Creation, design, and evolution: if a theory could be derived straight from metaphysics, would it still be scientific?

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Imagine the following scenario:

SMITH: I know that evolution produced the biological world by naturalistic processes.

JONES: Interesting. Do you believe in God?

SMITH: No, I’m sure there’s no God.

JONES: How do you know that naturalistic evolution explains life as we see it?

SMITH: Because the evidence clearly demonstrates it.

JONES: Suppose there were no evidence for it. How would you handle that?

SMITH: What do you mean? There is evidence. Tons of it!

JONES: Of course there is. We both agree on that. I’d like to run a thought experiment with you, though, if you wouldn’t mind. It’s harmless, right? We’re talking about something we both know isn’t the case: a world where there was no evidence for naturalistic evolution.

SMITH: Sure, if you want to play thought-games, I’ll humor you.

JONES: Thanks. Now again, suppose we had Darwin’s outline of evolution, with no real evidence for it, except of course for the evidence he included in the book. How would you explain life as we see it?

SMITH: Well, I’d have to conclude there was some kind of evolutionary process, since life couldn’t have just sprung suddenly into all this complex variety. I think I’d be attracted to Darwin’s theory just on the strength of the idea, and the examples and evidence he wrote into The Origin of Species.

JONES: So if there was very little substantial evidence for evolution, you would probably be attracted to it anyway?

SMITH: Yes, because it makes so much sense.

JONES: You know that there’s controversy today over how the evidence in the natural world should be interpreted, and there are some people with genuine scientific credentials from genuine institutions of science who doubt that the Darwinian idea (or its successors) can successfully explain the evidence we have to work with.

SMITH: You spoke that very carefully, didn’t you? I was about to say that any so-called scientist who doubts evolution isn’t really a scientist after all, but you didn’t open the door for me to say that. Still, there are very few who disagree with evolution, and their alternate theory isn’t scientific.

JONES: What makes it so non-scientific?

SMITH: Other than the way they’re bucking such a huge scientific consensus, you mean?

JONES: I can’t believe you’d make that the point on which “being scientific” turns; you’d be calling Copernicus non-scientific.

SMITH: Well, sure, but here’s the other thing: they start with their theology and they move to their conclusions. That’s not science.

JONES: I suppose then you’d agree that if there’s some theory that has to be true just because the theology behind it requires it to be true, with or without evidence, that theory would have trouble being classified as scientific.

SMITH: Right! It’s a theological conclusion, not a scientific one.

JONES: But what if the people who held that theory said, “But look, we have evidence for our theory, too!”

SMITH: I’d be very suspicious. Theres’s hardly any such thing as pure evidence: it always requires interpretation. If you start out with a theory that derives from your theology, then any “evidence” you get for it is likely to be just a convenient interpretation, subject to all kinds of confirmation bias error.

JONES: Okay, I think you’re probably right about that. And do you suppose we could extend that to include not just “theology,” but any broad metaphysical beliefs about scientifically unreachable theories of reality?

SMITH: If it’s not scientific, it’s not scientific. So yes, I would extend it to any metaphysical theory.

JONES: Great, we’re still in agreement then. So again, if there’s some theory of life that has to be true just because some widely held metaphysical theory requires it to be true, that theory of life would have trouble being classified as being scientific; and if the people holding it said, “But look, we have evidence for our theory, too!” you’d be very suspicious of it. You’d think it was very likely their “evidence” had more to do with confirmation bias in their interpretation than with real science. Right?

SMITH: That’s right. So what’s your point?

JONES: If naturalism is true, could naturalistic evolution be false?

SMITH: Pardon me?

JONES: I said, if naturalism is true, could naturalistic evolution be false?

SMITH: Yes, I heard you, I just wasn’t expecting the question. Actually at this point I don’t think so. As Dawkins said, it took Darwin to make it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. It’s the only theory that works, based on naturalism.

JONES: But naturalism is a theory about the ultimate nature of reality: it’s a metaphysical theory. It’s a metaphysical theory that seems to require that evolution be true, with or without evidence. Based on what you’ve agreed to just now, doesn’t that start to make it sound like naturalistic evolution isn’t so scientific after all?

SMITH: But we have evidence for evolution, not just some metaphysical theory!

JONES: Didn’t we talk about that already? Didn’t you agree that if someone came up that answer, “you’d be very suspicious it had more to do with confirmation bias than with science”?

SMITH: But this is science! And evolution is FACT!

JONES: That’s what you say. It’s what a lot of scientists say, I know. It’s also the same thing you just described as looking very suspiciously like confirmation bias in action. And I have to wonder, doesn’t that fact bother you even a little bit? Doesn’t it bother you that you’ve reached the same conclusion with evidence—and your interpretation of that evidence—that you said you would have been “attracted to” with no evidence at all? Doesn’t it bother you to realize that you don’t need evidence to reach the conclusion you’ve reached?

SMITH: But again I tell you, this is science, and there is evidence!

JONES: Yes, yes. You said that before. Hey, I was just asking, okay?

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426 Responses to “ Creation, design, and evolution: if a theory could be derived straight from metaphysics, would it still be scientific? ”

  1. Imagine the following scenario:

    Ok, I imagined it. Now what?

    Neither of these characters demonstrates an understanding of the role or nature of evidence in science.

  2. Gavin: In a previous post on this blog site you mentioned . . . “Look, I’m a scientist and a science teacher.” If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of scientist are you and what scientific discipline do you teach? Knowing this might help folks (including me) craft more appropriate replies to your posts. Thanks, Steve.

  3. Gavin, I think I do have a strong understanding of the role of evidence in science. Apparently you think I’m missing something. What is it?

    Second question(s). What is the role of interpretation with respect to evidence? Is it possible for a scientist to misinterpret evidence because of his or her metaphysical biases?

  4. More on Smith’s position:

    TalkOrigins:

    Biological evolution is a change in the genetic characteristics of a population over time. That this happens is a fact. Biological evolution also refers to the common descent of living organisms from shared ancestors. The evidence for historical evolution — genetic, fossil, anatomical, etc. — is so overwhelming that it is also considered a fact. The theory of evolution describes the mechanisms that cause evolution. So evolution is both a fact and a theory.

    National Academies of Science:

    In science, a “fact” typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term “fact” to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact. Because the evidence supporting it is so strong, scientists no longer question whether biological evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur. Instead, they investigate the mechanisms of evolution, how rapidly evolution can take place, and related questions.

    Atheistic evolutionist Michael Ruse famously wrote in Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolutionary Controversies (1982), “Evolution is fact, fact, FACT!.

    This is the position that Smith represents here.

  5. Smith is a great example of somebody using creationist arguments in support of the theory of evolution. But he or she is all wrong…

    Science is based around the idea that physical phenomena are caused by physical things. This is not simply a world-view as you would like to peg it. It’s been tested for a long time. The amount of support for the assumption of natural causes is huge. Which part of the physical world has been explained, ever, by the assumption of super-natural processes? Do gods flood the Nile? Cause disease? Make the planets move across the sky? Cause fire? Cause volcanoes?

    So yes – there is an assumption. But it’s not wild speculation. It’s based on past performance of methodological naturalism. It’s why we remember Newton’s theory of gravity but not his Alchemy. Your game of “my world-view is just as valid as your world-view” doesn’t work. Your world-view doesn’t have the proven track record of showing how the world works.

    That’s NOT to say that your world-view is wrong. Or that you aren’t welcome to it. Or that you can’t have it AND do science. But it should not be used in support of a scientific theory.

    The whole bit of “I think I’d be attracted to Darwin’s theory just on the strength of the idea, and the examples and evidence he wrote into The Origin of Species” is pure projection. Nobody should (I’d say ‘does’ but there are always a handful of exceptions) accept Darwin’s theory because of who said it or that it was written in a book – or even because the way it was argued was compelling. Science *requires* evidence.

    Look at string theory (poorly named since it is not well supported). To those who understand it it “makes sense.” But it has no evidence to support it and is largely non-falsifiable. Thus it is NOT accepted by scientists. Not even by Lawrence Krauss (Atheist bad-guy and theoretical physicist).

  6. I’ll have more to say later, but two thoughts:

    1. Being attracted to a theory is not the same as being committed to it.

    2. I have a hard time imagining how evolution could be true without leaving substantial evidence for it. I’m concerned that the ‘thought experiment’ is a bit like, ‘what if Abraham Lincoln had been a cyborg dinosaur?’ – too divorced from the real world to produce any actual insight.

    Bonus thought experiment: What about the scenario put forth in this prologue to an SF novel? What would the ID/evolution debate look like on such a planet?

  7. Andy, thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t use my worldview in support of a scientific theory. I think you’re missing the fact that you’re using your science to support a non-scientific worldview. You’re extrapolating from science’s success in the natural world to the conclusion that the natural world is all that there is. That’s not science. Science extremely successfully, just as you say it is, when it keeps its inquiry confined to its area of competence. It cannot pronounce that its field of inquiry is the only one that exists.

    So yes – there is an assumption. But it’s not wild speculation. It’s based on past performance of methodological naturalism.

    Methodological naturalism is not philosophical naturalism; and even MN is guilty of importing unnecessary, unscientific assumptions.

    And I have to wonder, what’s your answer to the question in the thought experiment? As an atheist or naturalist, whatever you are, what alternative do you have to Darwin? (I’m using his name here as shorthand for his theory and its modifications since he wrote it). I would say that for a naturalist, Darwinism is the only game in town. Though it’s not a necessary inference from naturalism, it is the only available inference. So in that conditional sense, naturalism entails Darwinism, with or without evidence.

    Now, back to the point of the dialogue: given that Darwinism is the only available option to a naturalist, isn’t it likely that confirmation might cloud naturalists’ interpretation of the evidence?

    Look at string theory (poorly named since it is not well supported). To those who understand it it “makes sense.” But it has no evidence to support it and is largely non-falsifiable. Thus it is NOT accepted by scientists. Not even by Lawrence Krauss (Atheist bad-guy and theoretical physicist).

    That’s largely irrelevant to this thought experiment. There are very little worldview issues at stake.

    And remember, I did not say there’s no evidence for evolution. I said that the situation favors a biased interpretive bent toward the evidence. That bias plays out, I submit, when scientists pronounce that there is no other possible interpretation of the evidence, other than some version of naturalistic evolution.

  8. And to stake out a third way I suggest a theory that supports evolution as the valid science it is and leaves metaphysics to the metaphysical. In Theistic Evolution science gets to explain the scientific, like biology, and doesn’t require it to support or be supported by a metaphysical position that falls outside it’s competence.

    An understanding that the theological has something to say about all this gives us a way to understand things like the origin of life, the existence of evolution itself and the existence of nonmaterial things like the information encoded in DNA all of which fall outside the purview of science. All of this and supported by some of the best scientists and theologians out there.

  9. Some notes on the OP:

    SMITH: I know that evolution produced the biological world by naturalistic processes.

    JONES: Interesting. Do you believe in God?

    SMITH: No, I’m sure there’s no God.

    JONES: How do you know that naturalistic evolution explains life as we see it?

    It’s not clear why/how Smith’s view on evolution is related to his non-belief in a specific god. After all, some people are ‘theistic evolutionists’ and believe in some sort of supernatural guidance or intervention in evolutionary processes, so one can have belief in both the explanatory power of evolution and the ultimate existence of a creator god.

    JONES: Suppose there were no evidence for it. How would you handle that?

    One should of course be very wary of any theory or hypothesis that has no evidence to support it. But this dialogue already assumes that there is evidence of evolution, so it’s hard for me to see what’s gained by pretending otherwise. I assume the answer is forthcoming.

    JONES: Thanks. Now again, suppose we had Darwin’s outline of evolution, with no real evidence for it, except of course for the evidence he included in the book. How would you explain life as we see it?

    SMITH: Well, I’d have to conclude there was some kind of evolutionary process, since life couldn’t have just sprung suddenly into all this complex variety. I think I’d be attracted to Darwin’s theory just on the strength of the idea, and the examples and evidence he wrote into The Origin of Species.

    JONES: So if there was very little substantial evidence for evolution, you would probably be attracted to it anyway?

    SMITH: Yes, because it makes so much sense.

    This part confuses me. In some sense, Darwin’s theory was a first formal explanation of evolution; it answered the question of what made evolution proceed, and the answer was natural selection.

    So, to imagine that there is no evidence for evolution must either mean that the idea that populations of organisms change over time under environmental pressure is unfounded or that there is no observational data to account for population changes. Which evolution is being contested in the speculation — and, I think it’s important to remember, the dialogue actually seems to agree that evolution is true in itself and in the variety of mechanisms that drive it — the idea of population change or the sufficiency of data to support the mechanisms of change?

    I guess I don’t see whether one or the other model is being (imaginarily) challenged here — or both.

    JONES: You know that there’s controversy today over how the evidence in the natural world should be interpreted, and there are some people with genuine scientific credentials from genuine institutions of science who doubt that the Darwinian idea (or its successors) can successfully explain the evidence we have to work with.

    Is there really controversy? How much?

    It seems like you want it both ways: If evolution is supported by evidence, then a creator god is somewhere ultimately behind it; if evolution is untrue, then a creator god must have made the world and its life forms. And not only do you want it both ways, you seem to think this is a good thing!

    JONES: I suppose then you’d agree that if there’s some theory that has to be true just because the theology behind it requires it to be true, with or without evidence, that theory would have trouble being classified as scientific.

    SMITH: Right! It’s a theological conclusion, not a scientific one.

    I don’t see either where evolution has to be true, even in Smith’s account. David Berlinski is famously a non-believer who does not find the evidence for evolution compelling.

    Again, I am having trouble seeing which evolution is being disputed. If the very idea of population change is under fire, then a naturalist metaphysic could, at least in principle, still explain life on earth. On the other hand, if it’s the mechanisms of evolution that are un-evidenced, then the naturalistic metaphysic has a real problem: evolution would be happening with no observable physical/material causes.

    But I don’t see why/how you can criticize the naturalist metaphysic for being what it is and meant to be: non-supernatural. That’s the point. What makes naturalism nice as a non-supernatural outlook is that if it did not match reality, then it would be fairly easy to see. Naturalism would be easy to rule out.

    I think you are unfair and incorrect to call naturalism theological when it deliberately avoids deities. A theology is a study of the workings and intentions of gods, and that is explicitly not what naturalism studies. And, by the way, naturalism on its own need not deny the existence of gods altogether.

    JONES: That’s what you say. It’s what a lot of scientists say, I know. It’s also the same thing you just described as looking very suspiciously like confirmation bias in action. And I have to wonder, doesn’t that fact bother you even a little bit? Doesn’t it bother you that you’ve reached the same conclusion with evidence—and your interpretation of that evidence—that you said you would have been “attracted to” with no evidence at all? Doesn’t it bother you to realize that you don’t need evidence to reach the conclusion you’ve reached?

    It’s an old charge: the ideology drives the scientific conclusion. But I don’t think it’s true that people maintain scientific conclusions without any scientific evidence. Confirmation bias is a problem in many arenas, not only science, but I think we all can agree that science generally ties to be aware of different confirmation biases and to account for them. Besides, remember what I pointed out before: one need not be an atheist or naturalist to accept that evolution has occurred, and occurred through natural processes. I also suggested that a non-believer need not be committed to evolution — in either sense.

    Nevertheless, as the dialogue makes clear, evolution is a fact and well-evidenced. Jones’s speculation perhaps teaches Smith to reflect on his own confirmation bias. But I wonder, will Smith now ask Jones about Jones’s ideological commitments?

    SMITH: Suppose there were no physical evidence of the Exodus from Egypt, or the revelation at Sinai, or the virgin birth, or the resurrection, or the ascension.

    Just suppose, Jones.

    So, you believe in God and Jesus, but have no evidence that they did anything or are currently doing anything. Do you still know that God is real and that Jesus is Lord?

    JONES: No, I cannot honestly say I know any of this. But I feel in in my heart that it’s true.

    SMITH: Of course. Have you ever bought a lottery ticket and felt certain that you had the winning number?

    JONES: Why, yes I have. I even imagined what I would do with the winnings.

    SMITH: Did you in fact have the winning number?

    JONES: No.

  10. Tom –

    Forget the sci-fi book. That’s not what this thread is about.

    I referred to it because it goes to the question of evidence. Oh, well.

    But evidence is, in fact, key to this discussion. A “theory” in science is different from common parlance. It doesn’t mean ‘hunch’ or ‘guess’ or ‘notion’. When someone says something like, “I have a theory about why the car won’t start”, they mean something quite different from how a theory is understood in science. If they were using the terms from science, they would probably say something like, “I have a hypothesis about why the car won’t start.”

    A ‘theory’, in practical scientific terms, is a hypothesis that (a) ties together a wide range of observations, (b) make predictions about what future observations should look like, and most importantly (c) has a track record of its predictions being borne out. It’s still called the ‘germ theory of disease’, for example.

    ID is a hypothesis at the moment (and one that hasn’t fared too well in the ‘satisfied predictions’ department so far.) It is logically possible that ID proponents might come up with some solid evidence at some point. If and when they do, ID might then be referred to as a scientific theory.

  11. “you’d be very suspicious it had more to do with confirmation bias than with science”

    That’s the heart of this essay. One’s preconceptions and metaphysical commitments can bias how one interprets evidence. And that’s very true.

    But it’s also, in this case, premature.

    Gotta quote C.S. Lewis again, I can’t help myself. “You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong… Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time.”

    A person hasn’t done anything wrong simply by suspecting confirmation bias, true. But they do something wrong if they don’t then go and actually look at the evidence. ID proponents haven’t been dismissed simply as presenting ‘confirmation bias’. Their cases have been examined, found wanting for specific reasons, and then confirmation bias has been proposed as an explanation. Conversely, the evidence for evolution has continued to accumulate, even as new knowledge and entire types of tests have arisen. Darwin knew nothing of DNA, and yet now the patterns we see in DNA are a huge piece of evidence in favor of evolution.

  12. Ray, you say,

    It’s not clear why/how Smith’s view on evolution is related to his non-belief in a specific god.

    Smith is not a non-believer in that sense. Smith is a naturalist, a believer that the world is entirely natural. He is “sure that there’s no God.”

    Did you miss that???

    But this dialogue already assumes that there is evidence of evolution, so it’s hard for me to see what’s gained by pretending otherwise. I assume the answer is forthcoming.

    It’s a thought experiment. That’s the answer that has already been given.

    I guess I don’t see whether one or the other model is being (imaginarily) challenged here — or both.

    What you’re saying is that you don’t have enough imagination to follow a thought experiment.

    I don’t see either where evolution has to be true, even in Smith’s account. David Berlinski is famously a non-believer who does not find the evidence for evolution compelling.

    Berlinski is probably not a naturalist. I’ve never seen him commit to that position, at any rate.

    Can you, Larry, think of any alternative proposal, given naturalism? Can you think of any way that evolution could be false, if naturalism is true? Can you not see what a strong pull there would be among naturalists to interpret all evidences in favor of the one naturalistic theory that seems to be available to them?

    But I don’t see why/how you can criticize the naturalist metaphysic for being what it is and meant to be: non-supernatural. That’s the point. What makes naturalism nice as a non-supernatural outlook is that if it did not match reality, then it would be fairly easy to see. Naturalism would be easy to rule out.

    Exactly. You should read Hart’s The Experience of God to see how easily that has been done. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about the implications of a naturalistic belief on the psychology of interpretation of evidence.

    Confirmation bias is a problem in many arenas, not only science, but I think we all can agree that science generally ties to be aware of different confirmation biases and to account for them.

    I don’t think we can all agree on that, Larry, at least not in all cases. This matter of origins is fraught with the high probability of confirmation bias in action.

    But I wonder, will Smith now ask Jones about Jones’s ideological commitments?

    Why not?

    But this is too easy; not worth bothering with here.

  13. You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong.

    If this were about telling anyone he’s wrong, I’d be guilty of that error. It isn’t. It’s about raising a caution concerning the possibility of confirmation bias.

  14. Whoops, Tom, it looks like you mistyped at the start of #15, since you later correctly refer to Larry.

    In any case, in your replies to me:

    This is not a discussion on the scientific merits of ID.

    I was discussing the centrality of evidence to the acceptance of scientific theories, and comparing and contrasting the two examples you brought up as an illustration.

    I could have expanded upon Andy’s excellent point about “string” “theory”. Or I could have brought up magnetic monopoles – there’s decent theoretical reasons to believe they exist, and it would elegantly account for some things… but no one’s ever seen solid evidence for one, so no one claims they are anything but hypothetical. But I figured you would want me to hew closely to the topic here.

    It’s about raising a caution concerning the possibility of confirmation bias.

    OK, duly noted. Haven’t seen an actual significant example of such when it comes to the foundations of evolutionary theory, but point taken. Just be sure to take your own prescription when it comes to, say, ID, or miracle claims…

  15. Tom at 15,

    Smith is not a non-believer in that sense. Smith is a naturalist, a believer that the world is entirely natural. He is “sure that there’s no God.”

    Did you miss that???

    No, but Smith’s first statement is about evolution, and the next is about knowing there is no God. The connection between the two statements is not made clear: is the second statement supposed to follow from the first, or is the second an explanation of the first? It’s your dialogue and you can set it up any way you like, but it’s not obvious to me that there’s a necessary connection between the two statements in either direction.

    What you’re saying is that you don’t have enough imagination to follow a thought experiment.

    I don’t think that’s what I am saying. Maybe the problem lies with the thought experiment. Have you considered that?

    Can you, Larry, think of any alternative proposal, given naturalism? Can you think of any way that evolution could be false, if naturalism is true? Can you not see what a strong pull there would be among naturalists to interpret all evidences in favor of the one naturalistic theory that seems to be available to them?

    Alternative to which model? As I have said, evolution in a weak sense is observed. Even you admit as much. If you want a naturalistic alternative to evolution, you either have to propose that evolution is not in fact occurring or you have to propose different mechanisms for change, maybe a neo-Lamarck-type approach. But, there, I’ve dreamed up two alternatives in rough form.

    The one thing a naturalistic theory cannot do is the one thing you seem to think it should: propose a non-naturalistic explanation.

    Why should something outside naturalism be proposed? Jones does not say, surprisingly.

    It’s about the implications of a naturalistic belief on the psychology of interpretation of evidence.

    Of course. You will also agree that super-naturalistic beliefs also influence the psychology of interpretation of evidence, right?

    But this is too easy; not worth bothering with here.

    Too easy? Ah, I wish I were so smart as to know which subjects and lines of inquiry were too easy. My experience has been that things which seem easy or uncomplicated really are much more.

  16. Smith’s statements on naturalism and his belief in evolution are just establishing the character. He is a naturalist who believes in naturalistic evolution. No further logical connection is intended.

    I’m on mobile, and I’ll have to come back to the rest later.

  17. I do need to ask, though, how do you conclude that I think a naturalistic theory should be able to propose a non-naturalistic explanation? I don’t believe that, and if I said or implied it, I need to correct it.

  18. @Andy M:

    Your game of “my world-view is just as valid as your world-view” doesn’t work. Your world-view doesn’t have the proven track record of showing how the world works.

    Neither has yours; unless your worldview is that of Science ™. But if it is, and since there is no such thing as a worldview of Science, what you are implying is that, somehow, Science ™ is on the side of metaphysical naturalism, which is not only false, but betrays a poor understanding of Science and Philosophy. Or to put it more bluntly, Newton’s theory of Gravitation say, is as much theistic as is atheistic, that is, it is neither. What metaphysical assumptions one reads into or out of Newton’s theory, well, that is another story.

  19. Now, back to the point of the dialogue: given that Darwinism is the only available option to a naturalist, isn’t it likely that confirmation might cloud naturalists’ interpretation of the evidence?

    Everybody is susceptible to confirmation bias. Its part of human nature. And you seem to be going to great lengths to show that it exists in naturalists. Why not just come out and say it? I don’t know if Socratic dialogue is the best way to get this message across.

    So – fine. Yes. Everybody is susceptible to confirmation bias. *Especially* people who define their identity in terms of their belief (political partisans, highly religious people, racists, new atheists, etc. ) – much more so than most people in fact. In fact it’s why I try to avoid labeling myself at all – to remove potential cognitive dissonance.

    Now this is the point, I presume, where you claim “therefore my worldview is just a different interpretation of the same evidence and we’re equally valid since we have the same faults” right? (if I understand where you’re coming from correctly).

    Not exactly. That’s why I raised the subject of how much more fruitful methodological naturalism has been in the realm of science. All worldviews are not created equal. A natural explanation has been right about the natural world “a lot” and a super-natural explanation has been right “never”[1]. So by induction we can quite safely say that there is a greater probability that things are natural rather than super-natural. I realize MN is not the same as PM – but I’d say this also works in the favor of PM as well.

    Though I may be arguing past you – I’m not sure. I think you want to say “the naturalistic assumption is limiting the conclusions we can come to.” To which I’d agree – but I think that’s the *point*. Determining what is correct is about limiting your options and removing those which are unlikely to be correct. Not expanding your options to include all manner of answers no matter how plausible. And as I said – naturalism seems to have a *much* better track record on these matters.

    This is also why I used string theory as an example of something for which there is no good evidence and how it is not “scientifically” accepted (to address the title question). So to answer Jones’ question – no I wouldn’t accept a theory with little or no evidence to support it. I would say “I don’t know” if there were no viable alternative.

    Your response to that example confuses me though. It almost seems to me like you’re saying (or at least implying) that we can’t know anything when worldviews are at stake because everybody will be highly motivated reasoners and therefore it’s okay to just toss a coin and select any theory you like.

    If I’ve misunderstood you I apologize. I admit I’m having trouble following your line of thought and I’m making some assumptions based on your past writings and responses.

    [1] Or at the very best close to never. I know you think that “thoughts” and “consciousness” are evidence of things which “exist” but which aren’t explained by the natural world. However I think our difference on this subject would be too much to cover here and would be off-topic.

  20. Tom:

    I do need to ask, though, how do you conclude that I think a naturalistic theory should be able to propose a non-naturalistic explanation?

    Well, I am not sure what to conclude. I am asking and trying to understand. In an earlier comment, you asked this:

    Can you, Larry, think of any alternative proposal, given naturalism? Can you think of any way that evolution could be false, if naturalism is true?

    You must mean something like “alternative to evolution.” Okay, so here goes with another shot at an alternative.

    If naturalism is true, then the various species of life on earth are the result of natural forces. If these forces did not cause life-to-life changes in populations (i.e., evolution as you mean it), then these forces would have had to cause populations to sprout independently and somehow adapt themselves. This would be a kind of evolution, but certainly different than Darwin’s theory.

    You and I both understand that in a naturalist outlook I only have natural laws and forces to work with — that’s the point. Yet I think even my quickie sketch above shows that Darwin’s evolution is itself not required or fore-ordained by naturalism; indeed, the changes and refinements to the theory in the last century give evidence that the theory has had to mature.

    Some might think it’s to the advantage of supernaturalism that it can accommodate an additional alternative theory by which species simply poof into existence, but I don’t know what evidence exists for this theory–and maybe it’s just all in how one interprets the evidence. We are postmodern, aren’t we?

  21. Andy M.,

    Now this is the point, I presume, where you claim “therefore my worldview is just a different interpretation of the same evidence and we’re equally valid since we have the same faults” right? (if I understand where you’re coming from correctly).

    I can only wonder where you got that from. It sounds suspiciously like some stereotypes that I’ve seen running around. Whether it is or not, your presumption is completely unfounded, and it’s wrong.

    Similarly here:

    Your response to that example confuses me though. It almost seems to me like you’re saying (or at least implying) that we can’t know anything when worldviews are at stake because everybody will be highly motivated reasoners and therefore it’s okay to just toss a coin and select any theory you like.

    Where’d you get that from?

    Your ability to draw false conclusions out of thin air does your credibility very little good.

    Tell me, Andy, do you believe in drawing conclusions from evidence? (“So to answer Jones’ question – no I wouldn’t accept a theory with little or no evidence to support it,” you said.) You’re not demonstrating it here.

    That’s why I raised the subject of how much more fruitful methodological naturalism has been in the realm of science. That’s why I raised the subject of how much more fruitful methodological naturalism has been in the realm of science.

    Unsurprising: Science studies nature. Methodological naturalism is the study of nature with the assumption that nature is operating in nature.

    Irrelevant, too: Science’s success in the realm of nature hardly implies that nature is all there is.

    All worldviews are not created equal. A natural explanation has been right about the natural world “a lot” and a super-natural explanation has been right “never”[1].

    Oh, good grief. Who’s deciding this “never” business? Has a natural explanation explained the existence of the universe? No. Has it explained the rationality of the natural world? No. Has it explained explanation? No. (Some people have trouble getting what I mean be that. Feel free to ask.) Has a supernatural explanation covered those areas? Yes. Has the theistic explanation for these things been shown to be wrong? No.

    Did you say you believe in evidence? Where’s your evidence that theism fails to explain these things?

    Though I may be arguing past you – I’m not sure. I think you want to say “the naturalistic assumption is limiting the conclusions we can come to.” To which I’d agree – but I think that’s the *point*. Determining what is correct is about limiting your options and removing those which are unlikely to be correct.

    You’ve got your sequence mixed up in the most obvious manner there. Limiting your options is supposed to come after the bad options are ruled out for good reason, not before.

    Back to your statement, “So to answer Jones’ question – no I wouldn’t accept a theory with little or no evidence to support it.” That’s a good answer. It’s relevant to the blog post, too.

    And I think it would be helpful to stick with that topic. You’ve been trying to derive all kinds of conclusions from my post, when I had one point, and one only: that naturalists ought to inspect their reasoning processes to see whether they were guilty of confirmation bias in favor of evolution.

    Note carefully that I asked a lot of questions in this post. I didn’t draw definite conclusions. (The strongest one was, “It’s a metaphysical theory that seems to require that evolution be true, with or without evidence;” and I used “seems” in it in order to convey that it wasn’t a definite pronouncement.)

    Again: this was about raising questions about confirmation bias among naturalists. I would caution you against drawing any other grand conclusions from it.

    (Note: I’m writing this in the middle of all kinds of family activities, which I’m also trying to pay attention to at the same time. I hope it ends up making sense; if not, I hope you’ll give me another shot at it with some grace for errors, sometime tomorrow morning.)

  22. Larry, Ray, and Andy,

    Let me reiterate the point of this article: it’s to give naturalists reason to pause and reflect on the dangers of confirmation bias in their evolution-related interpretations. It’s not to prove anything else. Just because confirmation bias might exist does not mean that a theory is wrong, after all. It just means we ought to think carefully about the way we draw conclusions.

    Would I be willing to say the same thing to theists? Of course. To me, though, it’s too obvious to bother with. It’s rampant in young earth creationism. It’s a danger in ID circles. It’s a danger anywhere.

    To be honest, there’s one more reason I wrote this the way I did: I think it’s interesting. (That’s probably the real reason underlying all the other reasons I’ve given for writing this.) It’s interesting to me that evolution, in one Darwinism-successor form or another, seems to be the only game in town for naturalists, and that it seems therefore to be a conclusion that naturalists would have to adopt, with or without evidence. I can’t help wondering how that might affect the way naturalists would interpret the evidence that exists. And as I said, I find that interesting.

    If you try to draw more than that out of the article, you run the risk of reaching wrong conclusions, as Larry and Andy have both done already. There’s no need for you to put yourselves or me through that.

  23. In that case let me apologize for mistaking your position. I felt I may have been over-reaching a bit. But it sounded very similar to an argument I’ve heard before (I want to say by Greg Koukl or somebody like that but I’m having trouble finding anything in writing to that effect).

    Again: this was about raising questions about confirmation bias among naturalists. I would caution you against drawing any other grand conclusions from it.

    So then why not just say that? Why all the confusing dramatics? I suppose I was reading more into it because it seemed like there was more a “point” to be made. Perhaps because of the title of the post? “Creation, design, and evolution: if a theory could be derived straight from metaphysics, would it still be scientific?” Why not title the post “naturalists can suffer from cognitive biases just like everybody else?”

    You could make this point completely outside of any discussion of evolution. Confirmation bias is a very interesting subject in general and much more interesting than you’re making it seem.

    Why not talk about how one can combat one’s own cognitive biases. One of the best ways that I know of to avoid confirmation bias (well, cognitive dissonance at least) is to not label oneself. When we label ourselves we identify with a belief or idea and that makes us more less likely to disagree with any other things that go along with that. Our group-based psychology hurts us here. As I said – paritsans, people with strong religious convictions, etc. If you identify with a group you’re more likely to conform to that group. Try listening to criticism of a group you identify with and see if you have an emotional reaction to it. Then listen to criticism of something more neutral or where you have no horse in the race. That’s cognitive dissonance you’re feeling.

    You say that limiting the options you’re going to consider is a bias. But that’s not necessarily so – or at least not always a bad thing (depending on how you define bias). Chances are you don’t debate every morning whether you should exit by the door or by the second-floor window. Is that confirmation bias? You’ve learned long ago to exclude one option from your thinking because the other one has always ‘worked’. That’s what I mean by science neglecting the super-natural. It’s never shown itself to be fruitful in terms of explaining how the natural world works. And yes – I say natural world since that is what science studies.

    Your theistic explanations can’t be shown to be wrong since they’re not falsifiable. That’s a weakness not a strength. That naturalism hasn’t yet explained some things is undisputed. That it has explained a great deal is also undisputed. That it hasn’t ruled out super-naturalism is also undisputed. But to say “my worldview hasn’t been positively dis-confirmed!” is damning with faint praise indeed.

  24. Why not write it the way you said, Andy? Because that’s not the way I decided to write it.

    Simply to say, “Naturalists can have cognitive biases and should be careful with them” would have been boring.

    In the midst of my family commotion, I did miss the other reason I wrote the post, which was to raise the question that I included in the title.

    You write,

    Try listening to criticism of a group you identify with and see if you have an emotional reaction to it. Then listen to criticism of something more neutral or where you have no horse in the race. That’s cognitive dissonance you’re feeling.

    Ummm… is that the way Festinger defined it? No.

    Cognitive dissonance reduction theory applies to situations where there is contradiction: where a belief one is highly invested in is shown to be false, or where one actually does something contrary to one’s beliefs.

    Your analysis of emotional reactions to criticism is far too simplistic. It omits the very real possibility that the criticism is unfounded, false, cruel, or damaging in the one case but not in the other. It ignores all kinds of other possible dynamics.

    Not labeling oneself is one thing; never to invest oneself in any belief is another. The one is potentially creative and freeing, the other is indecisive, cowardly, and weak.

    That’s what I mean by science neglecting the super-natural. It’s never shown itself to be fruitful in terms of explaining how the natural world works. And yes – I say natural world since that is what science studies.

    Of course. I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I’ve been insisting you’re wrong to say or to imply that science has anything negative to say about the supernatural.

    Theism doesn’t seek to show how the natural world “works.” That word implies mechanistic operations, while theism is about a personal God operating in non-mechanistic modes. Theism does seek to provide explanations for why the world is the way it is in many respects, some of which I’ve already alluded to here.

    You say that limiting the options you’re going to consider is a bias. But that’s not necessarily so – or at least not always a bad thing (depending on how you define bias).

    Obviously. Did you miss the part where I wrote,

    You’ve got your sequence mixed up in the most obvious manner there. Limiting your options is supposed to come after the bad options are ruled out for good reason, not before.

    Finally,

    But to say “my worldview hasn’t been positively dis-confirmed!” is damning with faint praise indeed.

    Are you speaking for yourself there or for me? Because I can’t imagine saying that about my worldview.

  25. Tom,

    Let me reiterate the point of this article: it’s to give naturalists reason to pause and reflect on the dangers of confirmation bias in their evolution-related interpretations. It’s not to prove anything else. Just because confirmation bias might exist does not mean that a theory is wrong, after all. It just means we ought to think carefully about the way we draw conclusions.

    OK, thanks.

    Can you please give an example of an “evolution-related interpretation”? Is it something like, “the theory of evolution suggests that no creator god exists”?

    And if so, would a statement like this be better, “the theory of evolution suggests that life arose and diversified naturally”?

  26. I’m not sure what was unclear about what I wrote the first time. It was about interpretations of evidence related to evolution, and about being cautious of confirmation bias.

  27. Tom, I don’t think you have been unclear so much as some of us want to see your ideas put to action.

    So, when you talk about interpretations of evidence related to evolution, what if we take Tiktaalik as an example of such evidence. What is an appropriate and inappropriate interpretation of the evidence in your view?

  28. Philosophically, as well as theologically, my own position is somewhere between progressive (old earth) creationism and some form of theistic evolution. I certainly believe science has shown that the earth is billions of years old and that there is some kind natural evolutionary process has been responsible for the development of life. (Those things for me are almost beyond question.) However, I pretty much reject two extreme views as unfeasible (1) that the earth is only 6-10 thousand years old and that all the major kinds of flora and fauna were all specially created, and (2) the so-called blind watch maker thesis that an unplanned and unguided natural process acting alone can account for the evolutionary development of life. However, between those two extremes I am pretty open to anything. For example, I am open to some kind front loaded evolution or some kind of limited interventionism. But, I haven’t learned anything scientifically that would compel me to become committed either one of these view. I don’t see how I can be more open minded than that.

    The problem I have with most of the naturalists or materialists who show up here is that they are not open minded. I don’t understand where the dogmatic certainty and commitment comes from. Has naturalism been proven to be true? When, where, how, and by whom? Who again is guilty of confirmation bias?

  29. Larry, my idea is, “if you’re a naturalist, be cautous of confirmation bias due to your naturalistic metaphysics.” If you want to see that put into action, go ask a naturalist. I can’t do it; I don’t fit the criteria.

    My other big idea here is to raise a question: if you can derive your theory from your metaphysics, can you still call it science?

    Tiktaalik has nothing to do with that.

    I don’t change subjects in the middle of a thread. You know that. Don’t try.

  30. JAD,

    What do you want us to be open minded about, exactly?

    I hear you on blind watchmaker. What if someone considered that it was no less an extreme position to assert the existence of a god that answers prayers, intervenes in history, and cares about individual human sexual behavior? Is it close-minded to reject that position as you do for evolution?

  31. I was using evolution as shorthand for blind watchmaker, which he called an extreme position.

  32. Simply to say, “Naturalists can have cognitive biases and should be careful with them” would have been boring.

    Perhaps – but it would have been clear. 🙂

    If you’re trying to communicate with others through writing then I’d suggest clarity over entertainment. Otherwise you’ll always be explaining what you really meant.

    I did miss the other reason I wrote the post, which was to raise the question that I included in the title.

    “Apology” accepted (“this was about raising questions about confirmation bias among naturalists. I would caution you against drawing any other grand conclusions from it.”).

    I do understand the family commotion bit though and hope it was nothing major (just kids refusing to go to bed?).

    Cognitive dissonance reduction theory applies to situations where there is contradiction: where a belief one is highly invested in is shown to be false, or where one actually does something contrary to one’s beliefs.

    Minor point – *perceived* contradiction.

    “Dissonance is felt when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. ” (from wikipedia – though it cites Festinger and is in agreement with other writings on the subject).

    For example – I may view myself as a good person. And if somebody points out something I did which is bad it can cause serious cognitive dissonance whereby I feel a need to resolve the conflict. I might feel compelled to justify my actions, say I didn’t do them, re-define them as good, etc.

    Or some of the other example on wikipedia like the “Fox and the Grapes.”

    Not labeling oneself is one thing; never to invest oneself in any belief is another. The one is potentially creative and freeing, the other is indecisive, cowardly, and weak.

    I’d say there is a spectrum between indecisive and dogmatic. I don’t know why you would use the words “cowardly” and “weak” in this circumstance.

    But it is important to strike a balance. Note I didn’t say “don’t believe in anything.” Just not to “label” oneself. You could agree (and do so quite strongly) with every plank in the Democratic or Republican party yet still claim to be an Independent to help allow yourself the freedom to change your mind if presented with a compelling argument or evidence for example.

    Your analysis of emotional reactions to criticism is far too simplistic. It omits the very real possibility that the criticism is unfounded, false, cruel, or damaging in the one case but not in the other. It ignores all kinds of other possible dynamics.

    I wasn’t intending my simple example to be comprehensive… But whether the criticism is true or not is not required. It’s up to how I *perceive* it. I can believe in something completely false and suffer cognitive dissonance when confronted with the truth (which I believe is one of your points actually).

    Of course. I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I’ve been insisting you’re wrong to say or to imply that science has anything negative to say about the supernatural.

    Nothing positive to say *is* negative in the realm of science. That’s called the null hypothesis (well, a colloquial use of the term at least). Certainly it’s not a deductive proof but it’s the same reason you don’t believe in a lot of things. Because you have no good evidence for them.

    I assume you’re not suggesting we run around believing in things without evidence.

    And this is why I say metaphysics cannot be used to scientifically tell us anything. Otherwise motion would be impossible due to Xeno’s paradox.

    You might make the argument that you *do* in fact have evidence of the supernatural (and I’m certain you would actually). But from what I can tell it would be primarily philosophical arguments. I’m not dissing philosophy mind you – just saying that it hasn’t proven very good at making predictions about the world (natural or otherwise). That’s why it spun off science.

    To be honest I’m not sure what sort of evidence we could really find for a supernatural. It’s not even well-defined. It’s even worse-off than string theory in that regard. Finding things we can’t explain doesn’t seem to be useful since we’ve learned how to explain so many things we previously couldn’t.

    Theism doesn’t seek to show how the natural world “works.” That word implies mechanistic operations, while theism is about a personal God operating in non-mechanistic modes. Theism does seek to provide explanations for why the world is the way it is in many respects, some of which I’ve already alluded to here.

    I think you’re being a bit inconsistent. But perhaps I’ve just misunderstood you again…

    On the one hand you seem to agree that science best explains the natural world (at least in general) and then say that “[t]heism doesn’t seek to show how the natural world ‘works.'” This sounds a lot like non-overlapping magisteria. But then you’re insisting that evolution (natural process) is not true based on theism (not in this article but in others).

  33. If you’re trying to communicate with others through writing then I’d suggest clarity over entertainment. Otherwise you’ll always be explaining what you really meant.

    Thanks, Andy, for that advice. Maybe if I change my ways I’ll be able to improve my measly 98% published article and 67% book proposal acceptance ratios, and get a couple of readers on this blog besides.

    Wikipedia on cognitive dissonance? What are you, a Google scholar? Have you read Festinger? Have you studied social psych?

    Not labeling oneself is one thing; never to invest oneself in any belief is another. The one is potentially creative and freeing, the other is indecisive, cowardly, and weak.

    I’d say there is a spectrum between indecisive and dogmatic. I don’t know why you would use the words “cowardly” and “weak” in this circumstance.

    I used them because never investing oneself in any belief is weak, and it’s cowardly.

    Nothing positive to say *is* negative in the realm of science. That’s called the null hypothesis (well, a colloquial use of the term at least).

    The supernatural is not in the realm of science, and no, “nothing positive to say” is not, in this case, the null hypothesis or anything remotely close to it, because in this case it’s “nothing positive or negative to say, that is, nothing at all to say.” Science has nothing to say on the topic.

    (Science can provide information for philosophical reflection, so in that sense it has something to contribute, but not strictly from within the realm of the natural sciences as commonly understood today, i.e., science that limits its inquiry and conclusions to the natural world as a matter of definition.)

    And this is why I say metaphysics cannot be used to scientifically tell us anything. Otherwise motion would be impossible due to Xeno’s [sic] paradox.

    Bingo! That’s what I was trying to warn people against relying on, in this blog post; although Zeno has nothing to do with the reasons for it.

    On the one hand you seem to agree that science best explains the natural world (at least in general) and then say that “[t]heism doesn’t seek to show how the natural world ‘works.’” This sounds a lot like non-overlapping magisteria. But then you’re insisting that evolution (natural process) is not true based on theism (not in this article but in others).

    I’m insisting that naturalistic evolution is false, because theism is true. “Naturalistic” does not mean “natural process.” It refers to the metaphysical position that nothing exists or is real except for matter, energy and their interactions by chance and necessity.

  34. Larry @36, thanks for the clarification.

    I believe in evolution, myself, so I thought that was worth checking. I believe in change over time (one definition of evolution). I believe in natural selection within populations based on selective pressure, e.g., bacterial antibiotic resistance (another definition). Common descent? Yes, at least to a certain degree (another definition). Blind watchmaker? No.

    I think you made a good distinction there at #36, so I’m not complaining, I’m just clarifying.

  35. After his famous 1948 BBC debate with skeptic Bertrand Russell, Jesuit priest Fr. Frederick Copleston expressed some frustration. He said that he felt that Russell had come unwilling to really engage him in any of his arguments. However, during the debate the two men had this brief exchange:

    “You say,” Copleston said to Russell, “I think that the universe — or my existence if you prefer, or any other existence — is unintelligible?”

    “I shouldn’t say unintelligible,” Russell replied, ” — I think it is without explanation.”

    I would say that was a major concession on Russell’s part. It’s true. Non-theists don’t really have a good explanation for the existence of the universe, theists do. For example, scientists believe that the universe had a beginning about 13 billion years ago. Theists have a good explanation for that. What do non-theists have to offer? At present it appears they have to appeal to some kind of transcendent natural something that existed “before” (or at… or in?) the beginning. How does one demonstrate something like that scientifically? What is the evidence?

    The universe also appears to be remarkably “fine-tuned” for not only life but self conscious intelligent life. Again, theists have a good explanation for that. What do non-theists have to offer? Chance? Necessity? Again everything had to be fine tuned “before” (or at… or in?) the beginning.

    Things were so much simpler back in Bertrand Russell’s day when it appeared just as possible that the universe was eternal, and you could just say that it was a “brute fact”… and that’s all. Now it appears that the naturalist has to jump through a bunch of hoops to explain anything. And when he does he ends up appealing to something that is eternal and transcendent, which unfortunately on naturalism also leads to an infinite regress. I suppose that’s possible. But then comes that bad part. He must accept this eternal and transcendent something on faith. Sounds to me like naturalism is in deep doo-doo.

  36. Wikipedia on cognitive dissonance? What are you, a Google scholar? Have you read Festinger? Have you studied social psych?

    Not exactly your finest argument is it? I’m sure you can point out as well as I can what is wrong with this reply so I won’t bother. i expected better.

    Wikipedia is a quick easy search and at times is very well referenced. If you disagree with what I said please say so and why rather than attacking the source. I don’t believe anything I’ve said on cognitive dissonance was controversial. In fact what I said isn’t far off from what you said. Perhaps you could enlighten rather than insult me?

    Since you haven’t said what you disagree with I can’t reply to this.

    The supernatural is not in the realm of science, and no, “nothing positive to say” is not, in this case, the null hypothesis or anything remotely close to it, because in this case it’s “nothing positive or negative to say, that is, nothing at all to say.” Science has nothing to say on the topic.

    I actually think we’re close in agreement here. I have been careful to say that science is the best explanation for the physical world for a reason.

    I’m insisting that naturalistic evolution is false, because theism is true.

    That’s quite the claim and would require quite a bit of evidence to support.

    Also – what is “non-naturalistic evolution?”

    “Naturalistic” does not mean “natural process.” It refers to the metaphysical position that nothing exists or is real except for matter, energy and their interactions by chance and necessity.

    In other words – all things we all agree do exist. But then you want to layer on other things which are not as self-evident and for which the only evidence which exists is “philosophical argument.”

    My question would be – why assume there is a supernatural? I’m fairly certain this is where you and I really disagree – and that it’s probably better answered in another post of yours. Suffice it to say I find those reasons largely unsatisfactory.

  37. (Comment edited after posting.)

    Andy, your reference to cognitive dissonance in #27 is still wrong, because mere criticism doesn’t produce CD, as CD is properly understood. I don’t think you’re displaying that you understand it. CD kicks in where there is actual contradiction between what one believes about him or herself or is heavily invested in on the one hand (one’s image of self in context of reality), and credible, contrary information and/or contrary self-behavior on the other hand.

    Your reference in #27 also wrong because criticism can produce a whole host of emotional reactions besides CD-like ones. Some of those reactions could be perfectly healthy and rationally supportable.

    Anyway, resorting to insult was wrong on my part, and I do agree I shouldn’t have done it.

    Concerning theism you write,

    That’s quite the claim and would require quite a bit of evidence to support.

    There’s quite a bit of evidence.

    “What is ‘non-naturalistic evolution’?” you ask. I have no idea. I’ve never heard of that term, and I’m not sure why you put quotes around it. The contrary to naturalistic evolution is either a denial of evolution or a denial of naturalism in evolution. Theistic evolution might be one example. Literal creationism might be another. Front-loaded design might be another. There are several possibilities.

    Why assume the supernatural, you ask? Because of the very powerful philosophical arguments, for one thing. My question for you is, why assume that there’s something weak about philosophical arguments? (Note of caution: if your answer relies on philosophy it will be self-defeating.)

    Anyway, you say my answer would be better given in another post. The fact is, there’s “quite a bit of evidence,” and my answer has come in dozens of posts already, if not more. Look here and here for starters.

  38. Tom –

    It’s interesting to me that evolution, in one Darwinism-successor form or another, seems to be the only game in town for naturalists, and that it seems therefore to be a conclusion that naturalists would have to adopt, with or without evidence.

    This is where the sci-fi novel prologue from #7 would actually come in handy. Evolving robots would present an interesting mix of intelligent design and unguided evolution. It would be possible to identify aspects of their composition that owed themselves to intelligent engineers, and others that owed their existence to contingency and selection.

    I wouldn’t say evolution is the ‘only possible game in town’ when it comes to explaining terrestrial life, even when it comes to naturalists. But evolution has accumulated a truly staggering amount of evidence in its favor. Anything that wanted to dethrone or substantially modify it will likewise need a large amount of evidence.

    And further note that, even if you were right about “with or without evidence” – I think that the examples of string theory and magnetic monopoles argue against it, but whatever – you left out a third possibility. What of ‘against evidence’?

    What if human DNA didn’t resemble that of any other animal on the planet? I don’t even mean using different chemical bases, or using a different coding for the amino acids. I just mean what if the pattern of bases didn’t closely correlate with other primates in a way that fits with a tree of descent? What if we lacked endogenous retroviruses that we ‘should’ have if evolution were true?

    In such a case, there might well be some people who insisted evolution had to be true anyway – more or less equivalent to the young-Earth creationists – but I’m afraid I find it hard to imagine that the field of biology would be so massively dominated by those who accept evolutionary theory.

  39. JAD –

    Non-theists don’t really have a good explanation for the existence of the universe, theists do.

    I’d grant ‘an explanation’. I’m afraid I don’t agree on ‘good explanation’. Sometimes, “I don’t know” is really the best current answer.

  40. @Ray Ingles:

    Sometimes, “I don’t know” is really the best current answer.

    “I don’t know” is not an explanation; and this is not a mere quibble because JAD said and I quote:

    Non-theists don’t really have a good explanation for the existence of the universe, theists do.

    Possibly-not-good-but-very-good-for-all-I-know explanation beats “I don’t know” everyday.

    note: And of course, the answer is not really “I don’t know” but “there isn’t any explanation, not even in principle”. But let that pass.

  41. G. Rodrigues –

    “I don’t know” is not an explanation;

    I, er, didn’t claim it was. Go ahead, check.

    And of course, the answer is not really “I don’t know” but “there isn’t any explanation, not even in principle”. But let that pass.

    I didn’t claim that. Russell didn’t, either. Go ahead, check.

    Possibly-not-good-but-very-good-for-all-I-know explanation beats “I don’t know” everyday.

    That way lies astrology, conspiracy theories, etc. Though I agree humans tend not to like “I don’t know”.

  42. I wouldn’t say evolution is the ‘only possible game in town’ when it comes to explaining terrestrial life, even when it comes to naturalists. But evolution has accumulated a truly staggering amount of evidence in its favor. Anything that wanted to dethrone or substantially modify it will likewise need a large amount of evidence.

    I agree. The changes made to Darwin’s original theory in light of additional information continually coming in all testify to a neat diversity in evolutionary forces and processes–and their interaction.

    When it comes to theists, there really is only one single game in town for explaining terrestrial life: magic. And of course, the deity itself would seem to require explanation beyond the usual “my ground-of-being god does not require explanation.”

    What’s always struck me about these kinds of discussions about the inadequacy and incompleteness of our scientific knowledge is that the theistic explanations for the same things always-always-always fare much worse in comparison. There is nothing that theism explains better.

  43. @Larry Tanner:

    And of course, the deity itself would seem to require explanation beyond the usual “my ground-of-being god does not require explanation.”

    Please, refrain from commenting on what you know nothing about.

    There is nothing that theism explains better.

    There is nothing that atheism (or expanded metaphysical worldviews like naturalism) explains better — because, and quite obviously your addled mind has still not picked up this elementary distinction, the term of comparison is not between theism and Science ™, but between theism and alternative metaphysical worldviews.

  44. There is nothing that atheism (or expanded metaphysical worldviews like naturalism) explains better — because, and quite obviously your addled mind has still not picked up this elementary distinction, the term of comparison is not between theism and Science ™, but between theism and alternative metaphysical worldviews.

    Tut-tut, no need for attempts to insult with “addled mind” comments. We’re all big boys and girls.

    I understand the distinction you want to make between Science™ and naturalism and/or materialism (and perhaps other -isms). That’s fine. Point taken, with appreciation.

    But are you seriously claiming that a theistic worldview leads to better explanations than a naturalistic worldview of anything at all in reality?

    Please, by all means, do expand. I am open to have my mind changed. Perhaps you will not believe me, but I will make the statement of open-mindedness and hope you will be so open-minded as to demonstrate your claim. I must admit I have my doubts that you will be so bold.

  45. @Larry Tanner:

    Tut-tut, no need for attempts to insult with “addled mind” comments.

    It was not an “attempt to insult” but an objective description. Want me to stop it? Drop the snotty ignorant attitude.

    But are you seriously claiming that a theistic worldview leads to better explanations than a naturalistic worldview of anything at all in reality?

    A naturalistic worldview explains nothing at *all*, since at bottom it must posit brute, unexplained, unexplainable and unintelligible facts, that is, magic — and no, I am not being provocative, as one of the standard accounts of magic *just* is large-scale brute fact-ness.

  46. But are you seriously claiming that a theistic worldview leads to better explanations than a naturalistic worldview of anything at all in reality?

    I will answer for myself. My answer is ‘yes’, because a naturalistic worldview cannot fully explain everything in nature – in principle, it cannot. By way of analogy, if your worldview consists only of straight lines and the ability to link them together in various ways, you can’t claim that this worldview explains the existence of circles and arcs.

  47. G. Rodrigues and SteveK,

    Show me. You are talking “at bottom” and “in principle,” but how about you provide a specific example of something in reality that has a better explanation from a theistic worldview than from a naturalistic one.

    Or do you prefer to keep everything abstract for some reason?

  48. Similar to my analogy above, Larry, if all you have is matter and energy and the ability to form them into various objects, you cannot claim that this worldview explains rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.

  49. Gary Drescher has done that in his book, Good and Real.

    But let’s not talk about qualities and byproducts. I thought we were going to talk about something tangible and unambiguously ‘in reality.’

    Try a fish, or a natural feature, or a color. Your thesis should still hold, yes? Show me.

  50. Bill Zimmerman has undone Drescher’s arguments completely in his book Bad and Bogus.

    Well, actually I made that up. Absent any supporting information, though, Larry, your reference to Drescher is no better.

    Frankly, knowing what I know about the literature on this issue, I just don’t believe you. Can you give me any reason I should?

  51. But let’s not talk about qualities and byproducts.

    You cannot avoid it, Larry. Causation has the quality of producing the same repeated effect given the same initial conditions. Naturalists need to include this quality in their worldview – because it exists as certainly as rationality, morality and intentionality exist – but they have no ability to explain *why* it exists other than to claim that it’s an immutable and necessary brute fact of nature without God.

  52. Which means order must be a necessary brute fact of naturalism. Is that what naturalism teaches, Larry?

  53. @Larry Tanner:

    Or do you prefer to keep everything abstract for some reason?

    Huh? I just gave you an argument (albeit in brief form) that naturalism *must* posit brute facts and you tell me that I keep “everything abstract”?

    Try a fish, or a natural feature, or a color. Your thesis should still hold, yes? Show me.

    Oh brother…

    You give us the explanation of any natural feature and I can predict with full 100% confidence how it will go: it will be an explanation in terms of known scientific theories. But as I have *already* told you, that is neither a theist nor an atheist, or even specifically naturalist, explanation. The point is that it is an *incomplete* explanation, because the explanation will be in terms of other features like secondary causes that are themselves contingent.

  54. Oy, duck and cover, shuck and jive.

    Sorry I asked for a specific example. I should have known better than to do that. I retract the question and all my comments from #47 onward. And I retract without prejudice. G’day.

  55. Sorry I asked for a specific example.

    An example has been given. Not sure why you want to pretend it hasn’t or that it will go away, but it’s your decision.

  56. @Larry Tanner:

    Oy, duck and cover, shuck and jive.

    Yes, do that, before you embarass yourself even further.

  57. Fine, you want to describe how theism explains rationality, intentionality, and morality–go ahead and do so. Just please no reference to magic.

  58. No, Steve, time for you to put your virtual money where your virtual mouth is. You have the better explanation, you say, so either enlighten us or explain why you won’t or can’t. You made the claim so let’s stop the foolishness and have you back up that claim. I anxiously await the crumbling of my evil, naturalist ideology.

    Go ahead, I’ll wait. Your very next response will tell us all what the truth of the matter is. Either you will step up — this goes for nasty ol’ G. Rodrigues — or you won’t. Or Tom will come and try to bail you out.

    So, very simple: support your own claim. Right now. No excuses.

  59. Larry,
    My (very brief) better explanation can be found in #51, 53, 57 and 58. Did you miss these?

  60. Yes, I missed it. What exactly is the explanation?

    As G. will gladly attest, I am dense, so make it clear that THIS is the theistic explanation of rationality, intentionality, and morality.

    Just give it already! Last chance….

  61. The better explanation explains order. The better explanation involves causes other than contingent secondary causes, because (as G. Rodrigues said) they themselves are contingent and thus require an explanation.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, Larry, but I don’t recall naturalism teaching us that there exists a non-contingent, primary, cause that best explains the order we have.

  62. Rationality, intentionality, and morality, Steve, where is theism’s explanation?

    Just give the explanation itself instead of trying to insist it’s better. Just give the explanation. We’re all still waiting.

    G., you gonna help out Steve? Or are you only good for acting butthurt?

  63. JONES: I said, if naturalism is true, could naturalistic evolution be false?

    Yes, assuming in this hypothetical that the only evidence we have for evolution is Darwin’s book. Let’s suppose that after Darwin’s publication, we discover that DNA actually encodes for all lifeforms simultaneously in a highly compressed way, and all life shares identical DNA. Then there is no need for mutation and natural selection, and evolution as an origin for life is falsified. But is there a plausible naturalistic origin of the “master template” DNA? Suppose evidence shows molecules composed of every element and every complexity streaming through a wormhole from another universe with an age a billion orders of magnitude older than our own. With that sort of time, chance assembly of every kind of complex molecule, even DNA, would be a plausible naturalistic explanation.

    In the same vein, another naturalistic theory would be intelligent design, but the intelligence that created our lifeforms evolved in another universe with very different parameters from this one. Our universe, it turns out, is unable to support evolution because of an improper planck constant.

    If we look at the history of science and see how many times the first naturalistic explanation for a phenomena turned out to be the correct one, we will find few cases. Vertical crust movement theory was wrong, plate tectonics theory was right. The miasma theory for disease was wrong, the germ theory was right. If evidence simply hasn’t provided additional support for Darwin beyond finches and moths in Jones’ hypothetical, naturalists should be open to other possibilities limited only by the imagination. There are good reasons not to seize on the first naturalistic explanation one finds.

  64. @Larry Tanner:

    G., you gonna help out Steve? Or are you only good for acting butthurt?

    I am good for a couple of things; among them is not being tolerant of petulant, snotty brats.

    The argument and the terms of discussion were laid on the table; if you want to act like a grown up, respond, otherwise please spare us your obnoxious antics.

  65. I suppose that I am an agnostic or sorts (as long as you make sure to spell it with a small a). For example, I don’t know when or how life got started. (Does anyone?) Oh sure, I believe God had something to do with it; but how did He do it? I don’t know. Neither do I know if it’s possible to create a self-conscious computer, or if something like that is even possible. (Though probably not using present computer technology and architecture.) How did God create conscious and self conscious beings? I don’t know that either. Can science explain the emergence of consciousness? Furthermore, what exactly is consciousness?

    Am I warranted then in believing that God is the ultimate explanation for why anything at all exists? I believe I am and here is why. The theistic world view has better explanatory scope and power in explaining the evidence than any of it’s competitors. Ray, seems to be suggesting that compared with naturalism it’s close to 50-50. However, I don’t think it’s close at all. I think theism is far and away the better explanation.

    Of course, the point of the OP was that believers in naturalism are guilty confirmation bias. So are they? Doesn’t it look suspiciously like confirmation bias when naturalism’s explanatory power and scope is far less that 50% when compared to theism?

  66. I think this post needs comment moderation enabled on it. I was thinking of closing off the comments, but then some of them started to get good again, so I’ll take the less drastic route.

  67. Tom,

    Is it too much to ask people to defend their claims with clear, specific examples? Steve has a claim, and I want him to show me that it works. He said he showed this, but he really didn’t.

    All he needs to do is to say how rationality, intentionality, and morality originated. Of course, then he needs to say why his explanation is better than an explanation that would be offered under a naturalistic view.

    It is a very basic and polite way to reason that you provide specific examples – a few of them, if possible – to illustrate big concepts at work. We are not just reasoning about abstract, philosophical concepts. We are talking about the world, the real world, and how it actually is supposed to work.

    So, here we are using fancy words like naturalism, evolution, rationality, intentionality, and morality, and it’s all a joke because no one seems to get what these ideas mean at a grass-roots level. What’s the use of talking about physics, for example, if you cannot or will not discuss that specific photon over there, or what gravity does to that ball rolling off a table?

    In any case, I am satisfied that neither Steve nor G. — nor you, alas — actually understands the words you bandy around to bolster confidence in your ideology.

  68. All he needs to do is to say how rationality, intentionality, and morality originated.

    Genesis 1:26. That’s not where it all originated, of course, but it is where humans entered into the experience thereof. As for how these things originated originally, well, they didn’t. They’re eternal and necessary aspects (attributes) of the eternal and necessary God. So there is no “how” question to be answered.

    Of course, then he needs to say why his explanation is better than an explanation that would be offered under a naturalistic view.

    • Alex Rosenberg, Atheist’s Guide to Reality
    • Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos
    • Yours truly, Argument From Reason

    Now, before you go on complaining about vague terms and poor explanations, how about if you define what you mean by “explanation.” I believe it would be very instructive. Maybe “magic,” too. Before you bandy them around again, that is.

  69. Oh and by the way, yes, if you’re looking for clear and specific examples for how rationality, intentionality, and morality originated, and if you want a theist to provide those within a theistic framework, it’s too much. That is, it’s too rude, because you know well enough that to require an answer for that from theists is to call upon a theist to give a non-theistic answer.

    For some commenters I might leave open the possibility that it’s uninformed, but I don’t think that’s plausible in your case. I think you’re just baiting.

  70. @Larry Tanner:

    What’s the use of talking about physics, for example, if you cannot or will not discuss that specific photon over there, or what gravity does to that ball rolling off a table?

    I am going to say this for the third time; I will even quote myself to save me retyping:

    There is nothing that atheism (or expanded metaphysical worldviews like naturalism) explains better — because, and quite obviously your addled mind has still not picked up this elementary distinction, the term of comparison is not between theism and Science ™, but between theism and alternative metaphysical worldviews.

    To which you responded in May 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm:

    I understand the distinction you want to make between Science™ and naturalism and/or materialism (and perhaps other -isms). That’s fine. Point taken, with appreciation.

    So, which is it, do you understand or not? That the crux of the problem is not about this or that specific explanation for this or that specific contingent feature of the universe (even if some of them like rationality or morality do lead, even if indirectly, to God)? Talk about physics? I lift my eyes and I see on the shelf volumes on QM (Merzbacher), volumes of the Landau-Lifschitz series on fundamental physics (classical mechanics including classical field theory, general relativity, QM, electromagnetism), etc. Or maybe should I tell you to go read this and then come back to me? But of course this is all quite irrelevant and nothing but a smoke screen to shift attention from what really matters: the fact that *you* have not responded and are deflecting and flailing wildly.

  71. Larry,

    All he needs to do is to say how rationality, intentionality, and morality originated.

    Tom had is right in #77, they didn’t originate.

    Of course, then he needs to say why his explanation is better than an explanation that would be offered under a naturalistic view.

    If you’d reply to my last paragraph in #69 then we’d all know if my explanation was actually better. Here again is my “why” answer from #69.

    The better explanation [for the existence of ordered causes] involves causes other than contingent secondary causes, because (as G. Rodrigues said) they themselves are contingent and thus require an explanation.

  72. The theistic world view has better explanatory scope and power in explaining the evidence than any of it’s competitors.

    Even before the 1700’s, when scientists started getting a handle on what lightning is and how it works, was it reasonable to say that God (or Thor, or the Thunderbirds, or Zeus, or Seth, or what have you) caused lightning?

    No. The proper response to “What causes lighting?” at that time was “Darned if I, or anyone else, knows.”

    “Explanatory scope” is all well and good, but an explanation that explains everything – that is consistent with any possible set of observations – doesn’t really explain anything. I’ve pointed out several things in this thread alone that would disprove – or at least, strongly argue against – evolution. Can you provide a potential observation that would argue against theism?

  73. @Ray Ingles:

    The proper response to “What causes lighting?” at that time was “Darned if I, or anyone else, knows.”

    Making the same mistake as Mr. Larry Tanner.

  74. G. Rodrigues –

    Making the same mistake as Mr. Larry Tanner.

    Let me quote what I was responding to:

    I suppose that I am an agnostic or sorts (as long as you make sure to spell it with a small a). For example, I don’t know when or how life got started. (Does anyone?) Oh sure, I believe God had something to do with it; but how did He do it? I don’t know. Neither do I know if it’s possible to create a self-conscious computer, or if something like that is even possible. (Though probably not using present computer technology and architecture.) How did God create conscious and self conscious beings? I don’t know that either. Can science explain the emergence of consciousness? Furthermore, what exactly is consciousness?

    If that’s a mistake, it would seem that JAD’s as guilty as anyone.

    As to “why anything at all exists”, we’ve been discussing my problems with the A-T explanation. I haven’t even claimed it’s wrong, just that I don’t see how the case for it is supposed to work. It makes explicit (or hidden) assumptions that are difficult to confirm or even seemingly incorrect.

  75. Let me try to state this clearly as possible. Theism is not a scientific theory; it is a philosophical world view. Naturalism is not a scientific theory; it is a philosophical world view. Of course as philosophical world views they can (indeed they must) interpret and explain certain kinds of scientific evidence, but they are not themselves scientifically testable. The only way that I know of evaluating a world view is by examining it’s rationality, plausibility along with it’s explanatory scope and power.

  76. @Ray Ingles:

    At the risk of talking past each other, what *I* was responding to was

    The proper response to “What causes lighting?” at that time was “Darned if I, or anyone else, knows.”

    and the implied idea that theistic accounts are proto-scientific ones in opposition to the naturalistic, scientific ones, which while a nice way to rig the debate, is also a complete misunderstanding of the issue.

    edit: and JAD just confirmed me, so there, I am not talking past *him* at least.

  77. JAD –

    Theism is not a scientific theory; it is a philosophical world view. Naturalism is not a scientific theory; it is a philosophical world view.

    Then you probably shouldn’t refer to specific phenomena in the material world as relevant to the theism/naturalism distinction.

    The only way that I know of evaluating a world view is by examining it’s rationality, plausibility along with it’s explanatory scope and power.

    Of course, you’ve gotta start somewhere on “rationality” and “plausibility”.

    I tend to start from first principles, and reject ones that are automatically self-defeating Once you reject solipsism and the unknowable-in-principle, accept the basic (if fallible) utility of reason, embrace Occam’s Razor, something in the neighborhood of naturalism tends to fall out pretty naturally (no pun intended).

  78. Except for the part where (1) naturalism remains a shot in the dark, a worldview with no evidence behind it, and (2) rationality itself falls out.

  79. JAD,

    Am I warranted then in believing that God is the ultimate explanation for why anything at all exists? I believe I am and here is why. The theistic world view has better explanatory scope and power in explaining the evidence than any of it’s competitors.

    That approach does not seem practical for methodological naturalism, though.

    The goal of methodological naturalism (which need not assume anything about the truth of philosophical naturalism) is to find explanations that are simpler in complexity than the phenomena being explained. This simplicity allows us to gain control over the enormous complexity of reality by taking shortcuts to the simpler rules underneath; like finding the key to a locked door instead of being forced to take the hinges off.

    If methodological naturalism uses God as an explanation, God as a being of intelligence, communication, emotion, and mind (not to mention the omni-attributes) is always going to be more complex than the phenomena being explained. Therefore, there is no hope of finding any shortcut to a simpler rule.

    So methodological naturalism must explore the non-God solutions first, even if they are the wrong ones, because that’s the only way to find out what short-cuts exist. Only when all non-God solutions have been exhausted and found wanting, can the God solution finally be explored. (And there of course, methodology naturalism is still going to want to break down “God” into computation and information-processing subparts, in the hopes of finding the simpler rules that govern God himself.)

    If I am correct in this description, can you really blame naturalists?

    (“Simple” and “complex” can be given precise definitions with something like Kolmogorov complexity: the string representing the shortest computer program which simulates the behavior in question. A quark computer program simulation is intuitively shorter than a “God” computer program simulation. Therefore, explaining things in terms of quarks is preferable to explaining things by God if you want to gain the power of simple rules over complexity.)

  80. If you’ll bear with me for a long post, perhaps you will consider it a treat to read how I would have argued that theism leads to better explanations of reality than naturalistic views.

    Before I get to that argument, I want to review the series of comments where a definite claim was asserted by SteveK and G. Rodrigues (henceforth G-Rod) and then they doggedly refused to defend the claim in any specific way. My argument at the end of this post is meant as an example of the kind of thing I was looking for and expecting.

    So, the whole thing started with my comment at 47:

    But are you seriously claiming that a theistic worldview leads to better explanations than a naturalistic worldview of anything at all in reality?

    G-Rod (50):

    A naturalistic worldview explains nothing at *all*, since at bottom it must posit brute, unexplained, unexplainable and unintelligible facts, that is, magic — and no, I am not being provocative, as one of the standard accounts of magic *just* is large-scale brute fact-ness.

    I was looking for a yes/no answer, and you do not give one, but your answer appears to be “yes.” I am paraphrasing, but you are saying that theism leads to explanations while naturalism cannot.

    SteveK (51) responds to my question this way:

    My answer is ‘yes’, because a naturalistic worldview cannot fully explain everything in nature – in principle, it cannot.

    So, Steve and G-Rod agree completely. My response in 52 was simple and reasonable:

    Show me. You are talking “at bottom” and “in principle,” but how about you provide a specific example of something in reality that has a better explanation from a theistic worldview than from a naturalistic one.

    In response to my request for some substantiation of theism’s ability to explain, SteveK (53) says this:

    Similar to my analogy above, Larry, if all you have is matter and energy and the ability to form them into various objects, you cannot claim that this worldview explains rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.

    Sorry, this does not provide substantiation. I don’t want an analogy; rather I want to see how you actually use theism to explain, well, anything. I was thinking of concrete things to be explained, but you went to “rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.”

    SteveK then says in 57:

    Causation has the quality of producing the same repeated effect given the same initial conditions. Naturalists need to include this quality in their worldview – because it exists as certainly as rationality, morality and intentionality exist – but they have no ability to explain *why* it exists other than to claim that it’s an immutable and necessary brute fact of nature without God.

    I get your argument that naturalism fails. But I want you to show me how theism succeeds. Neither SteveK nor G-Rod has shown this at this point of the conversation. And in comment 59, SteveK AGAIN asserts the failure of naturalism or scientism or something –

    You give us the explanation of any natural feature and I can predict with full 100% confidence how it will go: it will be an explanation in terms of known scientific theories. But as I have *already* told you, that is neither a theist nor an atheist, or even specifically naturalist, explanation. The point is that it is an *incomplete* explanation, because the explanation will be in terms of other features like secondary causes that are themselves contingent.

    And AGAIN I must say this comment has nothing to do with the simple request I made in comment 52. That request, you remember, is to SHOW ME how theism succeeds in explaining anything at all.

    In comment 60, I try to get out of the conversation, sensing that neither SteveK nor G-Rod will supply examples. But G-Rod runs his virtual mouth and so I ask her/him and SteveK to use the terms they themselves gave in comment 53, “rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.”

    In 66, G-Rod refuses to back up his claim. SteveK points to his comments 51, 53, 57, and 58 – all non-answers to showing how theism succeeds in explaining anything.

    SteveK starts to get something cooking in comment 69, but IT STILL DOES NOT SHOW HOW THEISM EXPLAINS – SUCCESSFULLY OR NOT – ANTYHIG IN PARTICULAR:

    The better explanation explains order. The better explanation involves causes other than contingent secondary causes, because (as G. Rodrigues said) they themselves are contingent and thus require an explanation.

    In comment 77, Tom intervenes with Genesis1:26 and comments thusly:

    Genesis 1:26. That’s not where it all originated, of course, but it is where humans entered into the experience thereof. As for how these things originated originally, well, they didn’t. They’re eternal and necessary aspects (attributes) of the eternal and necessary God. So there is no “how” question to be answered.

    All fine and good, but SteveK and G-Rod claim that theism leads to better explanations of things such as “rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.” So, Tom disagrees with the claim by SteveK and G-Rod.

    Tom then goes on in comment 78:

    Oh and by the way, yes, if you’re looking for clear and specific examples for how rationality, intentionality, and morality originated, and if you want a theist to provide those within a theistic framework, it’s too much. That is, it’s too rude, because you know well enough that to require an answer for that from theists is to call upon a theist to give a non-theistic answer.

    Tom, the claim belongs to SteveK and G-Rod. Don’t tell me what I know when they apparently don’t know what they don’t know.

    Feeling somehow vindicated, SteveK says this in comment 80:

    Tom had is right in #77, they [i.e., “rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.”] didn’t originate.

    That’s fine, Steve. But your claim is that theism leads to better explanations of such things as “rationality, intentionality, morality, and more.” You have been asked simply to elaborate on this. Tom talks about origination, not me. I have only asked that you expand on your claim in the terms that you made it. I have only asked you to show how theism leads to better (any!) explanations of anything.

    So, how should the question have been answered? If the question had been posed to me. I would have said something like this:

    Larry, let’s take rationality as our example. To explain rationality, first we need to understand what it is, so let’s rough out a definition: ‘rationality is the human faculty of creating and applying mental models of the world for use in knowledge and decision making.’

    Whereas a naturalistic explanation of rationality will ultimately tie back to natural laws and forces acting and interacting with matter, the theistic explanation will ultimately tie back to a preceding intention. In other words, a theistic view will assert and argue that rationality itself is an intentional object, a divine creation purposely built into humanity, and expression of the deity’s purposes.

    So, how does theism lead to better explanations of rationality? One key way, in my opinion, is that theism can incorporate any non-theistic explanation and add a dimension of teleology. Naturalistic views have great difficulty with the idea of naturally occurring teleology, but theistic views make teleology almost central. Any explanation backed by a theistic view will be inherently more satisfying because it will attempt to address the purposes and goals of the objects being studied.

    With something like rationality, then, a theistic explanation will talk not only about rationality’s biological origins and development, but the purposes and goals that rationality serves. Specifically, rationality has the purpose of aiding human understanding of the world and the goal of translating that enhanced understanding into better understanding of the deity.

    To answer the question, then, theism leads to better explanations of reality by incorporating intentionality into what would otherwise be a purely materialistic reality.

  81. @djc:

    The goal of methodological naturalism (which need not assume anything about the truth of philosophical naturalism) is to find explanations that are simpler in complexity than the phenomena being explained.

    For once I thought you were going to tell us something as quaint as that the goal of methodological naturalism is, I don’t know, the Truth. But since apparently it is not, why exactly should we (or, since I speak for myself only, I) pay attention to it?

    If methodological naturalism uses God as an explanation, God as a being of intelligence, communication, emotion, and mind (not to mention the omni-attributes) is always going to be more complex than the phenomena being explained.

    Methodological naturalism “uses God as an explanation”? Have you ever heard of the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, an absolutely inegotiable part of classical theism, common with Islam and Judaism (or at least the classical theist branches of each), de fide teaching of the Catholic Church, absolutely fundamental to the Eastern Orthodox Churches and many Protestant Churches (and just here you have a considerable majority of CHristianity, and indeed of the monotheistic religions)?

    Only when all non-God solutions have been exhausted and found wanting, can the God solution finally be explored.

    So gap arguments are OK?

    And there of course, methodology naturalism is still going to want to break down “God” into computation and information-processing subparts, in the hopes of finding the simpler rules that govern God himself.

    In other words make of God something in *your* image, because humanity can endure everything but Him. By the way, this is called idolatry and it is a sin.

    “Simple” and “complex” can be given precise definitions with something like Kolmogorov complexity: the string representing the shortest computer program which simulates the behavior in question.

    But then you would be doing what is called “equivocation”.

    Anyway, the take away message is: you are making the same mistake as Mr. Larry Tanner and Mr. Ray Ingles.

  82. Kudos Larry,

    Well done. Couldn’t have said it better myself (In fact, couldn’t have said it at all!). So now that you understand that, are you coming over. 🙂

    I might have gone with the origins of stuff (life, the universe). There the existence of a deity bridges an otherwise unbridgeable gap and I think not in a God of the gaps kind of way. But your intentionality perspective is superior intellectually and adds a specificity that mine wouldn’t have.

  83. @Larry Tanner:

    I was looking for a yes/no answer, and you do not give one, but your answer appears to be “yes.” I am paraphrasing, but you are saying that theism leads to explanations while naturalism cannot.

    If what you mean is that naturalism cannot give a full (and therefore rationally coherent) explanation of anything at all, yes that is what I said. But unlike you, I actually *did* argued. Yes, I did show why it is and must be so. You still have not responded; rather, as is already habitual you deflect, reverse the terms of the discussion and make accusations that simply are *not* true like “doggedly refused to defend the claim in any specific way”. For *three* times already, I explained why your deflection does not work — and yes, my comment has *everything* to do with your request. Want another proof? I already know how this is going to play out, but this time I will keep my prediction private.

    I get your argument that naturalism fails. But I want you to show me how theism succeeds.

    This is what the arguments for the existence of God accomplish; whether it is in terms of the Aristotelian distinction of act and potency, whether it is in terms of the Neo-Platonic distinction of simplicity and compositeness, whether it is in terms of the Thomistic distinction between essence and existence, whether it is in terms of the Leibnitzian distinction of contingent and necessary, etc. they all (*) play out in a consistent pattern leading to the same conclusion.

    (*) This is not to say that all arguments are on par as regards demonstrative force.

    later edit: And to make my point even clearer:

    Whereas a naturalistic explanation of rationality will ultimately tie back to natural laws and forces acting and interacting with matter, the theistic explanation will ultimately tie back to a preceding intention.

    This is *precisely* what will not do; even if I granted that such a naturalistic explanation of rationality was possible (it is not), my argument would remain *intact*.

  84. Larry,

    To answer the question, then, theism leads to better explanations of reality by incorporating intentionality into what would otherwise be a purely materialistic reality.

    If you failed to understand that my comments were offering a similar, yet different, answer, then I blame only myself for not making it crystal clear. It sure seemed clear to me when I said contingent causes and the order that results from those contingent causes needs to be explained by some other cause. The better explanation would include non-contingent causes that could produce the ordering effect (aka, God). That’s how I intended #69.

  85. If I may briefly interject.

    @Larry

    While not concrete objects, we conclude that abstract concepts exist – for example, rationality. What is the origin of rationality? The natural world is regular – why is it regular? Causation exists – why? The theist will say that it is because of God. The argument that G. and others are making is that an atheist cannot give an explanation for why these philosophical concepts exist, but since theism can, it is more valid.

    You can look up “presuppositional apologetics” for more information.

    @OP

    Our naturalist here makes two illogical conclusions – that metaphysical naturalism follows from methodological naturalism and that Origin of the Species is sufficient to conclude that evolution is true.

    1. Metaphysical naturalism is not predicated upon this conclusion. Why attack an illogical argument? For the joy of attacking strawmen?

    2. The only people who are advancing the strawman that Darwin’s Origin of the Species as sufficient evidence for naturalistic evolution are those who are biased against it, i.e. Creationists.

    Your thought experiment suggests that some atheists who make illogical conclusions might be biased. Except, you know, the thought experiment itself is illogical and biased.

    But wait, it gets better.

    But naturalism is a theory about the ultimate nature of reality: it’s a metaphysical theory. It’s a metaphysical theory that seems to require that evolution be true, with or without evidence.

    So let’s imagine that a scientific theory (which is by definition well-supported by evidence) that makes no metaphysical claims isn’t actually supported by evidence (which would make it no longer a scientific theory) and say that we can then derive metaphysical claims from it, all in a thought experiment which presupposes that scientific theories can be derived from metaphysical claims.

    LOLwut?

    God, therefore gravity, therefore God! Or wait, sorry, that’s “I imagine gravity!”, therefore God, therefore gravity! Ha, checkmate, atheists!

  86. Sault, thanks for the comments. Could you tell me, though, where the naturalist concludes that metaphysical naturalism follows from methodological naturalism? Second, how about slowing down about on your point 2. There are no Creationists out there “advancing the strawman that Darwin’s Origin of the Species as sufficient evidence for naturalistic evolution.” This was a thought experiment, a what-if scenario.

    As a thought experiment, it is obviously not intended to be real-world veridical. It’s intended to cause the naturalist to ask the what-if question that’s posed in it. It’s all open and above-board. There’s no hidden manipulation in it.

    So let’s imagine that a scientific theory (which is by definition well-supported by evidence) that makes no metaphysical claims isn’t actually supported by evidence (which would make it no longer a scientific theory) and say that we can then derive metaphysical claims from it, all in a thought experiment which presupposes that scientific theories can be derived from metaphysical claims.

    You can imagine that if you like, and you’re welcome to write that scenario and see how it plays out if you like. It’s not the same as mine, though, even though I think you want to LOLwut at me as if I had written it:

    1. The what-if scenario (thought experiment) specifically did not begin with a scientific theory that was well supported by evidence. It began with a proposal (Darwin’s) that had only limited evidence going for it (Darwnin’s).
    2. It didn’t come within a million miles of proposing that we could derive metaphysical claims from any theory, proto-theory, proposal, or any such thing. It presented a question to a person who had a prior commitment to a metaphysical position, and asked how that prior metaphysical commitment might influence that person’s assessment of a theory. That’s precisely the opposite of what you said.

    So who are you LOLwut-ing at, I wonder?

    Would you like to re-read the OP?

  87. Larry, you’re not letting us know what you mean by “explanation,” as I asked you to do (#77). If you would have done that, then we might have given you the kind of answer you were looking for. But your request was,

    All he needs to do is to say how rationality, intentionality, and morality originated.

    I answered that question, straight up and clear.

  88. Still, your explanation of the theistic view in #89 is pretty good as far as it goes. Teleology isn’t the whole story but it’s at least part of it.

  89. Another long one to deal with recent comments.

    G-Rod at 92:

    If what you mean is that naturalism cannot give a full (and therefore rationally coherent) explanation of anything at all, yes that is what I said.

    Yes, I know what you said, but you should have been talking about theism and not naturalism.

    You also indicate I should have some sort of response, but I don’t know to what. Tell me again what I should respond to. Honestly, have you been asking some question of me?

    Later in this comment, you assert that “a naturalistic explanation of rationality” is impossible. I think I generally get what you mean: naturalism is, you say, a viewpoint and doesn’t itself explain anything. I have tried to be consistent in phrasing that naturalism/theism gets used or leads to certain kinds of explanations, but I also do hold the opinion that it does in fact constitute an ultimate explanation. Reality ultimately is what we observe because reality is theistic or naturalistic.

    Steve at 93:

    If you failed to understand that my comments were offering a similar, yet different, answer, then I blame only myself for not making it crystal clear.

    I do indeed understand the similarity. I used your comments as the base material for the text I put forth. The difference is in the application to the specific term, “rationality.”

    Tom at 96:

    Larry, you’re not letting us know what you mean by “explanation,” as I asked you to do (#77).

    Yes, I know I didn’t answer. Your question was a distraction from the topic at hand, which had to do with theism being able to lead to successful explanations of things such as rationality. It was the claim of both SteveK and G-Rod, so properly t would have been up to them to tell us what they meant in their claim by ‘explanation.’ Now that we have a better idea of what relationship a theistic viewpoint might have to understanding rationality, I feel more comfortable saying what I mean by ‘explanation.’

    Before this, let me address your comment that you “answered that question” on rationality, intentionality, and morality. In comment 77, you say:

    Genesis 1:26. That’s not where it all originated, of course, but it is where humans entered into the experience thereof. As for how these things originated originally, well, they didn’t. They’re eternal and necessary aspects (attributes) of the eternal and necessary God. So there is no “how” question to be answered.

    Here, you seem to be saying that a theistic viewpoint can see some aspects/attributes as being eternal and necessary. This of course is a philosophical argument, and you should not find it surprising in the least for me to say that many philosophers find this type of argument persuasive and many do not. You might find it settled; many reasonable people amicably disagree for no less compelling philosophical reasons.

    In any case, I am not sure how either the eternal ‘rationality’ or the experience of rationality (i.e., your Genesis cite) relates to the kind of rationality employed by people (I defined it as ‘the human faculty of creating and applying mental models of the world for use in knowledge and decision making’). Is the rationality I defined also eternal and necessary? If not, what caused the emergence of this rationality? I would appreciate knowing your answer to this, Tom.

    Finally, back to my definition of ‘explanation.’ I basically mean by explanation the immediately preceding or direct causes of something. So, when I asked about what made theistically-based explanations superior, I wanted to know what the secret sauce, so to speak, was for theism. I wanted to know what theism added to an understanding of these causes. Instead, everyone harped on the flaws of naturalism.

  90. @Larry Tanner:

    Yes, I know what you said, but you should have been talking about theism and not naturalism.

    You are so confused and lost, that you really need some hand-holding. So here’s some context:

    #48:

    There is nothing that theism explains better.

    There is nothing that atheism (or expanded metaphysical worldviews like naturalism) explains better — because, and quite obviously your addled mind has still not picked up this elementary distinction, the term of comparison is not between theism and Science ™, but between theism and alternative metaphysical worldviews.

    #50:

    But are you seriously claiming that a theistic worldview leads to better explanations than a naturalistic worldview of anything at all in reality?

    A naturalistic worldview explains nothing at *all*, since at bottom it must posit brute, unexplained, unexplainable and unintelligible facts, that is, magic — and no, I am not being provocative, as one of the standard accounts of magic *just* is large-scale brute fact-ness.

    #59:

    Or do you prefer to keep everything abstract for some reason?

    Huh? I just gave you an argument (albeit in brief form) that naturalism *must* posit brute facts and you tell me that I keep “everything abstract”?

    #62:

    Oy, duck and cover, shuck and jive.

    Yes, do that, before you embarass yourself even further.

    #73:

    G., you gonna help out Steve? Or are you only good for acting butthurt?

    I am good for a couple of things; among them is not being tolerant of petulant, snotty brats.

    The argument and the terms of discussion were laid on the table; if you want to act like a grown up, respond, otherwise please spare us your obnoxious antics.

    #79:

    So, which is it, do you understand or not? That the crux of the problem is not about this or that specific explanation for this or that specific contingent feature of the universe (even if some of them like rationality or morality do lead, even if indirectly, to God)?

    So no, you do not get to tell me what I should or should not be talking about.

    @Sault:

    The argument that G. and others are making is that an atheist cannot give an explanation for why these philosophical concepts exist, but since theism can, it is more valid.

    ??

    Your mangling of the OP is already quite unnerving, but I suppose it is no surprise that I find positively maddening the completely botched rendering of what I argued.

  91. G-Rod,

    In your comment 59, you fault naturalism for being a view that ultimately posits ‘brute facts.’ And you think any view that posits ultimate brute facts must be flawed and also must finally fail (by being incomplete) in providing coherent explanations of reality.

    Have I characterized your view correctly?

  92. @Larry Tanner:

    Have I characterized your view correctly?

    Yes, thank you.

    Two things. First, be careful with the “incomplete” word, as it can be misleading. Second, the problems with naturalism go far and way beyond what I pointed out, but then I was only responding to the claim that naturalism say, is a better explanation of overall reality.

  93. Tom –

    Except for the part where (1) naturalism remains a shot in the dark, a worldview with no evidence behind it, and (2) rationality itself falls out.

    Nuh uh!

    (Apparently bare assertion is all that’s needed, so…)

  94. G-Rod at 101,

    Acknowledging your remark that naturalism’s flaws extend beyond its positing of brute facts, I nevertheless wonder what you make of Swinburne’s characterization of God’s existence in Existence of God (and Coherence of Theism) as an ultimate brute fact.

    If God’s existence is a brute fact, then both theism and naturalism are views that posit brute facts — and so they are equivalent on that score, right?

    In other words, if naturalism is faulted for positing brute facts, theism has the very same fault.

    Agreed?

  95. SteveK,

    Thanks for the link. Feser and the A-Ts certainly have a critical disagreement with such thinkers as Swinburne and Plantinga. Some folks go with classical theism; others go with the contemporary.

    To be honest, I have never understood exactly why the A-Ts think their metaphysics of act and potency, and essence and existence, makes their classical deity NOT an ultimate brute fact. It looks to me like special pleading.

    My earlier question, however, is really one of “what if.” If God’s existence is an ultimate brute fact — whether or not you actually subscribe to the Swinburnian school — is this theism subject to the same criticism leveled against naturalism. That’s the question I’d like to pursue.

    A final note: I would caution against stating that Feser or any one person provides the definitive answer to this or that question/controversy. You did not state or really imply that Feser’s comment gives the definitive statement on the topic of Goad as brute fact. However, I want to say something just so that we are all clear on this. Besides, Feser’s classical theism is not without its own problems and flaws.

  96. Theism claims that an eternally (or necessarily) existing transcendent Mind (God) operating as a causal agent is sufficient to explain the following:

    1. The existence and origin of the universe.

    2. The apparent fine tuning of the universe.

    3. The intelligibility of the universe.

    4. The existence of natural law.

    5. Mind and consciousness.

    6. Free will.

    7. Religious experience and the intuitive belief in eternal existence and immortality.

    Theists also argue that God provides a sufficient grounding for meaning, purpose and values and that the so called “hard wiring” that compels us to seek meaning, purpose and value is not accidental or absurd.

    Naturalism claims that natural causation alone is sufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

    How does naturalism explain everything that I have listed above?

    None of the commenters here defending that naturalist position so far have stepped up to the plate and explained how naturalism is a better explanation than theism. In his O.P. Tom charged you with confirmation bias. It’s a really absurd kind of confirmation bias if you can’t rationally defend your position. Inference to the best explanation is warranted when reasoning abductively. Inference to the worst explanation is, again, absurd.

  97. Ray @102,

    Gimme a break. I gave that as much support as you gave the remark I was responding to. And FOR PETE’S SAKE, don’t you remember us giving you more than bare assertion at least once in your lifetime?!

    If you don’t recall any of that then we’re really, really, really wasting our time with you!

  98. JAD,

    If I may keep to your level of detail:

    Naturalism claims that natural laws and forces, and their byproducts, are sufficient to explain the following:

    1. The existence and origin of the universe.

    2. The apparent fine tuning of the universe.

    3. The intelligibility of the universe.

    4. The existence of natural law.

    5. Mind and consciousness.

    6. Free will.

    7. Religious experience and the intuitive belief in eternal existence and immortality.

    Naturalists also argue that God is a man-made epistemological grounding for meaning, purpose and values and that the so called “hard wiring” that compels us to seek meaning, purpose and value is accidental or absurd only from a point of view that insists they are so.

    Theism claims that natural causation alone is insufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

  99. @Larry Tanner:

    Acknowledging your remark that naturalism’s flaws extend beyond its positing of brute facts, I nevertheless wonder what you make of Swinburne’s characterization of God’s existence in Existence of God (and Coherence of Theism) as an ultimate brute fact.

    Wrong, dead wrong. Swinburne is not a classical theist, but, in B. Davies’ terminology a theistic personalist. On the other hand naturalists may certainly be pleased by having a philosopher of the caliber of Swinburne saying such a thing (and theistic personalists in general), because then they can play the childish game of “Hey yeah, we may be dead wrong, but you are no better off, so nyah nyah”.

    Later edit: I have but little memory of “Coherence of Theism”, having only skimmed it, but I find nonetheless the statement of God as the ultimate brute fact surprising. Do you by any chance have a reference?

  100. Later edit: I have but little memory of “Coherence of Theism”, having only skimmed it, but I find nonetheless the statement of God as the ultimate brute fact surprising. Do you by any chance have a reference?

    Page 277:

    To say that “God exists” is necessary is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable — not in the sense that we do not know its explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.

  101. G-Rod:

    On the other hand naturalists may certainly be pleased by having a philosopher of the caliber of Swinburne saying such a thing (and theistic personalists in general), because then they can play the childish game of “Hey yeah, we may be dead wrong, but you are no better off, so nyah nyah”.

    Well, maybe one of us is right!

    I am just asking whether it’s OK for a theistic view to posit brute facts but not a naturalistic view to do so, and why. So, can the existence of God be a brute fact but not the existence of natural laws and forces?

  102. I gave that as much support as you gave the remark I was responding to.

    Well, my remark had links to further arguments and discussion, none of which you addressed.

    (And I sent you a note by contact form, but take a look at this and this. Any comment one way or another?)

  103. Further on #112, if there was something in those links that was relevant to your conclusion, I didn’t see it. I didn’t look very hard, I’ll admit, because you didn’t give any indication where to look or how it might relate. I don’t like to go link-exploring without some sense of what I’m looking for.

    I’m still really wondering, though, why you referred to an often-discussed, often-argued-for, often debated set of conclusions “bare assertion.” Either your memory is frightfully short, or you’re playing a stupid and inane game of “gee, even though you’ve argued for this repeatedly in the past, and even though I’ve been involved in those discussions, you can’t even bring it up without doing the argument all over again.”

    I don’t believe it’s the former. I believe you’re playing a stupid and annoying game.

    I believe you ignored that part of my comment #107 because it tended to interfere with your game.

    I don’t believe you’re here for good faith discussion.

  104. Larry @111: Are natural laws and forces necessarily what they are? Could they be different? Do you have any reason to doubt that they are? Is there some possible world where G is a fraction of a percent different? On another level of analysis and conjecture, is there some possible alternate universe in our multiverse where not all laws are the same? (Multiverse theorists think so.)

    If so, then they are contingent, not necessary.

  105. Larry,

    My comments are in italics.

    Naturalism claims that natural laws and forces, and their byproducts, are sufficient to explain the following:

    1. The existence and origin of the universe.

    Okay, what caused the universe to come into existence?

    2. The apparent fine tuning of the universe.

    What then accounts for it? Chance, necessity or something else?

    3. The intelligibility of the universe.

    Why should a universe that is the result of a mindless process be intelligible?

    4. The existence of natural law.

    But how does unorganized, mindless matter and energy give us natural law? Just a brute fact.

    5. Mind and consciousness.

    How does mindless matter give rise to mind and consciousness? Can you give me an empirical explanation? What is mind? What is consciousness?

    6. Free will.

    On naturalism on what grounds do we have free will? I would (if I were a naturalist) have to agree with those who say it’s an illusion. Where is scientific proof to the contrary?

    7. Religious experience and the intuitive belief in eternal existence and immortality.

    But on naturalism wouldn’t a belief in immortality be an illusion? Surely, you don’t believe you are going to live forever?

    Naturalists also argue that God is a man-made epistemological grounding for meaning, purpose and values and that the so called “hard wiring” that compels us to seek meaning, purpose and value is accidental or absurd only from a point of view that insists they are so.

    Then there is no real meaning, purpose and value to human existence. It’s also all just an illusion.

    Theism claims that natural causation alone is insufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

    But can naturalist make the same argument against theism?

  106. Larry,

    I am just asking whether it’s OK for a theistic view to posit brute facts but not a naturalistic view to do so, and why.

    Rather than argue over what the term ‘brute fact’ means, I think it’s more productive to discuss how you arrived at your conclusion. Let’s start with your comment to JAD in #108

    Naturalism claims that natural laws and forces, and their byproducts, are sufficient to explain the following:

    That’s all well and good, but you need to define your terms as precisely as you can and you need a metaphysical system so that the complete picture can be understood. What’s you’ve said here is very basic.

    What do you mean by natural law and forces? In what form/state do they exist? What is the metaphysical system such that it can produce these byproducts? In your system, do things just pop into existence uncaused or must there be a cause? Does the principle of proportionate causality apply?

    These are the types of questions that Aquinas and many others before and after him developed a lengthy answer to. What answers have naturalism given to these questions?

    I’m convinced that the more naturalists think about the answers to these questions, the more their worldview will look like theism.

  107. @Larry Tanner:

    I am just asking whether it’s OK for a theistic view to posit brute facts but not a naturalistic view to do so, and why. So, can the existence of God be a brute fact but not the existence of natural laws and forces?

    I am not sure I am getting your question right, but the answer is no, in the sense that *if* any of the alternatives posits brute facts then they cannot be right.

    I repeat my question earlier: do you have a more precise reference for Swinburne’s position on God as the ultimate brute fact; I do not have the time to wade through all of the (two) book(s) you mentioned.

    And for the fun of it:

    Naturalism claims that natural laws and forces, and their byproducts, are sufficient to explain the following:

    Here is another hole, so humongous you can drive the entire Milky Way through it: “natural laws”? What is that? The expression makes sense in the mouth of a Descartes or a Newton, who conceived of them as the decrees of the Divine Lawgiver, but quite obviously that will not do for a naturalist. A little bit of thought informs us immediately that whatever they are (and they must be *something*, for only what exists, in some sense, can account for anything at all) they are not your typical denizen of the natural world. This alone, is enough to undermine naturalism. So let us expand naturalism to suit its tenants. So what is a natural law? Platonic abstracta? A convenient name for our descriptions of reality? What? Choose your poison (hint: it *will* kill you).

    edit: Ah, I see SteveK has beat me to it. Great.

  108. Rodrigues: Choose your poison (hint: it *will* kill you).

    Me: I’m convinced that the more naturalists think about the answers to these questions, the more their worldview will look like theism.

    I like your way of saying it!

    Many naturalists hide behind “I don’t know” as the answer to these difficult metaphysical questions and then they expect you and I to accept their claim that naturalism is the better explanation. Not gonna happen.

  109. Just a brief note on “brute fact”. From my reading brute fact is a term that has been coined by materialists to serve as a place holder for where the materialist cannot provide an explanation for some contingent feature of the universe. God is not a brute fact because he is the ultimate or necessary explanation for all existence. Brute facts AFAIK are not used that way.

  110. @Larry Tanner:

    Duh, now I feel stupid: missed your reference. Thanks, will try to check it out.

  111. Larry @110

    Quoting the book:
    To say that “God exists” is necessary is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable — not in the sense that we do not know its explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.

    I don’t find much to disagree with here. The problem isn’t that we arrived at our conclusion and you want to cry foul because God is a brute fact (again, let’s not argue over the term). Go ahead and refer to God as that if you want.

    The problems is with the KIND of ‘brute fact’ (the kind of being or reality) that naturalism wants us to accept as the explanation for everything on your list in #108.

    The more you answer the questions posed in #117 (and many more!), the more I think you will find the brute fact of naturalism to be (a) nearly identical to God, or (b) incoherent, or (c) lacking the ability to explain a lot on that list, maybe everything on it.

  112. G. Rodrigues,

    The goal of methodological naturalism (which need not assume anything about the truth of philosophical naturalism) is to find explanations that are simpler in complexity than the phenomena being explained.

    For once I thought you were going to tell us something as quaint as that the goal of methodological naturalism is, I don’t know, the Truth. But since apparently it is not, why exactly should we (or, since I speak for myself only, I) pay attention to it?

    The goal of methodological naturalism is certainly the truth, although that may be more pragmatically defined than anything else. But that wasn’t my point. What I meant above was that methodological naturalism does not need philosophical naturalism to be true to proceed. It should not, in my view, exclude the supernatural or exclude anything at all as an explanation.

    Methodological naturalism “uses God as an explanation”? Have you ever heard of the doctrine of Divine Simplicity …

    I’m not certain what you’re asking for here. The definition of simple/complex that methodology naturalism uses is not compatible with “Divine Simplicity”. I proposed Kolmogorov complexity as giving a good practical definition to “complexity” in terms of information theory. Divine Simplicity seems more of an article of faith.

    And there of course, methodology naturalism is still going to want to break down “God” into computation and information-processing subparts, in the hopes of finding the simpler rules that govern God himself.

    In other words make of God something in *your* image, because humanity can endure everything but Him. By the way, this is called idolatry and it is a sin.

    If God exists, I’m certain he doesn’t mind a little futile effort. If on the other hand, you imply that there is malice towards God implied by the effort, I would disagree. Curiosity need not be malicious.

    Simple” and “complex” can be given precise definitions with something like Kolmogorov complexity: the string representing the shortest computer program which simulates the behavior in question.

    But then you would be doing what is called “equivocation”.

    Are you saying Kolmogorov complexity is itself poorly defined or rather that I’m using it improperly here?

  113. JAD,

    1. The existence and origin of the universe.
    2. The apparent fine tuning of the universe.
    3. The intelligibility of the universe.
    4. The existence of natural law.
    5. Mind and consciousness.
    6. Free will.
    7. Religious experience and the intuitive belief in eternal existence and immortality.

    How does naturalism explain everything that I have listed above?

    None of the commenters here defending that naturalist position so far have stepped up to the plate and explained how naturalism is a better explanation than theism. In his O.P. Tom charged you with confirmation bias. It’s a really absurd kind of confirmation bias if you can’t rationally defend your position. Inference to the best explanation is warranted when reasoning abductively. Inference to the worst explanation is, again, absurd.

    I pointed out that a fundamental problem is our having two different goals for an explanation. A good naturalistic explanation leads to more information, more scientific knowledge and is thus largely reductionist. A bad naturalistic explanation is as complex and poorly understood as the phenomena in question.

    Some bad naturalistic explanations that leap to mind from your list are:

    1. The existence and origin of the universe.
    Answer: the multiverse

    5. Mind and consciousness.
    Answer: emergence

    While these might be reasonable as vague hypotheses, as explanations they fail the test. So naturally I’m also going to reject theistic explanations if they’re complex and poorly understood, and I’m afraid God, to me, is the most complex and most poorly understood concept there is.

    But that doesn’t mean I reject God as an explanation outright. Only that other, simpler explanations, must be ruled out first.

    If God exists, then 1-7 are easily explained. But without knowing that (as I do not), a better strategy is a long and careful process applying reductionism to each question. If any progress is made, keep going. I can say with some confidence that methodological naturalism is making progress on 1-7, it has certainly not hit a brick wall. So at this point in time, God is not warranted as an explanation, I feel.

  114. Larry,

    To say that “God exists” is necessary is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable — not in the sense that we do not know its explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.

    One comment I’d like to make is that explanation here is being used synonymously with cause and obviously God does not have a cause. If we widen the meaning of explanation then God has within himself the explanation of his existence (he does not cause himself, but his existence is explained by who he is, being itself, pure actuality, necessary being etc). Therein lies the difference between the naturalists brute facts which are ultimately unintelligible and unexplained and God.

  115. djc:

    If God exists, then 1-7 are easily explained. But without knowing that (as I do not), a better strategy is a long and careful process applying reductionism to each question. If any progress is made, keep going. I can say with some confidence that methodological naturalism is making progress on 1-7, it has certainly not hit a brick wall. So at this point in time, God is not warranted as an explanation, I feel.

    So you are conceding that at the moment God is a better explanation but your holding out hope for naturalism– why? Because you’re hoping it will turn out to be true? Talk about confirmation bias on overdrive… Go ahead believe whatever you want. As for me, I’ll go with the best explanation. As Spock said, “All I know is logic.”

    P.S. Why not learn more about God?

    Melissa @ 125

    Good explanation.

  116. djc, what makes reductionism a “better strategy”?

    Are you extrapolating from its past explanatory success? But it’s only been successful in explaining that which is reducible.

    Are you extrapolating from the success of science in general? Not all science is reductionist. But all science is focused on discoveries about the natural world.

    So your quest might just be looking for natural explanations of non-natural phenomena, and for reductionist explanations of the non-reducible. If so, then you could look for a thousand years and never get to an answer.

    If I were you I would at least mount a parallel exploration into other possible answers. You don’t have a thousand years. To take a serial approach, where you exhaust all reductionist possibilities before considering any other, is to determine your set of possible answers from the beginning. It’s to define that set as the only one you’ll consider, even if the right answers aren’t in that set. It’s to guarantee that if the right answers aren’t where you’re looking, you’ll never find them and you’ll never even know that you’re looking in the wrong place.

    You have seventy, eighty, maybe ninety years. Or less: you never know. Use your time well.

  117. Besides that, I think it’s becoming a consensus opinion that naturalism has hit a brick wall with respect to free will. There’s absolutely no room for agent free will in naturalism.

    Some naturalists are giving up on rationality, calling that a brick wall as well. Many are saying that consciousness is an illusion (an illusion of which, somehow, we are conscious?). Others are calling it “the hard problem” for its serious intractability.

    Naturalism isn’t moving any closer to an explanation for the existence of the universe. It’s moving closer to describing its early conditions, but that’s early as in, “early once its existence was established.” It’s getting nowhere on explaining its existence.

    Naturalism cannot explain why there is natural law. It can’t even come close. If a Grand Unified Theory/Theory of Everything (GUT or TOE, what’s your anatomical preference?) ever unified all known natural law, it could only do it in terms of some other natural law, which would stand in need of explanation.

    So you’re being over-optimistic there, I think.

  118. Tom –

    I’m still really wondering, though, why you referred to an often-discussed, often-argued-for, often debated set of conclusions “bare assertion.”

    ‘Cause we’ve had those debates; my arguments haven’t convinced you, your arguments haven’t convinced me. You know I disagree and why, but all you did was reiterate what we disagree on.

    But anyway – assume naturalism were true, just for a moment. Would it be reasonable to expect that there would be “hard problems” that took thousands of years to solve?

  119. An unresolved disagreement is not a “bare assertion.” But as long as your calling my kettle black, please go back and re-read the first part of #106 and the first paragraph of #113.

    Sure, it would be reasonable to expect that about naturalism. Your point?

  120. It’s reasonable to believe that there will be hard problems for us to resolve about nature for thousands of years to come. It’s not reasonable to wait a thousand years before one opens the door to investigating alternatives to naturalism.

  121. @djc:

    What I meant above was that methodological naturalism does not need philosophical naturalism to be true to proceed. It should not, in my view, exclude the supernatural or exclude anything at all as an explanation.

    This is just wrong. It misunderstands both Science, methodological naturalism, which is, as the name implies, a methodological posit restricted to scientific matters, and what questions God is the answer to.

    Are you saying Kolmogorov complexity is itself poorly defined or rather that I’m using it improperly here?

    You are equivocating and falling prey to the temptation of throwing out the first random bit of science-y lingo, possibly in the hopes that it is mildly relevant. It is not.

    Since I have neither the time nor the patience to untangle this crown of thorns, three points:

    (1) Your claim that God must be more complex that what it explains is a complete non-sequitur. Which you would know, if for example, you would not have glibly dismissed Divine Simplicity with a “seems more of an article of faith”.

    (1a) Your argument is essentially Dawkin’s ultimate argument, amply shown to be intellectually bankrupt.

    (2) Kolmogorov complexity is a (asymptotic) measure of the complexity of *programs*. God is not a program. No being in the universe is a program. And why Kolmogorov complexity anyway? Why not any of the measures in computational complexity theory? As axiomatized by Blum say? Why not take the computable ordinal of a theory? Why not complexity as tied to the probability of a state of a given physical system? Why not the ordinal rank of a set in the (lightface) Borel hierarchy? Why not (replace by any of the numberless measures of complexity)?

  122. Tom at 114:

    Larry @111: Are natural laws and forces necessarily what they are? Could they be different? Do you have any reason to doubt that they are? Is there some possible world where G is a fraction of a percent different? On another level of analysis and conjecture, is there some possible alternate universe in our multiverse where not all laws are the same? (Multiverse theorists think so.)

    If so, then they are contingent, not necessary.

    Catching up briefly — I have to work, after all.

    You seem to be saying that natural laws and forces are contingent, whereas God is necessary. In other words, a contingent brute fact is a problem where a necessary brute fact is not.

    But then what if we “level up” from natural laws and forces (which possibly would differ in different universes and possible universes) to ‘nature’ (which would be the stuff of all universes, possible and actual)? This ‘nature’ would then be necessary.

    Indeed, this view is articulated nicely by a very competent philosopher, Keith Parsons:

    As I see it, the choice between naturalism and theism comes down to a choice between ultimate brute facts: God or the universe. Which is the more satisfactory terminus of or explanatory chains, the primordial or fundamental features of the universe, on the one hand, or a supernatural being with the omni-predicates attributed by theism? My view is that the former choice is at least as defensible as the latter, and that each choice amounts to the selection of a brutally-factual end-point for our explanatory enterprises.

    Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/02/28/reply-to-prof-fesers-fourth-question/

  123. I am not sure whether JAD, SteveK and G-Rod want/care for my responses to 115, 116, an 117, respectively. If so, I’ll get to responding when I can.

    There’s no intentional ignoring on my part (nor intentional ignorance).

  124. @Larry Tanner:

    Indeed, this view is articulated nicely by a very competent philosopher, Keith Parsons:

    I am sorry, but nowhere Keith Parsons gives a coherent articulation of that view. On the classical theist position he says:

    What could it possibly mean to say that something is self-explanatory? I know that, as you note above, Ed, many philosophers have made suggestions here. I find these to be very obscure. They sound to me like verbal formulas devised to obviate a problem rather than solve it. I am not even sure that it is coherent to say that “God is pure actuality” or “God is his own sufficient reason.” I would have to ask for a very careful unpacking of these phrases before I would concede that they are meaningful.

    This is not a response, but a scratching of the head and a candid admission of “I don’t get it”.

    Neither *anything* Keith Parsons says obviates to the many problems pointed out (say as I do in #117 and SteveK in #116). And of course, it is no response to the classical theist positing a false dichotomy, when the classical theist will insist to his dying breath that it *is* a false dichotomy.

  125. Larry,

    You seem to be saying that natural laws and forces are contingent, whereas God is necessary. In other words, a contingent brute fact is a problem where a necessary brute fact is not.

    There are two issues here which I think you have confused. The first is that the ultimate explanation for contingent things must itself be necessary which us what you are responding to in Tom’s comment. The second is whether we should accept brute facts. As I wrote before God is only a brute fact if you take explanation to be synonymous with caused. I do not, I think God is self-explanatory, and therefore not a brute fact. I think Tom would agree with this assessment.

    But then what if we “level up” from natural laws and forces (which possibly would differ in different universes and possible universes) to ‘nature’ (which would be the stuff of all universes, possible and actual)? This ‘nature’ would then be necessary.

    I don’t see any evidence from you that you have grappled at all with what is required from an ultimate explanation. I suspect that if you did work these things through what you would get is something ver much like God. Although what you are proposing looks very much like pantheism. God (“nature”) precedes the natural laws we know and is the stuff the universe is made of. As it is though you are positing a completely as hoc brute fact as an alternative to an actual explanation. I suppose you want to maintain that yours is more reasonable. I hope you can see the irony in that.

  126. Hi Melissa,

    Although what you are proposing looks very much like pantheism.

    It does. Larry’s “level up” scenario means “nature” preceded the natural laws and forces in all other existing realities, and so it must have created these things, and all that is in them.

    I hope you can see the irony in that.

    We can all hope. Should we start mocking his belief-without-evidence now, or should we wait until he develops his idea more? (I’m kidding, Larry!)

  127. JAD,

    So you are conceding that at the moment God is a better explanation but your holding out hope for naturalism– why?

    No, because explanatory scope and power is not all there is. The “multiverse” explains existence, fine tuning, intelligibility, so it certainly has scope and power. But I consider it bad as an explanation because the evidence in relation to its complexity is poor. Likewise “emergence” explains mind and consciousness, so it also has explanatory scope and power, but poses an explanation that is just as mysterious as the things it tries to explain. Would you say I am wrong to do this, that explanatory scope and power really should be all that matters?

    Let’s consider for a moment what is meant by “God explains everything” and “Naturalism explains everything”. I particular don’t like “Naturalism explains everything” because it tells me absolutely nothing. It’s just a statement of belief or hypothesis, it’s not an explanation in itself. That’s the same reason I don’t care for “God explains everything”. But let’s go with both for the moment.

    A mind can imagine anything. An all-powerful mind, therefore, can do anything. God is an all-powerful mind. Therefore, God can be responsible for any observed aspect of reality. That’s the framework for God’s explanatory scope and power.

    Naturalism poses an infinite possible arrangement of reality in infinite possible ways with infinite time/dimensions at the horizon or boundary of scientific inquiry. The boundary is growing, expanding, but we just can’t see past the current boundary to know what is actually there. On one side of the boundary, only what is observed is assumed to exist; on the other side of the boundary, anything at all goes. (I believe even God is allowed here, and that naturalism does not exclude God at all, but instead, of necessity, considers less complex explanations first; but I won’t make this an assumption of the argument.) That’s the framework for Naturalism’s explanatory scope and power.

    So let me go through your list casually.

    1. The existence and origin of the universe. I don’t see why existence needs to presume Mind so either God or Naturalism seems fine here.
    2. The apparent fine-tuning of the universe. Mind/God works, but so does something like a multiverse.
    3. The intelligibility of the universe. Mind/God works, but Naturalism also poses the evolutionary origin of mind which is only possible if there are some patterns and regularity in nature.
    4. The existence of natural law. I don’t immediately see why Mind/God would be preferred to Naturalism here. There is the assumption that Mind implies regularity and non-Mind implies chaos, but there really isn’t any way to test that as far as I know.
    5. Mind and consciousness. Mind is obviously a better explanation for mind, but only if mind resists reductionistic attempts. Since we observe that mind is being broken down into computation, information, sensory perception, neurons, qualia, etc., Naturalism has had some success here which strictly should not happen if Mind is properly basic. Consciousness likewise does not seem to be properly basic. That is, we can break down what we think of as consciousness further, understanding why we lose consciousness, how dreaming differs from awake states, and why consciousness seems to follow attention and nothing else. The hard problem of consciousness still exists and seems to need a qualitatively different approach, but it is unclear what that problem really is once information and computation are taken out of the picture. What is consciousness without information? We will likely learn the answer to this. With this very short sketch of mind and consciousness I find it difficult to say really which has better explanatory power God or Naturalism.
    6. Free will. Here I think the edge is to Naturalism, since contra-causal free will has always been incoherent to me. Compatibilism is all that is needed as far as I can tell.
    7. Religious experience and the intuitive belief in eternal existence and immortality. I would say Mind or Naturalism have equal explanatory power here. There seems to be no biological obstacle to religious behavior in evolutionary theory.

    So both God and Naturalism as defined above seem very roughly equal in explanatory power and scope to me. There might be a slight edge to God but not enough to compel me solidly. But this takes me back to the first point. Explanatory scope and power is not all there is. I assume you want naturalistic explanations for 1-7 that refer to actual data points, actual numbers, and figures. REAL explanations, not the vague theorizing I offered above. I agree, we need those explanations for Naturalism. But likewise, we need the same for God. It can not be consistent to accept “God explains everything” but not likewise accept “Naturalism explains everything”, we have to ask for more. Only if we can get facts that explain how and why God creates can we then compare head-to-head with Naturalistic theories. It seems to me there is a double-standard here otherwise.

  128. @djc

    1 – how does naturalism account for the origin of the universe?

    2 – agree, more or less

    3, The intelligibility of the universe – disagree. The evolutionary origin of mind is only possible if there are some patterns and regularity in nature, yes. But why should the universe be intelligible to us to the degree that it seems to be? We seem to have an extraordinary ability to comprehend our universe that goes orders of magnitude beyond what is required to survive and reproduce.

    4 – unsure

    5 – my response is similar to 3). Consciousness seems to be an amazingly complicated feature that is unnecessary for survival. Why did evolution produce consciousness instead of zombies?

    6 – free will – I don’t see naturalism as having the edge here. Compatibilism seems to be the ugly but necessary offspring of naturalism. We all agree we experience what seems to be free will. Despite the arguments of Frankfurt, Lewis, Strawson and others, I’ve yet to see a convincing explanation of how compatibilism explains this.

    7 – agree.

  129. djc,

    If I may cut in here. Just a quick though on what I think is your quite reasonable position on the “multiverse”. You “…consider it bad as an explanation because the evidence in relation to its complexity is poor.” That’s certainly true but doesn’t go far enough. The “multiverse” doesn’t have just evidence that in relation to its complexity is poor, it has no evidence whatsoever and never will. Thus, if falls short of even what could be considered a legitimate hypothesis in scientific inquiry as a hypothesis should be at least, in theory, testable. The multiverse is not even in theory testable. It should not really be part of the conversation and if that is so what are you left with.

  130. @BillT:

    You “…consider it bad as an explanation because the evidence in relation to its complexity is poor.” That’s certainly true but doesn’t go far enough.

    Arguably, General relativity is more complex than Newtonian mechanics — it is mathematically more complex, it contains it as a limit case, etc.

    djc could try to dispute the fact that GR is more complex than Newtonian mechanics. But then we would quickly see how all this talk is just so much humbug.

  131. Melissa @135 – what if the naturalist simply asserted that there exists some other reality – say a particular flavour of one of the multiverse hypothesises – and to this attributed the quality of self-explanation? Their multiverse is similar to God in all possible qualities that are not associated with a being. (And here I’m think about conciousness, intentionality and so on.)

    *Edit*

    I see that the multiverse has already been mentioned above.

  132. @BillT

    The “multiverse” doesn’t have just evidence that in relation to its complexity is poor, it has no evidence whatsoever and never will. Thus, if falls short of even what could be considered a legitimate hypothesis in scientific inquiry as a hypothesis should be at least, in theory, testable. The multiverse is not even in theory testable.

    That’s a pretty bold statement to claim the multiverse will never have any evidence.

    As I understand it, most models of inflation lead to a multiverse, so if evidence exists for inflation (e.g. possibly the BICEP2 results), then that would seem to be evidence (admittedly very limited) for a multiverse.

  133. Billy,

    Melissa @135 – what if the naturalist simply asserted that there exists some other reality – say a particular flavour of one of the multiverse hypothesises – and to this attributed the quality of self-explanation?

    Because being self-explanatory isn’t just a label that you conveniently apply to whatever you wish … or I guess they could assert what they wish but there would be literally “no reason” to take such an assertion seriously. I suspect that whatever the naturalist proposes as ultimate reality will actually be, when fully worked out, God.

  134. bigbird,

    “As I understand it, most models of inflation lead to a multiverse, so if evidence exists for inflation…”

    Seems to me this is a pretty bold statement, too. I think the reality is that models of inflation are hypothesized to lead to a multiverse and it’s not likely that is testable either.

  135. I would go so far as to say that it opens the door for the possibility of a multiverse. The science is there for that much. I wouldn’t call it evidence, though. The mathematics lined up for a Higgs boson but they didn’t say they had evidence for it until they built the second biggest science experiment in history.

    (There’s a bigger science experiment going on: what happens to the children of the Western world if we alter our social structure at the very core? But I’m one of the few people who see it that way, and it’s off topic, but I thought I’d throw it in as a parenthetical explanation.)

  136. G-Rod at 134:

    Neither *anything* Keith Parsons says obviates to the many problems pointed out (say as I do in #117 and SteveK in #116).

    Understanding that you may consider this avoiding the question, I give you as the best and most honest response I can by pointing you and SteveK to two links to Philosophical overviews on naturalism.

    The first is from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/naturali/. The second is from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism

    These articles address, if not resolve, many of your objections. Personally, I don’t want to play apologist for naturalism, since while I think the view is probably correct I am ultimately not committed to it. I must confess that I do not understand your point about natural laws somehow undermining naturalism.

    SteveK at 121:

    The more you answer the questions posed in #117 (and many more!), the more I think you will find the brute fact of naturalism to be (a) nearly identical to God, or (b) incoherent, or (c) lacking the ability to explain a lot on that list, maybe everything on it.

    I actually agree that “the brute fact of naturalism” will ne nearly identical to God. You only need to remove God’s anthropomorphic properties – as regularly conceived by believers. As to your point (c), I think that as a view naturalism can support explanations of everything on the list. It’s a long list and I have no inclination to lay out a full naturalist worldview when so many others much smarter than I have already done so. Can I ask what naturalist writings on these subjects you have read?

    If it’s OK to disagree on these things, I suggest we move on. But if we can’t, I think to be fair we should have an equally detailed discussion on theism’s views of the same thing. For example, how exactly does a deity go about designing, developing, and installing mind and consciousness in life forms? When did/does this happen? How do we know what we say we know about what the deity does, when, and where? After all, the theist answers amount to more than “Goddidit,” right?

    Moving to Melissa at 124:

    One comment I’d like to make is that explanation here is being used synonymously with cause and obviously God does not have a cause.

    Not to be snarky, but is it really so obvious God does not have a cause? Even if you now think of it as obvious, a lot of ink was spilled over centuries to assert and defend that ‘obvious’ point. Besides, from a non-theist point of view God is obviously caused by human beings.

    When you say this –

    Therein lies the difference between the naturalists brute facts which are ultimately unintelligible and unexplained and God.

    Melissa, are you claiming that God is ultimately intelligible and explainable?

    Melissa at 135:

    There are two issues here which I think you have confused. The first is that the ultimate explanation for contingent things must itself be necessary which us what you are responding to in Tom’s comment.

    Yes, I do understand the philosophical position that places a necessary ‘thing’ as the ultimate terminus for contingent things.

    The second is whether we should accept brute facts.

    Sure, and according to Swinburne, for one, God ultimately qualifies as a brute fact. I understand you believe your particular god is ‘self-explanatory’; I don’t exactly see why you think this is so. Like Parsons asks of Feser, you need to unpack these statements much more.

    I don’t see any evidence from you that you have grappled at all with what is required from an ultimate explanation.

    OK, do enlighten me.

    As it is though you are positing a completely as hoc brute fact as an alternative to an actual explanation. I suppose you want to maintain that yours is more reasonable. I hope you can see the irony in that.

    An actual explanation of what? I now don’t know what you think I think I am explaining. The conversation at the time was about brute facts. Naturalism was faulting for positing brute facts, and then I introduced an eminent theist philosopher who posits God as a brute fact. From there, the goalposts move into a distinction between contingent brute facts and necessary brute facts – almost as if the apologists were positing ad hoc conditions as an alternative to confronting the superfluity of the God hypothesis.

    Although what you are proposing looks very much like pantheism.

    Maybe, just without the theism. I wouldn’t consider nature to be a god and I would not worship it or insist that others believe in nature or else be removed from nature’s eternal love. Is this still pantheism?

  137. I would go so far as to say that it opens the door for the possibility of a multiverse.

    Tom, do you have enough qualifiers in that sentence? 🙂

  138. Tom,

    So your quest might just be looking for natural explanations of non-natural phenomena, and for reductionist explanations of the non-reducible. If so, then you could look for a thousand years and never get to an answer.

    Right, but I would also expect some sort of brick wall well before that. My intuition of the state-of-the-art on mind and consciousness, for example, is that a lot is going on. In fact, I’m thinking discoveries might be accelerating, due in large part to faster computing, but that’s my opinion of course. I will try to justify that intuition in the future.

  139. God’s anthropomorphic properties?

    And you claim to have read Feser?!?!?!?!?!?

    Larry, if you have any desire to debate the reality of God, please debate the reality of God, not the reality of some powerful invisible being in the sky with anthropomorphic properties that no one actually believes in.

    Or conversely, if you want to disprove the existence of that invisible being, start a thread on your own website and I’ll join in to disprove it along with you.

    Not to be snarky, but is it really so obvious God does not have a cause?

    Well, no, it’s not obvious, unless you’re talking about the same God we’re talking about. We’re talking about a God who by definition is uncaused, and that’s the God whose existence we are proposing to you for you to accept and believe in. Your invisible being might have a cause, and if so, it provides such a poor explanation for anything that it probably doesn’t even exist in the first place.

    Even if you now think of it as obvious, a lot of ink was spilled over centuries to assert and defend that ‘obvious’ point. Besides, from a non-theist point of view God is obviously caused by human beings.

    Translation: either:

    Besides, from the point of view of those who deny the existence of the uncaused cause, the possibly-caused invisible powerful being in the sky is obviously caused by human beings.

    —totally uncontroversial, irrelevant, and boring.

    or…

    Besides, from the point of view of those who deny the existence of the uncaused cause, the uncaused cause is obviously caused by human beings.

    … totally incoherent and self-contradictory

    or …

    Those who deny the existence of the uncaused cause think there is no uncaused cause.

    … tautologous, boring, and irrelevant.

    There are three possible meanings for your sentence, Larry, and not one of them is worth the ink you’ve spilt on it. Speaking of which,

    Even if you now think of it as obvious, a lot of ink was spilled over centuries to assert and defend that ‘obvious’ point.

    What’s obvious, Larry, is that the theism we’re discussing here today is most transparently, obviously, and plainly that of an uncaused cause.

    But hey, if you want to debate that other god-thing, feel free to do so. Just don’t waste our time with it here. Find some place where someone will consider it interesting.

    Meanwhile if there’s any debate about God running through your own head (the actual God, not the invisible powerful being in the sky), I suggest you listen well to it. I suggest you bring your questions about that God here to this forum. I suggest you not reject it just because it’s so easy to reject the invisible, powerful, anthropomorphic, irrelevant god none of us believes in.

  140. djc,

    Right, but I would also expect some sort of brick wall well before that. My intuition of the state-of-the-art on mind and consciousness, for example, is that a lot is going on.

    Read these two atheists: Rosenberg (Atheist’s Guide to Reality) and Nagel (Mind and Cosmos).

    We have hit the brick wall.

    I could send you to a lot of other thinkers besides these as well, if you’re interested.

  141. Tom,

    I am about to leave the office and start my weekend. I get your reaction to my post. On this –

    Larry, if you have any desire to debate the reality of God, please debate the reality of God, not the reality of some powerful invisible being in the sky with anthropomorphic properties that no one actually believes in.

    From my POV, this actually is the God you believe in, despite claims and fainting protests to the contrary. In a nutshell, classical theism is nothing more than conceptualizing God as a super-magic dude while simultaneously claiming in all ardor that he’s not really a dude.

    You disagree, no doubt, to the tone, spirit, and substance of my conclusion. But I hope at least you appreciate that this is what I believe, that it’s not a completely baseless belief (even if erroneous), and that it’s not totally un-fun to debate a provocateur.

    Have a nice weekend….

  142. Larry,
    – if you’re going to call us all liars about what we believe,
    – if you’re going to insist on debating a straw man version of our beliefs,
    – if you’re going to make us continue to define what we’re talking about, in order to make it clear that we’re talking about we believe, not what you say we believe,
    – if you’re going to do that,

    … then remove yourself from this blog.

    Don’t come back.

    Don’t foist that lie on us.

    I’m not banning you, Larry, but I’m telling you that if you come back with that lie in your head and in your comments, then you are not welcome.

    It’s not totally un-fun to debate a provocateur, but this is not just about fun. It’s about thinking together. It’s about us listening to what you think, and you listening to what we think. It’s not about you telling us what we think.

    It’s not totally un-fun to debate a provocateur, but it is totally un-fun to debate someone who won’t give us the basic respect of accepting our words for what they are. You’re not debating us, you’re debating your imaginary conception of us. You’re adopting the supercilious air of saying, “My poor child, you only think you believe what you believe.” That’s massively disrespectful.

    It’s one thing to say, “If you believe x, then it follows logically (for reasons a, b, c) that you believe y; and if you don’t think you believe y then your beliefs are incoherent.” That’s good argumentation (at least potentially, if a, b, c, are on the right track).

    It’s another thing to say, “if you think you believe y then you are misguided, and I will explain to you what you really believe.” That’s demeaning and patronizing.

    (More on that here.)

    So if you’re willing to debate our ideas, rather than your imaginary conception of our ideas, then have a nice weekend and come back ready for some good fruitful discussion. You’re more than welcome on those terms.

    If you’re not willing to give up debating your imaginary conceptions of what we think, then have a nice weekend and don’t come back here when it’s over.

  143. I would go so far as to say that it opens the door for the possibility of a multiverse. The science is there for that much. I wouldn’t call it evidence, though. The mathematics lined up for a Higgs boson but they didn’t say they had evidence for it until they built the second biggest science experiment in history.

    That depends on the nature of evidence I suppose. If BICEP2 is confirmed to have observed primordial gravitational waves (and that certainly looks possible), then that makes inflation more likely. If it confirms a particular theory of inflation that implies a multiverse, it seems to me that this would be evidence (of a sort) for a multiverse.

    @BillT

    I think the reality is that models of inflation are hypothesized to lead to a multiverse and it’s not likely that is testable either.

    “Not likely” is rather different from your initial claim of “never”. Here’s a good summary of the current state of play by a friend of mine.

  144. bigbird,

    Answering in the vague sense of whether it is “conceivable” that Naturalism or naturalistic reductionistic-like assumptions can answer these questions…

    1 – how does naturalism account for the origin of the universe?

    I guess we get down to something indivisible, i.e. indivisible in matter, energy, behavior or anything that can be divided and we give up searching further. If the universe is shown to spring into being solely from these indivisible entities and there are no gaps, unknowns or mysteries, that’s the explanation. I think that’s a disappointing future, but I also imagine the discoveries on the way to that may change our whole perspective.

    The intelligibility of the universe – disagree. The evolutionary origin of mind is only possible if there are some patterns and regularity in nature, yes. But why should the universe be intelligible to us to the degree that it seems to be? We seem to have an extraordinary ability to comprehend our universe that goes orders of magnitude beyond what is required to survive and reproduce.

    The individual has at best under evolution a crude map of reality composed of sensory perceptions, yes. However, language suddenly allows many individuals to be linked together and links many crude maps together so that now we have a “sensor-network” made out of beings, a vast planet-wide organism made up of people with innumerable eyes and ears everywhere assembling vast amounts of data that is streamed via language, stored via word-of-mouth, tradition, books. This network strategy of many simple sensors all sharing their tiny maps creates a larger, more powerful scheme that vastly improves accuracy of the whole system without any real effort. All the network relies on is a good data link and a reliable means of transmission– i.e. people have to want to communicate and have to insist on coherent rules for doing so. And all this happens long before the invention of computers.

    5 – my response is similar to 3). Consciousness seems to be an amazingly complicated feature that is unnecessary for survival. Why did evolution produce consciousness instead of zombies?

    Consciousness is, I think strictly speaking, awareness of attention, a recognition of the things your brain is attending to, so in that sense it is useful to evolution in the way a watchdog timer is useful to a computer. But why does this awareness feel like something rather than nothing at all? I would not expect evolution to make that choice, though; consciousness would evolve because it was useful, and then the result would be either zombies who have consciousness that feels like nothing, or us.

    “Consciousness that feels like nothing” may be incoherent in some sense, I’m not sure. But if not, Naturalism should incorporate the idea of “observer” into physical models as something that happens when computational models incorporate awareness of attention.

    6 – free will – I don’t see naturalism as having the edge here. Compatibilism seems to be the ugly but necessary offspring of naturalism. We all agree we experience what seems to be free will. Despite the arguments of Frankfurt, Lewis, Strawson and others, I’ve yet to see a convincing explanation of how compatibilism explains this.

    I’ve always thought the experience of free will is exactly the experience of compatibilism, i.e. I think of my free choice as being able to introspect on all the things I want to do, all my goals and desires, and figuring out which is top priority and then making the decision to do that. But since I can not ultimately be in control of everything I want to do, all my goals, all my desires, all my prioritizing, etc., I can not ultimately make a truly free choice. I must be bound in some ways by the very fact that I have wants, goals, desires, priorities.

    To be truly free, I have to first set aside all goals, desires, drives and become a creature with no will. Because only a creature with no will is truly free. But with no will, I’m stuck doing nothing, a potted plant.

  145. Larry,

    Tom has dealt pretty thoroughly with your first sentences to me so moving on.

    Melissa, are you claiming that God is ultimately intelligible and explainable?

    There is a difference between God being completely intelligible and explainable in principle and practice. When you posit brute facts though you are positing something that has no explanation at all.

    Like Parsons asks of Feser, you need to unpack these statements much more.

    The statements have been unpacked. Feel free to go and do some reading and come back and let us know what specifically is lacking. I wouldn’t necessarily take Parson’s opinion on this subject as the last word. He admits to not being completely familiar with the arguments anyway.

    OK, do enlighten me.

    The fact that you can write this:

    Maybe, just without the theism. I wouldn’t consider nature to be a god and I would not worship it or insist that others believe in nature or else be removed from nature’s eternal love. Is this still pantheism?

    shows how little thought you have given to the topic of what reality is ultimately like. If you’ve got something that is informed and thought out then share it. If you have honest questions that you’ve given a minute of thought to then ask. Like Tom though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to foist on us what you think you believe. It seems from your final sentence that your denial of God and acceptance of naturalism is fueled not by a reasoned rejection of the philosophical arguments for God but rather a distaste for accepting your place as a creature in a created world and all that that entails.

  146. @Larry

    In a nutshell, classical theism is nothing more than conceptualizing God as a super-magic dude while simultaneously claiming in all ardor that he’s not really a dude.

    In a nutshell, atheism is belief in nothing, and since nothing can come from nothing, isn’t really about anything, and so has nothing to offer anyone, despite arduous protests to the contrary.

    If that hits at all close to home, then, going forward, consider pausing before making such sweeping generalizations.

    @ Tom

    I fear that I must retract my “LOLwut?” Please forgive my meme-speak, it was a moment of weakness. Please allow me to restate my thoughts in a more concise form. I will attempt brevity. I hope that the following edits preserve the meaning of the original wording and do not distort them.

    JONES: Thanks. Now again, suppose we had Darwin’s outline of evolution, with no real evidence for it, except of course for the evidence he included in the book.

    […]

    SMITH: […] I think I’d be attracted to Darwin’s theory just on the strength of the idea, and the examples and evidence he wrote into The Origin of Species.

    JONES: So if there was very little substantial evidence for evolution, you would probably be attracted to it anyway?

    SMITH: Yes, because it makes so much sense.

    […]

    JONES: Doesn’t it bother you that you’ve reached the same conclusion with evidence—and your interpretation of that evidence—that you said you would have been “attracted to” with no evidence at all? Doesn’t it bother you to realize that you don’t need evidence to reach the conclusion you’ve reached?

    Smith never actually says that he doesn’t need evidence, he said that even if there were “very little substantial evidence” for evolution that he would still accept it. That’s an important distinction, made even more so when Jones acknowledges Origin of the Species, but later dismisses it as “very little substantial evidence”… Origin of the Species is hardly insubstantial, and we’ve had 155 years to improve on it!

    Given that, I don’t know why your thought experiment limits evolution to Darwin. I don’t know anyone who accepts evolution solely because of Darwin or Origin of the Species – literally no one. The only people I have heard advance this distortion (“it’s all because of Darwin!”) are those who are ideologically opposed to evolution – i.e. Creationists.

    This is why I criticize your thought experiment – the scope of it suggests bias and your character Jones makes an unwarranted conclusion. It would be like me saying – “doesn’t it bother you that you could reach the conclusion that God is real just because you could do so with very little evidence? Like, just because you thought it was cool?”

    Just as I don’t know anyone who accepts evolution solely because of Darwin; I don’t know anyone who believes in God solely because it’s cool.

  147. @djc

    I’ve always thought the experience of free will is exactly the experience of compatibilism, i.e. I think of my free choice as being able to introspect on all the things I want to do, all my goals and desires, and figuring out which is top priority and then making the decision to do that. But since I can not ultimately be in control of everything I want to do, all my goals, all my desires, all my prioritizing, etc., I can not ultimately make a truly free choice. I must be bound in some ways by the very fact that I have wants, goals, desires, priorities.

    Determinism implies the future is fixed, and so there are no alternative possibilities that you can choose, i.e. you are not in control of anything and you are completely driven by your (casually produced) goals, desires and priorities. So you are not bound in some ways, you are bound in all ways.

    Compatibilism can really only argue that alternative possibilities are not necessary to make a free choice (e.g. Frankfurt), and yet I do seem to be able to make free choices – at least I think I do.

    If you want to be a compatibilist, epistemic compatibilism might be a better way to go. It basically says there is no free will at all, but we are under the illusion that there is because of the choices available – even though we can only choose what is predetermined.

    To be truly free, I have to first set aside all goals, desires, drives and become a creature with no will. Because only a creature with no will is truly free. But with no will, I’m stuck doing nothing, a potted plant.

    Only a creature with no will is truly free? That’s incoherent. Free will doesn’t mean we have no constraints on our choices, because we do – the laws of nature, our own desires, etc. Free will means that despite these constraints, there are alternative possibilities we can freely choose. Determinism doesn’t permit this.

  148. Here’s some cautionary news about BICEP2:

    Right from the moment results from the BICEP2 microwave telescope at the South Pole were released, many cosmologists had a sense that the discovery rested on shaky ground. “I think it’s fair to say,” argues William Jones, a physicist [from] Princeton, “that the claims struck a lot of people, myself included, as far overreaching what the data can support.” Charles Bennett, a physicist and astronomer at Johns Hopkins University who led research on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite, agrees. “Several of the plots in their paper looked odd to me,” he says.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/backlash-to-big-bang-discovery-gathers-steam/

    I think extrapolating the data to a multiverse is a bit premature. It will be a bit premature even if the results come up positive. Anyway even that is probably a few years away. But what does a “multiverse” actually explain anyway?

  149. bigbird,

    Determinism implies the future is fixed, and so there are no alternative possibilities that you can choose, i.e. you are not in control of anything and you are completely driven by your (casually produced) goals, desires and priorities. So you are not bound in some ways, you are bound in all ways.

    Okay, so I have two intuitions, the intuition of being a created being (rather than a self-created being), and thus having the most essential aspects of my unique person-hood beyond my control, and the intuition of having control over real alternate possibilities. I think those are at odds, and that’s part of the difficulty I think exists in relying too much on intuitions for ultimate truth.

    Agreeing with determinism as I do, I don’t let pride or guilt assert itself too strongly in my psyche, and at the same time hope that my determined path is a positive one in every sense.

    In researching my reply, I came across this study on intuitions. From the abstract.

    In different conditions, people give conflicting responses about agency and responsibility. In some contexts, people treat agency as indeterminist; in other contexts, they treat agency as determinist. Furthermore, in some contexts people treat responsibility as incompatible with determinism, and in other contexts people treat responsibility as compatible with determinism. The paper considers possible accounts of the psychological mechanisms that underlie these conflicting responses

  150. @JAD

    I think extrapolating the data to a multiverse is a bit premature. It will be a bit premature even if the results come up positive. Anyway even that is probably a few years away.

    Rather than “extrapolating the data to a multiverse” (which sounds like an all or nothing proposition) I find it preferable to employ Bayesian confirmation theory, which describes confirmation in terms of raising or lowering our subjective probabilities of hypotheses being correct.

    If the BICEP2 results eventually confirm the observation of primordial gravitational waves, then in Bayesian terms this raises the probability of inflation theory. Because many models of inflation theory imply a multiverse, this raises the probability of a multiverse.

    But what does a “multiverse” actually explain anyway?

    It depends on what a multiverse actually is, but one interpretation could be that it offers an explanation of fine tuning.

  151. @djc

    Okay, so I have two intuitions, the intuition of being a created being (rather than a self-created being), and thus having the most essential aspects of my unique person-hood beyond my control, and the intuition of having control over real alternate possibilities. I think those are at odds, and that’s part of the difficulty I think exists in relying too much on intuitions for ultimate truth.

    I must admit I don’t follow why you think these are at odds. Why couldn’t a created being be created with the capacity to make its own decisions?

    Agreeing with determinism as I do, I don’t let pride or guilt assert itself too strongly in my psyche, and at the same time hope that my determined path is a positive one in every sense.

    You “don’t let pride or guilt assert itself too strongly”? It seems from your point of view you don’t have a choice!

  152. bigbird,

    It depends on what a multiverse actually is, but one interpretation could be that it offers an explanation of fine tuning.

    I’ve spoken with physicists and read others about this. The multiverse pushes back the problem of fine tuning. At this stage in our knowledge it’s very likely that fine tuning would be required to create a multiverse such as the one our universe inhabits, according to theory.

  153. At this stage in our knowledge it’s very likely that fine tuning would be required to create a multiverse such as the one our universe inhabits, according to theory.

    Could you provide a reference?

  154. Here is William Lane Craig’s take on the multiverse and fine tuning.

    I’d like to see something from physicists though.

  155. @bigbird

    One suggestion would be to have a listen to George Ellis‘s critique of the various multiverse theories. I could provide a direct link but if you go to the multimedia section of the Faraday Institute and search for him more download options.

    http://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/Multimedia.php

    I think that his talks (the ones I’ve listened to are variations of a theme) would be germane to Tom’s point raised in #163.

  156. bigbird,

    I must admit I don’t follow why you think these are at odds. Why couldn’t a created being be created with the capacity to make its own decisions?

    My decisions follow from who I am. But who I am is not something I have ultimate control over. These both have to be true as far as I can tell, but you’re saying one of the two can be false. I have no idea how that can be.

    You “don’t let pride or guilt assert itself too strongly”? It seems from your point of view you don’t have a choice!

    Certainly I do. Pride and guilt are powerful emotions, it would be easy to let them force me into believing that my accomplishments are due to my own effort, not the fortuitous nature of the location of my birth or my genes. Or conversely, it would be easy to believe that my failings are due to some deep rooted inferiority, rather than the unlucky nature of my birth or my genes.

    Or perhaps you’re saying that since I believe in determinism I don’t have choices? Of course I do. A choice is always about examining goals, desires, priorities and settling on the best course of action based on those goals, desires and priorities . However, my goals, desires, priorities, life experiences, etc, were not created or engineered ultimately by me. Sure, I can change a goal or desire with effort, but the will to do that must itself rely on a preexisting desire or goal. At some point, the causal chain goes back out of my reach. It must, I can not create myself.

  157. djc,

    Could you clarify your position on choice? You called it an illusion earlier, at odds with having real components, and now claim it exists, that you make choices. I’m not sure you’re saying anything contrary to theism, but your tendency to equivocate leaves your reader in a bit of shifting sand.

    It’s fine if you’ve no explanatory power for the obvious, whether of making choices or of having a head. Perhaps its best to equivocate in a free fall into mereological nihilism. “Real” regressing into the Mind Dependent may frighten you, but, we’ve heads nonetheless. Mind, Person, Will – over there – that’s where all regression ends.

  158. Or perhaps you’re saying that since I believe in determinism I don’t have choices? Of course I do.

    No, you don’t. You don’t understand the implications of determinism. There are no alternate possibilities.

    A choice is always about examining goals, desires, priorities and settling on the best course of action based on those goals, desires and priorities . However, my goals, desires, priorities, life experiences, etc, were not created or engineered ultimately by me. Sure, I can change a goal or desire with effort, but the will to do that must itself rely on a preexisting desire or goal. At some point, the causal chain goes back out of my reach. It must, I can not create myself.

    Under determinism you can’t change goals or desires with effort. That would require agent causation.

    Your response is simply confirming that everyone thinks they have choice, even though under determinism you can’t.

  159. Tom,

    On one’s metaphysical bends and tendencies of mentation influencing one’s interpretation of reality, a book you had briefly mentioned has helpful input. “The Experience of God”, by Hart. In the hardcover version, part three begins on page 293 and is titled Illusion and Reality. Its introduction or part one is from pg. 293-300 and is quite helpful in looking into our own presuppositions and a priori metaphysical perceptual tendencies in defining reality. There may be some overlap with your thought experiment on several fronts.

  160. bigbird,

    No, you don’t. You don’t understand the implications of determinism. There are no alternate possibilities.

    Under determinism you can’t change goals or desires with effort. That would require agent causation.

    Edit: you can change goals or desires if you have a preexisting goal or desire to (under determinism). That seems obvious to me, if you have some other meaning there I’m missing, please clarify.

    Your response is simply confirming that everyone thinks they have choice, even though under determinism you can’t.

    No, my intuition of what a choice is and feels like is consistent under determinism. However, you want choice to mean something that can’t be well defined: a sort of pulling myself up by my own bootstraps to reach outside causation and randomly but non-randomly make a Choice. I just can’t comprehend that, it’s like a square circle to me. I get it if it’s supposed to be an article of faith but I see no personal reason to make that sort of leap.

  161. djc,

    However, you want choice to mean something that can’t be well defined: a sort of pulling myself up by my own bootstraps to reach outside causation and randomly but non-randomly make a Choice.

    I don’t claim to speak for bigbird here but from my point if view this is wrong. The claim is not that we reach outside of causation but that the picture of causation that is limited to deterministic physical causes is wrong.

    The way you describe your experiences and the way you talk about the will, especially as something that a plant doesn’t have, is entirely consistent with the will and intellect acting as final causes, driving the efficient physical causes, but not with deterministic physical causes over which we literally have no choice. What is the difference between us and plants on your view that make our actions any different from a plants?

  162. @djc

    Edit: you can change goals or desires if you have a preexisting goal or desire to (under determinism).

    You aren’t changing anything – your predetermined second order desires are changing your first order desires. You are not the source of your actions.

    That sounds like Frankfurt’s hierarchical theory of free will. Frankfurt’s theory is susceptible to various manipulation scenarios – for example, Winston at the end of 1984 has free will in Frankfurt’s sense because his (manipulated) second order desires control his first order desires.

    No, my intuition of what a choice is and feels like is consistent under determinism. However, you want choice to mean something that can’t be well defined: a sort of pulling myself up by my own bootstraps to reach outside causation and randomly but non-randomly make a Choice. I just can’t comprehend that, it’s like a square circle to me.

    Choice is very well defined – it is having genuine alternate possibilities. It isn’t reaching outside causation – it is agent causation.

  163. Why is the universe intelligible?

    Notice that this question is not a scientific question. The universes intelligibility is something that science must assume apriori in order to do science. In other words, if the universe was not intelligible science would not be possible.

    Einstein thought this was an important question. Famously he observed:

    “The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

    But what might account for its comprehensibility or intelligibility? Einstein tries to give an answer:

    “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

    And,

    “the scientist’s religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.”

    Was Einstein a theist? He appears to have said so on more than one occasion. For example he wrote:

    “In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who says there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University, page 214)”

    And,

    “Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way… the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for example, is wholly different. Even if man proposes the axioms of the theory, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands.”

    But on the other hand, in a letter to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein (1929), he wrote:

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind…”

    From this quote some people have argued that this makes Einstein a pantheist, since Spinoza appears to have been a pantheist. However, they don’t seem to realize that he had been asked, at least once, what he was and he answered:

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but it doesn’t know what it is. That it seems to me, is that attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”

    Of course there are others who will argue that Einstein was only using God as a metaphor. God, in other words, was shorthand for the laws of nature or nature’s mystery or something like that. Personally, I don’t think that’s a tenable explanation. Einstein’s thinking shows too much insight. He describes a basic form of theism (at least relating to the intelligibility question) better and more elegantly than any theist I have ever read. The late Anthony Flew quotes Einstein extensively in his book, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, where he relates his “conversion,” late in life, from atheism to a non-religious (“deistic”) form of theism– very much like what Einstein appears to describe.

    djc,

    3. The intelligibility of the universe. Mind/God works, but Naturalism also poses the evolutionary origin of mind which is only possible if there are some patterns and regularity in nature.

    Naturalism has no where close to the explanatory power in answering this question that theism has. What better explanation is there for intelligibility than intelligence?

    Oxford University’s professor of mathematics, John Lennox explains it this way:

    “Our answer to the question of why the universe is rationally intelligible will in fact depend, not on whether we are scientists or not, but on whether we are theists or naturalists. Theists will say that the intelligibility of the universe is grounded in the nature of the ultimate rationality of God: both the real world and the mathematics are traceable to the Mind of God who created both the universe and the human mind. It is therefore, not surprising when the mathematical theories spun by human minds created in the image of God’s Mind, find ready application in a universe whose architect was that same creative mind. http://www.logosapologia.org/?p=2874

    Einstein also wrote something about the meaning of life that I think is pertinent here.

    “What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know the answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”

  164. Tom at 153:

    Larry,
    – if you’re going to call us all liars about what we believe,
    – if you’re going to insist on debating a straw man version of our beliefs,
    – if you’re going to make us continue to define what we’re talking about, in order to make it clear that we’re talking about we believe, not what you say we believe,
    – if you’re going to do that,

    … then remove yourself from this blog.

    Don’t come back.

    Don’t foist that lie on us.

    I’m not banning you, Larry, but I’m telling you that if you come back with that lie in your head and in your comments, then you are not welcome.

    It’s not totally un-fun to debate a provocateur, but this is not just about fun. It’s about thinking together. It’s about us listening to what you think, and you listening to what we think. It’s not about you telling us what we think.

    You probably had a visceral, knee-jerk reaction to what I wrote, but you’ll notice that —
    (a) I don’t call you all liars about what we believe, nor do I intend such a meaning.
    (b) I insist on debating a clearly defined, and well-exampled version of your actual beliefs. I do like examples, and I guess it’s just an idiosyncrasy of mine
    (c) I would like you to define what you’re talking about when key words are open to many different possible meanings, but I certainly cannot “make” you do this.

    I do have my own opinions about the substance of your beliefs. I also have opinions about the way you characterize your beliefs, especially when/if you claim that what you believe is obvious or self-evident. In my opinion, classical theism is incoherent. A foundational philosophical concept such as divine simplicity is, to my mind, powerfully contradicted by the divine character portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Neither do I think that the radical simplicity of the classical theists accommodates the various metaphysical attributes that are seen as equivalent or identical to the supreme being’s existence. So, from my point of view — not yours — the classical theist’s God is finally imagined as an abstract guy who performs magic. I don’t ask you to challenge or refute my view, but you are welcome to do so if you so wish.

    As a non-theist, I often find my views and motives mis-characterized. For example, I often get told that hedonism is the root motivation for my not believing in God and/or Jesus. Or, this one comes up a lot, people say I am angry with God and/or Jesus. Melissa’s 156 is a version of this: I am unwilling, she psychoanalyzes, to accept my place … or something. In any event, she seems to believe she’s got a better read of the real-real reality than I do. Uh, OK.

    I get what Sault is trying to do in 157, but that statement is not something that causes particular angst with me. I know some people do, in fact, think that atheism is belief in nothing and that atheism is essentially nihilism. Such is the way of the Internet: people have all sorts of ideas about others and what others think.

    In any case, I did mean my comment to tweak and poke, but I did not mean it to offend. I am sorry if it did create offense and will again try to have better control of my judgment before hitting the post button.

  165. Larry,

    Here’s the short form of what’s wrong with your interactions here:

    I say I believe X.
    You say I believe Y because you can’t imagine anyone believing X, or because you think X is incoherent.

    But your believing that about X does not entail that I believe Y.

    Isn’t that obvious?

    And isn’t it obvious just how incredibly disruptive it is to dialogue, for you to tell me I believe Y, just because you can’t believe I really believe X?

    Isn’t it obvious that when you say I don’t believe X, you’re telling me I’m lying about what I believe?

    (Maybe you think I’m self-deluded rather than lying. I’m not. I know what I believe.)

    ****************************

    Now for the longer form. You wrote,

    From my POV, this actually is the God you believe in, despite claims and fainting protests to the contrary. In a nutshell, classical theism is nothing more than conceptualizing God as a super-magic dude while simultaneously claiming in all ardor that he’s not really a dude.

    That’s calling me a liar about what I believe. That’s saying you don’t think I believe X, I believe Y instead, just because you can’t figure out how someone could believe X.

    I do not believe that God is a “super-magic dude.” I do not conceptualize God that way. I neither believe in nor conceptualize God as an invisible anthropomorphic being in the sky.

    I have no desire to defend that kind of a god, nor do I want to waste my breath telling you repeatedly that I’m not defending that kind of a god.

    This is both a visceral reaction, since I think that kind of a god is pathetic, and a considered opinion, because I have had enough experience here debating “the wrong god” to know that I’m not interested in extending or supporting that kind of debate. (See this from seven years ago. It’s been going on a long time.)

    You say, “In my opinion, classical theism is incoherent.” Then you have the right to say that you think it’s incoherent. You don’t have the right to tell me that therefore I believe in an invisible anthropomorphic magic dude in the sky. If you think classical theism is nothing more than that sort of conceptualization, then you’ve been disputing the wrong god all along.

    In any case, I did mean my comment to tweak and poke, but I did not mean it to offend. I am sorry if it did create offense and will again try to have better control of my judgment before hitting the post button.

    This comment isn’t any better than the one I objected to earlier. I objected earlier to your saying that I believe in an invisible anthropomorphic sky god, and now you’ve replaced that with a “super-magic dude.” That’s no advance. I don’t accept your apology, since it came in to us packaged along with with the identical offense.

    So I’m repeating what I said before. Don’t tell us we’re liars. Don’t tell us what we believe, as if we’re too dense to figure that out for ourselves. Interact with what I (and others) believe, or else leave.

  166. Tom,

    I don’t want to belabor this specific discussion, but I don’t doubt that you believe X, and I don’t claim that you really believe Y instead of X.

    But I do see Y-belief. Here is one example, from your own piece, “A Rough Season”:

    Yet God is my strength. He is not just my philosophical strength. He is not just my theological strength. He is not just an answer to an apologetic question. He is, in a very real sense, a friend. It’s not just a cognitive relationship, it’s a relationship relationship.

    God has a gender (He) and a social/personal role (a friend), and as you say, “in a very real sense.” This language conjures a human-like deity, an inspirational person.

    In “Judging God, Punishing Ourselves” your language creates God as a powerful puppet-master:

    He is good! He gives life, and freedom, and justice, and abundance of joy. He does good in the world, especially through his people, the Church.

    He does work and has agency. I suppose I am not reading with the proper nuance or context, but in just these two small bits, God to me comes very close to a super-man.

    What’s more, in “Creation: The Glory!” the language expresses human ability to know God and know God’s emotions!

    We know that God, the God of love, loves to give lavishly. He has made beauty for us to delight in on every scale, from the microscopic to the cosmological.

    How about that!

    You say you don’t believe in a super-man. I believe you and will try not to “foist” such a belief upon you. But I see and read language that appears to me as an articulation of such a belief. At the very least, I think there’s difficulty in a straight reconciling of the above statements with your comments that “I neither believe in nor conceptualize God as an invisible anthropomorphic being in the sky. ”

    Again — can I stress it too much? — I believe you entirely when you say “We’re talking about a God who by definition is uncaused, and that’s the God whose existence we are proposing to you for you to accept and believe in.”

    Finally, you say:

    I don’t accept your apology, since it came in to us packaged along with with the identical offense.

    So I’m repeating what I said before. Don’t tell us we’re liars. Don’t tell us what we believe, as if we’re too dense to figure that out for ourselves. Interact with what I (and others) believe, or else leave.

    Very well. I will do my best from now on to remember that we are talking about an uncaused cause and not a super-man when I hear “God” in contexts like this (from your piece on God and Genocide):

    Assuming that God is good, and assuming that goodness itself is adequately and accurately defined by the Bible, God’s ordering certain nations to be killed is no contradiction to that goodness; it is consistent with his character as generally revealed in the Scriptures.

    As long as we’re just assuming the uncaused cause is good, we might as well also assume that the uncaused cause can (a) order nations to be killed and still be good, and also (b) be nothing like a man, super or otherwise.

    And, when you review my language, you will see I have never called you a liar or accused you of lying.

  167. @Larry Tanner:

    God has a gender (He) and a social/personal role (a friend), and as you say, “in a very real sense.” This language conjures a human-like deity, an inspirational person.

    This is truly ridiculous.

    So when physicists talk about quarks having flavor, should I wonder if it is vanilla or chocolate? When mathematicians talk about perverse sheaves, should I get morally outraged?

  168. Melissa,

    The way you describe your experiences and the way you talk about the will, especially as something that a plant doesn’t have, is entirely consistent with the will and intellect acting as final causes, driving the efficient physical causes, but not with deterministic physical causes over which we literally have no choice. What is the difference between us and plants on your view that make our actions any different from a plants?

    I don’t describe my will as a final cause but as caused by “who I am”. A being is the source of a will. My decisions follow from who I am. But who I am is not something I have ultimate control over. To escape determinism, my decisions have to be somehow fundamentally disconnected from who I am, or I have to be able shape my being without restriction. Neither of these seem like a good basis for free will.

    So the key difference from a plant is that I have beliefs and desires and the ability to introspect on those. When my desires in total are not compatible with one course of action, a decision is necessary. But other than that, the plant and I follow deterministic rules.

  169. Larry, let me remind you of your manners.

    If I say I think X, and you think X is incoherent, then you are warmly invited to explain why you think it is incoherent. You are warmly invited to ask me to reconsider and/or re-explain my beliefs in light of that supposed incoherency. You are not warmly invited simply to tell us (in so many words) that X is absurd, foolish, ridiculous, and laughable because of the supposed incoherency you think you see. (And don’t deny that your picture of my supposed god is all of those things. Your believability will plummet still further, if that were possible.)

    Fleshing this out in the actual terms of this discussion:

    If I say I do not believe God is an invisible magic anthropomorphic dude in the sky, and you see me elsewhere employing anthropomorphic language, you need not assume that the only explanation for this is that I’m the kind of blithering idiot who can’t see the tension there. You need not assume that I’m unable to see figurative language as figurative language. You need not pronounce to me that the literal rendition of that figurative language is what I really believe.

    And if you don’t get some manners after this repeat explanation, you need not comment here any more.

  170. You say, “I have never called you a liar or accused you of lying.”

    Right. I’ll be more forthright than you, in that case: I’m accusing you of being a slippery eel.

    You think you can ooze your way out of this charge by the fact that you have never used the exact words, “liar” or “lying.” There are other ways—and you know it!—to call someone a liar.

  171. “Slippery eel” and “ooze” are figures of speech. You’ve shown a tendency here not to recognize figurative language for what it is, so I’m going to make sure I am clear on that.

  172. G-Rod,

    The specific point under discussion is Tom’s. He objected to my characterization of God as “some powerful invisible being in the sky with anthropomorphic properties.”

    Tom insists that no one believes in this God and that I am wrong to think that anyone does. Tom also accuses me of calling him a liar.

    Now, if you stress that your quarks have flavor “in a very real sense,” I might follow up with a question on which flavor(s). And if you insist the sheaves are perverse “in a very real sense,” then maybe there should be some moral outrage.

    In any case, I have now presented evidence that shows — in my opinion — why it is warranted to say that some believers conceive of God as a super-powerful man. My conclusion might be wrong, my argument might be bad, but I have made the claim itself in good faith (so to speak). I was not being merely controversial; I felt there were reasons to support the claim.

    So to attack me for being malicious is just wrong. To get huffy and offended over the sky-god crack (have a look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for sake of Pete!), well, that seems a bit dramatic. I wouldn’t say Tom doth protest too much, but I would wonder why this was such a trigger.

  173. In any case, I have presented evidence that shows — in my opinion — why it is warranted to say that some believers conceive of God as a super-powerful man. My conclusion might be wrong, my argument might be bad, but I have made the claim itself in good faith (so to speak). I was not being merely controversial; I felt there were reasons to support the claim. So to attack me for being malicious is just wrong. To get huffy and offended over the sky-god crack (have a look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for sake of Pete!), well, that seems a bit dramatic. I wouldn’t say Tom doth protest too much, but I would wonder why this was such a trigger.

    You presented evidence for why you think that my statement “I believe X” must really mean, “I don’t believe X, I believe Y.” You did so after I reminded you of your manners twice; but now you’re acting as if you did it from the very beginning. That’s not honest.
    `

    He objected to my characterization of God as “some powerful invisible being in the sky with anthropomorphic properties.”

    No, I objected to you telling me that that was what I believe about God. There’s a huge difference there. Your representation here is either a grossly incompetent misreading or a blatant lie. You’ve tried to change the history of the conversation here. That’s not honest.

    Tom insists that no one believes in this God and that I am wrong to think that anyone does.

    I never said that. That’s either an incredibly incompetent misreading or it’s a blatant lie. Either way, you’re changing the history of the conversation to make my position look less tenable than it is. That’s not honest.

    I have already explained why this was such a trigger: it’s because you’ve been telling me that I don’t believe what I do believe, that I believe what I don’t believe, and that I’m not telling the truth about any of it.

    Don’t you see what you’re doing? You’ve been commenting here a long time, Larry. I don’t want to kick you off the blog. I’d really like for you to quit acting so rudely.

  174. bigbird,

    You aren’t changing anything – your predetermined second order desires are changing your first order desires. You are not the source of your actions.

    No, that’s me. A being is all desires, beliefs, goals, hopes, dreams, etc. I am not distinct from all that in any sense.

    That sounds like Frankfurt’s hierarchical theory of free will.

    My view is Strawson’s as described in this pdf The Impossiblity of Moral Responsibility. I think free will and moral responsibility are better understood as derived from moral emotions that exist to regulate society under naturalism.

    Choice is very well defined – it is having genuine alternate possibilities. It isn’t reaching outside causation – it is agent causation.

    Agent causation is fine with me as long as the agent is acting because of the way the agent is, and that the agent can not be ultimately responsible for the way the agent is. But those assumptions don’t lead to free will as far as I can tell.

    While I do believe in determinism, I should point out that Strawson’s basic argument (which I’ve been using) does not depend on determinism being true. So you don’t necessarily have to assume determinism is the only alternative.

  175. Sigh. Tom you said in 153:

    Larry, if you have any desire to debate the reality of God, please debate the reality of God, not the reality of some powerful invisible being in the sky with anthropomorphic properties that no one actually believes in. (emphasis added)

    This was what prompted me to say —

    Tom insists that no one believes in this God and that I am wrong to think that anyone does.

    And I think it’s a fair reading.

    So, for you to then say in 184 —

    I never said that. That’s either an incredibly incompetent misreading or it’s a blatant lie.

    Well, I disagree.

    Let’s change gears: Obviously, you don’t think there’s anthropomorphism at play. Please, tell me what’s happening with the language. When you say, for instance, that the uncaused cause loves to give lavishly, does it love in a very real sense, does it give in a very real sense? So, now I am asking what you actually believe.

  176. @Larry Tanner:

    Do not have much time, so will say this only:

    In any case, I have presented evidence that shows — in my opinion — why it is warranted to say that some believers conceive of God as a super-powerful man.

    What exactly is the relevance of this? Who denies that some believers have an antropmorphic, in various degrees, conception of God? Now, maybe I am wrong, but it was my impression that for dialogue to happen you have to address what the opposing party *actually* believes.

    And by the way:

    have a look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for sake of Pete!

    The Sistine Chapel paintings, or Milton, or Dante, are any serious religious work of art (the Bible can be included here as well, since whatever else it is, it is also a work of art) were not made with spoiled brats in mind.

  177. djc,

    I don’t describe my will as a final cause but as caused by “who I am”. A being is the source of a will. My decisions follow from who I am. But who I am is not something I have ultimate control over. To escape determinism, my decisions have to be somehow fundamentally disconnected from who I am, or I have to be able shape my being without restriction. Neither of these seem like a good basis for free will

    I know you don’t describe your will as a final cause but how you describe it is completely consistent with what we are talking about when we talk about free will, it is not consistent with the operation if an unending, unbroken chain of physical causes stretching back to the Big Bang.

  178. G-Rod,

    The Sistine Chapel paintings, or Milton, or Dante, are any serious religious work of art (the Bible can be included here as well, since whatever else it is, it is also a work of art) were not made with spoiled brats in mind.

    You obviously know more than I do about what the great masters of past centuries had in mind as they labored over their productions. What I do want to know, however, is what allows you to imply that I am a spoiled brat?

  179. Okay, I grant that I said “that no one actually believes in.” I apologize; I forgot that I had employed that hyperbole. What about,

    No, I objected to you telling me that that was what I believe about God. There’s a huge difference there. Your representation here is either a grossly incompetent misreading or a blatant lie. You’ve tried to change the history of the conversation here. That’s not honest.

    What about your repeated insistence that I believe in that anthropomorphic god?

    Why should I answer your question about what I actually believe when all you do is defend yourself on one point where I made a mistake, and ignore all the rest?

    Larry, you have got to learn some manners. You don’t have many more tries here.

  180. What about your repeated insistence that I believe in that anthropomorphic god?

    Although I may slip, I have tried to be careful and describe the impression some of your language leaves on me. Honestly, I cannot reconcile your statement of belief with some of your other statements, such as those I quoted in 177.

    So, I don’t feel I am insisting that you believe in a sky-god. But I do see sky-god language, and I do get that sky-god vibe when I read many believers’ statements about what God does, or feels, or wants.

    So, let this be my last comment on the sky-god issue in this thread. You and everyone else are welcome to the last word.

  181. JAD,

    Naturalism has no where close to the explanatory power in answering this question that theism has. What better explanation is there for intelligibility than intelligence?

    The universe must be intelligible for evolution to work. Molecular behavior, mutation, natural selection, replication, inheritance all require some kind of natural/physical law with some kind of uniformity for anything to persist and change over time. So if we find ourselves in an intelligible universe, either theism or naturalism could be true, strictly speaking.

    Intelligibility does suggest intelligence as an explanation, but if naturalism also explains intelligence, then it has gone one step further than theism. Evolution by mutation and natural selection purports to explain how intelligence arises from non-intelligence. This means intelligence is not the end of inquiry, but the beginning. So I don’t share your intuition that theism has better explanatory scope for intelligibility necessarily.

    “What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know the answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.”

    Here’s a couple more Einstein quotes from the same essay.

    To inquire after the meaning or object of one’s own existence or of creation generally has always seemed to me absurd from an objective point of view.

    The life of the individual has meaning only in so far as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful.

  182. No, that’s me. A being is all desires, beliefs, goals, hopes, dreams, etc. I am not distinct from all that in any sense.

    The point here is that you are not the ultimate source of your actions. As a determinist, all your desires, beliefs, goals, hopes, dreams etc are just part of a causal chain that did not originate with you and are completely determined. You have no choices and the future is fixed.

    My view is Strawson’s as described in this pdf The Impossiblity of Moral Responsibility. I think free will and moral responsibility are better understood as derived from moral emotions that exist to regulate society under naturalism.

    Quoting P.F.Strawson’s son is a little confusing here. P.F.Strawson bases moral responsibility on what he calls reactive attitudes, and his views are well known. His son doesn’t believe moral responsibility exists.

    Agent causation is fine with me as long as the agent is acting because of the way the agent is, and that the agent can not be ultimately responsible for the way the agent is. But those assumptions don’t lead to free will as far as I can tell.

    You can’t possibly believe in agent causation as a determinist. The two are completely incompatible.

  183. Earlier I asked Larry in his response (#107) to my comment @ #105:

    5. Mind and consciousness.

    How does mindless matter give rise to mind and consciousness? Can you give me an empirical explanation? What is mind? What is consciousness?

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/05/creation-design-and-evolution-if-a-theory-could-be-derived-straight-from-metaphysics-would-it-still-be-scientific/#comment-97320

    He did not reply. (Nor did he reply to any of my other questions, 1-7.)

    Here is my argument for why God is the best mind and consciousness.

    (1) At present we do not know how to design or create a computer that is self-conscious and capable of designing, building and programming other computers.

    (2) Even if we knew how to design or create such a self conscious computer it would only demonstrate that a mind is capable of creating another mind.

    (3) At present we do not know how an unintelligent process of natural evolution could have created self-conscious intelligent beings capable of designing, building and programming computers.

    (4) Therefore, at present the claim that “an unintelligent process of natural evolution could have created self-conscious intelligent beings capable of designing, building and programming computers,” is not the best explanation for the existence of mind and consciousness.

    (5) An eternally existing (or self existing) transcendent Mind (God) is at present the best explanation for the existence of “self-conscious intelligent beings capable of designing, building and progamming computers”

    Some might object that this is an argument from ignorance.
    But is it really? In principle it appears to me that it is at least possible (or at least, no one can say that it is impossible) that scientists and engineers could create some kind of self conscious machine. I would argue that some of the interface problems have already been solved– voice recognition software and the work that has been done at MIT with “affective computing.” I don’t think it’s that far off before we’ll have a HAL like machine capable of mimicking human consciousness, which unseen over the phone will be able to at least partially pass the Turing test– fooling some people some of the time. As far as I know this technology may already exist. However, obviously mimicking self consciousness is not the same as really being self conscious. What is consciousness?

    Now starting from natural processes alone how does the committed naturalist explain the emergence of consciousness and self conscious and intelligent life?

  184. Here is a better version (I hope) of the argument I was trying to make above:

    (1) At present we do not know how to design or create a computer that is self-conscious and capable of designing, building and programming other computers.

    (2) Even if we knew how to design or create such a self conscious computer it would only demonstrate that a mind is capable of creating another mind.

    (3) At present we do not know how an unintelligent process of natural evolution could have created “self-conscious intelligent beings capable of designing, building and progamming computers.”

    (4) The naturalist needs to explain, on naturalism, how it is conceivable that a natural dysteleological process could create consciousness and mind.

    (5) On the other hand, it is at least conceivable that a mind could create another mind. Furthermore, if a mind is the explanation of all other minds then it must pre-exist all other minds.

    (6) Therefore, unless the naturalist has a better explanation, an eternally existing (or self existing) transcendent Mind (God) is at present the best explanation for the existence of “self-conscious intelligent beings capable of designing, building and programming computers”

  185. JAD,

    Someone else had answered your questions, so I saw no need. Apologies. Let me now respond as best as I can. You ask:

    How does mindless matter give rise to mind and consciousness? Can you give me an empirical explanation? What is mind? What is consciousness?

    These are, of course, good questions. If nature is all there is to reality, and so too natural forces and laws, how did “mind and consciousness” arise on planet Earth?

    Before I start to address these questions, however, let’s look at what you say next in your comment:

    Here is my argument for why God is the best [explanation for] mind and consciousness.

    Wait. One. Minute.

    An argument is not an explanation. Not to be rude, but no one cares about your argument, since you have asked for an explanation, and you have asked for “an empirical explanation,” at that.

    So, it’s only fair: You need to provide the empirical explanation for mind and consciousness arising given a theistic reality.

    You seem to dislike unanswered questions, so I imagine your detailed empirical explanation will be coming right soon.

    And no, #s 1-5 are not an empirical explanation for mind and consciousness arising given a theistic reality. Neither is that long paragraph following the numbered argument.

    So, let’s see that empirical explanation of yours.

    Finally, you come back to the question to me about the empirical explanation for mind and consciousness arising given a non-theistic reality:

    Now starting from natural processes alone how does the committed naturalist explain the emergence of consciousness and self conscious and intelligent life?

    Of course, I don’t need to re-invent the wheel on this. The web contains plenty of free resources that can help answer your question.

    Here is an excerpt from “Brain Evolution and Development” (U. Illinois) — http://faculty.education.illinois.edu/g-cziko/wm/05.html:

    It is not possible to know exactly why the human brain evolved as it did, but consideration of the structural evolution of the brain and results of comparative research on human and nonhuman brains provides some useful clues. It is now believed that during the long evolution of our brain, nervous systems changed in four principal ways. First, they became increasingly centralized in architecture, evolving from a loose network of nerve cells (as in the jellyfish) to a spinal column and complex brain with impressive swellings at the hindbrain and forebrain. This increasingly centralized structure also became increasingly hierarchical. It appears that newer additions to the human brain took over control from the previous additions and in effect became their new masters. Accordingly, the initiation of voluntary behavior as well as the ability to plan, engage in conscious thought, and use language depend on neocortical structures. Indeed, the human neocortex can actually destroy itself if it wishes, as when a severely depressed individual uses a gun to put a bullet through his or her skull.

    Second, there was a trend toward encephalization, that is, a concentration of neurons and sense organs at one end of the organism. By concentrating neural and sensory equipment in one general location, transmission time from sense organs to brain was minimized. Third, the size, number, and variety of elements of the brain increased. Finally, there was an increase in plasticity, that is, the brain’s ability to modify itself as a result of experience to make memory and the learning of new perceptual and motor abilities possible.

    One way of understanding the evolution of the human brain is to see it as the addition of higher and higher levels of control. We will see in chapter 8 that the function of animal and human behavior can be understood as the control of perceptions, with perceptions corresponding to important aspects of the environment. For a sexually reproducing organism to survive and leave progeny, it must be able to control many different types of perceptions, that is, sensed aspects of its environment. At a minimum, it must be able to find food, avoid enemies, and mate. But as life evolved, the environment of our ancestors became more complex due to increasing numbers of competing organisms. So it would have been of considerable advantage to be able to perceive and control increasingly complex aspects of this environment. The bacterium E. coli can control its sensing of food and toxins only in a primitive way; organisms with more complex brains are able to sense and control much more complex aspects of their surroundings.

    And here is a second link to a nice timeline at the Smithsonian: http://humanorigins.si.edu/human-characteristics/brains.

    Finally, here’s a link to a 2013 PNAS article on “Evolution of Consciousness”: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/06/04/1301188110.full.pdf. The abstract:

    Are animals conscious? If so, when did consciousness evolve? We address these long-standing and essential questions using a modern neuroscientific approach that draws on diverse
    fields such as consciousness studies, evolutionary neurobiology, animal psychology, and anesthesiology. We propose that the stepwise emergence from general anesthesia can serve as a reproducible model to study the evolution of consciousness across various species and use current data from anesthesiology to shed light on the phylogeny of consciousness. Ultimately, we conclude that the neurobiological structure of the vertebrate central nervous system is evolutionarily ancient and highly conserved across species and that
    the basic neurophysiologic mechanisms supporting consciousness in humans are found at the earliest points of vertebrate brain evolution. Thus, in agreement with Darwin’s insight and the recent “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals,” a review of modern scientific data suggests that the differences between species in terms of the ability to experience the world is one of degree and not kind.

    If perchance you find the above references/links unsatisfactory (and there are many more, after all), would you please be kind enough to discuss how your theistically-based empirical explanation for mind and consciousness provides more detailed and satisfactory information?

    Honestly, I eagerly await the detailed theistic explanation of mind and consciousness. When did it happen? How? What tools were used? Did it happen all at once or in stages? What tests and experiments were conducted to evaluate competing hypotheses? All very exciting stuff. I know I won’t be disappointed.

  186. bigbird,

    Quoting P.F.Strawson’s son is a little confusing here. P.F.Strawson bases moral responsibility on what he calls reactive attitudes, and his views are well known. His son doesn’t believe moral responsibility exists.

    Sorry, I thought you were talking about Galen earlier, not P.F.

    You can’t possibly believe in agent causation as a determinist. The two are completely incompatible.

    True. I defended determinism earlier in the context of free will when I shouldn’t have. Agent causation does not salvage free will as Galen Strawson argues, but it is incompatible with determinism.

    As a determinist I agree that I am not the ultimate source of my actions. The feeling of weighing a decision and being able to influence the course of future events does indeed have a strong sense of freedom to it, yet at the same time that freedom can be simultaneously abhorrent because it means a wrong decision is possible. The freer the decision feels, the more we can wrestle with it. Perfect knowledge eliminates the uncertainty, eliminates the choice, eliminates the sense of freedom.

  187. JAD,

    (4) The naturalist needs to explain, on naturalism, how it is conceivable that a natural dysteleological process could create consciousness and mind.

    As a naturalist, I do share the intuition that some fundamental aspect of consciousness (distinct from mind, intelligence, any kind of information processing biology) is basic to the universe. There must be something about the deepest level of reality that is or has conscious capacity. But the reason I don’t consider this a theistic concept necessarily is because I don’t see that this consciousness also needs intelligence, memory, language, emotions, goals, sense of self, perception, senses, etc.; all of the latter seem to be concepts better explained so far by cognitive science and evolution.

  188. Larry,

    Not to interfere with your dialogue with JAD I did though have a question in reference to your two quoted sections and the timeline. Do you believe those are actually explanations of how consciousness evolved? I don’t see anything in either that explains that in any way. They seem explanations of what did happen, mostly physiologically, not how that happened through evolution or how consciousness developed as part of that.

  189. BillT,

    Yes, I think there is sufficient data to suggest an explanation for consciousness: neurophysiological changes in brains in human populations. JAD’s essential question is how the human mind and consciousness arose if not via theistic intervention(s). The apparent answer, based on data, experiments, and physical evidence seems to be that through evolutionary and environmental pressures the brains of our human or protocol-human ancestors acquired a physical change in the organ that enhanced its processing power.

    Dislike the explanation if you please, but there seems to be a pretty good naturalistic one. I don’t want to be dishonest and pretend that I am an evolutionary biologist. I am not, and indeed I am not a scientist at all. I imagine we would need a lifetime’s study to sift through the entire body of evidence and different hypotheses.

    So, I am not saying that I carte blanche accept every word and idea in what I quoted. But at least it seems fair to say that enough facts and evidence exist to support the idea of the naturalistic rise of human consciousness.

    Does the idea of the theistic rise of human consciousness have more or less support? Details, please.

  190. @Larry Tanner:

    Yes, I think there is sufficient data to suggest an explanation for consciousness: neurophysiological changes in brains in human populations.

    There is no (naturalistic) explanation for consciousness, much less an explanation for the origin of consciousness. It is even far from clear how such an answer should go about. Period, end of story.

    note: actually, it is impossible, even in principle, for such an explanation to exist, but I am just relaying the facts, not making any arguments.

    Dislike the explanation if you please, but there seems to be a pretty good naturalistic one.

    It is not a mere “dislike”; it is more like your explanation explains absolutely *nothing* at all. To pretend that it does is simply to not grasp what the real issues are.

    @djc:

    As a naturalist, I do share the intuition that some fundamental aspect of consciousness (distinct from mind, intelligence, any kind of information processing biology) is basic to the universe.

    Then you are not a naturalist, but a panpsychist of sorts.

  191. Larry, RE: #197

    You say this: “You need to provide the empirical explanation for mind and consciousness arising given a theistic reality.”

    It seems to me that there are two major misunderstandings of yours reflected in this statement or, to be more precise, demand. First, you appear to have created a dichotomy: a naturalistic reality vs. a theistic reality. No, these are not two realities we are discussing. We are talking about two different approaches to explaining a single reality: ours, which is the only one we have. You seek an “empirical” explanation, which I assume means to you a scientific, data-driven, physical or physiological explanation of how we “got” consciousness. IMO, such explanations are readily available in the research literature, including the work of Dr. Andrew Newberg, M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. I refer you to 2 of his most recent books:

    Andrew Newberg (2014). The metaphysical mind: Probing the biology of philosophical thought.

    Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman (2009) How God changes the brain: Breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist.

    This research, for me, establishes with ample empirical data that the brain is “hard-wired” to perceive and interact with what I call “God” and what Newberg refers to as “the stuff of awareness” that science cannot explain.

    Which brings me to your expression “theistic reality.” I know that one bit of linguistic and conceptual trickery that some scientists and many atheists frequently employ is what I describe as removing God from nature in hopes of making God disappear. This is often done through the use of the term “supernatural” that is used to mean “extra-natural”, as if placing God above (super) nature, God is therefore outside of nature and even worst, not natural. It is fascinating to me as a linguist to see how morphology are suggest a metamorphosis and de-morphosis of God.

    So what is this “theistic reality” that requires an “empirical explanation” that you suggest is actually not necessary since your naturalistic explanation is, to you at least, empirically complete and intellectually satisfying? May I ever so humbly suggest that naturalism does not satisfy because of this unanswered question: Why would humans have acquired (however they were acquired) all of the physiological mechanisms and processes in place to relate to a non-existent reality?

    Which leads me to this question about your hypothesized two realities:
    Is not the theistic reality the only reality, without which there would be no human life and no need for a human brain that can perceive God?

  192. From my perspective, Larry, the problem with this:

    Yes, I think there is sufficient data to suggest an explanation for consciousness: neurophysiological changes in brains in human populations.

    … is that neurophysiology doesn’t explain consciousness. See Rosenberg, Churchland, and Nagel for three prominent atheist thinkers’ explanation for the reasons.

    Processing power does not explain quake, the what-it-is-like-ness of consciousness. I can’t even imagine how you would construct a path from processing power to consciousness. Granted, I probably ought to re-read Dennett’s long (long!) explanation on that, because then I could probably imagine it; or maybe not, since not that many people think he succeeded.

  193. Jenna,

    Does Newberg explain how consciousness arose? JAD asks for an empirical explanation for the emergence of consciousness, so can you answer?

  194. Tom,

    And so, what empirical explanation for conscious seems most reasonable to you?

  195. Larry, RE: #205

    Andrew Newberg does not explore the evolution of consciousness, if that’s what you mean. For a thorough discussion of this with a comparison of naturalism vs. theological perspectives, I suggest that you look at Alvin Plantiga (2011) “Where the conflict really lies.”

  196. Jenna,
    I have been asked to provide an empirical explanation of consciousness, and I have tried to comply.

    Now I am asking you to provide an explanation of your own, since you don’t like the one I provided.

    I am sure JAD will give one, but until he does, please let me know how you think consciousness arose.

  197. @djc

    Agent causation does not salvage free will as Galen Strawson argues, but it is incompatible with determinism.

    My reading of Galen Strawson’s paper is that he a priori rules out agent causation – and only then is his argument tenable.

    The feeling of weighing a decision and being able to influence the course of future events does indeed have a strong sense of freedom to it, yet at the same time that freedom can be simultaneously abhorrent because it means a wrong decision is possible.

    I’ve never thought having to make decisions is abhorrent. Abhorrent is the notion that making decisions is an illusion, and that decision making is in fact impossible.

  198. Does the idea of the theistic rise of human consciousness have more or less support? Details, please

    Larry,

    I’ve got no details and am undoubtedly less qualified than you to discuss scientific details. However, that consciousness could come from consciousness certainly doesn’t seem a stretch. That a mind could provide the teleology to make consciousness part of our evolutionary assent doesn’t seem to far fetched to me either. I’m a Theistic Evolutionist. The how isn’t the key for me. In the big picture though I can’t see our consciousness as part of a solely naturalistic scheme. There is way more to us than just nature can account for. Types of things like beauty and altruism and morality and the entire panoply of metaphysical characteristics that make us human. We’re way more than just evolved.

  199. Larry, on what basis do you include “empirical” in your question about empirical explanations for consciousness? It seems to me you’re smuggling in an empirical premise.

  200. Be aware that the theoretical possibility of an empirical explanation for consciousness is (ultimately) a logical requirement in your worldview, if consciousness is real. It is not logically required in ours. We don’t even have to show that consciousness arose. It would be quite consistent in our worldview for it to be imparted, which I actually think is the case.

  201. Larry, RE: #209

    The conservation, IMO, is not about dueling definitions of consciousness. I discussed the theological implications of your definition. As Tom points out, Christian theology is not based on theories or speculation about where consciousness came from or even what it is. We believe it comes from God because we are made in God’s image, which means that we are conscious beings because God is Consciousness. what Dr. Andrew Newberg refers to in his research as “Pure Awareness” or “the unity experience” (among other terms. Are you willing to address the question I asked in my comment? Here it is again:

    Why would humans have acquired (however they were acquired) all of the physiological mechanisms and processes in place to relate to a non-existent reality?

  202. Tom and Jenna,

    Let’s clear up some issues. Tom, you ask:

    Larry, on what basis do you include “empirical” in your question about empirical explanations for consciousness? It seems to me you’re smuggling in an empirical premise.

    I am not smuggling in anything. The question about empirical explanations comes from JAD. Back in comment 195, he notes I did not reply to his series of questions about naturalism, one of which he highlighted (emphasis added, below):

    How does mindless matter give rise to mind and consciousness? Can you give me an empirical explanation? What is mind? What is consciousness?

    So, this is why I have included ’empirical’ in my questions back to JAD (who has not yet replied to the questions) and to you. He wanted an empirical explanation; so do I.

    Moving on. In 211, BillT says:

    I’m a Theistic Evolutionist. The how isn’t the key for me. In the big picture though I can’t see our consciousness as part of a solely naturalistic scheme. There is way more to us than just nature can account for. Types of things like beauty and altruism and morality and the entire panoply of metaphysical characteristics that make us human. We’re way more than just evolved.

    That’s fine that you are a TE and aren’t focused on the how of consciousness, but don’t you think the how should be more important to you if you are going to doubt that consciousness arose naturally? To say “We’re way more than just evolved” is nothing more than the ideology of exceptionalism.

    So, let’s just agree that a naturalistic picture of consciousness continues to advance and get refined, but your ideology prevents you from giving it much stock.

    Tom in 213:

    It [i.e., the theoretical possibility of an empirical explanation for consciousness] is not logically required in ours. We don’t even have to show that consciousness arose. It would be quite consistent in our worldview for it to be imparted, which I actually think is the case.

    I guess that’s pretty convenient not to have to worry about empirical explanations! I hope that it’s OK for others to continue investigating empirical models even though you don’t require them.

    Now, you claim that consciousness was actually “imparted.” On what positive basis do you make this claim? And, this is a serious question, what distinguishes ‘it was imparted’ from ‘it was magic’?

    And, finally, Jenna in 214:

    The conservation, IMO, is not about dueling definitions of consciousness. I discussed the theological implications of your definition.

    Terrific, since I don’t feel like I am dueling about definitions of consciousness. I am trying to respond to JAD and have a discussion on a topic he himself raised, and I am trying to facilitate an apples-to-apples comparison of views. If naturalism is one view of reality (hence ‘naturalistic reality’) then theism gives a different view of reality (hence ‘theistic reality’). Perhaps you and Tom think I am a ‘slippery eel,’ but what’s really happening is my trying to prevent you from slipping out of the vary language you use.

    Next, you say:

    Are you willing to address the question I asked in my comment? Here it is again:

    Why would humans have acquired (however they were acquired) all of the physiological mechanisms and processes in place to relate to a non-existent reality?

    The question, even in the context of your comment 203, makes little sense to me. So, I am willing to answer, but I don’t know what you want to know.

    Perhaps it will help if I ask my question again, in different words: If gods exist and had/have some role in the appearance of human consciousness, what exactly was that role and what, if any, physical evidence, tests, or data give us knowledge about that role?

    Can you answer this question, Jenna, and can you explain what makes it a preferable answer against some of the information that I cited in comment 197?

    I have lots going on at work, so I probably will not comment anymore today – just an FYI. However, I will look forward to reading your responses and I especially hope that JAD chimes in since his comment initially sparked this line of discussion.

  203. Larry, did you happen to write this before reading my additional note in #213?

    JAD’s request for an empirical explanation makes sense, as I noted there.

    Your desire for an empirical explanation from theists, on the other hand, boils down to a desire for a non-theistic theistic explanation. At best it demonstrates that you still don’t understand what you’re disputing; at worst it’s a blatant slippery-eel move of trying to impose your worldview on top of ours.

  204. You wrote,

    Tom in 213:

    It [i.e., the theoretical possibility of an empirical explanation for consciousness] is not logically required in ours. We don’t even have to show that consciousness arose. It would be quite consistent in our worldview for it to be imparted, which I actually think is the case.

    I guess that’s pretty convenient not to have to worry about empirical explanations! I hope that it’s OK for others to continue investigating empirical models even though you don’t require them.

    Now, you claim that consciousness was actually “imparted.” On what positive basis do you make this claim? And, this is a serious question, what distinguishes ‘it was imparted’ from ‘it was magic’?

    Convenient? Convenient?! How about logically consistent? How convenient would it be for you to be able to tell us that no answer can be allowed but one that could be tested empirically? How convenient would it be for you to be able to require that everything that God does, he does in the science-accessible natural world? That would solve all your problems, since it would define God right out of existence?

    This has that slippery-eel imposition of worldviews written all over it.

    “Magic,” you say. If you mean, “accomplished by the power of God,” then I accept that fully. If you mean to slip in a pejorative association with it, as most people do with “magic,” then I say you’re imposing your worldview on top of ours again, expecting theism to live up to naturalistic values—as if theism could only be good if it were naturalistically good!

    Now, you claim that consciousness was actually “imparted.” On what positive basis do you make this claim?

    Oh, my goodness, have you been reading here so long, and you do not know? In short, my positive basis boils down to the explanatory adequacy of theism, the dire explanatory inadequacy of naturalism, and Genesis 1:26, along with all that I know about the nature of God, who is eternal mind and who by his own non-mechanistic, non-empirically accessible ways imparted some aspects of his nature to humans.

  205. The references Larry has linked to talk about consciousness but they don’t really explain what it is. That’s what I’d like to know. Typically materialists and naturalists (but not all naturalists) argue that consciousness is reducible to something else… If that true then they should be able to explain what it is and be able to tell us how create artificial consciousness and intelligence.

    Here are some observations that I think are relevant to the discussion we’re having here:

    David Chalmers (who is a naturalist) wrote in his book, The Conscious Mind that’ “Consciousness is a surprising feature of our universe. Our grounds for belief in consciousness derive solely from our experience of it. Even if we know every last detail about the physics of the universe—the configuration, causation, and evolution among all the fields and particles in the spatial temporal manifold—that information would not lead us to postulate the existence of conscious experience. My knowledge of consciousness in the first instance comes from my own case, not from any external observation. It is my first-person experience of consciousness that forces the problem on me.” (p101,102)

    He also writes: “Trying to define conscious experience in terms of more primitive notions is fruitless. One might as well try to define matter or space in terms of something more fundamental. The best we can do is to give illustrations and characterizations that lie at the same level.”

    In his essay “Remarks on the Mind-Body Question” Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner writes: “it is not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics [QM] in a fully consistent way without reference of the consciousness.”

    Expanding on the implications of Wigner’s remarks, Harold Morowitz comments that it is remarkable that the scientific study QM has led to the revival of the concept of “consciousness as an ultimate reality.” (“Reducing the Mind,” Psychology Today, Aug 1980) This I think explains why many of the researchers of consciousness (Chalmers & Searle, for example) spend a lot of time focusing on the ontology of consciousness. Ontology, which is sometime used interchangeably with the term metaphysics, is simply a way to try to conceptualize what something really is at its most basic, fundamental or essential level.

    The irony of all this is that using modern physics of QM we can derive a concept of mind and consciousness as ontologically distinct and irreducible. (I am fully aware that this is not the only interpretation.) It’s ironic because, in the 19th century, physics was, without a doubt, the most reductionistic of the physical sciences.

    Morowitz comments: “The founders of modern atomic theory did not start out to impose a mentalist picture on the world. Rather, they began with the opposite point of view and were forced to the present day position in order to explain experimental results.”

    I really like the way Morowitz concludes his article. He says that “a forceful commitment to uncritical reductionism as a solution to the problem of the mind… is a dangerous view, since the way we respond to our fellow human beings is dependent on the way we conceptualize them in our theoretical foundations. If we envision our fellows solely as animals or machines, we drain our interaction of humanistic richness. If we seek our behavioral norms in the study of animal societies, we ignore those uniquely human features that so enrich our lives. Radical reductionism offers very little in the area of moral imperatives.”

    The bottom line, at least for the present, is that it is conceptually easier (more parsimonious) simply to conceive of mind and consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality rather than something that emerges out of (or can be reduced to) something else.

    Obviously, the theist doesn’t have a reductionistic explanation. Most of us probably agree with Chalmers in that respect. So if that is the only explanation that counts then I guess we don’t have one. However, I think an apriori commitment to scientism (with arbitrary rules about what does and doesn’t count) is a fallacious starting point.

  206. Larry, RE: #215

    Please allow me to address two ideas within this comment.

    “So, let’s just agree that a naturalistic picture of consciousness continues to advance and get refined, but your ideology prevents you from giving it much stock.”

    IMO, this is a wrong idea, as I attempted to explain earlier with my discussion of the erroneous conceptualization of God as “extra-natural” (outside nature) rather than “supernatural” meaning to be above but inside nature and ruling nature. Theism includes and integrates naturalism. Unless you wish to take the perspective of some subgroup of theists as “universal” theism, there is no scientific knowledge that does not inform and enhance theism and there is no scientific knowledge that defeats theism. Therefore, it is inaccurate to conclude that theism (which I think is what you are referring to by “your ideology” ” prevents theists from appreciating natural explanations (science) and integrating knowledge from this epistemology into our understanding of reality.

    However, it does not appear to work the other way, which IMO, prompts the second part of your comment that I wish to address:

    Larry: “Perhaps it will help if I ask my question again, in different words: If gods exist and had/have some role in the appearance of human consciousness, what exactly was that role and what, if any, physical evidence, tests, or data give us knowledge about that role?”

    Le’s examine the first 3 words of this comment: “If gods exist.” Your reference to “gods” plural and not God with a capital G imply that you are talking about polytheism, correct? Polytheism is (my definition) the deification of selected natural phenomena and human characteristics through the processes and literary genre of myth, allegory and anthropomorphism. Just because the ancient Aztecs deified rain through the mythology of the god Tlaloc does not mean that rain doesn’t exist. Nor does it mean that rain doesn’t play a role in nature.

    I elaborate on this point because I find that there is a profound misunderstanding of what monotheism deifies, which is the entire unity of nature, with both its physical and spiritual dimensions. Atheists deny the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality. Without acknowledging and addressing this spiritual dimension, your question as you state it, is unanswerable (rhetorical). So, your question becomes what I express as this: “What role do/did natural forces have in the appearance of human consciousness (which is both physical and spiritual) and what physical evidence or tests do we have of the role of spirit in the appearance (emergence?; creation?) of human consciousness? You appear to what a physical, materialist answer to a metaphysical, spiritual question. This is, of course, the core question and problem of atheism.

  207. G. Rodrigues,

    As a naturalist, I do share the intuition that some fundamental aspect of consciousness (distinct from mind, intelligence, any kind of information processing biology) is basic to the universe.

    Then you are not a naturalist, but a panpsychist of sorts.

    Panpsychism usually means mind is fundamental, while I’m explicitly denying that. There is no “psyche”, mind is reducible, I feel. Subtract intelligence, emotions, memory, self, sensory perceiving, there is still something potentially left that must be accounted for by physical law that is key to consciousness. That’s still a naturalist view, even a physicalist view (for example Galen Strawson’s Why physicalism entails panpsychism.

  208. bigbird,

    My reading of Galen Strawson’s paper is that he a priori rules out agent causation – and only then is his argument tenable.

    No, definitely not. Assume agents make decisions that are not in any way connected to the causality of the rest of the universe. It is still true that agents act because of the way they are, and that agents can not be ultimately responsible for the way they are. See the overview at the wiki page.

    I’ve never thought having to make decisions is abhorrent. Abhorrent is the notion that making decisions is an illusion, and that decision making is in fact impossible.

    I didn’t say that making decisions was abhorrent, I said that freedom in the decision can be abhorrent. Should I take up smoking? No, it is blindingly obvious that this would be a bad thing, I really don’t have any freedom to seriously decide to take up smoking; it’s an easy decision. But how about a decision to say, take statins, cholesterol medication? There’s a lot more freedom in that answer because the evidence is not overwhelming clear which is the better course and there’s a lot of factors to take into account. It’s a tough decision, even painful with the risks on either side. So why is freedom in a decision always proportional to lack of information? This suggests that the freer a decision is, the less a person can know about the true consequences; which seems a strange way to provide an anchor to moral responsibility.

    Under determinism, a decision is about examining my goals, desires and priorities and settling on the best course of action, that’s intuitively true and what a decision feels like under any philosophy, there’s no illusion there. The intuition of having control of consequences by making proper decisions is no illusion, either, my actions definitely lead to real consequences. The only illusion is that my goals, desires and priorities– my intrinsic being, self, soul and spirit– are somehow fully within my ability to create, change and control as well. That can’t be, though; something outside me has to have that ultimate control.

  209. JAD,

    The bottom line, at least for the present, is that it is conceptually easier (more parsimonious) simply to conceive of mind and consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality rather than something that emerges out of (or can be reduced to) something else.

    If mind wasn’t so clearly dependent on algorithms and information flow running on biological hardware, I would agree. Mind without layers of complex physical hardware seems inconceivable to me. Therefore, mind as fundamental is a non-starter for naturalism.

    I’ve agreed that consciousness might be more fundamental in some sense. However, consciousness without mind also might be more mundane than we think.

    Radical reductionism offers very little in the area of moral imperatives.

    Moral imperatives should come from human values, not from anywhere else under naturalism.

  210. djc,

    Under determinism, a decision is about examining my goals, desires and priorities and settling on the best course of action, that’s intuitively true and what a decision feels like under any philosophy, there’s no illusion there.

    Except that you agree that all these things are reducible to the physical. You also agree that the physical cannot be about anything so it is only as if we have goals, beliefs etc that we act on therefore it is only as if “we” make a choice. It is only as if you have a will, free or otherwise.

  211. I am not much interested either in Tom’s 218 or JAD’s 219, so I’ll move straight to Jenna’s 220, in which she says:

    Theism includes and integrates naturalism. Unless you wish to take the perspective of some subgroup of theists as “universal” theism, there is no scientific knowledge that does not inform and enhance theism and there is no scientific knowledge that defeats theism. Therefore, it is inaccurate to conclude that theism (which I think is what you are referring to by “your ideology” ” prevents theists from appreciating natural explanations (science) and integrating knowledge from this epistemology into our understanding of reality.

    I do not conclude that theism “prevents theists from appreciating natural explanations (science).”

    However, I did note that theism seems to prevent BillT from being entirely comfortable with some of science’s tentative conclusions on the origins of consciousness.

    What about you, Jenna? You seem to be more comfortable with the science and able to reconcile it with your idea that a god (in this case “God”) exists. But other than crediting God with the ultimate origin of what nature has produced, what is your theism contributing?

    Next:

    Le’s examine the first 3 words of this comment: “If gods exist.” Your reference to “gods” plural and not God with a capital G imply that you are talking about polytheism, correct?

    Not exactly. God is one of many gods that people have asserted to exist. Theism, as I understand the term, is not equivalent to Christianity, and so I was trying to be inclusive.

    Next:

    I elaborate on this point because I find that there is a profound misunderstanding of what monotheism deifies, which is the entire unity of nature, with both its physical and spiritual dimensions. Atheists deny the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality.

    Honestly, doesn’t it seem like a form of idolatry to deify, as you yourself say, “the entire unity of nature”?

    I also think you misunderstand the atheist position. I don’t feel I deny “the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality”; rather, I feel there’s no good reason to accept such existence. Were good reasons offered, I would accept such existence. But you can’t expect anyone to be persuaded by someone’s breathless assertion — made earlier in this thread — that we humans are ‘way more than just’ evolved beings.

    Finally, this:

    Without acknowledging and addressing this spiritual dimension, your question as you state it, is unanswerable (rhetorical). So, your question becomes what I express as this: “What role do/did natural forces have in the appearance of human consciousness (which is both physical and spiritual) and what physical evidence or tests do we have of the role of spirit in the appearance (emergence?; creation?) of human consciousness? You appear to what a physical, materialist answer to a metaphysical, spiritual question. This is, of course, the core question and problem of atheism.

    Ontologically, there is no spiritual dimension. It’s a human invention, and so not really a problem for atheism. Only a theist could see it as a problem for atheism. Indeed, many of what you consider problems for atheism and/or naturalism vanish just by not automatically granting the validity of theism.

    But you have my question wrong, and I am surprised and disappointed. I do not want a materialist answer to a spiritual question. Your whole point is that naturalism ultimately fails to explain reality and that theism ultimately provides the correct view. If theism is ultimately correct and reality actually includes God or instead other gods and goddesses, how exactly does it succeed in explaining the origin of consciousness where naturalism fails?

    I am asking for you to connect the dots, not give me a materialist answer. Why? Because if you are going to assert a deity and assert that the deity has some direct or indirect role in the origin of consciousness, then you assume the burden of explaining what that role was or is.

    Tom quoted Genesis as his attempt at explaining. I have a hard time thinking even he finds it an adequate explanation, but I am almost certain he would not expect a neutral audience to find it persuasive. But, I have been wrong before….

    In the end, if all we’re going to do is accept the science and then append “Goddidit” at the end, then let’s just be honest about that. I don’t yet see any reason to add the “Goddidit” and so you’ll understand why I don’t.

  212. What is this language of “theism prevents … from being comfortable with some of science’s tentative conclusions”? For my part, it’s not discomfort. BillT never mentioned “discomfort.”

    It’s not discomfort, that is, except in the sense that I’m uncomfortable with accepting things that are plainly incoherent.

    And why do you conclude that it’s simply theism that makes BillT (or any of us) “uncomfortable”? Has anyone here said anything like, “We don’t feel good about this because we believe in God”? Or have we said, “We don’t agree with this because it has these various logical and evidential failings (not to mention the fact that it contradicts what else we are convince is true)”?

    Larry, do you ever respond to anyone here without misrepresenting them?

    I’m a bit mystified about this distinction that lacks a difference: “I don’t feel I deny ‘the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality’; rather, I feel there’s no good reason to accept such existence.” Is there that much distinguishing “deny” from “no good reason to accept”?

    But it gets even more mysterious than that, when you, who say you don’t feel you deny the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality, add this:

    Ontologically, there is no spiritual dimension. It’s a human invention, and so not really a problem for atheism.

    Could you explain how that makes sense, please?

    Going on:

    If theism is ultimately correct and reality actually includes God or instead other gods and goddesses, how exactly does it succeed in explaining the origin of consciousness where naturalism fails?

    I am asking for you to connect the dots, not give me a materialist answer. Why? Because if you are going to assert a deity and assert that the deity has some direct or indirect role in the origin of consciousness, then you assume the burden of explaining what that role was or is.

    What do you mean by “explain”? We talked about this earlier, and you said,

    Finally, back to my definition of ‘explanation.’ I basically mean by explanation the immediately preceding or direct causes of something.

    I think it’s likely you are thinking of that in some kind of physical/mechanical/field/force/energy/development/evolutionary sense. In other words, I think you’re likely still asking for a theist to give a non-theistic explanation. Why can’t you accept that God, who is original Mind, the fundamental Mind, the Mind at the core of all reality, imparts mind to some of his creation by some non-mechanical/physical/force/field/energy/developmental process? What’s wrong with that kind of answer?

    In the end, if all we’re going to do is accept the science and then append “Goddidit” at the end, then let’s just be honest about that. I don’t yet see any reason to add the “Goddidit” and so you’ll understand why I don’t.

    In the end, if that’s what we were doing we’d all be as idiotic as you seem to think we might be. I mean, that is really a stupid proposal. No sane thinker starts with science and appends Goddidit on top of it. How on earth do you read what we’re writing here and think that that’s what we’re saying?

    Larry, I’m pushing hard on you because I don’t think you’re here in good faith, and I don’t think you’re being honest with yourself or with others. You’re intelligent, that’s very apparent; but you keep saying things that show you’re not putting much effort into understanding what you’re disputing. This last example was a corker.

    You underestimate theism, you underestimate underestimate the historic lines of thought leading to the understandings we have, and you way, way, way, way, way underestimate God.

  213. I consider Genesis 1:26 (and all that goes with it) to be by far the best available explanation for mind in humankind. I just want to make that clear.

  214. @Larry Tanner:

    The questions were directed at Jenna Black, but I will insert a comment and an answer anyway:

    But other than crediting God with the ultimate origin of what nature has produced, what is your theism contributing?

    Well that is certainly more than your atheism contributes, which is exactly nothing.

    But of course, as practically everyone has already said it, this simply misunderstands theism in general and Christianity in particular as a sort of proto-scientific theorizing in opposition to standard science. No wonder that Christianity judged as Science ™ is found to be lacking.

    Because if you are going to assert a deity and assert that the deity has some direct or indirect role in the origin of consciousness, then you assume the burden of explaining what that role was or is.

    I will assume by consciousness, you mean consciousness as Human Beings have it in opposition to the sort of consciousness animals have in virtue of their powers of sensation and inner imagination. The answer: God creates directly the soul of every human being, whether it be me or you or Tom. Does that answer the question? Of course, I am just repeating what everyone else has already said.

    And before you give in to the temptation to spill out the usual lines about revelation, I simply advise you to quiet the temptation and read a book on natural theology where the incorruptibility of the soul is rationally argued and therefore special creation is a necessity.

  215. Tom at 225:

    It’s not discomfort, that is, except in the sense that I’m uncomfortable with accepting things that are plainly incoherent.

    I’m with you, man. I too am uncomfortable with accepting things that are plainly incoherent. It’s funny, though, how what’s plainly incoherent in one person’s view is neither plain nor incoherent in the other person’s view. What do you make of this?

    And why do you conclude that it’s simply theism that makes BillT (or any of us) “uncomfortable”? Has anyone here said anything like, “We don’t feel good about this because we believe in God”? Or have we said, “We don’t agree with this because it has these various logical and evidential failings (not to mention the fact that it contradicts what else we are convince is true)”?

    Larry, do you ever respond to anyone here without misrepresenting them?

    I concluded that it was theism behind BillT’s ‘discomfort’ rather than something else because that seemed to be what we were talking about. In my opinion, for BillT and perhaps you too, perception of contradiction/conflict to deeply held religious beliefs drives the assessment of “logical and evidential failings.” You put the contradiction in parentheses, but my observation is that protecting the ideology is what’s really going on.

    And, since you are bound to wonder: I don’t feel particular allegiance to any ideology, not atheism, not naturalism, not materialism or most any other -ism you might think defines me. And no, this does not mean that I have no beliefs or that I believe in nothing. On the contrary, I have many beliefs and believe in many things.

    I am irritated that you think I misrepresent people’s views. I have been trying, Tom, to bring in people’s actual quotes and respond to what they actually say.

    Now, this part is important, Tom:

    I’m a bit mystified about this distinction that lacks a difference: “I don’t feel I deny ‘the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality’; rather, I feel there’s no good reason to accept such existence.” Is there that much distinguishing “deny” from “no good reason to accept”?

    Actually, there is an important difference. If I were to say that I denied the existence of a spiritual dimension, then I would tacitly grant an unwarranted legitimacy to the idea of a spiritual dimension. The idea of a spiritual dimension needs to be spelled out much more before I can even get to the point of accepting or denying its existence. Right now, though, the existence of a spiritual dimension is not even up for discussion. As I said, give me some good reasons to accept that a spiritual dimension might exist at all and then I’ll consider it.

    Next:

    I think it’s likely you are thinking of that in some kind of physical/mechanical/field/force/energy/development/evolutionary sense. In other words, I think you’re likely still asking for a theist to give a non-theistic explanation. Why can’t you accept that God, who is original Mind, the fundamental Mind, the Mind at the core of all reality, imparts mind to some of his creation by some non-mechanical/physical/force/field/energy/developmental process? What’s wrong with that kind of answer?

    No, Tom, I am not actually asking for a non-theistic explanation. What I am actually asking for is more details. I could possibly accept that God “imparts mind” if there were any detail whatsoever around what it means for God “to impart” anything. I cannot believe that you are willing to accept that Goddidit by “some” — SOME! — non-mechanical/physical/force/field/energy/developmental process, and yet you go after reasonable and ever-improving naturalistic hypotheses and explanations for their “logical and evidential failings.”

    Tom: How do you reconcile this seeming contradiction?

    Finally, this bit:

    No sane thinker starts with science and appends Goddidit on top of it. How on earth do you read what we’re writing here and think that that’s what we’re saying?

    Haven’t you learned by now that I am trying to follow your words. In the case you reference, I was responding to a comment by Jenna in 220:

    Theism includes and integrates naturalism. […] Therefore, it is inaccurate to conclude that theism (which I think is what you are referring to by “your ideology” ” prevents theists from appreciating natural explanations (science) and integrating knowledge from this epistemology into our understanding of reality.

    I take Jenna to be saying that by and large she thinks that science’s broad conclusions about reality are correct–and that God (she objected when I took theism to refer to any but God) ultimately is the author of all that has happened in reality. Hence, “Goddidit.” So, she might think there was a Big Bang–and God caused that. She may think that Earth’s species evolved over millions/billions of years–and God ultimately caused it to happen.

    When we strip the pretense from “the historic lines of thought leading to the understandings we have,” I can’t see that we are actually talking about anything more than ways to say “Goddidit” with a straight face.

    Tom, you started this thread to explore the relationship between naturalistic metaphysics and evolutionary science. The ensuing discussion shows at least that there’s a strong relationship between a theistic metaphysics and a resistance to scientific evidence and conclusions. I don’t know whether you would deny that there is a strong relationship or not.

    In any case, I am done here for this week. Until next week….

  216. Larry,

    m with you, man. I too am uncomfortable with accepting things that are plainly incoherent. It’s funny, though, how what’s plainly incoherent in one person’s view is neither plain nor incoherent in the other person’s view. What do you make of this?

    In this case, what I make of it is that what you think is incoherent in theism has been plainly and clearly identified as your misunderstanding of theism.

    Interesting that you would write both of these in this latest comment:

    You put the contradiction in parentheses, but my observation is that protecting the ideology is what’s really going on.

    and

    I am irritated that you think I misrepresent people’s views. I have been trying, Tom, to bring in people’s actual quotes and respond to what they actually say.

    You’re responding to the “protecting” of “the ideology,” not what we say.

    I am trying to irritate you, Larry. I am trying to irritate you with what’s true about how you’re participating here, so that you will change, since you are in fact misrepresenting people’s views right and left.

    I think it’s odd that you responded to just half of my note to you on denying the existence of a spiritual reality. You didn’t seem to think it worth answering the part where I juxtaposed your additional statement, “Ontologically, there is no spiritual dimension. It’s a human invention, and so not really a problem for atheism.” I can’t help wondering why you didn’t pick up on that. I’m still wondering why you would say, “Right now, though, the existence of a spiritual dimension is not even up for discussion,” after having categorically told us that it’s a human invention, and that ontologically it doesn’t exist.

    I could possibly accept that God “imparts mind” if there were any detail whatsoever around what it means for God “to impart” anything. I cannot believe that you are willing to accept that Goddidit by “some” — SOME! — non-mechanical/physical/force/field/energy/developmental process, and yet you go after reasonable and ever-improving naturalistic hypotheses and explanations for their “logical and evidential failings.”

    Tom: How do you reconcile this seeming contradiction?

    Unlike your response to what I just pointed out, I’ll begin by acknowledging the question rather than ignoring it.

    First, I consider “Goddidit” to be rude in conversation, and more importantly, demeaning to the majesty of the Creator, and annoying to those of us who want to exalt his majesty. Do I need to add that to my discussion policy, or can I just ask you to be more courteous, please?

    There’s no contradiction there, though. First, the “reasonable and ever-improving naturalistic hypotheses and explanations” don’t exist. Or rather, they exist and they explain some very important things, but they don’t explain consciousness, rationality, free will, and so on. They explain some physical correlates to those phenomena, but they really, truly, and honestly don’t explain the phenomena themselves.

    Second, there’s no contradiction there because there’s no contradiction there. Let me expand that beyond the redundancy/tautology. You’re suggesting that there’s something contradictory in my rejecting a certain category of explanation and accepting another. That’s obviously not self-contradictory in itself. So I’m asking myself, what is it that Larry sees in this that actually is contradictory? I can’t find anything that fits. I’m rejecting the naturalistic category of explanations because there is nothing in that category that actually explains. I accept the theistic category because I find it quite likely that they do tell us where consciousness, mind, etc. come from. I accept the lack of detail in the theistic answer because “detail” is a category error in that realm.

    Look at it this way. Your request for detail in God’s impartation of mind to humans is a request for a “how” explanation for the way God works to produce effects in the natural world. The natural world is the only world in which we have access to “how” questions and answers. Therefore your request for that kind of detail is a request for a natural-world set of questions to be answered, and further, it’s a request that they be answered with natural-world answers. It is, in other words, a request for an explanation for how God works, and you’ll only be satisfied with natural-world category answers.

    So to take it the next step, you’ll accept a God-based answer provided this God-based answer is an answer in the natural world. This God, however, is not the God of theism. So you have set up your question in such a way that the God of theism is excluded from all possible answers.

    For my part, the lack of detail in how God works is essential to my understanding of what and who God is, because I know that my mind can only access “how” questions and “how” answers in the natural world. I know that God and his works are not contained within the natural world, so I do not expect to know how he does all he does.

    There’s no contradiction there.

    Finally,

    The ensuing discussion shows at least that there’s a strong relationship between a theistic metaphysics and a resistance to scientific evidence and conclusions

    This thread shows that there’s a strong relationship between theism and a resistance to scientistic conclusions. I do not resist scientific evidence or conclusions relating to questions where science is competent to speak. No science has yet come close to even formulating the right questions for consciousness, however. I’m not rejecting science, I’m rejection scientism.

  217. No, definitely not. Assume agents make decisions that are not in any way connected to the causality of the rest of the universe. It is still true that agents act because of the way they are, and that agents can not be ultimately responsible for the way they are. See the overview at the wiki page.

    I’ve read his paper. Galen Strawson requires an unusually narrow conception of moral responsibility for his argument to work. He also requires that free agents have no ultimate responsibility for their decisions, even though they can freely choose between alternative possibilities. Strawson is smuggling determinism into his argument by default.

    Under determinism, a decision is about examining my goals, desires and priorities and settling on the best course of action, that’s intuitively true and what a decision feels like under any philosophy, there’s no illusion there.

    You can’t “settle on the best course of action” under determinism. You were always going to follow that course. You keep using the language of choice as if you have choices.

    The intuition of having control of consequences by making proper decisions is no illusion, either, my actions definitely lead to real consequences.

    The consequences were inevitable under determinism. You have control of nothing.

    The only illusion is that my goals, desires and priorities– my intrinsic being, self, soul and spirit– are somehow fully within my ability to create, change and control as well. That can’t be, though; something outside me has to have that ultimate control.

    You speak of your goals, desires and priorities as if that’s all “you”consists of.

    That can’t be, though; something outside me has to have that ultimate control.

    Here we go again, smuggling in determinism as fact, just like Strawson. Why does something outside you have to have ultimate control?

  218. Larry, first you said:

    However, I did note that theism seems to prevent BillT from being entirely comfortable with some of science’s tentative conclusions on the origins of consciousness.

    But I said nothing about being comfortable or not and your belief that it’s theism that is responsible for making me something that I’m not is, to be kind, a pretty wild piece of speculation.

    Then you said:

    I concluded that it was theism behind BillT’s ‘discomfort’ rather than something else because that seemed to be what we were talking about.

    So you “concluded” that I was uncomfortable though I said nothing like that nor does that represent my statement in any way.

    And then you said:

    I am irritated that you think I misrepresent people’s views. I have been trying, Tom, to bring in people’s actual quotes and respond to what they actually say.

    So you’re “irritated” that Tom thinks you “misrepresent people’s views” when the above shows you doing just that.

  219. Melissa,

    Under determinism, a decision is about examining my goals, desires and priorities and settling on the best course of action, that’s intuitively true and what a decision feels like under any philosophy, there’s no illusion there.

    Except that you agree that all these things are reducible to the physical. You also agree that the physical cannot be about anything so it is only as if we have goals, beliefs etc that we act on therefore it is only as if “we” make a choice. It is only as if you have a will, free or otherwise.

    Briefly, since this is getting into a new topic, I see no problem of intentionality in introspective knowledge about myself, it’s all neurons physically connected to neurons in the same brain. Intentionality is only an issue for physicalism when it comes to connecting knowledge inside my brain with it’s supposed external referent. The solution, I think, is in recognizing that knowledge is strictly about a neural map, not about reality. My perception of reality is not any kind of physical connection with the atoms of reality but a physical connection to sensory memories. My thoughts about reality are thoughts about a neural map, not the real world or anything else. However, my neural map includes beings just like me with neural maps they claim to possess that fit rather closely with mine. A parsimonious explanation is that we are beings existing independently in a physical reality and not that I am a brain in a vat experiencing a fictitious neural map, although both explain my experiences, strictly speaking.

  220. bigbird,

    I’ve read his paper. Galen Strawson requires an unusually narrow conception of moral responsibility for his argument to work.

    I was under the impression lack of moral responsibility was the conclusion of his argument, not the premise.

    He also requires that free agents have no ultimate responsibility for their decisions, even though they can freely choose between alternative possibilities.

    For agents to have ultimate responsibility they must logically have the ability to create themselves. Strawson uses the term “causa sui”. Sure, causa sui could be a necessary component of free will, but it is also rather incoherent. That’s why I said originally that naturalism has the edge by posing compatibilism for free will rather than a concept that is inherently mysterious and pretty much forever beyond human grasp.

    You can’t “settle on the best course of action” under determinism. You were always going to follow that course. You keep using the language of choice as if you have choices.

    “Settle on the best course of action” is perfectly deterministic, how could it not be? You look back on decisions and think you wouldn’t always make the same decision, as the person you were at the time, with the knowledge you had at the time? I mean, sure, if you flipped a coin, maybe you weren’t always going to follow that course. But if you had so little information to go on as to resort to a random decision, why is that free will?

    The consequences were inevitable under determinism. You have control of nothing.

    How do I know which consequences are inevitable until I work out the decision? The algorithm I use to make choices are (1) list choices, (2) examine consequences of each choice, (3) choose best consequence found in (2). Where is the indeterminism here?

    Here we go again, smuggling in determinism as fact, just like Strawson. Why does something outside you have to have ultimate control?

    Certainly if determinism is smuggled into the premises, that would be a fallacy. Here it is put a little differently:

    (1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself. (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects. (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible.

    Is ruling out causa sui smuggling in determinism?

  221. djc,

    Briefly, since this is getting into a new topic, I see no problem of intentionality in introspective knowledge about myself, it’s all neurons physically connected to neurons in the same brain. Intentionality is only an issue for physicalism when it comes to connecting knowledge inside my brain with it’s supposed external referent. The solution, I think, is in recognizing that knowledge is strictly about a neural map, not about reality.

    I realise you don’t see any problem with it but you are wrong. Neurons defined in solely the terms available to a scientific description being about anything at all is a problem. Whether what they are about is external reality or a mind map makes no difference.

    Anyway last word is to you because as you point out it does move to another topic.

  222. @djc

    I’ve read his paper. Galen Strawson requires an unusually narrow conception of moral responsibility for his argument to work.

    I was under the impression lack of moral responsibility was the conclusion of his argument, not the premise.

    Obviously, your conception of what moral responsibility is must be part of your premises if you are to conclude that it does not exist.

    For agents to have ultimate responsibility they must logically have the ability to create themselves.

    You’re just repeating Strawson’s assertion. What does “ultimate responsibility” mean? And why must they have the ability to create themselves?

    It seems to me that if an agent has the ability to freely make a choice between alternate possibilities (e.g. agent causation), they bear some moral responsibility for their choice. That does not require the agent to have the ability to create itself.

    Strawson uses the term “causa sui”. Sure, causa sui could be a necessary component of free will, but it is also rather incoherent.

    Most likely it originates from Aristotle’s “maxim liber est causa sui”, which Aquinas was fond of quoting, and forms part of his argument that we have free decision. I’m not sure why you would think it is “incoherent”.

    Is ruling out causa sui smuggling in determinism?

    Yes.

  223. Tom,

    In this case, what I make of it is that what you think is incoherent in theism has been plainly and clearly identified as your misunderstanding of theism.

    You can keep crying “misunderstanding,” but you’re wrong. No surprise we disagree. I’m moving on.

    You’re responding to the “protecting” of “the ideology,” not what we say.

    The protection, as I see it, is an important part of what you actually say. Do you deny that you have an interest in protecting the ideology, that the ideology often comes first?

    I am trying to irritate you, Larry. I am trying to irritate you with what’s true about how you’re participating here, so that you will change, since you are in fact misrepresenting people’s views right and left.

    I think it’s odd that you responded to just half of my note to you on denying the existence of a spiritual reality. You didn’t seem to think it worth answering the part where I juxtaposed your additional statement, “Ontologically, there is no spiritual dimension. It’s a human invention, and so not really a problem for atheism.” I can’t help wondering why you didn’t pick up on that. I’m still wondering why you would say, “Right now, though, the existence of a spiritual dimension is not even up for discussion,” after having categorically told us that it’s a human invention, and that ontologically it doesn’t exist.

    Well, you don’t irritate me that much. My observation is that you cry all the time about people misrepresenting your views or misrepresenting theism or not getting Christianity properly or misunderstanding the sophisticated theology that’s been centuries in the making. Nobody who disagrees with you or with Christianity ever gets it, in your world. Naturally, I must have just now misrepresented your views just now, but I figure it’s just an occupational hazard of trying to get creationists to declare plainly what exactly their beliefs mean. Tom, if nobody on ‘the other side’ gets your views right, maybe you should consider expressing the views more clearly.

    Indeed, it’s a great question. Is there any atheist — ever — who gets theism/Christianity? For you, I bet, the answer is no. And if my bet is correct, that should tell you something — I am not sure what — in theism/Christianity is rotten.

    I did not respond to every single sentence your wrote. Your earlier question seemed ridiculous to me and I did not want to waste the time with it. But now you have compounded errors. So, let me translate. This:

    Ontologically, there is no spiritual dimension. It’s a human invention, and so not really a problem for atheism.

    means that there is no spiritual dimension in reality beyond what human imagination fancies what a spiritual dimension might be. “Spiritual dimension” is not a real place, thing, or aspect/feature of external reality.

    This:

    Right now, though, the existence of a spiritual dimension is not even up for discussion,

    says virtually the same thing as what I just said above. There-is-no-spiritual-dimension. I really can’t say it plainer, Tom. Honestly, I am a little embarrassed for you.

    If you still don’t understand and still see some sort of contradiction in the statements, then I just am unable to do any better. But my offer still stands: if you give me reasons to think a spiritual dimension might exist, I’ll think it over.

    I am now going to skip some of the rest of your comment because I don’t want to respond to everything. Not every comment of your merits a response. Your umbrage at the term “Goddidit,” for example, is a waste, in my opinion. Indeed, I think your ‘majesty of the Creator’ is demeaning to the majesty of reality.

    But, onward:

    Look at it this way. Your request for detail in God’s impartation of mind to humans is a request for a “how” explanation for the way God works to produce effects in the natural world. The natural world is the only world in which we have access to “how” questions and answers. Therefore your request for that kind of detail is a request for a natural-world set of questions to be answered, and further, it’s a request that they be answered with natural-world answers. It is, in other words, a request for an explanation for how God works, and you’ll only be satisfied with natural-world category answers.

    Starting with your last sentence: isn’t theology supposed to be an explanation of how God works? Isn’t theology concerned at all with how the Creator actually made His Holy Creation? Answer these questions and we go down an interesting historical road….

    But fine, I accept that you don’t know how God works and that you don’t know how consciousness arose. I get that you see naturalism as basically supporting explanations and hypotheses that work OK for the natural world but don’t deliver on some other narrative you want. On the other hand, Genesis 1:26 delivers the goods for you. This one ancient Hebrew verse (which of course has its own interesting history and context) “really, truly, and honestly” explains consciousness itself. Makes sense.

    I am smiling as I write this: I would say we are at an impasse, Tom. If Genesis does it for you, terrific. Personally, I don’t think it explains consciousness itself or much of anything else, but I’m just a spiritually blind, evil atheist who’s betraying his own heart and denying God’s love to live a life of wanton hedonism and tomfoolery.

    This thread shows that there’s a strong relationship between theism and a resistance to scientistic conclusions. I do not resist scientific evidence or conclusions relating to questions where science is competent to speak. No science has yet come close to even formulating the right questions for consciousness, however. I’m not rejecting science, I’m rejection scientism.

    OK, thanks. Smiling still….

  224. “…isn’t theology supposed to be an explanation of how God works?”

    No. Theology is the study of God’s relationship to the world. The “how” questions, as much as they have some interest are certainly secondary to the relationship questions. It seems one of the big problems in bridging the gap between naturalism and theism. As a naturalists you really only have how questions. And as far as naturalism takes us we have that same interest. But obviously the natural world has limitations when addressing the supernatural.

    So you may be smiling but for someone to draw the conclusions you do about theism without even knowing what theology is (the above definition is straight from Merriam-Webster) might be considered somewhat, oh I don’t know, would presumptuous be too strong a word.

  225. BillT,
    Finish my paragraph. There’s a reason I don’t end with the question you quote.

  226. bigbird,

    You’re just repeating Strawson’s assertion. What does “ultimate responsibility” mean? And why must they have the ability to create themselves?

    To be truly responsible for how one acts, one must be truly responsible for how one is, at least mentally speaking. This does not seem to be a controversial assertion. But how can anyone be truly responsible for how one is? That can only mean that one somehow created one’s self, causa sui.

    It seems to me that if an agent has the ability to freely make a choice between alternate possibilities (e.g. agent causation), they bear some moral responsibility for their choice. That does not require the agent to have the ability to create itself.

    Does the choice originate from how the agent is? If it does, then the agent must also be responsible for how the agent is to be morally responsible for the choice, which takes us in the causa sui direction. That also seems uncontroversial. (On the other hand, if the choice does not originate from how the agent is, then it seems wrong to call it the “agent’s choice”.)

    Strawson is just drilling down to what “freely making a choice” must mean and logically entail. We can not just declare that free choices entail moral responsibility and be done with it, that’s stopping too soon; unless it’s an article of faith that can not be questioned.

    Most likely it originates from Aristotle’s “maxim liber est causa sui”, which Aquinas was fond of quoting, and forms part of his argument that we have free decision. I’m not sure why you would think it is “incoherent”.

    Strawson is going one step further and showing that free will implies that the actual nature of the agent must be self-caused, not just the choice itself. Aquinas would not agree that that this form of causa sui is possible (as the Spiering article from google search notes, Aquinas also says “Nihil est causa sui”).

  227. Melissa,

    Neurons defined in solely the terms available to a scientific description being about anything at all is a problem.

    To clarify, I assume we agree that under physicalism (and neurobiology, basically), neural groups are not symbols in any way like words or numbers representing or standing for something else in basic thought, they are the entire content. When I say thoughts “about” a neural map, I mean thoughts “consisting of, made out of” a neural map. And the neural map is not perceived as a “map” but as an actual reality. Knowledge of actual reality is inferred, but not directly experienced under physicalism.

  228. Larry,

    I read it. Pretty much the same stuff repeated. How different is “Isn’t theology concerned at all with how the Creator actually made His Holy Creation?” Just another how question. And I get it’s hard for you to get way from them. It’s the built in limitations of naturalism. But understanding our relationship with God requires questions and answers more nuanced than that. Your “interesting historical road” hardly seems all that interesting comparatively.

    And I accept that you don’t know how naturalism works and that you don’t know how consciousness arose. For you some descriptions of how our brains developed suffices. I think you sell yourself short. When you consider yourself and the things that make you human do you not see centrality of metaphysical characteristics? Love, humor, creativity, morality, courage, empathy, just to start. And all of this is explainable by asking how? The question inherent in Gen. 1:26 isn’t how but why.

  229. To be truly responsible for how one acts, one must be truly responsible for how one is, at least mentally speaking. This does not seem to be a controversial assertion.

    And back we go to Strawson’s conception of what moral responsibility is as one of the premises of his argument.

    Rather than debate this any further, I refer you to Tucker’s Agent Causation and the Alleged Impossibility of Rational Free Action (2007) for why Strawson’s argument does not work for agent causation. Unfortunately I can’t give you a link but you’ll find it in JSTOR.

  230. BillT (243),

    Your “interesting historical road” hardly seems all that interesting comparatively.

    Nope. The interesting historical road is of central importance. Let’s ask what happened to Scholasticism, and what came after it. What’s become of theology, and why? Answer these questions and we get to the heart of theology’s limitations and true value.

    And I accept that you don’t know how naturalism works and that you don’t know how consciousness arose. For you some descriptions of how our brains developed suffices. I think you sell yourself short. When you consider yourself and the things that make you human do you not see centrality of metaphysical characteristics? Love, humor, creativity, morality, courage, empathy, just to start. And all of this is explainable by asking how? The question inherent in Gen. 1:26 isn’t how but why.

    True, I don’t know how many things work, and neither of us knows exactly how consciousness arose. What you say next, however, is incorrect: it is not sufficient to have “some descriptions of how our brains developed.” The picture is not complete, and there are many questions to investigate and much to learn. So, you are mistaken to think that I or anyone else simply accepts “some descriptions” and leaves it at that.

    Whatever ‘why’ questions you want answered about love, etc., let’s not discount the fact that there is certainly a lot we can learn about human features (and they seem not to be exclusively human) such as love. We can better understand the mechanics of their development, and we can look at these mechanics in the historical contexts of their biological, ecological, and ‘social’ environments/circumstances.

    But — going specifically to your last sentence — do you know exactly why consciousness arose? If so, what is the reason or set of reasons for it? I would really like to know the answers to these questions, and I am interested in your seeming confidence that the questions can be fully answered.

  231. To clarify, I assume we agree that under physicalism (and neurobiology, basically), neural groups are not symbols in any way like words or numbers representing or standing for something else in basic thought, they are the entire content. When I say thoughts “about” a neural map, I mean thoughts “consisting of, made out of” a neural map. And the neural map is not perceived as a “map” but as an actual reality.

    If I’m understanding this correctly, this would mean that your neurons were *actually* fried chicken the moment you thought about fried chicken.

  232. Larry,

    I never said the question has been or even can be fully answered. But you really have no chance if you’re asking the wrong question. What I said was that the correct question to ask was why not how. That is the question, as I said, that is inherent in Genesis.

  233. I never said the question has been or even can be fully answered.

    Larry keeps making us tell him, “I never said…”

    Larry, what’s more productive–disputing what we say or what you invent for us? The answer is obvious.

    What’s easier–understanding what we say so that you can converse intelligently, or making up something we didn’t say? That answer, too, is obvious.

    You consistently choose the unproductive, easy route, which by the way is not the route that allows you to converse intelligently.

    I think I might start keeping track of it.

  234. I am not disputing but asking you to expand on your answer. I got the impression of confidence in a full answer but I accept that I might have read that confidence in.

    Are you telling me that theism has any answer at all? If it does, could you share that answer in plain English and not move goalposts later?

  235. Some time ago, Larry, you wrote this:

    At the risk of derailing the thread, I wonder if Tom can cite any specific instances where in his mind a critic of Christianity has ever correctly articulated a Christian belief, or do the critics always stereotype, erect strawmen, and mis-characterize.

    That was a bit of a straw man itself at the time, IIRC, because the issue wasn’t just any critic of Christianity. It was whether you, Larry, were demonstrating any actual desire to understand what you were ostensibly engaging with.

    I just did a review of some of your comments over the past few weeks, here on the back end of the blog, and I would say that the Ratio is better than even: you’ve made more many comments in which you’ve engaged with some apparent intent to understand and dialogue responsibly than you have where that was lacking.

    I wouldn’t consider a mere majority to be my goal, though.

  236. Larry @249,

    I’d be interested to know what you would accept as a form of an answer. You see, I think we’ve answered already, and you say we haven’t, or at least you strongly imply that we haven’t. So there’s a disconnect between what we think is an answer, and what you think is an answer. Could you describe what it is about our answer that causes you to consider it to be a non-answer? Or, specifically, what more do you want?

  237. “…could you share that answer in plain English and not move goalposts later?”

    No, for I have used plain English and I have not moved any goalposts. To imply I have not done one or have done the other is more of what Tom just addressed above.

  238. I am looking for the answer to why consciousness arose. I’d prefer you use your own words and then back up with the primary sources (maybe it’s the Genesis verse). But really, I seek a clear answer in the form of “Consciouness arose because….”

    The reason I want to know and the reason I want it in this form is not a trick; it’s because I keep (mis)understanding you on what kinds of questions theism helps ask and answer. I intend to see whether the question and answer seem as rigorous and robust as the how questions/answers from before. I also intend to see if theism helps pose questions/answers that could not also be posed from a secular standpoint. Finally, I intend to consider the questions/answers themselves, as presented and on their own merits.

  239. “Consciouness arose because….”

    There are many ways to complete that sentence.

    Consciouness arose because God willed it.
    Consciouness arose because it is good.
    Consciouness arose because it gives God pleasure.
    Consciouness arose because God is loving.

  240. I think this why and how business is just missing the point. Conciousness just is our first person, qualitative experience and since science provides an explanation in terms of quantitative, third person descriptions you will never explain consciousness purely in terms of reductive science. If you think that science could in principle explain everything. If you think that everything in this world is nothing but particles in motion and the interactions between them, then there is no place in your worldview for consciousness.

    I think the real question is does your worldview allow you to affirm the reality of consciousness, human agency, intentionality, rationality. If the reasons why you discount evidence for God also have the implication of undermining these foundational aspects of our experience of the world then you need to relook at your rejection of God. That is our point Larry, that if you thought through the implications of the metaphysics that you are implicitly entailed in your reasons for rejecting God, it’s pretty certain you would find that they do not allow consciousness etc to be real.

  241. Larry,

    It is my hope that Christianty is more about having a relationship with God than about asking questions about God.

  242. SteveK and Melissa,

    Interesting responses. Thanks. I would like to hear from at least Tom and maybe others before I say more.

  243. Larry,

    As djc has conceded, Idealism in naturalistic terms isn’t Idealism. It can’t be – because mind dependence requires what isn’t there – mind. Hence Melissa’s delineated brick wall preventing your third person sightline from ever spying – reaching – you. Ever. It’s your metanarrative which suffers from such shortsightedness – not that of the Anselmian Necessary Being.

  244. “Consciouness arose because….”

    God wanted to share His love with His creation.

    This is what makes most sense to me though I agree with all of Steve’s offerings. We understand that our creation itself was an act of love. That from the Trinity, a perfect dance of love, each one giving to and loving the other, comes the desire to share that love with others. And in this creation account, unique to Christianity, we understand the why of our creation and the reason we have love, humor, creativity, morality, courage, empathy, and all of the other metaphysical characteristics that define our humanity and the consciousness to understand them. He gives us these because we are made in His image and in these things we can relate to and be perfected by Him.

  245. While agreeing with BillT and others, I would also add that consciousness didn’t arise. God is eternal mind, and in a way that renders the term puny by its inadequacy, eternally conscious. He is eternally aware, eternally knowing, eternally himself in relationship with himself as Trinity.

    Consciousness, as I said above, was imparted to humans out of the overflow of God’s creative love, as an expression of his glory. The “why” behind it is in part totally inscrutable: we don’t know why God chose this rather than some other way to express his glory. We only know what he has told us, which is (pardon the redundancy), “I have made you for my glory.” Knowing he chose to make us to be in relationship with him, the rest seems more clear: it’s impossible imagine relationship without the awareness, the personal continuing identity, and the experiential connection that comprise such a large part of consciousness.

    Similar things could be said about every aspect of our mental lives: our rationality, freedom of will, moral responsibility, and so on.

    To the extent we can understand it, which is far from a fraction of the whole of it all, it all settles down into God’s desire to create persons who could interact with him in freedom, joy, and love.

  246. Some interesting comments. SteveK, BillT, and Tom all provide responses that highlight God’s love and desire to share it. For instance, BillT says:

    [Consciousness arose because] God wanted to share His love with His creation.

    While preferring ‘impart’ to ‘arise,’ Tom basically agrees with SteveK/BillT’s sentiment on the why of consciousness:

    Consciousness, as I said above, was imparted to humans out of the overflow of God’s creative love, as an expression of his glory. The “why” behind it is in part totally inscrutable: we don’t know why God chose this rather than some other way to express his glory. We only know what he has told us, which is (pardon the redundancy), “I have made you for my glory.”

    Tom neatly anticipates the natural follow-on questions about why consciousness might have been chosen as the vehicle of love, why human beings and not other creatures, and so forth. Tom also gives a quotation — from Isaiah, I think — that gives a reason for why God might have created people and imparted consciousness to them.

    But I suppose there’s a bit of an issue here. We don’t know how God got consciousness into people. The spiritual answer concerns why, not how, and how is a naturalistic question/answer. So, if we’re focused on why and not how, then it seems God could have imparted consciousness or God could have caused consciousness to arise. In other words, if there’s a how-question to be answered, then we cannot avoid all the nasty mechanistic questions/answers/hypotheses that I have earlier tried to suss out.

    Does this seem reasonable, that either we avoid how questions altogether and accept, on the word of Isaiah, etc., that we are created and conscious for God’s glory, or that we accept how questions as fair game for investigation, and so we can try to find out how consciousness was either imparted or arose?

    Now, Melissa and Jenna have some different ideas. Melissa thinks that this “business” of how and why questions “is just missing the point”:

    Consciousness just is our first person, qualitative experience and since science provides an explanation in terms of quantitative, third person descriptions you will never explain consciousness purely in terms of reductive science. If you think that science could in principle explain everything. If you think that everything in this world is nothing but particles in motion and the interactions between them, then there is no place in your worldview for consciousness.

    Frankly, I don’t understand Melissa’s point. Consciousness can indeed be explained by science (see way earlier in the thread for how I typically mean ‘explain’). I think what Melissa might mean — again, I am not sure and so am trying to do the work of trying to figure it out myself — is that consciousness in a scientific explanation might be very different than what we commonly experience it to be.

    I don’t see why we would be overly concerned if the scientific understanding of consciousness differs even greatly from everyday experience. After all, we don’t pick up all light across the spectrum — I am thinking infrared and ultra-violet, for example. We don’t see events at a very small scale. We are limited in our ability to perceive occurrences as very fast speeds. We can be taken by optical illusions and such. Our minds can indeed be deceptive and deceived.

    Now, this part of Melissa’s comment is concerning:

    I think the real question is does your worldview allow you to affirm the reality of consciousness, human agency, intentionality, rationality. If the reasons why you discount evidence for God also have the implication of undermining these foundational aspects of our experience of the world then you need to relook at your rejection of God. That is our point Larry, that if you thought through the implications of the metaphysics that you are implicitly entailed in your reasons for rejecting God, it’s pretty certain you would find that they do not allow consciousness etc to be real.

    Melissa, we cannot just assume consciousness is real and then have our worldview conform to the assumption. Whether consciousness is real — in whatever specific sens you might mean by ‘real’ — is something to be investigated, not something to be assumed in advance. And in any case, naturalism doesn’t prevent consciousness from being real in a certain sense, such as an effect of the brain functioning.

    Finally, Jenna:

    It is my hope that Christianty is more about having a relationship with God than about asking questions about God.

    Acknowledged. But some people are curious and want to know about God, and so they ask questions. Your ability to have a relationship with God should not be affected by this discussion on why God has allegedly done certain things. I hope you are not under the impression that I am at all interested in being a Christian or adopting Christianity. No offense, but neither of those scenarios has any appeal to me. If anything, I tend to be more curious about why people are attracted to different religions and denominations.

  247. Larry, you have finally caught on to the problem I’ve been trying to get you to see:

    In other words, if we think there’s a how-question to be answered, then it seems like we cannot avoid all the nasty mechanistic questions/answers/hypotheses that I have earlier tried to suss out.

    Or I think you may have seen it, anyway. You at least leave open the possibility that the “how” question is beyond our ability to answer.

    If you were instead to think that there’s a how-question that must be answered, and if you were to think that such a how-question unavoidably leads to all those “nasty mechanistic questions/answers/hypotheses,” then this is what you would have to think:

    1. If there is a God, and if God imparted consciousness to humans, then he must have done it mechanistically.
    2. Therefore no God could have imparted consciousness to humans non-mechanistically.
    3. Therefore if there is a God, he is a God who cannot perform actions like imparting consciousness to humans non-mechanistically.

    That seems to lead to the conclusion that God, if God exists, is tied to mechanistic methods, which is not what anyone means by the word “God.”

    As for your answer to Melissa, you’re incredibly over-optimistic on one level, since consciousness has not been explained by science, and nothing in current research comes close to suggesting that science is coming close to figuring it out. On another level you’re missing all the in-principle difficulties that make it logically impossible that science will ever explain consciousness. So you’re not just over-optimistic, you’re wrong. (Your paragraph beginning “I don’t see…” is completely irrelevant to the problems, by the way.)

    Melissa, we cannot just assume consciousness is real and then have our worldview conform to the assumption.

    We also cannot assume that our consciousness is unreal because our worldview says it can’t be. And who said the reality of consciousness was an assumption, anyway? It’s something you know from experience, and would never doubt if not for a worldview that conflicts with that knowledge. Why let your worldview overrule your knowledge?

  248. Larry,

    Frankly, I don’t understand Melissa’s point. Consciousness can indeed be explained by science (see way earlier in the thread for how I typically mean ‘explain’). I think what Melissa might mean — again, I am not sure and so am trying to do the work of trying to figure it out myself — is that consciousness in a scientific explanation might be very different than what we commonly experience it to be.

    Science might be able to tell us certain things about how consciousness arose but it cannot tell us how consciousness works without doing away with consciousness. As I wrote earlier consciousness is our first person qualitative experience therefore it cannot in principle be explained by reduction to quantitative third-person descriptions. Have a think about that for a while.

    Melissa, we cannot just assume consciousness is real and then have our worldview conform to the assumption. Whether consciousness is real — in whatever specific sens you might mean by ‘real’ — is something to be investigated, not something to be assumed in advance. And in any case, naturalism doesn’t prevent consciousness from being real in a certain sense, such as an effect of the brain functioning.

    We can’t coherently deny that we have conscious experiences. Try it and we’ll see how successful you are. Now I happen to think that consciousness does not require an immaterial aspect to the animal, but naturalism as it is commonly understood does not have a place for it for the reasons I’ve already stated.

  249. @Larry

    Melissa, we cannot just assume consciousness is real and then have our worldview conform to the assumption.

    Interestingly, this seems to be what David Chalmers has done, in a well known paper Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.

    Chalmers proposes taking experience (i.e. qualia) as something fundamental, that cannot be explained reductively, and constructs his (naturalistic) theory of consciousness on this basis.

  250. You at least leave open the possibility that the “how” question is beyond our ability to answer.

    What would an account of consciousness look like, anyway? We can describe consciousness experientially, of course, but I don’t know anyone with a satisfying account of what it actually is.

  251. Positing “X exists” in non-reductive terms seems a stretch as he seems to label experience the effect of information, both of which presuppose Mind, which is the X he seeks to explain. Information presupposes Mind, as does Experience. His regress doesn’t seem to end in Mind though as moving into smaller batches of information reduces experience, which each again presuppose Mind, but now one is greater than the other. Presumably we can thus regress out of “information” to mere particle. This looks circular at first glance….bigger batches (brains) “just grants” both information and experience. Smaller brains “just grants” smaller information / experiences. “Too small” for Mind presumably does exist then. It’s only a first glance, but it seems circular – and seems to grant on axiom Mind to batch-size. “More” particles “just has” the X and more X then fewer particles have…. I assume one particle lacks X, that there is a threshold of some sort.

  252. Larry,

    I think others have answered your inquires pretty well Here is something else to consider:

    “All this began to change in the 20th century with the development of quantum physics and as that century came to a close and the new century began a number of experiments were done which led physicists to believe that, in fact, mind is fundamental and that the material world is an emergent property of mind.”

    There is a good column here along with an explanatory YouTube video.

    It goes on to state that:

    “There’s resistance to accepting the universe as a product of mind because such a view both refutes the materialism upon which atheism rests and fits nicely with a theistic view of the world…”

  253. Tom,

    … over-optimistic on one level, since consciousness has not been explained by science, and nothing in current research comes close to suggesting that science is coming close to figuring it out.

    There’s progress, though. For example, take Michael Graziano’s attention schema theory. He proposes that specialized machinery in the brain computes the feature of awareness and attributes it to other people in a social context. The same machinery also attributes the feature of awareness to oneself. Damage to that machinery disrupts one’s own awareness. This explains why the STS and TJP regional areas of the cortex are so crucial both to consciousness and to social perception. (2011 Cognitive Neuroscience article and an AEON article).

    Graziano’s theory suggests that consciousness only arises when there are two computation models in action, one for attention and one for awareness of that attention. The second leads to the experience of consciousness, the first does not. The perceived intensity of consciousness then seems to be related to a feedback loop between the attention and awareness models.

    I can’t read this research and share your pessimism, it’s just way too thought-provoking. Obviously it does not “explain consciousness” but it is making progress by explaining evidence, offering theories, and making testable predictions.

    How does this research contribute to Chalmer’s so-called “hard” problem? Because if we know exactly what computational models trigger conscious experience, we can duplicate them, for one. We can then study the “hard” problem with unprecedented control and mathematical precision.

    On another level you’re missing all the in-principle difficulties that make it logically impossible that science will ever explain consciousness.

    Above, you can see that consciousness, as a vague abstraction, is still being defined, formalized, broken down into smaller parts and pieces on which theories can be applied and tested. Eventually, I suppose there will be a “quark” of “first-person qualitative experience”, but it will not be matter or energy of course, it will be something quite different yet still physical in the sense that it derives from the physical laws of this universe (at least as a naturalist/physicalist hypothesis). If that happens then, yes, I expect asking further for an explanation would be fruitless (unless of course we then have means to investigate the origin of this universe).

  254. Eventually, I suppose there will be a “quark” of “first-person qualitative experience”, but it will not be matter or energy of course, it will be something quite different yet still physical in the sense that it derives from the physical laws of this universe (at least as a naturalist/physicalist hypothesis).

    This is basically Russellian identity theory (which Chalmers derives his idea of qualia being fundamental from).

    It is very counter-intuitive to claim that qualia exist independently of a conscious subject. It’s also difficult to see how quark qualia could combine into the unified conscious experiences we have.

  255. Tom at 262:

    Larry, you have finally caught on to the problem I’ve been trying to get you to see:

    In other words, if we think there’s a how-question to be answered, then it seems like we cannot avoid all the nasty mechanistic questions/answers/hypotheses that I have earlier tried to suss out.

    Or I think you may have seen it, anyway. You at least leave open the possibility that the “how” question is beyond our ability to answer.

    Remember that my statement (“in other words”) is made in the context of a theistic perspective. From a theistic perspective, you may believe what you say, that “the “how” question is beyond our ability to answer,” but from a naturalistic perspective the how question is, at least in principle, open to being answered (even the ultimate brute fact, if we must go this route).

    Is it possible — in both naturalism and theism — that the how question is beyond our ability to answer? Sure, I guess so. Well, then we must therefore be open now to the possibility that both the why and the how questions reach points where we cannot get a satisfactory answer.

    All fine, but I guess my earlier point was that the theist has no basis for saying consciousness was either imparted or arose. You have no comment. You don’t know, and you can’t know. As soon as you say ‘God imparted consciousness,’ you have gone into the how-realm, and you don’t want to go there. The best you really can say is that there is some ultimate causal relationship between God and consciousness that you cannot explain mechanistically but that you believe served (or serves) God’s purpose of sharing his glory or love with the world.

    Meanwhile, the study of life’s mechanisms provides a rich source of learning about consciousness. You can have your why questions, as far as I’m concerned, since they can’t really mean anything beyond pretending to know something you don’t.

    I have no strong feeling to anything else in your comment except this:

    We also cannot assume that our consciousness is unreal because our worldview says it can’t be. And who said the reality of consciousness was an assumption, anyway? It’s something you know from experience, and would never doubt if not for a worldview that conflicts with that knowledge. Why let your worldview overrule your knowledge?

    Who assumes that consciousness is unreal? Not me. Indeed, ‘unreal’ in what sense exactly? I believe we really have the experience of consciousness. My worldview seems neutral on whether beings would or would not experience consciousness or know that they experience consciousness.

    Melissa at 263:

    Science might be able to tell us certain things about how consciousness arose but it cannot tell us how consciousness works without doing away with consciousness. As I wrote earlier consciousness is our first person qualitative experience therefore it cannot in principle be explained by reduction to quantitative third-person descriptions. Have a think about that for a while.

    I have thought about what this says and cannot parse it out. To me, it looks like you are grandstanding. I don’t see what’s so special about the experience of having a visceral reaction or a thought or a memory that such phenomena “cannot in principle be explained” by scientific analysis, experiment, and testing.

    In the future, if you have a point, please try to write it out in concrete, specific language. Illustrative examples help, too.

    Then you say:

    We can’t coherently deny that we have conscious experiences.

    Good. I do not deny we have conscious experiences, or rather the experience of conscious experiences. Are you under the impression that I deny that people have conscious experiences? Why would you ever think this?

    Bigbird @264: Your point? Chalmers says many things. Nevertheless, there seems an important difference between merely assuming the existence of something and proposing that something is fundamental. Indeed, before you can propose something as fundamental, you have to question whether that something really exists and if so, where/how. In other words, his proposition derives from an earlier consideration of the whole of qualia.

    In contrast, Melissa seems quite certain that consciousness is real. While I tend to agree in a certain sense of real, I don’t believe we should take it as given.

  256. Bigbird @264: Your point? Chalmers says many things.

    My point in that post was that a well-recognized philosopher of mind regards qualia as irreducible – he does not think the “hard” problem of consciousness can be solved reductively.

    Nevertheless, there seems an important difference between merely assuming the existence of something and proposing that something is fundamental.

    Yes, you are correct. When philosophers propose that something is fundamental, they are saying it is not reducible to anything else.

    Indeed, before you can propose something as fundamental, you have to question whether that something really exists and if so, where/how. In other words, his proposition derives from an earlier consideration of the whole of qualia.

    Yes, it does.

  257. Larry,

    I don’t see what’s so special about the experience of having a visceral reaction or a thought or a memory that such phenomena “cannot in principle be explained” by scientific analysis, experiment, and testing

    That’s because you really haven’t thought much about what science involves. Science isn’t just about experiment and testing. The natural sciences study aspects of reality that are quantifiable. Aspects of reality that are qualitative are relocated to the mind. Conciousness just is our qualitative experience, therefore to reduce it to the quantitative would be to eliminate it. Part of the power of science is that it limits it’s area of enquiry to those things that are quantifiable and accessible to a third-person perspective, conciousness is neither of those things. Any “science” of conciousness would not be real science.

    You asked for an example. If I have the experience of a red ball. For scientific purposes the redness is reduced to light at a certain wavelength and the qualitative aspects are relocated into the mind. Clearly you can’t adopt the same strategy to explain conciousness because there is nowhere else to relocate anything.

    There’s a few ways you could go here. There’s elimination which we have seen is incoherent. Embrace some kind of dualism or idealism. The other possibility is that the colourless, odorless, unintentional world that science studies is an abstraction.

    I do not deny we have conscious experiences, or rather the experience of conscious experiences.

    If we have concious experiences of concious experiences then we have concious experiences. What was your point again? My point was to show that a belief in the reality of concious experience is not an assumption.

  258. Melissa at 272:

    That’s because you really haven’t thought much about what science involves.

    Condescension noted.

    Conciousness just is our qualitative experience

    It ‘just is’? I wonder if you have really thought about what ‘just is’ means, and if it might actually be true or not, or if there were other ways of looking productively at consciousness.

    Clearly you can’t adopt the same strategy to explain conciousness because there is nowhere else to relocate anything.

    Is it so clear? My understanding is that we can actually talk about subjective experiences in terms of configurations of physical responses to stimuli. We can, for example, use MRI technology usefully in this area. Now, if we are talking about finding a way so that, theoretically, you can share your experience of a red ball in such a way that I will have the exact same experience — that is, exactly replicate your subjective experience within myself — I tend to think that is a problem not of the mind per se but rather of the person’s biology and lived experiences. To replicate your subjective experience, I would have to have lived your life with your exact genetic makeup. Another way of thinking about it is the Heraclitus problem: we just can’t step into the same river twice. So I think there’s good reason to think we can explain consciousness and that we can construct models that reliably account for the range of subjective experiences people have. If one is desperate to maintain a sense of oneself as a special being, then it’s fine to claim that your own way of experiencing the world is probably unique.

    My point was to show that a belief in the reality of concious experience is not an assumption.

    Great, then we agree it should not just be granted, and that naturalism can and does talk in much better detail about consciousness. Indeed, it’s only under a naturalist framework that we continue to learn new things about consciousness. Theism, as we have seen, cannot in principle teach us anything about consciousness, whatever reality you believe/assume consciousness has.

  259. “Deflection” is a must.

    Every statement is but a mind dependent perception, and to get outside of such to describe such is impossible. Thus we find at such a juncture the naturalist ever equivocating on definition and nuance, or, just deflecting. The regression to Mind is the materialist’s brick wall. djc’s attempt to leap over it with new and unusual bits of particulate is of no help as again, all such descriptives are but mind dependent perceptions, inside of which, from which, all such analysis flows. The problem with Idealism is that it is the fact of the matter, and, it is wholly unreachable for the materialist, as with every touch of the finger he makes against that brick wall, there he finds again his Mind.

  260. Indeed, it’s only under a naturalist framework that we continue to learn new things about consciousness. Theism, as we have seen, cannot in principle teach us anything about consciousness, whatever reality you believe/assume consciousness has.

    275 comments and Mr. Tanner still manages to miss just about *everything*, from misunderstanding what sorts of questions God is the answer to, to continue to peddle the outright lie (*) of identifying metaphysical naturalism with Science ™. Even when these things have already been hashed out to death — by me, about 225 comments ago, starting at at #48, and then continuing at #50, #78, #91, etc.

    Sigh.

    edit: (*) not necessarily that Mr. Tanner is deceiving us – so replace lie by un-truth.

  261. What is this “naturalist framework” anyway?

    I think it goes like this:

    Assume that naturalism is true. (Forget all the inconsistencies inherent in that assumption.) Assume that everything that is, has a natural explanation.

    Seek that natural explanation through scientific methods.

    How is that better than this theistic framework?

    Assume that theism is true. Assume that everything natural in the created order can be studied exhaustively through scientific methods. Assume that there are multiple lines of inquiry toward discerning the limits of nature and science, and that one of those lines of inquiry is by the persistent pursuit of scientific study of nature in every possible way.

    Study everything possible exhaustively through scientific methods.

    Outcome: identical.

    You’re assuming falsely, Larry, that naturalism is the key to scientific progress and an exhaustive understanding of nature.

    Further, the way you’re pitting “naturalism” and “theism” against each other constitutes a category error. By all appearances you’re implying that naturalism leads to scientific explanations whereas theism leads to spiritual explanations. The fact is that theism leads to both natural and spiritual explanations. It leads to an unrestricted set of explanation categories, unlike naturalism, which assumes (without adequate reasons) that only one category of explanation is possible.

    Now please catch this, Larry: what I’m talking about here are identifiable logical and rational missteps that you’re making. For the sake of your own intellectual integrity you have to change your thinking on these things.Otherwise you’re letting yourself remain stuck in a logically and rationally false position.

    For now, I’m only talking about “these things” that are being clearly identified for you in specific detail. It’s only a few details relating to naturalism and theism, but if you won’t adapt your thinking to rationality in the details, how can you trust your rationality in the big things?

    The challenge I’ve issue in that last paragraph is intentionally light and huge at the same time.

    Will you change your thinking on these few things?

  262. On a second reading, I find that I could have said this about naturalism:

    Assume that naturalism is true. Assume that everything that is can be studied exhaustively through scientific methods. Assume that there are multiple lines of inquiry toward discerning the limits of science, and that one of those lines of inquiry is the persistent pursuit of scientific study of nature in every possible way.

    Study everything possible exhaustively through scientific methods.

    Do you see how closely theism can track naturalism in science and nature? Do you see how you’re wrong to claim that naturalism is better than theism for the pursuit of science?

  263. But Tom, you don’t want to have to answer how questions, remember? They are the wrong sort of questions, you say, and they smuggle in naturalist assumptions. So, how is out. That leaves you with why questions, and we have seen their limits and usefulness.

  264. Larry, your answer in #279 has nothing to do with the questions I raised in 277/278. It ignores what I said about theism’s inclusion of natural studies.

    It’s also (as has become boringly common with you) a complete misrepresentation of my position. I never said I don’t want to have to answer how questions, and I never said “how” is out. I said that there are some how questions that are unanswerable in principle, which is absolutely not the same as saying I don’t want to answer how questions.

    I’ll give you another chance. See the end of 277. See the falsehood and evasion I just pointed out here, too.

    Will you demonstrate some intellectual integrity now?

  265. I find myself wondering, if Larry elects to keep on misrepresenting people, and if I invoke items 9 and 11 of the discussion policy, what will happen to the conversation here?

    Larry, you do us a service in giving us someone to talk with here. I’d really miss you if you decided to keep doing the kinds of things that get a commenter disinvited.

    You mostly do yourself a disservice by failing to engage with our real positions here.

    So I don’t know what to do about all this. Larry, your persistent misrepresentations and evasions and deflections are the kind of thing that distort dialogue, confuse conversations, and make discussion persistently unproductive—all of which go against the spirit of fruitful thinking that I want this blog to demonstrate.

    Not only that, but it seems to me that on some level you’re toying with us, and you’re toying even with yourself, since you won’t engage with even the most obvious, small things (see #277), and take them seriously. I don’t think very highly of that, and I don’t prefer to set a platform for it.

    So I’m wondering what to do.

  266. But Tom, you don’t want to have to answer how questions, remember?

    Again Larry, you misrepresent what we said. We were taking about Genesis and what kind of questions/answers it gives. As far as whether theism affects science and how questions you could “ask” Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Lord Kelvin, George Washington Carver, Max Planck, Francis Collins and dozens and dozens of others.

    Oh and Ray how come the theism of the above scientists (and the dozens and dozens of others) didn’t stop then from continuing their quests. It couldn’t be that entire line of “reasoning” is a red herring based on a fallacious dichotomy could it? Never mind, I’m sure you and Mr. Tyson are above that sort of thing.

  267. “It leads to an unrestricted set of explanation categories, unlike naturalism…”

  268. One more thing, Larry. Your question, “But Tom, you don’t want to have to answer how questions, remember?” isn’t just a misrepresentation. It’s snark. It’s false and it’s demeaning, and the two together add up to something kind of ugly.

    I can’t help wondering whether you have any intention of representing yourself with some respect and some intellectual honesty.

    I hope you won’t take that as demeaning, because I’m calling you to a higher standard that I think you might want to pursue.

    I hope you won’t think it’s based on a false view of how you’ve represented yourself here before now, because we’ve given you plenty of evidence that it’s true.

  269. @Ray Ingles:

    Doesn’t look that way – at least, not to me and others.

    Is it just me, or isn’t there something odd and off-putting in inserting a link to a comment with number #25 in a thread with 250 comments?

  270. BillT –

    Oh and Ray how come the theism of the above scientists (and the dozens and dozens of others) didn’t stop then from continuing their quests.

    Simple – those theistic scientists reached different conclusions about what was “possible” to study “exhaustively through scientific methods”. If you conclude that something’s not possible to study by scientific methods, though, you’ll stop studying it by scientific methods. This has proven to be a mistake in the past, as Tyson documents. The “outcome” for Newton, Huygens, and so forth wasn’t “identical”.

    G. Rodrigues – I linked to a comment that addresses some (claimed) weaknesses of Tyson’s essay. (Tom never did explain where he got the whole “alone” thing from.) Seemed relevant, and it’s not like you can’t read the whole thing if you like.

  271. bigbird,

    It is very counter-intuitive to claim that qualia exist independently of a conscious subject. It’s also difficult to see how quark qualia could combine into the unified conscious experiences we have.

    Or alternately that the idea of “conscious subject” can be reduced down to something much simpler. Even now, split-brain experiments suggest that our single unified consciousness can be divided between hemispheres.

    BTW, I found the Chris Tucker paper on Google cache. I have a number of issues with his criticism but I’ll hold off that discussion for another thread (unless you’re anxious to pursue it now).

  272. Wrong on the split brain. The better interpretation of split-brain phenomena is that there is one person, one consciousness, alternating attention between the two sides of the brain. To view it as two simultaneous consciousnesses is even more bizarre than the already-strange phenomena of split-brain experiences.

  273. Larry,

    It ‘just is’? I wonder if you have really thought about what ‘just is’ means, and if it might actually be true or not, or if there were other ways of looking productively at consciousness.

    OK. I was a bit sloppy with my wording. The hard problem of conciousness just is our first person qualitative experience. Now do you want to deal with the crucial issues or are you going to continue to deflect and evade.

  274. @Ray Ingles:

    This has proven to be a mistake in the past, as Tyson documents.

    Tyson documents no such thing. The whole propaganda piece is in fact a good demonstration of a philistine’s ignorance of the history of science and philosophy (yes, even Galileo “who had to defend his telescopic evidence against formidable objections drawn from both scripture and common sense” is invoked).

    Are these the educators of our youth? Are the Barbarians not at the gates, but already inside the fort?

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    — “The Second Coming”, W. B. Yeats

  275. If you conclude that something’s not possible to study by scientific methods, though, you’ll stop studying it by scientific methods.

    Seems reasonable to me.

    If you try to study something that doesn’t belong to science (naturalism), and you think science is yielding answers (A: yep, another confirmation that naturalism is true), then you end up looking like an idiot.

  276. Or alternately that the idea of “conscious subject” can be reduced down to something much simpler.

    I don’t know what you mean by that. Are you talking about panpsychism (I think Chalmers uses that term)?

    Even now, split-brain experiments suggest that our single unified consciousness can be divided between hemispheres.

    I’m not sure what you mean by that either. It seems a controversial area. But this is an interesting case pertinent to these forums.

  277. If you conclude that something’s not possible to study by theological or philosophical methods you’ll stop studying it by theological methods.

    If you conclude that before you even begin approaching it from those angles, then you’re not actually operating from a conclusion, you’re just closing your mind to entire classes of possible knowledge.

    So suppose you’re right, and we cut off scientific study early. I don’t think you are right about that: I think it’s a sociological claim without the slightest sociological evidence; a prejudice expressed by one who is so convinced his train runs on empirical evidence he doesn’t even know when he falls off the track. Scientismists like that can be found everywhere.

    But suppose I were wrong about that, and suppose you were right about cutting off scientific pursuits prematurely. Would that still not be better than cutting off other knowledge-discipline pursuits before you even begin?

  278. I’ll explain the “alone” thing now, since it’s still bothering you fifteen months later. Apparently I made a mental error and typed “alone” instead of “rare exception,” and “heavens” instead of “unknown.” (There, does that help?)

    Regardless, Tyson demonstrated his ignorance of the history of science when he wrote, “A rare exception among scientists, Galileo saw the unknown as a place to explore rather than as an eternal mystery controlled by the hand of God.”

    He writes with all blithe prejudice:

    That doesn’t mean it was easy: sometimes they met fierce opposition, as did Galileo, who had to defend his telescopic evidence against formidable objections drawn from both scripture and common sense.

    He fails to note that the most formidable opposition scientists faced then—especially Copernicus!—was from other scientists. It’s not much different today. You should hear the story the physicist told me some time ago—nothing to do with ID, theism, etc., just plain old science. Barry Marshall knows this. Lots of other scientists know it.

    Meanwhile that very comment, to which you’ve once again drawn our attention, points to several more examples of Tyson’s biased and inaccurate understanding of science, theism, and design, both today and in history. If you’re going to call on someone as an authority, I suggest you find one who is not so easily undermined by facts, and by his own easily identifiable philistinism.

    Go ahead and try to make your point, in other words. Use evidence this time, or else a credible authority.

  279. Are these the educators of our youth? Are the Barbarians not at the gates, but already inside the fort?

    A rhetorical question if ever there was one.

  280. BillT, G. Rodrigues – Saying I’m wrong without saying why I’m wrong apparently makes you feel better, so at least it has that virtue. I can’t really see any other use for it, though.

    Tom Gilson –

    Meanwhile that very comment, to which you’ve once again drawn our attention, points to several more examples of Tyson’s biased and inaccurate understanding of science, theism, and design

    And the comment I linked to, along with the following discussion, disputes those examples.

    Apparently I made a mental error and typed “alone” instead of “rare exception,” and “heavens” instead of “unknown.”

    I just dislike it when people present things as quotes which are not actually quotes. So do you, actually. If I put something in double-quotes, I double-check it. Of course, you cut me slack for an inadvertent miscommunication, so I’ll gladly do the same for you.

    …suppose you were right about cutting off scientific pursuits prematurely. Would that still not be better than cutting off other knowledge-discipline pursuits before you even begin?

    Well, yeah, but “by their fruits ye shall know them” and all. Science tends to converge. Theology doesn’t. Remember the Emo Phillips joke? To invert – not quote! – Chesterton, I’d say that theology has been tried, and found wanting. Like alchemy or astrology.

  281. Saying I’m wrong without saying why I’m wrong apparently makes you feel better, so at least it has that virtue.

    Continually throwing any nonsense you can think of against the wall to see if it sticks apparently makes you feel better, so at least it has that virtue.

  282. Science converges because convergence is easy in science, not because science answers all the questions or even the most important ones.

  283. Tom Gilson –

    Science converges because convergence is easy in science, not because science answers all the questions or even the most important ones.

    Can you flesh out why you think “convergence is easy in science”?

    Also, I didn’t say that “science answers all the questions or even the most important ones”. But it does seem that convergence indicates tracking something real, while divergence indicates, at the very least, not tracking. Perhaps even tracking something unreal.

    I’m not claiming that science and philosophy are identical; I recognize the need for both. I’m cool on the idea of needing theology, though.

  284. Tom,

    Wrong on the split brain. The better interpretation of split-brain phenomena is that there is one person, one consciousness, alternating attention between the two sides of the brain. To view it as two simultaneous consciousnesses is even more bizarre than the already-strange phenomena of split-brain experiences.

    I don’t follow why that’s a better interpretation. If we assume dualism, there would be a single consciousness “encompassing” the two hemispheres and we wouldn’t see any hint of both sides being separately conscious at the same time. But that’s exactly what we have seen in some cases. For example, Schiffer (1998) tested a split-brain subject with a series of verbal questions answered by touching a series of 5 pegs with each hand (the answer pegs ranging from “none” to “extreme”) with the subject’s hands hidden from his view. Significantly different answers were given to emotionally sensitive questions. This and more examples are described in this paper (which exists as MsWord on Google). These cases are best explained I think by assuming that each hemisphere is experiencing its own consciousness.

  285. @Ray

    Science tends to converge

    A statement like that needs qualification. Converges on what?

  286. @Ray Ingles:

    Saying I’m wrong without saying why I’m wrong apparently makes you feel better, so at least it has that virtue. I can’t really see any other use for it, though.

    You claimed that:

    This has proven to be a mistake in the past, as Tyson documents.

    And to offer context, here is the full paragraph:

    If you conclude that something’s not possible to study by scientific methods, though, you’ll stop studying it by scientific methods. This has proven to be a mistake in the past, as Tyson documents. The “outcome” for Newton, Huygens, and so forth wasn’t “identical”.

    So I will repeat myself: Tyson nowhere documents what you claim he does. Even if Tyson was completely correct in his history (which he is not), none of it proves what you say it proves. For *nowhere* did Newton’s or Huygen’s positions stifled the advancement of Science. Nowhere. Whatever you wish to invoke as opposition to the Glorious March Forward of Science ™, it has marched forward alright, from the Standard Model to Eugenic programs, from antibiotics to Zyklon B, from x-ray diagnostic methods to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    One example suffices. His quote of Newton “rapturing invoking God” is yanked out of context and it is difficult to see its real significance. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that Newton is making a gap argument. My guess (and this is a guess, because I have not gone to read the relevant section of The Principia) is that the “invocation” is not just harmless but *necessary*, on the metaphysical assumptions Newton was working from.

    And people do not simply “conclude that something’s not possible to study by scientific methods”; serious people that do conclude that, offer *arguments* (that is the mark of distinction — argumentation). Which is a hell of a lot more than Tyson or you do. But I notice that this is all rather hopeless; for you have yet again fallen to the rank scientisimist trope that,

    Science tends to converge. Theology doesn’t. Remember the Emo Phillips joke? To invert – not quote! – Chesterton, I’d say that theology has been tried, and found wanting. Like alchemy or astrology.

    as if somehow, in some unexplained manner, Science ™ is on your side and converges to what? Naturalism? Because *that* is the term of comparison. You are not the mouthpiece of Science ™ neither are you its owner. Against such villainies of the spirit what is one to respond?

    Shrug shoulders.

  287. bigbird,

    Or alternately that the idea of “conscious subject” can be reduced down to something much simpler.

    I don’t know what you mean by that. Are you talking about panpsychism (I think Chalmers uses that term)?

    Panpsychism I take to mean that “mind” is basic, but the hypothesis here would be that greatly simplified “experience” is basic somehow. Strawson suggests some terms “micropsychism” or “panexperientialism” (in “Why Physicalism implies Panpsychism”).

    I’m saying that rather than supposing that qualia exist independently (which seems not only counter-intuitive as you note but possibly a category mistake), a naturalistic hypothesis of consciousness could be that “conscious subjects” can exist in extremely simplified form without intelligence, memory, concept of self or anything that we would consider mind.

    I’m not sure what you mean by that either. It seems a controversial area. But this is an interesting case pertinent to these forums.

    One naturalistic interpretation of split-brain would be that our unified complex consciousness can be divided into two simpler consciousnesses. Therefore, perhaps the division can continue as long as the basic conditions for it apply. Here, the basic conditions according to Graziano’s theory would be certain forms of computational models implemented in matter, the attention and awareness distinction (links at #268).

    Atheist and theist in the same brain is certainly intriguing if accurate. Split-brain studies seem to offer these really tantalizing insights into consciousness –I think they could come close to either proving or disproving dualism with sufficient numbers and studies– but the problem is we don’t have many split-brain subjects or studies to work with and we definitely don’t want there to be more…

  288. bigbird –

    Converges on what?

    Similar accounts of phenomena and how they relate. New hypotheses are constantly budding off, of course – and ‘paradigm’ transitions are not smooth – but old ideas actually do die off in science, and at a rate not seen in religion. You just don’t find phlogiston chemists anymore, or vitalists, or geosynclinists. There is remarkable agreement among immense swaths of scientists. They converge on accounts of things. They seem to be actually tracking something, something is pruning ideas.

    In religion, on the other hand, ideas bud and arise and… keep going. There are still Mormons, or Druzes, or “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912”. Apropos Yeats and G. Rodrigues, the centre does not hold, when it comes to theology.

  289. G. Rodrigues –

    For *nowhere* did Newton’s or Huygen’s positions stifled [sic] the advancement of Science.

    What if Newton – a genuine genius who invented calculus – had decided to analyze orbital stability further? We might have had perturbation theory close to a century earlier. How early might we have had lightning rods if people had considered them a natural phenomenon rather than divine punishment? And you recall Haldane’s Error, right?

    I lament for the discoveries we’ve missed because so many kids are raised to think that evolution and deep geological time are bunk.

    And people do not simply “conclude that something’s not possible to study by scientific methods”; serious people that do conclude that, offer *arguments* (that is the mark of distinction — argumentation).

    Haldane had arguments too. Lots of people are guilty of falling into what Dennett calls “The Philosopher’s Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity.”

  290. Ray,

    ….but old ideas actually do die off in science, and at a rate not seen in religion.

    I’m sure you have numbers in mind that inspired you to make this comment. Where you got them is anyone’s guess, but let’s skip over that detail.

    Your underlying assumption is that religion (whatever this means) is worse off because it holds onto old ideas. If some of those old ideas are true then it’s darn good that they haven’t died off. So the issue isn’t the rate at which old ideas die off. The issue is whether any of these old ideas are actually true.

    In summary, I’ll take your statement as a compliment – that religion hasn’t budged from the old idea that God exists.

  291. I lament for the discoveries we’ve missed because so many kids are raised to think that evolution and deep geological time are bunk.

    This is fairy tale nonsense, Ray. Discoveries are not missed because a bunch of people have a different opinion. Let’s call this group of people, Group A.

    Discoveries that run counter to Group A’s ideology are made because there exists people in Groups B, C, D, etc who set out to discover things that Group A has given up on trying to discover. Group A can only lead to missed discoveries when the other groups don’t exist. That has never been the case in all of human history. We’ve always had those other groups.

  292. I lament for the discoveries we’ve missed because so many kids are raised to think that evolution and deep geological time are bunk.

    Discoveries that run counter to Group A’s ideology are made because there exists people in Groups B, C, D, etc who set out to discover things that Group A has given up on trying to discover.

    And let’s not forget that Groups B or C or D (non-theists or any other intellectual orientation) will miss discoveries because of their presuppositions and different opinions that will be discovered by members of whatever other group (like group A) that don’t share their presuppositions and different opinions. Not that we expected you to paint any kind of unbiased picture of this Ray. And that’s, of course, because your presuppositions and different opinions make you miss this “discovery”. See how that works. And demonstrated right here in real time.

  293. @Ray Ingles:

    We might have had perturbation theory close to a century earlier.

    Maybe, maybe not, it is pure speculation. As is attributing Newton’s hesitancy to *merely* theological scruples.

    Lots of people are guilty of falling into what Dennett calls “The Philosopher’s Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity.”

    Maybe. On the other hand your failing is very easy to diagnose: you have absolutely no response to the arguments themselves or even have an inkling of what the issues really are, as your non-response amply demonstrates.

  294. Ray,

    Haldane had arguments too. Lots of people are guilty of falling into what Dennett calls “The Philosopher’s Syndrome: mistaking a failure of the imagination for an insight into necessity.”

    Same old non-arguments popping up again and again. The fact that some people do that does not show that we have done that. What is required is for you to show us how our particular arguments are just a failure of imagination.

  295. Not so fast, Melissa!

    There are some really smart people who disagree with your facts and scientific studies have shown that people are often wrong. I can link to an internet article to make my point so consider your comment refuted.

  296. SteveK –

    So the issue isn’t the rate at which old ideas die off. The issue is whether any of these old ideas are actually true.

    Well, no, the rate is in fact the issue. In science, schisms happen – paradigms shift – but then the old ideas pass away. In religion, schisms happen but the old ideas typically don’t go away – unless they are persecuted to extinction.

    Maybe one particular sect does have it right, or at least more right than the others. You couldn’t tell from the distribution of beliefs, so far as I can see. With science, on the other hand, an increase in scope and precision can be pretty clearly discerned, with a general consensus tracking the current best available explanation and divergent ideas falling by the wayside.

    Tom seemed to agree with me that such ‘convergence’ happens in science. Tom, how do you understand this issue?

    Discoveries that run counter to Group A’s ideology are made because there exists people in Groups B, C, D, etc who set out to discover things that Group A has given up on trying to discover.

    What discoveries can be credited to, say, homeopathy or astrology? Or, more to the point, young-Earth creationism?

  297. G. Rodrigues –

    On the other hand your failing is very easy to diagnose: you have absolutely no response to the arguments themselves or even have an inkling of what the issues really are, as your non-response amply demonstrates.

    Non-response? To what am I to respond? You claimed that arguments exist, you didn’t actually present any. I gave you as much as you gave me; how is that not fair?

  298. What discoveries can be credited to, say, homeopathy or astrology? Or, more to the point, young-Earth creationism?

    And just as predicted, Ray completely misses the point again. (Twice in the same set of posts and he still can’t see it.)

  299. Ray

    Well, no, the rate is in fact the issue.

    No, it’s not. For centuries science hasn’t budged on several issues precisely because it has “converged” upon some truth. If the rate is the issue then this should trouble you deeply. The fact that it doesn’t serves to prove the point I made previously – that the rate isn’t the issue, the issue is the truth of the matter.

  300. Maybe one particular sect does have it right, or at least more right than the others. You couldn’t tell from the distribution of beliefs, so far as I can see. With science, on the other hand, an increase in scope and precision can be pretty clearly discerned, with a general consensus tracking the current best available explanation and divergent ideas falling by the wayside.

    Nice bias you’ve got there, Ray.

    You set up a biased (non) argument that relies on closing one eye and tilting your head slightly to the right in order to see what you want to see – that science is good and religion is bad.

    Closing one eye: You pit religion’s differences against scientific consensus because you really, really want to show how rock-solid science is and how awful and schizophrenic religion is. Nevermind that a “consensus” is only a consensus if you ignore all the differences that do exist within the scientific community.

    Tilting your head: Then you pit religion’s never-changing ideas (consensus) against the progressive nature of science because you really, really want to show how science progresses toward truth and that religion is stale and forever stuck in the past. Nevermind that (in the case of Christianity) the core teachings took many years to solidify (progressive) and once you’ve arrived at the truth, it’s a really good idea to stay there.

  301. BillT –

    And just as predicted, Ray completely misses the point again.

    Now, that was in response to my question, “What discoveries can be credited to, say, homeopathy or astrology? Or, more to the point, young-Earth creationism?”

    You didn’t actually list any discoveries, you linked to:

    And let’s not forget that Groups B or C or D (non-theists or any other intellectual orientation) will miss discoveries because of their presuppositions and different opinions that will be discovered by members of whatever other group (like group A) that don’t share their presuppositions and different opinions.

    But – and here’s the key thing – science actually does accept discoveries by people who were wrong. Everyone knew the Earth was round when Columbus sailed, and Columbus was very wrong about the size of the Earth. If he hadn’t run into the Americas, he’d have starved. But once the Americas were discovered, their existence was accepted. Background radiation wasn’t seriously expected, but once it was found the implications were worked out. Same with radioactivity – the theories were all wrong about why uranium affected film, but then Becquerel investigated.

    In religion, when new ideas come up – say, the idea that one can be gay and Christian – it’s heretical, and you get schisms. A new variant buds off from the old, and there’s no agreement on who was right until, at best, one sect or another dies off. Almost never do you see mass conversions.

  302. Ray,

    Now, that was in response to my question, “What discoveries can be credited to, say, homeopathy or astrology? Or, more to the point, young-Earth creationism?”

    Your original complaint was:

    I lament for the discoveries we’ve missed because so many kids are raised to think that evolution and deep geological time are bunk.

    BillT and I commented on that complaint – showing it to be wrongheaded. Now you’re asking about discoveries attributed to these other things as if someone here is pining for it. Nobody is doing that. I think that is why BillT said you missed the point.

    Maybe the thing to do is lament that you failed to discover BillT’s point. Ironic? Yes. Thankfully BillT and I are not in Group A with you.

  303. Ray,

    The idea that science accepts discoveries by people who were wrong and religion doesn’t is wrong on two counts. Just to begin with, we weren’t discussing religious “discoveries” were discussing scientific discoveries. But your point is also wrong on it’s face. Religious thought has been changed by people who’s ideas were not acceptable at first but were considered and then made part of accepted religious thought. The process, of course, is different than in science as well it should be.

    Second, what I was referring to, and you keep missing, in the section you quoted is that in scientific research “Groups B or C or D (non-theists or any other intellectual orientation)” will miss scientific discoveries “because of their presuppositions and different opinions” that will be discovered by other groups. Everyone has blind spots Ray. Scientists and science in general is famous (or infamous if you will) for repressing ideas that didn’t conform with the accepted norms. They may get sorted out eventually but that’s no different than any other field of thought.

    And lastly, your associating homeopathy or astrology as what religious thought or scientists have brought to the world is nonsense. As was pointed out before Christian scientists were responsible for the bulk of what we consider modern science. Remember Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Lord Kelvin, George Washington Carver, Max Planck, Francis Collins and dozens and dozens of others.

    BTW, if you want to argue about young-Earth creationism why don’t you go somewhere where they believe in that.

  304. Ray,

    What theory of religion is there that requires that there be any important new religious discoveries?

    Does Christianity predict important new spiritual discoveries?

    Why not be grateful that the important spiritual information was imparted when (Heb. 1:2,3) God spoke to us “by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

    Is there something in there that implies that new spiritual discoveries should be ongoing? Or is there rather something there that says that each person needs to encounter what is known, and deal with it personally?

    What about Col. 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

    What about John 1:1-14:

    n the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
    John 1:6   There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
    John 1:9   The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
    John 1:14   And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

    Or John 14:8-10

      Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

    You misunderstand the difference between disciplines here. You fault religion for not being science. You fault religion per se for not being science per se. What if we were to stand and laugh at science (per se) for being so slow to learn its truths, when Christianity had its basic information in hand thousands of years ago, and has simply been codifying and systematizing it since then? “Ha! Ha! Science is a terrible way to learn anything! Look how slow it is! Ha! Ha!”

    It’s a stupid idea, but then it’s just as stupid to criticize theology for not progressing like science, as if progress were the point. It isn’t. Knowledge is the point.

    Sure, people disagree on religious interpretations.. Is that supposed to be some kind of mark against Christianity? It’s actually an extremely successful prediction made thousands of years ago with theoretical reasoning behind it.

    Science is easy, by comparison. It’s objective. It limits its inquiry (mostly) to the natural world where things act with regularity, so that predictability and repeatability can function to hone its findings.

    Spiritual knowledge disciplines involve personal reality (so do the social sciences, which straddle the scientific/personal divide), and are therefore much less prone to testing by prediction and repetition. So what? If they were predictably repetitive they would be science, not what they are.

    You’re faulting spiritual-knowledge disciplines for not having the strengths of science. That’s like faulting LeBron James for not having Donald Trump’s money-making skills.

    Oh, by the way: LeBron James does have money-making skills, just not the same ones that Trump has. Science and theology both have knowledge skills, just not the same ones. And they’d both look pretty silly trying to act as if they were supposed to practice each others’ strengths.

  305. SteveK –

    No, it’s not. For centuries science hasn’t budged on several issues precisely because it has “converged” upon some truth.

    There’s some confusion here. I’m talking about the rate of convergence. How quickly does an idea die off in science – new or old?

    There are always cranks trying to sell perpetual motion machines, or even reactionless drives. But cranks don’t shake the consensus unless they can demonstrate some actual evidence – and then, when science shifts to account for something new, the transition is generally complete. Not always swift (though pretty swift on sociological timescales), but complete. There’s convergence to the new status quo.

    In religion, on the other hand, you don’t see that kind of consensus. Even “the old idea that God exists” isn’t universal – there’s various forms of paganism, there’s Buddhism, Confucianism, etc. Within monotheism particularly, there’s the ‘big three’ of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, plus lots of little variants like Zoroastrianism.

    Within Christianity, there were lots of variants (Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism etc.) for the first centuries that were eventually persecuted away. But then there’s Eastern and Western Orthodoxy, the latter of which split in the Protestant Reformation.

    Take a recent sprout, Mormonism. It arose, gained converts, spread… but neither died off nor replaced the old ‘paradigm’. Contrast that with Relativity and classical mechanics.

    I grant that this kind of convergence doesn’t directly indicate truth. On the other hand, it’s hard to see how a lack of convergence is a good sign for truth.

  306. So let me see if I understand. When science doesn’t converge it’s ok because those things are made by “cranks” but when religion doesn’t converge it isn’t ok because those things were all made by brilliant religious men who couldn’t possibly be mistaken. And all that ignores this:

    You misunderstand the difference between disciplines here. You fault religion for not being science. You fault religion per se for not being science per se.

    …then it’s just as stupid to criticize theology for not progressing like science, as if progress were the point. It isn’t. Knowledge is the point.

    And that’s not to mention that all the arguments that mention Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism and Mormonism have nothing to do with what we believe and ignores this:

    Sure, people disagree on religious interpretations.. Is that supposed to be some kind of mark against Christianity? It’s actually an extremely successful prediction made thousands of years ago with theoretical reasoning behind it

    But if you misrepresent the discipline, misstate the issue, and ignore the counterarguments it’s pretty easy to make your point, I guess.

  307. “Persecuted away,” you say, Ray.

    Do you know anything of the story of Athanasius?

    A lack of convergence is predicted by Christianity, with theoretical backing. See my comment 324.

  308. Oh yeah the “…persecuted away,…” line.

    I just figured Ray put that in there to dispel all doubts that he has any clue about early Christianity. Not that we needed any further evidence but Ray is a giving kind of guy.

  309. BillT –

    When science doesn’t converge it’s ok because those things are made by “cranks” but when religion doesn’t converge it isn’t ok because those things were all made by brilliant religious men who couldn’t possibly be mistaken.

    To paraphrase Charles Babbage, I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a statement.

    When did I say “science doesn’t converge”? My whole point has been that it does. Cranks remain cranks, and their ideas don’t spread or gain traction – until and unless they produce evidence. There’s no equivalent in science of something like Mormonism, of an offshoot branch of science that thinks conservation of energy can be violated, that achieves some stable existence in parallel to the kind of science that holds conservation of energy as firmly established.

    It’s not that new ideas don’t arise in science. It’s that they seldom get far and when they do they spark a major – and pretty much complete – shift.

    However, when “brilliant religious men” come up with new theology – like, say, Joseph Smith – it very often forks off a new branch that doesn’t get pruned away but actually achieves long-term stability. Look at the three main forks of the Abrahamic religions, they’ve been going on for rather a while now. On the other hand the shift from classical mechanics to Relativity happened in no more than one generation and was effectively complete.

  310. BillT –

    And that’s not to mention that all the arguments that mention Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism and Mormonism have nothing to do with what we believe

    As I said, “Maybe one particular sect does have it right, or at least more right than the others. You couldn’t tell from the distribution of beliefs, so far as I can see.” And Christianity does fall into the class of ‘religion’, specifically Abrahamic religions. And I pointed to plenty of schisms in Christianity specifically anyway, including at least two recent variants.

    Tom –

    Does Christianity predict important new spiritual discoveries?

    Well, there have been. Important enough to fight wars over, anyway.

    You misunderstand the difference between disciplines here. You fault religion for not being science.

    Not exactly. I fault theology – and to a large extent philosophy – for not showing signs of tracking something real. Science studies a huge range of phenomena, but while chemistry is different from optics, they each have their consensuses.

    But remember when I pointed out economics as the ‘dismal science’? When you see signs of flailing about like that, with deep divisions over fundamental concepts, it strikes me as a sign that nobody has a solid idea yet of what they’re doing. At least, not one they can demonstrate.

    Contrast science, theology, and philosophy on one hand with mathematics on the other. Now there’s solid convergence! In short, I think convergence is an excellent sign of actual knowledge, and lack of convergence an excellent sign that knowledge is absent. Not perfect, either way, but a strong indication.

    It’s actually an extremely successful prediction made thousands of years ago with theoretical reasoning behind it.

    Geocentrists had good theoretical reasons for their predictions, too. But anyway, it’s not a surprising prediction, whatever the theory. What religion hasn’t experienced heresy? I know of none. Can anyone point one out?

  311. Ray,

    Contrast science, theology, and philosophy on one hand with mathematics on the other. Now there’s solid convergence! In short, I think convergence is an excellent sign of actual knowledge, and lack of convergence an excellent sign that knowledge is absent. Not perfect, either way, but a strong indication.

    Clearly I’ve been mistaken for a while now about what your comments are supposed to be about. Why are you here sharing all your non-knowledge?

  312. @Ray

    I think convergence is an excellent sign of actual knowledge, and lack of convergence an excellent sign that knowledge is absent.

    I’ve been meaning to get back to this thread to talk about convergence, since your original statement never said what you thought science was actually converging to.

    Now I see that you are claiming that this convergence is a “sign of knowledge”, so presumably knowledge is what you think science is converging on.

    You seem to be saying this: you think science is actual knowledge, you believe that science is converging, therefore you conclude convergence is a sign of knowledge.

    Apart from the vagueness of your idea of “convergence” (which renders the concept useless), this is simply begging the question.

  313. Melissa – I noted that science, theology, and philosophy don’t converge as well as mathematics. On the other hand, I’ve noted that one of the first three converges a lot more than the other two. “Not converging as well as mathematics” doesn’t mean “diverges”.

    bigbird –

    You seem to be saying this: you think science is actual knowledge, you believe that science is converging, therefore you conclude convergence is a sign of knowledge.

    Nope. How ’bout a simple analogy? A couple months back our meat thermometer broke. I stuck it in a roasting chicken, and the reported temperature fluctuated wildly over a range of about eighty degrees. First 91.5, then 167.0, then 120.2, etc. With a working thermometer, on the other hand, the temperature quickly converges to a particular temperature, with maybe some fluctuations in the tenths of a degree.

    If I have two thermometers, and one converges and one doesn’t, I’m going to mistrust the one that doesn’t converge. Indeed, the more divergence I see, the less trust I’m going to put in any instrument – or discipline.

    Another example: after a fun little episode of running on foot for a gas can when driving my wife to (successful) surgery a few weeks back, we no longer trust the gas gauge in my wife’s car. It went from an eighth of a tank to zero in the space of one stoplight.

    In terms of ‘discipline divergence’, so far as I can see theology is queen. Philosophy isn’t a whole lot better, but maybe some. Then you’ve got fuzzy sciences like the social sciences, economics, etc. Then you get into more solid scientific disciplines like astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and such. Finally you get to mathematics, where convergence tends to be extremely swift. That also is how I rank the certainty of the conclusions of the disciplines.

  314. Ray,

    I noted that science, theology, and philosophy don’t converge as well as mathematics. On the other hand, I’ve noted that one of the first three converges a lot more than the other two. “Not converging as well as mathematics” doesn’t mean “diverges”

    Most of what you share with us here is not science but philosophy (including the current argument) therefore according to your criteria not actual knowledge.

  315. Ray,

    I would just add in response to your comments to bigbird that your practical trust in the certainty of your own theological judgements is just as much as ours. It must be that way as we all must choose how we are to live.

  316. Nope. How ’bout a simple analogy?

    It fails – in fact it reinforces my point.

    A thermometer is an scientific instrument designed to measure temperature, and you already know how it is supposed to work.

    You are claiming convergence is a sign of knowledge. You haven’t defined what this mysterious convergence is, and even if you had, you haven’t justified why it is a sign of knowledge, i.e. you are assuming it and therefore begging the question.

    That also is how I rank the certainty of the conclusions of the disciplines.

    So you’ve made up some measure that supposedly indicates knowledge and degrees of certainty, and think you can apply it to all these disciplines.

    Have you given any thought to the convergence of your technique for doing this? You do realize that for it to qualify as knowledge under your technique, it needs to converge (whatever that means)?

    And that’s before we even consider how you can justify using “convergence” as a sign of knowledge (which will turn out to be circular).

  317. Melissa –

    Most of what you share with us here is not science but philosophy (including the current argument) therefore according to your criteria not actual knowledge.

    As I said back in #302, “I’m not claiming that science and philosophy are identical; I recognize the need for both.” I’m not being inconsistent to argue about philosophy – I just recognize that the conclusions of philosophy are a lot more tentative than those of science.

    As I’ve noted before, engineering and science are two different things. Sometimes you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got – people built brick walls long before we understood how cement works. Some philosophy is inevitable, just like engineering. But heuristics should not be confused with deep theoretical understanding. Both are knowledge but with very different levels of certainty.

    Nor have I claimed that convergence is the only way to recognize knowledge. (Honest! Go ahead, check!) Just that when convergence is lacking, it’s a warning sign.

  318. bigbird –

    You haven’t defined what this mysterious convergence is,

    I’d say #325 and #331 do a fair job. In a particular field, how many different fundamental theoretical frameworks are there? And how quickly do new frameworks replace old ones?

    In economics, you have multiple different schools with significantly different fundamental conceptions of how things are supposed to work, and replacement of old ideas doesn’t generally happen – new schools are founded instead.

    In physics, on the other hand, you have widespread consensus on General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, which disagree only in esoteric areas very difficult to test (no black holes handy!), and each of them replaced their respective aspects of classical physics in less than a generation.

    I grant it’s a qualitative measure – I can’t put numbers to it – but it sure seems like a real phenomenon.

    and even if you had, you haven’t justified why it is a sign of knowledge

    It’s not that convergence is a sign of knowledge so much as lack of convergence is a sign of lack of knowledge. It’s entirely possible to converge on the wrong answer… but if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with. Convergence in the sense I’m using it here is generally a necessary, not sufficient, condition for knowledge.

    If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble. Recall the old joke about how ‘if all the economists were laid end to end, they’d each point in different directions?’ Can you claim that theologians as a class would do better?

  319. It’s not that convergence is a sign of knowledge so much as lack of convergence is a sign of lack of knowledge.

    You have not provided any justification for this view, other than basing it on your preconceived ideas of what disciplines are knowledge and what disciplines are not.

    It’s entirely possible to converge on the wrong answer… but if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with.

    No, you have multiple answers, and one of them may be correct. While as you say, it is possible to converge on the wrong answer – and we know that science has done this many, many times in the past.

    I think your idea of convergence is (knowingly or not) designed to produce the result you desire – it assumes what you are trying to show.

    Theology and science are fundamentally different disciplines. They are very different in how they explain the world. Who’s to say convergence has anything to do with theology? By its nature, theology might naturally fragment into competing groups of ideas, one of which is true (or even none), and others which are not. Or perhaps most converge on truth in some aspects, but diverge in others. For example, the majority of religions are theist, and we could say that humankind has converged on the view that God created the universe. Will you accept that as knowledge?

    You might be correct in that within the scientific disciplines, convergence of theories indicates something about the truth of what is converged to. But even this is controversial, and the history of science shows that we have many times converged on theories that are now regarded as false. There are also the standard arguments against scientific realism such as the underdetermination of theories that make it difficult to sustain this position (in my opinion).

  320. Ray,

    This:

    Nor have I claimed that convergence is the only way to recognize knowledge. (Honest! Go ahead, check!) Just that when convergence is lacking, it’s a warning sign.

    seems to be contradicted by:

    but if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with

    and still ignores the fact that you act (as you must) on your convictions about religion just as we do. That is another reason why your analogies fail, you cannot abstain from acting as you can in the case of your faulty thermometer.

  321. Humanity ‘converged’ on the truth that God exists a long time ago, and the New Atheists are doing their best to get some traction with their idea and somehow overturn the consensus. This idea will fade, just like it has in the past until the next batch of cranks come along.

    🙂

  322. Melissa – That’s not a contradiction. That’s the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition. And:

    you act (as you must) on your convictions about religion just as we do

    Sure. “Sometimes you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.” So what? Are you proposing Pascal’s Wager?

    SteveK – Again, the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition.

  323. bigbird –

    You have not provided any justification for this view,

    The notions of noise and signal are on pretty firm grounds, along with feedback loops and such from the control theory that formed the bulk of my graduate-level education. But let’s take it from a different direction – are you going to argue that the conclusions of economics are more certain than the Standard Model of physics, or that the Standard Model is more certain than the results of mathematics?

    I think your idea of convergence is (knowingly or not) designed to produce the result you desire – it assumes what you are trying to show.

    And I think you’re fighting the idea so hard because it tells you something you don’t want to acknowledge.

    See? We can psychoanalyze each other all day long, but it won’t be of any use in determining who’s right. I get bored with analyzing motives pretty fast; how ’bout we just stick to the actual topic of discussion?

    By its nature, theology might naturally fragment into competing groups of ideas, one of which is true (or even none), and others which are not. Or perhaps most converge on truth in some aspects, but diverge in others.

    Of course, in such a case, how do you tell which, if any, are right? And can you point out some factors that might account for why divergence would be expected? (I’d be particularly interested in factors that would somehow increase that divergence without impacting the certainty of findings in that field.)

    For example, the majority of religions are theist, and we could say that humankind has converged on the view that God created the universe.

    Well, in the West. Mostly.

    Will you accept that as knowledge?

    No, because – as I’ve repeated several times now – convergence is a necessary, not sufficient, condition. As you note:

    the history of science shows that we have many times converged on theories that are now regarded as false.

    Of course, ‘false’ isn’t generally a binary value. There’s the question of how wrong past theories have been. Newton’s Laws are wrong – but we still design buildings and aircraft with ’em. Heck, we even mostly pilot our spacecraft with ’em, along with a few relativistic ‘fudge factors’ because a full General Relativistic treatment would be too complicated for the accuracy gained.

    There are also the standard arguments against scientific realism such as the underdetermination of theories that make it difficult to sustain this position (in my opinion).

    That’s where things like Ockham’s Razor come into play, of course.

  324. @Ray

    You have not provided any justification for this view,

    The notions of noise and signal are on pretty firm grounds, along with feedback loops and such from the control theory that formed the bulk of my graduate-level education.

    I fail to see how the notions of noise and signal have anything to do with justifying your idea of convergence being a necessary condition of knowledge. You haven’t provided any justification, and you haven’t clearly defined your terms.

    But let’s take it from a different direction – are you going to argue that the conclusions of economics are more certain than the Standard Model of physics, or that the Standard Model is more certain than the results of mathematics?

    What I’m saying is that (leaving aside the vagueness of your idea of convergence) I don’t see that you’ve justified convergence as a necessary condition of knowledge. That’s all.

    But I will say that “certainty” is another vague term. These are different domains of knowledge, and it is difficult to compare them. Mathematics is deductively valid, based on the axioms that are used. The Standard Model is a mathematical description of the behaviour of subatomic particles. Economics is a description of something different again – the behaviour of individuals and organizations. I’m not sure it makes sense to compare them in terms of “certainty” at all. For example it might be that the entities economic theory concerns itself with might be inherently less statistically predictable than the behavior of subatomic particles.

    as I’ve repeated several times now – convergence is a necessary, not sufficient, condition.

    You haven’t justified “convergence” as a condition at all, But anyway, do provide us with your sufficient conditions.

    Of course, ‘false’ isn’t generally a binary value. There’s the question of how wrong past theories have been. Newton’s Laws are wrong – but we still design buildings and aircraft with ‘em. Heck, we even mostly pilot our spacecraft with ‘em, along with a few relativistic ‘fudge factors’ because a full General Relativistic treatment would be too complicated for the accuracy gained.

    There’s a huge difference between the predictions of Newton’s Laws and what Newton’s Laws say about the universe. The predictions of Newton’s Laws are good enough to design buildings and aircraft with, but what they say about the nature of the universe is significantly at odds with relativity.

    This is where your idea of convergence doesn’t really even get off the ground, because it is such a vague concept. Does it mean predictions are getting more and more accurate? What if they are getting more accurate but the theories are fundamentally wrong in some way? How can you measure convergence if the latter is the case? And given the history of science, how do we know our theories today aren’t fundamentally incorrect in some way?

  325. bigbird – Look, we’re never gonna make any progress if you won’t read what I write.

    You write:

    Does it mean predictions are getting more and more accurate? What if they are getting more accurate but the theories are fundamentally wrong in some way?

    But I wasn’t talking about the theories converging to truth. (Not yet, anyway. We’re nowhere near that yet.) I was talking about whether the field converges on a theory at all. Let’s look back at #339. “In a particular field, how many different fundamental theoretical frameworks are there? And how quickly do new frameworks replace old ones?”

    The people who work on quality improvement in manufacturing don’t start with improvements. They first look to implement reliable processes, and only then do they work on improving the output. Because you can’t reliably improve a variable process – sometimes it’ll produce great output, but sometimes it’ll produce crap.

    If multiple different people look at the same data and reliably reach widely different conclusions, then you’ve got a problem. That’s certainly the case with economics, much less so with physics, and hardly the case at all with mathematics.

    Now, maybe one of those many schools of economics I linked to is actually correct. But how would you know? Other people have looked at the same data and reached different conclusions. Apparently the available data underdetermines the model…

    You haven’t justified “convergence” as a condition at all

    If you actually understand what I’m talking about when I talk about convergence now – we’ll see, I guess – then let’s take a step back. What would you count as a justification, anyway?

  326. bigbird – Look, we’re never gonna make any progress if you won’t read what I write.

    Obviously, I read what you write. We’ve both written a lot, and it isn’t possible to re-read the entire thread before every post, ok? Occasionally you and I will both have to repeat ourselves to clarify.

    If multiple different people look at the same data and reliably reach widely different conclusions, then you’ve got a problem. That’s certainly the case with economics, much less so with physics, and hardly the case at all with mathematics.

    You seem to be evaluating every field from a scientific bias, and (as I’ve said before), begging the question. You have a certain regard for the sciences as knowledge, and think that because scientists mostly end up with the same opinion about their theories, then having the same opinion about theories in any field is a sign of knowledge. That’s circular – you need an independent justification of why your idea of convergence is a sign of knowledge.

    I should add that mathematics doesn’t have “data”. It isn’t science – it’s deduction. It’s either valid or not. You can’t reach different conclusions!

    Economic data is not the same as observational data obtained from physics experiments. You can’t do controlled, repeatable experiments in economics. It isn’t science. This is why people reach widely different conclusions – because there are many possible explanations for the data in large, chaotic systems. Often, we don’t even know whether the data is reliable.

    Once you step outside the domain of science, the scientific method just isn’t always that useful. Unless you adhere to a form of scientism, you will have to concede that there are other ways of obtaining knowledge, and consequently, what is applicable in science (convergence, perhaps?) may not be as applicable in other domains of knowledge.

    Your idea of convergence – agreement on a theoretical framework – may be of value in the sciences if developed. On its own it is of little value in my opinion – it needs some epistemology behind it to provide justification why majority agreement in science means anything at all. That inevitably leads to claims of truth.

  327. bigbird –

    You have a certain regard for the sciences as knowledge

    I grant that I think it’d be an awfully peculiar definition of ‘knowledge’ that didn’t include the sciences.

    and think that because scientists mostly end up with the same opinion about their theories, then having the same opinion about theories in any field is a sign of knowledge

    No, you’ve got it backward. Let’s take a look at this:

    I should add that mathematics doesn’t have “data”. It isn’t science – it’s deduction. It’s either valid or not. You can’t reach different conclusions!

    True – humans do pretty well working out the detailed consequences of formal axioms, given sufficient training. We can agree on the implications of axioms, and theorems, and theorems built on theorems, and so forth. We can even work out alternate models based on different axioms, like hyperbolic, elliptical, and classical geometry.

    But! What humans have not proved so hot at is figuring out which axioms and models correspond best to the real world. (I confess that I’d be awfully surprised if you dispute that.) Data’s our only clue help rule models out. And as you note, data gets harder to gather as you move from things like, say, physics, to biology, to sociology. So do firm conclusions.

    In areas like philosophy and theology, data is – ahem – awfully hard to gather. So you’d expect firm, repeatable conclusions to be somewhat difficult to reach.

    We can move back to mathematics – which we agree is pretty reliable. Given an instrument with even a substantial probability of error, you can still set reasonable limits on errors by processing the outputs of many instances. That isn’t bias or backwards reasoning, that’s statistics.

    Unless you adhere to a form of scientism, you will have to concede that there are other ways of obtaining knowledge

    From #338:

    As I’ve noted before, engineering and science are two different things. Sometimes you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got – people built brick walls long before we understood how cement works. Some philosophy is inevitable, just like engineering. But heuristics should not be confused with deep theoretical understanding. Both are knowledge but with very different levels of certainty.

    Remember: certainty, confidence in conclusions, is what I’m talking about. Outside of mathematics, certainty drops off fairly steeply.

  328. Interesting discussion.

    One way I understand convergence is when the fidelity between a model of some aspect of reality and reality itself is steadily improving over time. Fidelity can be measured by novel predictions– predictions that were not used in the construction of a model, but that nevertheless follow from it (Alan Musgrave).

    For a given model, watch reality (or whatever it is we’re perceiving with our senses), add the successful novel predictions of the model, subtract the unsuccessful predictions and observe the change in sum over time to decide if the model is converging or diverging. Uncontroversial?

  329. This is based on the assumption of an ever-improving model. Does that assumption have any relevance at all to biblical revelation? Doesn’t biblical revelation seem to predict something other than convergence?

    Look at it this way: suppose religion converged more and more on some empirically observable reality over time. The effect of that would be to prove all previous religious belief false, to the extent that it was replaced by new model development.

    Christians believe that reality converged on truth in its most maximum possible way when Jesus Christ walked the earth.

    You seem to believe that Christianity would be validated if it demonstrated convergence. What you don’t understand is that if it demonstrated convergence as you’ve described it here, it wouldn’t be Christianity.

    Let’s take religion out of the picture. Has relational/interpersonal wisdom converged on any better model than that employed by Homer, Sophocles, Socrates, or Augustine? (I would argue that Augustine got it considerably more right than the first three, but I’d be willing to bet that any of the four would demonstrate my point quite nicely.)

    There are some areas of knowledge that can’t be tested by scientific methods.

  330. Ray,

    bigbird –

    You have a certain regard for the sciences as knowledge

    I grant that I think it’d be an awfully peculiar definition of ‘knowledge’ that didn’t include the sciences.

    It’s an awfully peculiar definition of a good answer that doesn’t include a basic awareness of logic.

    Did bigbird’s comment to you imply that you shouldn’t include the sciences in knowledge? (I really don’t think so.) Or was he talking about an erroneous scientific bias, the “form of scientism” that you seem to adhere to?

    Maybe that wasn’t illogic you were primarily guilty of there. Maybe it was LMU blogging. Take something out of context and skewer it as if it was something the person meant in context.

  331. I grant that I think it’d be an awfully peculiar definition of ‘knowledge’ that didn’t include the sciences.

    Agreed, and as Tom pointed out that’s not what I was saying. You seem to be taking as a premise that the sciences is the only form of knowledge.

    What humans have not proved so hot at is figuring out which axioms and models correspond best to the real world. (I confess that I’d be awfully surprised if you dispute that.) Data’s our only clue help rule models out. And as you note, data gets harder to gather as you move from things like, say, physics, to biology, to sociology. So do firm conclusions.

    Do you not see that your statement makes a pre-supposition that knowledge is about applying models to the real world?

    In areas like philosophy and theology, data is – ahem – awfully hard to gather. So you’d expect firm, repeatable conclusions to be somewhat difficult to reach.

    Again, your statement is making a pre-supposition that knowledge is all about collecting data and verifying models.

    We can move back to mathematics – which we agree is pretty reliable.

    No, I disagree. Mathematics has nothing to do with reliability. It is deductively valid, that’s all. It has no data and makes no predictions. Reliability isn’t even applicable to mathematics.

    Given an instrument with even a substantial probability of error, you can still set reasonable limits on errors by processing the outputs of many instances. That isn’t bias or backwards reasoning, that’s statistics.

    I agree that we can use instruments to measure things to produce our data, and use statistics to determine confidence intervals for our data.

    But with your convergence idea, you seem to be talking about applying this process to theorizing, which I disagree with.

    Remember: certainty, confidence in conclusions, is what I’m talking about. Outside of mathematics, certainty drops off fairly steeply.

    The discussion is inexorably narrowing in on what your definition of knowledge actually is. You seem to be saying it is “certainty in conclusions” now. What does that mean? How do you measure certainty? Convergence (by your definition) isn’t certainty, it is agreement.

    As I’ve implied earlier, mathematics doesn’t meet your criteria for knowledge. Mathematics has no certainty (with regard to the real world) and no data – it is simply deduction from axioms. It has nothing to do with the real world at all. How can it be knowledge?

    In fact, that prompts me to ask how you justify using deduction? Are the laws of logic knowledge? You can’t verify them with the scientific method – in fact the scientific method can’t exist without them.

  332. Tom – Sorry if it got you riled up, I intended it humorously. Obviously I think science is a form of knowledge, but the way bigbird phrased it, it could be construed as saying that I had “a certain regard for the sciences as knowledge”, but he didn’t necessarily share it.

    Next time I’ll put in a smiley or something.

    On the bright side, bigbird has made explicit the accusation that I “seem to be taking as a premise that the sciences is the only form of knowledge.” That’s incorrect, but we can make progress addressing the misconception.

  333. Tom,

    This is based on the assumption of an ever-improving model. Does that assumption have any relevance at all to biblical revelation?

    Sure. There must be a set of perfect Christian beliefs that God had in mind from the beginning (much like a set of perfect moral commands). Yet Christian beliefs are changing over time. Are those changes towards or away from the perfect ideal? If Christian beliefs are converging to the perfect ideal, I’d think we should see the number of doctrinal differences shrinking over time and denominational merging outweighing denominational splits. If that’s not happening it looks like divergence, or worse, that Christianity is not tracking a perfect ideal.

  334. djc,

    There must be a set of perfect Christian beliefs that God had in mind from the beginning (much like a set of perfect moral commands). Yet Christian beliefs are changing over time.

    This is just the wrong way to think about things. Our beliefs either track with reality or not but there are different perspectives, different contextualisations. The four gospels are great examples of different perspectives and the truth contextualised into different situations. The biggest mistake you make is failing to see that the perspective and context of our scientific descriptions are artificially constrained, hence the convergence that you seem to prize so much. There are wrong descriptions of reality, but there are also differing but right descriptions, reality is much more complex than the flat one-dimensional perspectives you want us to embrace.

  335. Melissa,

    Our beliefs either track with reality or not but there are different perspectives, different contextualisations.

    I have no issue with beliefs that change in focus, perspective, context but remain, over all, self-consistent. Those are not changing beliefs, they track an ideal. If that was the case for Christianity, I’d think we should see the number of doctrinal differences shrinking over time and denominational merging outweighing denominational splits.

    Yes, I understand sin is one reason for divergence in Christian beliefs. But even so, divergence looks like divergence.

    The biggest mistake you make is failing to see that the perspective and context of our scientific descriptions are artificially constrained, hence the convergence that you seem to prize so much.

    Assuming that I’ve made a big mistake, how can I go about learning that scientific descriptions are artificially constrained?

  336. djc,

    If that was the case for Christianity, I’d think we should see the number of doctrinal differences shrinking over time and denominational merging outweighing denominational splits.

    Many denominational splits are not that important. I myself would self-identify as Christian who happens to attend a baptist church. At our church we swap preaching ministry at various times of the year with our local Church of Christ and Anglican churches. To many, many Christians I would suggest that what we hold in common far outweighs our differences and many of our differences amount to a difference of form. From my perspective the ecumenical cooperation between denominations is rising.

    Assuming that I’ve made a big mistake, how can I go about learning that scientific descriptions are artificially constrained?

    Take on honest look at what is done when doing science. How much of our experience is ignored. Are you telling me that you really don’t see the elimination of first-person perspective and non-quantitative aspects of reality as an artificial constraint?

  337. There must be a set of perfect Christian beliefs that God had in mind from the beginning (much like a set of perfect moral commands). Yet Christian beliefs are changing over time.

    What beliefs are you thinking of?

    When it comes to the core set of beliefs that define Christianity (e.g. the Apostle’s Creed), I can’t see what has changed at all.

    When it comes to how Christians apply their beliefs to the society they live in, sure, as society has changed Christian practice has changed too. And of course Christianity is expressed differently in different cultures.

    I’ve been a member of two quite different denominations here in Australia. I was a member of a church that was different again for almost 10 years in the United Kingdom. Most differences are quite inconsequential.

  338. djc,

    Could you please expand on why you believe this would be the case? What epistemological and/or social mechanisms do you imagine operating? What information do suppose might enter the system to bring about this effect?

    I have no issue with beliefs that change in focus, perspective, context but remain, over all, self-consistent. Those are not changing beliefs, they track an ideal. If that was the case for Christianity, I’d think we should see the number of doctrinal differences shrinking over time and denominational merging outweighing denominational splits.

    I really can’t imagine the scenario myself, given what I know about the data we’re dealing with, the variety and diversity of humans, our imperfect knowledge, and so on. Could you fill in some blanks for us?

  339. djc

    To make a one-verse religion out of “honor your husband” chases – in part – a scriptural ideal, though not the A through Z. To then break away and make a second one-verse religion out of “die for your wife” chases – in part – a scriptural ideal – though not the A – Z. To break away and employ the A-Z that we no longer support slavery is fragmentative – yet – progress. [Fragmentation] = [Evidence Against] is a false identity claim. In fact, it can be evidenc “for”. Time’s perspective isn’t a tool you can unilateraly claim.

    The Church that is without spot, without wrinkle, is a condition of moral excellence to be actualized in quite another arena than The Now – and as Paul states – (reflect on Paul’s “level”) I have not / we have not arrived, and we press forward. The eye / sightline / perspective that – then and there with Paul – could house the perspective of 70 AD – 1900 AD is non existent. Paul relied on prophesy prior to Time’s sights…..his letter to Philemon never actualized in his sightline. It took fragmentation to birth such within Time. Your argumentation here is claiming a perspective across Time which you don’t – can’t – have. I could just as easily call fragmentation a vector of progress. Scripture’s A – Z costs all of us something. Ends matter – and unlike the nature-less Man of Naturalism – Love’s Image is a work He Alone has purposed.

  340. djc,

    Just for fun I question your claim anyway. The interaction I see these days between various parts is far more civil than even 30 years ago – not to mention the killings of centuries ago. Oddly apologetics growing in its sphere seems to offer – in part – some healing sightlines along those fracture lines.

  341. djc,

    Forgive the third post – but another problem with your overall approach seems to merit a comment.

    It is important to notice that your formula fails to include the sums wherein loving one another in Him may actually have priority over a set of stated/shared beliefs.

    We are often great at writing up declarations of shared intellectual postures and yet we are often terrible at loving one another in and by deeds. In-family fighting can be the worst kind, theist or atheist. Both love and beliefs matter – though – it can be a defeater of your argument to point out that should our beliefs as Christians be all over the map, but we in and by actual deed love one another, by this all men will know – and so on.

    Your lens not only lacks the ability to unilaterally claim perspective across Time, but even zeroes in on its own one-verse error (proper believing) and thus fails to be an equation capable of giving us valid sums if left on that one verse. The A-Z costs all of us something – particularly skeptics who (almost unanimously) seem unable to focus in on more than a few verses at a time. How can approaching Him not cost every one of us something? At what point here in The-Now does that bit of chipping away at the edges STOP happening in and to His Body (the Church)? [Fragmentation] = [Evidence Against] is just a false identity claim all around. Christ has (had) the perspective across Time which we do not, which you do not, and that is why He did not focus in on the Chipping-Process……. He knew it would continue to the bitter end and so He instead focused in on the loving-one-another process – that bit about spreading our arms wide and pouring ourselves out for one another, as He does for us. Civility and Love in the company of differing beliefs, factions, races, Jew/Non-Jew, insider/outsider, and so on is something weighted very differently in His mathematics than in your formulations. His Image. Of course, all images are – at bottom – meaningless to the Naturalist’s nature-less Man.

  342. bigbird –

    You seem to be taking as a premise that the sciences is the only form of knowledge.

    Can you quote a specific passage that gave you that impression? Or perhaps that’s a preconception about my position that you brought to the table?

    Do you not see that your statement makes a pre-supposition that knowledge is about applying models to the real world?

    Not at all. I’d agree with the general idea that knowledge is “warranted true belief”. A belief has to (a) actually accord with reality, be true, and (b) have a reasonable justification for accepting it, to be knowledge. A belief can be true, but not warranted (e.g. a paranoid suspicion that happens to be correct); or warranted, but not true (e.g. geocentrism, based on the data available for a long time). Neither of those would count as ‘knowledge’.

    What we have to start with is reason and our sense data. We can use our reason to develop knowledge about the consequences of axioms, reason about all kinds of models. And in some Platonic-ish (Platonish?) sense, there’s a reality about such abstracts. Beliefs about the Mandelbrot Set can be both warranted and true. The Mandelbrot Set ‘exists’ in some ontological sense.

    But it’s a different sense than the kind of existence our senses tell us about. Absent divine revelation, we have to apply our reason to figuring out what models best match that world. There’s a degree of uncertainty attached to all our conclusions about that external world.

    (Note that I haven’t received anything recognizable as divine revelation. I have reports of others who claim to have gotten such… but I get those reports through my senses, so I have to evaluate those claims on the same grounds as other claims.)

    I agree that my phrasing about mathematics being reliable was ambiguous. I was referring to mathematics being a field of study where its practitioners reliably reach the same conclusions. There’s no sense-data noise, for one thing.

    You seem to be saying [knowledge] is “certainty in conclusions” now.

    No, and indeed I’ve rejected that notion. It isn’t particularly related to the truth of a conclusion. It has more to do with how warranted the conclusion is. We have pretty solid warrant for the Standard Model of particle physics, at this point, for example. We also have excellent warrant for General Relativity. Our degree of certainty in both is pretty high.

    But it’s not probability 1, for either of them. They’ve passed all the tests we’ve been able to throw at them, but that doesn’t mean new observations might contradict them. Indeed, in some areas – like the regions around a spinning black hole – they make different predictions. At least one and probably both are wrong, to some degree or another. But we build the best models we can with what we have available.

    That’s enough for now, I suppose.

  343. Melissa,

    From my perspective the ecumenical cooperation between denominations is rising.

    If we see denominational differences actually discarded in favor of common core beliefs, then indeed that would be similar to the abandonment of science models and would be a point in favor of convergence towards “something”. Mormons, as an offshoot of Christianity, would need to abandon the view that the book of Mormon is an actual message from God in order to be self-consistent with main-stream Christians. Catholics and Protestants would have to resolve some differences as well in order to have mutual self-consistent beliefs. But I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    To back up a bit, I’m reflecting on Ray’s original point about the nature of convergence. In science, convergence is seen when models with better predictions replace models with poorer predictions. It is hard to imagine how a model that makes better predictions would not be tracking something real. In religion, we could likewise see beliefs converging towards a set of self-consistent beliefs that reflect the reality of the one true God. This might occur because true beliefs are better for religious practitioners than false beliefs. True beliefs predict a life more consistent with the true God and therefore more blessed in whatever religious quality metric one chooses. True beliefs reflect a religion more capable of resonating with the deepest needs of human beings and, hence, growth in converts. However, the opposite seems true, religions seem to diverge, grow anyway, and new beliefs are formed that are incompatible with other religious beliefs.

    Religious beliefs do not seem to be converging on the whole to a set of self-consistent beliefs. This may be due to sin, as religions claim, or it may be due to religious beliefs not tracking perfect truth.

    Take on honest look at what is done when doing science. How much of our experience is ignored. Are you telling me that you really don’t see the elimination of first-person perspective and non-quantitative aspects of reality as an artificial constraint?

    Correct, science shouldn’t eliminate the first-person perspective or non-quantitative aspects of reality. I wasn’t aware that was happening. Maybe I’m missing your point.

  344. Rubbish.

    This is nonsense, and it’s time to call it that.

    djc and Ray, your talk of convergence in religious belief will only barely begin to make sense if you can converge on some kind of model describing how religious beliefs should converge. Otherwise you are guilty of a nonsensical category error. Its worthlessness is highlighted by the fact that you’re using a word that doesn’t mean anything in this context.

    I don’t think you can create that model. I don’t mind if you try to put some actual meaning into the word you’re using. I only mind if you keep pretending you’re talking about something when in fact you’re talking about nothing, using a word that means something in one context but means nothing in this context.

    Convergence toward a model is an understood and understandable conception in the sciences. Thus it’s a word that has meaning in the sciences.

    In religion, though, you need to answer questions like those that I raised in #362. You wrote,

    I have no issue with beliefs that change in focus, perspective, context but remain, over all, self-consistent. Those are not changing beliefs, they track an ideal. If that was the case for Christianity, I’d think we should see the number of doctrinal differences shrinking over time and denominational merging outweighing denominational splits.

    And I answered,

    Could you please expand on why you believe this would be the case? What epistemological and/or social mechanisms do you imagine operating? What information do suppose might enter the system to bring about this effect?

    These are basic to the very word you’re using. Leave those blanks empty, and the word remains empty (in this context).

    I strongly suggest you quit wasting anyone’s time arguing over a conception without any content. Tell us what you think the model of convergence would be in this context, or else admit that you don’t have one.

  345. bigbird,

    What beliefs are you thinking of?

    When it comes to the core set of beliefs that define Christianity (e.g. the Apostle’s Creed), I can’t see what has changed at all.

    In the context of convergence/divergence of religious belief from 30 AD, I’m thinking of Catholics, Mormons, and the rise of such hybrids as Chrislam in Nigeria, for example. But I do understand that sin is give as a reason for divergence in religious belief.

  346. Tom,

    Rubbish. This is nonsense, and it’s time to call it that.

    For my part, I will not adopt this tone or language in any of my discussions with you. It’s counterproductive and rarely fair under any circumstances (except war I suppose).

    As for a hypothetical model of religious convergence, we could see beliefs converging towards a set of self-consistent beliefs that reflect the reality of the one true God. This might occur because true beliefs are better for religious practitioners than false beliefs. True beliefs predict a life more consistent with the true God and therefore more blessed in whatever religious quality metric one chooses. True beliefs reflect a religion more capable of resonating with the deepest needs of human beings and, hence, growth in converts.

    However, as I’ve mentioned several times, sin is given as a primary reason religious beliefs diverge. So obviously convergence of religious belief can’t really happen as long as sin exists.

    But that still leaves me with the observation that science converges and religious belief on the whole does not.

    Could you please expand on why you believe this would be the case? What epistemological and/or social mechanisms do you imagine operating? What information do suppose might enter the system to bring about this effect?

    If above is not sufficient, I’m not sure what you mean by epistemological or social mechanisms. Is this referring to social mechanisms of religious belief? For information entering the system, I assume that would be via the scriptures or Holy Spirit in Christianity.

  347. Justice and Mercy cannot converge. Though in Him they do.

    Grace and Truth cannot converge. Though, the tension there is dissolved in Him.

    There are these entire arenas wholly out of the reach of convergence – but for Him.

    The Metaphysics of Christianity contains those of materialism as such relates to simple physicality – and then diverges and travels outward, reaching farther.

  348. Tom,

    Could you please expand on why you believe this would be the case? What epistemological and/or social mechanisms do you imagine operating? What information do suppose might enter the system to bring about this effect?

    I think you’re asking something less complicated than I originally assumed. The mechanisms for religious convergence I would expect to be in play would be similar to those that led Christianity to gradually but inexorably view slavery as immoral. As one person put it: “There is, in the genome of Scripture, something that pushes towards liberty, that eventually emerged in a big way.” The nature of the Bible, the action of the Holy Spirit to assist in interpretation over time should lead to the elimination and repudiation of beliefs that are false, whether large or small. Despite the existence of sin, the belief in the immorality of slavery — which must have been part of God’s truth from the beginning– came to the front and those religious denominations that defended slavery (many Southern Baptists branches) are today extinct or reformed.

  349. djc,

    This was going on long enough—almost three weeks since it first came up!—that it needed to be called what it was.

    If you don’t know what kind of convergence you’re looking for—if you don’t know how to state it in the form of a convergence model—I should think you would be content with what we agree on: Christianity does not expect convergence like what happens in the sciences because sin mars our relationship with God.

    I should think that with that you’d be willing to say, “That’s as far as my question can go, and I can’t think of any reason to expect it to go any further.”

    And I should think that you might also acknowledge that the lack of convergence is predicted by Christianity, is consistent with Christianity, and is therefore not in the least bit a reason to question the truth of Christianity.

  350. @djc

    In the context of convergence/divergence of religious belief from 30 AD, I’m thinking of Catholics, Mormons, and the rise of such hybrids as Chrislam in Nigeria, for example. But I do understand that sin is give as a reason for divergence in religious belief.

    To illustrate divergence in Christianity you are referring to Mormonism, which has its origins in Joseph Smith’s revelations (not Christianity), and Chrislam, a tiny sect of a few thousand people in one Nigerian city?? Surely you can do better than that!

    How about we define what you mean by divergence? There’s hundreds of millions of Christians out there, and many denominations. What would you consider to be divergence in their beliefs?

    My claim is that Christianity in all of its various expressions holds to the same beliefs as embodied in the Apostles’ Creed, and that denominational differences are largely differences in practice and culture.

  351. But that still leaves me with the observation that science converges and religious belief on the whole does not.

    Have you read the book of Revelation? Christianity converges there. All beliefs, all things converge there.

  352. @Ray

    I’d agree with the general idea that knowledge is “warranted true belief”.

    Ok, I agree, with some minor caveats. So knowledge has got to do with truthful beliefs that are justified in some manner.

    But then you say

    It [knowledge] isn’t particularly related to the truth of a conclusion. It has more to do with how warranted the conclusion is.

    So now I’m confused. Your two statements appear to contradict themselves.

    If we can clarify what you mean then we can discuss “convergence”, because if “convergence” is a sign of knowledge, then in some way you must be able to justify that it leads to truthful conclusions.

  353. @Tom

    Convergence toward a model is an understood and understandable conception in the sciences. Thus it’s a word that has meaning in the sciences.

    It’s true that the concept of convergence toward a model has meaning in the sciences, but it is controversial and by no means accepted by all philosophers of science.

    It implies scientific realism, which has significant arguments against it, and also has the problem that it is a vague concept and its application is unclear (as I’ve been saying to Ray). How exactly is convergence measured? And the deeper epistemological question (that realism implies) is why is convergence a sign of knowledge?

    I’m not sure those questions are answerable, but if they are, the next problem Ray would have is how to compare convergence across different domains of knowledge. Does it even mean anything to do so?

  354. bigbird –

    Your two statements appear to contradict themselves.

    And they do, because I forgot to go back and point out that it wasn’t “[knowledge]” (your edit) that “isn’t particularly related to the truth of a conclusion.” It’s convergence that “has more to do with how warranted the conclusion is.” My apologies there.

    You see, I’m not equating convergence with knowledge at all. Knowledge is “warranted true belief”. Convergence is a factor when evaluating warrant.

    And – again – when I speak of “convergence” in this discussion I am not talking about a model converging on truth. That’s a separate phenomenon and set of arguments.

    I am talking about the population of people in a particular field converging on an agreement about what the best current model is. (“How quickly does an idea die off in science – new or old?” “In a particular field, how many different fundamental theoretical frameworks are there? And how quickly do new frameworks replace old ones?” “If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble.” “I was referring to mathematics being a field of study where its practitioners reliably reach the same conclusions.”)

  355. You see, I’m not equating convergence with knowledge at all. Knowledge is “warranted true belief”. Convergence is a factor when evaluating warrant.

    Ok, see my question below.

    And – again – when I speak of “convergence” in this discussion I am not talking about a model converging on truth. That’s a separate phenomenon and set of arguments.

    Let’s leave convergence on truth for now (although that is obviously closely related). Why is convergence a factor when evaluating warrant?

    I am talking about the population of people in a particular field converging on an agreement about what the best current model is.

    So WHY is a bunch of people converging on an agreement about a model warrant for believing what they agree on is true? You need to have a reason WHY to make the claim.

    Need I point out the many, many cases in the past when a group of scientists have converged on a model that is later acknowledged to be wrong?

    And of course a billion or more people agree on the Apostle’s Creed, which surely (on your view) is an extremely strong warrant for it being knowledge.

  356. bigbird –

    Why is convergence a factor when evaluating warrant?

    Well, as I said before, “It’s not that convergence is a sign of knowledge so much as lack of convergence is a sign of lack of knowledge. It’s entirely possible to converge on the wrong answer… but if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with. Convergence in the sense I’m using it here is generally a necessary, not sufficient, condition for knowledge. If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble.”

    You’re familiar with Kuhn’s idea of ‘paradigms’ in science? They’re overall explanatory schemes, that define what kinds of things the field studies, what sorts of questions and answers should be pursued, how results are interpreted, etc. Paradigms are to some extent necessary. It’s hard to even have a defined field of study without some kind of paradigm!

    From time to time, there’s a ‘paradigm shift’ in science – geocentrism to heliocentrism, or classical mechanics to Relativity, etc. Adherents of one paradigm have a hard time even communicating with those of another; to one extent or another, they’re talking about different things – what Kuhn termed ‘incommensurability’. In science, though, one paradigm tends to ‘win out’ and there arises a widespread consensus on which one provides the best current account of the subject matter. At worst, it takes a generation for the old paradigm to die out, as newcomers to the field gravitate to one in particular.

    So think about some branch of investigation that’s had multiple different paradigms, and no consensus on which one best accords with reality for over a generation. You have a lot of different people who are, to varying degrees, talking past each other. One of them might even be right (or at least less wrong)… but they can’t convincingly demonstrate that to others or to most newcomers to the field. (Otherwise there’d have been a paradigm shift!)

    How about a completely different field from science or theology or philosophy – fashion. People study it and get degrees in it, it’s some kind of field of knowledge, right? But there are lots of different schools of thought, and seldom a consensus. Seldom even an identifiable paradigm, really. How seriously do you take any pronouncement by anyone in fashion? How certain are such conclusions?

  357. bigbird –

    So WHY is a bunch of people converging on an agreement about a model warrant for believing what they agree on is true?

    Again, it’s not “warrant for believing what they agree on is true”. A lack of such agreement is warrant for thinking that the models aren’t well-supported enough to drive agreement.

  358. bigbird –

    And of course a billion or more people agree on the Apostle’s Creed, which surely (on your view) is an extremely strong warrant for it being knowledge.

    Not when there are, and have been for millennia, many billions of others who adhere to wildly different theological paradigms. Again, I’m looking over the totality of the field, in this case ‘religion’.

  359. Give us a model for convergence in religion, please.

    Should religious knowledge progress, like other disciplines’ knowledge? Why, given claims of revelation?

    If religion were true and convergence were an indicator of its truth, what new information would you expect would be added to the stream of knowledge that would produce corrective/convergent adjustments in what we know?

    Given the claims Christianity makes regarding its sources of knowledge, what social factors would lead toward convergence?

    Given Christianity’s theological claims which predict the opposite of convergence, why would you call a successful prediction a sign that there is no knowledge?

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this talk of convergence in this sphere is rubbish and nonsense, unless and until you can explain what the word “convergence” might actually mean in this context.

  360. Ray @383:

    What are you telling us? That there should be some test by which we prove religion is true, meaning all religion?

    You couldn’t be that mindless.

    Then what are you telling us? That convergence among one set of believers is meaningless?

    That’s a meaningless assertion, unless you explain your model for convergent knowledge in religion as I just requested.

  361. Well, as I said before, “It’s not that convergence is a sign of knowledge so much as lack of convergence is a sign of lack of knowledge. It’s entirely possible to converge on the wrong answer… but if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with. Convergence in the sense I’m using it here is generally a necessary, not sufficient, condition for knowledge. If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble.”

    Claims about knowledge require justification, and you have not provided any justification for “convergence” or “lack of convergence” despite repeated requests.

    The only “backing” you have provided is that “if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with”, which I pointed out many posts ago is not true.

    You are wasting our time here. You haven’t done any heavy lifting with “convergence”. You haven’t defined it clearly and you haven’t justified why it is a sign of knowledge (or lack thereof).

    You defined knowledge as “warranted true belief”. Well then, what’s your warrant for “convergence is a necessary condition of knowledge”?

  362. Again, it’s not “warrant for believing what they agree on is true”. A lack of such agreement is warrant for thinking that the models aren’t well-supported enough to drive agreement.

    You said convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge. Therefore convergence is warrant for believing what they agree on is true.

    If convergence is not warrant for believing what they agree on is true, then it cannot be a necessary condition.

    Anyway, I’m just about done here. I’ll respond to your other post, but unless you are prepared to provide a carefully thought out justification for why convergence is a sign of knowledge, I’m done with this topic.

  363. Not when there are, and have been for millennia, many billions of others who adhere to wildly different theological paradigms. Again, I’m looking over the totality of the field, in this case ‘religion’.

    LOL.

    Looking over the totality of what we call “human knowledge”, I declare it lacking in convergence, and therefore not knowledge at all.

  364. Tom,

    I should think that with that you’d be willing to say, “That’s as far as my question can go, and I can’t think of any reason to expect it to go any further.”

    And I should think that you might also acknowledge that the lack of convergence is predicted by Christianity, is consistent with Christianity, and is therefore not in the least bit a reason to question the truth of Christianity.

    I just joined the convergence discussion a couple days ago, but my observation was that convergence in scientific models can be defined in terms of novel predictions, successful predictions that were not even planned or dreamed of at the time the model was formed. For that to happen consistently can’t just be coincidence, it seems likely to be tracking something real. This is what we see in good scientific models over time, this is how we track progress and convergence.

    In theory, religious belief could do the same since religions posit the existence of a set of true beliefs that are more true, more real, more meaningful than anything science has offered so far. The only prediction that must be born out is that true religious beliefs are better in some objective way than false (while here on earth rather than solely in the Afterlife). A convergence model like the shift in moral view of slavery in Christianity could, in theory, be the rule for all religious beliefs. False religious views could actually turn out to be harmful and lead inevitably to extinction of false religions. But that happens only rarely, and if it’s solely because of sin, then sin somehow provides a mysterious invigorating benefit to those who hold false beliefs, helping them thrive generation after generation.

    So it may not be a reason to question the truth of Christianity, but, to me, convergence is more satisfying.

  365. I just joined the convergence discussion a couple days ago, but my observation was that convergence in scientific models can be defined in terms of novel predictions, successful predictions that were not even planned or dreamed of at the time the model was formed. For that to happen consistently can’t just be coincidence, it seems likely to be tracking something real. This is what we see in good scientific models over time, this is how we track progress and convergence.

    This is scientific realism (aka the “no miracles” argument), and there are many difficulties with this view.

    But Ray isn’t talking about this kind of convergence anyway – he is merely talking about convergence in opinion (rather than theory).

  366. bigbird –

    The only “backing” you have provided is that “if you don’t converge at all, you don’t even have an answer to begin with”, which I pointed out many posts ago is not true.

    What you said was, “No, you have multiple answers, and one of them may be correct.” [Emphasis added.] And I replied: “Of course, in such a case, how do you tell which, if any, are right?”

    That, you have not answered. And do you agree or disagree with the notion that “If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble”? Nor do I see an answer for a key question: “What would you count as a justification, anyway?” I’d really like an answer about that.

    You said convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge. Therefore convergence is warrant for believing what they agree on is true.

    No. Being a mammal is a necessary condition for being a human, but knowing that something’s a mammal is not warrant for believing it’s human. Convergence is a part of warrant, not a complete warrant. That’s kinda the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’.

    Well then, what’s your warrant for “convergence is a necessary condition of knowledge”?

    Mathematics is a demonstration that, with clearly defined axioms and presuppositions, humans are able to reliably reach consensus.

    When people cannot reliably reach consensus, it therefore indicates an absence of clearly defined axioms and presuppositions. (If P, then Q. Not-Q, therefore Not-P.)

    Dealing with the real world requires axioms not just defining models, but axioms about which models apply to the real world. It’s those latter axioms that have problems when people can’t reach consensus.

    In areas we can run detailed tests, humans also tend to reach convergence on the best available model. Data helps settle debates over those ‘which model applies’ axioms. When we don’t have data, models proliferate.

    The less data we have, the fewer tests we can run, the greater the disagreements. Take N people, show them experimental physics, and a large fraction of N will settle on a particular model. Take N people and show them economics or fashion, on the other hand, and you may well wind up with N+M models.

    Widespread fundamental disagreement is a sign that the field of study is not well defined and/or there just isn’t enough data to compel agreement. If there were either, that disagreement would narrow.

    Again, one of those N+M models may actually be true, but the fact that most of the people in the field can’t see that shows that it have a compelling argument in support of it, that differentiates it from any of the other models.

  367. One more analogy, just ’cause. If you sprinkle iron filings on a surface where there’s a magnetic field, the filings align themselves along field lines.

    Well, if the field is strong enough. If it’s too weak, you won’t see much of a pattern, and what notions you can get of the field will be weak and statistical – “here, the field is in this direction, plus or minus thirty degrees”, maybe. If there’s no field at all, the filings will land in random directions.

    If you look at individual humans as ‘lining up’ with the evidence and arguments, you can see patterns in which arguments are regarded as strongest. But if none of the arguments are perceptibly stronger than others, you get weak alignment, or none at all.

  368. Tom –

    Give us a model for convergence in religion, please.

    Most people who look at the same evidence and arguments will come to the same conclusions. Same as in other fields.

    We don’t actually see that, though. By far the greatest predictor of what religion you will take up is what religion your parents professed. There’s a geographic distribution of religious variants; conversely, it’s not really even sensible to talk about a geographical distribution of ‘adherence to Relativity’ or ‘belief in chemistry’.

  369. I give up.

    No one who thinks there should be convergence in religion can grasp what the term “model” means when I ask them for a model of convergence there.

    Ray, this is a description of the effect you would expect to see as a result of some tacit/implicit model you hold in your mind. It’s not a model.

  370. Allow me to surface some of the hidden assumptions that seem to underlie your “model,” Ray.

    • All persons have access to the same information
    • All persons consider the same information relevant as evidence
    • All person process evidence through the same logical/reasoning framework
    • All persons are motivated primarily by the search for truth
    • All persons will set aside societal and familial interests for the truth
    • Christianity is false in its doctrine that sin affects persons’ motivation and understanding

    (By “all,” I mean something less than that, like a large majority perhaps.)

    Your “model” could work if all that were generally true. The world is not that simple, however. Your “model” is, but what it represents is another instance of the strangely simple world of Internet atheism.

  371. Note that your “model” supposes that convergence would be the way to know that Christianity is true, provided that it’s false.

    Do you have a way to know whether Christianity is true if it is true?

  372. This may be true but it’s not something that is exclusive to religion. The same could be said of any beliefs that are inculcated into young people through personal associations or society at large. This would include the philosophical naturalism that is popular in parts of Europe.

    In contradistinction to your last paragraph, I think it is sensible to talk about the geographical distribution of how people relate to specific scientific theories (as well as meta-ideas in general). I would suggest that particular worldviews most certainly have a determining affect on what scientific theories or hypothesis an individual might accept as true or reject as false.

  373. Tom Gilson –

    Your “model” could work if all that were generally true.

    Leaving aside the Christian-specific assumption for the moment, those assumptions would seem to apply generally to theologians. And yet there’s no general consensus on their part – and the same geographical distribution as lay adherents of religions. (“If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble.”)

    If we lay the cause of that lack of consensus on the final assumption you list – “sin affects persons’ motivation and understanding” – well, I don’t see how it could ever be falsified. And it might imply things like, say, people in Asia are more sinful than those in Africa, blinding them more to Christianity’s truth.

  374. Billy Squibs –

    This may be true but it’s not something that is exclusive to religion.

    And I’ve been saying it’s not exclusive to religion all along, so that’s cool! Indeed, I pointed out a continuum and all.

    I think it is sensible to talk about the geographical distribution of how people relate to specific scientific theories (as well as meta-ideas in general).

    Two points: First, that geographic distribution fades to background noise when you look at people who actually study a particular scientific field, such as astronomy or physics or biology. And second, it seems as though those geographic correlations in acceptance of various scientific theories (among the general population) correlate rather strongly with the religious variations.

  375. I maintain that Ray is continuing to cherry pick information to fit his worldview. See #319 and #326. Round and round we go.

  376. @SteveK:

    Round and round we go.

    The garden flew round with the angel,
    The angel flew round with the cloud.
    And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
    And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

    Is there any secret in skulls,
    The cattle skulls in the woods?
    Do the drummers in black hoods
    Rumble anything out of their drums?

    Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
    Might well have been German or Spanish.
    Yet that things go round and again go round
    Has rather a classical sound.
    — Wallace Stevens, The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

  377. Ray,

    And I’ve been saying it’s not exclusive to religion all along, so that’s cool!

    Yes but you still haven’t let us know how your own worldview beliefs escape the problem of being non-knowledge according to your own criteria. According to you, you don’t have any warrant for believing that naturalism is true because you claim that convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge.

    I don’t believe that you think you have no warrant for thinking naturalism is true though, do you? So, if you consider the reasons why you think naturalism is true and believe you have warrant for thinking that then you have an answer to your question to big bird:

    “Of course, in such a case, how do you tell which, if any, are right?”

    It would help the discussion if you did not arbitrarily exclude your own religious answers (and I use religious in the sense of answers to existential or worldview questions) when you are considering what may count as warrant.

  378. Ray @399,

    You missed the point: your “model” depends on false assumptions. Therefore, to the extent that it is reminiscent of a model (for it certainly isn’t one in reality), it’s a model that has no relation whatever to reality.

    I find it amusing that you’ve taken my answer in #395 & 396 and run riffs off of it in a completely different direction.

    I’ve asked you to show some model for your supposed convergence, taking epistemological and sociological realities into account, and you haven’t done so. Thus you’ve left the term undefined through all these weeks of wrangling over it.

    When, oh when, oh when will you realize you’re raising a dispute over a term that you yourself cannot attach any relevant meaning to?

  379. …those assumptions would seem to apply generally to theologians.

    Where? On this planet, not all theologians have access to the same information, nor do they all consider the same information relevant as evidence, nor do they process evidence through the same logical/reasoning framework, etc. etc.

    Well, they do if you ignore the ones that don’t. See #319.

  380. What you said was, “No, you have multiple answers, and one of them may be correct.” [Emphasis added.] And I replied: “Of course, in such a case, how do you tell which, if any, are right?”

    That, you have not answered.

    I haven’t tried to (yet) – but I wasn’t the one making the initial claim – you were. You are saying you have one answer, and that having one answer means that it is correct – without explaining your reasons (warrant, justification).

    So – what reasons do you have for regarding convergence being a necessary condition for knowledge?

    And do you agree or disagree with the notion that “If the main practitioners and theorists of your field can’t agree on the fundamentals, you’re in trouble”?

    It depends on the trouble 🙂 And it also depends on the meaning of “field”.

    Many areas of science have been in this position numerous times over the years, disagreeing over the fundamentals.

    And yet the field of Christian theology has had remarkable agreement of fundamentals over the last 2000 years. Curiously, you don’t want to recognize this as knowledge though.

    Nor do I see an answer for a key question: “What would you count as a justification, anyway?” I’d really like an answer about that.

    I’m not sure why it’s such a key question. Surely we all agree a justification is a reason for holding a belief.

    No. Being a mammal is a necessary condition for being a human, but knowing that something’s a mammal is not warrant for believing it’s human. Convergence is a part of warrant, not a complete warrant. That’s kinda the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’.

    I understand the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’, thank you.

    I was using ‘warrant’ as “a warrant”, i.e. a reason or a justification for believing something as knowledge, so it is just different usage of the same term.

    You have the notion of a “complete warrant”, which you’ll find very difficult to define if you know anything about epistemology. That involves looking at theories of justification.

    Let’s just focus on your view, which is that “convergence” is an important requirement for something to be regarded as knowledge.

    I’m sure we are all by now desperate to hear:

    1) Your definition of “convergence” (rather than the nebulous meaning you’ve produced so far).

    2) What is your justification (warrant, reason(s)) for requiring “convergence” for something to be knowledge?

    BTW, I’m sure you realise this whole discussion is philosophy and has not been using the scientific method.

  381. Speaking of ’round and round’…

    Melissa –

    It would help the discussion if you did not arbitrarily exclude your own religious answers (and I use religious in the sense of answers to existential or worldview questions) when you are considering what may count as warrant.

    Ahem. I would contend my answers are philosophical and not religious. That’s not to say your answers are not philosophical, though! Religious answers are a subset of philosophical answers – ones that posit the supernatural.

    Nor have I denied that we’re doing philosophy here. I actually linked to a discussion of first principles. We actually went over this exact distinction already.

    And I’ve also been discussing all along that “warrant” isn’t binary; there are degrees of certainty and uncertainty. In short, “I’m not claiming that science and philosophy are identical; I recognize the need for both. I’m cool on the idea of needing theology, though.”

  382. SteveK –

    I maintain that Ray is continuing to cherry pick information to fit his worldview. See #319 and #326.

    If you think I haven’t addressed those, I’d have to think you are the one ‘cherry picking’. Ah, well.

  383. Tom –

    You missed the point: your “model” depends on false assumptions.

    No, it doesn’t. It does, in fact, apply to theologians, as I pointed out. Speaking of which:

    SteveK –

    On this planet, not all theologians have access to the same information, nor do they all consider the same information relevant as evidence, nor do they process evidence through the same logical/reasoning framework, etc. etc.

    Neither do all physicists, all chemists, or all biologists, yet they come to remarkably similar conclusions in their fields. Not so with theologians.

    Or the practitioners of another field entirely: astrology. They agree on the basic notion that the motion of the stars and planets influences life on Earth in significant ways. After that point, they agree on practically nothing. They agree even less than economists. Have ten different astrologers cast your horoscope, and you’ll get ten completely different results.

  384. bigbird –

    You are saying you have one answer, and that having one answer means that it is correct

    For pity’s sake… no, I’m not saying that. You say you understand the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’, and then you write that!

    Surely we all agree a justification is a reason for holding a belief.

    “When people cannot reliably reach consensus, it therefore indicates an absence of clearly defined axioms and presuppositions. (If P, then Q. Not-Q, therefore Not-P.)”

    Humans can reason in a careful and detailed way to reach conclusions, and other humans can follow the logic and reach the same conclusions. If the foundations are defined well-enough, then humans reach the same conclusions about the implications, or at least can follow another human’s case for them.

    So, when people don’t reach consensus, it means that there’s disagreement about those foundations. When you see a field of study where people reach wildly different conclusions on a regular basis (c.f. astrology) you know the situation is not well-defined in that field.

  385. @Ray Ingles:

    Ahem

    Ahem, Melissa made a valid reductio against your position. Saying “But I did not etc. and etc.” is, quite transparently, not a response (hint: the reductio hinges on the “disagreement” part, not on whether you are doing philosophy or not).

    If the foundations are defined well-enough, then humans reach the same conclusions about the implications, or at least can follow another human’s case for them.

    So, when people don’t reach consensus, it means that there’s disagreement about those foundations.

    You jump from “humans reach the same conclusions about the implications, or at least can follow another human’s case for them” to “So, when people don’t reach consensus, it means that there’s disagreement about those foundations.” which is an invalid move.

    If you mean the first, then it is easily seen that Theology passes muster. If the second, then Melissa checkmated you; it is also easily seen to be self-refuting for your position by the fact that not even Mathematics passes the test.

  386. You missed the very important word “all,” Ray, and you made a bare assertion that it applies to theologians–an assertion for which I strongly doubt you could present any evidence. You’re still striking out.

  387. In fact, Ray, your allusion to theologians here is so bizarrely unsupportable it makes me wonder whether you read the comment you were supposedly answering. Do you really suppose it’s generally true of all theologians that they’re not much affected by societal and familial influences? Really?

  388. Ray,

    Nor have I denied that we’re doing philosophy here. I actually linked to a discussion of first principles. We actually went over this exact distinction already.

    And I’ve also been discussing all along that “warrant” isn’t binary; there are degrees of certainty and uncertainty. In short, “I’m not claiming that science and philosophy are identical; I recognize the need for both. I’m cool on the idea of needing theology, though.”

    G. Rodrigues covered this amply, but in case you didn’t get it, the problem is that you claim that convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge but there is no convergence over the philosophical conclusion of whether theism or naturalism is true therefore by your own criteria your views are not knowledge. Ditto the philosophical claim that convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge.

  389. You are saying you have one answer, and that having one answer means that it is correct

    For pity’s sake… no, I’m not saying that. You say you understand the difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’, and then you write that!

    You can’t claim “convergence” is a “sign of knowledge” without it being a justification for the belief being true. That’s what you’ve accepted as a definition of knowledge – justified true belief.

    If you prefer, I’ll write “You are saying you have one answer, and that having one answer means the answer is more likely to be correct than having many answers”.

    Does that express what you mean?

    Humans can reason in a careful and detailed way to reach conclusions, and other humans can follow the logic and reach the same conclusions. If the foundations are defined well-enough, then humans reach the same conclusions about the implications, or at least can follow another human’s case for them.

    I agree humans can follow logic from a set of axioms.

    That sounds like mathematics, not science.

    I’d say theology is closer to this than science is.

    “Foundations” is another woolly term of yours. What are the “foundations” of science?

    Got around to defining “convergence” yet?

  390. Ditto the philosophical claim that convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge.

    Yes, I’ve also noted that. Ray hasn’t answered it, I suppose because it is unanswerable 🙂

    This kind of reminds me of the demise of logical positivism, which had exactly the same problem.

  391. A week-long vacation but I’m back, sadly. Anyway:

    G. Rodrigues:

    Ahem, Melissa made a valid reductio against your position.

    That would require actually addressing my position. Neither you nor she has addressed this bit: “Sometimes you have to do the best you can with what you’ve got – people built brick walls long before we understood how cement works. Some philosophy is inevitable, just like engineering. But heuristics should not be confused with deep theoretical understanding. Both are knowledge but with very different levels of certainty.”

    So, yes, some of the basis for the notion of convergence being a necessary (not sufficient) condition for certainty are philosophical, and hence of a lower degree of certainty than, say, the unit charge of the electron. That’s not a contradiction.

    You jump from “humans reach the same conclusions about the implications, or at least can follow another human’s case for them” to “So, when people don’t reach consensus, it means that there’s disagreement about those foundations.” which is an invalid move.

    Well, you could also claim that on some subjects, human reasoning is highly unreliable, but that checkmates your position, since that would mean that human reasoning about theology would be inherently unreliable.

    Tom –

    Do you really suppose it’s generally true of all theologians that they’re not much affected by societal and familial influences? Really?

    How come “societal and familial influences” are so determinative for theologians but not physicists? That’s the point, thanks for handing it to me.

    bigbird –

    You can’t claim “convergence” is a “sign of knowledge” without it being a justification for the belief being true.

    Consider the classic syllogism: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.”

    Both of the premises are necessary for the conclusion, but neither one by themselves is sufficient for the conclusion. Knowing that ‘Socrates is a man’ doesn’t justify the conclusion that Socrates is mortal without the other premise, that ‘all men are mortal’. Knowing that ‘all men are mortal’ doesn’t justify the conclusion that Socrates is mortal without the other premise, that ‘Socrates is a man’. Only the combination of both is a “justification”. Neither by themselves are a “justification”, even though the combination is.

    In other words, you’re wrong. Convergence can be a critical part of justifying knowledge without being a justification in itself.

    I agree humans can follow logic from a set of axioms. That sounds like mathematics, not science.

    How about science being when you let data drive axioms?

  392. Ray,

    So, yes, some of the basis for the notion of convergence being a necessary (not sufficient) condition for certainty are philosophical, and hence of a lower degree of certainty than, say, the unit charge of the electron. That’s not a contradiction.

    I will just say that your claim all along has been that convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge not certainty, if you want to back away from that claim now that’s fine but please don’t pretend that we haven’t been addressing your stated position.

  393. @Ray Ingles:

    Well, you could also claim that on some subjects, human reasoning is highly unreliable, but that checkmates your position, since that would mean that human reasoning about theology would be inherently unreliable.

    You really should take a primer (or refresher, whatever the case may be) in elementary logic; it is not the first time, in this thread alone, that you make an elementary logical blunder.

    Edit: and given your constant harping on “highly unreliable”, the palpable irony is just delightful.

    This is a narrow technical point; the rest I will leave it alone, deeming it useless to pursue it.

  394. Speaking of useless, shorter G. Rodrigues: ‘You’re wrong, though I won’t actually explain why. But I win!’

    And I have to agree, there’s no way to tackle that.

  395. Melissa –

    I will just say that your claim all along has been that convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge not certainty

    Knowledge is knowledge only to the degree that it’s certain. If a proposition is uncertain, it is ipso facto, to that degree, not knowledge, right?

  396. @Ray Ingles:

    Speaking of useless, shorter G. Rodrigues: ‘You’re wrong, though I won’t actually explain why. But I win!’

    Against my better judgment, I will say this much.

    You wrote:

    Well, you could also claim that on some subjects, human reasoning is highly unreliable, but that checkmates your position, since that would mean that human reasoning about theology would be inherently unreliable.

    The argument is:

    1. Some F’s are P
    2. x is F
    3. Therefore x is P.

    This is an invalid argument. Obviously so. That was the narrow point. Since you cannot recognize it, not *even after* being pointed out, what exactly am I supposed to do but advising you to go and read a primer on elementary logic? In case it is not obvious, and with you one can never be sure, the question is rhetorical.

    But really, for whatever good it may do, do pile opprobrium on me.

  397. Knowing that ‘all men are mortal’ doesn’t justify the conclusion that Socrates is mortal without the other premise, that ‘Socrates is a man’. Only the combination of both is a “justification”. Neither by themselves are a “justification”, even though the combination is.

    A syllogism is an argument that assumes the premises are true, and the conclusion is produced by deduction.

    Each premise still must be itself justified if the conclusion is to be accepted (assuming we accept deduction itself is justified).

    In other words, you’re wrong. Convergence can be a critical part of justifying knowledge without being a justification in itself.

    Let’s leave this totally pointless argument of whether a necessary condition for knowledge is a justification for knowledge or not – obviously I disagree with you, but it’s dependent on whatever theory of justification is being used and irrelevant in the context of the irretrievable flaw everyone has pointed out.

    You still have to justify your premise that “convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge”.

    Given that this premise must itself be knowledge, you are snookered by your own requirement for convergence, as has been pointed out many times.

  398. Ray,

    Knowledge is knowledge only to the degree that it’s certain. If a proposition is uncertain, it is ipso facto, to that degree, not knowledge, right?

    Which just brings us round to the fact if we take your own premises as true, that pretty much everything you’ve written in the long time you’ve been commenting here is not knowledge. I’m really not sure why you continue to avoid this obvious conclusion.

  399. G. Rodrigues, you can only make the claim you do about my argument by ignoring what I’ve already written – where I’ve brought up and addressed other possibilities.

    When the premises and data are well-defined – with good inputs – humans can demonstrably reach solid and agreed-upon conclusions – reliable output. Mathematics serves as an existence proof.

    But on some subjects humans don’t reach agreement. Either (1) the inputs vary too much (ill-defined premises or data), or (2) the human reasoning process itself is compromised, or (30 both.

    If there’s a fourth option, I’d be pleased to hear it. If there isn’t, I’d be pleased to hear which of the three you think applies to theology.

  400. bigbird –

    You still have to justify your premise that “convergence is a necessary condition for knowledge”. Given that this premise must itself be knowledge, you are snookered by your own requirement for convergence, as has been pointed out many times.

    Like most conclusions, it’s way downstream from ‘first principles’. Those have different justifications.

    If you don’t regard it as a fundamental axiom of an epistemological framework, but rather a conclusion borne of both deduction and experience, there’s rather less ‘snookering’.