Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

C. S. Lewis on the Dangers of Extrapolating from Past Scientific Success

This is in response to a Secular Outpost post by Keith Parsons.

The Secular Outpost: C.S. Lewis Pontificates about Something or Other

I am afraid you don't have Lewis right here at all. In fact, when you read him, and when I read him, it is as if we are reading the same words, but getting an entirely different message. Now I could be being exasperatingly generous, or maybe you aren't giving him a fair shake, but somehow we just aren't seeing the same things. Lewis isn't romanticizing dryads, etc. What he is doing is pointing out the problems with taking successful scientific developments and extrapolating from those to other areas of discourse where treating something else in the same way as science treated another area results in bad conclusions.

In the case of psychology, I take it that since you and I are close to the same age, you remember what psychology departments were like in the early 1970s. They were filled with people, following B. F. Skinner, who thought to really treat human beings in a scientific manner we had to stop talking about consciousness. It's the extrapolation from previous successes in science, the idea that we can look at the trajectory of science and make confident predictions about how science is going to have to treat certain types of subject matter, that we get into trouble.

Now the reason this is not an attack on science is because this history of science should really teach us that we can't plot the course of future scientific success. Science progresses sometimes by coming up with successful reductions, and sometimes progresses by recognizing that reductionism isn't going to work. Cognitive science, while not going anti-naturalistic, has come to reject the idea that consciousness has to be denied (although it is still very much a scientific mystery). The behaviorist hegemony which seemed to pervasive in psychology in my undergraduate days (the entire ASU philosophy department was one huge rat lab) is now considered a Dark Age.

This passage, from the Abolition of Man, helps to see that Lewis is complaining about extrapolations from science, not about science itself.

From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may `conquer' them. We are always conquering Nature, because `Nature' is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all. It is the magician's bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man's power to treat himself as a mere `natural object' and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one's first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

I originally brought this up in connection with a passage from Richard Swinburne about how some of these past scientific successes were achieved.

There is a crucial difference between these two cases. All other integrations into a super-science, or sciences dealing with entities and properties apparently qualitatively distinct, was achieved by saying that really some of the entities and properties were not as they appeared to be; by making a distinction between the underlying (not immediately observable) entities and properties and the phenomenal properties to which they give rise. Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object. The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions. The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. The former falls naturally within the scope of statistical mechanic—for molecules are particles’ the entities and properties are not of distinct kinds. But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the phenomenal from its causes, and only explaining the latter. All reduction from one science to another dealing with apparently very disparate properties has been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (i. e. the ‘secondary qualities” of colour, heat, sound, taste, etc.) with which one science dealt belonged to the physical world at all. It siphoned them off to the world of the mental. But then, but when you come to face the problem of the sensations themselves, you cannot do this. If you are to explain the sensations themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter. In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena. The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of the mind with the world of physics.

It was Lewis who said, "It is the glory of science to progress." But progress may not go in the same direction as past progress.

The Steve argument and the AFR

I need to go back over what the Steve argument is. It is a response to the "anti-causal" reply to the argument from reason, or, more particularly, the problem of mental causation. Actually, it's one of a few arguments I use against this position, which goes back to Anscombe's critique of Lewis. I have to give kudos to Clayton for keeping focused on what this post is about.

The Steve argument is an illustration of the fact that when we say that someone is rational, we are saying that evidential relationships are relevant to the actual occurrence of beliefs as psychological events. In particular, when we try to explain why we are rational in believing something, we make counterfactual claims about the relationship between evidence and our beliefs, such as "If the evidence for evolution weren't so strong, I wouldn't believe in it." A typical way in which people impugn the rationality of others is to say that smart people believe things for not-so-smart reasons, and then use their reasoning powers to justify what they have already committed themselves emotionally to believe. In fact, people like Loftus very often charge that Christians are something like Steve; that is, they for a belief in Christianity through processes that could just as easily produce a  false belief as a true belief, and then find whatever arguments they can to undergird those beliefs which were really reached in a non-truth-conducive way.

But what we are saying when we say we believe something for a good reason is that the presence of reasons is relevant to the production of our beliefs, that, unlike those benighted folks over there, we have actually paid attention to the evidence and are following it wherever it leads, whether it makes us feel good or not.

But what that means is that evidential relationships are relevant to what beliefs we hold, and therefore, what states our brains get themselves into. But evidential and logical relationships are abstract states. They are not physical things, and they do not have particular locations in space and time. Yet they are, apparently, causally relevant to the beliefs we form. Or, at least they can be.

But these same people will say that the mind is the brain, and that what goes on in the brain is simply physical causation playing itself out. Abstract objects don't, they say, cause anything to happen in the brain, since the brain is a physical system and events in the brain are caused just like any other events. It's just the laws of physics playing themselves out.

Lewis wrote: But even if grounds do exist, what exactly have they got to do with the actual occurrence
of the belief as a psychological event? If it is an event it must be caused. It must in fact be simply one link in a causal chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of time. How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence or how could the existence of grounds promote it? (1960b: 20)

(1960b) Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 2nd edn. (London: Fontana, 1974)

It seems to me that this points to something paradoxical in the naturalist's view of reasoning.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A critique of the AFr

Apparently this was written by Charles Echelbarger of SUNY Oswego, though it never quite says anywhere. 

But I wonder how he handles my "Steve" case? 

If you were to meet a person, call him Steve, who could argue with great cogency for every position he held, you might be inclined to consider him a very rational person. However, suppose that on all disputed questions Steve rolled dice to fix his positions permanently and then used his reasoning abilities only to generate the best-available arguments for those beliefs selected in the above-mentioned random method. I think that such a discovery would prompt you to withdraw from him the honorific title “rational.” Clearly, we cannot answer the question of whether or not a person is rational in a manner that leaves entirely out of account the question of how his or her beliefs are produced and sustained.

It seems to me that how beliefs are produced and sustained is crucial to assessing whether someone is rational. If it is a consequence of the fact that everything in the universe occurs as a result of the motions of a fundamentally non-teleological substrate that reasons never really affect the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event, then there has to be something wrong with a world-view according to which everything in the universe occurs as a result of the motions of a fundamentally non-teleological substrate.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Soulforce on the Bible and Homosexuality

A pro-gay Christian perspective on the Bible.

Steve Lovell's Doctoral Dissertation on Lewis and Philosophy

This is really excellent work on Lewis. It was completed the same year my book was published.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ed Feser on the Materialist Shell Game

A redated post.

Along the same lines, here's a Lewis quote, from The Empty Universe:

The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life, and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance gradually empties this rich and genial universe, first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account:classified as out sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed “souls” or ‘selves” or “minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods, that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a “ghost,” an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our habit of personifying men; a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Subject had lost. There is no “consciousness” to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is “not the sort of noun that can be used that way.”

The Wikipedia entry on Delusion

Maybe this will help us get an idea of what the delusion-rhetoric is all about.

School Prayer? Sure, so long as it's Islamic prayer

Where is the ACLU when we need them? (Well, they're actually suing.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Can an Intelligent Person be a Christian? Some Plantingian Reflections

A redated post from a couple years back.

In going on the Secular Web and looking at some atheist blogs, the answer seems to be no. In Alvin Plantinga's essay "A Christian Life Partly Lived," he writes:

At Wayne, the late Hector Neri-Casteneda, George Nakhnikian, and Edmund Gettier confronted me with antitheistic argumetns of a depth and philosophical sophistication and persistence I had never encountered before....Nakhnikian was our chairman; he thought well of my powers as a budding young philosopher, but also thought no intelligent person could possibly be a Christian. He would announce this sentiment in his usual stentorian tones, whereupon Robert Sleigh would say "But what about Al, George? Don't you think he's an intelligent person?" George would have to admit, reluctantly, that he thought I probably was, but he still thought there had to be a screw loose in there somewhere."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Naturalism without materialism

Many people have made the argument that difficulties for materialism need not be difficulties for ontological naturalism. But that leaves an important question: what is a non-materialist naturalism supposed to look like?

I can imagine a form of naturalism in which God, angels, and what we used to call human souls are part of nature. But then we could even imagine the physical in such a way that all these things are physical. When I took a course on physicalism with Hugh Chandler, who eventually became my doctoral dissertation advisor, he suggested that the physical is whatever is quantified over in an ideally completed physics. Since some theories in physics quantify over God, on that view, God would be physical.

Such definitional liberality, however, would make it difficult to define even methodological naturalism, since it would then no longer exclude what most of typically think it is supposed to exclude.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homophily and the Good Samaritan

This piece, from Internet Monk, suggests that the besetting sin that people today are failing to notice is homophily, the restriction of our love to people who are like us.

An ethical genius from two millennia ago told us when we ask ourselves who we should love, in other words, who is my neighbor, we have to ask that question from a position of dire need, the kind of need one would be in if one had just been mugged and left for dead on the road  from Jerusalem to Jericho. From that vantage point, try thinking that the person who takes care of you is too Samaritan, too feminist, too Republican, too Democrat, too rich, too poor, or too gay, or too immoral, or too illegal, to be my neighbor.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What would disprove Christianity

A redated post. 

I have often reflected on world-views and disconfirmation. Many non-believers will tell me that they would believe if God were to do something miraculous. God could provide a dramatic, Spielbergian confirmation of his existence which would disconfirm atheism, perhaps decisively. The galaxies in the Virgo cluster spelling out "Turn or Burn: This Means You, Parsons" is my personal favorite. Though Perezoso has been pointing out Christine Overall's argument that miracles wouldn't confirm the goodness of God, and might be one more piece of evidence that the Infinite One is not good, even if he exists.

Can the theist point to something similar that would decisively refute his own theism? After all a God who doesn't exist can't dramatically demonstrate his non-existence. In most atheist post-mortem scenarios, both the theist and the atheist have gone out of existence, so no one will be around to collect their bets. But there is no Spielbergian scenario that the theist can point to. Most people who come to believe, or disbelieve, do so for a variety of reasons put together, and so I can offer a vague suggestion that a lot of things going south with respect to my faith might undermine it decisively, without being able to specify exactly what that would amount to.

It is somewhat easier to think of a circumstance according to which my Christian beliefs might fall apart, though this is a post-mortem scenario.

I die, and stand before an august figure who is carrying a curved sword, and a gong mallet. The august figure asks me who my God is. I tell him "The triune God, the Father, on and Holy Spirit." The august figure scowls and bangs the gong. This isn't going so well. "The true God is Allah, he says." Oops. Then he asks "Who is your prophet?" I answer, "There were many prophets. There were the nonliterate prophets, like Elijah and Elisha, there were the Major Prophets, and the Minor Prophets. The gong bangs again. "And Muhammad is his prophet." I then find myself falling into a desert. There are lots of mirages but no water. And lots of demonic laughter whenever I realize there is no water. I'm really thirsty.

Then I reach a canyon, which I can't cross. I see all of the 9/11 hijackers enjoying...uh... the fruits promised them in the Muslim paradise, and praising Allah. I mean, this is serious damnation.

After awhile it will get through to me that this is not a bad dream, and the logical conclusion would have to be that Islam was true and Christianity was not.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Vallicella on the naturalist version of fides quaerens intellectum

Do naturalists use the principle of faith seeking understanding. In this old post, Bill Vallicella argues that they do, rebutting some objections that I have heard from time to time from naturalists.

A Scientific American article on the impasse in origin of life research

Scientists, according to this article, have no clue as to how life began. But the author thinks this doesn't support a theistic account, because theists can't answer the question "Who made God?"

Colin McGinn reviews Ramachandran

Interesting because McGinn is a "mysterian" about the mind.

The IEP on Skeptical Theism

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Another argument for atheism- the argument from explanatory vacuity

A redated post.

1) If Billy Graham were to fall ill, many Christians all over the world would pray for his recovery.
2) If Billy were to recover, they would all praise God and credit him with the healing.
3) If Billy were to die, they would say that it was not God’s will for Billy to recover.
4) But if God can be used to explain why something occurs but also why something does not occur, then it really does not explain it at all.
5) But if this is so, the appeal to God explains nothing.
6) If God explains nothing, then we should simply deny God’s existence.
7) Therefore, we should believe that God does not exist.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

This is a review of Wright's "hate-filled hypocrites" book

This passage in the review is especially interesting from the point of view of some of the things we have heard of late. 

Fourth, there is a modest apologetic aspect to Wright's book. Wright does not try to persuade people to convert to Christianity. He does not gloss over the many shortcomings he finds in the way Christians think and act. But he does not hesitate to debunk the myths—David Bentley Hart would say delusions— proffered by critics of Christianity. Is it true that "everyone knows" Christianity is dying? Are Christian claims widely discredited? On the contrary, Wright's findings suggest Christians in the United States need not panic or overhaul everything they are doing. He cheekily includes this summary judgment in the conclusion. "You know, I'm kind of enjoying this oversimplification, so let's take it a step further. That's right, after about a year of reading the scholarly literature and analyzing scores of data sets, I am distilling my evaluation of Evangelical Christianity to a single grade. I give American Evangelical Christianity a B." The reports of Christianity's demise continue to be regularly exaggerated, as Books & Culture readers will be well aware (cf. John G. Stackhouse, Jr.: What Scandal? Whose Conscience? July/August 2007. Jon A. Shields: A Scandal of the Secular Conscience? January/February 2008. Andy Crouch: Transmission Routes: World Christianity and American churches. January/February 2010). What stands in the way of fruitful Christian life? Not massive problems that defy all efforts by Christians, but rather unsurprising obstacles (like institutional bureaucracy and people's penchant for sin), perennial problems that individual Christians and churches empowered by the Holy Spirit continue to faithfully address.

A list of former atheists

Oh wait. There are no ex-atheists.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Induction and a mentalistic universe

Doctor Logic: Expectation assumes induction. If I give up induction as a principle of reason, I wouldn't expect anything at all. I certainly couldn't expect that God would keep things regular because that would involve induction somewhere along the line.

VR: My expectation that God would keep things regular is a direct inference from the immediate knowledge I have of my own mind (about the only thing, perhaps, that I have immediate knowledge about). I know what it is to have a mind. And a mind that prefers disorder to order is simply not a mind. Hence there is something incoherent about the idea of a disordered and chaotic universe that was made by a mind, but there is nothing incoherent about the idea of a chaotic universe that was not made by a mind.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The evidential argument from evil

On the basis of these results it can be seen that Rowe’s argument has a strongly resilient character, successfully withstanding many of the objections raised against it. Much more, of course, can be said both in support of and against Rowe’s case for atheism. Although it might therefore be premature to declare any one side to the debate victorious, it can be concluded that, at the very least, Rowe’s evidential argument is not as easy to refute as is often presumed.- Nick Trakakis

McGrath on what Augustine would say about the controversy surrounding Darwin

Carrier on Science and Medieval Christianity

HT: John Loftus 

This is Carrier's blog entry, from a few years back, on the negative role that Christianity has played in the development of science. The combox is worth reading, since he faces some challenging discussion from J. D. Walters and J. L. Hinman.

A couple of things off the top of my head. First, the major advances of modern science, when it became clear that science could really make a difference not only in the way we view the world, but also the way in which we live our lives, happened in Christian Europe, not Hindu India, or Buddhist Japan, or Islamic Arabia. To say that it would have arisen in Ancient Greece if things had been different strikes me as sheer speculation.

Second, it seems to me that a polytheistic view would have made it impossible to formulate, say, a law of universal gravitation. If Zeus is in control of the sky, but Poseidon is in control of the sea, then to me it just wouldn't make sense to say that the same law of gravity operates in both realms. I suppose if someone accepted modern naturalism, then you could just affirm that the laws of physics are just there and that's all, but even here I wonder if should expect stable laws of nature on naturalistic assumptions. It's always been my view that there is no reason to believe that the laws of nature will remain stable unless there's a God.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

My essay on Narnia and Anscombe

Can be read at this site.

Who said this?

This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer.  It is a government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations. 

a) Barack Obama
b) Bill Clinton
c) Dwight Eisenhower
d) some other President


Whiggish History and the Darwinization of Wallace

History is written by the winners, but Michael Flannery thinks history has been unfair to Alfred Russel Wallace.

Fox News Won't be Moving to Canada

Because they won't repeal their law that forbids lying in the news. Actually, it's a Fox-like channel called Sun News.

Are Christians Hate-Filled Hypocrites?

HT: Mr. Veale. This looks like an interesting read. Apparently the science of sociology debunks something other than Christianity.

William Dembski's critique of materialism

He compares materialist philosophy of mind to alchemy. A redated post.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Quote from J. R. Lucas

The philosophical climate in which I grew up in Oxford was one of extreme aridity. The ability not to be convinced was the most powerful part of a young Philosopher’s armory: a competent tutor could disbelieve any proposition, no matter how true it was, and the more sophisticated could not even understand the meaning of what was being asserted. In consequence, concern was concentrated
on the basic questions of epistemology almost to the exclusion of other questions of larger import but less easy to argue in black and white terms. The undergraduate who wanted to write essays on the meaning of existence was told to confine himself to the logical grammar of ‘is,’ and was not even allowed to ask what truth was, or how one ought to live one’s life.-

J. R. Lucas