Tom Gilson

A few unrelated items:

Remember the Raving Atheist? He dropped out of blogging for a while, but has now returned and changed the title of his blog—and the tone. Quite remarkably, in fact. Check out these two posts especially, and also this explanation.

The agreed delay period being over, I can now post my Touchstone magazine review (pdf) of Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary’s book, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul.

As they said at The Point, “you knew it was coming.” The porn industry is asking for their bailout, too. It makes this from Doug Groothuis not seem so much like a parody after all.

American students are far more likely to disbelieve in evolution than students in other countries—see page 2 here (pdf; something I’ll be interested to look at more closely later on). That makes them pretty much down on studying science, right? Wrong.

Commenting Restored

The comment function here has been out of service, possibly causing frustration, for which I apologize. You can comment again now, and it will save and post as it should do. First-time commenters' comments will not appear, however, until approved in moderation.

16 thoughts on “Items of Interest

  1. While I agree that reductivistic materialism is not an adequate philosophy, I don’t see how refering to “thoughts” necessarily requires an immaterial soul. Yes, there still are many mysteries in non-reductivistic neuroscience approaches, but I don’t see how any of them even imply the existence of an immaterial soul. Even Near-Death Experiences, which Moreland puts rather high on the list of evidences for dualism, consistently report feelings of a physical (though ethereal) body, have lots of experiences that require a spatial (i.e. not non-spatial) perspective (floating above one’s body, zooming through space), etc. His arguments from introspection consistently show us as being spatially bounded with our body as the primary locus, not essentially non-spatial. It just seems like dualism feeds off of the failure of reductivistic materialism.

  2. Kevin,

    It just seems like dualism feeds off of the failure of reductivistic materialism.

    That’s the nature of a better hypothesis I guess. You agreed that reductivistic materialism is not an adequate philosophy so I don’t understand why you would then make this statement.

  3. SteveK,

    Perhaps better put, it just seems like dualism feeds off of the failure of reductivistic materialism rather than having a robust case on its own. Put one more way, it’s as if the failure of reductivistic materialism is seen in itself as evidence for the truth of dualism.

  4. Kevin,

    Put one more way, it’s as if the failure of reductivistic materialism is seen in itself as evidence for the truth of dualism.

    But isn’t this what you meant when you said reductivistic materialism is not an adequate philosophy? It seems you are both supporting an alternative to materialism and complaining there’s no evidence for an alternative. Then again, maybe my headache today is getting in the way of my ability to understand.

  5. SteveK,

    No, that’s not what I meant. I support an alternative to reductivistic materialism but do not think that alternative is dualism, which seems devoid of evidence, so it overly depends on the failures of reductivistic materialism. There is evidence of non-reductivistic accounts being more useful than the kind of materialism used by most philosophers and militant atheists, so I see the possibility of an alternative while rejecting that dualism is the viable alternative. Is that clearer?

  6. Kevin:

    There’s a double begging of the question embedded in your latest comment when you state, “I support an alternative to reductivistic materialism but do not think that alternative is dualism, which seems devoid of evidence, so it overly depends on the failures of reductivistic materialism”:

    (1) What counts as “evidence”? I hope you’re not falling into DL’s trap of illicitly (fallacy of circular reasoning: “the sciences work because the sciences work, predict, measure, etc., etc., ad nauseum”) privileging the natural sciences as the epistemological arbiters of all knowledge (a.k.a. scientism) for which the only thing that counts as evidence is that proposed by the failed (self-immolating AND self-admitted) positivist vision. Consider all of DL’s subjective assertions (if you’re familiar with the history of his comments): none of them can stand up to having his criteria applied back upon themselves… and yet, he continues to bludgeon others with scientistic rhetoric rather than providing sound arguments.

    (2) To which type of “dualism” do you refer? Surely you don’t fall for the silly vision of dualism as a “ghost” in the machine… initiated by the gross error of Descartes’ cogito, do you? Surely you don’t believe that the empirical sciences must be sole epistemological tools to explore what the soul is, do you? If the soul is immaterial, then wouldn’t you employ the proper tools (reason) to establish arguments in support of the existence of the soul?

    There is a blatant problem with the inherent reductionism of materialism, physicalism, naturalism, positivism, etc., etc. But the way to resolve (or at least explore) them is NOT to succumb to the criteria of the modern empirical sciences alone. You reason to knowledge of things beyond that knowledge acquired by the senses, i.e., by the natural sciences. DL’s, Paul’s and others’ like them narrow-minded and self-serving vision of reality relegates either to the wholly subjective (like morality) or to non-existence (like the soul) things that their limited tools cannot capture. Said another way, if THEY can’t “see” them, they don’t exist or they’re subjective. Surely that’s neither a sign of intellectual integrity or honesty. It is, in fact, an a priori, subjective, unsupportable, unscientific, and often times emotional ideological commitment.

    Regarding the soul: ANALOGOUSLY speaking, the relation of the soul to the body is like the relation of meaning to the word… it is NOT like the relation of dirt in a rug. In the latter case, the dirt can be physically removed from the carpet; in the former case there is no way to separate the meaning from the word. Further, the soul and body are inseparable in a human person except after death: a PERSON is not just his material body and not just his spiritual soul. The person is a unitary whole. Otherwise in the flawed materialist perspective, if a person were only material, then if you see me picking up a ball you could only claim my arm is picking up the ball. That’s silly. It’s not my arm but me, myself, I that is picking up the ball. It’s not my eyes that see—it’s ME that sees. One MUST account for what that ME is. Paul believes the ME is nothing but neurons in action. Would you buy a used car from Paul?

  7. Holopupenko,

    Please don’t confound me with DL nor assume that I must either accept a form of positivism or else I must accept dualism. My primary argument, implied in my statements about both NDEs and the argument from introspection, is that Moreland’s arguments are phenomenologically suspect, which I accept as one form of evidence.

    In respect to dualism, again, my explicit mentioning of Moreland might have implied for someone receptive enough to claim that I have begged the question twice that I was refering to his particular form of dualism, which is a neo-Thomistic view. I believe that Aquinas’ view is more coherent than Moreland’s, but still see the arguments for the existence of an immaterial soul to be suspect.

    Lastly, in relation to the coherence and unity of the body, I agree, but do not think that an immaterial soul is the only way to account for that unity. In fact, I believe the view of matter as only being externally and contingently related is inadequate. I believe that Lee Smolin put it aptly:

    The fundamental properties of physical entities are a set of relationships, which evolve dynamically. There are no intrinsic, non-relational properties, and there is no fixed background, such as Newtonian space and time, which exists just to give things properties.

    The nature of physical things is that of interrelations, of essential interrelations, not purely external relations. This goes a long way conceptually to begin showing how the unity of the body is possible without the need of some substantial immaterial soul. I believe the work of thinkers like Walter Freeman, the late Francisco Varela, and possibly the work of Richard Davidson (just barely getting into him, so I can’t be sure yet) are heading in the right direction to show the unity in the brain (and, I would argue, into the realm of the body as a whole, but mostly with the help of thinkers like Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Shaun Gallagher) that doesn’t need an immaterial soul, largely by removing abstraction from our most vital functions (contrary to much AI, cognitive psychology, and analytic philosophy) and thereby grounding the emergence of abstraction in a unified and non-logical (note: not illogical) grasp of how to move about in the world.

    I don’t know if that has answered any of your claims about my particular view or dispelled the desire to project DL’s views on me, but there you have it.

  8. Oh, I guess to give one more distinguishing feature, I don’t believe “I” and simply neurons in action, but the whole unified organism as a whole, for which meaningful “action” is a more defining feature than “thinking”, both as that which makes thinking possible and due to the extent to which we do the former in comparison with the lesser degree to which we do the latter (i.e., we are always in action, but we are not always thinking or dealing in abstract analysis).

  9. Kevin:

    I was being provocative–not conflating your views with DL’s–to gain some clarity.

    Briefly: many find DEEP problems with Moreland’s views not only with his view of dualism, but more importantly (and I strongly suspect this animates to one extent or another Moreland’s particular understanding of dualism) with his understanding of being. His understanding of being is that it is a genus (a univocal notion that applies in the same way to all things that have being), and he could not be more wrong. That’s a long, long discussion.

    Regarding your last points, and perhaps unfairly summarizing: what is the fundamental basis upon which Smolin and company approach the issue. It is, in fact, almost exclusively from a perspective of the natural sciences that they approach things. Also, you quote him (, by the way, are highly suspect in their views) and then yourself say, “The nature of physical things is that of interrelations…” That’s, at a certain level, incoherent. Are you suggesting “interrelations” are the “first principle” of all things, i.e., the “stuff” out of which things ARE, i.e., similar to the Pythagorean view that all things are numbers? Doesn’t it make much, much more sense to understand that “relation” (especially as an analogous term, for example when applied to mathematical relations as opposed to relations of the positions of real beings) is the fourth category (third accident) of real being? Admittedly, there’s lot’s of nuance packed into the last few sentences… and I’m not sure this is the time or place to expand upon it.

    Anyway, my apologies for being too provocative as it pertains to you (but NOT to DL and Paul), and thanks for the clarification.

  10. Ok, sorry for the misinterpretation of your words and for the clarification.

    Really quickly, the quote is from Smolin, who is a very reputable and well-known physicist, particularly in his work on string theory, where he switched from one of its primary proponents to one of its better critics. Whether he was quoted at is beside the point.

    On the issue of interrelation, I for one think that metaphysics has been ill-served by its attempt to find a single universal cause rather than a multiplicity of or, in Heidegger’s term, equiprimordial grounds. I see interrelation as an essential part of what things are, even as more fundamental than substance. In short, a thing that does not stand in interrelation to other things is nothing, has no particular or determinate properties. Their relations are what make determinate properties possible, otherwise things are indeterminate, uncertain, mere possibilities (which are not things; possibilities have a different structure than things).

  11. Kevin:

    That Smolin is a reputable physicist, I realize and have little doubt. But that’s not my point, and for this very reason I asked ON WHAT BASIS is he investigating the world? His primary basis for tackling the problem of reductionism is to rely wholly on the modern empirical sciences (in this case physics). It is more than evident—from his words AND from his association with (which IS relevant in terms of understanding what influences Smolin’s thinking)—that he is working under the ASSUMPTION that the MESs are THE privileged epistemological tool for understanding the world. It cannot be repeated enough that such a notion/assumption is a non-starter—if nothing else because it undermines itself because it is NOT an MES assumption. It is, in fact, an illicit (and certainly undemonstrated) philosophical assumption. It is, in fact, a deep form of ontological reductionism: reducing knowledge only to what the MESs can say about the world is profoundly more troubling than the ignorant coffee table reductionist claiming all things are material.

    Regarding the increasingly fragile string theory—especially when these guys try to impose upon it the mantle of a Theory of Everything (which Godel through his Incompleteness Theorems nicely and correctly destroyed as ever being possible to be considered a FINAL theory… and hence shows that no scientist can argue against the contingency of the universe in favor of it being necessary), let me present you just one example of the stupid—literally stupid—unscientific crap String Theorists have been known to spout:

    (1) Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts institute of Technology… speculated that mathematics does not describe the universe—it is the universe… “Everything in our world is purely mathematical—including you.”
         [Demonstration, please, Mr. Tegmark… oh, and perhaps you’d like to review your Ancient Greek history—in particular what Pythagoras believed.]

    (2) Alan Guth, MIT physicist: “The entire universe burst into something from absolutely nothing—zero, nada. And as it got bigger, it became filled with even more stuff that came from absolutely nowhere…”
          [Irrationality at it’s best! Why? Because the statement doesn’t imply something (God?) created the universe ex nihilo, but rather that the universe is explained by saying it ITSELF came from nothing! Where’s the science in that? And, it’s something DL loves because it jettisons willy-nilly (no science—just plain assertion) the Principle of Sufficient Reason. So, the further absurdity of Guth’s claim is that if the universe “caused itself,” then it would have to have existed before it came into existence. Utter nonsense.]

    (3) “Dr. Martin Rees, a University of Cambridge cosmologist and the Astronomer Royal of Great Britain noted that it is not necessary to observe other universes to gain some confidence that they may exist. He was referring to certain solutions of string theory equations that allegedly indicate a range of other universes actually exist.”
         [Rees’ claim is stupidly anti-scientific: to the materialist mindset, one extra spiritual dimension is a preposterous idea, while the notion that there are infinite numbers of universes that cannot be detected gives no pause. Which sounds more far-fetched: one unseen mode of reality (which can nevertheless be reasoned to) or billions of universes with no hope of detection? Rees is NOT doing science but imposing a personal, subjective opinion based on dubious presuppositions.]

    I’m not tracking you on your last paragraph: on what basis do you claim “metaphysics has been ill-served by its attempt to find a single universal cause rather than a multiplicity”? That’s certainly not the case for an Aristotelian-Thomistic realist philosophy: four causes, principles, transcendental, etc., etc., are all woven into a profoundly deeper understanding of the world than any PC, dime-store, weed-smoking paperback on metaphysics you find at the local bookstore. (Hint: I’m being provocative.) Perhaps you meant the First Cause? If so, AT-metaphysics can only demonstrate the existence of the First Cause. It’s up to the science of theology to work with revealed knowledge to help us gain a tiny bit of insight into the nature of that First Cause.

  12. I think you are seriously misjudging Smolin. First, recall that I said he is a non-string theorist: he began as one but within the last few years decided that it was a practically useless theory (as it posited an exponentially increasingly large number of variables that it provided no basis from which decide on a correct number). Second, giving a one-paragraph answer to a question (which was also answered by other well-respected thinkers) hardly constitutes an “association with” that can prove anything. Third, Smolin is one of the few physicists who is a strong proponent of philosophical analysis, and not simply as an incipient science (i.e. that it is only good for getting us to scientific analysis): he sees physics’ return to its philosophical roots as vital to its future progress, especially in the wake of the rise and (in many peoples’ minds) fall of string theory.

    On metaphysics’ fixation on single grounds, I have a deep respect for both Aristotelian and Thomistic thought and see much good in their works. However, the notions of the First Cause and understanding being in terms of absolute presence are highly problematic. So I would certainly disagree that AT has “demonstrate[d] the existence of the First Cause” and would also disagree with calling theology a “science” (which surely isn’t a bad thing; why do people think that being a “science” is somehow necessary or even important in order for something to provide truth?).

    On a final note: your being “provocative” tends to come across as being mean-spirited, crotchety, and even ignorant. I don’t think that’s true of you, but your “provocative” terminology reminds me of too many ignorant people I’ve talked with online whose “understanding” couldn’t stand up to any degree of rigorous analysis and tended to rely on reading a popular book or two on a subject and then thinking that they are relative experts. I could be the only person who sees it this way, but I would just request that you not be “provocative” with me. I prefer simple honesty and charity when discussing views I disagree with and I hope you would do the same with me. Please note that this isn’t a condemnation of you, just a comment on how one of your strategies comes across to me.

  13. Kevin:

    Please don’t read into what I wrote.

    First, show me where I explicitly group Smolin in with the likes of Guth, Rees, and Tegmark.

    Second, I NEVER said “only” with respect to science—I said PRIVILEGED. That’s why I group Smolin in with the crew: for Smolin it is, despite all else, the MESs that are privileged. I’ve read enough of Smolin to remain under-impressed as soon as he moves away from his field of expertise.

    Third, when you say (echoing Smolin) that physics should return to its philosophical roots, you do understand that the philosophical roots and scientific fundamentals which made the MESs possible arose starting from the medieval (= Catholic) universities and into the 14th century, don’t you? (There was a huge mathematical and scientific revolution several hundred years prior to the better known one in the 17th century—except then it was called natural philosophy.) I can provide you tons of examples, lots of published books to that effect—and none of this has been seriously challenged. That’s not to wave a Catholic flag but to be precise, and more importantly to make sure it’s lost on no one that it was Christian (and no other) faith that made the MESs possible.

    Fourth, my sense (correct me if I’m wrong) is you believe AT hasn’t (allegedly) demonstrated a First Cause because you’re sneaking in MESs categories—which is NOT the correct approach.

    Fifth, this is revealing: “why do people think that being a “science” is somehow necessary or even important in order for something to provide truth?” Well, if what you mean by “science” applies only to the modern empirical sciences, then you’d be correct. (Perhaps you should try chasing DL on that notion: you won’t find your interlocutor to be well-versed in what he’s trying to impose.) But science writ large is defined as “mediate intellectual knowledge obtained through demonstration.” That the MESs have reduced the certain knowledge obtained through demonstration to today’s likely (hypothetical) knowledge arrived at through inductive verification speaks volumes about what underlies the debate. One should not let the MESs (and their proponents from philosophically-challenged Dawkins to ideologically-burdened DL) to impose their unscientific epistemological limitations on the acquisition of knowledge of the world. (Predictionism… give me a break!) One cannot equivocate between demonstration and verification. Theology IS a science, but neither its concrete objects of study nor its formal objects of study (i.e., subject matter) are those of the MESs. As such, its methodologies and tools must be different—much more fundamentally different than the differences in methodologies between the particular MESs. (Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you appear now to be aware of these very important distinctions.)

    Regarding your last paragraph, perhaps… But I also suggest to you that it might be that “rigorous analyses” are at hand. Not agreeing with them or being able to adequately challenge them is no basis for imputing “provocation”… for that’s a rhetorical trick that doesn’t address the arguments themselves. Also, exposing the philosophical ignorance, ideological burdens, and illicit presuppositions of the three gentlemen I quoted (not to mention DL) as a MESSAGE should not be problematic. That notwithstanding, there is some merit to what you say: the MEANS by which the message is delivered could use some polishing. If that is to what you refer, then criticism accepted.

  14. Wow, talk about reading into what people wrote…

    First, to be honest, I had little clue why you brought up the three string theory theorists (not to mention the acerbic tone). I mentioned it only in passing, but then you decided to jump right on it as if it were the primary topic of discussion after talking about Smolin. Given this big shift in the topic, I could only assume that you were mentioning their illogicalities in relation to the primary topic: Smolin’s credibility. Otherwise it was a completely unnecessary foray into an irrelevant topic, hence my confusion.

    Second, given your lack of being “impressed,” I’m curious about what you’ve read of his. Truly, most of his work is within the MES approach, but his respect and utilization of Charles Sanders Peirce and his calls for physicists to realize the importance of philosophy for their work certainly should count for something.

    Third, why are you speaking so condescendingly to me (more “provocative”?)? I’m quite familiar with the development and history of physics and don’t require your “tons of examples, lots of published books” nor am I in any way challenging it. But I have to wonder again why you are bringing this up (though I can think of a few reasons, I don’t want to speculate or mind read) unless you think that Smolin is seriously proposing a return to Medieval physics…

    Fourth, no, my problems with the First Cause are primarily philosophical and logical: I don’t find any of the arguments for the First Cause, whether ‘intuitive’ or empirical, to be cogent and see many issues with the argumentation.

    Fifth, I’m beginning to not be interested in discussing this issue with you, because of your attitude as found in your terminology (and, now, occasional condescension), your continually equating my views with some form of logical positivism (with little evidence), and your continued assumption (especially seen in this post) that I am ignorant and in (apparently desperate) need of your (apparently) superior understanding (which, for whatever reason, you are flaunting with relish!). Because of that, I’m done with this conversation.

Comments are closed.


Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

Purchase Here!

More on the book...

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy

%d bloggers like this: