Thinking Christian

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A Self-Refuting Pair of Atheist Errors

Posted on Oct 27, 2013 by Tom Gilson

I keep running into this pair of atheist errors. It happened again in two comments overnight last night.

1. “Faith” is belief without evidence. (See here and the web page linked from that comment.)

2. Christians don’t present evidence for God. (See here.)

These comments weren’t made by the same individual, but the beliefs expressed in them are closely related. Christians say our belief is backed by evidence, which atheists often rebut by denying that it’s evidence after all.

Which leads to some serious questions. When atheists claim that faith is belief without evidence, do they ever present any evidence for that claim? If they do, is it evidence that meets the level of proof they require Christians to present, before they will count our evidence as truly “evidence”?

For it’s common for them not to allow theistic evidence as “evidence” unless it meets a level approaching absolute proof. Of course this violates the usual definition of evidence, and a whole lot of epistemology besides. More to the point here, it’s a standard they don’t live up to themselves when they say that faith is belief without evidence; because the evidence they offer for that claim is nowhere near that conclusive.

Thus in those terms, their charge is self-refuting. They cannot call Christian faith “belief without evidence” without defining evidence virtually as equivalent to proof; but if that’s how they think evidence is defined, then on their own definition, they have “no evidence” for their charge. Does that mean they believe it on “faith”?

Related: A Dialogue on “Faith is Belief Without Evidence”

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267 Responses to “ A Self-Refuting Pair of Atheist Errors ”

  1. Tom Gilson says:

    I really ought to re-work this as an atheist-Christian dialogue. Watch for that to come soon.

  2. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    You say, “For it’s common for [atheists] not to allow theistic evidence as ‘evidence’ unless it meets a level approaching absolute proof.” I don’t think this is true. Atheists are convinced by predictions that are verified. The bible is full of stories like this (Moses predicting each of the plagues, for example), but we don’t have any convincing examples today, or even in recent history.

    This is the sort of evidence that shows that neutrinos have mass or that planets are orbiting other stars. In discussing the existence of something right here, right now, this seems like a reasonable definition of evidence.

    This definition of evidence my be wrong for judging historical claims. I’m not aware of such evidence for the existence of George Washington. However, the historical evidence for George Washington does not make a strong case for psychic who claims to speak with George Washington today.

    I agree with you that Christians provide evidence for God. Believers in alien abductions also provide evidence. I can see why many atheists would chose a definition of evidence that is a little more strict. I wish they would explain their definition more often.

  3. BillT says:

    And it’s not only whether atheists produce evidence for their claim that that faith is belief without evidence that is self-refuting. Do atheists produce evidence for their own beliefs that there is no God. The assertion that “There is no God” is a claim to knowledge just as is the assertion that “There is a God.” The former assertion requires justification just as the latter does. If Christians are guilty of “belief without evidence” quite certainly atheists are equally as guilty.

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin,

    The level of evidence required by atheists varies from person to person. I think your point is well taken, as far as it applies to those who have a more reasonable expectation concerning evidences. I have also run into many who simply wave all Christian evidences aside and say there is no such thing.

    It’s hardly relevant whether the historical evidence for George Washington counts for psychic claims: no one says that it does.

    The historical evidence concerning Jesus Christ is not just that he lived but that he died and rose again. For this there is evidence. For many of us it is thoroughly convincing. For others it isn’t. The same could be said for the philosophical and existential evidence supporting theism. It seems to me that some people want to say something like, “if it doesn’t convince me it’s not evidence”—which is the kind of distorted understanding of the term that leads many of them to say that faith is belief without evidence.

  5. Gavin says:

    BillT,

    Do you produce evidence that there are no alien abductions? I’m honestly curious what you think that evidence would be. Are you an alien abduction agnostic?

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    Your point being?

    Despite claims to the contrary, atheism is not just a negative belief that there is no God. It is the belief that the universe is the kind of place that can be credibly explained without reference to God. This is a positive claim. For most (not all) atheists, and especially for atheists who accept naturalism, it entails most or all of these claims, some (at least) of which ought to be supported by evidence if they are to be believed.

  7. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    Believing that there are no alien abductions is the positive belief that our world is the kind of place that can be explained without reference to alien visits. Those who believe in alien abductions have collected lots of evidence (strange sightings, just-so stories), and it is rather tedious finding non-alien explanations for it all. After providing non-alien explanations for many of their claims, it is prudent to move on to another topic until they provide some higher quality evidence.

    Likewise, much of what historically represented evidence for God now has a natural explanation (thunder, disease, the movements of the planets, etc.). We are prudently waiting for some higher quality evidence for God.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    No need to wait! There’s a short list of formerly-held reasons for belief that have been wiped away through natural explanation. There’s still a long list of reasons that have not been so affected.

  9. philwynk says:

    Gavin wrote:

    “Likewise, much of what historically represented evidence for God now has a natural explanation (thunder, disease, the movements of the planets, etc.).”

    Wow, Gavin, that’s a whopping big scarecrow ya got there…

    Among the arguments I hear theists using to prove the existence of God, the evidence is mostly “we are conscious,” “the universe exists,” “the universe shows characteristics of a deliberately designed system,” “nature contains encoded information,” “everybody agrees that morality exists,” and so forth.

    What you’re talking about is the stuff animists in primitive cultures use to illustrate the actions of meta-people they call “gods.” I haven’t heard a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim use one of those in… come to think of it, I’ve NEVER heard a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim use an argument like that. When did you?

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Meanwhile, I still see nothing of substance behind your mention of alien abductions. It’s still pointless. There’s nothing properly analogous between “the universe can be explained without reference to God,” and “the universe can be explained without reference to alien abductions.”

    I hope you’re wise enough to just drop the analogy; to continue to press it would look silly on your part.

  11. BillT says:

    Gavin,

    The alien abduction, flying spaghetti monster, orbiting teapot arguments have been debunked frequently and thoroughly. And your understanding that much of what historically represented evidence for God now has a natural explanation is narrow and incomplete. As Tom said recently:

    How many libraries full of books are there, on historical, philosophical, existential, archaeological, and naturally-based evidence for God? We give evidence and you say we haven’t given evidence.

    Perhaps you could brush up on some actual arguments for the existence of God and get back to us.

  12. Gavin says:

    I personally know someone who believes this alien stuff. He has tons of evidence and is obviously connected to a community of believers that have even more evidence. At some point I stopped trying to provide non-alien explanations and instead explained that the evidence he was citing — personal accounts, mysterious ancient artifacts, sacred texts, just-so stories about the pyramids and the origin of life — is simply not the sort of evidence required to make a case for aliens.

    Christians do have a long list, just like my alien advocating friend. It is a list of the wrong sorts of evidence. Some of it has been refuted. (We know why nature contains encoded information: evolution.) Some of it is just-so stories. (The universe does indeed exist, but so what?) What you are missing is some testable predictions.

    I’ve found the predict-and-test criteria for evidence about the existence of things to be very effective at avoiding silliness like aliens while still allowing evidence for many remarkable discoveries like dark matter and the Higgs boson. I am part of a pretty large club using this criteria. It is reasonable. Feel free to chose differently.

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Back to the OP, Gavin: Do Christians believe without evidence? Is that what faith is?

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    And are you really going to try to equate the alien-abduction theorists’ “long lists” with Christians’ reasoning? From here, it’s still looking pretty darn silly.

    One list has to do with questionable, indeed doubtful, particulars, most of which have to do with private experience, and the interpretation thereof. The other has to do with the very nature of reality, along with a pretty solidly established, scholarly-agreed set of publicly available historical, archaeological, and documentary data, regarding most of which the only real difference of opinion is in the interpretation.

    Analogies are useful for clarifying thoughts, when they are truly analogous, or for ridiculing others’ thinking, when in a case like this they aren’t. The thing is, when a person gets exposed in trying to use them for the latter purpose, the ridicule generally backfires. I suggest you drop it, for your own sake.

  15. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    “Faith” is used in many ways, and I have no opinion.

    Christians have evidence for their belief, using a broad but reasonable definition of evidence. Atheists (the ones I know) use a strict but also reasonable definition of evidence that excludes what Christians offer, but falls far short of “absolute proof.”

  16. SteveK says:

    The bible is full of stories like this (Moses predicting each of the plagues, for example), but we don’t have any convincing examples today, or even in recent history.

    You are glossing over the Biblical stories that “predicted” relationship changes, spiritual changes, cultural changes. Those same changes occur today. Get closer to God, align yourself with his will and you will be changed for the better – individually, culturally. Run away, deny him, worship something else, rebel against the objective good that is God, and you will be changed for the worse. It’s predictable.

    Of course, all of this is predicated on there being an objective good. That’s a can of worms to open another time, however atheists MUST deal with that same can of worms so perhaps that is a better starting point before getting to God. Atheists believe in an objective good. Atheism doesn’t, but most atheists do. If you are one of those atheists, where is your evidence for it?

    That’s a question we should not discuss here, now. You need to wrestle with it on your own.

  17. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    Let me acknowledge the limitations of my analogy. Regarding the “historical, archaeological, and documentary data,” you and my friend are in the same boat. He agrees with all of your data, but interprets it as evidence of aliens, from the parting of the Red Sea to the Resurrection. (He would love to tell you about it.)

    He does not use aliens to explain the nature of reality. There he wants explanations that give testable predictions. He has concluded, as I have, that the laws of physics do that very well. In that respect the analogy breaks down. Christians’ claims are more outlandish in this regard.

  18. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    The laws of physics are descriptive they do not “explain” the nature of reality.

  19. Gavin says:

    SteveK,

    That’s a question we should not discuss here, now. You need to wrestle with it on your own.

    I did. It was very interesting and helpful.

  20. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    The laws of physics “explain” the nature of reality to me. I am a physicist.

  21. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh my.

    What explains the laws of physics, Gavin? What explains explanation? What about the laws of phyics explains humanness? (Shall I go on?)

  22. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    The laws of physics explain the nature of reality. I do not need an explanation for the laws of physics, they just are. I don’t understand your second question; maybe you should discuss that with a philosopher.

    Humanness should be addressed by someone in a biological field. Biologists, neuroscientists, and sociologists have written rather extensively on this topic. Biology is well understood in terms of chemistry and thermodynamics, which are well understood in terms of the laws of physics.

    You can go on if you like but I can only address physics and general atheism. I think you know how to find expert sources if you are interested.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    I think what you’re demonstrating is your willingness to say you know what explains the nature of reality, without your being interested in many of the most important questions relating to the nature of reality.

    I didn’t ask my questions because I needed an answer for myself, but to challenge the adequacy of your previous answer. You didn’t accept the challenge. Apparently you’re satisfied with inadequate understandings of the nature of reality. It’s just confusing to me on that account that you could say you know what explains the nature of reality.

  24. SteveK says:

    The laws of physics explain the nature of reality.

    Huh?? For what they do explain, we know enough to conclude that they don’t explain ALL of reality. So your statement is false. Obviously false.

  25. Ross says:

    If I need evidence that faith is belief without evidence I’ll just turn to the dictionary – it’s one of the accepted definitions of the word.

    One.

    Frankly though faith is just a state of mind. Tom, as a Christian you have ‘faith’ that what was written in the bible is true. As an atheist I have ‘faith’ that science offers answers.

    Sooner the more militant of those on both sides of the debate can accept this and let the more moderate of us just carry on our lives the better.

  26. BillT says:

    The universe does indeed exist, but so what?

    Yeah, I mean this whole universe existing thing is like so 10 minutes ago. I mean like why even bother with it when there’s like so much evidence that’s so like similar alien abductions. And like so much of it has been refuted, not that I’d care to like name any of that refuted stuff cuz like it’s been refuted after all. Did I mention the alien abduction thing?

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    Ross,

    I agree that we both have our forms of faith. No problem there. In fact I too have faith that science offers answers. I have knowledge relating to both Bible and science, too.

    The problem is that the more militant atheists would deny that you have “faith” that science works. Boghossian in particular would deny that. Further, they insist that faith is nothing but belief without evidence. That’s way too militant. It’s also false, and it’s damaging and belittling to those of us who know it’s false. I don’t have to be “militant” to want to correct that.

    Faith is just a state of mind? Sure, if by that you mean it’s a mental state, an epistemic attitude; but if you mean that it’s “just” a state of mind like my current satisfaction with the MSU Spartan football season is a state of mind, that’s rather understating the case.

  28. Victoria says:

    @Gavin
    You are confusing description (how) with explanation (why). For instance, General Relativity describes how matter/energy affects the geometry of space-time, but does it explain why it should be so? If there is a more fundamental theory that leads to GR in some appropriate scale limit, then we’d have discovered a more fundamental description, but what explains that?

    It is unfortunate that a modern science education for specialists in a field tends to neglect the meta-science aspects of the modern empirical sciences.

  29. Ross says:

    Tom,

    I’ve no idea who or what MSU Spartan is, so good luck with that. And yes, I mean it is just another psychological state that’s as open to interpretation as whatever ‘happy’ is.

    You say the strict interpretation of faith as belief without evidence is false. Not sure I agree with that. It is a valid interpretation as valid as any of the many debates about what the bible means. Yet by “correcting” that validly held belief you are behaving in the same way as the person you are correcting. Other than from your own standpoint of “I am right” in what way does that move anything forward? I’dd suggest all you’ve done is got a temporary warm feeling inside and two people have walked away thinking the other is a misguided bigot?

    Surely your ‘faith’ should be strong enough to turn the other cheek, just as a moderate atheist won’t get that upset when someone clearly believes the Earth is 6,000 years old.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    You put correcting in scare quotes. That’s where you reveal yourself as mistaken. Whatever you mean by “valid interpretation,” the fact is it’s wrong to think of faith as belief without evidence. It’s an interpretation, but it’s erroneous. That’s not just my own standpoint; I have adequate evidence and I have adequate reasons. See the OP; it’s already there for you to read if you’ll only bother to do so

    You, on the other hand, seem to have the opinion that any “valid interpretation” should be allowed in some kind of live and let live manner. Would it be valid for me to interpret your position as mixed up? Would you allow that opinion to live and let live?

    As for my faith being strong enough to turn the other cheek, where on earth did you get that from? If you think it came from the Sermon on the Mount, you have no idea what Jesus was talking about there.

    The word “Bible” is a proper noun in this context, by the way.

  31. […] This is an alternate version of my post on A Pair of Self-Refuting Atheist Errors. […]

  32. Tom Gilson says:

    As for your reliance on a dictionary definition, Ross, see my follow-up post just published.

  33. Gavin says:

    I selected the alien analogy after reading this

    Personally, I think it’s possible in good faith to reject Christianity on the grounds of evidence, as it’s possible to reject that Columbus is the capital of Ohio on the grounds of evidence.

    I am trying to match the tone here. There are no outright insults, but condescension is in abundance. Victoria is pointedly decrying the state of modern science education, without any idea what sort of education I received. BillT is openly mocking, complete with adolescent spelling conventions. I fit right in.

    I am very interested in the points you mention, Tom, and I have studied them in some depth. Your invitation to reflection, like SteveK’s, is one that I accepted long ago. I’m comfortable with my understanding of these issues. However, I am not an expert, which is why I didn’t address them.

    SteveK, BillT and Victoria, I am quite aware of what the laws of physics do and don’t do. In some extreme situations our current understanding is inadequate. Those situations are behind event horizons or hidden by the inflation that powered the Big Bang. Known laws explain everything accessible in our surroundings and there is compelling reasons to believe that in the extreme situations laws that are mathematical, not personal, continue to apply.

    The laws of physics are the how and the why of the interactions of mater, energy and space-time. The laws themselves simply are. Sticking God into it provides no further understanding.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, did you also read this?

    Yes, in all honesty bigbird’s answer was a lot more intellectually responsible than mine… .

    Are you willing to match the tone there, too?

  35. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    I’m interested in your perspective on “the why.”

  36. SteveK says:

    Gavin,

    SteveK, BillT and Victoria, I am quite aware of what the laws of physics do and don’t do.

    I believed you until you said this.

    Known laws explain everything accessible in our surroundings and there is compelling reasons to believe that in the extreme situations laws that are mathematical, not personal, continue to apply.

    You don’t seem very aware of the fact that the laws of physics cannot explain everyday things in our surroundings. What is the physical law for forgiveness, for love, for evil and for purpose?

    Those are real things in our current, everyday surroundings. You can attempt to punt and say they are mere human inventions of the mind, but that doesn’t get you away from your claim that some law of physics must “explain everything accessible in our surroundings”.

    The laws themselves simply are. Sticking God into it provides no further understanding.

    You seriously ought to rethink that in light of what you know physical laws can, and cannot explain.

  37. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    I am quite aware of what the laws of physics do and don’t do.

    I don’t think you are. In what sense can the laws of physics be said to exist? Do they exist in a way that they could legitamately be labelled a cause (or explanation) of anything? Why does your curiosity stop at the laws of physics, such that you are happy to consider them a brute fact? Aren’t you curious as to why natural substances behave with such regularity that we can describe their behaviour by using the laws of physics? How can our thoughts be about anything if they are purely the out working of the laws of physics?

    Maybe your curiosity only extends so far, but I think these are important questions that are worth our consideration.

  38. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Gavin:

    SteveK, BillT and Victoria, I am quite aware of what the laws of physics do and don’t do. In some extreme situations our current understanding is inadequate. Those situations are behind event horizons or hidden by the inflation that powered the Big Bang. Known laws explain everything accessible in our surroundings and there is compelling reasons to believe that in the extreme situations laws that are mathematical, not personal, continue to apply.

    You are missing the point. The point is not whether this or that range of phenomena has or has not been “explained” by “natural laws”, but the very nature of natural laws and explanation by them.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Further: are your mind and your consciousness in your surroundings? Are you aware that consciousness in particular has been described as the “hard problem”?

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, my perspective on the “why” could be summarized in this: given that we inhabit this universe, and given that we are the kinds of creatures that we are, why does this universe exist and take the form that it does, and why do we exist as creatures who ask “why” questions?

    There’s a lot to unpack in both halves of that, especially the second.

  41. BillT says:

    BillT is openly mocking, complete with adolescent spelling conventions. I fit right in.

    For someone who mentioned alien abductions more than once and said “The universe does indeed exist, but so what?” (all well before the above) I’d say you fit in quite well, indeed. Serious questions and statements get serious answers here. Folks who continue to think alien abductions are relevant to the question of God (in spite of having their point addressed multiple times) and can’t understand why the existence of the universe is germane to the question at hand well…. Not to mention the serious answer you got from me in #11 that you ignored. Perhaps you’ll take they many serious answers that Tom, G. Rodrigues, Melissa and Steve K have provided and actually consider and respond to them seriously.

  42. SteveK says:

    Yes, BillT, comparing God to aliens or even teapots or flying beings made of pasta is a sure sign that the person doesn’t understand Christianity. I’m happy to do what I can to clarify, but if the person insists the comparison is valid, well…..

  43. SteveK says:

    Something for our math expert, G. Rodrigues. :)

    Computer Scientists ‘Prove’ God Exists

    Is it proof? I don’t think so. Is it evidence? I have no idea. Is it a fun bit of news to poke skeptics with? Yes! ;)

  44. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    Atheists believe in an objective good. Atheism doesn’t, but most atheists do.

    Does ‘theism’ believe in an objective good? How about just ‘monotheism’?

    I think you’re comparing apples and Buicks there.

  45. SteveK says:

    I’m not comparing, Ray, I’m stating a fact about what certain people believe.

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    Generally speaking, yes, theism as a system supports belief in an objective good. (I think we can overlook whether “theism” believes; it’s an idiomatic expression.)

    Atheism as a system, in its typical naturalistic version at least, does not support such a belief.

  47. G. Rodrigues says:

    @SteveK:

    Is it proof? I don’t think so. Is it evidence? I have no idea. Is it a fun bit of news to poke skeptics with? Yes!

    As is usual when a non-specialized journalist picks up on a technical subject like mathematics, the article is riddled with imprecisions. As far as the nub of the question goes, the situation is more or less where Goëdel left it, exactly nowhere.

    (1) Goëdel advanced a modal argument for the existence of God.

    (2) The argument can be formalized in modal logic and thus, is amenable to computer verification which is what the article in the arxiv is concerned with.

    Of course, the formalization of the argument (assuming its correctness; I am not an expert in modal logic) is bound to satisfy no one but those that are already convinced by modal-style arguments; for the rest, they will take issue with the argument on metaphysical grounds, with the premises, with the “suspicious” modal axioms (notably S5), etc.

    Another all too common feature of this type of articles is the disproportion between the enthusiasm of the journalist (a revolution is just around the corner, waiting to ambush us) with what has been really achieved. The formalization of proofs is nothing new and is being pursued actively, both on the practical and theoretical front (e.g. Voevodsky’s program for the univalent foundations of mathematics). Just last year, the proof of the Feit-Thompson theorem was formalized and computer-checked. This is a cornerstone theorem of group theory, essential for the classification of finite simple groups. It is also a theorem with a difficult and long proof. The original paper is over 200 pages. Ouch.

  48. Tom Gilson says:

    Speaking of over-enthusiasm, here’s another highly optimistic but failed “scientific” argument for God. I’m not wild about every supposed reason to believe in God. This one begins with a wild hypothesis that our universe is a virtual simulated environment. That isn’t what bothers me most, since it’s really pretty fascinating. The questionable inference to a virtual world at the beginning of the argument, and the further inference that the existence of matter is dependent on observation, are nothing compared to the later unjustified shift from computer to Mind: totally fallacious on an elementary level of logic.

    That has nothing to do with what SteveK brought up, except that if G. Rodrigues is right about the other one, the two share a common feature of being presented much more positively than they deserve.

  49. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    Consciousness is indeed a hard problem. However, consciousness shows every sign of being a physical process. It can be paused or altered by chemicals, changed by injuries, and affected by illness. When biological processes assemble chemicals into a new mind, consciousness emerges. When a mind ceases to function, there is every indication that the consciousness ends.

    To explain consciousness in terms of physical laws would require a huge and complicated journey from physics through chemistry, biology, neurology and cognitive science, with detours through thermodynamics, evolutionary biology, developmental biology and sociology. Even so, we have a rather detailed outline of this explanation, and much of the work is complete. You would have to consult many experts to get the details. While no one person understands all of this explanation, the many experts I have consulted are quite confident about their pieces of the puzzle.

    I think this is a hugely exciting project. It is not complete, but already has yielded great benefits, from spectroscopy to effective antidepressants, and changed how we view our place in the world. I expect many more benefits and insights as this hard problem is solved.

  50. […] “faith is pretending to know things you don’t know.” Previously I wrote two versions of an argument showing that this position refutes […]

  51. Tom Gilson says:

    What can I say, Gavin, except that what you’re telling us here is terribly over-optimistic with respect to what science might do some day. Granted, consciousness is strongly conditioned by the physical body: no one ever said it wasn’t. The question is whether it’s fully explained on physical terms, and this is a different question by far. The problem isn’t just a matter of complexity. It’s a problem in principle.

    For example, the simple phrase, “conscious of …” seems intractable to science, because that small word “of” implies a relationship between the conscious subject and the object in the subject’s awareness, an awareness that philosophers call “aboutness” or “intentionality.” How can a purely physical object or system be “about” another object or system, or worse yet, an abstraction like a proposition or the rules of logic or math? The question is crucial, yet it’s impossible even to formulate it as a scientific question, much less solve it that way.

    There is also the problem of qualia, the experience of for example redness in one’s field of view, or of some particular sound or taste. What is it in the brain that receives and experiences these phenomena? It’s easy to imagine something like “red signals” flashing from neuronal system to neuronal system, but where do these signals land, what integrates them together, and (most importantly) what or who finally receives and experiences that integrated phenomenal experience?

    Then there is the question of how experience, thoughts, etc. are coded in each brain. Suppose both of us read the weather report for Lisbon, and we both understand it accurately. What is going on in both of our brains, and is it the same in both brains? Are both of our brains structuring our neurons and neurochemicals identically when we understand something identically? If not, are we thinking the same thing or not? This question is admittedly potentially tractable to science, but at this point it’s an unanswered question, and to many it seems implausible that our brains are both doing exactly the same thing in response to identical stimuli, or while thinking identical thoughts; but if they aren’t, then how is thinking explained as a just-physical process?

    Further, suppose scientists one day were able to observe in fine detail the same thing going on in two brains at once. How could they know if the subjects were thinking the same thing? Probably only by asking them. There would remain, I am convinced, a wholly scientifically intractable subjective element. I could be wrong, but I would be very surprised. (I’m not thinking of trivial events like the brain’s response to a shape or a color, but of actual thoughts, propositions and mental processes going through the mind.)

    Then there is the problem of rationality. If your thoughts are purely determined by physical processes, then causation is closed off to other causes. If you think I’m wrong about anything I’ve said here, for example, then you think so because of physical processes in your brain, not because of any reasons, because reasons are not physical. There’s an entire literature on this, the Argument From Reason, that suggests this: that while it’s possible that physical explanations could account for everything in the brain, they could not be known to account for everything, because no brain could know that to be true of itself without relying on non-physical reasons in order to reach that conclusion.

    Again, we all agree that the brain is physical and that full consciousness and etc. only operate when the brain is in a physical condition conducive to those phenomena and processes. That’s hardly enough to conclude that mind is entirely physical.

  52. Melissa says:

    It can be paused or altered by chemicals, changed by injuries, and affected by illness.

    Scratching my head and wondering how any of these things show that consciousness is a purely physical process … if we take the physical to only consist of the purely quantitative aspects of reality (which we must if we are talking about what the laws of physics could describe).

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    Are you saying there’s a non sequitur there?

  54. Billy Squibs says:

    Tom, with regards to your Lisbon weather report, could this not be answered simply by proposing the existence of multiple routes to a particular solution? For example, in football (that’s soccer to you Yanks/ Canadians) it’s possible to score a goal with just about every part of your body with the exception of the arms and hands, and even then the goal keeper could use his hands or arms to unwittingly knock the ball into his own net. Perhaps a better analogy would be that of a maze with many false routes but also a handful of routes that lead to the centre.

  55. Tom Gilson says:

    I suppose that’s possible, Billy Squibs. I would expect the conceptual complexities of such an answer would be huge, obviously, which isn’t news to either of us, except for this: it would probably mean that making a scientific determination of the neural correlates of any thought would remain beyond any possible computational power for a long, long, long time to come. The brain’s physical complexity is vastly greater than that of any computer in any engineer’s dreams, last I knew at any rate. If there are multiple routes to one answer, then that same complexity is multiplied by at least the number of possible routes, meaning probably no computer could calculate those routes.

    Then there’s the problem of finding statistical correlations between stimulus S or thought T and those complex neural alternatives. It doesn’t take graduate-level stats to recognize that it would require an unreasonable number of volunteers thinking T or responding to S before any such correlations could be teased out. So while this may not be intractable in the sense that the aboutness problem is—where the question can’t even be formulated scientifically—it’s probably not within the reach of any realistic science anyway. If I’m right about that, your proposal here would forever be conjecture and never be demonstrated. If I’m wrong, it’s only in the use of “forever;” for I’m sure you would agree that no science could establish this in any reasonable length of time.

    But I need to rush to qualify my answer here. I’m aware that researchers have found ways to use fMRI to distinguish whether subjects are thinking A or B. That’s a step toward a scientific demonstration of your proposal, but it’s a long, long, long way from showing that neural-activity {a,b,c,d … } fully explains thought T.

  56. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    There are two reasons that your objections are unconvincing. First, they all are based on the idea that a complicated thing cannot have certain properties because it is made out of things that do not have those properties. This argument doesn’t work. How can water be wet if atoms don’t have properties of wet or dry? How can a car drive if none of its parts is capable of driving?

    These are arguments from incredulity. I personally don’t know how to assemble a pile of gears, rods, wires, belts and a tank of explosive liquid into a driving car. It would be wrong for me to conclude that it is impossible, in principle, to provide a mechanical explanation for driving. I just don’t know enough about cars.

    In fact I do know enough about mechanics and cars that I can imagine roughly what is required to provide a mechanical description of driving. You probably do too. I’m not enough of an expert to actually give a description of how real cars work.

    I also know enough about neurons and brains that I can imaging roughly what is required to provide a physical description of aboutness, qualia, and rationality, but I’m not enough of an expert to say how real brains do it. If you are interested in this, you should read some neuroscience literature. They are doing some amazing stuff.

    The second reason I’m unconvinced is that, to the best of my knowledge, the actual experts in the field of neuroscience don’t share your concerns. I think you will have a hard time finding neuroscience research that uses a dualist description of the brain/mind. They aren’t finding, for example, conditions where all of the neurons fire correctly, but the qualia or the abountness is wrong.

    This is what I find across many fields of science. The experts are quite certain that their area of study can be understood in terms of natural physical processes. Biologists are confident that biological information arises naturally through evolution. Cosmologist think that the origin on the universe has a natural explanation. Neuroscientists are confident that consciousness is based on natural neurological activity.

    Many of these scientist are believers, and often point to areas outside of their field as places where physical processes fall short: neuroscientists who think the brain must be designed, biologists who think the universe must have an external cause, or physicists who are dualists. Of course, there are also people who are experts in none of these fields who sit on the sideline saying that all of these sciences are wasting time because the answers they seek will always defy scientific explanation. We have a long history of proving those people wrong.

  57. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, if you think these are arguments from incredulity or from inability to conceive of emergent properties, then I think this conversation has reached its limit of productivity.

    Labeling will get you somewhere if your labels are accurate.

  58. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    There are two reasons that your objections are unconvincing.

    The reason why you find them unconvincing is because you don’t understand the objection. The physical sciences study an abstraction. Anything that is qualitative or intentional in our experience is either ignored or reduced to the quantitative, therefore qualia and intentionality can not in principle be reduced to a purely physical description. Pointing us to the findings of neuroscience misses the point entirely, why do consider them the experts we should turn to? Many of them show next to no understanding of what the actual problem is.

  59. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    If these are your arguments, I agree that nothing productive can come of this conversation. Thanks for your patience.

    Melissa,

    Many [neuroscience experts] show next to no understanding of what the actual problem is.

    Actually, many of them show a clear understanding that there is no problem. Still, I appreciate your advice to ignore the experts. It helps me understand the perspective here.

  60. SteveK says:

    Gavin,
    How did neuroscience *show* that there is no problem? I think you’ve given them credit where none is deserved.

  61. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Actually, many of them show a clear understanding that there is no problem. Still, I appreciate your advice to ignore the experts. It helps me understand the perspective here.

    If they put forward evidence from neuroscience that the mind is purely physical then they do not understand the problem. Do you understand why showing a correlation between physical brain states and mental states does nothing to answer the in principle objections to a purely physical mind? What makes you conclude that neuroscientists are the experts on this problem?

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, you’re looking to the wrong experts. Neuroscientists are good at neuroscience. You’re not raising a question that can be answered from within that field.

    At bottom, the question you’re raising here is not a question within science but a question about science: is science competent, in principle and in some ideal future, to answer all these questions, or is it not? I suppose you could wait until that ideal future arrived (or not), and then you would have the answer delivered to you by science. Or you could listen to people who study questions like, what are the limits of science? These are generally not neuroscientists but philosophers of knowledge (epistemologists) and philosophers of science. For mind-specific questions, there are philosophers of mind.

    These are the people who have the equipping to explore and discuss problems of rationality, aboutness (intentionality), and so on. Are you listening to the relevant experts?

  63. SteveK says:

    I think Gavin is listening only to the philosophers of scientism.

  64. Jeff says:

    I apologize if this is a duplicate post, but I tried posting before with an e-mail address that for some reason sometimes gets blocked by auto-filters (I promise I’m not a spammer – I really have no idea what the problem is).

    I’m a little late to the conversation, but I have some questions. Gavin wrote that consciousness “can be paused or altered by chemicals, changed by injuries, and affected by illness.” I see nothing controversial in that. Further, as he alluded to, the more and more neuroscientists study the brain, the more and more they see how physical processes affect traits of our personalities and consciousness. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Phineas Gage. A more recent example was included in the book, The Ethical Brain, where a man became a sexual deviant when he had a brain tumor. And I’m guessing most people have met stroke victims or people suffering from Alzheimers. So, my question is, if there is a soul, what is it doing? Alzheimers shows it doesn’t contain our memories, since those are lost by damage to the brain. The tumor example shows souls don’t give us restraint, since removing the tumor is what helped that man. Stroke victims and Phineas Gage show how little a soul would contribute to our overall personality. So just what do they do? If it’s all falling back on qualia, what happens to souls when we die and they no longer have access to the memories and personality traits encoded in our brains?

  65. Oisin says:

    I agree with every word Gavin has said, it simply makes sense. I don’t understand, what questions are being asked that science cannot address and how do you know science cannot address them?

  66. Jeff says:

    Oh, and on the topic of the original post, I used to be a member of a Methodist church, and still get their newsletter (I found it online, so you don’t just have to take my word for this). In a recent edition, the newsletter contained this paragraph:

    Faith is indeed believing without any “proof” or “evidence.” Faith is what everyone has who believes in Christ and accepts Him as Lord. Jesus put it this way: after Jesus was resurrected and appeared to Thomas and the other disciples he told Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”

    While it may not be a position that all Christians hold, it’s certainly not a strawman argument to say that at least some people use faith in that way.

  67. SteveK says:

    Jeff,

    Obviously that team had faith, because there was no “evidence” that they could win the conference.

    Sorry to disappoint the pastor, but there certainly was evidence that they *could* win the conference. Here’s some of that evidence

    - A new coach that the school trusted could make positive changes.
    - A full team of players all with the necessary abilities to win the conference.
    - Historical examples of other schools in similar situations that demonstrated it could happen.

  68. SteveK says:

    Faith is what everyone has who believes in Christ and accepts Him as Lord.

    Because we have reasons to do that. Reasons that, if you follow the chain of thought, connect to evidence.

  69. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    Alzheimers shows it doesn’t contain our memories, since those are lost by damage to the brain.

    I decided just to pick this one statement where your conclusion doesn’t follow from the evidence in order to highlight where these types if arguments go wrong.

    Oisin,

    I don’t understand, what questions are being asked that science cannot address and how do you know science cannot address them?

    Science qua science cannot answer the question of whether what science can study is all that exists. It ‘s like a person who concludes that there isn’t a plastic button under the rug because they didn’t find one using a metal detector. We know that qualia and intentionality cannot be reduced to the physical because the physical (as defined and studiedby the physical sciences) is devoid of qualitative properties and intentionality. The physical sciences study an abstraction, many people seem to have forgotten that and reified the abstraction.

  70. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    The physical sciences study an abstraction….

    Actually, we study the real world. That is why be build particle accelerators, telescopes, neutrino detectors and the like. Those things look at the real, physical world.

  71. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Actually, we study the real world. That is why be build particle accelerators, telescopes, neutrino detectors and the like. Those things look at the real, physical world.

    You study those parts of the real world that are quantifiable. That is actually one of the strengths of science that has allowed it to make such good progress in understanding how natural things change and to convert that understanding into useful technology. It also means that there are areas of our experience that will be outside the limits of science in principle. Lest you think that my view is anti-science or based on a fundamental ignorance of the scientific method, my PhD is in the field of chemistry. My objection is not with science but with the mislabeling of philosophical BS as science in an attempt to confer some kind of respectability on it.

  72. Oisin says:

    The questions at the end of Jeff’s first post were ignored, his point in his second post likewise. There is a danger of appearing disingenuous with practices like that, though of course it may have just been an accident.

    Melissa,

    “We know that qualia and intentionality cannot be reduced to the physical because the physical (as defined and studiedby the physical sciences) is devoid of qualitative properties and intentionality.”

    How do “we” know this? What evidence do you have that leads you to believe that the chemicals acting in the brain are not what the person is, especially in light of the huge body of evidence showing correlations (too reliably to be called coincidence) between aspects of personality and parts of the brain? By qualities I presume you mean emotions, and by intentionality I presume you mean goal-oriented behaviour? I’d repeat Jeff’s questions but I shouldn’t have to.

    I find it strange that you mention you are an extremely-qualified chemist, and yet proceed to weigh in on neuroscientific and biological issues without citing any sources. Earlier Gavin was insulted for not weighing in on biological questions as a physicist, but this is the kind of behaviour I expect from scientists, expertise in one field is not transferable to the others though one may inform the other.

  73. Tom Gilson says:

    Jeff, my comment on another thread is relevant to yours here.

    I’d say that newsletter was carelessly worded. If there had been no evidence whatsoever that Northwestern could win at football that year, it would have taken stupidity, not “faith,” for them to believe they could.

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, your question at 7:37 pm last night was answered before you asked it. Could you rephrase it so we could perhaps offer more help? Because in the form it’s in now, all I can do is advise you to read our answers again.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    The problem you raise in #72, Oisin, can be resolved by recognizing that the difference between Gavin and Melissa is her greater awareness of philosophy of science and mind. I don’t know if she would call herself an expert in those fields, but she is at least aware and reading in them. In all honesty, I don’t see any evidence that Gavin is.

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    Jeff, your questions in your first post are the most thoughtful ones posed here for us believers, in my view. In fact I’m going to take a moment and point out how they differ from what Gavin has characteristically been doing. He’s been saying with very little qualification, “science can do pretty much all of a, b, c, d, e, … z.” That’s pretty easy to respond to when we know that science can do a, b, c, d … n very well, but when we also have clear counter-examples to o through z. It’s the problem of stating universal generalities: they’re pretty easy to knock down.

    But you’ve asked for further explanations, pointed toward some puzzles. Not only that, but you’ve exposed points on which not all believers are in full agreement. Substance dualists, hylemorphic dualists, and dual-aspect monists (a new category I just encountered in a book on this topic by Malcolm Jeeves) have different answers.

    The point is, no one said this was easy or obvious. We have grounds for believing mind is more than brain. Part of our reason has to do with that set of objections o through z, which I think constitute complete proof that mental activity cannot be fully explained by brain activity. The problem of rationality (Argument From Reason) is perhaps the strongest item in that set.

    Part of the reason has to do with our recognizing the Bible as trustworthy and authoritative on this topic. Jesus Christ died and rose again, and this is evidence that life can survive death.

    So we have enough evidence to create a problem: if the brain doesn’t fully account for mind, then how does mind interact with the brain? And I for one don’t claim to fully know. The best explanation I’ve heard is that the brain is in some sense analogous to a signal-sensitive transducer. A radio wave carries information that cannot be expressed in the sensible physical world without a radio receiver. The quality of its audible expression will be conditioned by the quality of physical receiver, amplifier, speaker, etc.

    I think there are ways to make that analogy make sense in all the various forms of mind/body dualism, but it’s complex and there’s a lot of work yet to be done on it.

  77. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    I find it strange that you mention you are an extremely-qualified chemist, and yet proceed to weigh in on neuroscientific and biological issues without citing any sources.

    Firstly I only brought up my qualifications in chemistry to forestall the usual time wasting comments generated by the common atheist assumption that theists are anti-science. Secondly I have not weighed in on any of the science of neuroscience or biology. Thirdly, Gavin has shown no hesitancy in weighing in on matters outside his expertise, I hope we all recognise that you don’t necessarily need a PhD to apply good critical thinking, recognizing when arguments are not valid.

    How do “we” know this? What evidence do you have that leads you to believe that the chemicals acting in the brain are not what the person is, especially in light of the huge body of evidence showing correlations (too reliably to be called coincidence) between aspects of personality and parts of the brain? By qualities I presume you mean emotions, and by intentionality I presume you mean goal-oriented behaviour? I’d repeat Jeff’s questions but I shouldn’t have to.

    I’m not sure which part you are questioning. That modern science is possible because of the reduction of the physical to just that which is quantifiable? Or that you won’t find intentionality by using a method that ignores final causes?

    Once again correlations between brain states and personality do nothing to show that the mind is purely physical, that much should be perfectly obvious. By qualities I do not mean emotions but the first person experience of things and intentionality is not about goal-directed behaviour but our thought being directed towards things. The evidence you ask for in support of our position that the mind cannot be solely physical can be found in writings by Nagel, Ross, Searle and numerous others. Edward Feser has a blog where he discusses many of these arguments if you are interested. If you wish to refute these arguments you will not do so by citing neuroscience correlations.

    As for Jeff’s questions about the soul they assume his conclusions drawn from the evidence are correct, since I pointed out they don’t necessarily follow it didn’t seem necessary to deal with the follow on questions. I will point out that orthodox Christianity would hold that body and soul are together integral to the human being. What the soul would be able to do and how before the resurrection is a matter of conjecture.

  78. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    You study those parts of the real world that are quantifiable.

    We study anything that is observable. Things that are not observable in principal, are not real.

    Gavin has shown no hesitancy in weighing in on matters outside his expertise….

    There is a distinction. I’ve weighed in by saying, “If you are interested in this, you should read some neuroscience literature.” You weighed in by saying, “Why do consider them the experts we should turn to?” You are clearly saying that the people who study the brain do not understand what they study. That is a bold position compared to mine.

  79. Tom Gilson says:

    No, Gavin, you study what’s quantifiable.

    You do not study your thoughts. You do not study your awareness of your surroundings. You do not study your awareness that you are a unified self.

    You are clearly saying that the people who study the brain do not understand what they study. That is a bold position compared to mine.

    You are clearly saying that you assume that the brain is the mind, which is begging the question. That’s not bold, it’s fallacious.

  80. Billy Squibs says:

    Interestingly enough atheists like Vilenkin, Nagel and Ruse (all with different academic focuses) see conciousness as an intractable problem for naturalism. Of course they remain atheist nonetheless. As far as I know they all – to one degree or another – see the notion of epiphenomenalism as problematic, if not outright false.

  81. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    …you assume that the brain is the mind….

    I do not assume that. That is what the experts are telling me. There is a great deal of consensus in that community about this point.

    I realize that you would like me to consult philosophers of the mind on these issues, but there is a great deal of disagreement in that community. I am not a philosopher so I cannot judge who is right, but the contradictions mean that clearly many philosophers are wrong. Perhaps the methods of philosophy are not up to the task; perhaps we just need to wait for some ideal philosophical future. However, the philosophers of mind are clearly not a community of experts at this time if they cannot even convince each other enough to approach a consensus.

    You keep asserting that the mind is not the brain, but you do not have an expert community backing you up on this, just a bunch of philosophers’ opinions. When their methods are able to drive some consensus, then we can consider them experts. Until then, the only experts on the brain are neuroscientists, who largely agree that the mind is an emergent property of the physical brain.

  82. Oisin says:

    “You do not study your thoughts. You do not study your awareness of your surroundings. You do not study your awareness that you are a unified self.”

    These are all things explicitly studied by cognitive psychologists with a large degree of success (along with the nature of human rationality and how it works). How could you have claimed otherwise?

    In the same way that the concepts that explain aeroplane flight, like fluid dynamics and lift and drag, also apply to how birds fly, computational theory is used to explain how brains work. I defy you to find a single shred of evidence that even implies that the brain and central nervous system are not the only things involved in creating a mind. Philosophical arguments are fine, but the ones you cite go in direct opposition to observations of external reality.

    Your hypothesis about the brain working as a radio receiving spirit signals holds no water in light of our current understanding of physics (@ 34mins, the important bit lasts like 4 mins but the rest is astounding): http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

    The interaction between spirit and brain would have to be natural at some point, and therefore open to scientific verification. Dualism has failed, please read Steven Pinker’s ‘How the Mind Works’ because it is absolutely fascinating and leaves no need for a spirit. Notice that this in no way relates to the historicity of the Jesus myth or the existence of God.

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    I could have claimed otherwise, Oisin, by way of my knowledge of cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychologists just don’t study individual thoughts in the way I think you’re conceiving of it.

    What do you mean by “external reality”? I think that might be a core issue here.

    No, the interaction between spirit and brain would have to be at the boundary of nature and beyond-nature, and that juncture is not accessible to scientific study.

    My radio “hypothesis” was no hypothesis. It was an analogy. I admit these things are hard to understand. How could they not be?

    I’ll see if I can scare up a copy of Pinker.

  84. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin,

    Until then, the only experts on the brain are neuroscientists, who largely agree that the mind is an emergent property of the physical brain.

    But at that point of agreement they depart their field of expertise. It is, like it or not, a philosophical question, not a scientific one. If you can’t see that by now, then I’ve done all I can, and you will remain unseeing until you resolve that on your own.

  85. SteveK says:

    Oisin,

    The interaction between spirit and brain would have to be natural at some point, and therefore open to scientific verification.

    Interesting YouTube video talk from Dr. Sean Carroll you found. I’m just an average Joe with no physics training, but I think Sean is overstating the strength of his case regarding new forces of nature (approx 40m mark).

    As far as I can tell, his conclusion seems to be this: I cannot imagine what these new forces could be or how these forces would interact with protons neutrons and electrons so these new forces clearly don’t exist, or if they do, they don’t do anything meaningful.

    That’s begging the question.

    Maybe Victoria can comment on this since this subject is in her field of expertise.

  86. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    However, the philosophers of mind are clearly not a community of experts at this time if they cannot even convince each other enough to approach a consensus.

    You can be an expert without being part of the consensus. Being able to convince others doesn’t make you an expert either. Believe it or not you are probably quite capable of assessing many of the arguments yourself, using questions like are they valid, are the premises true.

    For example:

    1. Access to memories are lost when the brain is damaged.

    2. Memories are stored in the brain.

    I’m sure you can see that 2 does not follow from 1, therefore this argument is not valid.

    Many of the arguments will have corresponding refutations so then you need to ask the questions, has the person correctly understood the original argument, is the refutation concerned with the validity or the truthfulness of the premises, if I reject particular premises what are the implications of that rejection.

    When the experts on the brain step outside their area of expertise and make blatant errors such as the one above it would be irrational to ignore their errors and accept their opinion on the matter anyway. In fact we should not accept an argument that is fallacious given by an expert even within their field, I hope that’s not what you’re suggesting.

    Oisin,

    I defy you to find a single shred of evidence that even implies that the brain and central nervous system are not the only things involved in creating a mind. Philosophical arguments are fine, but the ones you cite go in direct opposition to observations of external reality.

    I’ve pointed you in the direction of evidence. You say those philosophical arguments are in direct opposition to observations of external reality. I say you’re blowing smoke. How about you produce the observations that are in direct opposition to Nagel’s argument “What it is like to be a bat”.

  87. Oisin says:

    @Tom:
    By external reality I mean objective reality, as opposed to mental models built by philosophers to test their own ideas.

    Cognitive psychologists study the processes I described, I can cite some pieces of research if you like. Unless there is another type of thought again that you are referring to, in which case I feel I would go and retrieve a study only to be met with “no, that isn’t the kind of thought I meant”, ad infinitum.

    These things are made hard to understand by coming up with explanations that prevent further study on the topic, if there is a spirit and it cannot be studied by science then psychology and neuroscience are chasing their own tails and should not produce predictions that are shown to be accurate.

    @ SteveK:
    I can see why you’d think that, but this is probably the most robust science of the millennium and is verified to an absolutely ridiculous extent.

    What he is saying is that they did the math, and built an imagined model using maths of every type of particle that could exist in nature, and made up all the ways they could interact. They tested and tested and tested and tested and one-by-one found each particle/field in the model, culminating in the Higgs boson. At this point, if they discover new particles/fields, they will interact with other particles either so weakly, or at such a short distance, that the effects would not be noticeable at an atomic level, and therefore could not affect brain activity.

  88. Oisin, says:

    Oisin,

    Firstly no one is suggesting there is some kind of spirit particle or force.

    Secondly what we are challenging is the assumption that ordinary things can be completely explained by reference solely to particles and forces therefore whether or not the description of fundamental particles in tightly controlled situations is considered complete by physicists does not address the question being asked.

  89. SteveK says:

    Oisin,

    At this point, if they discover new particles/fields, they will interact with other particles either so weakly, or at such a short distance, that the effects would not be noticeable at an atomic level, and therefore could not affect brain activity.

    If these forces were acting within the framework of our current physical models, then I would agree with you. But we aren’t talking about those forces.

    We are talking about forces that act within some other framework – the framework beyond our current one. That’s what Tom alluded to in #83. Let’s call these forces, F*.

    Dr. Carroll cannot say what the limitations of F* are – because we don’t know anything about F* or how things operate beyond our universe – yet he assumes to know that F* must be weak or that F* must act at a short distance.

    Like I said, question begging.

  90. SteveK says:

    Forces operating within the framework of the Bizzaro World might get the job done. :)

  91. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    It is, like it or not, a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

    You say that like it is an established fact, but you have no community of experts that agree with you, not even philosophers! The only support you have for this claim is that you already believe that the mind is not an emergent property of the brain, and because of that assumption you consider the topic to be beyond the realm of neuroscience.

    Reality has no interest in your prejudice. If the mind is an emergent property of the brain, then it is within the expertise of neuroscientist, and neuroscientists are the perfect ones to recognize it. Their consensus suggests that this is what is happening.

  92. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    1. It walks like a duck.
    2. It quacks like a duck.
    3. It behaves from birth to death like a duck.
    4. Its anatomy is exactly like that of a duck.
    5. The ornithologist community has reached a consensus that this is almost certainly a duck.
    6. It is probably a duck.

    I’m sure you can see that 6 does not follow from 1-5, therefore this argument is not valid. However, it is persuasive. This is where we are with the question whether the mind is a an emergent property of the physical brain.

  93. Gavin says:

    SteveK,

    It is well established that the physical brain is made of electrons, neutrons and protons. “F* force” or “beyond nature” or whatever is going to need to interact with electrons, neutrons or protons strongly enough to affect their behavior in the brain but weekly enough to avoid detection in experiments with electrons, neutrons and protons.

    To have an affect on electrons, protons, or neutrons in the brain, it would have to be about as strong and long range as the electric forces between atoms. This is because the brain is a hot and busy place. Thermal motion has the atoms bouncing and colliding constantly. This new force is going to need to be strong enough to rise above the random jostling of all this bouncing around. If the force is too weak or too short range it will simply be lost in the noise.

    When we study electrons, neutrons and protons to see the forces that affect them, we use extremely sensitive instruments in very cold environments, often in vacuum with electromagnetic shielding and deep underground to avoid cosmic rays. We can detect unbelievably weak forces, like the appropriately named “weak force.” Forces that weak, no matter what form they take, are not strong enough to be detected in a noisy environment like the brain.

  94. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    The only support you have for this claim is that you already believe that the mind is not an emergent property of the brain, and because of that assumption you consider the topic to be beyond the realm of neuroscience.

    The support comes from philosophical arguments and as such is not an assumption. If you want to challenge that you either need to show that those arguments are not sound. Your continuing failure to recognise conclusions that are outside the boundaries of science is puzzling. Your argument goes something like this:

    1. Neuroscientists are the relevant experts to consult regarding the brain.
    2. The mind is the same as the brain.
    3. Neuroscientists are the relevant experts to consult regarding the mind.
    4. The consensus among neuroscientists is that the mind is the same as the brain.
    5. The mind us the same as the brain.

    You can see from this that your argument us question begging because the conclusion at 5 is contained one of the premises (2).

    There are philosophical arguments that refute 2/5 so Tom is not begging the question. The logically correct way ahead for you is to refute those arguments.

    Edited to add: strictly speaking 5 doesn’t follow from 4 either but that’s another issue.

  95. Melissa says:

    1. It walks like a duck.
    2. It quacks like a duck.
    3. It behaves from birth to death like a duck.
    4. Its anatomy is exactly like that of a duck.
    5. The ornithologist community has reached a consensus that this is almost certainly a duck.
    6. A sound deductive argument has been provided why it is not a duck.
    7. It is not a duck.

    This conclusion does follow.

    And that is ignoring the obvious – in the case of mind it doesn’t look like the brain.

  96. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Gavin:

    Reality has no interest in your prejudice. If the mind is an emergent property of the brain, then it is within the expertise of neuroscientist, and neuroscientists are the perfect ones to recognize it. Their consensus suggests that this is what is happening.

    Neither it has in *your* prejudice, so cut the crap, will you? A couple of things are quite obvious by now:

    (1) You neither know, much less understand the nature of the arguments against materialism.

    (2) The arguments are not scientific arguments, but philosophical, so screaming Science ™ is only further proof of your ignorance.

    (3) By your own admission, you are not an expert in neuroscience, so you are not competent to judge the evidence.

    I can readily believe the consensus in the neuroscientific community is what you say it is; and there is something to be said in defense of just sticking with the consensus. But let us be clear on what your defense amounts to: an argument from authority on a question that is outside the authority’s expertise. And to claim otherwise is just begging the question, so an *argument* is needed, but since you do not even know the arguments in question, what you have to parrot about the subject is exactly nothing and with even less importance and interest.

    And while I am at it, you do not speak in the name of Science or in the name of scientists, so please drop the “we”.

  97. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    6. A sound deductive argument has been provided why it is not a duck.
    7. It is not a duck.

    7 does follow logically from 6, but I would still put my money on the ornithologists. Philosophers and their numbered lists have a very poor record compared to scientists and their observations.

    Your continuing failure to recognise conclusions that are outside the boundaries of science is puzzling.

    These specific conclusions are not recognized by much of the philosophical community, and are in contradiction to consensus in most of the scientific community. You may believe that you know better than all of them, but my reluctance to follow you should not be puzzling.

  98. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    7 does follow logically from 6, but I would still put my money on the ornithologists. Philosophers and their numbered lists have a very poor record compared to scientists and their observations.

    Exactly, forget about logic and rational arguments and go with your prejudice.

    These specific conclusions are not recognized by much of the philosophical community, and are in contradiction to consensus in most of the scientific community. You may believe that you know better than all of them, but my reluctance to follow you should not be puzzling.

    I do not expect you to follow me, except in the sense that you really should either do some reading or even just do a little bit of thinking for yourself and the specific conclusion I was referring to was whether the mind is the same as the brain is a scientific question. If you are blind to that reality there’s nothing more to say.

  99. Oisin says:

    The problem with what is going on here is that the non-believers are arguing from a consensus-driven, empirically-studied viewpoint, whereas the believers are arguing from a minority, introspectively realized viewpoint.

    To people who see the value in making predictions about how the world works, then checking the predictions to see if they match up, it seems so strange to see people making claims about reality that they feel no need to back up. Just by thinking about it, or reading a book by someone else who thought about it, they think that they have access to facts about brains and how they work, but at no point has the study of a brain been a part of this process of reasoning. You have yet to list a quality that is not mediated by the brain, you have given no reason to think that there is a need to even consider the possibility of a soul, and you have given absolutely no information about what a soul is and what it does.

    My point about the physics earlier is that a soul force (F*) could not interact with the matter in the brain from a physics standpoint, every force has been discovered and studied at the scale required, if F* even existed it could not affect the workings of the brain. So again, you have created a mind-body problem with no solution. Scientists resolve this through a few observations:

    1. Humans have minds.
    2. Humans who have their brains damaged have an aspect of their mind damaged.
    3. Specific parts of the brain correlate with specific mind functions.
    4. Electrical stimulation of parts of the brain, and the insertions of chemicals into the brain, affect how the mind works.
    5. When the brain dies the mind disappears.
    6. The brain gives rise to the mind.

    Now this seems like an assumption, but what scientists have done is gone ahead and checked to see if they can figure out how minds work using this assumption. They can, and do, so the probability that this is true is higher than any other assumptions.

    Explaining the mind using a spirit creates big problems for understanding reality. The physics problem I listed earlier is a big one, because the interaction between mind and brain is not just outside of the expertise of science, it directly contradicts the findings of areas of science.

    Another huge problem is that the soul by definition is inaccessible for study, so we cannot study minds scientifically if the soul is real. This contradicts the findings of cognitive psychologists, who regularly study aspects of the mind like creativity, reasoning and consciousness. They do not study it at a biochemical level, but that is because there is a huge amount of work yet to be done, and if there is a soul their work is completely misguided.

    The reason we consider scientific consensus to be a reliable authority is that there are always scientists working against each other to prove each other wrong, even when a way of thinking has been accepted. If an idea like materialism of the mind comes into use, and goes unchallenged after decades of thousands of independent researchers coming up with new ideas and checking them, and testing other people’s ideas to see if they are wrong, the odds are it is true.

    The odds are all we care about.

  100. Billy Squibs says:

    The problem with what is going on here is that the non-believers are arguing from a consensus-driven, empirically-studied viewpoint, whereas the believers are arguing from a minority, introspectively realized viewpoint.

    I wouldn’t phrase it that way. For example, the use of the word “introspective” seems to be needless. However, let’s say that you are correct. To my mind – be it a product or the brain or otherwise – you have done little to address the concerns that have been raised.

    I don’t as such have an oar in this race. As far as I understand the arguments made by either side I can see that both have good points to make.

    =====
    =====

    For those interested in exploring further, The Faraday Institute have run several lectures that specifically or broadly discuss this topic.

    1) Click the following link
    2) Select advanced search
    3) In the Subject area selec Brain/ Pychology
    4) Sort by date

    I see there is a talk entitled “The Mind-Body Problem and Theology” by William Struthers that might be of interest.

  101. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Oisin:

    The problem with what is going on here is that the non-believers are arguing from a consensus-driven, empirically-studied viewpoint, whereas the believers are arguing from a minority, introspectively realized viewpoint.

    No, that is not the problem. At all. The problem is that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

  102. Jeff says:

    I realize I left my comments two days ago and I’m just now responding. I didn’t intend to do a ‘drive-by’ comment. I’ve been reading everybody’s responses, but I hadn’t had time to type another comment, myself.

    Re: “Faith as belief without evidence.” – So as to avoid beating a dead horse, it seems like most involved in this conversation do realize there are multiple definitions of ‘faith’, and do accept that some Christians, at least, use it as ‘belief without evidence’, while other Christians, or in different contexts, use it simply as ‘strong belief’.

    Regarding objections to the mind being the product of the brain, others have already written many of the things I would have written myself (especially Oisin’s comment @ 98), so I’ll only add a few more comments. The problem seems to be – what can a mind do that can’t be explained by material processes. I think a good shortcut to answer that question is, ‘what can a computer do?’ Unless you want to posit that a computer has a soul, everything a computer does is down to interactions of matter. And granted, computers are designed by people and programmed with all the information necessary to do their tasks, but there have been several hundred million years of evolution to develop brains – plenty of time to naturally ‘program’ them to do what was required.

    So, when it comes down to behaviors and abilities, it doesn’t seem like there’s much that humans can do that computers can’t, or at least that they’re not close to doing. I can speak to a computer over the phone and have it work well enough to direct my call to the appropriate department, or pay my light bill, or renew my prescription at the pharmacy. I can send a block of text to BabelFish and have it translated into another language well enough to make out the meaning. Google’s developing a car that can drive itself through all the obstacles and unforeseen circumstances of real world conditions. Autopilots can already fly airplanes better than human pilots. My calculator does math – even symbolic calculus. Go play a video game and see if you can beat the artificial intelligence – even complex situations like sports games. Or try to beat a computer at chess. We’re getting closer and closer to a day when a computer will be able to pass the Turing test (though still probably decades away), and in many ways, computers already can do many of the same tasks that used to be considered ‘intelligent’. The point is, even though the technology isn’t there yet, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to doubt that a sufficiently advanced machine could replicate the behaviors and responses of a person.

    That still leaves a big problem – experience or qualia. Just because you give a complex machine a set of inputs and get some complex behavior as a response, it doesn’t mean that the machine has any sensation of what it’s doing. But, I see no reason to immediately dismiss this as an emergent property of matter. I mean, despite matter being everything we interact with, it’s pretty strange stuff compared to our intuition of what it should be. There’s electricity, magnetism, the wave/particle duality of all particles, radioactive decay, quantum entaglement, and on and on. The possibility that consciousness might be an emergent property of matter doesn’t seem that far stretched. And it certainly seems more parsimonious than inventing this weird, immaterial thing, that interacts with our brains by way of a mystical radio, with no evidence to suggest its existence other than mythology.

    Regarding others’ objection that my conclusions don’t directly follow from my premsises – you’re technically correct (“the best kind of correct” – Hermes Conrad), but it still seems most likely. Since people are using analogies, here’s my own. Imagine you found a DVD, but didn’t know exactly how they worked. But you discovered that by drilling a small hole in it, it would no longer play certain scenes of the movie. The most likely explanation would seem to be that data for the movie was stored on the DVD, and you’d just destroyed some of that data. But I suppose somebody could posit that the DVD consisted of many small receivers, and each one receiving data for a specific scene from a central database somewhere. So by drilling the hole into the DVD, you didn’t actually destroy data, just the receiver for that scene.

    That’s the problem with positing a soul that does functions that seem to be explained by the functioning of the brain. It’s not that it’s logically impossible. It’s just an unnecessary layer of complication that doesn’t really add understanding.

    As one last note, Tom wrote, “Part of the reason has to do with our recognizing the Bible as trustworthy and authoritative on this topic.” As a non-Christian, the Bible doesn’t hold any more authority to me than the Koran or the Buddhavacana. If there’s a strong evidence based case to be made for a soul, you shouldn’t have to point to a holy book as part of your argument.

  103. SteveK says:

    The problem seems to be – what can a mind do that can’t be explained by material processes.

    Reason.

  104. SteveK says:

    …if F* even existed it could not affect the workings of the brain.

    You assume what form F* must take if it existed. This F* could be weak in measurable force but strong in some other way. How do you move a space shuttle using low voltage current that on it’s own couldn’t make it move? Information.

    I’m not saying that F* takes on this form, but something like this could easily be missed by science since science can only detect forces of a particular kind. F* could easily be “hiding” among all the other forces, similar to the way information “hides” in the ink markings on a piece of paper.

  105. Jeff Lewis says:

    SteveK – what do you mean by ‘reason’? Would figuring out the next move to make in a chess game by reasoning it out? What about when the Google car determines the best path to take through a series of obstacles? What about IBM’s Cognitive Computing Project?

  106. Oisin says:

    @Billy Squibs in 100:

    I use the term ‘introspective’ to describe the philosophical method of tackling this problem, this is because the testing of ideas only occurs in the mind of the philosopher without checking to see if the ideas map on to external reality. Science doesn’t need the word soul to explain anything, Jeff’s metaphor of the DVD is the perfect way of looking at it.

    @ G. Rodrigues in 101:

    I’m sorry, I hope you can forgive me for this.

    @ SteveK in 104:

    Again, it would seem that other forces could exist at the brain level from the standpoint of an outsider looking in, but that is an assumption based on scepticism about the findings of the Standard Model.

    At this point, the theory is so well tested that doubting its veracity is akin to doubting that a plane could actually lift off the ground and fly to another country. It has been checked.

    @Tom:

    Does the bible specifically say there is a non-material soul, just out of curiosity?

  107. Jeff Lewis says:

    Does the bible specifically say there is a non-material soul, just out of curiosity?

    Off the top of my head, consider 1 Samuel, Chapter 28, where Saul goes to a medium to bring back Samuel’s spirit for consultation (and Samuel was none too happy about it). There’re also plenty of passages about going down to Sheol. (I’m currently about 1/4 of the way through the Bible, explaining my bias towards the OT.)

  108. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    So, when it comes down to behaviors and abilities, it doesn’t seem like there’s much that humans can do that computers can’t, or at least that they’re not close to doing

    The physical outputs of a computer are entirely devoid of intrinsic meaning and intentionality except in a derived sense. The meaning and intentionality is given by humans. Saying that evolution has had time to “program” us does not get around the problem. This recent post at Edward Feser’s blog should offer an accessible entry for you into one approach to the problem:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/can-machines-beg-question.html?m=1

    This is just one of the objections raised against the mind being physical. Obviously you may disagree with these arguments but it won’t do to pretend they don’t exist.

  109. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    The problem with what is going on here is that the non-believers are arguing from a consensus-driven, empirically-studied viewpoint, whereas the believers are arguing from a minority, introspectively realized viewpoint.

    What is happening is that the believers have been engaging in rational reasoning while the non-believers engaged in a lot of hand waving and not much else. If philosophers raise arguments against your position the rational thing to do is to deal with the argument by either changing your position or refuting the arguments. None of you have shown any sign that you are even aware of the arguments against your position. What has been offered instead are:

    All these experts in another field who also haven’t dealt with the arguments in question agree with me.

    It can’t be scientifically verified so?

    Scientific experts are better because there is more consensus among them.

    What about all the scientific evidence in opposition to your position (the evidence is not)

    Maybe you do have rational reasons against the arguments offered by the philosophers I pointed you to earlier, there just hasn’t been any evidence of that in this thread.

  110. Tom Gilson says:

    Jeff, computers can’t write music. (Note: if you Google this you might run into some comparisons where people can’t tell computer-generated music from human-composed music. Make sure the human-composed music you’re hearing isn’t aleatoric, dodecaphonic, or static: for those styles of music, humans rely on algorithms and/or stochastic processes too.)

  111. Gavin says:

    SteveK,

    In the space shuttle there are devices that can detect the low current signals containing the information. Those devices could not work if the signal is too weak to be separated from background static interference. The signal can be weak, much weaker than the resulting effects (blast-off), but not so weak that they are buried in the thermal noise.

    Quantum Field Theory sets some very tight mathematical rules on the forces that are allowed. It is a rather easy exercise to write down every possible force; the list would hardly fill a page. Quantum Field Theory probably does not describe everything. It does, however, describe the everything in the world at everyday scales. This has been tested to unbelievable precision.

    The F* force you are proposing would break quantum field theory. That is going to be a very tough sell at this point. It would mean that everything that physicists know about matter and energy in the everyday world is completely wrong. I like to keep an open mind, but this is not going to happen. It is as plausible as hoping to discover that the Earth is flat. Too much data has been collected for that to be possible.

  112. SteveK says:

    Again, it would seem that other forces could exist at the brain level from the standpoint of an outsider looking in, but that is an assumption based on scepticism about the findings of the Standard Model.

    *sigh*. No, it’s based on an understanding of what can be quantified and what cannot. The Standard Model can be 100% accurate and complete in what it models, and yet things like F* can exist.

    I gave one example of ink on a page. Measure all the forces associated with the ink and the page and you won’t pick up on the ‘force of the message’ that can, and does, alter human behavior.

  113. SteveK says:

    Gavin, see #112

  114. Melissa says:

    Steve K,

    <I’m not saying that F* takes on this form, but something like this could easily be missed by science since science can only detect forces of a particular kind. F* could easily be “hiding” among all the other forces, similar to the way information “hides” in the ink markings on a piece of paper.

    I don’t think it’s helpful to call it a force because it implies that it is physical which just leaves you in the exact same boat you were in in the first place. The information or meaning of a text is not in the physical properties of the text but in the minds of those who read or write it. Of course that is one of the problems of thinking if the mind as the brain, there would be nothing outside to interpret what the meaningless physical state meant.

  115. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    What is happening is that the believers have been engaging in rational reasoning…

    I completely agree with you. I can imagine a world where rational reasoning would be enough, where common sense premises and logical arguments uncover the truth about the world. But that program has failed; we do not live in such a world.

    Dualists philosophers have been arguing for a few centuries. Meanwhile empirical discoveries have repeatedly blown apart our reasonable views about our world. Quantum mechanics and the expanding universe are logically crazy if you believe that any of your everyday ideas about nature can be extrapolated to the very small or the very large.

    Logic and reason are vital parts of understanding the world, but they do not succeed alone. It must be connected with what we know through observation. If you have an argument that contradicts what we observe, then your argument is wrong, even if we don’t know why it is wrong.

    I don’t think any of us are likely to go though your arguments to find the flaw, because the flaw isn’t in the argument, it is in the arguing. Arguing does not reveal the truth. The truth is found through observation, modeling, predicting (through reason and logic) and testing. If you drop the empirical components, then you are just playing make-believe.

  116. Tom Gilson says:

    Quick test: tell us the essential and necessary distinction between the logic and reasoning (arguing) that you say must be dispensed with and that which must be retained, in case of a contradiction between the two?

  117. Jeff Lewis says:

    Melissa – I followed your link. This seems to be the heart of this guy’s argument:

    A. All formal thinking is determinate.

    B. No physical process is determinate.

    C. No formal thinking is a physical process. [From A and B]

    D. Machines are purely physical.

    E. Machines do not engage in formal thinking. [From C and D]

    F. We engage in formal thinking.

    G. We are not purely physical. [From C and F]

    I’ll have to confess my ignorance here. I don’t know what determinate means. I Googled it, but didn’t find any definitions that seemed to help make this more clear. (Wikipedia tells me “A determinate property is one that cannot become more specific.”, but I don’t see how that’s applicable here.) So, I have a few questions for clarification:

    1. What is ‘determinate’?
    2. How is it known that all formal thinking is determinate [A]?
    3. How is it known that no physical process is determinate [B]?
    4. How it it known that we engage in this activity defined as formal thinking [F]? Is it possible we engage in some other activity that only seems to us like formal thinking?

  118. SteveK says:

    I couldn’t think of a better word to use, Melissa. The human will gets our bodies to move so in some respect the term ‘force’ is accurate.

  119. Oisin says:

    We’ve gotten a bit lost here, I think the burden of proof is on the theists to explain what a soul is, and how we know it is there, what it does and how it does it.

    We know brains exist, we know they compute algorithms so complex that it is thought that they could give rise to all the behaviors displayed by humans. This matches what we see in the study of brains, as there is no noticeable distinction between the brain and the mind as it is studied in science. We have found nothing to make us think that materialism is wrong thus far, apart from philosophers (only some of them).

    Here is a computer writing music comparable to the best composers of the Baroque era:
    http://www.psmag.com/culture/triumph-of-the-cyborg-composer-8507/

  120. Tom Gilson says:

    Dripping with majesty, Oisin, speaks with the royal “We,” and pronounces his judgment on behalf of the whole empire.

    The music you linked to is pretty good. Next question: does the computer know it is?

  121. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Jeff Lewis:

    The answers to your questions are, either in the article itself, or in the linked articles.

    What is ‘determinate’?

    To be determinate is to be a determinate this rather than a that; in order to reason deductively I must be able to recognize an application of modus ponens and differentiate it from other, valid and invalid, deductive rule, in other words, when I think “modus ponens” I must be really thinking “modus ponens” and not some other thing.

    How is it known that all formal thinking is determinate [A]?

    Because the denial is self-contradictory and cannot be consistently maintained.

    How is it known that no physical process is determinate [B]?

    Because no collection of physical facts, or even the collection of all physical facts, entails that a physical process is doing addition instead of quuadition, or any number of other compossible pure functions.

    How it it known that we engage in this activity defined as formal thinking [F]? Is it possible we engage in some other activity that only seems to us like formal thinking?

    See above.

  122. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Gavin:

    Dualists philosophers have been arguing for a few centuries.

    So have all materialist philosophers since the Greek atomist school.

    Meanwhile empirical discoveries have repeatedly blown apart our reasonable views about our world. Quantum mechanics and the expanding universe are logically crazy if you believe that any of your everyday ideas about nature can be extrapolated to the very small or the very large.

    And?

    I do not know what “logically crazy” is, but there is no (known) inconsistency in QM.

    If you have an argument that contradicts what we observe, then your argument is wrong, even if we don’t know why it is wrong.

    And?

    I don’t think any of us are likely to go though your arguments to find the flaw, because the flaw isn’t in the argument, it is in the arguing. Arguing does not reveal the truth. The truth is found through observation, modeling, predicting (through reason and logic) and testing. If you drop the empirical components, then you are just playing make-believe.

    More bafflegab.

    (1) Tell us what “observation, modeling, predicting and testing” lead to the classification of the representations of SO(3) (open any QM textbook on the chapter about angular momentum for the relevance of this).

    (2) Tell us what “observation, modeling, predicting and testing” you used to arrive at the alleged truth that “The truth is found through observation, modeling, predicting (through reason and logic) and testing”.

  123. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    We’ve gotten a bit lost here, I think the burden of proof is on the theists to explain what a soul is, and how we know it is there, what it does and how it does it.

    Since our primary aim at this juncture is to argue that the physical is not sufficient to explain mind and we have pointed you in the direction of the arguments in support of that, and you have failed to respond to those arguments, I see no burden on us to proceed to answer any further questions. How on earth do you think that you will be able to contribute to a conversation in which you have failed to grasp the basics. The burden is all yours.

  124. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Logic and reason are vital parts of understanding the world, but they do not succeed alone. It must be connected with what we know through observation. If you have an argument that contradicts what we observe, then your argument is wrong, even if we don’t know why it is wrong.

    You have yet to present an observation that contradicts the arguments, so on what are you basing your disagreement?

    I don’t think any of us are likely to go though your arguments to find the flaw, because the flaw isn’t in the argument, it is in the arguing. Arguing does not reveal the truth. The truth is found through observation, modeling, predicting (through reason and logic) and testing. If you drop the empirical components, then you are just playing make-believe.

    This sounds great doesn’t it? But if you were just a bit more self-aware you would realise that you apply this selectively, and in fact it couldn’t be any other way, as G. Rodrigues has pointed out already.

  125. BillT says:

    “Tell us what “observation, modeling, predicting and testing” you used to arrive at the alleged truth that “The truth is found through observation, modeling, predicting (through reason and logic) and testing”.”

    How many times have wee seen this error from the secular posters here. Their faith (read: belief without evidence) in their materialist paradigms leads to a curious myopia that leaves then unable to understand that those paradigms fail to support even themselves much less form the basis for a coherent worldview.

  126. SteveK says:

    I think the burden of proof is on the theists to explain what a soul is, and how we know it is there, what it does and how it does it.

    Proof you will not get. I defer to what is presumed to be the traditional Catholic teaching on this. It’s a short read.

    What exactly is a soul?

    And just for fun, the souls of clones and other kinds of souls

  127. Jeff Lewis says:

    G. Rodriguez – thanks for the reply. I’ll have to study this a bit more before commenting much more on it. Is it really just using jargon to say, ‘we think, physical processes can’t think, therefore there must be more to us than just physical processes’? If so, then it seems that B is where he’s sneaking in his assumption. Maybe if I read more I’ll find where he justifies that statement.

    Regarding a comment Melissa said back up thread:

    The physical outputs of a computer are entirely devoid of intrinsic meaning and intentionality except in a derived sense. The meaning and intentionality is given by humans. Saying that evolution has had time to “program” us does not get around the problem.

    First of all, I’m not so sure any action has ‘intrinisic meaning’. I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.

    But more importantly, why doesn’t evolution get around the problem? How do you know that the meaning and intentionality of our actions are any more than derived by our programming from evolution? Everyone’s familiar with the oversimplified dichotomy of nature vs. nurture, but it helps to illustrate a real phenomenon. Look how similar children are to their biological parents because of shared genetics. Even adopted children show similarities in personality and mannerisms to their biological parents (in addition to the ‘nurture’ influence from their real parents). To a large extent, we are controlled by our genetic programming. The other large influence is our surroundings and environment. Even if our genetics are hard-coded, they produce a plastic system. Our brains are influenced by and adapt to our environment.

    Why is this insufficient to explain where the intentionality comes from?

  128. SteveK says:

    Why is this insufficient to explain where the intentionality comes from?

    I’ll give this a shot if you don’t mind.

    Evolution is a mechanism – a process – that is devoid of intentionality. You cannot get to an intended result at any point along the way if you didn’t start with an intended result in mind. Keyword: mind.

    If tomorrow, a random processes somehow created the statue of David, that statue – as glorious and biologically accurate as it would be – would be an unintended result of the process that created it.

    The only way to get around this problem would be to say that the nature of reality – nature’s essence – has intentionality and that evolution serves to actualize, or produce, the specific end that nature intends. But that creates more problems for the naturalist I think.

  129. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Jeff Lewis:

    But more importantly, why doesn’t evolution get around the problem?

    Because how we got here, which is roughly the question that Evolution theory tries to answer, is *irrelevant* to the argument; it does not matter if the feral spirit of Evolution produced us, or a specially willed creative act of God did, or we spawned spontaneously and uncaused or the Wizard of Oz brought us into being with some of his hocus pocus.

  130. Jeff Lewis says:

    SteveK – “You cannot get to an intended result at any point along the way if you didn’t start with an intended result in mind.”

    I guess I still don’t understand the objection, or else I don’t understand what Melissa meant by intentionality. You’re right that evolution is a mindless process. We are not, nor is any other organism, an ‘intended’ result. However, that doesn’t mean that evolution won’t produce creatures with certain traits and behaviors. I’m not sure about the audience here, but I’ll assume (and maybe I’m wrong), that most here believe humans have souls (hence this whole argument), but simpler animals like ants don’t. So, at some point during our evolution (I’m assuming/hoping I’m not dealing with any creationists), our ancestors had to acquire a soul. So, when that happened, did the behavior of those organisms change drastically? Did the non-soul endowed animals merely go through the motions as automatons without experiencing what they were doing?

    Actually, just thinking about this further, I have another question for the audience here – what organisms do you think have souls, and what ones don’t? And for anyone who thinks humans have souls but other animals don’t, how do you explain the behavior of those other animals? If a brain is sufficient to explain their behavior, why not a human’s? And if a human has a soul but that other animal doesn’t, why do we both have brains? Why wouldn’t humans have some other soul interface organ?

    G. Rodrigues – “Because how we got here, which is roughly the question that Evolution theory tries to answer, is *irrelevant* to the argument.”

    Then I guess I still don’t understand Melissa’s objection about computers only having meaning and intentionality given by humans. If how we got here is irrelevant to the argument, then how a computer got here should also be irrelevant.

  131. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    . I’ll have to study this a bit more before commenting much more on it. Is it really just using jargon to say, ‘we think, physical processes can’t think, therefore there must be more to us than just physical processes’? If so, then it seems that B is where he’s sneaking in his assumption. Maybe if I read more I’ll find where he justifies that statement.

    Ask yourself a question – Why do you immediately think that he must be smuggling in an assumption? I ask this not to be smart but to encourage you to be self-aware of your own assumptions. Have a good think about the reasons you believe that thought must be wholly the product of physical processes. It is completely understandable that you might think that is obviously true. I’ve read quite a few books on the mind and, especially the popular level texts, generally engage in a lot of handwaving “explanation” and thinking animated by scientism. The view is presented without reference to any arguments as to why it might not be so, except maybe reasons why there is no “ghost in the machine”. The unsuspecting reader would be forgiven for going away from reading these books thinking the mind as computer is imminently reasonable and that there is no one who thinks otherwise.

    As for the argument in question, no he is not using jargon to cover his assumptions. The argument is valid so the key is to understand what the premises mean and if they are true. Arguments are offered to support the premises. Thee are referred to at various times in the series of posts. I wouldn’t expect you on first reading of an argument like this to make a judgement on it’s soundness either way. My intention in posting it was to show that there are serious challenges to your view and encourage you to read more widely. There are more arguments out there if you go looking. Feser’s blog has a lot of information on the topic that can get you started and also point you towards other resources. His posts on the books by Nagel and Rosenberg may also be of interest.

    Clearly though all this reading would take time and you might not have the time or interest to get into it all. I hope though that you may trailer that done things you thought you knew may not be right after all. Some things may have very little basis at all. I’ve been there, often, the last recently. I say this just because you seem to be willing to consider new perspectives, and there’s probably a lot about the Christian faith also that falls into this category. I noticed earlier you wrote that you are reading the bible. Be careful how you you read, we tend to want to read it as if it was written by someone like us just a long time ago. A lot if it is written to conform to styles and can be formulaic – the words wouldn’t have meant to the early readers what we would read into them. Some of it adopts the forms, ideas and symbols from neighboring cultures, using them as a statement against them. Also, as my NT professor would say “it is not a dead letter”. Christians don’t just read to find out what it meant but also what it means in their particular context. Just a few thoughts. I find that often that a lot of what atheists reject is not what I affirm anyway.

  132. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Jeff Lewis:

    Then I guess I still don’t understand Melissa’s objection about computers only having meaning and intentionality given by humans. If how we got here is irrelevant to the argument, then how a computer got here should also be irrelevant.

    I am not sure I understand what your point is; but, in one sense, it *is* irrelevant for Melissa’s point. If God popped up a computer in front of me, the exact same thing would apply to it: computers neither think, do arithmetic, play chess, compose music, etc. they only do so in a derived, analogical sense.

    Some of your questions:

    Actually, just thinking about this further, I have another question for the audience here – what organisms do you think have souls, and what ones don’t?

    Depends on who you ask. My answer: all animals and plants have souls, but only human beings have rational souls.

    note: the verb “have” is bound to stir confusion…

    And for anyone who thinks humans have souls but other animals don’t, how do you explain the behavior of those other animals? If a brain is sufficient to explain their behavior, why not a human’s?

    Because human beings are rational, animals (and plants) are not.

    And if a human has a soul but that other animal doesn’t, why do we both have brains? Why wouldn’t humans have some other soul interface organ?

    I do not understand what you are asking here.

  133. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    Then I guess I still don’t understand Melissa’s objection about computers only having meaning and intentionality given by humans. If how we got here is irrelevant to the argument, then how a computer got here should also be irrelevant.

    Computers are not given intentionality and meaning only be their programmers, an interpreter is also required. The meaning and intentionality is in the mind of the designer and the user.

    And for anyone who thinks humans have souls but other animals don’t, how do you explain the behavior of those other animals? If a brain is sufficient to explain their behavior, why not a human’s? And if a human has a soul but that other animal doesn’t, why do we both have brains? Why wouldn’t humans have some other soul interface organ?

    Be careful here, the arguments are not about whether we can explain behaviour, but human thought. There are several positions on the soul as Tom mentioned earlier so it depends on what perspective you take. Thomists would argue that all living things have souls but human souls are the only ones that survive bodily death because, being rational animals, they have intellect which must be immaterial. On this view the soul is the form of the body so it doesn’t make sense to view the brain as the soul interface organ.

  134. SteveK says:

    Jeff,
    Re: the soul, you must have missed the links in #126.

  135. Jeff Lewis says:

    Sorry all, I started typing up a response, then hit refresh and saw there was more to respond to plus a link I’d missed, and now it’s time for the weekend and I’ve no more time to respond today. Anyway, here’s what I’ve got so far, and I’ll try to be back to continue on Monday.

    “Why do you immediately think that he must be smuggling in an assumption?”

    Perhaps ‘smuggle’ wasn’t the best word choice, given its connotation. Maybe it would have been better to say ‘introduced’. By coming right out and declaring that no physical process can have this same property as thinking, he’s set up his conclusion right there in that definition. But as you say, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to read soon, maybe he’s justified this statement elsewhere.

    “Have a good think about the reasons you believe that thought must be wholly the product of physical processes.”

    I have thought about it quite a bit. As I wrote way up in the thread, my biggest question concerns qualia. Because really, I see no reason that a sufficiently advanced computer couldn’t outwardly do everything that humans do, and the more I learn about the brain, the more it seems responsible for the various aspects of our personalities and memories, especially using other animals as analogs (unless you think C. elegans has a soul). It may have come across as flippant, but really, what could be the function of a soul if they existed? Is it an observer? Is it even a single soul? The ancient Egyptians believed in multiple souls, or at least, multiple, semi-independent parts (http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/soul.htm). Or consider the dust from Philip Pullman’s books. I’ll admit to being somewhat open, if mostly skeptical due to lack of evidence, to some concept of a soul to explain qualia, but given the role of brains in memories and personalities, it calls into question what it would be like for souls once the body died. And like I wrote already, given the strange enough nature of matter, it just seems most parimonious to chalk up qualia to an emergent property of plain old matter.

    “he is not using jargon to cover his assumptions.”

    I didn’t necessarily mean jargon as an insult. I’m an engineer, so I use plenty of jargon in my line of work. It certainly makes communication more efficient among those that also understand the jargon, but the flip side is that it makes communication less accessible to those not in the know.

    “…things you thought you knew may not be right after all.”

    Funny you say that, as I used to be a Christian, and remind myself of that point all the time. If I could be so mistaken about my worldview then, how can I be positive I’m right now, and what else could I be wrong about?

    “I noticed earlier you wrote that you are reading the bible.”

    It’s actually the second time I’m reading it. The first time I was still a Christian and read it through that bias. It is very interesting to read it again from a different perspective (both as an atheist and being a bit older and more mature). I have to say, though, that reading it again is just helping to shore up my atheism.

  136. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    It is very interesting to read it again from a different perspective (both as an atheist and being a bit older and more mature). I have to say, though, that reading it again is just helping to shore up my atheism.

    Yes, I’ve had experience of how atheists read the bible which is why I suggested a bit if caution and self-awareness as you read. I may be way off base here and this may not apply to you but often we get people who have been brought up in a church where an extremely literal reading of the text is pushed. It is never acknowledged that the genre (even when it’s histiorograhy) is not what we think of as history. They fail to acknowledge that it history written for a theological purpose. They still believe in the myth of the objective account, and so attempt to force the scriptures into this mould, flattening the rich theological meaning (yes Jesus did do miracles but the meaning of the miracle accounts is not solely to establish his divinity). Often all of this is coupled with either ignorance or distrust of historical Christian thought that does not support their view. The gospel is reduced to Jesus died to save us from our sins to get into heaven. When people come to believe that this view is intellectually untenable or experientially irrelevant many don’t challenge whether it is just their understanding of Christianity that is wrong or incomplete. Then when they are atheists and read the bible they read it with those same attitudes. Attitudes that are deeply ingrained by the assumptions inherent in our cultural outlook, that are in many cases unsupported.

  137. Oisin says:

    I still don’t know what a soul is. It seems to have something to do with subjectivity, that’s all I’m really getting here, never mind the fact that there is no mechanism for how it could affect the action of the brain or cause behaviour (because the connection must at some point be physical if the brain is to be affected).

    Even if I took for granted the few arguments posted here against materialism, positing the existence of the soul does not solve the problem of what the mind is or how it works, or how it relates to brain states.

  138. SteveK says:

    Oisin,
    I probably muddied the waters with my F* argument. Analogies break down at some point and perhaps I tried too hard to meet you half way in the hope that you would see that you are viewing the world through the lens of philosophical scientism. You’re still doing that. Not everything exists as a mechanism. You are not a mechanism.

    If the link I provided is correct, and I have no idea if it actually is, there isn’t a soul/body boundary so your question about how a soul affects the brain is off the mark. They are inseparable. There is no ghost in the machine that science can test.

  139. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    Steve’s right, you’re are thinking of the soul as just another material thing. Our argument would be that the materialist conception of nature is inadequate. The problem of mind is just one of the areas where this inadequacy is glaringly obvious. Positing a soul as an added addition to materialism doesn’t work, but that’s not what we’re proposing.

    As to the main difference being about subjectivity, that is a major problem because of the way, for science to be effective, the qualitative portion of our experiences are ignored or reduced to the qualitative. The problem of intentionality is, in my opinion, a much bigger and more intractable issue for the materialists. I suppose you noticed that the argument I linked to had nothing to do with subjectivity? The fact that all you’ve got out of this discussion is that it’s something to do with subjectivity suggests that you need to read more closely. If you don’t understand the terms ask sensible questions or go away and do some reading. (And no, asking for a mechanism in regards to a soul is not a sensible question for obvious reasons).

  140. SteveK says:

    I think this short video by Greg Koukl at STR helps drive home the point that G. Rodrigues made in #122 (quoted below). Will our materialistic friends learn anything from this?

    Tell us what “observation, modeling, predicting and testing” you used to arrive at the alleged truth that “The truth is found through observation, modeling, predicting (through reason and logic) and testing”.”

  141. Oisin says:

    Can the soul cause behaviour? If so, you are then talking about a mechanism that is within the purview of science.

    @SteveK:
    You are asserting that I am not a mechanism (presumably that you aren’t either), but my view is that we are extremely complex adaptive machines that have been designed by natural selection over thousands of millions of years. This view is not to reduce meaning and beauty and truth in human life to mechanisms, but to inspire wonder that the simplistic laws of nature can give rise such astoundingly rich phenomena, and to inspire curiosity as to how the laws of nature give the results that they do.

    With F*, what you did was put forward a scientific hypothesis, one which is actively contradicted by empirical observations of how reality works. I don’t hold this against you in any sense, it’s just that you have to understand that any time you even mention the physical realm you necessarily invoke the knowledge science has gleaned, which simply does not match dualistic views.

    I watched your video, I’ll reply to melissa later and hopefully that will address you both on the intentionality thing.

  142. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    Can the soul cause behaviour? If so, you are then talking about a mechanism that is within the purview of science.

    You’re still making the same mistake. It’s only true if you assume a mechanistic conception of nature. Once again we dispute that view. Do you ever intend to grapple with what we’re actually saying?

  143. Oisin says:

    “Positing a soul as an added addition to materialism doesn’t work, but that’s not what we’re proposing”

    What are you proposing then? This just has not been clear throughout this discussion, I keep asking this question and it’s getting frustrating, I still do not know what the soul is or what your position is, I only know that you are in opposition to materialism and think that the soul has something to do with the mind.

    The argument posted earlier fails because it claims that physical processes are indeterminate, then says go read a book if you want to know why this is justified. This is hand-waving, and just not supported by evidence, all physical processes are determinate at a base level because they just obey a set of simple, unchanging rules, which is why physics can study them.

    Please start telling me about the soul, and stop trying to convince me that materialism cannot work, even if materialism were untrue that would not prove souls exist by default, and it seems like that is what you are trying to do.

    With regard to intentionality, our brains were programmed to behave in certain ways and to inhibit other types of behaviour, and there are specific parts of the brain related to goal-oriented behaviour as studied by neuroscience (though of course I expect you will say that this is not what what you mean by intentionality, in which case please elaborate). I presume that the position that humans do not have free will would hypothetically fix this problem? I can enter into an argument about free will, but Sam Harris has already pretty much finished that argument and I’d just be attempting to reproduce his arguments.

  144. Gavin says:

    I’m trying to figure out how to get some focus on the claims about the soul as well.

    Jeff’s asked, “what can a mind do that can’t be explained by material processes[?]” [102] SteveK replied “Reason” [103]. I’m guessing, but correct my if I’m wrong, that the mind can articulate the results of its reasoning through the physical body. If that is the case, we have an observable, physical consequence of the mind’s interaction with the brain. Am I right about this?

    Since the brain is made of physical stuff, we have physical stuff responding to the beyond-the-natural mind. I’m going to have a difficult time reconciling that with physics, but maybe I’ve got the whole mind-brain connection wrong.

    Oisin,

    The only way I’m able to get a consistent picture of what the soul advocates are saying here is this: The physical brain is not capable of intentionality, awareness, reason etc. The brain is capable of doing unintentional, unaware, unreasoning processes however that may produce interesting, physically observable results (talking, and typing for example).

    The mind, on the other hand can do intentionality, awareness and reason, but it has no way of actually affecting the physical world because that would violate the laws of physics. However, by incredible luck or design, the unintentional, unaware, unreasoning computation of the brain produces exactly the output desired by the intentional, aware, reasoning mind, so the mind doesn’t actually have to break the laws of physics to get its message out.

    It’s like a calculator that always gets addition problems right even though its not aware that its adding. If the calculator had a soul, then it could understand and be aware of the addition, but the output wouldn’t be any different.

    Anyway, I hope we get some clarification on this.

  145. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    “Do you ever intend to grapple with what we’re actually saying?”

    Someone suggested the Sean Carroll the video and there was the talk of the F* force and I thought we were really on to something. I understand force. But then it was decided the “force” was a poor choice of words and that it implied something that isn’t what you think. So I hope you can understand why we are a bit lost about what exactly you are saying.

    We are not supposed to have a mechanistic conception of nature. What conception of nature should we have?

  146. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    The reason why you are finding this discussion frustrating is because you seem to be totally unaware if the various objections and alternatives to materialism and I can’t rectify that in the comment box of a blog post. You are also unaware if many of the assumptions buried deep in your thinking that are under dispute which means that you are asking loaded questions and then wondering why we won’t answer them.

    The argument posted earlier fails because it claims that physical processes are indeterminate, then says go read a book if you want to know why this is justified. This is hand-waving, and just not supported by evidence, all physical processes are determinate at a base level because they just obey a set of simple, unchanging rules, which is why physics can study them.

    What you are describing is deterministic not determinate. This confusion has been dealt with already in the series of posts.

    Please start telling me about the soul, and stop trying to convince me that materialism cannot work, even if materialism were untrue that would not prove souls exist by default, and it seems like that is what you are trying to do.

    ?? I told you exactly what I was trying to do way back in comment 123, and no I don’t think showing that materialism is false also shows that there is a soul, further thinking is required to get to that point. I favour the Thomist position. If it seems that I am arguing as you suggest it is most likely because you are reading into my words something that is not there.

    With regard to intentionality, our brains were programmed to behave in certain ways and to inhibit other types of behaviour, and there are specific parts of the brain related to goal-oriented behaviour as studied by neuroscience (though of course I expect you will say that this is not what what you mean by intentionality, in which case please elaborate). I presume that the position that humans do not have free will would hypothetically fix this problem? I can enter into an argument about free will, but Sam Harris has already pretty much finished that argument and I’d just be attempting to reproduce his arguments.

    You are talking about behaviour, I am talking about our thoughts being about or directed towards things. The arguments against free will given by Sam Harris only work if you assume the truth of materialism, it’s entirely question begging.

  147. Tom Gilson says:

    The best online summary of the Thomistic soul I know of is in this article by David Oderberg.

  148. Tom Gilson says:

    Sam Harris has finished that argument???

    Wow. Do you mean in pages 102 through 110 in The Moral Landscape,, which he devotes to tearing down “the illusion of free will”? For example:

    All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge; this has always suggested that free will is an illusion….

    Many scientists and philosophers realized long ago that free will could not be squared with our growing understanding of the physical world….

    No account of causality leaves room for free will…. Our belief in free will arises from our moment-to-moment ignorance of specific prior causes…. From a deeper perspective (speaking both subjectively and objectively), thoughts simply arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions.

    Or do you mean this on page 139 of the same book, following a thoroughly sensible discussion on how beliefs are constrained by irrefragable facts:

    This does not mean, of course, that we have no mental freedom whatsoever. We can choose to focus on certain facts to the exclusion of others, to emphasize the good rather than the bad, etc. And such choices have consequences for how we view the world….

    Or do you mean the part in his book Free Will where he clarifies that contradiction? I bought that book specifically looking for that explanation. Here’s what I found on that:

     

    Or do you mean the part where he explains how morality can be genuine with no free will? It goes like this:

     

    Or the part where he explains how rationality can operate under the same constraints? The answer is astonishingly similar:

     

    Yup, I guess he’s put that whole discussion to bed.

  149. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    We are not supposed to have a mechanistic conception of nature. What conception of nature should we have?

    I favour the Thomist conception. Some of these ideas have also been picked up by the new essentialism in an effort to solve some of the intractable philosophical problems caused by adopting a mechanistic view.

  150. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    The mind, on the other hand can do intentionality, awareness and reason, but it has no way of actually affecting the physical world because that would violate the laws of physics.

    Only if physical causal closure is correct which is exactly what is under dispute. Of course if you limit your concept of causation to the material efficient causes studied by science then there is no room for our thoughts to have any causal capacity.

  151. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    Just to make sure I understand you: you are saying the mind, which is not physical, is able to influence the physical world, specifically the brain, in a way that has observable consequences.

    Is it fair to describe this as “violating the laws of physics as described by the standard model” because it expands the allowed influences on physical matter to include nonphysical causes like minds?

    I clearly misinterpreted some things you said earlier. Sorry if I’m being dense. I just want to be sure I what you are saying.

  152. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Is it fair to describe this as “violating the laws of physics as described by the standard model” because it expands the allowed influences on physical matter to include nonphysical causes like minds?

    Once again a loaded question. I do not agree that the laws of physics exist such that they “govern” the behaviour of particles and can be “violated”.

    Edited to add: and of course I believe that the mind affects behaviour.

  153. Oisin says:

    Melissa, you are now claiming that the standard model of particle physics is wrong, and that laws of nature do not govern particles at all.

    You keep trying to tell us we are making assumptions (though it’s never clear what the assumption is except “scientism”), yet this is a crystal clear example of someone weighing in on a field that they are just 95% ignorant of.

    How can you justify this incredible claim? How can you explain the wild successes of these theories in explaining how the world works?

  154. Oisin says:

    Tom,

    Do you agree with Melissa’s statement: “I do not agree that the laws of physics exist such that they “govern” the behaviour of particles and can be “violated””?

    Here is your hylemorphic dualism:

    (1) All sub­stances, in other words all self-subsisting entities that are the bearers of properties and attributes but are not themselves properties or attributes of anything, are compounds of matter (hyle) and form (morphe).
    (2) The form is substantial since it actualizes matter and gives the substance its very essence and identity. (differentiates a statue from a block of marble)
    (3) The human person, being a substance, is also a compound of matter and substantial form.
    (4) Since a person is defined as an individual substance of a rational nature, the substantial form of the person is the rational nature of the person.
    (5) The exercise of rationality, however, is an essentially immaterial operation.
    (6) Hence, human nature itself is essentially immaterial.
    (7) But since it is immate­rial, it does not depend for its existence on being united to matter.
    (8) So a person is capable of existing, by means of his rational nature, which is traditionally called the soul, independently of the existence of his body.
    (9) Hence, human beings are immortal; but their identity and individu­ality does require that they be united to a body at some time in their existence.

    I can’t imagine that you will read through that summary without feeling that your position has been irreducibly weakened. My take on it, briefly:

    1 = Unjustified assumption/hypothesis.
    2 = a guess to explain object recognition without empirical basis
    4 = humans can be irrational so that definition is flawed
    5 = completely unjustified assumption presupposing the answer to 6
    8 = result the author was looking for at the beginning and just found a way to this answer and tried to make it appear valid
    9 = how is immortality smuggled in here?

    I would note that recognizing the “form” of things is a task that is localized in the brain, there are parts of the brain that can be damaged such that people can stop recognizing faces, stop recognizing the difference between dogs and cows, there was even a man who mistook his wife for a hat. Oliver Sacks wrote a book about it.

    Your Sam Harris quotes were incomplete, I would note that his book Free Will is obviously where the main argument was made. Here is a taste of what he is arguing about:

    The popular conception of free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present.

    If these assumptions cannot be defended, then his view is correct.

  155. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin at #153: What does “govern” mean? Please be precise. It’s important here.

  156. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, you say “here’s your hylemorphic dualism.” A more careful response would be, “Here is how I understand your hylemorphic dualism so far. It’s a new topic to me, and I see the following potential problems in it…”

    Oderberg gave a description without doing a lot of work to show why he thought it was true. He gave little by way of defense of the position, in other words. People have been asking here for us to explain what we mean by “soul,” and that article is a very thorough explanation. It answered the question that had been asked.

    Now, if you want a defense, pick up The Last Superstition by Edward Feser. Until you learn something about it, though, it would behoove you not to throw around uninformed charges like those that you made here. Just because there’s no defense in a description doesn’t mean there’s no defense.

    As for Sam Harris, I don’t intend to get off on the free will question here. I was just incredulous over your contention that he had finished off the debate. He hasn’t. I’m content to leave it at that, and then get back to the topic at hand.

  157. Tom Gilson says:

    If you do want to do some exploring on that topic, though, feel free to do so. It’s your choice.

  158. Oisin says:

    Melissa used the word govern, but I assume it means the same as dictate or control in this context.

    I don’t understand why you need to link to someone else to tell me what you think. I thought you’d only link to someone else as back-up evidence, that was my mistake and I apologize.

    I brought up lack of free will as a solution to the problem of intentionality, and if physical processes are determinate then reason can be a solely physical process, removing that aspect of soul-ness (hypothetically speaking, whether these things are true claims is open to discussion). Is there anything else?

  159. Tom Gilson says:

    I linked to someone else because it is a complex subject, Oderberg understands it much better than I, and what I do understand of it would have taken a long time to write.

    And to be honest, I haven’t fully decided between hylemorphic and substance dualism. This was a description of the Thomistic soul, not necessarily a description of what I believe, because I’m not settled in my mind about it.

  160. Tom Gilson says:

    RE: free will. I see now why you brought them up. No, the lack of free will is no solution to the problem of intentionality. It only multiplies it, for how can inert matter—inert, meaning 100% lacking in intrinsic agency, able to nothing on its own, completely subject to forces outside itself–be “about” something. Is a rock “about” the ground it sits on? Is a brain cell (or system) “about” anything?

    And reasoning is by no means explained by lack of free will. Same problem multiplied: not only is it incomprehensible that the inert matter in our brains could be “about” reasons, logic, etc., it’s also impossible for any conclusion to be caused in any way whatsoever by reasons, since conclusions must (on this view) be caused by whatever makes neurons and chemicals and etc. assume whatever state they must deterministically assume.

  161. Oisin says:

    A neuron can be affected by an outisde influence, with another neuron detecting whether the first was affected, the second one passing on a signal to drive behaviour, so that the behaviour is “about” the outside influence. Multiply that into the billions and you begin to see how the brain can give rise to the mind.

    The cause of all these deterministic processes are the laws of natural and of natural selection, so the conclusions are driven by the laws of nature. Where is the problem?

  162. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, you just don’t understand the aboutness problem. That’s all. You just don’t understand it. To be influenced by or caused by something is to be influenced or caused by it, not to be “about” it.

    Further, your explanation doesn’t explain how a thought can be about abstract or imaginary propositions (especially novel ones) such as, “The square root of negative-one is not a real number,” or, “The unusual unicorn in my back yard has a French horn in the middle of its forehead.” Granted, now that you’ve read that you could say your thinking that was caused by seeing it on your screen. But you have an equal ability to think up your own parallel propositions, and it’s very difficult to imagine any physical cause for them.

    I suggest you do some outside research so that you can participate in this discussion knowledgeably. I suggest here and here.

  163. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    I do not agree that the laws of physics exist such that they “govern” the behaviour of particles and can be “violated”.

    How would you describe the relationship between what actually happens to physical matter and the equations of the Standard Model?

    Thanks for answering directly about the mind affecting behavior. I’d become confused on this point.

  164. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s another way of looking at it, Oisin. Include the word “true.” If a thought is about some proposition, then it can be true about that proposition. (If the proposition happens to be a false one, then a true thought about the proposition would be that the proposition is false.) I don’t see how that fits into your account of mental causation at all. Your outside influence would have to cause:

    1. The proposition P.
    2. The proposition Q above the proposition P, i.e., “P is true” or “P is false.”
    3. The relationship between Q and P such that Q is either actually true or actually false.

    Perhaps external events can cause propositions to arise in the mind, but they cannot cause the (3) relationship according to which Q is true or false about P. Truth and falsity are not physical relationships, and physical events cannot cause them to be.

  165. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    Oisin at #153: What does “govern” mean? Please be precise. It’s important here.

    Melissa was the one who introduced the term “govern.” It was put in quotes, even though the word has not appeared anywhere else in the discussion. Why is it that when Melissa introduces a new term, and Oisin paraphrases her usage, it is Oisin that needs to come up with the definition? Anyway, I will help them out.

    The Standard Model is a set of equations that can be used to relate the positions and momenta of particles at various times. If you plug all of the observed values into the equation and the equality holds, then the Standard Model was “obeyed.” If the equality does not hold then the Standard Model was “violated.” If the equality always holds for all physical processes, then the Standard Model is a “law” that “governs” the behavior of particles.

    Is that precise?

    As a side note, it is a mathematical fact about the equations of the Standard Model that if the complete state of particles at one time is known, then at a later time there is only one state which will produce equality. Also, if the final state is known, then at an earlier time there is only one state that will produce equality. So the “law,” if it is a law, is quite strict. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely know the state by measuring it. Quantum mechanics is annoying that way. We can, however, produce a known state.

  166. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    The Python Shell (python.org) does these things quite well:

    1. Represents a proposition P.
    2. Computes the proposition Q above the proposition P, i.e., “P is true” or “P is false,” in such a way that…
    3. The relationship between Q and P such that Q is either actually true or actually false.

    Here is an example. At the prompt where Python asked for input I type:

    2+2 == 4

    (The == is the symbol for mathematical equality.) When I hit “return” Python responds with,

    True

    If I type

    2+2 == 5

    Python responds with,

    False

    It does this with great speed and can handle very complicated expressions including logical operations. Python’s response, Q, is always related to the input, P, such that Q is actually true about P.

    Is Python getting non-phyical help, or am I misunderstanding what you claim physical processes are capable of achieving. It is certainly the case that there are propositions for which Python cannot compute Q. That is true of most minds I’ve met as well.

  167. Gavin says:

    Python and I had a nice chat. (“>>>” is the prompt from Python asking for my input, which follows. The line below is Python’s response.)

    >>> 2+2 == 4
    True
    >>> 2+2 == 5
    False
    >>> (2+2 == 4) == True
    True
    >>> (2+2 == 4) == False
    False
    >>> (2+2 == 5) == True
    False
    >>> (2+2 == 5) == False
    True
    >>> (((2+2==4)or(2+2==5)) and ((2+2==4)and(2+2==5))) == False
    True

  168. Tom Gilson says:

    First, Gavin, it’s hard to see how your computer could rightly be supposed to be holding propositions in mind. Second, even if it were, the truth relationship is missing, by any reasonable conception of what computers do. Suppose (per impossibile) the computer (C) was actually entertaining P and Q as propositions. Presumably P exists for C in the form of some voltage state Pv, and Q exists for C in the form of some separate voltage state Qv. Is Qv true about Pv? Is one voltage state really, actually true about another voltage state?

    Sure, the computer can run deterministic instuctons. It can take some humanly conceivable propositions P and Q as input, and process them such that it can output some proposition R, “Q is true of P.” But the propositions are not in the computer, and the reflective analysis R isn’t either.

  169. Oisin says:

    And what do souls do to solve this problem, Tom?

  170. Tom Gilson says:

    Do? Do you mean mechanistically?

    They entertain propositions. They think. They perform rational operations: judging truth, discerning what follows or does not follow from evidences and premises. They experience (have conscious phenomenal lives). And so on.

    They don’t do it mechanistically. They do it in virtue of being made in the image of their Creator, God, who is the supreme exemplar of intelligent rationality. Unlike that which is purely mechanical and physical and thus by nature incapable of such actions and experiences, souls just are the kind of being that can do and experience these kinds of things.

  171. Oisin says:

    So data from the physical sensory organs can be transferred to the soul? Can the results of the soul’s calculations influence the behaviour of a human?

  172. Oisin says:

    If God made souls, and people use these God-made souls to reason with, how come sometimes people reason incorrectly?

  173. Tom Gilson says:

    Yes and yes, to your first set of questions; except that on hylemorphic dualism that “transfer” is actually a communication from one aspect of the person to another aspect of the person. You’ll need to read more on that (Oderberg is still a good source) to get it.

    Why do people sometimes reason incorrectly? Because God made souls, not gods.

  174. Oisin says:

    From the Wikipedia page on intentionality: “The term refers to the ability of the mind to form representations and has nothing to do with intention.” We know a decent amount about how the brain forms mental models of the world, we know that parts of the brain can be damaged to prevent someone from forming mental representations of the world, I do not see how the soul can square with this information.

    Your examples earlier of abstract concepts doesn’t hold any difficulty for science; neurons can be organized to perform functions and applying functions to numbers that we remember is how we consider numbers like imaginary ones, and your unicorn is constructed from several different words and qualities from memory just combined in a new way. Nothing non-physical about it.

    You are making an assumption here, I just noticed when I tried to use your reasoning algorithm: that is not how humans reason all the time. Formal logic was an invention of Greek philosophers, however people were reasoning and trying to figure out what was true long before this. And they way they do it is not the way that Aristotle thought.

    People use heuristics (simple rules of thumb) to reason, judge and make decisions. Repeatedly psychologists have found that people judge probability by accessing their memory banks rather than by statistics, people judge propositions (when using their intuition, rather than a philosopher applying a formal method) by constructing a mental model of the situation described to see if the propositions hold up. They run into a host of problems in this regard, because generally people construct a single model and judge off of that, rather than construct several to judge each individually.

    This occurs in the same way that a computer runs a simulation, a model can be created and values entered, all the while the simulation is being compared to the memory banks to see if what is happening matches. This is a simplification of a massively complex physical event, including (but not limited to): conversion of sound energy to electrical, the decoding of sounds into grammatical chunks which are then matched up with stored memories of words (which are connected to associated emotions, memories and grammatical rules concerning its use), parts of the brain associated with spatial orientation and vision using memories to construct a new representation of all of the chunks, and then the whole thing is saved in memory as if this were a witnessed external event.

    The above is an approximation, but this is huge, huge stuff, and the science is only beginning work on unraveling the mysteries. Philosophical reasoning has thought up many hypotheses, and in that it was extremely useful because the ideas could then be tested empirically, but it did not and cannot provide answers because it is restricted to the mental modelling above with no recourse to empiricism to see if the models represent reality.

    Here is a taster of the work being done: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_image#Mental_imagery_in_experimental_psychology

    I hope that all makes sense!

  175. Tom Gilson says:

    Of course it makes sense. I have an MS in psychology, maybe you didn’t know that.

    None of what you wrote about the psychology of reasoning has any relevance to the aboutness problem, though. If you think it does, could you please lay it out somewhat more directly and specifically? My examples didn’t depend on Aristotle, and they didn’t make any reference to heuristics, for or against.

    You still haven’t showed how, (for example) Qv (voltage state Q) could be true about Pv (voltage state P). You haven’t begun to show that.

    You have, however, begged the question, in your assertion that “this occurs in the same way that a computer runs a simulation.” That’s the very point in question.

    You speak of the brain forming a representation. To whom or what does it represent that representation? To whom or what does a computer represent any parallel sort of representation? What does the term “witness” refer to in “witnessed external event”?

    And why on earth would you think that philosophical reasoning could have “no recourse to empiricism”? Do you think philosophy is as armchair-confined today as it was in ancient Greece?

  176. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and by the way, if you know of any “decent amount” of knowledge “about how the brain forms mental models of the world,” I’d love to hear about it.

    I missed one of your questions, I see now. How does the soul square with the idea that brain damage can hinder the formation of representations? I’ll give that a shot now.

    There’s one thing that no one has ever questioned: we live in a physical world. (There are some who wonder what “physical world” really means, but that’s a separate discussion for a separate group of questioners.) Since we live in a physical world, physical things matter, even if they’re not the only things that matter. Immaterial soul has to interface with the physical world.

    I knew a man who had had his larynx removed so he couldn’t speak normally. He had ways of compensating for that, but let’s suppose he hadn’t. In that case, no matter how everything upstream (CNS, brain, mind, soul, …) had been functioning, he couldn’t have expressed himself through speech.

    Here’s the point I’m trying to make: there’s nothing in theory of soul that’s embarrassed or disturbed by the fact that physical wholeness is required for the soul’s whole expression in the physical world. Suppose then that the malfunction were in the nerves leading to the larynx. Or in the spinal cord. Or in the medulla. It’s just the same problem located differently. And if the problem is in Broca’s area, or in the cerebrum, it’s still the same problem in a different location.

    Physicality is part and parcel of the Christian view of the person. The brain is physical. We have no problem with that.

  177. Gavin says:

    Oisin,

    I think we are losing focus here. We just had Melissa state that she doesn’t believe that particles obey the Standard Model equations. At least I think that is what she said. This is an important point, but we are losing it by getting lured back into the philosophical briar patch. If they don’t believe in the Standard Model, I’d like them to say that.

  178. Tom Gilson says:

    I think you’d better be careful not to assume that’s exactly what Melissa meant.

    I’m pretty sure she would agree with this much: there isn’t anything in physical reality that “obeys” equations. Equations describe something that’s going on in physical reality, but they are not themselves physical. They are abstractions. As such they can’t make anything do anything.

    What you need to explore is, what is it that those equations are describing? Is it natural law? If so, then just what is natural law, ontologically? What is its form and how does it enforce itself? How did it come to be? Why does it persist and endure? What made it so dependable? Was it made at all? If not, then what was its origin?

    And so on…

  179. Billy Squibs says:

    Tom,

    @ 148 you seem to be missing some quotes from Harris. Could you repost them?

  180. Tom Gilson says:

    Not missing anything. What you see is what he had to offer on those questions.

  181. Billy Squibs says:

    Ah, sorry. Entirely missed the subtlety there.

  182. Gavin says:

    Tom,

    I think you are over personifying the language we use in physics.

    The Standard Model is a set of equations relating the positions and momenta of particles at various times. If you plug all of the observed values into the equation and the equality holds, then the Standard Model was “obeyed.” If the equality does not hold then the Standard Model was “violated.” If the equality always holds for all physical processes, then the Standard Model is a “law” that “governs” the behavior of particles.

    I don’t have anything to say about whether the equations cause the the particles to behave the way they do. “Obey” is just language about whether the equations hold or not. It is purely an observational issue, not one of causation.

    Do you think that those equations are true for the positions and momenta of particles in the physical brain?

  183. Victoria says:

    No, Melissa did not say that at all, and that’s not what she meant.

    Look, Space/Time and Matter/Energy have properties and dynamics, inherent in their nature, and the constituent particles and structures interact with each other in accordance with their natures. Now it so happens that these properties and dynamics are self-consistent and regular (as opposed to being capricious and random), and furthermore, are discoverable, by observation and experiment, and describable by a finite set of unifying principles and mathematical constructs, at appropriate energy/time/length scales – these mathematical constructs are what the Modern Empirical Sciences have invented and what you seem to think are the “laws of physics”. Particles don’t “obey” the standard model of Relativistic Quantum Field Theory – they interact according to their own natures, and the Standard Model is our mathematical description of those interactions. This is what Melissa had in mind when she said what she said. As a PhD physicist myself (who specialized in Quantum Mechanics – experimental atomic and molecular physics in particular), I accept the current state of the art (so to speak :) ) in Physics as our best mathematical framework(s) so far, for understanding those properties and dynamics of SpaceTime + Matter/Energy and their inherent natures.

    Where did STME get its inherent nature? As a Christian physicist, my answer is – by its Creator, who designed STME so that it could be used as a framework upon which life, and intelligent life capable of having a relationship with Him (for Christianity maintains that this Creator is none other than the Triune God of the Bible ( Father, Son and Holy Spirit – 3 Persons / One Essence). He created and sustains His physical creation and is the guarantee that its properties and dynamics are coherent, self-consistent and rational. A consequence of a theistic worldview is that the physical universe is an opensystem of cause and effect, open, that is, to interactions (for lack of a better word) from outside of itself, namely the supernatural (again, for lack of a better word). These interactions are necessarily not part of the physical properties and dynamics inherent in the physical realm, and as such would not be directly observable by the Modern Empirical Sciences (which are constrained by the fact that we have to observe the physical world via the same properties and dynamics that we are trying to discover and describe). We would not see the supernatural cause, but only the natural effects it produces.

    So, no, the fundamental particles don’t obey Quantum Field Theory – they do what is inherent in their natures, and Quantum Field Theory is a pretty good description of that, at that scale of observation.

  184. Oisin says:

    Victoria:

    We would not see the supernatural cause, but only the natural effects it produces.

    Then why do we not witness natural events that cannot be explained by natural causes? I fully accept that there could be a creator, however I don’t understand how you know that this creator intervenes. Do you go by historical accounts of interventions or how do you arrive at that conclusion?

    The reason the theory was brought up was because it has explained every type of interaction at the molecular scale of observation, and this leaves no room for interactions with the spirit, or the spirit causing behaviour in the brain.

    Tom:

    Luckily I have found someone else who deals with the aboutness/intentionality problem, Daniel Dennett: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance

  185. Victoria says:

    @Oisin
    It is clear that you are implicitly assuming a completely naturalistic worldview, where only the physical realm exists. As Christians, we don’t take that position – our worldview is that reality is Time and Eternity, the Physical and the Spiritual, or if you like, the Natural and the Supernatural. Spirit is part of the Supernatural, and those interactions are not limited to the properties and dynamics of the Natural. Of course the MES’s can’t describe that, being limited to the Natural realm only.

    I am a Christian Theist because I am convinced that the Creator has in fact revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, His life, death and resurrection. I know Him through the mediation of His Holy Spirit in my heart and life. At our worship service this morning, we were celebrating the church’s 17th anniversary, and a number of people shared stories of how God had providentially acted in their lives and the corporate life of our church – very real experiences, which transcended the merely natural.

    So yes, God has acted within human history, and in the lives of His adopted children.

  186. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Earlier you brought up the laws of physics as an explanation or cause of things so from that I concluded that you thought they were in some way directing the behaviour of particles. From your latest explanations it seems that is not your position.

    I have no problem with the physics just your interpretation. You know that I dispute materialism and yet you continue to assume the truth of your position in the framing our your questions. The Standard Model provides a description of how particles behave as particles. You assume that ordinary objects (what you would call physical or material objects) are nothing but particles and their interactions. I don’t agree. I hope this clears up any confusion over where our disagreement lies.

  187. Gavin says:

    Victoria,

    Thank you for providing me with some language that I can use. What I am going to say may seem repetitive, but I just want to get this right. Also, I may add some things to simplify or clarify language which you don’t need, but might be helpful to non-physics following along.

    The particles/fields do what is inherent in their nature. QFT and the Standard Model are a pretty good description of what they do, at that scale of observation. “Pretty good” in this case means accurate to about 1 part in a trillion.

    Does “at that scale of observation” mean at any scale larger (lower energy) than the electro-weak symmetry breaking scale? Does QFT and the Standard Model continue to be “Pretty good” at the atomic and molecular level that you study or do you think we need a different description. I understand that the Standard Model is a rather unwieldy tool to use in condensed matter, but that is a separate issue from whether the description continues to be “pretty good.”

  188. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin,

    Just because Dennett uses the term “intentional” doesn’t mean his work has to do with aboutness (intentionality). It’s about the behavior of organisms, not about relationships of propositions in minds or brains.

    Note, at any rate, there are “obvious objections” to Dennett, right there on the page. (And elsewhere, I might add.)

  189. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    The reason the theory was brought up was because it has explained every type of interaction at the molecular scale of observation, and this leaves no room for interactions with the spirit, or the spirit causing behaviour in the brain.

    See my latest comment to Gavin.

    Luckily I have found someone else who deals with the aboutness/intentionality problem, Daniel Dennett: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance

    The intentional stance is about predicting behaviour not about dealing with the problem of intentionality. Tom is well aware of how Dennett “deals” with the problem of intentionality.

  190. Victoria says:

    @Gavin
    I think we both agree that the mathematical descriptions we use are both scale-dependent and observational-precision dependent. QFT is suitable for describing the internal structures of electrons and nucleons, say, where we have to take into account the short range of the strong and weak nuclear forces (quarks and leptons, as it were); at the atomic and molecular scale, the dominant interaction is the electromagnetic one, QED or even non-relativistic QM are good descriptions at that scale. I think you get my point.

    Of course, QFT is the more comprehensive theory (excluding gravitation, for which General Relativity is currently required) :)

  191. Oisin says:

    @Tom:
    I’m sorry, I’m just really confused by what you are actually saying with the aboutness problem, I do not understand how it applies to anything. Could you redo the P and Q explanation with actual statements so I can try to model what that would look like at the brain level?

    @Victoria:
    I love that you meditate on the Holy Spirit of God, I’ve started a little prayer and meditation myself and am really feeling the benefits. I really can’t understand the idea of miracles, to me when people think that God has intervened in their lives it seems that they are just ignoring the bad luck and selectively remembering the good luck. I can definitely accept that Jesus was a man who knew the mind of God and spread his message of love and hope, but the parts where God intervenes or miracles occur just don’t work for me. So many other religions have miracle claims, and so many ancient mythologies did too, I just view the Christian miracles in the same way. The truth of God’s message, to me, is in the results of your prayer and communities.

    @Melissa:
    At some point, we are made of material and this material is composed of particles. Our arms are made of particles only, and they act in accordance with our Standard model. At some point in the relation between thought and action, the reasoning spirit must interact with particles so that a movement message may be passed on to the arm. This is impossible according to our current view of physics, and I really have no idea what you are referring to when you talk about things other than particles, some more detail might help me get my head around it!

  192. Victoria says:

    @Oisin
    I said mediation of the Holy Spirit, not “Meditation on the Holy Spirit” :)

    Christians subjectively experience the objective presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is a subjective experience because He adapts how He works in an individual’s life to each individual as He sees fit. His presence is objective because He is a real Person – the 3rd Person of the Trinity, in fact, and is just as real as God the Father and God the Son (who is the Incarnate God-man, Jesus the Christ, Lord and Saviour and for some 33 years, dwelt among us, as John’s Gospel tells us).

    What God has to say to us has objective content, because He said quite a bit through His work in human history, particularly and finally through His Son (Hebrews 1).

    Read Craig Keener’s book on miracles, if you want more documented evidence.

  193. Gavin says:

    Victoria,

    Yes, I get your point and I appreciate you stating it none-the-less. “Obey the equations of motion” is pretty standard language, but it created a great deal of confusion, so I’m happy to have the well-known physics put into language that avoids similar misunderstandings.

    At the atomic and molecular scale we observe electrons, photons, and nuclei behaving according to their natures, and quantum mechanics is a pretty good description of that. In atomic and molecular experiments we can’t really tell anything about the natures of protons and neutrons (and much less quarks and gluons) because their scale is too small. We can’t tell anything about neutrinos because their interactions are too weak. Some things, like the W and Z, that are both too small and too weak to play a role in atomic and molecular physics.

    When nuclei behave according to their nature, is that a natural consequence of the constituents (neutrons and protons or quarks and glue) behaving according to those constituent’s natures? Can we use the pretty good description of how the constituents behave to predict a pretty good description of how the nuclei behave?

    Thanks again for giving me less-loaded language for discussing physics.

  194. Oisin says:

    @Victoria:
    Oops, saw what I was expecting and not what was written, sorry. :P

    For me, the lack of modern miracles is enough, God would need to be a part of my reality rather than me just reading about all these amazing things that used to happen but don’t now.

  195. Victoria says:

    @Gavin
    My pleasure, sir :)

    At the atomic scale, we can treat photons, electrons and the nucleus as point particles with no internal structure (just intrinsic properties, such as charge and spin) that interact with each other through the electromagnetic force (the photon, in QED terms), right?

    I think you are trying to get at the idea that there is a hierarchy of structure characterized by both scale and the dominant interactions at that scale – certainly our theoretical frameworks can be put into such a hierarchy.

    Being a critical realist, I take the position that our mathematical frameworks and the entities they describe correspond to real things in the physical realm (kind of hard not to when doing a laboratory experiment and you actually “see” (through instrumentation that extends our senses, if you will) single photons being detected :) ).

    What about when we make approximations to the mathematical model to make the calculations more tractable? Clearly the real system doesn’t know about our approximations – it just does what it does. Think of the Born-Oppenheimer approximation in molecular quantum mechanics (based on the physically reasonable assumption that the nuclei and electronic motions are weakly coupled, due to the fact the the nuclei are so much more massive than the electrons). That approximation allows the wavefunction of the system to be written as a separable product of the nuclear wavefunction and the electronic wavefunction( characterized by a parameter that describes the instantaneous nuclear positions). Of course, in a real molecule, the electrons and nuclei move continuously above the molecule’s center of mass with – the approximation is justified by its success in describing actual molecular spectroscopy. If one could look closely enough, ie, with enough precision, in principle one could see that the real spectroscopic measurements would not match exactly the approximation. I don’t want to stray off the OP much further than this, though :)

  196. Victoria says:

    Now, I also believe that the success of our mathematical abstractions and frameworks is not an accident or a brute fact, but because God thought of them first, and designed the properties and dynamics of STME this way, intentionally, for His pleasure and our benefit.

  197. Victoria says:

    @Oisin (#194)
    Ah, but you are overlooking a crucial point. Namely, all of those amazing things that God did in the past. Let’s focus on one in particular – the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, which as Paul tells us, declared Jesus to be the Son of God with power and vindicated His claims. Now, if this indeed occurred, and the NT explanation of it is true, then surely this is a watershed event in history. That it occurred in a specific time and place in our past history as a unique event is still something that you cannot ignore – it changes everything. Christians are more aware of God’s presence and interactions with us because He dwells within us in the Person of the Holy Spirit – we are connected to Him, and we see His actions in the world that a non-believer misses, because he is not looking for it. Perhaps you are not seeing God’s interaction now because you refuse to acknowledge the Grand Miracle, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just sayin’ :)

  198. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    At some point, we are made of material and this material is composed of particles. Our arms are made of particles only, and they act in accordance with our Standard model. At some point in the relation between thought and action, the reasoning spirit must interact with particles so that a movement message may be passed on to the arm. This is impossible according to our current view of physics, and I really have no idea what you are referring to when you talk about things other than particles, some more detail might help me get my head around it!

    It is impossible according to your current philosophical view, physics really has nothing to say on the matter. My position is that material substances of a composite of matter and form. I do not buy your reductionist view, you cannot step outside of it (in fact I’m not even sure you’re aware of the assumptions that are driving you’re thinking), and until you do you will continue to have no idea. For instance, I presume you think your first couple of sentences that I’ve quoted here are un controversial but I would not assent to the truth of these. Even the first sentence would need some serious rewording and qualifications to be acceptable. I cannot provide you with a decent overview of a philosophy of nature in a comments box and you refuse to do any heavy lifting yourself as evidenced to your response to the David Oderberg link. This is obviously a whole new area to think about for you, and it’s not something I’d expect you to get a handle on overnight.

    If you have a question or refutation that doesn’t assume the truth of your own position then I am happy to discuss it.

  199. Victoria says:

    @Gavin
    There is another example that just came to mind – Blackbody Radiation. Even though we have the correspondence between Quantum Electrodynamics and Classical Electrodynamics in the macroscopic limit (as the number of photons becomes very large), Blackbody Radiation cannot be described by the classical theory.
    Yet photons don’t care, they just do what they do, regardless of the scale :)

  200. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin @ 191,

    I’ll see what I can do. The reason we use abbreviations is because it’s one thing to write a proposition, another to write a proposition about a proposition, and another to write a proposition about a proposition that’s about a proposition. Shorthand can be helpful in clearing up what part of which sentence goes with what.

    I should point out that sentences are not propositions, and vice versa. Sentences (statements) express propositions, but they are not propositions. The same proposition can be expressed with different sentences, for example, I’m cold, and Es ist mir kalt. Or the same sentence could express different propositions, as in for example the abbreviated sentence, “Yeah, right.”

    The proposition is in the thought, the meaning, the intended or actual communication, not in the words or the sentence structure.

    So let’s try filling in our Ps and Qs.

    Let P = “It’s raining outside.”

    Let Q = “The proposition, ‘it’s raining outside,’ is true.”

    The relation between the proposition, “It’s raining outside” and “It’s true that it’s raining outside” is an aboutness relationship. The second proposition expresses truth value with respect to the first one.

    Now if it’s actually and truly raining outside, then “It’s raining outside” is a true proposition about the weather, and “The proposition, ‘it’s raining outside,’ is true,” is a true proposition about both the weather and about the proposition, “It’s raining outside.”

    Every proposition is either true or false about something, if it has any meaning whatsoever. This is one aspect, one illustration, of the aboutness relationship.

    Now if some computer has voltages stored in it somewhere that function in that computer to code the proposition, “It’s raining outside,” that’s a voltage state, not a proposition. If somewhere else it has voltages stored in it coding, “The proposition, ‘it’s raining outside,’ is true,” then that’s another voltage state—again, not a proposition.

    It’s possible for our second proposition, “The proposition, ‘it’s raining outside,’ is true,” to be true concerning our first proposition, “It’s raining outside.”

    Is it possible, though, for one computer voltage state to be true about another computer voltage state? I don’t see how.

    And that’s what I was trying to express earlier.

  201. Oisin says:

    @Victoria:
    What if Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead? What if the miracle claims are just like every other miracle throughout history? I don’t think this would contradict the truth of his message, and just due to Occam’s razor it would make more sense, especially considering most of the evidence only shows that Jesus lived and that Christianity spread.

    @Melissa:
    How do you know that modern physics is wrong?

    @Tom:
    I understand that example much, much better.

    To me it seems like the problem arises due to oversimplification of what is actually happening at the brain level when these propositions are being entertained.

    Let’s take the proposition “it’s raining outside” and try to imagine what that would look like at the brain level. The context of the thought arising can be the hearing of the sound of rain outside, like white noise, causing the sound receptors to activate the concept of rain (the word rain, then the associations also connected at the synapses). At this point, the rain neurons are firing, so “it’s raining outside” = true.

    This is instantaneous, the emotional reaction of the mind dictates the next step. If there is no emotional reaction (the person has no intention of going outside), the prefrontal cortex inhibits the firing of the rain neurons so the brain can focus on things it actually cares about. If the concept of rain has pleasant connotations (they like to look out at the rain), the neuron firing will trigger memories of nice rain to fire, causing a mental model of what it should be like to be built using the visual and spatial awareness parts of the brain. This causes the frontal lobes to create goals to see the rain again, driving the body to get up and look out the window. If it is not raining, the firing will be inhibited and a negative emotional reaction will occur, the frontal lobes setting new goals to seek out the source of the sound (turns out the TV was left on). The inhibition of the rain concept causes the brain to change the state of the proposition to false.

    However, this is an extreme example, and there is a simpler mechanism controlling this kind of thing unconsciously. Let’s say you hear the sound of white noise, and this sound a bit like rain. Signals begin being sent to the neuron at the beginning of the “it’s raining outside” chain, but signals would also be sent to every other neuron chain associated with white noise, and the signals to each would not be strong enough to cause neuron firing, so consciously nothing is noticed. Data from other senses would contribute to neuron fire (e.g. seeing a TV with no channel on and the ‘snow’ on the screen). This contributes to the signal sent to the white noise neuron chain, causing firing, simultaneously inhibiting the chain associated with rain so that it stops receiving any signal.

    It is a mistake to think that brains treat statements in such a binary manner as formal logic, the neuron firing is binary, but the signals causing neuron fire are not and must be added and subtracted in the attempts to cause them to fire, so signals from many different parts of the brain can contribute to a single signal. Added to this the fact that there may be several representations of the same concept in different parts of the brain, it becomes clear that the effect is not ‘true or false’, it is quantification of the amount of evidence for and against.

    I hope this makes sense, and I say that not to doubt your capacities, but to acknowledge that sometimes I write in a flurry of excitement.

    Edit: this relates to the aboutness problem becuase you wanted to know how one statement could be related to another such that they were about one another, and the truth could be properly verified. The thing is we never reason in such a way as to know things are 100% true or false, the signals come in and we act on them, potentially ignoring other important factors or applying reasoning algorithms incorrectly due to conditioning or malfunction. From an evolutionary psychological standpoint, reasoning mistakes make a lot of sense and are explicable.

  202. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    How do you know that modern physics is wrong?

    Why do you think I think modern physics is wrong?

  203. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, you’ve computer-morphized the brain (“‘It’s raining outside’=TRUE”).

    Is it possible for one voltage state in computer to be true about another voltage state?

    Think about this carefully now. The question is not, Is it possible for a computer to process two voltage states and output an expression indicating to human interpreters (or downstream machine interpreters) that the information coded in one voltage state is true of the information coded in the other voltage state. It’s whether one voltage state can be true of another voltage state.

    The difference between a human and a computer is that computers always have downstream interpreters, whether human or other machinery. If it’s a human, then the person can reasonably interpret one expression in the computer’s input or output as true of another. If it’s a machine, then there are only two options: some action happens (which is not a true/false thing, it’s something that happens) or some human further downstream interprets some pair of inputs/outputs as true or not.

    So it takes a human to actually understand whether one proposition is true of another proposition. You wander into very tricky territory when you begin to treat the human mind as analogous to a computer. Yes, there may be some physical commonalities, but computers don’t know true from false. They only know outputs that can produce actions, and outputs that can be interpreted by humans as true or false.

    Suppose you start your computer on a long and complex logical analysis and walk away from it while it’s working. Thirty seconds or so later it’s blinking “TRUE” in big bold letters on the monitor. Does the computer have any sense of “TRUE”? No. It just produces dark markings on a light background that you can interpret as “true.”

    Second, I don’t know where the mistake is in treating brain signals as binary, if your view is correct. Somewhere along the way (on your view) the brain has to produce the output true or false. That’s inescapably binary. True? (Or false?)

    Third, you missed part of my example. You speak of the brain responding to certain stimuli and producing the expression within itself, “‘It’s raining outside’=TRUE”). But the brain also evaluates propositions without such external and obvious stimuli: advanced mathematics, for example, or discussions like these, and the thoughts that flow from them. And the truth relationship in that case is not between the neural system that codes for “It’s raining outside” and the actual fact that it’s raining outside. The truth relationship in that case is between the neural state where the brain is handling one proposition and the neural state where the brain is handling the other proposition. Your view requires that one neural state be true of the other.

    Now if the brain really were like a computer, then perhaps each of those neural states could be coding for its respective proposition. But then we would need a decoder, and the decoder would have to produce actual propositions out of those brain states. Propositions are not brain states, however. They are not coded expressions. They are in fact not even material objects or states or conditions.

    They have the distinct advantage of being possibly true or false. The codes representing them (including markings on a computer screen, footprints tamping out messages in sand, NSA encryptions, machine language in a processor, or Morse code or teletype signals, cannot be true or false. They’re just markings on computer screens, discolorations in sand, voltage states, beeps, and so on. Only when they’re interpreted as propositions can they be true or false.

    And the same is necessarily true of neuronal states: voltage potentials along neurons and across synapses, chemical mediators, and so on. They are voltage potentials along neurons and across synapses, chemical mediators, and so on. That’s what they are. Until they are interpreted as propositions. And propositions are not voltage potentials along neurons or across synapses, nor are they chemical mediators, nor are they any combination of the above, no matter how complex, because those things are just the code, not the interpretation.

  204. Oisin says:

    You are claiming that the spirit can cause behaviour at the level of the brain, but the standard model has ruled out this possibility. How do you know the spirit causes behaviour? How do you know that the standard model does not explain everything about how particles work at the level of the brain?

  205. Oisin says:

    Propositions are not brain states, however. They are not coded expressions. They are in fact not even material objects or states or conditions.

    How do you justify this statement? I think Dennett’s interpretation deals with this in the Wikipedia page I linked earlier, though feel free to set me straight on that.

    What is the issue with the idea that humans are just processing outputs, similar to computers? We may be as similar to computers as birds are to planes, on this view, it’s an analogy not an equivalence.

  206. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Oisin:

    You really should slow down; you sound dangerously close like an obnoxious, impertinent child, what with the endless questions and then never pausing to process the answer to a single one of them.

    Just for the latest example (there are many more); to the claim that,

    Propositions are not brain states, however. They are not coded expressions. They are in fact not even material objects or states or conditions.

    you ask:

    How do you justify this statement?

    But Tom gave arguments in his comment #203. If you are not going to pay attention to the answers, why exactly are you making questions?

  207. Oisin says:

    204 @ Melissa, 205 @Tom, sorry :P

  208. Oisin says:

    @G. Rodrigues:

    I gave an account of how the brain can decide if a statement is true or false, it doesn’t require a second proposition to be about the original, the original fires and works, or it doesn’t fire and doesn’t work. At no point is it explained why propositions are not brain states, and the article I linked explains that at one level of zoom it’s all voltage gates and chemical interactions, but when you zoom out you have software decoding signals received.

    Your tone is one of anger and an attempt to make me feel lesser, it is not appreciated. If I ask a question that someone thinks has been answered, then the answer needs to be rephrased, simple as. I do not have a problem doing that if someone doesn’t understand something I wrote, I assume there was a lack of clarity with my writing and I reword it. Otherwise just quote the section that I missed, that would be helpful and conducive to conversation, I do not think I am faultless and that would not bother me.

  209. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Oisin:

    Your tone is one of anger and an attempt to make me feel lesser, it is not appreciated.

    And your impertinent and obnoxious tone is likewise not appreciated and yet I endure it with what patience I can muster. So for the sake of intellectual sanity, will you pretty please with a cherry on top slow down and tackle one question at a time? And pay attention to the answers?

  210. Victoria says:

    @Oisin
    Well, therein lies the rub, right? You’d have to investigate and answer the question about the historicity of the events of Jesus’ life and death, and subsequent reappearances, alive and well again. Christians maintain that a supernatural resurrection is the inference to the best explanation for the historical data available to us, and that the NT authors wrote about the significance and implications of that event – what it means for humanity. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes it very clear what the implications are if the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not a real, historical event. The NT makes it very clear that the resurrection is the power behind Christianity – if you do not understand that, then you do not understand Christianity at all.

  211. Tom Gilson says:

    The reason propositions are not brain states, Oisin, is blindingly obvious even in the paragraph where you say we haven’t explained it. You say,

    I gave an account of how the brain can decide if a statement is true or false, it doesn’t require a second proposition to be about the original, the original fires and works, or it doesn’t fire and doesn’t work.

    For a brain state to “work” is by no means the same thing as for it to be “true.” To “work” and to “be true” are completely different. They have almost nothing in common except that sometimes people like things to work and sometimes people like things to be true. (But don’t assume that the two sets of “things” in that sentence are the same. They’re not.)

    Brain states cannot be propositions. Brain states could conceivably code propositions, but that’s the closest they could conceivably come.

  212. Tom Gilson says:

    Where on Dennett’s page does he answer this? Would you include a quote, please? I can’t interact with some vague reference to some point somebody else made somewhere else.

  213. Melissa says:

    Oisin @204,

    I’m guessing this was aimed at me but there’s at least 3 problems with your response:

    1. You confuse your philosophical position with modern physics.
    2. You ask questions that have already been answered without dealing with those previous answers.
    3. You present a garbled version of my position.

    Do you wish to try again?

  214. Tom Gilson says:

    @204: The reason we know that physics cannot explain the mind is not because of any failure or incomplete knowledge in the realm of physics. It’s because

    (a) Propositions, beliefs, etc. are immaterial.
    (b) Physical things cannot be “about” propositions or other physical things.
    (c) Physics only explains determinate physical events, and rationality cannot be rationality if it is fully explained by determinate physical events; reasoning must be explainable (at least partly) by reasons if it is to be rational.

    These things have been explained previously on this thread. There’s more I could add, once I get out to my library in the office. Do you need more?

  215. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, you took this:

    You really should slow down; you sound dangerously close like an obnoxious, impertinent child, what with the endless questions and then never pausing to process the answer to a single one of them.

    as “anger and an attempt to make me feel lesser.”

    I suggest you take it instead as good advice.

    I feel lesser than Victoria and Melissa when it comes to the physical sciences. I feel lesser than G. Rodrigues when it comes to mathematics. You know why? Because I am. What shall I then do with that? If knowing and interacting on those topics were important to me, I would have to do some learning. I could do that on my own, in class, or by adopting a learning posture in my discussions with them on these topics. My only other alternatives would be to stay out of the conversation, or else to involve myself in it with a non-learning posture–and to look foolish in the process.

    If one doesn’t know a topic well, that by itself is no reflection on one’s character. If it’s important to that person and yet he or she makes no effort to understand it, that could be a sign of a character issue. If that person enters into a discussion acting as if he or she knows the answers, that’s definitely a matter for character growth and correction. And if that person does that in conversation with people who know the topic, not only does that person show he or she needs to grow in knowledge, that person also also displays him or herself to be foolish.

    This is true for any person on any topic. It might behoove you to consider whether it applies to you here on this topic.

  216. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    Your exchange with G. Rodrigues occurred while I was writing my reply. I’m really sorry to break it to you but there really does seem to be a problem on your end. I’ve brought up the issue of confusing your philosophy with modern science before but it obviously did not register or you ignored it. To be honest it doesn’t seem at all like you are even trying to understand what is being written.

  217. Melissa says:

    Tom @214 (c) I think you meant deterministic not determinate.

  218. Tom Gilson says:

    Right. Thanks. I got the wrong word in my head during a previous discussion on it.

  219. Billy Squibs says:

    For me, the lack of modern miracles is enough, God would need to be a part of my reality rather than me just reading about all these amazing things that used to happen but don’t now.

    A few things to be said here.

    1) All these amazing things happens over a space over many generations. Sometimes with seemingly barren periods in between. I suppose it’s easy to get the impression that miracles were almost commonplace in Biblical times but this isn’t the case. Timelines are truncated and generations pass while only the pertinent events to the author’s purposes are reported.

    2) What makes you think that Divine interventions aren’t happening now? (I use the word intervention because I make a rough distinction between God interacting with people in subtle ways and God doing arresting show-stoppers. The word “intervention” seems to encapsulate both.) Victoria mentioned Craig Keener in comment 192. While I think that you are of a mind to dismiss his work – as is your prerogative – it seems to me that he has made a substantive case that God is still very much in the business of intervening in the world. It’s not clear if you are familiar with contemporary miracle accounts.

    3) The claim of Christianity is that God can be part of your reality and already is. Moreover, one doesn’t need a sea parted come to know God.

  220. Oisin says:

    Sorry, the Dennett bit I was referring to was the 3 levels of abstraction. You are asking questions in terms of the physical stance, but you should be asking the same questions from the intentional stance. (the difference between asking about voltage gates and mental models, I’ll link again for your ease if curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance)

    There’s an element of pragmatism lost in your analysis, Tom. You say:

    For a brain state to “work” is by no means the same thing as for it to be “true.”

    This is where our difference lies. There is a built in assumption here that, for a mind to be considered a mind, it must know whether the propositions it considers true are actually true or not. This is just patently untrue, people are wrong about things all the time, there is mountains of evidence of people not reasoning correctly, and the neuroscientific/cognitive psychology approaches make sense of this.

    All we have are approximations towards truth, checking empirical evidence and revising ideas that don’t work. Nowhere in the account I gave earlier was it necessary to insert a soul into the process, and using mathematics as an example of something you need a soul to do is ridiculous because computers do maths too, and are better at maths than humans, so this process could easily be computational in nature in the human brain.

    I’m not trying to prove that there is no soul, and I am not trying to prove that the brain is all there is making minds, what I am saying is that it is not 100% necessary to posit a soul, there are plausible explanations for the behaviour of the mind as a result of the brain alone, and this should be acknowledged.

    I would call the brain explanations of mind more powerful, they explain more details of human thinking, including how and why it strays from correct reasoning, and they make predictions that can be tested empirically.

    It seems strange to me that everyone here thinks that, with the existence of the soul, the brain would still have all the appearance of doing everything mind-related itself, but you just know from philosophical argument that this is not all that is happening.

    These are the implicit claims you are making from your views: neuroscientists studying the reasoning methods of humans using fMRI are just completely misguided, physicists are leaving out a whole area of study on how the spirit can affect the behaviour of particles in the brain, and cognitive psychologists using computational metaphors to build theories explaining a variety of human thought patterns and processes are completely missing the bigger picture.

    **To anyone who thinks I am applying science to a non-science area: all you have to do is admit that brains are involved in thinking, and then making claims about minds begins overtly trespassing on scientific territory. You may well be right, but science can be used to criticize your views, you don’t get to just say “this is philosophy, not science”.** The view of non-overlapping magisteria is becoming less and less tenable with every advance in science and using that in argument does not make the problems with your thinking disappear.

    Science means coming up with an idea, checking to see if it is true, then making further predictions of how things would be if your idea was right, then checking that. There is a slow accumulation of truth, and it is only ever statistical and probabilistic, but it is trustworthy because it will admit if it is wrong. Using the phrase ‘scientism’ is not an insult, it says that one is humble, and supremely excited at the complexity of the natural world and the interconnectedness of everything in it. I know someone is bound to take issue with the difference between the natural and supernatural, but the above paragraph in between asterisks covers it.

    I’m off to Scotland, bye bye, thank you all for the fun! :)

  221. Tom Gilson says:

    Written by Oisin, quoted without further comment:

    This is where our difference lies. There is a built in assumption here that, for a mind to be considered a mind, it must know whether the propositions it considers true are actually true or not. This is just patently untrue,

  222. Gavin says:

    Tom and Oisin,

    I don’t expect this to create agreement, but it could provide a specific example to talk about Tom said [164]

    Your outside influence would have to cause:

    I’m an outside influence on Python. I’m going to follow your recipe

    1. The proposition P.

    I can do that. I will use the proposition P is “2+2=4”

    >>> def P():return 2+2==4

    If I ask Python for the proposition, it tells me the address where the voltages Pv representing the proposition “2+2==4” are stored.

    >>> P
    [function P at 0x101fb5b90]

    If I put a pair of parentheses after the name of the proposition P, it computes its truth value of the proposition encoded in the voltages Pv. P() is the computed truth value of proposition P.

    >>> P()
    True

    Continuing with your recipe:

    2. The proposition Q above the proposition P, i.e., “P is true” or “P is false.”

    I pick Q is “P is true.”

    >>> def Q():return P()==True
    >>> Q
    [function Q at 0x101fb5c08]

    The voltages Qv representing the proposition “P is true” are at a different address.

    3. The relationship between Q and P such that Q is either actually true or actually false.

    I caused Python to have that relationship by encoding in the voltages Qv the proposition Q that is about the proposition P encoded in Pv. When Python computes the truth value Q() of proposition encoded in the voltages Qv with it knows that the encoded proposition is about P, so it calculates the truth value P() of the proposition encoded in Pv to determine the truth of Q.

    Let’s see how if this is working by having Python compute the truth value of the proposition “P is true” encoded in the voltages Qv.

    >>> Q()
    True

    Q actually is true about P, so the the relationship is looking good. Let’s change the proposition P so that P is “2+2==5” and see what happens.

    >>> def P():return 2+2==5
    >>> P
    [function P at 0x101fb5c80]
    >>> Q
    [function Q at 0x101fb5c08]

    Notice that the address for the voltages Pv changed because Pv is encoding a new proposition, “2+2=5.” However, the address for the voltages Qv stayed the same because they are still encoding the same proposition, “P is true.” Lets have Python compute the truth value of the proposition encoded in Qv with respect to the new proposition encoded in Pv.

    >>> Q()
    False

    The proposition encoded in Qv is actually false about the proposition encoded in Pv, and Python knows it.

  223. Gavin says:

    Victoria,

    I think you are trying to get at the idea that there is a hierarchy of structure characterized by both scale and the dominant interactions at that scale – certainly our theoretical frameworks can be put into such a hierarchy.

    Yes, and specifically I’m trying to get at the idea that if with have equations that give a pretty good description the natural behavior of particles (particles behaving according to their nature.) at one scale, we can derive equations that give a pretty good description at a larger scale. We cannot go the other direction. The pretty good equations for molecular physics cannot be used to derive pretty good equations for nuclear physics.

    The description at the higher level may treat as fundamental objects that are not fundamental at the lower level. For example

    At the atomic scale, we can treat photons, electrons and the nucleus as point particles with no internal structure (just intrinsic properties, such as charge and spin) that interact with each other through the electromagnetic force (the photon, in QED terms)….

    Nuclei are not fundamental in nuclear physics, which describes protons and neutrons. Using the equations that give a pretty good description of nuclear physics we can derive pretty good equations describing atomic and molecular physics.

    This program can be continued up to much larger scale. Pretty good equations for atomic and molecular physics give pretty good equations for chemistry, which give pretty good equations for molecular biology, which give pretty good equations for microbiology, etc. This is the reductionist view. It sounds like we don’t disagree about this.

    Where we do disagree is about the physical universe being an open causal system. I think that is a very bold claim and I haven’t seen convincing (in my opinion) evidence for it. I think that the Standard Model is the law (at that scale), that particles obey the law, and that this explains why particles, and in turn everything made of particles, behaves the way it does. Even so, I’m glad to be able to express the purely observational aspect of the Standard Model in another way that does not presume this view.

  224. Tom Gilson says:

    Gavin, no one questioned whether you could make the proposition encoded in Qv true or false about a proposition encoded in Pv. The question was whether Qv could be true or false about Pv. Do you see the difference, and why it matters?

  225. Billy Squibs says:

    I’m curious as to what people make of NDEs and the like. I’m very cautious about approaching these cases – which explains why I’ve spent so little time investigating them – but there are a few that I’m aware of that on first glance seem to be tricky to explain away from a mind = brain perspective. Example.

  226. Oisin says:

    Billy:
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/science-on-the-brink-of-death

    The two cases are interesting, I’d prefer to see more than two, though. So many people die every day in hospitals, and a good percentage of those are all set up with brain monitors and the like, there should be a wealth of empirical information on this!

  227. Melissa says:

    Oisin,

    **To anyone who thinks I am applying science to a non-science area: all you have to do is admit that brains are involved in thinking, and then making claims about minds begins overtly trespassing on scientific territory. You may well be right, but science can be used to criticize your views, you don’t get to just say “this is philosophy, not science”.**

    For the umpteenth time our criticism is not that we are talking philosophy and you are talking science and science cannot offer any criticism. The point is that we are both talking philosophy. You are confusing what science has to say with your philosophical interpretations of science. Until you can understand the difference the conversation will continue to be unprofitable.

    As for you long winded blathering about how the mind works like a computer. Your imaginative stories are just make believe unless they can answer the well known objections to mind as computer. They don’t. Dennett’s intentional stance was irrelevant when you first bought it up and it is still irrelevant.

    Enjoy you trip.

  228. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Not to talk out of turn but my guess is that Victoria does not agree with the reductionist view.

  229. Victoria says:

    @Melissa
    You’d guess correctly, sis’ :)

    Especially as applied to the design and engineering of complex, hierarchical systems – a given level in the hierarchy is implemented upon the level (s) below it, but is not reducible to those lower levels.
    That would be like saying Boolean algebra or the instruction set of a modern CPU can be explained by solid state physics, which seems rather absurd. Implemented by solid state logic gates, yes, because someone imposed the design on a semiconductor substrate.

  230. Billy Squibs says:

    The first criticism’s I heard about Eben Alexander’s story actually came from Christian circles. Make of that what you will. I’m curious, Oisin, was your first action to investigate the stories that I linked to or Google what your nearest internet infidel had to say? I’m not saying the latter is wrong. Indeed, I would probably do the same. As I said, just curious.

    Anyway, let us say for the sake of argument the only comment that naturalism can currently offer in response to these curious stories is a disinterested shrug of the shoulders. Do you then think that stories like these constitute evidence against naturalism and the notion that mind = brain.

  231. Gavin says:

    Victoria,

    Does anyone claim that Boolean algebra is explained by solid state physics? I would think the the operation of a specific computer chip could be explained using solid state physics. Do you disagree?

  232. Jeff Lewis says:

    After missing an entire weekend’s worth of commenting, there’s no way I can get caught back up to the entire conversation, so I apologize ahead of time for only responding to a few of the issues people have raised. If somebody directed a question to me in the past that I didn’t answer, but that you’d still like to see an answer to, please remind me of it.

    Re: Melissa & the Bible – I was a Catholic, raised with a liberal enough interpretation of the Bible, so my current reading of it isn’t contrasting it to an overly literal interpretation. But most Christians I know take at least some parts as more or less true, such as the stories about Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, Paul, etc. And that also includes accepting things like the 10 Commandments and the Law of Moses as divinely inspired and accurately representing the will of God. And quite frankly, that’s problem enough without looking to literal interpretations of stories like the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Flood, or Adam & Eve.

    G. Rodrigues wrote that he thinks “all animals and plants have souls”. I don’t want to put words into his mouth, so I’ll ask if you’d extend that to all life forms, including bacteria (as well as others’ answer to the question)? I ask, because it goes back to a point I’ve been trying to make all along – why invoke some unknown mechanism for something that can be fully explained by known means.

    Let me use a non-controversial example – lightning. There was a long time throughout human history where lightning was thought to have a supernatural cause, from Thor to Zeus to Yahweh to Indra to the Thunderbird, etc., depending on your culture. But now, lightning is understood to be a natural process due to physical mechanisms. And while the understanding of lightning still isn’t perfect, it’s complete enough that practically no educated person feels the need to invoke the supernatural since that would add nothing to our understanding.

    So, getting back to life, let’s consider e. coli. E. coli is definitely alive. And it just so happens to be one of the most studied life forms on the planet. Researchers have built various models and simulations of the goings on inside e. coli, and now their models are getting so sophisticated that they’re modeling entire cells (see the article, Researchers make the leap to whole-cell simulations). And while these whole cell simulations are still in their infancy, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of predicting the behavior of e. coli based simply on physical processes and chemistry. Just as with our current understanding of lightning, there’s no indication that another mechanism will need to be added to make the simulations perform properly.

    Granted, e. coli is very simple compared to multicellular animals, but at the very least, this destroys the argument for vitalism. ‘Life’ doesn’t require anything mystical (Venter’s synthetic cell experiments are another indication that Life is nothing but chemistry). But moving past that, there are very rarely hard & fast boundaries in nature. There’s a whole gradient of forms between single celled and multicellular organisms, and then a whole gradient from the simplest mutlicellular organisms to the most complex like birds, mammals, cephalopods, and trees. So, if e. coli can be explained by physical processes, then there’s every reason to suspect that slightly more complex types of life will also be explained by physical processes, and then slightly more complex types from there, and on and on.

  233. Jeff Lewis says:

    Regarding NDEs, I think naturalism can do a little more than “a disinterested shrug of the shoulders”. Here’s one study looking at the brains of dying rats, and the physiology of the brain during that time: Brain Scanner Reveals Physiology of Near-Death Experiences. Now, that doesn’t fully explain every NDE story ever told, but it goes a long way to explaining some of the common elements of NDEs. (Here’s a skeptical aritcle dealing more fully with NDEs: Near Death Experiences.)

    But let me ask a question – how seriously do you take stories of alien abduction? Those are also a pretty common experience, and there are a lot of similarities between the stories. But to me, at least, it seems more likely that the similarities are due to common human physiology combined with cultural priming.

    The link about studying rats made me think of another point – a big part of the ignorance in how the brain works is due to the limitations that we as a society put on researchers, and rightly so. If researchers had the freedom to do to humans what they do to other animals, and to get the spoken feedback from humans that’s not possible with other animals, then I’d imagine neuroscience would progress much more rapidly. I don’t mean to imply that that approach is desireable, but rather to dispell that idea that ignorance in neurobiology is simply due to shear complexity of the brain or the idea that it’s an intractable problem.

  234. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    G. Rodrigues wrote that he thinks “all animals and plants have souls”. I don’t want to put words into his mouth, so I’ll ask if you’d extend that to all life forms, including bacteria (as well as others’ answer to the question)? I ask, because it goes back to a point I’ve been trying to make all along – why invoke some unknown mechanism for something that can be fully explained by known means.

    From the perspective of Thomism all living things have souls where the soul is the form of a living thing. Other schools of thought may have a different view. The problem with the point you are making is that we are not invoking some “unknown mechanism”, we are not invoking a mechanism at all. The assumption that all explanations are mechanistic is one of the things we are challenging as well as the adequacy of explanations that are purely mechanistic explanations. We all know computers can be used to model and simulate behaviour and I don’t see how this is relevant to what is under dispute. The argument is not that we need to posit a soul to explain behaviour. In this thread we have mainly been concentrating on the in principle objection to thought being able to be reduced to the physical but there are also issues related to the intelligibility of a world devoid of meaning and purpose and how we are to understand what a E.coli is if there is no meaning but just clumps of undifferentiated particles.

    Feser’s The Last Superstition does offer an accessible introduction to a range of problems generated by the assumption that particles in motion are sufficient to explain everything. You might not agree with his solutions but you would be aware of some of the issues that get ignored and waved away.

  235. Gavin says:

    Victoria and Melissa,

    Do you think that our difference regarding reductionism is an actual difference in how we believe the world works, or just semantics. Certainly I think we have an actual difference of opinion regarding the universe being an open causal system. But I’m not sure about the reductionism issue.

    There is the parody of the reductionist as someone who can’t believe in the plays of Shakespeare because “it’s just ink and paper.” I don’t think any reductionist actually believes that the plays don’t exist.

    I think there is also a parody of the non-reductionist as someone who thinks that when a book is burned Hamlet sprouts little wings an flitters of to Literature Heaven to be with the other books. I don’t think non-reductionist think that either.

    So do we disagree? Certainly there are emergent properties that are very interesting. While I think that you can understand a specific computer chip through solid state physics, I don’t think you can become a computer scientist by getting really good at solid state physics. There are many ways to implement a computer, each of which can be understood through understanding its parts, but all of which can be understood much better through computer science. We all agree that there is something, computer science in this case, that is not just silicon and voltages. Is that an agreement, or do we disagree about this too?

  236. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    Do you think that our difference regarding reductionism is an actual difference in how we believe the world works, or just semantics. Certainly I think we have an actual difference of opinion regarding the universe being an open causal system. But I’m not sure about the reductionism issue.

    In 223 you seemed to be arguing that all systems could conceivably be explained (even if ultimately it’s impractical due to the problems of complexity) by application of the equations governing behaviour at the most fundamental level (that of particles).

    In my opinion the reason why, as we learn more, the materialists dream of explaining all of nature by reference to the fundamental particles in physics becomes more and more unlikely, not just because of complexity but because natural things are not just various arrangements of different particles but are a composite of matter and form.

  237. Gavin says:

    Melissa,

    I know that matter can be arranged into the form of a chair. Does that mean I agree with you, or do we disagree? I’m not trying to be persuasive or difficult. I just honestly don’t know if you are saying something different from me.

  238. Melissa says:

    Gavin,

    I know that matter can be arranged into the form of a chair. Does that mean I agree with you, or do we disagree? I’m not trying to be persuasive or difficult. I just honestly don’t know if you are saying something different from me.

    I didn’t think you were trying to be difficult and took your question as an honest attempt to clarify our differences. When I refer to form I mean as understood in A-T metaphysics. Now a chair is an artifact and really is nothing but it’s various parts put together. The “chairness” of the chair is observer dependent because the parts have been taken and arranged to to perform a function that they have no tendency to do on their own. Therefore an explanation of the chair would be complete by reference to the parts and the observer’s mind. Natural substances on the other hand do have natural tendencies towards certain effects and have a form that allows them to achieve those ends that they are directed toward. The formal and final causes are not reducible to efficient causes between the constituent parts.

  239. Billy Squibs says:

    @ Jeff Lewis

    Hi Jeff,

    Those links doesn’t do much to address my questions or the specifics of the two cases I provide a linked to. I realise that there are reasonable natural explanations for some of these phenomena, most people do. However, there does seem to be some NDE that are more difficult to explain from a naturalistic perspective. Your second link very broadly and briefly acknowledges such difficult cases.

    Some of the stories can’t be explained by either of the above. They include specific details that the patient could not have known. Sadly, all of these are anecdotal. They’re very interesting and I wish we had more of them, and that controls had been in place at the time. Since they weren’t, the scientific method requires us to shrug and say “Neat, but not evidence, let’s do it better next time.

    Did I see something of a disinterested shrug there? Anyway, it interesting that according to Brian Dunning testimony isn’t considered evidence. Since when?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you peddling that alien abduction shtick a while back on this forum or possibly Randal Rauser’s? My opinions on alien abduction is neither here nor there. You don’t dismiss A based on your beliefs about B.

  240. Victoria says:

    @Gavin
    Melissa answered your questions very nicely, and I agree with her.

    You are being metaphysically sloppy here – solid state physics is necessary but not sufficient for a complete ‘explanation’ of the computer chip. The thing about complex hierarchical systems is that they are implemented from the bottom up, but they are understood from the top down.

  241. Jeff Lewis says:

    Billy Squibs – I don’t believe I’ve commented at this site before, but I could be wrong. I brought up alien abduction stories just now because I think they contain similarities to OBEs and NDEs – possible physiological causes, possible cultural influences, possible corrupted memories, and even the possibility of outright frauds (though I’d imagine & hope that this last possibility is also the least prevalent).

    I can’t speak for Brian Dunning, but from my point of view, I’d say that anecdotes and testimony are a type of evidence, just not a particularly strong one. For example, consider Prahlad Jani, a yogi who claims to have not eaten any food for 70 years. His personal testimony is one line of evidence to support his claim (not to mention a couple controversial studies), but I’m not going to believe his claims based on his testimony alone.

    As far as NDEs, there are a small handful of hard to explain cases based on anecdotal evidence and without much documentation. Just as with Jani, maybe a disinterested shrug isn’t such a bad reaction.

    Anyway, I found a page on a skeptical site that addresses both the OBE and NDE from your original link – infidels.org – Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences. One of the things that struck me most about both stories is the amount of time between when the events occured and when the patients were interviewed about them – 7 years in the case of Maria, and 3 years in the case of Pam Reynolds. That’s a long time for memories to become corrupted. Just look at The Challenger Study, and how much people’s memories had changed in two and a half years for the type of event that supposedly burns itself into our memories. That link also reveals several other problems with the stories.

    Melissa – I have to admit to not quite following your arguments. In responses to me, you wrote, “we are not invoking a mechanism at all,” and “The argument is not that we need to posit a soul to explain behaviour.” In response to Gavin, you wrote, “The formal and final causes are not reducible to efficient causes between the constituent parts,” and in another comment, “natural things are not just various arrangements of different particles but are a composite of matter and form.”

    What you wrote in response to me, considering the example I gave of whole cell simulation, would seem to indicate that you don’t have a problem accepting that the behavior and actions of e. coli could be fully explained by physics and chemistry. But what you wrote to Gavin implies that you don’t accept that e. coli can be explained through purely materialistic means. So then, is the problem with claiming that e. coli lacks a soul not about the observable behavior of e. coli, but some intrinsic identity of e. coli-ness?

    As one final note, you wrote that commenters here are questioning “the adequacy of explanations that are purely mechanistic explanations”. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not actually the position I or some of the others dissenters here have put forward. [edit - i.e. the position that purely mechanistic explanations are always necessarily going to be sufficient] ‘Supernatural’ explanations aren’t ruled out a. priori simply because they’re supernatural. But at the same time, they’re not assumed without evidence. Rather, you (the ‘impersonal’ you – I just feel stuffy writing ‘one’) start off with the mechanisms you know about, and check to see if they’re sufficient to explain whatever phenomenon you’re observing. If they’re sufficient, then there’s no need to look for any additional mechanisms. But if they’re not, then you do go looking for what those other mechanisms might be. To go back to an example I used earlier, lightning seems entirely explainable by conventional physics, so there’s no need to look for new mechanisms to explain it. But as a counter example, when astronomers studied the motion of galaxies, they appeared to be rotating too fast for the then conventional physics to explain, and they ended up positing dark matter to explain it. And that’s why I’ve written that I’m open to some new, as yet not understood mechanism to explain consciousness. But when you come out and say that e. coli must have a soul, then you start to lose me.

    Let me pose one more question – do you think lightning has a soul? Is it required for the ‘form’ of lightning? What about a star, or a rock? What about a starfish – what happens to its soul when the starfish is cut in half? What objects have souls, and what ones don’t?

    I realize that things like e. coli and starfish aren’t traditionally thought of as a thinking, sentient organism – I’m just trying to get to the bottom of what people here believe a soul is/does.

  242. Gavin says:

    Melissa and Victoria,

    Thanks for clarifying. We certainly disagree about this issue as well as the one about the physical universe being open. These disagreements may related, but they are probably not exactly the same.

    I think I’ve gotten what I can out of this dialogue and will sign off.

    Best,
    -Gavin

  243. Victoria says:

    @Gavin
    It’s been fun and a good learning experience interacting with you. I hope you come back and visit once in a while, and that you don’t close yourself off to the possibilities of really getting to know God.

    Take care, and all the best
    Victoria

  244. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    What you wrote in response to me, considering the example I gave of whole cell simulation, would seem to indicate that you don’t have a problem accepting that the behavior and actions of e. coli could be fully explained by physics and chemistry. But what you wrote to Gavin implies that you don’t accept that e. coli can be explained through purely materialistic means. So then, is the problem with claiming that e. coli lacks a soul not about the observable behavior of e. coli, but some intrinsic identity of e. coli-ness?

    My use of the phrase “The argument is not that we need to posit a soul to explain behaviour” was confusing due to my sloppy wording, sorry about that. That science can explain how the parts of something interact during certain behaviours is uncontroversial, the dispute is around whether this fully explains the behaviour. Being able to simulate an e.coli cell and even accurately predict that given these conditions this will happen is not the same thing as it being fully explained.

    As one final note, you wrote that commenters here are questioning “the adequacy of explanations that are purely mechanistic explanations”. I don’t have a problem with that, but it’s not actually the position I or some of the others dissenters here have put forward. [edit - i.e. the position that purely mechanistic explanations are always necessarily going to be sufficient] ‘Supernatural’ explanations aren’t ruled out a. priori simply because they’re supernatural. But at the same time, they’re not assumed without evidence. Rather, you (the ‘impersonal’ you – I just feel stuffy writing ‘one’) start off with the mechanisms you know about, and check to see if they’re sufficient to explain whatever phenomenon you’re observing. If they’re sufficient, then there’s no need to look for any additional mechanisms. But if they’re not, then you do go looking for what those other mechanisms might be.

    I hope you can see from this paragraph why I think your implicitly held position is that purely mechanistic explanations are the only type of explanation. Your position is that you start with the mechanisms you know about and check to see if they’re sufficient. By sufficient you mean does it accurately describe how the phenomenon occurs or changes. (There is still the question of whether we can intelligibly explain something without recourse to formal and final causes, but we can bracket that out for now). If the known mechanism doesn’t fully explain that then we go looking for additional mechanisms. Note that we’re not looking for whatever we are missing but additional mechanisms! And you go on in the paragraph to make this statement “And that’s why I’ve written that I’m open to some new, as yet not understood mechanism to explain consciousness.”

    Let me pose one more question – do you think lightning has a soul? Is it required for the ‘form’ of lightning? What about a star, or a rock? What about a starfish – what happens to its soul when the starfish is cut in half? What objects have souls, and what ones don’t?

    All material objects have forms, in living things their form or essence is also referred to as their soul. This conception of a soul is not as some ghostly thing that continues to exist after the body dies except for the human soul because humans are rational and so have an immaterial component. The soul is that which gives a thing it’s nature. Be aware, that as Tom mentioned previously mentioned there are other conceptions of the soul. What I’ve described here (probably rather poorly) is hylomorphism.

  245. Melissa says:

    Thanks Gavin. Never stop asking questions.

  246. Jeff Lewis says:

    “Being able to simulate an e.coli cell and even accurately predict that given these conditions this will happen is not the same thing as it being fully explained.”

    It’s getting pretty daggone close as it is, and the way things are going, it seems like the remaining issues are just going to be spending more time developing the simulations and getting more powerful computers to run them.

    “Note that we’re not looking for whatever we are missing but additional mechanisms!”

    Maybe that’s poor wording on my part, or talking past each other a bit. If a soul controlled our personalities, I’d call that the additional mechanism, no matter how the soul itself was composed or worked, even if it had free will.

    Anyway, thanks for answering my questions. I think I understand your position better now.

  247. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    I don’t get any sense that you do understand my position very well. Our differences are at a much deeper level than I think you realise. What you call an explanation (how the parts work, the ability to make predictions and simulate behaviour) is in my opinion not enough. That’s a scientific explanation and scientific explanations (as they lack meaning and purpose) are, on their own, not enough to make sense of the world.

    Maybe that’s poor wording on my part, or talking past each other a bit. If a soul controlled our personalities, I’d call that the additional mechanism, no matter how the soul itself was composed or worked, even if it had free will.

    A soul does not control our personalities. Nor can we talk of a soul being composed or working by efficient causes. The whole point is that the mechanistic view of nature is wrong. We do not tack on a few added extras to the mechanistic view but rather adopt a completely different view of nature. You say you are open to “supernatural” explanations and yet by your implicit belief that explanation just is a description of mechanisms anything that is not mechanistic is ruled out. In practice an explanation is only what science can tell us.

    This link http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/scientism-roundup.html gives a list of blog posts that might be of interest. The first two give a short overview of some of the issues raised in the book I suggested earlier.

    Edited to add: I posted this link in the hopes that it will offer a new point of view or even questions for you to consider. I’m not suggesting you advocate scientism but the later parts of those articles offer a helpful starting point.

  248. Istvan says:

    What you call an explanation (how the parts work, the ability to make predictions and simulate behaviour) is in my opinion not enough. That’s a scientific explanation and scientific explanations (as they lack meaning and purpose) are, on their own, not enough to make sense of the world.

    But that is making sense of the world. We impose our interpretations on the explanations (and ascribe meaning or purpose to events), but the explanations are exactly what we know about the world. We don’t look for “meaning and purpose” in a hurricane’s devastation or in the suffering that an epidemic causes, but we understand the physical basis of hurricane formation and viral pathology.

  249. Melissa says:

    Istvan,

    I think you are confusing meaning and purpose with value, that’s not what I had in mind. What does it mean for something to be a virus, why are viruses directed toward particular ends and not others. Feel free to check out the links.

  250. Istvan says:

    What does it mean for something to be a virus, why are viruses directed toward particular ends and not others.

    Again, we understand a lot about viral pathology, but the questions you’re asking are phrased in a way that assumes that there’s a meaning and purpose, some sort of moral content, to be learned about viruses and disease. This may be the way our ancestors viewed disease, and certainly they wondered about the reason disease caused such suffering in their communities. Nowadays we understand pathogens to be physical entities that merely self-replicate, and the damage they do to humans (though tragic) is incidental. I don’t think any viral pathologist would accept your question about viruses being “directed” as a legitimate course of inquiry.

  251. Melissa says:

    Istvan,

    Again, we understand a lot about viral pathology, but the questions you’re asking are phrased in a way that assumes that there’s a meaning and purpose, some sort of moral content, to be learned about viruses and disease.

    Once again I’m not talking about moral content, you assume I am because that’s the only framework you have for understanding the terms. Do some reading or don’t, but it would be rude to continue to act as if you know what I’m talking about when all you are doing is reading your own assumptions into what I’ve written.

  252. Istvan says:

    Melissa,

    Sorry to put words in your mouth. Cosidering the amount of times you’ve been misunderstood in this discussion, I don’t think the fault is truly mine. Was anything I said concerning our understanding of viral pathology wrong or lacking in any way? Don’t we understand full well that viruses (if we can ascribe conscious intent to them for the sake of convenience) act strictly out of the drive to survive and replicate?

  253. Melissa says:

    Istvan,

    Don’t we understand full well that viruses (if we can ascribe conscious intent to them for the sake of convenience) act strictly out of the drive to survive and replicate?

    Being directed towards an end dies not necessarily need to be regarded as conscious, so we don’t need to ascribe consciousness at all. Of course we understand that viruses are directed towards survival and replication but you also said that no viral pathologist would entertain the question that the virus was directed toward an end. The point is that there are things that we understand about the natural world that do not fit into the materialist metaphysics. So yes, knowledge gained of how the virus works is certainly lacking as a complete explanation.

    Edited to add: of course misunderstandings will happen when people try to force another’s position into their own framework for understanding the world.

  254. Istvan says:

    The point is that there are things that we understand about the natural world that do not fit into the materialist metaphysics.

    Such as?

    I never said that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, or that empiricism is the only valid form of inquiry. But when it comes to weather patterns, disease, heredity, and a long list of other complex natural phenomena, what we do understand about them derives from empirical evidential inquiry.

    Edited to add: of course misunderstandings will also happen when people just aren’t explaining themselves very well.

  255. Melissa says:

    Istvan,

    Such as?

    Final causes is one.

  256. Melissa says:

    Istvan,

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my post to Jeff. Maybe this will be clearer: Scientific explanations interpreted according to materialist metaphysics cannot make sense of the world .

  257. Istvan says:

    Final causes is one.

    Um, okay. So how do we actually understand these using some not-materialist metaphysics?

    Scientific explanations interpreted according to materialist metaphysics cannot make sense of the world .

    And I maintain that they’ve made plenty of sense of the natural world. I’m not expecting total knowledge and absolute understanding about the universe (and I’m not saying you necessarily do, but like a lot of other folks in this discussion, I’m unclear as to what you expect). But as far as what we know about plenty of natural phenomena, our understanding is based on just the sort of metaphysics you’re dismissing as inadequate.

  258. Melissa says:

    Itsvan,

    Um, okay. So how do we actually understand these using some not-materialist metaphysics?

    We can at least allow that they are real and follow the implications of that fact. I’m not about to give you a lesson from the ground up in A-T metaphysics. Feel free to do some reading yourself if you are interested.

    But as far as what we know about plenty of natural phenomena, our understanding is based on just the sort of metaphysics you’re dismissing as inadequate.

    Our understanding is not based on a materialist metaphysics, that’s a convenient fiction.

  259. Istvan says:

    Our understanding is not based on a materialist metaphysics

    Except it is.

    There’s nothing in our current understanding of weather, heredity, or disease (just to name three examples) that is inconsistent with materialist metaphysics.

  260. Jeff Lewis says:

    Melissa – sorry this comment grew so long. I wanted to reply in a thoughtful manner, and before I realized it, I’d ended up with all this. So, to help break it up, I’ll post it as a few separate comments.

    You wrote:

    “I don’t get any sense that you do understand my position very well. Our differences are at a much deeper level than I think you realise.”

    I understand your position better than I did at the start of this thread, but you’re right, it’s so foreign to me that I have a hard time understanding it well. It’s abundantly clear to me that our differences are very deep.

    Here are a few excerpts from some of your comments.

    “natural things are not just various arrangements of different particles but are a composite of matter and form.”

    “Natural substances on the other hand do have natural tendencies towards certain effects and have a form that allows them to achieve those ends that they are directed toward. The formal and final causes are not reducible to efficient causes between the constituent parts.”

    “All material objects have forms, in living things their form or essence is also referred to as their soul. This conception of a soul is not as some ghostly thing that continues to exist after the body dies except for the human soul because humans are rational and so have an immaterial component. The soul is that which gives a thing it’s nature.”

    So let me see if I can summarize – everything is composed of a form (morphe) and matter (hyle). The morphe, also referred to as a ‘soul’ in living things, is what gives the thing its essence or identity. And because of the morphe, the matter will “have natural tendencies towards certain effects”. In everything except people, the morphe isn’t everlasting. Whenever the organism dies or the object is destroyed, the morphe ceases to exist. In people, however, the morphe is everlasting, and will continue to exist even after bodily death.

    Am I right so far? Because that much, even if I don’t agree with it, at least makes some sense. But going on from there is where I have a hard time even understanding how this is supposed to work. So, here’s my next bit of summarizing what I think your position may be. First, as before, a few excerpts:

    “The argument is not that we need to posit a soul to explain behaviour.”

    “A soul does not control our personalities. Nor can we talk of a soul being composed or working by efficient causes.”

    “I am talking about our thoughts being about or directed towards things.”

    “Be careful here, the arguments are not about whether we can explain behaviour, but human thought.”

    “Since our primary aim at this juncture is to argue that the physical is not sufficient to explain mind.”

    This is where it gets a bit hard to follow for me. Some of those imply that the morphe isn’t directly responsible for behavior in a direct cause and effect sense. Rather, it influences the matter to behave a certain way, and so only indirectly affects the behavior of the object by giving the object its nature. But some of those statements show the soul beig more involved, such as explaining mind, or being responsible for human thought.

    I’ll be honest, I am biased towards by methodological naturalism (not metaphysical naturalism), which I think is the fundamental difference in our approach. If something has any type of effect on the real world, that effect should be able to be measured or at least observed, even if the effect is indirect, or small, or something difficult to quantify like subjective experience. For example, whatever you want to argue is the cause, I love my wife. This has observable effects on the way I live my life, from simple things like telling her I love her, to the amount of time I spend with her, to the way my expression changes or my pulse quickens when I see her. On the subjective front, I can describe the emotions I feel when I see her or think about her – not easily quantifiable, but a definite observation on my part. So, even an abstract emotion like love has observable effects. If my behavior didn’t change, or if I treated my wife just like any other woman, or if I didn’t feel anything different when I looked at her, then I don’t think anybody could conceivably apply the word ‘love’ to our relationship.

  261. Jeff Lewis says:

    You also wrote:

    “You assume that ordinary objects (what you would call physical or material objects) are nothing but particles and their interactions. I don’t agree.”

    “That’s a scientific explanation and scientific explanations (as they lack meaning and purpose) are, on their own, not enough to make sense of the world.”

    Is normal physics enough to explain the motion of a baseball? Even if the ball has a morphe and an identity and all that, if you just want to predict its motion, is it sufficient to use Newtonian mechanics and aerodynamic theory? Or do you need to incorporate the morphe in the explanation of the ball’s behavior?

    What about a grandfather clock? It’s not passive, like the baseball. It has an internal mechanism and a pendulum swinging back and forth at a known frequency, and the output is the time. Is physics enough to explain the behavior of the clock?

    At what point does normal physics become insufficient to explain the behavior of an object? If the answer is always, then look to some of my other questions in the next comment. If there is some threshold or dividing line, how do you justify it?

    You wrote:

    “That science can explain how the parts of something interact during certain behaviours is uncontroversial, the dispute is around whether this fully explains the behaviour.”

    I’m unclear on this. Do you mean observable behavior? In the baseball and clock examples above, the answer is definitely yes. And even in the case of E. coli, the answer is getting pretty close to a definite yes. That’s the whole breakthrough with whole cell simulation. Put a real E. coli or a simulated E. coli in the same situation, any situation, and they’ll both respond the same way. Let the simulation run a while, and they’ll have the exhibit the same series of observable actions. But if by behavior you mean more that just physical observations of what the cell is doing, then I think behavior means something different to the two of us.

  262. Jeff Lewis says:

    You wrote:

    “there are also issues related to the intelligibility of a world devoid of meaning and purpose and how we are to understand what a E.coli is if there is no meaning but just clumps of undifferentiated particles.”

    First of all, I would argue that ‘meaning and purpose’ are abstract concepts that exist only in the minds of sufficiently intelligent organisms (such as people). If people became extinct, the Earth would keep on turning, but our concepts of meaning and purpose would have disappeared along with us. It’s like other abstract concepts like color. While light would continue to exist at different wavelengths, it takes observation by an organism to interpret that as a color. (As a reminder, as I’ve written before, I think the mind itself is an emergent property of matter, so I’m not admitting here to some mystical definition of abstract concepts.)

    Moving on, what is E. coli? I would say nothing more than an abstract category applied by humans to certain organisms that share an arbitrary set of traits. The organisms themselves are definitely real, but the label of E. coli is only that, a label. And that’s true of all organisms. When in the course of evolution did E. coli become E. coli. How much will it have to evolve in the future before it’s no longer E. coli. When did our ancestors become human?

  263. Jeff Lewis says:

    You quoted Oisin as saying, “At some point, we are made of material and this material is composed of particles. Our arms are made of particles only, and they act in accordance with our Standard model.” But then you went on to write, “For instance, I presume you think your first couple of sentences that I’ve quoted here are un controversial but I would not assent to the truth of these. Even the first sentence would need some serious rewording and qualifications to be acceptable.” So, how exactly would you have to seriously reword that first sentence of Oisin’s, because it seems very uncontroversial to me.

  264. Jeff Lewis says:

    I also have some specific question about souls. There seems to be a binary distinction here between the souls of humans and the souls of other animals. Since humans are rational, our souls will exist forever, while the souls of other animals will cease to exist when the animal dies. Is it really such a binary distinction? When in our ancestry did those bipedal apes switch from a temporary soul to an everlasting one? Did a mother and father ape with the temporary souls give birth to a child with an everlasting one? What about the rest of that population? Were there apes with everlasting souls popping up all throughout the population to different parents? What happened when one of the apes with an everlasting soul mated with an ape with a temporary soul? Or was it just a population wide transition instituted by a god?

    Also, why are humans considered the only animals intelligent enough to have rational souls? Our ape cousins are all pretty smart, being able to use sign-language and do limited math when it’s taught to them. Same with some birds like ravens or some species of parrots. Elephants appear to be very intelligent, as do some cetaceans like bottle nose dolphins or orcas. Do these animals have rational souls? What if we ever discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?

  265. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for you thoughtful comment and sorry I’ve been absent, all my computer time has been taken up with writing a paper that I’ve finished today.

    This is where it gets a bit hard to follow for me. Some of those imply that the morphe isn’t directly responsible for behavior in a direct cause and effect sense. Rather, it influences the matter to behave a certain way, and so only indirectly affects the behavior of the object by giving the object its nature. But some of those statements show the soul beig more involved, such as explaining mind, or being responsible for human thought.

    The question is what do we mean by direct cause and effect? To explain a thing (according to A-T metaphysics) Aristotle’s four causes being the formal (what it is), efficient (who or what made it), material (what is it made of) and final (what is it for) are required. The formal and final causes are therefore no less direct than efficient causes as they all work together simultaneously to bring about change. In human beings the soul includes the power of intellect and free will. When the intellect determines that a particular action is the best one to take, and the will follows it, the body moves in a way that constitutes the action. The intellect and will is the formal/final cause of the action and the firing of neurons and flexing of muscles are the efficient cause. All of these together explain the behaviour. As to why think the intellect is immaterial, for that we go back to the various arguments that tell us it is.

    I’ll be honest, I am biased towards by methodological naturalism (not metaphysical naturalism), which I think is the fundamental difference in our approach. If something has any type of effect on the real world, that effect should be able to be measured or at least observed, even if the effect is indirect, or small, or something difficult to quantify like subjective experience.

    Why do you think the intellect does not have an effect on the real world or that we don’t observe it’s effects? Or were you referring to forms? I’m not sure what you mean by forms not having any effect on the world?

    Is normal physics enough to explain the motion of a baseball? Even if the ball has a morphe and an identity and all that, if you just want to predict its motion, is it sufficient to use Newtonian mechanics and aerodynamic theory? Or do you need to incorporate the morphe in the explanation of the ball’s behavior?

    I think here you are collapsing explanation down to being able to predict where the ball will be at a certain time. I would argue to explain is to discover causes. I would suggest that the reason why science makes sense without explicitly referring to formal and final causes is because they are implicitly assumed in spite of claims to the contrary. Take for instance what we are doing when we make predictions. We know what the ball is and we know that given what it is, it has particular natural ends. For instance some of the natural ends of the ball (in the simplest terms) will be to fall towards earth and be slowed by the wind. Physics quantifies these and we can predict where the ball will be at a particular time.

    Or take for example my field of study in new anti-cancer drugs. Say I want to make a new amide. I know that amides are one of the natural ends of carboxylic acids. So I start with a carboxylic acid and an amine and I get a new amide. I’m implicitly assuming the truth of formal and final causation when I do science.

    It is not physics that has a problem, but physics and materialism. Clearly we can make predictions but the rational foundations of those predictions are undermined by materialism. Aristotle would hold that you cannot have efficient causes without final ones which is why the denial of final causes leads to all sorts of philosophical problems for instance the problem of induction. Without formal and final causes there is no reason why any cause should have a particular effect or range of effects.

    Will be back with further comments on your other points.

  266. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    It’s like other abstract concepts like color. While light would continue to exist at different wavelengths, it takes observation by an organism to interpret that as a color.

    The idea that color exists only in minds is a conclusion of your philosophy not mine and is one of the things that makes qualia so problematic for those who reject forms, therefore using it to illustrate what meaning and purpose are does nothing to support your point.

    Moving on, what is E. coli? I would say nothing more than an abstract category applied by humans to certain organisms that share an arbitrary set of traits. The organisms themselves are definitely real, but the label of E. coli is only that, a label.

    Well most scientists would argue that they are discovering real features of objective reality. Our labels reflect an objective reality. The belief that concepts, exist only in the mind leads to a radical form of relativism. When you and I entertain the concept e. coli we are entertaining the same concept. To the extent that our concepts differ either one or both of our understandings is defective but to be defective they must reflect objective reality. Also if we are not entertaining that same concept it makes communication impossible. Ultimately this view is self-undermining because we can’t argue it ‘s truth without resorting to the use of universals, propositions and logic.

    So, how exactly would you have to seriously reword that first sentence of Oisin’s, because it seems very uncontroversial to me.

    If material substances are composites of form and matter then it doesn’t make sense to say we are made of material.

    As to the when, how of human souls. They are interesting questions but the answer is we don’t know. Of course, although they are interesting questions, the answers to those questions or the lack of answers is irrelevant as to whether humans really do have souls. One thing to remember is that the immaterial functions of the human soul mean that it could not arise from purely material processes. Each human soul is a special creation.

    What if we ever discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?

    If any animal was rational it would have an immortal soul. To be rational is to have the power to grasp abstract concepts and to reason on the basis of them. The fact that certain animals can learn to perform more complex behaviour does not demonstrate that they are rational.

  267. Melissa says:

    Jeff,

    I just came across this post which may make things clearer.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/some-questions-on-soul-part-iii.html

    The other posts in series are worth reading too.

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