the work of the Holy Spirit. His job is to convince you of your sin, of the requirements of God’s righteousness and of God’s judgement, and He points to the Person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ (see John 16:5-15). When you see the first three for the first time, your reaction should be like Isaiah’s (Isaiah 6:5), and when you see what Jesus did for you (effectively Isaiah 6:6-7), He encourages you to believe and trust.

    Christian apologetics is a reasoned and rational defense of Biblical Christianity, and it can bring a person to the point where he or she no longer has a reasonable excuse for unbelief, and it can show that faith is reasonable (you don’t have to give up reason and critical realism) but it cannot compel that last step of faith and trust. That is between you and God.

    This is why I urge you to start with the Person of Jesus Christ. In Him, you will find a Personal God Who loves you, so much so that He took upon Himself the wrath that our sin and rebellion deserves (Isaiah 53:1-12 and Romans 4:24-5:10, esp Romans 5:8 ). You will discover that He isthe eternal, self-existent Creator. In His Incarnation, He bridged the chasm that we could not jump (John 1:1-5, John 1:14-18) on our behalf.

  236. Melissa says:

    Keith,

    You make it sound too easy. If it were only a matter of getting the basics in place, and then all the other questions fall out, the history of Western Civilization should have been very different. If it were a matter of getting the basics in place and then all the other questions fall out, where is the self-correction in the process that will tell you you’ve gotten one of the basics wrong?

    When did I ever say that when the basics are in place then all the other questions fall out? I said you can’t expect to address other questions until you have grappled with these more fundamental ones.

    Suggestion 1: Read what is written.

    Suggestion 2: a good place to start with error correction is to avoid positions that are self-defeating.

  237. Chris says:

    In this particular context, my view is this: if your model of the mind disregards its obvious reliance on the brain, and fails to explain exactly how this mind is moored there or how things work if it is not, then no amount of metaphysics can save you. You have abandoned reality before you have even begun.
    ————————
    Agree 100%. I’ve never understood how these can be separated.

    ps – love your posts!

  238. Crude says:

    Agree 100%. I’ve never understood how these can be separated.

    The funny thing is, if you want to see examples of them being separated – just look at materialists. Heck, just look at this very thread: Rosenberg is a self-described metaphysical naturalist and materialist who basically eliminates mind in favor of matter, precisely because his metaphysics can’t accommodate both.

    Rosenberg again:

    Since there are no thoughts about things, notions of purpose, plan, or design in the mind are illusory…. Since the brain can’t have thoughts about stuff, it cannot make, have, or act on plans, projects, or purposes that it gives itself.

    There you have it: the brain can’t have thoughts about stuff. The idea that you plan or design is illusory. (And, I suppose, believing that your thoughts are illusory is also illusory, since that’s just one more thought about something.)

    Here’s metaphysical materialism and atheism on display, and if Rosenberg has one virtue it’s that he admits bluntly about his system what other materialists try to obscure or ignore.

    If you think the human mind is intimately wrapped up in the brain, then you’re in agreement with the dualists – particularly the hylemorphic dualists.

    If you think you have no mind, and every time you experienced ‘thinking about’ something you were in the grips of an illusion, hey – materialism and naturalism is for you.

  239. bigbird says:

    I still think C.S. Lewis’s *Miracles* is worth reading when it comes to the problems of naturalism, particularly the first few chapters. It’s a bit dated, but very lucid.

    Victoria, I’m interested in what marathons you’ve run. I ran the New York marathon in 2011 (fortunately I didn’t try for 2012!), and it was the best running experience of my life (so far).

  240. Victoria says:

    @bigbird
    Just the local marathons and half-marathons here in the Toronto area. Yes, they are a great experience and a lot of fun, and so is the training. I always train with The Running Room clinics. I’m not training for a spring event this year, though – I really did a number on my knee running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in Oct 2012, so it’s just easy 10Ks for a while :)

  241. bigbird says:

    @Victoria
    I hope the knee recovers well. I also did a marathon in October – the Melbourne Marathon. Probably no marathons this year – I’m currently training for Tough Mudder in August. Maybe a half.

  242. James Foley says:

    @206 actually the burden of prrof rests , as I said, with the original believers argument that a god/gods exist at all. That burden has never, to this day, been met. We’ve been waiting all this time for YOUR proof as a believer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_burden_of_proof

    Any case is like those old math word problems in school; without the math, which you may regard as evidence, all you have is a bunch fo words and a problem. You [believers] consistantly cite the bible as your proof, but is the statue of athena or that of Zeus or venus or aphrodite a proof? Proof of faith sure, but not proof of the actual god. Following along now? Stop passing the buck.

    Reasoning… you are now the builder of a kingdom. You rule the kingdom. How do you do so? What tactics would you employ? What laws? Why? How would you enforce them? How would you enforce them when you were beyond your boundaries and beyond physicla contact with those whom you wish to affect with your laws?

  243. SteveK says:

    bigbird,

    fortunately I didn’t try for 2012

    Unfortunately, for me, I went to that one. I have the shirt and the finishers medal to prove it. Easiest marathon so far ;). Boston in 2 months!

    Victoria,
    The Toronto Waterfront Marathon is on my list. Isn’t that where the 100+ year old Sikh ran most of his? Running his last this year from what I hear.

  244. bigbird says:

    SteveK,

    Unfortunately, for me, I went to that one.

    I would have been shattered if I’d gone to NY last year – but from Australia it’s a huge effort and pretty expensive. All the best for Boston!

    I tend to save marathons for more exotic locations other than my home country. Melbourne was an exception (although still almost 2000 km from where I live), but I’ve also run the Prague and Rome marathons. Running through the Vatican was quite spectacular, as was finishing with a loop around the Colosseum.

    My sights are on Berlin and London marathons for the future.

  245. Tom Gilson says:

    James, you don’t have to agree with us. You do have to face the consequences of your opinion.

    As for proof, if you’re talking about a legally admissible level that’s not the same as a mathematically apodictic level.

    Anyway, I don’t “constantly cite the Bible [it's a proper noun in this context, by the way] as proof.” Not unless it’s relevant, as in for example “Passage X in the Bible is epistemically supported by Evidence Y.” It would be difficult, after all, to show evidence for the Bible without even mentioning it.

    Are you aware of the considerable external evidence for the historical and textual accuracy of the biblical documents? Are you aware of the solid consensus among skeptical as well as believing historians concerning the major events of the life of Christ? They don’t all conclude the same things from their knowledge base, obviously. But I’m just curious whether you’re aware of this going on among academic historians.

    In the meantime, I’m not sure what you were getting at with the latter half of your comment, but maybe this would be relevant. If not, then I just didn’t get what you were tryiing to say.

  246. Tom Gilson says:

    More relevant to #206, James, you had said,

    “God is just the personification, the construct representative of mankind’s most noble thoughts and ideals based on the ponderances and observances of the peoples of that time period, and such knowledge was then passsed on.”

    That’s a claim of your own. If you think it’s true, then you ought to have some reason to think so. That’s why BillT’s answer, “Proof? Evidence? Reasoning?…Anything??” was perfectly appropriate. You made a claim, and the burden of proof for that claim rests on you.

    From where I stand, your statement there is nothing better than a just-so story, extremely unlikely to be true at least in the case of Judaism and Christianity, and unsupported by any evidence. So I would repeat BillT’s call for some evidence or reasoning, along with my prediction that you won’t be able to produce anything solid.

  247. Ray Ingles says:

    Crude -

    Here’s metaphysical materialism and atheism on display, and if Rosenberg has one virtue it’s that he admits bluntly about his system what other materialists try to obscure or ignore.

    Kurt Wise… volunteers that, even if all the evidence in the universe flatly contradicted Scripture, and even if he had reached the point of admitting this to himself, he would still take his stand on Scripture and deny the evidence.

    Possibly atheism needn’t have the consequences Rosenberg thinks, any more than Scripture must have the consequences Wise (among others) thinks?

  248. James Foley says:

    There are no consequences of my observations that would be metted out by your version of a living god. The faithful may attack me out of resentment and spite, but there is no living god to strike me down. Sorry kiddo, thems the breaks.

    And you understanding perfectly what I’m trying to say. The bible is a collection of observations peppered with artistic licenses of mankind’s experiences throughotu history and then written down. The bible is a deliberate attempt at governing people’s consciences. The bible offeres direction through scripture [the ancient word for writing, as in a book, like the Hobbit]that was meant to be widely circulated for broad conditioning. And I clarified my use of second person. by “you” i was speaking of Christians.
    It doesnt’ suprise me in the slightest that historians, including non believers would find great amounts fo factual evidence in the bible. It was a collection of observations of the days. I’m just clarifying that it contains embellishments, like miracles and visions of angels [unless the writters, testimonials were given while High].

  249. James Foley says:

    @Tom, No, actually, that’s an observation.

    Reasoning… you are now the builder of a kingdom. You rule the kingdom. How do you do so? What tactics would you employ? What laws? Why? How would you enforce them? How would you enforce them when you were beyond your boundaries and beyond physicla contact with those whom you wish to affect with your laws?

    and it isn’t that I can’t deliver, it’s that you’re suffering a cognitive dissonance.

  250. James Foley says:

    Sorry for the condescension. I get liek that when people get all fire and brimstone on me :).

  251. Tom Gilson says:

    James, if you meant that this is “an observation:”

    God is just the personification, the construct representative of mankind’s most noble thoughts and ideals based on the ponderances and observances of the peoples of that time period, and such knowledge was then passsed on.

    … then you don’t know the definitions of the words you’re using here. This is not something that can be observed; or, were you there in that time period to observe it? Were you able to observe the “construct”? Constructs are never observed, only inferred from evidence.

    And you still have no evidence for that or for your newer assertions in #250.

    Fire and brimstone? Where? I’m just saying you’re wrong, in quite plainly clear ways about objective matters. I did mention something about consequences, but who could doubt that we all have to accept the consequences of our choices?

  252. Tom Gilson says:

    If your “that’s just an observation” applies to what you repeated in #251, or something else, it would have helped if you had said so.

    BTW, please read the discussion policies. “Bible” is a proper noun in this context.

  253. Michael Powell says:

    That seems like a bit of a petulant complaint, Tom. If it’s a neutral grammar issue, I would assume his misspelling of “like” earlier would be an easier and more appropriate target. If you’re specifically troubled because he didn’t show the Bible the proper respect by capitalizing it then it seems like you’re imposing an inappropriate precondition on the discussion.

  254. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    Sorry for the late response, but here goes.

    First, I am somewhat puzzled by your claim that you are starting from a naturalistic perspective; it certainly does not look like it. Anyway:

    1 Our senses prove that some realities are morally good (MG).

    “Senses”, if used in the sense (heh) of the perceptive, sensory knowledge, do not prove anything; rather they give the data that serves as premises, starting points, assumptions, etc, that figure in the proofs. Also, “some realities are morally good” needs to be refined. The common sense of morally good refers to a quality or attribute of human *actions*.

    The reason why I am being pedantically precise (besides professional deformation) is because it is very easy to equivocate on some fundamental term, and thus ruin the whole argument.

    2 Things are MG when the potential for MG becomes actual MG.

    Woa, stop right there. Act and potency are two technical terms of art that refer to *change* in *substances*, that is, in the “things” of our experience that have an independent existence, and do not depend on anything else to exist. A common, stock example is that of a white dog you see running on the park on a sunday afternoon. The white dog exists, but the sense in which it exists is not the same in which “white” exists. The white-ness of the dog exists, but is ontologically dependent on the dog for its existence. You cannot put the dog’s whiteness in your pocket, kick it, measure it, etc. Apart from the dog, it exists only in minds as a universal in its intellective aspect, or in the Platonic realm, if you are a Platonist, and as a universal not as the particular white trope of the dog itself (note: God’s mind serves some of the same functions as the Platonic realm).

    What does this has to do with your claim? First, you are equivocating, for it is not “things” that are morally good, but only human actions that can properly be said to be morally good. Second, when we say that some human action X is morally good, we are making a predicable judgment of said action, in an analogous way as for example we say that “Socrates is human”. But Socrates is not in potency towards being human; he *is* human and always was, right from the very first moment he came into being. Similarly, X *is* morally good if and only if such and such is true. But X does not become good, or does not go from being potentially morally good to actually morally good, because in this aspect X is not in change but already is due to what X is.

    There is a sense in which forms are in potency towards existence (potency is always potency *for* this or that, not an unqualified indeterminability), and this is Aquinas’ argument based on the distinction between essence and existence. But morally good is not a form of some this or that.

    3 Only an actual MG can convert a potential MG into an actual MG. (mankind cannot create good on his own, neither can material universes – but even if you think so I suppose the argument still works)

    Besides what I have said earlier, I would like to add two things. First, suppose that there were a coherent sense in which X is potentially morally good and then, in virtue of the causal action of an actualizer (presumably God), to *become* actually morally good. This means that X *changes* in respect to being morally good. But this means, that X is not per se morally good but only accidentally so and insofar as the causal action of the actualizer makes it so. But this just means that X in itself and of its essence, is not objectively good. But this seems to contradict your first premise that said that we can know that X is morally good “from the senses”, as a matter of objective fact, that is, X is morally good because of what X *is* and what morally good *is*, independently of our opinions, vagaries, moods, etc.

    Second, we also have another instance of equivocation. Only human *actions* (or the actions of rational beings) can properly or unequivocally be said to be morally good. To say that human beings are morally good is to say a different thing; it is to say something like most actions of said human being are morally good, or that said human being has in itself a quality or character rendering his actions morally good, or some such. There may be a way in which the intended step can be made (at least that is how I am reading your intensions) by invoking the principle of proportionate causality that says that the effect must be in the cause in some sense — the problem is of course, scalpelizing what the “in some sense” means.

    Your parenthetical remark however, leads me to suspect at what you are trying to get. The parallel you want to draw is that just as God is that which is the primary cause and the ultimate cause of all secondary causality going on in the created order, you want to say that God is also the ultimate grounding of the moral order. Note however how I have added some qualifications: God is the *primary* or *ultimate* cause. This means in particular, that He is a cause in a different sense in which other causes are causes; He is not a cause among causes. This is not to say that God is not the primary cause of *some* things, events, or whatever; of course He is, otherwise there would be no miracles.

    But to reach this conclusion, the path you are going does not work. We have to first ask what it is that makes X *objectively* morally good if indeed X is objectively morally good; if it is an objective matter of fact, it must be a matter of reality, and hopefully one that is, at least in principle, knowable (it would do us very little good if we somehow knew that there were objective moral goods, but that we could not know them, not even in principle). But what does the very existence of an objective moral order tell us? From thereon, and via an indirect path, we can argue to the existence of God. But this will, in the AT perspective and as far as I can see, always be a riff on one of the Five Ways.

  255. Tom Gilson says:

    Michael, in response to this,

    That seems like a bit of a petulant complaint, Tom. If it’s a neutral grammar issue, I would assume his misspelling of “like” earlier would be an easier and more appropriate target. If you’re specifically troubled because he didn’t show the Bible the proper respect by capitalizing it then it seems like you’re imposing an inappropriate precondition on the discussion.

    It has been my experience—not just an assumption, but confirmed by conversation by those who have done it—that when atheists and skeptics have failed to capitalize words like “Christian,” “Bible,” and “God,” they have done so intentionally to communicate disrespect for those terms.

    I love Jesus Christ, and I love God. In a different though related way I love the Bible.

    Think of someone you love. If you were communicating with someone who had found a way to insert functionally irrelevant, intentionally disrespectful jabs toward that person repeatedly into the conversation, wouldn’t you care?

    I do, at any rate, and I don’t think that’s inappropriate.

    If there were something about it that advanced the argument, that might be different. But there isn’t. It’s just a jab. Maybe not in James’s mind, but in many others’; and I have chosen to maintain a consistent posture on this so I don’t have to try to read minds and determine writers’ intent.

  256. Michael Powell says:

    I think for a lot of non-Christian people it feels like Christianity uses capitalization to force respect that may or may not be earned. “God” is a prime example, as it seems to hijack the neutral generic term “god” into something that is more official. Christians confirm this implication by capitalizing God-referential pronouns (“Him”, etc) as a show of respect, which makes buying into the capitalization scheme feel like a capitulation. “Bible” is a lesser example of the same phenomenon, although I couldn’t tell you whether the term “bible” meant “religious holy text” before “The Bible”.

    Personally, I favor treating proper names strictly, regardless of context, just out of grammatical rigor. I might say “there is no god” or “there is no God”, and intend different levels of specificity. If I want to imply doubt about a term and its implications, I’ll throw up scare quotes around it (“God”, “Prophet”, “FairTax”, etc).

    I just don’t agree with forcing implied respect through grammatical control. That sounds Orwellian to me.

  257. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m not forcing respect, Michael. I’m not forcing participation. That’s one great difference between Orwell’s world and this blog. There are options: other places on the Internet, the water cooler, coffee shops, and so on. People can listen to different voices, and they can speak in different venues. To expect every venue to be value-free sounds very controlling to me.

    My position is what it is, and will remain so.

  258. BillT says:

    “The bible is a collection of observations peppered with artistic licenses of mankind’s experiences throughotu history and then written down. The bible is a deliberate attempt at governing people’s consciences. The bible….was meant to be widely circulated for broad conditioning.”

    Blah, blah, blah, blah. James offers us more of his evidence and reasoning free stream of consciousness on God and the Bible. So many words, so little…

  259. James Foely says:

    Actually I didn’t capitalize it because I bear it no revererence. Not as a sign of disrespect, which implies intent, only as a sign of immateriality.

    And the consequences you mention are entirely impotent as god as a living being to execute those supposed consequences is not and was never available to met them out, and does not exist in that form to do so.

    Your assertions that I will suffer some consequence seems more of a threat than a caution, and since neither unicorns nor gods nor devils nor illithid nor bogarts have the power to make good on such consequences, being fictional, created concepts, I must assume those consequences are also constructs of man. ;)

    And to your points, I do know the definitions and have used them properly within this context. God as described in the bible is a personification of the most noble and cherished ideals of the men at the time expressed and described in the ways familiar to them.

    As far as observation, I observe that a guy charged with drunk in public, then asking for an alocohol test to prove his state, having been denied such test though it be readily available and observed by him in use and at that time, is likely innocent of said charge based on the lack of evidence provided by the accusor. I also observe that the accusor, deliberately denying the accused the results that would occur, only places guilt on the accusor of bearing false witness. I didn’t need to be at the scene. It simply stands to reason. Just liek I dont’ need ot be at the scene to know that murder and rape are wrong no matter who commits the acts.

    However, you are aware that your argument goes both ways aren’t you? Your “evidence” of a living god is entirely anecdotal. Hearsay. Understand, I am not attempting to prove a negative, nor am I attempting to get you to prove a negative, I am only showing the existance and value of zero.

    *Side note; respect is earned, not bestowed.

    Forgive my, I’m sure, numerous typos and grammatical errors.

  260. James Foely says:

    BillT you’re simply being an oblivious twit. The burden of proof, the need for evidence still rests with you. End of your part in this.

  261. Tom Gilson says:

    James, “The Bible” is the name of a specific book, in this context. The names of specific books are treated as proper nouns. You chose not to capitalize it because of “immateriality”? How about just because you’re wrong about it?

    “God” in this context is the name of a specific person. Perhaps you think this person is nonexistent. Perhaps you would never capitalize Rip Van Winkle. Or Huck Finn. But you would, if you bore them reverence.

    As far as observation goes, you still do not understand the meaning of the word. It is not the same as inference.

    And you never caught on to the essential, implied rest of the phrase, “burden of proof:” burden of proof for what? You made a claim, BillT pointed out that you had no evidence for it. You bore the burden of proof for that. You cannot shed the responsibility for your own claims by pointing out that someone else is also responsible for theirs.

    Your claim remains unsupported, unsupportable, unbelievable; but most of all you have again shown that you don’t understand what you’re talking about with respect to this burden of proof issue.

    (Note: when we make claims regarding the truth of our beliefs, we do accept the burden of substantiating such claims. That’s what this blog is about.)

    “Respect is earned, not bestowed.” Right.

    Welcome is extended to all, but its continuance is not an entitlement.

    This has much, much more to do with the actual substance of your most recent comments than with grammar, you should know:

    End of your part in this.

  262. BillT says:

    “So many words, so little…” (And in light of the above from James, quite an understatement!)

  263. bigbird says:

    James: I’m just clarifying that it [the Bible] contains embellishments, like miracles and visions of angels

    No, you are just clarifying that your metaphysical framework is naturalism.

  264. Tom Gilson says:

    James, in case I wasn’t clear enough, you have violated the discussion policy repeatedly and intentionally, and you have reached the “end of your part in this,” to borrow (again) your rudely abrupt words to BillT. That’s why your recent comments have not shown on site here.

    I’m sure someone’s going to say I did it because of the capitalization thing, so let me head that off by referring you back to comment #263 for the explanation I already gave.

  265. Tom Gilson says:

    Would you like me to release your most recent comments for public view? I’d be willing to do that, but I won’t without your approval, since that would be pulling a switch on you.

  266. Tom Gilson says:

    I mean the one beginning “in other words,” and the one following.

  267. Sault says:

    @James

    It’s one of those “Golden Rule” things – that if you want to be treated courteously that you should be courteous to them. One aspect of this is speaking about their God and their Bible the way that they would like you to. Courtesy costs you nothing.

    The “you’ll just have to face the consequences of your decision” statement (with variations) is just a passive-aggressive update to the “turn or burn” sentiment.

    *shrug* Could be worse.

  268. SteveK says:

    G. Rodrigues,
    Thank you for your comments in 256.

  269. [...] divulged into reddit a handful of times, and found a pretty decent article entitled “If you believe atheism is true, atheism is false”. In it, Thinking Christian discusses Alex Rosenberg’s thoughts regarding thinking, that is, that [...]

  270.    
Comments RSS Feed
Real Time Analytics