Jerry Coyne: “Why you don’t really have free will” – USATODAY.com

Jerry Coyne, who knows a lot about biology, doesn’t know nearly enough about other things on which he claims to be an authority. If what had written were only on his blog I would ignore it, but USAToday published it online: “Why you don’t really have free will.” It includes,

Now there’s no way to rewind the tape of our lives to see if we can really make different choices in completely identical circumstances. But two lines of evidence suggest that such free will is an illusion.

The first is simple: we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain — the organ that does the “choosing.” And the neurons and molecules in your brain are the product of both your genes and your environment, an environment including the other people we deal with. Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics.

True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works. Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because “we” are simply constructs of our brain. We can’t impose a nebulous “will” on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.

This is an old and often-discussed issue so I’ll limit my observations this time to just three, beginning with the longest.

1. Natural Law
We are biological creatures, as he said. Are we just biological creatures? Coyne thinks so, because we are “collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics.” So I wonder, how does he know that? Apparently it is because “all the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws.”

Now, certainly those laws are dependably regular. To know without doubt that they are inviolable, however, one would have to know the laws exhaustively and have exhaustive experience to confirm that the laws have been followed in every case. No sane person would suggest that as their reason for belief in the inviolability of natural law; so Coyne is apparently getting this belief from somewhere else.

It comes by induction, I’m sure he would say, based on the totality of his experience: he has never seen a natural law violated, and he doesn’t know of anyone who can credibly claim they have seen it violated, either. Now, if I’m right about that, two questions (at least) proceed from it:

  1. How does one deal with quantum uncertainty, wherein there’s no telling whether a violation of natural law might be taking place? For all we know, such violations could be going on undetectably all the time. Arguably the same is even true of chaotic systems: they have a basis in natural laws, to be sure, but a violation of law in such a system might well be completely undetectable.
  2. What standard he would hold to in judging the credibility of some report of a natural law being violated? I can at least guess Coyne’s answer to that. I’m pretty sure he would say, “If they claimed a natural law was violated, they were either deceived, they are deceiving, or they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

As for the success of science, it does not require that natural law be inviolable, just that it be dependably regular. Further, science’s success, while spectacular, is predicated on what John Polkinghorne describes as its “modest ambitions.” Its sphere of interest is limited. Let’s just suppose, for example, that we admit these three how questions into discussion. (I will use “natural-law determinism” to describe the belief that we have no free will. It’s not a perfect term, as it gets slippery around the edges of [quantum] chance, but it will do.)

  1. Is natural-law determinism a rational conclusion from scientific evidence? If so, then apparently rational conclusions are possibly under natural-law determinism. How does natural-law determinism accomplish that?
  2. How are morally significant choices possible under natural-law determinism, which says we don’t make choices?
  3. Our universal experience tells us that we make real choices. How is that possible under natural-law determinism?

The first two of these questions are clear-cut cases where science cannot claim success: it has no answer to these how questions. And these are hardly peripheral: they are at the heart of every single thing every one of us does at every waking moment. When Coyne appealed to sciences’s success, he forgot that there’s a gaping hole in its accomplishments, right in the middle of the very topic he’s talking about.

The third question’s implications are more subtle. Consider what science knows how to investigate with precision. Our internal experience is not one of those things. I’ve studied enough quantitative psychology to know how little we can quantify psychology. So what shall we do with this internal experience? Coyne says we should disbelieve it, regard it as an illusion.

But why? Why can’t we take it as further evidence that science doesn’t tell us all the answers? I think Coyne the reason is because only scientific knowledge is really knowledge.

2. “Science hasn’t shown us any way we can do this…”
And he proves my point as he goes on to say, “Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because ‘we’ are simply constructs of our brain.” If science hasn’t shown us a way, then we don’t have a way. But for science to show us a way, then the way would have to be one within the purview of science; and the purview of science is that of regular natural law.

Coyne is saying that the discipline that knows no explanatory principle but regular natural law is incapable of showing us any explanations outside of regular natural law. Should that be any surprise?

The surprise is that he doesn’t recognize how much this is like my old beagle who used to catch sight of his tail once in a while and chase it around in circles. (Coyne likes cats, and they don’t do that. Maybe that’s why he never caught the similarity.)

What if there were some discipline, some approach to knowledge, that might have access to some explanatory principles outside of natural law? I’ve already (briefly) shown that this is not theoretically impossible. We do know of some such disciplines: psychology, philosophy, anthropology, theology, and even art and literature, to name a few. But no; for Coyne, if science hasn’t shown us, then it doesn’t exist, and only scientific knowledge is really knowledge; regardless of how question-begging that might be.

3. Why?
Why would Coyne care to write about this, anyway? What’s the point, if we’re only “meat computers,” as he said later in the article?

I think he’s flogging (as the Brits would say it) naturalistic atheism here, under the guise of science. Elsewhere and frequently he has demonstrated a strong need to deny God. He is willing to give up humans to do so. For a being who cannot choose is not, as Aristotle described us, a rational animal. Such a being bears no resemblance to anything the ages and the sages have considered human.

At the end of his article he writes,

by losing free will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance — of the genes we’re bequeathed and the environments we encounter. With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.

There are other, better ways to gain empathy. The Christian way of love and humility gains empathy without sacrificing humanness. There are more believable ways of expressing this ideal of a kinder world, by the way, than for example, “I’ve blacklisted some loonies whose blather was completely outrageous.” (I smiled when I saw that—I’m on his blacklist.)

I hope Jerry Coyne can see himself as a human being, not a victim of circumstance.

Comments 169
  1. Charlie

    Perfect. It is so nice when they come out from behind the obfuscation to go ahead and take their ideas to their logical conclusions. The inherent absurdity needs to be put on display like this.

  2. Joe Dan

    The ending seems to be a whopper of a non-sequitur to me.

    “…by losing free will we gain empathy…”
    How do we gain empathy? Absent free will, empathy is something we have or don’t have. There’s no gaining; it’s something we are bequeathed, genetically. Or not.

    “With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.”
    How will that work? Except as agents of a genetically pre-determined course(s) of action(s) we will have nothing to do with the direction of the world. The world that is going to happen, is going to happen. It seems to me that we would have no more say in that than a computer does when it executes a set of instructions.

  3. Holopupenko

    Expanding upon Joe’s comment: How come it is that Coyne can jettison free will as a thing (irrespective of its mode of existence) by re-defining it reductively, but doesn’t (at the least for consistency’s sake) do the same for “empathy” or “kindness”? Can Coyne even tell was what a “concept” or “idea” is… as opposed to an “image”? Are not “empathy” and “kindness” also (per Coyne) “nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells”? Is he so blinded by making sure his own emotionally-charged, preconceived ends (there is no God… so there!) are met that he has, literally, lost his mind (as opposed to brain)… or is he just that stupid? Perhaps it’s a manifestation of C.S. Lewis’ admonition that if one “see through” everything, one sees nothing.

  4. Victoria

    Isn’t this like saying that a computer software application must come down to solid state physics and electronic circuit theory?

  5. Justin B.

    Coyne and other atheists argue that to believe in God and the supernatural is irrational. But according to Coyne’s article, I don’t have free will and thus I had no choice but to believe in Christianity. So why is there not more empathy for the religious on his part? Or am I missing something here?

  6. Holopupenko

    Justin:

    If you don’t have a free will, what possible motivation or basis could there be for Coyne to convince you of anything? Doesn’t that involve a… well… a choice? If he yells his argument over 1000 Watt speakers or if he prints it in all-caps, bold-faced, fire-engine red, 72-point font, is he more “convincing”? Does the mind find more meaning or “conviction” if he yells or use large print? But if there is no real choice because there is no free will, then isn’t Coyne simply spouting putrid air? Well, regarding the latter… we all knew that, didn’t we?

  7. Crude

    Guys like Coyne should get the Rosenberg treatment whenever they play this game. If Coyne wants to throw out free will, let him – and let him throw out thoughts, beliefs, selves, reason, subjectivity and all the rest while he’s at it. And if he defends one, ask for an explanation that doesn’t melt down to a deflection like “we don’t know yet but we will”.

  8. G. Rodrigues

    @Tom Gilson:

    Minor nitpick: chaotic (classical) systems are completely deterministic.

  9. Justin B.

    @Holopupenko,

    I agree with you. The whole cause of so many skeptics–to deconvert the religious and help them adopt more “rational” mindsets–really hinges on the ability of people to be able to make a choice. Without that free will, I’m not sure why Coyne, among others, invests so much time in arguing with us.

  10. Crude

    G. Rod,

    I think what Tom may have been getting at is that chaotic systems are, deterministic or not, unpredictable by us (in principle?). How do you scientifically detect influence – whether God’s influence or the influence of the will – in a chaotic system?

  11. Crude

    Justin B.,

    The whole cause of so many skeptics–to deconvert the religious and help them adopt more “rational” mindsets–really hinges on the ability of people to be able to make a choice.

    Why, it’s almost as if rationality has nothing to do with what the cult of Gnu is all about, eh?

  12. Tom Gilson

    Thanks, Crude, for your comment 11; that was indeed what I was trying to say. The context was my assumption (stated as such) that Coyne believes he has never seen a natural law being violated. My response was, maybe he has, without knowing it; for God could conceivably step in to change the course of a chaotic system and no one could detect that he had done so.

  13. Holopupenko

    Hi Tom:

    To further your point, Coyne is behaving pretty much like a modern-day Pharisee: he refuses to open his “other” non-scientistic eyes (ref Mark 4:9 and Matthew 11:15, etc.) and hence will “see” nothing. And, sorry to keep beating this dead horse, but the ironic thing for me is the ID folk make a related error but in the opposite direction: they try to “see” design and “infer” God through the MESs.

    A small quibble: the Author of the “laws” of Nature (there are no such things) no more violates them than when we supposedly “defy” gravity by flying from LA to Sydney. We are ontologically far above those “laws” and hence are able to “harness” them (they “cooperate” with us) to do our bidding, i.e., we as rational animals have the capacity for free will and reason, and those capacities (or powers) can “guide” the four fundamental forces of Nature… they “bend” to our will, if you wish.

    That’s another reason why I find Coyne so repugnant (as you correctly noted): he wants to eliminate us as human beings through his narrow-minded, self-serving reductionism. I believe another word for that vision of reality is Hell.

  14. Pingback: Readers’ comments on my free will piece—and my responses « Why Evolution Is True

  15. G. Rodrigues

    In his response to this post, Prof. Jerry Coyne writes at the end:

    I’m not giving up humans: we exist, we have feelings, we interact with each other, and we act in the world, and those acts have effect. All I deny is that we can, at any moment, behave in any way different from what we did.

    And yes, I do deny that there’s any evidence for God or contracausal choice. If that makes me “sacrifice” humanness, then so be it. I doubt that anyone who knows me would suggest that I am less than human or treat others that way. And I deny free will—at least the contracausal form—on the basis of science, not atheism.

    According to Prof. Jerry Coyne’s *explicitely* stated beliefs, he denies free will because there was no other choice for him other than denying free will, not on any scientific or rational basis.

  16. The Deuce

    Crude:

    Guys like Coyne should get the Rosenberg treatment whenever they play this game. If Coyne wants to throw out free will, let him – and let him throw out thoughts, beliefs, selves, reason, subjectivity and all the rest while he’s at it. And if he defends one, ask for an explanation that doesn’t melt down to a deflection like “we don’t know yet but we will”.

    Yup, Coyne has explicitly come out as eliminativist about both free will and selves in this article, which implies eliminativism about those other things as well.

    Btw, what really threw me for a loop in reading Feser’s The Last Superstition was learning that Paul Churchland has said that even our concepts of true and false are, er, false, and will be replaced by more scientific concepts (or whatever is supposed to replace concepts) in the future. Of course, this was always implicit in the eliminativist denial that beliefs objectively exist, since beliefs are those things we have that are either true or false, but it really drives the nonsensical nature of eliminativism home. Eliminativists can’t even say that belief in free will (or the self, or beliefs) is wrong, or false, or incorrect, and that their view (assuming they even know what their view is themselves, which they don’t) is true, or will be proven right, without contradicting themselves.

  17. The Deuce

    Joe Dan, quoting Coyne:

    “…by losing free will we gain empathy…”

    How do we gain empathy? Absent free will, empathy is something we have or don’t have. There’s no gaining; it’s something we are bequeathed, genetically. Or not.

    It’s impossible to say what on earth he means by this. Perhaps he is saying that learning that we have no free will will cause us to *choose* to be more empathetic for that reason. But that would contradict his claim that there’s no free will, and no “us” to do the choosing, “us” being a mere construct of the brain.

    Perhaps he is making the empirical prediction that being visually exposed to the text “There is no free will”, or auditorially exposed to the spoken variety, will tend to reprogram meat computers such that they behave in a manner that will cause other meat computers to use the word “empathatic” upon being visually exposed to it. But he has given no physical mechanism by which this would supposedly happen, and hence no reason to believe it would happen under the same assumptions with which he denied free will.

  18. Holopupenko

    Rodrigues:

    True… Yet consider the more fundamental problem Coyne faces apart from his self-imolating “logic”: Coyne should ask himself whether the capacity for reason is even possible without the capacity for free will… or visa versa.

    If he “reasons away” the capacity for reason by actually adhering to his own non-scientific reductionist rules of the game, he will find himself agreeing with the critics of philosophical naturalism, i.e., that only propositions are “true” or “false”: no system of material objects or physical phenomena-no matter their size or complexity-are logically “true” (except in the trancendental sense to the extent they exist ontologically)… and hence there’s no way he can trust himself on anything he asserts, undermining himself per The Deuce’s fine highlighting of the eliminativist nonsense. Coyne’s eliminativism is as close to unscientific and pseudo-philosophical as one can get.

    If, on the other hand, Coyne doesn’t apply his reductionist acid to the human capacity for reason, then he’s got a whole lot of explaining to do: what demarcation permits him to reduce free will but not reason, and what exactly IS the human capacity for reason? Hence, he undermines himself… again.

    I’m sorry, but Coyne’s knowledge of biology notwithstanding, he’s not a very smart fellow.

  19. Holopupenko

    As an experiment, I posted to following on Coyne’s blog. Let’s see if it generates more traffic here… and whether Coyne, ahem, chooses to blacklist me.

    😉

    I suggest you consider the comments section of Gilson’s post before so glibly settling on the emotional need to rid yourselves of free will.

    The contracausal understanding that free will cannot exist because it is not free of the causes that create the need to exert will against those causes is absurd–not least of all because, if we follow Coyne’s deeply eliminativist pseudo-philosophical interpretation of observed human phenomena, then even the contracausal concept of Coyne’s is itself reducible to complex, time-dependent electro-chemical signals crossing synapses… which means it bears no logical truth or falsity. It is sad that most of those commenting here cannot distinguish between logical beings and real beings… which makes Coyne’s missing that boat breathtakingly ignorant.

    The other reason the contracausal conception is absurd is the a priori and utterly non-scientific presupposition that all causes are reducible to efficient physical causality. You can’t depend on the modern empirical sciences to assert “there are no causes other than physical causes” because of the buried circularity.

  20. Lee

    It is unclear, to me, why the denial of free will leads to the conclusion that reason/evidence/scientific thinking is not involved in the decision making process simply because you may be predetermined to respond to R/E/ST in a particular way, i.e. accept or reject it. I have heard this response quite often, and I have yet to see anything more cogent than an appeal to the possibility of a position being unreasonable due to the agent lacking contracausal free will.

    I’m also unclear on just what a “free” choice is, if not a choice that somehow escapes the bounds of reason, our personal desires, and the facts of nature. Perhaps an example of one of these free choices could help clear up my confusion.

    On your point about a possible “undetectable” violation of natural law, do you mean undetectable in principle? or simply in practice. I’m not sure that a violation being undetectable in principle is even possible. Perhaps an example of one of these would be helpful as well.

    Thanks,

    Lee.

  21. Holopupenko

    Lee:

    Because you, like Coyne, you’re not distinguishing between (1) observed material objects and physical phenomena as real extra-mental beings and (2) logical beings (beings of reason). We as humans accede to the truth of propositions as corresponding to real extra-mental phenomena. If our propositions are true, we accept them as the building blocks of arguments; if they are false, we reject them… and they cannot be used in arguments. You’re posing a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place: you believe that somehow real extra-mental beings exist in the same manner as our propositions about them. Propositions and arguments move (analogically speaking) the mind; material objects and physical phenomena move (primary analogate) other material objects and physical phenomena.

    By the way, off topic on your comment, but piggy-backing off @20, notice the sly game being played: contracausal is basically the same thing as saying there is no cause of free will choices. But, that’s a huge bummer: science is about seeking causes for the existence of observed phenomena. Neil Shenvi is particularly prone to this error… by trying to usurp quantum mechanics to do his bidding. I’m not trying to get off topic on this–just trying to highlight the sickening tentacles such errors spawn.

  22. Tom Gilson

    What is this “contracausal” canard all about? It’s a spurious term. Decisions humans make are not uncaused. They’re caused by all that is to be human, in the circumstances at hand, with the personalities and potentials that are relevant to the decision.

  23. Holopupenko

    Precisely, Tom…

    Now try to convince the openly-reductionist Coyne, and the more stealthy reductionist Neil who tries to “locate” free will in the alleged NON-/A-/ANTI-causality of QM. QM is interesting because it may force us to revisit our understanding of causality–not to eliminate it. Science is about seeking causes: to eliminate causality–even in a limited sense–is to eliminate science.

  24. Tom Gilson

    Lee,

    The reason determinism undermines R/E/ST is this, in short. Physical determinism entails that one’s thoughts, beliefs, conclusions, etc. are the product of neurochemical processes in the brain, whose processes follow no principle other than what physics and chemistry require. I think you would agree with that.

    But determinism as a concept is a deductive conclusion that follows (or so some think) from certain premises, which in turn arise out of induction:

    First the induction:
    1. We see the world consistently operating according to fixed natural laws.
    2. We extrapolate from that observation to conclude that the world always operates according to inviolable natural law.

    Then the deduction:
    3. If the world always operates according to inviolable natural law, then there is no human free will.
    4. The world always operates according to inviolable natural law.
    5. Therefore there is no human free will.

    The deductive argument is valid and its conclusion is true if its premises are true. The premises depend on the value of the inductive argument, and I have shown in the OP that the inductive argument is too weak to rest a case on.

    Now, why did I bother going through all that just now, when it’s really a repeat (in alternate form) of what’s already been said? I wanted to show that the conclusion (5) was reached by some means other than physics and chemistry. It’s reached by means of logical relations, which are strictly distinct from physical processes.

    Physical systems do not deal with logical relations. Do not let the language of computer science fool you: computers do not deal with logic, strictly speaking, they deal with voltages and currents. They don’t decide anything based on the strength of an inference. They don’t know what it is for a voltage or current to be about a proposition.

    If we are just physical systems, then our circuits have the same blindness to inference and “aboutness” relationships, which means that our ability to draw logical inferences must be as totally illusory as our ability to make free choices. If our ability to draw logical inferences is illusory, then the inferences we think we are drawing are smoke and vapor. One of those inferences is that we have no free will: it is an inference of vapor. It is nothing. If it is true, then it is the kind of truth we could never know to be true and should never pretend to know as true.

    That’s the short version. Victor Reppert’s book C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea covers it thoroughly.

  25. Tom Gilson

    A “free choice,” for purposes of this discussion, is just as Jerry Coyne described it in his article: one that we could have made differently than we did. It does not mean an uninfluenced or unconstrained choice; merely one that it is not absolutely determined by physical necessity.

  26. Tom Gilson

    Lee, you asked,

    On your point about a possible “undetectable” violation of natural law, do you mean undetectable in principle? or simply in practice. I’m not sure that a violation being undetectable in principle is even possible. Perhaps an example of one of these would be helpful as well.

    My point was that Coyne’s extrapolation from experience was inadequate to support his belief that natural law is inviolable. Whether violations are undetectable in practice or in principle, my point still holds.

    Suppose for example it was terribly important in God’s eyes that the weather in Pasadena be exceptionally warm for yesterday’s Rose Bowl. If God intervened in some atmospheric system to make it that way, that would be an instance where events deviated from natural necessity. The results of that deviation would have been visible to TV viewers all over the world, but none of us would know its true cause or source. Coyne could go on merrily thinking it happened by physical necessity, and in this he would be wrong.

    Now, maybe that’s all fiction. It could be. But it might not be: and there’s no empirical way to tell whether it is or not. There’s no empirical way to distinguish between a weather event that has resulted from nothing but the operation of natural laws, and one that has resulted from natural laws plus some “tweaking” by God. Therefore Coyne’s belief that he has never seen natural laws being violated is unjustified. The best he can say is, “as far as I know, I have never seen natural laws being violated.”

    (I have no idea why warmth in Pasadena would matter to God, and I have no reason to think one way or the other about it. The only reasons I could think of for it would be trivial–to give Oregon some advantage, maybe–but that doesn’t mean God couldn’t have substantial reasons. Take the example for what it’s worth, please, and don’t try to make more of it than that.)

  27. G. Rodrigues

    @Tom Gilson:

    To echo, Holopupenko, precisely…

    And to reinforce it, the confusion is, at least in part, based on a deficient understanding of causality, reducing the concept to a truncated and shrivelled notion of efficient causality. Here is an apt quote summarizing Aquinas understanding of Free Will (it is in my archived files, but with no mention of the original site, so my appologies to whomever I am quoting without giving proper credit)

    According the Aquinas the intellect knows things. And knowing things, the intellect presents them to the will as good. The will is then compelled by final causation to pursue the thing offered by the intellect, and efficiently compels the person to act in such a way as to obtain those goods. (This is not quite sufficient because the intellect may offer several conflicting things, and there may be several means available for pursuing the end.)

    But the will is not efficiently caused to do anything. If it were caused efficiently, it would not be free.
    Thus the saints in heaven are free to pursue Christ, though they are not able to do otherwise. They are free because there is no efficient causation acting on them, but they are unable to do otherwise because the Christ’s goodness is directly perceived by the intellect and so it is impossible to consider Christ as otherwise than good, and therefore the will is compelled by Christ as by a final cause.

    In Medieval Theories of Free Will, in the section devoted to Aquinas we can find this paragraph:

    Aquinas is interested not only in how human action comes about, but also in what enables human beings to act freely. Given his emphasis on the intellect in his account of action, it is not surprising to find Aquinas arguing that the intellect plays the larger role in the explanation of freedom. This is in contrast with the tradition he inherits, which, as we have seen so far, places the emphasis on the will in the majority of theories. For Aquinas, the fact that the intellect is able to deliberate, consider, and reconsider reasons for choosing various courses of action open to the agent enables the agent to act freely. The will is free but only insofar as the intellect is free to make or revise its judgments. Had the agent decided differently than she did, she would have chosen differently. Thus, freedom in the will is dependent upon and derivative upon freedom in the intellect. As we shall see, this position raises certain potential worries for Aquinas.

    This ties up with Holopupenko’s earlier point that Rationality and Free Will are inseparable.

    Eleonore Stump’s book “Aquinas” has an extended discussion about the issue.

  28. The Deuce

    Holopupenko:

    True… Yet consider the more fundamental problem Coyne faces apart from his self-imolating “logic”: Coyne should ask himself whether the capacity for reason is even possible without the capacity for free will… or visa versa.

    Bingo. Reason is a subset of free will, so if you deny the latter, you deny the former.

    Rational thought requires that one’s new beliefs follow from one’s previously held beliefs according to logical relationships, by which the truth or falsehood of one set of beliefs logically implies (or makes plausible) the truth of a conclusion. It also requires an irreducible self, or rational agent, that perceives these logical relationships and thereby forms new beliefs (IOW, if you are somehow mind-controlling me and forcing new beliefs into my mind, rather than me arriving at those beliefs by perceiving the logical relationships between premise and conclusion myself, then I am a mere puppet, and am not arriving at those beliefs rationally. And, obviously, the same holds if I am being mind-controlled by non-rational forces. Rationality requires that *I* exist, and that *I* am doing the rational perception).

    For example, Coyne believes that there is no free will because it logically follows from his belief in determinism. Likewise, he thinks that the belief that one should be empathetic logically follows from the belief in free will, and that people will behave more empathetically because of this chain of reasoning.

    However, Coyne has denied that this can even happen. There are no truth-bearing entities that follow from each other by relationships of logical implication according their truth values, according to him, but only material entities or states (which have no truth or falsity) which follow from each other according to deterministic rules. Likewise, there is objectively no *I* to do the perceiving of those logical relationships, according to him, the self being only a “construction of the brain”. His argument against free will applies with equal force to rationality, because rational thought is free thought.

    If, on the other hand, Coyne doesn’t apply his reductionist acid to the human capacity for reason, then he’s got a whole lot of explaining to do

    Of course, this is what reductionists always do, from Coyne to your garden variety evo psych boffin trying to “explain” religious belief naturalistically. They’re aware that reductive “explanations” (aka eliminations) are incompatible with the rationality of whatever it is they’re reducing (which is why they give them), but they only apply it to things they don’t like, and never follow their premises through to their ultimate logical conclusions by applying it to those things they believe in, namely the rationality of themselves and their own beliefs.

  29. G. Rodrigues

    @Deuce:

    They’re aware that reductive “explanations” (aka eliminations) are incompatible with the rationality of whatever it is they’re reducing (which is why they give them), but they only apply it to things they don’t like, and never follow their premises through to their ultimate logical conclusions by applying it to those things they believe in, namely the rationality of themselves and their own beliefs.

    It is the umpteenth, tiresome variation of G. Orwell’s “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” If you do not mind a little psychologizing, I would say self-exemption is a necessary defense mechanism for holding onto whatever shred of mental sanity and intellectual consistency an eliminativist has.

  30. Chuck

    I think both you and Dr. Coyne are correct in a few areas.

    You seem to be correct in pointing out the demarcation problem science runs into when addressing supernatural causative explanations.

    Science can only measure that which allows a constant and supernatural explanations by definition are unique, therefore no constant to measure.

    But I do find your use of quantum theory as argument for god to be off base. While the realm of quantum physics is counter-intuitive, it is not beyond the scope of prediction and therefore can be held to an experimental constant. It seems you make a category error by using it as a defense of supernatural causation simply because of its weirdness. QT still behaves in a consistent fashion with law-like properties. Our complete comprehension of these properties may not exist but the predictive power of QT does and therefore it does not work like supernatural explanations.

    Chaos theory as mentioned above is completely deterministic despite the ability to isolate the exact cause. There is no need to invoke supernatural events to make the hypothesis hold.

    Dr. Coyne’s argument seems valid when considering the observation of human cognition. We see that the emergent property of choice can be mapped to physical contingencies. I think of humans who suffer neurological damage or disease and we witness their diminished or radically changed choices. Should I attribute this to anything other than the physical aspects of their biology? I think doing so would be fantastical.

    Ultimately I don’t see how Christianity explains anything of a general nature. It can offer explanation for the individual but what general principle can be derived from this individual experience?

    I appreciate your willingness to identify the limitations of Dr. Coyne’s argument and his side-step of the demarcation problem but I don’t see your alternative explanation of human behavior more insightful.

    To claim contra-causal free-will as real goes beyond what we can see to be operative within the human person, and it strikes me as somewhat proud in its assertion.

    Lastly, psycho-analyzing Dr. Coyne’s motives seems rather base and sadly a contradiction of the virtue you seem to imply with your blog title. If you wish to be a thinking christian one might assume you do this to prove the rationality of your position. Attempting to poison the position of one who disagrees with your position, with psychological theories towards motivation, seems to color that theory as irrational due to its difference (not because you are certain to the motivation).

    You might want to reconsider that type of tactic in the future when addressing arguments you don’t appreciate.

  31. Lee

    @23:

    What is this “contracausal” canard all about? It’s a spurious term. Decisions humans make are not uncaused. They’re caused by all that is to be human, in the circumstances at hand, with the personalities and potentials that are relevant to the decision.

    My understanding of this “canard” is that the ‘mind’ exerts force over a decision, uncaused by predetermined physical laws or previous states of affairs, such that the ‘mind’ stands outside the physical causal chain that determinists presume is the determining factor in an agent choosing A rather than not-A. If such a “canard” exists, the possibility of choosing not-A is available; if there is no contracausal free will, the antecedent physical causes predetermine some agent’s “choice” of A over not-A.

    I guess my question here, given your rejection of this term, is which of the causes you listed is freely chosen by the agent? For it seems to me that if we do not choose “what it is to be human”, present “circumstance”, our “personality”, or the “potentials that are relevant”, and if humans are “caused by” all of the above to choose A rather than not-A, in what sense is not-A a possible choice?

    @25:

    The premises depend on the value of the inductive argument, and I have shown in the OP that the inductive argument is too weak to rest a case on.

    You have argued that it is possible that these laws are violated, for instance in your Rose Bowl example, but I don’t see how this undermines the strength of an inductive argument. The real question is whether it is reasonable to suppose that such laws are never violated when considering the universal testimony of all credible witnesses, and the universal result of all experiments. To put it another way, is it reasonable to suppose that God fiddled with the weather for the Rose Bowl, given that we have absolutely no verifiable past experience of supernatural weather-fixing events? Do you believe God fiddled with the weather at the Rose Bowl? If so, why? If not, why not?

    **@27:

    Therefore Coyne’s belief that he has never seen natural laws being violated is unjustified.

    Unjustified? He knows what they are, and has experience of what they normally produce. Not just by observing the weather at the Rose Bowl, but by rigorous testing and breathtakingly accurate predictions. If a violation of natural law looks like the normal operation of natural law, by any method of measurement we have available, Prof. Coyne is easily justified in such a belief. What alternative belief would be justified based on his past experience?

    Lee.

    **EDIT (forgot the comment reference)

  32. Tom Gilson

    Chuck,

    Quantum effects are within the scope of statistical predictability, but there remains room for undetectable non-deterministic effects to happen. That was my only point in mentioning it. I had the same point with chaos theory, and you misread that when you took it as my invoking supernatural causation to make the hypothesis hold. Please read more carefully.

    “The emergent property of choice” is a question-begging terminology. “Can be mapped to” is at least potentially a correlation-causation error; and the person who wants to argue that it is something other than that error holds the burden of proof to do so. Mind/body/cognition impairments are consistent with either physical determinist or certain non-determinist views of human volition, so they prove nothing. Your argument from incredulity (“doing so would be fantastical”) also proves nothing.

    And the burden of proof is really the issue here. Coyne says that everything we have believed true about human volition is wrong, and he is certain it’s wrong. He can’t say that without giving really strong reason to say so, but those reasons are not forthcoming. All he has to go on is a weak extrapolation from experience, or else a materialistic/naturalistic presupposition.

    I didn’t offer an alternative explanation of human behavior, so I’m not surprised you didn’t find it more insightful. I mentioned an alternative explanation, and I have one, but I didn’t present it in anything like a complete form here.

    My analysis of Dr. Coyne’s motives was based on long experience with him. Now if I implied that his atheism were his only reason for adopting his deterministic position, then I erred and I must apologize. I do not think that would be accurate. I am quite certain that it is at least one reason, though, and a strong one.

  33. Chuck

    Tom,

    Thanks for the reply. I can’t disagree with any of it and my apologies for not closely reading your explanation and assuming something you didn’t write.

    I’ve subscribed to the blog and look forward to reading it.

    I do have one question in regard to this statement, “Mind/body/cognition impairments are consistent with either physical determinist or certain non-determinist views of human volition . . .”

    What non-determinist views of human volition would you be referencing? I work in the CNS health space and am unaware of any non determinist views on the matter. There are questions of course in regards to diseases like schizophrenia but the success of D2 agonist atypical antipsychotic medicines point to physical cause.

    I look forward to future posts.

  34. Vato

    Strict determinism does pose issues–serious issues– but the sunday schoolers who think they can throw Aquinas or old dogma at the issue are at least as misguided as the Coynes.

    Some biological machines are superior to others, or so it seems. A cat hunting does something a mouse doesn’t, or can’t. Does the cat think, or have intentionality in a sense? (however limited). It seems odd to call a cat merely an automaton. And would be difficult to build one.

  35. The Deuce

    Chuck:

    We see that the emergent property of choice can be mapped to physical contingencies.

    Is this a weird way of saying that our choices are constrained by the options that are physically available to us?

    I think of humans who suffer neurological damage or disease and we witness their diminished or radically changed choices. Should I attribute this to anything other than the physical aspects of their biology?

    This doesn’t diminish the belief in free will any more than the fact that you are likely to make different choices when somebody lies to you does, or than the fact that you occasionally make irrational choices diminishes the idea that there is any such thing as rational conclusions at all, or than the fact that you can lose your eyesight undermines the validity of your visual experience. The senses and facets by which we perceive and interact with the world can be impaired, and this will certainly have an effect on our thought and behavior, but it doesn’t undermine the logical necessity of free will.

    To claim contra-causal free-will as real goes beyond what we can see to be operative within the human person, and it strikes me as somewhat proud in its assertion.

    There’s that contra-causal again. Just because you think that deterministic physical causes are the only causes doesn’t mean that when somebody attributes something to a type of cause that you don’t believe in that they are offering a contra-causal explanation.

    Anyhow, we emphatically don’t observe that people behave entirely by deterministic causes. We see people acting for reasons all the time. We experience ourselves making decisions based on reasons and logical conclusions all the time. This is why everyone believes in free will until and unless they rationalize it away using deterministic assumptions.

    What Coyne has done is to make the extremely weak inference that because deterministic regularities have been observed to exist, therefore *all* causation everywhere consists of deterministic regularities, and that therefore the appearance and experience that people act for reasons, according to logical principles, is illusory. He’s pitting an extremely weak inference, one consisting of a tiny bit of observation combined with a massive dose of materialist assumption, against conclusions gleaned from a huge body of direct observations and experiences by the whole human race, which happen to be necessary for the very concept of rationality on which he rests his argument.

  36. The Deuce

    Hi Tom:

    “Can be mapped to” is at least potentially a correlation-causation error; and the person who wants to argue that it is something other than that error holds the burden of proof to do so.

    I’ll do you one better. When we talk of “mapping” various observable brain states to mental phenomena, it logically implies that both exist and are distinct from each other. We’d have no way of knowing that a particular brain state correlated with, say, a feeling of sadness, if someone didn’t communicate to us that they were feeling sad while the brain signals were being observed. In fact, the *whole reason* we go looking for correlations in the first place is that we know about our mental states independently, via first-hand experiences. If it weren’t for that, there’d be nothing to correlate. You can’t look at a recording of electrical signals and just somehow know that they imply the subjective experience of red, or the particular contents of some belief, just by looking at them.

  37. Chuck

    Deuce, I should be more precise and scale my claim.

    I don’t see choices being made beyond that which can be caused from material stuff.

    I struggle to see how the observation of brain injury and its impact on choice does not lead to the conclusion that choices are governed by the brain.

    Essentially, the mind is what the brain does.

    When the brain is damaged we see a different mind emerge.

    That said, I can’t but see how the biological necessities of my brain determine the choices I make. I don’t know how I would act outside of my own biology to alter the organ which makes my choices.

    I don’t think this leads to a depressed fatalism but I do think it offers explanatory power to the diversity of human behavior we observe.

    And I think it can lead to a profound humility.

    I am not so much the product of my own will but that of circumstance.

    I have a high functioning cognitive capacity, not because I did anything remarkable, but because I benefit from factors like my birth country, genetic hereditary and time in history.

    I also think by respecting the physical limitations to human behavior (notably in the individual capacity of each individuals brain + evolutionary environment) we can gain knowledge.

    This knowledge will in turn alter behavior.

    But I may be a combatalist, which Dr. Coyne thinks absurd. I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that free-will exists but I think acting with the illusion of free-will is psychologically pleasing. That pleasure can be useful.

  38. Tom Gilson

    In the OP I asked,

    What standard he would hold to in judging the credibility of some report of a natural law being violated? I can at least guess Coyne’s answer to that. I’m pretty sure he would say, “If they claimed a natural law was violated, they were either deceived, they are deceiving, or they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    Do you see credibility in the same light?

  39. Holopupenko

    Vato:

    As you wallow in the mire of your historicism and condescension toward “Sunday schoolers”, do you have the first clue about what Aquinas actually said (see Rodrigues’ points above)?

  40. Lee

    @44:

    I find it far more plausible that testimony that violates natural law, when weighed against the vast balance of testimony in accordance with that law, can be considered less than credible until some form of verification is brought to bear. Simply put: something very powerful would have to be offered in defense of such testimony, to render it credible beyond the bare claim that the witness is telling the truth “as he/she sees it”, which is not unlike “not knowing what they are talking about”.

    More can be said, but I have to go for a bit, be back later!

    Lee.

  41. The Deuce

    I don’t see choices being made beyond that which can be caused from material stuff.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Do you mean that you don’t personally find it plausible (which may be true, but doesn’t show anything)? Do you mean that you don’t physically *see* laws of logic and beliefs following from them under a microscope (of course you don’t, they’re not physical)? Or do you mean that you don’t observe people seeming to act for reasons or reaching conclusions based on the truth of their premises, and that in your own experience, none of your own conclusions, such as the ones you are writing down, ever follow logically from the beliefs that serve as your premises, and that your own actions are never driven by reasons (in which case you are essentially telling me that you are entirely irrational and all your arguments meaningless)?

  42. The Deuce

    One other thing, regarding this idea that free will “violates natural law”. It’s just bizarre. Does the fact that things are affected by weak nuclear forces violate the fact that they are affected by gravitational forces? There’s no reason to suppose that the existence of mechanical, deterministic causation means that non-deterministic causation doesn’t also exist, or to claim that non-deterministic causation thereby “violates” deterministic causation. Rather, the *proposition* that non-deterministic causation exists contradicts the proposition that mechanical deterministic causation is the only kind that exists. But there’s no evidence for the latter proposition anyway, no reason to believe it except bias, and it entails a radical eliminativism regarding rationality and truth to boot, meaning that there can never be a rational reason to believe it.

  43. Chuck

    No Deuce, it is pretty simple.

    Human behavior is choice in action and this behavior is governed by the brain (something material).

    Logic and reasoning are also governed by brain activity (we can see which parts light up when observing it).

    If you wish to show me how we make choices other than through brain activity, I’m all for it. I don’t think one needs to appeal to anything other than the brain when discussing things like behavior and choice (subsets of free will) and can’t help but see how they are contingent from the brain.

    Do you have a process by which you have stepped outside of your brain to alter its function? Can you change the DNA-coding provided to you through hereditary genetics to alter the type of brain you have?

    I work with Central Nervous System experts, specifically within the area of mental health and it is a non-controversial claim to say that the brain governs both thought and behavior.

    It is also a non-controversial claim to say that brain chemistry derived from genetics and birth environment (things that are determined outside of free will) develop cognitive capacity.

    Our brains are plastic and can be developed but that development is contingent upon our genetic wiring and the environments we find ourselves in.

    I don’t see how one can apply free-will to either of those contingent realities and change their cognitive capacities, thus their ability to choose.

  44. Chuck

    Deuce, can you give an example of, ” . . .the *proposition* that non-deterministic causation exists”? I have no clue what you mean by this.

  45. The Deuce

    What I mean is, there’s nothing problematic about the idea that deterministic causes and non-deterministic causes both exist and have effects. The existence of one doesn’t violate the existence of the other, any more than the existence of the gravitational force violates the existence of the weak nuclear force (for instance).

    However, the proposition “Only deterministic causes exist” (which Coyne believes) contradicts the statement “Non-deterministic causes exist”. Coyne is confusing the fact that belief in non-deterministic causes violates his belief in total determinism with the idea that non-deterministic causation violates deterministic causation.

  46. Chuck

    Can you give me an example of a non-deterministic cause? I have no clue what you mean. I like Coyne’s argument because it makes sense to what I know of the human brain and how that is developed and affects choice. I have no clue what you are talking about when you speak of non-deterministic causes.

  47. Lee

    @49:

    Seeing as you used quotes, and given that I am the only one to use that phrase thus far, I assume you are referring to my comments. Hello #2 (who do you work for?).

    I am not asserting, a priori, that “non-deterministic causation” doesn’t exist, and I certainly wouldn’t base such an assertion, even if I were to make it, on the mere fact that deterministic causation exists. I obviously don’t believe in non-deterministic causation, and I have asked for examples to the contrary.

    The “*proposition* that non-deterministic causation exists” wants for justification. We have ample evidence of deterministic causation, and it seems at least plausible that it is the only type of causation (though problems, of course, remain). So contrary to your assertion, there is a strong inductive argument to be presented in favor of that proposition, just as there is a strong inductive argument in favor of the non-violation of natural law. You can reject either argument, but I’m struggling to discern your reason for doing so.

    I reject the idea that non-deterministic causation is a necessary condition for rational thought, and I challenge you to demonstrate that necessity. I don’t know what you mean by “truth” in this context, since it seems self-evident that even if we have no reason to believe a thing is true, it nevertheless may still be true.

    Lee.

  48. Chuck

    Also I struggle to accept your analogy between deterministic/non-deterministic and physical forces. We can measure the weak force and the gravitational force independent of each other and therefore we can understand their reality. Certain aspects of additional physical realities we can’t measure but make something like string theory a live option lead to string theory being seen as something other than plausible. I think you need to make your non-deterministic causes align with an analogy within a realm of theoretical physics the proposes non-measurable realities like the graviton. You might have a provisional theory which can offer rational explanation but there is no reason for me to accept that as a general principle of anything other than your ability to reason.

  49. The Deuce

    Human behavior is choice in action and this behavior is governed by the brain (something material).

    There are two issues here. First, you need to show that all mental action simply *is* brain activity (not merely correlated with it), and secondly you need to show that all brain activity is deterministic.

    In other words, you need to show that *all* activity in the brain is driven *entirely* by mathematically determined laws, and that *nothing* the brain does is determined by the way that the truth of one belief follows logically from the truth of another belief (because truth isn’t a mathematically quantifiable property, and the way in which the truth of one belief follows logically from another belief isn’t mathematically describable). And if you do that, then you’ve shown that reason is nonexistent and all arguments invalid, including your own, which means that there’s no reason to accept it in the first place.

    You might try to escape this by positing that behavior is governed by the brain, that the self is part of the brain, and that the brain is “material”, but that its action is governed by logical laws as well mathematically predictable ones. As a new member of the Thomist camp, I might even be inclined to agree with you to an extent. But at that point, you’d be a materialist in name only, as that term is used now.

    Logic and reasoning are also governed by brain activity (we can see which parts light up when observing it).

    See what I said above. The very fact that we can *map* or *correlate* brain activity with the times that a person is using logic implies that the brain activity *isn’t* the same thing as using logic. You don’t need to correlate something with itself.

    There’s no way, from just looking at the brain activity on the screen, to know that a person is using logic, much less the content of what they’re thinking about. You can’t “see” truth values, logical relationships, and the contents of beliefs visually. The only way we’re able to make the correlations is because we know that information independently, by *asking* the person what they’re thinking about, or telling them to think about a particular thing before scanning them.

    I don’t think one needs to appeal to anything other than the brain when discussing things like behavior and choice (subsets of free will) and can’t help but see how they are contingent from the brain.

    Whether one needs to appeal to something other than the brain is not the actual question. The real question is whether we need to refer to something other than deterministic causation, and reason demands that we do. Whether the causation required can be intelligibly attributed entirely to the brain (by, say, supposing that the brain isn’t totally deterministic) is secondary. As for the idea that all our action in the world is *contingent* on the brain (even if not totally determined by it, at least in a mathematically deterministic way), I’d agree without reservation, which is why it should be expected that all our activity that can be detected can also be correlated with brain activity.

  50. The Deuce

    I think you need to make your non-deterministic causes align with an analogy within a realm of theoretical physics the proposes non-measurable realities like the graviton.

    No, I don’t. I merely need to point out that the existence of distinct causes acting in tandem doesn’t make any of them a violation of the others, which I did. If someone thinks that there’s a violation they need to demonstrate it, which Coyne didn’t (and can’t).

    You might have a provisional theory…

    The idea that we think and act for reasons that require free will isn’t a “provisional theory” I’m using to “explain” the “evidence”. It’s a basic fact, implicit in the very possibility of rational argumentation, that must be accommodated by any logically coherent worldview. If someone proposes a view of reality that doesn’t accommodate it, it should be dismissed and sent back to the drawing board by all reasoning people.

  51. Chuck

    Controlled brain studies provide a P-value within a confidence range that allows for mathematical justification for my claims. Plus the inductive argument derived from brain injury provides confidence to my claim that the mind is (including reason) what the brain does. Determinism seems a fairly mild claim to me and I don’t see how it needs to provoke the kind of nihilism you assert. But I am comfortable with probable truth and see final causes as unnecessary to real world operations.

  52. Chuck

    Deuce your non-deterministic causes are not analogous to either gravity or the weak force therefore to use this as analogy seems false. It depends upon special pleading to allow real properties for non-deterministic causes when you have yet to provide evidence to them akin to the observed physical forces. If you want to argue by analogy then you need to observe analogous illustrations. All you have done is say that despite the evidence, it is possible that non-deterministic causes ate real. Big deal. That is an opinion, not an argument supported by valid illustration.

  53. Tom Gilson

    Chuck, you wrote,

    Human behavior is choice in action and this behavior is governed by the brain (something material).

    Logic and reasoning are also governed by brain activity (we can see which parts light up when observing it).

    If you wish to show me how we make choices other than through brain activity, I’m all for it….

    Do you have a process by which you have stepped outside of your brain to alter its function? Can you change the DNA-coding provided to you through hereditary genetics to alter the type of brain you have?

    Let’s clarify some issues. First, everyone in this debate accepts that humans are material, physical beings. We’re debating whether that is all that we are, in the sense that we are entirely subject to physical necessity.

    Second, everyone in this debate accepts that the brain is central to cognition, volition, perception, and of course a whole lot more besides. The question again is whether the whole story of cognition, volition, perception, etc. is told by the brain’s physical processes.

    Third, everyone in this debate has at least a conception or perception of making actual choices. The question is whether that’s illusion or whether it’s real.

    Fourth, everyone in this debate believes there is such a thing as rationality and reasoning. The question is whether that’s possible on determinism.

    Jerry Coyne has told us that determinism has been proved, just because physical laws are inviolable. I’ve shown that he rests that conclusion on inadequate evidence. It’s an extrapolation from incomplete experience; therefore it’s not a proof.

    Now, Chuck, you present to us evidence that the brain in its material aspect is entirely responsible for thought, action, etc. We all agree with you that it bears a large load of the responsibility, but the burden is on you to show that it bears all of it. In order to do that you need to show that alternate conceptions cannot be true; and there is at least one alternate conception of which you may not have been previously aware: that the brain functions as a kind of junction box between mind and body; or like a radio receiver, perhaps.

    Suppose someone knew nothing of radio signals, but somehow came across a crate full of radios in various states of repair. (All of them have power supplies in this thought experiment.) It would be easy for that person to conclude that the radio was the sole source of the music and language it produced. By observing the condition of the speaker cones, the antennas, the electronics inside, that person could even find “proof” that the radio was solely responsible for its output, for the quality of its output would correlate clearly with the condition of its various parts. And that person would be entirely wrong.

    Does this analogy work for the mind and brain? It might. And as long as it’s even possible that it works, it’s not disproven; which means that the materialist picture is not proven.

    Now you might want positive evidence for the truth of this analogy, or something like it; or you might want to hear of some “process by which you have stepped outside your brain to alter its function.” That’s fair. The evidence, of course, is in the fact that we do make real choices, as everyone knows. That’s not complicated. If you regard that as illusion, you have little or no reason not to regard rationality itself as illusion.

    I recognize that you said logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity. “We can see parts light up when observing it,” you say. That doesn’t mean that the parts cause the logic; it could mean that the logical processes as such cause the parts to light up. Further, if logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity, then they are not governed by rules of inference. If they are not governed by rules of inference, then they are not logic and reasoning. So you are just wrong to suppose that logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity. They must be governed by something else.

    By what process does that something else affect the brain? Now you have to be very, very careful not to beg the question. I’ve seen this happen often in debates. I do not say that you are doing it, but I want to raise the caution flag so that you won’t do it, and so that you can clarify the question for me in case I’m missing your point completely.

    Here’s how that process question can be question-begging: if you are asking for an explanation in some physical terms for how the non-physical mind interacts with the brain, you are in essence asking us to explain the non-physical mind in just physical terms. You’re asking us to assume that physicalism is true while we explain to you that it is not. If the mind is indeed non-physical, its interaction with brain will be of a form that cannot be described in just physical terms. Its effect will be physical (parts will light up), but the way it accomplishes its effect cannot be, per hypothesi.

    So how do we explain the process by which the mind affects the brain? We say, that’s a moot question; it’s out of order; it assumes physicalism, which is the doctrine we deny. We know that the mind affects the brain because we experience it happening all the time, every day. The rest we do not know, and we do not have to know it.

  54. SteveK

    Further, if logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity, then they are not governed by rules of inference. If they are not governed by rules of inference, then they are not logic and reasoning. So you are just wrong to suppose that logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity. They must be governed by something else.

    I too wanted to make this point, but you beat me to it – and with much more eloquence than I could muster. Thank you, Tom.

    A reductionist worldview destroys the mind – literally.

  55. Chuck

    Interesting clarification Tom but I don’t know what your question to me is.

    My point is the mind is simply what the brain does. Your interpretation of the mind affecting the brain seems akin to me of my experience of watching the sun rise and set. It is an illusion of perspective based on a self-centered premise. Nothing more.

    I fail to see how my observation of brain activity relative to reasoning is a post-hoc fallacy (causation for correlation) as you say. To consider such a thing does not seem to satisfy Occams Razor. I don’t know why I must multiply entities to concern myself with what is observed.

    Additionally, when one sees the predictive quality of brain stimulus and injury on states of mindfulness, which we do, I don’t see why I must concern myself with anything other than the brain as the foundation for mind.

    We agree that the brain provides us with cognition and as we increase our knowledge of that we understand how comprehensive this cognition is.

    All the other claims you make seem vague and unsupported to me.

    My claim is a simple one and it is provisional, but to assert something more than that (which you do by implication to say that just because we can’t see non-material causes, they still exist) is the argument demands evidence. Mine is supported by enough.

  56. Crude

    Tom,

    Jerry Coyne has told us that determinism has been proved, just because physical laws are inviolable. I’ve shown that he rests that conclusion on inadequate evidence. It’s an extrapolation from incomplete experience; therefore it’s not a proof.

    I’d also note that science does not show “physical laws are inviolable”, at least not in the sense Coyne needs here. Science doesn’t engage in proofs – at best, we use scientific methods to make models of both systems and laws. The limits of the scientific method of inquiry in turn limits what we can ever hope to include in those models.

  57. Chuck

    “So you are just wrong to suppose that logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity.” What are the governed by? The Spleen? The Liver? Please, this is so much hand waving, it is really pathetic. We invent the rules of inference as artifacts of our evolved brains. They are epiphenomenal occurrences. Your implication is that there is some sort of Platonic state of perfect reasoning which we only rub against with our minds, when in reality reasoning is a methodology to ascertain our lived experience. It is a method of knowing, it is not a perfect state we dip into. We have continued evidence of poor reasoning throughout human history but the opportunity to continue practicing it helps refine it. It is the premise behind controlled experiments with statistical power. We can assume probable realities. You simply state perfect knowledge as fact without evidence to that fact. I find that arrogant and pretentious.

  58. Chuck

    And I don’t think that Coyne said determinism is proven, he simply stated that given the current evidence we have there is a strong prediction that it will be proven the more we learn about the brain.

  59. Crude

    We have continued evidence of poor reasoning throughout human history

    Why, even right in this very thread, or in the pages of USA Today! 😉

  60. Chuck

    Yes I agree Crude. Failing to understand conclusions derived by evidence is a solid example of poor reasoning. Crafting analogies from science without understanding how those analogies fit with the assertions being made is another poor example. Punting to Medieval metaphysics as a defeater of the evidence on hand is not just poor reasoning but an odd display of emotional immaturity to boot.

  61. Tom Gilson

    Chuck, your last sentence is an amazing display of self-referential irony. Do you know where name-calling like that usually happens?

  62. SteveK

    Chuck,

    We invent the rules of inference as artifacts of our evolved brains.

    These evolved brains are all unique to the environments and cultures that created them. You seem to be saying the rules of inference are relativistic rules, much like relativistic moral rules. Is that what you are saying?

  63. Tom Gilson

    Chuck, you seem not to care for the argument that’s being presented to you.

    Additionally, when one sees the predictive quality of brain stimulus and injury on states of mindfulness, which we do, I don’t see why I must concern myself with anything other than the brain as the foundation for mind.

    I’ve argued the reasons you ought to concern yourself with it. What are you doing with those arguments? Ignoring them? Or just waving them away with your hands?

    Oops, that was your image:

    “So you are just wrong to suppose that logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity.” What are the governed by? The Spleen? The Liver? Please, this is so much hand waving, it is really pathetic. We invent the rules of inference as artifacts of our evolved brains.

    No. You are ignoring the argument presented to you. You are hand-waving it away. I have explained to you why logic and reason cannot be just the physical activity of our brains. I have explained to you why your observations in the hospital, lab or wherever it is you work, do not entail your conclusions. What do you do in response? You throw slogans at me: “Pathetic.” “Hand-waving.” Has it occurred to you that a slogan in response to an argument is no response to an argument?

    And do you really think the rules of inference are artifacts of evolution? If so, then you think that A=A (one of the three most basic such rules) is contingent on evolution; for one of the prime principles of evolution is that it could have turned out differently; that we are the product of preserved chance (which is what natural selection acting upon random variation is). If evolution had made our brains differently, might A have equaled not-A?

    If so, then present your argument. “Pathetic” is not an argument. It’s something else, something self-referential again.

    You simply state perfect knowledge as fact without evidence to that fact. I find that arrogant and pretentious.

    “Arrogant” and “pretentious” are also not arguments. The argument I presented was my evidence for my position. Your ignoring my evidence does not mean I have no evidence. It means something else entirely. I’ll let you figure it out.

  64. Chuck

    Tom, I don’t consider dealing with evidence as emotionally immature. I would say letting facts be what they are despite our preferred illusions is the height of maturity.

    That said, would you like to provide evidence to non deterministic causes, or better yet, point to the free will of a person suffering with schizophrenia. What mind is the accurate interactive entity, the one that affords non-delusional reality when the brain is treated with medicine, or the one confirming hallucinations when the patient is non-compliant?

    No Steve, I don’t follow your leading question.

  65. SteveK

    That’s okay, Chuck. Tom’s question is pointing in the same direction as mine.

    “If evolution had made our brains differently, might A have equaled not-A?”

  66. Crude

    Chuck, your last sentence is an amazing display of self-referential irony. Do you know where name-calling like that usually happens?

    Isn’t it great? He could be talking about Coyne here. Hell, even the medieval part could be reference to Coyne so long as we’re liberal with our Ockham.

  67. Chuck

    Tom please provide you argument again. Your analogy of magically powered radio receivers does not correspond to the real world. That is why I simply restated my position that the mind is what the brain does. You did not provide evidence. You provided an analogy that didn’t work for me. If you wish to assert non-physical causes and demand I provide evidence to the absence of these non-physical causes then I can only shrug and say you are asking me for a confirmation of the sound the color green makes is pitched in the key of C.

  68. Chuck

    Guys, please explain to me where the free will of a schizophrenic resides, or which mind is the real mind, that which is treated with an atypical anti psychotic or the untreated one.

  69. G. Rodrigues

    @Chuck:

    Determinism seems a fairly mild claim to me and I don’t see how it needs to provoke the kind of nihilism you assert.

    Consider the stock syllogism:

    P1: All men are mortal
    P2: Socrates is a man
    C: Socrates is mortal

    Why do we accept the above as a valid argument and thus the conclusion true? Because it is both deductively valid, that is, it follows the rules of logic, and it is sound, that is, both premises P1 and P2 are true. Under determinism you accept the conclusion C not because the above argument is an example of a valid and sound argument but because the chain of efficient causation is such that your brain comes to accept C as true.

    You cannot simply say that it just happens that our brain is hard-wired in such a way that our thought processes are reliable, because everyone has had the experience of reaching invalid conclusions and then having to painstakingly backtrack the chain of thought to see where it went wrong. But either way, what are you going to appeal to justify the reliability of our thought processes? Evolution Theory? But why do you believe Evolution Theory true? Presumably because you have examined the evidence and concluded… oh wait, the reliability of our thought processes is what is at stake here, so if determinism is true and you do believe in Evolution theory, then it could never be the case that you thought Evolution was false, so you are just question-begging. Besides natural selection could only weed out false beliefs if by virtue of their falsity they had behavioral influence, but how can this be if under materialistic determinism it is the network of causal relationships going on in our brain and environs, not the *content* of the thoughts, that uniquely determines behavior?

    note: In fact, given that an atheist views all manner of religion as false and the fact that religion is so widespread that virtually no human society has existed without it, it follows that at least one clearly false belief (for an atheist) has had a surprisingly high survival value.

    That said, would you like to provide evidence to non deterministic causes, or better yet, point to the free will of a person suffering with schizophrenia.

    Non-deterministic causes is a red herring and I am not sure what you think your example proves. No one denies that for the human mind to fully function it needs a physical substrate, the human brain (some caveats would have to be introduced, but nothing that is really relevant to the present matter).

    Maybe this discussion could advance if you could explain to us the following:

    1. what is a natural law that according to you admits of no violations?

    2. what is causation writ large?

    I could try and answer those questions for you but I would be “Punting to Medieval metaphysics”.

  70. SteveK

    We are not claiming that free will resides anywhere. We do not claim that angels can reside on the heads of pins either.

  71. Chuck

    Tom you make two errors. One, evolutionary theory operates at a species, not individual level, so the appeal to individual risibility is a category error to what naturalism is. Plantinga makes the same error. Second, an atheist simply states that they lack belief in theistic explanations. Religion is of course real. I don’t know of an atheist who would deny that. Does it have the explanatory power its creeds claims? That would be the contention.

    Provide your metaphysical explanations. I’m game.

  72. Chuck

    Steve I thought there were arguments here to the effect that mind operating on matter is evidence of an argument for free will. My argument is that the mind is what the brain does. What is free will?

  73. SteveK

    Chuck,
    Whether evolution operates at the individual level or the species level – or any level – the question remains:

    “If evolution had made our brains differently, might A have equaled not-A?”

  74. Holopupenko

    Chuck:

    Most of what you spout here is the same tiresome reductionist drivel with which critical thinkers must put up. But here’s a beauty:

    Punting to Medieval metaphysics as a defeater of the evidence on hand is not just poor reasoning but an odd display of emotional immaturity to boot.

    In one emotional assertion you’ve managed two fallacies!

    First, historicism: the fallacy that just because some ideas have weathered the ages and are, ahem, “old,” they are therefore untrue. Which, by the way, is self-immolating if we play by your silly rules: your own words are now older than mine and hence “less” true.

    Second, the genetic fallacy: you’ve falsely judged the veracity of an idea based on its source (genesis) rather than on whether the idea is actually true. You’ve shown in flying colors in your comments that you can’t operate on the level of truth because you can’t correctly distinguish between beings of reason and real beings… among other things, including not paying attention to Tom’s non-starter characterization of your equivocation of the mind being “what the brain does.”)

    Your assertion is a great example, in fact, of “poor reasoning but an odd display of emotional immaturity to boot.” You’re not very smart, are you? But, maybe that’s because you’re exactly what you vainly try to promote here: a wind-up machine.

  75. G. Rodrigues

    @Chuck:

    One, evolutionary theory operates at a species, not individual level, so the appeal to individual risibility is a category error to what naturalism is.

    “Species” is an abstraction; mutations happen at the individual level. Besides this is all irrelevant to the argument, which you have passed by completely.

    Second, an atheist simply states that they lack belief in theistic explanations.

    Yawn.

    Religion is of course real.

    I never said that atheists consider religion “unreal” unless by “unreal” you mean “false”. But we are getting side-tracked; the point is simply that on whatever view, theistic or atheistic, obviously false beliefs have survival value simply because, well, they have survived, or at the very least are not survival-detrimental which is all that the argument needs.

    Provide your metaphysical explanations. I’m game.

    I am not going to do the work for you.

    Shall I presume that you do not know the answers to my questions?

    note: I am presuming that your post #78 was in answer to my post #76 (and not Tom’s).

  76. Chuck

    No Steve, A would be A because it would correspond with physical laws. Whether we had an evolutionary advantage of comprehending that with different brains would be unknown.

    g, give me your worldview. It is only homework to me if I consider it valid in the first place. If you choose not to do that, no worries.

    H, I don’t think 15th C “science” trumps modern neurology and find arguments from analogy that twist natural observations to fit their conclusions bad argument. The theories I subscribe to in regards to mind and brain are the operative ones in treating seriously ill patients. They are completely physical. Your insult to my intelligence is softened by the knowledge my theories work in the real world.

  77. Lee

    I’d like to pluck these two points out of the food fight for closer inspection:

    Further, if logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity, then they are not governed by rules of inference.

    How, exactly, are these two incapable of performing the same function? We aren’t born with these capabilities, they must be conditioned. Mistakes are made constantly, and our ability refined with experience. The more you learn philosophy, the better you are at drawing and recognizing proper inferences (or so I’ve found). It seems to operate just like any skill, and we collaborate with one another to improve, collectively, on our understanding of this discipline. “Further,” you can lose these capabilities if the right part of your brain is either damaged or underdeveloped.

    So it appears to me that you haven’t actually “explained…why logic and reason cannot be just the physical activity of our brains”, but rather, you’ve given additional support for the biological basis of our reasoning capabilities. Logical absolutes probably “exist” in some sense, independent of existence altogether. The fact that we can discern them may be a much deeper, more complex problem than our ability to discern the passage of time, or the color red, but I don’t see how it is a fundamentally different question.

    I have explained to you why your observations in the hospital, lab or wherever it is you work, do not entail your conclusions.

    Now, this I brought up earlier, but it was ignored. The argument would be inductive, a generalization from, in this case, experiments in neuroscience, physiology, etc.. I thought Chuck was pretty clear on that. Every mental event that we have been able to track corresponds with an antecedent physical event in the brain, and thus far, no mental event has been found to be independent of activity of the brain. It is quite possible, that mere coincidence is to blame for every experiment thus far, which, testing for physical events corresponding to mental events, have simply found all of the particular instances that a correlation is detectable. But given the evidence we have, what reason is there to suppose that any of these mental events do not correspond to an antecedent physical event?

    Lee.

  78. SteveK

    Chuck,

    No Steve, A would be A because it would correspond with physical laws.

    So physical laws govern evolution, which governs brain development which governs logic and reasoning. Got it.

    Turnabout is fair play, so let me ask where do these physical laws reside? Your implication is that there is some sort of Platonic realm that governs matter and energy by rule of law.

  79. SteveK

    Lee,

    But given the evidence we have, what reason is there to suppose that any of these mental events do not correspond to an antecedent physical event?

    First person experience. The same first person experience that gives you sufficient reason to think you have thoughts, that the thoughts are your own and not someone elses and that you didn’t just pop into existence 2 seconds ago.

  80. Lee

    @86:

    So our subjective experience, which has been false for all previous experiments, is ready to be infallible all over again for the next? Seems weak, imo.

    Lee.

  81. Melissa

    Lee,

    So our subjective experience, which has been false for all previous experiments, is ready to be infallible all over again for the next? Seems weak, imo.

    Really? False for all previous experiments? I’d love to see the scientific papers on that. Although if what you’re saying is true I can’t really be sure that I read those words in the first place …probably just an illusion.

  82. G. Rodrigues

    @Chuck:

    No Steve, A would be A because it would correspond with physical laws. Whether we had an evolutionary advantage of comprehending that with different brains would be unknown.

    So how does the identity law correspond to a *physical* law? What physical law?

    This is getting ridiculous, you are way in out of your depth. Without the identity law *cognition* would be impossible and we would be unable to recognize physical (or whatever) laws in in the first place.

    g, give me your worldview. It is only homework to me if I consider it valid in the first place. If you choose not to do that, no worries.

    Meseems you are bluffing to dodge the questions. So you expect me to condense a vast body of philosophy in a combox discussion, of which you have said the following pearls:

    1. Post #67: “defeater of the evidence on hand” (presumably you think it is a “belief” held onto in the face of contradicting evidence)

    2. Post #83: in response to Holopupenko “I don’t think 15th C “science” trumps modern neurology and find arguments from analogy that twist natural observations to fit their conclusions bad argument. The theories I subscribe to in regards to mind and brain are the operative ones in treating seriously ill patients. They are completely physical.”

    Your comments show you know nothing about it so I suggest you remain silent; otherwise you will just pass for an ignorant, and not a very smart one at that.

    And I register that you have *completely* ignored the argument I gave and that you are unwilling to say to us what is a natural law or what is causation. A physicist say, can blissfuly “ignore” the question of what exactly is a natural law since he can always withdraw to an operational definition, but if you are going to derive metaphysical conclusions from science like determinism, the question of the nature of natural law or causation is inescapable and unavoidable.

    Still waiting for your answer.

  83. Chuck

    Steve,

    My first person subjective experience says the sun rises and falls in the sky. Of course that is a mistake of perception to the actual reality being observed. Your certainty that mind is distinct from brain seems to operate the way the theory of geo-centricity does. It is an illusion of self-centered deliberation.

    I think you have the right to believe what you want to believe and if it gives your life meaning that is fine, I also think religion has its place in our culture and religious believers can be rational in their consideration of their creeds (I don’t see how they justify their premises but in application of them they don’t seem to be incoherent) but that isn’t my concern. My concern is that substance dualist claims, powered by religious tradition and philosophy, seek to assert a general principle from a subjective experience. They seem to do this by eliminating evidence (e.g. brain damage/infection as an observed cause to the function of mind) that does not correspond with their conclusion. Or by citing philosophical argument that does not weigh current science against the religious tradition it seeks to defend. The predictions you make in regards to your hypothesis are falsified by randomized clinical studies powered by statistically stable sampling. Philosophical argument does not defeat the repeated observation that brain function precedes the operations associated with mind.

  84. Chuck

    g,

    My response was to Steve in regards to the hypothetical if our brains evolved differently than what we have now would “A = A”. For the sake of argument it would. A = A is only a model by which we label observed realities. Whether we could comprehend this or not is beyond the concern of my hypothesis that our lived choices operate under determinism.

    g, you didn’t offer an argument. You offered leading questions with an implied answer to your preferred conclusion and then retreated to a haughty posture of a persecuted child regarding a need to apply A/T metaphysics to school me in the answers.

    Your pedantic sophistry is a silly ploy in trying to win an argument.

    What you don’t understand is how people who deal with behavior sciences an mental health observe the relationship between brain and mind.

    You can hold to all the philosophical discussion you want. I deal in realities with hurting people and recognize that Aquinas is not part of the treatment algorithm when addressing brain/mind issues.

    Now, do you want to answer your leading questions or shall I continue to call you out on your arrogant (and cheap) apologetic techniques.

    And the condescension might make you feel good but it only seems to illustrate your sophistry.

  85. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    Further, if logic and reasoning are governed by brain activity, then they are not governed by rules of inference.

    How, exactly, are these two incapable of performing the same function? We aren’t born with these capabilities, they must be conditioned. Mistakes are made constantly, and our ability refined with experience. The more you learn philosophy, the better you are at drawing and recognizing proper inferences (or so I’ve found). It seems to operate just like any skill, and we collaborate with one another to improve, collectively, on our understanding of this discipline. “Further,” you can lose these capabilities if the right part of your brain is either damaged or underdeveloped.

    This is not an answer to Tom’s argument or the (same) argument as I presented in post #76.

    The point is that if materialist determinism is true, we arrive at a given conclusion not because of the *cogency* of the arguments (deductive validity, truth of the premises, the *content* of the thoughts themselves) but because of the chain of efficient causes governing the universe and therefore the brain and all its activity. “cause of” and “reason for” are two very different things; why should we trust our reasopning abilities? Now, you have work to do to justify our confidence in our reasoning abilities. But the confidence in our reasoning is what you put in doubt in the first place with your materialistic reductionism so you cannot appeal to reason to justify our confidence in reason and thus your position is self-refuting.

    So our subjective experience, which has been false for all previous experiments, is ready to be infallible all over again for the next? Seems weak, imo.

    Is there any experience that is not first-person experience, and therefore subjective? *That* is what Melissa pointed out. If you jettison first-person experience then you have no basis at *all* to have confidence in your knowledge. Once again, as Melissa pointed out, even the very things I am reading on my screen may be simply an illusion foisted on me by the brain or some mischievous imp.

  86. G. Rodrigues

    @Chuck:

    Gloves are off.

    I am not g, I am G. Rodrigues, I did not gave you license to treat me in such familiar terms.

    For the sake of argument it would. A = A is only a model by which we label observed realities. Whether we could comprehend this or not is beyond the concern of my hypothesis that our lived choices operate under determinism.

    No it is not beyond the concern of the hypothesis — see below.

    g, you didn’t offer an argument.

    Yes I did, see post #76. If you are too stupid to recognize one then the problem is yours, not mine.

    You can hold to all the philosophical discussion you want. I deal in realities with hurting people and recognize that Aquinas is not part of the treatment algorithm when addressing brain/mind issues.

    If you had an ounce of understanding you would know that Aquinas deals with *metaphysical* questions, with such general concepts as being and causation, concepts that the *physical* sciences *must* presuppose to do its own job. But as you are completely clueless about this, you pull out this moronic comment.

    And *that* is the issue at stake here. Determinism is a *metaphysical* question; you accept it based on certain metaphysical positions about what a natural law is or causation is, and that is why I asked your clarification. Of course you cannot give me an answer, because in your clueless ignorance, you are not even aware that there is a real question here. But in order to derive a *metaphysical* conclusion from science you *have* to answer these questions. Simply waving your arms around will not do.

    Finally, you know nothing about me or the realities that I personally face, so go foist your emotional blackmail on someone else.

  87. Chuck

    g I will call you what I choose. You seem to be a haughty child with serious anger and control issues. If you like, I can get you some samples of a mild mood stabilizer. They have shown to be efficacious so your change in perception should indicate the falsity if you mind/brain distinction. And thanks for letting me know the kid gloves are off. I’m shaking in my boots tough guy.

  88. Holopupenko

    Chuck #83 and elsewhere:

    I see you’ve conveniently ignored the double fallacies of historicism and genetic (i.e., bad logic) you’ve employed… but, then again, you have to at least have a poor intelligence to argue fallaciously. G. Rodriguez nicely captures this by pointing out your ignorance on these matters @90.

    The fact of the matter is, you have no intelligence to “insult” in the first place for you yourself have reduced it to the motion of material objects. You haven’t even defined “intelligence” or “reason” or “mind” in any serious way except to suggest the mind is “what the brain does” (similarly to the way spinning is what a wheel does). Boy, now that’s serious intellectual [sic] rigor… NOT! You argue away the real existence of the mind, and you appeal to “profound humility”?!? What is “profound humility”… complex neurochemical signals? Really? Consistency is not what you are.

    If you had even a smidgen of intellectual [sic] self-respect in the first place, you’d realize the spinning of a wheel is accidental to the wheel (a substance) itself, whereas the mind is in no way accidental to the brain. Notice just how dumb your sense of somehow being insulted is per your own rules of the game: there’s no you in the first place, so what exactly is supposed to be insulted?!?

    You’re the kind of reductionist who, rather than watching a movie and being “moved” [analogically stated] by the moral of the story, peer into the motion picture projector to view the celluloid tape moving past the light and smugly declare “there is no ‘moral’ because I don’t see one when I open the projector”! You’re the kind of reductionist who, when he sees a damaged (pathological) movie screen–one that can’t properly manifest the movie because there’s a huge hole in it—smugly declares “not only is there no moral to the story, but there’s not even a movie!” In other words, you’re the kind of reductionist who would join the gang of thugs in declaring Terri Schiavo a non-person and promptly kill her—in a heart beat—because you can’t even express what personhood is.

    And, I don’t care if you “work with Central Nervous System experts, specifically within the area of mental health and it is a non-controversial claim to say that the brain governs both thought and behavior” (which means you’re not an expert yourself) for this betrays your ignorance of real specialists/experts who do see more. (And that’s leaving aside the blatant non sequitur that “non-controversial claims” are true claims.) I would never bring a patient within a hundred miles of you for your propensity for reducing humans to accidental unities called machines means their lives would be in danger from the get-go. You’re nothing more than a Peter Singer groupie.

    I have no doubt you will intentionally ignore Nobel prize-winning neurobiologist Sir John Eccles’ book The Wonder of Being Human or Edward Feser’s Philosophy of Mind or Victor Reppert’s C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea because they challenge your emotional presuppositions and expose your arrogance and ignorance. Just because you work in the field doesn’t mean you understand its deeper implications.

    I would take G. Rodrigues’ advice to heart: keep your ignorant and arrogant mouth shut. And, per @95, it seems you are the one who is in dire need of stabilizing medication—not critical thinkers like G. Rodrigues.

  89. The Deuce

    Chuck:

    Deuce your non-deterministic causes are not analogous to either gravity or the weak force therefore to use this as analogy seems false.

    I made no analogy. I pointed out the logical fact that the existence of non-deterministic causes (such as reason) does not violate the existence of deterministic causes. Therefore Coyne is simply making an error when he states that the idea of free will “violates” natural laws. You keep insisting on reading this as an “analogy” or a “hypothesis” or whatever, rather than the simple logical point it is, because your mind is so thoroughly riddled with materialist presupposition that you’re not even able to process simple arguments against it without translating them into something else.

  90. G. Rodrigues

    @Chuck:

    So your response to my arguments is to prescribe a mild mood stabilizer?

    g I will call you what I choose.

    Then spare me the complaint about “haughty” attitudes, “condescension” or what not.

  91. Chuck

    Deuce you illustrated your logical point by proposing an analogy using the weak force and gravity.

  92. Melissa

    Chuck,

    I will call you what I choose

    To avoid any confusion you should write that you will call him what your brain chemistry dictates 🙂

  93. Chuck

    No g, my response to your “argument” is you haven’t made a coherent one. My response to you temper tantrums is to recommend medical psychiatry (and possibly some talk therapy).

  94. Lee

    @93:

    It is in response to the quoted portion, which is why I put that quote there. I’ll have to retool it for your argument, I suppose, if you feel you are the one I must convince.

    why should we trust our reasopning abilities? Now, you have work to do to justify our confidence in our reasoning abilities.

    Why indeed! But, of course, your assertion of dualism, your assertion that the “mind” is operating according to reason and arriving at conclusions due to the *cogency* of arguments, is similarly unsupported. Iff you are right, then your argument works, but this is the same circularity that you accuse me of engaging in. It isn’t as though we have determined that dualism is a solid foundation for reasoning, certainly not if we are going to question our ability to reason that out in the first place.

    We do the best we can, and check our attempts at reasoning against our experience and our neighbor’s testimony of his experience. With the advent of science, we are able to far more thoroughly test our reasoning.

    My confidence in deterministic causation is borne out by the evidence, my rejection of non-deterministic causation is not in conflict with any evidence of which I am aware. I thoroughly agree that our experience can be unclear, inaccurate, or representing a possible failure of cognition, but I don’t see any reason to reject experiences which conform to the evidence we have available. If neuroscience was hopelessly mired in blank fMRI scans, damage to the brain in no way affected cognition up until the point of total failure, and chemical therapy was utterly ineffectual on the subjective, you’d have a point. It isn’t, you don’t, and you are creating a problem out of thin air by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    As to Melissa’s comment, to which I already responded once, that was not the context of my point.

    Is there any experience that is not first-person experience, and therefore subjective? *That* is what Melissa pointed out.

    *That* is why I told her to go back and read the context. I’ll simply tell you to do the same thing.

    Lee.

  95. Tom Gilson

    Re: Holopupenko to Chuck:

    It’s going too far to say “you have no intelligence.” It is not going too far to say that if your conception of mind is true, then you have no intelligence; for your view of mind eliminates rationality just as surely as it wipes out free will.

    Holopupenko, you might need to explain “accidental.” I doubt he knows the meaning of the term in this context. Most people today don’t.

  96. Lee

    @102 EDIT:

    The very last sentence should read:

    *That* is why I told her to go back and read the context. I’ll simply ask you to do the same

    Thanks.

    Lee.

  97. SteveK

    Chuck,
    Your response in #91 did nothing to answer my question in #85. You avoided it altogether and instead went off talking about subjective experiences and religion. I’m trying to stay focused on your claims.

    Would you like to try #85 again?

  98. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    why should we trust our reasopning abilities? Now, you have work to do to justify our confidence in our reasoning abilities.

    Why indeed! But, of course, your assertion of dualism, your assertion that the “mind” is operating according to reason and arriving at conclusions due to the *cogency* of arguments, is similarly unsupported. Iff you are right, then your argument works, but this is the same circularity that you accuse me of engaging in. It isn’t as though we have determined that dualism is a solid foundation for reasoning, certainly not if we are going to question our ability to reason that out in the first place.

    You got things wrong. The argument, if correct, entails that if materialist determinism is true then we cannot have confidence in our reasoning capabilities and thus, materialist determinism is self-refuting.

    I am not a skeptic about the reasoning capabilities and there is absolutely no “confidence” problem in the particular version of dualism that I favor, hylomorphic dualism.

    We do the best we can, and check our attempts at reasoning against our experience and our neighbor’s testimony of his experience. With the advent of science, we are able to far more thoroughly test our reasoning.

    The advent of the modern empirical science has not given us the ability “far more thoroughly test our reasoning”, because without sound reasoning, modern empirical sciences would never have arisen in the first place.

    Now, maybe what you wanted to say is that the modern empirical sciences have given us a far more thourough understanding of the natural world, brain included. But since the contention is precisely that the mind is not reducible to the brain, a *metaphysical* question, I fail to see what is the relevance of this.

    My confidence in deterministic causation is borne out by the evidence, my rejection of non-deterministic causation is not in conflict with any evidence of which I am aware. I thoroughly agree that our experience can be unclear, inaccurate, or representing a possible failure of cognition, but I don’t see any reason to reject experiences which conform to the evidence we have available. If neuroscience was hopelessly mired in blank fMRI scans, damage to the brain in no way affected cognition up until the point of total failure, and chemical therapy was utterly ineffectual on the subjective, you’d have a point. It isn’t, you don’t, and you are creating a problem out of thin air by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    For the last time, causal correlation is not identity or even supervenience. No one denies that there is a causal correlation between neural processes and mind states; what we here are denying is that the mind is identical or reducible to electro-chemical, neural processes. And the reasoning is a *deductive*, metaphysical one, so invoking Ockam’s razor or other principle from the empirical sciences is missing the point completely.

  99. Melissa

    Lee,

    The context was that you were responding to Steve’s point. We have first person experience of our thoughts influencing our behavior. I suppose by context though that you’re referring to your statement that “no mental event has been found to be independent of activity of the brain”. The problem is that that does not show our experience of acting for reasons to be false.

    We do the best we can, and check our attempts at reasoning against our experience and our neighbor’s testimony of his experience. With the advent of science, we are able to far more thoroughly test our reasoning.

    But according to physical determinism we don’t do any of this. There is no reasoning, there is no we, there is only chemical reactions in the brain. Reasoning is an illusion, and it certainly can’t do anything in the physical world.

    If neuroscience was hopelessly mired in blank fMRI scans, damage to the brain in no way affected cognition up until the point of total failure, and chemical therapy was utterly ineffectual on the subjective, you’d have a point. It isn’t, you don’t

    If any one was arguing that the mind works completely independently of brain activity you’d have a point. They aren’t. You don’t.

  100. The Deuce

    G. Rodrigues:

    Under determinism you accept the conclusion C not because the above argument is an example of a valid and sound argument but because the chain of efficient causation is such that your brain comes to accept C as true.

    Even that gives determinism too much credit. True and false aren’t deterministic, mathematically quantifiable properties, so deterministic laws can’t operate on them. It makes no ultimate sense, therefore, to say that deterministic causation could even cause the brain to accept something as true. The consistent materialist determinist must, like Paul Churchland, say that such properties as true and false have no objective existence, such that *nothing* is objectively true or false, just as they must hold that the laws of rational inference have no objective existence and play no actual role in our thought processes or behavior.

    Btw, I can’t help but notice that none of the determinists on this thread have even tried to grapple with this. They just ignore the glaring problem that their position is incoherent and incompatible with reason itself, and declare that they personally find free will implausible (as if personal feelings trump logic), or insist that we show them physical, deterministic “evidence” of free will/reason (when the existence of evidence is itself dependent on the existence of reason).

    The closest they have come to even mentioning it is where Chuck said “We invent the rules of inference as artifacts of our evolved brains. They are epiphenomenal occurrences.” Of course, an epiphenomenon is something that has no effect. So rather than try to find a way around it, Chuck is here *admitting* that, according to his view, the rules of logic have no effect on our thinking, and no objective existence, that they are mere illusory inventions of evolution (which implies the same about truth as well).

    And yet, he also thinks that we are obligated by reason to take the nonexistence of free will as objectively true because he thinks that the logical inference from schizophrenia patients and brain scans to the truth of determinism is so strong as to make it the only rational conclusion.

    The determinist position can be summed up thusly: “Reason demands that you believe that reason doesn’t exist!” It’s literally an insane belief, kookier that the belief that you are the Queen of England. The only thing keeping determinists themselves from being insane is their ability to compartmentalize, much as you said above about eliminativists (which is what all consistent determinists are).

  101. The Deuce

    Deuce you illustrated your logical point by proposing an analogy using the weak force and gravity.

    It wasn’t an analogy. It was an example demonstrating that it’s possible for multiple distinct causes to exist without being violations of each other, using two causes that I assumed you would accept the existence of. I didn’t really even need to give an example because it’s a basic logical fact, but I figured you might find it conceptually helpful anyways, sort of like giving students specific examples of triangles to measure helps them to demonstrate that the angles of any triangle add up to 180 degrees, even though that’s a logically necessary truth that doesn’t depend on specific examples to be proven.

  102. Chuck

    All I see here is people confusing determinism for fatalism and H piggybacking g’s temper tantrums. Silly. I’m enjoying this.

  103. Chuck

    Please explain to me philosophers why is it the mind is irrevocably altered when the brain is damaged. Address the evidence we see operating in the world rather than in your syllogism. If you can explain how dualism exists within that paradigm I might reconsider my position. As for now, I go where the evidence leads. BTW, your definition of determinism seems to fatalism or pre-determinism, not the form Dr. Coyne described.

  104. SteveK

    For the determinists….

    If deterministic reality makes my evolved brain logically conclude that A = not-A then it must be a fact of reality because the deterministic laws of ‘logical reasoning’ deemed it so. Just because your evolved brain doesn’t see it the same way doesn’t mean my conclusion is false.

    Comments?

  105. Lee

    @106:

    You got things wrong. The argument, if correct, entails that if materialist determinism is true then we cannot have confidence in our reasoning capabilities and thus, materialist determinism is self-refuting.

    That is a non-sequitor. It follows, from the success of your premises, that we may not have a sound reason for accepting materialist determinism, but that does not entail it being false. Just because we don’t have a reason for a proposition being true, it doesn’t follow that the proposition is not true. That’s the first point.

    The second point is that you haven’t provided a basis for claiming that we can have confidence in our reasoning if hylomorphic dualism is true. While it may be the case that the mind is separate from the body, all I must do is call the confidence of your reasoning capabilities into question on that supposition, and we are right back where we started. It may be true, but since we can’t have confidence in our reasoning, we can’t have a good reason for believing it is true. If the best you can do is point to the subjective, I must remind you that no subjective ever occurs independent of a brain, at least as far as I have ever seen/heard/read.

    You haven’t shown why materialist determinism being true entails that our reasoning capabilities are unreliable. You have simply pointed out that maybe they are unreliable, which I can happily concede, but you’ll have to do a bit better than that if you wish to make an argument on that basis.

    I am not a skeptic about the reasoning capabilities and there is absolutely no “confidence” problem in the particular version of dualism that I favor, hylomorphic dualism.

    So says you, shall I take your word for it, then?

    The advent of the modern empirical science has not given us the ability “far more thoroughly test our reasoning”, because without sound reasoning, modern empirical sciences would never have arisen in the first place.

    So when we reasoned, justifiably, that the sun rotated the earth, rather than the other way around, modern science did nothing to test our reasoning in this regard? We didn’t discover that, in fact, what we thought was sound reasoning was nothing of the sort? Interesting take on history.

    For the last time, causal correlation is not identity or even supervenience.

    For the last time, this is an inductive argument. I have repeated this over and over. I am saying that all previous tests along these lines have shown that mental events correspond to physical events in the brain, and no mental events do not have simultaneous, or even antecedent, physical events. You are suggesting, or so it seems to me, that this doesn’t prove that all mental events have corresponding physical events in the brain, and/or that this might just be a coincidence. That somehow, while all mental events tested do not occur without predictable brain states, this is not evidence for anything.

    Sure, OK, but isn’t this overstepping the bounds of reasonable skepticism, so that you don’t have to admit the force of the inductive argument against your position? If we applied this retreat to possibility to criminal trials, we wouldn’t convict a single person.

    @107:

    The problem is that that does not show our experience of acting for reasons to be false.

    No, nor would I expect it to. That is your camp’s claim. I am suggesting that this goes to show that the mind is not independent of the brain, and the inductive argument presented takes these tests as support. I think our mind is simply a biological construct, but that we have developed, perhaps for survival reasons, a reliable capacity for reason. I simply don’t understand why the mind must be non-deterministic in order for reason to be involved in the decision making process. Just because we are predetermined to choose one way or another, doesn’t mean that the decision isn’t predetermined by our reasons for choosing the way we did. Reasons we can appreciate through our cognitive capacities. That you cannot help but be swayed by reasons, insofar as you understand them, is consistent with determinism. This is a false problem ya’ll are purveying.

    If any one was arguing that the mind works completely independently of brain activity you’d have a point. They aren’t. You don’t.

    In some sense, you are suggesting that the mind would, in principle, work independently of brain activity. In some capacity, apparently our capacity for reason, the claim is that the mind is independent of the brain. It isn’t as though the fMRI lights up occasionally, or often, when X performs Y cognitive function, it lights up every time, in the same region, across all subjects.

    You are attempting to create a space in which the possibility exists for this idea, and I am simply pointing out that if this claim is weighed against the strong inductive argument coming out of modern neuroscience, your position is less plausible than mine.

    But, again, this would be clear if you had taken the time to read this in context. Here is the context:

    My confidence in deterministic causation is borne out by the evidence, my rejection of non-deterministic causation is not in conflict with any evidence of which I am aware.

    There doesn’t seem to be any reason, given what we know, to suppose that in any sense the mind is independent of the brain. I challenge you to proffer something more compelling than the mere possibility that all of this is just coincidence, or the bare assertion that it’s not possible.

    Lee.

  106. Chuck

    Steve K, living in a deterministic universe where A is A would determine your reasoning false. I’d say go for it but let’s put values to A. I will take you to a Safari and I point out a Lion as a Lion and you can say it is not a Lion and walk up to it. We will see if your conclusion is reasonable if you become a Darwinian casualty.

  107. SteveK

    Chuck,

    Steve K, living in a deterministic universe where A is A would determine your reasoning false.

    The deterministic universe determined my reasoning true. I can’t help that it determined it false for you. That’s the way it operates I guess.

    I will take you to a Safari and I point out a Lion as a Lion and you can say it is not a Lion and walk up to it. We will see if your conclusion is reasonable if you become a Darwinian casualty.

    I will see it in accordance with the determisitic universe, and so will you. Even though our perceptions and beliefs might contradict each other we would both be ‘logically’ correct according to deterministic ‘reasoning’.

  108. Holopupenko

    Still being multiply-evasive, eh Chucky? The onus is on YOU–not on us–to demonstrate the soundness of your assertion that mind = what brain does. Nice try at turning the tables–another fallacy, by the way.

    But never mind your intellectual cowardice, your fallacious reasoning, and your ignorance of a Nobel Prize neurobiologist opposed to your reductionist nonsense. Let me (an MIT nuclear engineering Ph.D… oh, and a philosophy M.A.) try to characterize your position in terms you might understand in your non-expert CNS role: the cursor’s flashing, but there’s no response… because no one is at home.

  109. The Deuce

    Melissa:

    The context was that you were responding to Steve’s point. We have first person experience of our thoughts influencing our behavior. I suppose by context though that you’re referring to your statement that “no mental event has been found to be independent of activity of the brain”.

    This keeps coming up over and over again, and the more you think about it, the stranger it seems. What would a mental state that was “independent of the activity of the brain,” as the determinists keep requesting, look like? Presumably it wouldn’t look like brain activity, because then it wouldn’t be independent of brain activity. But how would you know that a person had such a mental event? From them telling you about it? But speech/writing/sign language/etc involves brain activity, so the mental state still wouldn’t be independent of brain activity. Are they asking for a mental event that has absolutely no physical effect whatsoever? But if that were the case, you couldn’t possibly “find” such an event (at least not by anything other than subjectively experiencing it – which they reject out of hand anyway), much less prove that it was “independent of brain activity”. Essentially, they are saying that they refuse to even consider the fatal problems with their assumptions about causation unless they can be shown something that is conceptually impossible.

    Of course, us realists about free will believe that reason, truth, and logic actually have an effect on our behavior in the world (as do the determinists when they’re not pretending otherwise to shore up their determinism), which implies that they will correlate with brain activity. So the demand to “see” mental events that don’t have any correlation with brain activity is doubly bizarre, in addition to being conceptually impossible.

  110. Lee

    I will take you to a Safari and I point out a Lion as a Lion and you can say it is not a Lion and walk up to it. We will see if your conclusion is reasonable if you become a Darwinian casualty.

    This may very well be the quintessential demonstration of the survival advantage of sound reasoning. Could it be that natural selection yielded those life forms whom, for whatever reason, had the ability to extrapolate from their environment and avoid or prevent harm to themselves? It certainly seems plausible, does it not?

    Lee.

  111. Lee

    But how would you know that a person had such a mental event? From them telling you about it? But speech/writing/sign language/etc involves brain activity, so the mental state still wouldn’t be independent of brain activity.

    But my point is that it didn’t have to be that way. Speech, writing, sign language, etc., could occur without corresponding brain activity, and this would support your position. The fact that it doesn’t, in all cases of which I am aware, is why I don’t think the mind is independent of the brain. In asking for an example, given what I believe is true about the world, I don’t actually expect that you will come up with one! That’s the point

    Lee.

  112. The Deuce

    The other thing that is ludicrous is the constant determinist demand for “evidence” (where they redefine “evidence” as necessary such that the logical incoherence of their position doesn’t “count” as evidence against it, and that the necessity of free will to the objective validity of all argumentation including their own doesn’t “count” as evidence for it).

    Raw data isn’t evidence. Data only becomes evidence when observed by a rational mind. When we say that X is evidence for Y, we mean that a rational person, correctly using the laws of logical inference, would upon observing X conclude that the truth of Y is more plausible than he thought previously. But the determinist position holds that laws of logical inference and truth properties have no effect or objective existence, which implies that there’s objectively no such thing as rational persons and no such thing as evidence – at all, for anything – either. The whole thing is just nonsense piled upon nonsense.

  113. Chuck

    I think Steve that you’d be dead. I don’t know if the product of your reasoning would be logical. It may be to you but we wouldn’t be able to receive your report.

  114. The Deuce

    Speech, writing, sign language, etc., could occur without corresponding brain activity, and this would support your position

    It wouldn’t support my position any more than the working of the brain does. At a fundamental level, you don’t understand what you’re arguing against, and you take your own assumptions so for granted that you’re unable to even think about opposing positions on their own terms.

    In asking for an example, given what I believe is true about the world…

    You don’t believe that anything is true about the world, or at least you wouldn’t if you were consistent, and capable of actually teasing out the implications of your assumptions rather than ignoring them.

  115. Holopupenko

    Chucky:

    Precisely! So why did you first trot out your non-expertise (because you merely “work with CNS experts” and hence have no real credentials or bona fides)? If you can employ the fallacy of Appeal to Authority (number four and counting, by the way), then so can I. What’s good for the goose…

    Now, let’s get back to your multiple-evasiveness, your disordered emotional attachment to the pseudo-philosophical notion of reductionism, your fallaciousness, and your ignorance of fields clearly outside your competence, shall we? I get the fact you don’t like your personal opinions presuppositions to be challenged or your ignorance to be exposed. Deal with it… perhaps with some of the meds or counseling you suggested.

  116. SteveK

    Lee,

    This may very well be the quintessential demonstration of the survival advantage of sound reasoning.

    You have myopia, Lee. This doesn’t refute anything I have said about contraditions.

    If the deterministic universe causes my evolved brain to reason that I am indeed in my living room standing in front of the TV – that is exactly what’s happening. Chuck thinks I’m standing in front of a lion in the Safari – and then I die. That too is exactly what’s happening for the ‘logic’ of the deterministic universe deemed it so.

    In a deterministic universe logic and reasoning are whatever it determines them to be. It could be the same for you, or it could be different. The fact that we reasoned our way to the same conclusion is mere deterministic coincidence.

  117. Lee

    @122:

    It wouldn’t support my position any more than the working of the brain does.

    You’re telling me that (some) mental events not having corresponding brain states wouldn’t support your claim that the mind, in some sense, is independent of the brain? Why?

    At a fundamental level, you don’t understand what you’re arguing against, and you take your own assumptions so for granted that you’re unable to even think about opposing positions on their own terms.

    I await instruction.

    You don’t believe that anything is true about the world, or at least you wouldn’t if you were consistent, and capable of actually teasing out the implications of your assumptions rather than ignoring them.

    That is to accept your assumptions about my position. The implications you think follow from determinism have been challenged. I fail to see how you have addressed these adequately, such that you can just continue pretending they are self-evident.

    Moreover, that determinists can’t “believe anything is true about the world” is patently ludicrous. The only argument presented thus far has been to show that we may not have sufficient reason to believe that determinism is true, but even if that nonsense works, it doesn’t imply that the determinist must deny truth altogether.

    In fact, if consistency demanded that we don’t believe anything is true about the world, that would purport to be a true statement about the world. Doesn’t appear consistent to me.

    Lee.

  118. Lee

    @125:

    In a deterministic universe logic and reasoning are whatever it determines them to be. It could be the same for you, or it could be different. The fact that we reasoned our way to the same conclusion is mere deterministic coincidence.

    That is a possibility, certainly, but what I was pointing out was that if our ancestor has been unable to differentiate between the reality of a lion and the reality of a tree, we wouldn’t be here today.

    So while it’s certainly possible that a deterministic universe could produce a being of compromised cognition, I don’t see how it is plausible that such a being would have survived in the African Savannah as we did. Thus, a plausible evolutionary account of the development of reliable reasoning appears possible.

    Lee.

  119. Chuck

    H, please continue to play logical fallacy bingo. I will hold to my professional experience and recognize mind follows brain health. Please offer me an alternative interpretation that affords dualism under that observation. If you are helpful, I might change my mind.

  120. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    You got things wrong. The argument, if correct, entails that if materialist determinism is true then we cannot have confidence in our reasoning capabilities and thus, materialist determinism is self-refuting.

    It follows, from the success of your premises, that we may not have a sound reason for accepting materialist determinism, but that does not entail it being false. Just because we don’t have a reason for a proposition being true, it doesn’t follow that the proposition is not true. That’s the first point.

    So under materialistic determinism we have absolutely no reason to accept the proposition as true, or in fact, to accept *any* proposition as true, or as Deuce rightly pointed out, that it is even incoherent to speak of the truth or falsity of propositions under materialistic determinism, and yet you do accept it as true? Is this what passes for rationality in your mind?

    The second point is that you haven’t provided a basis for claiming that we can have confidence in our reasoning if hylomorphic dualism is true. While it may be the case that the mind is separate from the body, all I must do is call the confidence of your reasoning capabilities into question on that supposition, and we are right back where we started.

    I said hylomorphic dualism not cartesian, or substance dualism. Inform yourself before passing down criticisms, please.

    And if you buy into skepticism and call into question our reasoning capabilities, this discussion, or any other discussion for that matter, is over and we can all go home and occupy our times with something more productive — well at least, pretend we do, as we do not really have a choice do we?

    You haven’t shown why materialist determinism being true entails that our reasoning capabilities are unreliable. You have simply pointed out that maybe they are unreliable, which I can happily concede, but you’ll have to do a bit better than that if you wish to make an argument on that basis.

    To quote Dr. Johnson, I have found you an argument, I am not under the obligation to find you an understanding. You have yet to provide a single cogent response to the many points made by me, Deuce, Tom Gilson and others in this thread.

    I am not a skeptic about the reasoning capabilities and there is absolutely no “confidence” problem in the particular version of dualism that I favor, hylomorphic dualism.

    So says you, shall I take your word for it, then?

    Feel free to disagree with hylomorphic dualism; but since your above comment shows that you do not even know what it is, I suggest you first understand it and then present your objections.

    The advent of the modern empirical science has not given us the ability “far more thoroughly test our reasoning”, because without sound reasoning, modern empirical sciences would never have arisen in the first place.

    So when we reasoned, justifiably, that the sun rotated the earth, rather than the other way around, modern science did nothing to test our reasoning in this regard? We didn’t discover that, in fact, what we thought was sound reasoning was nothing of the sort? Interesting take on history.

    I do not know what you imagine you are responding to, but it certainly is not anything I wrote.

    For the last time, this is an inductive argument. I have repeated this over and over. I am saying that all previous tests along these lines have shown that mental events correspond to physical events in the brain, and no mental events do not have simultaneous, or even antecedent, physical events. You are suggesting, or so it seems to me, that this doesn’t prove that all mental events have corresponding physical events in the brain, and/or that this might just be a coincidence. That somehow, while all mental events tested do not occur without predictable brain states, this is not evidence for anything.

    For the last time, all that your empirical tests establish is that there is a causal correlation between neural processes and mind states: just that, nothing more, something that nobody disputes. The debate is whether the mind is either identical or reducible to neural processes. Your inductive argument does not establish that and could not even in principle establish that, because the question is a metaphysical one. You can not simply point to *empirical* evidence and derive a *metaphysical* conclusion — it would be like a man going around saying there are no stars and pointing as evidence the fact that none are to be seen through his microscope.

    note: I also suggest you peruse Deuce’s recent posts as he makes many cogent points.

    On the contrary, we have provided arguments to show that the reductionism is false because if it were true, we could not even make sense of rationality, and thus the very arguments that establish materialist determinism are themselves incoherent. If the points we have provided are wrong, then please show it where they go wrong.

  121. SteveK

    Chuck,

    If you wish to say you are watching TV while on safari then we can await your report when addressing the lion. I doubt we will receive the report.

    If you don’t recieve my report, it’s because that is the way the deterministic universe works. Meanwhile I remain both in my living room and dead.

    You still haven’t responded to my question about the Platonic realm (#85). What physical law says that A cannot exist as not-A at the same time? If the deterministic universe informs my brain that it can, then it can. Your insistence that it cannot doesn’t conflict with that reality. We’re both logically correct.

  122. Melissa

    Lee,

    That is to accept your assumptions about my position. The implications you think follow from determinism have been challenged. I fail to see how you have addressed these adequately, such that you can just continue pretending they are self-evident.

    They are not assumptions but the logical conclusion to your belief in physical determinism, the fact that you are unable to follow the line of reasoning is hardly our fault and doesn’t amount to a challenge.

    Your position is that the brain governs all human behavior. Therefore chemical reactions govern all human behavior. Therefore we do not act for reasons but because of those chemical reactions. According to you that is the whole story.

  123. Tom Gilson

    Chuck, you wrote,

    Tom, I don’t consider dealing with evidence as emotionally immature.

    You have a gift for evasion. The immaturity I was referring to was your own. Whether it’s emotionally immature I don’t know, but it is at least reflective more of a schoolyard tactic than it is of adult conversation. This answer of your last night was evasive, avoiding the point that had been addressed to you–also not characteristic of adult conversation.

    I’m catching up here just now after a day of travel. I expect there will be more to say as I read the rest of the thread since then, but that much merited its own response.

  124. Lee

    First, I’d like to apologize to everyone whose point I may have overlooked. G. Rodrigues says that I have missed quite a few, and while I’m doing my best to catch everything, it’s rather trite to just declare that it’s the points I’ve missed that make a mockery of my position. This is a tiring charge, and it would be more effective if you actually singled out a particular point you think I’ve missed. It’s also rather suspicious, since some of your comments (see below) seem to pretend that I haven’t responded when I actually have. I’m not deliberately avoiding confrontation with one or another argument, as should be evident if you consider my comments with even a modicum of charity.

    So under materialistic determinism we have absolutely no reason to accept the proposition as true, or in fact, to accept *any* proposition as true, or as Deuce rightly pointed out, that it is even incoherent to speak of the truth or falsity of propositions under materialistic determinism, and yet you do accept it as true? Is this what passes for rationality in your mind?

    I have not conceded that the argument works, only that if it does, the best you achieve is to claim we have no reason to suppose determinism is true, not that determinism is therefore false. More specifically, there is a difference between any one person perceiving the truth of a proposition, and the truth of that proposition. True and false doesn’t become “incoherent” if the argument works, which I already pointed out at least twice, but you two just keep repeating it as though I haven’t responded.

    More to come.

    Lee.

  125. Chuck

    Steve, derived conclusions from testing your assumption would clarify the situation. If you posited a lion is not a lion then we could travel to a lion and have you test that statement. I doubt it would hold. Let’s test it. Do you wish to stretch the identification principle when it comes to lions?

  126. Tom Gilson

    Going on:

    That said, would you like to provide evidence to non deterministic causes?

    I have. So have others. Adult conversation is not characterized by repeating a question that’s already been answered, while ignoring the answer that’s been given.

    I suppose you don’t like or agree with the evidence we’ve offered. In that case the mature thing to do is to say so, and to say why.

    I’ll read further before I respond to what you had to say about the mentally handicapped.

    —Actually I just got a knock on the door, and I’m going to get some dinner before I come back to catch up further.—

  127. Tom Gilson

    Actually I had a few more moments and this caught my eye:

    g I will call you what I choose. You seem to be a haughty child with serious anger and control issues. If you like, I can get you some samples of a mild mood stabilizer. They have shown to be efficacious so your change in perception should indicate the falsity if you mind/brain distinction. And thanks for letting me know the kid gloves are off. I’m shaking in my boots tough guy.

    Comments policy. I allow disagreement all day long here, but I don’t allow that kind of interpersonal disrespect. Goodbye.

  128. SteveK

    Chuck,

    Steve, derived conclusions from testing your assumption would clarify the situation.

    And it still wouldn’t alter anything I’ve said.

    If you posited a lion is not a lion then we could travel to a lion and have you test that statement. I doubt it would hold. Let’s test it.

    Regardless of what happened, it still wouldn’t alter anything I’ve said. You aren’t listening.

    Do you wish to stretch the identification principle when it comes to lions?

    Remember, it’s not me or you doing the stretching. It’s the deterministic universe causing our minds to logically reason this way.

    The fact remains that IF the deterministic universe governs logic and reason as you say it does, then it can determine our minds to experience and perceive logic and reason any way it pleases. What is logical and reasonable to you, MAY be illogical and unreasonable to me – and both would be determined to be logical and reasonable (and not). Oh, happy day!

  129. Joe Dan

    H, please continue to play logical fallacy bingo.

    I was about to suggest that you could simply, you know, stop making them. But it appears that you have, willingly or not.

  130. Melissa

    Lee,

    True and false doesn’t become “incoherent” if the argument works, which I already pointed out at least twice, but you two just keep repeating it as though I haven’t responded

    If our beliefs are the result of chemical activity in the brain then we do not have reasons for any of our beliefs, they are the result of physical efficient causation, that is all. Therefore to continue to offer reasons for any particular belief is incoherent.

  131. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    I have not conceded that the argument works, only that if it does, the best you achieve is to claim we have no reason to suppose determinism is true, not that determinism is therefore false. More specifically, there is a difference between any one person perceiving the truth of a proposition, and the truth of that proposition. True and false doesn’t become “incoherent” if the argument works, which I already pointed out at least twice, but you two just keep repeating it as though I haven’t responded.

    No, no, no, thousand times no.

    Let us stop here.

    Under materialistic determinism why do you accept some conclusion C as true? Not because of the *content* and the *logical* relationships between the concepts, but simply because the chain of efficient causality set up in motion by the Big Bang determines it so. So you, Lee, under materialistic determinism, accept materialistic determinism not because it is true but because of a complex of neuro-chemical processes going on in your brain determine that your brain comes to accept it as true.

    Note(s): actually the problems are much more complicated. There is no recognizable self under materialistic determinism and as Deuce rightly pointed out in #108, there is no coherent sense we can make of true and false, but let that all pass for now.

    So now a materialistic determinist has a problem. If the conclusions he arrives at are not arrived at by via of logical reasoning but *predetermined* by the inexorable chain of efficient causation (as I said above “cause of” and “reason for” are entirely distinct things) what confidence can we have on our reasoning abilities? And since we disagree on the truth of materialist determinism, and we cannot both be right, it is clear that the brain does arrive at wrong conclusions. So how to distinguish them? *That* is the problem you face and the problem you have to solve. The only way out is to show that there is an “alignment” between efficient causation and deductive validity, that is, the brain is hard-wired in such a way that the efficient causation “mimics” valid logical reasoning. In order to do that, you have to provide rational, cogent reasons that support your argument, but that is precisely what you cannot do because the problem of the reliability of the rational faculty is the problem you are facing in the first place, so you cannot appeal to reason to show that reason is reliable when *your* position entails the unreliability of reason.

    So *if* materialist determinism is true, reason itself is undermined, and therefore so are our reasons for accepting materialist determinism.

    This is reductio ad absurdum argument and you *still* have not shown where it has gone wrong

  132. SteveK

    I could be wrong, but another possible way to state the argument is to invoke the impossibility of bridging the is/ought gap in a (at base) materialistic reality.

    In a materialistic deterministic reality, there is no such thing as a proper/improper, valid/invalid, way for matter and energy to exist. Since reasoning is what the physical brain does according to deterministic fiat, it cannot be the case that the physical brain improperly/invalidly exists (or ought to exist another way) as it moves about and comes to rest in what we call a logical conclusion.

  133. Lee

    @140:

    So *if* materialist determinism is true, reason itself is undermined, and therefore so are our reasons for accepting materialist determinism.

    This is reductio ad absurdum argument and you *still* have not shown where it has gone wrong

    Leaving aside whether the argument works, which I *have*, in fact, pointed out questionable areas, I actually agree, provisionally, with the first sentence above. *IF* determinism is true, and *IF* this undermines reason, then our reason for accepting the truth of determinism is undermined. This, however, does not entail that determinism is therefore false. Can we agree, at least, on that?

    Lee.

  134. Tom Gilson

    But you would have to agree that if determinism undermines reason, then there is no reason to think determinism is true.

    Determinism is not, after all, a perception or intuition. It is a conclusion drawn by inference from evidences through a chain of reasoning. Apart from that inferential process, there is no reason to think that determinism is true.

    Now suppose there are two conditions, A and B, such that a person in condition A can reason reliably but a person in condition B cannot; and suppose that (like determinism or non-determinism) the A-B status of each person cannot be perceived or intuited; it must be inferred by way of reasoning from evidences, premises, or what have you.

    Suppose we put the question to two persons, “Which condition are you in?” Should you trust someone who says, “I am in condition A”? Maybe, maybe not. It would be a question to be explored, and there is not enough information in this thought experiment to provide a good answer.

    Should you trust someone who says, “I am in condition B, and so is everyone else in the world”? Obviously not: for the one who says he is in condition B is affirming that a process of reasoning has led him to conclude that he cannot reliably carry through a process of reasoning to a conclusion.

    Therefore yes, it’s possible that everyone in the whole world is in condition B. If that is the case, however, it is impossible for anyone in the world to know that he or she is in condition B—which of course is the condition we are all in if determinism is true, and if (as I think is obvious, but has also been argued here) determinism undermines rationality.

  135. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    I had already conceded that, at least implicitly — see post #129, first paragraph. I suggest you read the paragraph again, as a dire warning of the bottomless grave you are digging for yourself.

    Leaving aside whether the argument works, which I *have*, in fact, pointed out questionable areas, I actually agree, provisionally, with the first sentence above.

    I have just gone through all your posts after #76 and there is no response that was not dealt with — but maybe I missed something, so maybe you could point it out to me?

    Let me also add that we have been discussing only one argument against materialistic determinism — the argument from reason and variations thereof; there are many more arrows in our quiver.

  136. Lee

    @143:

    I’m trying to find some basis for agreement here, upon which to build from. It seems that you, at least, agree that our reasoning being potentially undermined (or obviously so, according to you), does not entail a refutation of determinism, as such, and we can safely set this aside as frankly irrelevant to the question of the truth of determinism (or so I hope). This is progress, of sorts 🙂

    The further claim, made by some others, that determinism entails the denial of truth itself is just plain false. You cannot frame a denial of the concept ‘true’ without making a supposedly true statement, thus affirming the concept.

    Perhaps, though, they mean that we cannot conceptualize truth (whatever that means). Still, this would not entail that truth does not exist, nor that determinism is not a truth about the world. A possibility, perhaps, but not particularly relevant.

    So, your reasons for believing that rationality, or reasoning, is undermined if thoroughgoing determinism is true are:

    1. From your original post, it appears you have some unanswered questions (how is it possible, is natural law inviolable, etc), which allude to an explanatory deficiency in determinism.

    – This doesn’t seem to have much, if any, relevance to whether determinism is true. I can’t seem to explain why we disagree, but that doesn’t entail that we don’t, in fact, disagree.

    2. Your most interesting point, at least to me, was here:

    Coyne is saying that the discipline that knows no explanatory principle but regular natural law is incapable of showing us any explanations outside of regular natural law.

    Others have echoed this in various forms, and it seems to be the most relevant response to an inductive argument as you outlined in one of your earlier comments to me. The idea that even if determinism is false, or if, here, natural law is violable, science wouldn’t be able to find evidence against it anyways.

    I’m not certain this is exactly relevant to the truth of determinism either, but it certainly strikes at the heart of my reasons for believing in determinism as the most plausible explanation given the evidence (though it assumes we are both capable of reasoning). I don’t think it works, because as I pointed out in a previous post, I don’t think a violation of natural law can be undetectable in principle. You didn’t think the distinction was important, and I disagree.

    The first reason, (1), is a dead end as far as drawing conclusions. We don’t cite a lack of information as confirmation for a proposition’s alternative. This is analogous to the ‘undetectable in practice’ of (2), in that accepting that we are currently unable of detecting a violation of natural law does not provide support for said violations.

    If, however, an undetectable violation of natural law is possible in principle, i.e. something we could never detect, some interesting things follow. First, just as a matter of practicality, it’s completely irrelevant. I mean, who cares? We’ll never know the difference anyways, and the violation could never stand to support your position or refute mine. It seems more like a rhetorical question than anything philosophically interesting.

    But secondly, this would seemingly undermine scientific rationality in entirety. For if the basis upon which we explain the facts of the world with theories as to how the world works is at bottom false (and we somehow know this but can’t detect it), then nothing is predictable. Of course, this creates a paradox of sorts; if a violation of natural law is undetectable, then all predictions in accordance with that law would have to come true, but since there are violations at some point, some of these predictions can’t come true.

    How do we resolve this? Well, one way is to reject the idea that these violations can be undetectable, which is the tact I was taking.

    3. Another way of arguing this is to say that our universal experience of making real choices is evidence, or proof, of free will. I want to be very cautious here, as a rejection of this argument is being confused as a dismissal of our subjective altogether. It is not.

    We have found, through a painstaking process of scientific study, that our subjective is only a reliable guide to reality insofar as we can objectively verify the conclusions drawn from it. There is no doubt that we have these experiences, but it is far from certain that these experiences, such as our making real choices, constitutes a valid methodology for concluding that therefore we do make these real choices.

    It has been rightly pointed out that a robust theory of mind is a long ways off, but explanations for why we would have these experiences in a deterministic world have surfaced. Are they true? false? I don’t know, I lack the specialty, and we obviously lack the data to settle on a particular explanation. Are they obviously false, contradictory, or incoherent? No. I’m content to wait, rather than just reject the idea because we don’t know enough to be certain.

    Have I missed anything from you, particularly?

    Lee.

  137. Lee

    @140:

    Let me try to understand this bit:

    So now a materialistic determinist has a problem. If the conclusions he arrives at are not arrived at by via of logical reasoning but *predetermined* by the inexorable chain of efficient causation (as I said above “cause of” and “reason for” are entirely distinct things) what confidence can we have on our reasoning abilities?

    Say I accept that this is an accurate portrayal of the logical result of determinism, the lack of confidence in our reasoning abilities;

    And since we disagree on the truth of materialist determinism, and we cannot both be right, it is clear that the brain does arrive at wrong conclusions.

    Which seems to justify the belief that we lack confidence in our reasoning abilities (assuming neither of us is being deliberately deceitful);

    So how to distinguish them? *That* is the problem you face and the problem you have to solve.

    Now wait a minute. Why is it a “problem [I] have to solve” that the evidence is in accordance with, as you say, the logical result of the truth of determinism. You have said that this is an absurd conclusion, but if we have, in this very discussion, an instance of this conclusion, why is this a problem for me? It appears, rather, that this poses a problem for the dualist that claims, with aristotle, that man is a rational animal, and that our reasoning is in accordance with the rules of inference. Perhaps one of us lacks free will?

    Lee.

  138. Lee

    @144:

    I have just gone through all your posts after #76 and there is no response that was not dealt with — but maybe I missed something, so maybe you could point it out to me?

    You may consider them “dealt with”, but I remain, honestly, helplessly, unconvinced by your responses. Check out some of the pre-76 posts if you’re looking for fresh material for the grinder!

    Let me also add that we have been discussing only one argument against materialistic determinism — the argument from reason and variations thereof; there are many more arrows in our quiver.

    And there is plenty of room on the surface of my buckler; keep shooting until Tom kicks me out 🙂

    Lee.

  139. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    So how to distinguish them? *That* is the problem you face and the problem you have to solve.

    Now wait a minute. Why is it a “problem [I] have to solve” that the evidence is in accordance with, as you say, the logical result of the truth of determinism. You have said that this is an absurd conclusion, but if we have, in this very discussion, an instance of this conclusion, why is this a problem for me? It appears, rather, that this poses a problem for the dualist that claims, with aristotle, that man is a rational animal, and that our reasoning is in accordance with the rules of inference. Perhaps one of us lacks free will?

    I am having difficulty parsing what you are saying here. Maybe you think I am saying that the problem you have to solve is how to distinguish bad from good reasoning? Sorry for my bad wording but that is not what I am trying to say. That specific problem is a practical problem facing every rational human being. The paragraph should be read whole for better comprehension, so I quote it again:

    So now a materialistic determinist has a problem. If the conclusions he arrives at are not arrived at by via of logical reasoning but *predetermined* by the inexorable chain of efficient causation (as I said above “cause of” and “reason for” are entirely distinct things) what confidence can we have on our reasoning abilities? And since we disagree on the truth of materialism determinism, and we cannot both be right, it is clear that the brain does arrive at wrong conclusions. So how to distinguish them? *That* is the problem you face and the problem you have to solve. The only way out is to show that there is an “alignment” between efficient causation and deductive validity, that is, the brain is hard-wired in such a way that the efficient causation “mimics” valid logical reasoning. In order to do that, you have to provide rational, cogent reasons that support your argument, but that is precisely what you cannot do because the problem of the reliability of the rational faculty is the problem you are facing in the first place, so you cannot appeal to reason to show that reason is reliable when *your* position entails the unreliability of reason.

  140. SteveK

    Lee,

    You cannot frame a denial of the concept ‘true’ without making a supposedly true statement, thus affirming the concept.

    I was going to add to Tom’s comment in #143 and your comment here gives me that opportunity. Not only could we not know what condition we were in, we could not know that we could not know. And we couldn’t know THAT. Etc, etc.

    Knowledge gained through rational process is impossible in a deterministic system because there are no rational process. Your mind arrives at a conclusion like an 8-ball being directed into the corner pocket. You can’t remove yourself from the deterministic system to verify anything. What you perceive to be a verification is your mind being directed into a different pocket.

  141. Melissa

    Lee,

    I’m not certain this is exactly relevant to the truth of determinism either, but it certainly strikes at the heart of my reasons for believing in determinism as the most plausible explanation given the evidence

    Determinism is only plausible if you ignore the evidence of your own first person experience. The only reason to discount that evidence is if you had data that falsified that experience which you don’t.

    We have found, through a painstaking process of scientific study, that our subjective is only a reliable guide to reality insofar as we can objectively verify the conclusions drawn from it

    Going back to Steve’s point that you brushed aside earlier how can we objectively verify that we did not pop into existence 2 seconds ago? That our sense experience corresponds to an external reality? etc,etc. Until we have actual evidence falsifying our experience we are justified in accepting it as a true representation of reality.

    As for the rest, you continue to miss the incoherence of your position because you have failed to take note of something that G. Rodriguez has pointed out a couple of times – the distinction between cause of and reason for. There is no reason for anything in the materialists worldview, including human beliefs and actions. Every event is the result of unintentional, irrational physical causes.

  142. Lee

    @148:

    Sorry for my bad wording but that is not what I am trying to say. That specific problem is a practical problem facing every rational human being. The paragraph should be read whole for better comprehension, so I quote it again:

    Not to be snide, but if the wording is misleading, I don’t see how requoting yourself is going to make it easier for me to understand you. The remainder of that paragraph builds upon the portion of your argument that I quoted, so in a sense it doesn’t really help you in supporting an argument to point to conclusions resulting from said argument.

    @149:

    I was going to add to Tom’s comment in #143 and your comment here gives me that opportunity. Not only could we not know what condition we were in, we could not know that we could not know. And we couldn’t know THAT. Etc, etc.

    And what is your point? How does that entail that determinism is false?

    Knowledge gained through rational process is impossible in a deterministic system because there are no rational process.

    This is supported by…what, exactly? Metaphor? This claim is not self-evidently true, nor does it’s denial lead to contradiction. So presumably there is some deductive argument to prove the impossibility. Would any of you care to share it with me? I’m open to being proven wrong, don’t hoard such secrets!

    Your mind arrives at a conclusion like an 8-ball being directed into the corner pocket.

    “Directed” in that sense by the antecedent physical causes, including brain states, which, to avoid being question-begging, does not necessarily rule out rational thought. You, and others, say it does, but it is still unclear to me how you can make this claim with such certainty.

    What you perceive to be a verification is your mind being directed into a different pocket.

    What is the fundamental difference between a physically determined thought process that arrives at a rational conclusion, and a non-determined thought process that arrives at a rational conclusion? I take this to mean that iff we have free will, we can dismiss rational argument, bypass our desires, act against our own will, and freely choose to accept or deny a proposition, all while claiming to hold the high ground in rational thought. We don’t choose what reasons are available to us, we don’t choose our desires, and we do not form our character, the basis for our will, so we must then choose independent of these determining factors. I’m having a hard time conceptualizing what such an instance of freedom would look like. Perhaps. . . an example?

    @150:

    Determinism is only plausible if you ignore the evidence of your own first person experience. The only reason to discount that evidence is if you had data that falsified that experience which you don’t.

    To cite just one example, neuroscientists utilizing fMRIs can predict, with statistically significant accuracy, the choice that will be made by a test subject, often as early as ten seconds in advance of their testifying to making the conscious choice. I agree that we shouldn’t discount our subjective lightly, but it isn’t as though such a thing is without precedent, and it isn’t as though there’s no “actual evidence” suggesting that we should.

    the distinction between cause of and reason for. There is no reason for anything in the materialists worldview, including human beliefs and actions. Every event is the result of unintentional, irrational physical causes

    Most events, according to my worldview, are unintentional and irrational, in that they do not have an “intend-er” and they do not accord to the goals of some ultimate “goal-have-er”. But saying that human beliefs and actions are unintentional, for one, seems strange. It may be the case, if determinism is true, that a human cannot choose his intents, but it doesn’t then follow that he doesn’t have intentions, and that his actions cannot adhere to these intentions. The same, it seems to me, applies to rationality, inasmuch as our actions and beliefs adhere to our goals; it doesn’t really matter whether he or she has freely chosen to perform X in pursuit of Y goal for Z reason, the act is either reasonable or it is not. If you mean that the beliefs and actions of humans are unreasonable, that seems to me to be an empirical question, one that is either falsified by the present state of the world, or is question-begging if you presuppose the truth of dualism or the impossibility of reason on determinism.

    Thank you for pointing this out, I had actually taken note of it earlier, but I must have let it slip.

    Lee.

  143. Melissa

    Lee,

    Well done on consistently failing to see the point. You take that data to mean that we see the chemical reactions that are responsible for our actions before we have any intention of acting. Chemical reactions do not act with intent. Following from that our actions are not influenced by intentions.. I agree it is strange to say that human beliefs and actions are unintentional but that’s the reductio of your belief. There is no room in your worldview for intentions to have any causal power.

    Of corse we could consider the evidence put forward and keeping in mind the strong evidence given by our first person experience look for alternative explanations for the data. Are you really insisting that there are no other viable explanations?

  144. Lee

    @152:

    Chemical reactions do not act with intent. Following from that our actions are not influenced by intentions.

    Chemicals can’t bark, either, so I suppose dogs have free will? That doesn’t actually follow either, in case you are “failing to see the point”. The question is whether, given our cognitive capacities, we could have chosen differently in any particular instance of choice. What you are advocating is a false reductionism, and I don’t feel the least bit apprehensive calling such a conception of my position childish and comical. It’s little wonder you reject determinism, you sound like the anti-evolutionist proclaiming self-righteously that “my daddy ain’t no monkey”.

    Lee.

  145. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    Do not want to be snide or insulting, but practically the only consistency we can reasonably expect from you is in missing the points made.

    Post #151:

    What you perceive to be a verification is your mind being directed into a different pocket.

    What is the fundamental difference between a physically determined thought process that arrives at a rational conclusion, and a non-determined thought process that arrives at a rational conclusion?

    Do you even listen to yourself? How can a conclusion be *rational* if it is arrived at by the inexorable chain of efficient causation set up in motion by the Big Bang and described by the currently available physical theories? A conclusion is rational if it is validly deducted according to the rules of logic from true premises, which is *precisely* what you are denying in asserting that materialistic determinism is true. The *reasons for* the validity of a conclusion (truth of the premises, deductive validity) are distinct from the *causes of* the conclusion — the electro-chemical processes going on in the brain.

    I am going to repeat the argument for the last time, as patience is wearing thin: under materialistic determinism, and as shown above, you have just thrown rationality to the dustbin. Every time your brain follows a chain of reasoning, the end conclusion is *predetermined* by the efficient chain of causation, *not* by the content of the thoughts, the concepts and their logical relations. If the conclusion is a true conclusion it is only accidentally so. So there is absolutely no reason to have confidence in our rational capability — in fact, we cannot even coherently say that human beings have a rational capability since under materialistic determinism they are nothing more than machines and our brain is a computer, and thus it is no better than a universal Turing machine (actually it is worse, because an ideal Turing machine has unbounded memory…). But computers (or idealized Turing machines) are not rational in any relevant sense of the word; the only thing that happens inside a machine is a series of causally related mechanical operations, nothing more, nothing less.

    This means that materialism is fatally flawed in many ways, but let us stick to what we have been discussing, rationality. So what is your way out of the conundrum? You could say that the brain *always* arrives at true conclusions — you would need an argument for it, but since that is obviously false, this way is not open to you. You can *argue* that the brain is hard-wired, for example by appealing to Evolution Theory, in such a way the *causes of* and the *reasons for* somehow magically “align” with each other. But you have just thrown rationality under the bus, so your argument is dead in the water from the get go, because it is not an argument but simply the predetermined result of the inexorable workings of natural laws.

    You have just dug up a six-foot grave for yourself: there is no rationality. If there is no rationality, science is gone. If science is gone, your precious fMRI scans that you soooo love to mention are useless. Evolution Theory is gone. This argument we are having is useless. If you were consistent (which you are not) you would abandon this discussion and all discussions you have or will ever have as it is all futile and meaningless, since we do not know and cannot know, and cannot even know that we do know because we cannot even coherently say that human beings can know anything at all.

    I take this to mean that iff we have free will, we can dismiss rational argument, bypass our desires, act against our own will, and freely choose to accept or deny a proposition, all while claiming to hold the high ground in rational thought. We don’t choose what reasons are available to us, we don’t choose our desires, and we do not form our character, the basis for our will, so we must then choose independent of these determining factors. I’m having a hard time conceptualizing what such an instance of freedom would look like. Perhaps. . . an example?

    First, what you “take it to mean” is completely mangled and hopelessly confused. Second, an argument from incredulity is not an argument. More to the point: the OP is about the failure of materialistic determinism in giving a coherent account of rationality (and a whole host of other things which were not mentioned such as qualia, intentionality, personal identity, etc.). If dualism, in whatever variant, can give an account of such things is a whole different matter and different arguments are needed. Pointing out that in your imagination dualism has this or that difficulty does not help *your* position one whit, that is, dualism may very well fail but the point here is that materialistic determinism certainly fails. So my suggestion is that you stop turning the tables and stick to the OP.

    Post #153.

    The only response possible: read the first sentence of this post.

  146. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    Chemical reactions do not act with intent. Following from that our actions are not influenced by intentions.

    Chemicals can’t bark, either, so I suppose dogs have free will? That doesn’t actually follow either, in case you are “failing to see the point”. The question is whether, given our cognitive capacities, we could have chosen differently in any particular instance of choice. What you are advocating is a false reductionism, and I don’t feel the least bit apprehensive calling such a conception of my position childish and comical. It’s little wonder you reject determinism, you sound like the anti-evolutionist proclaiming self-righteously that “my daddy ain’t no monkey”.

    I have already responded this in the above post, but I have some time to loose so what the heck, let me try to make you understand why once again (surprise, surprise), you completely miss the point.

    Intentionality is the about-ness or the pointing beyond itself of thoughts. So for example, while I am typing this post, if I look to the side and see a pen, a thought about the pen occurs (“wow, this pen is in a dreadful state, all chewed up”) and this thought exhibits intentionality in that it is about, or points to, an extra-mental object, a pen. The problem is, if thoughts are just electro-chemical processes how can they be about or point to anything whatsoever? Chemical reactions or electrical impulses just are; they point to nothing beyond themselves. So, there are at least two problems that a materialist faces now:

    (1) This has been pointed out by Melissa (and in fact, by asserting materialistic determinism, you have already conceded to it, whether you are aware of it or not), is that intentionality is an epiphenomenon and thus it simply *cannot* have any causal influence on our actions.

    (2) How can a materialist account for intentionality in the first place?

    I will tackle (2); several attempts have been made (and you are invited to add your own). I will tackle one such attempt; causal theories of intentionality. In this case, it is argued that the thought about the pen is about the pen because of the causal relationships between the pen and the neural processes standing for the thought (e.g. something like photons bounce off the pen; they hit the retina forming an image; the image is sent to the brain; the brain processes the image; etc.). The fatal problem with this account has been point out by Karl Popper: in order to identify the pen as the object of the thought we must identify the pen as the *first* link in the causal chain from pen to thought. But this identification is completely arbitrary and ad hoc and is only made relative to our interests, that is, the whole theory in trying to explain intentionality presumes it in the first place! Why not identify the first link of the chain with the photons traveling (in which case the thought would be about photons traveling and not about the pen)? Or why not identify it with the photons hitting the retina (in which case the thought would be about photons hitting the retina and not about the pen)? etc. and etc.

  147. Holopupenko

    Lee:

    I disagree vigorously with your overall position on these matters, and I must agree with some of the criticisms by others commenting on this post that you’re not quite engaging the points they’re making. I believe their frustrations over your repeated missing of the points is valid. Nonetheless, you’re style and temperament is significantly above that of, say, Chucky… and that is appreciated… and it’s why I haven’t been nipping at your heels as well.

    😉

    May I suggest that you entertain a bit more seriously the notion that you simply don’t understand the language your interlocutors are employing? For example, I doubt you understand the difference between univocal terms (those used by the MESs) and analogical terms (those that are used by philosophy, but not at the expense of univocal terms properly used). Take the term “cause”: it’s very clear you employ that term in a very narrow physically-based sense of efficient causality… which further presupposes other terms of art. (And, this is even not to speak of your inability to distinguish between beings of reason [logic terms] and real [extra-mental] beings.)

    I’m not going to take the time to lead you through those terms—not least of all because of what Plato teaches in The Symposium (via the point Diotima makes to Socrates), that one can approach understanding and truth only through a slow and careful ascent. Rather, I suggest you consider the following three, fairly short articles… but, as a first step, I only request you entertain the possibility that the terms used by Adler are fully valid to support the broader points he makes. You may be amazed at how strongly he supports the MESs and the knowledge they generate… and how little he presses beyond their limits, but that that “little” actually makes a world of difference.

    “Is Intellect Immaterial?” (http://www.themoralliberal.com/theradicalacademy/2011/09/06/is-intellect-immaterial/)

    “The Questions Science Cannot Answer” (http://www.themoralliberal.com/theradicalacademy/2011/08/27/the-questions-science-cannot-answer/)

    “The Basic Difference Between Science and Philosophy” (http://www.themoralliberal.com/theradicalacademy/2011/08/25/the-basic-difference-between-science-and-philosophy/)

    Please note that I’m not asking you to agree with Adler (or us). But, if you do disagree, you must make your case in a cogent manner that displays a certain command of the terms employed… something that is woefully lacking in your approach so far. Adhering strictly and obstinately to the univocal language of the MESs may make you the captain of your own philosophical bathtub, but it certainly does little to expose you to the oceans of knowledge out there that are way, way beyond the limits of the natural sciences. “There are more things in heaven and earth, [Lee], than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet I:5)

  148. Holopupenko

    Hi Melissa:

    A small quibble @152: Chemical reactions do not act with intent.

    That is correct, but chemical reactions (actually, the reactants) do act toward an end, that is, they act teleonomically—not teleologically. If they did not act toward an end, in other words, if chemical reactions did not proceed in an orderly manner, there could be no prediction and hence no ability for us to learn about them… and hence no science.

    The “orderliness” is not externally imposed (which means there are no Platonic scientific/chemical laws “obeyed” or “governing” things) but is immanent to the reactants, which is another way of saying it is in the natures of Na and Cl under particular conditions to react to form NaCl. The MESs cannot investigate “orderliness” in its broad sense, and they are utterly blind to “natures.” The MESs describe the physical behavior of material objects very well, and hence provide important but limited insights into the natures of things.

    For example, a biophysicist would describe the ability of a bird to fly through its bone composition, wing structure, and mechanics of air motion. A philosopher would explain that a bird flies because, by its very nature, it is a flying creature. The former provides lots of detailed, quantifiable, and extremely useful information; the latter provides deep insight.

    There are three species of final causality: (1) “simple termination” (rocks falling or chemical reactants reacting), (2) “perfection” (the development of an acorn into a fully-mature oak tree), and (3) “intentio” (rational creatures intentionally acting toward an end through the capacity of reason presenting to the capacity of free will that which it considers “good”). The higher the ontological status of the object considered, the more fully it can engage in these three species. Rocks only “do” (1); plants and brute animals can do (2) as well; humans “do” all three (we can fall off buildings, we grow and mature, we act rationally/intentionally to produce artifacts like statues of David).

    By the way, because I see this error made quite often in these comments, Aquinas’ Fifth Way is most certainly not about “design” as it is misappropriated by, among others, the ID folk. The whole point of the Fifth Way is to explain how “orderliness” in the world points to an “Orderer.” It is God, in other words, who we must thank upon bended knee for our ability to study the real world through the modern empirical sciences.

  149. SteveK

    Lee,
    You said:

    And what is your point? How does that entail that determinism is false?

    The point followed immediately after. You quoted it next. More on that below.

    Knowledge gained through rational process is impossible in a deterministic system because there are no rational process.

    This is supported by…what, exactly? Metaphor? This claim is not self-evidently true, nor does it’s denial lead to contradiction. So presumably there is some deductive argument to prove the impossibility. Would any of you care to share it with me? I’m open to being proven wrong, don’t hoard such secrets!

    One of my particular favorites is the Chinese Room thought experiment. With extreme brevity, the idea is that deterministic systems can manipulate data within the rules of the system, but cannot know what the data means. They can rearrange the symbols (data) according to the rules, but cannot tell you what the symbols mean. You and I know what the data means. Science depends on it.

  150. G. Rodrigues

    @Holopupenko:

    That is correct, but chemical reactions (actually, the reactants) do act toward an end, that is, they act teleonomically—not teleologically. If they did not act toward an end, in other words, if chemical reactions did not proceed in an orderly manner, there could be no prediction and hence no ability for us to learn about them… and hence no science.

    If I read Melissa right she is aware of this, she is just following the materialist’s claims to its logical conclusions to set up a reductio.

    One question though: how exactly are you employing the terms teleonomy and teleology? Does the difference lie in that teleology applies only to rational agents that can intend certain ends and act towards accomplishing them? I am asking this because I have been using the term teleology in the rather neutral sense of acting towards an end, whether it is human beings or any classical system evolving towards a state as described by the principle of least action (which falls under your “terminus” category).

    @Lee:

    Btw, to complement Holopupenko’s references, here is an online course on the philosophy of nature by William Wallace, based on his book “The Modeling of Nature”. I have not had the pleasure to read the book yet, but the course is short, sweet and to the point. Do not know if it will make much sense to you, but I offer it in the hopes that it will help clear your head of the muddled scientism.

    For arguments against determinism see Determinism and Free Will. This is a 3-part critique from a generally Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective.

  151. Lee

    It is imagined, by Tom, later by Melissa, and seemingly endorsed by the rest of you, that our experience of making choices is evidence that we actually do make choices. However, as I have already pointed out, it’s not at all clear why this is inconsistent with determinism, such that it constitutes evidence against determinism. Perhaps I’m just “not getting it”, or perhaps your attempts at elucidating it fall short of convincing for another reason altogether. Something to consider in the spirit of Christian humility.

    Further, all of you seem to have a firm and unalterable grasp on what a physical system could not possibly give rise to, and rational thought is one example. For the vast majority of your comments, this claim is simply assumed by virtue of the absence of a comprehensive explanation as to “how” such a thing could happen, and then the implications are drawn and it is perceived that determinism is DOA. However, as G. Rodrigues adroitly pointed out, “an argument from incredulity is not an argument”.

    That is not to say some attempts at an actual argument along these lines has not surfaced. Deuce, in an earlier comment, pointed to the distinct realms of mathematical laws and meaning, or something to that effect. Adler argued along the same lines with universality, and others have given their versions. Frankly, I don’t know whether these arguments work, and I have quite a bit of homework ahead of me in sorting, or attempting to sort, that out.

    Just to clear the air, I want to reiterate a facet of my position that sometimes gets ignored in order to make a point against me: I did not, nor did Chuck or Prof. Coyne, assert the truth of determinism as proven. Only speaking for myself, I pointed to my reasons for accepting determinism, and pointed out why I don’t think arguments against determinism either prove determinism false (i.e. don’t follow), or don’t provide evidence against determinism in any form that outweighs my reasons for accepting determinism, individually or collectively.

    @153 (my own post):

    That was shamefully snarky, and I’ll simply point out that this was my pre-coffee self, with an apology to you, Melissa. What I saw in your comment was a fallacy of composition, and I should have just said that, rather than jumping straight into ridicule.

    To all of you, it is evident that our discussion has reached an impasse. If I am right about determinism being true, and you are right about determinism being irrational, I am therefore irrational. If you are right about determinism being false, then my belief in determinism is therefore irrational. I cannot help but be irrational, on your view, unless I agree with you, and yet I cannot agree with you unless I find your position the more rational. So I will leave open, in my “mind”, the possibility that I’m just not getting it, and diligently continue my “slow and careful ascent” to truth and understanding, with apologies in advance if I never quite reach the peak of the Christian worldview. We all do the best we can!

    Thank you for having me again, Tom.

    Lee.

  152. Lee

    I forgot to mention, please feel free to tear my closing apart as your hearts desire, or to close yourselves since I appear to be the last contestant. I will be pursuing the links you have provided, and checking back here over the next couple days to see any final thoughts.

    Thanks,

    Lee.

  153. Holopupenko

    G. Rodrigues:

    Thanks for catching my sloppiness. Here’s the clarification: teleology = telos [Gr. “goal”] + logos [Gr. principle of order and knowledge]. This was the catch-all term used by Aristotle when speaking of final causality, but he was very clear that not all final causes are consciously purposeful in the sense of originating in a rational agent (the efficient cause) acting with intent.

    Aristotle’s intention (uh… pun intended) was to explain that final causality is the predetermination of efficient causes to produce definite effects resulting in some relatively stable situation. His famous example is that while an intelligent agent may take tree saplings to intentionally create a human artifact called a bed for the purpose of sleeping in it, if you plant those saplings in the ground, a bed will NOT grow out of the ground, but a tree… and yet that tree has no intention of growing and maturing. (Hence the difference between nominal and substantive definitions of objects.)

    The kind of final causality that involves conscious purpose is, of course, sometimes natural… but only at the level of animal and human life. An animal can be stimulated by food or a potential mate and can thus move toward that goal with some kind of consciousness of its goal. But, only in the case of beings having abstract intelligence can such behavior be called “purposeful” in a strict sense. That’s why some (including myself) choose to distinguish intention animated by abstract knowledge manifested as a final cause as “teleology” from the most general notion of final causality as “teleonomy.”

    My particular sensitivity and preference for this distinction arises from the MESs rejecting final causality as such… even as they most vitally depend on final causality for their predictive and hence epistemic efficacies. On the operational level they really don’t need to explain final causality and the MESs can do their work without it, so as long as scientists just accept that the world is ordered and go about their work describing how the world works, that’s great. But, as soon as they try to stray off their reservation to decry final causality, they do so unscientifically, pseudo-philosophically… and they ironically undermine science itself.

    The notion of of final causality or “teleonomy”, upon which the uniformity and relative stability of the world and the possibility of finding “natural laws” (“law” understood NOT in the prescriptive sense) is based, entails the notion of what is good and bad about it–NOT in a moral sense but in the sense of being constructive of an orderly world for which we can have scientific knowledge… or destructive, leading to a meaningless chaos. The latter, ultimately, is what pinheads like Coyne are all about: they really are anti-human in the sense that they try to eliminate free will… and wind up eliminating science and themselves.

  154. Holopupenko

    Lee:

    I could pursue other points in your last comments, but two in particular demand a response:

    (1) It’s not that we’re opposed to determinism in it’s proper perspective: I, when wearing my science cap, can assure you my job depends on it. But, when I put on my philosopher’s cap, I realize immediately determinism can neither be limited to being driven by physical efficient causality, nor is it the entire story… and for this reason you MUST understand the concept of analogy.

    To say that a sound syllogism [note: we’re in the realm of logical beings] is determined to a true conclusion is absolutely correct; but that kind of determinism is NOT the kind of determinism understood when a cue-ball hits an eight-ball [note: we’re in the realm of natural, extra-mental beings subject to change], the eight-ball’s trajectory is determined physically but NOT logically. Logic is the science and art that helps us wrap our minds around (or guide our minds) the regularity of physical events. To equivocate over the two is not only a non sequitur, it’s altogether ludicrous.

    (2) The conclusion drawn that your “belief” in determinism(interesting choice of words, by the way!) is “irrational” is, if you examine logic, incorrect… and I don’t think anyone here labeled you as “irrational.” Your further claim that you are not considered rational simply for not agreeing with us is also false… and it is a gratuitous swipe. A healthier and kinder approach would be for you to admit you are ignorant of the terms we employ. I also take a bit of issue with you suggesting/implying we aren’t being clear [“your attempts at elucidating it fall short of convincing”]. I dare say the explanations I’ve read here are quite good and clear, but certainly fall short of you taking a formal course in the philosophy of nature, metaphysics, and logic. Cut us a break, dude… but do NOT give up in trying to understand what we’re talking about.

  155. SteveK

    Lee,
    What Holo said above about the kind of determinism is very key. The natural realm has only certain building blocks available to work with. These building blocks limit how a deterministic system might work within that realm.

    Rearrange the building blocks any way you want. Nowhere in that natural realm do we find any deterministic system capable of making the transition/jump to logical determinism, because logical determinism does not work at the level of physical efficient causality. But that’s all the natural realm has to offer.

    So you can either accept determinism and give up the ability to reason, or you can accept what you know to be true – that you *can* reason – dump determinism, and go searching for a worldview that *at least* makes it possible to fit that reality into the picture. Christianity comes to mind 😉

  156. SteveK

    This blog post at STR is sure to spark a debate about ID theory, but that is not why I am linking to it. I just wanted to use it to highlight what Crude said about free will not necessarily being a violation of the known “laws”.

    We don’t think of the action of an agent—whether it be God or someone else—as violating the laws of nature. The laws of nature tell you what ordinarily happens…, provided there’s no interference. If an agent acts, if I lift up the book off the table, I’m not violating the law of gravity, I’m initiating…a new line of causation within the matrix of natural law.
    …………..
    We want to open people’s minds to the whole of reality. The activity of mind acting on nature is part of reality, and the narrow definition of science that says that it’s only a scientific explanation if you refer to a materialistic, or naturalistic, or physical cause, is missing an important aspect of reality. And intelligent design is saying mind is real, minds have causal powers, and we can detect the activity of mind….

  157. Melissa

    I have a question for the philosophers around here. Do you think the fallacy of composition is a valid objection for a materialist to make considering they think that everyday things are nothing but matter, not a composite of matter and form?

  158. G. Rodrigues

    @Melissa:

    I have a question for the philosophers around here. Do you think the fallacy of composition is a valid objection for a materialist to make considering they think that everyday things are nothing but matter, not a composite of matter and form?

    Not a philosopher, but here is my stab at it.

    First, the so called fallacy of composition is an example of an *informal* fallacy, not a formal one. In some cases, arguing from the fact that all the parts have property P than the whole must have the property P is a perfectly valid deduction. A simple example: if the bricks are red then the wall is red is an obviously valid argument. The crux here is that the property in question, red-ness, is what is called an *expansive* property.

    Second, and slightly more generally, it does not suffice to say that this or that argument instantiates a fallacious argument, one must *show* where exactly the fallacy is being committed; this because *every* argument is an instance of a fallacious argument. Consider the simplest deductive rule: modus ponens. In symbolic form we have,

    P, P => Q : Q

    with : standing for logical entailment. The two premises can also be rewritten as a single proposition P and (P => Q). Renaming this proposition by S, the argument takes the form S : Q which is about as fallacious an argument as there is.

    Third, and more to the point; you raise a very interesting question. My first answer is on obvious yes, because independently of whatever inner contradictions materialism has, if the materialist spots a fallacy being committed he has every right to object. My second answer is that there is a loophole in your description: a materialist says that everything is matter, but matter is not just the collection of atoms (or whatever particles one takes as fundamental) but also the specific pattern of causal relationships they establish between them (which is about as close to Form as can be in a materialist world view). My third answer would be that it seems to me that the question points to the fact that there is no coherent sense that can be made of personal identity or self under materialism — there are several arguments that purport to show this, but you probably know them better than me so I will not rehearse them here.

    That is all for now, but if I remember of something else I will post it (this is a threat not a promise).

  159. Josh Postema

    I’m pretty sure he would say, “If they claimed a natural law was violated, they were either deceived, they are deceiving, or they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    Isn’t this the definition of close-mindedness? And here I thought Christians were the ones who were close-minded (according to popular culture).

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