Seeking Clarity in the Faith Debate: My Opponent’s Position As I Understand It

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A few days ago James Lindsay pressed “pause” as he put it, on the “faith discussion.” I took a bit of a breather myself at the same time. He didn’t stay out of it for long, taking opportunity to show his own epistemological inconsistencies, not to mention his condescension. But I have responded to him there already.

I’ve used this pause to reflect. It’s time to seek more clarity in the faith debate. and it seem to me the best way to do that is to state my opponent’s position, not my own. It is a mark of respect, for one thing. It’s also one of the best ways to ensure understanding. I’m expecting that James will tell me I’ve gotten some of this wrong. If so, I’ll have the opportunity to re-adjust and re-calibrate my understanding of his position.

I’m making it my goal to score at least 75% – 80% on this. I’m hoping I understand James’s position at least to that level.

I will remain on a summary level, of course. His posts on this subject have totaled over 20,000 words, so I only intend to hit the most central points of all that. I’ve re-read those posts, taken notes, and organized those notes into natural groupings. Based on that informal analysis, here’s what I understand James to be saying. The numbering is of course mine, not his.

1. Faith is a way of knowing. It is a method of knowing, a means by which the faithful draw conclusions about the nature of reality.

2. Faith is an unreliable way of knowing. Its unreliability is apparent in both its methods, which are disconnected from evidences, and in its results, which lead to multiple contradictory conclusions—various religions, for example.

3. Faith’s disconnection from evidences is most egregious in that it offers no methods by which its conclusions could ever be falsified. Not only does it offer any such method, it resists them.

4. This resistance is a manifestation of various epistemic dysfunctions on the part of the faithful, including confirmation bias, selective attention to evidence, and misattributing evidence.

5. Faith relies on revelation, authority, and tradition, rather than reliable means of knowing.

6. Faith fills in the epistemic gap between what can be known reliably and what the faithful assume (pretend) that they know beyond that point.

7. No way of knowing can be considered reliable unless it:

a. Restricts the confidence it places in its conclusions to what the evidence will support

b. Is supported specifically by statistically assessed methods, including confidence levels

c. Is associated with some means by which it could conceivably be falsified.

8. Christian truth in particular is epistemically suspect because (for reasons James has detailed in his books, not on his blog) the plausibility of God is very near zero; therefore (among other reasons) it is virtually impossible to take seriously any evidences offered in support of Christianity.

9. Those who claim faith are pretending to know what they do not and cannot know. This pretending serves to stabilize their belief, protecting it from disconfirmation. The faithful believe because they want to, not because they have any legitimate reason to believe.

10. The definition of faith therefore legitimately includes “belief without evidence” and “pretending to know what one does not/cannot know. This dual-sided definition is not necessarily the only one (contra Boghossian’s view on that) but it is the only one relevant today, in view of the fact that religious faith necessarily is evidence-free and therefore a pretense at knowledge.

That’s it in short form.

James, have I represented your position fairly? What would you add, subtract, or amend? I’m especially interested in 7b. You spoke this more than once, so I have written it down as something you believe; yet it seems unlikely that you adhere to it in practice, so perhaps you would want to nuance it a bit, at least.

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59 Responses to “ Seeking Clarity in the Faith Debate: My Opponent’s Position As I Understand It ”

  1. If this understanding of faith is true of belief in God isn’t it also true for Dr. Lindsay’s faith position that there is no God. We understand that it’s Dr. Lindsay’s position that the plausibility of God is very near zero but he has no more evidence for that position, if not quite a bit less, than theists do for belief in the existence of God. It’s just another example of trying to define your way to a conclusion rather than reason your way to a conclusion.

  2. I’ve hesitated to respond to this, Tom, because I expect my response to start another avalanche of unproductive squabbling. BillT (#1, above) indicates a bit of what I mean with “Dr. Lindsay’s faith position that there is no God,” which is either a gross misunderstanding or an attempt to troll. Nothing productive is coming out of that kind of commentary, and I’m not interested in getting involved in anything of the sort again.

    At any rate, your take is close. Let me clarify a few matters, per your request. The numbers I’m giving here refer to your ten numbered points, and if I’ve remained silent on any, I generally agree that you’re representing me correctly, mutatis mutandis should any of those items depend upon other corrections. Pardon the length, but I want to be thorough.

    1. The phrase “way to know” is one I should make a minor amendment to, despite that I’ve used the phrase repeatedly. I have used it to mean “way of claiming to know something” or “way to claim knowledge.” I don’t think it is right to confuse it in most cases with a means of investigation or of finding out.

    2. This is fine so long as we don’t have to get into another fruitless discussion of what constitutes evidence. Our usages do not agree as, obviously, you consider the scriptures part of the evidence whereas I consider them part of what is being claimed. From the scriptures, I only take as evidence that which could be gleaned by the historical method and not via theological methods, in particular, and those need not constitute evidence for the contents of the stories. This is true of all historical fiction.

    7. As you may expect, particularly with regard to (b) and (c), this is complicated and has to be treated more carefully than you have treated it if you wish to represent my view accurately.

    There are things that we do call “knowledge,” such as mathematical statements, that do not depend upon statistical confidence. Of course, these kinds of things are abstract and are knowledge held in relation to the underlying axiomatic system. Hence, to call them knowledge about the world requires making a second knowledge claim about them. The claim to know that they represent the world well is dependent upon the degree with which we can say that it is evident that those axioms match the real world.

    So there are two kinds of knowledge claims being made here, and it’s easy to confuse them. There are claims internal to the abstraction (or internal to a story), and then there are claims about how those relate to reality. Since I have noticed a tendency for you to think in absolutes and since you’ve used an absolute in your formulation of (7), I feel like this clarification is important to work through carefully.

    I should note that I don’t think we can rely upon falsification to depend upon claiming that axioms, or that which follow from them, constitute knowledge. Knowledge in relation to the underlying axioms certainly stands or falls with the axioms beneath them, but with the (usually implicit) qualifier “within the axiomatic system A,” a claim like, “I know statement P has truth-value X” is valid. Thus, not all knowledge claims have to be falsifiable, but they must then be qualified against the axioms which carry with them their own (usually implicit) disclaimer about being knowledge.

    Knowledge claims about the the physical world, though, so far as I can tell, require surviving a rigorous falsification process in order to qualify as “justifed” and “true” beliefs–minimum requirements to be “knowledge” going back at least to Plato. These are often still provisional to the model (and thus its assumptions and the axioms underlying the whole of the scientific endeavor).

    One last clarification is needed in (7) as well. I don’t have a problem calling subjective assessments “knowledge” unless they then become statements of broader applicability than to the subject that makes them. You may very well like vanilla ice cream, but for you to make a statement like “I know vanilla ice cream tastes good” carries with it (usually implicit) qualifier of “for me in my subjective experience.” You may also believe you have had a self-authenticating experience of God, and great, good for you. For you to then say “I know God exists” based upon that experience jumps the gap.

    8. This goes a little wide of the mark. There are two things happening here, and you’ve connected them with a “therefore” that only sort of applies.

    Note that Christianity implies the existence of God, but the existence of God does not imply Christianity. This naturally means that whatever the plausibility of God’s existence is, the plausibility of the truth of Christianity, as it presents itself, is necessarily lower. Christianity depends upon God, and this fact I’ve stated is one of basic conditional probability. (Note: An additional complicating factor is that “Christianity” is not a monolith. There are many Christianities.)

    Further, it’s a bit complicated when it comes to evidence, because some of what Christianity could offers as what appears to be clearly demonstrable proof, like a demonstrable efficacy of prayer, could just be evidence of something intrinsic to the belief system being beneficial without reliance on a supernatural agent making it work. Even if something outside of the process were to appear to be absolutely required to explain these things, one would have to distinguish between God and some lesser deity, non-deity supernatural entity, or sufficiently advanced natural entity, which, for any number of reasons might have decided to favor Christians (of one kind or another), caprice, whim, and practical joke not excluded from those.

    I do think that the plausibility of the suggestion (be that axiomatic, presuppositional, or hypothetical) of God’s existence is negligibly low, and so yes, therefore, Christianity has a lot of work to do in order to having its claims taken seriously. I also happen to think there are potentially easy evidences that would strongly support Christianity, and thus probably God.

    On the other hand, I think that even on the presupposition of God’s existence, there are excellent reasons to think Christianity is false on its own. So your use of “therefore” is a bit dodgy if you do not recognize this fact about my thoughts.

    As this is a long point, I’ll summarize it. Yes, I think God is very unlikely to exist and therefore it is very unlikely that any evidence presented as evidence for Christianity is actually that, but I think there are easily plausible potential evidences (which do not manifest) that could change that fact. Further, I think Christianity is false even on a presupposition of God for reasons that obviously have nothing to do with the fact that I don’t think God exists.

    For what it is worth, these would lean far more heavily to the side of history and science than philosophy, although I do think many of the fundamental premises of Christianity are absurd in their own light (e.g. original sin and redemption).

    9. I have a quibble here with the word “want.” Just as I don’t think that pretending to know is intentional, I do not think that wanting to believe is either in many cases. By “want” I am conveying that there are other motivations than the truth of the propositions that lead to regarding them as true. Of course, when people have crises of faith or doubts, or just if bad things happen that remind them of their mortality or the mortality of their loved ones, they often reveal that they do want to believe and say so explicitly.

    Often, I think wanting to believe, carried at a preconscious level, is a very common reason people believe (see Daniel Dennett’s “believing in belief”). There are other reasons, though, like the “Jesus-colored glasses,” for example. If someone’s interpretive schema of the world is built very thoroughly around these beliefs, it may not actually be possible for them to see otherwise until some crack in the apparent coherence of the schema appears (sadly, this often requires a life-jarring event like the sudden death of a parent, sibling, or child).

    10. As Boghossian has repeatedly said, pretending to know something you don’t is the valid analytical understanding of the term “faith” when used in the context of religion. At other times, words like “trust” and “hope” are more accurate, and a disambiguation is required.

    You can grade that to whatever percentage you want. That’s how I’d clarify your take on what I’m saying for you, though. I think you’re pretty on target in 3, 4, 5, and 6.

    As a reminder, I’m not chiding you here or trying to argue my case. I’m simply clarifying my take on what you’ve numbered 1-10.

  3. Hi James,

    I have used it to mean “way of claiming to know something” or “way to claim knowledge.”

    Do you mean that when a person says they have faith in Jesus, that they are saying they believe in Jesus or did you have something else in mind?

  4. James and Tom,

    Thanks for the stimulating discussion. I’m offering just a few preliminary thoughts. First, James is playing fast and loose with the term “claims” to the point that it is nearly impossible to identify the source of any particular claim or collection of claims. This IMO is both rhetorically and intellectually problematic. Who is making a claim is vitally important in order to determine who is responsible for supporting or defending it. This we need to do so that we do not confuse the beliefs held by Christians as individuals with the claims of Jesus Christ on which the religion of Christianity are based. We also need to establish that the claims in the Hebrew Bible are the claims of the ancient Hebrews who wrote it and transmitted it to us today as testimony as to their relationship with God as they understood God.

    So how about examining a specific claim made by Jesus?
    John 4:24 “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

    James, are you willing to concede that there is such a phenomenon or dimension of reality as spiritual existence. Spiritual existence is recognized in the dictionary:

    Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary definition of exists
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exist

    exist:
    a : to have real being whether material or spiritual

    BTW, I do not think that Peter Boghossian has achieved a “disambiguation” of the term “faith” when used in a religious context, nor do I believe that this was his intent.

    JB

  5. Hello Melissa,
    Regarding #4, there is, for me, a lot to unpack in a statement like “I have faith in Jesus.” There is simply a lot contained in that idea.

    There are two immediate meanings that come to mind when someone might say “I have faith in Jesus.” One is simply as you suggest–that they “believe in Jesus”–in the same kind of way a child would believe in Santa Claus. This could be seen as a belief that Jesus is real, which in this context means that Jesus still lives and, probably, interacts in some way with the world or with people in it. This is directly a form of a knowledge claim. They are using faith to directly claim to know that Jesus is as they would articulate him to be (as above). This sort of statement, though, is also likely to be based upon something running deeper, which is the other meaning I’d like to detail.

    Setting that aside, the quickest and most superficial analysis is that the word “faith” here is being used in place of the word “trust” when “trust” is a better word to use: “I trust Jesus.” As a sincere Christian, this phrase, no doubt, resonates with you, and I suspect you’re likely to agree with it. From a perspective outside of Christianity, it requires a lot of unpacking, though, still.

    Allow me to expand my perspective. Trust is not something we usually put in historical or fictional figures. It makes sense for me to trust my wife, or Tom’s sincerity, and it makes sense for me to trust a chair or an airplane (as in Phil Vischer’s attempted explication). It is not, however, possible for me to trust Alexander (historical) or Harry Potter (fictional), or for that matter Confucius (unclear). In particular, if we reject Jesus mythicism (as I tend to do, more or less, at present), a purely historical figure of Jesus (say as a “great teacher”) is not something I can trust, in the “have faith in” sense, though I could put trust in what I called his teachings. Thus, “I trust Jesus” carries with it a lot of religious articles when seen from this perspective.

    This perspective is nonsense to sincere Christians, though, who believe, usually, that Jesus is (a) still alive, and (b) able to interact with the world in some way or another, perhaps just in having personal relationships with people. I consider those to be operative articles of religious faith in which knowledge claims are being made in order to extend “trust” or “faith” in Jesus, bridging the gap from the previous paragraph.

    Another possibility here is that “having faith in Jesus” or “trusting Jesus” means taking him at his alleged (yes, alleged–from the outside, the Bible is a part of the claim Christianity makes about the world) word, say about eternal life, a future Kingdom of God, an offer of various promises (“whatever you pray for in faith…”), etc. The trust is extended based upon articles of religious faith, and it is an expectation based upon those articles that Jesus will keep his word via some manner or another. Observe that the knowledge claims are in the articles of religious faith again: Jesus’ word was valid, the scriptures are accurate, Jesus knew what he was talking about, what Jesus promised is possible, etc., all without even mentioning the biggest one: Jesus is God incarnate. The trust being extended in this use relies upon those claims, which are knowledge claims (often backed by other knowledge claims like that Jesus did this or that, including performing various miracles, the witnesses/testimony that followed, etc.).

    So, when people say that they have faith in Jesus, I think ultimately at one level or another, they are expressing that they accept certain knowledge claims about some figure of Jesus (be that fictional, historical, or theological).

    I hope that clarifies.

  6. Re: Jenna, #5.

    Again, a lot to unpack.

    When I use the word “claim,” I mean what the dictionary says about it: “to state or assert that something is true.” This meaning usually lands on the prior side of proof or evidence. A “claim to knowledge” then is a statement or assertion that knowledge is possessed.

    Let me give you some general advice about the book of John, which gets quoted here a lot. Outside of Christian scholarship, the book of John is considered by far to be the most dubious of the Gospels in terms of relaying accurately anything short a few minor details about Jesus. I base this primarily off Christian historian E.P. Sanders and essentially every non-Christian assessment of the historicity of the Gospel accounts that I have ever read. Thus, to those who have studied the matter and disagree with you, bringing up the Gospel of John is almost like waving a flag that says you are relying upon faith in place of knowledge to make your case.

    I do not want to or intend to discuss that (and will not further). I offered that purely as a heads-up kind of statement that might help you in your future endeavors in dealing with atheists and skeptics. Most of them will think you’re off the rails if you start using the book of John for much of anything. If, to us, the Bible is a claim, the book of John is by far one of the most extraordinary claims in it.

    Now,

    James, are you willing to concede that there is such a phenomenon or dimension of reality as spiritual existence.

    Jenna, you have read my first book. That means you have read Chapter 10 of my book. That means you recognize that I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.” I strongly suspect that the “spiritual dimension” is not of reality at all–it’s a combination of various abstract ideals, mental concepts, and psychological experiences, i.e. it is imaginary and subjective. That isn’t to say it isn’t important to honor and seek the numinous or what gets called the “transcendent,” it’s just that we have no basis upon which to assert that it is transcendent at all. It is no more transcendent than a DMT trip (which I have never experienced, to be clear).

    Thus, no, I do not agree to concede that there is a spiritual dimension to reality, at least not in the sense I expect you mean by that.

    Of course, that means I have to buck the dictionary, but I’m not concerned that the dictionary uses the term “exist” and mentions “spiritual.” I’ll note it doesn’t mention “abstract,” which as a mathematician goes against pretty much every bit of language we use on a regular basis.

    It isn’t the dictionary’s job to pass judgment of the kind necessary to exclude the word “spiritual” when the word has been used to mean exactly that for centuries. As I’ve mentioned before, though, everyone can (and has) been wrong before. That the dictionary gives a nod to the “spiritual” is a reflection that many people give a nod to the “spiritual” and use the word “exist” in that way. On this, I’ll note that the dictionary has definitions for “angel,” “demon,” “genie,” “elf,” and “goblin,” and I don’t accept that any of those have real existence either.

  7. James, RE: #6

    You say in your reply to Melissa that Jesus made “knowledge claims” about God. Indeed he did! So the question of faith in Jesus is this: On what authority did Jesus make claims about God? How do we know that when he spoke of/about God, he knew what he was talking about and spoke the truth? IOW, what did Jesus do to provide us with evidence that he had knowledge of God? And furthermore, what did God do to provide us with evidence of His relationship with Jesus?

    The way in which Christians and non-believers with inquiring minds who seek the truth think critically about these questions is how we come to have faith.

    These are some of the “evidence that I rely on as a Christian:

    1. Jesus had the power to perform miracles. There are accounts of 34 different miracles that Jesus performed in the four canonical gospels.
    Jesus claimed that his power to perform these miracles was (from) God. All of these miracles were miracles of love and healing, characteristics we associate with a loving, merciful God.

    2. Jesus had what I call “superhuman” courage to speak and teach so boldly and with such authority, knowing that he would bring the ire of the secular government and religious authorities down on himself for doing so.

    To be continued…

  8. James, RE: #7

    Two questions come to mind in response to your reply to me:

    1. If you do not accept the reality of spiritual existence, how do you explain the statement that love exists?

    2. If you do not accept the reality of spiritual existence, why do you practice any form of “spirituality” at all?

    And to clarify, my problem is not so much with how you appear to define the term “claim” but your lack of clarity as to the source of a claim. For me, calling a statement a “claim” is associated with formal argumentation, not “ordinary” conversations about beliefs.

    I await your reply. JB

  9. James,

    I want to thank-you for taking the time to respond but I’m still not clear on what exactly you mean by faith being “a way of claiming knowledge” and how what you term faith claims are necessarily any different to normal knowledge claims.

  10. Jenna, #s 8 and 9,

    So the question of faith in Jesus is this: On what authority did Jesus make claims about God?

    Who knows? His own? John’s, the Baptist? Many people have done so. In just the last decade or so, something like 20 people or more have openly proclaimed that they are Jesus returned. On what authority? Joseph Smith claimed to be able to read golden tablets that became the Book of Mormon. On what authority? Muhammad claimed to have been visited by the archangel Gabriel and given the Quran. On what authority? Deepak Chopra talks about God all the time. On what authority?

    The question is irrelevant.

    How do we know that when he spoke of/about God, he knew what he was talking about and spoke the truth?

    I’m quite sure that we don’t know that, no matter how sincere he might have been.

    IOW, what did Jesus do to provide us with evidence that he had knowledge of God?

    A more relevant question is what could Jesus have done to provide us with evidence that he had knowledge of God? This is a far harder and more interesting question that drives far closer to the heart of the matter.

    And furthermore, what did God do to provide us with evidence of His relationship with Jesus?

    Nothing? Who knows?

    If you do not accept the reality of spiritual existence, how do you explain the statement that love exists?

    This isn’t about what I can explain and can’t. I shouldn’t answer this, then, but “we have brains.” I’ll even tempt fate and openly wonder at how on earth “love” is somehow justified by a “spiritual dimension,” because that’s in absolutely no way clear to me, and not just because I don’t know what you’re talking about when you talk about it.

    If you do not accept the reality of spiritual existence, why do you practice any form of “spirituality” at all?

    This is a good question about clarity of my position, so thank you for it. I meditate, usually in a practice called “no mind,” because I believe there is value, based both on experience and corroborative research, in exploring one’s own consciousness, in taking time not to do things, etc.

    I will add that in the states of mind I have reached through this practice, I have had very profound “spiritual” experiences–matching Augustine’s description in his Confessions with surprising precision in some cases. I still do not accept the existence of a “spiritual dimension.” Those experiences, so far as I can tell, were psychological and neurological. They were also fascinating and rewarding. There are other clear psychological/neurological benefits, corroborated by evidence, to meditation, and so I seek to obtain and maintain those. That is it.

    These are some of the “evidence that I rely on as a Christian…

    I don’t want to bother getting into a contest of evidence with you. I’m answering questions here contingent only upon the matter of clarifying my position and understanding of these terms. The questions I’ve answered so far in this comment are meant only to illustrate that and aren’t meant as points for debate.

    I do not find the avenues you find to be sufficient to constitute credible evidence for what they are used to establish. I could go on at length about why, but that is not a fruitful avenue of discussion between people in our respective positions, who disagree on what constitutes evidence. I do not need you to go on at any length, or even to mention, why you find them credible. Because of our fundamentally different perspectives on the matter, this avenue of discussion is closed to us because it ends in impasse.

    Just to be clear in my agreement with you all: When this ceases to be about the requested topic of clarifying my position, I’m done here.

  11. Melissa, #10,

    Without being a bit more specific, I’m shooting in the dark a little on this, but I’ll try to briefly clarify the matter.

    Faith as a way to claim knowledge:
    When I say this, I mean exactly what the words mean. I mean that people are using what they call “faith” as a nontrivial part of the justification for why they are saying that they know something is true.

    I will use an example from another religion, so that I maintain religious context, to illustrate what I mean. I do not intend to suggest that this claim to knowledge is valid, nor do I wish to discuss why Christians do not think it is valid. I will use Hinduism to avoid contention via Islam.

    Hindus have what we would call faith in the doctrines of dharma and karma. Dharma, in very brief, is the role appointed to you in society and life (duty is a very rough, one-word approximation), and it is heavily dependent upon your caste. Karma is a spiritual price paid (or paid off) for failing to keep with your dharma (or for doing exceptionally well at it). When I say that faith is a knowledge claim, I am saying that Hindus assert that they know that dharma isn’t just doctrine but rather is a true fact about the world, and they assert that they know that karma is the price for failing to keep one’s dharma.

    I expect that you do not accept that the Hindus can justifiably say that they know that if one is born a Kshatriya (warrior caste) that one has a duty from beyond this world, their interests, their heritage, or their will to become a soldier, and that they know if they fail to fulfill this duty that they will incur a spiritual price called karma that they know will have repercussions like ill fortune and a worse lot in their subsequent lives (they also claim to know that reincarnation is part of the state of the world).

    If you asked a devout Hindu how she knows this kind of thing, and got to the bottom where an agreement upon terminology is assumed, you would receive an answer that means “faith.” That faith is backed by all kinds of evidences, or so they’re likely to say.

    This is what I mean by faith, in the religious context, being a claim to knowledge.

    How these claims differ from other knowledge claims is pretty apparent when it isn’t your religion and you don’t believe the appeals to their evidences, isn’t it? What lacks? Objective evidence (or a clear and direct appeal to an underlying system of abstractions in which the context is understood).

    Just to make something more clear about this abstraction business: the statements that are knowable within an axiomatic system are themselves abstractions as well. One cannot abstract something into reality. I can, to pull from my own field of mathematics, assert an axiom that guarantees the existence of at least one infinite set (an abstract object that “exists” abstractly), but it is not incumbent upon reality to produce an infinite number of things to be enumerated by that set because I did so.

    In context, if one views karma and dharma as abstractions built upon the acceptance of the axioms that define Hinduism as a worldview (which makes sense when you’re not a Hindu and is simultaneously offensive and nonsense when you are), then you do not think that they are valid “forces,” if you will, of reality. They’re merely attempts used by Hindus to explain reality–and like all explanations, those could be wrong. Thus, they cannot claim to know that they are right.

  12. James to Jenna @7:

    Jenna, you have read my first book. That means you have read Chapter 10 of my book. That means you recognize that I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.” I strongly suspect that the “spiritual dimension” is not of reality at all–it’s a combination of various abstract ideals, mental concepts, and psychological experiences, i.e. it is imaginary and subjective. That isn’t to say it isn’t important to honor and seek the numinous or what gets called the “transcendent,” it’s just that we have no basis upon which to assert that it is transcendent at all. It is no more transcendent than a DMT trip (which I have never experienced, to be clear).

    So what is your argument here, James?

    1. I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.”

    2. I strongly suspect that the “spiritual dimension” is not of reality at all–it’s a combination of various abstract ideals, mental concepts, and psychological experiences, i.e. it is imaginary and subjective.

    3. Therefore, the “spiritual dimension of reality” does not exist. (?)

    Actually, as far as I can see, you could simplify the argument by dropping premise #2 and replacing it with #3 (call it 2A):

    1. I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.”

    2A. Therefore, the “spiritual dimension of reality” does not exist.

    Or, you could simply say:

    1. I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.”

    Which is not really an argument. It’s just making an assertion or stipulating something.

    But surely you don’t expect anyone else to be convinced by you by your just stipulating what is true and not true– do you?

    Furthermore, how can you enter another persons private subjective state and tell them what is true and what is not true? Isn’t that pretending to know something that you do not know?

    It still mystifies me how anyone, beginning from a naturalistic epistemological framework, can argue that his personal opinions and beliefs apply to anyone else but himself.

  13. JAD, #13, I’m not making arguments. I’m making my position clear. I’m not interested in arguing on this site anymore and will not be participating in that activity.

    I will not be responding to any further comments of this kind from you, and per my clear agreement made above, the same goes (except for a gentle first-time reminder) for all other commenters.

    If you would like for me to clarify something I’ve written because you don’t understand it (as appears to be the case), I’m more than willing.

  14. James, RE: #19

    In reference to your ‘spiritual’ (your use of quotation marks, not mine) experiences, perhaps you will remember the the “bone I have to pick” with you from my review of your book on amazon.com regarding the work of Abraham Maslow. You might remember this quote from Maslow’s (1971) book, “Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences.”

    “.. to the extent that all mystical or peak experiences are the same in their essence and have always been the same, all religions are the same in their essence and have always been the same. They should, therefore, come to agree in principle on teaching that which is common to all of them, i.e. whatever it is that peak-experiences teach in common (whatever is different about these illuminations can fairly be taken to be localisms both in time and space, and are, therefore, peripheral, expendable, not essential) …we may call [these] the “core-religious experience” or the “transcendent experience.” (p. 20)

    Maslow also calls by these “peak experiences” by these names: revelation, ecstasies, spiritual, transcendent or core-religious experiences and “glimpses of heaven.” Maslow proposes that when we strip away all of the cultural, linguistic, religious traditions’ symbolism and metaphors for describing these experiences to each other, what remains is the very core from which all religions spring and which give meaning to our lives. I have found this statement to be borne out by the research on mystic experiences, such as in these books:

    William P. Alston (1991). Perceving God: The epistemology of religious experience.

    Eugene d’Aquili & Andrew Newberg (1999). The mystical mind: Probing the biology of religious experience.

    Andrew Newberg, Eugene d’Aquili & Vince Rause. (2001). Why God won’t go away: Brain science and the biology of belief.

    Alston’s book, for example, analyzes the practice of Christian mysticism.

    So my questions for you are these: Why is it that you describe your own spiritual experiences as having “benefits” beyond the experiences themselves, yet reject the notion that people of faith, such as Augustine, find that these experiences benefit our faith development? Or do you simply disapprove of the fact that we Christians describe and report these experiences using the imagery, symbolism and lexicon of our Christian faith?

  15. James,

    Thanks for your explanation. That makes sense. So is it your position that all worldviews or systems that claim to know anything about the nature of reality bridge the gap with faith. If not, what is the main difference, in your view, between claims, that, for instance “classical theism is true” as against the claim “naturalism is true”.

  16. you simply disapprove of the fact that we Christians describe and report these experiences using the imagery, symbolism and lexicon of our Christian faith

    I think this should be clear from the fact that he explicitly says that he has had transcendent experiences, otherwise he would deny that he had those experiences at all, contradicting himself. It is a leap to say that, because I had a transcendent experience, therefore I know that material reality is not all there is. Explanations exist on naturalism for these experiences that fit the evidence and are not contradictory, so Occam’s Razor leads us to conclude that it is unnecessary to posit the existence of supernatural realms.

  17. James, you are exactly right to hold the line wherever you wish, and to make this a discussion for clarifying your position rather than arguing it. Maybe you didn’t notice, however, that when JAD wrote a response to an argument in #13, it was because you had given every appearance of having made an argument. I’ll explain by quoting what you wrote, including some words in italics that you could have used to change it from an argument (which I think it was) to a genuine statement of position (which you probably intended it to be):

    Jenna, you have read my first book. That means you have read Chapter 10 of my book. That means you recognize that I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.” I strongly suspect that the “spiritual dimension” is not of reality at all–it’s a combination of various abstract ideals, mental concepts, and psychological experiences, i.e. it is imaginary and subjective. That isn’t to say it isn’t important to honor and seek the numinous or what gets called the “transcendent,” it’s just that I hold the position that we have no basis upon which to assert that it is transcendent at all. In my view it is no more transcendent than a DMT trip (which I have never experienced, to be clear).

    Absent those insertions, you have claims about reality and conclusions that you draw from those claims. That was the argument you actually wrote, to which JAD was responding.

    Recognizing that, it’s perfectly appropriate for you to stop that short at any time and make this a clarifying thread rather than an argument thread. I just thought that what was going on there could use some clarifying as well, so that perhaps the same thing might not need to happen again.

    (I edited that a few times after publishing. It’s harder than it appears. That is, it’s not all that easy to transform someone else’s argument into a mere statement of their position without muddying it up, distorting their intent, or putting words in their mouth. I hope I succeeded in treating it fairly. The big question was whether the final statement should be treated as a conclusion or just a re-statement of the preceding, since in effect it is both. I finally settled on treating it more as a re-statement, less as a conclusion.)

  18. @JAD in 13:

    I think my last comment deals with your claim, but essentially it’s one thing to claim that spiritual experiences exist, and quite another to claim that supernatural realms exist. The first does not necessitate the second, so additional evidence would need to be provided to explain how we could know that supernatural realms existed. Not to start an argument about whether this evidence exists, just to clarify the position.

    Sam Harris has a book coming out this year on secular spirituality, which should be exciting. If anyone’s interested, on his website there are some guided meditations, to get a taste for how non-Christians describe these spiritual experiences.

  19. Oisin:

    it’s one thing to claim that spiritual experiences exist, and quite another to claim that supernatural realms exist. The first does not necessitate the second, so additional evidence would need to be provided to explain how we could know that supernatural realms existed.

    Naturalism does not win by default here, “additional evidence would need to be provided to explain how” matter and energy acting alone can somehow create conscious and “spiritual” states. The argument cuts both ways. The burden of proof is equally shared.

  20. Aristotle observed that:

    Before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.

    So this will be another installment in “unproductive squabbling”, which is I suppose, Mr. Lindsay’s term for his ignorance being proved, his assumptions being questioned, his “arguments” being shown bankrupt.

    So what is Mr. Lindsay preaching in his long comment? There is ample room for wholesome destruction, but I will stick to his supposed clarification of Tom’s point 7, and even then I will not uncover all the holes (and there are many, believe you me). According to him there are two kinds of knowledge, and ever so willing to help us out in our difficulties, he adds “it’s easy to confuse them” because it seems, of the tendency to “think in absolutes”. There is mathematical-like knowledge, which is knowing what follows from what, and knowledge, as he says it, “that they represent the world well”. Of this he says, and again I will quote him:

    Knowledge claims about the the physical world, though, so far as I can tell, require surviving a rigorous falsification process in order to qualify as “justifed” and “true” beliefs–minimum requirements to be “knowledge” going back at least to Plato. These are often still provisional to the model (and thus its assumptions and the axioms underlying the whole of the scientific endeavor).

    The first and rather obvious comment is how sloppy and ignorant it all is. But I suppose that Mr. Lindsay is just following Mr. Boghossian’s advice: “avoid facts”. One instance: falsifiability came into the philosophical parlance with Popper and has little to do with what justifies, or warrants a belief. Another instance: Mr. Lindsay swaps “reality” with “physical world” in the above quote. If Mr. Lindsay means by “physical world” what the rest of us mean by it, then he has just said that whatever knowledge we have of God is not falsifiable, but then why does falsifiability even matter? If by “reality” he means extra-mental reality at large then what does “falsifiability” mean?

    Second this model of knowledge is flat-out wrong. As regards mathematics, axioms do *not* have the role he supposes them to have, or at least not always — but I will not press this point, for then I will have to hear again about “treating axioms as if they were self-evident” or some such. It is false as the case of History readily shows. And if he wants to stretch falsifiability to cover History, then falsifiability looses whatever original Popperian traces it had and becomes a meaningless word. It is false as regards say physics, where there are “second order” laws whose role is to unify and explain, in the sense of entailment, the “first-order” experimental laws, and are justified not only by their instrumental role, by other basic theoretical principles. So for example, if you open up a QM book you will hear the standard formalism explained in several steps starting with:

    (1) the state space of a quantum system is (the projective space of) a complex Hilbert space

    So we have on one side of the equation the “real thing”, e.g. quantum systems, and on the other theoretical artifacts, “state space”, and abstract, mathematical objects, “complex Hilbert space”. It is meaningless to say that (1) is falsifiable as a little bit of thought will reveal, so it must be an axiom. But on the other hand it quite obviously relates to reality. Now what?

    But even as it regards mathematics he is telling us that mathematics is not knowledge of the “world”. But knowledge is always knowledge *of something*. A something is not nothing, but is being. So mathematics is knowledge of mathematical being. If by “world”, Mr. Lindsay means the extra-mental common field of experience we usually call reality, then this can only mean that mathematical being is a pure conception of our own minds, so for example, he must believe mathematical Platonism is false. How does he know that? He will not deign to inform us because he will not “discuss metaphysics” as it is unproductive. And of course, he cannot play the epistemological card to defeat Platonism for quite obviously we do know about mathematical being, people just have different takes on the status of mathematical being. Now suppose Platonism is true — I myself do not think it is, but just grant it for the sake of argument. Then it follows that there exist objects that are abstract, not localized in space-time and causally inert of which we can have real knowledge. Boom, there implodes his whole “case”. More generally, he cannot even answer *any* epistemological question for what we can know and how we can know follows from what exists; epistemology follows ontology and ontology, or the inventory of what exists or possibly exists, is a division of metaphysics. And if he wants to invert the apothegm, then he owes us an argument and such an argument will *inevitably* land us in metaphysics — which he has assured us cannot be decided at all, which can only mean that he is pretending to know what he does not know.

    As a corollary, consider that Mr. Lindsay has presented us a model of knowledge. If, to use his sloppy terminology, it is only “internal to the abstraction”, unless he wants to defend his “axioms”, we should pay no more heed to it as to stories about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But to defend them, he would have to step into the metaphysical battlefield — but he has already assured us that that is unproductive. If on the other hand, he is making a claim about reality, about that corner of reality we call knowing subjects and knowledge, then what “rigorous falsification process” did it survive? Quite obviously, none as in zero, zilch, nada. In other words, he is just pretending to know what he does not know.

  21. I have just now deleted a comment of my own, because I gave it further thought and decided it would be in poor judgment to pursue this discussion in that direction.

    I am pretty much done with interacting directly with Boghossian (for now at least) and Lindsay (for good, probably, unless something interesting and new comes up). James has been telling me all along that Boghossian’s definitions for faith are correct, and that the real question was never linguistic (as I had said) but evidential. So in accordance with his request, and also because it takes me on a positive turn at last after all this interaction with atheists, soon I will be doing as he wanted me to do all along: working on evidences.

    As I do so, I need to express my appreciation to both of them for clarifying the language all of us must use. Together, we are about to explore whether there is any evidence for beliefs for which there is no evidence, or whether there could be any basis for knowing that which I am pretending to know and cannot know.

    It promises to be a most fruitful discussion, especially when it’s framed in the manner in which they insist it should be framed. James asked for it, and over the next few weeks I’ll be trying to make it happen.

  22. Not as a parting shot, but let me just add a last bit of clarity.

    I’ll pretend for the moment that Rodrigues is right (I don’t think so). I’m ignorant, by his account. That is my point. If I’m wrong, I will be corrected about it. I am not married to my beliefs or assessments of reality. That is the whole point. So Rodrigues is right that I’m ignorant (though I’m not sure I’m ignorant about what he says I’m ignorant about), but in saying so, he proves nothing that diminishes my point at all. I know I could be wrong. I accept that. I have accepted that for decades. As a direct result of that, I no longer believe in God and, long before that, left Christianity.

    That he, and others, somehow take what I am saying as an assertion that I know I am right merely reveals that that is how he, and they, are treating their assessments of the world.

  23. James:

    That he, and others, somehow take what I am saying as an assertion that I know I am right merely reveals that that is how he, and they, are treating their assessments of the world.

    So you want us to assess the world exactly like you do, even though you don’t know your assessment is correct? Or, is it the one thing that you do know that is correct (your assessment of the world)?

  24. And as a bit of clarification on my part, I find Mr. Lindsay’s clarification utterly baffling.

    Leaving aside what strikes me as the disproportionate importance that he gives to me (as compared to the numerous *similar* arguments made by other commenters), my claim is simply that Mr. Lindsay is wrong; some of what he believes, of what he takes to be the case, is wrong. He somehow transmutes it into an assertion that

    somehow take what I am saying as an assertion that I know I am right

    What does this mean? That I am claiming that Mr. Lindsay believes with indefeasible certainty that his claims are right? Of course not. This is a red herring; such degree of confidence in our knowledge cannot be had in this life, which for someone like Mr. Lindsay that only believes in this life, can only mean that it cannot be had. What then?

    He concedes being wrong for the sake of argument and that that somehow validates his point. What point? That he accepts that he *could* be wrong? So do I. Even on mathematical matters. To give one among a score of examples, not long ago I thought that the Boolean prime ideal (BPI) was equivalent to the axiom of finite choice (ACF). It is easy to prove that BPI implies ACF and I jotted down a proof of the converse and inserted it as an aside to some lectures I was writing. Well, not only I was ignorant (there are ZF models where ACF holds but not BPI) the proof contained a critical flaw. I mean, what does it cost anyone to admit that he *could* be wrong? Absolutely nothing. So why even admit it? To put on airs of “doxastic openness”?

  25. James, also not as a parting shot, but I can’t imagine which Christianity you left when you left Christianity. Here’s why I say that. Christianity—which I’ll de-limit as “creedal” Christianity, that which accepts the creeds of the early seven or so Church councils—is about the greatness of Jesus Christ, God come to earth in the flesh, the pre-eminent teacher of morality and wisdom. Creedal Christianity recognizes that he came of his own choice, suffered enormously of his own free will, and died of his own free will. Unlike every other human being who ever lived, his choice to do all that was completely his own (Phil. 2:5-8).

    Creedal Christianity takes it as true that he was “the man for others,” the one person in all history with the power to do whatever he chose, and who never used that extraordinary power for himself, but only for others. He was the one person who laid down his life for others—the greatest way a person can demonstrate love—when he didn’t have to die in the first place.

    That’s what Christianity is about at its very core. You may regard all this as false, but it is what Christianity is.

    Christianity as you seem to understand it, however, sees these claims as not only false but (additionally) “offensive” to “teachers, lovers, volunteers, and leaders.” So it seems to me your understanding of Christianity is that we follow someone whom to call “extraordinary” is not just historically false but offensive to others who have also taught, loved, given, and led; since after all, what he reportedly did wasn’t all that much of a big deal compared to what they do.

    No. What he reportedly did was a very, very big deal compared to what anyone else does; and to say so could hardly be offensive to anyone who takes a close look at what he reportedly did.

    You will wiggle out of this by saying he didn’t do what he reportedly did. But you had already said that: “I won’t dwell or elaborate, but I urge taking a look at the no other persons’ part to realize how utterly unlikely to be true they are.” And then you added, “Also notice how offensive they are likely to be to teachers, lovers, volunteers, and leaders.” Not just false, but offensive on top of that.

    The distinction is real. Consider this statement: “The claim that Superman was more powerful than an Olympic weightlifter is not only false, but also offensive to weightlifters.” Actually, no, it isn’t. No weightlifter would be put off in the slightest by that. Do you see how saying that would display a misunderstanding of Superman? Do you see how your assessment of Jesus displays a misunderstanding of him as well, apart from the question of whether he was real? Do you see then how it also displays a misunderstanding of Christianity?

    Again I say, if you walked away from a religion where comparing Jesus with teachers etc. today would be offensive to them, then I don’t know what you walked away from. I don’t know what you think Christianity is now. The greatness of Jesus Christ is at the center of our beliefs. If you reject a “Christianity” with an ordinary Christ, then you do not know what you’re talking about when you speak of our beliefs. This is prima facie evidence that you do not know, you are only pretending to know, what Christianity really is.

    I hope you’ll at least lurk around the edges as I move forward to explaining what real Christianity is, and why we’re confident in it.

  26. @JAD:

    Naturalism does not win by default here, “additional evidence would need to be provided to explain how” matter and energy acting alone can somehow create conscious and “spiritual” states. The argument cuts both ways. The burden of proof is equally shared.

    Well we have evidence that the natural world exists, so there is that.

    For a good modern account of consciousness, I’d recommend Daniel Dennett’s ‘Consciousness Explained’, where he sketches a model of how the various natural disciplines can provide a potential explanation for consciousness (drawing on neuroscience and neurology, biology and evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology, computer science, and philosophy). It’s complicated, and counter-intuitive, but it is pretty empirical and wholly natural, though further testing is required before we can call it a true theory.

    Personally I consider the supernatural account to be hand-waving, positing mysteries unsolvable by science where scientific explanations actually exist and bring us closer to a full account of the phenomenon. With any kind of dualism, it simply isn’t possible to scientifically integrate the concept of the spirit with the material of the nervous system without essentially getting rid of lots of the most evidentially-based physics we have, and using omnipotence to explain the difficult bits that are hard to explain.

    Questions like, “How do drugs or brain damage affect the reasoning processes of the spirit?”, are simply non-sequiturs.

    Why not ask a more interesting question like, “How could God cause humans to become conscious via evolutionary processes alone?”, at least you could come up with scientific answers here and maybe get some rigorous definitions of consciousness at the very least.

  27. Oisin:

    Well we have evidence that the natural world exists, so there is that.

    How do you know that the world we observe isn’t a complete illusion?

    For a good modern account of consciousness, I’d recommend Daniel Dennett’s ‘Consciousness Explained’, where he sketches a model of how the various natural disciplines can provide a potential explanation for consciousness… It’s complicated, and counter-intuitive, but it is pretty empirical and wholly natural, though further testing is required before we can call it a true theory.

    A lot of further testing, research and basic understanding is required… So to believe in naturalism I have to make a leap of faith? How is that better than religion? Arguing that you or anyone else knows what science will some day be able to explain or do is no better than science fiction.

    Personally I consider the supernatural account to be hand-waving, positing mysteries unsolvable by science where scientific explanations actually exist and bring us closer to a full account of the phenomenon. With any kind of dualism, it simply isn’t possible to scientifically integrate the concept of the spirit with the material of the nervous system without essentially getting rid of lots of the most evidentially-based physics we have, and using omnipotence to explain the difficult bits that are hard to explain.

    That is a complete caricature of what I believe. I put virtually no limits on science. Science is free, within certain ethical limits, to investigate anything it wishes. However, it’s nothing but hubris that you or anyone else knows what science will someday discover and be able to explain.

    If you believe that naturalism is only possible way to explain anything then you are going to have to demonstrate convincingly that it is. Otherwise you are the one who is dismissing alternative explanations with a wave of the hand.

  28. How do you know that the world we observe isn’t a complete illusion?

    It’s an assumption, based on the fact that positing a “real” reality outside of what we observe would be exponentially more complex than what we do observe, parsimony would lead us to pick the simplest explanation but it wouldn’t be 100% certain. None of my beliefs are based on 100% certainty, but I would consider them to be mostly in the high 90s or else requiring a change.

    A lot of further testing, research and basic understanding is required… So to believe in naturalism I have to make a leap of faith? How is that better than religion?

    We cannot check if supernatural claims are true because they are designed to not be open to inquiry, they do not make testable predictions and so are pseudoscientific. Dennett’s explanation is a hypothesis based on the results of lots of different experiments, the results of each of which are facts, and he uses them to sketch a natural explanation for a difficult phenomenon, with details about how to improve upon his claims and check to see if he’s right. He is probably right or close because he relies on facts that are not in a position of uncertainty, his explanation fits the facts and did not make unjustified leaps of logic.

    Dualism has not got any evidence supporting its claims, except for philosophical arguments that have been widely attacked and in many cases discredited. I am aware you are probably not a Cartesian dualist, but more nuanced types still have no predictions to test, so are still unscientific (not open to outside enquiry).

    Further, questions like the ones I asked earlier are completely baffling to dualism (drugs/brain damage), it is simply a weak explanation without factual foundation.

    My uncertainty is not equal to yours, in this case, in terms of probability.

  29. Oisin,

    Dualism has not got any evidence supporting its claims, except for philosophical arguments that have been widely attacked and in many cases discredited.

    Would you be able to point me in the direction of a good refutation of Ross argument for the immateriality of thought?

    Thanks.

  30. @Melissa:

    I’m not familiar with the work, but if the mind is not material, how does it relate to the material of the brain?

  31. How do you know that the world we observe isn’t a complete illusion?

    It’s an assumption, based on the fact that positing a “real” reality outside of what we observe would be exponentially more complex than what we do observe, parsimony would lead us to pick the simplest explanation but it wouldn’t be 100% certain. None of my beliefs are based on 100% certainty, but I would consider them to be mostly in the high 90s or else requiring a change.

    1. If the world is a complete illusion, is parsimony even applicable?

    2. Viewing the world as illusion could easily be viewed as more parsimonious.

    3. How do you make a judgement about what percentage certainty you have on “this world is not an illusion”?

    We cannot check if supernatural claims are true because they are designed to not be open to inquiry, they do not make testable predictions and so are pseudoscientific.

    Pseudoscientific? No, they simply do not fall within the scope of science.

    A pseudoscientific claim is one that claims to be scientific but isn’t.

  32. Ed Feser illustrates some of Ross’ thinking in the following article.

    To demonstrate what Ross means by the immateriality of thought, Feser asks us to consider “the English sentence ‘Snow is white’

    you are typically going to have to express it via some material medium — ink marks, pixels, sound waves, or what have you. All the same, the meaning of that sentence cannot be accounted for in terms of any of the physical properties of those media. There is nothing in the shapes of the letters that make up the words of the sentence, or the chemistry of the ink in which they are written, or the physics of the compression waves in the air that you generate when uttering them, that makes them refer to snow or to whiteness or indeed to anything at all. A sentence is a seamless unity of the material and the immaterial, and it is created by another seamless unity of the material and immaterial — a human being.

    …whatever a thought is, it cannot in principle be reduced to the physical properties of brain activity, is simply to provide another example of an aspect of reality that cannot be entirely captured in such language. Only if we assume that all of reality must be so captured will this sound odd, but that we should not assume this is, of course, precisely the point. And if we do assume it, we are doing so in the face of the evidence, and not on the basis of the evidence.

    But doesn’t neuroscience show that there is a tight correlation between our thoughts and brain activity? It does indeed. So what? If you smudge the ink you’ve used to write out a sentence or muffle the sounds you make when you speak it, it may be difficult or impossible for the reader or listener to grasp its meaning. It does not follow that the meaning is reducible to the physical or chemical properties of the sentence. Similarly, the fact that brain damage will seriously impair a person’s capacity for thought does not entail that his thoughts are entirely explicable in terms of brain activity.

  33. bigbird:

    1. If the world is a complete illusion, is parsimony even applicable?

    2. Viewing the world as illusion could easily be viewed as more parsimonious.

    3. How do you make a judgement about what percentage certainty you have on “this world is not an illusion”?

    If the world is an illusion, then we can talk about parsimony within the illusion withour being self-contradictory.

    An illusory universe requires a super-universe to exist within, something there is no evidence for and is by necessity more complex than the illusory universe.

    The judgement comes from the amount of and quality of the evidence supporting the hypothesis.

    Pseudoscientific? No, they simply do not fall within the scope of science.

    A pseudoscientific claim is one that claims to be scientific but isn’t.

    Claims about reasoning processes and how the brain works fall within the scope of science, so claims about the immateriality of mind are pseudoscientific. There are few claims that fall outside the scope of science, and they usually exist due to malformed questioning rather than a limitation of science itself.

    JAD:

    I notice you ignored my question, which should be noted, because the argument is that the immateriality of mind is a better explanation for the behaviour of the mind than the scientific, naturalistic.

    Thank you for finding that, though.

    There is nothing in the shapes of the letters that make up the words of the sentence, or the chemistry of the ink in which they are written, or the physics of the compression waves in the air that you generate when uttering them, that makes them refer to snow or to whiteness or indeed to anything at all. A sentence is a seamless unity of the material and the immaterial, and it is created by another seamless unity of the material and immaterial — a human being.

    Poor logic, words on paper do not contain meaning, therefore the meaning is not contained in any material anywhere.

    The naturalistic claim is that the meaning is contained in the brain of the observer, of course, and Dennett’s work sketches how language generation works in the brain, for example.

    To support this immaterial mind argument:

    How do the eyes present the words on the paper to the immaterial mind? At what point in the process does the information go from the neurons to the mind?

    There is no answer, because the premise that an immaterial mind exists is unjustified.

  34. If the world is an illusion, then we can talk about parsimony within the illusion withour being self-contradictory.

    ? If everything is an illusion, it doesn’t matter what you think is or is not more parsimonious. If your illusion includes the idea that more parsimonious concepts are more likely, then parsimony is of no help (not that it is much anyway, merely being a rule of thumb).

    An illusory universe requires a super-universe to exist within, something there is no evidence for and is by necessity more complex than the illusory universe.

    Being a brain in a vat does not require a super-universe. It just requires a brain and a vat in a universe with not much else.

    The judgement comes from the amount of and quality of the evidence supporting the hypothesis.

    What evidence? If the world is an illusion, your evidence is part of that illusion.

    Claims about reasoning processes and how the brain works fall within the scope of science, so claims about the immateriality of mind are pseudoscientific.

    Claims about the immateriality of mind are philosophical, not pseudoscientific.

    There are few claims that fall outside the scope of science, and they usually exist due to malformed questioning rather than a limitation of science itself.

    There are many, many claims that fall outside the scope of science. Your statement above is one of them.

  35. Oisin,

    Naturalism is a philosophical world view which makes metaphysical claims. It is no more scientific than theism. Naturalism assumes that natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe and life, including the emergence of self-conscious intelligent life. You cannot prove the assumptions upon which naturalism rests scientifically.

  36. bigbird:

    Being a brain in a vat does not require a super-universe. It just requires a brain and a vat in a universe with not much else.

    You have zero understanding of just how complex that setup would be, the sheer volume of predictive power and detail required would be phenomenal, you would need to generate the illusory universe, you would need to predict the intended behaviour of the brain such that every time it behaved in a certain way it would perceive its environment and bodily perceptions in a way that made sense to it and did not confuse or contradict itself. You would need a conscious designer of such a set-up, which would by necessity by ridiculously complex to the point that it could predict the behaviour of the brain, and also the rest of the universe that the brain is perceiving, in such a way that the brain perceived laws and regularity all of the time.

    “Claims about reasoning processes and how the brain works fall within the scope of science, so claims about the immateriality of mind are pseudoscientific.”

    Claims about the immateriality of mind are philosophical, not pseudoscientific.

    Contradiction is not the same as argumentation. To convince me (which is possible in principle, I am always watching to see if I’m wrong about things, and modifying my beliefs accordingly), you do need to actually explain why I’m wrong….

    JAD:

    Naturalism assumes that natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe and life, including the emergence of self-conscious intelligent life

    Naturalism is continually being proved by induction.

    In principle, science is not opposed to the existence of the supernatural, however after hundreds of years absence of evidence does end up as evidence of absence… Unless you have some evidence now! 😀

    Anyhow we could be wrong about consciousness, for example Dennet’s account describes consciousness naturalistically, with qualifiers about how to prove the model right or wrong, what testing needs to be done to figure out the details. If it was found that the brain was not all that was needed for a mind to work, then you might have a chance at immaterialism. I have never seen such evidence, and to make philosophical arguments about immaterial realms without evidence is simply presuppositionalism (to coin a very awkward phrase… :P).

  37. Actually, Oisin, there are sober and reliable reasons put forth by sober and reliable thinkers, suggesting that the sheer improbability of our universe arising from natural causes is far greater than the sheer improbability of what’s called a Boltzmann Brain. Very interesting topic for speculation.

  38. Oisin,

    My axiom about the universal intelligence question is this: If it takes intelligence to figure out how it works, it took intelligence to design and make it.

  39. Tom:

    Problem is that the very beginning of the universe requires one single improbable event, at a point when time did not exist.

    A Boltzmann brain would require coincidence after coincidence, each one at the scale of Planck time. In statistics, the probability of each event needs to be multiplied by each other.

    Even if the beginning of the universe had a probability of one in a thousand trillion, a Boltzmann brain’s probability would be too low to calculate, each multiply would be exponential, to the point of absurdity. Unfortunately there aren’t Planck-scale units of probability, but let’s pretend there is here….

  40. My axiom about the universal intelligence question is this: If it takes intelligence to figure out how it works, it took intelligence to design and make it.

    That is a presupposition, nothing more. I’m not a mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as an axiom, axioms need to be self justifying, right?

  41. Jenna:

    Your statement, reformulated: “If something is really complex, something even more complex must have made it that complex”.

  42. Oisin:

    Naturalism is continually being proved by induction.

    Induction cannot be used to make universal claims, (e.g., you cannot assume that all swans are white, even if that is all you’ve ever observed) so science cannot be used to establish a philosophical world view which makes universal claims.

    In principle, science is not opposed to the existence of the supernatural, however after hundreds of years absence of evidence does end up as evidence of absence… Unless you have some evidence now!

    There is a lot of evidence for God’s “existence”. However, it’s a category error to treat God– an eternally existing (or self existing) transcendent Being– as just another existing thing in the universe. A number of theologians– Tillich, Sproul and Schaeffer(I think)– have said that God does not exist, if you are thinking of existence in the way people, planets or even the entire universe exists. Everything we know about and observe in the world around us is contingent and temporal. God on the other hand, is the ground of being or the ultimate Being. He is what explains everything else.

  43. Oisin,

    It is not my intention to get involved in the debate over the meaning of “axiom.” I use the word to convey its accepted meaning in the vernacular, not in the sciences. If I offend, I apologize.

    On-line dictionary definition at http://www.audioenglish.org/dictionary/axiom.htm

    The noun AXIOM has 2 senses:

    1. a saying that is widely accepted on its own merits
    2. (logic) a proposition that is not susceptible of proof or disproof; its truth is assumed to be self-evident

  44. JAD:

    Induction cannot be used to make universal claims

    It can be used to make probabilistic universal claims, that’s all I care about. If no-one had seen a swan that was not white in 200-300 years then we could make a claim, though it couldn’t be proven 100%.

    There is a lot of evidence for God’s “existence”. However, it’s a category error to treat God– an eternally existing (or self existing) transcendent Being– as just another existing thing in the universe.

    God on the other hand, is the ground of being or the ultimate Being. He is what explains everything else.

    Now we are into semantics: “Which God?”.

    Note that I am not an atheist, I am Gnostic (though not traditional), the Gods I argue against are the ones that directly interfere with the temporal universe. These are illusory, in my view, miracles simply do not occur (based on inductive reasoning, lack of evidence etc..). I think it is a mistake to call God a “being”, because it is absolutely nothing like humans, it does not want or need, it is not happy or sad, saying it is intelligent or conscious is even a mistake. On Gnosticism, we are parts of God, achieving Gnosis and coming to knowledge of our true transcendental nature. The works we use to achieve Gnosis are myths, suggestive of the transcendent nature of the sum of reality.

    Jenna:

    Refer to my comment #45, and you will see why I think you do not have an axiom there.

  45. Oisin,

    In my comment #47, I gave you a dictionary definition of axiom that provides two definitions. Which one do you think does not apply to my statement? Can you give me some examples from ordinary life, or from science, of where intelligence is not involved in figuring out how something works? Then maybe we can eliminate the possibility that it took intelligence to make it.

    I know from my own life experience that it takes intelligence to make (create) something new, which I only do when I have a purpose for doing so, and that I design (through my intelligence) what I make before I make it. But then, I’m not a Gnostic, and perhaps your reality is different from mine.

  46. Jenna,

    perhaps your reality is different from mine.

    Do I even need to reply to that?

    What is the difference between your statement:

    If it takes intelligence to figure out how it works, it took intelligence to design and make it.

    and my statement:

    “If something is really complex, something even more complex must have made it that complex”.

    Your statement is neither:

    1. a saying that is widely accepted on its own merits
    2. (logic) a proposition that is not susceptible of proof or disproof; its truth is assumed to be self-evident

    You are making an unjustified assertion, one that can have questions asked about it, like “How do you know that is true?”. There is no answer, you say it is an axiom, you simply have not considered the alternative.

  47. Oisin,

    I’m not familiar with the work, but if the mind is not material, how does it relate to the material of the brain?

    I though as much. You claim that the arguments have been widely attacked and in many cases discredited and yet you yourself are not familiar with major recent arguments, then you try to change the subject. If the arguments show that thought must be immaterial they show that it must be immaterial. How this interacts with what we call material is an entirely seperate subject and has absolutely no bearing on the question of whether thought is immaterial.

    The naturalistic claim is that the meaning is contained in the brain of the observer, of course, and Dennett’s work sketches how language generation works in the brain, for example.

    Humans give the words on a page meaning and interpret the meaning. If we accept materialism the physical processes in the brain are as devoid of intrinsic meaning as the words on a page. They themselves would need something to provide meaning and interpret them. I suggest you spend a little more time reading people that don’t agree with you, it might be enlightening. Dennett basically dances around, ignores and obfuscates.

    Bottom line: you are ignorant of what you’re writing about. You’re pretending to know, and you’re not fooling anyone. Wouldn’t it be less embarrassing to read a little bit more before posting here with such certainty on matters that you admit you are ignorant of.

  48. Oisin,

    All you have to do to start to convince us that if it takes intelligence to figure out how something works, it took intelligence to design and make it, is send me some examples. As far as I know, some very intelligent people have investigated been investigating for decades how evolution works. Are you really claiming that it doesn’t take intelligence to figure out how the process of “natural selection” works? How about addressing the act of creating something? Doesn’t it require intelligence for human beings to create something?

    I find it interesting that you diverted the conversation to a website on evolution and natural selection since I said nothing about either.

  49. Melissa:

    you yourself are not familiar with major recent arguments

    It’s not even on Wikipedia.

    If the arguments show that thought must be immaterial they show that it must be immaterial

    I showed why the argument was illogical in a previous comment.

    How this interacts with what we call material is an entirely seperate subject and has absolutely no bearing on the question of whether thought is immaterial.

    This is evasion, plain and simple.

    Further, it is a question of huge importance, because dualism as a theory of consciousness renders all of the evidence of neurology on brain damage and drug use completely incoherent and baffling, it is simply not an explanation of anything. I say again, it is nothing more than an extremely weak theory.

    If we accept materialism the physical processes in the brain are as devoid of intrinsic meaning as the words on a page

    That is a language game. Processes in the brain form representations of external reality through external stimuli affecting the organisation of the brain. Language is used to categorize and organise our memories, from the concrete to the abstract, and certain vocalizations have been designated culturally to represent representations within the brain. I do not expect this to convince you, but I cannot teach you about biology, chemistry and physics and computers here, and this explanation is not unscientific, nor does it leave out some aspect of thought.

    Dennett basically dances around, ignores and obfuscates.

    You have not read his book.

    Bottom line: you are ignorant of what you’re writing about. You’re pretending to know, and you’re not fooling anyone. Wouldn’t it be less embarrassing to read a little bit more before posting here with such certainty on matters that you admit you are ignorant of.

    Rude.

    And untrue. I know quite a lot, and am confident that with any dualist philosopher you throw my way I could disentangle their fallacious claims, given some time and effort.

    You have presented no arguments here, and your theory about the nature of the mind is completely silent on the most important questions about its nature, especially on its interaction with the brain, and its explanation for reasoning errors, how it receives input from the natural word, its explanation for errors in subjective experiences, etc.

    Your critique of me is embarrassingly a projection of your own behaviour in this conversation. I’m done.

  50. Jenna:

    You ignored my question, so I’ll repeat it:

    What is the difference between your statement:

    “If it takes intelligence to figure out how it works, it took intelligence to design and make it.”

    and my statement:

    “If something is really complex, something even more complex must have made it that complex”.

    Life is something that has been proven to have been created without any intelligence, just time and probability and natural selection, that’s why I linked it.

    A send-off:

    Good luck with your faith everyone, I think you don’t need it to understand God or to have transcendent spiritual experiences. I certainly don’t. I wish every joy for you in your lives, I apologize for any and all crassness of the tone I have employed here, or any nastiness, I am still immature and learning. The universe is fascinating, explore it!

  51. Oisin,

    Would you please direct me/us to where I can find the “proofs” you speak about the life was created without any intelligence?

    Yes, indeed. The universe is fascinating. I thank God that I have the intelligence I have to attempt to the best of my ability to figure it out.

    I wish you all the best as well. JB

  52. Oisin,

    It’s not even on Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia has spoken.

    I showed why the argument was illogical in a previous comment.

    You showed how an argument is illogical without even knowing what the argument is? And as I have already pointed out all you did was change the subject. Actually that isn’t true, there is another possibility for understanding your objection being that given our understanding of the physical and physical causal closure then the minatorial cannot interact with anything that’s immaterial, but that kind of objection would be question begging.

    And untrue. I know quite a lot, and am confident that with any dualist philosopher you throw my way I could disentangle their fallacious claims, given some time and effort.

    You have not to demonstrated that you have any knowledge of dualist arguments. If you do have the knowledge please present it.

    This is evasion, plain and simple.

    Further, it is a question of huge importance, because dualism as a theory of consciousness renders all of the evidence of neurology on brain damage and drug use completely incoherent and baffling, it is simply not an explanation of anything. I say again, it is nothing more than an extremely weak theory.

    No it is not, which you would realise if you read and understood anyone other than the people who agree with you. Dualism as a theory does not render the evidence of neurology on brain damage and drug use incoherent and baffling, that is conclusion of someone who is not aware of what dualism actually entails and whose knowledge of it amounts to a straw man.

    That is a language game. Processes in the brain form representations of external reality through external stimuli affecting the organisation of the brain. Language is used to categorize and organise our memories, from the concrete to the abstract, and certain vocalizations have been designated culturally to represent representations within the brain.

    No it’s not a language game. I want to know what gives the physical processes in the brain (that given materialism are devoid of intrinsic meaning) meaning.

    You have not read his book.

    I’ve read the Intentional Stance and Consciousness Explained as well as Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. As far as I can tell most of the content of his newest book is recycled from these previous volumes.

    I do not expect this to convince you, but I cannot teach you about biology, chemistry and physics and computers here, and this explanation is not unscientific, nor does it leave out some aspect of thought.

    I agree, the statistical likelihood of you being able to teach me about chemistry is pretty low but is probably higher for computers. How that is relevant to the subject at hand, I don’t know, considering we are discussing philosophy. You argument may not be unscientific (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but it is certainly not scientific.

    You have presented no arguments here

    And my intention was not to present a position here. Rather, since you presented yourself here as someone who knows what they are talking about, especially with respect to defects in the dualist position, I was interested to know what refutations you were aware of, because I have not come across any that manage to address the key claims. Admittedly, I was pretty certain that you did not know what you were talking about and decided to call your bluff, but if it had have turned out you were aware of something that I had not come across then that would have been a win for both of us.

  53. Obvious guy says:

    James lindsay left this convo because he can’t handle people who are skeptical of his claims….

  54. Life is something that has been proven to have been created without any intelligence, just time and probability and natural selection

    You have a very strange idea of what “proven” means. As far as I can tell no-one really knows how biogenesis might work. There are many different speculative theories, that’s all.