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Book Review: “For the Beauty of the Earth” by Steven Bouma-Prediger

fbe-sbpThe practical consequences of… a radical faith are themselves radical. (182, cited below)

How should Christians think about creation care? More importantly, should Christians even bother with creation care? What is the state of the Earth? What does the Bible say about these issues? These are the primary topics which Steven Bouma-Prediger turns to in his work, For the Beauty of the Earth.


We are on Earth, and it is a place full of the glory of God. For the Beauty of the Earth (hereafter FBE) begins with a call to marvel at creation. Bouma-Prediger traces the beauty of the earth through ecological inter-connectedness of animals, plants, and geography in mountains, forests, and lakes. It is truly astounding to think of how the world interacts as a unit; it is still more fascinating to reflect upon how even the–to use a Biblical phrase–“least of these” has an extremely important part to play. I was reading this book while on a camping trip, and it was wonderful to resonate with FBE’s discussion of the wonders of the natural world. But what’s the point?

Bouma-Prediger notes that “We care only for what we love” (21). If we do not love the Earth, we will not care for it. Moreover, he points to the interconnections found throughout the world as a reflection of the importance of all things to creation. He draws ten primary points of importance, including a rejection of the notion that things can be “thrown away”–all things go somewhere; the fact that our actions never affect just one thing; the finitude of resources on the Earth; and the amazing complexity of Creation (19-20).

The Science

Having reflected on our place on Earth, FBE asks: What is the state of planet Earth? Put simply, it is not good. Population is booming while per-capita grain production has not increased, the extinction rates are vastly larger than ever in the past, deforestation is cutting down state-sized holes in the world forests (which leads to a decrease of plants capable of producing oxygen), water consumption is increasing exponentially, topsoil is eroding more quickly than it can be produced, and more.

Bouma-Prediger is careful to present a significant amount of documentation for the claims made in FBE. Consider “Global Warming”- there is an observable upward trend in the average global temperature. There is a real consensus on this topic, although there are always who will disagree with a consensus. It is important to note that “Global Warming” is something of a misnomer because it does not reflect the complexity of the issue. “Climate Change” is a better description, which captures the full range of the impact on the planet.

These issues remain controversial, but those who wish to deny humanity’s impact upon the planet must contend with all the lines of evidence. Bouma-Prediger notes that “The real scientific debate is not over whether global warming is real, but rather is over how much and how fast average global temperature might rise, whether other factors in the climate system will counter or amplify a temperature rise, and what the specific effects will be” (52). [2014 edit: it is interesting to observe that there seems to be some increasing skepticism among scientists over the phenomenon of global warming.]

Finally, he notes that the news is “not all doom and gloom,” for there are many bright spots regarding our care for the Earth as well. Unfortunately, “the case is overwhelming that we humans are responsible for the damage to our home planet” (55). The question it raises is: what now?

Ecological Apologetics

The charge has been made that Christianity is bad for the environment. That is, Christian belief tends to denigrate creation and thus should be rejected, for it cannot provide answers to the ecological crises discussed above. Bouma-Prediger presents a number of ways this objection can be stated and responds accordingly. The complaint ranges from charges that Christian eschatology entails a lack of concern for the current creation to (a very interesting) complaint that because a Christian worldview helped the rise of science, which has itself been the source of many things which harm creation, Christianity is to be blamed for the current crisis.

Bouma-Prediger offers multiple responses. Most importantly, the notion that there is any single root cause for our current ecological crisis is hard to sustain. He offers other responses related to eschatology and more. Christian theology, he argues, in fact gives extremely solid motivation for creation care.

Interestingly, at one point he notes that perhaps substance dualism could be divorced from Christianity (a thesis against which I have argued here). His argument is brief and largely just notes that there are other strands within Christianity which do not rely upon this substance dualism.

Finally, in an interesting spin, the charge is made that materialism actually denigrates the environment. In particular, materialism in the form of economic materialism: when wealth drives worth, the environment will suffer, period. Now, the book does not make the charge that this is the only or even the root cause of our crisis; instead, the point is that when one does value economic gain over other ends, the environment will suffer.

The Question for Christians

Clearly, the most important question is whether or not there is any reason for Christians to care about creation. Interestingly, Bouma-Prediger places this section towards the middle-end of the book as opposed to the beginning. In it, he offers an analysis of several Biblical texts to show that Christians should care for and about creation. Central to this is his conclusion that “Individual creatures and the earth as a whole have an integrity as created by God and as such have more than merely instrumental value” (136). When we view creation as a gift from God–a good gift–we see that no individual part of that creation should be denigrated or seen as merely an instrument.

He goes on to offer a number of ecological vices of excess and deficiency regarding a number of areas related to theology and ecology. These include addiction, belief in autonomy, and more.

A Vision for Creation Care

Finally, Bouma-Prediger presents a brief vision for creation care. He places this squarely within the context of the vice list and Biblical theology. Christians are to act in humility, wisdom, and virtue. As such, they are to care for that which God has given them and be aware that one should not destroy that which sustains oneself. Christians are called to emulate God’s benevolence and love for all creation as illustrated throughout the Biblical text. As such, to be dismissive of individual species or parts of creation does not line up with a Christian worldview.


There are many more themes found throughout FBE and in particular in the area of Christians and the environment. Overall, the book is an astounding, life-shifting read. It raises one’s awareness of the integration of their beliefs with the world around us. It is amazing to immerse oneself in a sense of place–be that a forest, mountain, lake, or elsewhere–and realize that this is truly a great good which God has created for us to enjoy. As embodied creations of God, we are to honor those other created aspects of His plan. We are to care for His creation. The book is commendable in its scope, erudition, and groundedness in those concerns which Christians would perhaps be most interested in. It comes highly recommended.

For the Beauty of the Earth.


Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals– I write about creation care from a number of perspectives offered at a recent panel of prominent evangelical thinkers in this area.



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.


“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.


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.


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



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.

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.


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.


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.


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



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.

“Is Faith in God Reasonable?” Brief Debate Review: Alex Rosenberg vs. William Lane Craig

creation-of-adam-detailRecently, the atheist Alex Rosenberg debated the theist William Lane Craig. The meat started to happen in the rebuttals, so I will focus on those. For a full review, check out Wintery Knight’s excellent summary.

Craig’s First Rebuttal

Craig pointed out the extreme implausibility of the naturalistic worldview in contrast to theism. He outlined several ways in which naturalism fails as an explanation of reality and cited Rosenberg’s work several times throughout this discussion. He argued that mental states have an “aboutness” which naturalism cannot explain.Then, he pointed out the profound difficulty naturalism has with locating truth and meaning within the worldview. He asserted that libertarian free will and purpose are incompatible with naturalism. Finally, the concept of the “self” and the first-person awareness  cannot be explained by naturalism.

Rosenberg’s First Rebuttal

Alex Rosenberg: He focused on this question quite a bit in his rebuttal: “How is it possible for one chunk of manner to be ‘about’ some other piece of matter?” Yet after saying that this, he asserted that this debate over naturalism has nothing to do with the topic of the debate: “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”

He then turned to a discussion of the problem of evil. “If God is omnibenevolent, omniscience, and omnipotent, then the suffering of animals and humans needs desperately to be explained… Nobody has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation… Dr. Craig needs to tell us how [God] had to have the holocaust!”

He also argued that different religious books are false, so there is no reason to trust the New Testament.

Rosenberg said if Craig could provide an explanation for this, then he would become a Christian.

Craig 2nd Rebuttal

Craig immediately exclaimed his excitement over Rosenberg’s possibility of becoming a Christian, arguing that the logical problem of evil, which Rosenberg seemed to be using, has been largely abandoned due to its immense problems. In order to make this argument, the atheist assumes that if God is all powerful than he can create any world he wants, but this is not necessarily true. It is logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something. The atheist would have to prove that there is a world with as much free good in this world but without as much free evil. It seems this premise is impossible to prove. Thus, the logical problem of evil has largely been dropped.

Craig pointed out the fact that Rosenberg was simply mistaken about the importance of metaphysical naturalism. If metaphysical naturalism is false, then it seems clear that theism is that much more plausible.

Craig also once again pointed out that discrediting things like the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an does nothing to undermine the truth of the New Testament documents.

Rosenberg Final Rebuttal

Rosenberg continued to attack Craig as well as the format of the debate. He asserted that Craig was merely repeating himself. Then he commented that the format of a debate does not work to discuss questions like those at hand. One honestly is forced to wonder why Rosenberg chose to engage in the debate, if such were his opinions. Rosenberg attacked Craig’s arguments for “giving philosophy a bad name” and said he would be “embarrassed” to outline Craig’s defense of his arguments.

He did get into some actual comments on the arguments, however. He argued that some things can come into being from “nothing at all,” specifically alpha particles.

Finally, he got to the problem of evil. Here I continued to be confused over whether Rosenberg was sure which variety of the problem of evil he was presenting. He continued to utilize the evidential problem of evil as though it were the same as the logical problem of evil. He was confusing his arguments, mixing necessity with contingency. There is little to comment on here, because it was so confused.

Regarding the New Testament, Rosenberg essentially argued that we cannot know how corrupt the New Testament is.

Craig Closing

Craig turned once more to Rosenberg’s construction of the problem of evil. He pointed out that Rosenberg was mistaken about free will as well as the nature of the God’s creation. He pointed out that the holocaust was not necessary. Instead, he noted that the onus is upon Rosenberg to show that God could have actualized a world with as much good as there is in this world while simultaneously showing there would be less evil, which is of course beyond the ken of the atheist (or the theist).

Craig pointed out that we can confirm that New Testament sources we have go back to within 5 years of the actual events. Furthermore, Rosenberg was mistaken in saying that the New Testament documents were written in Aramaic. They were written in Greek.

Rosenberg Closing

Rosenberg used his closing to present an “obvious” argument for atheism. He argued that science has no need of the God hypothesis and that there is no basis “to invoke God for explanatory or any other purpose” in science. Thus, science has no reason to accept the existence of God. I find it interesting that he chose to save this argument for the point when he couldn’t be rebutted on the argument. Perhaps that is due to the extreme weakness of the argument. Only be equating science with knowledge could this argument have any relevance. This is not to mention that he is mistaken on this, but to show that he is mistaken would take us too far afield. Interested readers can view the links at the end of this post.

Rosenberg closed with “advice from an atheist.” His advice was to tell theists to not demand that their faith be reasonable. He continued with a discussion saying that theists should say “I believe because it is absurd.” He essentially asserted that theists cannot be reasonable. Honestly, this was just an insult. I admit I was not surprised by this comment by the end of the debate, as Rosenberg’s general strategy had seemed to be to denigrate, rather than interact with, theism.


I was honestly stunned by Rosenberg’s assertion that substance dualism or a debate over naturalism had nothing to do with faith in God. It seems quite obvious that such things are indeed germane to the discussion.   If substance dualism is true, then theism has a much better account than non-theistic worldviews. If naturalism is false, the plausibility of theism increases greatly.

In the Q+A following the debate, someone asked Rosenberg why they should believe anything he said in the debate if he himself doesn’t believe in true. Rosenberg basically answered by saying that he’s just rearranging the brain in a way to meet truth… but of course he already denied that we can know what truth is. It’s just a certain way of orienting the matter in one’s brain! Ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it is ridiculous.

Regarding the debate itself, there were a number of non-scientific ways that people voted on the results of the debate. A formal panel awarded Craig the victory 4-2. The local (Purdue) voting on the debate 303-1390 Craig won. Online vote favored Craig 734-59. In other words, Craig crushed Rosenberg. I agree wholeheartedly. Let me know your thoughts. Comment below!

One awesome line from the debate came from Craig: “The purpose of life is not happiness. The purpose of life is knowledge of God.”

An awesome tweet: “Rosenberg apparently knows not only what God could have done but what would have been best for us for all eternity.” @ThnkngChristian


Wintery Knight provided a simply fantastic summary of the debate.

Glenn Andrew Peoples has a post on quantum events in relation to the cosmological argument which is very relevant to this debate.

Shoulders of Giants?- Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss Jumps off!”– I write on the relationship of science to philosophy as well as Christianity.

Science: “Thanks Christianity!”– Does Christianity say anything about science?

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,

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)


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.


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).



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Omniscience, Substance Dualism, and Private Access

I recently attended a seminar on God and Time with William Lane Craig (view my post on it here). One topic (among many) that caught my interest was Craig’s denial of one of the arguments for substance dualism, namely, the “private access” of some truths.

J.P. Moreland argues for private access in his work The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. He argues that mental states have an “ofness or aboutness–directed towards an object” which is “inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them” (20, emphasis his). Basically, the claim is that even were someone else to know everything about J.W. Wartick, they could not say that they know what it is to say “I am J.W. Wartick”, because they are not J.W. Wartick. Certain truths and facts are such that only the knower can know them. I cannot say I am Abraham Lincoln, because I am not him. Nor could I say that I was Abe Lincoln even were I to comprehensively know everything about Abe Lincoln from the events that occurred in his life to the exact synapses in his brain. There is something about a phrase like “I am Abe Lincoln” which only Abe Lincoln can know.

Interestingly, Craig denied that there was such a thing as “private access.” He argued that, were this the case, it would mean God is not omniscient.

Why should it follow that God is not omniscient? Well, Craig defines omniscience as “Knowledge of any and all true statements” (definition from my lecture notes). Due to the fact that God would not know true facts which have private access, argued Craig, there is no such thing as private access. This seemed like an odd way to go about denying private access in regards to substance dualism. The argument seemed to be:

1) Omniscience =def.: God knows any and all true statements.

2) God is omniscient.

3) Truths available only through private access would entail truths God does not know

4) Either God is not omniscient or there are not truths available only through private access (1, 2, 3)

5) God is omniscient (2)

6) Therefore, there are no truths available only through private access (4, 5)

The argument would work, if one agrees with the definition of omniscience in (1). But I find it more likely that omniscience is analogous to omnipotence, which is defined as God’s ability to do anything logically possible. Why should it not be the case that God can only know things which are logically possible to know? On such a view, then, private access would not challenge omniscience whatsoever, because it would be logically impossible for God to know truths only knowable to their subjects.

I brought this up to Craig, and he responded by saying that my definition of omniscience made it into a modal property, and omniscience is not a modal property. I don’t see why omniscience could not be a modal property. In fact, it seems to me as though it is necessarily modal. Omniscience entails that any being which is omniscient would have to know all possible truths about all possible worlds (for any being who did not know truths for all possible worlds could be outdone by a being which knew about more possible worlds), which is clearly a modal claim. So it seems to me omniscience is clearly a modal property, and there is no problem revising Craig’s definition to:

(7) Omniscience=def.: A being is omniscient if it knows everything it is logically possible to know.

Further, a denial of (7) would seem obviously contradictory because one who denies (7) would have to assert:

(7`): Omniscience=def.: A being is omniscient if it knows everything, including things it is logically impossible to know.

And this would lead to contradictions about omniscience. So I don’t see any reason not to revise Craig’s definition of omniscience to note that God can only know that which it is logically possible to know (for a denial of this would imply God’s knowledge could be contradictory). But then private access provides no challenge to omniscience, and Craig’s denial falls apart.

Finally, “private access” seems like an intuitively obvious feature of knowledge. How could one deny that there are truths such as “I am J.W. Wartick”? It seems clear that only I can experience what it is to be J.W. Wartick. So I think it is necessary to modify Craig’s definition and simply deny his argument, both because God cannot know or do the logically impossible, and because “private access” is such a well-established phenomenon.

Edit: See the interesting discussion in the comments below. I am forced to modify the definition I presented in this post in the comments below due to an insightful comment by Midas. Those interested can read below or just read my modification here: “A being is omniscient iff it knows all truths which are not delineated by private access [of others] or experiential knowledge [of others].”



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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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Physicalism: Rejected on the Grounds of Unintelligibility

Physicalism is the view that everything is physical. Every thought, mental state, etc. we experience is reducible to physical explanations. It can be said, according to physicalism, that neurons firing or chemicals being released are an emotion or mental state.

I believe physicalism can be rejected on the grounds of unintelligibility. One reason for this is that physicalism forgets the idea of causation. It equates a cause with an entire process. One can agree that there are physical causes for a mental event, but does not have to accept that this means that a mental event itself is physical. An emotion is not a firing of a neuron or some amalgam of chemicals. Mental states are described from a first-person subjective viewpoint, and cannot be equated with the physical world, which is described in physical terms.

The most commonly used argument for physicalism is the “argument from causal closure”:

–“If an event e causes event e*, then there is no event e# such that e# is non-supervenient [edit: supervenient generally means dependent] on e and e# causes e*.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

The problem with this view, of course, is that it can be countered by simply rejecting premise 2 “there is no event e# such that e# is non-supervenient on e and e# causes e*.” One can simply point out that it is possible for there to be an event e# to exist.

Further, what exactly does it mean to say that mental states are wholly physical? I believe that is ontologically untrue. One can simply examine one’s own thoughts and realize that, say, thinking about a pink elephant is not ontologically a pink elephant. Physicalists would have to try to describe this mental image wholly in physical terms, for that is all there is to the world according to their methodology. But it is then almost impossible to distinguish between the image of a pink elephant and the pink elephant itself. Try that thought experiment. Describe yourself “thinking about a pink elephant” in wholly physical terms. Do not slip into saying such words as “mental state”, “mental”, “thinking”, “I”, and the like. It may be possible, but it ends up being something utterly ridiculous which doesn’t seem to really describe the event (thinking about a pink elephant) at all. It describes the things that are causing one to think of a pink elephant.

Physicalism also leads inevitably to determinism. If all things are wholly physical, there cannot be any kind of freedom of the will. All things are determined by physical processes, meaning there is simply no individual to possess freedom.

Physicalism can be faulted for either not adequately explaining or completely rejecting: mental states, the will, individuals, liberetarian freedom, freedom of permission, freedom of personal integrity, and freedom of moral and rational responsibility.

What exactly does it mean, within physicalism, to have the “want to do something?” For example, I am moving my things from one room to another. I want to lift up and move my couch on my own, but I cannot. Physicalism does not seem to have an adequate explanation for this. Wanting to do something could be causally linked to certain parts of the brain showing activity, but it could not explain the desire itself.

What would it mean if, say, a scientist could monitor the brain and know every thing a person was thinking about? Imagine being able to do such a thing. Looking at a screen, one could see that a person could think about a “dog” and one would not actually know what that person is thinking. Or, perhaps the technology is such that the dog which the person was thinking of would be entirely described. It’s a black lab the person owned in his or her childhood, it has a scar on its nose from a fight with a cat, its fur has a bluish sheen in certain light, etc. It still does not mean that one could literally read this person’s mind. For the mental image of a black lab, down to the tiniest detail (i.e. fur length, etc.) will be different from one person to the next. Even if we could literally think of every detail, including the length of each individual hair on that lab, etc., the mental image we had would be different, for we all think of such details in different ways. Descriptions of colors, scents, sounds, etc. vary widely from person to person.

But then, what if we could project an image onto the screen of that dog, in every detail? Two things would prevent this from allowing an identical image: 1. any emotional attachment to the image, and 2. the subjective interpretation of sensory imagery.

Another way to try to explain this scenario into possibility for the physicalist would be to say that technology could allow us to transfer that image, with its emotion, etc. into someone else’s mind. But then, we still have problems. 1. Even if we could project the exact image, along with it’s emotional responses, into someone else’s brain, that person’s brain would still interpret that image for itself. It would be presented with certain emotional states, sensory details, etc., but it would be filtering all of those through its own system. 2. There’s no clear way to say that even if we could eliminate problem 1, the image would be exactly the same with both people.

Even if one could project all the emotion, history, details, and the like of an image from one person to the other, it would not be the same. Why not? Because of another problem with physicalism: emotional states are not the same. What one person experiences as pain can be entirely different for someone else. Let’s say that, sticking with the black lab, subject A has a positive experience of this animal. This brings with it the feeling of pleasure at recalling the image, and calmness related to feeling protected by the dog. When it is projected into the brain of subject B, these emotions may not be the same. For even if one could capture the intensity of these feelings, there’s no way to say that the conotations they’d carry would be the same. Subject B would have pleasure related to recalling the image projected into his or her brain, but this pleasure would have to be intepreted by Subject B before it was presented as an image. The pleasure could feel different from subject A to person B, despite the exact same physical processes involved.

But what if we could project literally every aspect of this image into someone else’s mind (from person A to B)? What if we could somehow get past the interpretation problem? Would this then prove physicalism has weight? I don’t believe so. The problem here is threefold: 1. The problem of “self” in regard to the image. If the image were projected in such a way from person A to B, would it then be person B’s thought/image or would it still be person A’s, just projected into another brain (or mind)? For physicalism to be true, the image would have to be person B’s and identical to person A’s, but it seems like this is not the case, both by the nature of the whole experiment and by the fact that the image exists within person A’s brain originally. Not only that, but 2. it ignores the fact that there is such a thing as the image itself. Even if 1. were not a defeater of physicalism in this case, it seems to be defeated by the fact that the image is itself not made itself all the factors that go into making the image, but is simply an image. The image itself is different from the causation. There is not a black lab within someone’s brain. There is the image of this black lab within their brain. The fact that it must be discussed in such terms goes against physicalism. Cause is not equal to effect. 3. If this entire scenario were about an image that was imagined in person A’s head, rather than a real black lab he or she owned, it runs into a whole host of other problems. What does it mean to have something that doesn’t actually exist, existing in two people’s brain/minds? How is it that physical explanations give rise to a non-physical thing (something that is imagined does not exist physically, so it does not have physical space, qualities, etc., and cannot therefore be reduced to physical qualities, as it does not posess any)?

The point of this scenario is to point out that physicalism discounts some of the most self-evident qualia we experience. Physicalism cannot account for such differences in pain, pleasure, and other feelings or emotional states. It cannot account for the differences in experience when the physical causation is the same.

Point 3. has in it yet another blow against physicalism. What of imagined things? It seems possible that we could physically explain how we bring forth the image of something that is imagined (such as a flying pig), but that does not explain in physical terms what exactly that imagined thing is. What is it, in terms of physicalism? It is not real or physical, so how can it be reduced to something physical? And we certainly cannot say the image does not exist, because anyone with an imagination can think of a flying pig! But even if we were to assign it physical properties (i.e., wings, pigs feet, curly tail, etc.), it would not actually possess any of these. It is something that simply does not exist physically, and it would beg the question to assign it physical properties.

Ontologically speaking, physicalism seems shot full of holes. It can be simple to talk about all mental states, images, and the like as if they were merely physical, but in the real world, does it really mean anything to say that? It is evident from one’s own experience that one can think in terms of self, in terms of intentionality,  and in terms that defy physical explanation. What does it show to say that such things don’t actually exist? It makes our personal experiences meaningless.

It is unintelligible to embrace physicalism, for it means nothing to say that our “self” is not a “self” but a mixture of physical explanations. It means nothing to say that our emotions don’t exist except in physical terms. It means nothing to say that the mind is not a “mind” but a physically reducible thing. It means nothing to say that imagined things don’t exist (they exist within the brain [or mind] of anyone with an imagination), and it begs the question to say that they possess physical properties.

Physicalism, at best, can serve only as a causal explanation of mind states, mental images, and the like. Yet the thesis itself claims to have superior explanatory power in that it can explain everything (via physical means). Finally, physicalism has inadequate explations for, or outright rejects, things that are evident simply through introspection (imaginary objects, the concept of “self,” etc.). Its claims about such things are either meaningless or unintelligible. I therefore reject it on the grounds of unintelligibility.

The Supposed Explanatory Power of the Computational Theory of Mind

The computational theory of mind was brought up in a response to my other post on physicalism. This is a view that I personally believe can be utterly devastated by even a cursory examination through analytic philosophy.

The Computational Theory of Mind (CTM) essentially states that the mind can be likened unto a computer. This view is also known as the software view of Functionalism. It is the belief that the mind is essentially a computer program. Inputs are fed in, outputs are fed, well, out. The mind can be exhaustively described in these kind of relations. Sensory inputs, behavioral outputs, etc.

This is yet another way for atheists to try to escape the nasty mind-body problem.

There are several objections that can be raised against this view. The first is that the Functionalist/CTM view focuses on defining mental states through causal relations such as the outputs of behavior rather than the internal traits of the mental state itself. In other words, Functionalists could see two mental states as identical when they are not. An example could be the classic problem in philosophy about color.

Suppose Bob and Sally enter a room with various objects scattered about and they are told to find all the objects which are green and put them in a pile. Internally, Sally is able to sense color normally, but Bob is not. However, because they are both supposed to be in the state of sensing greenness, they are both functionally in the same mental state. But Bob senses all green objects as red, and all red objects as green. Therefore, internally, he and Sally are in different mental states, but because they sort the objects in the same way (Bob has always seen green as red, so when told to sort green objects, he picks out those which are red to him), they are in the same mental state according to functionalism.

Analytically, the problem is then that CTM/Functionalism would state that:

If there are two persons who have input x=> output B, then they are in the same mental state.

But it misses the possibility that input x could be A for person 1 but culd be C for person 2.

Thus, Functionalism would state that A and C are identical, despite the fact that they are not, because it has no way of  explaining the inverted qualia (specific experiential qualities).

Further, there is the classic Chinese Room example given by John Searle in “Minds, Brains, and Science.” Summed up, the Chinese Room states that one who has no understanding of Chinese could be in a room in which inputs are given in the form of Chinese characters on sheets of paper. This person has access to a book that gives appropriate responses to these Chinese characters. He or she then selects the appropriate response, enscribes it onto a sheet of paper, and puts it through the output slot. Now suppose the rulebook is so accurate that it can make it seem as though the person always has appropriate, even perfect responses to questions, small talk, etc. in Chinese. The person could then emulate entirely the ability to speak Chinese despite having absolutely no understanding of Chinese whatsoever.

This problem comes up within CTM/Functionalism because it discounts anything but the inputs and outputs. Functionalism/CTM would have to state that this person does literally understand Chinese, but that isn’t the case.

There are, as always, more ways to tear down CTM/Functionalism, but I believe that is good enough for now. As an alternative to dualism, CTM/Functionalism lacks utterly any explanatory power in terms of internalization, inverted qualia, and absent qualia. Adherents to CTM or Functionalism believe that it has better explanatory power. This is false.

Dualism, on the other hand, has explanatory power in terms of all of these. The acknowledgement of a mind that has understanding, direct access to inverted qualia, and can sort through actual mental states, so Dualism does not fail in the sense of absent qualia.

John Searle states it well, “Earlier materialists argued that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena, because mental phenomena are identical with brain states. More recent materialists argue that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena because they are not identical with brain states. I find this pattern very revealing, and what it reveals is an urge to get rid of mental phenomena at any cost.”

Moreland, J.P. & William Lane Craig. “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.”Intervarsity Press.2003.


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