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Science, Materialism, and Myth

Posted on Feb 26, 2013 by Tom Gilson

I'm about a quarter of the way through John N. Oswalt's very readable The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? I've just been stopped short with a question about the relation of science to myth, and whether philosophical materialism may itself be a form of myth.

Now I recognize there are a number of problems with that question. The first is that materialism is often associated with a certain school of thinking among scientists, which could cause anyone with half a brain's worth of regard for science to rise up in protest. Science (so the objection would go) is the very opposite of myth, for science reliably seeks and discovers what is true, withholds judgment on what cannot be known, and rejects all the superstitious and supernatural falsehoods for which myth is famous.

That's the first problem, and it's the easy one: I'm not talking about that sort of science, and I'm not talking about that sort of myth. In fact, by the end I hope to give you some hint of just how huge a difference there is between that so-called scientific way of thinking and actual science.

What Is Myth?

Myth is not necessarily untruth. This is the burden of most of Oswalt's message early in the book: to show that myth is not necessarily distinguished from other accounts according to whether it's true or not. He sets out at the start to discover a better definition for it, noting that anthropologists, literary specialists, and philosophers have proposed many definitions for myth, and for many, the truth or falsity of a story is secondary or even irrelevant. Oswalt surveys half a dozen or more proposed meanings for myth, and lands on one that best describes the way the term is actually used across times and cultures. He concludes that what best defines it is continuity and connectivity:

How shall we sum up these descriptive definitions of myth? At heart, they all recognize the one central feature that explains the several common features. Around the world, those literatures that express the deepest perceptions of a people or a culture tend to share the worldview of “continuity” or “correspondence.” Continuity is a philosophical principle that asserts that all things are continuous with each other. Thus I am one with the tree, not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually. The tree is me, I am the tree. The same is true of every other entity in the universe, including deity. This means that the divine is materially as well as spiritually identical with the psycho-socio-physical universe that we know….

Is Philosophical Materialism Myth?

Now if the deity is part of the universe in that way, it becomes questionable what the word deity even means, which I think might allow me to assume the freedom of leaving it out of the definition provided here. I realize that move could be controversial, but as an experiment it leads us in very interesting directions. For if that's a fair move to make, then it strikes me that there is myth pervading much of Western culture—and I'm not speaking of New Age beliefs or religion. It is a worldview that holds there is unbroken continuity between the tree and me, and that humans are essentially of the same sort of thing as all other organisms and even with inanimate objects. It is a philosophy of deep continuity.

Though it neither flows from science nor is essential to its practice, still this worldview is often associated with certain scientists' way of thinking. But it's not actually science, or at least not science of the sort that reliably seeks and discovers what is true, withholds judgment on what is known, etc. It's just that some people want us to think this way of thinking is all tied up together with science. I am speaking, as I have already said, of philosophical materialism, the view that the physical world is all that there is: that there is nothing real except for matter, energy, and their interactions according to (or described by) inviolable natural law. This materialist view is prominent among the “New Atheists” in particular and the contemporary atheist movement in general.

Believers in materialism typically insist on the continuity of all things, for example that each living organism is just the sum total of its physics and chemistry, just as non-living things are. Everything is the same thing, only at different levels of complexity. Humans in particular have no free will, no true self, indeed no consciousness (all are illusions, on many versions of materialism), and no enduring reality that could possibly continue beyond death. We are one with the animals in that way, and also of course in our having evolved from them—and being ourselves just a snapshot in the process of evolution's career.

Anti-Scientific Thinking?

This is continuity. It is continuity without personality, so in that sense it differs from other myth (there's no point in my over-stating my case), although Oswalt explains that myth characteristically denies that personality is essential to reality, so to that extent it still fits. And yet there is one more thing Oswalt wrote on myth, which in the current light poses very serious problems for anyone thinking that materialism and scientific thinking go hand in hand. In fact, it seems to indicate they would have difficulty getting along with each other. Oswalt says (p. 44),

The lack of distinction [continuity] that we are discussing here can be stated in more abstract terms as a denial of the subject-object distinction. The subject is me and the object is something apart from me that I can contemplate. All science is based on this distinction. I am not the experiment, and if the experiment does not come out according to my expectations, I do not falsify the report in order to escape being diminished. That is, I do not do so if I am a good scientist. Why not? Because science believes that there is a reality that exists apart from me.

Science requires the subject-object distinction. It requires a me, a self that is not the experiment. For many materialists, though, the existence of a genuine me—a self—is problematical. It requires (if I may extend beyond Oswalt's point) a conscious, observing self, which is even more problematical; and it requires one who can choose what to study, observe, analyze, and report, which is adding difficulty on top of difficulty for materialists who typically deny that there is such a thing as human choice.

And so you see this materialist way of thinking, which many New Atheists say is essential to science, includes features that are deeply antithetical to science, which is why from the start here I've avoided saying it's really science. In fact it's really just another indication of the contradictions inherent in today's atheism.

It may even be an indication that materialism has more in common with myth than science.

250 Responses to “ Science, Materialism, and Myth ”

  1. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Believers in materialism typically insist… Humans in particular have no free will, no true self, indeed no consciousness (all are illusions), and no enduring reality that could possibly continue beyond death.

    Kudos for qualifying that with ‘typically’! (No sarcasm, btw.)

    I, for example, only agree with the last, disagree with two and three, and am undecided about the first – depends on the definition used. In my experience, at least, there’s a lot more diversity among atheists than there is among theists – as you’d expect, really.

  2. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    In my experience, at least, there’s a lot more diversity among atheists than there is among theists – as you’d expect, really.

    In my experience it is exactly the contrary that holds. But I do not pretend that the samples from which my observations are drawn are representative.

  3. BillT says:

    Tom’s list (that humans have no free will, no true self, no consciousness, and no enduring reality that could possibly continue beyond death) is really a list of the logical manifestations of atheistic belief. An atheist that denies any of these really has the burden of proof to explain why “his” atheism doesn’t include one or more of these

  4. Earl Morton says:

    I’m speaking well beyond my expertise here, but I’m pretty sure that a quantum physicist would dispute this:

    Science requires the subject-object distinction. It requires a me, a self that is not the experiment. For many materialists, though, the existence of a genuine me—a self—is problematical. It requires (if I may extend Oswalt’s point) a conscious, observing self, which is even more problematical; and it requires one who can choose what to study, observe, analyze, and report, which is adding difficulty on top of difficulty for materialists who typically deny that there is such a thing as human choice.

    As I understand it, at the quantum level you cannot distinguish the scientist from the experiment. You must take into account that the scientist will affect the experiment’s results by merely watching it.

    I’m not sure how that affects Oswalt’s point, or yours, but I thought I’d mention it. What you say certainly holds true in traditional physics, in my opinion.

  5. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Earl Morton:

    As I understand it, at the quantum level you cannot distinguish the scientist from the experiment. You must take into account that the scientist will affect the experiment’s results by merely watching it.

    First, your understanding is not correct. Second, in a sense, it is a trivial observation that “scientist will affect the experiment’s results by merely watching it”, because there is no such thing as “merely watching”. To “watch” an electron, you have to *interact* with it somehow and “affect it” somehow. But this is all quite irrelevant to Tom’s points. In particular the “me” that Tom is talking about, is the first-person point-of-view me, that is not accessible from a third-person point-of-view, and thus inaccessible (like large cardinals!) to the empirical sciences.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Speaking of materialism’s doubt concerning the self: an entire special issue on this from New Scientist.

  7. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    An atheist that denies any of these really has the burden of proof to explain why “his” atheism doesn’t include one or more of these

    What if I were to say that the logical consequence of Christianity is that grace is irresistible? There’s, y’know, a bit of dispute over that in Christian circles. Some contend the other way.

    Similarly, for example, atheists can believe that consciousness exists, though we don’t understand how it works. (Yet – it’s not like there haven’t been phenomena that people despaired of material explanations for before that we eventually figured out.)

  8. JAD says:

    One of the great ironies of materialism (or reductionism, empiricism or scientism)is: it must be accepted on faith.

  9. Saskia says:

    Good point. And of course evolution, even if true (as I lean toward believing) is a myth of creation in the sense that it explains our origins and gives us a place in the world, if we have no other means of such.

  10. BillT says:

    “What if I were to say that the logical consequence of Christianity is that grace is irresistible?”

    First of all you would be right! Second, that’s a very nuanced theological detail that isn’t part of core Christian beliefs. Thus, it’s a poor comparision (and a red herring) given the topic at hand.

    “…atheists can believe that consciousness exists though we don’t understand how it works.”

    Sue, anyone can believe in anything they choose. However, athiests can’t account for consciousness given their worldview. That’s the point. The hope that they will some day is, at the moment, just wishful thinking.

  11. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Yet – it’s not like there haven’t been phenomena that people despaired of material explanations for before that we eventually figured out.

    The arguments against naturalism are not gap arguments. But I suspect you already know this, and you are just engaging in your usual potshot MO. Barf.

  12. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    The arguments against naturalism are not gap arguments.But I suspect you already know this, and you are just engaging in your usual potshot MO.

    Speaking of ‘potshots’, I didn’t say that “arguments against naturalism are… gap arguments”. There are a variety of arguments re: naturalism, but I was speaking very specifically about consciousness.

    In that respect, I don’t see anything but gaps. For example, can you describe to me how a ‘mental substance’ or ‘rational soul’ works? Absent that, I can’t really see how it’s anything but a label rather than an explanation. (Note, BillT, that I agree that ‘athiests can’t account for consciousness’. The thing is, I don’t see supernaturalists accounting for it either in any substantive way.)

  13. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Speaking of ‘potshots’, I didn’t say that “arguments against naturalism are… gap arguments”.

    No, you did not say that. But that is what your response implies. I just did the thinking for you.

    Absent that, I can’t really see how it’s anything but a label rather than an explanation.

    That you “cannot see”, I can readily believe. But since an argument from ignorance (literally) is worthless, I shrug my shoulders.

  14. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues – So, you can describe how a rational soul works! Wonderful! Can you repeat the explanation, because I missed it in your reply #13?

  15. BillT says:

    “…I agree that ‘athiests can’t account for consciousness’.The thing is, I don’t see supernaturalists accounting for it either in any substantive way.”

    We seem to go round and round on this (and I don’t mean especially with you Ray). Theism does account for consciousness in a logically consistent manner given what we believe is true about reality. I’m sure the details of that explanation are not lost on you Ray. Now, you don’t have to accept that and we wouldn’t expect you to. After all, you don’t accept our view of reality.

    But this is what we are saying. We have a view of reality that accounts for consciousness, self, free will, etc. That much is true. Atheism has a view of reality, as you said, that can’t account for these things. Given that we believe that consciousness, self, free will, etc. are real we believe a view of reality that accounts for them must be closer to the truth than one that doesn’t.

    Now, we don’t ask you to change or ignore your view of reality to account for these things. We shouldn’t have to change or ignore our view of reality in our accounting. After all, it’s at least as likely that there is a God that provides these things to us as the view that there isn’t.

  16. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    So, you can describe how a rational soul works! Wonderful!

    Sorry, I am not falling for your feigned interest in actually wanting to know the answers and I do not have Victoria’s stamina and patience; read a book if you are actually interested in knowing the asnwers.

    One warning though; if by explanation you mean “mechanistic” explanation, or an explanation in reductive, physicalist terms, you are in for a bit of disappointment, because such explanations are not possible, not even in principle (or so the arguments go).

  17. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    Sorry, I am not falling for your feigned interest in actually wanting to know the answers

    When, exactly, have I insulted you?

    It really seems that the fact that I disagree with many of the positions put forth here, or don’t understand the explanations presented, is considered prima facie evidence that I’m not arguing in good faith.

    I really do want a discussion. I’ve checked out, and re-checked-out, Fesers “The Last Superstition” from the library many times. I still don’t get it. Explain to me, as you would to a child if necessary. Treat me, as Tom Gilson says we should, as a human being.

    I didn’t ask for an explanation in “reductive, physicalist” terms. Just terms that I can comprehend.

  18. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    We have a view of reality that accounts for consciousness, self, free will, etc. That much is true.

    I haven’t been able to confirm that. I haven’t seen anything that I can recognize as an ‘explanation’ of how consciousness works.

    Atheism has a view of reality, as you said, that can’t account for these things.

    Note that there’s a difference between “can’t” and “doesn’t yet”. Since we have a long long history of people deciding things that they didn’t understand must be ‘spiritual’, only for someone else eventually to figure out a non-supernatural explanation, I don’t find that especially troubling. Sometimes the most accurate answer is, “We don’t know, yet.”

    Especially given what we do know of neurology these days. (Read some Oliver Sacks, for example – you’ll find it interesting no matter your theological bent, I promise.) We can see so much of what thinking and awareness is must reside in the brain, given what happens when the brain is damaged or impaired.

    I’ve seen what happens in a case of advanced Alzheimers. It’s very hard to say that what’s left really is the original person in any real sense. I don’t wish that experience on you or anyone else, but hwo could that help but inform my thingking?

  19. BillT says:

    “I haven’t been able to confirm that. I haven’t seen anything that I can recognize as an ‘explanation’ of how consciousness works.”

    Given your response to G. Rodriguez, let’s try this though it’s a bit simplistic. And please forgive me if I’m being too simplistic, it’s hard to know exactly what you are looking for. Your children (I’m assuming here) have traits and characteristics they inherited from you and your wife. Though I don’t know you I’d assume they get their good looks from your wife like mine does. Their intelligence, athletic abilities, inquisitiveness, demeanor from some combination of you two. This is true because you and your wife created your children so they share these attributes with you.

    Now, the kind of traits like consciousness, self, free will, etc. are not inherited through our DNA as they are for the most part metaphysical traits. But, our worldview allows for this because our God exists in a metaphysical state and thus the idea that we can get these metaphysical traits from Him, our creator, isn’t much of a stretch, if one at all. We share these attributes of God because He is our true creator. We inherit from Him just like your children do from you.

    This, of course, doesn’t explain how consciousness “works” but you said you weren’t looking for an explanation in “reductive, physicalist” terms. And to be fair this is certainly a mystery. But it is part of belief in the metaphysical that we accept some level mystery as part of that. After all, we certainly don’t believe that we understand God except in the most elementary of ways. If we could He wouldn’t be God.

  20. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    And to be fair this is certainly a mystery. But it is part of belief in the metaphysical that we accept some level mystery as part of that.

    That’s what the supernatural always seem to boil down to in practice, though. There’s always something about it that’s forever removed from human ken. It always seems to boil down to that famous cartoon.

    It has the accidents of an explanation, but not the substance.

    In “The Last Superstition”, Edward Feser characterizes materialism as stuffing everything that’s not currently explained under the rug of consciousness, and promising to eventually explain consciousness, someday. I fail to see how this is any different from that, in practice.

    But, as in the “long long history” link from the last comment, there’s a difference. If you decide something’s unknowable, you will stop trying to understand it. And if you stop trying to understand something, it’s a safe bet you never will understand it. If you do try to understand it, though, you might succeed. That’s what happened in all the examples in that link.

    So, when choosing between naturalism and supernaturalism, it boils down to a choice between never really understanding something, and the hope that it might one day be understood.

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    “It has the accidents of explanation, but not the substance.”

    As if there is no mystery in science?

    Tell me: what is a quark? What is it made of? Why is it that way and not some other way?

    Tell me: how does science explain explanation?

    How does science explain mathematics?

    There is no hope that science will ever understand those things, because they are not scientific questions.

    Meanwhile, what’s the problem with exploring the reality of God forever? You have a vision of the future almost reminiscent of Asimov’s Foundation, where curiosity ceases because (it is thought) there is no more research to be done. Is complete understanding of everything really that good? What happens to the joy of the journey once it has ended?

    You are empirically wrong to suppose that we stop trying to understand God or his relation to the world. You do know that science was founded by theists, right? You do know that there are many Christians in science now, right? Not to mention philosophy, mind studies, history, and more?

  22. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    As if there is no mystery in science?

    Science accepts unsolved problems. That’s different from unsolvable problems.

    Indeed, the key distinction I’m making is between “unknown” and “unknowable”, and I don’t know how to make it any more plain, and if you don’t grasp that distinction I’m really not sure how we can possibly proceed forward.

    How does science explain mathematics? There is no hope that science will ever understand those things, because they are not scientific questions.

    I didn’t equate science and atheism, nor science and materialism, you’ll note. If you want to restrict science to ‘natural philosophy’, I don’t have a strong objection. I never, at any point, claimed that every question was a scientific question.

    Is complete understanding of everything really that good? What happens to the joy of the journey once it has ended?

    I am not under the impression that that journey has ended, or even any signs that the end of that journey is close. What signs do you see that we are in danger of running out of puzzles to investigate anytime soon?

    You are empirically wrong to suppose that we stop trying to understand God or his relation to the world.

    The doctrine of mysteries of faith that humans can’t possibly understand isn’t hard to find.

    And the empirical history I linked to shows that once someone concludes something is supernatural, they stop trying to understand it. Then someone else comes along who doesn’t make that assumption…

    You do know that science was founded by theists, right?

    And as I’ve pointed out, astronomy’s origins were inextricably bound up with astrology, and chemistry and alchemy too were linked. That doesn’t mean you need astrology and alchemy to practice those disciplines today, or even that they’d be helpful.

    You do know that there are many Christians in science now, right?

    When did I say there weren’t? I didn’t claim that Christians couldn’t be scientists, even great ones. I pointed out cases where scientists allowed their Christian presuppositions interfere with their practice of science, that’s all. (Note: I’m not even claiming that atheists are free from letting presuppositions interfere with their practice of science. That would also be foolish.)

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, if it’s true that science does not accept unsolvable problems, then what does it do with them?

    I didn’t equate science and atheism, nor science and materialism, you’ll note.

    Neither did I. I think maybe you read something Wignerian into my question, but that wasn’t what I was asking.

    You ask, “What signs do you see that we are in danger of running out of puzzles to investigate anytime soon?”

    I ask, what signs do you see indicating Christian are about to run out of interest in learning?

    The doctrine of mysteries of faith that humans can’t possibly understand isn’t hard to find.

    Also unrelated to the question. If there are things we cannot understand, that doesn’t mean we cease pursuing whatever we possibly can.

    And as I’ve pointed out, astronomy’s origins were inextricably bound up with astrology, and chemistry and alchemy too were linked. That doesn’t mean you need astrology and alchemy to practice those disciplines today, or even that they’d be helpful.

    Ummm… true… but, ummm… did you notice, Ray, that has nothing to do with what we were talking about. We weren’t talking about whether you need to be a Christian to do science. We were talking about whether being a Christian kills curiosity about the natural world.

    What’s funny about your answer is that it came right out of the usual cut-and-paste that I get when I mention the Christianity of early theists. You were ready for that one, weren’t you!

    Of course you did get around to addressing the relevant question after the next snippet you quoted. But really, so what if a few theists and atheists have had wrong presuppositions? What does that demonstrate?

    (BTW: NGT makes some pretty clunky, ignorant errors in that Perimeter of Ignorance link. He’s wrong on the definition of ID, he’s wrong on “stupid design,” he’s stunningly wrong on Galileo being “alone” in exploring the unknown heavens (unbelievable!!!). His own presuppositions show through transparently. And besides that, ID most decidedly is not an instance of deciding something must be “spiritual” because it can’t be understood yet. But you know what? If we got off onto a tangent on what ID is and believes, it would be a further waste of my time, so I’ll leave it at that.)

  24. BillT says:

    Thanks for the reply Ray. I think Tom has done better in his answers than I could.

  25. Ray Ingles says:

    Ray, if it’s true that science does not accept unsolvable problems, then what does it do with them?

    All problems are treated as unsolved problems. They keep worrying at it – thinking up new hypotheses, and new tests for those hypotheses. For example, right now we know that Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity are incompatible. They make different predictions in some circumstances – like space around large, dense, fast-moving objects.

    We don’t have any rotating black holes near Earth to test with. (And that’s a good thing.) But scientists don’t give up – they try to come up with alternate ways to get the needed information.

    The most you can say in science is “we don’t understand that – yet.” Not “we will never understand that”.

    Which is fundamentally different from “there are things we cannot understand”. As I said, if you accept that, then you are guaranteeing you will never understand them. (Also, it’s the intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero, but that’s another discussion.)

    I ask, what signs do you see indicating Christian are about to run out of interest in learning?

    The history I linked to. Speaking of which…

    he’s stunningly wrong on Galileo being “alone” in exploring the unknown heavens

    The word “alone” doesn’t appear in that essay. Galileo is called a “rare exception” among scientists of the time – but even that isn’t a claim that he was the only one studying the heavens. Please quote the passage from that essay that makes the point you’re claiming.

    He’s wrong on the definition of ID,

    Possibly. He doesn’t seem to be wrong about how it’s actually been practiced. He admits it’s “an interesting hypothesis” (those words do appear in the essay), but it’s not one that’s been confirmed yet. I’m not aware of a single putative example that’s help up under scrutiny, at least in the biological realm.

    the usual cut-and-paste that I get when I mention the Christianity of early theists [I assume you meant 'scientists']. You were ready for that one, weren’t you!

    But it’s a valid point. As I said, “I didn’t claim that Christians couldn’t be scientists, even great ones.” What I dispute is that Christianity is necessary for, or helpful in, the practice of science.

    And I didn’t claim that Christianity
    “kills curiosity about the natural world” in general. It demonstrably kills curiosity about those areas of our experience that have been declared to be supernatural. You see the distinction, I hope?

  26. Victoria says:

    And I didn’t claim that Christianity
    “kills curiosity about the natural world” in general. It demonstrably kills curiosity about those areas of our experience that have been declared to be supernatural. You see the distinction, I hope?

    No, it means that as Christians, we will have to use a methodology appropriate to understanding and asking questions about the supernatural (which is not that of Modern Empirical Science).

    Thus, asking about the physics and chemistry of turning water into wine (Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana) for example, is to ask the wrong questions – Jesus did not do this as an object lesson in organic chemistry. His purpose was a completely different one.

  27. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    When, exactly, have I insulted you?

    My apologies; I expressed myself badly and misleadingly. My intention was not to make a psychological evaluation, and much less a judgment, of your motivations, whether conscious or unconscious — see below.

    It really seems that the fact that I disagree with many of the positions put forth here, or don’t understand the explanations presented, is considered prima facie evidence that I’m not arguing in good faith.

    It is not the the fact that you disagree, it is the mode of disagreement and the type of objections you pose. For just one recent example: what the heck does the falsity of the claims of Mormons or Muslims have to do with the claims of historical Christianity? Nothing. The truth of either one implies the falsity of historical Christianity, but you are neither a Mormon nor a Muslim. The falsity of one or both does not advance you one iota towards settling the truth of the claims of historical Christianity. It is like saying that the demonstrable falsity of Newtonian mechanics implies the falsity of Evolution theory. Such general arguments of a skeptical nature are the ground zero of intellectual probity and ultimately self-defeating. They do provide a great excuse for *not* dealing with the evidence on its own terms.

    I’ve checked out, and re-checked-out, Fesers “The Last Superstition” from the library many times. I still don’t get it. Explain to me, as you would to a child if necessary. Treat me, as Tom Gilson says we should, as a human being.

    Do you intend this as a serious request? What can I possibly do better in the space of a combox than a book written by a specialist? Suppose you said “Explain to me, as you would to a child if necessary”, but replace the particular question you raised for say, quantum mechanics or whatever technical question tickles your fancy. Is that a serious request?

    And allow me to put some context back in the discussion; you said and I quote:

    In that respect, I don’t see anything but gaps. For example, can you describe to me how a ‘mental substance’ or ‘rational soul’ works? Absent that, I can’t really see how it’s anything but a label rather than an explanation.

    Implied in your objection is a gigantic promissory note that with the further advancement of science it will eventually be cashed out. This only makes sense, if indeed the arguments against naturalism are gap arguments, but of course they are not, they are in-principle arguments. If they work, no amount of wishful thinking on your part can save naturalism.

    Second, you ask “can you describe to me how a ‘mental substance’ or ‘rational soul’ works?” *What* are you asking here? There is a sense in which cars and computers “work”. Is that the sense in which you are using “works”? Is that the type of explanation that would satisfy you? But that is precisely what you will not get, because the relation between soul and body is not one of efficient causation.

    Finally, you say that “absent” such an explanation, it is a mere “label rather than an explanation”. If the explanation does not explain, well, it does not explain and that is that. But from the fact that you do not understand it, the only thing that follows is that, well, you do not understand it. The flaw can be in you, in the one making the explanation (or a combination of both) or in the explanation itself, as in the case if the explanation turns out to not explain anything at all.

    @Tom Gilson:

    For some reason been having trouble posting comments; my suspicion is that the problem is on my end. Anyway, if there are any previous versions of this comment waiting moderation or in some spam filter, please, just delete them and keep this one.

  28. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    When, exactly, have I insulted you?

    My apologies; I expressed myself badly and misleadingly. My intention was not to make a psychological evaluation, and much less a judgment, of your motivations, whether conscious or unconscious — see below.

    It really seems that the fact that I disagree with many of the positions put forth here, or don’t understand the explanations presented, is considered prima facie evidence that I’m not arguing in good faith.

    It is not the the fact that you disagree, it is the mode of disagreement and the type of objections you pose. For just one recent example: what the heck does the falsity of the claims of Mormons or Muslims have to do with the claims of historical Christianity? Nothing. The truth of either one implies the falsity of historical Christianity, but you are neither a Mormon nor a Muslim. The falsity of one or both does not advance you one iota towards settling the truth of the claims of historical Christianity. It is like saying that the demonstrable falsity of Newtonian mechanics implies the falsity of Evolution theory. Such general arguments of a skeptical nature are the ground zero of intellectual probity and ultimately self-defeating. They do provide a great excuse for *not* dealing with the evidence on its own terms.

    I’ve checked out, and re-checked-out, Fesers “The Last Superstition” from the library many times. I still don’t get it. Explain to me, as you would to a child if necessary. Treat me, as Tom Gilson says we should, as a human being.

    Do you intend this as a serious request? What can I possibly do better in the space of a combox than a book written by a specialist? Suppose you said “Explain to me, as you would to a child if necessary”, but replace the particular question you raised for say, quantum mechanics or whatever technical question tickles your fancy. Is that a serious request?

  29. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria – the Neil DeGrasse Tyson essay we’ve been discussing points out several cases where people mistakenly assumed that phenomena were supernatural, and stopped trying to understand those phenomena. I have my own personal favorite example.

    The point is, once people decide something is supernatural, they demonstrably stop trying to understand it. C.f. BillT and consciousness, above.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, Ray.

    Say, was your personal favorite example, Haldane, an atheist or a theist? Just wondering. (Not really, I know already. Full disclosure and all that, you know.)

  31. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Sheepish Grin :) Ah,, that’s what I get for jumping in at the bottom of a conversation.

    Anyway, my point still stands. The miracles that Jesus performed were recognized as such precisely because those who saw them and/or experienced them already knew that nature left to itself could never had done that.
    You are conflating superstition and a lack of understanding of nature’s regularities and patterns (its properties and dynamics, if you will) with genuinely knowable supernatural events.

    You are picking on the weakest examples of Christian ‘thought’, not the strongest ones. If you went to an American Scientific Affiliation conference and said these things, well, after the laughter at you had finally subsided, you’d have your intellectual head lopped off, metaphorically speaking.

    Certainly as both a trained, professional physicist and a Christian, I am very much interested in understanding, say, the Creation of physical reality. By faith I understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible. Hebrews 11:3; as a physicist, I am very much interested in what we can learn of the process, and just how far we can get with using the properties and dynamics of space-time, matter and energy to describe that process, for it seems that He left that information there for us to discover. Must be the legacy I had by studying physics with Christian physicists for teachers and colleagues.

  32. BillT says:

    Ray,

    Your contention that “…once people decide something is supernatural, they demonstrably stop trying to understand it.” is a red herring.

    First, nothing I wrote proposed halting any scientific research or rational inquiry into anything whatsoever. Acknowledging that there are metaphysical elements in our lives that contain some element of mystery is a logical understanding of what it means that things are metaphysical. That Haldane couldn’t conceive of DNA is his problem and proves nothing. Nor does understanding something to be metaphysical mean stopping inquiry of it, in whatever way appropriate, to uncover more about it. And that some person at some time did something like this is anecdotal and irrelevant.

  33. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – Are you sure you’re not confusing J.S. Haldane, the person I quoted, with his son, J.B.S. Haldane?

    ‘Cause J.S. Haldane was a Christian. Read the book I linked to from that page. It’s avialable free online.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Guilty as charged. Oops.

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Hey, Ray, I’ve got a question for you. How does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God? Will you keep on insisting on natural explanations even if they’re not all true?

  36. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    …as a physicist, I am very much interested in what we can learn of the process, and just how far we can get with using the properties and dynamics of space-time, matter and energy to describe that process

    Yes, you’re not sure where the boundary between natural and supernatural is, and you’re approaching it from the natural end. That’s fine. It’s when people are confident about what’s supernatural that they stop looking.

    BillT –

    Acknowledging that there are metaphysical elements in our lives that contain some element of mystery is a logical understanding of what it means that things are metaphysical. That Haldane couldn’t conceive of DNA is his problem and proves nothing.

    By itself, no. But as part of the pattern I’ve noted, it sure seems more than just suggestive. Again, it’s when people are confident about what’s supernatural that their curiousity seems to shut down. For example, back to Victoria’s earlier comment:

    Thus, asking about the physics and chemistry of turning water into wine (Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana) for example, is to ask the wrong questions

    But my goodness, even if they’re not as important, don’t you think those are fascinating questions anyway? I mean, was mass conserved or not? Wouldn’t knowing something of how the water was tranformed give information about God just the way you say investigating the physics of the early universe does?

    All the saints who levitated – don’t you wonder how that manifested, in detail? Was there a region of redirected gravity? (If so, did it affect their clothes, too?) Or was there something like an invisible support under them? Just raw, divinely-created kinetic fed directly to their matter? Or something else yet? Don’t you want to know where the boundary between natural and supernatural was?

  37. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    How does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God?

    Again, so far as I can see, the ‘supernatural’ equals the ‘unknowable’. It’s no coincidence that pretty much everything people didn’t understand in days past was once considered supernatural – lightning, disease, stars, rain, etc. etc.

    Let me ask you a question: You encounter something you don’t understand. How do you determine if it’s beyond human understanding or not?

    Will you keep on insisting on natural explanations even if they’re not all true?

    See the last sentence of comment #17.

  38. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    what the heck does the falsity of the claims of Mormons or Muslims have to do with the claims of historical Christianity? Nothing… The falsity of one or both does not advance you one iota towards settling the truth of the claims of historical Christianity.

    The argument isn’t, ‘Islam and Mormonism are false, therefore Christianity is false.’

    The argument is more like, “Hundreds of millions of people seriously and genuinely believe things that we both agree are clearly false. Therefore the standards for accepting things like miracles and divine intervention have to be set rather high.”

    Then, the contention is that once the bar is raised high enough to reject Mormonism and Islam, Christianity seems to have trouble getting over the bar too.

    It’s interesting. This happened, too, on Feser’s site. People seemed to assume I must be wrong, looked for a way to read my words so that they were wrong – like when I said Hitler wasn’t an atheist or an orthodox Christian, I was yelled at for saying Hitler was a Christian. Or take that other thread here, where I pointed out that Feser and Gilson disagree over what the majority of atheists beleive – and you got quite bent out of shape claiming that I was misrepresenting Feser. But I wasn’t, I was just pointing out that Feser was accusing atheists of a different error than Gilson was.

    Look, if I’m unclear about something, please ask before you assume the worst.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    The argument isn’t, ‘Islam and Mormonism are false, therefore Christianity is false.’

    The argument is more like, “Hundreds of millions of people seriously and genuinely believe things that we both agree are clearly false. Therefore the standards for accepting things like miracles and divine intervention have to be set rather high.”

    Then, the contention is that once the bar is raised high enough to reject Mormonism and Islam, Christianity seems to have trouble getting over the bar too.

    Or in other words, Islam and Mormonism are false, therefore Christianity is false.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    You do realize that the evidential bases for these three systems are completely different, right?

  41. Tom Gilson says:

    What’s really odd here, Ray, is this. Christianity predicts that Islam and Mormonism would be found false. In fact it demands it. So if the evidence shows that a prediction or demand of Christianity is satisfied, how does that count against the truth of Christianity?

    Note that this demand or prediction applies specifically to those other two systems’ supernatural claims. It is no prediction of Christianity that supernatural claims rise and fall together; rather that as one set of claims is established, the others must fall, and vice versa. If Christianity’s supernatural claims are true, the others must be false.

    Suppose the detective discovers a dead man with a gunshot wound in his chest. He knows of four possible murder suspects, plus there’s a chance that suicide is the answer. He investigates three of the suspects and finds they have airtight alibis. Does he say, “Well, now that we know that three of these people couldn’t have done it, that raises the bar for the fourth. It would have been a whole lot easier to prove the fourth man committed the murder if we had discovered that one or two of the others had too!”

    I don’t think so.

    So there is no general principle that says, “Islam’s and Mormonism’s claims fail, so we need to set the bar high for Christianity’s.” That’s just not so; it’s wrong thinking about all three religions and about evidential claims in general.

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Finally this:

    The argument is more like, “Hundreds of millions of people seriously and genuinely believe things that we both agree are clearly false. Therefore the standards for accepting things like miracles and divine intervention have to be set rather high.”

    How high? Can you quantify it?

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    In fairness to the exact form of the argument you presented, let me alter my detective analogy:

    A politician is dies by gunfire on live TV. There were four people there pointing guns at him, all visible on screen. Thousands of people think Sam did it; thousands think Bob did it; thousands think Nate did it; thousands think Bill did it. All these thousands had prior opinions regarding the dead man and the four possible suspects; all were biased in that respect.

    The detective knows that suicide is also a possibility.

    The detective investigates Sam, Bob, and Nate, and finds they have no gunpowder residue on their hands. The guns they were holding were water pistols. Does he say, “Well, now that we know that three of these people couldn’t have done it, we can conclude that it’s terribly easy for thousands of people to be wrong about who killed the man. And yet thousands still believe that Bill did it. Since we’ve proved how easy it is to be wrong, that raises the bar for concluding Bill did it. You know, the crazy thing is that it would have been a whole lot easier to get enough evidence to prove he had done it if we had discovered that one or two of the others had too!”

  44. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    The argument is more like, “Hundreds of millions of people seriously and genuinely believe things that we both agree are clearly false. Therefore the standards for accepting things like miracles and divine intervention have to be set rather high.”

    That is a non-sequitur; I am not going to scalpelize this or have any wish to pursue it, but in the background what is doing the work is some form of skepticism that is ultimately self-defeating.

    And while I am at it, you keep repeating the same mistake. You issue one gigantic promissory note that with the future advancement of science, eventually phenomena like consciousness will be explained in a fully naturalistic way. But to repeat myself, the arguments against naturalism are not gap arguments, they are in-principle arguments. If they work, no amount of wishful thinking on your part can save naturalism.

    Or take that other thread here, where I pointed out that Feser and Gilson disagree over what the majority of atheists beleive – and you got quite bent out of shape claiming that I was misrepresenting Feser.

    I am not going to discuss your status of misunderstood victim of over-zealous combox posters; just point out that you did misrepresent Feser. It is called quote-mining; I first read this expression in relation to the alleged practice of some creationists quote-mining sentences in prominent evolutionary books to undermine evolution theory while, among other sins, failing to note the most obvious thing, that the writer of the book endorses evolution theory.

  45. Victoria says:

    @Ray (#36)
    Oh, I regard the creation of the universe as a supernaturally-initiated event and as a subsequent time-dependent process that can be described (at least in part) using the properties and dynamics of space-time and matter-energy bestowed upon the universe by its Creator. In Christian Theism, the universe exists by the will and command of the eternal, self-existent Triune God of the Bible.

    God revealed some of the why of Creation (purpose) to us in His Word, the how and when (process) He left for us to discover for ourselves and marvel at.

    However Jesus’ miracles (let’s restrict our discussion to just those for now) are direct supernatural events for which the processes, as interesting as it would be to know the details of them, are secondary to their purposes.

    In the case of the water-into-wine transformation, we know the initial and final states ( water, then wine ), but the actual transformation process is unavailable for observation. People at the wedding knew full well how wine is made, and what the difference between plain ole water and a good wine is – there was no mistaking this transformation for an as-yet-unknown/not-understood natural process. Having a biochemical description of the fermentation process does not help us understand the miracle any better either.

    The miracles do tell us something about Jesus Christ. They tell us that The King is here (re-read C. S. Lewis on this), and that is their purpose, is is not?

  46. JAD says:

    Let me jump in with something that I think is pertinent to the on going discussion.

    There are a number of unprovable assumptions that we must believe to do science.

    Here is a brief list of five:

    1. There is an objective reality.

    2. Objective reality is intelligible and can be rationally understood.

    3. The universe operates according to “law-like” regularities.

    4. Cause and effect are real not just apparent.

    5. The regularities (or “laws”) according to which the universe operates are uniform across space and time.

    Notice that the idea of “natural law” is central to these assumptions. Where did western civilization get it’s idea of “natural law?”

    C.S. Lewis wrote:

    “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator.”

    Naturalism, materialism or scientism have no explanation why the universe should be intelligible and law-like.

    PS Here is Lewis’ quote in it’s full context:

    “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.”

    Who then is trying to undermine science?

  47. Victoria says:

    @JAD
    Ah, thanks, you just saved me a lot of typing to qualify what I meant by … a subsequent time-dependent process that can be described (at least in part) using the properties and dynamics of space-time and matter-energy bestowed upon the universe by its Creator. :)

    When I said ‘at least in part’ (poorly worded, I admit) I did not mean to imply any sort of gaps fallback, due to missing pieces or unexplored sections of our map of reality.
    Christian Theists are not a priori committed to a complete and comprehensive description of reality that excludes God and His sovereign rule over all that exists, in Creation and Eternity.

    Even a Multi-verse won’t help us out of that situation, since it (or they?) come from a set of equations (eg, a String Theory multi-dimensional parameter landscape) – that set of equations itself must have an explanation of some sort, and would we be in a realm that is beyond our ability to observe or test?

    For example, does anyone know if quantization of matter and energy (and even space-time) is derivable from a more fundamental set of physical principles? I seem to recall coming across a paper a while back where the author proposed a such a derivation of Quantum Mechanics (if I can find it, I’ll post the link :) ). It is of no use appealing to String Theory since quantization and Lorentz invariance are built into the theory from the start ( as far as I understand the theory – still a WIP for me :) ).

    Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking aloud here :)

  48. Victoria says:

    @Ray

    But my goodness, even if they’re not as important, don’t you think those are fascinating questions anyway? I mean, was mass conserved or not? Wouldn’t knowing something of how the water was tranformed give information about God just the way you say investigating the physics of the early universe does?

    All the saints who levitated – don’t you wonder how that manifested, in detail? Was there a region of redirected gravity? (If so, did it affect their clothes, too?) Or was there something like an invisible support under them? Just raw, divinely-created kinetic fed directly to their matter? Or something else yet? Don’t you want to know where the boundary between natural and supernatural was?

    And if you could answer some of those questions, then what???

  49. TFBW says:

    @Ray: in #37, you quote Tom thus:

    How does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God?

    …and reply thus:

    Again, so far as I can see, the ‘supernatural’ equals the ‘unknowable’. It’s no coincidence that pretty much everything people didn’t understand in days past was once considered supernatural – lightning, disease, stars, rain, etc. etc.

    By my analysis, your answer works as follows:

    1. “The supernatural” equals “the unknowable” (explicit claim).
    2. The past trend for things that were considered supernatural/unknowable is that they turned out to be knowable in the long run (paraphrase of explicit claim).
    3. By extrapolation, in the very long run, the category of supernatural/unknowable things will turn out to be empty (implied, I think).
    4. Therefore, God, belonging to the category of the supernatural, does not exist.

    In other words, the reply denies the antecedent in the hypothetical question instead of answering it. That’s a shame, because I would like to see an answer to that question.

    For my own reference, let me see if I understand your position so far. It seems that your general claim is that a belief in the supernatural is antithetical to science, because appeals to the supernatural replace scientific analysis (ref. final paragraph of #25). It seems that you are therefore insisting on methodological naturalism in science — that is, that all research should proceed as though there is a knowable, natural explanation for all observed phenomena.

    If I haven’t mischaracterised your position in any significant way, then let me try to ask something like Tom’s question, again, in a different way. Do you acknowledge that premise #3 from my analysis of your reply, above, might not be true, and that there may be some things which can not be properly explained in terms of natural phenomena?

  50. Victoria says:

    Actually, there is a lot of work being done on deriving the postulates of quantum theory from more fundamental principles :) Cool.

    http://arxiv.org/pdf/0711.2418v1.pdf
    and
    http://www.slac.stanford.edu/econf/C0306234/papers/keller.pdf

    and

    http://arxiv.org/pdf/1011.6451v3.pdf

    are some interesting examples.

    (search ‘derivation of quantum mechanics’). There are quite a few theories out there.

    It will be interesting to see where this leads – will there be experimental tests of these theories? (I hope so).

    I don’t want to drag the thread off into this direction – I promised if I found what I had referred to that I would post the link :)

  51. JAD says:

    TFBW writes that Ray is “insisting on methodological naturalism in science — that is, that all research should proceed as though there is a knowable, natural explanation for all observed phenomena.”

    I have no problem with methodological naturalism as long as it’s just that–
    methodological naturalism. For example, a Hindu, Christian and an atheist chemist run the same experiment under the same conditions. If they do the experiment right they should come up with the same results. If it’s something nobody knew before, we have a new scientific discovery.

    The problem is when you conflate methodological naturalism (MN) with philosophical naturalism (PN). PN is the unproven, and scientifically unprovable assumption (or belief) that unintelligent natural causes are sufficient to explain everything: the origin and fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life and the genetic code, as well as mind and consciousness. In other words, PN is not something Ray or anyone else can prove to be true; it’s something that Ray believes by faith.

    (I remember a year ago or so ago we had a lengthy and interesting discussion/debate here about MN. Maybe if Tom has the time he could find that for us and provide the link.)

  52. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    It is no prediction of Christianity that supernatural claims rise and fall together; rather that as one set of claims is established, the others must fall, and vice versa. If Christianity’s supernatural claims are true, the others must be false.

    Actually, Victoria’s on record as stating that, say, the miracles of Joseph Smith might well have happened as described – just caused by Satan. So the miracle claims of other faiths don’t have to necessarily be false if Christianity is true.

    Suppose the detective discovers a dead man with a gunshot wound in his chest.

    The claim isn’t, “Islam and Mormonism are excluded as suspects by DNA evidence, therefore Christinity is excluded too.” The claim is, “If we use DNA evidence, Islam, Mormonism, and Christianity are all excluded.”

    If we insist on solid evidence of miracles, then we don’t really find much. (Recall the case of the sober witnesses mistaking Venus for a UFO” case I linked to before.)

    How high? Can you quantify it?

    How about as high as you’d need to establish new physics in science? For example, at the moment it appears we’ve found the Higgs Boson. If we hadn’t, it would have implied the Standard Model had major problems and would need substantial rework.

    Perhaps that’s too high. How about the same level of data we’d need to establish contact of some kind with extraterrestrials? Unambiguous decoded messages, exotic materials, something of that nature? At least we’d know something weird had happened/was going on.

    Perhaps that’s too high. How about the evidence needed to establish the efficacy of a new medication? We’re actually pretty good at picking out statistical patterns if we know what we’re looking for.

  53. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    But to repeat myself, the arguments against naturalism are not gap arguments, they are in-principle arguments. If they work, no amount of wishful thinking on your part can save naturalism.

    I know that. I’ve read TLS, e.g. Feser’s discussion of qualia on pp190-193. The claim is that, given the argument, it’s just impossible for qualia to be explained in a material fashion.

    But consider Edgar Allen Poe’s investigation of Maelzel’s Chess Player. He claims that “It is quite certain that the operations of the Automaton are regulated by mind, and by nothing else. Indeed this matter is susceptible of a mathematical demonstration, a priori.” Yet now we have Deep Blue.

    Or the case of Haldane, where he figures he’s proved materialist explanations of heredity are simply impossible. “The mechanistic theory of heredity is not merely unproven, it is impossible. It involves such absurdities that no intelligent person who has thoroughly realised its meaning and implications can continue to hold it.” Yet now we know about DNA.

    Feser argues that qualia cannot possibly be instantiated in material things like groups of neurons. But how, then, to explain The Case of the Colorblind Painter? “He knew the colors of everything, with an extraordinary exactness (he could give not only the names but the “numbers” of colors as these were listed in a Pantone chart of hues he had used for many years). He could describe the green of Van Gogh’s billiard table in this way with exactitude. He knew all the colors, but could no longer see them, either when he looked or in his mind’s eye, his imagination or memory.”

    Feser specfically names the color red as a quale – how to explain that the death of a small region of this painters brain utterly extinguished that quale, not just in perception but in imagination and memory too?

    Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Engineers have a saying, too – “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are different.” The results I read about in neurology don’t square with the theory Feser advances. I don’t have to specifically identify the error(s) with the argument _ I don’t even have to know what the correct answer is – to know that the argument must be wrong somewhere.

  54. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – I’d say 3 and 5 aren’t strictly necessary. We accept that things behave very differently near black holes, for example. But in any case –

    Notice that the idea of “natural law” is central to these assumptions. Where did western civilization get it’s idea of “natural law?”

    There’s two issues here. First off, the idea of natural laws did fall naturally out of the idea of a Lawgiver. But again – the main inspiriation for the development of astronomy was astrology. And yet, you don’t need astrology to practice astronomy. Similarly for chemistry and alchemy. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths did develop science (though later developments of Islam damped that down eventually in that culture), but that doesn’t imply any of them are correct.

    The reason why was ably pointed out by Bertrand Russell a while back: “…the whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave…”

    Once you have the idea of such regularities – from whatever origin – then, if they are in fact present, you’ll find them when you start to look.

  55. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    And if you could answer some of those questions, then what???

    Curiosity must have a practical end in mind? I just asked if you wanted to know, not if you had a profitable application in mind for the knowledge…

  56. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    I meant, what would you do with the knowledge, as in, how would it affect your worldview, or your stance on the Person of Jesus Christ?

    In Christian Theism, God’s miracles always have a spiritual or theological purpose, to demonstrate Who He is, and with redemptive / salvation purposes in view.

    This might help you out: http://bible.org/seriespage/meaning-miracles-mark-435-41

    If all you came away with from one of Jesus’ miracles was a description of the physics or chemistry or biology that was affected, then you have missed the point completely :)

  57. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria – What practical information do you intend to get out of probing the boundaries of the Big Bang?

    My entire point is that it doesn’t have to be either/or, but you – and so many other theists – seem to treat it that way. Why can’t you get the spiritual meaning out of it and study it scientifically? Why do you only choose one?

  58. Victoria says:

    Sigh…

  59. JAD says:

    It appears that Ray’s purpose here is to tell us what to think and believe.

  60. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – That’s just it. I’m not telling. I’m asking!

    When I see something amazing I automatically, practically instinctively, want to know all about it. On every possible level. I can understand not everyone being interested in what I’m interested in. I get that.

    I remember reading an essay by Stephen King back when I read Stephen King. He pointed out that he might come across a small pond in Texas and imagine a monster that crawls out from the bottom to eat first wild animals, then cattle, then people. Louis L’amour would look at the same scene and imagine a Western tale of clans and cattle barons and ranchers battling over water rights. Another author might draft a romance between a tribal lass and a loner cowboy that meet by chance while watering their horses.

    Not everyone’s a Western fan, or a horror fan, or a romance fan. I get that. What I can’t grasp is no one being interested in what I’m interested in. Not even one Christian scientist (not Christian Scientist, of course) trying to investigate miracles from a scientific view, to the limit they can.

    That’s what I mean. Once people decide it’s supernatural, it’s like that curiosity just winks out. Why?

  61. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    It is not a question of scientific curiosity winking out – it is a matter of asking the right questions, the significant questions. You are trying to answer questions, interesting as the answers might be (assuming that we could even understand the answers if God were to tell us), that are incidental to the purpose and intent of the miracles.

    Let’s be clear here, we are talking about God’s genuine miracles here (events or states that the regular stream of cause and effect in the physical realm would have never produced on its own) and NOT the regular properties and dynamics of the physical realm that God has ordained for it. Don’t mistake our separation of concerns and interests in God’s special providence with a different set of interests and concerns regarding God’s general providence.

    Having accepted that Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural act of God, we are interested in its significance and implications for God’s plan of redemption and how it affects us and our relationship with our Creator.

    To complain that we are not interested in the same questions you are is not saying anything of significance, since we understand far better than you do what Christianity is about. Go away and re-read C.S.Lewis ‘Miracles’.

  62. SteveK says:

    That’s what I mean. Once people decide it’s supernatural, it’s like that curiosity just winks out. Why?

    That is false. Nobody stops being curious about the supernatural. What people DO stop being curious about (or should stop being curious about), is how the supernatural can be explained in terms of the natural.

  63. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    What people DO stop being curious about (or should stop being curious about), is how the supernatural can be explained in terms of the natural.

    I didn’t – very specifically didn’t – ask for the supernatural to be explained in terms of the natural.

    But consider the figure/ground distinction. Why wouldn’t identifying the boundary of the ground (the natural processes, in this case) help clarify and distinguish at least the shape of the figure (the supernatural actor)?

  64. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    You are trying to answer questions, interesting as the answers might be (assuming that we could even understand the answers if God were to tell us),

    From comment #37, “Again, so far as I can see, the ‘supernatural’ equals the ‘unknowable’.” Thanks for illustrating that attitude.

    (BTW, anyone want to take a crack at answering the question I asked in #37?)

    Having accepted that Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural act of God, we are interested in its significance and implications for God’s plan of redemption and how it affects us and our relationship with our Creator.

    Even Christians have time to engage in hobbies. They build models or read novels or play basketball or watch TV or whatever.

    But no Christian – not even one – seems to spend time trying to identify the boundary that I talked about in comment #65. Despite the fact that study of God’s creation is supposed to help us understand God.

  65. TFBW says:

    In #54, Ray Ingles said:

    The results I read about in neurology don’t square with the theory Feser advances. I don’t have to specifically identify the error(s) with the argument _ I don’t even have to know what the correct answer is – to know that the argument must be wrong somewhere.

    Yes, but that’s hardly paradigm rationality, is it? “That seems wrong to me,” is far from compelling, as reasoning goes. In fact, if I were to surmise your argument from the neurology evidence that you have presented, which ostensibly supports the position, I would phrase it as follows.

    1. Evidence suggests that consciousness can be impaired in various specific ways by physical brain damage.
    2. Therefore, a physical brain with a certain minimum level of functionality is necessary to support consciousness.
    3. Therefore, a physical brain with a certain minimum level of functionality, and nothing more, is sufficient to support consciousness.

    I leave it as an exercise to the reader to identify where the logic in that argument runs afoul of a fallacy, and/or figure out what steps could be taken to get from #1 to #3 in a valid manner.

    If I were to phrase your arguments from Edgar Allen Poe or Haldane more formally, I would phrase them as follows.

    1. In the past, people have mistakenly asserted that certain activities are not possible without supernatural (or at least non-physical) agency.
    2. Therefore, it is likely that all such claims are mistaken.

    I’ll just say, “that seems wrong to me,” for now.

    Meanwhile, would you mind responding to my comment #49? You’ve posted a flurry of responses to other comments, but mine is still going begging.

  66. Victoria says:

    I give up….
    Ray is conflating a study of God’s Creation with a study of His redemptive acts in human history.

    He is doing the same things over and over again, selectively citing what others have said, and spinning it to make it sound completely different.

    This is becoming pointless….I am through with you for the last and final time, Ray.

  67. Tom Gilson says:

    Boy, it’s hard not to get involved in these discussions even when I’m taking time away.

    Ray, answer these questions satisfactorily and maybe you’ll have a point to make. Please note that for all of these questions, we already have answers on a macro level. For example (see Craig Keener’s Miracles) we have many examples of CTs and MRIs showing the absence of a cancer where one had previously existed. Those kinds of measurements indicate that something happened that can’t be medically explained, but I don’t think they do what you want. They show that a miracle happened, but not what happened at the boundary of nature and supernature.

    I think that for what you want, what’s required is something at the micro level, perhaps even the molecular or quantum level. So then…

    1. What would you measure before the miracle? How would you know to measure it? How would you know when to measure it?

    2. What would you measure while the miracle was happening? How would you know when to measure it?

    3. What would you measure afterward?

    4. What would you use for controls?

    5. How would you know that your measurement wasn’t interfering with/reacting with what it was measuring?

    6. (This is out of sequence, since it should precede the others.) What hypothesis would you be testing? What would be your theoretical basis for choosing that hypothesis?

    7. If your hypothesis included at some level H1: God does miracles, would that hypothesis include the following?
    H-A1: When God does miracles, those miracles typically have something measurable in common, at the supernatural/natural boundary.
    H-A2: If God does miracles, he will do them at a time when measurement apparatus is set up to catch them in process.
    I’ve labeled these as H-A since they could be treated as either hypotheses or as necessary assumptions. Either way, what would your theoretical basis be for them, and what would it mean for your research if either or both of them were false?

    If you can’t answer all of those questions, you don’t have science.

    What I’m trying to say, Ray, is that it’s one thing to wonder what’s going on when God does miracles. It’s another thing to make it a scientific research project. I won’t speak for the others, but the reason I’m not interested in this as a scientific project is because it cannot be made into one, no matter how much I might wish it could. It’s impossible in principle.

    I am very interested in God’s miraculous working, both past and present, as a window into the character and works of God. There’s all kinds of room for curiosity there, and it’s a form of curiosity that’s appropriate to the question.

  68. SteveK says:

    I didn’t – very specifically didn’t – ask for the supernatural to be explained in terms of the natural.

    You did when you wondered why a Christian scientist isn’t investigating miracles. if you don’t see the connection then see Tom’s comment above,

  69. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    Ray is conflating a study of God’s Creation with a study of His redemptive acts in human history.

    No, I’m not. I’m suggesting it might be possible to supplement “a study of His redemptive acts in human history” by engaging in “a study of God’s Creation”. Shed a light on the issue from another angle, as it were.

    I am not suggesting replacing one with another, or suggesting that one is a subset of another. I’m suggesting that it’s at least conceviable that they have a common boundary.

    TFBW – Sorry I forgot your comment. I’ve been replying to Tom Gilson, Victoria, SteveK, BillT, G. Rodrigues, and JAD as well, and yours slipped through the cracks. You’re up next.

  70. Victoria says:

    The implicit assumption that Ray is making, despite his token acknowledgement of the spiritual, is that scientific questions and scientific answers are the only way of knowing. This is unvarnished scientism.

    @Tom (#69): Well said (I wish I’d said that earlier :)). It does speak for me.

  71. Victoria says:

    No, I’m not. I’m suggesting it might be possible to supplement “a study of His redemptive acts in human history” by engaging in “a study of God’s Creation”. Shed a light on the issue from another angle, as it were.

    OK, I’m listening, then. How? Give me an answer that I as a physicist and a Christian will be satisfied with.

    My question remains – what are you trying to learn from a ‘scientific’ study of the miraculous? God’s supernatural acts introduce discontinuities into the interconnected stream of events that is otherwise described by the properties and dynamics of the physical realm. They are discontinuous in the sense that, as C. S. Lewis said, “…that Nature, left to herself, could not have accomplished”.

    Will you humbly bow down before God as the Sovereign Creator and Lord and King, and give Him the rightful worship that is His due? Or is this just idle curiosity that for you has no real spiritual significance or impact on your life?

    In the case of the resurrected Jesus, the actual resurrection event itself was unobserved by any human beings (presumably the angels at the tomb might have witnessed it). We have the historical record of what happened before (the initial state) and what happened after (the final state).

    Initial State: Jesus was dead (confirmed by all the Gospel accounts, especially John’s). He was wrapped in spices and the burial clothes, and laid in a tomb, which was then closed off by the large cover stone. It was subsequently sealed and placed under guard.

    Final State: On the morning of the first day of the week, the tomb was found to be empty, with only the burial clothes still laid out (and this is an interesting discussion on its own – maybe later). Mary was the first to encounter the risen Jesus, and we are told that she was able to touch Him and carry on a conversation with Him. As the narratives progress, we learn that Jesus’ resurrection body possessed physicality (He could be touched, He ate with people, He walked and talked with them), yet was not constrained by the physical limitations of an ordinary human body.

    That’s all we have by way of descriptions of His resurrection body. It was enough to convince His friends that He was really alive , but in a completely new way, and they understood that this was a supernatural act of the Living God. They went on to explain the true significance of this event, namely that it is the culmination of God’s plan of redemption for humanity.

    In the case of Jesus’ miracles, the distinction between the natural and supernatural was already recognized by those people who were present to witness or participate in the event – they already knew that the sorts of things that Jesus did don’t happen in the natural course of events. We (and the people who were there) don’t need advanced biochemistry and a scientific description of the fermentation process to understand that Jesus’ turning water into wine was an extraordinary event, and that water does not normally become wine in such a fashion.

    Your so-called scientific study is just a way of avoiding the real implications of what miracles are – the whole topic is a disingenuous red herring, and quite frankly is damned nonsense. As somebody said on another thread, God is not the subject of idle curiosity.

  72. JAD says:

    For me to have a good discussion and/or debate with anyone, you need to find some common ground (some things you both agree on). Ray seems to be a master at avoiding common ground.

  73. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW – Okay, got a minute. Let’s see. First off, I didn’t answer Tom’s question directly. (Of course, a couple of my questions have gone unanswered, too. This is a long discussion.) But I can expand on things here.

    “The supernatural” equals “the unknowable” (explicit claim).

    Yes, that’s what it always seems to boil down to. The main point of my reply is in the return question. If you encounter something you don’t understand, how do you determine if it’s ‘unknowable’ or just ‘unknown’?

    You could look at the first link I gave in #20; it’s a short enough essay. The key passage:

    From a practical perspective, the only way to tell which category something falls into is to try to understand it; if you succeed, then it was knowable. The problem is, if you fail, you can’t conclude that it’s unknowable. It might be… but it also might be the case that you just didn’t happen to figure out something knowable, and you or someone else might have better luck on a subsequent attempt.

    For example, your followup question is already addressed there:

    Do you acknowledge that premise #3 from my analysis of your reply, above, might not be true, and that there may be some things which can not be properly explained in terms of natural phenomena?

    Another bit from the essay:

    It’s quite true that unknowable entities can’t be ruled out a priori. Maybe there really are some out there. But… how would you prove it? If we encountered a real, honest-to-goodness ‘miracle’, what evidence could you possibly present that it was caused by a god and not a powerful alien? The most you could ever say would be, “A god hasn’t been ruled out, yet.” From a practical perspective, I can’t see what the notion of ‘supernatural’ buys you.

    If you disagree, can you explain a principled, practical way to tell the difference between ‘unknown’ and ‘unknowable’? My examples weren’t meant to prove that the ‘unknowable’ couldn’t exist. They just demonstrate that people have been demonstrably wrong about what was unknowable and what wasn’t before.

  74. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Just because something cannot be studied by science does not make it unknowable. Unknowable by science but not unknowable. You agreed in a previous comment that the arguments against naturalism are not gap arguments and yet you continue to offer evidence against gap arguments. What’s going on?

  75. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Therefore, a physical brain with a certain minimum level of functionality, and nothing more, is sufficient to support consciousness.

    Not quite; but I will say that, given what happens to consciousness as the brain is destroyed, if there’s a ‘remainder’ when the brain’s elminated, it must be pretty small.

    Again, Feser argues that qualia cannot be instantiated in arrangements of neurons, yet destruction of arrangements of neurons destroys qualia. Very specifically, without impacting anything else.

    Doesn’t Occam’s Razor have any traction here?

    Feser contends that ‘our purely intellectual capacities cannot have a corporeal organ’. But such a dualism necessarily implies that the immaterial intellect must affect the material in some way. If you follow the course of the matter in the human brain, you will come to a point where that matter does something that matter alone wouldn’t or couldn’t do. We’re getting to the point with MRIs and so forth where we may soon be able to actually test this. (Tom, I’ll answer your recent post as soon as I can – but that’s a start.)

    (Hey, Victoria – at one point in TLS Feser says that one arrangement of neurons is very like another, so how could they have radically different effects like the quales of ‘warmth’ or ‘red’? Does that bother you at all? I mean, you know software and physics. ‘One arrangement of bits is very like another, so how could one be a word processor and another a game?’ ‘One arrangement of particles is very like another, so how could hydrogen be very different from anti-Uranium?’ This doesn’t mean that Feser’s wrong about other things, but this in particular strikes me as a surprisingly weak, even nonsensical, argument.)

  76. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    I haven’t read much Feser, so I can’t comment on that :) Sounds interesting though, so if you happen to know the link, I’d be happy to give it a read.

  77. Melissa says:

    Larry,

    Could you please stop mangling Feser. His argument is that qualia and intentionality cannot be explained purely in terms of the physical as it is conceived in a mechanistic framework. He rejects that framework and cartesian dualism so your “evidence” against his position has no force.

    and Victoria,

    Larry has misquoted Feser above in that he says “one group of neurons firing seems qualitatively very like another” which makes a difference in context. Not to mention that Feser would also argue that hydrogen and uranium are not “just” different arrangements of particles.

  78. Victoria says:

    @Melissa
    Thanks for the heads up :) You’ll notice that Ray does this quite a bit with what we say as well.
    Notice how he handles my #63 in his #66 :)

  79. Melissa says:

    Re #79 my apologies to both Larry and Ray. This comment should have been addressed to Ray.

  80. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles:
    In #75, you say:

    My examples weren’t meant to prove that the ‘unknowable’ couldn’t exist. They just demonstrate that people have been demonstrably wrong about what was unknowable and what wasn’t before.

    We are in complete agreement that people are often wrong about what is unknowable. As such, you need not present any further evidence of this claim, since it is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the inference that you draw from this observation: your willing dismissal of all such claims on the basis of the ones that have been demonstrated to be wrong.

    That assertion seems to stand in conflict with another of your statements.

    If we encountered a real, honest-to-goodness ‘miracle’, what evidence could you possibly present that it was caused by a god and not a powerful alien? The most you could ever say would be, “A god hasn’t been ruled out, yet.”

    You are suggesting that it is unknowable whether the effect in question was performed by a God or a sufficiently powerful alien. You conclude that the notion of “supernatural” contains nothing useful, but this does not follow. What follows is one of two things.

    1. If I accept your assertion that all claims of the sort “X is unknowable” are wrong, then I must conclude that you are wrong to suggest that we can’t know whether a miracle was performed by a supernatural god or a powerful but natural alien. That being so, it follows that the existence of the supernatural is knowable in principle, so “supernatural” is not identical with “unknowable”.

    2. If I accept your assertion that, given a miracle, we can not know whether it was performed by a supernatural god or a powerful but natural alien, then there exists a true statement about the cause of the miracle, but we can not know what it is. That true statement, whatever it is, is an example of something unknowable. If I accept your assertion that “unknowable” and “supernatural” are identical, then it also represents an example of something supernatural, so this is an in-principle demonstration that the supernatural can exist.

    In other words, by your own logic, either “supernatural” is not identical with “unknowable”, or you have provided a rational basis for belief in the existence of the supernatural. I’m sure that this is not a dilemma that you intended to convey, but there it is.

    I think that the problem here is that “supernatural” and “unknowable” are simply not identical, and it was sloppy thinking on your part to consider them so. “Unknowable” describes a category of propositions which are true, but which lack either appropriate means of justification, or the possibility of anyone believing them. Your example of determining whether an activity can be properly attributed to God or a powerful natural being is a potential example: there is nothing in principle that could distinguish between a “miracle” produced by one cause or the other. (You’re free to back off that assertion, but the alternative is that such a distinction can be made, and therefore the existence of the supernatural is knowable in principle, and therefore the supernatural is not identical with the unknowable, which is exactly my point.) “Supernatural”, on the other hand, describes a category of things (or beings) which are not composed of matter or energy. They are entirely different categories.

    You are conflating the two concepts by asserting that the existence of the supernatural is necessarily unknowable. Even if that is true (which would, in any case, stand in conflict with your repeated examples about “X is unknowable” being proved false), then it does not follow that the two are identical: it only follows that true statements about the existence of the supernatural belong to the category of unknowable propositions. And even if the existence of the supernatural is unknowable, it does not follow that the existence (or not) of the supernatural is somehow irrelevant or unimportant.

    In short, this whole “the supernatural equals the unknowable” principle is causing incoherence in your argument, and you don’t seem to have noticed that fact. You need to back off that position and start to draw distinctions between those two terms, or this conversation has no hope of making any progress whatsoever. Conversely, if you’re happy with the principle, and don’t see any problem with it, then it’s been nice talking to you, but we’ve identified a fundamentally irreconcilable difference, and there’s really no point banging heads about it.

    There are other points of confusion in your argument, I think, but I’ll let you respond to this post before I proceed any further. There’s no point in going on about it if we can’t even resolve this issue.

  81. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    A belated and necessarily short (for my standards) response.

    The claim is that, given the argument, it’s just impossible for qualia to be explained in a material fashion.

    Actually this is only partly correct. There is no need to invoke a subsistent immaterial soul to explain qualia, since qualia is just sensory experience and the latter relies in the sensory organs, and thus matter. What the *type* of explanation cannot be is reductively (or eliminatively) materialistic.

    Followed by:

    Yet now we have Deep Blue.

    Yet now we know about DNA.

    Don’t be silly. Neither Deep Blue nor the discovery of DNA hinges one iota on the arguments. Really, this strategy is almost as silly as saying that “yeah, Godel’s theorems prove that every formal system satisfying certain technical conditions cannot prove its own consistency, but we have Deep Blue and DNA, so there, I do not have to understand Godel’s arguments at all!”.

    I don’t have to specifically identify the error(s) with the argument _ I don’t even have to know what the correct answer is – to know that the argument must be wrong somewhere.

    No this is not correct. But your examples notwithstanding, you have given *NO EVIDENCE* that hinges on these arguments, so I will not belabor the point. And the logic of your argument can be turned around and with even *more* force. The argument is deductive and logically air-tight (you do not even engage with it, so it is left standing as it has always was), therefore I do not even have to respond to your “alleged” evidence.

    Feser contends that ‘our purely intellectual capacities cannot have a corporeal organ’. But such a dualism necessarily implies that the immaterial intellect must affect the material in some way.

    To see how wrong you are, take for example the hudrogen atom substance. The substantial form is, speaking somewhat loosely, a structural, objective, constitutive principle of the hydrogen atom. It is what marks it off from every other thing in the universe, and in particular, it is the difference between an hydrogen atom on the one hand and a proton and an electron on the other. Similarly for the substantial form of human beings known as the soul. The relation of the soul with the matter it informs, the body, is not one of efficient causation but formal causation, just like the relation of the substantial form of the atom with the (secondary) matter it informs, a proton and an electron say. So saying that,

    But such a dualism necessarily implies that the immaterial intellect must affect the material in some way.

    just betrays the extent of your confusion.

    [to Victoria:]

    at one point in TLS Feser says that one arrangement of neurons is very like another, so how could they have radically different effects like the quales of ‘warmth’ or ‘red’? Does that bother you at all?

    More egregious misunderstanding.

  82. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    1. What would you measure before the miracle? How would you know to measure it? How would you know when to measure it?

    We already have to study, scientifically, any number of things with schedules we can’t predict. Meteors, gamma-ray bursts, cancer, and so forth. Even nuclear decay, which so far as we can tell isn’t even in principle predictable. So we look at the cases we have and – if we’re trying to study it – set up conditions in advance.

    For example, the AWARE study that’s looking into out-of-body experiences in emergency rooms. Among other things, they check the reports that people ‘see themselves and the doctors from above’ by placing signs or objects where they can only be seen from above. Do they actually perceive something they couldn’t have detected with their eyes?

    Let’s restrict ourselves to the type of case you yourself brought up – “CTs and MRIs showing the absence of a cancer where one had previously existed”. We don’t have to know that a particular case is going to undergo a miracle when we have ‘before’ data from a huge variety of cancers simply because we take CTs and MRIs routinely.

    2. What would you measure while the miracle was happening? How would you know when to measure it?

    We very rarely get to see multiple shots of a meteor as it happens, like what we got in Siberia a few weeks ago. That doesn’t mean we can’t get lucky sometimes, like when a meteor explodes over an area where a fair number of people have dash-cams. The AWARE study just casts a wide net and hopes to get lucky.

    But even when we don’t get that lucky, we can study the aftermath. E.g. by comparing the ground before and after a fragment hits. So “H-A2″ isn’t necessary.

    3. What would you measure afterward?

    Did the cancer just disappear, or was it replaced with healthy tissue? Are there any remnants of the cancer – did it break apart and leave material behind that the metabolism had to process and eliminate? Is there anything unusual about the chemistry and metabolism of people who’ve had a miraculous healing? Etc.

    4. What would you use for controls?

    All the people who got CTs and MRIs of their cancers but didn’t get a miraculous healing. Also, people whose cancer was successfully treated by medicine, like chemotherapy or radiation.

    5. How would you know that your measurement wasn’t interfering with/reacting with what it was measuring?

    Well, you’d try to get as close to a double-blind as possible. For example, someone examining CTs and MRIs would not be told if they were looking at someone whose cancer was newly discovered, being treated, cured by conventional treatment, or cured by miracle. Obviously this can’t be done perfectly, but humans muddle through as best they can anyway.

    6. (This is out of sequence, since it should precede the others.) What hypothesis would you be testing? What would be your theoretical basis for choosing that hypothesis?

    Even in the traditional description of the scientific method, the “ask question” and “gather data/background research” steps come before the “formulate hypothesis” step. But, for example, if the cancer’s gone, I’ve already pointed out some things to look for. Did it just vanish, or did the cancer cells break down and get processed? Can we eliminate things like a virus or a novel immune response?

    Then there’s data mining. We can gather as much data as possible and slice it various ways, looking to see if there’s any patterns. Those patterns can be used to generate hypotheses to drive futher research.

    H-A1: When God does miracles, those miracles typically have something measurable in common, at the supernatural/natural boundary.

    That is indeed a hypothesis that can be tested. It could certainly be disproved by the kind of techniques I’ve pointed out.

    And would it not be interesting if a pattern were found?

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    What portion of that research is not already happening, Ray?

    Read Keener, Miracles.

    I thought you were talking about something like a genuine research study into what happens during a miracle; or that you were talking about some aspect of study that no one was already interested and involved in. My bad, I guess.

  84. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    What the *type* of explanation cannot be is reductively (or eliminatively) materialistic.

    Qualia depend not just on the sense organs, but on how the data from the sense organs is processed. Qualia are “The ‘what it is like’ character of mental states. The way it feels to have mental states such as pain, seeing red, smelling a rose, etc.” But in the case of the colorblind painter, the sense organs are there, the visual processing is there – it’s precisely the “what it is like”-ness of color that’s gone. Because a specific part of the cerebrum is gone.

    Don’t be silly. Neither Deep Blue nor the discovery of DNA hinges one iota on the arguments.

    Not Feser’s arguments, no. The arguments of Poe and Haldane, though, yes. They contended that they had “deductive and logically air-tight” arguments, and it certainly was hard for people at the time to dispute them. But it’s been empirically demonstrated those arguments were wrong. The case of the colorblind painter, I contend, is empirical evidence that Feser’s argument is wrong, too.

    Similarly for the substantial form of human beings known as the soul.

    From the link to Feser’s site from before: “[Aquinas] endorses philosophical arguments for the immateriality of the intellect of the sort that go back to Plato and Aristotle. That much gives him grounds for concluding that the soul carries out immaterial operations alongside its corporeal ones. Add to this the (independently motivated) Scholastic thesis that agere sequitur esse — that “action follows being,” so that the way a thing acts reflects the manner in which it exists — and we have grounds for concluding that, though the soul is the form of the body, it must in some way have a kind of subsistent immaterial existence.”

    The form of a hydrogen atom, in Feser’s terms, doesn’t – cannot – exist when the hydrogen atom ceases to be. The soul of a rational animal is different, it does immaterial things – and those immaterial processes must affect material things. “Free will” can’t be material, for example, according to Feser – the soul must supply that. So the will must impact the body somehow, no?

    More egregious misunderstanding.

    I’ll dig up the page numbers and quote tonight.

  85. SteveK says:

    Ray,
    I agree with what Tom said in #85. As far as I can tell, the things you speak of are already being done. So what is your specific complaint?

  86. Ray Ingles says:

    Do y’all at least have some page numbers in what is apparently a two-volume set (Keener’s “Miracles”) so I can confirm that the kind of investigation I’m talking about is actually being performed? Who’s doing it, what are their protocols, etc? Is it only medical miracles, or what?

  87. Tom Gilson says:

    In the Nook version, pp. 234-314, 362-504, with the rest of the book(s) focused on philosophical and methodological issues, as well as claims from earlier in history and investigations of other kinds of miracles (visions, dreams, exorcisms, etc.).

    There is no paucity of research in there.

  88. SteveK says:

    Ray,
    I have not read this book, but I noticed it is viewable at Google books – here. Part 3 is devoted to more modern miracles and most of the footnotes are viewable at the end.

  89. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    If I accept your assertion that, given a miracle, we can not know whether it was performed by a supernatural god or a powerful but natural alien, then there exists a true statement about the cause of the miracle, but we can not know what it is.

    No. It’s “…then there exists a true statement about the cause of the miracle, but we” do “not know what it is.”

    A powerful alien could be investigated, and we could in princople discover that it performed the miracle and perhaps even how. Edward Feser, who gets some credence here, asserts that could not be the case for a supernatural entity: ” What is supernatural is what is beyond the natural order altogether, and thus cannot be known via purely philosophical argument but only via divine revelation.”.

    The point is, we don’t know a priori that the event is caused by a god or a powerful natural being. So we have exactly two choices – investigate it, or don’t.

    If we don’t, we guarantee we won’t understand it. If we investigate, we might understand it. From a practical perspective, the only way to proceed is to investigate, to assume that it’s understandable.

    If I accept your assertion that “unknowable” and “supernatural” are identical,

    I didn’t say that they were identical. The supernatural is, at least potentially, a subset of the unknowable.

    “Supernatural”, on the other hand, describes a category of things (or beings) which are not composed of matter or energy.

    Is the Mandelbrot Set supernatural?

    Even if that is true (which would, in any case, stand in conflict with your repeated examples about “X is unknowable” being proved false)

    How so? Flesh out the case. Note that I didn’t say those things were in fact unknowable – rather the opposite. Those examples all turned out to have natural accounts.

  90. Tom Gilson says:

    The point is, we don’t know a priori that the event is caused by a god or a powerful natural being. So we have exactly two choices – investigate it, or don’t.

    If we don’t, we guarantee we won’t understand it. If we investigate, we might understand it. From a practical perspective, the only way to proceed is to investigate, to assume that it’s understandable.

    Funny. In your list of options you omitted the two words immediately preceding this portion.

  91. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    The colour blind painter example does not show that our experience of colour can be explained in reductive materialistic terms, all I’d shows us that our experience of quails is dependent in brain activity.

    They contended that they had “deductive and logically air-tight” arguments,

    Their arguments are not deductive arguments.

    The soul of a rational animal is different, it does immaterial things – and those immaterial processes must affect material things

    Material in the AT framework includes form and matter.

    I didn’t say that they were identical. The supernatural is, at least potentially, a subset of the unknowable.

    So the supernatural is potentially unknowable but so what? That does not bring you to your conclusion that God as an explanation stops investigation.

    More egregious misunderstanding.

    I’ll dig up the page numbers and quote tonight.

    Quote mining will not help. Providing an accurate summary of Feser’s actual arguments wil. It is obvious from what you have written so far about Feser’s that you either don’t understand his position at all or you are deliberately misrepresenting him.

  92. Ray Ingles says:

    “The Last Superstition” by Edward Feser, p191:

    A sensation of redness is obviously very different from a sensation of greenness, and even more redically different from a sensation of coolness or the experience of tasting coffee or hearing a sound. Yet one cluster of neurons firing seems qualitatively pretty much like any other, and certainly very different from any of these sensations.

    You can almost hear Haldane arguing that one collection of chemicals is much like another, so how could one ‘germ plasm’ correspond to a frog while another corresponds to a person? If qualia can be explained in terms of material things, then it follows that small differences can have large effects. The same way a couple different nucleotides can spell the difference between normal hemoglobin and sickle-cell anemia.

    This is followed by a rare balanced passage in the book:

    For this reason (and many others) it is hard to see how any sensation could be reduced to or explained in terms of nothing but the firing of neurons. While various positions have been taken on this issue, it is probably fair to say that the field is mainly divided between those theorists who think it is obvious that qualia cannot be explained naturalistically and those who think it is obvious that they can be, and each side finds it difficult to take the other seriously.

    I don’t claim that all, or even most, of Feser’s arguments are on the level of that first passage. But that passage really isn’t an argument at all.

  93. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    If qualia can be explained in terms of material things, then it follows that small differences can have large effects. The same way a couple different nucleotides can spell the difference between normal hemoglobin and sickle-cell anemia.

    No one is arguing that small differences in one part of a complex system can’t have large effects in other parts of the system and I’ll quote the next sentence of Feser’s that you left out and is extremely pertinent to the issue: “For this reason (and many others) it is hard to see how any sensation could be reduced to or explained in terms of nothing but the firing of neurons”.

    What do you think of his contention that it is the conception of matter, as devoid of qualitative properties and directedness, that has led to the intractability of the mind-body problem?

  94. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles:
    in #91, you say:

    I didn’t say that they were identical. The supernatural is, at least potentially, a subset of the unknowable.

    Ach! The goalposts! They move! In #37, you said, “again, so far as I can see, the ‘supernatural’ equals the ‘unknowable’.” You then quote that exact phrase, yourself, in #66. Then, when I analysed your argument in #49, saying, “1. “The supernatural” equals “the unknowable” (explicit claim),” you responded in #75, “yes, that’s what it always seems to boil down to.”

    But now that I’ve pointed out the implications of your claim, you offer a “clarification”: these things are not equal after all, but rather the supernatural is a potential subset of the unknowable. Here’s a question for you: which of the following expressions is more closely synonymous with “equals”: “identical to” or “potential subset of”?

    I don’t like this kind of bait-and-switch nonsense. Are you going to tell me that it wasn’t bait and switch? Do you assert that you’ve been clear and consistent, and not redefined a key point of your argument? If that’s your assertion, then we’re done here. I’m not producing words simply to watch them roll off you like water off a duck’s back.

    I would like to understand your argument and conduct critical analysis on it. If you want critical analysis, I can offer it, but you have to present an argument that is sufficiently well-defined that critical analysis is possible, and that means holding to higher standards than this. If you actually want critical analysis, say so. If not, then say “no thanks” or make excuses for yourself or something, and I’ll take the hint.

  95. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Qualia depend not just on the sense organs, but on how the data from the sense organs is processed.

    I know what qualia is, thank you. What I said is that qualia is, roughly speaking, the modern name for what the Scholastics termed sensory experience. To have qualia does not require any immaterial soul as sensory organs and the accompanying apparatus of memory and imagination (imagination in the classical, technical sense) is sufficient to explain them; that is why the “problem” of qualia is a typically modern one, one that arose with the advent of the mechanistic, Cartesian revolution. Classical arguments for the immateriality of the soul rely on *thought* not on qualia.

    They contended that they had “deductive and logically air-tight” arguments, and it certainly was hard for people at the time to dispute them.

    Ah yes, your much loved tactic of *not* responding to the arguments in question and instead focus attention on other arguments, that sorta, kinda, somehow, sound close, and then claim victory by proxy.

    Whatever.

    The form of a hydrogen atom, in Feser’s terms, doesn’t – cannot – exist when the hydrogen atom ceases to be. The soul of a rational animal is different, it does immaterial things – and those immaterial processes must affect material things. “Free will” can’t be material, for example, according to Feser – the soul must supply that. So the will must impact the body somehow, no?

    In the same way we do not say that the substantial form ( the constitutive, structural organizing principle that marks off hydrogen atoms from everything else in the universe and in particular from a proton and an electron as twoi independent substances) of the hydrogen atom “impacts” the proton nucleus and the electron somehow, the soul does not “impact” the body somehow, because the soul *just is* the form of the body to which it has a relation of *formal causation*. The soul, as the substantial form of the body, is not a substance (complete substance is the appropriate technical term) that exists apart and outside of the body to which it has interactions with that we have to explain, because there are no such interactions (unless interaction is understood in an analogous, non-mechanistic way) in the first place. Neither is Free Will a “thing” so as to be material or immaterial, but rather a power of the soul.

    note: yes, I know that being a Christian, I now have to explain the status of the soul post-mortem. But since you are not a Christian, I do not have enter into such theologically charged territory.

    [to TBFW:]

    A powerful alien could be investigated, and we could in princople discover that it performed the miracle and perhaps even how. Edward Feser, who gets some credence here, asserts that could not be the case for a supernatural entity: ” What is supernatural is what is beyond the natural order altogether, and thus cannot be known via purely philosophical argument but only via divine revelation.”.

    More egregious misunderstanding; “supernatural” is a technical term of art. The actions of powerful aliens are, under the definition of supernatural Feser is working with, *not* supernatural. Strictly speaking, only God is supernatural, that is, above the natural or created order. And from this, it follows what Feser is saying.

    Is the Mandelbrot Set supernatural?

    You tell me.

    [to Melissa:]

    You can almost hear Haldane arguing that one collection of chemicals is much like another, so how could one ‘germ plasm’ correspond to a frog while another corresponds to a person?

    Your caricature of the argument is duly noted. In the meantime, and until you do have such a naturalistic explanation for qualia, why not just stay silent instead of making reverse gap arguments?

    If qualia can be explained in terms of material things, then it follows that small differences can have large effects.

    If cows had wings I would never leave home without an umbrella.

    When you have something relevant to say I will respond — of course, if my responses are unnerving, then by all means carry on.

  96. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    In your list of options you omitted the two words immediately preceding this portion.

    Because I haven’t received any divine revelations. I have – through my natural senses – received reports of divine revelations, but that’s not the same thing. And reports received though the senses have to be evaluated based on reason.

    Melissa –

    I’ll quote the next sentence of Feser’s that you left out

    But… I didn’t leave it out. In fact, I quoted more of it than you did.

    What do you think of his contention that it is the conception of matter, as devoid of qualitative properties and directedness, that has led to the intractability of the mind-body problem?

    Ehhh… maybe. I still can’t get onboard with ‘directedness’ in the precise way he argues. But I also agree that whatever insights will be necessary to understand consciousness in a comprehensive way, we haven’t gotten them yet. The way people in Poe’s time didn’t have a real concept of algorithms and people in Haldane’s time didn’t understand DNA and molecular biology.

  97. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    In #37, you said, “again, so far as I can see, the ‘supernatural’ equals the ‘unknowable’.”

    If you were confused by my phrasing, I apologize. I did not intend to claim that all unknowable things were ipso facto supernatural. But I do claim that, in practice, all supernatural things are unknowable.

    So, yes, reread what I’ve written with the interpretation that ‘calling something supernatural is sufficient, though perhaps not necessary, for it to be unknowable’. See if it’s more consistent then.

    G. Rodrigues –

    Classical arguments for the immateriality of the soul rely on *thought* not on qualia.

    But Feser includes several pages on qualia anyway.

    “supernatural” is a technical term of art. The actions of powerful aliens are, under the definition of supernatural Feser is working with, *not* supernatural.

    Since I was using the example of a ‘powerful alien’ as something that isn’t supernatural, I’m not clear what your point is supposed to be. I didn’t say aliens were supernatural, nor did I say Feser says aliens are supernatural. I think the misunderstanding may be on your end.

    Is the Mandelbrot Set supernatural? You tell me.

    I’m sort of a quasi-Platonist, so no, I don’t think so. Do you think it’s supernatural?

    Let’s put two sections together, now:

    Ah yes, your much loved tactic of *not* responding to the arguments in question and instead focus attention on other arguments, that sorta, kinda, somehow, sound close, and then claim victory by proxy.

    until you do have such a naturalistic explanation for qualia, why not just stay silent instead of making reverse gap arguments?

    You accuse me of misunderstanding Feser’s arguments. Unfortunately, I have to accuse you of misunderstanding mine. It was thought, by logical argument, that all the things in the sky went around the Earth. Then Galileo saw moons going around Jupiter. An argument can be trumped by empirical observation. Poe and Haldane are other examples of arguments that are trumped by empirical observation.

    So, my contention is not, ‘those arguments were wrong, therefore Feser is wrong’.

    My contention is, ” 1. Arguments can be disproved by empirical observation (here are some examples), 2. the colorblind painter (and other cases) provide empirical observations at variance with Feser’s argument, 3. therefore that argument is wrong.”

    Do you object to 1., 2., or both?

  98. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray (@#98), I’m sorry.

    I thought that if divine revelations were an option, they were an option.

    But you haven’t received any, therefore they aren’t an option.

    I forgot it all depended on you.

    Pardon me for losing track of that.

  99. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    My contention is, ” 1. Arguments can be disproved by empirical observation (here are some examples), 2. the colorblind painter (and other cases) provide empirical observations at variance with Feser’s argument, 3. therefore that argument is wrong.”

    Do you object to 1., 2., or both?

    Since it has been pointed out multiple times by multiple people that the case of the colour blind painter does not provide empirical evidence against Feser’s position. I don’t know why you are still going on about it as if no one has told you this is the problem.

    Feser includes discussion of quaila in his book as part of a discussion of the current status of the mind- body problem and how he thinks it is the modern conception of the physical has manufactured the problem not as evidence for an immaterial soul.

    But I do claim that, in practice, all supernatural things are unknowable.

    I’d like to see evidence for this claim. Do you mean completely unknowable or unknowable in part?

  100. Tom Gilson says:

    Echoing what Melissa said,

    Since it has been pointed out multiple times by multiple people that the case of the colour blind painter does not provide empirical evidence against Feser’s position. I don’t know why you are still going on about it as if no one has told you this is the problem.

    I haven’t been following this closely, so I don’t know exactly what you’re doing, Ray, but if what she says is correct then what you are doing is exactly nothing but wasting time.

    If you say X, and someone answers not-X because of Y, you could repeat X and ignore Y. But that’s rude, for one thing.

    Beyond that, X stands in a position of being rebutted, and unless you rebut the rebuttal, you are affirming something that no one has any reason to believe. If you’re going to continue to affirm X, you are pretty much required to show reasons why Y doesn’t work to undercut or defeat X.

    Otherwise you’re accomplishing nothing.

    The rude part consists also in the fact that people tend to think they need to respond again to explain that X is wrong—even though that, too, adds nothing new to the discussion.

    So as I said, I don’t know if that’s what you’re doing, but if it is, courtesy and rationality both demand that you quit it.

  101. TFBW says:

    Let me see if I can focus in on the exact difference that separates Ray’s view of the evidence from everyone else’s, since I’ve been carefully trying to pin down that exact thing myself.

    Ray has been giving multiple examples (primarily sourced from Oliver Sacks) of cases where physical brain damage resulted in the loss of qualia — the subjective “what-it’s-like-ness” of experience. His ultimate contention is that this demonstrates that the physical brain is wholly responsible for that experience.

    To me (and evidently to most others here), this seems like an unjustified conclusion. Portions of the brain can be essential for experience without being the entirety of experience, just as a machine can cease to function when any single vital part is removed. The vital part is not wholly responsible for the operation of the machine — it is merely an essential component. in #67, I characterised Ray’s argument as follows.

    1. Evidence suggests that consciousness can be impaired in various specific ways by physical brain damage.
    2. Therefore, a physical brain with a certain minimum level of functionality is necessary to support consciousness.
    3. Therefore, a physical brain with a certain minimum level of functionality, and nothing more, is sufficient to support consciousness.

    This was not intended to be a sound argument: it was an invitation for Ray to fix up an unsound approximation of his argument. In #77, Ray responded as follows.

    Not quite; but I will say that, given what happens to consciousness as the brain is destroyed, if there’s a ‘remainder’ when the brain’s elminated, it must be pretty small.

    The working assumption then seems to be “only that which is not eliminated by the destruction of the physical part needs to be accounted for”. I don’t buy this at all: the “vital part” analogy still applies. A vital part, the removal of which disables a particular function, is not necessarily the only thing which is responsible for that function. Ray’s answer to this is to brandish Occam’s Razor in an assertive manner.

    I think that part of the fundamental misunderstanding is that Ray thinks that consciousness is a process. This is from the article (his own) which he linked to in the above quotation.

    I think consciousness isn’t a static ‘object'; it’s an active process. Consider wind – what is wind, exactly? It’s something air does. Is a tornado an object, or is it a process that happens within a particular volume of air? I think the mind isn’t something the brain has or creates – the mind is what the brain does.

    The controversial aspect of this is not the idea that “the mind is something that the brain does”, but the implication that the brain, and only the brain, is responsible for the phenomena we associate with “mind”, including “qualia”, or “experience”.

    To understand the difficulty of this situation, I must ask Ray to clarify what he means by the brain being an “active process”. I recognise two different kinds of process, off the top of my head: physical processes, and computational processes. Physical processes represent interactions of matter and energy: chemical reactions, large scale mechanics, quantum behaviour, and so on. Computational processes are abstract things which can be instantiated through specific physical processes: it’s what modern computers do with electronics, and what the brain does with neurons.

    If consciousness is a physical process, then what sort of physical process is it? There must be physical properties of consciousness which either derive from other fundamental properties of matter, or which are basic properties unto themselves (like gravity and electrical forces). On the other hand, if consciousness is a computational process, then what sort of computational process is it? I’m a PhD in computer science, and I know of no computational process which bears any relevance to consciousness. But if consciousness is a purely computational process, then we should be able to make a machine conscious by making it perform the relevant computations.

    It is because nothing in the whole of physics or mathematics seems to be even related to consciousness that modern intellectuals (excluding those with a prior commitment to philosophical materialism) still consider consciousness to be a hard problem. None of those thinkers are even slightly swayed by the fact that certain physical or computational processes might be necessary for consciousness. If you could come up with an in-principle argument as to how consciousness might be a physical or computational process, then that would give the evidence an entirely different significance. As it stands, no such connection exists.

    This is a case of arguments being different depending on what one accepts as a premise or a conclusion in the argument. For a materialist, the argument goes like this.

    1. Consciousness exists.
    2a. Everything that exists is either physical, or a second-order product of something physical.
    3a. Therefore, consciousness is either physical, or a second-order product of something physical.

    For someone who does not hold #2a as a premise, the argument goes like this.

    1. Consciousness exists.
    2b. Consciousness is a phenomenon that can not be explained in terms of physical or computational processes.
    3b. Therefore, there exists a phenomenon which is not a physical or computational process.

    When non-materialists try to persuade materialists that their premise #2a is untrue, and cite consciousness as a counter-example, materialists refute it by asserting their conclusion, #3a. That’s poor logical form, because the conclusion can only be as true as the premise on which it is based, and if the premise happens to be false as charged, then the conclusion is equally faulty.

    When materialists try to persuade non-materialists that their premise #2b is untrue, they blather. They call it “giving up too easily”, or try to cite loads and loads of examples where consciousness is seen to be closely related to something physical (without showing that it reduces to something physical). If materialists really want to refute #2b, then they need only come up with a plausible suggestion of how consciousness could, in principle, be a physical or computational process.

    The problem, as Jerry Fodor famously quipped, is this: “Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious.”

    Materialists are willing to overlook this difficulty on the basis of their faith in materialism. For those of us who lack such a strong faith in materialism, consciousness represents a glaring problem for the materialist doctrine.

    Understand that, and I think you can understand the communications failure-in-progress between Ray and the rest of us.

  102. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s really helpful, TFBW. Thanks.

    There’s another brand of materialist you left out, though, who would argue,

    1b. The experience of consciousness exists.
    2b. Consciousness cannot be explained either as a physical or computational process, or as any related physical entity
    3c. Nothing exists except material entities and processes
    4. Therefore the experience of consciousness is not actually consciousness; it is an illusion.

    This is much more consistent with materialism than what Ray is arguing.

    The problem, though, is this: aren’t conscious of the illusion? Could we be experiencing it if we weren’t? The conclusion 4 is self-contradictory on the face of it.

  103. TFBW says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard of that one. As far as I can see, an illusion is a species of experience — specifically a non-veridical one. I’m not sure how you could have a non-veridical experience of experience.

    For those of you who can’t get enough of this philosophical mumbo jumbo, I wrote an essay on the subjects of consciousness and intuition here.

  104. JAD says:

    Tom @ #104 wrote:

    1b. The experience of consciousness exists.
    2b. Consciousness cannot be explained either as a physical or computational process, or as any related physical entity
    3c. Nothing exists except material entities and processes
    4. Therefore the experience of consciousness is not actually consciousness; it is an illusion.

    That kind of skepticism is actually the reverse of René Descartes. Starting with his own self consciousness Descartes reasoned that it was the world, not his own consciousness, that could be an illusion.

    The movie, The Matrix, gives us a good illustration of this. However, in the movie the hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) gets unplugged from the Matrix, which is how he learned his life up till then had been a computer generated illusion. Of course philosophers have taken these scenarios up another level to a matrix where I am just brain in a vat. Now I am completely “wired in”. There is no way for me to get unplugged. So there is no way for me to experience the world outside the one I’m wired into. In my opinion that kind of skepticism is the only kind that is even remotely plausible and believable.

    The problem is for believe that “the experience of consciousness is not actually consciousness; it is an illusion,” you have got to give me reasons to believe it– or completely doubt my own self conscious experience. At present there are no reasons to believe it. I think most people I believe like I do. To doubt your own self consciousness is not only absurd, it’s total nonsense.

  105. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    But you haven’t received any [divine revelations], therefore they aren’t an option.

    …aren’t an option for me. If you’ve received divine revelations, that’s awesome for you, and congratulations. But I have to use my non-divine senses and reason to evaluate what you say when you relate those experiences to me. ‘Cause that’s all I have.

    Melissa –

    Since it has been pointed out multiple times by multiple people that the case of the colour blind painter does not provide empirical evidence against Feser’s position…

    Asserted, yes. Elaborated upon, no. Tom Gilson characterizes it as, “If you say X, and someone answers not-X because of Y,” but I haven’t seen the “because of Y” part yet. Well, TFBW finally essayed such a Y, after your post. He’s next.

  106. Ray Ingles says:

    A vital part, the removal of which disables a particular function, is not necessarily the only thing which is responsible for that function.

    Indeed true. But consider again the case here. The painter suffered no other lasting effects from the concussion. He was able to read, speak, hear, and – most importantly – cogitate. The only effect he suffered from the very localized brain damage was the loss of color qualia. In all aspects of mental experience – present vision, memory, even imagination. No other aspects of experinence or cogitation were affected.

    So, it’s obvious that that brain region is necessary to experience the qualia of color. The question is, is it sufficient?

    Well, let’s turn it around for a second. Let’s assume some other component – an immaterial component – is also necessary for experiencing color. OK, then. What does it do? How does it work? In what manner does it interface with the known material component?

    Sure, consciousness is indeed, as you term, a “hard problem”. But I don’t see how it’s any easier if we assume consciousness is or requires an immaterial component.

    And ‘component’ is the right word. The form of a hydrogen atom doesn’t ‘impact’ the proton, as G. Rodrigues states. But a ‘rational soul’ must impact the material body. The claim is that the material brain is insufficient to carry out thought and experience. But if thought doesn’t impact the material body, if ‘free will’ doesn’t change what the body does on the basis of a decision, then you have epiphenomenalism. I assume you reject that, right?

    So, if thought requires something beyond the material, and that something beyond the material affects the material (e.g. effecting the lifting of a hand), then it’s a component of the whole phenomenon of a human being. So how does that interface work? How does an immaterial soul affect a material body? I don’t need a comprehensive account, just a discussion of how it interacts with the small part of the cerebrum involved in color perception.

    Or is that a “hard problem” too?

    I’m a PhD in computer science, and I know of no computational process which bears any relevance to consciousness. But if consciousness is a purely computational process, then we should be able to make a machine conscious by making it perform the relevant computations.

    I agree – and yes, I suspect that consciousness is a computational process of some sort. That said, I do not claim to know what the relevant computations are. On the other hand, Haldane was a famous physician with more than a passing experience with biology and organic chemistry, but he couldn’t – at the time, nobody could – imagine DNA. As I say in the essay you quoted from, “This is one of those questions (like the origin of the universe) that I don’t think we’ve had the right insights to understand, yet.”

    We do not, at the moment, understand all the details of how that ‘color-experiencing’ brain region operates. We know it’s happening there, the same way Haldane pointed out we knew that the action of inheritance was going on in the cell nucleus. How it works, I agree, we don’t know yet. But I don’t see how positing an immaterial component gets us any closer to understanding it. How does that work? How does it interact with the material we do see?

    Materialists are willing to overlook this difficulty on the basis of their faith in materialism. For those of us who lack such a strong faith in materialism, consciousness represents a glaring problem for the materialist doctrine.

    If you’re willing to use the word ‘faith’ fairly – in the sense of trust in experience (some of which I’ve linked to already, like the Tyson essay), then that could be a fair summary. It’s matter of different hunches, or different bets on what the ‘hard problem’ will turn out to be.

    If you’re going to go on to claim that such a faith is, ipso facto, an unreasoning or unreasonable faith, though, then we’re going to have another disagreement.

  107. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa –

    I’d like to see evidence for this claim.

    People seem to treat it that way. As soon as it’s regarded as supernatural, any investigation into how it works or the details of how it happens stops. Even in idle curiosity.

    Do you mean completely unknowable or unknowable in part?

    There’s no difference. Asserting there’s things you can’t know – even in part – is the intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero. Once you go there, all bets are off. You can ‘prove’ anything you like. If you say something’s (even ‘partially’) incomprehensible, you’re unavoidably saying that no amount of evidence can prove anything about it. You don’t get to pick and choose.

  108. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    What portion of that research is not already happening, Ray? Read Keener, Miracles.

    A few quotes from skimming the book (the Google version doesn’t make page numbers obvious):
    “…at this point my primary interest will be in listing a range of supernatural claims, not in arguing that these claims must reflect supernatural causation.”

    “…my primary purpose is to attest that eyewitness claims to healings are widespread…”

    So, the main thrust of Miracles seems to be arguing against Hume, against the idea that miracle claims are vanishingly rare. That’s not the same thing as studying miracles in a rigorous way, and Keener in fact disavows rigor.

    “Although their work is not complete at the time of this book’s writing, other writers I know are currently working to collect medical documentation for a number of healings at an optimal standard…”

    So, at some point we might develop a reasonably-well-documented set of cases to begin studying rigorously. I’m heartened to hear it, but it’s not yet what I was talking about.

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    Skim all you want, Ray. Skim all you want.

  110. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Asserted, yes. Elaborated upon, no. Tom Gilson characterizes it as, “If you say X, and someone answers not-X because of Y,” but I haven’t seen the “because of Y” part yet. Well, TFBW finally essayed such a Y, after your post. He’s next.

    See comments #79, #83, #93, #97 and #101. If there are parts of those responses that you don’t understand or if you fail to see how Y undercuts X, then ask questions, don’t just keep repeating yourself.

    And ‘component’ is the right word. The form of a hydrogen atom doesn’t ‘impact’ the proton, as G. Rodrigues states. But a ‘rational soul’ must impact the material body. The claim is that the material brain is insufficient to carry out thought and experience. But if thought doesn’t impact the material body, if ‘free will’ doesn’t change what the body does on the basis of a decision, then you have epiphenomenalism. I assume you reject that, right?

    … and insert a further paragraphs insisting that we explain in reductionist, mechanistic terms what we insist cannot be explained in reductionist mechanistic terms. Component is not the right word. What you are doing is inserting forms or immaterial souls into your reductionistic framework and of course what you get out of that is going to be nonsense.

    People seem to treat it that way. As soon as it’s regarded as supernatural, any investigation into how it works or the details of how it happens stops. Even in idle curiosity.

    “Do you mean completely unknowable or unknowable in part?”

    There’s no difference. Asserting there’s things you can’t know – even in part – is the intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero. Once you go there, all bets are off. You can ‘prove’ anything you like. If you say something’s (even ‘partially’) incomprehensible, you’re unavoidably saying that no amount of evidence can prove anything about it. You don’t get to pick and choose.

    That’s wrong, you do not need to think that something must be completely comprehensible before you attempt to understand something about it. Also the fact that some people use the supernatural as a explanation for that which they deem unknowable is not evidence that the supernatural is in fact unknowable. No Christian would agree that the supernatural is unknowable. For the record, I do not support positing God as some alternative scientific hypothesis, but that is not what is happening when people raise objections to materialism on the basis of intentionality, rationality, free will, the self and morality.

  111. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #108:

    Well, let’s turn it around for a second. Let’s assume some other component – an immaterial component – is also necessary for experiencing color. OK, then. What does it do? How does it work? In what manner does it interface with the known material component?

    If I knew that, we’d be having a completely different discussion. How can I possibly explain the operation of a non-material thing? I might arbitrarily attach the word “mind” or “soul” or “spirit” to it, and say that it is the nature of such a thing to experience, and perhaps to choose, but what else can I do? Still, I can offer you a completely speculative answer to the last of those questions — an answer that is at least compatible with what we do know.

    First, however, I note that the question poses a two-part problem. One part is the transference of information from the physical to non-physical (experience), and the other is the influence of the physical by the non-physical (metaphysical free will). Your comments sometimes blend these two distinct concepts together. You don’t seem to have any in-principle objection to epiphenomenalism, and I don’t need to argue for anything more than that in order to place the faculty of consciousness in a non-physical component, so I’ll take it that you have no in-principle objection to the non-physical receiving information from the physical. I haven’t actually argued a case for metaphysical free will, so the second part of the problem is introduced by expanding the scope of the discussion.

    I will accept this expansion in the scope, under certain terms. Consciousness is the hard problem for materialists, and metaphysical free will is the hard problem for non-materialists, so, to be fair, I will offer to provide an in-principle, speculative, compatible-with-what-we-know-about-physics account of metaphysical free will, if you, in turn, provide a similar explanation of consciousness from the materialist perspective. We’ll see which explanation appears to be the more plausible.

    If you accept the terms of that offer, then please provide a brief explanation as to why you think that a non-material thing could not (or observably does not) influence a material thing. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that I consider the mind to be formed by the interaction of the physical brain, and a non-physical “soul”. Please give me a rough outline as to why this model is incredible, particularly in the “free will” case of the soul exerting influence over the physical body. I will respond to your objections as best I can, within the bounds of currently orthodox physics.

    Once I’ve done that, I’d like you to explain why you “suspect that consciousness is a computational process of some sort,” and defend that position with something a little more concrete than oblique references to past failures and implied hope for future successes — an optimistic meta-induction, if you will — since I find that more or less indistinguishable from wishful thinking. As far as I can tell, you hold the suspicion because you have a prior commitment to materialism, not because a reasonable case can be made that consciousness could be a material phenomenon.

    If you’re going to go on to claim that such a faith is, ipso facto, an unreasoning or unreasonable faith, though, then we’re going to have another disagreement.

    Dear me, no: I’m not Richard Dawkins. Faith is not ipso facto unreasonable. The question as to whether faith in materialism (or its alternatives) is reasonable is an open one. I’m prepared to give my reasoning on the subject of free will in exchange for yours on the subject of consciousness. If you think that the reasonableness of your faith rests on other grounds, however, you might want to bow out and simply concede that the phenomenon of consciousness is reasonable evidence against the doctrine of materialism. It’s your call.

  112. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Skim all you want, Ray. Skim all you want.

    Is there a passage I should be looking for?

  113. Tom Gilson says:

    I gave you a long list earlier.

  114. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa –

    See comments #79, #83, #93, #97 and #101.

    Let’s take #97. The form of a hydrogen atom doesn’t do or have any immaterial aspect. Or, at least, no one claims it does. Feser explicitly states that the soul of a rational animal does (I should have time to track down some quotes from TLS tonight); and note that TFBW agrees that there’s a causal issue.

    We’re learning more and more about the brain and how it works, finding ways to actually safely experiment and measure things we only speculated about before. The thing is, if the materialistic account is wrong, or even just incomplete, then the materialistic account must, eventually, with a fine-enough measurement, make predictions that aren’t borne out in practice.

    you do not need to think that something must be completely comprehensible before you attempt to understand something about it

    But there’s the difference between ‘unknown’ and ‘unknowable’. Feser (among others) rails about Hume, and the idea that just because bricks have always followed gravity up until now, that’s no reason to suppose that they always will. We can imagine that tomorrow, they might fall up, or dance the funky chicken, or whatever.

    We know a lot about bricks now. But ask Victoria – physicists wouldn’t claim to know all about matter in general, let alone bricks in specific. But we still know enough to say that the ‘known unknowns’ don’t allow for bricks dancing tomorrow.

    But what if bricks contained, not just unknown features, but unknowable ones? On what basis could you claim that bricks won’t dance tomorrow? By definition, that ‘unknowable’ part can’t be pinned down. If you could put limitations on it, it would be partially unknown, not unknowable. Ask Victoria about ‘naked singularities’ sometime.

    No Christian would agree that the supernatural is unknowable.

    TFBW, #113: “How can I possibly explain the operation of a non-material thing? I might arbitrarily attach the word “mind” or “soul” or “spirit” to it, and say that it is the nature of such a thing to experience, and perhaps to choose, but what else can I do?”

  115. SteveK says:

    Ray,

    The thing is, if the materialistic account is wrong, or even just incomplete, then the materialistic account must, eventually, with a fine-enough measurement, make predictions that aren’t borne out in practice.

    When do we reach “eventually”? If you’re an ardent materialist, you will never get there because giving up on materialistic explanations for everything, including the supernatural, is – how did you put it, Ray – the intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero. You also said, once you go there, all bets are off.

  116. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – In which comment? In #69, you say, “For example (see Craig Keener’s Miracles) we have many examples of CTs and MRIs showing the absence of a cancer where one had previously existed.” Should I just search for “CT” and “MRI”, or what?

    If that’s not the “long list”, what comment contains the long list of things for me to look for in “Miracles”?

  117. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, it’s simpler than that.

    I don’t know how much you can get to online, but start with the Table of Contents. It’s all clearly outlined there, where you’ll find things.

  118. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    I thought it would be obvious which parts of the comments were relevant to the question of whether the case of the colour blind painter is evidence against Feser’s position. In #97 that would be “There is no need to invoke a subsistent immaterial soul to explain qualia,” See how that is directly related to the topic?

    But what if bricks contained, not just unknown features, but unknowable ones? On what basis could you claim that bricks won’t dance tomorrow? By definition, that ‘unknowable’ part can’t be pinned down. If you could put limitations on it, it would be partially unknown, not unknowable. Ask Victoria about ‘naked singularities’ sometime

    You really are clutching at straws here. In practice there is no difference between the unknown and the unknowable, how would we even be able to work out which was which? Also the quote from TBFW does not even get close to a declaration from him that the supernatural is unknowable.

  119. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, I don’t know if Victoria and Melissa have spoken about naked singularities, but if they had, it wouldn’t be the first time they talked science. (Melissa hasn’t brought it up, but I thought maybe you should know about that.)

  120. TFBW says:

    In #120, Melissa said:

    Also the quote from TBFW does not even get close to a declaration from him that the supernatural is unknowable.

    I agree. “Unknowable” is not the negation of “can explain the operation of”. We can know gravity (e.g. that it exists and what its effect is) without knowing how gravity operates.

    Your model of knowledge seems a mite simplistic, Ray.

  121. TFBW says:

    I should add that I still have a standing offer to explain how metaphysical free will might be compatible with what we know about physics. If I thought that the supernatural were necessarily and completely unknowable, I would never have made that offer.

    Do a quick audit of yourself, Ray. You are reading stuff into what other people say that contradicts what they are actually saying.

  122. Ray Ingles says:

    (A combination of vacation and new projects and such has delayed a reply, my apologies.)

    TFBW –

    “Unknowable” is not the negation of “can explain the operation of”

    Ah, but when you say you can’t explain the operation of an immaterial thing, do you mean you can’t explain it yet, or that you can’t ever explain it? One of those does map to ‘unknowable’ pretty darn well, and seems to fairly characterize the words of yours I quoted.

    Melissa said:

    In practice there is no difference between the unknown and the unknowable, how would we even be able to work out which was which?

    Which has been my point (e.g. way back in #22, or comment #37, or the essay that at least TFBW read).

    I pointed out scientific examples of the unknowable blunting curiosity. But there’s others. One of the key responses to the problem of evil is the idea that “God’s ways are above man’s” and we can’t know or imagine what future good might come out of present evil. Talk about unfalsifiability!

    I will offer to provide an in-principle, speculative, compatible-with-what-we-know-about-physics account of metaphysical free will, if you, in turn, provide a similar explanation of consciousness from the materialist perspective.

    I will offer a quick speculation of my own – does it by any chance incorporate uncertainty at the quantum level, possibly admixed with some chaotic sensitivity in neural networks like the human brain?

    As far as I can tell, you hold the suspicion [that consciousness is a computational process of some sort] because you have a prior commitment to materialism, not because a reasonable case can be made that consciousness could be a material phenomenon.

    The way that consciousness is affected by the brain’s workings seems to suggest that it’s an effect of the material processes in the brain – and the brain is uniquely organized among our body’s systems to carry out computational processes. So much of what was considered to be inexplicable in material terms – memory, the ability to play chess, even (as linked in comment #116) moral reasoning – has been discovered to be material.

    And, as I noted back in comment #18, I’ve unfortunately seen what happens with Alzheimer’s. In the late stages especially, it’s very hard to look at what’s left as the original person in any real sense. I don’t know of anyone arguing that Alzheimer’s has a spiritual component, and if a purely material cause can so thoroughly destroy the mind…

    So it’s a hunch, yes – but a hunch with a fair amount of evidence behind it.

  123. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, is your wife/significant other knowable?

    Can you explain the operation of that person?

    Your objection,

    Ah, but when you say you can’t explain the operation of an immaterial thing, do you mean you can’t explain it yet, or that you can’t ever explain it? One of those does map to ‘unknowable’ pretty darn well, and seems to fairly characterize the words of yours I quoted.

    is invalid.

    For example, if my wife says she’s going to the grocery store, I know which store she’s going to, I know why she’s going, I might have a good idea what she’s going to buy. But I can’t explain “the operation” of all that.

    And a whole lot of reality is that way. If ultimate reality is indeed personal, then ultimate reality is that way. In other words, if there is a God who reveals himself, then there are some things that are quite knowable without ever having any idea of the “operation” thereof.

  124. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    But there’s others. One of the key responses to the problem of evil is the idea that “God’s ways are above man’s” and we can’t know or imagine what future good might come out of present evil. Talk about unfalsifiability!

    So?

    If science is the only mode of attaining knowledge, and if Popper was right about falsifiability, then this is something that can never be known.

    Yawn.

    When will people ever catch on to the truth that some truths aren’t known scientifically? And yet—my goodness, Ray!—there are reams and reams of papers and books that have been written, exploring this issue. You call this an example of blunted curiosity? What is it about your own stunted curiosity that leads you to think you know something about this, when apparently you know next to nothing?

  125. Tom Gilson says:

    If some account of physically driven free will relies on quantum indeterminacy, that doesn’t get you free agency, which is what really counts.

  126. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, you say,

    The way that consciousness is affected by the brain’s workings seems to suggest that it’s an effect of the material processes in the brain – and the brain is uniquely organized among our body’s systems to carry out computational processes. So much of what was considered to be inexplicable in material terms – memory, the ability to play chess, even (as linked in comment #116) moral reasoning – has been discovered to be material.

    That’s just a false interpretation of the empirical data. Consciousness is obviously dependent on the brain’s physical status, or else anesthesia wouldn’t work. But every experiment so far has only shown that consciousness can be limited by changes to the brain. Nothing has ever shown that consciousness is produced strictly by the brain. The empirical data is entirely consistent with the idea that consciousness is mediated and/or processed through the brain, without actually being produced by the brain.

  127. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – To quote from the essay that it appears only TFBW has read:

    Accepting that there are things that we don’t know is not the same as accepting that there are things that we cannot, even in principle, know.

    As I’ve just discussed with TFBW, I can’t explain the operation of my wife. That doesn’t mean I presume to claim that it is impossible, even in principle, for me to ever do so.

    Do you claim you cannot, even in principle, “explain “the operation” of all that”?

    (BTW, do you think that if it ever were possible to explain the operation of someone, that would automatically reduce their value in some sense? I don’t.)

  128. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Melissa said:
    “In practice there is no difference between the unknown and the unknowable, how would we even be able to work out which was which?”
    Which has been my point (e.g. way back in #22, or comment #37, or the essay that at least TFBW read).

    And you’ll notice that I have not disputed that. You may also recall that the above sentence you quoted was in reference to your statement that:

    But what if bricks contained, not just unknown features, but unknowable ones? On what basis could you claim that bricks won’t dance tomorrow? By definition, that ‘unknowable’ part can’t be pinned down. If you could put limitations on it, it would be partially unknown, not unknowable. Ask Victoria about ‘naked singularities’ sometime

    To connect the dots – partially unknown, is in practice the same as partially unknowable. To say we can never fully grasp God is not to say He is unknowable. To say we can’t in principle give a scientific description of free will is not to say free will is unknowable … etc.

    A more interesting question though, is when you talk about something being unknowable do you mean unknowable to science? I asked you this question further up the thread because your thinking seems to be animated by the idea that unknowable to science = unknowable but you never responded. It shows up in what your response to TBFW:

    Ah, but when you say you can’t explain the operation of an immaterial thing, do you mean you can’t explain it yet, or that you can’t ever explain it? One of those does map to ‘unknowable’ pretty darn well

    Maybe by operation you don’t mean an explanation in terms of material efficient causes but if that’s not what you mean then you’ll need to explain exactly what you’re after. Science really is limited in the types of answers it can offer and there really are questions that science can’t answer in principle but that does not mean those things are unknowable.

  129. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #124:

    Ah, but when you say you can’t explain the operation of an immaterial thing, do you mean you can’t explain it yet, or that you can’t ever explain it? One of those does map to ‘unknowable’ pretty darn well, and seems to fairly characterize the words of yours I quoted.

    That conclusion is based on a particular view of knowledge that I do not share with you. Tom has already addressed this somewhat, but I’ll put it another way.

    There is an approach to modelling (in the sense of “describing a system”) called “black box” modelling. In this approach, one considers a system to be an impenetrable black box: one can observe the things on the outside surface, but not on the interior. One can only interact with the features on the outside surface of the box, and observe how they react. For any given exterior, there is always more than one interior which would be capable of producing the observed behaviour, so even perfect knowledge of the exterior is not always enough to determine what’s actually inside.

    Whether or not it remains so indefinitely, consciousness is somewhat like a black box to us at the moment. We can know its exterior surface but not its inner workings. What you seem to insist upon, in order to attain “knowledge”, is a complete description of both the inside and outside of the box (or at least the in-principle possibility that such a complete description can be obtained). That’s what I understand by your “explain the operation of” requirement. And if that’s a more or less proper interpretation, then I think that your criterion for knowledge is silly, and you’re trying to draw me into a silly argument about a silly subject. I decline: I’ll settle for the observation that our ideas of what constitutes “knowledge” are incommensurable, and leave it at that. It’s too fundamental a disagreement for there to be any other productive discussion of the subject.

    I will offer a quick speculation of my own – does it by any chance incorporate uncertainty at the quantum level, possibly admixed with some chaotic sensitivity in neural networks like the human brain?

    Are you explaining consciousness at the physical level, or trying to guess my explanation for free will? It seems like the latter. No dice, buddy. No comment until you agree to the terms of the deal. If you can’t offer a remotely plausible explanation for consciousness, then any old half-baked explanation of free will is better than what you’ve got — even if you think you’ve got legitimate objections to it. Heck, if you can think of an argument that I might offer in support of free will, but can’t come up with anything at all in support of consciousness, then I think we’ve established that “metaphysical free will exists” is a more plausible position than “consciousness is reducible to the material”. The former is at least theoretically comprehensible.

    The way that consciousness is affected by the brain’s workings seems to suggest that it’s an effect of the material processes in the brain…

    No. Just no. I’ve been over this repeatedly to the point of tedium. Regardless of how many times and how accurately anyone can demonstrate that specific portions of the brain are associated with particular aspects of consciousness, we still have no in-principle explanation for how anything physical or mathematical could be conscious. By all means, let the fascinating research carry on, but it’s only through the lens of a priori materialism that this “seems to suggest that it’s an effect of the material processes in the brain”. You can’t even give me the slightest whiff of a hint as to how that might actually be the case — and this coming from the guy who considers “knowledge” to be a close relative of “can explain the operation of”.

    Please rule out the possibility that the research is identifying portions of the brain that interact with an immaterial “soul” in some way, and then we’ll revisit your claim about this being evidence for a materialistic model of consciousness. If you don’t do that, then the evidence is utterly equivocal, and I’m thoroughly tired of hearing you cite it ad nauseam as univocal support of your position. Repetitions are very good for muscle building, but they do not strengthen a weak argument.

  130. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa –

    To connect the dots – partially unknown, is in practice the same as partially unknowable.

    No. Very much no.

    For example, the vast majority of the German language is quite unknown to me. I know an infinitesimal smattering like “Ja” and “achtung”, along with a few words that have been incorporated into English like “weltanschaung” and “schadenfreude”.

    But that is not the same thing as saying that the German language is unknowable to me. If I chose to devote the effort, I could become fluent in it. Some science fiction or fantasy authors have posited alien languages that don’t fit into human brains – now that would be an ‘unknowable’ language.

    But let’s imagine we came across an alien language – say from hieroglyphics on Mars. The only thing we could do is try to understand it. If we succeed, then hey, we know it’s understandable! If we fail, though, we can’t conclude it’s unknowable. We may just not have found the Rosetta stone for it yet.

    A more interesting question though, is when you talk about something being unknowable do you mean unknowable to science?

    Not necessarily, though that’s certainly to be preferred when possible. And the more we learn, the more it’s possible to learn.

    Maybe by operation you don’t mean an explanation in terms of material efficient causes but if that’s not what you mean then you’ll need to explain exactly what you’re after.

    How about an explanation of how a ‘rational soul’ is conscious? Something beyond the claim of a brute fact that it is?

  131. Tom Gilson says:

    What does “how” mean in this context, Ray?

    Suppose I said, a rational soul is conscious by virtue of its being in the image of God, or that it is conscious by virtue of its being the form of the human body—either of which gives it the inherent capacity for consciousness as expressed through the physical body.

    I think that’s an answer. Do you?

  132. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    How about an explanation of how a ‘rational soul’ is conscious? Something beyond the claim of a brute fact that it is?

    The rational soul is not conscious, it is the person, whose substantial form is that of a rational soul, that is conscious.

    The rational soul is not a substance; it is simple, that is, not made of parts, etc. so the question is meaningless. It is like asking how 2 + 2 is 4. 2 + 2 is 4 and there is a reason why 2 + 2 is 4, but it is meaningless to ask *how* 2 + 2 is 4. There is no question of how, because 2, 4 and addition are not mechanisms with causally interacting parts by which we can give an explanation of how 2 + 2 happens to be 4.

    note: under hylemorphic dualism; substance dualists will answer in different terms, although much of what I said applies equally.

    This has been said and re-said God knows how many times, but it falls on deaf years each and every time.

  133. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    No. Very much no.

    … followed by long and irrelevant, to the point I was making, couple of paragraphs.

    Since you already agreed that in practice the unknown and the unknowable is indistinguishable, I’m going to conclude that you have no problem now with the statement that something that is actually unknowable is not completely unknowable.

    Not necessarily, though that’s certainly to be preferred when possible.

    Explanations in the form if a scientific how are not certainly to be preferred. It depends what the question is. An explanation in terms of an agents intentions are in fact often much more informative than an answer of how.

    And the more we learn, the more it’s possible to learn.

    We all know that our scientific knowledge continues to expand but it expands within certain parameters just because of what it is.

  134. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    It is like asking how 2 + 2 is 4. 2 + 2 is 4 and there is a reason why 2 + 2 is 4, but it is meaningless to ask *how* 2 + 2 is 4.

    The analogy is fundamentally flawed. As you note, “2, 4 and addition are not mechanisms with causally interacting parts”. “2+2=4″ is eternal, unchanging, outside of time, and could not be otherwise than it is – no “2+2=fish”.

    But consciousness, particularly as experienced by human beings, is not an eternal timeless anything. It’s inescapably temporal. “2+2=4″ doesn’t happen, but consciousness happens. We are conscious of some things at some times, and other things at other times. We can speak of degrees of consciousness – but we can’t speak of degrees of “2+2=4″. Consciousness can be eliminated, “2+2=4″ can’t be.

    If consciousness isn’t a process, it undeniably involves a process, which is something you cannot say of “2+2=4″. How does that process work?

    Melissa –

    in practice the unknown and the unknowable is indistinguishable,

    So far, so good…

    I’m going to conclude that you have no problem now with the statement that something that is actually unknowable is not completely unknowable.

    Aw, and we were doing so well.

    No, no. Let’s turn it around. I asked this question back in #37, and nobody’s touched it since. I’ll repeat it for you: “You encounter something you don’t understand. How do you determine if it’s beyond human understanding or not?”

    In other words, on what basis do you conclude that a particular thing is unknowable in principle?

    An explanation in terms of an agents intentions are in fact often much more informative than an answer of how.

    See Dennett, the “intentional stance”.

  135. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    Again: there are physical processes involved in consciousness. No one disputes that.

    But your “how” question still rests on the assumption that consciousness can be fully explained in terms of processes, and material ones at that—or so it seems. That’s what’s in dispute.

    Let’s look at it first in view of its being a demand for an explanation in terms of material (physical) processes. The reason we can’t answer that kind of “how” question is because it hides a contrary assumption:

    Given your hypothesis that consciousness is something more than just physical, why can’t you explain it in terms of just physical processes?

    Now, if your “how” question is getting at “processes” that are not physical, my question back to you would be, what kind of answer could conceivably satisfy you and still be true at the same time? What are you looking for?

    Considering, per our hypothesis, that there is something non-physical going on in consciousness,
    1) If there is some non-physical process going on there, how would you expect us to describe it? As non-physical neurons interacting by non-physical laws? Or what?
    2) Are you sure the word process even applies? I’m not.

  136. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    The analogy is fundamentally flawed. As you note, “2, 4 and addition are not mechanisms with causally interacting parts”.

    Stop right here. This is *all* I meant to point by the analogy. The soul is not a mechanism made of parts, or a some-thing that stands in a relationship of causal efficacy with the body. There is no question of “how” the soul acts on the body because the soul does not act on the body in the first place, or a question of “interface”, or “interaction” or what not. Or if you are going to use those terms and language, they must be used in an analogous sense.

    So all the rest of your bloviating is irrelevant and (intentionally?) missing the point.

    note 1: once again, under hylemorphic dualism. Substance dualists do have an interaction problem, because the cartesian soul is a substance. But I will let them defend themselves.

    note 2: I do not have the faintest idea of what you mean by “quasi-Platonistic”; my suspicion is that it has absolutely nothing to do with Platonism. Anyway, a Platonist complaining about the soul? A Platonist about mathematical objects complaining about the soul?

  137. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Whether or not it remains so indefinitely, consciousness is somewhat like a black box to us at the moment. We can know its exterior surface but not its inner workings.

    I’ll grant that. I’ll even grant that you and I have different guesses about what might be in that black box.

    But I’ll further note that your insistence that I either produce a complete working hypothesis, or your hypothesis wins by default, is invalid. In the 1600’s, was it reasonable to say that God (or Thor, or the Thunderbirds, or Zeus, or Seth, or what have you) caused lightning? No, the proper response to “What causes lighting?” was “Darn if I, or anyone else, knows.”

    What you seem to insist upon, in order to attain “knowledge”, is a complete description of both the inside and outside of the box (or at least the in-principle possibility that such a complete description can be obtained).

    No. Reality is underdetermined, and there’s an unlimited number of hypotheses that can account for any finite set of data. Given the outputs of a black box, you can construct an endless number of models of the internals.

    But saying a particular black box is ‘unknowable’ seems to devolve to the position that “no further observations, experience, or cogitation will get us any further in studying it, or limit the range of possibilities, so we might as well give up.” It means, for example, that you can’t apply Ockham’s Razor to theories about it, so literally anything can come out of it.

    I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think humans get metaphysical certainty – but I think we do get varying levels of certainty, and enough observations (and, ideally tests) do build up those certainties.

    Feser in TLS heaps scorn upon Hume for his notions of causality – but regarding a particular black box as fundamentally unknowable seems to be the equivalent.

    Are you explaining consciousness at the physical level, or trying to guess my explanation for free will? It seems like the latter.

    The latter, indeed. Not that quantum indeterminacy is free will, but that the spirit tweaks quantum events in such a way that the matter ends up doing what the non-material free will chose.

    If you can’t offer a remotely plausible explanation for consciousness, then any old half-baked explanation of free will is better than what you’ve got

    If I can’t offer an explanation for lightning, then God or Zeus or Thor or Seth or the Thunderbirds is better than what I’ve got? Why can’t I say, “It doesn’t look like anyone knows yet”? Why can’t I even say, “I’ve a hunch the answer might lie in this direction”?

    Please rule out the possibility that the research is identifying portions of the brain that interact with an immaterial “soul” in some way

    So… ‘you can’t prove it isn’t’ is the standard you have to meet?

  138. Tom Gilson says:

    What, pray tell, in some non-question begging way, was inappropriate in 1613 or 2013 about saying God causes lightning?

    If someone said that was all the information that might be available now or in the future, and that we ought to close off all investigation, that would be wrong. But they weren’t saying that in 1613, were they?

    God causes lightning in the sense that he is the cause of nature. That’s a bit too complicated to explain fully here, but I didn’t want to let you get away with a misdirection.

    And I think you committed another misdirection here:

    If you can’t offer a remotely plausible explanation for consciousness, then any old half-baked explanation of free will is better than what you’ve got.

    If I can’t offer an explanation for lightning, then God or Zeus or Thor or Seth or the Thunderbirds is better than what I’ve got? Why can’t I say, “It doesn’t look like anyone knows yet”? Why can’t I even say, “I’ve a hunch the answer might lie in this direction”?

    Here’s the problem with physicalist explanations for consciousness: there don’t seem to be any available, even in principle.

    Dennett, Churchland, and others say consciousness is an illusion. Nagel says it must represent something non-material and yet non-personal in the deep structure of reality. Sam Harris says, “I don’t know, but it sure ain’t God.”

    Nobody says they have anything remotely approximating a physical explanation for consciousness as a real phenomenon. And it looks as if it’s not a scientific problem waiting to be solved, but rather a problem beyond the scope of science to address. It’s rather a tidy little problem for one hoping to find a physical explanation.

    And every word there could remain if I replaced “consciousness” with “free will”—except for Sam Harris’s view on it, for he takes it that free will is illusory, too.

  139. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Let me expand a little bit on note2. You wrote:

    As you note, “2, 4 and addition are not mechanisms with causally interacting parts”. “2+2=4″ is eternal, unchanging, outside of time, and could not be otherwise than it is – no “2+2=fish”.

    This is the standard Platonic account of mathematical objects: they are extra-mental existents, necessary, and abstract that is, not localized in space-time.

    I do not know if you realize, but you have just destroyed naturalism. First, you grant the existence of necessary, non-material, causally inert objects. Second, you are committed to the proposition that we can *know* these necessary, non-material, causally inert objects. By the nature of the case, if the mind is reducible to its physical substrate, the brain, you have an an obvious problem. Actually, what you have is an insoluble problem.

    Complaining about souls? Really? Maybe I should write down some examples of the scorn naturalists pour on “magical souls”, an “explanation that explains nothing”?

  140. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    In other words, on what basis do you conclude that a particular thing is unknowable in principle?

    Are you deliberately changing the subject? Let’s just leave it with the statement that when a person says we could never fully grasp God (whether they are correct in that statement or not) that is not the same as God is completely unknowable.

    See Dennett, the “intentional stance

    That is not very helpful. Are you agreeing with me, disagreeing with me? My husband wanting to get milk is not a scientific how answer to the question of what he is doing at the supermarket.

    Do you agree that science is limited in the types of questions and answers that it can give and therefore there are things that are in principle unknowable to science?

  141. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    If someone said that was all the information that might be available now or in the future, and that we ought to close off all investigation, that would be wrong. But they weren’t saying that in 1613, were they?

    No, they waited until Franklin and others started actually making progress in the 1700’s.

    Many pious types decried the placing of lightning rods on churches. The whole idea that man could influence such things was hubristic, it was said, and God would protect His churches anyway. (Google the phrase “fulgura frango”, or look up Melville’s “The Lightning-Rod Man”.) Gunpowder would be stored in churches, since surely God wouldn’t send lightning there, right? Then, in 1769, a hundred tons of gunpowder exploded when the Church of San Nazaro was hit in Brescia, Venice. Up to 3,000 people died and up to one-fifth of the city was leveled. Objections to lightning-rods started quieting down.

    Here’s the problem with physicalist explanations for consciousness: there don’t seem to be any available, even in principle.

    Speaking of misdirection, let’s jump to your other comment.

    If there is some non-physical process going on there, how would you expect us to describe it? As non-physical neurons interacting by non-physical laws? Or what?

    How does ‘indescribable’ differ from ‘unknowable’? How is ‘non-physical process of some type we can’t describe or comprehend’ an explanation? Does anybody really have an “explanation” for consciousness yet?

    Are you sure the word process even applies? I’m not.

    What other word do you apply to something that changes over time, as consciousness indisputably does?

  142. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    First, you grant the existence of necessary, non-material, causally inert objects.

    That “causally inert” is rather important. So far as I can see, the set of ‘things that exist’ is divided into ‘causally inert’ and ‘causal’. The Mandelbrot Set exists but is causally inert.

    Second, you are committed to the proposition that we can *know* these necessary, non-material, causally inert objects. By the nature of the case, if the mind is reducible to its physical substrate, the brain, you have an an obvious problem.

    What problem? Even a computer can explore the Mandelbrot Set, in a fuzzy, physical, floating-point-IEEE-math kind of way. Those acausal ‘forms’ exist (though as we’ve discussed before – well, I brought it up and you didn’t want to talk about it – thinking of them as separate forms is problematic; a much less fraught model is as a huge, continuous multidimensional phase space) and causal things map to them to varying degrees.

    Euclidean geometry used to be considered “the” real geometry, and non-Euclidean geometry was, at best, a diverting intellectual game. Then Einstein came along and showed that Euclidean geometry was, at best, a special case in the real – that is to say, causal – world. Euclidean geometry had no causal power. Causal processes like humans could map causal things to those acausal elements, that’s all.

    Maybe I should write down some examples of the scorn naturalists pour on “magical souls”, an “explanation that explains nothing”?

    As I just showed in #143, I can come up with my own scorn. How exactly is anything like “2+2=4″ supposed to interact with causal stuff like a brain?

    ‘Forms’ are nice and pristine; nothing causal maps directly to any form. Pretty much everything causal maps to many, many different forms – they map to regions of phase space, not points. The ‘reality’ of a form is not such that it could cause anything – anything like consciousness, for example.

  143. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa –

    Are you deliberately changing the subject?

    Not at all. The fact that no one seems to want to even attempt to answer that question may give you a hint as to why I think it’s central.

  144. Tom Gilson says:

    Nice story about lightning rods, Ray. What does it have to do with the question you were answering?

    And Ray, I’m not sure you caught the point of my questions about non-physical neurons, etc.

    I was trying to clarify under which terms you were asking about “process.” My specific questions (about non-physical neurons and so on) were intended to highlight the difficulty of formulating the question you seem to be asking. You see, I think you might be looking for a physically-oriented answer to a question that doesn’t have a physically-oriented answer.

    So I proposed a nonsense kind of answer, to show that mixing physical and non-physical categories in that way doesn’t work. I see that you agree that it doesn’t work. I still don’t know if you see how that impinges on the question you were asking.

    But as I try to re-state what I was doing, and read the original comment at #137, I find that I wrote it pretty clearly the first time, or so it seems to me at least. Could you please re-read that, and if it’s not clear what I was getting at, could you please let me know where I need to communicate more clearly? Thanks.

  145. Tom Gilson says:

    Re: #145: I’ve totally lost track of which question you think we’re all avoiding. Could you please tell me which one it is? Thanks, again.

  146. Tom Gilson says:

    A computer can explore the Mandelbrot set?

    Wow.

    I thought a computer could manipulate voltages, in accordance with the necessity of physical laws, in view of prescribed initial conditions imposed by architecture, code, real-time human voltage input, etc.

    Are you sure it’s exploring?

  147. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    The Mandelbrot Set exists but is causally inert.

    What problem? Even a computer can explore the Mandelbrot Set, in a fuzzy, physical, floating-point-IEEE-math kind of way.

    How exactly is anything like “2+2=4″ supposed to interact with causal stuff like a brain?

    You really have absolutely no idea of what you are talking about. It really is amazing the lack of self-awareness.

    ‘Forms’ are nice and pristine; nothing causal maps directly to any form. Pretty much everything causal maps to many, many different forms – they map to regions of phase space, not points. The ‘reality’ of a form is not such that it could cause anything – anything like consciousness, for example.

    Kindly go traffick your pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo to someone else.

    Anyway, discussion in this thread about souls is over for me. You have already conceded all I could ever want from you, even if unwittingly and unknowingly — but that is your problem, not mine.

    @Tom Gilson:

    A computer can explore the Mandelbrot set?

    Wow.

    Wow indeed.

    Understand very carefully what Ray Ingles is saying: the Mandelbrot set *exists* and is *causally inert*. Ponder a minute on what this means. Yet it is obvious that we do *know* things about the Mandelbrot sense, from which it follows the mind that knows such things *cannot* be reduced to the physical substrate of the brain, precisely because the Mandelbrot set is causally inert.

    This is an *air-tight* argument. Ray was given us *all* we could ever wish for. All. Game over. Dismiss the foolish ignorance of “Even a computer can explore the Mandelbrot Set” because it is obvious that we know, our minds know, a lot about the Mandelbrot set *independently* of having computers aiding us in acquiring such knowledge.

  148. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    Ack, sorry, I pressed the send button twice. Could you please delete my comment #149.

  149. Tom Gilson says:

    Further on #146 and preceding, you have asked again recently,

    How exactly is anything like “2+2=4″ supposed to interact with causal stuff like a brain?

    Suppose (for the sake of argument) I were to say that God exists and is non-physical. Suppose I were to say that God’s interaction with the physical world is through a non-physical interface that really exists but cannot be described in physical terms; and that we lack categories to describe it in the terms in which it really operates.

    Now, will you suggest that this is impossible in principle?

    Next, could you answer the same question, substituting any of the immaterial substances/processes/entities we’ve been discussing into the paragraph in place of God?

    Here’s my point: if you’re going to say that there can be no such thing as a non-material/material interaction, then by definition there can be no God. But God cannot be defined out of existence in that way, for

    (a) You really have no basis for insisting there can be no such interaction, other than our inability to describe it, which is no real objection at all, and
    (b) God is defined (at least hypothetically!) as the one who created the material world and who interacts with it.

  150. SteveK says:

    Ray,
    The fact that a causally inert reality (Mandelbrot set or any other of your choosing) makes an impression on our mind such that we become consciously aware of it seems to disprove your theory that it’s causally inert.

    Am I wrong?

  151. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    The fact that a causally inert reality (Mandelbrot set or any other of your choosing) makes an impression on our mind such that we become consciously aware of it seems to disprove your theory that it’s causally inert.

    Am I wrong?

    You are wrong insofar as the problem is not in the Madelbrot set, which in the Platonist account is a necessary, not localized in space-time and causally inert (like all mathematical objects for that matter) where causality is understood in the usual sense of efficient causality.

    I confess when I first heard Ray saying that he was a “quasi-Platonist” I dismissed it because he is also a self-avowed naturalist, and granting the existence of Platonic entities is to bury naturalism six feet under ground, so I took the “quasi-Platonist” as an equivocal misuse of the term. But here we have it in all its glory. The account Ray gives of mathematical objects just is the standard Platonic account. No more, no less. But if the Platonic story is true (I do not think it is by the way, so my argument is a reductio), the mind *cannot* be reducible to the physical substrate of the brain because there is no efficient causal mechanism that can account for how we can possibly know say, the Mandelbrot set. And we *do know* the Mandelbrot, not in a fuzzy way but in a *determinate* way: it is compact, self-similar, its boundary has Hausdorff measure 2, etc. and etc. How is it possible to know a causally inert entity? Whatever qualms Ray has about souls apply in the same measure to knowledge of these entities. And he has already opened the door to the existence of necessary, abstract, that is, not localized in space-time and thus immaterial, entities like mathematical objects. After granting this, what objections can one raise about the existence of souls, angels or even God?

    I have to say that I am not so much gloating, but genuinely confused. For how could this obvious problem escaped unnoticed? Has Ray never heard of Benacerraf’s epistemological challenge?

  152. SteveK says:

    G. Rodrigues

    …. there is no efficient causal mechanism that can account for how we can possibly know say, the Mandelbrot set.

    That’s what my comment was attempting to say. I just thought I would try to say what you already said, but just in different words in case Ray didn’t get it. Sorry if I garbled up my message.

    I have to say that I am not so much gloating, but genuinely confused. For how could this obvious problem escaped unnoticed?

    Between you and Ray, I am the least knowledgeable person on the subject you are discussing, but it’s just common sense from where I sit. If something real is causally inert, then there is no way for it to make its presence known.

  153. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Not at all. The fact that no one seems to want to even attempt to answer that question may give you a hint as to why I think it’s central.

    I have tried multiple times to pull you back on track to defend your claim that partially unknowable things are completely unknowable. You have avoided the question. Don’t worry though, it’s a ridiculous claim so no wonder you keep changing the subject.

    But I will address your question which was …

    In other words, on what basis do you conclude that a particular thing is unknowable in principle?

    The answer is we don’t (except possibly with the exception that God could ever be completely comprehended by us and I think even then that’s not the type of statement that your question is referring to). That’s probably why no one has addressed it straight on – because that’s not the claim we are making. Some things are unknowable to science and some questions are unanswerable because they are poorly formulated.

  154. Ray Ingles says:

    …the Mandelbrot set *exists* and is *causally inert*. Ponder a minute on what this means. Yet it is obvious that we do *know* things about the Mandelbrot sense, from which it follows the mind that knows such things *cannot* be reduced to the physical substrate of the brain

    No, no, they exist as consequences of axioms, unfoldings of the implications of various first principles. Like how Euclidean, Hyperbolic, and Elliptical geometries diverge at their parallel postulate. They all exist in that sense, but none of them make our reality follow them.

    But, as consequences of axioms, they can be reached algorithmically, and computational processes – such as happen in brains – can work with and instantiate many different systems like that. So we can explore different axiomatic systems – though of course we tend to gravitate to the ones that we find useful in modelling reality – and figure things out about such consequences.

    Causal stuff, stuff that undergoes processes, follows some sort of axioms. The history of science is exploring that causal stuff and figuring out which of the unlimited number of axiomatic sets matches the world we live in. For a while, we thought Euclidean geometry applied, then we found it was just a special case.

  155. TFBW says:

    Fair warning to all: this is another of my essay-length summaries of the argument so far, and an attempt to re-focus the key issues.

    @Ray Ingles, #139:

    But I’ll further note that your insistence that I either produce a complete working hypothesis, or your hypothesis wins by default, is invalid.

    Woah there, skippy. Can you please single out which of my sentences you misunderstood as me insisting anything like that? I said that you can think of rough theories in support of metaphysical free will, but you can’t even come up with a vague idea as to how matter might be conscious, and that’s enough to demonstrate that the former idea is more plausible than the latter.

    But saying a particular black box is ‘unknowable’ seems to devolve to the position that “no further observations, experience, or cogitation will get us any further in studying it, or limit the range of possibilities, so we might as well give up.”

    You keep ascribing that position of naive intellectual defeatism to everyone who doesn’t share your optimism about science. More precisely, you equate claims of “unknowable” (epistemic pessimism) with “supernaturalism” and inevitable consequent intellectual stagnation. Conversely, you equate epistemic optimism with naturalism and consequent intellectual vigour. (See #20, #22, #25, #37, #62, #75, and #109 — possibly others as well.)

    The thing is, you seem to be the only one insisting that the supernatural is necessarily unknowable (#99). Melissa explicitly disagreed with that assertion in #112, and you misinterpreted one of my remarks (from #113) in an attempt to refute her (in #116). You assert that there’s no difference between unknowable in part and completely unknowable — that asserting something is unknowable even in part is the “intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero,” and reason is no loner possible (#109).

    You raised the following question in #37, and reiterated it by reference in #66, #136, and #145.

    You encounter something you don’t understand. How do you determine if it’s beyond human understanding or not?

    The motivation for asking this seems to be driven by one key point: your doctrine that “supernatural” is a useless concept which serves only to deaden intellectual curiosity. Attempts to investigate either succeed, in which case the thing we sought to know was knowable, or do not, in which case the question of whether it is knowable remains unanswered, and we should continue to investigate (#75, #132). As far as I can tell, you want us to answer this question in order that our reply might serve to prove your point that supernatural explanations deaden intellectual curiosity.

    Melissa offers an answer in #155, but also makes the following observation: “no one has addressed it straight on – because that’s not the claim we are making.” This is spot on. All the focus on “unknowable” has been brought to the conversation by you, Ray, and you have been harping about it as though we are the ones asserting that things are unknowable. Presumably this is because of your belief that “supernatural” means necessarily unknowable (#99), and we have been allowing supernatural elements into the discussion.

    In short, the reluctance to answer the question stems from the fact that you seem to want us to defend a position that none of us hold — that the supernatural is unknowable. The consensus position among the rest of us seems to be that the supernatural can be known in part, but you hold to the bizarre doctrine that no “parts” are possible — it’s all or nothing (#109) — so you insist that we defend a particular extreme to which none of us actually hold.

    I, for one, have not wanted to answer this question, because it would encourage this fundamental misunderstanding of yours. Here, for what it’s worth (which isn’t much) is my answer, just so we can put to rest your conspiratorial accusations of evasiveness (#145). I pray that my answer does not result in an attempt on your part to drag us even further down the path of defending a position that none of us hold.

    Humans are finite, both intellectually and experientially. To find answers to certain questions may require understanding or experience beyond our innate capacity. There are several reasons we might think that a question belongs in the “unanswerable” category. The weakest of these is that we know what it would take to answer the question, and we know that the requirements are beyond our current reach. This is relatively weak, because our reach tends to advance over time. More problematic is where we have good reason to think that the question is unanswerable in principle, because of other justly-held beliefs such as uncertainty principles, incompleteness theorems, computability arguments, philosophical antinomies, etc.

    Lastly, there are those problems which are so fundamentally baffling that we don’t even know what sort of intellectual tool we need to address the problem (e.g. consciousness). We may consider this to be unanswerable on the basis of an inductive argument of demonstrated long-term ineptitude. It is this argument which seems to impress you the least, since you gravitate towards the optimistic induction that other once-insoluble problems have been solved, so any particular problem might be solved in the long term. Mostly this serves to highlight the limits of inductive reasoning, since opposing inductive arguments exist, and only time will tell which one of them was right.

    There’s a converse question which Tom asked in #35, and which I think that you should answer.

    How does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God? Will you keep on insisting on natural explanations even if they’re not all true?

    The question is an important one, because it asks whether you hold your pragmatic refusal to consider the supernatural above the question of fact as to whether the supernatural actually exists. I did an analysis of this problem, as it relates to your mode of argument, in another post. You gave a non-answer to this question in #37, which I pointed out as being a non-answer in #49. You admitted to being a non-answer in #75, but only went on to give another non-answer.

    Perhaps I can answer the question on your behalf, and you can correct my answer to suit your actual position. I think that your answer to the second part of Tom’s question is “yes”: you will go on insisting that we look for natural explanations even if they’re not all true. You believe that the nature of inquiry is such that any non-natural explanation is the equivalent of giving up and not seeking an explanation at all. Your entire approach to explanation presumes the truth of naturalism, such that any connection that your explanations might have with the truth are dependent on that premise being true.

    If that description of your position is remotely accurate, then it explains the fundamental disconnect between your position and the rest of us: we strongly suspect that naturalism is a false premise; you take it for granted that it isn’t. If it’s a false premise, then your approach to knowledge is a pragmatic one, but there isn’t the slightest guarantee that your conclusions will be true. You are welcome to your pragmatic approach, but given its lack of essential connection with the truth, the rest of us are entitled to reject it on the basis of nothing more than personal taste.

  156. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, I’m sorry I missed what you wrote in #129.

    I do think the “operation” of my wife can never be fully known: that there is in every human being something that will forever remain beyond the reach of science. I think this for many reasons, some of which are scientific (I don’t think the brain could ever be fully mapped to behavior, even if naturalistic explanations of brain and mind were true; it’s too complex to permit that ever happening), some of which are philosophical: I believe that free will is essential to understanding human nature, and freedom of will is something that science won’t ever fully explain.

    Thus if my wife (or any human) can make choices freely, she has the potential to make choices that cannot be explained from an external perspective. I do too, and so do you.

    If her “operation” were fully explainable, then she must not have free will. That would indeed reduce her (and you and me) to an automaton living a grand illusion of being what we all take humans really to be.

  157. Tom Gilson says:

    TFBW, thank you for that excellent summary. I hope I haven’t just now put us on a tangent.

  158. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    No, no, they exist as consequences of axioms, unfoldings of the implications of various first principles. Like how Euclidean, Hyperbolic, and Elliptical geometries diverge at their parallel postulate. They all exist in that sense, but none of them make our reality follow them.

    First, I do not know what you mean by “exist as consequences of axioms”; maybe you have something specific in mind, but as it is written it is meaningless. Second, we already agree that “none of them make our reality follow them”; mathematical objects are, among other things, causally inert. That is indeed the crux of the contradiction you are in. So try again, as you completely missed the point.

    note: my suspicion is that you will drop your “quasi-Platonism”.

  159. Ray Ingles says:

    I said that you can think of rough theories in support of metaphysical free will

    Correction. I can come up with a hypothesis for how a non-material something could interact with the known material of the brain in a way that cannot currently be falsified. That’s not quite the same thing as ‘support’.

    but you can’t even come up with a vague idea as to how matter might be conscious

    But you can’t come up with even a vague idea how something non-material can be conscious! That’s the point. All anyone has so far said is, ‘I can’t see how matter could be conscious, therefore something else must be conscious.’

    This is problematic in two ways. First off, just because it can’t be imagined now is no real evidence a solution can’t be found. (As I’ve laboriously demonstrated with the examples I’ve pointed out.)

    The other problem is that it doesn’t get us any further toward explaining what consciousness is or how it works or anything. ‘Consciousness is non-material’. OK… but as G. Rodrigues is willing to concede, just because something is non-material doesn’t make it conscious. Why isn’t the Mandelbrot Set conscious? There must be something more to consciousness than there is to the Mandelbrot Set. What is that ‘something more’?

    and that’s enough to demonstrate that the former idea is more plausible than the latter.

    No, the proper conclusion is that nobody has a complete account of consciousness yet. There’s rational room for lots of pet theories and personal bets on where the answer might be found.

    All the focus on “unknowable” has been brought to the conversation by you

    What’s the knowable answer to the consciousness problem above?

    The consensus position among the rest of us seems to be that the supernatural can be known in part

    God’s ways are above man’s ways. Could God again command the killing of infants and children for a greater good?

    Humans are finite, both intellectually and experientially. To find answers to certain questions may require understanding or experience beyond our innate capacity.

    Sure. And we may also be living in the Matrix, or some other perfect simulation or dream we cannot wake from. But both ideas are of only philosophical interest. They are of no practical utility whatsoever.

    Lastly, there are those problems which are so fundamentally baffling that we don’t even know what sort of intellectual tool we need to address the problem (e.g. consciousness).

    Oh, so we don’t have a supernatural ‘explanation’ for consciousness after all? Feser, in TLS, derides ‘materialists’ for “pushing consciousness under the rug”. How is “pushing consciousness under the rug (of supernaturalism)” materially (no pun intended) different?

    We may consider this to be unanswerable on the basis of an inductive argument of demonstrated long-term ineptitude.

    But you can never conclude something’s unknowable like that. All you can ever conclude is that ‘nobody’s answered that yet’. There’s no way, in practice, to tell the difference between something that’s forever unknowable and something that hasn’t been solved yet. Prior to the solution, they look exactly the same.

    So, since we’ve demonstrated that such problems have been solved before, the only practical thing to do is keep trying to solve them. Sure, we might be wrong, but if we give up, it seems pretty certain that solvable problems will go unsolved. Whereas, if we try, unsolved (but solvable) problems will get solved.

    If something’s unknowable… then it’s by that very fact unknowable that it’s unknowable.

    Gotta go, I’ll answer your ‘important’ question asap.

  160. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, be cautious:

    but you can’t even come up with a vague idea as to how matter might be conscious

    But you can’t come up with even a vague idea how something non-material can be conscious! That’s the point.

    I think you may be equivocating on how.

    How? can mean either 1. in what manner/by what means? or short for, 2. how can it be true that … ?

    If we follow meaning 1, then the how question for both matter and non-matter is unexplained. If we take meaning 2, however, it is unexplained only for non-matter.

  161. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    I’m not sure what to make of your responses. A lot of them are irrelevant to what’s being argued:

    First off, just because it can’t be imagined now is no real evidence a solution can’t be found. (As I’ve laboriously demonstrated with the examples I’ve pointed out.)

    The problem is not one of imagination but an in principle objection. If you define the material (as it is defined for the purpose of doing science) as having no sensible qualities and no purpose then you are not going to be able to explain qualia and intentionality in terms of the material. All your many examples of other things that have succumbed to a scientific explanation that we have laboriously had to read through are irrelevant because they fail to address this point.

    You constantly put forward what I guess you consider to be evidence for your position that doesn’t show what you think it does. For instance:

    God’s ways are above man’s ways. Could God again command the killing of infants and children for a greater good?

    Doesn’t show that the supernatural is not knowable in part.

    You also fail to understand what is being argued:

    Feser, in TLS, derides ‘materialists’ for “pushing consciousness under the rug”. How is “pushing consciousness under the rug (of supernaturalism)” materially (no pun intended) different?

    You’ve bought this up a couple of times already and I’ve ignored it but you clearly haven’t understood the analogy. He is not deriding materialists for pushing consciousness under the rug. My suggestion is to stop referring to his book because it just emphasises how little you have understood of it.

  162. TFBW says:

    Thanks for the response, Ray. I look forward to your answer to the ‘important’ question. I just want to mention that I’m not going to do a point-by-point response to #161, because I’ve again reached a stage where I could do little more than say you’ve missed the point, and repeat what I’ve already said in different words. I’m not at all convinced that doing so would improve the quality of this argument, so I’m not going to challenge what you wrote.

  163. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    I believe that free will is essential to understanding human nature, and freedom of will is something that science won’t ever fully explain.

    According to quantum mechanics, while we can count on half of a sample of a radioactive element to decay in x period of time (the ‘half-life’), it’s not possible, even in principle, to predict when a particular atom will decay.

    It’s not that there’s even a ‘clock’ of some type, hidden inside the atom and set to a particular time, and we just can’t see it. There’re no ‘hidden variables’ (at least, no ‘local’ ones); it just ‘goes off’, for no particular reason.

    Do you think, based on this, that quantum mechanics is not, in fact, a scientific theory?

  164. Tom Gilson says:

    No. Why do you ask? Is it relevant to what we were talking about?

  165. Ray Ingles says:

    The ‘important question’ (actually two):

    How does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God?

    As I note here, everybody’s gotta start somewhere epistemologically. You’ve got to have (or at least, in practice, every human does have) some base precepts. And you can’t pick them based on evidence; part of the problem is deciding what counts as evidence!

    But some precepts are automatically futile. For example, if you assume your reason can never reach true answers… then what? If you assume that the data from your senses bears no relation to the outside world (solipsism and its variants)… then what? You kinda have to assume something other than those things to make any progress at all. (As G. K. Chesterton put it, “…a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask”.)

    So some precepts can be picked based on ‘anti-futility’. They could be false… but if they were, we’d be no worse off. You talked about Ockham’s Razor in the other thread, but that, too, is not mysterious. As I said back in #139, “Reality is underdetermined, and there’s an unlimited number of hypotheses that can account for any finite set of data.” You might as well pick the simplest one that covers all the current data. (Note: if an explanation doesn’t account for all the data, then it’s not an ‘explanation’!)

    So, based on principles like “reason can work”, “my senses report data correlated with an outside world”, and Ockham’s Razor, naturalism seems to fall out pretty… well, naturally. I try – by Ockham’s Razor, y’know – to limit my presumptions to as few as feasible, ideally just the ‘anti-futile’ ones.

    But were I to get some divine revelation, I might well change my mind. Hasn’t happened yet. I could be wrong, but I’ve come to these beliefs honestly. So… if there’s a God that I’ve overlooked, I’ve got to assume that’ll be taken into account. (I’m aware of things like Romans 1:20 but that’s not my experience.)

    Will you keep on insisting on natural explanations even if they’re not all true?

    I’ll try to answer in light of your comment:
    “How? can mean either 1. in what manner/by what means? or short for, 2. how can it be true that … ?”

    Some natural philosophers objected to Newton’s physics because he postulated forces acting at a distance, like gravity, without being able to explain ‘in what manner/by what means’ those forces acted. And that was, in fact, kind of a big gap. But Newton had the advantage of accurate predictions to many decimal places. And his physics didn’t, by its nature, automatically preclude anyone ever understanding ‘by what means’ gravity acts.

    I don’t encounter supernatural explanations making dramatically better predictions than natural ones. (E.g. Romans 1:20 not seeming to be borne out in my own feelings and intuitions.) So I’ve “no need of that hypothesis”, and the naturalistic hypotheses for things like consciousness don’t automatically preclude ever really understanding the phenomena.

    Given a better track-record for supernatural predictions, I’d be willing to revise that. Absent that, I’ll stick with what seems to be working.

  166. TFBW says:

    Ray,

    I’m happy to agree that we can disregard self-defeating ideas. However, ideas which entail the supernatural are not self-defeating as a category, and you didn’t specify any particular subset which is, so I’m not sure why you spent so much time dismissing ideas which neither of us support.

    Since you bring up the subject, however, are you aware that there is a serious charge against naturalism as being a self-defeating doctrine? It’s called the “argument from reason”, and it was put forward by C. S. Lewis. It’s sometimes characterised as an argument for the existence of God, but it’s more properly understood as an argument against the rational coherence of naturalism. If that sort of thing is important to you, then perhaps you should investigate that line of reasoning more closely.

    So, based on principles like “reason can work”, “my senses report data correlated with an outside world”, and Ockham’s Razor, naturalism seems to fall out pretty… well, naturally.

    Okay, so naturalism is just common sense if you’re willing to wield Ockham’s Razor in a manner that amputates observational data like consciousness (that fits nowhere in the naturalist explanation), or if you’re willing to accept a promise that an acceptable naturalistic explanation will be found at some point in the future (possibly thousands of years hence if the past is any guide to the future).

    That still hasn’t answered the question, “how does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God?” If that’s the truth, then your approach to knowledge is rendering you blind to the fact. The best you can do is hope that God will accept that you honestly didn’t realise he existed. Has it occurred to you that Romans 1:20 might be referring to the sense of awe and wonder that comes with exploring nature? Naturalist ideologues like Dawkins dismiss that category of feelings as “not evidence”. But what if that is the primary evidence — the universal experience that renders us all “without excuse”? As you say, “part of the problem is deciding what counts as evidence!”

    When it comes down to it, I look at your approach to knowledge, and ask, “what hope would it have of discovering that God exists, or that man has a supernatural soul, or that moral truths are objective?” Given the premises from which you work, I don’t see that these are the kinds of questions that you can determine to be true. The premises of naturalism assume that God does not exist or does not intervene; they assume that matter is all, so there can be no soul, and no objective distinction between “is” and “ought”. The premises of naturalism are quite simply incompatible with certain truths, and a premise of naturalism precludes any fruitful investigation of those questions. To investigate them using techniques based on naturalistic assumptions is to presume the answers before one commences investigation.

    The problem is that you don’t seem to recognise that methodological naturalism suffers from any such limits. If you did, then we wouldn’t be having this long, drawn-out argument about it. The problem seems to be that you think the techniques of naturalistic investigation would fail conspicuously if they ran into any problem that they are not fit to solve. I surmise this from your comments generally, but specifically from your closing remark in this case, that you’ll “stick with what seems to be working.” The problem with this is that you fall for a sort of Kantian illusion: the technique can seem to be working perfectly well even when it isn’t.

    In any case, I think it’s clear from your explanation that your investigative tools have limits, but you simply haven’t recognised those limits, and you are applying them outside those limits. That’s the exasperating thing about scientism. The fact that your tools still seem to work (from your perspective) outside those limits is not evidence that they are actually working: it’s a demonstration of how badly they break when misapplied.

  167. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Since you bring up the subject, however, are you aware that there is a serious charge against naturalism as being a self-defeating doctrine?

    In a word, yes. If you want more words, click the link.

    or if you’re willing to accept a promise that an acceptable naturalistic explanation will be found at some point in the future (possibly thousands of years hence if the past is any guide to the future)

    Is it irrational to believe that a problem might take thousands of years to solve? If so, why?

    The best you can do is hope that God will accept that you honestly didn’t realise he existed.

    Click on the “hasn’t happened yet” link, and you’ll find this passage: “In the interest of fairness, I did try praying and so forth, in response to prompts from interlocutors on newsgroups. I never received any intelligible answers.” I’ve actually, y’know, tried to talk to a God, and haven’t detected any answers.

    In other words, it’s not just “I don’t see how God could be, therefore I don’t believe it.” It’s, “I don’t see how God could be, and the predictions of that hypothesis haven’t been borne out in my experience, so I don’t believe it.”

    Has it occurred to you that Romans 1:20 might be referring to the sense of awe and wonder that comes with exploring nature?

    I’ve seen that proposed, but while I experience that feeling regularly, I don’t experience it as pointing at God(s), any more than I see rainbows as pointing to pots of gold. (Indeed, billions of tiny raindrops floating in the air, illuminated at the correct angle so the light is reflected at least twice through the drop, refracting and revealing all the colors hidden in ‘white’ light? How is that not cooler than a Leprechaun signpost?)

    The premises of naturalism assume that God does not exist or does not intervene;

    God could certainly intervene in ways that could be detected. There would be some fairly straightforward ways we could detect that something really weird was going on. But, of course, the hypothesis is that God quite deliberately doesn’t do so. “Can’t detect something” and “can’t detect something that’s hiding” are obviously two different thresholds.

    they assume that matter is all, so there can be no soul

    I’m open to something outside the material we see interacting with the material we see. But I’ve had no need of that hypothesis so far.

    and no objective distinction between “is” and “ought”

    But… I think we actually do have a naturalistic basis for that distinction.

    To investigate them using techniques based on naturalistic assumptions is to presume the answers before one commences investigation.

    Not that supernatural presuppositions are immune from that, either. There’s a scene in the movie “Gandhi” where as a younger man he and a British friend manage to evade some attackers. The Britisher comments that it was a lucky escape, and Gandhi quips, “Luck? I thought you were a Christian!”

    If a God’s out there, then there really is no such thing a coincidence, no? Everything that happens means something. Everything. If there were coincidences, wouldn’t a supernatural (or at least Christian) perspective tend to blind one to them?

    The fact that your tools still seem to work (from your perspective) outside those limits is not evidence that they are actually working: it’s a demonstration of how badly they break when misapplied.

    So do they seem to work or is Romans 1:20 correct?

  168. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Is it irrational to believe that a problem might take thousands of years to solve? If so, why?

    Not necessarily. It depends. Even if it’s perfectly rational, however, it’s a very convenient way to insulate oneself from hostile facts. You can dismiss some very powerful arguments by writing a huge, indefinitely post-dated cheque like that. It may not be irrational to hold such a belief, but one should at least recognise the weakness of an argument based on it. It’s essentially an argument from pure faith, as in, “yes, this problem has nothing even remotely resembling the possibility of a potential solution at the moment, but I believe that science will solve the problem in the long run, so I think it’s no big deal.” There’s no way to defeat a statement of faith like that with reason.

    Click on the “hasn’t happened yet” link, and you’ll find this passage: “In the interest of fairness, I did try praying and so forth, in response to prompts from interlocutors on newsgroups. I never received any intelligible answers.” I’ve actually, y’know, tried to talk to a God, and haven’t detected any answers.

    There are over twenty-seven thousand words on that page. You might want to make your references a little more specific in future if you want people to figure out exactly what you were referring to. But I’m interrupting. Let’s continue with what you were saying.

    In other words, it’s not just “I don’t see how God could be, therefore I don’t believe it.” It’s, “I don’t see how God could be, and the predictions of that hypothesis haven’t been borne out in my experience, so I don’t believe it.”

    You are using words like “hypothesis” as though your actions were somehow scientific and should be treated with the respect afforded to experimental evidence. Don’t do that, or I will be tempted to scrutinise the validity of your experimental methods, and I’m quite sure they won’t stand up to scrutiny. It still sounds like you’re kidding yourself that you have a proper scientific basis for your atheism, though. Don’t mistake your anecdotal experience for science.

    Has it occurred to you that Romans 1:20 might be referring to the sense of awe and wonder that comes with exploring nature?

    I’ve seen that proposed, but while I experience that feeling regularly, I don’t experience it as pointing at God(s), any more than I see rainbows as pointing to pots of gold.

    Don’t swallow that analogy without scrutiny. If you know what a rainbow is, then you know that it can’t have a pot of gold at the end of it. On the other hand, you can know what a rainbow is in some detail, and have and even greater sense of awe and wonder. That’s the funny thing about scientific discovery: it’s not like a disappointing illusion where knowing the trick ruins the magic. On the contrary, the more you discover, the cooler it gets. Why is that?

    If you’re a hard-core Darwinist, you explain it in terms of survival value. Those stories are easy to make up. You say knowledge has survival value, and making the acquisition of knowledge pleasurable has obvious survival benefits. That’s not an “official” explanation: I just made it up, because those things are easy to make up. In another view of things, God made us that way so that we would be able to sense his awesomeness through the things he created. That is, the sense of awe and wonder it a literal sense of awe and wonder, not an illusion which promotes survival.

    Feelings are things that suggest something, but they need to be explained — “why do I feel this way?” If you explain them with Darwinism, then obviously you won’t experience them as pointing to God — you’ll see them as more evidence for Darwinism (whether or not Darwinism is the correct explanation).

    God could certainly intervene in ways that could be detected. There would be some fairly straightforward ways we could detect that something really weird was going on. But, of course, the hypothesis is that God quite deliberately doesn’t do so. “Can’t detect something” and “can’t detect something that’s hiding” are obviously two different thresholds.

    I don’t need to claim that God is hiding anything in order to refute your claim that we can detect God. Let’s talk about, “can’t detect something that’s not hiding, but is also not material, using the tools of science.” Assume God isn’t hiding: how do we go about detecting him?

    Approach #1: miracles. Status: disqualified. If we encountered a real, honest-to-goodness ‘miracle’, what evidence could you possibly present that it was caused by a god and not a powerful alien? The most you could ever say would be, “A god hasn’t been ruled out, yet.” (Source: Ray Ingles) Thus, miracles can not be used to detect God.

    Approach #2: artefacts. Status: disqualified. If God is the real, honest-to-goodness author of DNA and engineer of the nanomachines that use it, what evidence could you possibly present that it was caused by a god and not by natural events? According to one source, “I re-implemented Tierra myself, and got some results that convinced me you certainly can get design – especially functional-but-suboptimal design – without a designer.” Reality is underdetermined, and there’s an unlimited number of hypotheses that can account for any finite set of data, so you might as well pick the simplest one that covers all the current data. (Source: Ray Ingles, #167) Given that a naturalistic origin of life does explain the data, Ockham’s Razor dictates that we should prefer it as the simpler explanation. Therefore, the complexity and appearance of design in nature can not be used to detect God.

    Approach #3: the inexplicable. Status: disqualified. See here for details. In short, you can never conclude something’s unknowable like that. All you can ever conclude is that ‘nobody’s answered that yet’. There’s no way, in practice, to tell the difference between something that’s forever unknowable and something that hasn’t been solved yet. Prior to the solution, they look exactly the same. So, since we’ve demonstrated that such problems have been solved before, the only practical thing to do is keep trying to solve them. (Source: Ray Ingles, #161) Thus, the inexplicable can not, even in principle, prove anything other than, “nobody’s answered that yet.”

    Approach #4: the numinous. Status: disqualified. We agree that we share certain feelings of awe and wonder when we apprehend the hidden inner workings of nature. Can we consider this to be an actual sense of God’s greatness, and thus primary evidence for the existence of God? According to one account, “while I experience that feeling regularly, I don’t experience it as pointing at God(s), any more than I see rainbows as pointing to pots of gold.” (Source: Ray Ingles, #169)

    So, no, I’m not convinced that you have any cheese to sell me in this alleged cheese shop of yours. Shall I go on enumerating varieties of cheese, or do you want to tell me which kind of cheese you actually have? I stand by my assertion that your methods preclude the possibility of concluding that God exists, even if he does.

    I’m open to something outside the material we see interacting with the material we see. But I’ve had no need of that hypothesis so far.

    So, you don’t subscribe to dark matter theory, then? No Oort cloud? Or did you mean that you’ve had no need of the God hypothesis, specifically? I can say with some degree of certainty that you will never need that hypothesis. When faced with a situation in which the only reasonable explanation is God, you will defer to a possible future in which we have decided that God isn’t the only reasonable explanation. You’ve made that much very clear indeed.

    and no objective distinction between “is” and “ought”

    But… I think we actually do have a naturalistic basis for that distinction.

    You have a pragmatic suggestion as to why it is more in one’s interests, given a certain set of values, to act in a manner which is most likely to realise those values. Thank you, Captain Obvious. What you don’t have is an objective basis for the values themselves. Thus, you have no basis for telling someone who has decided to commit suicide, and take as many people with him as possible in the process, that he ought not to do that. You have no basis on which to tell a genuine nihilist that he ought to have values at all, let alone particular ones.

    To the extent that you have a research programme, it assumes that morality inheres in human nature: that “real-world” morality is a complex phenomenon which we can reduce to rules by studying people in the way that gravitational attraction is a complex phenomenon which was reduced to rules by studying the movement of planets. In other words, you’re trying to get an “ought” from an “is”, and your “ought” is therefore nothing of the sort. Planets don’t move in a certain way because they ought to move in a certain way. It’s just a fact that they do move in a certain law-like way. In the same way, if you study human behaviour and reduce it to a set of rules, you will not have determined anything about how they ought to behave — only about how they actually do.

    If there were coincidences, wouldn’t a supernatural (or at least Christian) perspective tend to blind one to them?

    If one held to the premise that “there are no coincidences”, then yes, nothing would ever be seen as a coincidence, regardless of the evidence, and regardless of whether there is such a thing as a coincidence.

    What’s your point? Are you admitting that you hold to premises which preclude the possibility of you recognising certain truths, but that’s okay because we’re all in the same boat?

    The fact that your tools still seem to work (from your perspective) outside those limits is not evidence that they are actually working: it’s a demonstration of how badly they break when misapplied.

    So do they seem to work or is Romans 1:20 correct?

    What makes you think that it can’t be both? Do you think that the fact that your methods seem to work is a valid excuse, so therefore you are not without excuse?

  169. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    It’s, “I don’t see how God could be, and the predictions of that hypothesis haven’t been borne out in my experience, so I don’t believe it.”

    God is not a hypothesis; neither is He a man that He should be put to the test.

    I’ve seen that proposed, but while I experience that feeling regularly, I don’t experience it as pointing at God(s), any more than I see rainbows as pointing to pots of gold.

    It is not a feeling, it is an argument.

    God could certainly intervene in ways that could be detected. There would be some fairly straightforward ways we could detect that something really weird was going on.

    The only sense I can make of God’s “interventions” is that it is a miraculous act; miraculous events, cannot be “detected” as they happen unless you yourself are the locus of the miracle, but then this “detection” is not any different from other first-person experience and subject to the same criticisms. We *infer* that the event *was* miraculous by sifting through the evidence available and reasoning through the possible and the necessary. A miracle is a claim of and on history; historical claims have different standards of proof.

    I’m open to something outside the material we see interacting with the material we see. But I’ve had no need of that hypothesis so far.

    This is really funny, coming from someone who proclaims himself a “quasi-Platonist”. Not that the necessity of the immaterial is an hypothesis, but I have already given up on trying to make you understand this simple point.

    If a God’s out there, then there really is no such thing a coincidence, no?

    No, not necessarily; Aquinas, following Aristotle, wrote extensively about “coincidences” — chance occurrences, or in the traditional Scholastic jargon, the intersection of independent causal lines.

  170. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    It may not be irrational to hold such a belief, but one should at least recognise the weakness of an argument based on it.

    Of course, by that standard, the theodicies that propose that God allows suffering now to bring about good eventually are kinda weak, too, right?

    It’s essentially an argument from pure faith, as in, “yes, this problem has nothing even remotely resembling the possibility of a potential solution at the moment, but I believe that science will solve the problem in the long run, so I think it’s no big deal.”

    There are lots of problems, though, and no reason to expect that we’re on the verge of solving all of them. We’d expect that there’d be problems that we don’t have a clue how to solve now.

    Except… in scientific circles, we’ve actually found more and more comprehensive solutions and explanations for all kinds of problems. I haven’t seen that kind of progress in any religion I’ve looked at. Indeed, quite often religious-based ‘solutions’ have been found to be rather ineffective (see section ‘Hazards’).

    So it’s a bet, yes. But it’s not just an arbitrary, whimsical one.

    You are using words like “hypothesis” as though your actions were somehow scientific and should be treated with the respect afforded to experimental evidence… Don’t mistake your anecdotal experience for science.

    In some areas, there’s no known way to run a rigorous experiment. That doesn’t mean you can’t engage in any hypothesis-testing. How many songs are there about the difference between saying you love someone and actually acting like it?

    G Rodrigues says that “God is not a hypothesis; neither is He a man that He should be put to the test.” But when lovers court they do test each other’s resolve, and earnestly seek evidence the other loves them, and to prove their love to the other. God may not be a man, but I’m one, and I’m going to have to use human ways to seek a relationship.

    People witness to their own personal (anecdotal?) experience with God all the time. Why can I not witness to my non-experience?

    On the contrary, the more you discover, the cooler it gets. Why is that?

    I’ll note that not everybody feels that way – or why argue against the idea that ‘science ruins the magic’? It could just be down to personal taste.

    It may well be a Darwinian side-effect, in that we have pattern-seeking brains, and finding patterns does frequently have obvious survival value. But since not everyone feels that way, it could just as easily be a spandrel, or have another explanation. I’m not dogmatic on the idea.

    Got to go, but I’ll tackle the latter part of your reply ASAP.

  171. Ray Ingles says:

    To continue, TFBW –

    Assume God isn’t hiding: how do we go about detecting him?

    Well, there’s direct divine revelation, which for some reason isn’t available to everyone. But otherwise…

    Thus, miracles can not be used to detect God.

    Miracles can’t be used to differentiate between God(s) and aliens,true. But they can be used to detect them, to prove that something really unusual and unexpected is going on. If we found someone really could regrow limbs by laying on hands, we’d be pretty confident that something, er, beyond the current state of the art was happening.

    But ‘miracles’ don’t seem to happen in any kind of patterned way. We look for patterns when trying to detect agency (like, say, an odd pattern of deaths when a particular doctor is in charge of the ward), and it’s funny that such patterns are not in evidence when it comes to ‘miracles’.

    Therefore, the complexity and appearance of design in nature can not be used to detect God.

    Oh, no, it really could. If an actual example of ‘irreducible complexity’ were really found, it’d be very strong evidence of intelligent action. For some thoughts on this, see the very last comment on this thread (this comment promises to be long enough as it is). The problem is, the examples of IC that I’ve heard of – the bacterial flagellum, the vertebrate immune system and the vertebrate clotting cascade, etc. – all seem to have evolutionary precursors and are not, in fact, irreducibly complex.

    Thus, the inexplicable can not, even in principle, prove anything other than, “nobody’s answered that yet.”

    One could fairly straightforwardly demonstrate the existence of a powerful being that actively wanted to interact with humans and was generally well-disposed toward them. Certainly such a being could demonstrate Its own existence! The only thing you couldn’t legitimately conclude is that such a being would be forever unknowable, that’s all.

    We agree that we share certain feelings of awe and wonder when we apprehend the hidden inner workings of nature. Can we consider this to be an actual sense of God’s greatness

    Well, it’s a sense of the greatness of “the hidden inner workings of nature”. Can you construct an explicit formal argument that that’s the same as ‘an actual sense of God’s greatness’?

    I think I’ll break here and tackle the rest in a separate comment.

  172. TFBW says:

    I’ll wait until you’re done before I post a response.

  173. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    You have a pragmatic suggestion as to why it is more in one’s interests, given a certain set of values, to act in a manner which is most likely to realise those values.

    That’s not quite right. The idea is more that given a widely-applicable range of values, certain strategies prove to be robust ways of realizing those values. (In a huge range of non-zero-sum games – where the values and objectives differ widely – strategies that don’t start fights, will forgive some attacks, but will defend against others, and are clear about the difference do very well.

    What you don’t have is an objective basis for the values themselves.

    Is there such a thing as a “human nature”? Does it mean something to say that someone is human? Is it completely ridiculous to assume that might have some relevance to human values? Ones we could even research?

    The range of human values is wide, sure, but not infinitely wide. (And if someone’s a full Hannibal Lecter sociopath, one who truly doesn’t care at all about other people… well, it’s not clear that Christian morality does any better job restraining them.)

    To the extent that you have a research programme, it assumes that morality inheres in human nature: that “real-world” morality is a complex phenomenon which we can reduce to rules by studying people in the way that gravitational attraction is a complex phenomenon which was reduced to rules by studying the movement of planets.

    Oh, no, not at all! I explicitly compare morality to engineering, not physics! For example, we discovered rules for gravitation, but that doesn’t mean we have a practical solution for the three-body problem. We keep having to solve new instances as they come, and look for heuristics and new special cases.

    As I (explicitly!) said in the link you apparently read, “Engineering moral (and legal) codes is similarly complicated… but that does not imply that it’s impossible. Engineering continually improves and finds new ways of doing things, sometimes better than the old, sometimes merely applicable in certain special cases. There may never be an Ultimate Engineering that can accomplish all possible things… but that doesn’t mean we should abandon engineering.”

    Engineering and science are two different things. Science helps engineering a lot, but people built perfectly good brick walls before they had any real idea why cement works.

    In other words, you’re trying to get an “ought” from an “is”, and your “ought” is therefore nothing of the sort.

    You might want to read this discussion about ‘ought and is’. (I prompted it, but made only one comment on it. Suffice it to say, people disagree with how I take your meaning.)

    Are you admitting that you hold to premises which preclude the possibility of you recognising certain truths, but that’s okay because we’re all in the same boat?

    No, but I admit that some presuppositions can make some truths harder to see. “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” – Winston Churchill

    Do you think that the fact that your methods seem to work is a valid excuse, so therefore you are not without excuse?

    If my methods are failing undetectably, then how am I to blame for not detecting that?

  174. TFBW says:
    It may not be irrational to hold such a belief, but one should at least recognise the weakness of an argument based on it.

    Of course, by that standard, the theodicies that propose that God allows suffering now to bring about good eventually are kinda weak, too, right?

    By that standard, I suppose they are, yes. Of course, that standard happens to be your standard. Perhaps I didn’t emphasise that enough: your appeal to possible future developments is a weak argument by your own standards. When you present an argument, I expect it to be a good one by your standards, since those are the standards by which you naturally judge other arguments. If you’re presenting an argument that’s bad by your own standards, then I have no reason to take it seriously (unless you’re appealing to my standards, which you weren’t).

    There’s a distinction, you see, between science proper, which is somewhat respectable, and scientism, which is a philosophical ideology that can’t meet its own standards of justification. When one distinguishes between alternative hypotheses about reality using controlled experiments with statistically significant results, that’s science. When one makes the categorical assertion that science is the sole or supremely reliable means to discern what is true, that’s scientism. The justification for scientism is that “science works, b____s”, but I’m afraid that I require specific scientific support for specific assertions, not a general assertion that “science works” along with an inductive argument that science is likely to progress in a certain manner.

    An appeal to possible future scientific discoveries is not science. It’s half-baked philosophy at best. If science is your creed, then support your case with science, not wishful thinking.

    So it’s a bet, yes. But it’s not just an arbitrary, whimsical one.

    Fine, so long as you don’t think it’s a more intellectually respectable position than the opposite bet, which is also not arbitrary or whimsical, and for similar reasons.

    In some areas, there’s no known way to run a rigorous experiment. That doesn’t mean you can’t engage in any hypothesis-testing.

    The lack of rigour detracts from the reliability of the conclusion. There’s a saying that’s popular among nerds: “data is not the plural of anecdote.” It’s not strictly true: a survey is a case where data literally is the plural of anecdote. Even so, the point is that your anecdotal experience is in no way a substitute for a controlled experiment with statistically significant outcomes. Rigour is required to turn anecdotes into data.

    To put it another way, don’t mistake experimentation and testing for science. The latter generally does involve the former, but the former is not sufficient in and of itself to constitute the latter. A child experimenting with and testing the boundaries of his parents’ tolerance for disobedience is not conducting science. He’ll probably learn something from the experience, but that still doesn’t make it science.

    God may not be a man, but I’m one, and I’m going to have to use human ways to seek a relationship.

    That’s fair, but bear in mind the effect it can have on a relationship when one treats the other party as a test subject. You can’t prod and probe, then reset and try again. There is no reset: previous interaction has a lasting impact. Bear in mind also that if you are seeking a relationship with God, you are not seeking a relationship with an equal. Attitude is a consideration. But enough of the relationship advice.

    People witness to their own personal (anecdotal?) experience with God all the time. Why can I not witness to my non-experience?

    I’m not saying you can’t. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t mistake it for science just because it’s evidence. So long as we’re clear on that, there’s no problem.

    Well, there’s direct divine revelation, which for some reason isn’t available to everyone.

    Dawkins would write that off as hallucination or delusion (see The God Delusion). Why wouldn’t you? Which of you two, if either, is applying scientific method properly? Would it be an acceptable application of methodological naturalism to say, “I have received a divine revelation,” and conclude that God exists? Remember, I said we were going to use the tools of science to detect God. Where’s the science?

    Thus, miracles can not be used to detect God.

    Miracles can’t be used to differentiate between God(s) and aliens,true.

    And, as such, they can’t be used to detect God. Even if you had a sufficiently well-defined model of what constitutes a miracle, and the means to apply that model experimentally, you would still only be able to detect miracles. Neither a positive nor negative result would tell you anything about the existence of God.

    So you actually agree with me on this point, even though it looks like you’re trying to disagree. Or, you don’t agree, but you haven’t refuted what I said: you need to actually take the bull by the horns and tell me how miracles can be used to detect God — or how their absence can be used to infer his non-existence. We can argue about your ability to detect (or even define) miracles if you can make that first step. If you can’t make that first step, then the rest is immaterial.

    Therefore, the complexity and appearance of design in nature can not be used to detect God.

    Oh, no, it really could. If an actual example of ‘irreducible complexity’ were really found, it’d be very strong evidence of intelligent action.

    Intelligent action would not be sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God any more than miracles would — less so, in fact. In any case, I’m dubious that you have a concrete, testable definition for “irreducible complexity” — particularly one that would properly imply the need for intelligence. Still, as per miracles, that’s a quibble we can address after you show how detecting intelligent action would, in any way, shed light on the existence of God. If you can’t do that, then my original point stands unchallenged. An actual example of irreducible complexity would demolish the naturalistic hypothesis of origins in that specific case, but it wouldn’t prove that God had anything to do with it.

    One could fairly straightforwardly demonstrate the existence of a powerful being that actively wanted to interact with humans and was generally well-disposed toward them. Certainly such a being could demonstrate Its own existence!

    So you keep saying, and I tend to agree, but not if we limit ourselves to the tools of methodological naturalism. You’ve come up with several suggestions about how we might go about it, and I’ve simply pointed out that your suggestions clearly fall short of actually reaching that goal, even if I assume that you are able to detect things like “miracles” and “design” (which is an exceedingly generous assumption).

    Well, it’s a sense of the greatness of “the hidden inner workings of nature”. Can you construct an explicit formal argument that that’s the same as ‘an actual sense of God’s greatness’?

    Not using premises that you’d accept. That was my point. Clearly you’re against the idea that numinous feelings count as scientific evidence for God, so that avenue doesn’t offer us a scientific solution either. I’m still not seeing any cheese in this cheese shop of yours.

    And if someone’s a full Hannibal Lecter sociopath, one who truly doesn’t care at all about other people… well, it’s not clear that Christian morality does any better job restraining them.

    The job of objective morality is not to restrain, but to provide a standard against which behaviour is judged — to make statements like “X is good” or “Y is evil” a matter of fact rather than opinion. Morality is like the law, not like the police force or the courts who administer the law. The law itself does not constrain anyone’s behaviour: it simply means that some behaviour is properly classified as either lawful or not. Likewise, objective moral truths do not restrain anyone: they just make it possible to properly classify behaviour as “good” or “evil”.

    I’m having some difficulty understanding your moral framework because it blends together concepts like these which I consider orthogonal. A quick review of your Morals Without God (or Gods) essay leaves me with the impression that it is all about behaviour and not at all about morality — the basis on which behaviour can be classified “good” or “evil”. Early on in the essay, you say that many theists claim there can be no way of defining ‘good’ and ‘evil’ without a God, except as a matter of opinion. You say that you disagree, but you never actually offer an explicit definition of those terms, let alone show that it is more substantial than opinion, or compatible with naturalism.

    I think I’ll take a step back and ask for clarification on this point rather than respond to everything you’ve said. Can you offer naturalistic definitions of “good” or “evil”, which are not matters of opinion — i.e. not dependent on whether specific people assert them to be such? Regardless of whether anyone does a good job of policing, do you have a definition of “evil” which could be applied to someone like Hannibal Lecter, and carry the normative force of, “he ought not to behave like that”, rather than simply the observational statement, “his pleasure comes at the cost of other people’s misery?”

    It seems to me that you’re offering something completely different than what I’m seeking. You’re talking about managing human behaviour such that most people are happy most of the time, roughly speaking — a “pragmatic morality” which isn’t about moral truths, but desired outcomes. That’s a very different kind of thing than the objective morality of which I speak. Are we even discussing the same subject?

    If my methods are failing undetectably, then how am I to blame for not detecting that?

    It’s clear enough to many people that science has limits. If you decide to apply science beyond those limits, in the gung-ho belief that it has no such limits, then that’s your call to make, but I think it’s only fair that you should be held to account for your poor choice of tools if it happens to be a poor choice of tools. It seems fair to me that the price of personal liberty should be personal accountability.

    It’s not like you haven’t had people trying to warn you about it.

  175. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Perhaps I didn’t emphasise that enough: your appeal to possible future developments is a weak argument by your own standards.

    In some ways yes, in some ways no. First off, I’ll note that we have unsolved problems. Pretty much every philosophy is writing checks about those problems. Some promise that they will be solved, some that they won’t be. Not all of them can be right. And some of those questions and problems are important.

    To take things out of order:

    Fine, so long as you don’t think it’s a more intellectually respectable position than the opposite bet, which is also not arbitrary or whimsical, and for similar reasons.

    But as I’ve noted, there’s a pretty clear and unambiguous progress in science, explaining a wider and wider range of observations, including things that used to be accounted for by religious means. It does seem quite reasonable to me for that progression to continue.

    No, that’s not a scientific case. However:

    When one makes the categorical assertion that science is the sole or supremely reliable means to discern what is true, that’s scientism.

    Well, I don’t claim that science is the “sole… means to discern what is true”. Go ahead, check back.

    I do claim it’s the most reliable means we’ve found, though. When possible, I certainly think it should be preferred.

    The lack of rigour detracts from the reliability of the conclusion.

    Absolutely. Again, if you look back, you’ll see that I never claimed anything else.

    At that link you gave, you wrap up with, “Rigour should be held in higher regard than experiment. A rigorous argument that lacks experiment provides greater clarity than an experimental result that lacks rigour.”

    I disagree. Rigor and experiment should be held in at least equal regard. Aristotle argued incorrectly, but with rigor, about a lot of things that he could have actually checked with experiments. Rigorous argument is based on premises – assumptions – and they need to be checked. As engineers put it, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are different.”

    Rigor applies to experimentation, too, as you note – the more rigorously the experimentation is carried out, the more reliable the data will be.

    But we do run into situations where we have to make judgment calls based on incomplete information. At that point we have to work with what we have. And if the data we have is incomplete and lacks rigor – well, sometimes that’s just too bad. You have to make a call anyway.

    You yourself provide an example: “A child experimenting with and testing the boundaries of his parents’ tolerance for disobedience is not conducting science. He’ll probably learn something from the experience, but that still doesn’t make it science.” Should – could – the child proceed by rigorous argument?

    I think you’ve been reading everything I’ve written through your preconception of me as a “scientismist”. You… well… might want to check that assumption.

    (To be continued.)

  176. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    That’s fair, but bear in mind the effect it can have on a relationship when one treats the other party as a test subject.

    So long as we’re being fair – when did I propose that?

    Bear in mind also that if you are seeking a relationship with God, you are not seeking a relationship with an equal. Attitude is a consideration.

    More below, but I’ll note that a strong prerequisite for a relationship is knowing that the other exists. My wife actually chased me at first, but I’d met her and knew she existed. I didn’t think that first email was spam.

    And when I asked, I was polite. I still am willing to be convinced.

    I’m just saying that you shouldn’t mistake it for science just because it’s evidence. So long as we’re clear on that, there’s no problem.

    In light of my preceding comment – I don’t claim that my experience is more rigorous than others. What I don’t see is how it’s any less rigorous.

    Skipping ahead:

    So you keep saying, and I tend to agree, but not if we limit ourselves to the tools of methodological naturalism.

    I think you missed the point there. Science, even by methodological naturalism, can detect patterns of intentional action. (I already gave an example.) Even by methodological naturalism, we could detect “a powerful being that actively wanted to interact with humans and was generally well-disposed toward them”. That’s what I said: “Miracles can’t be used to differentiate between God(s) and aliens,true. But they can be used to detect them, to prove that something really unusual and unexpected is going on.”

    Now, we could not, by methodological naturalism, detect that such a being was supernatural. But that’s a separate question from whether there’s evidence of such a being at all. In order to explain something, first you have to have something to explain!

    You see, at most you have a case that I might not be able to conclude that God was supernatural. That is not the same thing as making a case that I could not conclude that something with a lot of the traits traditionally ascribed to God existed.

    In other words, first let’s establish that something needs to be explained before we start arguing about what explanation best fits.

  177. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Can you offer naturalistic definitions of “good” or “evil”, which are not matters of opinion — i.e. not dependent on whether specific people assert them to be such?

    As I said before, “The range of human values is wide, sure, but not infinitely wide.” Let me give you an example. There exist insects which reproduce by what is, unfortunately accurately, termed ‘traumatic insemination’. The males – with members that are terrifying to behold – pierce and often shred the females to deposit sperm inside them. (Cats, BTW, do this to a marginally lesser extent. There’s evidence the damage done triggers ovulation in the female.)

    Then there are insects that exchange gametes only once in life – after that, the female preserves the male seed and parcels it out later during reproduction.

    It’s not a huge stretch to imagine a species that combined the traits. Such a species would, in a very real sense, have to engage in traumatic juvenile rape to reproduce! From a ‘natural law’ standpoint, it could be argued that would be moral for such a species, if it possessed intelligence.

    Human reproduction, happily, is not structured that way.

    In short, I can accept a lot of existing ‘natural law’ argumentation, based on what humans are, often unchanged.

    …do you have a definition of “evil” which could be applied to someone like Hannibal Lecter, and carry the normative force of, “he ought not to behave like that”, rather than simply the observational statement, “his pleasure comes at the cost of other people’s misery?”

    Consider an example (from the first link in #175): Dunn and others are beginning to offer an intriguing explanation for the poor wealth-to-happiness exchange rate: The problem isn’t money, it’s us. For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.

    People frequently get caught up in buying thingsm in getting possessions. But in practice, research (and a few thousand years of tradition) indicates that experiences and memories – even (especially?) helping others – make us happier. I only have a few physical keepsakes from before college, but I remember many, many service projects with the Scouts.

    I can argue that the Hannibal Lecters are doing it wrong, not doing what will bring them the most long-term happiness, that they are acting against their own self-interest. (Which, note, is also a conclusion of Christian morality.)

    In both heliocentrism and geocentrism, there’s still night and day. They have radically different understandings of what a ‘sunrise’ constitutes, but their predictions for what you’ll actually observe, standing on the shore watching a sunrise, are remarkably congruent.

    I do think our understanding of what constitutes morality are different, in some ways radically so. And yet I suspect we reach a lot of the same conclusions by our different routes.

  178. bigbird says:

    I can argue that the Hannibal Lecters are doing it wrong, not doing what will bring them the most long-term happiness, that they are acting against their own self-interest.

    Why is acting against their own self-interest (if indeed it is – the Lecters of this world are surely atypical) doing it *wrong*?

  179. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #177–179:

    But as I’ve noted, there’s a pretty clear and unambiguous progress in science, explaining a wider and wider range of observations, including things that used to be accounted for by religious means. It does seem quite reasonable to me for that progression to continue.

    That progression also comes at the cost of previous scientific theories, many of which were held to be true in exactly the same way that current theories are. As I noted in another thread (but I will repeat it here because you did not respond to those points), the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems was an established principle in geology in the first half of the twentieth century. This was asserted as being a “fact” of science: dissent from it was considered to be anti-scientific in the same way that dissent from Darwinism is held to be anti-scientific today. Somewhere in the 1960s, however, geosynclinal theory died a quiet death, and was replaced by the completely different theory we know as plate tectonics.

    Regardless of the revolution in geology, there has been an unbroken stream of scientific experts who could explain in great detail why they professed to know how mountains are formed, whether in terms of the old theory or the new. Clearly, some of them were (or are) severely mistaken about the correctness of their explanations, but they certainly did have explanations — scientific, naturalistic, evidence-based explanations.

    This leads to the question of the basis for your assertion as to the reliability of science. You imply that the progression is a reasonable basis for preferring “scientific” (by which you mean naturalistic) explanations, such as Evolution, over others, such as creation. You go so far as to say that you prefer naturalistic explanations even when no such explanation exists yet, as for the case of consciousness. But in what sense is science “better” or “reliable”? Better for what? More reliable at what?

    Given that the so-called “clear and unambiguous progress in science” happens at the expense of previous scientific doctrines (as well as pre-scientific folklore and superstition), I have a very solid basis for holding current science in doubt. While I might assent, in many cases, that the current theory is the best one we have, given certain constraints on the range of acceptable options, that is by no means an affirmation that the explanations are correct in any important details. Indeed, the safe bet is that much of the science we take for granted as “fact” is nothing of the sort. Future generations of science students will laugh at our quaint “scientific” ideas, if we get mentioned at all.

    If the value of science stems from its utility, then actual correctness is incidental. Newtonian physics is good enough to get you to the moon and back, so you can cut it a lot of slack for its known shortcomings. In the utilitarian model, you may apply Occam’s Razor with impunity — to the extent that the result remains useful. Thus, if correctness were not an issue, I would grant you your point. However, I’m specifically concerned with truth over utility in some cases, such as the existence of God and the supernatural. I’m not concerned over whether it is scientifically useful to hypothesise the existence of a God: I want to know whether he exists and created us or not.

    Your argument does not speak to the truth of scientific theories: only to their utility. Yes, we might expect that utility would follow from truth, but truth does not follow from utility, as the history of scientific revolutions makes clear. Your argument from scientific progress does not provide a good basis for thinking that science tends towards truth — not even in the sense of a general trend.

    The other problem with your assessment is that it presupposes naturalism. You take it as given that the defining characteristic of science, and the key ingredient that makes it a success, is methodological naturalism. That premise is the basis on which you extrapolate the future course of science, and claim that certain kinds of hypothesis are more “scientific” than others, even in the absence of concrete experimental results. Your view of the history of science is also coloured by this presupposition. The motif of naturalism and scientific progress recurs frequently in your posts, making it a recognisable theme.

    Putting it bluntly, I’m not buying it. If you ask me where I think the greatest contributions to science have been, I’ll put Newton at the top of the list, followed by a long list of other clever folks who were able to turn their observations into formulae. I don’t see value in explanations just because they are naturalistic: I am “mathematicist” in my aesthetic judgement. I adhere to Kelvin’s creed, that measurement and mathematics is the soul of science.

    The greatest impact of naturalistic thinking in science has been in the areas of geology (Hutton’s “deep time”, Lyell’s uniformitarianism) and biology (Darwinism, specifically). As I’ve already observed, the recent history of geology has demonstrated that one of its major theories can be completely overthrown without much actual fuss, going from “no rational person would doubt this theory” to “no rational person would accept it” in the space of a decade or so — and not on the basis of new discoveries so much as reinterpretations of known facts, and the natural passing of the Old Guard who were trained in the Old School. I’ve no reason to believe that anything else founded on principles of naturalism (and lacking mathematical maturity) is any more solid or significant than that.

    So here’s what I think of your argument from scientific progress, in summary. To the extent that it illustrates a trend, it does not illustrate a trend towards truth, but only utility. That is, it argues for something only tangentially relevant at best. And, to the extent that it claims that such a trend can be attributed to naturalism, the argument is not compelling. The kind of science that yields technological benefit is characterised by mathematical maturity, not naturalism.

    So, not only is your argument not scientific, it is simply not at all compelling in the more general, informal sense. The fact that you see it as such a compelling argument, and repeatedly present it to others as though they ought to be similarly compelled by it, gives me further cause to believe that you view the world through naturalism-tinted glasses.

    When one makes the categorical assertion that science is the sole or supremely reliable means to discern what is true, that’s scientism.

    Well, I don’t claim that science is the “sole… means to discern what is true”. … I do claim it’s the most reliable means we’ve found, though. When possible, I certainly think it should be preferred.

    You don’t claim that it is the sole means, but you do claim that it is the most reliable means. That qualifies as scientism under the definition I gave (“sole or supremely reliable means”). If you wanted to be extremist about it, you could follow Richard Dawkins and assert that if science has nothing to say, then it’s certain that no other subject can say anything at all (a leap which lands him squarely in the tar-pit of self-contradiction — not that he ever notices), but a general attitude of, “science speaks above all other voices when it speaks at all,” is sufficient to qualify as scientism.

    I’ve already addressed why I think that the argument in favour of scientism is weak. I won’t belabour that point any further.

    I’m interested in your “when possible” qualifier, however. Do you simply mean that there are practical limits to what science can achieve at any given time? If so, then that’s obvious and uninteresting. On the other hand, if you are admitting that there might be limits to science in principle, outside of which something else might have a better claim to reliable knowledge, then please elaborate. What are those limits? Why do those limits exist? What is the consequence of stepping outside those limits? In what areas does science gracefully step aside and let other voices speak with authority?

    I think you’ve been reading everything I’ve written through your preconception of me as a “scientismist”. You… well… might want to check that assumption.

    It’s not a preconception: it’s an inference drawn from ample evidence — one which you have now explicitly affirmed, unless your “when possible” qualifier has any in-principle substance to it. I’m not calling you names, I’m identifying your position by the characteristics of your arguments.

    That’s fair, but bear in mind the effect it can have on a relationship when one treats the other party as a test subject.

    So long as we’re being fair – when did I propose that?

    When you suggested that you could test for the existence of God scientifically. To do so would make him the subject of a test, thus “test subject”.

    In other words, first let’s establish that something needs to be explained before we start arguing about what explanation best fits.

    But why would there be any argument about the best explanation? Wouldn’t a naturalistic explanation win automatically, by merit of existing — or by merit of possibly existing in future, even if you don’t have one now? Isn’t that why the existence of human life is not considered a problem in need of a divine explanation: because we have a naturalistic explanation, and naturalistic explanations are automatically sufficient and superior to their alternatives? Indeed, your approach to science can be characterised as a programme with the goal of demonstrating that there is never any need for a supernatural explanation.

    We do have readily-available evidence that a powerful being exists and actively wants to interact with humans and is generally well-disposed toward them. We have the documented case of Jesus Christ. Which part of your criteria does Jesus not fit? But, of course, you do not accept this evidence. You want something else — something you can specify, and examine here and now (in return for which you might concede that, “something with a lot of the traits traditionally ascribed to God existed”). I’m sure that you have plenty of specific objections to the particular case of Jesus. Go ahead and list them, if you like: such objections aren’t rare in atheist circles.

    Regardless of what your specific objections are, however, I’m pretty sure I can say this: if it’s true that Jesus is God come in the flesh as a man, to live among us, perform many benevolent miracles as testament to his identity and intentions, and then ultimately die so as to take on the punishment of death that was justly due to all of us, then it’s true that a powerful being exists and actively wants to interact with humans and is generally well-disposed toward them (which is explicitly what you said science could detect). If all that is true, and if science can look at the evidence of Jesus Christ and reject it (for whatever reasons), then it is science, not God, that has failed.

    Putting it another way, even if God exists, and there is ample evidence of his existence, there’s no guarantee that science will be competent to recognise the evidence for what it is. Not only do you want evidence of God’s existence, you want your kind of evidence. Indeed, you dismiss other kinds of evidence as “not evidence” or “unreliable”. Eyewitness testimony? Disqualified! Unreliable! Inadequate! And you can prove that it’s unreliable — using specially-selected evidence which happens to meet with your approval.

    Given your analysis of the evidence, one of two things is true: either there is no God, or your analysis is faulty. I’m arguing for the latter alternative. I’m arguing that your analysis is faulty mostly because, despite its many references to “science” and “evidence”, it is not science: it is a philosophy of naturalism which claims the credit for the success of science, and therefore confidently predicts that the future trajectory of science will be increasingly naturalistic, and by-the-way science is the most reliable path to knowing the truth, so science will lend increasing support to the idea that naturalism is true, and therefore science shows that God does not exist. QED.

    That’s the point I keep trying to make. You’ll look at this, that, and the other, and say that it shows no evidence of God, yet claim that you should be able to see the evidence if it exists. I think you’ve already looked at the evidence and erroneously explained it away through some naturalistic narrative — and you will inevitably do so to all such evidence. You are arguing from within a philosophical framework which is antithetical to the hypothesis in question — one which can no more admit the possibility of an involved God than ordinary mathematics can allow the possibility of division by zero.

    And yet somehow you continue to feel confident that there is nothing to explain, and therefore that you are justified in disregarding God. Of course there’s nothing to explain. Your way of looking at the world is contrived in such a way that God is permanently in your blind spot — the explanation ranked below every other possible explanation. You wouldn’t accept that God exists unless there literally were no other option — and it’s not at all clear how that could be the case when an open-ended appeal to future options is an option.

    In short, I can accept a lot of existing ‘natural law’ argumentation, based on what humans are, often unchanged.

    Close, but still deriving an ought from an is, so to speak: it derives the normative from the normal. If violent rape became the norm in a particular human culture, would your natural-law argument against rape still stand? Would it still stand if that was the only culture left? If it’s possible for there to be gross divergence between what people are and what they ought to be, then what is it that defines the ideal “ought to be”? And if gross divergence isn’t possible, then isn’t “natural law” simply coercively enforced normality?

    I can argue that the Hannibal Lecters are doing it wrong, not doing what will bring them the most long-term happiness, that they are acting against their own self-interest. (Which, note, is also a conclusion of Christian morality.)

    Yes, but the Christian conclusion is based on the premise that there will be eternal consequences which guarantee the long-term outcome. Assume Hannibal Lecter is the kind of atheist who believes in his heart that there is no God. He’s open to the idea that there might be reprisals from his fellow humans, but the risk is part of the thrill, and in the long run we’re all dead, so maximise your enjoyment of the now. I don’t think he’d accept your analysis that he’s betraying his long-term happiness. If he’s happy with what he’s doing now, and expects to be happy doing more of that, and will eventually be dead one way or the other, then where’s the lack of long-term planning?

    I do think our understanding of what constitutes morality are different, in some ways radically so. And yet I suspect we reach a lot of the same conclusions by our different routes.

    I don’t doubt that we share many moral intuitions, and I have no desire to present myself as “holier than thou”. The purpose of the exercise is to examine yet another fact of human existence that does not mesh well with naturalism. I think that naturalism can only lead to anti-realism about morality, such as error theory. Your model doesn’t look like error theory, but I’m still having difficulty figuring out if there’s a difference between “normative” and “normal” in your model, so I can’t classify it yet, or determine whether it is consistent with naturalism. Indeed, it’s not clear that it contains a theory of meta-ethics at all.

  180. Ray Ingles says:

    bigbird –

    Why is acting against their own self-interest (if indeed it is – the Lecters of this world are surely atypical) doing it *wrong*?

    If your actions are not furthering your goals, then your actions are wrong with respect to those goals.

    Goals, BTW, form a hierarchy. Lots of people get up every morning and undergo an unpleasant commute to get to their job. Then they perform a job they dislike to get a paycheck. Then they take their pay and use it to keep their family fed and healthy.

    Perhaps they see a deal on a bigger house that is closer to their work, and take it. This is pursuing several goals. Except the reason the house is so cheap is that the groundwater is polluted. So the actual result is less happiness for them and their family. Buying the house was a mistake, it was the wrong thing to do.

    We have a lot of data (and over a hundred thousand years of experimentation of varying levels of rigor) about what actually makes humans happy and satisfied. Humans haven’t changed much biologically in that time, but we’ve learned quite a bit about how to best conduct ourselves around each other.

    Slavery, for example. That was an improvement over the old “kill everyone in the tribes you conquer” but slave societies turn out to be inherently stagnant. They have to devote huge amounts of their resources to controlling the slaves, and innovation is discouraged because unrest is so dangerous. C.f. Sparta, the American Old South, etc.

    Engineering has advanced a lot over the last hundred thousand years, too, in a similar way, and for similar reasons. We keep finding better ways to do things.

  181. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    Could you dis-equivocate this for us, please?

    If your actions are not furthering your goals, then your actions are wrong with respect to those goals.

    That’s obvious enough when wrong is understand as the wrong way to accomplish X. But what is it that makes it a specifically moral wrong?

    Richard Joyce, a firm atheist and believer in naturalistic evolution, offers these characteristics as defining moral judgments. This is from page 70 of The Evolution of Morality (MIT Press, 2006). It concludes a 32 page chapter leading up to and providing arguments for, this summary list of descriptors:

    What then is a moral judgment? . . . Here is a summary of the points made:
    – Moral judgments (as public utterances) are often ways of expressing conative attitudess, such as approval, contempt, or more generally, subscription to standards; moral judgments nevertheless also express beliefs; i.e., they are assertions.
    – Moral judgments pertaining to action purporot to be deliberative consierations irrespective of the interests/ends of those to whom they are directed; thus they are not pieces of prudential advice.
    – Moral judgments purport to be inescapable; there is no “opting out.”
    – Moral judgments purport to transccend human conventions.
    – Moral judgments centrally govern interpersonal relations; they seem designed to combat rampant individualism in particular.
    – Moral judgments imply notions of “desert” and “justice” (a system of “punishments and rewards”).
    – For creatures like us, the emotion of guilt (or “a moral conscience”) is an important mechanism for regulating one’s moral conduct.

    His point throughout this chapter is that where any of these is missing, we have something other than a moral judgment. We have a preference of taste, perhaps, or an instrumentally oriented judgment; perhaps a mere category description, or etc. Not that these are mutually exclusive: what I approve morally might also be what I prefer aesthetically or what I think would work best toward some end. But there are obviously instrumental, aesthetic, category, etc. judgments that are not moral judgments.

    Your example here is an instrumental judgment. What makes it a moral judgment as well?

  182. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    That progression also comes at the cost of previous scientific theories, many of which were held to be true in exactly the same way that current theories are.

    From this classic essay by Isaac Asimov: “[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was [perfectly] spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together… When my friend the English literature expert tells me that in every century scientists think they have worked out the universe and are always wrong, what I want to know is how wrong are they? Are they always wrong to the same degree?”

    Indeed, the safe bet is that much of the science we take for granted as “fact” is nothing of the sort.

    Really? It’ll turn out that the sun orbits the Earth? That time dilation doesn’t happen? That electrons don’t transition between orbitals?

    The more observations you have, the narrower the range of explanations that fit. Now, the ‘number of explanations’ is real-valued, so given any finite number of observations there’s still room for an infinite range of explanations… but an infinite number are also ruled out.

    That progress in narrowing the range of potential explanations is real, and difficult to get around. QM and Relativity make different predictions around things like black holes. At least one and probably both of them are wrong. But any explanation that succeeds them will have to account for why the GPS system works (without relativistic calculations it would drift hopelessly out of sync in less than a day, and the computers that do those calculations depend on quantum electrodynamics being accurate to many decimal places).

    You go so far as to say that you prefer naturalistic explanations even when no such explanation exists yet, as for the case of consciousness.

    Not quite. Rather, in situations where no explanation exists – natural or supernatural – like consciousness, I’ll bet on the natural.

    Yes, we might expect that utility would follow from truth, but truth does not follow from utility, as the history of scientific revolutions makes clear.

    “We don’t necessarily want accurate maps, we want useful ones. But accuracy is extraordinarily useful.” – David Gerrold

    Utility does not guarantee truth… but neither is utility unrelated to truth. Rather, truth and utility are highly correlated. We humans don’t get direct access to truth, so utility is a (no pun intended) useful proxy.

    And note that technological utility is a consequence of the predictive accuracy of scientific theories. The theories themselves are not useful – their utility flows from how true the predictions are.

    You may not have noticed, but I didn’t appeal to technological utility when talking about the progress of science. I talked about “explaining a wider and wider range of observations”.

    Speaking of technological utility, you claim:

    The kind of science that yields technological benefit is characterised by mathematical maturity, not naturalism.

    Actually, it seems to be characterized by both mathematical maturity and naturalism. Indeed, I’m not familiar with any supernatural theory that either is characterized by mathematical maturity, or that yields technological benefit. Let alone both! Can you suggest an example?

    (To be continued, naturally.)

  183. Tom Gilson says:

    Not quite. Rather, in situations where no explanation exists – natural or supernatural – like consciousness, I’ll bet on the natural.

    ????

    There is a supernatural explanation for consciousness.

  184. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, be careful with your categories here:

    Actually, it seems to be characterized by both mathematical maturity and naturalism. Indeed, I’m not familiar with any supernatural theory that either is characterized by mathematical maturity, or that yields technological benefit. Let alone both! Can you suggest an example?

    The supernatural theory that God created the world to be rational and amenable to mathematics and technology comes immediately to mind.

    But it seems like you’re looking for a supernatural theory that makes detailed, immanent-level mathematical and technological predictions. It also looks as if the non-existence of such theories counts against the supernatural, in your mind. I hope not. I think you should know that’s simply silly.

  185. SteveK says:

    Indeed, I’m not familiar with any supernatural theory that either is characterized by mathematical maturity, or that yields technological benefit. Let alone both! Can you suggest an example?

    Considering that you don’t have a natural theory for consciousness (you said earlier that there is no known natural explanation for it), you must not have a natural theory for mathematics or technology – because both are a product of consciousness. Yet you are claiming that you have one.

    If the justification for claiming it is because the natural theory “works”, well guess what? The supernatural theory “works” pretty well too.

  186. JAD says:

    Here are some reasons for accepting a Theistic explanation for consciousness over a naturalistic/materialistic one:

    1. The best explanation for mind and consciousness is the theistic based hylemorphic dualism. (HM dualism).

    2. Ontological reductionism works better if we start with a view that mind and consciousness are are ontologically basic, rather than the materialistic view that only matter and energy are ontologically basic.

    3. The physics of quantum mechanics supports the idea of an ontologically transcendent mind.

    4. Quantum mechanics may provide an explanation of how the mind interacts with the brain.

    5. HM dualism is the best explanation for our subjective mental experiences (or qualia).

    6. HM dualism is the best explanation for intentionality.

    7. HM dualism is the best explanation for experience of the self and person-hood.

    8. HM dualism is the best explanation for freewill.

  187. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    There is a supernatural explanation for consciousness.

    Both myself and TFBW aren’t aware of it. See TFBW’s comment #157: Lastly, there are those problems which are so fundamentally baffling that we don’t even know what sort of intellectual tool we need to address the problem (e.g. consciousness).

    See if you can explain it to him, and then you two can try to explain it to me.

    But it seems like you’re looking for a supernatural theory that makes detailed, immanent-level mathematical and technological predictions.

    No, no, I was responding to TFBW. He claimed that mathematical maturity was the key to technologically-useful theories, and their naturalism was incidental. I was making the counterpoint that only naturalistic theories are ‘mathematically mature’. For example, your “supernatural theory that God created the world to be rational and amenable to mathematics and technology” is not, itself, a mathematically-mature theory.

    I mean, saying that ‘the further away two masses are, the less they attract each other’ can be a scientific theory, but it’s not mathematically mature. A mathematically mature theory is “F = G (m_1 * m_2 )/ r^2″. (An even more mature form is the Einstein field equations.)

    It also looks as if the non-existence of such theories counts against the supernatural, in your mind.

    Only secondarily. As I just wrote to TFBW, ‘I didn’t appeal to technological utility when talking about the progress of science. I talked about “explaining a wider and wider range of observations”.’ And also, in the morality sub-thread, I specifically distinguished between engineering and science.

  188. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – To answer your question in #183, I disagree with Joyce where you quote him as saying:

    “Moral judgments pertaining to action [purport] to be deliberative consierations irrespective of the interests/ends of those to whom they are directed; thus they are not pieces of prudential advice.”

    I think the scheme I outlined provides all the other points. In particular, so far as I can see morals are “prudential judgments” that “centrally govern interpersonal relations”.

    (If you’re not dealing with interpersonal relations, then you’re not dealing with morals. Along the same lines, I elsewhere note: If I take my rake and set fire to it in a fit of pique, well, I may be stupid but I’m entitled to do what I want with my own property. I hope you would object if I tried to set ‘my’ children aflame, however. And also: You can damage an object (like a rake, say); but you cannot harm an object. You can only harm a subject, something with awareness.)

  189. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – Numbers 1, 2, and 5-8 are all phrased as aesthetic judgments.

    #3 is also an aesthetic judgment in that we can’t yet really distinguish between the Everett-Wheeler model and the Copenhagen interpretation of QM.

    #4 is true, but no stronger than my own contentions about potential future developments.

  190. JAD says:

    Werner Heisenberg one of the key founders QM recognized the role of the conscious observer.

    Heisenberg also argued that quantum mechanics is incompatible with materialism. Indeed, in 1958 he wrote a book entitled, Physics and Philosophy. Like the Copernican revolution, Heisenberg recognized that the discoveries of Quantum Mechanics was causing (and still is) a major shift in our world view.

    For example, in chapter five entitled, “The Development of Philosophical Ideas Since Descartes in Comparison with the New Situation in Quantum Theory” he begins with a discussion of Renet Descartes as the originator of the old “materialistic” world view. He then compares Descartes philosophical system with the one suggested by QM.

    He argues that “the situation changed to some extent through quantum theory and therefore we may now come to a comparison of Descartes’s philosophical system with our present situation in modern physics. It has been pointed out before that in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory we can indeed proceed without mentioning ourselves as individuals, but we cannot disregard the fact that natural science is formed by men. Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is a part of the interplay between nature and ourselves; it describes nature as exposed to our method of questioning. This was a possibility of which Descartes could not have thought, but it makes the sharp separation between the world and the I impossible.”

    He also argues that the old “materialistic” system (what he refers to as dogmatic realism) is now obsolete.

    “The position to which the Cartesian partition has led with respect to the ‘res extensa’ was what one may call metaphysical realism. The world, i.e., the extended things, ‘exist’. This is to be distinguished from practical realism, and the different forms of realism may be described as follows: We ‘objectivate’ a statement if we claim that its content does not depend on the conditions under which it can be verified. Practical realism assumes that there are statements that can be objectivated and that in fact the largest part of our experience in daily life consists of such statements. Dogmatic realism claims that there are no statements concerning the material world that cannot be objectivated. Practical realism has always been and will always be an essential part of natural science. Dogmatic realism, however, is, as we see it now, not a necessary condition for natural science.”

    Why is that? Again, it is because as he concluded in the first paragraph above, the discoveries of QM have made, “the sharp separation between the world and the I is impossible.”

  191. TFBW says:

    For the record, I’m waiting for Ray to pronounce his reply to my #181 complete before I respond.

  192. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    In addition to what JAD wrote, and you somehow chose to ignore, in #188 (why did you do that?),

    I think TFBW would agree that there is a supernatural explanation for consciousness. He didn’t say that we can conceptualize it thoroughly, and I don’t either. But that isn’t what I claimed, or what I think you’re counter-claiming. You said,

    Not quite. Rather, in situations where no explanation exists – natural or supernatural – like consciousness, I’ll bet on the natural.

    The implication there is that consciousness is equally unexplainable both on natural and supernatural terms, which is false. The supernatural explanation we have begins like this: There is a God, who is the center and foundation of all reality; and this God is (among other things) mind and consciousness par excellence. It could be said that he instantiates mind in its most perfect degree; but that would be wrong, for mind in God is not some instance of mind, it is mind beyond mind.

    The point is that at the center of all reality there is mind that is aware of itself as self and of its working.

    God created humans “in his own image,” meaning not that we and God have similar-looking bodies, but that we share in some of his attributes, including self-hood, consciousness, self-aware mind, and so on.

    God is incorporeal mind. Therefore consciousness (self-aware etc. mind) need not be corporeal to be real, and therefore also its working need not be explainable corporeally to be real. In fact, if “explain” is understood in terms of some physical cause A causing some physical effect B, then the word “explain” is wrongly applied to consciousness. Herein of course lies the naturalist’s typical problem: the demand that explanation be in terms of something we can grasp in mechanistic terms (A causes B).

    The dispute that reveals not one concerning how consciousness can be explained, but what the word “explain” actually means. The mechanistic approach to explanation is question-begging and fallacious in this context. To say that there is no (mechanistic) supernatural explanation of consciousness is to say nothing of interest, for it is irrelevant to whether there is a supernatural supernatural explanation of mind. For if there is a supernatural supernatural explanation of mind, then there is a supernatural explanation of mind, just as you have requested: whether we have that explanation firmly in our mental grasp or not.

    Meanwhile, there is nothing even approaching such an explanation for consciousness from the naturalistic side. It remains the “hard problem.” And that makes your bet a really bad one.

    And then apparently I misread this badly. It sure sounded to me like you were offering this as some kind of criticism of supernatural theory. Weren’t you?

    Actually, it seems to be characterized by both mathematical maturity and naturalism. Indeed, I’m not familiar with any supernatural theory that either is characterized by mathematical maturity, or that yields technological benefit. Let alone both! Can you suggest an example?

    Now you’re pointing out that supernatural theories are not mathematically “mature,” as if that meant something. You could have said anything else about them mathematically, just as accurately: they are not mathematically proven, not mathematically blue, not mathematically stinky, or just not mathematical. Why select a loaded term like “mature” if you weren’t intending it to be critical? Shakespeare isn’t mathematically mature, either. So what? You’re still stuck in your category error, just as you were before.

    So much for your answer to TFBW on that point. Let me see if you even interpreted him correctly. He wrote,

    So here’s what I think of your argument from scientific progress, in summary. To the extent that it illustrates a trend, it does not illustrate a trend towards truth, but only utility. That is, it argues for something only tangentially relevant at best. And, to the extent that it claims that such a trend can be attributed to naturalism, the argument is not compelling. The kind of science that yields technological benefit is characterised by mathematical maturity, not naturalism.

    You wrote just now,

    No, no, I was responding to TFBW. He claimed that mathematical maturity was the key to technologically-useful theories, and their naturalism was incidental. I was making the counterpoint that only naturalistic theories are ‘mathematically mature’.

    I think you missed his point, which was not that naturalism is incidental, but rather that it is optional. A supernatural regularism (to use my own term) is equally likely to explain the growth of technology, if not more so.

    Re: #190, I suggest you read Joyce. I’ll have to take time later on to read what you wrote about whence morality.

  193. Tom Gilson says:

    On second thought: I really think you need to read Joyce, because what you covered in that article is almost completely addressed by him, and he has good reasons to show that what you wrote about doesn’t do the job morality actually purports to do in the real world.

  194. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray @#191: You don’t know what “phrased as aesthetic judgments” means.

    They were phrased as steps in an argument. Each of them were (to one degree or another) summaries of arguments that were not articulated here. That’s not aesthetic, it’s just not-articulated-here.

  195. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW – Thanks for your patience. There’s only one of me, and several people who want to talk to me at once. Anyway, another installment:

    a general attitude of, “science speaks above all other voices when it speaks at all,” is sufficient to qualify as scientism.

    Let’s say that’s correct. I don’t think the ‘most reliable’ formulation has all the same consequences you attribute to the ‘sole’ formulation. As an analogy, Christianity and Islam both fit under the heading ‘monotheism’, but there are rather substantial differences too.

    I’ve already addressed why I think that the argument in favour of scientism is weak.

    Well, I still don’t follow. I mean, you hold up rigor as your supreme standard, I want rigor and testing predictions. I think we can both agree that science qua science combines both. So why wouldn’t that be the most reliable technique to apply, when possible?

    On the other hand, if you are admitting that there might be limits to science in principle, outside of which something else might have a better claim to reliable knowledge, then please elaborate.

    Now there’s a dissertation-worthy philosophical question!

    Science, as (again, I think) we both agree, requires rigor, and the ability to make and test predictions. (Just in case, note that we can still do science about history by making predictions about what we should find today. E.g. if an ‘antique’ table contains modern glue and the rings in the wood don’t match the forest from the time and place it’s supposed to come from, we can be pretty sure it’s not an ‘antique’.)

    Where you can’t apply rigor (because you don’t have any decent hypotheses – we agree that consciousness is such a problem today) or you can’t test predictions (if we had a black hole handy, we’d probably be further along in studying QM and GR) then you can’t do science.

    When we can’t, we do the best we can. Take economics, the ‘dismal science’. What we’ve got there is heuristics and educated guessing (and superstition). In a lot of situations we resort to ‘the worst possible solution, except for all the others that have been tried’. We sometimes just have to settle for experience and the school of hard knocks. That can work, sometimes. Humans managed some pretty impressive engineering feats without the benefit of science. People can even develop intuition based on long experience, get a ‘feel’ for how things work even if they can’t articulate why.

    I don’t trust intuition all that much outside of experience, though. Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savanna has been counterintuitive. Round Earth, heliocentrism, continental drift, atomic theory, germ theory of disease, evolution, relativity, quantum mechanics… all deeply counterintuitive and unexpected. Frankly, in areas we can’t test and have no experience in – my money’s always on the answer being something we didn’t expect.

    And even long experience is no guarantee. People have been deeply and fundamentally wrong about their own bodies – Aristotle taught that the brain was basically a cooling system for the heart, and educated people believed that for centuries.

    There’s the possibility of divine revelation, of course, but – as I said – I haven’t received any (at least, that was recognizable as such) and so I have to resort to my other tools – science, and trial-and-error – to evaluate claims of divine revelation.

    So, three tools I can think of – science, trial-and-error, and divine revelation. I think I can account for which of those I prefer and why. Are there others I’ve missed?

    (More coming, though perhaps not until tomorrow.)

  196. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, what about the things we knew about the universe — and ourselves — before we entered the scientific age, and which are still true?

    Or were Plato, Aristotle, and Jesus total idiots? I don’t mean about cooling the blood, obviously. I’m not claiming their science was right. I’m talking about things for which their understanding still hasn’t been overturned, and which science has no answers.

  197. JAD says:

    @#188 I wrote:

    8. HM dualism is the best explanation for freewill.

    In his book, The Mind and The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, neuro-psychiatrist Jefferey Schwartz observes that new studies have “finally toppled the old dogma that when a stroke damages a neural network, function (whether speech- or movement-related) is lost because no other system in the brain knows how to perform the same job. The spontaneous recovery of such a lost function, sometimes in only a few weeks, had only mystified neurologists. With the dawn of the new century it became clear that neuroplasticity, especially when nudged by effective therapy and mental effort, allows the brain to reassign tasks. The power of plasticity distinguishes the nervous system from every other system in the body. Although plasticity still seems to be greatest from infancy through early adolescence, it is now evident that the brain retains some plasticity throughout life, offering possibilities undreamed of just a few short years ago.”

    In other words, through intentional or volitional effort, aided by therapy, patients are able to reverse many of the effects of a stroke.

    In his own work with people afflicted with the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) Schwartz has seen success in using a method he refers to as “mindful attention.”

    Schwarz was able to develop successful therapies for treating OCD because he deliberately took a non-reductionistic, non-materialistic view of the mind.

  198. TFBW says:

    While I’m waiting for Ray to finish his reply to #181, I’ll comment on Ray’s #189 and Tom’s #194, both of which interpret my prior comments (#157 specifically).

    Note that the relevant comments in #157 were part of an answer I gave, reluctantly, to a question that I deemed an irrelevant distraction at the time. Now Ray has cited the answer out of context. The question was posed by Ray in #37 and reiterated in #66, #136, and #145.

    You encounter something you don’t understand. How do you determine if it’s beyond human understanding or not?

    I gave several reasons why one might categorise something as beyond human understanding. The last of those reasons is the one that Ray cites in #189, but he interprets it as an assertion that there is no “supernatural explanation for consciousness”. That is a misinterpretation: I asserted that there was good reason to think that consciousness is beyond human understanding. There is a difference between “explanation” and “understanding”.

    There are shallow explanations, and deep explanations. A deep explanation can only come from an understanding of the subject, but a shallow one can be offered on the basis of more superficial familiarity. All the explanations we have for consciousness are shallow, not deep, because we lack a proper understanding of the subject. We can see that consciousness is not obviously reducible to any physical or computational process, which is why there is no strictly naturalistic explanation at all, and why all the explanations that do exist appeal to something other than physics and computation. Such explanations as do exist are notoriously short on detail, however.

    Tom gets it right when he says that I “would agree that there is a supernatural explanation for consciousness.” I would even say that there is a pseudo-naturalistic explanation for consciousness: panpsychism. As explanations go, panpsychism is even less impressive than the supernatural explanation that Tom outlines in #194, because it simply posits that consciousness is a basic property of matter — an explanation which looks like a desperate attempt to save naturalism, but doesn’t actually satisfy most adherents of that philosophy. It’s still better than a promise (without collateral) that a naturalistic explanation will eventually be found, though — that’s no explanation at all.

    I’ll be discussing the subject of “explanation” more deeply in my next reply to Ray. For now, suffice it to say that explanations can be (and often are) offered even in the absence of understanding. The ability to offer an explanation is not always an indication of knowledge.

    Tom also offers, at the end of #194, an interpretation of my “mathematical maturity vs naturalism” comments. I have already composed a part answer to Ray which covers this subject, so for now I’ll just say that more detail will be coming soon on that matter.

  199. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    When you suggested that you could test for the existence of God scientifically.

    There’s at least three problems there. First off, since God isn’t supposed to be a human, or any kind of material anything, the usual means of detecting someone so as to have a relationship with them don’t work. Can’t see them, be introduced to them, talk to them on the phone, etc.

    Second, there’s a difference between the kinds of tests courting lovers undertake and lab examination. I rather explicitly talked about the former.

    And finally, as I noted, I did try the alternate means suggested by Christians. Prayer, not to put too fine a point on it. That didn’t work for me. If that had worked, I wouldn’t have to fall back on science.

    But why would there be any argument about the best explanation? Wouldn’t a naturalistic explanation win automatically, by merit of existing — or by merit of possibly existing in future, even if you don’t have one now?

    And here’s where the key misunderstanding lies, I think. Way back in #170, I had said “I’m open to something outside the material we see interacting with the material we see.” and you asked, “So, you don’t subscribe to dark matter theory, then? No Oort cloud? Or did you mean that you’ve had no need of the God hypothesis, specifically?”

    I probably should have addressed that directly then. We actually have evidence of dark matter, and the Oort cloud. Those account for a lot of otherwise-puzzling data. I already noted how Newton came under fire for postulating non-material ‘fields’ that affected the visible. But he had some evidence the theory actually worked to explain things.

    But the supernatural hasn’t proved to be a good explanation for much, over the long term. Seriously, has anything ever moved from the ‘widely accepted to be just an ordinary, natural phenomenon’ to ‘a supernatural manifestation’? The flow has been entirely in the other direction, so far as I can see. Given a well-developed supernatural theory that actually explained things and made predictions, that could change. We’ve accepted fields and dark matter and neutrinos and such. I could accept non-material beings if there were call for it.

    But I have had no need of the ‘God hypothesis’ specifically, or supernatural agents in general, yet. And it’s not that I couldn’t. If I were to be presented with some miracles, some kind of communication, even a solid and mature theory, that’d be different.

    I’m sure that you have plenty of specific objections to the particular case of Jesus. Go ahead and list them

    Already discussed some with Victoria.

    Given your analysis of the evidence, one of two things is true: either there is no God, or your analysis is faulty.

    Sure.

    I’m arguing for the latter alternative. I’m arguing that your analysis is faulty mostly because, despite its many references to “science” and “evidence”, it is not science

    No, it’s an explanatory pattern that makes use of science where possible. Judgment and trial-and-error have their place, too. And – I’ll note again – my own experience trying to verify Christian claims about prayer, using their own methods.

    I’m willing to accept I could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But maybe a more concrete argument than ‘you can’t explain consciousness yet’?

    Your way of looking at the world is contrived in such a way that God is permanently in your blind spot — the explanation ranked below every other possible explanation.

    It’s clear that’s your opinion. My opinion is that you’re wrong.

    Morality next.

  200. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    So, three tools I can think of – science, trial-and-error, and divine revelation. I think I can account for which of those I prefer and why. Are there others I’ve missed?

    Philosophy.

  201. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    But the supernatural hasn’t proved to be a good explanation for much, over the long term. Seriously, has anything ever moved from the ‘widely accepted to be just an ordinary, natural phenomenon’ to ‘a supernatural manifestation’? The flow has been entirely in the other direction, so far as I can see. Given a well-developed supernatural theory that actually explained things and made predictions, that could change. We’ve accepted fields and dark matter and neutrinos and such. I could accept non-material beings if there were call for it.

    For the love of God (or whatever you hold dearest) will you stop with this kind of idiocy? “Natural” explanations (and natural is about as vague and meaningless qualifier in the mouths of naturalists, since it is so expansive that it includes anything they need) have only explained a narrow range of phenomena in the universe, *precisely* the type of phenomena that are amenable to those types of explanations, so what you are saying is tautological. And listen to yourself: “Given a well-developed supernatural theory that actually explained things and made predictions, that could change”. Huh? So your problem is that Philosophy (and Theology) are not hard empirical sciences?

    But I have had no need of the ‘God hypothesis’ specifically, or supernatural agents in general, yet. And it’s not that I couldn’t. If I were to be presented with some miracles, some kind of communication, even a solid and mature theory, that’d be different.

    Since you show little understanding of what for example, Aristotelian-Thomists argue, a “solid and mature theory” request is an empty one, especially in light of the fact that as a bona-fide scientismist what you count as “solid and mature theory” is another name for “scientific theory” — and do not bother to protest about the scientismist qualifier; it is all over the thread.

    But the more illuminating fact is that you say that if only you were presented with a state of affairs with no natural explanation then you would accept the “God hypothesis”. In other words, if only you were given a God-of-the-gaps argument you would accept the “God hypothesis”. Oh wait, there are plenty of such arguments, so allow me to rephrase that as if only you were given a “convincing” God-of-the-gaps argument you would accept the “God hypothesis”. Now, God-of-the-gaps arguments are fallacious (at least in their common formulation; if you weaken the conclusion, usually to a purely negative one, they can be made valid). There are now three options. One, you are asking for a gap argument not knowing that it is fallacious, in which case you are clueless. Two, you do know it, in which case it is a mere rhetorical ploy and you are intellectually dishonest. The third and last option is that you know that gap arguments are fallacious, but given your (self-refuting) epistemic strictures you then must say that there can be *no* evidence for God. Is this what passes for being open-minded and committed to evidence and reason?

    Bar that, a miracle would do as well you say. But there are plenty of miracle cases, so we must also rephrase that as a personal miracle — but this not only puts the epistemic bar unduly high, it relies critically on first-person experience so even if it convinces you, it does not have the compelling force to convince anyone else. And if you do say that a well-attested case of a miracle would convince you, then once again, what you are asking is, *given your epistemic stance*, besides a personal intervention of God in your life, for a God-of-the-gaps argument. If you are not convinced by all the other God-of-the-gaps arguments — e.g. the coming to be of the universe, of life, of rationality, or of anything at all for that matter, all of which look pretty miraculous to me — why would you be convinced by any such type of argument? The obvious answer is that it is all bluster and empty rhetoric (not to mention atrocious logic).

  202. Tom Gilson says:

    Seriously, has anything ever moved from the ‘widely accepted to be just an ordinary, natural phenomenon’ to ‘a supernatural manifestation’?

    This is a very strange question. Why would anyone think that this should be a qualifier for supernaturalism?

    What you’re asking for must begin with some phenomenon Q that is “widely accepted to be just an ordinary, natural phenomenon.” There is a fairly limited history there, as you might know. The concept of an ordinary natural phenomenon (ONP) in the way that you think of it has been around only in the Western world, and then later the Western-influenced world, and only for a few hundred years. Other cultures would never have thought of an ONP in the way you do.

    So from the population P of all phenomena, the members of P that fit the criteria Q, “widely accepted to be just an ordinary, natural phenomenon” are relatively few. Among all P, there have been many more non-Q than Q.

    So, suppose there was some non-Q event that has never been regarded as an ONP, but was always regarded as supernatural. Should that not count as evidence in favor of the supernatural? If Jesus rose from the dead, would not the word “supernatural” contribute to explaining how he did it?

    Second, the set of persons who tend to see the world in terms of ONPs is fairly equal to the set of persons who tend to persist in seeing it that way. So if for example it becomes difficult to explain the universe’s fine-tuning as ordinary in the sense that most people think of ordinary, then they will expand the definition of ordinary to include gazillions of parallel universes.

    Meanwhile there are some of us who think that fine-tuning is the kind of thing that ought to knock the universe out of the ONP category; but if I say that, you’ll just come back and say no. Heads you win, tails I lose.

  203. Ray Ingles says:

    [Tried twice to post this yesterday. The second time it said I'd 'already posted that'. But I haven't seen it show up yet, so one more try...]

    TFBW –

    If violent rape became the norm in a particular human culture, would your natural-law argument against rape still stand? Would it still stand if that was the only culture left?

    Sure. Human males don’t have spiky barbs on their penises, nor do they secrete glue. Human females don’t have visible estrus.

    Humans actually manage to avoid most of ‘arms races’ characteristic of other species. (Not all of them – there’s a bit of an ‘arms race’ between mothers and their offspring, which seems to be responsible for menstruation.)

    Whether the nature of human mating was designed or evolved, it’s there. And that has implications for how humans relate. Violent rape is a choice, not a requirement.

    And it sure seems to me – and a lot of other people through history – that sexual fulfillment is optimized when the people involved are enthusiastic. Indeed, even more – emotionally committed to one another. Rape is, at best, a short-term pleasure that abrogates the potential for long-term fulfillment.

    (Conceivably a sub-population of humanity could get into a situation of constant violent rape to the point where it started an arms race that led, eventually, to speciation. But they’d be starting a wasteful biological arms race. Plus, it’d necessarily require subjugation of women, and I discussed the downsides of slavery above. It’s hard to imagine an environment where they’d be better-adapted than ‘stock’ humans, or even where they’d be happier during the transition.)

    Yes, but the Christian conclusion is based on the premise that there will be eternal consequences which guarantee the long-term outcome.

    As opposed to more probabilistic real-world (or, at least, current-world) consequences. Sure. But then, casinos don’t have guarantees, just the odds. And yet, the house tends to win…

    If [Lecter]’s happy with what he’s doing now, and expects to be happy doing more of that, and will eventually be dead one way or the other, then where’s the lack of long-term planning?

    Did you ever notice that the fictional character of Hannibal Lecter is almost superhumanly intelligent? He’d have to be, to get away with what he does in the stories. Using Hannibal Lecter as a counterexample is just about as sensible as argumentum ad Batman.

    Most humans do have to worry about other humans. Stalin and Saddam spent their days in paranoid fear of assassination. (I wonder if they ever regretted the situations they’d locked themselves into?)

    So that’s one problem. But then there’s the other problem, the one I specifically mentioned when I brought up Hannibal Lecter back in #175.

    Has there ever been a sociopath without any empathy who nevertheless believed in God and tried to be good because of that? I mean, like, ever? I’m talking about a guy who would think to himself, “What a beautiful day! I think I’ll go down to the mall and shoot a bunch of people. Oh, wait – God says I shouldn’t do that, darn it all. Guess I’ll just go fishing.”

    It’s kind of hard to accept, as a fatal problem, you pointing out an instance where the sort of scheme I’m proposing might fail… when the scheme you’re peddling doesn’t handle that case well (if at all) either.

    That’s probably enough. I should put together a book at this rate. TFBW, have at it.

  204. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa – Philosophy is interesting, but I’ve already outlined some of my own philosophy, e.g. in #167. But that brings us to G. Rodrigues:

    “Natural” explanations… have only explained a narrow range of phenomena in the universe, *precisely* the type of phenomena that are amenable to those types of explanations,

    Seems pretty expansive to me, but oh well.

    So your problem is that Philosophy (and Theology) are not hard empirical sciences?

    Not exactly. But look at the “hard, empirical sciences”. As noted before in #197, “Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savanna has been counterintuitive.” Humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle. Speaking of which:

    Since you show little understanding of what for example, Aristotelian-Thomists argue

    And your and Holopupenko’s patient and polite explanations have been of great utility in helping me understand what you argue…

    But the more illuminating fact is that you say that if only you were presented with a state of affairs with no natural explanation then you would accept the “God hypothesis”.

    Actually, all I said (back in #167) was “I don’t encounter supernatural explanations making dramatically better predictions than natural ones.” I didn’t ask for “a state of affairs with no natural explanation”. Those aren’t my words.

    Just because a natural explanation is conceivable doesn’t mean it’s correct, or even plausible. For example, if someone came back from the dead, it could be that, by staggering coincidence, a Vastly unlikely quantum fluctuation just happened to reorganize the material of the body into a living form again. In QM, just about any state is possible, but most of them are – ahem – unlikely.

    No, in such a case the action of some kind of agent would be far more likely. (Obviously I don’t think such a case has obtained, though.)

    Bar that, a miracle would do as well you say. But there are plenty of miracle cases

    Um, actually, there are plenty of miracle claims. Bit of a distinction there. And the (large) majority are healings of illnesses that are known to heal spontaneously, sometimes. The odds are a bit different from a ‘thermodynamic miracle’. And, again, as noted way back in #53, we don’t seem to see patterns, even the kinds we use to pick out intelligent action.

  205. Tom Gilson says:

    Expanse is not equal to exhaustive, Ray. The set of natural numbers is expansive, but it would hardly suffice for our mathematical needs.

    “Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savanna has been counterintuitive.”

    You persist in that! Let me repeat myself:

    Ray, what about the things we knew about the universe — and ourselves — before we entered the scientific age, and which are still true?

    Or were Plato, Aristotle, and Jesus total idiots? I don’t mean about cooling the blood, obviously. I’m not claiming their science was right. I’m talking about things for which their understanding still hasn’t been overturned, and which science has no answers.

    Actually, all I said (back in #167) was “I don’t encounter supernatural explanations making dramatically better predictions than natural ones.” I didn’t ask for “a state of affairs with no natural explanation”. Those aren’t my words.

    So what???? Personal explanations don’t make dramatically better predictions than natural ones, either. Does that mean persons don’t exist????

    I don’t get this thing about explanations needing to be precisely predictive. When did that enter into the list of explanatory necessities?

    As for miracles, you haven’t seen enough of the world yet. Though you are quite convinced that you have….

  206. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Seems pretty expansive to me, but oh well.

    Oh, please, do not be disingenuous. I put the word “natural” in-between quotes for a reason; actually for more than one.

    I will switch the order of two sentences in the next paragraph, as it will make it easier to respond.

    Humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle.

    This is demonstrably false.

    Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savanna has been counterintuitive.

    Given the above, this narrative even if true (which it is not, or at least not without some heavy qualifications), is quite irrelevant.

    And your and Holopupenko’s patient and polite explanations have been of great utility in helping me understand what you argue…

    And your persistent mangling and nigh-deliberate distortion of what we are arguing is rather unnerving, and a cause of souring my patience (which is very little to start with) and rusting my politeness.

    I didn’t ask for “a state of affairs with no natural explanation”. Those aren’t my words.

    I did not said those were your words. I *argued* that that was what your position ultimately commits you to.

    For example, if someone came back from the dead, it could be that, by staggering coincidence, a Vastly unlikely quantum fluctuation just happened to reorganize the material of the body into a living form again. In QM, just about any state is possible, but most of them are – ahem – unlikely.

    So you have found yourself one more get-away escape to add to the vast ensemble of irrationalities that Atheists have been gathering since Democritus. To borrow from the good Bishop Berkeley, if you can swallow this abusive extrapolation of QM, I wonder why you are so squeamish about any point of divinity.

    Um, actually, there are plenty of miracle claims. Bit of a distinction there.

    Granted; sloppy wording of mine. Does not change the argument anyway.

  207. SteveK says:

    To borrow from the good Bishop Berkeley, if you can swallow this abusive extrapolation of QM, I wonder why you are so squeamish about any point of divinity.

    Good question. I’ve often wondered the same thing.

  208. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Melissa – Philosophy is interesting, but I’ve already outlined some of my own philosophy, e.g. in #167.

    You asked what was missing from your list of tools. Why didn’t you include philosophy in your list of tools? As TFBW has already pointed out, your thinking in this thread is animated by your scientism. When you are challenged on it, you deny, change the subject and then soon enough you revert back to your scientistic ways. You may have abandoned your insistence that an explanation must involve a mechanistic how answer but you have just replaced it with the need for explanations that are predictive. It’s just the same old demand for scientific answers to questions that are not answerable by science.

  209. Ray Ingles says:

    I’m going to respond to Tom Gilson from #204 and #207 at more length next, but first, this needs to be pointed out:

    G. Rodrigues –

    And your persistent mangling and nigh-deliberate distortion of what we are arguing is rather unnerving

    This is astonishingly ironic, bordering on comical, considering the next bit:

    So you have found yourself one more get-away escape to add to the vast ensemble of irrationalities that Atheists have been gathering since Democritus.

    That’s a “mangling and nigh-deliberate distortion of” what I said. I pointed out that ‘thermodynamic miracles’ are a potential “get-away escape” that I reject! I mean, you had to completely ignore where I said “Just because a natural explanation is conceivable doesn’t mean it’s correct, or even plausible”, and “No, in such a case the action of some kind of agent would be far more likely.” The entire point is that I don’t “swallow this abusive extrapolation of QM”!

    May I diffidently suggest that – maybe, possibly, just barely conceivably – I’m not the only one who’s having difficulty understanding what others are saying?

  210. JAD says:

    Melissa to Ray:

    As TFBW has already pointed out, your thinking in this thread is animated by your scientism. When you are challenged on it, you deny, change the subject and then soon enough you revert back to your scientistic ways.

    I am convinced that most internet atheists are not honest people.

  211. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    The entire point is that I don’t “swallow this abusive extrapolation of QM”!

    And the entire point of my train of thought, in case I was misleading (which upon rereading myself I actually was, so your complaint is fully justified; apologies for that), is that what you are asking *amounts* to asking for a gap argument. And then complain about gap arguments or embrace whatever outlandish “naturalist” scenarios needed to escape unsavory conclusions.

    note: that last sentence is not necessarily directed at you, by the way.

  212. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    There is a fairly limited history there, as you might know. The concept of an ordinary natural phenomenon (ONP) in the way that you think of it has been around only in the Western world, and then later the Western-influenced world, and only for a few hundred years. Other cultures would never have thought of an ONP in the way you do.

    I don’t necessarily mean ‘ONP’ in the way moderns think of it. I’m talking about all the stuff that people didn’t think needed spiritual intervention to happen. I mean, you drop a rock, it falls. You kick some dust, a cloud rises and settles. You spill water on something, it gets wet. Stand in the sun, you get warm. You chop down a tree, it makes noise when it lands. Make a dugout canoe out of the tree, and it’ll float in water.

    You don’t need to propitiate any spirits for that to kind of stuff to happen. At most, you might need to do something to keep them from interfering and causing problems.

    Now, a whole lot of things did require supernatural intervention. The seasons, floods, lightning, rainbows, illness, fertility and reproduction, etc. were big ones. But harvesting, cooking, hunting success, etc. – even those did frequently depend on spiritual cooperation. As you say, “Among all P, there have been many more non-Q than Q.”

    But there’s been a rather large shift from non-Q to Q over time, and particularly in the last few centuries. When my wife bakes cakes in her bakery, she expects chemical reactions to happen, not spiritual ones. When people get sick, they expect antibiotics to kill bacteria and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce inflammation. Rainbows are the work of refraction and not Leprechauns.

    And (jokes aside) I don’t know of anyone who thinks that, when they drop a rock, some spiritual entity grabs it and pushes it down to the ground. I don’t know of anything that’s gone from Q to non-Q like that. Can you come up with an example?

    Second, the set of persons who tend to see the world in terms of ONPs is fairly equal to the set of persons who tend to persist in seeing it that way.

    True, in the limited sense that most people draw a line between ‘things that are the way stuff normally works’ and ‘things that require active spiritual intervention’. For example, when you recover from a cold, I doubt that you think that God healed you in the same way that you believe God heals someone miraculously from cancer.

    That line has moved, though. Early on, all illness was seen as some kind of spiritual effect, requiring spiritual intervention to induce, and to heal. Nowadays, we believe cancer can be caused by viruses or mutagenic chemicals or radiation or whatever, and can sometimes be cured by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatments, etc. (Though I grant a fair number of people thought Hitchens’ cancer was due to direct divine intervention, and weren’t shy about sharing that estimation.)

    Hopefully it’s clearer now what I’m talking about.

    I’m talking about things for which their understanding still hasn’t been overturned, and which science has no answers.

    Can you give me an example?

    Personal explanations don’t make dramatically better predictions than natural ones, either. Does that mean persons don’t exist????

    What counts, to you, as a “personal explanation”?

  213. Tom Gilson says:

    A personal explanation is an explanation of the form, “This person did it.” Sometimes it gets enlarged to “This person did it for this reason.” But the first is sufficient.

    I don’t know of anything that’s gone from Q to non-Q like that. Can you come up with an example?

    Have you explained yet what that counts against supernatural explanations properly understood and applied? I don’t see it there.

    I don’t mean supernatural explanations for rocks falling when we drop them. I mean supernatural explanations for the reality behind that reality, supernatural explanations for miracles, and supernatural explanations for that which no natural explanation has yet been conceived (much less demonstrated), of which there are many examples.

  214. Ray Ingles says:

    Actually, one last point about #207, where Tom Gilson says,

    You persist in [saying that 'Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savanna has been counterintuitive']

    I persist because (a) it’s true, and (b) it’s relevant. Let’s say it’s true that science only works in little restricted areas where humans can make and test predictions. And then scientists frequently get things wrong, even comically so, and have to be forcefully disabused of their notions despite clear evidence that something’s amiss – if they even can be disabused.

    If that’s true… what does it say about human reasoning? I mean, in the ‘simple, relatively-unimportant’ areas where science applies, we can check our answers – and the answers frequently turn out wrong.

    You want to learn humility, take up computer programming. Fred Brooks was the manager of one of IBM’s premier engineering efforts, the creation of the IBM System/360, an important mainframe. The book he wrote after that, “The Mythical Man-Month”, is considered a classic in the fields of software engineering and project management. As he put it: “In many creative activities the medium of execution is intractable. Lumber splits; paints smear; electrical circuits ring. These physical limitations of the medium constrain the ideas that may be expressed, and they also create unexpected difficulties in the implementation. Computer programming, however, creates with an exceedingly tractable medium. The programmer builds from pure thought-stuff: concepts and very flexible representations thereof. Because the medium is tractable, we expect few difficulties in implementation; hence our pervasive optimism. Because our ideas are faulty, we have bugs; hence our optimism is unjustified.”

    I’m not sure anyone has ever written a program of more than 20 lines that didn’t contain at least one error in the first draft. Or, as Brooks mangled Shakespeare:

    I can write programs that control air traffic, intercept ballistic missiles, reconcile bank accounts, control production lines.

    So can I, and so can any man, but do they work when you do write them?

    Bugs happen. Every single program of any utility that humans have ever put together has contained bugs. Very few of them were ever found by people looking over the code. No, most bugs are found by testing – actually running the program and seeing where it fails. And then… well, let’s quote Brooks again: “The fundamental problem with program maintenance is that fixing a defect has a substantial (20-50 percent) chance of introducing another. So the whole process is two steps forward and one step back.”

    Because of this, when anyone makes a pronouncement about something they can’t test, I am extremely dubious. We see how often we screw up when we can check our answers relatively easily. How can we possibly know what our error rate is in areas we can’t check? All we can reasonably say is, “lots, based on how much we demonstrably screw up elsewhere.”

  215. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Actually, one last point about #207, where Tom Gilson says,

    You persist in [saying that 'Pretty much everything we’ve learned about the universe since we left the savanna has been counterintuitive']

    I persist because (a) it’s true, and (b) it’s relevant.

    I have already said it, but I will repeat it: it is true only if some heavy qualifications are added and, more importantly, the conclusions you draw from it are demonstrably false.

  216. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    I have already said it, but I will repeat it: it is true only if some heavy qualifications are added and, more importantly, the conclusions you draw from it are demonstrably false.

    You have indeed asserted that. Now, if you feel like actually listing those qualifications, and/or demonstrating the falseness of the “demonstrably false” conclusions, please do so. I don’t even insist that you be polite or patient about it.

    JAD –

    I am convinced that most internet atheists are not honest people.

    G. Rodrigues –

    note: that last sentence is not necessarily directed at you, by the way.

    Huh. These seem to be actual examples of the kind of thing BillT accused me of doing in another thread. I mean, if you want to insult me, there’s no need to be passive-aggressive about it. Just go ahead and say it!

  217. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Now, if you feel like actually listing those qualifications, and/or demonstrating the falseness of the “demonstrably false” conclusions, please do so. I don’t even insist that you be polite or patient about it.

    This is common knowledge, so I did not think I had to be pedantically explicit about it.

    Let us take this sentence from #206:

    Humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle.

    False. Mathematics being the obvious counter-example. Not only is it about the most counter-intuitive type of knowledge (paradoxical decompositions, space-filling curves, nowhere-differentiable continuous functions, totally disconnected “dust” spaces, the diabolical linear geometry of Banach spaces; the examples are endless), so much so that you need an extended period of training to sharpen your intuition, but the knowledge obtained is also the most certain and with the highest rigors of standard of any field of human knowledge.

    Let us take another sentence, now from #218:

    I’m not sure anyone has ever written a program of more than 20 lines that didn’t contain at least one error in the first draft.

    There are rigorous methods to prove the correctness of programs. This is computer science 101 and a corollary of the Mathematics counter-example. There are some severe limitations to these methods, and if you have a complex program, with many communicating pieces, with millions of LoC, these will not help you much, but even here there have been considerable advances, especially in functional languages, with *practical* consequences.

    And finally the punchline, also from #218:

    If that’s true… what does it say about human reasoning? I mean, in the ‘simple, relatively-unimportant’ areas where science applies, we can check our answers – and the answers frequently turn out wrong.

    So human reasoning proves human reasoning flawed and deficient? Employing reason against reason should not be tolerated, so may I suggest that if you really do believe this, as you seem to, to retire yourself from rational debate?

  218. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa –

    You asked what was missing from your list of tools. Why didn’t you include philosophy in your list of tools?

    You’re right, it should be on the list of tools, but it’s also kind of a meta-tool. It’s not like I haven’t discussed the philosophical justifications for my selection of tools.

    When you are challenged on it, you deny, change the subject and then soon enough you revert back to your scientistic ways.

    I don’t really care if you want to call me a ‘scientismist’ or not. What I do dispute is (at least some of) the consequences everyone wants to impute to my reasoning. You can’t just say, “you believe in scientism” and declare victory, any more than I could say, “you believe in monotheism, and are therefore wrong”!

    You may have abandoned your insistence that an explanation must involve a mechanistic how answer but you have just replaced it with the need for explanations that are predictive.

    Given the points I’ve made earlier, that testing predictions is the best way we have to check our reasoning, why wouldn’t I want such? See the last paragraph of #54 above for some relevant quotes.

    But I’ve also said that I don’t need ‘mathematical maturity’. I’ve even noted purely personal, internal ‘predictions’ like Romans 1:20. I’m looking for consistency with what I observe and experience, not necessarily measurable data with nanosecond timestamps.

  219. TFBW says:

    Okay, my turn again, although I feel that this is expanding beyond manageable limits. I’ll break my reply into multiple responses, corresponding with Ray’s. Brace yourselves, folks.

    @Ray Ingles, #184:

    Indeed, the safe bet is that much of the science we take for granted as “fact” is nothing of the sort.

    Really? It’ll turn out that the sun orbits the Earth? That time dilation doesn’t happen? That electrons don’t transition between orbitals?

    No, those things probably won’t happen. On the other hand, the geosynclinal model of mountain formation went from “scientific fact” in the first half of the 20th century to “outmoded theory” in the second half, while plate tectonics made the converse journey from “pseudoscience” to “scientific fact”. That kind of drastic example can’t be lightly ignored, although you’re doing your best to draw attention away from it.

    You’ve chosen examples of strong science to challenge my assertion that much of our science is likely wrong. Are you representing science as uniformly strong, having mathematical maturity and precisely testable consequences akin to the phenomena you have cited? If so, then your argument is valid, but remarkably ambitious, because it’s clear to me that not all science is equally strong. If you disagree on that point, and genuinely wish to defend the position that all science is strong science, please say so explicitly. Note that this is distinct from the argument that “all science is stronger than all non-science”, which you have already asserted, so please don’t offer me that red herring.

    On the other hand, if you don’t hold to the idea that all science is strong science, then your objection is disingenuous, because it presents itself as a valid objection without actually being one. When I say, “much of the science we take for granted as ‘fact’ is nothing of the sort,” I am not claiming that all science is bunk, or even that most science is bunk. What I am claiming is that there exist some theories, currently presented as unassailable “scientific fact”, which are actually no better than poor old geosynclinal mountain formation. However, I certainly didn’t claim that those particular theories, which you cited, were weak and likely to be overthrown, and I don’t think I’ve given you any basis for surmise that I consider them likely candidates. I can only assume you picked them, not because they are representative of my position, but in order misrepresent my position as something ridiculous.

    The likely victims of scientific revolution are not the rigorously tested, mathematically mature theories you have cited. Even if they were superseded by newer theories, they would probably continue to be valuable, like Newtonian physics in the face of Einstein’s relativity. Indeed, your example of whether the Earth orbits the sun (or vice versa) has been invalidated by Einstein, since the question relates to a preferred frame of reference. We still think of the Earth orbiting the sun, however, because it’s a convenient frame of reference. The likely candidates for dethroning are the mathematically sparse theories which speak more of the distant past than the measurable present, and which rely on circumstantial evidence as a consequence. Geosynclinal mountain formation was exactly that kind of theory.

    So, which argument were you presenting? The ambitious one, or the disingenuous one?

    The more observations you have, the narrower the range of explanations that fit.

    The more measurements you have, the narrower the range of mathematical models that fit. Explanations, on the other hand, can be metaphysical, and some categories of explanation can not be eliminated by any amount of observation. I will elaborate on “explanation” later.

    That progress in narrowing the range of potential explanations is real, and difficult to get around. QM and Relativity make different predictions around things like black holes. At least one and probably both of them are wrong. But any explanation that succeeds them will have to account for why the GPS system works (without relativistic calculations it would drift hopelessly out of sync in less than a day, and the computers that do those calculations depend on quantum electrodynamics being accurate to many decimal places).

    Right, so understand my point. Either one or both of QM and relativity are wrong because they contradict each other in specific details, but they are mathematically mature enough that we know exactly what those details are, and how to measure the systems they describe in order to see whether they are behaving in accordance with the models. They are probably both wrong (in the sense of being not absolutely right), but they are also both indispensable for technological purposes, and we know the boundaries of their utility. A unified theory that aspired to supersede them both would not necessarily have to predict anything new, but it would need to postdict (produce results compatible with known data) everything that the other two theories already do well.

    Now take geology and its recent history. Either one or both of Geosynclinal and Plate Tectonic theories are wrong about mountain formation because they contradict each other in practically all details. Neither of them is mathematically mature, and both of them deal with events which are either in the past, such that explanations consist of just-so stories as to how the state of affairs came to be, or so slow that the little data we can actually gather must be extrapolated over many orders of magnitude in order to be made relevant. Neither theory is indispensable for anything technological, which is why the transition from one theory to the other was barely noticed outside the field, despite the radical difference between the two. Because of their weak connection with empirical data, we can not recognise the boundaries of their utility, or say precisely which theory explains the data better. All we can say for sure is that one theory used to be popular, and now the other one is.

    I do no violence to any real-world application of the geological theories of mountain formation if I claim that they’re probably both wrong in most of their substantial details. It’s a slap in the face to geologists who think that their explanations bear some relevance to truth, but that’s all, and it’s clear that at least some of them deserve that slap, because at least one theory is substantially wrong. I can’t do that for QM or relativity. Wrong though they almost certainly are, they are indispensable in real-world applications, and to the extent that they are measurably accurate models of reality, within certain limits, they are as “true” as any model can be.

    In summary, the “progress in narrowing the range of potential explanations” of which you speak is far from uniformly distributed among the sciences. We have not seen the last of the scientific revolutions, and I stand by my assertion that some of today’s “scientific facts” will be tomorrow’s “outmoded theories”. In the absence of demonstrated strength (mathematical maturity, rigorous testing), I see no special reason to consider scientific theories likely to be true. Indeed, I am inclined to think that, in the absence of those strengths, they are likely targets for revolutionary action, whether they are true or not.

    And note that technological utility is a consequence of the predictive accuracy of scientific theories. The theories themselves are not useful – their utility flows from how true the predictions are.

    Well, that assumes that the predictions themselves are somehow useful to someone for something, but, in general terms, I agree, and I will explain why.

    The ability of a theory to make predictions at all is largely a factor of its mathematical maturity. In order to make a really specific prediction, you need to be able to measure the state of the system as it stands, plug those measurements into the mathematical model, and compute the future appropriately. The result is your prediction.

    Not all branches of science are this mature, and not all of them are primarily about making predictions in any case. The theories of mountain formation already discussed are primarily about retrodiction — plotting the past, rather than the future. Darwinian evolution is similarly placed: it can’t really plot the future in the way it claims to be able to plot the past, because random mutations can’t (by definition) be predicted.

    If you have mathematical maturity, and a model which allows precise prediction of the near-term future (on the scale where we can wait and see if the prediction actually matches reality), and the predictions are accurate with a high degree of statistical significance, then you have strong science — the kind which might produce useful technology, or test for the existence of a hypothetical entity like the Higgs boson. The further you are from this state of affairs, then the weaker your science.

    If we are to use utility as a proxy for truth — which is about the best that science can offer us, given that it deals in models of reality, not reality itself — then we should pay close attention to the predictive ability of a theory when assenting to its “trueness”. You don’t do that: you want us to believe that so long as we are thinking “naturalistically”, we’re probably on track. That’s the wrong metric, and I object to your reasoning on that basis.

    You may not have noticed, but I didn’t appeal to technological utility when talking about the progress of science. I talked about “explaining a wider and wider range of observations”.

    Indeed, I noticed, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt, because if you had appealed to technological utility, then you would have received qualified agreement from me, as per the section above. If you are appealing to an ability to explain things as an indicator of “trueness”, then I disagree completely. “Explanation” is cheap. Explanations are only indicators of “trueness” when they incorporate a mathematically mature model capable of making accurate predictions.

    Geologists have explained mountain formation in terms of geosynclinal theory and plate tectonic theory. Both of those have been, in their given eras, the paragon of scientific respectability, such that dissent was considered anti-scientific. But they are utterly incompatible explanations. They are not like QM and relativity which only differ in overlapping edge cases: they are entirely different.

    I don’t even see any good reason to consider the more recent one “truer” than the older one. Maybe it is, but its preferred status seems to have been mostly the result of applied intuition (more scientists feeling that it offered a better explanation, once the stubborn old school died off), and as such it could possibly be a sideways or backwards step. Granted that there is a consensus among geologists on the matter (as there was with the previous theory), how can we verify their theory independently of their subjective degree of satisfaction with it? Without measurements and precise near-term predictions, what options do we have?

    On that basis, I strenuously reject mere explanatory power as a basis for surmising any kind of association with the truth. Both theories of mountain formation are (or were at some recent time), allegedly scientifically respectable explanations, but at least one (and possibly both) are substantially untrue (as a logical consequence of their mutual incompatibility).

    Don’t get me wrong: explanatory power is desirable. It offers a paradigm within which to frame questions. Newton’s theory of gravity was useful not just because it gave us a mathematically precise inverse-square law, but also because it gave us the explanatory device of forces, which provided a framework for thinking about physical interaction. Explanations can be completely divorced from reality, however, no matter how plausible they seem. We should bear that in mind.

    Science earns trust through predictive power, not explanatory value.

    You go so far as to say that you prefer naturalistic explanations even when no such explanation exists yet, as for the case of consciousness.

    Not quite. Rather, in situations where no explanation exists – natural or supernatural – like consciousness, I’ll bet on the natural.

    As has already been pointed out in the intervening comments (e.g. #194), this is not a case where no supernatural explanation exists. Rather, you have chosen to reject the existing supernatural explanation in preference for a natural explanation that might exist at some future date. You might not be satisfied with the quality of the supernatural explanation, but you can’t say that there exists a naturalistic explanation of better quality.

    Now, given sufficiently high demands on what qualifies as an explanation, it is always possible to say that no supernatural explanation exists, and maybe that’s your justification for saying that no explanation exists in this case. In #167 you suggested that you want supernatural explanations to make better predictions than natural ones before you’ll take them seriously. But what sort of prediction can a supernatural explanation of consciousness make, even assuming that it is the correct explanation?

    Way back in #20, you said that the supernatural “has the accidents of an explanation, but not the substance.” Please explain, what is the substance of an explanation, so that we might provide it, or determine that it is impossible in principle, or at least determine whether you are applying a double-standard.

    The kind of science that yields technological benefit is characterised by mathematical maturity, not naturalism.

    Actually, it seems to be characterized by both mathematical maturity and naturalism.

    For the benefit of those who don’t click on Ray’s random links, that’s an XKCD comic which argues for a distinction between science and pseudoscience (or the validity of “crazy ideas”) on the basis of economic application. In the list of crazy ideas, only Relativity and Quantum Electrodynamics meet the criteria — or so says the cartoonist. Ray is further extrapolating this to say that the successful ideas are naturalistic ones, apparently, although it’s not clear to me that “Homeopathy” is meant to be at all supernatural.

    This is where we need to address the question of what it means for a theory to be naturalistic or not, and whether all theories (or explanations) can be properly classified as one or the other. So far, we’ve been taking it for granted that they can. It’s time to challenge that assumption.

    Relativity and Quantum Electrodynamics are not “naturalistic” theories in any sense that excludes the supernatural, any more than Newtonian physics was. They do not displace prior supernatural explanations — at least, not so far as Christians are concerned. Newton was a thoroughly religious man, and was of the view that his scientific discoveries were supportive of belief in God. The other physical models which have followed in his footsteps are just as supportive of belief in God for the same reasons Newton gave.

    You see it the other way, Ray, because in your binary model of explanation, natural explanations supersede and replace supernatural non-explanations (a sentiment most recently expressed in #201). The fact that something qualifies as an explanation at all makes it a naturalistic explanation in your model. Reality is far more nuanced than that, as the case of Newton and all the other Christian scientists who did their work to the glory of God should make abundantly clear.

    One can produce an excellent mathematical model of how the universe behaves without detracting from the role that the author of the universe (should there be one) played in making it that way. Mathematical models of physics can not and do not explain why things are the way they are, and how they came to be — they simply try to approximate that which is actually observed. Scientists may speculate as to why the laws are the way they are, but that is metaphysics, not science. To the extent that there is any “naturalism” associated with physics, it is in the metaphysical pronouncements of physicists who incline towards that belief (e.g. Hawking), not in the physics itself.

    I believe that this is the kind of thing that Stephen Jay Gould was trying to point out when he spoke of “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA), the idea that “science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature.” It’s a good point, but the NOMA model is not entirely sufficient. The Bible never concerns itself with descriptive physics, so no conflict on that subject is possible, but it most certainly contains history, and science can easily come into direct conflict with it when both presume to give an account of the past.

    The actual cases where scientific theory and Christianity stand in direct conflict are relatively rare and specific. The explanation of origins is one such example: a special divine act of creation is incompatible with a natural explanation (although if the mode of creation is guided evolution, then the incompatibility is entirely metaphysical). In the case of geology, the conflict is not between naturalism and supernaturalism so much, but between uniformitarianism and catastrophism: modern geology simply does not abide the idea that the past might be radically different from the present (although this intolerance seems to be focussed on the Noahic flood, specifically — other extinction-level catastrophes may be entertained).

    So, no, I do not accept your argument that naturalism is a necessary component of successful science. That characterisation is only made possible by an over-broad and simplistic definition of “naturalism”. Relativity and Quantum Electrodynamics are not “naturalistic” in any sense that conflicts with the existence of the supernatural. Newton would cite the existence of such laws as support for the existence of the supernatural law-maker, as he did for his own theories.

    Naturalistic explanations abound, but these are not to be confused with hard science.

  220. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    Mathematics being the obvious counter-example.

    There are (at least) three problems with your counterexample.

    First off, mathematics is a situation uniquely tailored to human reasoning – and tailored by humans. We pick the axioms that make sense to us, and reason from them. (Recall the big controversy over the parallel postulate. Mathematicians were rather upset – for about two millennia – that they couldn’t find a contradiction when they denied it.)

    Second, if you don’t think testing is part of mathematics, I’m rather surprised. Has Fermat’s Last Theorem been proven yet? I mean, Wiles thought he’d proved it in 1993, but then other mathematicians examined (tested?) the proof and found problems. He went back and re-worked things, and now his proof is accepted as ‘likely correct in its major components’. And that’s “the most certain and with the highest rigors of standard of any field of human knowledge.” Then there’s things like the four-color problem. A few holdouts still think using a computer to check the individual cases is ‘cheating’ and don’t consider it ‘proved’ yet.

    Third, and the most critical – there’s the problem that comes with applying abstract mathematical models to the concrete real world. Euclidean geometry has – as I noted – been developed over millennia, been fiercely tested (in the mathematical-reasoning sense)… and doesn’t match the geometry of the real world except in special cases. A la Mencken, it’s “neat, plausible, and wrong.” (Still useful, like Newtonian physics, but nevertheless incorrect.)

    I quoted Winston Churchill back in #54: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” That’s the issue here. Our real-world record of applying our beautiful ideas to the real world isn’t encouraging. Another engineering quip: “Variables won’t, constants aren’t.” Especially and specifically when extrapolating a model past where humans are able to test how well it fits.

    There are rigorous methods to prove the correctness of programs.

    And as you admit they are, to date at least, of notoriously limited practical application. For example: “Verifying the kernel—known as the seL4 microkernel—involved mathematically proving the correctness of about 7,500 lines of computer code in an[sic] project taking an average of six people more than five years.” (The comments in that thread are illuminating, too. E.g.: “It’s also worth noting that this is a proof of certain correctness properties for the C code. The assembly language code involved was not proved correct, and the translation and loading of the C code was assumed correct. “)

    Doesn’t the fact that human reasoning needs such ‘training wheels’ to produce correct code indicate anything to you? Computer programs are a case where mathematics most closely interacts with the real world, and we all see, every day, how well we’re able to match our models to reality. (“Windows XP… is the ‘most reliable Windows ever’. To me, this is like saying that asparagus is ‘the most articulate vegetable ever’.” – Dave Barry)

    So human reasoning proves human reasoning flawed and deficient?

    Human reasoning doesn’t have to be perfect to detect that human reasoning is imperfect.

    TFBW, I’ll wait ’til you’re done, since you were gracious enough to be patient with me.

  221. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    There are (at least) three problems with your counterexample.

    If there are, you have not pointed a single one. Let me repeat, what Mathematics is a counter-example of:

    Humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle.

    So let us take your alleged problems one by one:

    We pick the axioms that make sense to us, and reason from them. Recall the big controversy over the parallel postulate. Mathematicians were rather upset – for about two millennia – that they couldn’t find a contradiction when they denied it.

    The story is not quite as you relate it, but even granting it for the sake of argument, it is irrelevant to what I said.

    Second, if you don’t think testing is part of mathematics, I’m rather surprised.

    There may be testing in mathematics, as when a mathematician says “testing a conjecture”, but this has nothing to do with the “gather experience and test their predictions” done in the empirical sciences. Every mathematician knows this; I know this; I suspect you know this, but then I am not sure what to make of your equivocation.

    Has Fermat’s Last Theorem been proven yet? I mean, Wiles thought he’d proved it in 1993, but then other mathematicians examined (tested?) the proof and found problems. He went back and re-worked things, and now his proof is accepted as ‘likely correct in its major components’. And that’s “the most certain and with the highest rigors of standard of any field of human knowledge.” Then there’s things like the four-color problem. A few holdouts still think using a computer to check the individual cases is ‘cheating’ and don’t consider it ‘proved’ yet.

    You do not know what you are talking about. Wiles proved the Tanyama-Shimura conjecture for semi-stable elliptic curves, which by results of Frey imply Fermat’s theorem. His first proof contained a major error, but it was patched up by himself and Richard Taylor within a year or two, around 1996 if memory does not fail me. Wiles’ techniques have been used since then to prove the full Tanyama-Shimura conjecture by Taylor, Breuill and others by the beginning of the millenium. The crux of the resistance to the proof of the 4-color problem has nothing to do with “cheating” or even that is not “a proof”, but that it is a brute-force proof communicating no understanding, which is what mathematicians are after: understanding.

    Once again, even if what you say were the complete truth, it would not go an inch to disprove what I said.

    Third, and the most critical – there’s the problem that comes with applying abstract mathematical models to the concrete real world.

    Irrelevant to what I said.

    I do not know what exactly what you are responding to, but it surely is not to what I claimed. And I did not merely say that your contention was false (because there is quite an obvious counter-example), but that it was self-refuting. And it is. Demonstrably so:

    Human reasoning doesn’t have to be perfect to detect that human reasoning is imperfect.

    I never claimed that human reasoning was perfect in the sense of always reaching true conclusions. Equivocating again? I repeat what I said: push your skepticism as far as you want, but please remove yourself from rational debate.

    Finally:

    And as you admit they are, to date at least, of notoriously limited practical application.

    Yes. But there are other aids. You surely have heard of such things as unit testing? As for practicality, I have already conceded that they are of limited practical application, but that was not the only thing I said. This is computer science 101, but I will just throw it out anyway: *EVERY* compiler optimization carries with it a proof of correctness. Are compiler optimizations of limited practical usefulness? Speaking of a statically typed language like C alone, constant folding and propagation, variable loop hoisting, elimination of dead code, register reordering and allocation, etc. and etc.?

    Doesn’t the fact that human reasoning needs such ‘training wheels’ to produce correct code indicate anything to you?

    Of course it does indicate something. It just is not what you think it is, or not in the measure you think it is.

  222. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    One correction to the above: the path from Tanyama-Shimura to Fermat was conjectured by Frey but proved by Ribet.

  223. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #197…

    a general attitude of, “science speaks above all other voices when it speaks at all,” is sufficient to qualify as scientism.

    Let’s say that’s correct.

    Very well then, we’ve established that “scientism” is an appropriate designation for your position. Now it’s just a question of degree. It’s taken us a long time, but I think we’ve identified the root cause of may of our differences. Expect this issue to remain a key focal point, since it is often here that our paths first diverge.

    …I want rigor and testing predictions. I think we can both agree that science qua science combines both. So why wouldn’t that be the most reliable technique to apply, when possible?

    Ideally, science is rigorous and thoroughly tested. It still suffers from limits, but it’s some of the best knowledge we have about the physical world when it meets those criteria. Unfortunately, those criteria are frequently not met, and yet the product is still called “science”, and adherents of scientism still demand that we treat it like the good stuff. That’s where much our conflict arises: in your assertion that science is “most reliable” — that “science says” is the best basis for assent to a proposition, without regard to the quality of the science, because it’s still better than anything else.

    There are at least two problems with this variety of scientism: it’s presumptuous, and it’s self-deprecating.

    It’s presumptuous because it takes it for granted that even poor science is better than, say, random guessing. I don’t feel that this is something we can take as given. Poor, weak science might contain systematic errors which result in conclusions which are worse than random guessing. Unless the science in question has the kind of mathematical maturity and predictive ability which permits an objective demonstration of its superiority to random guesswork, how are we to know whether it meets even that meagre grade? Experimental science utilises “controls” for pretty much this exact reason.

    The geosynclinal theory of mountain formation was systematically wrong about the bulk of its claims — or so say proponents of the new theory. But this judgement is not made on the kind of “experimentally determined mathematical fit” criteria characteristic of physics; rather, it is based on the weaker notion of “explanatory value”, where one theory allegedly provides a “better explanation” of the observed data. The trouble is that any sufficiently weak science is indistinguishable from a just-so story. Thus, there comes a point where scientism is indistinguishable from personal preference in explanatory narratives. Why on earth should I grant that any credence?

    Secondly, scientism is self-deprecating because it is founded on principles that it classifies as a poor basis for belief. If you could offer a rigorous, mathematically mature, experimentally testable argument that science has the superior properties you ascribe to it, then by my own standards, I would be obliged to agree with you (or revise my standards). Clearly, however, you can’t do that, and you don’t pretend otherwise. The best that you can do is offer an informal argument in support of your position — one which can hardly be called “scientific” for its lack of testable predictions, rigour, and mathematics.

    I think that’s a problem for the case you’re making. You’re arguing for science as the most reliable means of knowing anything, but you’re not presenting the case scientifically: you are supporting your case with a mode of argument that you consider inferior. Now, I suppose that you are presenting your case in the best possible light, so this must be one of those cases where scientific argument simply isn’t possible. But look at what that means: your whole basis for scientism — for declaring science to be the most reliable approach to knowledge — is based on an argument that is weak by its own standards.

    That lack of scientific rigour might be less of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that the rest of your reasoning is built on this foundation. The doctrine of scientific superiority, which undergirds all your other thinking, is founded on essentially unscientific grounds. Scientism is the worship of science without being the practice of science. At best, scientism does not support itself; at worst, it deprecates itself.

    Just in case, note that we can still do science about history by making predictions about what we should find today.

    We can — but there is a qualitative difference between forensic science of this sort, and operational science such as physics. Forensic science is prone to type 1 and type 2 errors (false positives and negatives). You can’t assume that the scientific test produces the right result just because it’s scientific: you need to measure the accuracy of your testing method against known data. This poses a problem for cases where there is no “known data”. (Recommended reading: “Biometrics”, chapter 15 of Security Engineering, 2nd ed., by Ross Anderson. Seriously, folks — have a look.)

    People can even develop intuition based on long experience, get a ‘feel’ for how things work even if they can’t articulate why.

    Absolutely. Sometimes invention is like art: some people are born with the knack. Sometimes science lags behind technology, or the two develop independently for a while, because the engineering discipline isn’t mathematically unified enough to represent a coherent theory, and the science isn’t mature enough to be practical in real-world conditions.

    I don’t trust intuition all that much outside of experience, though.

    I’m afraid that you’re going to have to make a much clearer distinction between intuition and experience before I can even pass comment on whether that’s a coherent statement or not, given that your preference for experience is largely grounded in intuition. I won’t elaborate on that further, since this is just the problem of scientism being self-deprecating again, in another guise.

    So, three tools I can think of – science, trial-and-error, and divine revelation. I think I can account for which of those I prefer and why. Are there others I’ve missed?

    Well, pure reason seems conspicuous in its absence from that list, but I’m equally concerned that you’re not using the tools that you do have in an appropriate manner. Your attitude to science is to treat it as a signpost to philosophical naturalism, rather than a tool for testing specific hypotheses with empirically distinct implications, while your attitude to revelation is, “I tried that, and it didn’t work for me.”

    The analogy that springs to mind is a person whose favourite tool is a power-saw, but he uses it for everything, including hammering nails — and hammering screws. A power saw is an indispensable tool — so long as it’s the right tool for the job, and you’re using it right.

    Next time, #201.

  224. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #201:

    First off, since God isn’t supposed to be a human, or any kind of material anything, the usual means of detecting someone so as to have a relationship with them don’t work. Can’t see them, be introduced to them, talk to them on the phone, etc.

    Different enough to stop normal relationship building, but not different enough to stop science, I take it.

    Second, there’s a difference between the kinds of tests courting lovers undertake and lab examination. I rather explicitly talked about the former.

    This is well outside my sphere of expertise, but I don’t understand how it is possible to perform the kinds of tests that lovers might undertake unless you already have a fairly intimate personal relationship, and you’ve said that’s not possible. Is there something I should know about courting?

    And finally, as I noted, I did try the alternate means suggested by Christians. Prayer, not to put too fine a point on it. That didn’t work for me. If that had worked, I wouldn’t have to fall back on science.

    Wait… so you are treating God as a test subject, or an impersonal phenomenon (as I suggested in #176)? Your statement looks like an attempt to justify that activity by framing it as God’s fault for not responding to your prayer. This strikes me as a counter-productive approach to relationship-building.

    On the subject of prayer not working for you, have you documented the approach you took?

    But I have had no need of the ‘God hypothesis’ specifically, or supernatural agents in general, yet. And it’s not that I couldn’t. If I were to be presented with some miracles, some kind of communication, even a solid and mature theory, that’d be different.

    There are two issues at play here. One of them is this very claim, which you have repeated numerous times, but which I still find problematic: the question of whether there is any possible evidence that could shift you from your position of naturalism. The other issue is the converse question, which Tom posed way back in #35, as follows.

    How does your approach to knowledge help you if the truth is that there is a God? Will you keep on insisting on natural explanations even if they’re not all true?

    Just to clarify the difference, I question whether there is any possible evidence which could cause you to change your beliefs. Tom’s question is a hypothetical: if it’s true that there’s a God, what consequences follow for your approach to knowledge? Let’s review the history of these questions in this thread, to clarify what’s been said and what’s still missing.

    In #157, I pointed out that you had only given non-answers to Tom’s questions, and raised them again. I suggested that your answer to the second of Tom’s questions would be “yes”, giving reasons why I thought this would be the case. In #167 you responded to the questions, saying that naturalism fell out of a combination of other reasonable principles. In #168, I pointed out that this doesn’t answer the question: it would just mean that your allegedly reasonable principles yield false results. I concluded that this was, indeed, your problem: the premises from which you work are simply incompatible with certain possible truths, such as the existence of God.

    In #169 you asserted that, “God could certainly intervene in ways that could be detected.” I challenged this in #170, giving a list of possible approaches we could take to detecting a God (one who isn’t deliberately hiding), and rejected them using your past arguments. In #173 you responded to these points, but I pointed out in #176 that none of your responses actually counted as refutations — ways which could detect God unambiguously.

    In #178 you actually admitted, in the case where a miracle had been detected, that “we could not, by methodological naturalism, detect that such a being was supernatural,” but you downplayed this by suggesting that the problem has not arisen in actual practice due to the absence of miracles in general. In #181, I noted that such a response does not address my core objection to naturalism: if God were to intervene in a detectable way, then, in the absence of a means to attribute the action to God unambiguously (and you have now agreed that methodological naturalism offers no such means), naturalism would still dictate that God not be used as the explanation.

    Now, in #201, you respond to this by saying, “the supernatural hasn’t proved to be a good explanation for much, over the long term.” The problem with this is that you’re expecting the explanation to afford some special utility, rather than simply be true. You say, “I could accept non-material beings if there were call for it,” but you’ve already admitted that there will never be call for it, because methodological naturalism can never unambiguously attribute any phenomenon to such a being, and will always prefer a natural explanation. That’s exactly why you’ve “had no need of the ‘God hypothesis’ specifically, or supernatural agents in general, yet,” and never will. Methodological naturalism assures it.

    Despite all this, you persist with your assertion that if you “were to be presented with some miracles, some kind of communication, even a solid and mature theory, that’d be different.” It would only be different if the experience prompted you to abandon methodological naturalism — i.e. to change your entire way of thinking about the evidence. If you think that methodological naturalism is essential to science, then you’d be abandoning scientism in the same stroke.

    Are you actually saying that there are certain kinds of evidence which would prompt you to change the entire way that you interpret the evidence? Because if that’s not what you’re saying, then you’re kidding yourself if you think that anything will be different in the face of that evidence. If it is what you’re saying then it’s a somewhat different tune to the one I’ve been hearing from you throughout this thread. What I’ve been hearing is a claim that certain kinds of evidence could support the ‘God Hypothesis’, or the existence of supernatural agents in general, from within a framework of naturalism.

    Perhaps you could clarify that point, and specify what sort of miracle or communication would count as sufficient evidence for something supernatural, and why that particular thing would be sufficient. I also note that Tom’s hypothetical questions are still unanswered. Here’s a radical suggestion: answer them. I suggest using the form, “if God exists, then…” in both cases, just to be sure you’re addressing the appropriate hypothetical condition.

    Next, #205.

  225. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #205:

    Whether the nature of human mating was designed or evolved, it’s there. And that has implications for how humans relate. Violent rape is a choice, not a requirement.

    So violent rape is immoral on the basis that it is a sexual act that is not required for reproduction? So, by that reasoning, homosexual intercourse is more immoral than violent rape, because it’s a sexual act that can’t even in principle result in reproduction. A desperate man might at least argue that rape was required as a last resort to meeting his reproductive needs after exhausting the consensual approach. Homosexuality has no such excuse.

    I don’t expect you to agree with that analysis, but that’s because I don’t really think you’re arguing from a natural law position at all. It’s pretty clear to me that you’re arguing from a John Stuart Mill style of hedonistic utilitarianism, but you’re backing it up with a natural law argument when it happens to coincide.

    Utilitarianism says that the moral is that which promotes the most good. Of course, that only shifts the question from “what is moral?” to “what is good?” Hedonistic utilitarianism equates the good with pleasure — the best quality and most enduring pleasure for the greatest number of people.

    Here are some other things you say which lend weight to my analysis.

    And it sure seems to me – and a lot of other people through history – that sexual fulfillment is optimized when the people involved are enthusiastic.

    It’s hard to imagine an environment where they’d be better-adapted than ‘stock’ humans, or even where they’d be happier during the transition.

    The focus seems to be on psychological states, not natural function. Going back to #179, you responded to my question, “do you have a definition of ‘evil’ which could … carry the normative force of ‘he ought not to behave like that’,” with an answer that spoke of effective ways to maximise happiness. That only makes sense as an answer if we take it as given that “good” equals “maximisation of happiness”. Even then, the observation that a certain action is not likely to maximise happiness does not carry any normative force. I don’t think that utilitarianism can be normative, only informative.

    This is also shown in your statement from #179, “I can argue that the Hannibal Lecters are doing it wrong, not doing what will bring them the most long-term happiness, that they are acting against their own self-interest.” This is not a normative statement that “it is wrong to do X“; it is an observational statement that “doing X will not maximise Y“.

    Immediately following that quote, you said that the “acting against their own self-interest” part was also “a conclusion of Christian morality.” In #181, I pointed out that “the Christian conclusion is based on the premise that there will be eternal consequences which guarantee the long-term outcome.” Now, in #205, you respond as follows.

    As opposed to more probabilistic real-world (or, at least, current-world) consequences. Sure. But then, casinos don’t have guarantees, just the odds. And yet, the house tends to win…

    The fact that the house tends to win does not stop people from going to casinos with the idea of making a quick buck, and a few people actually do succeed. Now, if you’re saying that the odds are against you with the casino approach to making money, or the antisocial approach to obtaining happiness, then I agree with you. Nevertheless, the odds aren’t so great that failure is guaranteed. If someone actually manages to get rich at a casino, or to lie, cheat, and steal their way to happiness, then I don’t see that you have a valid post-fact criticism to level at them, because they got away with it. They took a risk, and it paid off.

    The Christian view is very different, because nobody is getting away with anything in that view. (That’s the bad news. The good news is that grace and forgiveness are possible.) That brings us to your next comment.

    So that’s one problem. But then there’s the other problem, the one I specifically mentioned when I brought up Hannibal Lecter back in #175.

    Has there ever been a sociopath without any empathy who nevertheless believed in God and tried to be good because of that? I mean, like, ever?

    Possibly. I might even put myself in that category at certain times of my life. But your “problem” misses the point. You seem to think of morality as the question of how to make people well-behaved. That puts the cart before the horse. In order to answer that question, we must first determine what it means to be good. Allow me to remind you of the response I already gave to you in #176.

    The job of objective morality is not to restrain, but to provide a standard against which behaviour is judged — to make statements like “X is good” or “Y is evil” a matter of fact rather than opinion. Morality is like the law, not like the police force or the courts who administer the law. The law itself does not constrain anyone’s behaviour: it simply means that some behaviour is properly classified as either lawful or not. Likewise, objective moral truths do not restrain anyone: they just make it possible to properly classify behaviour as “good” or “evil”.

    Coming back to you again, in #205, you say the following.

    It’s kind of hard to accept, as a fatal problem, you pointing out an instance where the sort of scheme I’m proposing might fail… when the scheme you’re peddling doesn’t handle that case well (if at all) either.

    You’ve misunderstood what I see as the failure of your system. It’s not about making people be good: it’s about making good and evil matters of fact rather than matters of opinion, taste, or personal preference. It’s about “good” being a pattern of behaviour to which we ought to conform, not because of the consequences of doing so, but simply because of what “good” is. If you point to consequences, then you’ve simply pushed back the preferential nature of the issue one more step, because you then rely on certain consequences being preferred over others, and appeal to intuition to back up that preference.

    So I think you’re missing my point, but, as it happens, I also think you’re wrong in the point that you’re trying to make. Secular behavioural management science can learn a thing or two from Christianity.

    Back to you, Ray.

  226. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #205:

    Whether the nature of human mating was designed or evolved, it’s there. And that has implications for how humans relate. Violent rape is a choice, not a requirement.

    So violent rape is immoral on the basis that it is a sexual act that is not required for reproduction? So, by that reasoning, homosexual intercourse is more immoral than violent rape, because it’s a sexual act that can’t even in principle result in reproduction. A desperate man might at least argue that rape was required as a last resort to meeting his reproductive needs after exhausting the consensual approach. Homosexuality has no such excuse.

    I don’t expect you to agree with that analysis, but that’s because I don’t really think you’re arguing from a natural law position at all. It’s pretty clear to me that you’re arguing from a John Stuart Mill style of hedonistic utilitarianism, but you’re backing it up with a natural law argument when it happens to coincide.

    Utilitarianism says that the moral is that which promotes the most good. Of course, that only shifts the question from “what is moral?” to “what is good?” Hedonistic utilitarianism equates the good with pleasure — the best quality and most enduring pleasure for the greatest number of people.

    Here are some other things you say which lend weight to my analysis.

    And it sure seems to me – and a lot of other people through history – that sexual fulfillment is optimized when the people involved are enthusiastic.

    It’s hard to imagine an environment where they’d be better-adapted than ‘stock’ humans, or even where they’d be happier during the transition.

    The focus seems to be on psychological states, not natural function. Going back to #179, you responded to my question, “do you have a definition of ‘evil’ which could … carry the normative force of ‘he ought not to behave like that’,” with an answer that spoke of effective ways to maximise happiness. That only makes sense as an answer if we take it as given that “good” equals “maximisation of happiness”. Even then, the observation that a certain action is not likely to maximise happiness does not carry any normative force. I don’t think that utilitarianism can be normative, only informative.

    This is also shown in your statement from #179, “I can argue that the Hannibal Lecters are doing it wrong, not doing what will bring them the most long-term happiness, that they are acting against their own self-interest.” This is not a normative statement that “it is wrong to do X“; it is an observational statement that “doing X will not maximise Y“.

    Immediately following that quote, you said that the “acting against their own self-interest” part was also “a conclusion of Christian morality.” In #181, I pointed out that “the Christian conclusion is based on the premise that there will be eternal consequences which guarantee the long-term outcome.” Now, in #205, you respond as follows.

    As opposed to more probabilistic real-world (or, at least, current-world) consequences. Sure. But then, casinos don’t have guarantees, just the odds. And yet, the house tends to win…

    The fact that the house tends to win does not stop people from going to casinos with the idea of making a quick buck, and a few people actually do succeed. Now, if you’re saying that the odds are against you with the casino approach to making money, or the antisocial approach to obtaining happiness, then I agree with you. Nevertheless, the odds aren’t so great that failure is guaranteed. If someone actually manages to get rich at a casino, or to lie, cheat, and steal their way to happiness, then I don’t see that you have a valid post-fact criticism to level at them, because they got away with it. They took a risk, and it paid off.

    The Christian view is very different, because nobody is getting away with anything in that view. (That’s the bad news. The good news is that grace and forgiveness are possible.) That brings us to your next comment.

    So that’s one problem. But then there’s the other problem, the one I specifically mentioned when I brought up Hannibal Lecter back in #175.

    Has there ever been a sociopath without any empathy who nevertheless believed in God and tried to be good because of that? I mean, like, ever?

    Possibly. I might even put myself in that category at certain times of my life. But your “problem” misses the point. You seem to think of morality as the question of how to make people well-behaved. That puts the cart before the horse. In order to answer that question, we must first determine what it means to be good. Allow me to remind you of the response I already gave to you in #176.

    The job of objective morality is not to restrain, but to provide a standard against which behaviour is judged — to make statements like “X is good” or “Y is evil” a matter of fact rather than opinion. Morality is like the law, not like the police force or the courts who administer the law. The law itself does not constrain anyone’s behaviour: it simply means that some behaviour is properly classified as either lawful or not. Likewise, objective moral truths do not restrain anyone: they just make it possible to properly classify behaviour as “good” or “evil”.

    Coming back to you again, in #205, you say the following.

    It’s kind of hard to accept, as a fatal problem, you pointing out an instance where the sort of scheme I’m proposing might fail… when the scheme you’re peddling doesn’t handle that case well (if at all) either.

    You’ve misunderstood what I see as the failure of your system. It’s not about making people be good: it’s about making good and evil matters of fact rather than matters of opinion, taste, or personal preference. It’s about “good” being a pattern of behaviour to which we ought to conform, not because of the consequences of doing so, but simply because of what “good” is. If you point to consequences, then you’ve simply pushed back the preferential nature of the issue one more step, because you then rely on certain consequences being preferred over others, and appeal to intuition to back up that preference.

    So I think you’re missing my point, but, as it happens, I also think you’re wrong in the point that you’re trying to make. Secular behavioural management science can learn a thing or two from Christianity.

  227. Tom Gilson says:

    TFBW had a comment that got caught in the spam filter, probably because it scans for certain words, and he might have used one of these words. I’ve released it now.

  228. TFBW says:

    Oh, is that the problem? #227 and #228 are now duplicates. Delete one or the other (and this).

  229. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW – We’ve certainly hit a point of diminishing returns somewhere along the line here, but I’ll tackle another several page essay as soon as possible. I do appreciate discussing this stuff with someone who takes it seriously.

    G. Rodrigues – The parallel postulate is, in fact, illustrative. It took well over a dozen centuries before anyone took seriously the idea that a non-Euclidean geometry was even possible. Euclidean geometry is intuitive to us non-Relativistic humans, and our mathematical presuppositions have rather strong tendency to fit with the way we think. Non-Euclidean geometry was considered interesting, but impractical, until until Relativity came along.

    There may be testing in mathematics, as when a mathematician says “testing a conjecture”, but this has nothing to do with the “gather experience and test their predictions” done in the empirical sciences.

    See Ramanujan, who had (literally) prodigious mathematical intuition. But his intuitions were sometimes wrong – he still had to test his conjectures, as you say.

    It’s not empirical in the sense of testing things in the real world, but if you really believe in forms, it’s not unlike exploration.

    The crux of the resistance to the proof of the 4-color problem [is] that it is a brute-force proof communicating no understanding, which is what mathematicians are after: understanding.

    Which actually circles back to the point of the parallel postulate. There are so many special cases to check in the 4-color problem that it simply doesn’t fit in the human mind. We have to get ‘empirical’ in such cases. The areas of mathematics we’ve ‘explored’ are precisely the ones humans can examine unaided. The (rather few) exceptions – things like the 4-color problem – prove that rule.

    But I’ll tell you what. Let’s grant you everything you ask for, anyway. I will reformulate my claim to avoid your objection:

    When it comes to the real world, to causal things, humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle.”

    Programming is a wonderful demonstration. You say, “*EVERY* compiler optimization carries with it a proof of correctness.” That’s perfectly true. But there are bugs in optimizers, too. Consider how problematic the Java memory model has been… let alone the security model.

    Mathematics – formal mathematics, the kind that gets published – isn’t supposed to rely on heuristics. (Although heuristics might be studied formally, or be used when developing conjectures to test.) Programming uses heuristics all the time, every day. Every microsecond, in fact. Every way humans interact with the world involves heuristics. Including the basic way we see.

    Humans need heuristics in the real world because human formal reasoning is so limited.

    I never claimed that human reasoning was perfect in the sense of always reaching true conclusions. Equivocating again?

    Yes. You are equivocating again about what my claim was.

  230. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    On the other hand, if you don’t hold to the idea that all science is strong science,

    …and no, I don’t…

    then your objection is disingenuous, because it presents itself as a valid objection without actually being one.

    Actually, it seems to me that you’re the one being disingenuous on this point.

    What I am claiming is that there exist some theories, currently presented as unassailable “scientific fact”, which are actually no better than poor old geosynclinal mountain formation.

    I didn’t deny that. But here’s where the disingenuousness slips in. Back in #181, you said:

    Given that the so-called “clear and unambiguous progress in science” happens at the expense of previous scientific doctrines (as well as pre-scientific folklore and superstition), I have a very solid basis for holding current science in doubt.

    First off, you didn’t qualify that with any terms like ‘strong’ or ‘weak’. But the main issue is that I think you’ll have to concede that, whatever the penumbra of ‘weak science’ might be, there has in fact been “clear and unambiguous progress” in strong science. Relativity explains a wider range of data than Newtonian physics. Toss in QM and you’ve got an even wider range. We’ve gotten stronger in chemistry, and yes, in biology too.

    For example, how well-established do you think universal common descent is? Would you believe we know the tree of life with quite a bit more precision than we know the gravitational constant? (Search for the phrase “The stunning degree of match” for the start of the key passage. Measurements of G have gotten only a little better since then.)

    Neither theory is indispensable for anything technological, which is why the transition from one theory to the other was barely noticed outside the field

    I’m not well read on the “geosyncline hypothesis”, but I will essay the hypothesis that you are not a petroleum geologist.

    Finding oil depends mostly on finding shallow tropical seas that have been covered over by traps. To find such things, you need to know where the shallow seas have been in the past. If you don’t think plate tectonics factors in there, I’d be surprised.

    I’ll grant that geology is, in some ways, not as strong a science as QM. But that’s not to say that geology is a ‘weak’ science, nor that they can’t intersect.

    I do no violence to any real-world application of the geological theories of mountain formation if I claim that they’re probably both wrong in most of their substantial details.

    I think you’re probably not aware of “most of their substantial details”. The way the continents fit together, including geologic features like mineral belts, fossil beds, magnetic alignment, etc. – all fit the plate tectonic theory and not the geosynclinal one.

    It’s a slap in the face to geologists who think that their explanations bear some relevance to truth, but that’s all, and it’s clear that at least some of them deserve that slap, because at least one theory is substantially wrong.

    That emphasis on ‘is‘ is kind of interesting, in that the geosynclinal hypothesis has no prominent modern adherents, and few if any obscure ones. We’ve got a lot more data now than we did when the old theory was current.

    In summary, the “progress in narrowing the range of potential explanations” of which you speak is far from uniformly distributed among the sciences.

    Neither is it absent from most, though. Oil prospecting is a case where retrodiction is a necessary prerequisite for prediction. Why do oil companies stake billions of dollars a year on standard geological models? It’s not like there aren’t proposed competitors. It’s just that they don’t work.

    you said that the supernatural “has the accidents of an explanation, but not the substance.” Please explain, what is the substance of an explanation…

    What G. Rodrigues wants out of mathematics – understanding. If you grasp why he has a problem with the extant proofs of the 4-color problem, you’ll be on your way to grasping my problem with supernatural ‘explanations’ of consciousness.

    Relativity and Quantum Electrodynamics are not “naturalistic” theories in any sense that excludes the supernatural, any more than Newtonian physics was. They do not displace prior supernatural explanations — at least, not so far as Christians are concerned.

    You’re still missing the point. The universe used to need and experience lots of supernatural fiddling and fine-tuning on an ongoing basis. If you didn’t ring the church bells, lightning might strike the town. Newton got to the point where his physics didn’t account for the stability of the solar system, and decided God stepped in with corrections from time to time.

    The need to postulate ongoing supernatural fiddling has shrunk drastically over the last couple thousand years, and particularly in the last couple hundred years or so. I don’t see how that trajectory can be overlooked. That doesn’t argue against deism, I suppose, but does seem to leave less of a need for an interventionist theism.

    There’s a difference between an explanation requiring supernatural intervention and an explanation not precluding the supernatural. There’s been a sustained movement from the former to the latter.

    Mathematical models of physics can not and do not explain why things are the way they are

    Well, they sorta do. The temperature water freezes at, and the anomalous way water freezes, is vital to life on our planet. Until we understood quantum mechanics, we could imagine water freezing at a different temperature and everything else staying the same. But now we know that to change the way water freezes by even a single degree, you’d need to change fundamental constants like the ratio of mass between electrons and protons, which would change all of chemistry.

    The range for ‘metaphysics’ to apply has narrowed, as noted above. The reason why some of the fundamental constants have the values they do isn’t known, yet. Maybe God set them there. Maybe they are the logical outflowing of still more more fundamental properties, the way the freezing temperature of water at one atmosphere follows from QM.

    although this intolerance seems to be focussed on the Noahic flood, specifically — other extinction-level catastrophes may be entertained

    This is tangential, but.. that’s ’cause there’s things like, say, evidence for even large catastrophes. A worldwide flood in the human timeframe… not so much. It’s not catastrophes per se that are met with intolerance, it’s catastrophes that aren’t supported by evidence.

    So, no, I do not accept your argument that naturalism is a necessary component of successful science.

    You said that mathematical maturity was the hallmark of utility. Well, can you provide an example of a theory that (a) displays mathematical utility, and (b) requires the supernatural?

  231. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    The parallel postulate is, in fact, illustrative. It took well over a dozen centuries before anyone took seriously the idea that a non-Euclidean geometry was even possible.

    If it is illustrative, it is not illustrative of what you are claiming. For even if it took a long time, it was by dint of the power of reason, not by observation of the “real world”, that it came to be recognized that not only there are models of non-Euclidean geometry, that the theories are equiconsistent with Euclidean geometry.

    Euclidean geometry is intuitive to us non-Relativistic humans, and our mathematical presuppositions have rather strong tendency to fit with the way we think.

    Euclidean geometry is intuitive because it accords with our daily experience. Why should we find “intuitive” things that have little to no bearing to our common day-to-day experience? And what exactly “mathematical presuppositions have rather strong tendency to fit with the way we think” means exactly? I have a somewhat vague idea of what you are trying to convey here, and assuming I am right, it suffices to say that you are wrong and are letting your ignorance do the talking.

    Non-Euclidean geometry was considered interesting, but impractical, until until Relativity came along.

    There are several problems with this claim. First, presumably by “practical” you mean with applications to physics or engineering. But since the job of mathematicians, qua mathematicians, is not to produce “practical” mathematics but (interesting) mathematics, it is irrelevant. Second, it may have been impractical, but if no one had worked on it there would be no General Relativity in the first place as Einstein was not a mathematician and learned (pseudo- or semi-) Riemannian geometry from, among others, his friend M. Grossmann. Third, you are actually wrong on the claim. I would have to check the historical literature, but non-Euclidean geometry is at least implicit in say, the Hamiltonean formulation of classical mechanics.

    It’s not empirical in the sense of testing things in the real world, but if you really believe in forms, it’s not unlike exploration.

    In other words, you are equivocating as I said. You may call it “exploring”, “testing”, or whatever, but (1) it is the work of the powers of reason (2) unaided by any sort of empirical observation. And if you do want to expand the sense of the words to cover the case of mathematics, then your whole claim is little more than a tautology and falls flat on the ground, because then anything — theology included — fits the bill.

    There are so many special cases to check in the 4-color problem that it simply doesn’t fit in the human mind. We have to get ‘empirical’ in such cases. The areas of mathematics we’ve ‘explored’ are precisely the ones humans can examine unaided. The (rather few) exceptions – things like the 4-color problem – prove that rule.

    The 4-color theorem proof is by contradiction, arguing that if there were such a coloring map, there would be at least one map with the smallest possible number of regions that requires five colors. It then proceeds by finding a set of unavoidable (*every* coloring map must contain it) reducible (a minimal counter-example *cannot* contain it) sub-colorings or arrangements. The reducibility part of the proof is where the computer does the work, but algorithms had to be devised (recent work even improves upon their efficiency) as computers don’t do anything “by themselves”. To suggest that the computer somehow has gone where no human had gone before, or helped humans going, is simply the ravings of an ignorant imagination. Neither is this “exploration” in any sense relevant to your claim. And it does not “fit in the human mind” in the same sense that say, Graham’s number, or some proof with it as length, does not fit the human mind — a rather trite and irrelevant sense.

    Finally, you simply do not know how Mathematics unfolds or how mathematicians work so stop saying that mathematicians “have to get ‘empirical’” or have to do this or have to do that.

    And while I am at it, let me address this directed at TBFW:

    What G. Rodrigues wants out of mathematics – understanding. If you grasp why he has a problem with the extant proofs of the 4-color problem, you’ll be on your way to grasping my problem with supernatural ‘explanations’ of consciousness.

    Are you suggesting that “supernatural ‘explanations” while true provide no understanding? Maybe you just want to keep the lack of understanding part in the analogy with the 4-color proof. But since you hardly understand say, hylemorphic explanations of the mind (as witnessed by your insistence in asking meaningless questions), your “problem” is exactly that, *your* problem. And since you seem to be having difficulty knowing what I mean by “understanding” as it pertains to the 4-color proof, maybe you should refrain from using it as ammo in your argumentation?

    “When it comes to the real world, to causal things, humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle.”

    First the way you formulate it, it sounds nearly tautological. I mean, if your beef is with the sort of reasoning that produces predictions but then does not test them, who can quibble with that? Second, assuming what you are aiming at is not a tautology and I am understanding it correctly, it is false; there is absolutely no “demonstration” that humans are “terrible at reasoning” in any given area or under any given (non-pathological) conditions. This is just an invention that you irrationally cling to. Neither is the hallmark of good reasoning, producing predictions. Mathematicians laugh at predictions; historians have no need of it. Third, the cure to “terrible reasoning” is not “testing predictions” but better reasoning. No amount of testing can help you if the reasoning is fatally flawed. “Gathering experience” is exactly that; describing the explanandum or, slightly more intangibly, but also irrelevant to your claim, getting a feel for the lay of the intellectual land. Finally, it is self-refuting. For not only is this piece of alleged knowledge not testable or verifiable, the bases of the empirical sciences themselves are not testable or verifiable. And since a conclusion is only as certain as its premises, it follows that you are contradicting yourself.

    Programming is a wonderful demonstration. You say, “*EVERY* compiler optimization carries with it a proof of correctness.” That’s perfectly true. But there are bugs in optimizers, too. Consider how problematic the Java memory model has been… let alone the security model.

    Some context first. I mentioned formal proofs of correctness to tone down the misleading “I’m not sure anyone has ever written a program of more than 20 lines that didn’t contain at least one error in the first draft.” Then, while I conceded that as far as proving correctness the methods have limitations (and we know that by fundamental results of the formal theory of computation), they also have other practical off-shoots such as compiler optimizations.

    The problem of managing the complexity of programs and reducing the number of bugs are Engineering problems (*the* Engineering problems in the software industry) and there are various (partial) remedies for it: code reviews, unit testing, agile methodologies, you name it. What is not, what *cannot* be a cure given the nature of the problem, is to go out into the world and “test” or “make observations” in the style of the empirical sciences, so emphatically, programming is *not* a demonstration of your claim.

    Finally, I note that when it comes to getting the proof of the 4-color problem employing computers is great and all, presumably because they help us “explore” what otherwise we could not, and then next, when it suits your argument, optimizers may be riddled with bugs for all we know. Right.

    Mathematics – formal mathematics, the kind that gets published – isn’t supposed to rely on heuristics.

    The process of developing mathematics, even what gets published, is more complex than your naive description pawned off from some brochure directed at 7-year old kids. And what gets published is not what mathematics consists of, in the same way as formal reasoning, of the sort mathematicians do, does not exhaust the forms of human reasoning — I used Mathematics as a *counter-example*.

    Humans need heuristics in the real world because human formal reasoning is so limited.

    And pray tell me, what has *this* got to do with “When it comes to the real world, to causal things, humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions”? Nothing, absolutely nothing. You are just equivocating. Where did I even hint that I disagreed with the particular claim that humans “need heuristics”? Of course we cannot approach the world in a blank state, with no expectations, intuitions, heuristics or whatever you want to call it. It is also a psychological impossibility; and the peripathetic axiom is true. This is even more bizarre because, according to your narrative (and I do not disagree on this particular point) heuristics are a major source of human error, since they are the extrapolation of the known to the unknown.

    If you have nothing to add, I think I will stop here. There would be much more to say on this topic: your implied, controversial (I would say false) theory of cognition, the failure to distinguish between imagination and conception or the implied naive view of the empirical sciences (failing to take into account the limitations of observation and how observation is theory-laden, the under-determination of theories, the untold horror stories of science casting doubt on its supposed cognitive advantage, how many times the empirical sciences advance by conceptual reasoning and clarification, etc.), but I chose to restrict myself to a rather more modest claim. A demonstrably true claim.

  232. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Very well then, we’ve established that “scientism” is an appropriate designation for your position. Now it’s just a question of degree.

    And, surely, whether my ‘scientism’ – as broadly as you’ve defined it – has the consequences you contend?

    That’s where much our conflict arises: in your assertion that science is “most reliable” — that “science says” is the best basis for assent to a proposition, without regard to the quality of the science, because it’s still better than anything else.

    To quote from #201: “No, it’s an explanatory pattern that makes use of science where possible. Judgment and trial-and-error have their place, too.”

    Poor, weak science might contain systematic errors which result in conclusions which are worse than random guessing.

    Well, here’s the thing. I agree with you. For example: the mathematical models we have of physics do seem to account for the data we see. We have some good reasons for believing that there was some kind of Big Bang.

    But those models break down a few femtoseconds after the (presumed) instant of the Big Bang. We can’t extrapolate before that point. So, I conclude that we don’t know (yet) what happened at the Big Bang… or what might have happened before.

    That doesn’t stop theists from insisting “the fact is that the universe did have an absolute beginning”, though.

    I suspect that the main issue is that we have different ideas about how much science is weak, and to what degree. E.g. common descent, or plate tectonics.

    But look at what that means: your whole basis for scientism — for declaring science to be the most reliable approach to knowledge — is based on an argument that is weak by its own standards.

    Yes… and no. Recall (#167) what my main justification was for picking my philosophical bases. Some prospects are self-defeating. The big three were (a) my senses bear no relation to any external reality, (b) my reason is unable to reach any kind of truth, and (c) entities in a hypothesis should be multiplied indefinitely.

    Any of those might be true… but if they are, I’m totally screwed in terms of figuring anything out. So, I assume the converse of all of them. My senses bear some correlation to outside reality, my reason is capable of reaching (note: not guaranteed to reach) truth, and more parsimonious explanations should be chosen over more ‘extravagant’ ones.

    And so, science and “naturalism seems to fall out pretty… well, naturally” from those assumptions. I can’t use science to argue for those assumptions, true. But I see no purpose in denying those assumptions.

    Of course, all this could go out the window if I got some divine revelation. But I haven’t. The closest anything’s come is reports of divine revelation to others, that I have to evaluate… in the absence of personal divine revelation.

    So I disagree that my “preference for experience is largely grounded in intuition.” It’s not intuition that drives me to accept Ockham’s Razor, for example.

    You can’t assume that the scientific test produces the right result just because it’s scientific: you need to measure the accuracy of your testing method against known data.

    Which is why you cross-reference things. For example, we cross-reference fossils with radiometric dating, known deposition processes, known chemistry, etc. What’s interesting is how remarkably consistent they all turn out to be. It’s at least as interesting a coincidence as a fingerprint scan, an iris scan, a voiceprint, a vein pattern, a signature, and a usage pattern all agreeing on the same identity.

    Well, pure reason seems conspicuous in its absence from that list

    ‘Cause all those considerations are downstream from the original application of pure reason. Nor did I hide that.

    Your attitude to science is to treat it as a signpost to philosophical naturalism, rather than a tool for testing specific hypotheses with empirically distinct implications,

    That strikes me as… ‘incomplete’ is the most charitable term I can come up with.

    while your attitude to revelation is, “I tried that, and it didn’t work for me.”

    Can you suggest another attitude to have? And on what basis? But that’s really the subject of the next response, when I have time.

  233. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    Different enough to stop normal relationship building, but not different enough to stop science, I take it.

    I didn’t say “stop normal relationship building”. If there are alternate means of communication, then you can develop a relationship. For example, I haven’t met you, seen you, or talked to you on the phone, but we’re having some pretty extended conversations anyway.

    So I tried the alternative presented – prayer. Without success.

    Your statement looks like an attempt to justify that activity by framing it as God’s fault for not responding to your prayer. This strikes me as a counter-productive approach to relationship-building.

    Ah, but note the progression. My wife has a sibling she doesn’t see anymore. They pretty much separated themselves from that whole side of the family. She’s only seen them a few times in the last several years – funerals, major surgeries of common family members, etc.

    Sometimes people reject a relationship with you. You can make yourself available, try to start a conversation, but they can refuse to answer. I did, in fact, attempt to establish a relationship with God. And yeah, I assert that I was sincere, and I assert that I’m qualified to judge my sincerity.

    If you try to communicate with someone, and get no answer, what are you supposed to conclude?

    On the subject of prayer not working for you, have you documented the approach you took?

    You missed the part where I said I’d use science where possible. Have to use weaker approaches when it comes to fuzzier subjects like interpersonal communication and relationships. And note that I tried the ‘relationship’ approach first. Seriously, what if I don’t fit your picture (caricature?) of a ‘scientismist’?

    if it’s true that there’s a God, what consequences follow for your approach to knowledge?

    I don’t think they’re the consequences you claim.

    none of your responses actually counted as refutations — ways which could detect God unambiguously.

    We can’t even detect the Higgs boson ‘unambiguously’. Technically, I haven’t detected you ‘unambigiously’. You might be a sock puppet for G. Rodrigues (though I doubt it; you’re much more polite) or the product of a committee. I didn’t ask for incontrovertible evidence – humans don’t get ‘incontrovertible evidence’ – just good evidence. Seriously, what if I don’t fit your picture (caricature?) of a ‘scientismist’?

    if God were to intervene in a detectable way, then, in the absence of a means to attribute the action to God unambiguously (and you have now agreed that methodological naturalism offers no such means), naturalism would still dictate that God not be used as the explanation.

    Take a look at this short excerpt from Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light”: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/323371-then-the-one-called-raltariki-is-really-a-demon-asked

    Science couldn’t confirm that something is supernatural, sure. But it could detect many, many kinds of influences that affect the world. Those footprints appearing in the grass with no one to make them might be a ghost, or a person wearing a suit made from light-bending optical metamaterials, but either way we can see the footprints. That’s how we deduced neutrinos – the particles we could detect were behaving in ways that displayed interaction with particles we couldn’t.

    If the ‘interactions’ were continually consistent with a Christian model and not other models, that would make the Christian model much more plausible. You might still have to take a ‘leap of faith’ out of naturalism, but you’d have some reason to give it a shot. (Even more if, y’know, your prayers got answered.)

    But we don’t see things that would be explained by “a powerful being that actively wanted to interact with humans and was generally well-disposed toward them”, let alone “a supernatural powerful being that actively wanted to interact with humans and was generally well-disposed toward them”. To get to the latter, you kinda have to go through the former.

    Perhaps you could clarify that point, and specify what sort of miracle or communication would count as sufficient evidence for something supernatural, and why that particular thing would be sufficient.

    We can detect things like dark matter, neutrinos, and so forth by their effects on what we see. For example, spontaneous healings are taken to be evidence of supernatural influence. Recall that I said back in #173 that “We look for patterns when trying to detect agency (like, say, an odd pattern of deaths when a particular doctor is in charge of the ward), and it’s funny that such patterns are not in evidence when it comes to ‘miracles’.” If God exists, then I’d expect to see a pattern that indicated agency in such miracles.

    If God exists, then it’s not like it’d be hard to provide evidence of something beyond current human capability. (Indeed, always beyond human capability.) E.g., these days a few factorizations of some 10,000-digit numbers would be awfully convincing. You could check that on a 1980’s-Macintosh… but generating it would take more computing power than Earth has right now. That’d sure get my attention – I’d be willing to admit that something well out of the ordinary was going on there.

    And, again, a divine revelation would be awfully useful in that regard. If God exists, then I’d expect a response when I prayed to begin a relationship.

  234. Ray Ingles says:

    Note: to speed things up, I’m going to try to avoid a couple words that I think trigger spam blocks. I’ll spell ‘em backwards, let’s see if that works.

    TFBW –

    So violent [epar] is immoral on the basis that it is a [lauxes] act that is not required for reproduction?

    Recall what I said in #175: “In a huge range of non-zero-sum games – where the values and objectives differ widely – strategies that don’t start fights, will forgive some attacks, but will defend against others, and are clear about the difference[,] do very well.” I’d think that provided some context.

    Initiating harm, causing harm when it’s not necessary (primarily self-defense, but surgery is another example) is wrong, in such an analysis. Violence shouldn’t be resorted to when it’s not required. Since human reproduction doesn’t require violence, it follows that [epar] is wrong.

    The focus seems to be on psychological states, not natural function.

    Do you think I believe they are unrelated? To wit:

    This is not a normative statement that “it is wrong to do X“; it is an observational statement that “doing X will not maximise Y“.

    Again in #175, I directed your attention to a discussion about ought and is. Brandon Watson writes: We use the word ‘ought’ when we’re talking about decisions, plans, strategies — practical matters. So it makes sense to see ‘ought’ statements as identifying solutions to potential problems. If the problem is to build a bridge that won’t collapse in the wind, it follows from the claims of material science and engineering that there are things you ought to do and things that you ought not to do. Faced with the problem of designing an experiment that will test a hypothesis, a good scientist can derive from available facts how the experiment ought to be designed. When you are faced with the problem of how to act rationally, there are facts about reason that undeniably force the reasonable person to draw conclusions about what he or she ought to do.

    The way I put it is you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can derive an ought from an is and a goal. (And a goal, you’ll note, is just a specific kind of ‘is’.) I think human nature puts constraints on goals. (As I also said in #175.)

    Now, if you’re saying that the odds are against you with the casino approach to making money, or the antisocial approach to obtaining happiness, then I agree with you.

    If someone actually manages to get rich at a casino, or to lie, cheat, and steal their way to happiness, then I don’t see that you have a valid post-fact criticism to level at them, because they got away with it. They took a risk, and it paid off.

    Like this driver? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbY0Jh9_RJ8

    Do you think there could be such a thing a risk threshold? Doesn’t the amount of risk have any bearing on things? If a drunk driver survives a crash, you can’t say something like “you were ridiculously lucky and should never have taken such a stupid risk”?

    There’s also the fact, that I alluded to before in #205, that certain means preclude certain ends. Dictators have to fear assassination and coups, all the time. Are they really ‘winning’?

    It’s not about making people be good: it’s about making good and evil matters of fact rather than matters of opinion, taste, or personal preference.

    Is it a ‘personal preference’ that you shouldn’t sacrifice your queen at the start of a chess game if you want to win?

    you then rely on certain consequences being preferred over others

    Because humans don’t prefer certain consequences over others, right?

    I’m contending that there’s enough commonality among human desires that drives certain general strategies. Non-humans might take on different strategies, but personally, I’m human and I’m okay with that.

    Secular behavioural management science can learn a thing or two from Christianity.

    Ah, the parable of the hawks and doves.

    And I’m actually on record as saying that there’s a lot of accumulated practical wisdom in religion. Sometimes you can be right for the wrong reason, just from accumulated experience. Metallurgy got pretty far along before we got a handle on atomic theory and chemistry, for example.

  235. Ray Ingles says:

    Well, either my essay didn’t get through the spam filter, or it got lost when the site was down. Either way, I don’t have time to try again today.

    Update from Tom: I released it from spam at 5:27 EDT. I have no idea what caused it to get sent there.

  236. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #232:

    But the main issue is that I think you’ll have to concede that, whatever the penumbra of ‘weak science’ might be, there has in fact been “clear and unambiguous progress” in strong science. Relativity explains a wider range of data than Newtonian physics. Toss in QM and you’ve got an even wider range. We’ve gotten stronger in chemistry, and yes, in biology too.

    So conceded — even for biology. We have a long way to go on that front, but we’re making decisive progress with things like the ENCODE project, although there, again, we need to make another distinction regarding the kind of progress. The kind of discoveries being made there are progressive, but not in the sense of developing a theory or model: it’s raw data, which reveals facts that must then be accommodated by whatever theory or model presumes to cover phenomena of that sort. It’s observation, not explanation, but observation is extremely important.

    The strength of physics is that we have mathematical models which measurably cover the data to a certain degree of precision within certain limits — that is, they have a measurable fidelity. The weakness of historical theories of mountain formation is that they have no such tight coupling with the data they purport to explain. That is why the field can undergo a scientific revolution without much noticeable fuss: it was simply one myth taking the place of another myth. No mathematical models were harmed in the process.

    For example, how well-established do you think universal common descent is? Would you believe we know the tree of life with quite a bit more precision than we know the gravitational constant?

    No, I wouldn’t believe that. I would, in fact, consider such a claim to be quite preposterous — laughable, even. Physicists deal with operational laws that can be tested repeatedly and independently, providing measurements with detectable variance. Universal common descent is a matter of history, not subject to direct testing at all. Any measurement conducted in the present will be interpreted in the light of significant assumptions, such as the doctrine that common descent is the only reasonable explanation for similarity. Consequently, the entire claim to knowledge really needs to be qualified with the condition, “if life descended from a common ancestor, then this is the path it most likely took.” It does very little to support the doctrine of universal common descent itself.

    On top of that, I know better than to expect objective and unbiased reporting on that subject. There’s a hot ideological war going on between the orthodox Darwinist majority, and the minority of dissenters (who the majority tars with the “creationist” brush, unless it’s rhetorically untenable, as for the late Sir Fred Hoyle). In this environment, one had best be careful what one chooses to publish, lest one be accused of “giving aid and comfort to creationist enemies of science,” as per Thomas Nagel, or “aiding and abetting their cause,” as per Stephen Jay Gould. Persons of influence must toe the Darwinian party line, or suffer the consequences.

    One must turn to such disreputable sources as Intelligent Design theorists to have one’s attention drawn to the difficulties with discerning evolutionary ancestry. So, even granting the necessary assumptions, I don’t think that the alleged precision of the tree of life is based on a candid and impartial analysis of the data. The fact that it is asserted with greater certainty than the gravitational constant seems like prima facie evidence of over-reaching in any case.

    I’m not well read on the “geosyncline hypothesis”, but I will essay the hypothesis that you are not a petroleum geologist.

    I can affirm your “hypothesis”. I gather you’re not one either. That’s life: we can’t all be experts at everything. Still, the Internet is a wonderful thing: a quick search can reveal tremendous resources if one feels so inclined. Here is a link to a PDF of an address given by a retiring president of the Geological Society of America in 1948 on “The Geosynclinal Theory”. It’s worth skimming, at least. The conclusion includes the phrase, “the geosynclinal doctrine is likely to prove to be a great unifying principle, possibly one of the greatest in geologic science.”

    Finding oil depends mostly on finding shallow tropical seas that have been covered over by traps. To find such things, you need to know where the shallow seas have been in the past. If you don’t think plate tectonics factors in there, I’d be surprised.

    I’ve no doubt that plate tectonic theory can be made to mesh with whatever geologic techniques are employed in the search for oil. I’ve no doubt that they were similarly made to mesh with geosynclinal theory during its heyday. I also seriously doubt that either theory has much bearing on the actual practice of oil exploration, and I didn’t see anything in the articles to which you linked to indicate otherwise. As far as applied science like oil exploration goes, I expect plate tectonics and geosynclinal theory to fill the role of “narrative gloss”.

    I’ll grant that geology is, in some ways, not as strong a science as QM. But that’s not to say that geology is a ‘weak’ science, nor that they can’t intersect.

    Strictly speaking, “geology” is too broad a category, consisting of too many sub-theories and sub-disciplines, to be considered strong or weak. That’s why I singled out geosynclinal theory and plate tectonics, specifically. In aggregate, sure, geology fares worse than physics precisely because the former deals so much in historical narratives, but it’s not uniformly weak.

    The way the continents fit together, including geologic features like mineral belts, fossil beds, magnetic alignment, etc. – all fit the plate tectonic theory and not the geosynclinal one.

    Yes, and those perceived improvements are some of the reasons for the demise of geosynclinal theory, and the corresponding rise to popularity of plate tectonics — after a mere half-century or thereabouts of being branded “pseudoscience” by the scientific elite.

    …at least one theory is substantially wrong.

    That emphasis on ‘is‘ is kind of interesting, in that the geosynclinal hypothesis has no prominent modern adherents, and few if any obscure ones. We’ve got a lot more data now than we did when the old theory was current.

    The emphasis on “is” results from the incompatibility of the theories, and the logical conclusion (from the law of non-contradiction) that they can’t both be right. In any case, the shift from one theory to the other was not data-driven — at least, not according to that article from the Smithsonian to which I linked, above. Rather, it was more a consequence of the dyed-in-the-wool geosyncliners dying off, and the fresh blood seeking supporting evidence for the controversial new theory. During the transition, new data in support of plate tectonics came from people who chose to seek evidence in support of the new theory while it was still considered “pseudoscience”, not from those engaged in the old research programme. Progress in science is not a strictly “rational” business.

    Oil prospecting is a case where retrodiction is a necessary prerequisite for prediction. Why do oil companies stake billions of dollars a year on standard geological models? It’s not like there aren’t proposed competitors. It’s just that they don’t work.

    I’m not sure what to do with this argument. The sarcastic approach would be to respond, “oh, well that settles it, then — I’ll be off now and my apologies for wasting your time.” Alternatively, since you link to Answers in Genesis for your “proposed competitors”, I could raise you an Andrew Snelling, thus demonstrating that while the whole YEC thing might not work for oil, it certainly does for uranium mining — but that would be a silly response too.

    I can’t raise a serious response to this objection because it’s not a serious objection. If you want to make a solid point about oil prospecting being reliant on some particular geological theory, then you’ll need to do better than cite a guy who “took a poll of [his] ICR graduate friends who have worked in the oil industry.” At least, I assume that was the meat of your argument: it was a struggle to find any meat on the dry bones of a deleted web page consisting primarily of one man’s bitter-sounding gripes about the way his questions were handled.

    The rhetorical value of a self-confessed ex-creationist who says that YEC is full of holes isn’t lost on me, of course. It’s great material if you want to crow triumphantly; not so much if you’re trying to develop a serious argument.

    Please explain, what is the substance of an explanation…

    What G. Rodrigues wants out of mathematics – understanding.

    Well, possible misrepresentations of G. Rodrigues’ position aside, that’s a very particular kind of explanation that you want. I characterised that as a “deep explanation” back in #200, and I gave some reasons why things might be beyond human understanding in #157. That would seem to be compatible with some of your musings about science, since you’ve hinted non-specifically at cases where science might not be possible.

    I’m still having difficulty reconciling this with your stance of philosophical materialism, however. I agree that supernatural explanations aren’t likely to lead to a deep mathematical sort of understanding of things, because they aren’t mathematical by nature. Even when supernatural explanations are quite deep (and such explanations are rare), they are still notoriously hard to verify. I can agree with that — I just can’t get from “supernatural explanations are not deep and/or not amenable to test,” to “therefore the supernatural probably doesn’t exist.”

    Likewise, I can agree that science is an excellent tool within its limited sphere of dealing with the observable and repeatable. The further we move from “observable and repeatable”, however, the weaker it gets. It seems necessary to overlook this in order to accept your induction that the trend will continue more or less to completion. On the contrary, I think that although the trend is likely to continue for the observable and repeatable, there must necessarily be metaphysical truths which are beyond the reach of scientific investigation, and the induction is therefore necessarily limited in scope.

    The need to postulate ongoing supernatural fiddling has shrunk drastically over the last couple thousand years, and particularly in the last couple hundred years or so. I don’t see how that trajectory can be overlooked. That doesn’t argue against deism, I suppose, but does seem to leave less of a need for an interventionist theism.

    What you are describing is a social trend. It used to be popular to appeal to divine intervention when no known law could account for the observed behaviour; now it’s more popular to assert that an as-yet-unknown process or law accounts for it. In fact, the pendulum has swung so far in that direction that some people will call you nasty names if you even hint at the possibility of a supernatural thing in the gap. Cultures simply have standard narratives that they use to fill the gap. If you’re asserting that this standard narrative has changed, then, by all means, I agree with you.

    I also grant that the trend exists for a reason: the universe operates far more autonomously than most people expected. This expectation is probably a natural consequence of common experience: we can’t produce systems that run indefinitely without intervention, so I suppose we have a tendency to assume that intervention is necessary. The trend doesn’t justify the extrapolation that the universe is entirely autonomous, though. Nor does it count against “interventionist theism” in any decisive sort of way. In terms of the normal operation of the universe, all God needs to do is maintain the established behaviour of things, but special interventions are not precluded by this state of affairs.

    Mathematical models of physics can not and do not explain why things are the way they are…

    Well, they sorta do.

    They can reveal the consequences of changing the various constants, leaving all else equal, but they can not explain why the laws are what they are instead of being something else entirely. It’s still possible to imagine water freezing at a different temperature and everything else staying the same: we just know that it’s not possible to achieve that outcome by tweaking the constants in the laws of physics as we know them — or not obviously possible, at least.

    You said that mathematical maturity was the hallmark of utility. Well, can you provide an example of a theory that (a) displays mathematical utility, and (b) requires the supernatural?

    I didn’t say that mathematical maturity was the hallmark of utility: I said that science which yields technological benefit is characterised by mathematical maturity rather than naturalism. Utility, in the form of technological benefit, is often produced outside of theoretical science as a matter of invention or R&D, and mathematical maturity is no guarantee of utility in and of itself. When science does yield technological benefits, however, it’s generally because it provides a mathematical model which allows inventors and engineers to better predict how systems will behave without actually building them. Simple “naturalism” gives the technologist no such leverage — in fact, so far as the technologist is concerned, it’s a vacuous term.

    Beyond that, I’m afraid that your question isn’t clear to me. If you mean something like, “is there a law of physics which requires the supernatural?” then there are two possible ways to answer. One is to say “no” on the grounds that the laws of physics simply aren’t about the supernatural: they are about time, space, matter, and energy.

    The other is to say “yes” on the grounds that the laws of physics themselves require a metaphysical explanation for their existence. Given that the laws of physics govern the entire realm of nature, the explanation for the laws themselves must come from somewhere outside the natural realm. Thus, physics is a useful, mathematically mature science which requires the supernatural in order to explain why it exists as a subject at all.

    That latter answer still might not have the kind of connection you’re after, however. To the extent that metaphysical explanations are mathematical, they are observations about how the universe would be different if physical constants were tweaked. To the extent that they are useful, they are philosophically, ideologically, or rhetorically useful, but not technologically so. This is so whether the explanation is supernatural in the spiritual sense, or supernatural but mechanistic.

  237. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #234:

    To quote from #201: “No, it’s an explanatory pattern that makes use of science where possible. Judgment and trial-and-error have their place, too.”

    That’s a qualification, but not a refutation. The point still stands: you assert that “science says” is the best basis for assent to a proposition, without regard to the quality of the science, because it’s still better than anything else in those cases where it’s possible. I’d be interested to hear you elaborate on those cases where science is not possible, just to get a feel for how large a gap that leaves.

    I suspect that the main issue is that we have different ideas about how much science is weak, and to what degree. E.g. common descent, or plate tectonics.

    Indeed. You seem to think that whatever theory is current is pretty solid. I’m much more reserved than that. In far too many cases, I think that current theories suffer from confirmation bias, gravitating towards whatever evidence supports them, rather than taking a sober evaluation of all the facts. But I’ve already discussed this at fair length in my previous post, so I won’t belabour the point at this time.

    Recall (#167) what my main justification was for picking my philosophical bases. Some prospects are self-defeating. The big three were (a) my senses bear no relation to any external reality, (b) my reason is unable to reach any kind of truth, and (c) entities in a hypothesis should be multiplied indefinitely.

    Recall (#168) that I agreed that we can disregard self-defeating ideas, so it’s not like I ignored you. For the purposes of discussion, I’m happy to embrace the negation of these ideas. To wit, (a) my senses bear some relation to external reality, (b) my reason is able to reach some truth, and (c) entities in a hypothesis should not be multiplied indefinitely. Note, however, that the last point is relevant only to the modelling of a system. If we are concerned with truth, then the entities in a hypothesis must correspond precisely to whatever entities actually exist, or the hypothesis is false. If we are simply modelling a system, however, then fewer entities is better, all else being equal.

    I note that scientism, such as you embrace, doesn’t follow from any of these principles, or all of them as a conjunction. Part of the problem, it seems, is that you aren’t embracing the negation of these ideas, but rather some opposite extreme — something like (a) my senses correspond closely with reality (so that which can not be sensed probably does not exist), (b) my reason is particularly good at drawing true inferences from sense evidence, and (c) entities beyond that which is hypothetically necessary probably do not exist. Scientism (and philosophical naturalism) would seem to follow naturally from these premises, but I reject them as unsound.

    So I disagree that my “preference for experience is largely grounded in intuition.” It’s not intuition that drives me to accept Ockham’s Razor, for example.

    If your preference for experience is not grounded in intuition, then what is it grounded in? Experience?

    Also, are you using Ockham’s Razor as a filter for truth, or a filter for utility? I agree with its use in the latter mode, but have reservations about its use in the former, as mentioned above. Simple models have clear advantages from the perspective of human understanding, but what non-question-begging basis can we have to suppose that reality always lends itself towards the most “parsimonious” state of affairs?

    For example, we cross-reference fossils with radiometric dating, known deposition processes, known chemistry, etc. What’s interesting is how remarkably consistent they all turn out to be.

    I’m afraid I won’t take that as given. I can appreciate why you would find it compelling, but I’m deeply suspicious that the data actually correlates in the way you say. One of the difficulties here is that there’s little room for candid admission of ambiguity or inaccuracy on this subject in mainstream science. Refer my comments in my previous post about the hot ideological war going on, and the social pressure to toe the party line. Truth is always the first casualty of war.

    I’ll assume that you’ve read all the material by radiometric dating sceptics, and have dismissed them as cranks and/or liars. Suffice it to say that I’m doubtful that the evidence is as clear and unambiguous as you suggest it is. The use of fossils for dating is based on the premise of long ages and gradualism in the first place, and I’m not convinced that the methods of radioactive dating are sound. I’m not sure how much of the “consistency” you cite is forced out of the inherent latitude in the measurements in order to fit the model. Meanwhile, creationist geologists like Andrew Snelling do research showing just how wildly inconsistent radiometric dating can be. Are you telling me his data is faked? It does seem that your position requires you to categorically dismiss any dissenting views.

    One of the problems with science as it is currently practised is that we rarely if ever get to see the raw data from which the results are cooked. Things always look so much more neat and tidy once the data has been interpreted appropriately, the outliers thrown away, and the results published in their final form. I suspect that the old aphorism about laws and sausages also applies to science: they cease to inspire respect in proportion to our knowledge of how they are made.

  238. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #235:

    If you try to communicate with someone, and get no answer, what are you supposed to conclude?

    That depends on a lot of things. I’ve had a couple of cases of “no response” recently. In one case, I gather it was because the person in question was unsuccessfully trying to chase up someone else before he got back to me. Clearly that doesn’t apply in your case, but the point is that there can be any number of reasons for a lack of response. In general, I wait a while and try again later. It takes a fair bit of concerted ignoring me to make me give up and go away.

    There’s also an important question as to what kind of response you were expecting. An audible voice? Writing in the sky? An emotional impression? A specific sign? You haven’t specified.

    On the subject of prayer not working for you, have you documented the approach you took?

    You missed the part where I said I’d use science where possible.

    I wasn’t suggesting that you made a scientific experiment of the prayer; I was just wondering whether you documented what you did and what you expected to result, or whether you’re simply sharing the conclusion and not the journey — which seems to be the case. The lack of details makes analysis difficult: all I’ve got to go on is that you prayed, and it didn’t work (for some value of “work”). I hope you can understand why I might want a little more detail.

    if it’s true that there’s a God, what consequences follow for your approach to knowledge?

    I don’t think they’re the consequences you claim.

    Obviously you don’t — but what consequences do follow? You still haven’t answered the question. I’m not going to ask again.

    Take a look at this short excerpt from Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light”…

    Yes, it contains one of your favourite memes: “the difference between the unknown and the unknowable.” We’ve already been through this numerous times, and if you’re still holding steadfast to the idea that “supernatural” entails “unknowable”, then none of what I’m saying is likely to make much sense, because I hold an incompatible view. Here’s a well-known counter-quote for you.

    For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.

    The supernatural is knowable in part, even now. Melissa raised the distinction between “completely unknowable” and “unknowable in part” in #101; you asserted that there’s no difference between the two in #109, claiming the assertion that things are unknowable — even in part — is “the intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero” (i.e. some sort of fallacy). The elaboration you offered in #116 involving dancing bricks went over my head, I’m afraid.

    I already summarised the back-and-forth on this subject in #157, so this is not the first time around this particular mulberry bush. Without dragging the point out too much then, I’m just going to have to say that I’m not at all satisfied that “knowledge in part” constitutes the kind of “division by zero” fallacy that you’ve claimed in #109. In fact, the claim seems quite nonsensical to me. Can you give a somewhat clear and rigorous demonstration of this problem, if not an actual proof? Preferably without hypothetical dancing bricks?

    Science couldn’t confirm that something is supernatural, sure. But it could detect many, many kinds of influences that affect the world.

    The fact that science couldn’t confirm that something is supernatural is my entire point. The fact that it could potentially detect a great many things is neither here nor there: whatever is detected will not be attributed to anything supernatural, not unless the prior commitment to methodological naturalism is abandoned. And why would you abandon the commitment to methodological naturalism unless it were necessary to admit the existence of something supernatural? How does one break into that circle?

    If the ‘interactions’ were continually consistent with a Christian model and not other models, that would make the Christian model much more plausible. You might still have to take a ‘leap of faith’ out of naturalism, but you’d have some reason to give it a shot.

    What sort of interactions were you expecting in the “Christian model?” Why are those expectations reasonable? At what point does it become rational to make that leap of faith? What kind of evidence does it take to undermine confidence in naturalism? More evidence than we have? Why?

    Show your working. Without it, your argument is indistinguishable from the act of taking all the known evidence, then setting the bar higher than that.

    But we don’t see things that would be explained by “a powerful being that actively wanted to interact with humans and was generally well-disposed toward them”…

    Yes we do, it’s just that you think they are also adequately explained in other ways, and, true to your naturalistic principles, you prefer those explanations.

    If God exists, then it’s not like it’d be hard to provide evidence of something beyond current human capability. (Indeed, always beyond human capability.) E.g., these days a few factorizations of some 10,000-digit numbers would be awfully convincing.

    So basically you want a God-of-the-gaps argument where you get to choose the gap? After all, a God-of-the-gaps argument is one where you infer the existence of God through a state of affairs that is beyond any other known agency. It seems that G. Rodrigues called it right back in #203/#213.

    But how am I to reconcile this with your comments way back in #12? Speaking about consciousness, you say, “I don’t see anything but gaps.” You want an explanation of how a ‘mental substance’ or ‘rational soul’ works before you’ll accept such a supernatural explanation. By extension, then, wouldn’t you demand to know how God performs his miracles before accepting ‘God’ as an explanation for miracles, no matter how conspicuous the miracle itself is? Or is the fact that we have no idea how such miracles could be performed sufficient evidence in and of itself?

    I put it to you that there is a parallel here: we have no idea how the miracle of imbuing matter with consciousness is performed, and yet we see evidence of this miracle performed all around us (and undeniably within ourselves) on a daily basis. You’ve already dismissed this miracle as a mere natural process which is currently not understood. Why should I trust your sincerity regarding some other specially-chosen gap? It seems to me that you are choosing gaps where you can see unfilled gaps, and ignoring the ones that have been filled.

  239. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #236:

    If I were to write a thorough response to your post, I would wind up asking multiple questions for each sentence you wrote. Given how much time I’ve spent on the other issues in this discussion, I think I’ll have to mostly shrug this one off for the time being, and just pick a few key points.

    The way I put it is you can’t derive an ought from an is, but you can derive an ought from an is and a goal. (And a goal, you’ll note, is just a specific kind of ‘is’.) I think human nature puts constraints on goals.

    So you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”, but you can derive an “ought” from an “is” and… another “is”? Either the product of what you are describing is not an “ought”, or there is another “ought” lurking inside your second “is” (the goal), which means you’re deriving an “ought” from another “ought”.

    The question that goes begging in this case is, “why ought I share your goal?” Human nature may put practical constraints on human goals, but they have enough variance to be at loggerheads with each other much of the time on many subjects. Whose goals count when determining “morality” of this kind? Perhaps you can demonstrate by showing how this moral calculus evaluates the abortion issue — a perennial source of moral disagreement.

    The problem is that there are good goals, and there are bad goals. An “ought” is only a moral good when its aim is a good goal. You’re equivocating on “ought”, using it in the sense of an effective strategy (e.g. “if you’re thirsty, you ought to drink water”), and presenting the result as a moral claim.

    They took a risk, and it paid off.

    Like this driver?

    Only if he got paid a million dollars or something for doing it — and I assume he didn’t, so no, nothing like that. Don’t be obtuse.

    Secular behavioural management science can learn a thing or two from Christianity.

    Ah, the parable of the hawks and doves.

    Um, no. The thing starts out with the observation that people want to feel good about themselves and also benefit from dishonesty, and that we rationalise in order to do both. It notes that rationalisation becomes easier with increasing psychological distance: it’s obviously wrong to steal cash, but not so obvious when you’re manipulating interest rates to make cash, even if the net effect is the same (you gain at someone else’s loss). They ask how can we make rationalisation go down, and they note that reminding people of the Ten Commandments causes them to cheat less, even if they’re atheists. They make similar observations about how Catholic confession also improves honesty.

    Hawks and doves is something else entirely. You’re seeing the concept you’re familiar with in that context, not the concept that’s actually being presented. This is somewhat emblematic of our conversation to date.

    That’s all for now.

  240. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    The kind of discoveries being made there are progressive, but not in the sense of developing a theory or model

    Yes, and no. There actually are controversies in evolutionary theory, mostly around the relative contributions of various contributions to variation and selection.

    Any measurement conducted in the present will be interpreted in the light of significant assumptions, such as the doctrine that common descent is the only reasonable explanation for similarity.

    Why do we have the twin nested hierarchies then? (Actually, three, or at least two-and-a-half; see below.)

    One must turn to such disreputable sources as Intelligent Design theorists

    There’s a reason they are considered disreputable, though. For one thing, noting that some areas of the tree are necessarily fuzzy does not mean that the overall tree is doubtful. The paper pointed to by the ‘ID types’ is arguing that some clades essentially diverged too quickly to resolve the exact trajectory. (From the paper itself: A bush in which series of cladogenetic events lie crammed and unresolved within a small section of a larger tree does harbour historical information… We submit that if the current efforts to assemble the TOL have, by 2050 (if not much sooner), assembled an arborescent bush of life, Dawkins’ prediction will have come to fruition.)

    For another, homoplasy on the protein level is different from convergence on the genetic level. The genetic code isn’t one-to-one for amino acids, it’s many-to-one. There’s a lot of redundancy. (Remember this discussion?) That’s why we have at least two-and-a-half trees. There’s the morphological tree, and the genetic tree, and the closely-related-but-nevertheless-distinct proteomic tree.

    the geosynclinal doctrine is likely to prove to be a great unifying principle

    True. Of course, it didn’t turn out to be. Whereas evolution has turned out to be a great unifying principle. So there’s that.

    Rather, it was more a consequence of the dyed-in-the-wool geosyncliners dying off… Progress in science is not a strictly “rational” business.

    So was the shift from classical to quantum mechanics, actually. Even dyed-in-the-wool quantum skeptics like Einstein eventually passed away. Humans are imperfect – this is a surprise? Even today people apologize for past excesses of the Church and such. Why you expect more of people who don’t claim to have a pipeline to the Truth is a bit obscure to me, I’ll admit.

    it was a struggle to find any meat on the dry bone

    You mean “There was a major problem; the data I was seeing at work [as a petroleum geologist], was not agreeing with what I had been taught as a [young-Earth] Christian… No one could give me a model which allowed me to unite into one cloth what I believed on Sunday and what I was forced to believe by the data Monday through Friday.” wasn’t clear enough for you? (This divergence between work and home affects your example, Snelling, as well.)

    that’s a very particular kind of explanation that you want.

    So far as I can see, it’s ultimately the only real kind of explanation there can be.

    I just can’t get from “supernatural explanations are not deep and/or not amenable to test,” to “therefore the supernatural probably doesn’t exist.”

    It’s actually “therefore supernatural explanations, even if true, could never be shown to be so”. You’d need supernatural revelation to determine if a supernatural explanation was true.

    On the contrary, I think that although the trend is likely to continue for the observable and repeatable, there must necessarily be metaphysical truths which are beyond the reach of scientific investigation, and the induction is therefore necessarily limited in scope.

    So why not start from that stable center and work outward?

    I also grant that the trend exists for a reason: the universe operates far more autonomously than most people expected.

    Why won’t that trend of ‘discovering increasing autonomy’ continue?

    When science does yield technological benefits, however, it’s generally because it provides a mathematical model which allows inventors and engineers to better predict how systems will behave without actually building them.

    What does that say about the increasing prevalence of evolution in computer science and engineering, then?

    the laws of physics themselves require a metaphysical explanation for their existence.

    “[T]he whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave…” – Bertrand Russell

    To the extent that they are useful, they are philosophically, ideologically, or rhetorically useful, but not technologically so.

    That’s what I asked, yes.

  241. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW – Next installment.

    You seem to think that whatever theory is current is pretty solid.

    Nope. For examples, psychiatry and economics. We don’t understand the brain and consciousness well enough to have any really comprehensive theory – we’re still at the ‘heuristics’ stage. Same with economics. Some science is possible there – at least on the level of evaluating heuristics – but we’re still waiting for the Newtons of those fields. (See my comment #139 – sometimes “I don’t know” is the correct answer.)

    If we are concerned with truth, then the entities in a hypothesis must correspond precisely to whatever entities actually exist, or the hypothesis is false. If we are simply modelling a system, however, then fewer entities is better, all else being equal.

    But, absent divine revelation, humans have to model the ‘system of the world’. We don’t get direct access to Truth!

    If our models were inaccurate with respect to Truth, but accurately modeled all we can encounter, we would never be able to tell. It would make – literally – no practical difference.

    Now, we’re not in that case yet – our models of reality are woefully incomplete in many areas. I just listed two examples above. But – again, absent divine revelation – all we can ever do is refine our models.

    something like (a) my senses correspond closely with reality (so that which can not be sensed probably does not exist), (b) my reason is particularly good at drawing true inferences from sense evidence, and (c) entities beyond that which is hypothetically necessary probably do not exist.

    Nope, I just think that, in the absence of divine revelation, we have to deal with sense data, reason, and our models – however imperfect they may be. And, again, I’m ‘scientismist’ only to the limited extent that I prefer science where possible – because “When it comes to the real world, to causal things, humans are demonstrably terrible at reasoning and extrapolating outside the areas where they can gather experience and test their predictions. Even when they reason with exemplary rigor, like Aristotle.”

    If your preference for experience is not grounded in intuition, then what is it grounded in? Experience?

    Reason plus experience, inductively. Assuming that my reason can reach justified conclusions doesn’t mean it will. Ergo, I should look to test my conclusions when possible. Such testing has, in fact, shown that I (and others) frequently make mistakes. Which confirms the hypothesis that testing is needed.

    Also, are you using Ockham’s Razor as a filter for truth, or a filter for utility?

    How can we tell the difference?

    I’ll assume that you’ve read all the material by radiometric dating sceptics, and have dismissed them as cranks and/or liars.

    Long ago, and I haven’t seen anything since to disabuse me of that notion.

    Are you telling me his data is faked? It does seem that your position requires you to categorically dismiss any dissenting views.

    Not faked, just carefully (mis)selected and (mis)interpreted.

    I’m not convinced that the methods of radioactive dating are sound.

    Do you, like Snelling, propose that the rates of radioactive decay might have been different in the past? There are – ahem – a few problems with that. For one, there’s Oklo. For another, there’s the sun. Are you aware that, based on our current understanding of physics (which so far as I can tell you accept as pretty sound), the light we see from the sun was generated internally, and takes at least a few thousand years to reach the surface of the sun? If the nuclear constants had varied much in the past, the sun would look different today, right now!

    Note also that both JAD (#51) and Tom Gilson (#204) have referred to the ‘fine-tuning’ argument for God. The idea is that if the basic constants of physics were different by even a tiny amount, the universe would be completely unrecognizable and uninhabitable. Shifting constants around to the point that 4.5 billion years of decay is scrunched into 10,000 years or so – that’s six orders of magnitude – is kind of a stretch. I mean, that’s like saying “Scientists are wrong about how wide North America is! They say it’s around 2,000 miles, but it’s actually just over twenty feet wide.”

    You can either have wildly varying nuclear physics, or the fine-tuning argument. You cannot have both. Which do you pick?

    One of the problems with science as it is currently practised is that we rarely if ever get to see the raw data from which the results are cooked.

    I’ll agree that that’s a serious problem, along with how a lot of modern science is funded. This time I’ll paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Science is the worst form of acquiring knowledge except all the others that have been tried.” I’m hopeful of the recent trends toward more open publishing. The more checks and balances the better.

  242. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    There’s also an important question as to what kind of response you were expecting. An audible voice? Writing in the sky? An emotional impression? A specific sign? You haven’t specified.

    ‘Cause I didn’t specify. I just asked for God to make Its presence known in some way I’d recognize. I didn’t want to put any conditions or demands out there, just a request – basically, “Hey, if you’re out there, I’m willing to talk.” I certainly think I was polite about it in my prayer.

    But nothing unusual happened, then or in the next few days or weeks. Nothing to indicate an agent trying to communicate with me, anyway.

    The lack of details makes analysis difficult: all I’ve got to go on is that you prayed, and it didn’t work (for some value of “work”). I hope you can understand why I might want a little more detail.

    but what consequences do follow?

    The main consequence is that I’m not going to believe in a God without divine revelation. (Note: I’m not talking about ‘the heavens splitting open and the Light of God shining in my face’, either; I’m okay with the ‘sense of the presence of God’ that so many believers talk about experiencing at some point – but which I have not, despite seeking it out.) However, according to most religions, some form of such revelation is, in fact, available. And moreover, since I believe I have good reasons for my epistemic stance, I don’t see how I would be morally culpable for following it.

    The elaboration you offered in #116 involving dancing bricks went over my head, I’m afraid.

    Here’s a simple example. Consider the recent case of those three women who were abducted in Cincinnati and held in some cases for over a decade in horrible conditions, raped and bound and beaten. There are plenty of people who will tell you that ‘it was all part of God’s plan, and it will work out for the good somehow, even if we limited humans can’t tell how’.

    Now, if a human had the power to stop that, and didn’t, we’d call that evil. But because God is “unknowable in part” It gets a pass. No matter how terrible, how evil something is that happens, that “unknowable in part” trumps any possible negative evaluation of the consequences. Quite literally anything can be judged to be ‘ultimately good’, just in some way we can’t see.

    That’s what I mean by ‘dividing by zero’. In math, it let’s you reach any conclusion. And in physical and moral reasoning, “unknowable in part” also lets you reach any conclusion.

    The fact that science couldn’t confirm that something is supernatural is my entire point.

    And yes, we’d wind up trying to understand things we would never end up understanding… unless we got some divine revelation. But, well, we’ve already been discussing that.

    You want an explanation of how a ‘mental substance’ or ‘rational soul’ works before you’ll accept such a supernatural explanation.

    Saying that there’s something like a ‘rational soul’ might conceivably be true, but it’s not an explanation for the reasons I’ve outlined. Indeed, it seems to close off the possibility of an explanation. What do I gain by accepting such a claim?

    After all, a God-of-the-gaps argument is one where you infer the existence of God through a state of affairs that is beyond any other known agency… It seems to me that you are choosing gaps where you can see unfilled gaps, and ignoring the ones that have been filled.

    It seems to me that first we have to agree that there are gaps, before we can argue about whether they are filled or not. As I said, “In order to explain something, first you have to have something to explain!”

  243. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    So you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”, but you can derive an “ought” from an “is” and… another “is”?

    You can’t derive an ought from one is. You need at least one goal and at least one constraint. Back in #175, I pointed you to this discussion; I really suggest you read it. If nothing else, note that the proposition that “you can’t derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is'” is credited to Hume, and just ask G. Rodrigues about how much esteem Edward Feser has for that guy.

    Human nature may put practical constraints on human goals, but they have enough variance to be at loggerheads with each other much of the time on many subjects

    Indeed. Except back in #182 I noted, Goals, BTW, form a hierarchy. Lots of people get up every morning and undergo an unpleasant commute to get to their job. Then they perform a job they dislike to get a paycheck. Then they take their pay and use it to keep their family fed and healthy.

    Some goals are subsidiary to others – they serve a more fundamental goal. A lot of that disagreement is at the level of subsidiary goals – e.g. in politics, where people generally don’t disagree that their country should have a strong military, but disagree over what level of funding is needed to achieve that and how it should be allocated.

    There’s always going to be disagreement – in the Church, for example, it’s called “disputation”, and there’s a lot of room for ‘prudential judgment’. Even with similar goals, people come to very different conclusions about, say, economic policy.

    I talked back in #179 about figuring out what actually makes humans happiest. It’s not always what people think they want – they can be mistaken about what strategies to use to reach the goals they want. A whole lot of crime is obviously in this category. I think when it comes to fundamental goals, there’s actually broad and deep agreement among humans.

    And we’ve learned a few things over the hundred thousand years or so we’ve been human. To wit:

    The thing starts out with the observation that people want to feel good about themselves and also benefit from dishonesty, and that we rationalise in order to do both.

    The reason I referenced ‘hawks and doves’ is because it contains relevant lessons. A world of mostly hawks is a terrible one, for the hawks as well as the doves. A world of all doves is actually best for everyone, but it’s not stable – invading hawks get a disproportionate payoff. A world with a certain proportion of hawks vs doves (or hawklike and dovelike behavior) is stable, but not as good for everyone – hawk or dove – as all-doves.

    One of the lessons is simple enough for a five-year-old to grasp (and I’ve raised four so far, so I speak from experience) – “What if everyone did that?”

    The more subtle point is that small defections have short-term payoffs (the kind we rationalize toward) but lead to bad outcomes overall – like, say, interest-rate munging leading to bubbles and crashes. I explain to my kids that if nobody shoplifted, things would be cheaper because stores wouldn’t need security systems. One thing I think we need is a lot more awareness of those ‘hidden’ costs and consequences.

    Humans aren’t like hawks and doves in one important respect – we can (and do) engage in ‘meta-evaluation’, taking into account other consequences and the behavior of others. In engineering, a whole lot of the devices and processes we use aren’t inherently stable, and need stabilizing mechanisms. We can hope to socially engineer situations that would not ‘ordinarily’ be stable.

    See, for example, traffic lights. Most people obey them pretty darn well even if there isn’t a cop at every corner.

    They ask how can we make rationalisation go down, and they note that reminding people of the Ten Commandments causes them to cheat less, even if they’re atheists. They make similar observations about how Catholic confession also improves honesty.

    Indeed, and I’ll repeat ’cause you apparently didn’t see it: I’m actually on record as saying that there’s a lot of accumulated practical wisdom in religion. Sometimes you can be right for the wrong reason, just from accumulated experience. Making standards clear, and reminding people of them, has a good game-theoretic justification. And I’ve noted the importance of forgiveness before on Thinking Christian.

    I suppose, if you still feel like going on, it’s your turn again. :-)

  244. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #242:

    There actually are controversies in evolutionary theory, mostly around the relative contributions of various contributions to variation and selection.

    Yes — the question of how all life descended from a common ancestor is still open to some question, but it’s heresy to question whether life descended from a common ancestor. Yay for open-minded scientific inquiry.

    …such as the doctrine that common descent is the only reasonable explanation for similarity.

    Why do we have the twin nested hierarchies then?

    Enough with the rhetorical questions. What am I supposed to do — interpret that as, “I can’t possibly imagine any other explanation, so there must not be one?” Clearly you are better read on the subject than that, and you have heard of alternative explanations, and have rejected them as inferior based on your own criteria. But what purpose does your rhetorical question serve, then? Please consider a shift to a more dialectical style of argument.

    There’s a reason they are considered disreputable, though. For one thing, noting that some areas of the tree are necessarily fuzzy does not mean that the overall tree is doubtful.

    For another thing, they threaten to undermine the scientific respectability of modern atheism, so they must be framed as disreputable for rhetorical reasons. That’s why people attack Nagel for daring to offer a small measure of respect to ID arguments. It is vitally important that dissenters be censured to maintain the perception that “science says”.

    Do you really want to tell me that it’s all about the evidence, and that ideology is insignificant and incidental? Or are you satisfied with vaguely insinuating it, as you have done?

    Whereas evolution has turned out to be a great unifying principle.

    Geosynclinal theory was a great unifying principle, right up until it wasn’t any more. It still had more than a decade of life left in it at the time of that quote. Even in 1960, Clark and Stearn’s Geological Evolution of North America contained the claim, “just as the doctrine of evolution is universally accepted among biologists, so also the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems is an established principle in geology.” [credit]

    So, maybe evolution will also continue to be a great unifying principle, right up until the moment where it isn’t any more. Solemnly swear on a stack of science textbooks if you like, but sometimes science calls in its “tentative” status, no matter how much hyperbole was invested in calling the old theory an “established principle”, or even a “fact”.

    We’re in a situation now which bears a great many similarities to the cusp of the revolution in geology: proponents of the established theory prefer to denounce the dissenting minority as “pseudoscience” rather than engage them; refutations are offered unilaterally, rather than in open debate, out of a desire to deny the dissenters any kind of platform. The most significant difference is that the ideological stakes were much lower in the geology revolution: plate tectonics wasn’t threatening to overthrow the doctrines of naturalism, uniformitarianism, or deep time. By contrast, ID theory is ideological anathema, because it would re-admit the concept of teleology into science — a concept whose hard-won banishment is deeply, deeply cherished in certain quarters.

    You mean “There was a major problem; the data I was seeing at work [as a petroleum geologist], was not agreeing with what I had been taught as a [young-Earth] Christian…

    Nowhere on that page does he describe himself as a “petroleum geologist”. He has no formal background in geology: he has a degree in physics, and has done postgraduate work in philosophy. He was unable to find work in physics, but “found work as a geophysicist working for a seismic company.” This involved processing seismic data for an oil company. Later, he “left seismic processing and went into seismic interpretation.” Calling him a “petroleum geologist” on that basis is arguably offensive to actual petroleum geologists with actual degrees in geology who work for actual oil companies, and I’d wager my right arm that you wouldn’t be calling him a “petroleum geologist” if he’d decided that the evidence supported YEC.

    Seriously, Ray: this is utter dross. It’s empty rhetoric with delusions of grandeur. I gave you the benefit of the doubt and assumed that you were referring to the people he interviewed, who did at least work directly for oil companies. Do better.

    This divergence between work and home affects your example, Snelling, as well.

    Terrific: more dross. Given that you are clearly acquainted with Snelling, and have this citation loaded and ready to fire, then I must also assume that you are familiar with his response. And yet, of course, you have not even acknowledged its existence, let alone specified any shortcomings it might have. But what rational response is possible in any case? Alex Ritchie’s commentary, which you cite, is nothing but an exercise in casting aspersions; pure argumentum ad hominem. If anything, it’s further evidence that defenders of the mainstream view find it necessary to attack their opponents, rather than address their arguments.

    that’s a very particular kind of explanation that you want.

    So far as I can see, it’s ultimately the only real kind of explanation there can be.

    Then I’m wasting my time. There are many things involved here for which I can’t offer a “real” explanation by those criteria. Consciousness, morality, philosophy, reason, mathematics — the list goes on and on. But I know you’ll respond to that with, “I only insist on science where possible.” I’ve heard it before, and I haven’t forgotten, see? The trouble is, this whole exercise plays like a shell game. You get to choose arbitrarily when science is possible and when it isn’t, based on your own criteria. So every time I think I’ve played the game according to your rules, and presented an argument that will be satisfactory by your criteria, the ball magically appears under a different shell. I’m getting sick of it.

    It’s actually “therefore supernatural explanations, even if true, could never be shown to be so”.

    Not by scientific means, no, but that’s just a limitation of science. And yet you seem to use the limitations of science as a license to treat everything outside those limits as though it doesn’t exist — to the extent that it suits you personally to do so, at least. You seem willing to overlook the problem when you need to take things for granted in order for science to be possible in the first place.

    On the contrary, I think that although the trend is likely to continue for the observable and repeatable, there must necessarily be metaphysical truths which are beyond the reach of scientific investigation, and the induction is therefore necessarily limited in scope.

    So why not start from that stable center and work outward?

    What do you mean, “why not?” Who said anything about not doing it? That is exactly what all decent science anywhere is doing. It’s just reasonable to expect the results to be limited. You extrapolate the trend of scientific progress without limit to a point where every question everywhere can be explained in terms of material mechanisms, and use that as a basis for dismissing the supernatural as unnecessary. In doing so, you’re ignoring the theoretical limits of science.

    I also grant that the trend exists for a reason: the universe operates far more autonomously than most people expected.

    Why won’t that trend of ‘discovering increasing autonomy’ continue?

    I think that the pendulum has swung far enough in the direction of materialism that you’d be struggling to find anyone who thought there were any open questions on the subject. In other words, the trend won’t continue, because people’s expectations have shifted. Whereas people used to expect intervention to be necessary unless a system was demonstrated to be self-sustaining, we now have a situation where people expect natural systems to be entirely autonomous. It’s no longer possible for the universe to be more autonomous than we expect, because the general expectation in mainstream science is that it’s completely autonomous.

    The new problem, then, is that the universe might be less autonomous than we expect. Maybe spontaneous generation of life is infeasible, even for extremely long and slow values of “spontaneous”. That’s more or less the thesis of ID theory, but it’s going to take a very different approach to demonstrate that intervention is necessary than it took to show that intervention was not necessary. One can demonstrate that a system is naturally stable through sufficiently advanced analysis of the underlying equations. Demonstrating that a system is naturally infeasible, on the other hand, is an exercise in probability. We still have a way to go before arguments from probability can be expressed in a manner that doesn’t attract dispute.

    When science does yield technological benefits, however, it’s generally because it provides a mathematical model which allows inventors and engineers to better predict how systems will behave without actually building them.

    What does that say about the increasing prevalence of evolution in computer science and engineering, then?

    It shows that “evolution” is a popular synonym for “search” in specific problem domains. I’m not convinced that biology has contributed anything concrete, mathematically, to these concepts. Evolution is a useful analogy for the process, but don’t take it too literally, or you’ll end up as a theistic evolutionist (because every piece of evolutionary computation ultimately has a programmer behind it).

    the laws of physics themselves require a metaphysical explanation for their existence.

    “[T]he whole idea that natural laws imply a lawgiver is due to a confusion between natural and human laws. Human laws are behests commanding you to behave a certain way, in which you may choose to behave, or you may choose not to behave; but natural laws are a description of how things do in fact behave…” – Bertrand Russell

    Quite true, but quite irrelevant. I didn’t say that natural laws imply a lawgiver: I said that they require a metaphysical explanation. If you want to contradict me, you’ll have to say it’s not the case that they require a metaphysical explanation. The question that Russell is not addressing in that statement is, “why are the laws of physics as they are, and not some other way?” One can not answer this question by reference to the laws themselves: that would be like answering the question “why is the sky blue?” by referring to the blueness of the sky. If there is any kind of explanation for the laws of physics, it is a supernatural one.

  245. TFBW says:

    @Ray Ingles, #243:

    If our models were inaccurate with respect to Truth, but accurately modeled all we can encounter, we would never be able to tell. It would make – literally – no practical difference.

    Fine. Just be consistent about it and don’t assert any relationship between science and the Truth. Don’t assert that science shows there is no God. Don’t even assert that science shows that there is such a thing as an electron. Be satisfied in asserting that we have an immensely useful set of models surrounding the behaviour of theoretical particles like electrons, and the utility of those models is not at all dependent on the statement “there is such a thing as an electron” being true.

    But you don’t do that. While you deny that humans have access to The Truth, you grant science the place of Next Best Thing. I can’t argue against an ideology of this sort, because it has no rational basis: it’s just what seems reasonable to you.

    I’m getting pretty sick of this. I’d love to offer a more concrete rebuttal of your position, but every time I try to do so, I have to navigate back through a chain of half a dozen messages to try to find the original point you were making, versus the rabbit-trails that it has taken in response. I’m about ready to reach the empirical conclusion that your position isn’t well-defined enough to actually be refuted. I’m therefore going to give the rest of your response short shrift and then conclude.

    You can either have wildly varying nuclear physics, or the fine-tuning argument. You cannot have both. Which do you pick?

    Unless you can show how they are logically inconsistent alternatives, I’m quite prepared to suppose that both are possible. It seems to me that either of them is fatal to your position anyhow: if fine tuning points to divine intervention, or non-constant radioactive decay shows that science can be deluded about the past by orders of magnitude, then scientific atheism is based on so much rot. As such, it doesn’t really matter which I choose.

    #244:

    But nothing unusual happened, then or in the next few days or weeks. Nothing to indicate an agent trying to communicate with me, anyway.

    I’m reminded of Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, asking God for a sign, and then immediately getting annoyed by the truck carrying a load of warning signs that gets in his way. I’m not saying that you did that — only that I can think of more than one possible reason why your test turned out the way it did, even if God exists, etc.

    Now, if a human had the power to stop that, and didn’t, we’d call that evil. But because God is “unknowable in part” It gets a pass. No matter how terrible, how evil something is that happens, that “unknowable in part” trumps any possible negative evaluation of the consequences. Quite literally anything can be judged to be ‘ultimately good’, just in some way we can’t see.

    You’re constructing a lousy argument using “God is unknowable in part” as one of its premises. That does not prove that all arguments involving “God is unknowable in part” are fallacious. Nor does it prove that all responses to the argument from evil are based on that premise. In fact, I can’t see anything remotely related to a valid argument in that pile of illogical nonsense.

    That’s what I mean by ‘dividing by zero’. In math, it let’s you reach any conclusion. And in physical and moral reasoning, “unknowable in part” also lets you reach any conclusion.

    Saying that science is the ultimate authority where possible and then arbitrarily deciding where is is and isn’t possible has a similar result. You can then justify anything in terms of science, and back off that stance when it doesn’t suit you to do so. It facilitates rationalisation, where you choose your desired outcome, then pick the prior conditions which facilitate reaching that conclusion.

    It seems to me that first we have to agree that there are gaps, before we can argue about whether they are filled or not. As I said, “In order to explain something, first you have to have something to explain!”

    There are gaps in our ability to explain, such as for the miracle of consciousness. In those cases, however, you are happy to conclude that science is able to fill the gap, based on nothing more than an argument from historical trends. You have persisted in this argument despite our pointing out that nothing in all of known physics or mathematics can even in principle provide the necessary basis for consciousness. You are appealing to a trend when you need a saltation — a quantum leap.

    This is the intellectual equivalent of dividing by zero. You can either appeal to a lack of phenomena which require explanation, and thus avoid the need for God, or extrapolate scientific progress to the point where any arbitrary phenomenon can be explained without God, and thus avoid the need for God. Furthermore, you can always defend this position as refutable in principle by appealing to some arbitrary, unobtained situation, like Jerry Coyne’s 900-foot Jesus, or whatever, and claim that thing would satisfy the condition of “unexplainable by science” (although even then it’s not clear that this would imply “requires God in order to be explained”).

    #245:

    You can’t derive an ought from one is. You need at least one goal and at least one constraint.

    Yes — where a goal is a thing you ought to do, and a constraint is a thing that you ought not to do. You’re just concealing “ought” inside other words. If that were not the case, I’d be able to apply your reasoning to arbitrary goals like “destroying all life on the planet”, and arbitrary constraints, like “without stepping on a crack”. Obviously, however, there is nothing morally laudable about succeeding in destroying all life on the planet without stepping on a crack. Indeed, it would be obviously morally reprehensible — all the more so for thinking that “without stepping on a crack” was any kind of appropriate restraint.

    The reason I referenced ‘hawks and doves’ is because it contains relevant lessons.

    Really? Because it looked for all the world like you were referencing it because that’s what you saw in the “Truth About Dishonesty” video. And that’s why I then gave a precis of that video to demonstrate that the concept was not contained therein. But why would you even be referencing it for “relevant lessons”? Relevant to what?

    At this point I have to dig back through the thread: #236, #227/#228, #205… okay, I’ve completely lost the plot. I have no idea why we are even discussing this, or what point you were trying to make. Another rabbit trail. What a waste of time.

    Right, so that’s about all there is that’s even worth mentioning. Everything else is just a merry little dance down some dubious rabbit trail of no clear relevance to anything. Here’s my final summary,

    1. Your argument is mostly so ill-defined that it can’t be refuted. It’s like trying to dissect a puddle.
    2. To the extent that your argument is not ill-defined, it suffers from the same sorts of problems that you consider to be present and fatal in the arguments of your opponents.
    3. And, to the extent that you have presented the arguments of your opponents, they have been straw men.

    Thanks for the argument, but I don’t feel that any further progress can be made with the material at hand. The kind of material that I would require, in order to make progress, is a formal logical argument of some sort. If you can present one of those, then I can critique it. Those, at least, have somewhat clear boundaries and rules.

  246. Ray Ingles says:

    TFBW –

    the question of how all life descended from a common ancestor is still open to some question, but it’s heresy to question whether life descended from a common ancestor.

    It’s no more ‘heresy’ to question common descent than it it’s ‘heresy’ to question whether the speed of light appears the same in all reference frames.

    You never did grasp with the math of congruent trees, y’know. As I pointed out in the link in #232, given 20 different organisms, there are 8,200,794,532,637,891,559,375 (over 8 sextillion) possible ‘trees’ that could obtain. Being able to narrow that to even 50 possible trees is ridiculously good confirmation. And the more methods you add, and the more different creatures you add, the stronger the congruence becomes. The odds of common descent being wrong have become absurd.

    The data could easily have contradicted common descent – but it hasn’t. At all. Either common descent is true, or an Intelligent Designer went astronomically far out of Its way to make it look that way.

    You could certainly question common descent… but you’d need some really good evidence. Just saying “I would, in fact, consider such a claim to be quite preposterous — laughable, even”, ain’t gonna cut it.

    In other words, when I asked, “Why do we have the twin nested hierarchies then?” I was not posing a rhetorical question. We have two (and a half) trees – morphology and genetics – that match to a redonkulous degree. How do you account for that if not common descent? I really want to know.

    When you say that my case for common descent seems like “prima facie evidence of over-reaching”… well, that strikes me as prima facie evidence of overreaching on your part. It’s just handwaving. The most you’ve been able to do so far is point to some results that indicate we may ‘only’ be able to narrow the possible trees down to around one hundred quintillionth of the candidates.

    sometimes science calls in its “tentative” status

    At this point, I have to wonder about what you classify as ‘tentative’, let alone tenuous.

    Calling him a “petroleum geologist” on that basis is arguably offensive to actual petroleum geologists with actual degrees in geology who work for actual oil companies

    Find one that’ll argue that, then. Taking umbrage on their behalf strikes me as… presumptuous.

    let alone specified any shortcomings it might have

    Snelling says that “even though I could have appealed to the editor of the monograph it would have been to no avail”, but he oddly leaves out one other option – not writing the paper in the first place. If he was serious about “abandon[ing] the geological column and its associated terminology”, he could have. Why didn’t he?

    There are many things involved here for which I can’t offer a “real” explanation by those criteria. Consciousness, morality, philosophy, reason, mathematics — the list goes on and on.

    Huh. We’re actually arguing about the ‘science’ of morality – or we were, at least – and it’s interesting that consciousness is something that happens in the causal world. It’s a phenomenon.

    Philosophy, reason, and mathematics – at least, in the sense you appear to be using the terms – are not phenomena that happen in the causal world. I think there’s a principled dividing line there, don’t you?

    And yet you seem to use the limitations of science as a license to treat everything outside those limits as though it doesn’t exist — to the extent that it suits you personally to do so, at least.

    And yet, I have in fact looked at was that are purported to give glimpses beyond those limits, and come up empty. So no, I’m not quite as dogmatically limited as you want me to be.

    You extrapolate the trend of scientific progress without limit to a point where every question everywhere can be explained in terms of material mechanisms…

    No, I just see no reason so far to presuppose non-material explanations, and plenty of history of such explanations coming up wrong.

    In doing so, you’re ignoring the theoretical limits of science.

    It would seem science would apply to the realm of causal phenomena, would it not?

    The new problem, then, is that the universe might be less autonomous than we expect.

    And I’ve already agreed that we have different expectations about how that’ll turn out, and we’ve even discussed why. It’s not like there’s a shortage of people proposing ‘non-autonomous’ models, though. It’s generally in areas that can’t be rigorously investigated yet, though. And in the cases where it isn’t, there’s a lot of handwaving (like you did about common descent) and not a lot of grappling with the actual nitty-gritty.

    I didn’t say that natural laws imply a lawgiver: I said that they require a metaphysical explanation.

    I’m not so sure. Why does water freeze at the temperatures and pressures it does? Used to be considered more-or-less a physical constant, until we understood more about atomic theory, and QM. Now we understand that, given what water’s made of, it couldn’t not behave that way. The ‘constant’ of ‘water at 1 atm freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit’ turns out to be dependent on more fundamental ‘constants’. Seems that the constants we see might well ‘bottom out’ at something non-supernatural, too. At the very least, you’ll need to develop your case at least to the degree you’ve insisted I develop mine.

  247. Ray Ingles says:

    Fine. Just be consistent about it and don’t assert any relationship between science and the Truth.

    We’ve been batting this around since #184 at least. Look, I’d love to be clairvoyant, to directly apprehend the causal world without having to go through my limited senses. But so far as I can tell, I’m not.

    But believing that we don’t get direct access to Truth is not the same thing as believing that we have no way of getting at Truth. Maybe we can’t open the black box, but we can probe it in various ways to get a handle on what’s inside. If nothing else, we can winnow away false ideas about what’s in there.

    And if we get down to a point where we can’t make any further progress… well, that’s a chin that Ockham’s Razor was made to shave. By definition, all the remaining theories cover the ground perfectly, so pick your favorite.

    I’m about ready to reach the empirical conclusion that your position isn’t well-defined enough to actually be refuted.

    Or, just possibly, you want it to be of a particular form so badly that you’re not processing where it doesn’t meet your preconceptions. Just throwing that out there, “Bruce Almighty”-style.

    Unless you can show how they are logically inconsistent alternatives, I’m quite prepared to suppose that both are possible.

    The fine-tuning argument claims that changing the physics we observe in the universe by even minuscule amounts would alter the universe’s behavior drastically, making life as we know it impossible. Whereas the notion that radioactive decay rates varied in past, making radiodating (wildly) invalid, requires changing the decay rates by six orders of magnitude. (That’s what you need to compress 4.5 billion years of decay into a few thousand years.) And yet, somehow, this altered physics still allowed human life to exist.

    At most one of those propositions could be true, not both. If physics can change wildly while leaving the universe habitable for humans, then the fine-tuning argument is perforce invalid. Whereas if physics can’t change much without destroying the universe’s habitability, then nuclear decay rates could not have changed enough to make the Earth a few thousand years old. (And that’s ignoring how you ignored all the notes about how varying decay rates is not consistent with data we see right now, today.)

    (Yet you accuse me of not taking a concrete position!)

    Nor does it prove that all responses to the argument from evil are based on that premise

    Where did I say that that was the only possible response to the argument from evil? I’m quite aware of multiple responses. This is an example of your failing to read what I actually write, apparently due to it not fitting your preconceptions.

    What I was pointing out is a concrete case where allowing unknowable features short-circuits any possibility of a conclusion. Can you come up with an example of an evil so terrible that, if it happened, it would be inconsistent with a god cleverer than you working toward with an unguessable ultimate good, someday?

    You can then justify anything in terms of science, and back off that stance when it doesn’t suit you to do so.

    A concrete example would be helpful here…

    You have persisted in this argument despite our pointing out that nothing in all of known physics or mathematics can even in principle provide the necessary basis for consciousness.

    What is consciousness, exactly? You yourself have claimed it’s “beyond human understanding” (emphasis in original). Can you even define it in more than a superficial way? If not, how can you claim to know enough about it to know how it might or might not be explained?

    Yes — where a goal is a thing you ought to do, and a constraint is a thing that you ought not to do.

    Is there an emoticon for ‘heavy sigh’?

    I will quote from the link you won’t read – note, these are not my words, but those of First Things contributor Brandon Watson – “We use the word ‘ought’ when we’re talking about decisions, plans, strategies — practical matters. So it makes sense to see ‘ought’ statements as identifying solutions to potential problems. If the problem is to build a bridge that won’t collapse in the wind, it follows from the claims of material science and engineering that there are things you ought to do and things that you ought not to do. Faced with the problem of designing an experiment that will test a hypothesis, a good scientist can derive from available facts how the experiment ought to be designed. When you are faced with the problem of how to act rationally, there are facts about reason that undeniably force the reasonable person to draw conclusions about what he or she ought to do.”

    A goal and an ought are different things. I dispute that “you can’t derive an ought from an is” – and so do the Aristotelian-Thomists, BTW – and I will simply note at this point that you have not actually argued for that point but simply asserted it, repeatedly, in the face of explanations and arguments to the contrary.

    And that’s why I then gave a precis of that video to demonstrate that the concept was not contained therein.

    And then I gave a precis, in the very comment you’re responding to, about why the ‘hawks and doves model’ is relevant. I’m totally at a loss to understand why you felt any need to follow any ‘rabbit trail’…

    The kind of material that I would require, in order to make progress, is a formal logical argument of some sort.

    Huh. Of the six or seven topics we’ve been going over, can you pick a particular one you want to discuss?

  248. TFBW says:

    #248:

    You could certainly question common descent… but you’d need some really good evidence. Just saying “I would, in fact, consider such a claim to be quite preposterous — laughable, even”, ain’t gonna cut it.

    The preposterous part was claiming that you know the pattern of common descent with a greater degree of certainty than the gravitational constant. The data you cite as evidence of common descent is tremendously theory-laden. You’re giving that fact exactly zero consideration in your calculations. It’s the scientific equivalent of creative accounting.

    We have two (and a half) trees – morphology and genetics – that match to a redonkulous degree.

    Sure: if you put your confirmation bias into overdrive and ignore all the contrary data, the evidence is unequivocal.

    Should I spam you with links to articles which talk about the problems with the evidence you cite, or should I not bother because you have already evaluated the counter-evidence and found it to be without merit? I think that I can safely assume the latter.

    Taking umbrage on their behalf strikes me as… presumptuous.

    I take umbrage at your disingenuous and transparently self-serving generosity towards his authority on the subject. I’m sure that any insult to actual petroleum geologists is an unintended side-effect. Doubtless, they have no reason to care what you think in any case, so don’t feel that I’m getting my dander up at you on their behalf. The only reason I mention it is because I thought you might actually have some respect for the profession, and thus might want to back down a little, but evidently your respect is affected for self-serving reasons as well.

    Snelling says that “even though I could have appealed to the editor of the monograph it would have been to no avail”, but he oddly leaves out one other option – not writing the paper in the first place.

    Yes, that option would serve you and your ilk better, because then he’d fall into line with that other popular assertion — that creationists don’t publish in reputable, peer-reviewed journals. Here’s another option he didn’t consider: he could stop being a geologist altogether. That would serve you even better again, wouldn’t it?

    I’m sorry, but to the extent that what you’ve said is an argument at all, it’s argumentum ad hominem.

    We’re actually arguing about the ‘science’ of morality – or we were, at least…

    You were. I never agreed that what you were talking about was either science proper or morality proper, let alone both.

    Philosophy, reason, and mathematics – at least, in the sense you appear to be using the terms – are not phenomena that happen in the causal world.

    You’re saying there’s no causal relationship between philosophy, reason, mathematics, and your actions? I’m inclined to disagree with that on principle, but the evidence to the contrary is intimidating.

    It would seem science would apply to the realm of causal phenomena, would it not?

    I doubt that we share an understanding of “causal phenomena”. In fact, I doubt that I can define causation in any rigorous way. I incline towards Kant’s view of the matter, but that only allows a science of things as we perceive them; scientific rationalists incline towards the incompatible view that we have a science of things as they actually are. I’m unable to discern your position on the matter.

    Seems that the constants we see might well ‘bottom out’ at something non-supernatural, too.

    Something non-supernatural like what? Another law of physics? That’s not “bottoming out” — that’s turtles all the way down. Metaphysical necessity, then? No, that would be a supernatural explanation.

    #249:

    … But believing that we don’t get direct access to Truth is not the same thing as believing that we have no way of getting at Truth. …

    You’ve asserted and re-asserted and re-asserted that as though it were somehow relevant and meaningful to something. I’ve given up trying to figure out what you mean by it, and what you think you’re refuting and/or proving by it. I’m pretty sure you’re using it as some sort of argument that Science is the Next Best Thing to Truth, which is what I already said in #247, but the extra repetition hasn’t made the reasoning any clearer. In fact, it’s become meaningless blather from over-use, if it was ever anything more than that in the first place. On reading it yet again, the only thing that springs to mind is, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Truth!”

    Or, just possibly, you want it to be of a particular form so badly that you’re not processing where it doesn’t meet your preconceptions.

    At this point, I just want it to be finished. It’s time-consuming and unrewarding.

    The fine-tuning argument claims that changing the physics we observe in the universe by even minuscule amounts would alter the universe’s behavior drastically, making life as we know it impossible.

    The argument is that specific minor changes would have drastic consequences, not any minor change. If you can show that the specific changes required to affect radioactive decay rates have knock-on effects that make matter as we know it impossible, then you’ve got a point. Otherwise, you’ve got an incomplete argument.

    Where did I say that that was the only possible response to the argument from evil?

    You didn’t, and I didn’t claim that you did. I was merely searching for a concrete point that you might have been trying to make in that pile of verbiage, and ruling out likely possibilities. My conclusion was that I couldn’t see anything remotely related to a valid argument in it. Please don’t feel that I’m accusing you of saying something — I’m actually accusing you of blathering; of saying nothing at all; of constructing an argument so malformed that it’s not only invalid, but not recognisable as being related to any particular valid argument, even on a charitable reading.

    What I was pointing out is a concrete case where allowing unknowable features short-circuits any possibility of a conclusion.

    You certainly tried to make it look that way, but it’s really no different from a plain old “unknown”. If you’re trying to make a distinction between “unknown” and “unknowable”, then it’s important that your argument illustrate that the problem does not exist for “unknown”, but does exist for “unknowable”. As it stands, the problem is the same for “unknown”. Consider your following challenge.

    Can you come up with an example of an evil so terrible that, if it happened, it would be inconsistent with a god cleverer than you working toward with an unguessable ultimate good, someday?

    In principle, yes. In practice, no. If I had a complete grasp of moral calculus (I do not) and complete knowledge of all possible future states of the universe (I do not), then I would be equipped to answer your question. In principle, and given a naive moral calculus that may not actually be valid, if an evil were allowed to happen such that the net long-term good/evil balance of the universe was not optimised towards good, then that evil would be an example of the category that you seek. In fact, the restriction would not only apply to evils, but to goods which prevent a greater good. This leads to the intriguing possibility that a universe that is completely without evil might be less good, in the long run, than a universe with evil.

    My practical inability to provide any actual, concrete examples is a consequence of my ordinary moral and physical ignorance, not anything unknowable about God. I simply can not offer concrete examples of things which meet the specified criteria, even on a probabilistic basis. I can not offer a defensible moral calculus which asserts with any confidence that specific outcomes have specific values, or even determine that specific outcomes are more likely than others over the long term.

    You can then justify anything in terms of science, and back off that stance when it doesn’t suit you to do so.

    A concrete example would be helpful here…

    I trust that I don’t need to provide any concrete examples of you making an (allegedly) science-based case for anything, since that covers the majority of what you say. Here are your escape clauses for when you wish to back off.

    “Judgment and trial-and-error have their place, too.” — #201, #234

    “Have to use weaker approaches when it comes to fuzzier subjects like interpersonal communication and relationships.” — #235

    That’s all really vague, I know, but it’s as concrete as you’ve been on the subject. If you want something more concrete than that, you’ll have to be more concrete than that.

    What is consciousness, exactly? You yourself have claimed it’s “beyond human understanding” (emphasis in original). Can you even define it in more than a superficial way? If not, how can you claim to know enough about it to know how it might or might not be explained?

    I know enough about mathematics to know that mathematics is not consciousness, and consciousness is not a mathematical operation. There is no kind of mathematical operation which could be consciousness, even in principle, any more than it could be matter, or a colour, or February. Mathematics is abstract, timeless, and fixed. Consciousness is concrete, temporal, and dynamic.

    A computation is simply the motion of matter and energy in a manner that follows a pattern analogous to a mathematical abstraction. In terms of its physical component, computation is simply a particular category of physical dynamics. Thus, to say that consciousness is a computation is to say that consciousness is a specific form of physical dynamics.

    In previous discussion, I said that I knew of two kinds of process: physical and computational. In retrospect, it seems that computational processes are merely a special (restricted) subset of physical processes. Thus, if consciousness is a computational process, it is necessarily a physical process.

    I don’t profess to know enough about matter to say that matter lacks consciousness: that is simply an intuition on my part — one which is nearly universally shared, even by you, it seems. There is nothing in our models of physics which could be consciousness as we know it: consciousness is not mass, motion or energy. It might be some as-yet undiscovered fundamental property of matter: panpsychism is a bizarre concept, but I can only declare it beyond my ability to fathom; I have no solid basis on which to declare it false.

    As for what consciousness is, if you haven’t experienced it, then I can’t explain it to you. If you are experiencing it even now, then I don’t need to persuade you that it exists, but I still can’t explain it to you. In fact, if you know what it’s like to even be capable of experience, then you have more first-hand information than I could ever hope to convey verbally. If you want more data, then you are all the data that you can access on the subject.

    Yes — where a goal is a thing you ought to do, and a constraint is a thing that you ought not to do.

    Is there an emoticon for ‘heavy sigh’?

    Sigh as heavily as you like. The point that I am unable to communicate to you is that you are equivocating on “ought”. There are two kinds of “ought”, and you are treating them as one and the same, thus producing a logical fallacy. I will have one last attempt to explain it to you, and if you still think I’m getting it wrong, I’ll give up.

    There is the kind of “ought” which applies to actions, given a goal. That kind of “ought” is congruent with that which is most likely to bring about the goal. That is the kind of “ought” that Brandon Watson is discussing in your quotation. Call this a “pragmatic ought”. This kind of ought follows from the goal itself, and the practical constraints of reality. Given goal X, you ought to do Y simply because Y is the kind of activity which brings about X.

    There is a different kind of “ought” which applies to the selection of the goals themselves. If you ask the question, “ought I have this goal?” then no goal is given, and it is not possible to have a pragmatic “ought”. It may be that your goal is appropriate given some other goal, but unless you’re satisfied with turtles all the way down again, there has to be some final goal which is not the product of any other goal. If you question that goal, then you have a metaphysical “ought”, not a pragmatic one.

    So a “pragmatic ought” is a course of action which follows from a given goal; a “metaphysical ought” is one which gives the goal in the first place. A bunch of other issues follow from that distinction, but I’ve ceased to be interested enough to argue the details beyond that point.

    And then I gave a precis, in the very comment you’re responding to, about why the ‘hawks and doves model’ is relevant.

    I’m afraid that your narrative became separated from your point somewhere along the track. I backtracked a couple of turns, but was unable to locate it.

    Of the six or seven topics we’ve been going over, can you pick a particular one you want to discuss?

    I no longer want to discuss any of them with you, particularly. If you think you’ve got a nice formal argument neatly packaged up, and want it audited, however, I’ll consider analysing it for you.

  249.    
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