Posted on Feb 1, 2013 by Tom Gilson
Follow-up 2/2/13: If You Think Atheism Is True, Then Atheism Is False
Just completed, live on the Internet: Apologetics 315: William Lane Craig vs Alex Rosenberg Debate MP3 Audio
Stick around to the end of the debate, and find out why I say “I’m buying Alex Rosenberg’s book so I can find out what it doesn’t mean.”
For those who are familiar with the philosophical questions of “aboutness,” here’s a preview from chapter 8 of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. The short statement of that problem goes like this: It’s impossible for one physical object to be about another physical object. The “aboutness” relationship just doesn’t make sense between, say, a paper clip and a piece of paper. Now, suppose human thought is entirely and comprehensively a matter of what our physical brains do. In that case, thought is entirely physical; but being entirely physical, it can’t be about anything. Nothing.
Thus he actually writes in chapter 8 of his book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality,
“You can’t think about anything at all.”
“Let’s suppose that the Paris neurons [the parts of your brain with which you have thoughts “about Paris’] are about Paris in the same way red octagons are about stopping. This is the first step down a slippery slope, a regress into total confusion.”
Honest. He actually believes that. Earlier in that chapter again, though, he had this to say:
“The Paris neurons aren’t about Paris in the same way, for example, a picture postcard … is about Paris.”
“Why are red octagons about stopping and yellow triangles about yielding?”
“Red octagons are about stopping because someone … decided that thereafter … they would mean ‘Stop!'”
Conclusion: traffic signs and picture postcards can possess aboutness. He says it repeatedly. But neurons cannot. And thoughts cannot.
Oh, I wish I could ascend to the ontological heights of a stop sign, so that even if my thoughts cannot be about anything, at least I could be about something in some other way.
Ultimately the one coherent solution to the aboutness problem lies in humans’ being created in God’s image. I’ll have more to say on all this in the near future.