Encountering Naturalism (review)

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 21, 2010 in Reviews,Worldview Naturalism

Tom Clark, through his efforts at the Center for Naturalism and Naturalism.org, has become a leading figure in the advancement of Naturalism as a positive alternative to religious worldviews. (See my interview with Tom here.)

Tom and I were chatting recently, and he made me realize something important.

I came to atheism by way of philosophical naturalism, but most recent atheists probably did not.

My journey from Christianity to atheism was deeply philosophical. I read the debates between two competing worldviews. It was Christian Theism vs. the dominant worldview in science and philosophy, Naturalism.

In the end, my heart longed for the Christianity of my childhood, but my mind had to assent to Naturalism. (Later, my heart caught up with my head and embraced Naturalism emotionally, too.)

So for me, the “main thing” has always been naturalism, not atheism. I called this site “Common Sense Atheism” to ride the wave of interest in atheism that was launched by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. And that worked well for me. But bare atheism – the mere denial of theism – is a small and rather insignificant position, like the denial of the existence of fairies. Far more important is that quest to develop a positive understanding of the world and how to operate within it, and that is the quest of Naturalism.

Anyway, I had been reading other skeptics and atheists as if they were also naturalists, but this was probably blindness on my part. Just because someone rejects the existence of gods does not mean she embraces Naturalism. It doesn’t mean she also rejects the “little god” within that can be an Unmoved Mover of her own actions (free will). And it does not mean she rejects non-natural moral facts that “just exist” despite there being no evidence for their existence.

Seeing this more clearly, I’m fully on board with Tom’s campaign to bring Naturalism to the masses. Like the rejection of fairies and the demonic possession theory of disease, the rejection of magical beings is only a minor first step toward a positive understanding of what is true and good in the real world.

Tom’s book Encountering Naturalism is a handy and very short (about 90 pages) introduction to Naturalism as a worldview.

Tom’s Naturalism begins with the observation that science and reason are what work. Other methods of truth-seeking have proven to fail badly in this universe. Science and reason are not perfect, but they are the best methods we have. So if we want to understand the world, we ought to use the methods of truth-seeking that work.

A commitment to reason and evidence leads to the conclusion that the natural world is all we know to exist. We have no reason to accept gods or supernatural free will.

The rejection of contra-causal free will may be scary to some atheists, but Tom shows why it need not be. The realization that we are, like other animals, fully included in nature, only gives us more control over ourselves, and more compassion for others. Moreover, this realization makes sense of moral responsibility. These claims may sound surprising, but then: you ought to read Tom’s book.

Naturalism also has implications for public policy. It implies that policy decisions should be made based on evidence and not feelings or prejudice or political expediency. It also suggests that our criminal justice system, built on theories of retribution toward beings with supernatural free will, needs to be massively reformulated.

For Tom, Naturalism does not mean the denial of human spirituality, but the embrace of a real spirituality. Naturalism says that we literally are stardust, after all, and that our atoms are literally exchanged with the rest of the Earth system. We are part of nature, and understanding this need not impede the sense of awe and connection we feel with this universe. Indeed, it may increase it.

Tom’s book covers a massive range of subjects in a few short pages, and in plain talk: science, epistemology, physicalism, free will, the history of Naturalism, self-acceptance and self-efficacy, relationships, compassion, moral responsibility, justice, environmental policy, naturalistic spirituality, homosexuality, abortion, stem cells, the soul, death and dignity, self control, the open society, morality, personal virtue, fatalism, reductionism, progress, meaning and purpose.

As such, Encountering Naturalism is good book for someone who lacks the time to work through a much longer book like Richard Carrier’s Sense & Goodness Without God.

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{ 106 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith August 21, 2010 at 4:38 am

When I hear Christian philosophers and apologists speaking against naturalism in terms of “Naturalism doesn’t offer a good explanation of morals, etc.” or “Science is kind of like an experiment within philosophy” I get frustrated. It isn’t like naturalism is embraced because of these problems. It just “is”. Then if it just “is”, then we must work with what we have, not what we like. I, like you, de-converted, mainly because of naturalism (even though I didn’t know the term). After I heard a little more about it (from Tom’s podcast on this website), it makes a lot of sense.

I look back and realize that I believed in naturalism a lot more than one might expect from a Christian. When I used phrases like “criminals need to be held responsible for their actions” I never thought of them as acting acausally with a free will soul (how did I miss this?). I looked at prison time as being deterministic and shaping their behavior. Although Morgan Spurlock’s 30 days in jail did make me think there should be some changes to the system.

Acausal free will seems so odd to me. How does the soul tell the body what to do? I couldn’t help myself becoming de-converted. It wasn’t a free will choice. Maybe it comes from being a high school science teacher.

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Silas August 21, 2010 at 6:28 am

“Contra-casual” free will really is a strange notion. If there isn’t anything that determines ones actions, where does that leave us? Free will then is nothing but a machine that randomly “chooses” actions.

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Al Moritz August 21, 2010 at 6:40 am

There is quite a bit for me to agree here, Luke.

For me, atheism always equated naturalism — I think naturalism is either the logical consequence of atheism, or the starting point that leads to atheism . Since I cannot accept naturalism (even though as a scientist I realize that the universe is a machine), I cannot accept atheism. Reasons are that I think a naturalistic beginning of the universe is a thoroughly problematic position, and that I don’t believe the human mind can be explained under naturalism (which implies determinism, with quantum randomness at the local level).

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lukeprog August 21, 2010 at 6:52 am

Al,

I’m not too worried about the human mind being explained fully in terms of nature within the next few centuries, but I think cosmogenesis may be a more difficult problem. But why think that supernaturalism offers a better solution? For me, as I’m sure you know, supernaturalism is a kind of non-explanation. As a scientist, surely you must see that the God hypothesis is so vague and ill-defined that it renders no specific testable predictions. Or perhaps you have an alternative God hypothesis that does render predictions, even novel ones? That would be interesting.

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Al Moritz August 21, 2010 at 7:00 am

Just to clarify: I don’t think the free-will argument is of much use. Even though I believe that we do have genuine free will, I don’t think that this assertion by itself could form a coherent defense against the charge that free will is, after all, just an illusion. (In view, however, true moral responsibility is not possible under determinism.)

No, my quibbles with determinism are that it is not compatible with human reason and rationality. See the Argument from Reason, discuused in several places on the web.

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Bill Maher August 21, 2010 at 7:00 am

On Philosophy Bites, A.C. Grayling said he prefers the term naturalist. It is an affirmative term in comparison to atheism, which makes it sound like there is something worth rejecting.

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Eric August 21, 2010 at 7:08 am

Silas,

If we are unfolding processes of nature, we are subject to it’s laws of cause-and-effect. As Luke stated, Tom Clark’s book explains how determinism can bring us greater clarity, empowerment and compassion. By understanding the conditions that shape us we have more influence in outcomes. We make better and wiser decisions. It also makes us more compassionate in that we don’t judge and condemn others for their actions because they are conditioned to do as they do by causes outside themselves just as are we. We also don’t beat ourselves up for making mistakes because we understand our thoughts and actions aren’t based in contra-causal free will but are fully determined.

Encountering Naturalism is a great read. If you haven’t yet, listen to Luke’s interview with Tom Clark. It’s the reason I discovered Commonsense Atheism.

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Rob August 21, 2010 at 7:12 am

Al,

I’m curious what questions you think Supernaturalism can answer that Naturalism cannot. Thanks.

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 7:14 am

I’m not a naturalist; there is a possibility that there is something else to reality in addition to nature. As Keith said; “It just “is”.” Nature, that is.

Even theists will admit that if someone threatens them with a pie, they will try and move — to do something — if they don’t want a nose full of pie.

The intent of theists who gripe about naturalism is not to discard nature.^^^ It it to carve out a space for something else in addition to nature. I encourage them in that effort, but attacking nature won’t do the job. They need to support the something else and demonstrate that reality is not only natural.

That is where the focus should be. What’s the evidence for that something else. Till that is shown, nothing can be said about it, and any claims to knowledge about it are just empty.

^^^. Well, except for the nut jobs, and even they will dodge or clean themselves off if I’m within pie tossing range.

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Eric August 21, 2010 at 7:20 am

Hermes,

Naturalism is always open to new evidence.

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 7:20 am

Bill Maher: On Philosophy Bites, A.C. Grayling said he prefers the term naturalist. It is an affirmative term in comparison to atheism, which makes it sound like there is something worth rejecting.

Nice.

I’ll add one twist, though. The theists do have something. Really. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m not contradicting myself either; I do agree with A.C.G.. Unfortunately, what theists are doing is a misattribution; they mistake their internal chatter for external spirits. [ more ]

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Al Moritz August 21, 2010 at 7:28 am

Luke:

As a scientist, surely you must see that the God hypothesis is so vague and ill-defined that it renders no specific testable predictions. Or perhaps you have an alternative God hypothesis that does render predictions, even novel ones? That would be interesting.

This type of argument reveals once again how much your views are shaped by scientism — the idea that the only rational and reliable explanations are scientific ones. While testable predictions are essential to science, philosophy does not and cannot work that way: testable predictions are proper to the tool of methodological naturalism, the tool of, and restricted to, science.

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 7:37 am

Eric, I didn’t limit naturalism. What I intended to convey was this;

If the theists want to say there’s something else not covered by nature, then they are clearly responsible for providing support for that.

Attacking naturalism is like tilting at windmills and such nonsense should be either defused or mocked, but not engaged seriously. After all, have you ever had a fruitful conversation based on dealing with discarding a large part of reality?^

I don’t deny them the chance to support the claim that there is something else that naturalism doesn’t cover.

Yet, what we get instead is silence, sour grapes over naturalism (that they don’t actually reject), or unsupported conjectures offered as equivalent or superior to nature (usually showing that they are missing the point about nature; that (as Keith noted) ‘it just is’).

^. Or the entirety of reality. I’ll give the something else proponents the benefit of the doubt and admit that something else is an option. They are responsible for making their case, though, for the nature of that something else.

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Eric August 21, 2010 at 7:44 am

Hermes,

I guess I was thrown off by this statement: “I’m not a naturalist; there is a possibility that there is something else to reality in addition to nature. “.

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 8:11 am

I leave it open, though it’s hard to argue with naturalists. They seem to have all the stuff, literally.

Consider this to be a version of what I wrote in another thread about the biggest mistakes atheists make;

* Defending ground that doesn’t need defending.

==> Often these are things a thoughtful Christian also does not deny themselves, yet many Christians still mention them. Stop that nonsense.

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lukeprog August 21, 2010 at 8:34 am

Al,

I wasn’t meaning to give an argument, I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.

We know that scientific methods work, and work very well. Do other methods in which we can have much confidence tell us that God exists?

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Thomas August 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

“The rejection of contra-causal free will may be scary to some atheists, but Tom shows why it need not be. The realization that we are, like other animals, fully included in nature, only gives us more control over ourselves, and more compassion for others. Moreover, this realization makes sense of moral responsibility. These claims may sound surprising, but then: you ought to read Tom’s book.

I love how naturalists tend to depict the implications of their worldview as so easy! “It´s allright! It really doesn´t do any harm to the natural view of ourselves as human persons to think that our choices are determined and that we as substantial conscious selves are probably illusory! Just go and read Tom´s book!” It´s all a bit too sunny for me at least…

Naturalism implies the denial of irreducible teleological explanations. So the explanation of why Luke´s fingers moved the way they did when he typed his article cannot refer ultimately to teleology at any way. This means, then, that this explanation cannot refer to Luke´s purposes and reasons to write his article. So, naturalism implies that Luke didn´t type his article the way he did because he had some reasons to do it and he chose to act according to those reasons. This is because an explanation that refers ultimately to reasons and purposes is irreducibly a teleological explanation.

That all the movements of Luke´s fingers while typing his article occured but were not ultimately the effects of mental causes that have irreducible teleological explanations in the form of purposes, would be (to put it mildly), a coincidence of the highest magnitude.

So, it seems to me that naturalism is indeed a very hard pill to swallow. The denial of teleological explanations and free choices (not to mention consciousness) is a remarkable thing to believe.

You might also want to read Goetz´s and Taliaferro´s fine book Naturalism (also pretty short, 120 p.) Reading that besides Tom Clark´s no doubt a fine book should be interesting.

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cl August 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

Sorry if this posts multiple times. There was a weird glitch..

…bare atheism – the mere denial of theism – is a small and rather insignificant position, like the denial of the existence of fairies. Far more important is that quest to develop a positive understanding of the world and how to operate within it, and that is the quest of Naturalism.

I agree. I can’t begin to tell you how many internet atheists I’ve met who use “bare atheism” as an excuse to shirk their burden of proof – for whatever they actually do believe in. I call it the “draw a line in the sand” technique.

atheist: Demonstrate your beliefs, you silly theist.

[theist makes some attempt]

atheist: That’s not good enough for me.
theist: Well what about your burden of proof?
atheist: Oh, I don’t have one. I don’t have to do anything. I’m simply denying your claim. Silly theist, you don’t even understand the burden of proof!

That actually passes for an intellectual position in some circles.

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Silas August 21, 2010 at 9:38 am

Eric,

Yeah, I’m planning on reading it. I do believe that the universe is deterministic and that actions are deterministic. I said in my post that contra-casual free will is a strange concept to me.

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Kaelik August 21, 2010 at 9:44 am

@cl

Well, it is a valid line of argument. If you aren’t making any assertions in a debate other than “I do not think you are correct”, you have no burden of proof.

@Al

Could you perhaps explain your version of the argument from reason that you find compelling? The ones I see are laughably foolish.

@Thomas

You have a lot of talk about teleological and reasons, but the fact is, that Luke’s purposes and reasons could be mere patterns of neurons firing in the brain, and thus, you can refer to his reasons for writing this article as the cause of the article, you can just also talk about why he had those reasons.

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lukeprog August 21, 2010 at 9:44 am

Thomas,

I just ordered your recommended naturalism book.

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Rob August 21, 2010 at 9:47 am

“You might also want to read Goetz´s and Taliaferro´s fine book Naturalism”

I agree that every naturalist should read this book. More than anything else I have read it confirmed my commitment to naturalism.

They argue like this: We must have free will, because if we did not, then the consequences would be really really bad. Or like this: I have this really really strong feeling that I make free choices. Therefore, I make free choices.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 9:48 am

Kaelik, that was concise and calm. Saves me from a long winded rant. Thanks.

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 9:53 am

Rob: I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Is it a comedy, a tragedy, or an absurdist? :-o

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Rob August 21, 2010 at 9:59 am

Tom Clark and Goetz and Taliaferro have a long exchange on Clark’s website:

http://www.naturalism.org/objectivity.htm

Clark’s characterization of their supernaturalism as akin to the Staples “Easy Button” is spot on. In fact, the analogy works for damn near every theistic argument or alleged explanation.

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Patrick August 21, 2010 at 10:02 am

1. I agree that a lot of atheists do not understand burden of proof. Many seem to see it as some sort of Natural Law that exists in the Platonic Realm of Debate, rather than as a useful way of looking at the world that uses commonly held norms of fairness to place obligations on those who both implicitly agree to accept them, and who ought to have the easiest task in satisfying them.

2. That is not the same as saying that these atheists are using burdens of proof incorrectly. The norms that underlie the burden of proof are really strong. Removing the default of applying the burden of proof to the one advancing the argument results in an intellectual black hole in which all sufficiently weird claims must be presumed true.

3. Most atheists do have naturalistic beliefs, and these are positive assertions.

4. Providing a case for metaphysical naturalism is easy. Watch. All claims of the supernatural can be sorted into two categories: those not proven to be true, and those proven not to be true. We have been sorting supernatural claims in this manner for a very long time. Bayes, etc, etc. Done.

5. Given that most discussion takes place informally, its even easier than that, since naturalism tends to be a common ground for atheists and theists for at least some (most?) phenomena. This effectively relieves the metaphysical naturalist of any obligation at all in informal conversation, since statements like “matter exists,” and “non supernatural phenomenon happen constantly” are the points of agreement from which the discussion commences.

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Thomas August 21, 2010 at 10:07 am

Luke said,

“I just ordered your recommended naturalism book.”

Thanks for taking my recommendation seriously. I will order Clark´s book, also. Let´s hope we can both learn each others viewpoints better.

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Mark August 21, 2010 at 10:17 am

I love how naturalists tend to depict the implications of their worldview as so easy!

All he did was endorse compatibilism. Contrast with this:

Naturalism implies the denial of irreducible teleological explanations. So the explanation of why Luke´s fingers moved the way they did when he typed his article cannot refer ultimately to teleology at any way. This means, then, that this explanation cannot refer to Luke´s purposes and reasons to write his article. So, naturalism implies that Luke didn´t type his article the way he did because he had some reasons to do it and he chose to act according to those reasons. This is because an explanation that refers ultimately to reasons and purposes is irreducibly a teleological explanation.

which makes all sorts of unacknowledged, controversial assumptions about the nature of explanation. “Current physics implies that there are no explanations which irreducibly postulate baseballs as explananda. Therefore, it’s not the case that my throwing a baseball at your window explains why your window shattered.”

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Justfinethanks August 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

Thomas:

It´s all a bit too sunny for me at least…

I suppose these sorts of conversations are about perspective on a given worldview, not about its validity.

For example, most theists seem quite content with their belief that some creedal specific version of theism is true. But to me, the idea that human beings are immortal unmmoved movers ruled by an unimaginably powerful cosmic dictator is such a sanity melting Lovecraftian nightmare that no person could possibly cheerfully accept such a fact without failing to fully reflect on it.

That’s why I generally don’t like talk about the unfavorable implications of world views. Number one, what you find tasteful in a world view is just doing to depend on your personality, so it’s about as productive as arguing which flavor of ice cream is best. Secondly, its basically impossible to make any real, meaning progress on the “which world view is the most/least uplifting” question, so its a futile exercise anyway.

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ShaneSteinhauser August 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

@Al

“While testable predictions are essential to science, philosophy does not and cannot work that way: testable predictions are proper to the tool of methodological naturalism, the tool of, and restricted to, science.”

Let’s say we have two competing explainations. Neither one can be tested by science. How exactly do we determine which explaination is the correct one? What other method of weeding out the incorrect explaination do we have?

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Thomas August 21, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Rob…

“They argue like this: We must have free will, because if we did not, then the consequences would be really really bad. Or like this: I have this really really strong feeling that I make free choices. Therefore, I make free choices. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.”

Wow, what a trough and objective review of their book that was! Seriously though, you might want to be a bit more fair although you don´t agree with the authors. Here´s what a respected philosopher and a naturalist, Paul Draper, says:

Although GT’s [Goetz´s and Taliaferro´s] assessment of naturalism is, in my opinion, far from complete, I would highly recommend the book to philosophy students at all levels. It would be an ideal text for a course in metaphysics or philosophy of mind or even philosophy of religion. For not only is it a very short book, which increases the likelihood that students would actually read it, but it is full of arguments that are rigorous, clear, and free of technical jargon. In addition to being accessible, these arguments provide excellent models for students to imitate in their own philosophical writing. I would also strongly recommend the book to professional philosophers, especially to naturalists. For the book is an excellent reminder that, while naturalism is unquestioned by most philosophers, there remains serious and all too often unanswered opposition to it, and the problems it faces are deep and difficult.

(http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=14725)

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Hermes August 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Thanks Rob! I’m reading it now.

* * *

[ Wow, that's painful to read. The text must use a font I don't have installed. [checks: yep] Changing the zoom level doesn’t help much. I’ll wait till my headache goes away before trying to read that. ]

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Thomas August 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Kaelik…

“You have a lot of talk about teleological and reasons, but the fact is, that Luke’s purposes and reasons could be mere patterns of neurons firing in the brain, and thus, you can refer to his reasons for writing this article as the cause of the article, you can just also talk about why he had those reasons.”

Yes indeed, but if the final explanation of his writing this article refers to neurons causing other neurons to fire, then this is a causal explanation, not a teleological one. For these two modes of explanation are different and irreducible. This is because they have, borrowing a term from arts (Goetz 2008), different directions of fit. A teleological explanation is future-to-present in character, but a causal explanation is past-to-present in nature. Thus, to propose a causal explanation of a choice (in terms of reasons and purposes) is fundamentally to misunderstand and/or misrepresent the correct explanatory direction of it. (Goetz 2008: 20)

If Luke chose to type the words he indeed did in order to make a positive review of Tom Clark´s book, then that is a teleological explanation in terms of Luke´s reasons to choose (future-to-present). If, however, Luke´s fingers moved because some pattern of neurons caused another pattern of neurons to fire (which then caused Luke´s fingers to move), then this is a causal explanation and there isn´t any need or space for Luke´s choices, purposes and reasons in this causal explanation (past-to-present).

And one more thing: Neuroscience doesn´t refute the view that we as immaterial selves make free decisions or choices in terms of purposes. As neuroscientist Roger Penfield notes, “There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient…to decide” (Penfield 1978: 77). That we as substantial selves make free choices in terms of reasons which then cause our neurons to fire is (i) consistent with the empirical data and (ii) confirmed by our everyday experience when we make rational inferences and undetermined choices.

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drj August 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Thus, to propose a causal explanation of a choice (in terms of reasons and purposes) is fundamentally to misunderstand and/or misrepresent the correct explanatory direction of it. (Goetz 2008: 20)

So this sort of seems like a fancy way to say that choices involve anticipation/prediction? How does that sort of ‘future-to-past’ anticipation/prediction post a problem for deterministic models of choice? I can’t see that it does.

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drj August 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm

In the second sentence, that should be “pose”, not “post”

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Rob August 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Thomas,

I agree with Draper. Did I not say everyone should read it?

Here is my less snarky take, without consulting the book which I read over a year ago. G&T take their intuitions very very seriously. Since naturalism tends to suggest that their intuitions are false, there must be something wrong with naturalism.

They never once, as far as I can recall, ever consider that their intuitions are false.

But no one take my word for it. Read it yourself.

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Kaelik August 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm

@Thomas

1) Your “future to present” and “past to present” statements are completely confusing, and I have no idea what you are even trying to say there. But the short answer is, as best I can tell from what you are saying, “Past to present” is the correct direction to evaluate reasons. If someone has a reason for doing X, that means that they first want to do X because of Y that precedes their doing of X, then they do X. The reason must predate the action or it is not a reason.

While if some neurons caused other neurons to fire caused Luke to type does in fact leave no place for Luke’s “choices” unless we drastically redefine choice from it’s more common usage, that doesn’t mean that it leaves no place for his reasons or purposes. Since his reasons and purposes are merely patterns existing in his brain, and part of his brain wants to share the value he gives to this book with others, his purpose to share the book with others exists as a prior brain state that predates his action of attempting to share.

2) “Neuroscience doesn´t refute the view that we as immaterial selves make free decisions or choices in terms of purposes. As neuroscientist Roger Penfield notes, “There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient…to decide” (Penfield 1978: 77). That we as substantial selves make free choices in terms of reasons which then cause our neurons to fire is (i) consistent with the empirical data and (ii) confirmed by our everyday experience when we make rational inferences and undetermined choices.”

First of all, your quote is from a single neuroscientist from 1978, so even if it meant exactly what you intend to convey it meaning, that would be less than impressive.

Second, that quote is something I would agree with, because decisions are not solitary locations, they are complex patterns evolving from previous patterns. The quote only declares that it is not a single localized trigger, which I have no truck agreeing with.

Third, No, that we make decisions based on reasons that cause our neurons to fire is not supported by empirical research unless by reasons you mean “complex patterns in the brain.” Which I assume you don’t. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever that our neurons ever fire for any reason other than completely physical causes, such as other neurons, or chemical reactions in our brain. Which is not to say that there is much empirical evidence that those are the only causes, merely that no evidence yet exists for any other cause.

I will agree that ii) is completely true, that we perceive ourselves as making choices that are undetermined. But as I have argued elsewhere, our perceptions of our own mental states are incredibly flawed, and there is no good reason to trust those perceptions.

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Justfinethanks August 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Thomas:

confirmed by our everyday experience when we make rational inferences and undetermined choices.

I got to say, I don’t have the experience of making an “undetermined choice.” When I experience “choice” I understand it is a culmination of a lot of internal and external influences, not something that is somehow unconnected to anything else that is going on in the world. I can’t even imagine what experiencing an “undetermined choice” would be like.

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TaiChi August 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Yes indeed, but if the final explanation of his writing this article refers to neurons causing other neurons to fire, then this is a causal explanation, not a teleological one. For these two modes of explanation are different and irreducible. This is because they have, borrowing a term from arts (Goetz 2008), different directions of fit. A teleological explanation is future-to-present in character, but a causal explanation is past-to-present in nature. ” ~ Thomas

This sounds interesting, but I think it has to be hopeless. We can offer teleological explanations for systems which are not conscious without thereby giving up on Naturalism, so why should it make a difference with conscious systems? If the reply is that there’s something special about conscious systems, that they are somehow more appropriate for this treatment than non-conscious systems, then it seems to me that this begs the question.

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Chris August 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Our “everyday experience” does not confirm that our choices are undetermined. As Schopenhaur pointed out, I can only observe that I can do what I will, not that my will is free. That is, I can confirm that I have compatiblist free will. I am free, I can do what I will, if I am physically unrestrained. As to whether my will is free, I have no way of knowing, from a survey of my consciousness, that the thoughts/reasons/motivations leading up to my action sufficiently cause my action or not.

If you disagree, please, tell me how you can gather evidence for libertarian free will by observing yourself acting? The feeling that “it was up to me” is really just stating that at least compatiblism is true. The only way you could observe proof for libertarianism is if you went back in time and observed yourself performing a different action after the same exact circumstances (brain states) lead up to it.

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Liam August 21, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Luke, would you recommend John Shook’s The Future of Naturalism?

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 1:58 am

@ Kaelik

1) When S chooses to act, he does so in order to bring about a purpose. S is first conceiving a future state of affairs which he wants to bring about and then he chooses to perform that action on order to bring about that purpose. This what I mean by future-to-present direction of fit. A teleological explanation of a choice is future-to-present, because first S conceives the future situation which he wants to bring about and then chooses to act to bring about that purpose.

Causal explanations are different. They are past-to-present. S “chooses” to act because a previous brain state determined him to act so. S doesn´t choose here to act for a purpose, because previous states of affairs determine what S will do. So there cannot be a causal explanation of a choice in terms of purposes.

2) “There is no empirical evidence whatsoever that our neurons ever fire for any reason other than completely physical causes, such as other neurons, or chemical reactions in our brain.”

When I type these words here, me causing my fingers to move in order to argue against naturalism is pretty good evidence that some physical events have mental causes. To repeat myself, that all the movements of my fingers while typing this comment occured but were not ultimately the effects of mental causes that have irreducible teleological explanations in the form of purposes, would be (to put it mildly), a coincidence of the highest magnitude. In other words, if our decisions and actions are to make any sense at all, we must have libertarian free will and there must be mental-to-physical-causation.

Now, this is what you have to deny if you insist that human action is explained solely by physical causes. To me that is a hard pill to swallow. Mere remarks about the unreliability of introspection isn´t a very good argument againts the fact that some physical effect have mental causes that have teleological explanations. If I am not the cause of the movements of my fingers now when I´m typing this comment, then there has to be some very strong evidence against this natural view of ourselves. Moreover, by denying mental causation and free will, it is difficult to avoid self-refutation. That is because a belief that naturalism is true is a mental event. If you want to argue for the truth of naturalism, though, the premises of that argument must cause you to believe the conclusion (naturalism is true). Now, when you see the truth of the premises and apprehend them, they are mental events, also. So, the premises of a rational inference are mental events, which then causes you to accept the conclusion, which is a mental event. Here we have then, an example of mental-to-mental-causation. But, naturalism precludes that, because every event must have a physical cause. So, if naturalism is true, mental events have physical causes. But if you believe this on the basis of an argument, then (if the arguments is sound) at least some mental events have mental causes. So if naturalism is true, no can believe it on the basis of an argument. (This is one form of the Argument from Reason.)

Ok. So the denial of free will and mental causation brings you big troubles regarding choices and our ability to reason. One argument against free will is the causal closure argument. But notice that causal closure is not a scientific observation, but a philosophical principle. So when you say that “there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that our neurons ever fire for any reason other than completely physical causes”, I want to point out that the main assumption behind these empirical observations is a methodological commitment to a philosophical principle. I already argued that if this principle were true, our ability to reason would be impossible. But what I want to say here, is that causal closure is a metaphysical presupposition of a scientist during his experiments, not a result of empirical observations. As Goetz says,

“All that the neuroscientist as a physical scientist must assume is that during his experiments souls (either the patients themselves or others) are not causally producing the relevant events in the micro-physical entities in the areas of the brain that he is studying. If the neuroscientist makes the universal assumption that in any context events in micro-physical entities can only have other physical events as causes and can never be causally explained by mental events of souls and their purposes, then he does so not as a scientist but as a naturalist, where a naturalist is a person who believes that the occurrence of physical events can only be explained in terms of the occurrence of other physical events and without any reference to ultimate and irreducible purposes of souls. ”

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June Maxwell August 22, 2010 at 2:28 am

Hi Luke

I just want to say ‘thank you’ for plugging away at promoting philosophical Naturalism. I don’t need to be convinced of any of the arguments, having been propounding them myself for years now – and having some of my hardest challenges in talking to fellow Humanists, Atheists, etc. So, thanks for being there and producing your enjoyable podcasts. You and the guys over at Reasonable Doubts are a joy to listen to amid an otherwise craaaazy world. I hope to produce something similar over here and when I do I’ll post a link.

I’ve been meaning to reply to your call for suggestions for the morality pods with Alfonzo, but didn’t manage to get round to it because of the excessive demands on my time, but I look forward to more. Keep up the good work and know that your efforts give others (like me) confidence as they try to contribute to pushing that same pesky boulder up that hill.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 2:43 am

“if our decisions and actions are to make any sense at all, we must have libertarian free will”

That is just false on its face. If you have contra-causal free will, then all choices you make are meaningless, as you make the choices for no reason. If you make a choice for a reason, then the choice is not contra-causal.

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 3:01 am

“That is just false on its face. If you have contra-causal free will, then all choices you make are meaningless, as you make the choices for no reason. If you make a choice for a reason, then the choice is not contra-causal.”

No, that´s false. You are confusing causes with explanations. According to noncausal libertarianism, choices are uncaused but explained teleologically in terms of goals and purposes. So uncaused choices have teleological explanations. I chose to write to you in order to argue against your claim. I didn´t have to write this comment (I wasn´t determined to do so), but after weighting reasons for and against, I chose to act in order to perform my purposes. This is a free choice that is explained teleologically in terms of reasons.

I should point out that most libertarians aren´t noncausal libertarians. They are agent-causationist. According to that, the agent causes the choice to occur.

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Kaelik August 22, 2010 at 5:10 am

@Thomas

You are hopelessly confused, and your committed refusal to start from the assumption that things are non physical makes all your arguments look like the attempts of a small child.

1) Read what I said about evidence again. I did not claim that there is significant evidence that our neurons fire only for physical reasons, only that we have absolutely no evidence that they ever do. This is not built on a presupposition of “causal closure” or any other term you choose to throw in without defining. It is easily a possibility to have evidence that our neurons fire without physical causes. This is something that we could easily discover at some later point if it were true. The fact that we don’t have any evidence is therefore some indication that it is not true, thought not conclusive by any means. If it were impossible to obtain evidence of this, then the fact that we have no evidence for it would be meaningless and I wouldn’t bother to bring it up.

2) About my introduction:

“S “chooses” to act because a previous brain state determined him to act so. S doesn´t choose here to act for a purpose, because previous states of affairs determine what S will do.”

But a brain state includes a conception of the future, that conception of the future is a physical cause itself.

“To repeat myself, that all the movements of my fingers while typing this comment occured but were not ultimately the effects of mental causes that have irreducible teleological explanations in the form of purposes,”

And here you are assuming that your causes are irreducibly teleological. But they aren’t. Those teleological causes can be reduced to brain states.

“the fact that some physical effect have mental causes that have teleological explanations.”

Absolutely, lots of physical effects have mental causes. Mental causes are just another subset of physical causes. Because “mental” is just the interactions of things inside your brain.

“Here we have then, an example of mental-to-mental-causation. But, naturalism precludes that, because every event must have a physical cause. So, if naturalism is true, mental events have physical causes.”

Yep, mental causes are a subset of physical causes, your argument ceases to mean anything.

See how all I have to do to refute every and any argument you have is to point to the physical nature of the brain? That’s what I’m talking about. You start with a premise that X is non physical, and then attempt to use that to explain why not all things are physical.

Anyone can make an argument when they start with the premise that their conclusion is true. Try again, but this time take note of the fact that our brains exist, are physical, all all current evidence indicates that any mental process is a process in the brain.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 6:53 am

Thomas,

You are assuming, against all the evidence, that you are aware of all the causes/reasons/motivations for your choices. But you are not. Worse still, your account of free choice here is not only self-contradictory, but it also goes against what we know about how our brains actually function.

From Julian Baggini:

“It should be obvious that this process can never be traced back to a pure, unconditioned choice. If you ask why we decide to value reason or to challenge self-serving justification, the answer will always involve facts about ourselves that are not the product of own choices. It is difficult to see what it would even mean to say that who we are and what we believe is wholly down to ourselves. A power a pure will, unconditioned by heredity or environment, makes no sense.”

Here is the whole thing:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/aug/02/choice-free-will-philosophy-god

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 6:55 am

@ Kaelik

Ok, let´s leave the “hopelessely confused” and “attempts of a small child” -parts out and try to have a dialogue. I may be confused at times – I´m a student and I still know very, very little (I´m not even a native english speaker, as you may have noticed) – but that doesn´t mean that name-calling is appropriate. Apart from these remarks, I´m grateful for your thoughtful comment, though.

That being said, I don´t think that your response shows my confusion or ignorance at all.

All you did basically was to assert that some form of reductive physicalism is true and that´s it. Ok, let´s assume that it is true. What does this mean regarding choices? It means that all of our choices are determined by previous brain states. Therefore there isn´t any room for free choices which are explained teleologically. According to you, “teleological causes can be reduced to brain states”. But if that´s true, then our choices aren´t ultimately explained teleologically, but causally. Teleological and causal explanations are different and irreducible. You can´t have them both. If my choice to type these words is explained causally, then there is no final or ultimate reference to my reasons and purposes. I´m arguing that this is absurd. But physicalism implies this, and therefore, that we probably make free choices which are explained teleologically, refutes physicalism. Of course you can always deny the fact that we make free choices which have teleological explanations, but as I have said many times, that is a very hard pill to swallow.

So the argument basically is this:

1) If physicalism is true, then we do not make free choices which have irreducible teleological explanations.
2) We do, actually, make free choices which have teleological explanations.
3) Therefore, physicalism is false.

You obviously deny 2), to which I answer that the implications of that are absurd. If you are ready to believe that these letters appear to this comment section without any ultimate or final reference to my reasons and purposes, then go for it.

Another point: You have basically just asserted that strong physicalism is true, but I wonder how do you justify that. “ ‘Mental’ is just the interactions of things inside your brain. ” So a mental state “just is” i.e. is identical to brain processes. Leibniz´s law says that if x and y are identical, then whatever is true of x is true of y. So if the sensation of pain “just is” a brain state, then they must have the same properties. But a feeling of pain is only accesible to a first-person subject, whereas brain states can be observed from the 3rd person point of view. Brain state has a location, but where is the pain? Every attempt to reduce pain or any quale just describes its extrinsic, relational properties. But what makes ‘pain’ pain, is its intrinsic, qualatitive feel. So, every attempt of reduction has been a failure. Mental states are very different from brain states, so your assertion to their identity seems unjustified. Actually, reductive physicalism isn´t so popular any more among philosophers of mind, and so called non-reductive physicalism is on the rise.

“Anyone can make an argument when they start with the premise that their conclusion is true. Try again, but this time take note of the fact that our brains exist, are physical, all all current evidence indicates that any mental process is a process in the brain.”

Nobody is denying that we have brains or that mental processes happen in the brain. Mental states are regulrarly correlated with physical events, but it doesn´t follow that they are the same thing. I have argued that (i) if your reductionism is true, then this has some disturbing implications regarding our free choices, and (ii) mental/physical reduction itself is pretty hard to do and it looks like it cannot be done.

Take care.

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Kaelik August 22, 2010 at 7:17 am

@Thomas

“But if that´s true, then our choices aren´t ultimately explained teleologically, but causally. Teleological and causal explanations are different and irreducible. You can´t have them both. If my choice to type these words is explained causally, then there is no final or ultimate reference to my reasons and purposes.”

You keep asserting this, but it doesn’t actually change anything. No, it’s not “ultimately” a teleological purpose, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not an “ultimate” or “final” reference to your reasons and purposes because your reasons and purposes aren’t the ultimate and final cause of any actions. Your reasons and purposes are the result of other causes themselves, which is of course, the point.

It may be a hard pill for you personally to swallow that your reasoning is derived from the arguments and conditioning that you’ve already received, but that’s not an argument for it not being true, and that has nothing to do with your other repeated claim that it’s a coincidence that we do specific things, because of course, we do in fact do those things for reasons, specific reasons, involving our brains.

Then you switch to a poor argument where you confuse a perception of something with that something.

You can perceive a brain state in someone else. That does not mean that you have that brain state. If pain is a specific brain state, then you can either feel pain, by having that brain state, or you can perceive that brain state from the outside, and that brain state is itself pain, just pain on someone else.

Likewise, a wall can be rigid, and you can perceive that rigidity without actually being rigid yourself. But the wall is still rigid.

What you fail to understand is that the pattern itself is the thing we are talking about. The specific brain state is pain, and so, seeing the brain state, you are seeing pain, you just aren’t feeling pain, because you don’t have the brain state of pain.

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lukeprog August 22, 2010 at 7:47 am

Liam,

I’ve not read it.

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lukeprog August 22, 2010 at 7:49 am

Thanks, June! Do let me know if you produce something.

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 8:21 am

@ Kaelik

“No, it’s not “ultimately” a teleological purpose, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not an “ultimate” or “final” reference to your reasons and purposes because your reasons and purposes aren’t the ultimate and final cause of any actions. Your reasons and purposes are the result of other causes themselves, which is of course, the point.”

Yes, this is excatly what the naturalist must maintain. So this is denying the premise 2) of my argument. The problem is, and again I have to repeat myself, that this has disturbing implications. If reasons are the result of other causes, then we do not really choose anything because we weighted reasons for and against it. We are determined to act as we act, and hence, reasons to choose become explanatory irrelevant. If reasons to act aren´t the ultimate explanations of choices, then human action doesn´t make any sense at all. But we have gone back and forth about this same issue already. All I can conclude at the moment, is that you are apparently quite willing to deny 2). I´m not – I think that´s absurd.

“. . . a wall can be rigid, and you can perceive that rigidity without actually being rigid yourself. But the wall is still rigid. What you fail to understand is that the pattern itself is the thing we are talking about. The specific brain state is pain, and so, seeing the brain state, you are seeing pain, you just aren’t feeling pain, because you don’t have the brain state of pain.”

Now that is just begging the question. Mind-body problem is not explaining brain patterns. It´s explaining how brain patterns can cause conscious sensations. These conscious events, consciousness, is the thing we want to explain. But there is this peculiar aspect about consciousness: in the case of consciousness, in the words of John Searle, “we cannot make the appeatence-reality distinction, because appearence is reality”. Consciousness, how it seems to us, is the thing that we want to explain. Now, consciousness has this peculiar “what does it feel like” -aspect to it. In addition to that, consciousness is only available to a 1st person subject (it has “subjective ontology”). These are things that are true of consciousness, but not true of brain states. Therefore it follows from Leibniz´s law, that consciousness is not the same thing as brain states.

Your complete failure to consider the intrinsic nature of conscious experience and the question how can this experience arise from mere material processes (“the hard problem of consciousness”), highlights to me the common neo-behavioristic epistemic attitude of naturalism. In addition to this, naturalist tend to have almost a theological conviction that some form of physicalism must be true, although no one has the faintest of ideas of how conscious experience can arise from material processess. The naturalistic epistemic attitude and this conviction explain partly why this kind of “consciousness-bashing” goes around in some naturalistic corners.

To me, and fortunately to a growing number of non-reductive naturalists, also, this consciousness-bashing is simply outlandish.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 9:23 am

Thomas,

you wrote: “no one has the faintest of ideas of how conscious experience can arise from material processes”

Can you explain how consciousness arises from an immaterial process? And once you do that, explain how an immaterial process interacts with the physical world.

You point to the sliver in the naturalist’s eye, yet you have a giant sequoia in your own.

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cl August 22, 2010 at 10:04 am

Kaelik,

Well, it is a valid line of argument. If you aren’t making any assertions in a debate other than “I do not think you are correct”, you have no burden of proof.

Sure, technically, but “then can you show me what is correct?” is a typical human response to “you’re not correct,” don’t you think?

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 10:41 am
Kaelik: Well, it is a valid line of argument. If you aren’t making any assertions in a debate other than “I do not think you are correct”, you have no burden of proof.

Cl: Sure, technically, but “then can you show me what is correct?” is a typical human response to “you’re not correct,” don’t you think?

Why should one person be responsible for fleshing out another person’s claims? Don’t they know why they are making the claims they are making?

If it is just a belief and not a claim of knowledge, then bees are like butterflies, and the conversation is over.

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 11:07 am

Rob,

You asked: “Can you explain how consciousness arises from an immaterial process? And once you do that, explain how an immaterial process interacts with the physical world.”

We happen to know something about matter (whatever that is). We know at least that matter itself is not conscious. Subjective conscious experience is not a property of matter nor do physico-chemical reactions generate it. Some say they do in the brain, but why think that? Brain is a collection of cells totally describable in physical terms, just like every other part of organism´s body. At least, as I said, no one knows how these reactions could generate consciousness, and that is because bunch of matter isn´t a thing that usually is conscious.

But, what people mean by immaterial souls, is that a soul just is a subject of experience, a possessor of one´s mental states. So it is basic for an immaterial soul to think, feel, desire, etc. But we know that consciousness is not basic for matter. This is why dualism has greater explanatory power than materialism.

What about the old interaction problem? First, this is a problem that has been greatly exaggerated. Just because we don´t know how an immaterial self can have causal powers on physical events, it isn´t much of an argument against the possibility of mental causation. We know very little still about physical causation, so why should we know everything about nonphysical causation? Second, if one has good reasons to think that he is an immaterial self, and one is directly aware of making choices that causes one´s limbs to move, then one has good reasons to think that mental-to-physical causation happens. But thirdly, consider this point from Goetz and Taliaferro:

“Kim (and if Kim isn’t a naturalist, who is?) believes that causation is basically a generative or productive relation. We concur with Kim. So what ANY entity must have in order to be a causal agent is the power or capacity to generate or produce an effect in another entity. There is simply no reason to think that only material objects can have such a power. So what the dualist asks is, ‘What is the reason for believing that souls cannot have such a power and exercise it?.’”

Indeed, I want to put the burden of proof on to you: Why couldn´t souls have causal powers? The typical naturalist answer is the causal closure argument, which I have already found wanting.

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 11:12 am

Thomas: Indeed, I want to put the burden of proof on to you: Why couldn´t souls have causal powers?

Do you mean incorporeal souls?

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

Thomas,

Moliére tells a story of a physician explaining that opium puts people to sleep due to its “dormitive virtue”. This is meant as a joke, because the physician is explaining that opium puts people to sleep because it has the power to put people to sleep. I hope you can see that this is not an explanation.

You say:

“what people mean by immaterial souls, is that a soul just is a subject of experience, a possessor of one´s mental states”

So your explanation of how an immaterial souls have consciousness is that immaterial souls just have consciousness. *facepalm*

You say:

“We know at least that matter itself is not conscious.”

No, we know the opposite. Our brains are made of matter, and are conscious.

You are making the rather basic error called a fallacy of composition. Just because something is true of the parts does not mean it is true of the whole. Nuts and bolts and fiberglass cannot fly. But planes can fly.

Individual neurons cannot think or reason or experience anything, but complex arrangements of neurons can do all those things.

You seem to think that by manufacturing this notion of a soul and just declaring by by fiat that it can reason and be conscious that you have somehow explained something. You have not. You are just adding an extra layer of mystery, and pretending you have explained something.

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lukeprog August 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

Rob,

I’ll have to remember the Moliére story.

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 12:08 pm

If immaterial souls exist, we aren’t them.

Source: No [incorporeal] souls, no way to get to an afterlife

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Luke,

The story is effective when tangling with folks who hold on to the outdated an useless Aristotelian/Scholastic/Thomistic metaphysics, which is the occultism we see Thomas using here. Kuhn ridicules this worthless way of thinking in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. See paragraph starting at the bottom of page 103:

http://bit.ly/bJQb9n

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cl August 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Why should one person be responsible for fleshing out another person’s claims?

They shouldn’t. You misunderstood.

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Al Moritz August 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm

@Shane Steinhauser

Al: “While testable predictions are essential to science, philosophy does not and cannot work that way: testable predictions are proper to the tool of methodological naturalism, the tool of, and restricted to, science.”

Let’s say we have two competing explanations. Neither one can be tested by science. How exactly do we determine which explanation is the correct one? What other method of weeding out the incorrect explanation do we have?

Philosophy, logic, common sense, experience, probability. In no particular order, and application depending on the situation and question asked.

Suppose you were in the situation of having a girlfriend and deciding if you want to propose her to marry you. How would you decide that scientifically? Obviously, you cannot look inside her mind how much she really loves you, and how much she is compatible with you. And even if you could, you would not know if what you find would hold in the future, after you have experienced difficulties as each married couple endures. This small example shows that science is simply not able to help you here. But can making the decision in favor of marriage then be rational at all, even though it is not ‘scientific’? Of course it can, and it must be able to be perceived as such, since otherwise any decision to marry (or any decision in life, for that matter) would have to be — falsely — dismissed as irrational and we would have to fall into a silly fatalism.

This refutes scientism.

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Al Moritz August 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Luke,

Al, I wasn’t meaning to give an argument, I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from.

We know that scientific methods work, and work very well. Do other methods in which we can have much confidence tell us that God exists?

Let me first ask you a counter-question: how did you arrive at naturalism? On scientific grounds or on philosophical ones?

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm

@ Rob

“So your explanation of how an immaterial souls have consciousness is that immaterial souls just have consciousness. *facepalm* ”

No need for the theatrics. In particle physics, particles just have certain basic powers. That´s it. In the same way, souls have certain basic powers. But we know that matter doesn´t have that. Material things just aren´t the kind of things that think and feel.

“No, we know the opposite. Our brains are made of matter, and are conscious.”

Don´t beg the question. How come matter generate consciousness only in brains? Brains are made from the same physical stuff as other parts in bodies. How can similar causes produce such a different effects?

“Just because something is true of the parts does not mean it is true of the whole. Nuts and bolts and fiberglass cannot fly. But planes can fly.”

You might want to differentiate between weak and radical emergence. In cases of radical emergence, the parts contain no previous materials to produce the effect. Many people think that radical emergence is impossible – it would be getting something from nothing. The emergence of subjective conscious experience from non-conscious physical stuff seems to be a paradigm case of radical emergence. That´s why I don´t think it´s possible. If consciousness emerged from matter, then there had to be the potentiality of mentality in the matter before the emergence – but this is naturalism no more, it´s panpsychism.

“You are just adding an extra layer of mystery, and pretending you have explained something.”

It might be mysterious for you, but for the dualist the existence of a soul explains things (our mental lives, free agency, personal identity, unity of consciousness) that would otherwise be left unexplained, odd and mysterious. And because we are directly aware of our own conscious experience, choices, personal identity, unity of experience, etc. all the time, it isn´t mysterious at all to think that we as souls are subjects of our own mental lives.

“. . . outdated an useless Aristotelian/Scholastic/Thomistic metaphysics, which is the occultism we see Thomas using here. Kuhn ridicules this worthless way of thinking in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.”

So it is “occultism” to think that we choose freely to act in terms of purposes and reasons? Wow, you know what, my fingers are moving at the moment in excatly the same way as I want them to move! It´s like… I would be causing them to move…because I have reasons to do so.. But no no, that cannot be true, that would be magic!

It´s interesting, by the way, for you to refer to Kuhn. He wouldn´t be too enthusiastic about the naturalistic epistemical attitude, because, as you know, Kuhn was an irrational anti-realist about scientific practice.

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Hermes,

souls in general. I was talking about corporeal souls (human beings), but the same thing goes for incorporeal ones (angels, God).

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Cl: They shouldn’t. You misunderstood.

They can ask, like I could ask you some random thing about a person you haven’t met, but it really doesn’t help much. The claimant still has to know enough to support their claim and that’s the core issue.

Your response to Kaelik is the same thing as saying to a Hindu what would be necessary for them to believe in Zeus.

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Rob,

Btw, I think that our free choices have teleological explanations, not that the movements of rocks or trees or brain states for that matter have teleological explanations. Human action is explained telologically in terms of purposes – this doesn´t mean that I accept the full Aristotelian metaphysics!

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Thomas: souls in general. I was talking about corporeal souls (human beings), but the same thing goes for incorporeal ones (angels, God).

For humans, that’s fine, as long as that claim doesn’t include corporeal souls with an incorporeal/immaterial element or (worse) basis.

If it does, *go take a look here* for my general answer and why there are no incorporeal elements to a human psyche.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Thomas,

Electrons have spin, which as far as we can tell is just an irreducible fundamental property of electrons. So you want to say that consciousness is to the soul in sort of the same way that spin is to the electron.

Except we have no good reason to think that souls exist. We have very good reasons to think that electrons exist.

You said:

“The emergence of subjective conscious experience from non-conscious physical stuff seems to be a paradigm case of radical emergence. That´s why I don´t think it´s possible.”

It used to be the case that everyone thought that living things had some kind of life force. Animals were made of matter, as well as some mysterious immaterial energy that animated the matter and made it alive. This was called vitalism. Now we understand that living things are complicated chemistry, and we have no need for the mysteries of vitalism.

Your positing a soul to explain consciousness is the same sort of move the vitalists made. They did not understand how life worked, so they made something up and pretended it was an explanation. You do not understand how consciousness emerges from non-conscious parts, so you make something up and pretend it is an explanation. You may be satisfied with a manufactured pretend explanation. I am not.

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Al Moritz: Let me first ask you a counter-question: how did you arrive at naturalism? On scientific grounds or on philosophical ones?

Al, if you do not accept that naturalism has been proven to be the only source of reality, then that’s fine. Arguing over that would get us nowhere.

That said, you do see nature and don’t deny that natural things exist, correct?

If you do, the only question is do you promote a general skepticism about naturalism as the only source of reality, or is it that you are also promoting something else about reality as a whole that when compared to nature is a subset of nature, a superset, an overlapping union, an intersection, or an independent set from nature? What exactly is it? At that point, Luke’s question becomes valid again;

Lukeprog: Do other methods in which we can have much confidence tell us that God exists?

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Thomas,

If we build a conscious machine would you give up your notion of immaterial souls as necessary to explain consciousness?

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cl August 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Your response to Kaelik is the same thing as saying to a Hindu what would be necessary for them to believe in Zeus.

No, it’s not. You’ve misunderstood.

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm

OK.

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Thomas August 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Rob,

an interesting question. The problem is that how could we know that the machine is conscious? It could be a perfect zombie-copy of a human being. There is just no way of knowing if the machine really has conscious experience and this is because there is a private, priviliged access to mental states.

But I take your point. If the machine would really be conscious, then probably yes. I have to think this one more, though.

I´m off for a while. Thanks for your thoughtful remarks.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Thomas,

If we could not know that a machine is conscious, then we cannot know that other humans are conscious. But, I think it is reasonable to infer that other humans are conscious, and so do you. Later. Fun topic.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Greatest science fiction short story written in all possible worlds:

http://baetzler.de/humor/meat_beings.html

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Rob, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. Then again, I’m just a meat head.

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lukeprog August 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Al,

Well, I’ll let you decide how to categorize it: I came to naturalizing by looking around and noticing that the sciences have been remarkably successful at advancing human knowledge, and that other methods like authority, intuition, tradition, and “common sense” had not done so. This is the major motivation for naturalized epistemology, which then leads to a fallibilist metaphysical naturalism.

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lukeprog August 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Rob,

Yup! One of my all-time favorites.

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Rob August 22, 2010 at 8:04 pm

“Then again, I’m just a meat head.”

Hermes, now you are just being scientistic again. Maybe you are only part meat. You know, like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain that exists in some other dimension. The electron plasma brain rides herd on your meat head via some mysterious interaction.

Makes more sense. To some at least.

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Kaelik August 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm

@Thomas, two things:

1) “So it is “occultism” to think that we choose freely to act in terms of purposes and reasons? Wow, you know what, my fingers are moving at the moment in excatly the same way as I want them to move! It´s like… I would be causing them to move…because I have reasons to do so.. But no no, that cannot be true, that would be magic!”

This sort of thing is what I’m talking about when you sound like a spoiled child just pretending to ignore things you don’t like.

We have already explained to you how it is perfectly possible for you to type things that you want to type without a non physical entity sitting in your brain tweaking neurons. When you choose to repeat this childish insult over and over, it’s not winning you points, it’s just annoying.

2) You complain about a) how matter only creates consciousness in the brain and b) how matter which is not conscious can create consciousness.

It has already been explained, but since your primary argument technique is to ignore people, I’ll spell it out again.

Consciousness is a pattern of matter. No number has the property “being the Fibonacci sequence” And yet, if you arranged numbers in a particular pattern, they are in fact the Fibonacci sequence. Likewise numbers not in the Fibonacci sequence are not in the Fibonacci sequence, and yet, no one says “Why do numbers only make the Fibonacci sequence when ordered in a line from lowest to highest?”

Matter can only create consciousness when arrayed in very complex self referential patterns. So the fact that it only occurs in brains (on earth) is not terribly surprising. The fact that the properties of a pattern are not present in the things making up the pattern is not surprising.

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Hermes August 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Rob, they probed me all the way through. I’m all meat. The worst thing is that they never call or send flowers.

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James Onen August 22, 2010 at 11:38 pm

@ Kaelik

You said:

Matter can only create consciousness when arrayed in very complex self referential patterns.

I wonder… rather than say certain complex self referential patterns of matter create conciousness, why not just say certain complex self referential patterns of matter IS conciousness? Or is that too controversial?

When the word ‘create’ is used, it gives the impression that conciousness is an entity independent of matter, even though it could possibly be caused by it. This kind of gives the dualist something to argue with. What do you think?

Otherwise, I am enjoying your input on this thread.

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James Onen August 23, 2010 at 1:27 am

Hi Al Moritz,

You said:

Suppose you were in the situation of having a girlfriend and deciding if you want to propose her to marry you. How would you decide that scientifically? Obviously, you cannot look inside her mind how much she really loves you, and how much she is compatible with you.

No, I don’t have to look into her mind, Al. But you can look at other important data, such as:

1. Her dating history – how have her past relationships been like? Why did SHE break up with the others? Why did THEY break up with her?

2. What are her tastes and preferences when it comes to choice of men she dates? And how do I measure up?

3. What are her beliefs and principles, and how compatible are they with mine?

4. What are her family’s beliefs and principles, and is it something she factors in her decision making process?

5. What is her psychological profile, and what is the pattern of behaviour with regards to marriage for women who share similar psychological traits with her and are of approximately the same age, and cultural/religious background?

6. What kind of woman am I most sexually attracted to, and how does SHE measure up to my tastes?

7. What is her approach to resolving conflicts, and what is mine?

8. Etc.

So my decision to marry someone would be based on what kind of answers I would get to questions like those above (and many others, of course).

Suppose that empirical research shows that couples that have paid attention to, and taken into serious consideration, certain details (such as those above) prior to getting married have a statistically higher chance of being happy together, and have longer-lasting marriages? If so, then this shows that IF happiness arising from long term marriage is what I desire, by using basic scientific principles I can establish the degree to which my choice to marry person X is the right choice (towards fulfilling that desire).

Notice I used to word ‘degree’. I cannot know with 100% certainty, but this in no way renders my conclusion unscientific. Let me introduce you to weather forecasting, which is also scientific, but is probabilistic:

“Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a future time and a given location. Human beings have attempted to predict the weather informally for millennia, and formally since at least the nineteenth century. Weather forecasts are made by collecting quantitative data about the current state of the atmosphere and using scientific understanding of atmospheric processes to project how the atmosphere will evolve.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_forecasting

Just like weather forecasting, by collecting quantitative data about the current state of affairs with regard to affinity and viability of women (and men) for long-term marriage and using scientific understanding of psychology of women (and men), I can predict to a fairly good degree how successful a marriage between me and someone else might turn out.

As I’m sure you know, weather forecasts are not 100% accurate, and I don’t claim that any predictions based on scientific analysis of the data pertaining to marriage will be 100% accurate either. But you will have an approximation, which you would have arrived at through scientific means.

So I don’t think science is necessarily irrelevant here, Al. The challenge is being able to factor as many relevant variables as possible. The more variables we are able to take into account, the more accurate the prediction will be.

You continued:

And even if you could, you would not know if what you find would hold in the future, after you have experienced difficulties as each married couple endures. This small example shows that science is simply not able to help you here.

On the contrary, I think we have seen that science can help you here – if you choose to apply it, that is. Of course, we seldom do, which is not to say we can’t.

My thoughts.

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Kaelik August 23, 2010 at 6:41 am

@James

I think both statements are equally true, and that create doesn’t need to imply non physical nature to consciousness.

But I definitely think is, would be more clear and sounds better, but unfortunately, I often attempt to talk in language that my opponents understand, and sometimes that bleeds over into saying things that allow them to convince themselves of things I am explicitly contradicting.

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Rob August 23, 2010 at 9:52 am

Thomas,

I just noticed something. Concerning the interaction problem, you wrote:

“Just because we don´t know how an immaterial self can have causal powers on physical events, it isn´t much of an argument against the possibility of mental causation.”

I agree with the logic of that statement. But unfortunately for you, it undercuts your argument against physicalism. Let’s do a simple substitution:

“Just because we don´t know how a material brain can cause the phenomenon of consciousness, that is not much of an argument against the possibility of brains causing consciouses.”

So using your own reasoning, you have sawed off the limb you are standing on.

One of Luke’s recurring meta-themes of this blog is to encourage theists to apply their critical thinking consistently. That is, they ought to apply the reasoning tool kit that they wield against opposing ideas to their own ideas. Here is your opportunity to do just that.

—————-

Now an analogy to drive my point home. Physicians prescribe drugs that are very effective at treating a medical condition. Sometimes, the physicians have no idea what the mechanism is. In other words, we know that the drug works, but are clueless as to how it works.

The brain and consciousness are like that. We have overwhelming evidence from neuroscience that the brain produces the phenomenon of consciousness. But we do not know how. But that does not mean that we do not know that it does.

Now back to the drug. What would you think of a physician that said the drug acted by energizing an immaterial gremlin that improved the medical condition? I hope you would think the physician somewhat of a dolt.

But that is exactly the same logic used when postulating an immaterial soul to explain consciousness.

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Al Moritz August 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm

James,

No, I don’t have to look into her mind, Al. But you can look at other important data, such as:

1. Her dating history – how have her past relationships been like? Why did SHE break up with the others? Why did THEY break up with her?
2. What are her tastes and preferences when it comes to choice of men she dates? And how do I measure up?
3. What are her beliefs and principles, and how compatible are they with mine?
4. What are her family’s beliefs and principles, and is it something she factors in her decision making process?
5. What is her psychological profile, and what is the pattern of behaviour with regards to marriage for women who share similar psychological traits with her and are of approximately the same age, and cultural/religious background?
6. What kind of woman am I most sexually attracted to, and how does SHE measure up to my tastes?
7. What is her approach to resolving conflicts, and what is mine?

So my decision to marry someone would be based on what kind of answers I would get to questions like those above (and many others, of course).

I commend you for this list. If everybody would base their decisions to marry on such thorough considerations, the divorce rate might be much lower.

However, first of all, I would most of these points not call science, but common sense.

Second, your comparison with weather forecasting does not answer my statement:

“And even if you could, you would not know if what you find would hold in the future, after you have experienced difficulties as each married couple endures.”

No, this has more to do with mutual trust and willingness on both sides to work things out — it simply has to do with love and virtue in action. And it has to do with the very human hope that love and virtue will carry the marriage through. Science does not come into play here, and you cannot forecast these things.

Your ‘scientific’ scenario would only work if men and women were robots. They aren’t.

The issue still defeats scientism.

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Al Moritz August 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm

The argument from reason has been discussed here, but let’s revisit the issue from a different angle. Let’s start with the assumption that naturalism is true. How can I see that naturalism *is* true? I *ought to see that* naturalism is true, that is how.

However, there is no ought in naturalism. Certainly, also under determinism the choice of an ‘ought’ at first would appear to make sense because we would be choice machines, and we would not arrive at the thoughts and actions we arrive at without screening and making choices (c.f. Gary Drescher, ‘Good and Real’). Yet the choice by the machine is still determined, and it may be in alignment with an objective ‘ought’ or not. But who decides what the ‘objective ought’ would be? Another choice machine that is internally determined to be in alignment with it or not? *)

No, under naturalism I would not see that naturalism is true because I ought to, i.e. because the evidence demands it, but because the firing of neurons in my brain would demand it. But this is no logical reason. The firing of neurons may or may not coincide with logical reasons.

If my acceptance of naturalism is dependent on the firing of my neurons over which I have no control (under determinism), then how do I know that naturalism is true? Realizing the truth of naturalism, if it exists, is in that sense self-contradictory.

I can only reliably know if something is true if I can freely accept that it is true. But this requires abandonment of determinism, which is not possible under naturalism (quantum indeterminism on the local level is no solution here, because then my thoughts were random, which is even worse).

“If materialism is true, it seems to me that we cannot know that it is true. If my opinions are the result of the chemical processes going on in my brain, they are determined by chemistry, not the laws of logic.” (Biologist J.B.S. Haldane, one of the founders of population genetics, essential to the emergence of modern evolutionary synthesis)

“Materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.” (Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher)

Referring to computers as an example of matter capable of exhibiting ‘objective thought’ is not a valid counterargument to the problem. The functioning of computers is dependent on human rationality – even if they are induced to ‘learn’ and in the process to create output ‘on their own’ – since they are programmed by humans according to the rules of logic and reason that these apply. Instead of being programmed to calculate 9 x 7 = 63, a computer could just as easily be programmed – also obeying the laws of physics – to calculate 9 x 7 = 126 (e.g., command: if multiplication function carried out, multiply result by two: final result, display/print). The computer wouldn’t know the difference.

***
Forget about consciousness. I couldn’t care less if consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon or not. The real cardinal problem of naturalism, when it comes to the human mind, is reason and rationality.

***

Footnote:
*) Evolution is of no help here to arrive at the truth. Evolution selects only for behavior, not for correctness of beliefs. When evolutionary scientists claim that religion was selected for its behavioral survival advantage, they in fact concede, if they adhere to a naturalistic worldview, that evolution can indirectly select for an allegedly false belief. So there is no use saying that evolution probably has reliably endowed us with the ability that we ought to see that naturalism — an exceedingly abstract concept far beyond everyday sensory experiences — is true, and therefore we ‘ought’ to see the truth of naturalism even under determinism.

Certainly you might still claim that evolution has endowed the human brain with basic and universal logical circuitry that reliably can decide “if we just give the issues some thought”. However, even if evolution could accomplish that (which is highly debatable), the evidence for or against naturalism is not a matter of simple logic, but that of careful weighing of (giving weight to) arguments pro and con, and this has nothing to do with basic circuitry that might have been induced by evolution. So there cannot be an evolutionary ‘ought’ on this issue after all.

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Kaelik August 24, 2010 at 6:22 pm

@Al

So? If Naturalism is true, then we can expect many people to be wrong about naturalism, and others to be right.

But just because naturalism tells us that we believe things based on our processing of inputs and coming up with an output doesn’t mean that we can’t trust what we process. Certainly we shouldn’t trust everything, but we already don’t trust our decisions when drunk, so why is adding a few fallacies to the list of things not to trust so much work? Our processes are selected for by evolution for survival value, but it usually pays to have true beliefs, so we can expect that at least some of our processing is useful for coming to true beliefs, and the difficult part is figuring out which parts.

But honestly, that’s already been done. Science works, Logic works when it’s not slipping in stupid premises or getting hung up on definitional quibbles. Intuition doesn’t.

You start your argument saying:

“How can I see that naturalism *is* true? I *ought to see that* naturalism is true, that is how.”

This is just muddled nonsense. If Naturalism is true you can determine that by taking in evidence about the world, processing that evidence using the patterns that are known to most often find the truth.

It’s not that you “ought” to see anything. You can see it, or you can not. It doesn’t really matter which, but you not seeing it has no effect on whether or not it is true.

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James Onen August 25, 2010 at 2:42 am

@ Al Moritz

I commend you for this list. If everybody would base their decisions to marry on such thorough considerations, the divorce rate might be much lower.

Thanks for appreciating the list :-)

However, first of all, I would most of these points not call science, but common sense.

The point is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about common sense. If you want to, you can analyze what factors have tended to favor successful, happy marriages (available through anecdotes but preferably through empirical research data) – and make a prediction about how successful yours is likely to be based on the degree to which your particular situation accommodates the factors that have tended to favor successful, happy marriages. It is also through the application of science that we come to learn of these relevant facts and variables in the first place.

I therefore don’t see why this form of analysis cannot be viewed as a scientific exercise. It clearly is. The choice of whether or not one chooses to apply science to a given question does not necessarily render it irrelevant, or inapplicable, to that issue.

Second, your comparison with weather forecasting does not answer my statement:

“And even if you could, you would not know if what you find would hold in the future, after you have experienced difficulties as each married couple endures.”

No, this has more to do with mutual trust and willingness on both sides to work things out — it simply has to do with love and virtue in action. And it has to do with the very human hope that love and virtue will carry the marriage through. Science does not come into play here, and you cannot forecast these things.

Given everything you’ve said here, suppose I were to ask you to demonstrate that your claims about what makes marriages work is true – how would you do it? Wouldn’t you have to study which marriages have adhered to the principles you’ve just outlined, and compare them those that have not? Science therefore does come into play because it is only by gathering and studying empirical data pertaining to success rates of marriage that you can know if belief in, and espousal of, such things as hope, love, and virtue in any way contribute to having a long-lasting marriage.

Science also furnishes us with details about human psychology, and how it influences behavior. You can’t honestly claim that human psychology has no bearing on the success rate of long-term marriage, Al, can you?

So is the comparison to weather forecasting irrelevant to the question you asked? No, because the underlying principle is the same – it’s all about applying scientific principles to make predictions. As we’ve seen, scientific principles come into play where any study of human psychology is concerned, and the collection and study of empirical data pertaining to the factors that favor successful long-term marriages.

Your ’scientific’ scenario would only work if men and women were robots. They aren’t.

This is weird. So do mean to say that just because, say, animals aren’t robots – I can’t make a fairly accurate prediction of what would happen if I locked a starving lion in a cage with a gazelle? Of course not. Based on empirical scientific data on the characteristics and behavior of both animals I predict that the lion will kill and eat the gazelle. My prediction will have been informed by science, and in all likelihood, it will bear out.

Throughout I have been arguing in terms of likelihood, and probability – which I think is perfectly relevant in any discussion of behavior. Any assignment of likelihood or probability to what might happen in nature would have to rely on empirical data – enter science.

The issue still defeats scientism.

I was not defending scientism, but responding to what you said here:

Suppose you were in the situation of having a girlfriend and deciding if you want to propose her to marry you. How would you decide that scientifically? Obviously, you cannot look inside her mind how much she really loves you, and how much she is compatible with you. And even if you could, you would not know if what you find would hold in the future, after you have experienced difficulties as each married couple endures. This small example shows that science is simply not able to help you here.

I think you are wrong. Science can help you here, and I think I have demonstrated exactly how. I will reiterate a point I made in the previous post:

“Suppose that empirical research shows that couples that have paid attention to, and taken into serious consideration, certain details (such as those above) prior to getting married have a statistically higher chance of being happy together, and have longer-lasting marriages? If so, then this shows that IF happiness arising from long term marriage is what I desire, by using basic scientific principles I can establish the degree to which my choice to marry person X is the right choice (towards fulfilling that desire).”

Again, the choice of whether or not one chooses to apply science to a given question does not necessarily render it irrelevant, or inapplicable, to that issue.

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Al Moritz August 25, 2010 at 5:27 am

James,

we may still be in fundamental disagreement here. In my view, issues like trust, love, virtue and hope are things about which science cannot say much, especially since in humans they are guided not just by instincts, like in animals, but also by willpower.

Yet I have to say that you have defended your position well and that you have made a series of very valid points along the way.

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Hermes August 25, 2010 at 6:03 am

Al, have you investigated what careful study of those issues has shown us?

If you do not know what is available already, your rejection of what James said is understandable, though I would encourage you to actually do that investigation.

If you are aware of what is available, then dismissing what he wrote as a difference in opinion is inappropriate and a more detailed response on why you hold a different opinion would be more appropriate.

We can’t have our own facts, but we can have limited knowledge of available facts.

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Al Moritz August 25, 2010 at 6:37 am

Hermes,

erm…didn’t I just say that James made a series of very valid points? Are you out to shoot everybody down who does not do you the favor of being on your side?

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Kaelik August 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

@Al

You said he made valid points, but you disagree on the premises.

If however, you are objectively wrong on the premises, and this can be demonstrated by actual evidence, then it’s a cop out to call his points only valid and say you disagree. Rather, his arguments would be sound, and you would be wrong.

I don’t actually know whether any such research bares anything out, but if it does, valid is a cop out.

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Hermes August 25, 2010 at 7:29 am

Al, after our discussions in the other thread I thought we had a good rapport.

My point today is that I have done a little investigation that makes me think that the following is not true;

In my view, issues like … love … are things about which science cannot say much

If you are not aware of some of the same details, then you should be before making such a sweeping comment.

If you are aware, then it would be enlightening to know why you hold your current opinion.

If this is just not interesting anymore, then I’m not forcing you to do anything, but suggesting a future course of action.

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Al Moritz August 25, 2010 at 8:37 am

Hermes,

Al, after our discussions in the other thread I thought we had a good rapport.

I thought so too, which is why your answer, not acknowledging that I already had conceded that valid points had been made, surprised me. Yet I may have misunderstood. If I did, my apologies.

If this is just not interesting anymore, then I’m not forcing you to do anything, but suggesting a future course of action.

Suggestion noted, thanks.

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James Onen August 26, 2010 at 1:54 am

@ Al Moritz

I just want to say that I am enjoying this exchange with you, and I appreciate that you think there was some sense in the things I said.

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James Onen August 26, 2010 at 2:10 am

@ Al Moritz:

In my view, issues like trust, love, virtue and hope are things about which science cannot say much, especially since in humans they are guided not just by instincts, like in animals, but also by willpower.

Like Hermes, I’m curious to see on what grounds you defend this view. Perhaps one day you might flesh it out for us.

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Al Moritz August 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Hi James,

I also enjoy the exchange, and I have learned from it to such an extent that it forces me to reformulate thoughts for myself. This is always a good thing since, even if it does not change views entirely, it helps sharpen them. I may post a defense of my view at some point and continue the discussion, but at the moment you hopefully can excuse me for having different priorities that keep me ocupied. I also should reply to a response from Luke here, but that will have to wait as well.

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Hermes August 26, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Al, in regards to our previous conversation, you might be interested in keeping an eye out for this when it becomes available;

The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, A New Book By Victor J. Stenger

A few days ago, after inquiring about a few things regarding arguments about physics by a misguided theist, Mr. Stenger sent me a draft of his new book* The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us that, according to his website, will be due out in April of 2011. I saw on his website that he wouldn’t mind if people wrote a blurb about it so I’m taking the time to do that now.

I’m not sure how many changes might be made before publication time, but so far it’s over three-hundred pages and is excellent. He goes to great lengths to show the errors of several popular theists and gives the reader a basic education in physics, which is very interesting since that’s one subject I know very little about.

Source: http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2010/08/fallacy-of-fine-tuning-new-book-by.html

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Al Moritz August 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Oh God, Stenger. I debunk him extensively in my article.

“He goes to great lengths to show the errors of several popular theists”. . .

Problem is, also prominent atheistic and agnositc cosmologists disagree with him.

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Al Moritz August 26, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Aargh,’agnostic’ of course.

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Hermes August 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm

FYI. I don’t know how anyone can disagree with an unreleased book.

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Al Moritz August 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Of course not, but Stenger’s opinions are quite known. He will expand on them in the new book, but I don’t expect shocking things that he suddenly has in his favor. I will look out for the book and see if that is true, but I don’t hold my breath.

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Hermes August 26, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Fair enough.

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