Friday, July 21, 2017

Jewish philosopher Saul Kripke on materialist prejudice

“I don’t have the prejudices many have today, I don’t believe in a naturalist world view. I don’t base my thinking on prejudices or a world view and do not believe in materialism.”

Saul Kripke. 

Materialism and the Illusion of Following the Evidence

Brain processes are physical events. They occur in accordance with the laws of physics, not the laws of logic or laws of evidence. Our brains follow the laws of physics automatically, we obey the laws of logic or laws of evidence, when we do, only when the laws of physics dictate that they do so. If you think this way, then I fail to see how William Hasker's conclusion is avoidable: the laws of logic and evidence, or as he puts it, the principles of sound reasoning, are inoperative.

Some atheists (Jerry Coyne is a good example) think that the idea of free will is a useful fiction; we should keep it around even though we know it's false. I think that if naturalistic atheists are consistent, they have to say the same thing about their claim that they believe what they do because the evidence is superior. But this would be an awfully damaging admission. They perceive themselves as following the evidence, but if their own world-view is correct, their thoughts are brain processes ultimately subject, not to the rules of evidence, but to the laws of physics. Their beliefs are caused in exactly the same way as a fideistic religionist who believes in God as a matter of faith.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

You are only a Christian because of your birthplace!

Gee, where have we heard that before? Saints and skeptics answer here. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Advice to Christian Apologists, from William Lane Craig


The is part of a paper I am writing to extend the debate with David Kyle Johnson

The debate appears in Gregory Bassham ed. C. S. Lewis's Christian Apologetics: Pro and
. (Brill Rodopi, 2015).

Now I think it important here to point out one very important area of disagreement between myself and Johnson. Johnson firmly accepts supervenience and causal closure, but he thinks that insisting that the supervenience base mechanistic is in fact a non-standard definition of naturalism. He writes:
In reply, Reppert might insist that property dualism is not a naturalistic theory because it is also violates his first tenet of naturalism by including mental properties at the basic level of analysis. But this simply reveals that he has chosen a (non-standard) definition of naturalism to load the dice in his favor—to preclude naturalism from doing the one thing he says it must do. In reality, this tenet does not actually express a necessary component of naturalism (which is that nothing exists beyond the natural world). Not only is naturalism not necessarily mechanistic (a possible world of chaotic matter would still be naturalistic), but neither a mechanistic world nor a naturalistic would preclude mentality existing at the basic level of analysis—as property dualism and the identity theory reveal. Simply put, the mental is not necessarily supernatural, as Reppert seems to assume.
            Well, I would simply have to ask how mental causes came to start operating in a naturalistic world. Given theism, minds operate in the world because they are products of divine creation (even if there was an evolutionary process involved). Or perhaps there is an Absolute Mind that is not distinct from the physical world, so that what appears to be nonmental really is not nonmental. This is the perspective of Absolute Idealism which Lewis embraced when he was first persuaded by Owen Barfield of the difficulties the Argument from Reason poses for naturalism. Or mind might be fundamental to the universe in some other way, and Thomas Nagel in Mind and Cosmos and elsewhere has been casting about for how that might be. But it should be noted that, while being very explicit about avoiding supernaturalism, he is being ferociously attacked by advocates of standard naturalism, precisely for trying to fit mind into the foundation of his view of the universe. As one commentator points out,
The critics have focused much of their ire on what Nagel calls "natural teleology," the hypothesis that the universe has an internal logic that inevitably drives matter from nonliving to living, from simple to complex, from chemistry to consciousness, from instinctual to intellectual.
In short Nagel is upbraided by many of his collegues for his failure to adhere to the what I am calling the doctrine of mechanism, the doctrine that the mental must be excluded from the suprervenience base.
Or, perhaps there are emergent laws, such that, once biological systems get complicated enough to produce brains, the matter in those brains stop acting like the matter in the rocks flying down the hill toward my head, and instead start acting as if they had purposes they were fulfilling. But the individual parts of my brain don’t obey logical laws, so it looks like this form of emergentism not only involves emergent properties and emergent laws, it also seems to include emergent substances. This certainly is going to be regarded as blazing heresy by the mainstream naturalists, who agree with Francis Crick:
 ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” 
            The mainstream naturalistic position is that mentalistic explanations are not allowed in the supervenience base. That is the essence of Darwin’s dangerous idea. Long before writing Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett spelled out the fundamental commitments of naturalism when he wrote:
Psychology of course must not be question-begging. It must not explain intelligence in terms of intelligence, for, instance by assigning responsibility for the existence of intelligence to the munificence of an intelligent creator, or by putting clever homunculi at the control panels of the nervous system. If that were the best psychology could do, then psychology could not do the job assigned to it.[10]
And again:
Darwin explains a world of final causes and teleological laws with a principle that is entirely independent of "meaning" or "purpose." It assumes a world that is absurd in the existentialist's sense of the term: not ludicrous or pointless, and this assumption is a necessary condition of any non-question-begging account of purpose.[11]
In fact, in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, he explains the difference between cranes and skyhooks as follows:
"Let us understand that a skyhook is a "mind-first" force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity. A crane, in contrast, is a subprocess or special feature of a design process that can be demonstrated to permit the local speeding up of the basic, slow process of natural selection, and that can be demonstrated to be itself the predictable (or retrospectively explicable) product of the basic process."
In fact most of the book is spent upbraiding not religious believers, (who he probably considers marginalized anyway)  but thinkers who say they are naturalists but have not fully and completely applied the dangerous idea, such as Chomsky, Penrose, Searle, and Gould.
            If we think about it, if we are naturalists, how did things happen in the world before brains came on the scene? What principles of causation were operative? Presumably nonmental ones. Wouldn’t it take a miracle for brand new principles of causation to enter the universe? And miracles are, of course, anathema to the naturalistic mind.

What the argument from reason criticizes

The viewpoints that the argument from reason criticizes are variously called naturalism, materialism, and physicalism. The idea is that nature, or matter, or physics, is all there is. Behind all of this is the attempt to exclude the supernatural, such entities as God, angels, or the soul. But in order to know what supernatural is, you need to know what natural is, so that supernatural can be “super” that. But what is naturalism more precisely? After all, I could attempt to qualify as a naturalist, or even a materialist or a physicalist. I could say to my materialist friend that we are both materialists, only I believe in some different kinds of material entities than he does. I believe in psychons, which used to be called souls, angelons, which used to be called angels, and one triune theon, who used to be called God. I suspect that any materialist worth his salt is going to point out that I am misusing words here, and that whatever we mean by material has to exclude God, angels, and souls. Bu this means that we need a principled analysis of these concepts in order to get them to work, and we need to keep them from sliding around when it is convenient for them to do a little sliding. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Belief without evidence is crucial for knowledge


The key quote is from Swinburne:

n the introduction of his book The Evolution of the Soul, Philosopher Richard Swinburne lays out some key principles we all use in our reasoning. The first is the Principle of Credulity. Swinburne defines it as "in the absence of counter-evidence probably things are as they seem to be."1 This principle holds that we should basically trust what our senses tell us. While sometimes our sense can be wrong, we trust them to tell us true things about the world, for that's simply how we observe the world. As Swinburne points out:
Without this principle, there can be no knowledge at all. If you cannot suppose things are as they seem to be unless further evidence is brought forward—e.g. that in the past in certain respects things were as they seemed to be, the question will arise as to why you should suppose the latter evidence to be reliable. If ‘it seems to be' is good enough evidence in the latter case, it ought to be good reason to start with. And if ‘it seems to be' is not good enough reason in the latter case, we are embarked on an infinite regress and no claim to believe anything with justification will be correct.2

Believing in God for pragmatic reasons

What would you say to people, for example, who say that if there is no life beyond this one, there is really no hope for human existence, and it is vain to continue. In answering this question, it is important to realize that many of us are members of the educated class, and our lives probably have more creature comforts than most people in the world have. Most people cannot afford to be part of the great brave new world of science or philosophy like Dawkins or Dennett. Can you really object to people who say, quite honestly, that they believe in God because it makes them happy? What are you going to give them, some altruistic argument?

I would have to say that I could never do it this way. But I think it is vain to just say that these people are weak. I don't live under their circumstances. That is why I don't think Bertrand Russell's answer works.

“To refuse to face facts merely because they are unpleasant is considered the mark of a weak character, except in the sphere of religion. I do not see how it can be ignoble to yield to the tyranny of fear in all ordinary terrestrial matters, but noble and virtuous to do exactly the same thing when God and the future life are concerned. There is to my mind something pusillanimous and sniveling about this point of view, which makes me scarcely able to consider it with patience.”
― Bertrand Russell, The Value of Free Thought: How to Become a Truth Seeker and Break the Chain of Mental Slavery (1944).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Richard Bauckham on Lewis's Fernseeds and Elephants

Summarized here.  Bauckham is a leading biblical scholar, who sees a great deal of value in Lewis's criticism of his discipline in an essay I know as "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism."

Culpably Ignorant? In a deterministic universe?

I presented some arguments on Debunking Christianity a few weeks back and got identified as the 
Gullible Person of the day. Since I consider it a major step toward an unproductive discussion when the focus of discussions switch from subject matter to the intellectual viability of persons. I interact in the blogosphere under my own name, and my institutional affiliations are also known, so I find it offensive to be attacked personally, not just by Loftus, who also writes under his own name, but many of his commenters, who write under pseudonyms. Which is why, for the most part, I now avoid his site. 

But he said it was nothing personal against me. Well, why isn't it personal, I asked. He said it had nothing to do with my likability as a person, but as a Christian apologist I was culpably ignorant.. 

The attitude here seems typical amongst atheists. They act as if it is our fault that we believe what they consider to be nonsense, since we exercise faith and don't apportion our beliefs to the evidence and recognize the evidential vacuity of Christianity. They are moralistic about rationality, as is explained here.

But can they really say that we are culpably ignorant? On their own view, evolution spit some of us up as atheists, and others as Christians.. And deterministic brain processes determined that he should lose his faith and I keep mine. No one could possibly be culpable.

Consider Richard Dawkins

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Now, surely it would be inconsistent to apply Dawkins' logic to murderers but not to Christians. 

Jerry Coyne is also an opponent of moral responsibility.

Sorry, atheists, but on your own view, everyone is doing what they have to do. You can't blame us believers from believing in God, even if we were delusional. (Which we're not, but that's the other debate). 

Ockham's Razor and Ockham's Lobotomy

Now, the principle of explanatory exclusion is very popular amongst atheists and naturalists. It is simply a form of Ockham’s Razor. Atheists are happy to point out that the electrical explanation of electricity makes Thor’s hammer unnecessary, and that the Blind Watchmaker of evolution replaces the divine watchmaker. But in the case of the mental and physical explanations for, say, the mental events that produced Godel’s Theorem or even Darwin’s theory of evolution, they insist that while the thoughts of Godel and Darwin have a physical explanation, they also have a mental explanation. Otherwise, Ockham’s Razor becomes Ockham’s Lobotomy (thanks, William!), and the scientific thought processes that produced these beautiful theories and theorems could not have existed.

What to do when someone challenges your faith

Just say it's a matter of faith and by definition it can't be challenged? No. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Kim's Principle of Explanatory Exclusion

Jaegwon Kim has argued that in order for there to be a workable account of mental causation, reductionism has to be true. According to his principle of explanatory exclusion: 

An event cannot have two separate and complete* explanations.
Take any human behavioral event M (A person decides to change seats, comes to understand a principle of physics,feels sorry for her little sister, etc.) For every M, there can be only one complete explanation. There cannot be two explanations which
a). individually provide a complete explanation of M, and
b). are unconnected to each other.
*An explanation is complete if the events or properties that it specifies are the only ones that need to be mentioned in order to fully explain the occurrence of that event.

Explained here. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Anscombe's commentary on her exchange with Lewis

In 1948, Elizabeth Anscombe, then a student of Wittgenstein and a research fellow at Oxford, publicly challenged C. S. Lewis’s central argument against naturalism. In response to her criticisms, Lewis rewrote the relevant chapter of his book Miracles. Anscombe briefly acknowledged the revision in print as an improvement, but never wrote more extensively about it. In 1985, however, she gave a talk about Lewis’s revised version to the C. S. Lewis Society, discussing its strengths and remaining weaknesses. This chapter is a transcript of that talk.

Here.  I wish this transcript had been available back when I was writing my dissertation chapter on the Lewis-Anscombe Controversy. Now if I can just get my hands on it!

This is Gregory Bassham's summary of Anscombe's discussion. from Church History. 

One reading that will be of special interest to Lewis scholars is Elizabeth Anscombe’s talk on “C. s. Lewis’s Rewrite of Chapter III of MiraclesAs is well-known, Lewis and Anscombe engaged in a famous debate in 1948 over Lewis’s claim that naturalism is self-refeting (his so-called "argument from reason”). Confroversy has swirled over who won the debate and whether Lewis largely abandoned rational apologetics as a result of his perceived defeat. What we know for sure is that Lewis substantially revised and expanded his original argument in the second edition of Miracles (London: Collins-Fontana, 1960), and that Anscombe stated in the early 1980s that Lewis’s revised argument was a substantial improvement over the original formulation, iat we have not known until now is whether Anscombe believed that Lewis’s revised argument was substantially correct. We can now see that she did not. Anscombe examines Lewis’s argument in detail, and finds it to be rife with confiisions, ambiguities, and false assertions (16-22). Lewis argues that naturalism undermines itself, because naturalism can only be justifiably believed if it can be rationally inferred from good evidence, and naturalism excludes the possibility of rational inference by claiming that all human mental processes are wholly determined by nonrational causes. In other words, naturalism can be rationally believed only if reasoning is possible. But if naturalism is true, then reasoning is impossible. So if naturalism is true, it cannot be rationally believed (and neither can much else). Anscombe suggests that this argument rests on a confiision. The fact that a beliefor statement is felly determined by non-rational causes has no bearing on whether it is true or rationally justified. Consider, she says, the analogy of a printed book. Every word in such a book is wholly determined by the machinery that printed the book. Yet no one would suppose that this casts any doubt on whether the things said in the book are true or rationally defensible (16). As Anscombe sees it, the whole issue of causal determination is a red herring؛ even strict, reductionistic naturalists can consistently recognize the existence of reasoning and the possibility of rational beliefs. But Anscombe does find something of real value in Lewis’s discussion. Lewis raises the important and deeply puzzling question of how logical grounds can cause a conclusion to be drawn (18). As Anscombe sees it, Lewis’s “damnably obscure” claim that an inferred conclusion can be "determined only by the truth it knows” (22) does not do much to solve this problem, but Lewis was right in pointing to the deeply puzzling nature of mental causation.

As I noted in the first essay I wrote on Lewis-Anscombe, Anscombe is committed to a divorce between rational justification and the causation of belief that strikes me as implausibly strong, and one that would not have be embraced by most naturalists today, who would follow Donald Davidson in rejecting a strict divorce between reasons and causes (see his essay "Actions, Reasons, and Causes" in which he criticizes the standard Wittgensteinian position on this). Anscombe also has to deal with the ontological restrictiveness of naturalism. Whether an explanation is causal or not, it still has an ontology, and most philosophical materialists and naturalists will not accept reasons into their ontology without some kind of intertheoretic reduction or supervenience relation, and this is not part of Anscombe's critique at all. 

Laplace's demon and Godel's Theorem

I think we need to pause for a moment and reflect upon what mechanistic means here. Consider what happens as I discover, at the foot of a mountain, that I am about to be caught in an avalanche. Rocks are falling down, and to avoid being hit, I run. But before I can escape, a large boulder comes crashing down in the direction of my head. It will either hit me or not hit me, depending upon what? Depending on whether it thinks I should suffer a concussion or not? Of course not. It blindly does what the laws of nature say it will do. If we think about how events happened before the advent of life, this is how things happened in the world.  Even though the indeterminism of quantum mechanics complicates things somewhat, it does not really add anything conducive to rationality. Therefore, it is helpful to look at a naturalistic picture of the world from the point of view of Laplace’s demon:
"We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."
The point that has to be stressed here is the information Laplace’s demon has when he knows conditions, say, concerning conditions prior to the formation of planets. The physical information the demon has says nothing about purposes, nothing about a first-person perspective, nothing having to do with what anybody’s thoughts are about, and knows nothing about what his normative in any sense.
            Now consider the mind of Kurt Godel as he proves the incompleteness of arithmetic. The Laplacian demon knows the state of the physical prior to the formation of stars and planets, and therefore knows the positions of the material particles in Godel’s brain when the developed his Incompleteness Theorem. According to the naturalistic view, the positions of the material particles in Godel’s brain determine what mental states he is in, and those brain states are caused by a chain of prior physical states going back to a time when there were no brains, and therefore, according to naturalism, no mental states whatsoever.  So his act of knowing that arithmetic is incomplete can be comprehensively explained by factors that contain reference to no mathematical truths that Godel perceived, and could have occurred whether arithmetic was really complete or really incomplete. When a complete set of causes is adduced, the state of Godel’s brain can be explained without reference to any mathematical truths that Godel knows, at all.