naturalism

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“The Knower and the Known” by Stephen Parrish, Part 2

kk-parrishStephen Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is not merely a critique of physicalism. As we noted in the review of the first part, that critique itself is a decisive, thorough demolishing of major physicalist theories of mind. Here, we will explore Parrish’s exposition of a theory of consciousness.

Thought and Consciousness

What does it mean to have a thought? Parrish notes several aspects which go into the very act of knowing. There must be an object of knowledge; there must be a subject to consider the object; there must be consciousness in order to apprehend concepts and aboutness; there must be a relationship between subject and object and consciousness; there must be understanding of that relationship; and finally there must be a view of the world in which all of this can occur.

Consciousness itself is an extremely complex notion which involves phenomenality: the actual experience of thought; intentionality: the turning of one’s thoughts to consider an object; subjectivity: an agent which is itself the subject of the thought; and rationality: the capacity to order thoughts in such a way as to make sense of them. (206-213).

Consciousness has certain phenomenal properties. That is, when we consider our own thoughts, there is a distinct feeling to them which allows us to differentiate them from simple sense perceptions. There is an aspect of inentionality or attending-to our thoughts which is itself irreducible. Moreover, we are able to comprehend things which are themselves non-physical, such as the nature of a logical argument like modus ponens (226-228).

Consciousness must somehow interact with the physical world. If one is a physicalist, it becomes a matter of reducing consciousness to purely physical explanations, eliminating consciousness, or offering a brute relationship between consciousness and the physical world.

Qualia are also extremely important when considering consciousness. How is it that we are able to see objects as objects with certain properties? What process allows for individual particles/rays of light to manifest themselves in phenomenal consciousness in such a way as to provide a coherent picture of an object? Moreover, “there is more to recognizing qualia than just having color in one’s sensory field; there is also our attention to said qualia, the judgments we make about them, the objects that they represent, and also our memory of them–and these factors can make all of the difference” (257).

Subjectivity is also extremely important to forming a theory of consciousness. It seems that subjects are, in fact, irreducible. For the physicalist, the concept of a subject is extremely difficult. After all, a subject at t1 is going to be different from that subject at t2 in a number of highly relevant physical ways. Their neurons are firing differently from t1 to t2. How is it that subjectivity is maintained. The substance dualist holds that subjectivity is maintained through unity of consciousness which may not be reduced to the physical (291). The unity is preserved through intentionality but more thoroughly through rationality. The use of reason is one of the primary ways to offer continuity of the self. For the subject, S, at t3 is considering both thoughts at t1 and t2 in order to come to a  conclusion at t4. Reason itself has aspects of intentionality which cannot be accounted for on a physicalist view of reality, for a physical object is capable of performing mathematical computations but not understanding the aboutness inherent in those computations (266-267).

Our Minds in the World

Parrish grounds his understanding of consciousness in a theistic worldview. There are numerous difficulties with an account of substance dualism which seem to only be soluble on a theistic interpretation. One of these is the problem of the interaction between body and mind. If God exists, then it seems inherently possible that a deity would be capable of forming the world in such a way that mind could interact with body. Parrish addresses several objections to the notion that an immaterial being could interact with a physical universe while also making an argument for non-physical selfs apart from God interacting in the universe (324ff).

The match of our minds with the world is something which must be accounted for. Parrish notes that if we ground ideal objects in an immaterial being like God, the difficulties with such objects existence and subsistence may be solved. Moreover, the glorious match of our mental life with reality is also explained, for a rational being is the source of all which we observe. If that is the case, then we no longer must appeal to simple brute fact to attempt to explain the phenomena of consciousness; instead, we may note that it is exactly as one might expect given theism (337ff).

And Then There was More…

Parrish concludes the work with a brief comparison of physicalism and substance dualism across multiple questions related to consciousness and the physical world. Finally, there are two appendices which address free will/agency and the theory of panpsychism, respectively.

Conclusion

In Part 1 of this review I outlined Parrish’s discussion of physicalism. Here, we have seen the structure of his substance dualism. It seems to me that Parrish’s deconstruction of physicalism is quite powerful. In particular, I noted that he makes a strong argument that physicalist theories ultimately boil down into either epiphenomenalism or mysterianism, neither of which is plausible. Moreover, his use of numerous examples and thought experiments throughout makes the work easier to comprehend while also providing a solid basis for grounding further discussions in philosophy of mind. Finally, the vast amount of research and documentation Parrish provides makes the work invaluable as a reference for physicalist writings alongside its clear value as a thorough critique of those same works.

The second major section, in which Parrish outlines his view of a theistic dualist ontology, is equally important. He provides a large amount of background for understanding how to put together various aspects of consciousness while also noting that, on theism, these observed phenomena cohere within an ontology, while on physicalism they are generally either discredited or ignored. The one thing the work may lack is a bit of cohesion in the section on substance dualism. Parrish has given a broad vision for how to hold a dualist ontology, but sometimes leaves it up to the reader to put the pieces together. The pieces are there, but not always assembled. I should note, however, that even here Parrish has provided an invaluable resource for those who wish to argue for a dualist vision of philosophy of mind.

I have already noted that Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is a tour de force in the realm of analyzing physicalist theories. However, the work is much more than a simple refutation of physicalism. Alongside that critique, Parrish has laid out the groundwork for substance dualism as a cogent alternative. Simply put, it is a must read for anyone with any interest in philosophy of mind. Comprehensive in scope, exhaustively documented, and interesting to read, The Knower and the Known is a must-have.

Source

Stephen Parrish, The Knower and the Known (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “The Knower and the Known” by Stephen Parrish – Part 1

kk-parrishWhat is the mind? Are humans purely physical beings? What are we to make of physicalist/materialist philosophies of the mind? Do these debates have any relevance for the existence of God?

Stephen Parrish seeks to answer these questions (and more) in his work, The Knower and the Known (hereafter KK). Perhaps most importantly, Parrish explores issues which range beyond the philosophy and mind and get at the foundations of ontology. The tome therefore provides insights not only into a wide range of topics related to philosophy of mind but also provides applications into other fields.

The work is split into two major sections. The first is an exploration of physicalist/materialist theories of mind; the second is an exploration of consciousness and how theism provides the best explanation for our phenomenal consciousness (among other things). We shall explore these in order. In this post, I shall focus upon Parrish’s critique of physicalism.

Physicalism

Parrish introduces the major physicalist theories related to the mind-body problem. These include reductionism, eliminativism, supervenience, and emergence. In order to make sense of the claim that the mind is a purely physical substance, it is important to come to an understanding of what it means to be “physical,” and Parrish cites numerous philosophers in order to come to a fairly simple working definition: “to be a material object (to be composed of matter) is ultimately to have certain kinds of causal power over certain areas” (69). The definition must, necessarily, be more complex. Thus, various aspects of dimension, space, and the like are explored. Then, KK provides an explanation of the standard materialist/physicalist view of reality, which is essentially that “everything that exists… can be located within space and time…” (85, Parrish’s definition cites that of C. Koons, and is also lengthier, but for the purpose of this review I have left it at this).

The nature of physicalism must also be understood in order to analyze the claims of physicalists. How is it, exactly, that the physical is to account for the mental? Parrish explores numerous ways proposed to explain physically the connection. These are centered around various proposed psycophysical laws, which hold that there are certain ways in which conscious states relate relation to other physical states. There have been many different proposals about how these laws might work.

According to the nomological theory, there is a lawlike correlation between conscious and other physical states. A nomological theorist would note the correlation between neurons firing in the brain and various mental states. The proposal would then lead to a law of correlation (and perhaps causation) for brain states b1, b2, and b3 with conscious states c1, c2, and c3. Parrish notes a number of problems with this theory, however. Most notably is the fact that there are sometimes different patterns of neurons firing for the same thought. Of course, a physicalist could counter that there are different laws for these different patterns as well. In that case, notes Parrish, “there would have to be laws to regulate the relation of every brain state with the relevant phenomenological aspect of thought to which it is correlated” (89-90). Of course, this becomes even more problematic when one considers that there is an infinite set of phenomenological aspects of our consciousness. That is, we can focus our minds around thinking of numbers and continue counting from one to a billion and beyond. For nomological theory to be correct, there must be a specific brain state for each of these thoughts (along with whatever different brain states would need to exist for the variations which can produce the same number). So there would then need to be an infinite set of laws to account for our mental life.

Yet there is another difficulty, for “since it seems possible for different types of brains to have the same conscious phenomenal thought, and every brain is constructed somewhat differently from every other brain, there would have to be even more laws that accounted for conscious items to accommodate all of the brain states of all the different brains” (90). To say that such a theory of mind begins to make a bloated metaphysics seems something of an understatement. And this is not to even begin to consider the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe, which would also need these lawlike relations for governing their conscious states.

And all of this is not to take into account the problems with explaining how and why there could be different patterns for the same thoughts not only across species but also across brains of the same species and also across individuals. A number of other possibilities are examined, including accidental correlation theory, realizability, and identity. Each of these comes with their own set of problems which Parrish elucidates (92-97).

Parrish throws the gauntlet at physicalist theories of mind in the chapter aptly titled “Judging Physicalist Theories of the Mind.” In this chapter, KK provides a thorough critique of all the major physicalist theories of mind. For the purpose of this review, I will only provide the briefest of summaries for each of these critiques. Mysterianism is essentially the notion that we cannot know how consciousness and the brain relate, but we do know that physicalism is true. The problem with this position is that such a position basically pushes the burden of proof unto other physicalist theories of mind as opposed to providing its own explanation, and the theory in fact seems to be just another form of epiphenomenalism.

Eliminativism is a simpler theory in which it is simply asserted that consciousness does not exist (133ff). Such a theory seems patently absurd on its face, yet some physicalist philosophers continue to maintain that despite any appearance to the contrary, “there are no conscious aspects, objects, properties, or events at all” (136). The difficulty with such a position is that it is “self-referentially incoherent” (137). That is, it cannot be consistently believed (whatever it means to “believe” something) that there are on mental state when, in order to have such a belief, one must have some sort of mental state. Parrish further offers a scenario to describe our world in terms of an eliminativist worldview, which would yield a kind of “zombie” world in which our fictional mental states have no relation to the world around  us (149-150).

Identity theory basically asserts that consciousness just is identical to the brain. Much work must be done to analyze this theory by noting which theory of identity one might hold to, along with how such a theory of identity might play out. KK provides just such an exploration and comes to conclude that any of these identity theories falls to a number of objections, including the arbitrariness of the connection between the physical and the [identical] consciousness (162-163). Supervenience theory, which holds that somehow the mental supervenes upon the physical, suffers from providing no actual explanation for how this should be the case and thus basically devolves into one of the other physicalist theories.

Functionalism is the theory that “the conscious mind is the brain functioning in a certain manner” (171). Again, the difficulty here is that this seems to boil down largely into a bare assertion and how closely related to (and probably reliant upon) eliminativism it is.

Higher order theories of mind posit that consciousness is something like the brain scanning itself. However, this provides no explanation for how consciousness could arise and thus is again parasitic upon other varieties of physicalism, most notably eliminativism.

Epiphenomenalism is at the core of Parrish’s critique, for throughout the work he shows in numerous ways how the other physicalist theories of mind are ultimately mysterian or epiphenomenal in nature. Epiphenomenalism is basically the view that consciousness is causally inefficacious. Thus, it is the brain which “does the work” while consciousness is some kind of byproduct of brain activity. However, such a theory does not adequately explain how consciousness may itself arise, nor does it provide any attachment for our thoughts to reality. It thus suffers again from self-referential incoherence, for our mental states have no causal attachment to our brain states or reality. They are, again, merely “epiphenomena” which somehow are generated by our brains. If our mental states happen to line up with reality, that becomes a merely happy accident, for our mental states do not control our brain states but are rather generated by them. This is not to imply that mental states must control brain states to give rise to coherency, but rather to note that unless our mental states are causal in some sense, the very process of rational thought is illusory, for our prior mental states have no connection to our past mental states other than to be generated in a certain temporal order.

Conclusion

We have outlined Parrish’s critique of physicalism. Next week, we shall explore his defense of dualism and his case for theism from the nature of intelligibility. However, by way of conclusions for this section, it is important to note the insights which Parrish has offered in KK. The arguments he presented seem devastating to physicalism. In particular, the fact that so physicalist theories of mind all seem to either ultimately appeal to mystery or reduce consciousness beyond causal powers undermine the physicalists’ ability to explain reality sufficiently. If a worldview cannot even account for something as basic as our thoughts, such a deficiency seems to bode ill for the rest of that view. As noted, we shall note a powerful alternative which Parrish argues for in the latter part of the book, theistic substance dualism.

Parrish, of course, offers much more thorough critiques of every position listed here (along with many that were not included in this outline). The work is extremely important in not only its comprehensiveness but also its thoroughness for exploring theories of mind.

Stephen Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is a tour de force in philosophy of mind. Comprehensive in scope, thoroughly researched (and referenced), and lucid in its insight, this is a book which must be on the shelf of anyone who is remotely interested in the areas it touches.

Source

Stephen Parrish, The Knower and the Known (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 02/03/12

Says the Madman, “Humanity is Dead, and We Are Its Murderers”- An insightful post which argues that naturalism has undermined the worth and value of humans.

Zombies of Christianity- I really enjoyed this discussion of the diversity of doctrine in Christianity and how to approach it.

My latest post on abortion generated some controversy, but I’d like to point out that scientifically, the unborn simply is a human being. One can find this not only in numerous medical textbooks on embryology, but also in the words of abortions-rights advocates themselves. Check out this phenomenal post which outlines the fact that the unborn are human beings, period- Medical Testimony.

C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest Christian Apologists of all time. Check out this post which brings us Beyond Mere Christianity.  Interested in literary apologetics? Check out Holly Ordway’s guest post on my blog here.

A Response to the Problem of an ‘Evil God’ as Raised by Stephen Law.- An excellent article, which I don’t fully agree with (I think Edward Feser answers the challenge correctly, for example), but which provides a thorough critique of Law’s position.

The Artist: A Film Review and Reflection- Holly Ordway shares her thoughts on “The Artist.”

How Many Atheists in America? Fewer than You Might Think- Pretty self explanatory.

If materialism, are there subjects?

In this post I seek to establish one premise: If materialism is true, there are no subjects.

There has been much extended discussion in my post on atheism’s universe, wherein (in the comments) I asserted that, on atheism, there are no subjects. It is high time I clarified my position and drew out its implications.

Materialism and Atheism

My argument is based upon a materialist or physicalist view of reality [I use the terms 'materialism' and 'physicalism' interchangeably here--I realize they are sometimes used to delineate differences between hard and soft materialists, but for the sake of this post one may assume that any time I mention "physicalism" I mean materialism at large]. I am asserting that: if physicalism is true, there are no such things as “subjects.” I’ve briefly argued elsewhere (see the post linked above) that the only consistent atheism is materialistic. For atheists who are not materialists, I leave it to them to show that their view consistently allows for immaterial entities.

The Nature of a “Subject”

One constant objection to my position is that I never defined what I meant by “subject.” One reason I did not seek to define the term is because  I did not want the debate to boil down into a semantic war over the meaning of subject. There are some features of “subjects” which most parties agree upon, but how to lay out those features is hotly debated. Further, I did not wish to beg the question against the materialist by defining a subject in such a way that no materialist ontology could even attempt to approach it (suppose I defined a “subject” as a “wholly mental feature of reality which acts as the center of consciousness”; in such a case, I’ve added nothing to the discussion because I’ve excluded materialism from the debate without argument).

There is no easy way to define what is meant by “a subject.” I will seek now to define it as broadly as possible, so as to avoid any questions begged.

A Subject: 

  1. Is the referent of the term, “I”
  2. Endures from moment-to-moment as one being. A subject would be the same subject at T2 as it was at T1.
  3. Accounts for any mental states–whether they are actually aphysical or physical.

Hopefully these terms are agreeable to both sides. I’m sure people on either side will want to flesh out the notion of “subject” more, but it seems to me that these points can be acknowledged by all. The first point seems to be fairly clearly true. It is “I” who experience x and not someone else. The second point is necessary for subjects because otherwise “I” would be a different “I” from T1 to T2, and in fact not be the same being at all. The third point, likewise, seems fairly obvious, because it seems mental life is what comprises a subject to begin with. Whether the image in my mind of a cat is a purely physical phenomenon or not, any theory of the mind must take it into account.

Materialism Fails to Account for One and Many

On materialism, what is it that is the referent of the term “I”? Is it my brain (only)? Is it my body? What am “I”? I will here offer a brief argument that no materialist account can take seriously the notion that “I” am distinct from other entities. It is, basically, an offshoot of the “one and the many” problem in philosophy.

Materialism holds that all which exists is matter. Thus, “I” am composed of matter. The problem is distinguishing between everything else and me, for ultimately “I” am just a rearrangement of matter. Suppose that all matter is referred to as (M), and I am referred to by (I). Ultimately, on materialism, (I) is reducible to (M), which is really just all real being on materialism. Why suppose there are separate entities, (I) and (I2) and (I3) when all are, ultimately, (M)? It is much simpler to just suppose that (M) is all and that (I), (I2), and (I3) are (M) in rearranged forms.

Now I don’t suppose for a moment this isn’t highly contentious. Some will come along and say that their own experience is enough to confirm that they are a different being from every other. But why suppose this? Ultimately, that conscious experience is reducible to the brain, which is reducible to matter, which is everything. On materialism, there really is just one “thing”: the material universe as a whole. The “parts” of this “thing” are ultimately reducible to smaller and smaller particles which comprise all the “things” themselves. Ultimately, all is matter, merely arranged in different ways at different times. I’m not suggesting that matter is some kind of single entity. It is particulate. But matter is also one kind of thing. Ultimately, on materialism, all things are just this kind of thing: material. The only way to differentiate between them is by time and place, but even then every individual thing is itself composed of particles of matter. All things are reducible to the same thing.

What can save materialists from this? Materialists would have to embrace a robust metaphysics in order to supply a way out for the problem of “the one and the many.” Yet it seems to me that no materialist can take seriously a robust metaphysics, because they would then have to posit distinctions between entities that are aphysical. Positing such entities or properties would be decidedly contrary to materialism. For example, one solution is that entities are distinct in that all share being itself, but they also have essences which distinguish them from other things (see Clarke, 72ff, cited below). For a materialist to embrace this, they would have to hold that each individual person has an immaterial essence which is such that it makes it distinct from other entities. But of course, that would fly in the face of materialism. It seems to me, therefore, that materialism has no way to answer the problem of “the one and the many.”

Materialism Fails to Provide Enduring Identity

On what basis can a materialist affirm that I, J.W., am the same subject now as I was 20 years ago? All my matter has been replaced. There is no material component of me which is the same as it was back then. Yet my experience tells me that I am the same subject.

How can materialists account for this?

One possibility is that they can simply point out that I am numerically identical to my past self. Although the individual pieces of matter which comprise me are not the same as they were 20 years ago, they were replaced only in portions, during which my body endured as a totality.

The difficulty with this scenario is that it only serves to underscore the problems with materialism. Imagine a mad scientist, who, over the course of a day, cuts my brain into 24 pieces. Each hour, he removes one piece of my brain and places it into another body, which has no brain. He simultaneously replaces the piece of brain with an exact molecular copy. After the day, there is a body which has my brain in it, and my body, which has a copy of my brain in it. Which is me? And, if that question can be answered on materialism (which I doubt), when did my body/brain cease being me and transfer to the other body/brain?

Materialism simply cannot answer these questions. The worldview is baffled by them. Yet in order for something to be a subject, it must endure through time. On materialism, I have not endured through time at all. My entire being–from my fingers to the hairs on my head to my brain–is material, and has been replaced by new material. Where am “I”?

Materialism Cannot Account for Mental States

There are at least five features of mental states which materialism cannot take into account. They are:

  • The feeling of “‘what-it-is-like’ to have a mental state such as a pain”
  • Intentionality
  • Inner, private, and immediate access to the subject
  • Subjective ontology which is irreducible to the third person
  • They lack spatial extension, location, etc. (Adapted from Moreland, 20, cited below)

While delving into these in great detail is beyond the reach of this post, I have already addressed a few of them in my post arguing for Substance Dualism against Monism. It seems that, on materialism, one must embrace supervenience and epiphenominalism in order to preserve mental states. Consider the following:

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism… This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

…If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous. (Wartick, http://jwwartick.com/2010/11/10/against-monism/)

Reflection upon the supervenience of the mental on the physical leads materialist philosopher Jaegwon Kim to writes:

To think that one can be a serious physicalist and at the same time enjoy the company of things and phenomena that are nonphysical [by this he is referring to consciousness, the causal powers of thought, etc.], I believe, is an idle dream. (Kim, 120, cited below)

Objections

Objection 1: One of the most common objections I have encountered when I reason in this fashion is the common sense objection: “I think, therefore I am a subject!” or, as one commented on another post, “I’m an [atheist]. I have meaning. It’s possible.”

Such notions are scoffed at by materialist philosophers. Paul Churchland, the famed materialist and philosopher of mind, writes:

You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences.  That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language… These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called ‘Folk psychology’ to acknowledge if as the common property of folks generally.  Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.

In other words, the notion that “I’m a subject! I have meaning!” is nothing more than a philosophical dinosaur, a remnant of our ‘folk psychology’ which we should cast off now that we know the truth of materialism. Those who object in such a fashion as materialists seem to be blissfully unaware that they stand aligned against the vast majority of materialistic philosophy of mind. They must justify their position, but cannot, as they arguments above have shown.

Objection 2: Neuroscience has shown that the brain is the center of consciousness. When we think things, we can observe specific areas of activity in the brain. 

This objection is clearly mistaken. The previous arguments have sought to establish the premise: On materialism, there are no subjects. I could easily grant Objection 2 without doing any damage to my arguments. Sure, when we “think thoughts” we may be able to observe effects in the brain. How does it then follow that “we” are subjects? All that this has done–assuming I grant it–is show that our consciousness is somehow related to our brains. It doesn’t demonstrate that mind is identical to brain, nor does it justify the position that “I am a subject.” In fact, it seems to undermine the notion that materialism can explain subjects, because it implies, once more, that “I” am reducible to “my brain” which is, of course, reducible to its component matter as well.

Conclusion: That There Are No Subjects on Materialism and the Implications Thereof

Any one of these problems provides insurmountable problems for materialists who believe they are, themselves, subjects. There is no way, on materialism, to distinguish the one from the many; there is no way for subjects to endure; mental states are reduced to causally inert epiphenomena; and there is no way to account for mental phenomena.

Thus, if atheism is committed to materialism, and materialism cannot account for subjects, it  follows that, without question, there is no meaning on atheism. There cannot even be subjective meaning, for to reference something as a “subject” is, itself, illusory.

Sources

Jaegwon Kim, Mind in a Physical World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (London, UK: SCM Press, 2009).

Paul Churchland,The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).

W. Norris Clark, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame, 2001).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Materialists: Where is hope? Look to the stars!

“[T]he Universe may harbor civilizations more intelligent than our own. Perhaps one day, through interstellar communication, some advanced civilization will help us resolve such age-old problems as war, famine, disease, overpopulation, misuse of natural resources, and human aging.”- John Oró, “Historical Understanding of Life’s Beginnings” (40, cited below).

Such is the hope of materialism. I’ve argued elsewhere that if all we are is matter, then there is no meaning. The pervasive response was that “we make our own meaning.” Leaving questions over the tenability of such a view aside, I have turned to a different, and interesting phenomenon: Where is there room for hope, within materialism? 

It didn’t take long to dig up some quotes. One of the classes I’m taking this semester is on the Origins of Life. A few books we were assigned for this class were from a materialist perspective. The quote above is from one of those books. It resonated deeply with me. Consider this: If all we are is matter, having arrived here by unguided, biochemical processes, living on a dying planet in a dying universe–where is our hope? One cannot turn to transcendence with such a worldview, but one can attempt to emulate it.

Such is the case found in materialistic literature. Such is the grand materialist hope:

We can look hopefully for our saviors from the stars. There must be more intelligent life out there, and they will usher in a new era, a near utopia wherein disease, death, war, and hunger are all eliminated. Our alien saviors will rush to our aide once they’ve found us on this dying rock, and we will worship them as we used to worship the mythic gods of old. 

But it is not just hope for the future which must guide us. Our realization that we are but one among many (and many who are probably smarter than us) must lead us to a new set of ethics. Oró writes of new ethical principles we must embrace: “Humility: The life of all cells descends from simple molecules… Hope: Someday we may communicate with more advanced civilizations… Universality: We come from stardust and to stardust we shall return… Peace: We should change our culture of war into a culture of peace” (Oró, 40-41 cited below). Humility, hope, peace, universality–these are all things Christians embrace also, but the materialist has redefined them. Our hope is not int the transcendent but in the here-and-now. Our hope, again, reaches for the stars.

But is this really a hope? We know the universe is dying. We know that, even were we to escape death, eventually the cosmic heat death of the universe would occur, and our ultimate doom is sealed. Should we hope that our alien saviors are also inter-dimensional travelers? Should we hope that they transcend space and time? I leave these questions open.

But the most interesting phenomenon in all of this is that the materialist has abandoned their presupposition. Rather than hoping for what is they hope for what we know not. They look to the stars, grasping at things unseen. Iris Fry, a professor at both Tel Aviv University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and author of The Emergence of Life on Earth writes honestly and lucidly of the philosophical commitments of the materialist in this sphere:

[T]he realization that many non-empirical factors are involved in determining scientific positions and in the adoption of scientific theories leads to the notion of theoretical and philosophical decision, or commitment. Research into the origin of life and the search for extraterrestrial life are a clear case in point, because here the weight of the philosophical commitment is much greater than in more conventional scientific fields. As long as no empirical evidence of life beyond Earth has been found, and as long as no scientific theory has succeeded in providing a fully convincing account of the emergence of life on Earth, the adoption of an evolutionary point of view toward the question of life’s origin and the rejection of the idea of purposeful design involve a very strong philosophical commitment. -Iris Fry (283, Cited Below)

Ultimately, I think she is quite right. There is a philosophical commitment being espoused here, not a scientific commitment. Too often, materialists forget that, but kudos to Fry for honestly admitting it while also espousing the very commitment.

Where is our hope?

The materialist answers: The stars.

Is this really rational?

Sources:

John Oró “Historical Understanding of Life’s Beginnings” in Life’s Origin ed. J. William Schopf (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2002).

Iris Fry The Emergence of Life on Earth (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 2000.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Cruel Logic: “Ideas have Consequences”

No Apologies Allowed” put a post up with a link to a YouTube video called “Cruel Logic.” In it, a serial killer debates a college professor about ethics and determinism in a materialistic universe. Check out the original post and discussion here. I recommend his site because it has tons of thought-provoking imagery and links to videos.

Watch the video below: WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGERY.

What do you think? Are these the implications of materialism? Are we merely matter, determined in motion and emotion?

Atheism’s Universe is Meaningless and Valueless

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.'” – Ecclesiastes 1:2

My most recent post on the problem of evil granting empirical atheism generated some thoughtful discussion. Most importantly, it lead me to the following argument:

1) On materialistic [I use materialism and physicalism interchangeably, as is common in philosophy today] atheism, all we are is matter in motion.

2) There is no objective reason to value matter moving in way A over matter moving in way B

3) Therefore, on materialistic atheism, there is no value or meaning

Premise 1 seems self-evident. Materialistic atheism, by definition, says that “everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The physical world is matter.

Premise 2 also seems like it should need little defense, yet atheists continually come up with ideas to try to get around it. For example, one may argue that the subjective suffering of persons should matter. Yet I fail to see how this argument succeeds. Pain and suffering, on materialism, at most supervenes upon neurons firing in the brain (along with chemical reactions and other physical phenomenon). My question for the materialist is: What reason can be provided for favoring matter moving in way A (call it, the way neurons fire when someone is in a state of bliss) over matter moving in way B (neurons firing in the way which causes pain)?

One answer which may be forthcoming is that creatures and persons tend to try to get away from things which cause B. This argument fails to provide an answer to the question, because all it does is push the question back to a higher level. It would change to: Why should we favor physical observable phenomenon which don’t cause avoidance over those that do? Again, the avoidance of B would simply be matter moving in a different way. In order to make a judgment between them, one would have to reach beyond the material world and into the world of objective meaning and value; this is, necessarily, a world which is nonexistent on materialism. Even if one could provide an answer to this second question, say “We tend to not like B. Things we don’t like are bad”, then we would have a purely subjective reality. What of the serial killer who delights in torturing himself, causing things to B? What reason do we have for saying what he is doing is wrong, because, after all, he likes B?

Ultimately, on materialism, everything boils down to matter in motion. Making value judgments about matter in motion is meaningless.

But if everything is matter in motion, then there doesn’t seem to be any way to make value judgments. How does one value a rock over a stick? They’re both just stuff. But then, on materialism, people are just stuff too; albeit more complex. However, if you were to break us down into our ultimately realities, we are no different than the rock. We are matter organized in a different way. Why value us?

There is no objective reason to do so. Therefore, there is no objective meaning or value. Life is purposeless, meaningless, valueless. Atheistic materialism demands this bleak view of the universe. I’m not saying it’s a good reason to abandon that [un]belief. I’m merely saying that those who hold such a view must be consistent.

“Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.” -Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

[In the comments, I have suggested that on materialism, there is no such thing as a subject. The claim has proven highly contentious, so I have created a post to clarify my position: http://jwwartick.com/2011/12/05/subjects-materialism/.]

Check out my post on the Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends

SDG

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


The Case for Dualism: Against Monism

Substance dualism seems to be the most reasonable position when it comes to consciousness. I’m going to be exploring the reasons for this throughout several posts.

Substance dualism is the idea that our conscious self is a combination of both a physical and non-physical reality. That is, our consciousness is not just neurons firing in the brain, but also some kind of phenomenal self, which is separate from the physical realm.

One reason for holding to substance dualism is that it avoids the problems of monistic physicalism. Physicalism argues that our conscious self is literally the brain. There is nothing but neurons firing in the brain (okay, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but the general idea is that our brain is our “self”).

Physicalism, therefore, leads to a kind of monism–everything is matter. Depending on which physicalist philosopher one prefers, this can lead to all sorts of problems. We can see this when we examine what exactly composes a “thought.” On dualism, a “thought” is a non-physical, phenomenal experience of the “self”–which is generally referred to either as “mind” or “soul.” On physicalism, a “thought” is identical with a brain state.

In other words, on Physicalism:

Brain state A => Mental state A’

Brain state B => Mental state B’

And so on.

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism. That is, if a mental state is wholly dependent on a brain state, the mental state is superfluous. This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

This, in turn, leads to epiphenomenalism because the mental state is, as  I said, superfluous. If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous.

Another problem with this is that it also means consciousness doesn’t have to have any connection with the actual world. Our brain states could be causing all kinds of wild mental states which are completely unconnected to what is happening outside of our “self,” but we would never know it or act differently. I could be having the mental states of pigs flying and eating buffaloes as I write this, but it wouldn’t matter because the brain state is what is causative. The mental state is simply a byproduct of the brain state. Or, we could all be zombies, without any kind of phenomenal consciousness, and yet still be performing the same actions.

Yet another problem, on the physicalist perspective, is that there seems to be no reason for our mental states to line up with reality. Why is it that despite the fact that our brain state is causing all of our actions, or mental state seems to line up with those actions? There doesn’t seem to be any reason our mental states should line up with reality. One response could be that we have no reason to suppose they do line up with reality, but then we have no reason to trust anything we “think” and should give up whatever positions we do hold.

Of course, monistic physicalism actually argues that there is no mental state A’ generated by brain state A, but I don’t see any reason for believing this is true, for they are of two completely different kinds. One is gray mush, the other is a phenomenal image of a cat. One is composed of neurons shooting impulses to and fro, the other is the idea that “I wish I had eaten breakfast.” The law of identity states that A = A. But, according to monistic physicalism, my gray mush/neurons firing = image of cat. This is simply false.

So, I have no reason to accept physicalism on any of these formulations, and every reason to reject it. Physicalism is epiphenomenal, gives us reasons to doubt our basic intuitions, and makes any thoughts we have completely arbitrary.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Methodological Naturalism: A Practice in Self-Affirmation?

I recently read a fantastic article in the latest Philosophia Christi by Stephen C. Dilley entitled “Philosophical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism: Strange Bedfellows?” and I just had to share its central thesis here.

Dilley argues that “philosophical naturalists who draw epistemic support from science for their worldview ought to set aside methodological naturalism in certain historical science” (118).

Methodological Naturalism (MN) is generally the position that within science, one should never appeal to a supernatural explanation. Philosophical Naturalism (PN) is broadly defined as the belief that the world consits only of the natural, that is, that there are no supernatural entities (and thus theism is false). Here, of course, astute readers will almost instantly notice the problem with utilizing such a position to try to gain epistemic support for PN. The problem is, as Dilley points out, that using MN to epistemically justify PN is circular.

Let us examine this problem more fully. One consequence of MN is that “God hypotheses… cannot receive evidential confirmation within the context of science” (127). Of course, this doesn’t mean that “…God hypotheses do not receive scientific confirmation… but that they cannot… No possible emphasis can confirm God hypotheses within a scientific context, no matter what the evidence actually is. That is just what MN entails” (127, emphasis his).

Again, readers will probably already see where this is going. The problem of circularity here rears its ugly head. On the one hand, hypotheses which would disconfirm PN are ruled out a priori from scientific investigation. On the other hand, adherents of PN seem to want to utilize scientific evidence to confirm PN and disconfirm rival hypotheses. But then, while MN is in effect, PN cannot be criticized scientifically (129). This is because the central thrust of MN is to rule out supernatural hypotheses, which, in turn, rules out any kind of rival position for PN. Again, this doesn’t even appeal to any kind of scientific evidence for God or lack thereof, because such evidence isn’t even considered, a priori.

And then, following from this, PN will always receive confirmation from MN, because it cannot be otherwise. This is because MN rules out any rival hypotheses by definition. Again, it doesn’t even matter if naturalistic explanations would be superior to theistic explanations, because, given MN, there cannot even be a side-by-side comparison!

Thus, those who wish to utilize MN as some way to draw epistemic support for PN are sadly misguided. It simply cannot be done, because MN can’t even consider rival hypotheses. Instead, the joint usage of PN and MN show just another reason that naturalism is a practice in self-affirmation. Obviously, naturalism is going to appear superior to theism if we rule out theism before we even begin to investigate! Clearly, those who wish to justify PN cannot utilize MN to do so.

Source:

Dilley, Stephen C, “Philosophical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism: Strange Bedfellows?” Philosophia Christi, 12-1, 2010, p. 118-141.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Naturalism: Self-Defeating, Unintelligible, and Ungrounded (Among Other Problems)

Naturalism is self-defeating.

Naturalism’s “Grand Story” (I’m unsure of who exactly coined this phrase) includes evolution as the means by which humanity arrived on earth. I’m not here to debate that. Rather, I think that Alvin Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” has some fairly hefty weight (see Warrant The Current Debate and Warranted Christian Belief for this argument). The argument basically goes like this:

1) On naturalism, evolution selected for our cognitive system

2) On evolution, it is what is beneficial for survival that is selected (with some exceptions–some animals are just unlucky)

3) Therefore, our cognitive system was selected for survival

4) What is beneficial for survival is not necessarily what is true (in an objective sense)

5) Therefore, we can’t know (on naturalism) that our cognitive system is truth-seeking

6) If we can’t trust our cognitive system, but we come to the conclusion that naturalism is true, then we can’t trust this conclusion

7) Therefore, naturalism is self-defeating

Now take 4). It seems to be clearly true that evolution does not select for true belief, if it selects for beliefs at all. Take an example I stole from Plantinga earlier (here)

“Tim the Tiger lover and Suzy the Warrior.

“Tim the Tiger Lover has formed false beliefs that a) wild tigers are warm and cuddly and b) the best way to pet them is to sneak away from them silently. Suzy the Warrior has formed the beliefs that a) wild tigers are ferocious critters and b) they must be killed to insure the survival of mankind.

“Tim and Suzy are walking through the jungle one day, when they spot in the distance a tiger. Now, Tim immediately begins joyfully sneaking away, believing that he will soon be petting that warm, cuddly tiger. Suzy dashes forward to attempt to strangle the beast with her bare hands. Suzy dies, though it seems clear that her beliefs were at least partially true (wild tigers are indeed ferocious). Tim, however, succeeds in escaping and surviving, despite this not actually being his goal.

“Now, on naturalism, it seems quite obvious that Tim has succeeded. He has survived, and will thus pass his genes on to the next generation. Indeed, it seems quite likely he will pass along his false beliefs as well. For let us modify the scenario only slightly and say that it was quite dark. While Suzy was being torn to bits by the tiger, Tim happened upon a tiger cub or some other beast he took to be a tiger cub. He immediately, happily danced with it and cuddled it for a while before sneaking away to go home, having quite happily reinforced his false beliefs. So Tim, with his false beliefs enforced by some data that they are in fact true (after all, he sneaked away quietly from the tiger and managed to pet tigers), also manages to survive, and therefore pass along his genes and his false beliefs” (Wartick).

To put it another way:

Take N to be metaphysical naturalism, P to be probability, R is the proposition that our cognitive facilities are reliable, and E is the proposition that our cognitive facilities have developed directly by way of the mechanisms to which contemporary evolutionary theory directs our attention.

Now P(R/N&E) seems to be low (see above). “One who accepts N… has a defeater for R. This induces a defeater, for him, for any belief produced by his cognitive facilities, including N itself; hence, ordinary naturalism is self-defeating” (Plantinga, 231).

Thus, it seems unlikely to me that naturalism can even find grounds for warranted belief on its own basis for warrant. But that’s not where the problems end. Naturalism has a major problem with consciousness.

Naturalism cannot explain consciousness.

I quote my fellow blogger, Chris Reese and outline what physicalist philosophers are saying about consciousness:

[P]hilosopher of mind . . . Ned Block . . . confesses that we have
no idea how consciousness could have emerged from nonconscious matter: “we have nothing—zilch—worthy of being called a research programme…. Researchers are stumped.”6

Berkeley’s John Searle says this is a “leading problem in the biological sciences.”7

Jaegwon Kim notes our “inability” to understand consciousness in an “essentially physical” world.8

Colin McGinn observes that consciousness seems like “a radical novelty in the universe”; 9  he wonders how our “technicolour” awareness could “arise from soggy grey matter.”10

David Papineau wonders why consciousness emerges: “to this question physicalists’ ‘theories of consciousness’ seem to provide no answer.”11

If, however, we have been made by a supremely self-aware Being, then the existence of consciousness has a plausible context.

Physicalism goes so far as to deny consciousness. I take it as self-evident that I do have consciousness. It seems entirely unintelligible to me to deny this. But then naturalists cannot even explain it. They are unable to understand it in a “physical” world. Perhaps the answer is that there is more to the world than the physical. But due to the presuppositions of the naturalist, they cannot accept this possibility.

Naturalism denies freedom of the will.

Freedom of the will is another problem for the naturalist. If all we are is, ultimately, matter in motion, then how is that we have freedom of the will? Since the big bang, matter has simply been bumping against each other in a way that was determined by the big bang. Every path is planned out by the laws of nature.

Thus, naturalism denies freedom of the will, it denies consciousness, and it refutes itself. These are but a few problems I raise against naturalism (see my other posts on the topic here and here). I thus deny naturalism its right for philosophical dominance of my (free) mind.

Sources:

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford. 2000.

Wartick, J.W. “Naturalism and Groundless Truth.” http://jwwartick.com/2010/01/02/naturalism-and-groundless-truth/

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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